Call for Mss. WordCity Literary Journal’s March 2022 Issue

It’s been two years now since Covid-19 circumvented the Globe. Two years of mitigations. Two years of sickness and loss. Two years of missing family, friends and the life events that bind us together. It’s also been two years of science denial. Of the continued rise of conspiracy theories and theorists. Two years of protests that endanger our already stretched-thin hospitals and medical staff.

So much has happened that hasn’t happened before in our lifetimes.

Meanwhile, wealthy countries have learned what it is to live with the kind of uncertainties the developing world knows all too well. We’ve also seen how the same wealthy countries can queue at the front of every line for life-saving vaccines.

For all of these and so many other reasons, WordCity Literary Journal is dedicating it’s March 2022 issue to matters of the pandemic.

We invite you to send works that touch on this in any way the theme moves you, and thank you in advance for your interest in our journal.

Please visit our Submissions page for guidelines: https://wordcitylit.ca/submission-guidelines/

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WordCity Literary Journal. January 2022. Issue 13. Writing Towards the Light

©®| All rights to the content of this journal remain with WordCity Literary Journal and its contributing artists.

Table of Contents

Letter from the Editor. Darcie Friesen Hossack with guest, Gordon Phinn

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Since Solstice, here in the North, we’ve gained a few precious minutes of daily light. Some days it’s hard to tell. It’s colder now, so the warmth of the sun can feel far away. And yet, as certain as the earth’s path through the solar system, the light is returning.

This issue, we are thankful to our consulting editor, Lori Roadhouse, for our theme of Writing Towards the Light. In a season where hope feels all too needed, watching for even these few extra minutes, as they accumulate towards spring, is a balm.

For writers, the literal light can be especially helpful, dispelling some of the inner darknesses that we use to ink our pens. And so, towards that, I’m going to turn over the rest of my space here to our regular book reviewer, Gordon Phinn, who offered us the following thoughts on writing and the light.

Gordon Phinn

GordonPhinnPhoto

Writing Towards The Light

When, as creators, engaged in that endeavor, writing towards the light, our attempts can be envisaged in a number of ways:

(1) We are writing ourselves out of the darkness of doubt, despair or depression, by evoking a more  salubrious state, one perhaps charmed by dashing chipmunks, hovering hummingbirds, shows of spring flowers, the giggly dance of sugar-maddened children.

(2) We are aiming to be our own ambulance out of anger, our own arrow flight to the empyrean where we might live for a few precious and careless moments before falling back to the anxieties of Earth that are all too easy to remember.

(3) We are providing roadmaps to others we assume or suspect are in need of such assistance.  The artist as inspirer or miniature messiah, a domesticated shaman showing the way.  But the way to where exactly?  The carefree?  The couldn’t-care-less?  The haughty castle of contempt?  The humble cabin of contemplation?  The merry carnival of convenience?

As wordsmiths we are often drawn to describing wounds, the ways out of injury into the story of submission and serene acceptance, the escape route out of vengeance and the righteousness of retribution, all so we might repair to that simple gleam of understanding, and knowing how we arrived there, dripping with luggage, and how we let it go and ran through the sand to the lapping waters, to splash and squeal like the little ones around us.

Sure it’s a story, telling and retelling itself to all those who would be activators, audience or armchair critics, the circle completed and begun once again.

Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter

The theme for this end of year and beginning of next was Into the Light, which seven fictions approach in very different ways.

We begin with “This Christmas” by Marzia Rahmanin, a flash fiction with the year in review, yet containing an element of hope.

Then we have an atmospheric story by Nightingale Jennings entitled “Before the Seagulls” which also points to the light despite  a most disconcerting past.

Then follows Dave Kavanagh´s Irish “Wedding Gift” in which both the giver and receiver experience happiness.

Next is “1992” by DC Diamondopolous which has a political edge and shows how an act of bravery brings two very different people together.

Another story with a political edge is Mansour Noorbakhsh’s story “And Still Burning” in which a clash of ideologies is finally seen through the light of streetlamps in the pelting rain.

Then we have “Carol” by Julia Abelsohn which is about letting go and told from various perspectives.

And finally, we have Pat Jourdan with “Sister Thresa’s Acting Class” which unexpectedly prepares pupils for “the real thing”.

Marzia Rahman

Marzia Profile Pic

This Christmas

This year, Christmas will come quietly, unceremoniously. There won’t be any Christmas party this time. Santa will come, wearing a mask, riding a chariot but he will avoid the crowd.

April is the cruelest month—T. S. Eliot once wrote in his epic poem, The Waste Land—Ryan, a young Bulgarian poet in his early twenties, wonders why? December seems to be the hardest. Eating a slice of blueberry cheesecake on a Christmas night, alone, he checks up the pictures of his former girlfriend in Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg tweeted he is excited to roll out the new real-time stream home page to Facebook.

Rahim, a little boy in Nepal, has never heard of Mark Zuckerberg; he doesn’t like chewing hard roti and cries for cake or pastry. He lives with her mother, two young siblings and a very old grandmother in a slum which reeks of rotten fish and urine. His sixty-years old grandmother pretends to be blind when she goes out to beg in the morning.

In a condominium in Singapore, a young woman lights a scented candle in a late afternoon and looks out of the window.

An empty road, deserted. A cat sits close to a water fountain, licking its leg.

Continue Reading

Nightingale Jennings

Venus

Before the Seagulls

Ruby was noticeable in a crowd thanks to her jet-black hair and upright posture. At age 12, people referred to her as the girl with waist-long hair. Her hair had never grown below just a drop down from shoulder-length. Ruby tried, but it didn’t help to argue even when she was able to prove herself right. She looked at herself in a mirror, found her looks and figure nothing more than standard, and tried to see the attraction to her hair. Although she couldn’t see through the fuss, she thought better of complaining and gracefully accepted the special treatment people so willingly offered. It came with a price until she was fully groomed into a lady of social calibre, just the way her friends and family wanted to see her.

There were limits to keeping out of trouble at such an early age. Hair was not at all the foremost interest in her mind. Ruby’s carefully guarded thoughts were deeper and darker. She knew many truths were naturally best left unspoken. For example, she’d be caught dead before she dared say anything about Great Aunt’s incredibly bad breath, or the kindly neighbour’s clammy hands which absolutely made her shudder. There were more tangible problems she was curious about. Like the pistol Aunt Z kept in her purse. Why did she have it?

Mum’s response was never accommodating. “Stop being inquisitive, it’s not safe for you to know so much.”

Continue Reading

Dave Kavanagh

Dave-Author-Photo copy

A Wedding Gift

Dublin wept like a moody middle-aged woman, her tears cascading in a saccharin sleet of cherry blossom, the park littered with their detritus. Spring is so untidy.

Despite the sunshine, a breeze cut in directly across the Mourne Mountains with fingers of Baltic ice that quickly made my skin feel raw. I pulled my scarf across my veined cheeks and whiskey red nose.

I was returning home from a morning of tormenting staff and stockholders. It was early and the city still lay in the daze of a somnambulant Saturday morning. The streets were quiet, with only an occasional dazed fellow or a stumbling couple, all making their way back to cots in which they would waste the freedom of a weekend morning on sleep and rutting. Spring Goddamn it!

From Stephen’s Green to the canal, I walked along the tangle of green were the moderately wealthy and the senior staff of various foreign embassies lived. My own residence was a mile or so further on.

I considered hailing a cab, but I hadn’t a mind to listen to a halfwit driver. I yearned for the days when drivers sat atop hansom cars with a pair of ponies in harness thus leaving the passengers to their rest and leisure.

Continue Reading

DC Diamondopolous

DC2

1992

A black cloud of smoke near the intersection of Florence and Normandie drifted toward Mrs. Kim’s California Dry Cleaning store in South Central Los Angeles. She turned the sign to closed and locked the door. Her husband phoned telling her to come home. The jury had acquitted the four white police officers accused of beating Rodney King. Trouble had begun.

She’d seen the video of the policemen clubbing the man when he was down. Didn’t seem right.

The Kims, in their 50s, socialized with and hired only other Koreans. With their two daughters, they lived the American Dream in a Korean cocoon.

A year before, Soon Ja Du shot Latasha Harlins, a black teenager, in the back of the head in Du’s convenience store and spent no time in jail. Since then, Mrs. Kim’s black customers would grab their clothes and leave without saying good-bye. She didn’t kill the girl, but she felt guilty.

Mrs. Kim hurried as she took the money out of the cash register and put it in a bag with the day’s receipts. She wanted to leave before Mrs. Johnson came for her 6:00 Wednesday pick-up. She was a good customer, and they used to make friendly chitchat about their children. But an awkwardness had grown between her and the tall black woman with dark-red hair and pretty fingernails.

Continue Reading

Mansour Noorbakhsh

And Still Burning

We — my colleague, and I —were in Rome, Italy, in the mid 90s. We had travelled there as the engineering team of an Iranian project to work with the vendor. The Iran-Iraq war had ended and some industrial projects had been re-started in Iran. As soon as we arrived and were settled in our hotel, my colleague, whom I would call Hypocrite, started talking to me about his dreams of drinking and seeking enjoyment during our short period working in Rome. Although he was acting ridiculously composed when we were in front of our bosses or other coworkers, you probably know what I mean….

One Friday evening when we were back at the hotel, he started saying: “It’s our weekend, let’s go to a bar and a beautiful cabaret, it’s our free time, why not?”

He knew that I drank occasionally. Eventually, we went to a bar close to our hotel. After some drinks he insisted on finding other places. I tried to tease him, and  said we should go to Campo de’ Fiori.

“Where is it?” Hypocrite asked.

