Carrina Triumphant

Copyrught 2015, J.A. Spahr-Summers

by Julia Benally

 


The sweltering Arizona sun lit up the cream-colored blinds. In one corner, the red light of a clock glowed 7:59 A.M. Already, the heat was creeping into the semi darkness of the room. Suddenly, a single stream of sunlight pierced through a crack in the blinds and shined on one eye of a six-year-old girl. With an irritated frown, she rolled over. That stream of sun seemed to follow. She covered her head to keep it away, but the blanket heated up until it felt like an oven.

Dead tired, the girl threw the blanket off and sat up. Her raven, bushy hair stuck out in all directions and poked her coal-black eyes. Everything around her seemed brown as the desert she lived in. The dry carpet gave the plain, white walls a brownish hue. The wood of her bed seemed even browner. The bookshelf in the corner even held brown books. Going to her brown drawers, she pulled out a bright pink shirt full of sparkles. It came with a pink checkered skirt. These were a breath of fresh air. Slipping them on, she commenced in tackling her wild locks.

Sometime around 8:15, her hair had some semblance of order. That was when her mother walked in.

“Carrina,” she barked, “what are you wearing? Where’s your uniform?”

Carrina sank into her bed as she felt a fit coming on. “I don’t want it,” she groaned. “It’s ugly.”

“Put your uniform on, Carrina. Don’t give me a bad time or I’ll spank you.” With that,

her mother bustled out.

Her lower lip trembling in disgust and fear of a spank, Carrina removed her pretty clothes and struggled into that thing called a uniform. Now she was just as dull as her room. The radiance that the pink brought out of her light brown skin was now thirsty looking. With a sigh, she went slowly about looking for her shoes. It wasn’t like she was in any rush. If she could be late all month, she could certainly be late today.

“Carrina,” her mother shouted impatiently from the kitchen. “You’re going to be

late! Hurry up!”

“I can’t find my shoes,” Carrina replied triumphantly.

        “You just can’t find your shoes because you’re afraid of that girl at school.” Her mother strode into the room and heartlessly pulled Carrina’s white shoes out from under the bed.

“You’ll just have to learn to stand up to her.”

Carrina frowned. “Can I stay home today?”

“No. I have to go to the store and all you’ll do is beg for things.

Remember, you’re making a book today?”

“Will it have a leather cover and that gold stuff on the sides?” Carrina asked excitedly.

       “Don’t expect too much. You’re only six,” Carrina’s mother informed her tartly. “Give me your foot.” Shoving the shoes on Carrina’s feet, the wily woman took her hand and rushed out the door. “You are going to be so late,” her mother grumbled. “Why do you wake up so late? Set your alarm! I haven’t even got my earrings on.” With that, the over dressed woman quickly swung Carrina in the front seat of the white ford. She hit the gas with her leopard high heels and zoomed towards Carrina’s school.

“You have to fight back, Carrina,” her mother instructed her brusquely

for the umpteenth time that month.

       “I’ll get in trouble,” Carrina mumbled helplessly, knowing it was no use in talking to her mother. The woman was a fiery spark that zoomed all over the place without catching a breath. Carrina thought that sometimes her mother forgot she existed. She would literally run people over if there wasn’t a law.

Practically screeching to a halt in front of the school, Carrina’s mother leaned over her and pushed the door open. At the same time she pecked Carrina on the cheek then shoved her out. Before Carrina knew it, her mother had sped away. With a deep breath, Carrina walked slowly to her class, hoping a dog might decide to eat her, but there were no dogs today.

She was a sad, tardy, little girl when she meandered into class. But as she entered, she noticed there was something not quite right with the room. The posters on the walls looked different, and the kids were all wrong. Goodness, even the teacher was in the wrong room. Did everybody get lost?

The strange teacher looked at her with a smirk and asked, “What is it?”

Carrina just stared at her. Everybody stared back.

“Are you new?” the teacher questioned, sounding rather sarcastic.

“Where’s Mrs. Grant?” Carrina queried helplessly. This had to be a

substitute, and the kids, too. They were substitute kids. Or she was in some alternate universe.

“Mrs. Grant’s in room twenty-four.” The teacher smiled as if she would burst out

laughing.

Absolute and complete embarrassment filled Carrina’s frame to the tips of her black hair. She had come into the wrong room and everybody saw her! Without a word, she turned around and walked out. Another hallway down and she entered the correct room.

       “You see?” Mrs. Grant announced to the classroom. “I told you she would be here.” And with that, the students roared with laughter.

“What?” Carrina wondered in confusion as she sat down at her desk. Of course it had

to be in the middle of the room so everyone could laugh and point. They all wore the same uniform, making them only look like good little children, but no uniform could hide their horrid expressions or suppress the fact that half of them were bullies. It just tricked everyone.

Jimmy, who sat next to her, said, “Mrs. Grant said that you would be late so she marked you here anyway.”

Carrina beamed. She had totally lucked out! Plus she was in the right room, everything was good. No one need know of the escapade in the other hall.

“When are we making the books today?” Carrina asked Jimmy.

“After lunch,” he responded excitedly, his blond hair bobbing on his round head.

Carrina breathed in anticipation as her mind-set firmly on the magnificent masterpiece that was to come. She had seen so many big books with great leather covers and golden words. She had held many as big as her, smelled their musty pages and read the beautiful words written across the pages. Of course she didn’t know half of what she was reading, but it didn’t matter. She was going to make a complicated book that no one could understand!

All through class she only thought of the book. The teacher passed out paper, but Carrina didn’t even see it. The clock ticked away, each second closer to her book.

Suddenly the teacher tapped her on the shoulder.

“Carrina,” Mrs. Grant growled, “Carrina!”

Carrina’s heart went into her mouth and she looked quickly up at her. The woman seemed to tower to the ceiling. Her dark blue dress with the tiny red flowers encompassed the whole of Carrina’s view. Goodness, Mrs. Grant’s teeth seemed to be extra yellow today as she grimaced down at her.

        “Why weren’t you answering me?” Mrs. Grant demanded sharply. “And why aren’t you doing your math?”

“M-my math?” Carrina stuttered in a choked sort of way. She could just see her

boisterous mother in her mind’s eye with a spank in her hard hand. The spank looked kind of green and globby with yellow eyes. But spanks shouldn’t be green and globby, because they hurt so a spank should have really looked like a…

“Carrina!” Mrs. Grant snapped.

Carrina jumped as snickers chortled though the room. They silenced as soon as Mrs. Grant looked sharply up. Little Jimmy almost slammed his face into his math paper as he looked down and started working hard. His pencil whizzed messily over the math problems: 1+5= appols. Carrina always knew he was a bad speller.

“Come to the front of the classroom,” Mrs. Grant ordered her.

Carrina’s face reddened as she looked over to the lone desk. It was right in front of Crystal whose spoiled gray eyes gazed at her like a wolf ready to pounce. She sneered at Carrina and stuck her tongue out. For some reason Mrs. Grant didn’t catch that. She never caught anything important. It had to be because of that dress she was wearing.

Very slowly Carrina got up and made the green mile to the lonesome desk. She could feel Crystal’s evil presence behind her. As soon as Mrs. Grant turned her back, Crystal poked Carrina with her pencil. Carrina tried to ignore it, but Crystal kept poking her, then she started spitting paper into her hair. Carrina’s mouth tightened but Crystal might beat her up if she did anything. Suddenly Crystal started pulling the paper out of Carrina’s bushy locks.

“That’s very nice of you, Crystal,” Mrs. Grant said kindly, and then her voice

sharpened. “How are you doing, Carrina?” She looked over Carrina’s paper with her beady eyes, searching for something wrong. She almost seemed disappointed as she straightened up. “Everyone, line up for lunch. Carrina, you line up last.”

“I’ll wait with her,” Crystal volunteered as Carrina glanced fearfully at her.

 

“You’re a good girl, Crystal,” Mrs. Grant praised her and then left them there to oversee

the other students.
Crystal looked at Carrina with her little weasel face. “How come you don’t fix your hair, Carrina?” she asked horridly. “You look ugly. Are you stupid? Don’t you know how to brush your hair?”

“I do brush it,” Carrina replied as her mouth tightened and her heart started pumping

fearfully.

“You’re lying,” Crystal said triumphantly. “Mrs. Grant, Carrina’s a liar!”

“Come line up,” Mrs. Grant ordered, ignoring Crystal’s whining outburst. Children

would be children!
As Carrina got in line, Crystal cut in front of her, pushing her back with her butt.

“You have to be last,” Crystal reminded as her nose pinched.

Carrina wanted to cry, but if she did, Crystal would see and make of fun her. Everyone would make fun of her, except Jimmy. Why couldn’t she stand by Jimmy? He glanced back at her with his light blue eyes and then at Crystal who grimaced at him. He quickly looked away. Crystal would love an excuse to pound him. Jimmy was a very small boy, the smallest in the class with translucent skin and very delicate features. Crystal loved to say he had lipstick on before shoving dirt in his mouth.

As everyone walked to the cafeteria, as was Mrs. Grant’s custom, she stopped at the restrooms. Carrina suddenly realized she needed the toilet really bad. But how embarrassing to be the only one who needed to pee. And she was starving! The restrooms would only slow them down. She was at the end of the line and she might get stuck with the fish sandwich!

“Does anyone need to go?” Mrs. Grant asked.

Carrina looked around. If someone else went, she would, too. But no one had to, and she was about to burst! How inconsiderate these people were! Didn’t they know she had to pee? Crystal might follow her into the bathroom. What was she going to do?

Amidst her panicked thoughts, Mrs. Grant said, “Alright, let’s go.” And she walked off with the students following. Carrina was going to die, she knew it. She couldn’t hold it. But she couldn’t tell Mrs. Grant that she needed to pee, not when Mrs. Grant had already given her the chance. Mrs. Grant might scold her. She already had it in for her.

In the midst of this awful panic, Carrina couldn’t hold it. Her pants grew wet and warm as a horrific puddle formed beneath her feet, filling her white shoes. Carrina’s heart stopped, wishing an alien would fly over and kidnap her. But no alien came, they didn’t want to pick up a wet girl. Maybe someone else would get blamed for it. If enough people walked over the wet, someone would get blamed. That’s what happened to Taylor last time. But last time wasn’t this time. That stupid Crystal who didn’t have the decency to get run over suddenly shouted, “Ew! Carrina peed on herself!”

        “YUCK!” everyone shrieked as they backed away from Carrina, forming a semicircle around her. Now she stood alone in a puddle of pee, the centerpiece of humiliation. Carrina couldn’t move or think. Her social life was officially canceled, nothing would ever be the same again. She would have to move away to escape her disgrace.

“Carrina,” Mrs. Grant said in exasperation, this kid was driving her insane! “Go to

the nurse!”
Carrina quickly did so, trying to appear calm and collected, but Crystal’s voice rang out over the lines of students heading to lunch.

“Carrina peed on herself!”

Everyone turned and looked. They pointed, they laughed, they cried out in disgust, they called her names, but no teacher lifted a finger to silence them. Tears threatened Carrina’s eyes and she started to run. Only the nurse would understand her predicament, at least so she thought. When she came in, the nurse was very tart as she asked, “What happened?”

Carrina looked down in embarrassment until a teacher getting a band-aid in the room pointed ruthlessly out, “She’s peed on herself.” Her voice was so grating and loud that Carrina was certain the aliens could hear it from outer space. Where were they, anyway?

Sighing, the nurse went to the closet and yanked out a pair of yellow corduroys and brown sandals. The travesty of it all! These were the ugliest pants ever created. For sure everyone would know she had peed on herself. These were pee pants and they were the color of pee, too. How could she face humanity? What was for lunch? Hopefully it wasn’t something good.

Thrown out on the playground with no lunch, Carrina was the subject of discussion headed by that mongrel Crystal.

“She peed all over the place,” chortled Crystal, “it was all in her shoes. Ew, here she

comes! Look at her!” And all of Crystal’s minions pointed, making disgusted faces. They moved away from her and told everyone else to do the same.

Carrina tried to hide, but her pants were too bright and too yellow. Before her humiliation hit its peak the whistle blew. At least they were going to make books now. That was what she had come to school for anyway. It was the only reason she didn’t run off when she was sent to the nurse.

As they headed back inside, Crystal was still whispering about Carrina and everyone kept pointing. Carrina hated them! Would that they would all get run over! Only Jimmy was her friend because Jimmy had peed on himself, too, once.

“I don’t like those pants either,” he told her as soothingly as possible.

Carrina wasn’t sure how to take that. She had a partner in pee, but he wore these pants, too?! Her only comfort was that she got to sit back in her old desk.

FINALLY, it was time for the book. Mrs. Grant began handing out big wads of paper with a piece of gray-blue construction paper. They were to fold all the paper in half and put the blue one on the outside.

“That’s it?” Carrina yelped without thinking, staring at the hideous folds of paper

on her desk. “Where’s the leather? Where’s the pretty paper?”

“Were we supposed to have leather?” Jimmy wondered.

Carrina raised her hand.

“What is it, Carrina?” Mrs. Grant asked, looking very tired.

“Aren’t we supposed to have leather and gold paper and fancy writing?”

“No.”

Carrina’s mouth fell open and she gazed at her desk in dismay. She had been looking forward to this crud?! This was the accumulation of her hopes and dreams, a pile of line paper covered by a gross, blue-gray cover? And the inside was going to be filled with what, her crooked letters? No print, no beautiful art work, no royalties? What kind of a book was this?

Titters filled the room as Crystal murmured, “Stupid.” Only, Mrs. Grant didn’t hear her. She never heard Crystal when she was being a witch.

At the end of the day, Mrs. Grant had a surprise.

“We’re going to go outside. All of you have been very good and have gotten all your

work done. Line up… Carrina, you have to sit on the wall.”

Crystal chortled and hopped to the front of the line, cutting Jimmy off who backed away from her as if she were a disease. In a few minutes they were free to run all over the playground, but Crystal and her minions sauntered over to where Carrina was sitting sullenly against the wall.

“Hi, pee girl,” Crystal taunted and stomped on Carrina’s ugly sandals. “Look at her

ugly hair!”

Her minions pointed then flipped their braids and pigtails in their little fingers.

“Where’s your boyfriend Jimmy?” Crystal demanded as her friends laughed as if she

were so funny. “He was wearing those pants last time, too! Carrina is wearing boy pants!” Her minions joined in until they were chanting.

Not far away Mrs. Grant was rethinking her life and didn’t notice anything.

Carrina stared at Crystal, tears welling to her eyes, and then something snapped. She’d had enough of this brat! Before she knew it she had jumped to her feet and whacked Crystal across her pinched face. The brat staggered back in shock and pain, her little victim had risen against her? She wasn’t supposed to do that! And then Carrina tackled her down, beating on her face with all her might, tearing at Crystal’s silky locks with feverish fingers. She ripped the shrieking Crystal’s buttons clean off before Mrs. Grant yanked her away.

“Carrina,” the teacher shouted into her face, “what’s the matter with you?!”

“I hate her,” Carrina screamed.

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Mrs. Grant growled as she pulled Crystal to

her feet and marched them both to the principal’s office which enjoined the nurse’s office as well.

“I’m not,” Carrina announced emphatically. “She deserved it!”

“Bullying is not allowed,” Mrs. Grant scolded furiously.

Carrina didn’t answer, but straightened her back, eying Crystal who cowered under her gaze. Carrina grinned. Maybe they would kick her out of school and she would never see these jerks again! The sound of Crystal’s annoying bawls was music to Carrina’s ears.

They entered the principal’s office. There was a great hullabaloo about poor Crystal as every idiot in that office abased Carrina’s behavior.

“She’s not even sorry,” the vice principal moaned, looking at Carrina’s smug face.

“She’s suspended,” growled the principal. “Call her mother.”

Carrina just waited, knowing her mother had told her to pummel the brat several times that month. About fifteen minutes later, her mother came in like a whirlwind of fashion and fire. Carrina heard the principal talking quickly to her, but Carrina didn’t care what the principal thought. She didn’t know where Crystal was or what had happened. Maybe she died? Carrina grinned.

Soon, her mother came to her, a smirk on her face.

“Well, Carrina,” she said, “it’s time to go home.” She held out her hand, the long

red nails glossy. Carrina got primly up and took her hand. “That girl won’t bother you anymore.”

Carrina smiled savagely.

 

©Copyright 2015, Julia Benally

JULIA BENALLY - [Read Full Bio] was born one stormy day in the White Mountains of Arizona, USA to the Bear Clan: Cottonwood Standing People, and actually made it out of the Whiteriver Indian Hospital, alive. From the wild halls of, Alchesay High School, Julia went on to Brigham Young University in Utah and graduated with a B.A. in History...


[Featured]Digital Art Image Credit: oh yeah. by J.A. Spahr-Summers. ©Copyright 2015, Jeffrey A. Spahr-Summers.
 

 

Snapping Twig – Summer – 2015

Vol: May 2015 thru Jul 2015

Advertisements

The Dancer

Copyright 2015, Jan Price

by Adreyo Sen

 


Every evening, dear girl, I return home from work to find your grandmother waiting for me at that old wooden table where a pair of large, beautiful eyes once made us a family.  As I sit down, she gets up wordlessly and begins to busy herself at the stove.  I confide my heaviness to the doll by your grandmother’s vacant table and she tucks them underneath her with graceful ease.

Your grandmother and I wordlessly sip our tea.  Looking into your grandmother’s face, I wonder how she’s so much more beautiful now that wrinkles have conquered every inch of that soft, smooth face that expressionlessly registered the ardent kisses of my youth.  She gives me a querulous smile.

Our tea over, we rise as one and painfully make our way to that little room we pace endlessly in our dreams, sometimes aware of each other’s presence.  Your mother lived here and it is exactly the same as the last night she slept in it.

Your grandmother sits on your mother’s chair and plays with the scraps of paper and ribbon your mother used to store in an old cigarette tin.  When your mother was so much more than a grim voice on the telephone and the plaintive silence that followed, she and your grandmother would quarrel over these strange captives to your mother’s fancy.  What your grandmother saw as garbage, your mother saw as the beginnings of beauty.  Your mother was, even when she was three and growing anxious that she would outgrow the little cardboard box she had designated as her home, an artist.

As your grandmother grumbles irritably over the little intangibles dear to your mother’s heart, I flip the pages of her diaries, diaries filled with the minuscule handwriting her teachers were furious at.  They all had high hopes of your mother, a girl who was already someone whose moments of unconscious beauty brought tears to their eyes.

Even in her happier years, even in those days she took for granted – how couldn’t she? – the admiring tribute of her playmates, your mother was a very serious girl.  This seriousness was hidden under her cheerfulness, it was the worry in the hugs she gave her dour mother, the concern in her laughter over her playmates’ slips and falls.  Even then, she laughed to comfort, to make little those sudden onslaughts of grief that make the lives of little people fraught and so transparent was the child who worried she was opaque that her friends – and there were so many – knew she was never laughing at them.