“That’s a very beautiful place and it is the place where Giordano Bruno was burnt alive,” I said, but Hypocrite didn’t believe me and assumed I was joking. Then I started to explain about Giordano Bruno and the Dark Ages. I said: “Such people were sacrificed to teach us how to think.”

Continue Reading

Julia Abelsohn

unnamed

CAROL

There’s no easy way to say this – I think I’m dead. I know I tend to be a pessimist – glass half empty or whatever – but I do believe that I’ve passed on to the other side. It’s because I’m having trouble moving my legs. I’m trying to move my left leg and then my right leg, but nothing doing – just not happening. Then again, maybe I’m just paralyzed – that’s seeing the glass half full, isn’t it? Perhaps I’m morphing into becoming an optimist. That would be a switch after my 50 plus years on the planet. They say that you come into the world with specific attributes, characteristics, things that make you uniquely you. There are theories about that, nature or nurture, but I’m firmly of the opinion that I came into this world like this.

I was always the last one to dip my toe into the water at the beach and the last one to get out of the water when Muzzy called us in for lunch. I wasn’t the smartest one in my class and not the prettiest, but I always got okay grades and had a couple of close friends that I could always count on. Of course, being the middle child had its challenges, like when my older brother George tried to stretch me with one of his buddies using a technique that I believe they call the modified rack, an instrument of medieval torture, now banned for obvious reasons. Or when my sister Cath could devour a double fudge sundae with Oreo cookie sprinkles on top without even thinking about the calories and never even got one zit afterwards. Sure, that hurt, but mostly my sibs and I get along pretty well.

And now I’m having trouble moving my left arm. It’s just pretty much lying there like a loaf of day-old bread on the shelf that nobody wants. Speaking of which, my bread-making skills have really taken off. I think my sourdough starter is strong now, and my Banneton bread-proofing baskets have given my loaves a very professional look.

Continue Reading

Pat Jourdan

Pat Jourdan

Sister Thresa’s Acting Class   

1

A card on the school noticeboard announced that any girl wishing to join Sister Theresa’s Acting Class should go to the hall in the lower corridor after school on Tuesdays.

At four p.m. exactly, with all our homework packed into bags and briefcases, eight of us showed up. The first evening was a warm-up session. We learned about breathing. Counting up to three, holding it and then semi-whistling it out brought us, at first, to something like complete breathlessness. Pauline Murray started to go red in the face and was obviously doing it wrongly.

In no time, Sister Theresa moved us on to laughter. We were asked to giggle, then to laugh politely, then to screech, and then to hold onto our ribs with laughter. This actually happened, it got out of control, as, just like sneezing, it became infectious. Margaret O’Sullivan collapsed on a chair with tears running down her face, while even Sister herself had to use a large white handkerchief to camouflage gulps of laughter. We finished the evening by going through The Train by W.H. Auden and wandered home, very pleased with ourselves.

2

Next week was even more dramatic – we had to shout after someone, to project our voice, louder and louder and we tried out anger.

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Non-Fiction. Edited by Olga Stein

Susan Glickman

sunflowers

Sunflowers

Theodor Adorno famously declared that “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” One might just as well observe that to paint sunflowers after Van Gogh is arrogant. But how can anyone fascinated by colour not attempt this most charismatic of blossoms? For Van Gogh himself, they invited an almost scientific investigation of chromatic possibility using newly-invented yellow pigments. He made two series of sunflower paintings; the first, in Paris in 1887, consisted of five studies of the flowers lying on the ground; the second series of seven, painted in Arles in 1888, depicted them standing upright in a vase. They remain among his most beloved and iconic works.

In a letter he sent from Arles to fellow artist Arnold Hendrik Koning (1860-1945) on 22 January 1889, Van Gogh notes that he had recently painted “two flower-pieces with nothing but Sunflowers in a yellow earthenware pot. Painted with the three chrome yellows, yellow ochre and Veronese green and nothing else.” In a letter to his brother Theo, dated 11 April 1888, he had specified that the three chrome yellows are “orange, yellow and lemon.” These happen to be the same colours I used, instinctively, in my own painting, but I also added a little Cadmium red and even Alizarin crimson. I was not trying to evoke Van Gogh but rather to get out from under his looming shadow. Still, a sunflower is a sunflower, and must therefore be sunny! (As for “Veronese” green, that is usually called “Viridian”; I used a similar pigment—Phthalo green, blue shade—sometimes tinting it with lemon yellow, other times with white).

Continue Reading

John Echem

JohnEchem

Memoir of a Boyhood in Cameroon and Nigeria 

“A man can only tell where it started raining on him, but not where he’ll get dry.”

—Igbo proverb

Chapter 1. Mbenge Mboka

i.

We lived in many houses in the years of my boyhood, but the plank house on the street of Mbenge Mboka, in Mbonge, located in Southern Cameroons, in the Republic of Cameroon, is the most memorable to me. The slim chopped planks of the house, or karabot as it is locally called in the town of Mbonge, tugged on one another with termite-infested ribs. It was a big house, with rough lumps of earth that clumped in every nook and cranny, like mottled tree bark, or the swellings in the stomach of a sickle cell victim. They were hardened by the fire rack — located at the far left corner of the house when one entered through the front door — such that each time I hit my toe against any of the lumps, it bled with red open flesh that was peppery.

 

          I was five years old and always barefooted. I loitered that way in the family compound, and sometimes even followed Grandma on bare feet to the market to sell plantain. Mamma was tired of buying me flip-flops because I always returned home  without them, and I couldn’t recall where I left them.

          “I won’t buy you any more flip-flops because you always throw them away. Do you think I harvest money from a tree?” Mamma demanded.

          I didn’t know what to make of her ranting. It didn’t strike me that I had done something wrong. So I went barefooted, and all my toes had their share of flesh ripped open by the clumps of earth in the house, which left me hopping like a bullfrog each time it happened.

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Books and Reviews. Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy

Andreea Iulia Scridon

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Thomas Graves: Getting to the bottom of Ben Mazer’s poetry

 

“Mazer is good enough not to care for contemporary fashion”

Reading Ben Mazer’s poems one after the other, or in no particular order, gives the reader the impression of what holding a diamond in the palm of one’s hand must be like: one can turn it this way and that to admire its special schiller, enjoying the cool firmness against one’s hot skin.

I find that this is due to Mazer’s technique of tight-roping between searing candour and calculated conceit: or rather it should be further specified that Mazer’s poetry is at the same time highly culled and dizzyingly human. Thomas Graves, the poet and critic who runs Scarriet, has himself riffed on this idea in his book, Ben Mazer and the New Romanticism (Spuyten Duyvil, 2021), an effusive and lively manifesto unlike any other work of criticism I have read as of yet (save, perhaps, for Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry, which too deviates from the traditional academic form). This important point encapsulates within itself two salient aspects of this unusual text: its success in convincing readers of Mazer’s value, and that Graves’ style in itself signals a new, personalized and emotive way of writing and analysing authors.

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Literary Spotlight with Sue Burge:
Featuring Helen Dewbery

Helen Dewbery

Helen, thank you so much for taking the time to think about these questions.  To begin with, I think maybe people mistakenly think a poetry film is a film in which a poet or an actor reads a poem and this is most definitely not the case.  It seems to be a genre in its own right.  How would you define a poetry film?

Thank you for inviting me to talk about poetry film. Your question is a good place to start.

The common conventions of any poetry film will be to include all or part of a poem that is combined, in some way, with images and sound. Beyond that, the answer to defining a poetry film may lie in what values one wants to prioritise. Is it a film genre, a poem, an artwork, or some sort of hybrid work? There are poetry films that can be defined within all these categories.

I have been studying and researching poetry film for many years and I have closely followed its development. I have become increasingly convinced by my idea that there’s a formation of words, images and sound that can intrinsically be described as a form of poetry. And in this form of poetry, every poetic and film device can used – rhythm, repetition, metaphor, and so on. Structure and syntax come from words and images. Frames and transitions give space for enjambment. Not all poetry film will fall into this literary definition, but the idea that poetry film might be described as a form of poetry is the area of poetry film that interests me the most.

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Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea

Monica Manolachi

Monica Manolachi

December Lights

The blinds opened at night let in the moon,
who paints the dreams of someone loved.

When cars give hasty glances through the windows,
the morning sunrays join you for breakfast.

An old shop shedding a flood of glass tears
reminds you of innocent hands.

The hopes glimmering on people’ faces
roost in your mind every time you meet someone.

Continue Reading

Lauren Friesen

Lauren Friesen

Night and Day

We cannot see it 
Or feel when it arrives
Even our ears are helpless
In separating this reality
From nothingness
Except we now learn 
That it is not a thing
Or even a million
But the detritus
Cast off in waves
From the heart 
Of beating atoms
Within a beating heart 
And becomes 
A leap of faith
When eyes see the light.

Continue Reading

Laszlo Aranyi (Frater Azmon)

Laszlo Aranyi photo

Lilith

The legend says that I’m a witch 
                  hunched over seven times.
With killer
       breath, and killer bite.
I torment wimps. Embryo pose:

      lies dormant, then sniffs and slips in sweat.

Swinging a snake-headed crutch, lured by
                     the gap-toothed sickle of the waning moon.
I’ll contaminate the mercenary, the hangman,
              the feeble servant. 
He who executes is as despicable
as the tyrant, 

Continue Reading

Josephine LoRe

Josephine LoRe

that forgotten place  

Where the grey light meets the green air
The hermit's chapel, the pilgrim's prayer
		- T.S. Eliot, Landscapes  III

There’s a place that time’s forgotten 
beyond the hermit’s chapel
   beyond the pilgrim’s prayer
Brooks burble with words of wonder 
and chirrups fill the air

There among larkspur and bluebell
a bed of softest moss
   a symphony of sweet sad strains
Desires dance in Celtic knots
creatures graze without a care

Continue Reading

John Eliot

John Elliot picture

The Scream

You know
I could have chuckled into my tea 
Morning time six thirty-three
With a promise of blue sky
But rain again
Against library skylight.
Will it ever stop raining this summer in France?
email box gave me a message.
Drama queen at best, manic depressive at worst.
Never hear. Don’t hold the purse strings.
Already I’m thinking, Is it worth writing this? You can’t publish. Too personal.
Read it properly and all poetry is too personal. The poet’s soul.

Continue Reading

Fabrice Poussin

Fabrice B. Poussin

Dark armies

They have arrived
monsters under cover of three pieces
including tie and a good old book. 

A great star of light and life still shines
far above the darkening land
perhaps it waits to pounce at last. 

They are closing on to the innocent
faces of grins and mocking smiles
as they take another step too close. 

Skins ooze with a stranger perfume
bellies swollen by decades of self-satisfaction
legs wobble under the ignorant mass. 

Fist of fat fingers in the air almost unable to close
they protest and scream at the living
who still believe in loving a neighbor. 

Continue Reading

Ioana Cosma

Ioana Cosma

House of Glass

what in the name
of a rose
requires a respite
from awesomeness
and youth

is the thing
that nags like a
disk on replay
now and then
the daylight
of my skin.

the first creases,
almost invisible.
then it gets thicker
and deeper like
killing ivy.

the other day,
I saw this teenager
with long black hair.
Looked like me
twenty years ago

Continue Reading

Kabedoopong Piddo Ddibe’st

Kabedoopong Piddo Ddibe'st

Homecoming

And the lost crows return home:
No more dead nights but dawn
Of new old days brooding crows
On spun arms of baobab brows
Preaching spiced phrases of days bygone.

And they’ve changed shapes:

They have undergone plastic surgery
And have become sane again
For new tricks in the book of pain
Yet haven’t left their banging crockery.

And they still sing their sweet slogans:

Continue Reading

Joan Mazza

JoanMazza 10April2010

Calendar Cubes

We sat together, two numbers
facing out, changed each day
on that doctor’s desk for years.
Remove us from our slanted seat,
note we were one of many freebies
by a company who manufactures
Norpramin® so doctors might
write more prescriptions.

We, like our siblings, remained
on desks and bookshelves,
listened to distraught patients
of psychiatrists, who begged
for relief and had emotions blunted,
neutered instead. We heard you
when you cried, saw the doctor
take notes, scowl, and roll his eyes

behind your back while you lay
on his leather couch. When he spoke

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Elizabeth Cranford Garcia

Garciapic1

Inheritance

Age four    maybe five    she opens her mother’s    jewelry box 
    to star-fire    dispersion, the strange     mechanics of lobster claws,    chain clasps
bracelets    broken-jawed, ropes    of amber and jade,    heavy fruit of gems, 
    of grandmothers    she never knew,    bulky shanks of pewter, of silver  pinked like the sky at dusk—all the ways    light can be caught    and kept—finds
    a pouch   black velvet, finger-sized,  opens it 	 	 (don’t), 	
inside it a star, a crumb of light, the lowest common denominator between 

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Colin Dardis

Colin Dardis

Lost Stranger

Headphones and earring:
a model of youth on one
pushing into his fourth decade.

Prides his hair, all teased spikes
and shave grades, with extensive
sideburns that defy his jawline.

Perhaps that high-pitched giggle
from down the alley is at his expense.
He’ll never know, beer and ignorance.

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Olga Stein

OLGA STEIN89

EROS
Angels and demons aren’t mere folklore and myth;
Freud said they are signs of our unfulfilled yearnings.
Stories of gods who are wanton or wrathful
Recreate our frustrations and deep-seated longings—
Discontents that puncture civilizational veneers, 
Shake the so-called foundations of millennial faiths,
And rattle the shackles of psychic wraiths 
Who pattern and shape our subliminal fears.

Either praised or reviled Eros has been
Since Helen’s amour was decried as obscene
By those dreading excess—theologians, logicians,
And, oddly, some addled metaphysicians.

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Nightingale Jennings

Venus

My Heart 

Hard heart, let me in, please don’t shut me out,
I have no home, no family, no love, just you.

What will become of me without your pulse?
How can I sleep without the embers of your warmth.

It is not I you seek to punish, dear heart,
I have not betrayed or hurt you.

If I have, I was not aware; forgive me, 
Accept my foolishness and helplessness, 
I vow to hold and love you, with respect and kindness,
Open up my heart, what shall become of us without each other?

Continue Reading

Michael Lee Johnson

Michael Lee Johnson

Poets Die (V2)
 
Why do poets die;
linger in youth
addicted to death.
They create culture
but so crippled.
They seldom harm
except themselves—
why not let them live?
Their only crime is words
they shout them out in anger
cry out loud, vulgar in private
places like Indiana cornfields.
In fall, poets stretch arms out
their spines the centerpiece
on crosses on scarecrows,
they only frighten themselves.
They travel in their minds,
or watch from condo windows,
the mirage, these changing colors,
those leaves; they harm no one.

Continue Reading

Table of Contents. January 2022. Issue 13

Letter from the Editor. Darcie Friesen Hossack with guest, Gordon Phinn

Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter

Before the Seagulls. by Nightingale Jennings

This Christmas. Fiction by Marzia Rahman

A Wedding Gift. by Dave Kavanagh

1992. by DC Diamondopolous

And Still Burning. by Mansour Noorbakhsh

Carol. by Julia Abelsohn

Sister Thresa’s Acting Class. by Pat Jourdan

Non-fiction. Edited by Olga Stein

Memoir of a Boyhood in Cameroon and Nigeria. by John Echem

Sunflowers. by Susan Glickman

Literary Spotlight with Sue Burge

Helen Dewber: Poetry Films

Books and Reviews. edited by Geraldine Sinyuy

Thomas Graves: Getting to the bottom of Ben Mazer’s poetry. a review by Andreea Iulia Scridon

Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea

Lilith. by Laszlo Aranyi (Frater Azmon)

The Scream. by John Eliot

Night and Day. Oh, Heisenberg. by Lauren Friesen

Dark armies and other poems by Fabrice Poussin

that forgotten place. a poem by Josephine LoRe

House of Glass and other poems by Ioana Cosma

Homecoming. by Kabedoopong Piddo Ddibe’st

Calendar Cubes. by Joan Mazza

Inheritance and other poems by Elizabeth Cranford Garcia

December Lights. by Monica Manolachi

Lost Stranger and other poems by Colin Dardis

Poets Die. Poets Out of Service. by Michael Lee Johnson

Eros. by Olga Stein

My Heart. by Nightingale Jennings

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Letter from the Editor. Darcie Friesen Hossack with guest, Gordon Phinn

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 404e353f3ba24298aacbefccc86b2cb3.jpg

Since Solstice, here in the North, we’ve gained a few precious minutes of daily light. Some days it’s hard to tell. It’s colder now, so the warmth of the sun can feel far away. And yet, as certain as the earth’s path through the solar system, the light is returning.

This issue, we are thankful to our consulting editor, Lori Roadhouse, for our theme of Writing Towards the Light. In a season where hope feels all too needed, watching for even these few extra minutes, as they accumulate towards spring, is a balm.

For writers, the literal light can be especially helpful, dispelling some of the inner darknesses that we use to ink our pens. And so, towards that, I’m going to turn over the rest of my space here to our regular book reviewer, Gordon Phinn, who offered us the following thoughts on writing and the light.

Gordon Phinn

GordonPhinnPhoto

Writing Towards The Light

When, as creators, engaged in that endeavor, writing towards the light, our attempts can be envisaged in a number of ways:

(1) We are writing ourselves out of the darkness of doubt, despair or depression, by evoking a more  salubrious state, one perhaps charmed by dashing chipmunks, hovering hummingbirds, shows of spring flowers, the giggly dance of sugar-maddened children.

(2) We are aiming to be our own ambulance out of anger, our own arrow flight to the empyrean where we might live for a few precious and careless moments before falling back to the anxieties of Earth that are all too easy to remember.

(3) We are providing roadmaps to others we assume or suspect are in need of such assistance.  The artist as inspirer or miniature messiah, a domesticated shaman showing the way.  But the way to where exactly?  The carefree?  The couldn’t-care-less?  The haughty castle of contempt?  The humble cabin of contemplation?  The merry carnival of convenience?

As wordsmiths we are often drawn to describing wounds, the ways out of injury into the story of submission and serene acceptance, the escape route out of vengeance and the righteousness of retribution, all so we might repair to that simple gleam of understanding, and knowing how we arrived there, dripping with luggage, and how we let it go and ran through the sand to the lapping waters, to splash and squeal like the little ones around us.

Sure it’s a story, telling and retelling itself to all those who would be activators, audience or armchair critics, the circle completed and begun once again.

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Gordon Phinn has been writing and publishing in a number of genres and formats since 1975, and through a great deal of change and growth in CanLit.  Canada’s literary field has gone from the nationalist birth pangs of ’65 – ’75 to its full blooming of the 80s and 90s, and it is currently coping as well as it can with the immediacy and proliferation of digital exposure and all the financial trials that come with it. Phinn’s own reactions was to open himself to the practices of blogging and videoblogging, and he now considers himself something of an old hand. His Youtube podcast, GordsPoetryShow, has just reached its 78th edition, and his my blog “anotherwordofgord” at WordPress continues to attract subscribers.

Phinn’s book output is split between literary titles, most recently, The Poet Stuart, Bowering and McFadden, and It’s All About Me. His metaphysical expression includes You Are History, The Word of Gord On The Meaning Of Life.