I am not much of a reader.  Sometimes, I bring home the children’s magazines in the waiting room of the doctor I work for.  I always read the joke columns.  But even I can recognize the beauty in my daughter’s writing.  I never read too much of it, so moved am I by the manner in which her tiny words are animated by a desperate attempt to understand the world and herself.

Even when her face was bright, even when she smiled and danced, we knew our daughter was a worrier.  We just didn’t know how much.

Your mother, who was already reading large, fat books with no pictures in them when she was five, worried about my seeming ignorance.  And often, on the evenings when I would have liked nothing better than to puzzle over the puzzling spirit in my arms, she would tell me the stories in the books she was reading, pausing to question me severely.

This would eventually win her a stern scolding from your grandmother, who pretended to see in her daughter’s unusual articulacy, arrogance.  Like your mother, your grandmother is a worrier – it was her fear that the daughter she doted on with all her large heart, with all the tenderness she kept hidden from her once-teasing husband, was too extraordinary.

Your mother was always angry when your grandmother interrupted her thus.  She would grow sullen and withdraw from us.  She would return an hour later, evidently herself again.  But then, she outgrew this anger.  Perhaps she had begun to understand just how much our love for her made us as much her captives as her slivers of ribbon and paper.

Neither your grandmother nor I are particularly brave.  Your grandmother (who bought your mother notebooks we could ill-afford), tortured by her family’s contempt for her beautiful line drawings destroyed all her art before moving to the city to become a maidservant at one of those large blocks of flats that seem to spring up everywhere.  I met her when I my boss on his visit to your mother’s then mistress (a lady who ate too many chocolates).

And I was too terrified to leave my comfortable employ to aspire for better things.  I let my hard-won commerce degree acquire dust. I accepted that I would always be overlooked by the men and women who walked in and out of my employer’s office, always little more than the pen that filled in their appointments.  Together, we never dared to look for anything better than the little flat your grandmother’s mistress allotted to us in the servants quarters, knowing that this way your grandmother would always be on call.

Do you understand then, how much we loved and feared your mother?  She was Courage, possessed of a brightness that both warmed and singed us.

Once, however, she was also Joy. Even though, as I said, she was always a worrier.  She was a handsome girl, a talented child, a spirit that sang and danced and wrote.  It was her headmistress who paid for her training in that ancient dance form that compresses a lifetime of experience into a single short, fluid movement.

Joy has its detractors.  And even though my cheerful, helpful daughter had few enemies among the servant families that played out their daily dramas by the parked cars of the apartment blocks, she was aware that my grandmother’s mistress hated her.

Your grandmother’s mistress was a firm believer that everyone should know their place.  She believed your mother didn’t know her place, furious that my creative, passionate child refused to be a meek silence.

When your grandmother was occupied with her many household duties, her mistress would send your mother to the market or to the washerwoman, an hour’s walk away, to fetch her laundry.  When your mother demanded payment, the chocolate-addicted woman slapped her – to her, your mother was only an extension of her mother, bound to her whims by your grandmother’s meager salary.

I don’t think your mother really minded.  She liked to work and she liked the fresh air.  And the monotony of her work allowed her mind to build the great forts and castles wherein resided her best work.  Besides, your mother had a quiet, sincere love for the woman’s daughter, a sullen, overweight thing who was harassed by her mother’s attempts to fit her into a mould she could never aspire to.

I could never like this child, whose weakness soon turned to viciousness.  But your mother felt a kinship for her, never minding that the child stuck up her nose at her plain clothes, or pinched and scratched her when she was angry.  Like your grandmother, she knew she was less flesh than wood to a girl brought up to believe servants were implicitly inferior.

When your mother was ten, her fond headmistress gifted her a diary whose beautiful cover was illustrated with birds.  She knew my daughter’s slender feet never rested on the ground.  That is, then.

The diary became your mother’s dearest possession and she carried it everywhere.  She even slept with it under her pillow.  Then she made the mistake of showing it to the girl whose only friend she was.

Instantly, the girl coveted it.  She took it from her.

“If you value my friendship, you’ll give it to me,” she told your mother.

Your grandmother’s mistress, who was watching television in the living room, had heard this exchange.  She called out to your mother.

“What would you do with a diary anyway?” she sneered.

Your mother didn’t abandon the lonely girl.  She had her friends and her loving teachers.  I dare say, she had us.  She puzzled over her headmistress’ brief coldness, never realizing that the headmistress had assumed she’d lost the diary she had bought with such care.  Years later, when I told her what had really happened, that wonderful woman wept.

At fifteen, your mother was so lovely it hurt our eyes to look at her.  She was a mixture of strength and gentleness, grace and fire.  But there was a sadness in her beauty and it broke our hearts.  Her room was full of trophies – she won so many of them in dance competitions.  My wife clipped out the articles she appeared in and saved them.

On your mother’s sixteenth birthday, we pooled together our salaries and bought your mother a pair of ballet shoes.  Never content with her achievements, never resigned to rest, your mother wanted to become proficient in yet another dance form.

That same night, your grandmother’s mistress sent your mother to the ice cream parlor with her daughter.  That child, depressed, had demanded the company of the girl she despised.  They were standing outside the parlor, your mother gamely licking at the cheapest lolly money could buy, and attempting to cheer up her tearful friend, when one of the neighbors, a pretty woman who admired your mother’s daintiness, saw her and rushed towards her.

            “I saw your performance at Siri Fort,” she told her, “You were lovely.”

It is only at this moment that I have any sympathy for that fractured creature who was the least of my daughter’s friends and the sorrow that would suffuse her life.  Always a nonentity, never able to love the mother who controlled her every action, resentful of the friend whose love she knew was never really her due, she howled in rage.  She pushed your mother into the street and as a speeding bus hit your startled mother, your grandmother woke up from a troubled sleep, screaming.

Your mother grew used to the pins in her legs, to the way the curiosity of passers-by sometimes slipped into a teasing all the more painful because it was as free of malice as the jeering of a child.  Sometimes, your mother wondered if she would grow up to be like the people who persecuted her before being won over by the sadness in her eyes.

I never saw your mother smile after that day.  But then, I never saw her cry.  Not even when we rushed her side at the hospital.

Ignoring the feet that would never again be the slender slivers a lovesick classmate had penned a poem to, she looked me in the eye and said, “I’ll become a writer.”  And when your grandmother started crying, it was your mother who attempted to console her. But your grandmother was heartbroken at your mother’s desperate attempt at strength – she knew her troublesome beloved would break down.

Your mother did break down. But this was years later and she was already a published writer whose slender first novel her mother had stitched into a pillow and slept on.  Our daughter had returned home after eight long years, years in which she had made her talent known to the world.

She was limping by my side, dragging her right foot along, when a little child, the daughter of one of the building’s new residents, paused on her way to ballet practice to run over to my daughter.  She began to imitate her.

But my daughter, whose eyes were fixed on the girl’s slender shoes, had already begun to scream.

My daughter spent a month in hospital.  Luckily, she could afford private health care.  I shudder to think of my lovely daughter in the filthy republic of neglect that is a government mental hospital.  And then she went straight to the airport.  When she called us a month later, she didn’t say she was sorry.  She didn’t call us to her wedding, two years later, to a man who loved her with something of our desperation, a man who forgave her silences because he knew the rainy music her feet had once danced to, the music her mind still danced to, a man who was ready to reside in the beautiful world your mother had built with her unshed tears, a world whose first citizen will always be you.

Two years later, your grandmother’s mistress died.  By then, your grandmother had already left her employ and was working for a merry little woman who really wanted a surrogate mother to replace the delighted parent she’d enchanted to death.  Missing your mother, dimly aware of the faery child that was you, your grandmother was only too glad to comply.  I still worked at the doctor’s office, increasingly indispensable to my absentminded boss, but I only looked forward to those moments a little child would visit our home.  Your mother, in unknowing cruelty, had forgiven her last persecutor when she visited her in the hospital – and our wonderful new friend was no longer a stranger to remorse. You will meet her today. She is dying to meet you.  She, too, is a writer.

Sadly, the other child your mother had an unintentional effect on didn’t grow up. Still an overgrown child when your grandmother’s mistress died, her daughter was unable to endure being bereft of the last person who had truly loved her. She was committed.  She died when you were five, your mother’s diary still in her possession.  Unlike your mother, who’d always been the queen of her ordered imagination, this poor child had been a slave in her own dark kingdom.  Finally, she was free.

I am glad to know that in her last days, your mother was planning to come home.  Perhaps, this is why she didn’t call for us, perhaps in her pain she closed her eyes and, as you say, dreamt of the eucalyptus tree she used to climb and whose branches she would fashion into toothbrushes, of the street dogs who were her first and most loyal friends, of the headmistress who still finds herself parceling leftovers for her favorite student.  Perhaps your mother had been home already in the magazines your headmistress sent us, in the increasingly despairing novels your grandmother’s new employer bought for us, in the university students returning to India who would visit us to see the parents their favorite professor spoke so fondly of.

I know you will forgive an old man’s garrulity.  You see, looking at the photographs of your childhood, I delight to see that in many of them, captured (but what an illusion that captivity is), in movements more poetic than your mother’s most elegant words, you are wearing the same shoes.  Those ballet shoes your mother never got to wear.