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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This Christmas. fiction by Marzia Rahman

Marzia Profile Pic

This Christmas

This year, Christmas will come quietly, unceremoniously. There won’t be any Christmas party this time. Santa will come, wearing a mask, riding a chariot but he will avoid the crowd.

April is the cruelest month—T. S. Eliot once wrote in his epic poem, The Waste Land—Ryan, a young Bulgarian poet in his early twenties, wonders why? December seems to be the hardest. Eating a slice of blueberry cheesecake on a Christmas night, alone, he checks up the pictures of his former girlfriend in Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg tweeted he is excited to roll out the new real-time stream home page to Facebook.

Rahim, a little boy in Nepal, has never heard of Mark Zuckerberg; he doesn’t like chewing hard roti and cries for cake or pastry. He lives with her mother, two young siblings and a very old grandmother in a slum which reeks of rotten fish and urine. His sixty-years old grandmother pretends to be blind when she goes out to beg in the morning.

In a condominium in Singapore, a young woman lights a scented candle in a late afternoon and looks out of the window.

An empty road, deserted. A cat sits close to a water fountain, licking its leg.

The woman wants to pray but could not find her prayer beads. Did she have one? She reads a magazine with pictures of dogs and cats instead. She always wanted a pet.

A young boy draped in a yellow robe, chants quietly. He gazes up at the red prayer flags, fluttering in the winter wind at a mountain-top monastery in Bhutan.

A middle-aged woman in India opens her window, the pure, fresh wind of early morning brushes against her face. She looks at a tree, opposite her building. Two green parrots perch on the tree, pecking at the branches.

A man in a bicycle passes by; half of his face covered by a mask.

A few wildflowers bloom unanimously by the road-side. A hawker sits nearby with two bundles of saris and salwar suits. He will buy a Christmas suit for his son to go to the church if he could sell most of his fares today.

Sagarlata—a sprawling vine sprouts in the empty sea beaches of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. “It grows where humans don’t tread,” says a surfer in a red wetsuit looking at the red crabs crawling on the sandy beach.

“There is no toilet paper, no hand sanitizer on the shelf” a young wife says to her husband standing in a queue in a supermarket, 2 metres apart. The queue gets shorter and shorter until the only man left in the shop is the salesman, a bulky young boy of sixteen who misses his mother.

His mother worked in a sweater factory and brought woolen jumpers for him; she died of Covid last Christmas.  He puts earphones, listening to a hip hop song, trying to be merry even if there is nothing much to be merry about.

A middle-aged man turns on tv after a day’s work at office.

A gigantic tornado has ripped through a suburb of Oklahoma City.

Boris Johnson ‘s aides joked about Christmas party in Downing Street while London was in lockdown.

Shane Warne named his top five current batters in test cricket and included one player from India in the list.

He turns off the TV. Bored. He misses drinking in a pub, catching up with his friends, and taking a walk in the park. He misses his wife who died of cancer, not Covid.

A very old grandmother in Singapore fondly remembers her childhood days.  She waits for her son to visit her. No one comes.

A migrant worker returns home. Quarantined. Waits for 14 days to embrace his wife and kids.

A man looks for the doctor in an empty corridor; the male nurse asks him the symptoms. Whether he has fever, cold, headache? If he has returned from South Africa? He nods; he has come from a different country with a difficult name he finds hard to pronounce. He is waiting for his wife who has come for an ultrasound. He has two sons, he wants a girl this time. He will name her after Ma Durga, the Goddess of power, energy, strength and protection.

A small boy flies a kite in a big open field in Kabul, his grandmother grins at him every time he looks at her. The kite flies higher and higher in the winter wind.

A young dancer dances to the happy tunes of a happy song; she will return to her home for Christmas after two years. She smiles looking at the bright light, seeping through the window of the auditorium.

A middle-aged writer writes about people being brave and resilient. Haven’t we survived two World Wars, Hitler, Spanish Flu, Atomic Bomb? We will survive this too. His dog, Patty wags its tail, proudly. A bird sitting on the open window near the writer’s desk flies away in a bright sunny sky.

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Marzia Rahman is a Bangladeshi fiction writer and translator. Her writings have appeared in several print and online journals. She is currently working on a novella and a collaborative translation project on Shahaduz Zaman’s Ekjon Komlalebu. She is also a painter.

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Carol. fiction by Julia Abelsohn

unnamed

CAROL

There’s no easy way to say this – I think I’m dead. I know I tend to be a pessimist – glass half empty or whatever – but I do believe that I’ve passed on to the other side. It’s because I’m having trouble moving my legs. I’m trying to move my left leg and then my right leg, but nothing doing – just not happening. Then again, maybe I’m just paralyzed – that’s seeing the glass half full, isn’t it? Perhaps I’m morphing into becoming an optimist. That would be a switch after my 50 plus years on the planet. They say that you come into the world with specific attributes, characteristics, things that make you uniquely you. There are theories about that, nature or nurture, but I’m firmly of the opinion that I came into this world like this.

I was always the last one to dip my toe into the water at the beach and the last one to get out of the water when Muzzy called us in for lunch. I wasn’t the smartest one in my class and not the prettiest, but I always got okay grades and had a couple of close friends that I could always count on. Of course, being the middle child had its challenges, like when my older brother George tried to stretch me with one of his buddies using a technique that I believe they call the modified rack, an instrument of medieval torture, now banned for obvious reasons. Or when my sister Cath could devour a double fudge sundae with Oreo cookie sprinkles on top without even thinking about the calories and never even got one zit afterwards. Sure, that hurt, but mostly my sibs and I get along pretty well.

And now I’m having trouble moving my left arm. It’s just pretty much lying there like a loaf of day-old bread on the shelf that nobody wants. Speaking of which, my bread-making skills have really taken off. I think my sourdough starter is strong now, and my Banneton bread-proofing baskets have given my loaves a very professional look. Of course, I’ve been monitoring how much bread I eat, that’s what that app is for, but I give a lot of the bread to Cath and the kids and of course, Muzzy when she was still eating. I love to cook and bake; that’s been my downfall and also my greatest joy. But unlike Cath, I just have to look at a piece of cake and to quote Joan Rivers: I don’t know whether to eat that cake or apply it directly to my hips.

***

My dearest childhood friend Carol died of an aneurism. She was there one minute, riding her bike in Park Slope, and the next, she was on the ground; her head must have hit the sidewalk, although it was her hip at the time that fractured.

She was in the best shape of her life; she’d lost 50 pounds but not on a crazy fad diet; slowly, meticulously, she shed her way into the life that she’d always longed for. The ‘skinny girls’ that she’d always envied, yea, she became one. She looked terrific, and yet to me, she was always amazing, no matter what the scales said.

I wake up in the morning and have this strong impulse to pick up the phone and call her. She was one of those rare people that you could be apart from for months, even years, and pick up the conversation as if you’d just had coffee together at Starbucks. I was missing her badly; hell, she was one of the good ones – the world doesn’t have so many of those to spare.

That got me wondering, was she missing me as much as I was missing her? What else might she be missing about being alive after leaving this earthly plane? And that got me thinking: What would I miss when I die?

What I’ll miss when I die is sitting on the veranda in the afternoon sun listening to the cicadas; the sound of the Mediterranean surf crashing against the rocks below; the sound of the engine revving on my scooter on a narrow mountain pass. I’ll miss the taste of cold beer on a hot, dusty day. I’ll miss inhaling the first cigarette with my morning coffee. I’ll miss the feeling of a hot shower on a cold morning.

When I die, I’ll miss shopping. God, Carol loved shopping. She loved walking the streets in New York and finding wonderful little shops like The Refinery that sold handmade bags and CB I Hate Perfume that made crazy custom perfumes. My favourite from the latter was Faggot, which smelled like wood charred in a campfire, but I think Carol was partial to Beach, which smelled like suntan lotion and reminded her of the ocean.

***

Now my right arm is acting kind of funny too, like I can’t move it at all, so it’s joined my other limbs in this permanent dormant state. I feel like a sack of potatoes lying here like this. I have an excellent recipe for potatoes au gratin with blue cheese, the really lovely cheese that I get at the Saturday market from that sweet couple from New Jersey. That recipe is super rich, and I don’t think I’d want to enter the number of calories into my app. What’s the point? It takes all of the enjoyment out of it, don’t you think? But I’ve been good at entering every single thing that passes my lips for over a year now. And, I’ve really been good going to those meetings that I thought would be a crock of shit. Being with a bunch of fatties stepping onto those scales and the whole room clapping or whatever, and if you don’t lose a pound or two, even more mortifying. I hate being the centre of attention. But actually, I found the meetings okay, better than okay, because I don’t feel like such a big fat loser. When the pounds started falling off I began to feel something that I have never felt before in my entire living memory – slim. Slim is not a word in my lexicon that I have ever applied in reference to myself. Not until now, of course. I love that I can go straight into a designer store and buy clothes right off the rack. I’ve never actually enjoyed shopping, but now I can fit into all kinds of cute things, and I actually tried on a pair of Stella McCartney pants in size 10 the other day, and they fit me like a glove. I’ve never spent that much on an article of clothing in my entire life, but it was worth it. I’m in the best shape of my life. So why the hell can’t I sit up and have a sip of water?

I don’t know how long I’ve been here, in this hospital, but I’m pretty sure it’s dark outside, and I haven’t been home all day. My babies must be getting worried; they know I’m always home shortly after dark. But not today – I don’t know when I’ll get home.

***

We didn’t hear the news in the ordinary way, of course, it’s just that we never got our dinner that night, and that was highly irregular. Hesse was desperately agitated and kept jumping onto the window ledge perusing the street, but of course, there was no sign of her. I, on the other hand, was waiting patiently, as usual, amusing myself by observing the changing patterns of light cascading onto the living room floor as the afternoon sun began to sink lower and lower on the horizon. Hesse, of course, would not leave me to my reveries for long but insisted on making loud, mournful wails, and when that had no effect, she jumped and tackled me to get my attention. “Herman, Herman, this is highly irregular,” she wailed. “Where is Carol, and why isn’t she giving us dinner?”

I must admit I was beginning to get somewhat concerned myself – after all, our routines were pretty regular, weren’t they? However, it was quite a lot later, after all the streetlights had come on and the little boy with the scooter from the second floor came bumping up the stairs with his father and after the blonde woman from the third floor came stomping down the stairs in her high heeled boots and then everything was too quiet for far too long that we realized that we may well be in a pickle. No dinner? Unheard of!

***

Shit, my throat is parched, and I could kill a cold crisp glass of Chardonnay right now with maybe a dozen or so Malpeque oysters on the side with lots of lemon and freshly grated horseradish. But I just can’t seem to sit up or roll over or move my mouth or even open my eyes. But like I said, I’ve been working out, riding my bike a lot all through the streets of Brooklyn and I love discovering new neighbourhoods. For years I subscribed to Joan Rivers’ advice on exercise: I don’t exercise. If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor. Only in my case, it would have been a cappuccino from Gorilla Coffee or possibly a Krispy Kreme donut on the floor.

***

Carol’s sense of humour cracked me up. While on vacation together in Newfoundland, she found a store that sold beaver hats, the likes of which Davey Crocket would have been proud to wear and almost bought it just for the sheer fun of imagining wearing it in trendy Brooklyn.

She also longed for adventure; walking the salty shores of Labrador was on her bucket list. We never made it there, but travelling together in California, Carol came alive by the sea and voiced the romantic fantasy of chucking it all in and starting a new life on the coast. She imagined getting a job at the Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes and selling fine artisan cheeses.

When I die, I’ll miss walking through a Japanese garden and becoming as still as the stones. I’ll miss a light rain at midnight on a hot August night. I’ll miss sinking my teeth into fresh feta cheese and the soft earthy smell of baby goats.

I’ll miss laughing in that out-of-control way we used to when we couldn’t catch our breath and almost pissed our pants. I’ll miss watching Netflix, eating popcorn smothered in butter and talking about our sex lives. I’ll miss losing control to Afro Techno and dancing until the sweat pours off our bodies.

***

If this is the hereafter or heaven or worse, why am I not seeing any bright light, soft music, pearly gates, or anything that looks vaguely like what I imagine death to be like? And where are all the dead people that you’re supposed to meet after you die? I don’t see Lou, my dearest, kindest dad whom we lost 15 years ago. I always looked forward to playing backgammon with you on the other side, dad. But  no Lou and definitely no David Bowie or Heath Ledger are here to greet me so does that mean I’m still alive? Even though I can’t move any of my limbs, open my eyes or speak, I think I can still hear. I’m pretty sure that I’m actually dead, but if I can still hear, that’s a good sign, isn’t it? What are they saying now?

“Asystole. I think we lost her. Time of death – 14:45”

***

The following day, just as the sun was coming up, we heard a noise and went rushing to the door; we were so excited that one of us knocked over the little table by the fireplace, and that coconut-scented candle came crashing to the floor. Hesse started to cry quite pathetically, although I maintained my decorum. But it wasn’t Carol; it was Lizzie, Carol’s best friend, who was standing at the door making shushing sounds. Where was Carol? Nevertheless, Lizzie cared for us and gave us our dinner, which had now become breakfast, of course, but we didn’t care; we were famished.

I must admit we were delighted to see Lizzie. She is a kind and generous soul, and we were relieved to have someone provide for us in Carol’s absence. We were willing to forgive the transgression of having our needs overlooked the night before and start with a clean slate. But then one day turned into a week, and Lizzie kept coming to feed us and freshen our water bowls and, of course, the litter. Finally, we learned the awful truth, Carol was never coming home, and we were orphans. What a sad and terrible truth to be alone in the world; thank goodness Hess and I have each other.

I don’t understand what happens when you die, but I imagine that it’s something like that story that Carol would read aloud to her nephews when they came to visit, now what was it called? Anyway, at the end, one of the main characters, Aslan, a very large and majestic cat, leads the humans from the dead world and into his own country, the Garden within the Western Wild of the Narnia (oh, that’s the name of the books). Maybe death is like that, just another different but magical world. In the meantime, Hess and I sincerely hope that Lizzie will take us home to live with her permanently next time she comes. We’d love to purr at her feet in the mornings, and in my estimation, I believe she is rather taken by us.

***

Sometimes when I see something funny or go through a rough patch, I’ll reach for the phone to give Carol a call. Then, when I remember that she’s dead, the pain pulsates through my whole body. It’s like phantom limb syndrome; it continues to ache long after it’s been severed.

Carol never had children, but she loved her cats like they were family. So I think she’ll be very pleased to know that they are purring on the couch beside me. Whenever one of them curls up beside me like this, it’s like I still have a piece of Carol to love. That’s something, isn’t it?

***

Well, it’s not like everything completely stops, is it? I can still see the nurses scurrying around even though I can’t make out what they’re saying. And that doctor with her hair all piled up on top of her head, she looks pretty worn out. I don’t have a clue what comes next, but I’m already feeling a little lost here. It feels utterly unfamiliar, although not that terrible. At least my head doesn’t hurt anymore, and I’m glad to be feeling less pain, no, make that no pain. There is a feeling of relaxation; yes, that’s it, like deep relaxation. Like Savasana at the end of yoga class, that was always my favourite part of the class anyway. Corpse pose. Like my yoga teacher always says, just let go.  I guess that’s kind of what it’s all about. I may not be the best yogi on the planet, I was never all that flexible, but I think I’m getting pretty good at this letting go business.

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Julia Abelsohn has spent over 25 years as a journalist, editor and corporate writer and is now enjoying creative writing pursuits. She has been published in The Raven’s Perch, The Mindful Word, The Globe and Mail, Flash Fiction Magazine, Pigeon Review and Retreat West.

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1992. fiction by DC Diamondopolous

 

DC2

1992

A black cloud of smoke near the intersection of Florence and Normandie drifted toward Mrs. Kim’s California Dry Cleaning store in South Central Los Angeles. She turned the sign to closed and locked the door. Her husband phoned telling her to come home. The jury had acquitted the four white police officers accused of beating Rodney King. Trouble had begun.

She’d seen the video of the policemen clubbing the man when he was down. Didn’t seem right.

The Kims, in their 50s, socialized with and hired only other Koreans. With their two daughters, they lived the American Dream in a Korean cocoon.

A year before, Soon Ja Du shot Latasha Harlins, a black teenager, in the back of the head in Du’s convenience store and spent no time in jail. Since then, Mrs. Kim’s black customers would grab their clothes and leave without saying good-bye. She didn’t kill the girl, but she felt guilty.

Mrs. Kim hurried as she took the money out of the cash register and put it in a bag with the day’s receipts. She wanted to leave before Mrs. Johnson came for her 6:00 Wednesday pick-up. She was a good customer, and they used to make friendly chitchat about their children. But an awkwardness had grown between her and the tall black woman with dark-red hair and pretty fingernails.

Mrs. Kim grabbed her keys. She remembered the folding security gate had to be closed, but when she got to the door, she saw Mrs. Johnson park her car. Mrs. Kim rushed to the back and hid, waiting for the woman to leave.

*****

No justice, that’s what Mrs. Johnson thought when she parked her car in front of the dry cleaning store. Times like this made her heart drag, made her so angry she wanted to go to that Simi Valley Courthouse and burn it down, down to where her heart lay. Then she saw the closed sign on the door and caught the birdlike figure of Mrs. Kim scurrying away.

Ever since the Du woman went free, Mrs. Kim, once good-hearted and sociable, never looked her in the eye, never smiled, not even a good-bye.

She considered changing cleaners but she’d been going to the Kims for years. She liked how they cleaned her hospital uniforms and choir robe, and could depend on her weekly 6:00 pick-up.

KFWB reported incidents of rioting. Mrs. Johnson locked her car. Smoke funnels dotted the late April sky. She wanted to get her cleaning and get home to her husband and two sons.

As she walked to the door, she didn’t like the unchristian feeling she had toward Koreans she did business with, but why treat all black people as if we were going to rob them?

Mrs. Johnson knocked on the door. With no answer, she pounded. “I saw you, Mrs. Kim,” she shouted, rattling the door. “I need my clothes now!

*****

Embarrassed, Mrs. Kim came out from the back. Trembling, she unlocked the door and opened it. “So sorry. Husband wants me home.”

She went behind the counter and reached for the conveyor switch when a loud crash spun her around.

Mrs. Johnson shrieked.

Across the street, young men were throwing bricks at Mr. Choi’s liquor store. They ransacked his business, darting out with cases of beer and cartons of cigerettes.

“Call the police,” Mrs. Johnson shouted.

“Line dead.”

A mob of looters smashed the windows of Mr. Lee’s shoe repair shop. Rioters charged down the block, raiding stores then setting them on fire.

Security alarms blared over car horns, breaking glass, screams, and hooting.

Mrs. Kim sobbed. She watched paralyzed by the violence as real as the Korean War of her childhood. The whole block went up in flames. “Oh no, they come for me.”

Mrs. Johnson shouted, “Do you have a gun?”

Mrs. Kim turned to answer when a brick crashed through her front window. Glass shattered. They both screamed.

“No. Ball bat. We go out back.”

Mrs. Johnson ran around the counter and snatched the bat from Mrs. Kim.