And so I know, finally, it wasn’t a mistake to send them to her.

 

©Copyright 2015, Adreyo Sen

ADREYO SEN - [Read Full Bio] is pursuing his MFA at Southampton College.


[Featured]Art Image Credit: Tenderness by Jan Price. ©Copyright 2015, Jan Price.
 

 

Snapping Twig – Summer – 2015

Vol: May 2015 thru Jul 2015

Rittenhause

by Hadas Ashby

 


Great.  He’s back.

It’s my professor, Elmhurst Rittenhause. I met him in grad school.

He taught creative writing and poetry at C.W. Post.  He was a real fancy, real smart teacher.

At the top of his class at Yale, then Harvard.  He had close clipped, salt n pepper hair, cynical dark eyes, and he was a very mature man – nearly 70.  He was the poor man’s John Irving.  Or Roth. And I was trapped in his movie.
 

The movie of us: me and him.  The heated sultry fantasy only a loon could concoct.  He must have daydreamed about me a ton.   I could feel the vibe all the way to my split-level home in Brookville.

All aside, I loved Long Island.  I really did.  The big homes and CW.W Post University and Billy Joel.  And the luxurious feeling you can only feel in summer; with all the New York uptown coterie of families returning to their mansions and pools, Gatsby style.

Rittenhause started this nonsense over the phone.

“Hey knucklehead.” He teased “You gave me the wrong address for your

recommendation letter.”

I was transferring to Columbia U. switching from the cozy home of C.W. Post to the Ivy League.  I wanted to study painting.

I checked my computer.  There were 3 messages from Rittenhause.

Dammit.

Couldn’t he tell I hated him?  Loathed his preppy sweatshirt from Yale.  Despised his “aww shucks it’s just me”  attitude.  His sexist lingo, the enemy to any feminist.  His belly from beer guzzling.

At one point, Rittenhause must have been a great man.  You could see the remnants of handsome, around the forehead and the patrician nose.  It was a serious nose.  It was long.  With a big bump.  A WASP nose – though he claimed his grandmother was Hungarian Jewish.  He told me, in his office, one night.

That was when I still adored him.  Saw a brilliant and kind man.   The good days.

“Do you like the poet Donald Hall? “ he asked. “I think you should read him.

I know him. He lives in  New Hampshire.”

An equal opportunity teacher.  Before the mood swings.

I typed an email.

“Stop harassing me.”

And not 56 minutes later, he replied.

“In your dreams.”

Huh?

Was he totally batty?  Didn’t he know C.W. Post was completely liberal.  That I could go straight to the dean with his email?

But I didn’t. On one hand, I was embarrassed.  I worried that the TV news would become aware.

That all the catty conservative housewives of America would see me in the newspaper.  And blame me like Monica Lewinsky and Anita Hill.  I deserved it, they would say.  I was the girl in the proverbial red miniskirt, that deserved to be raped.  Etc.

I was caught “between a rock and the ocean,” my uncle used to say warmly “take your surfboard and float out with the current. Quick and easy.”

I dialed the dean’s secretary Alice.

“Elmhurst Rittenhause keeps calling and writing me.”

“Well.  We’ll see what we can do.”  Alice said in her crisp middle-aged academic

voice.  I resented it.  She wasn’t going to do shit.  She was a lackey to, “The Man.” Stupid secretary.  She probably wanted Rittenhause, herself.

I walked the campus of C.W. Post that night.  It was so ravishingly pretty.  The night.  The rich kids.  The village style of the buildings.  The sleepy trees.  This was the best of Long Island.  This was my home, and I would never leave it, I decided. Not for a millions Columbia scholarships (and all they did was put me on the wait-list anyway.)

A year later, Rittenhause quit.  Seven  other female students had come forward with complaints and rather than the deal with the controversy, he just plain quit.

He changed his name, and moved to the city to teach at CUNY.  I looked at the photo on the website.

Calvin Bright, he went by specializing in astrology, mythology, literature, and pretty.

His hair was totally white now.  His dark eyes looked haunted and scared.  And his shoulders were hunched, sadly.  In defeat.

He looked like he’d lost someone deep that he would never got back.

I clicked on my email.  It was my bespectacled boyfriend Solomon.  Inviting me to sushi in New York.  Downtown.

I smiled at myself, and brushed my long dark hair. Nails glossed.

“Yes,” I typed.  “I will.”

I was free.

 

©Copyright 2015, Hadas Ashby

HADAS ASHBY - [Read Full Bio] graduated college with a B.A. in Irish lit. She has worked as an online book critic. She has been published in a dozen literary journals, among them, White Ash Review and Avalon Review...


[Featured]Photography Image Credit: John Updike / Image 2: Janice Dickinson (characters from Rittenhause). ©Copyright 2015, Hadas Ashby.
 
 

Snapping Twig – Summer – 2015

Vol: May 2015 thru Jul 2015

The Detective’s Daughter

Copyright 2015, J.A. Spahr-Summers

by Eliza Masters

 


She was trespassing in another girl’s bedroom and wearing her clothes. This girl was her father’s daughter and Arthur’s intended. If only she could return to yesterday when these pink walls and her engagement was enough. The underside of her wrist was irritated from the clip she had stolen from Vera’s garter belt, and latched onto her cuff. A big red spot had developed, flaming scarlet. Dinner was threatening to come up. She smelled it-irony and something else, like the smell of a dead animal. Was it from the clip? She remembered the rat she had seen on her way to the morgue, it’s red eyes had stared at her without blinking.

Last night she was the other girl. It was the first time she heard Rhapsody in Blue. Miss Myra Rosen was in the Roseland Ballroom on 51st and Broadway in Manhattan dancing the Peabody, a jaunty Foxtrot everyone had just learned. Young Ladies and Gents of New York City twirled around the thick chrome columns that supported the vaulted cabaret. George Gershwin was only playing a couple of numbers but the crowd had shown up for them. Gals were wearing leggy flapper dresses embellished with beaded necklaces and felt caps, men were swanky in thick pinstripe suits and fat ties. Under the glitzy purple paisley ceiling, Myra’s heels tapped across the lacquered wood floor. She wore a green dress embroidered with small white elephants that Daddy had bought for her. Strawberry blond and modern, she had been more than pleased to see herself in the powder room mirror.

Myra swiveled in Arthur’s arms, the youngest brother of the Gershwin clan. Handsome with a chiseled jaw and trim frame, he was planning on becoming a stockbroker. The couple had been steady for almost a year since Myra had finished high school. She was what they called ‘gifted’ and had skipped two full grades graduating when she was just sixteen. Her reputation was unblemished, as Myra had only kissed one other boy. She had met Arthur as a senior, and he had pursued her with determination. Soon they would be married and live in a new house filled with dinner parties, children and her own gramophone!

Abruptly the music ended as did Myra’s reverie, its absence even louder. Couples drifted outside from underneath the dazzling chandeliers and gold walls of the grand hall. Like a beacon a woman drew Myra’s attention. The streetlight’s glare reflected on her flushed cheeks. Petite and curvy, the girl’s plain dress made her look refined despite her olive skin and swarthy black hair. The gaze of several fellows fell upon her wandering from her ruby pumps up to her supple shoulders. Was that Eddie she was talking to? He offered her a Lucky Strike from his pack. The woman smoked deliberately, as if waiting for something. Perhaps the two had just met, Myra knew Eddie was as yet unspoken for.

Arthur held her elbow like he was touching a swan, “You look splendid tonight” he said, Myra lost track of Eddie. She puffed her smoke delicately, watching her white-gloved hand as it danced towards her mouth, her cherry lipstick leaving a stain on the cigarette holder. They were truly a perfect couple. He was from a good family, and she had Daddy’s blessing. Gazing up into Arthur’s hazel eyes she could tell he was distracted. Myra offered a romantic kiss, which ended up being dry. Arthur didn’t notice, he was staring at the girl with Eddie. Something was odd about her.

            “Have you seen HER before?” Myra asked, gesturing with a slight tilt of her head. Arthur was turned toward Eddie and the tawny girl under the light.

            “Indeed I have, she works in the towel room.” Arthur pursed his lips protectively.    “Oh,” said Myra stifling her curiosity.  She didn’t want Arthur to think she was intrusive. Now the towel girl was talking to a different man, they linked hands, turned the corner and disappeared.

The Gershwin family owned a Russian bathhouse called The Lafayette. New York bathhouses were known for their working girls but Myra trusted that the Lafayette was merely a soaking spot for regular men to bathe after work. Myra’s father took his steam and soak there every Shabbos. The Rosens were not religious but Friday evenings were family dinner for them from as far back as Myra could remember. Since Myra’s mother had died in childbirth, Fanny, Myra’s governess prepared dinner. Even at age seventeen Myra still looked forward to the bright candles, warm challah and her father’s undivided attention.

The Rosens and the Gershwins had known each other for a long time. Long enough to know that the family used to be called Gershovitz and George and Arthur had been born in New York like Myra. Myra’s father had also been born and educated in America, making her a second-generation citizen. Arthur’s father Morris, the senior Mr. Gershwin, was from St. Petersburg and had a strong accent, his wife didn’t speak English at all. Already Arthur had completed more schooling than his parents.

Because she was too young to attend college and Columbia didn’t accept girls anyway, her father had arranged for her to take class at the newly founded Barnard College for women. Myra was at her best there. Her only class was titled Inquiry. Students were taught the basics of uncovering and reading skin ridges. With infectious curiosity Myra would rush home and tell her father the latest on fingerprinting, as he listened to his insightful daughter attentively. Was she truly to leave him alone with Fanny after she wed? Would Arthur allow her to assist her father as a secretary in his office and confidant on cases and criminal activity?

Later that evening there was a rare telephone bell, shrill in the foyer, and her father’s tense response “The Lafayette? …Oy vey iz mir!” There was the coroner’s knock on her front door and her father’s insistence she not come along. “ No, Myra darling I’m sorry…a girl has died…” She had never seen a dead body, but knew she was up for the job, she wasn’t squeamish and she didn’t want to be left out.

              “Daddy, I’m grown now, I’m to be married soon and I’ll stay out-of-the-way I promise!”

He never could tell what a girl was or wasn’t supposed to do, and Fanny had gone home. Maybe she would learn something he rationalized. Plus she was insistent so the detective let her win. “Ok, you can come along, but be like a mouse, quiet.” Myra smiled wide, almost giggling with excitement.

Though her father was a criminal lawyer that also meant being a detective too. In fact the Coroner was also a butcher. “Daddy.” She handed him his gloves and hat as she wrapped herself in a black trench coat that matched her father’s. Her father was oblivious to the Coroner’s reaction as Myra wedged herself into the back seat of the carriage. Pushing his seatback hard against Myra’s legs the Coroner made his punishing feelings known. The horse clacked against the cobblestones swiftly en route to the Gershwin’s Russian Baths. The city was sleeping save for the soft red glow from the smelting factory in Brooklyn and a few wandering tramps. Night shadows danced between the bricks and on rooftops. Both men ignored Myra as they ignored the sudden downpour drenching the driver and steed outside.

               “She was Ashkenazi? ” her father asked.

           “No, from Portugal I think…the pretty one with the space between her teeth? …emmm the towel girl…” The Coroner lowered his voice as he spoke the last words, causing Myra’s ears to catch. The meaning was implied. Could there be working girls at the Lafayette, Myra worried.  Her father and the Coroner knew these women, did Arthur? She had assumed he had never bedded before, but what if he had? She pretended to look out the foggy window. The two men lapsed into silence as if they could hear her thoughts. The carriage passed between the rows of tenements and finally rounded the corner to stop directly in front of the Bathhouse. Rain fell from the black sky without a star in sight.

This was Myra’s first time inside the Lafayette, as it was not a proper place to go alone and Arthur had never invited her. She had been upstairs in the family’s apartment only once. She wondered if Arthur thought her proper, or if she really was. Guided by her father’s absentminded love, Myra had grown untethered by convention. Her will and relentless speculation had driven her behavior. She thought of Arthur sleeping nearby, warm in his bed. Would he ever really know her? Who did he think she was?

The victim’s room was brimming with plush ivory bath towels for the clientele. They hung on bars with neat metal hangers, and were stacked to the ceiling on shelves. Myra had never seen so many towels, there must have been hundreds. The scent of fresh detergent was broken by the stench of blood.

The group of men parted for the Detective and the Coroner, only Morris stayed by the body. The girl looked diminished in death, small and vulnerable, and very still lying on the floor in the cramped towel room.

 The air in the room was stiff, only a sharp tool could pierce it. Had any of these men had been a part of the girl’s demise? Aware of being the only living female present Myra was stirred to contained alarm. She heard the soft inhaling and exhaling each man took from their common air and moved closer to her father. One man looked particularly upset, his eyes were bloodshot; he was young perhaps Arthur’s age. Another was worn and nervous. Maybe Morris was the murderer? Because they were almost family, Myra knew her father would never engage this possibility. Morris was hovering over the towel girl, his lip curved up into a strange smirk. He watched the girl like she might awaken, not noticing Myra or her father. Was her future father in law a violent man? Her apprehension grew, as she took in the vicious killing of the girl she had seen alive at The Roseland only a few hours earlier.

‘Be rational’ Myra told herself. Carefully she looked at each man trying to imprint them in her memory. She had learned the technique of ‘camera eyes’ from her father as he often asked for Myra’s observations when solving a case. She mentally categorized the three elements; victim, scene and witnesses. She wrote about each man in her small notepad. It read;

Man 1-crooked finger

Man 2-Reddened Blue eyes (Handsome)

Man 3-Neck mole, stout

Man 4-Missing tooth, scar above brow

Man 5-Mr. Gershwin. Odd.

The victim’s lips were a lovely rose, and parted slightly like they yearned to speak, but they were forever silenced. She reminded Myra of her doll Tessa, except the girl’s skin was dusky not porcelain. Beautiful, Myra thought without a wisp of sentiment. She held herself above the massacre. The girl was curled under the towel like she was napping, except for the blood sneaking out. It was rusty and thick, pooling on the white floor.

Myra positioned herself so that when her father did his inspection she would be able to see what lay beneath. The Coroner gave her a hard stare, but she held her ground behind her father, breaking contact. She made a mental note that the woman had probably expired within an hour or two. If only she could touch the victim she would know by her temperature.

The men of the bathhouse respectfully averted their eyes. Myra did not. The white towel was raised and Myra saw the girl’s skirt was intact but that her britches were absent. The clips of her garter belt dipped their heads into the bloody mess. Dark blood was caked on the woman’s vagina and had congealed between her legs. She lay twisted in her own fluid. There was no other sign of violence and Myra wondered how the killer got in so close. A wave of nausea came over Myra.

               “Feh!” said the detective, and then softly “Kaddish?”

The men in the room mumbled out the first line of the mourner’s prayer in Hebrew with Morris’s voice the loudest. The Coroner pronounced her dead and the bath men loaded her into the carriage covered with fresh towels for her journey to the Jewish Morgue. A man bore what was left of the towel girl inside.

They learned that her name was Vera Bertoli and she arrived in New York alone and had worked at The Lafayette for three months. Morris said he would tell the matron of her boarding house the news in the morning. Myra wondered why her father and the Coroner didn’t question the men at The Lafayette. The three rode along quietly as if all was resolved. Obviously the Coroner was uncomfortable with her presence, but he wasn’t her father! Could they have figured out who had killed the towel woman already? Or was the victim not worth their time? Well Myra would not abandon the poor Miss!

Murky images of the dead girl haunted Myra as she looked unseeing over the adornments of her own life. Her festive red lipstick looked loud and immature in her vanity mirror. The thought of a brutal murderer on the loose terrified Myra. Her father’s words came to her, “examine what you know to be true.” She reviewed the case. Honor and virtue were violated… he must be a snake inside a man, nasty and cruel. That young woman was stabbed in the most private of places! How dangerous it was to be a working girl and all alone in this crowded city. Her own womb flashed with pain.

One thing Myra knew for sure was that since the woman had no family in the city the she would be buried in the unmarked area of the public cemetery. Because of tradition she would be interred within 24 hours so Myra would have to work fast. Her mind trotted over the cobblestones into a future where she was an esteemed detective that solved murders in all the five boroughs of New York.

At dawn the next morning Myra slipped out telling Fanny she was off to take in the fresh air of Central Park. The sugar maples were just beginning to unfurl their giant leaves above a long line of carriages promenading on the pathways. The ladies of New York would safely congregate on the wooden benches with needlework and small children.

She closed the front door quietly headed for the morgue. Just as the trolley pulled up a rat surfaced from the sewer and its body was crushed underneath the wheels of the vehicle. Myra sensibly stepped over it and settled into a vacant seat.

A sinewy gentleman cracked the door upon Myra’s knock. “Yes.” It wasn’t a question. His skin was oily and dank, unwashed. Bloodshot eyes inspected her.

           “I’m Myra Rosen… sent by my father…the lawyer…” A white lie, but it was in the interest of justice. “Can I see the girl who was brought in last night from the Bathhouse?”

             “The lawyer’s daughter…” The man grunted and closed the door fully as if to unlatch it. Myra waited but the door remained shut. She knocked again hesitantly, this time only two taps. She was anxious, but held position. The door opened fully. “What do you want Missy?” He wore a suit that hung off his emaciated frame like he was it’s hanger. Myra didn’t want to think of its origins. Saliva leaked through blackened teeth as he appraised her from top to bottom as if she was a ripe peach.

Childlike Myra piped, “I need her clothing…for my father…” The man opened the door wide and Myra stepped into the dim parlor. Myra raised her glove over her nose to block the putrefying smell. There was a wrapped body against the sidewall, and the beautiful towel girl was laid out on a wood table in the middle of the room. She was naked with strips of linen over her breasts and pelvis, Myra wondered if the strange man had covered her for Myra’s benefit. He stood behind Vera smiling like he owned her. “Her clothing…” Myra whispered, she was losing her nerve, no one knew where she was. Vera was only an object now, her lips were white and rigor mortis had set her fingers in a small contraction and frozen them.

Myra’s plea had caused the man to move, and he was reaching towards her-too close, with a pile of disheveled female clothing. Snatching the pile she bolted out the door just in front of the man’s groping hand.

Myra marched the 14 blocks uptown to her classroom at Barnard. Other classes were just beginning and Dr. Stein’s room was unlocked. She spread out the girl’s garments carefully on the sterilized steel lab table. Vera’s dress was drenched with stiff blood reminding Myra of her own menstrual cycle and its stains on the rags Fanny gave her.