*****

A loud boom rocked the building. Mrs. Johnson ran to the window. In the alley, a gang

of teenagers was smashing car windows, pouring gasoline inside, and torching them. One of the boys wore a Lakers jersey, another an LA Dodger cap turned backwards. Those boys could be her sons. Their rage was her rage.

Yet she held onto Dr. King’s teachings of love and nonviolence.

“We trapped,” Mrs. Kim cried, standing beside her. “Where police?”

The front of the shop exploded. The smell of burning plastic overwhelmed them.

Mrs. Johnson slid the bolt back and opened the door.

“I go too.”

“No. Stay here.”

Ball bat in hand, Mrs. Johnson, as pissed-off as she’d ever been, walked into the alley, into the smell of gasoline swirling in thick smoke and the sound of sirens wailing and dogs howling. Her heart ached for her people, but burning down their own neighborhood? She prayed to Jesus as she walked into the madness.

“You with the Laker jersey,” she yelled. “I know your mama.” She choked the handle of the club. “You think she’d be proud of you?”

“You wiggin out, lady,” he said, strutting toward her, moving his hands gangsta style.  “You don’t know nothin.”

At 5’10” she was at least 4 inches taller. She took a step forward. “Get your homies and get out of here, or I’ll tell your mama what you’ve been up to.”

They were locked in a stare down.

His dawgs stopped to watch.

“C’mon,” Laker jersey said to his homeboys. “You don’t tell my mama nothin,” he muttered and swaggered away.

Mrs. Kim ran to her van, unlocked it, started the engine, and opened the passenger door.

Mrs. Johnson jumped in. She thanked the Lord for their deliverance.

“Glad you come,” Mrs. Kim said with tears in her eyes as she floored the gas peddle and tore down the alley.

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DC Diamondopolous is an award-winning short story, and flash fiction writer with over 300 stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. DC’s stories have appeared in: Penmen Review, Progenitor, 34th Parallel, So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, Lunch Ticket, and others. DC was nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice in 2020 and also for Best of the Net Anthology in 2020 and 2017. DC’s short story collection Stepping Up is published by Impspired. She lives on the California central coast with her wife and animals. dcdiamondopolous.com

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And Still Burning. fiction by Mansour Noorbakhsh

And Still Burning

We — my colleague, and I —were in Rome, Italy, in the mid 90s. We had travelled there as the engineering team of an Iranian project to work with the vendor. The Iran-Iraq war had ended and some industrial projects had been re-started in Iran. As soon as we arrived and were settled in our hotel, my colleague, whom I would call Hypocrite, started talking to me about his dreams of drinking and seeking enjoyment during our short period working in Rome. Although he was acting ridiculously composed when we were in front of our bosses or other coworkers, you probably know what I mean….

One Friday evening when we were back at the hotel, he started saying: “It’s our weekend, let’s go to a bar and a beautiful cabaret, it’s our free time, why not?”

He knew that I drank occasionally. Eventually, we went to a bar close to our hotel. After some drinks he insisted on finding other places. I tried to tease him, and  said we should go to Campo de’ Fiori.

“Where is it?” Hypocrite asked.

“That’s a very beautiful place and it is the place where Giordano Bruno was burnt alive,” I said, but Hypocrite didn’t believe me and assumed I was joking. Then I started to explain about Giordano Bruno and the Dark Ages. I said: “Such people were sacrificed to teach us how to think.”

He still though I was joking, although I was serious.  We left the bar discussing Campo de’ Fiori, Giordano Bruno, and the Dark Ages. I dumped on him all I had read about the humanity and the history of philosophy, and shamefully I thought that I knew a lot.

We reached a cinema. We were Probably talking seriously and loudly in Farsi for we attracted the attention of a man who was attaching some photos to the board of the cinema.

He turned to us and sardonically said in Farsi: “Gentlemen, please calm down” as an invitation to a conversation. He looked like Omar Sharif in Dr. Zhivago, so here, I will call him Omar Sharif or Dr. Zhivago; you may call him whatever you like. When we started talking together, I realized that Omar Sharif was very overwhelmed and had been looking for a moment of rest after a long working day. But soon he wanted to leave, and said that his working time was over, and that he had to rush to see a sick relative.

But I asked him to drive us to Campo de’ Fiori because his working time was over, and we were ready to pay him for the drive. Inn the car I sat beside the driver and Hypocrite on the backseat. Hypocrite, apparently drunk and asked Omar Sharif to drive us somewhere enjoyable. I was interested to know about Omar Sharif’s life and why he was living in Rome, etc. But I realized that he was hesitant to talk in front of Hypocrite, assuming the latter was spying on him.

When I asked Omar Sharif about his life, instead of an answer he asked me: “Why are you interested in Campo De’ Fiori?” and again I tried to impress him with all I had read in the books.

“I have read some of these books too…I was a communist…I escaped after 1980…You might have heard about that time.” Omar Sharif said.

I was interested to know more but he hesitated to continue. After more questions and trying to reassure and relax him, he continued to speak vaguely; I understood that. he had been a university student but had to escape from Iran because of his ideology and having participated in protests with other students at the university against restrictions enforced by the strictly religious revolutionary government. And after several months of living in trouble, he had been lucky to arrive in Italy. And now he was working as a handy man in different places and his job in that cinema was the cleanest one.

“Your energy,” he said, “when you were talking about the Dark Ages reminded me of those days after 1979 in Iran and political arguments with my friends.” His political activities had been limited to distributing some newspapers and participating in some political gatherings. That was all the political activities he had done in Iran or elsewhere.

Then he asked me again: “Why are you interested in seeing Campo de’ Fiori?”

I explained that I wanted to open the eyes of Hypocrite, but he just replied to me with a cynical smile.

After a long drive we arrived in a an area that did not seem very beautiful or comfortable In street filled with apartments. He parked the car and told us: “Follow me.”

After passing a long staircase we reached a very small apartment. He opened the door and we entered. The apartment was filled with the smell of fever and sickness. A very sick skinny lady was lying on the bed, burning with bad fever.

Omar Sharif said, “There you go, here is Campo de’ Fiori…and the burning Giordano Bruno…see…he is still burning.” Some copies of a book in a foreign language that I was unable to read were piled beside that lady’s bed.

“Who is she?” I asked as I took one of the books.

“She is a refugee from the Balkan war. Don’t you know that a brutal war is ongoing there? She was a writer and escaped from this brutal war between formerly communist armies…like me a communist student who escaped from a religious country.”

Hypocrite was badly agitated and shouted at me angrily: “Let’s leave here soon.”

But I was interested to know more. I looked at the book, a green cover with a portrait of that lady on the cover page. For a few seconds I felt that I drowned into nothingness. I felt I was flowing in nowhere.

Hypocrite rushed to the stairs scolding me and went out onto the street. I wanted to give Omar Sharif some money, but he looked at me sadly. I felt ashamed, but I collected myself and said, “I want to pay for this book…I want to buy a copy.”

“You cannot read it, I cannot read it either; why do you want to buy it?” Omar Sharif said.

“Oh, yes, I even want to buy two copies, one for myself and one for my colleague,” I said. Omar Sharif looked through the window and said, “For Him? A book?”

I looked out at the street, and we both saw that Hypocrite was vomiting into a garbage bin.

We left the apartment. Omar Sharif was ready to take us back to our hotel because we were very far from it, and it was too hard for us to come back alone in that late night.

“What about that sick woman?” I asked, and he explained: “She will be sleeping by the time I get back”.

After vomiting, Hypocrite scolded me saying: “You ruined my night…Campo de’ Fiori…Campo de’ Fiori.”

In the car, Hypocrite rambled on in the backseat with unstoppable hiccups.

Omar Sharif was just burbling, probably because his heart was eagerly looking for an intimate conversation. He was speaking about the refugees of Balkan, and said, “I don’t believe in communism anymore and I don’t believe in any religion. Probably all I wanted as a student at university during the days of revolution was justice, which I couldn’t find anywhere.”

Between hiccups, Hypocrite was nagging that I had ruined his night by continually saying, “Campo de’ Fiori… what a night! Campo de’ Fiori…what a stupid friend!”

I felt I was sitting between two ruined lives, two ruined worlds, one who was driving the car and the other who lolled on the backseat seeking enjoyment.

I felt that I was sitting between one person who was mincing his words and the other who was nagging and hiccupping. It had started to drizzle.

After a long pause Omar Sharif asked me, “Do you… still want to go to Campo de’ Fiori?”

I didn’t answer, I didn’t have an answer. Instead, I closed my eyes so as not to see the striking row of streetlights running fast towards us and smashing on the car´s windshield through the rain drops and the darkness of night.

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Mansour Noorbakhsh writes and translates poems in both English and Farsi, his first language. He tries to be a voice for freedom, human rights and environment in his writings. He believes a dialog between people around the world is an essential need for developing a peaceful world, and poetry helps this dialog echoes the human rights. Currently he is featuring The Contemporary Canadian Poets in a weekly Persian radio program https://persianradio.net/. The poet’s bio and poems are translated into Farsi and read to the Persian-Canadian audiences. Both English (by the poets) and Farsi (by him) readings are on air. This is a project of his to build bridges between the Persian-Canadian communities by way of introducing them to contemporary Canadian poets. His book about the life and work of Sohrab Sepehri entitled, “Be Soragh e Man Agar Miaeed” (trans. “If you come to visit me”) is published in 1997 in Iran. And his English book length poem; “In Search of Shared Wishes” is published in 2017 in Canada. His English poems are published in “WordCity monthly” and “Infinite Passages” (anthology 2020 by The Ontario Poetry Society). He is a member of The Ontario Poetry Society and he is an Electrical Engineer, P.Eng. He lives with his wife, his daughter and his son in Toronto, Canada.