The only piece of clothing with readable finger ridge markings was the garter belt’s four metal clips. These belts were expensive, at more than a dollar each, and this likely was the only one the girl owned. Oddly Myra owned one exactly like it. After a soft dusting Myra used a large magnifying glass to examine the prints. Garter belts were rarely laundered so there were many layers of prints. Myra made notes and small drawings of the finger maps she discovered. She was able to discern a family of feminine prints, the thumb, pointer and middle finger, which were most likely Vera’s. There were others too, many in pieces and lying on top of each other.  On the clip of one garter was a large thump print that had a match of a partial middle or pointer finger on the back strap. These were fresh and Myra thought they could be the killer’s. Could it be Morris or someone she knew? Using a shop knife she cut off this clip and fastened it to her cuff on the underside of her wrist.

Her next stop was The Lafayette. Last night it had appeared clean and wide but in daylight it looked disreputable, the shrunken building hunched in its row, its paint peeling from old age. A mouse scampered away from her boot and bits of trash blew in front of the stoop. Myra pushed open the heavy door and was accosted by heat that had an intimate odor. Faint notes came from a piano somewhere. Was that song George’s Summertime?

           “Good mornin’ Miss” said a chubby woman behind a small desk covered with a large appointment schedule. Her bright rouge and eye paint was inappropriate for this time of day.

            “Myra Rosen,” She extended her hand, which hung unanswered. “I’m the detective’s assistant and I’d like to inspect the towel area, if you don’t mind.” The woman waved lazily to the left so Myra gently opened the door and stepped into the room.

In the middle was a chair where a young woman was smoking slowly, waiting. The towels were soft and innocent. Balmy air from the heated waters floated in from the pool doorway. Myra pictured Vera siting in this same chair in life less than 24 hours ago. “Hi I’m Myra.” This time her hand was grasped warmly.

            “I’m Bess.” She raised herself, gathering her jacket and offering the seat to Myra. Apparently Bess thought Myra was a towel girl too. The lush towels had mopped away last night’s victim, the modest room was clean and renewed.

              “Thank you kindly” an awkward chuckle slipped out of Myra, “but I’m here to ask a few questions about Vera Bertoli, did you know her?” Bess sucked a gulp of hot air. A quick tear streaked down her face, leaving a faint trail of mascara in its wake. Myra got right to the point. “Did anyone want to hurt her?”

The clip on Myra’s wrist felt scratchy. “Not that I know of…” Mice droppings rolled onto the clean tiles as Bess reached beneath the towel rack. She held a straightened metal hanger. Like a kosher dog on a stick, the rod pierced a wax candle on its wick line. Above the candle the hanger was sharpened like a miniature spear. It looked like a weapon. There were brown flecks of dried blood on the instrument. “The girls use these…” Myra wasn’t grasping Bess’s meaning. “…you know if they get in the family way…” Bess looked at Myra tenderly like a sister.

The door opened and Morris filled the frame. “Eh-low, Meera! Vat a surprise!” The strangeness was gone from his face, Myra could see his resemblance to his son. Respectfully he asked, “I get you Arthur?”

            “Yes, thank you, that would be lovely.” Said Myra in proper form, she turned to Bess taking her hand once more. “So nice to meet you.”

Up the stairway she followed her father-in-law to the family’s apartment on the third floor. Incased in a plush armchair she awaited Arthur, hands folded. Yesterday’s girl had fallen for him, would she still love him? Her thumb tried to scrape away the rough spot growing on her wrist.

 

©Copyright 2015, Eliza Master

ELIZA MASTER - [Read Full Bio] is a freelance writer, and a member of the Kidd Program, Foreward and Duotrope. Words Apart Magazine recently published her story, "The Sacrifice". Wayzgoose Press will publish her three novels, "The Scarlet Cord," "The Exotic Flower," and "The Shibari Circle," in 2015...


[Featured]Digital Art Image Credit: tonight by J.A. Spahr-Summers. ©Copyright 2015, Jeffrey A. Spahr-Summers.
 

 

Snapping Twig – Summer – 2015

Vol: May 2015 thru Jul 2015

The Letter

Copyright 2015, Jack Grupe

by Linda Hegland

 


Benjamin wasn’t expecting a letter. He rarely got mail, and never a letter. But today, a gray morning moist with unshed rain and silent of birdsong, a small yellowed envelope sat in his rusty letter box. He drew it out tentatively. His name was handwritten, the ink pale blue and flowing like a stream. Benjamin Ezekiel Clement. There was no doubt the letter was meant for him, he was quite sure that his was not a common name, it was probably beyond uncommon. The address simply read “last house, white, at the end of rutted road, RR1, Sable County”. The stamp was faded and peeling at its edges, its place of origin obliterated. He turned the envelope over – no return address. A red wax seal, old, worn, and brittle sealed the flap.

Benjamin felt that he wanted to leave the letter in the box. But, sighing, he took it and turned towards the house, his old barn cat weaving herself like a shuttle back and forth between his slow, bow-legged steps.

 “Well, my old harridan,” he said to her, “Let’s see what this is about.”

He let the cat into the house, a rare occurrence, but today he felt like company. He stepped to the sink to fill the kettle.

 “Some cream?” The cat assented with a growling purr.

The kettle boiled and the tea steeped, Benjamin sat with the letter placed in front of him. The cat leapt to the table and settled beside his elbow, making an elaborate production of grooming her cream-flecked face. Benjamin absent-mindedly rubbed her tattered, tom-chewed ears, staring at the letter.

Then, so quickly that the cat flattened her ears and hissed at him, he grabbed a jackknife from his pocket. He pried the knife beneath the brittle seal and pried it up. It fell to crumbled pieces. He opened the envelope and extracted a single page. A small gold ring fell to the tablecloth with a muted “ping”.

Benjamin picked up the ring. It was small, tiny. It sat like a ludicrous halo atop his little finger. Inside the loop he was barely able to make out the word “Sara”. The ring was old, the gold muted and worn. Benjamin knew of no Sara. He unfolded the letter, the page so dry that he had to be careful not to handle it too roughly, the edges crumbling to flakes despite his care. The same pale blue ink flowed across the page; some words were too faded to read. The letter began,

 

“Dear Benjamin  . . . .

You do not know me, nor I you.

It is not in me, usually, to interfere with other peoples’ lives, with their fates. We have never met and likely never will. And though it may sound cruel, I do not believe that I would like to meet you – I have seen the result of knowing you.

But I am prompted to write because of two events that cannot be neglected, two events that piqué my sense of duty. And though you were never made aware of the story, I feel that it is unconscionable that someone live out a life without knowing what consequences they have left in their turbulent wake. I am an unreasonably moral man.

One event is that the mother of the woman I love, has died. She died with heavy burdens that should not have been hers alone to bear. In her last hours, she told me a story and she gave me a ring. The ring that is contained in this letter – a diminutive ring, an infant’s ring.

The second event concerns the woman I have said I love, the daughter. She stares towards the horizon a lot lately – like she’s searching for something. She stares at the woods behind our house, too, and comments how that one by one the trees will lose their leaves and then the snow will fall, or maybe not. She doesn’t seem to care, though always before she has fretted about the small birds and how they will bear the winter – holding her hand to her heart imagining the rapid drumming of theirs.

Her name is Sara and she is your daughter.

Yours,   Simon ”

 

Benjamin’s eyes widened. His daughter?  What was this person speaking of? He shook his head slowly back and forth, as though he could shudder the letter and its words from his mind. He stared out the window into the growing dusk, falling gently to the ground in soft drapes of dark, over the hard dirt of the place he had farmed for 60 of his 78 years. And in those years he had rarely left the loneliness of it. He went to the open market in town once a year in the fall to sell his grain, his vegetables, and small wooden carvings with which he occupied his winters. He would buy fuel for his truck and his house, and seed for the spring. Other than that, he never left.

But before he had taken himself off to that white house at the end of the rutted road, before he had become the town’s eccentric hermit – the subject of stories with which to scare children, he had been, instead, the town swain – crackin’ handsome, wild and alluring. Benjamin had drunk hard and often; he had driven fast; he had slicked down his hair and dallied with many a chaste heart.

But one night when he was at his most discontented and trenchant; when swilling corn liquor until his eyes bugged and driving fast enough to decimate entire generations of rabbits held no satisfaction, he committed a hideous indiscretion. He charmed a young girl at the Friday night dance; he danced her out the door and into the fields. But he was not appeased with just shattering her heart.

Watching from above, outside of himself and looking down in an alcoholic heedlessness, he saw himself become someone he couldn’t comprehend, whom he would never have recognized.  And when it was over; when she attempted to hold her torn dress across her bruised breasts; when she held her hand to the blueness about her lips where he had pressed down hard to stop her from screaming; when she looked at him with tears and snot and blood clotted on her face and with her eyes like those of a heifer sensing the first clout of slaughter – he ran.

Benjamin stared at the page in front of him as though he were reading his own epitaph. He ran his finger gently under the name “Sara”. With an overwhelming punch of pain felt deep in his gut, which then upper cut into his heart with such impact he felt it wobbling like a world off its axis, he felt a loss – a loss he hadn’t even known was his to feel.  A daughter – Sara.

Was this man, Simon, writing to bring him into Sara’s world? Was he writing to say that wrongs could be righted? No . . . .  Benjamin re-read Simon’s affirmation that people should be aware of the consequences of their actions, of their thrust into the world. Benjamin read again the barely veiled accusation, the pity in the tone.

Benjamin looked at the frail paper; the yellowed colour; the antiquated writing and the brittle bits of a seal that no one used anymore. He saw that this letter had been an immensely long time in coming to him, more than decades. He saw that the gods of fate and irony had cruelly played him. In losing a letter that could have turned his forfeiture, they had made his loss more poignant, piercing.  His opportunity to amend was long gone, the letter was old, his daughter too – if she even still existed.

Benjamin took the letter with him out the back door, his old cat at his heels. He sat on the rotting steps. Here he and his cat had sat many evenings, gazing out at the wind-blown prairie, They had watched lightning storms, and antelope, and swallows.

Tonight, fireflies lit the prairie like sparks rising from a fire. Benjamin took the brittle letter and its fragile envelope and held them flat in his large, calloused hands. Then from the edges in, he slowly crushed the paper into shattered bits barely more substantial than dust. He then lifted his hands into the air and blew it all into the night air. The pieces flitted and darted about until they were indistinguishable from the fireflies. He and his cat watched until the freshening near-morning wind that turns the night into dawn. The wind blew the last of the fireflies and the letter out into the prairie until there was nothing left of either.

Benjamin took the tiny, golden infant ring and pushed it with his finger deep into the ground at his feet. He stamped hard on the soil. He scratched the cat roughly round the ears, groaned as he creaked to his feet, and turned into the house to put the teakettle on.

 

©Copyright 2015, Linda H.Y. Hegland

LINDA H.Y. HEGLAND - [Read Full Bio] is a short story, creative non-fiction, poetry writer and photographer who lives and writes in Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada. Born in the mystical city of Bath, England and raised on the wind-scuffed Canadian Prairies, her writing often reflects the influences of place and one's relationship with it. She has published in several literary and art journals...


[Featured]Digital Art Image Credit: Stare by Jack Grupe. ©Copyright 2015, Jack Grupe
 

 

Snapping Twig – Summer – 2015

Vol: May 2015 thru Jul 2015

True Love Ways

Copytight 2015, J.A. Spahr-Summers

by Ed Nichols

 


That last night together they sat in his daddy’s ’58 Pontiac in the drive in front of her house.  They kissed short kisses, then longer ones.  She kept moving her hand around the back of his neck.  He knew her fingers could feel the goose bumps on his neck.  That night he knew he would always love her.  They stopped kissing for a moment, and just stared into each other’s eyes.  Then they heard Tommy Edwards on the car radio singing, “It’s All In The game.”  He laid his hand on her thigh.  Through her skirt he could feel her body heat.  Her breasts rested lightly against his chest.  Her long blonde hair fell softly upon her shoulders.  Then, he saw a tear drop from her eye onto her check.  He touched the tear with his forefinger.  Then he put the tip of the finger in his mouth.  She smiled and pulled him closer.

Listening to the radio, they sat quietly.  Not moving, just holding each other.  The Platters came out of the radio with, “My Prayer” then, “Heaven On Earth.”  The music was so familiar.  They had danced, slow dances, two weeks earlier to these same songs.  It was as if tonight these were their songs, and no else in the world could hear them. The car windows fogged up, and a light rain pattered against the roof of the Pontiac. She rested her head on his shoulder.  He thought for a moment they might just spend the night like this.

Finally, she whispered, “I hate to leave tomorrow.”

“I know,” he answered.  “I know.  I hate it, too”

“But you’re leaving for Camp Stewart next week.”

“Yea.  I sort’a dread it.”

She smiled and said, “I can’t believe you’re going into the army.”

He smiled back.  “Me either.”

She kissed him softly.  “Oh, you’ll do good.”  She squeezed his arm tightly.  “But you better be careful.”

“I will…I hope—” He stopped and turned to the radio as, “True Love Ways” filled the car.  He reached around and turned the sound up.  “That song—“

“I loved dancing with you to it.”

“Me, too.  God, I hate he died.”

“Oh, yea.  He must’ve been a genius.  All the songs he wrote.”

“Especially this one,” he said.  “I think I’ll always remember this summer with you.   Whenever I hear that song, I know I’ll remember.”

She stared silently into his eyes.  And he looked deep into hers.  Something stirred inside his body, in his heart.  It felt like something, maybe a fist, was beating on the inside of his chest.  His face flushed.  Something special had transpired between them.  Something he had never felt before.  And it had happened just over the last month.  And it was good.

“Do you wonder…” she paused.  “Ever wonder, why we didn’t date until we graduated from high school?”

“Yea,” he answered.  “I’ve thought about it a lot.”

“Why, do you think?  We turned out this way?”

He turned and placed both hands on the steering wheel.  He stared at the darkened windshield.  “Well, you were dating, and I don’t know.  I guess I always figured you were too busy, or wouldn’t be interested in me.”

She placed her left hand on the steering wheel next to his hand.  “But, we’ve been friends all our life.”

He laughed and nodded to the side window.  “I know.  Lord, I remember coming up here when we were in the second grade.  To your birthday party in the yard over there.  My mother and your mother leading all of us in games.”

She laughed loudly.  “Maybe…I don’t know, maybe I’ve always thought of you as… like my brother.”

“Could be.”  He turned and kissed her.  “But, I don’t think of you as my sister.  Not anymore.  Do you remember dancing with me in our sixth grade play?”

“Of course,” she said laughing.

“I think I was in love with you way back then.”

She laughed again, and kissed him long and slow.  Then she said out loud, for the first time, “I love you very, very much.”

He couldn’t think.  But the words spilled out.  “And I love you.  You…my mind is full of you.”

——————

 

Thirty-five years later, he rode slowly by her parent’s old house in Clarkesville.  He stopped briefly, remembering that long ago night, sitting in the Pontiac in her front yard.  The house looked the same, a little run down.  Needs a paint job, he thought.  He looked at the mountains in the distance.  Then he drove slowly away.  He drove back to his house.  His parent’s house that became his when they died.  He walked through the quiet house to the back porch.  He sat in his father’s favorite rocker.  Thirty-five years!  God!  Where did it go.

 He’d had these thoughts before.  How did the time slip away?  How did he let her go?  How did she let him go?  The next day, after that last date, she’d gone to Atlanta.  To work for Eastern Airlines.  She was sent to Miami for several weeks of stewardess training.  They’d talked several times on the phone.  Then she was transferred to Dallas.

After basic training he was sent to Germany, then Japan.  Then he landed in Saigon.  Two tours in Vietnam, then two years in Korea, and another year back in Germany.  They were separated in the early years by distance, by war, by something that he couldn’t put his finger on.  To be in love—to be so happy together that summer—it wasn’t right.  They should’ve gotten married.  Should’ve spent their lives together.  Raised children.  Laughed and cried—and grown old together.

Tomorrow, he would finally see her again.  For the first time in over three decades.  He planned to be at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta early.  Her daughter had called him the day before.  Her mother was sick—very sick.  But at some coherent moment she had whispered his name.  Asked her daughter to call him.

———

 

The next morning, he stood quietly in the semi-dark ICU room with her daughter.  He moved close to the bed and studied her face.  A few wrinkles.  Her hair was mostly gray now, like his.  He looked at all the tubes in her arms.  She was yellowish, shallow, but still beautiful.

Her daughter looked at her watch and said, “I’m supposed to meet the doctors this morning.  I’ll be back in a little while.”

He nodded.  Then he sat beside her bed.  A nurse came in, checked the monitors and quietly left.  She moved her body slightly in the bed, trying to move to her side.  Then she was still.  Finally, he stood up and placed his hand on hers.  As soon as he touched her, her eyes opened a little.  They were glazed, but when she saw his face they opened wide.  He bent and kissed her cheek.  A lone tear ran down her cheek.  He touched it with his finger, then placed the tip of the finger in his mouth.

Smiling, struggling, trying to lean up, she said, “Can…I…have this dance?”

He fought hard to keep back his tears.  “God, I’ve missed you, more than you’ll ever know.”

“And I…I…you.”

He reached in his coat pocket and took out a small tape recorder with head phones.  He leaned over and placed the speaker in her ear.  She watched him with a look of surprise.  Then he pushed the play button.  He stood silently beside the bed, smiling.  She looked at him, then the ceiling.  Her lips moved slightly as she followed the lyrics to the song.  She smiled and reached out her hand to him.

“All…of…my life,” she said.  “Whenever I…heard….”  She closed her eyes and listened to the song, over and over and over.  And he stood by the bed, and held her hand.

 

END

 

©Copyright 2015, Ed Nichols

ED NICHOLS - [Read Full Bio] lives outside Clarkesvile, Georgia. He is a journalism graduate from the University of Georgia, and is an award winning writer from Southeastern Writer's Association...


[Featured]Digital Art Image Credit: this love between us by J.A. Spahr-Summers. ©Copyright 2015, Jeffrey A. Spahr-Summers.
 
 

Snapping Twig – Summer – 2015

Vol: May 2015 thru Jul 2015

Visiting Leningrad

east of eden Copyright 2015, J.A. Spahr-Summers

by Peter Fraser

 


You never get all the answers. Perhaps you forget the best questions and remember them later. Perhaps there is no-one left, capable of  answering correctly.

So when the Bolsheviks came through the doors of the Winter  Palace, which entrance did they use? It seems a fair question to me. Did they surge in through where the main doors are now, without paying for a ticket? Or did they find a more convenient entry? I isolated a museum official and put this question to her.

“English? Only speak Bad English. Will get superior commissar for you.” Did she understand my query or did

she just want to get away from me?

A stout official appeared, she had a look of patience, an authority that could resolve any issue.

“Lenin?”

“Yeah.”

‘Tolstoy?”

“No. Trotsky.”

“Ah. And Stalin?”

“Yeah.” She clearly knew the names.