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A Wedding Gift. fiction by Dave Kavanagh

Dave-Author-Photo copy

A Wedding Gift

Dublin wept like a moody middle-aged woman, her tears cascading in a saccharin sleet of cherry blossom, the park littered with their detritus. Spring is so untidy.

Despite the sunshine, a breeze cut in directly across the Mourne Mountains with fingers of Baltic ice that quickly made my skin feel raw. I pulled my scarf across my veined cheeks and whiskey red nose.

I was returning home from a morning of tormenting staff and stockholders. It was early and the city still lay in the daze of a somnambulant Saturday morning. The streets were quiet, with only an occasional dazed fellow or a stumbling couple, all making their way back to cots in which they would waste the freedom of a weekend morning on sleep and rutting. Spring Goddamn it!

From Stephen’s Green to the canal, I walked along the tangle of green were the moderately wealthy and the senior staff of various foreign embassies lived. My own residence was a mile or so further on.

I considered hailing a cab, but I hadn’t a mind to listen to a halfwit driver. I yearned for the days when drivers sat atop hansom cars with a pair of ponies in harness thus leaving the passengers to their rest and leisure. Failing that, I’d settle for a glass partition between the driver and his unfortunate hostages, but few Dublin taxis are so equipped, so I walked.

In truth I was happy to flitter away the hours before lunch, the stroll promised both exercise and an appetite.

I saw her in a bright lane that connected two main roads, a nameless byway, a place where public service buildings clustered together. I had chosen it because it offered protection from the bitterness and the flurries of hail that had begun to fall.

She stepped out of a black car onto the shining wet cobbles. Her red hair held in place by a simple white band. Her eyes were green and luminescent and her skin pale as cream. I’m sure her face had been lightly brushed or blushed, that some powder or paint had been applied. But I know nothing of such arcane arts. I have been a bachelor all my life and seldom regretted it.

Our eyes met and there was a frankness to her expression that reminded me of bad decisions I had made, roads I should have taken but didn’t.

I felt my face tighten into its habitual scowl, but then she smiled, and I was undone.

I looked into eyes that were like pools of druidic wisdom. She was ancient and yet she was a child, eighteen or nineteen years old, certainly no more.

She wore a white gown, simple but elegant. I understood then that she would be married there that day. Her young life which had become suddenly precious to me, was on the cusp of change. I noted the swelling behind the bouquet of blue flowers. She was with child; I knew this because I was once a physician. She was carrying a boy I imagined. I am not a soothsayer, but the blue of the flowers suggested it to me.

Our eyes lock for a moment before she turned towards a man who stepped from the opposite side of the wedding car. He was handsome, tall, his complexion dark and swarthy. His hand’s suggested a man of the land or the sea. His hair was slicked back with oil or gel, plastered to his head in a manner I detest. This is to be her husband and I am disappointed.

The man had shaved, but new stubble was already visible, it looked untidy. His suit was expensive and hung well on his muscular frame. His shirt was white, the collar open. He was wearing no tie. I was disturbed by this lack of decorum on his own wedding morning. I looked back towards the girl and knew she deserved better.

I was on the periphery of the wedding party, a stranger walking by, but I had become involved in this small drama.

The bride and groom to be where young. I guessed that I’d seen four times as much life and ten times as much living as either of them. Yet there they were, preparing to embark on the journey of matrimony. A state that I had shunned my whole life.

I was still troubled by the groom’s appearance; I could do little about his rough jaw or his hard hands but I could fix one glaring error. I glanced again at the girl. The photographs taken later that day would become memories, they would need to stand the test of time.

I reached for my own tie. It was black as all my ties are, and it was silk of course. I liked that tie, but I did not hesitate. I stepped forward and offered it to the groom.

He looked for a moment bemused, perhaps trying to place me, assuming I was a guest, some relation to the bride perhaps. He looked around and as he did the girl came to him and took the tie from his hands and placed it around his neck. She smiled as she tied the knot with sure but delicate fingers.

Before I stepped away, I looked at her once more.  I grinned like a teenager as she rested a delicious hand on my arm and smiled in return. I nodded and then stepped back, removing myself from the small group that clustered about her.

I watched from a distance as the young couple stepped into a grey building. They would exchange vows or some-such. I am unfamiliar with how these things work. I was never the type to attend weddings. But as I walked on, I carried the memory of a smile and deep green eyes.

The sun erupted in a clearing sky, encouraging the birds in the hedges to burst into song. I was happy then that I had elected to walk, and that I now had the rest of that splendid day before me.

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Dave Kavanagh is a writer and publisher based in Co. Dublin, Ireland. His work is widely published both in print and online. As well as writing, Kavanagh is passionate about growing food in a sustainable manner and when he is not at his desk writing, he manages a large home garden where he grows vegetables and fruit for his extended family. The Tangle Box is his first novel came out in 2021 and has been well received. He is working feverishly on a second.

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Before the Seagulls. fiction by Nightingale Jennings

Venus

Before the Seagulls

Ruby was noticeable in a crowd thanks to her jet-black hair and upright posture. At age 12, people referred to her as the girl with waist-long hair. Her hair had never grown below just a drop down from shoulder-length. Ruby tried, but it didn’t help to argue even when she was able to prove herself right. She looked at herself in a mirror, found her looks and figure nothing more than standard, and tried to see the attraction to her hair. Although she couldn’t see through the fuss, she thought better of complaining and gracefully accepted the special treatment people so willingly offered. It came with a price until she was fully groomed into a lady of social calibre, just the way her friends and family wanted to see her.

There were limits to keeping out of trouble at such an early age. Hair was not at all the foremost interest in her mind. Ruby’s carefully guarded thoughts were deeper and darker. She knew many truths were naturally best left unspoken. For example, she’d be caught dead before she dared say anything about Great Aunt’s incredibly bad breath, or the kindly neighbour’s clammy hands which absolutely made her shudder. There were more tangible problems she was curious about. Like the pistol Aunt Z kept in her purse. Why did she have it?

Mum’s response was never accommodating. “Stop being inquisitive, it’s not safe for you to know so much.” Not safe? What was that supposed to mean? What did Mum know about that pistol? How could it be safe for Aunt Z to be walking about with a pistol in her purse in broad daylight? Ruby fretted wondering what would happen to Aunt Z if she committed a murder. What if she made a mistake and shot somebody in her family? And on and on her imagination flew with no bounds until her father stepped in to distract her with metaphorical explanations.

Unconventionally, Dad took Ruby by the hand one night and led her to a neighbouring field. Then he let her go and asked, “What do you see, Ruby?”  “I can’t see anything, Dad, I can barely see you, its pitch-black dark,” she replied. He moved a step back and asked if she could still see him. “Barely, please don’t move around, I’m afraid I’ll lose you in the dark,” she said. Her Dad teased her moving left, right, backwards, and forwards into the shadows until she relaxed and joined in the game. At one point he crouched down so suddenly she no longer knew where he was and called out for him. Once her eyes had acclimatized, she could be heard laughing out loud. “Do you get the impression somethings in life get real, Dad?” asked Ruby. “Well, if they do Ruby, all you have to do is take a good look around like right now and locate the glimmer of a star with your bare eyes,” he said. They gazed silently into the cosmos and chuckled at the sight of shooting stars before solemnly heading back indoors.

The comfort and serenity Ruby found from the stars faded quickly and a few weeks later, the subject of the gun came up in conversation with Raphael, the boy who taught her how to catch tadpoles in the local pond. She was not meant to be out with him just as she was not meant to visit any of her friends or bring any of her friends home. She also was not allowed to greet or speak to anyone outside the presence of her parents. Ruby played by the rules but only when it suited her, and it didn’t when she was with Raphael. She told him about Aunt Z and the pistol in her purse. He told her about his uncle and the gun under his bed. “Do you know why he has it?” she asked. “I think he’s afraid that people who fought in the war may want to come after him,” he said. “Do you know which war?” asked Ruby. Raphael shrugged, there were so many and couldn’t keep up with them “It’s all historical times. Come on, let’s race to the pond.”

Ruby and Raphael were used to having full privacy at the pond but this time there were people armed with rifles and a group of youngsters some distance from them. They naturally ran up to their age group to find out what was going on. A boy their age had drowned in the pond while fetching water, slipped and fell into the deep end. They asked but did not seem to know him. The pond was going to be closed off. Children were no longer allowed to play there.

When Dad returned home from work that night there was a proper discussion about the pond in the living room. Ruby’s parents paused for a minute as she slipped into the room and found herself a quiet corner. Aunt Z, Great Aunt and the neighbour with clammy hands had taken up the three armchairs and her Mum and Dad were sitting on the sofa. They seemed to think that the drowning was not an accident, and some names were thrown around as possibilities, both adults and children.   Raphael’s name came up. “No, that’s not true!” Ruby cried out before she could stop herself. The adults turned to look at her briefly then resumed their conversation as though nothing had happened. Ruby clamped her hand over her mouth alarmed by her spontaneous reaction. She kept it there as the adults continued to chat knowing she would get kicked out if she were to speak or openly gasp.

The discussion was most revealing. She discovered her parents had never married because their union complicated the relationship between family members that had fought on opposite sides of a battlefront. Ruby found out that Aunt Z’s husband drank himself stupid then raised his hands against her until one day she had had enough and put a bullet through him using his very own gun. Great Aunt hid her in her kitchen for years and gave her the pistol in her purse in case any other man ever tried to hurt her niece. The neighbour with the clammy hands had purchased the pistol for Great Aunt in the open market which meant it wasn’t licensed. They all agreed that times had changed and soon Aunt Z would have to give up the pistol or get it licensed.