“Think. You be wanting the Museum of Politics, is out near the airport. This being the Hermitage Museum,

as you be knowing. Is best in the world. On display is only a fraction of our exhibits, you will enjoy it.” She smiles with the satisfaction of an issue quickly resolved. I can’t return her official grin, I know I’ve been successfully avoided. There is a small crowd building around me. This place is incredibly busy, even in the middle of winter.

“Try Hall 188, the small Dining Room, is where they actually took control.”

A real answer, I think of another question and refuse to be ignored.

“Would you know the room in which the Czar censored Pushkin’s poetry?”

“Pushkin?” I was beginning to irritate. “Is an old Soviet hi rise suburb out on the way to Catherine’s Summer Palace.”

“No. I mean the poet.”

“Like the statues?”

“Yeah.”

“Is several through the city. And being a Museum as well. You will enjoy it.”  Then added tentatively. “Died in a duel?”

“Yeah. Him. Fought twenty-seven of them, they reckon.” She was not interested in my answer.

“I’ll get you the address.”  The curious around me took this as a signal the interview was terminated.

I concurred but couldn’t believe my questions were eccentric. The guide returned with a map of the city in Russian. A chubby finger jabbed at an incomprehensible destination. “There. There.” She smiled responsibly, having carried out her duty, gave me the map and even added, ‘have a nice day’.

I bought the entry ticket and began my compulsory exploration. This might be the purpose of the city. The first thing any local will ask is, ‘have you been to the Hermitage?’ There is an expectation you will answer in the affirmative or even better an effusive affirmative.

Yet the whole city is a Museum, although one covered in snow. There is no ancient history, St. Petersburg wasn’t even founded until early 1700, there is no Russian Stonehenge here and despite the arctic isolation it has endured almost identical events as the West.

But the Hermitage is so incomprehensibly large. There is room after exotic room stuffed with exhibit. My guidebook says the Romanov’s had sixteen palaces around St. Petersburg at the time of the Revolution. They were under pressure yet clearly had no intention of selling up and moving on and they had accumulated an astounding hoard of possessions.

I don’t loiter, there is no real time to savour unexpected gems, I have to get on with it because I know I don’t have the concentration to get round to everything in one circuit.

There is a large collection of seventeen century painting, with acres of Rembrandt and Rubens, then a comprehensive representation of every aspect of western art, including some excellent twentieth century works.

A room of golden dinner plates and table ornaments stops me. Imagine eating a sandwich off a fantasy setting like this. Who would be trusted to wash them after a meal? What did the Bolsheviks think of them? How did they survive? But they are here, glowering innocently from a protective illuminated cabinet.

I sense an international agreement on what we value. I might be in the Met or Louvre or Prado. I might walk through a door and find myself in the British Museum. There is a contract for all this cultural luxury.

But outside it is a different world, even an alternative universe, where the similarities struggle to appear. I negotiate the ice and take a taxi back to my hotel, its 4 pm so it’s quite dark. I sit in the bar with a black coffee and vodka. It seems I’m an oddity and the staff eventually want to test their English skills on me. They are a cheerful group of workers, most of them have picked up the rudiments of about four or five languages, while I can only speak one. Where do you come from? Have you been to the Hermitage? You like the cold? You really live in a country that is only hot? You like vodka? No, no, this is not cold, minus thirty is cold. All the canals are frozen. The rouble is in trouble. You think there will be war?

They are uninhibited and curious, their skin almost a translucent white. After dinner I watch the English television channels, all of them leading with Ukrainian war stories. All of them castigating Putin.

I am on holiday, you only get six hours of daylight so you need to be organised for the next day. Daylight is not the word, the colour is a moody pervasive grey, without even a hint that there is a sun somewhere.

By lunch I am idling down Nevsky Prospect, the main road through the city, originally planned by Peter the Great. I stop and take some pictures of the four bronze horses.  Then choose a prosperous art deco bookshop with a restaurant above and enjoy an excellent meal, staring down on a frozen canal that leads to the Church of Spilled Blood. Perfect for a tourist. But I am not successful in tracking down some retail indulgence for myself after lunch. The best shopping I find is in a large ‘Galleria’, but every outlet is a popular western brand, there is nothing that could not be found in any large international city. I look in vain for something uniquely Russian but only find some coffee cups with Vladimir Putin posing outlandishly on the outside. No, I don’t think so.

That night I go to the ballet at the Old Mariinsky Theatre. It is one cool piece of ancient architecture. I know nothing about ballet but the place is packed. Ninety minutes flick by in an instant. The stage is burning with healthy young dancers, skilled enough to bring the audience to their feet by the end. Back at my hotel I finish the night with a few vodkas.

At breakfast I often seem to be the only customer, in a hotel that must have at least a hundred rooms, if not more. There is a staff of six or seven, so my every imagined whim is dissected and satisfied. I leave bloated then peer into the darkness from the front doors. There are workers shoveling the overnight snow. There is a wealth of sites to be tracked down and consumed, across the city.

I go to the origin of the place, the Peter and Paul Fortress, built on an island in the river Neve. It was begun in 1703 by the mythical Czar Peter the Great as a garrison and political prison, where over time it held dissidents such as Gorky, Dostoyevsky and Trotsky. I cross the bridge to the entrance and watch fishermen on the frozen Neve working from holes drilled in the ice. While inside, it is a world frozen around 1800, almost a village that has repelled any change. The exotic Peter and Paul cathedral holds a comprehensive collection of imperial remains, including some of the last Romanov’s. The prison is a medieval nightmare.

And there is an endless assemblage of the past. All collected since Peter the Great turned the first icy sod. All this traffic of hard culture making Saint Petersburg its final destination. In the Shuvalov Palace the Faberge Museum is an astounding collection of wealth and fine art. The centrepiece, a portion of the Faberge Egg collection was bought by a Russian billionaire, from America, a decade ago and repatriated to Saint Petersburg. The Soviet government had sold them during the 1920’s and 30’s but they are now on display for everyone to witness and possibly reveal more about the Czars than their numerous palaces. I follow a Russian guide around the luxurious rooms, without understanding one word. As the tour finishes she enquires,

“English?”

“Yeah.”

“Is be sorry. Only speak bad English.”

I didn’t mind.

Faberge was initiating imperial patronage just as Fyodor Dostoyevsky died across town at Kuznechny Lane, in 1881. The Czar had intruded into his life as well, he was pardoned from a firing squad and then sentenced to five years in Siberia where his hands and feet were continually manacled. His last home is another Petersburg Museum.  The place is filled with American kids. Where the hell did they come from? I thought the city was almost devoid of Western tourism, perhaps I was wrong.

Dostoyevsky spent the last three years of his life here. Just to stand in the room where he wrote the Brothers Karamazov or walk up the steps he would have daily negotiated justifies all this relentless tourism. And I do get an eerie feeling of his presence.

There are numerous names connected to the city. I also go to the Yusupov Palace and observe the site of the Siberian peasant, Grigory Rasputin’s murder. In the bar at my hotel they all ask where I’ve been during the day. They nod in understanding although I suspect they don’t comprehend my eccentric investigation. And the barman finds my vodka drinking unworldly.

“No. No. Is swallowed in one go. No sipping. Is thunder.”

But I’m unable to conform. It’s just a neutral spirit to my taste. Not a very Russian response.

The serious tourist is not here to relax. There are no tropical beaches in this neighbourhood. My time is finite. I leave the city and head for the outer suburban countryside. I visit Tsarskoye Selo or the Catherine Palace and then the Pavlovsk Palace. I might be an expert in all this by now. The rococo indulgence, the bloated size, the sensual interiors, the pleasure grounds, the quality architecture, the remaining art works and the buildings sheer uninhibited presence. Why did it take the Bolsheviks so long to rebel against all this? I feel satiated. But it’s all still here. The Soviets might not have got it right, but they did not obliterate their past.

I tell the barman I am leaving in the morning, I’m catching a train to Helsinki.

“Finland? Can’t speak the language there.”

“What language? Russian?”

“No. No. The biggest language in the world.”

“The biggest? Say Chinese or English or Spanish?”

“No. None of them. You really don’t know the answer?”

“No. I guess I don’t.”

“Bad English. The world’s biggest language.”

I buy a vodka and consume it in one gulp.

I thought the three and a half hour trip to Helsinki would be picturesque, but an unlimited vista of snow can feel repetitive. I turn Saint Petersburg over in my mind, it is a unique destination, but still a parallel universe. I bounce from Peter the Great to Lenin, right into the present. I’m overcome by the history, the observable catalogue that is the present city.

Lenin would have used this route, in 1917, when he hid out in Finland after fearing for his life in Petrograd. The Nazi Germans wanted the place so much they kept the city under siege for two and a half years. The aristocrats left their haunted palaces for future tourists. Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin expected the workers of the world to unite and join them. Money was abolished. Private property was abolished. The Red Army took control.

Two cheerful Russian customs officers inspect my passport and then stamp it. The train is speeding towards Helsinki, there’s only snow outside, it would seem I’m no longer in Russia.

 

©Copyright 2015, Peter Fraser

PETER FRASER - [Read Full Bio] Peter Fraser lives in Australia and enjoys writing and travel. He has recently published a novel with, Editions Dedicaces...


[Featured]Digital Art Image Credit: east of eden by J.A. Spahr-Summers. ©Copyright 2015, Jeffrey A. Spahr-Summers
 
 

Snapping Twig – Spring – 2015

Vol: Feb 2015 thru Apr 2015