With the pond closed and nowhere to go, Ruby stretched out on the grass and looked up at the sky. It looked so blue and so far, that only infinity could describe it. She had been told many times not to stare at the sun so instead she stared at the clouds. They always formed an image then dispersed and came back together from one thing into something else. A woman appeared with a whip in her hand. A chariot formed under her feet. It was being dragged by dozens of babies clad in their diapers. It made no sense, but it was fun. A pack of wolves appeared behind the woman drawing men on sledges. Her whip rose and fell on the men, the wolves dispersed and vanished with the men into a fluffy, racing cloud. The baby figures disintegrated, and the woman faded like wafting smoke. Any day with the sky was never the same as another and surely for Ruby those clouds were something peaceful to remember as soldiers dropped their guns wearily on her street.

Their arrival had been predicted and it had taken a long time. She looked to see if Raphael was among them. One soldier abruptly sat down on his haunches and dropped his head in his hands. Another sat beside him and watched. A lady in a black dress and a white cotton shawl grabbed the jerrycan of water she had carried for miles and yelled at her daughter to follow with plastic cups, which were filled and handed to the men. The one sitting back took a sip then used his right hand to gently wet the nape of the other, now sitting squarely on the ground still with head in hands.

Ruby roamed the city when Raphael failed to turn up at home. She had never seen so many men in uniform as she had that year. The ones that hadn’t recovered from their wounds were sheltered under plastic sheets against the city hospital. She visited every tent, talked to hundreds, Raphael was not among them.

At her new workplace in the bustling city, project managers discussed how to raise funding for displaced children. Questions were raised behind closed doors as refugees flocked from neighbouring countries. The police were having trouble keeping the peace between settled and refugee communities. Telephone bills skyrocketed as more lines were pirated. The same with electricity lines and bills. Everyone seemed to be stealing something from everyone else. In the meantime, answers were not yet found for the displaced children. Offers for international adoption flooded the city. Papers were signed left, right and centre. Rock bands from all over the world chanted “We are the World” and the project managers joined in. Mrs A looked like she’d lost her mind when she let the orphans in. Their numbers multiplied and they all called her mother.

Ruby shut the office door behind her as though it would keep the noise in her head out. She sat behind her desk and proceeded to go through the mail, slicing open envelopes with the tip of her pen. A letter addressed to her from the Ministry of Health attaching a glossy publication about AIDS. She had been trained to educate the public about this terrible syndrome that was looking up at her from multiple photographs in the form of skin rashes and abscess that chilled her to the bones. Every time she turned a page, she stiffened just a little bit more. Someone knocked at her door and broke the terrible spell. “Come in,” she said.

It was one of her male colleagues. “Hello Ruby, looking like summer itself, hmm and that scent,” he flirted. She knew he was harmless and ignored him. “I have something to show you,” she said solemnly closing the door behind her. “I can’t wait,” he chuckled with a spark in his eye.

She watched his face closely as he leafed through the pages. His eyes grew bigger, his jaw sagged as the images showed him how the skin rash was capable of eating through whole sections of body, decimating limbs with infection. “By God, is this some kind of leprosy?” he asked. “It’s what I fear will happen to people who won’t stop sleeping around,” she replied. “It’s none of your business, keep out of it,” he said lighting up a cigarette and offering her one. She took it. There were no windows in her office, so she opened the door. Another male colleague stopped by, caught sight of the book, picked it up and read a caption out loud. “Kaposi’s sarcoma, one of the most common cancers in people living with HIV.” It made her shiver. He shook his head slowly as he leafed through the pages. Gently, he put the book down, took a deep breath and facing Ruby spoke figuratively about not allowing reckless people to drown him in their problems. His words carried her back to the years when she played with Raphael at the pond. She looked at her colleagues and pleaded, “I haven’t found him yet, but Raphael may need blood when I finally find him, please for his sake and mine, don’t do anything stupid. I will need you, many people will need you.” They looked at her in surprise, struggled a little to understand. Then it all came together and hit home revealing how love, war, blood, and contagion was of human making and ready to tear down their part of town. They sent out project proposals. They found Raphael. They did what they could. No matter how hard they tried they couldn’t keep up. Eventually, nothing could charm them into staying alive.

On her nightstand, Ruby handcrafted three decorative, match-sized gift boxes. She sat on the edge of her bed brushing her hair, strand by strand.  She called out their names one by one in a song she had made up. “Raphael, my Prince gave love to touch my hair; Petros gave blood to keep love alive; Sam held the torch to keep out the darkness, all three now gone, my heart ablaze with their flames, will they ever be reborn?” She reached into her drawers found a pair of scissors, clipped tiny lockets from her hair and fit them in each gift box to thank the men for the sweet, brave and kind memories they had given her. She tied the boxes together with a thick red ribbon, vowed to fill lonely moments with their warm memories, and completed her private goodbye ritual.

The guns had cleared. Great Aunt, Aunt Z and her Dad were also all in heaven. There were no problems left, just experiences, very special ones.

It was difficult. A difficult relationship. Also, a difficult venue and a difficult situation. Ruby was dehydrated. A banging headache threatened to sicken her to the gut. She found a bench and sat down, lips parched, feeling lightheaded. She took a deep breath listening to the tingle in her ears of blood draining from her head. “Breathe, keep breathing,” she told herself expecting relief which arrived when her ears started ringing, and the saliva forming once again underneath her burning tongue. She took deeper breaths with her eyes shut. The evening air cooled and filled her lungs. “Better than a fresh glass of water,” she told herself. A breeze kicked up the leaves, a gentle drizzle covered her head and soon she was licking tiny raindrops that had gathered on the roof of her lips. Ready to get back on her feet, Ruby opened her eyes.

Her mobile phone rang. It was her mother. They had just spent the afternoon together but perhaps she didn’t remember. “Hello Mum.”

“Oh Ruby, I was wondering if I would catch you. Am I disturbing you?”

“No, Mum, did you need something?”

“Oh I just wanted to know how you are getting along, that’s all.”

“I’m doing fine, Mum, we spent the afternoon together, remember?”

“Ah, yes, that was yesterday, wasn’t it?”

“It was today Mum; I’ve only just left.”

“I’m sure you dreamed that up Ruby, we haven’t spoken today.”

Ruby needed to spare herself from another headache. “Well, maybe I’m the one mixing things up then, never mind, how are you today, Mum?”

“Fit as a fiddle, had rice pudding for breakfast and tea in the afternoon. Now getting ready for bed. How about you?”

“I had a toasted sandwich for lunch and we had a lovely tea, didn’t we Mum.”

“We certainly did, and I’m going to bed now.”

“That’s brilliant, good night, Mum.”

“Goodnight!”

It was easier on the phone, so much easier. And it was most difficult to see her go, so difficult.

Finally, home, Ruby turned on the kettle, jumped into the shower and stayed until she felt that all her unwanted layers had been washed down the drain. The steam had filled up the room, her ringing ears warned her she needed air. She turned off the tap and mechanically got into her bathrobe. She grabbed a clean hand towel from the rack and with one quick movement wrapped it around her wet head. Ruby charged out of the bathroom and flopped into bed dressed in a bathrobe. The ceiling was spinning up above her. The tingling in her ears roared like the sea. “Breathe, breathe,” she told herself and breathed attentively until the dizzy spell subsided. Then she took a sip of water from the bottle at her bedside and was out like a light.

That night she dreamt it was dark and cold in the shadows. Two little boys skipped ahead of her playfully. She noticed they were in a bog and followed them instinctively. Vine-looking plants sprouted up from where the children’s feet had landed. They grew very fast and lurched towards her ankles as she stepped over them. One of the boys stopped to watch but alarmed the vines would get him she screamed at him to run and wouldn’t let him ponder. The faster the boys ran the faster the vines lurched for Ruby’s ankles until finally they all came out of the shadows into the sun. It glistened magnificently at the same time as the sunrays fell on Ruby’s face prompting her eyes to open.

It felt like another life. The sky looked white, cold and indifferent. Seagulls squealed like hungry fat puppies. “Coffee please,” she asked and watched as the waitress sloshed the dark liquid beyond the cup and onto the saucer. An apologetic smile flashed before she ran off to the next customer. Ruby lifted her cup and watched it drip dry before she rested it against her lips. Her big burly husband shook the table as he plonked into the seat opposite hers. “Coffee, please,” he asked and was served by the same waitress. This time the hot liquid spread beyond the cup, the saucer and all over the white tabletop. A chuckle resounded, a new saucer appeared, and the mess was cleaned up in a second. Ruby reached out for her husband’s fresh white napkin and placed it onto her saucer. Her cup stopped dripping and finally she could drink her coffee in peace. They were on holiday by the sea near Norwich. They left the hotel and headed for the seafront. On their way they stopped at a bus stop to admire a protected Bansky spray painting on a brick wall. Ruby took a photograph, which she printed when they returned to the hotel. She stuck a first-class stamp on the back, wrote the words towards the light and handed it in at the post office.

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Nightengale Jennings: I was named Chuchu at birth, in 1968, a time when outer space was politically and scientifically significant. My parents named me Venus the year I was admitted to an English nursery school in Addis Ababa. Everyone was surprised to discover I already spoke fluent English, which I had picked up from TV and my older English-speaking siblings. At school, I had access to English language children’s books, unfortunately not in Amharic. I started keeping a diary in primary school, and wrote short stories and poetry in high school, primarily in English and in Amharic. I destroyed everything I wrote in fear of being incriminated in an uncertain society that suffered civil war and famine. I have written professionally for international organizations, and love writing both fiction and poetry. *Nightingale is my pen name, which I adopted from the bird and for the quality of the song.

 

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