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  • The Vale of Cashmere

  • by Sean Elder

    green forest

    This story first appeared in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others.

     

    Truth was, she used to be able to organize her thoughts, until Floyd retired. Now he was always hanging around talking to her, asking what she was doing. Every time he went out, which wasn’t often enough for her taste, he would ask her if she needed anything and then look angry if she did. Sometimes he’d look angry if she didn’t. Now she looked for errands for him, just to get a moment’s peace. When she sent him off for milk this morning she could have lived without it. But she couldn’t have stood listening to him complain about the bus ride to Atlantic City before it happened, not non-stop for the next two hours.

    “You’re creating your future,” she told him. “Whatever you’re thinking and feeling, that becomes your reality.”

    “Don’t give me that shit,” he’d said, putting on his coat and hat. He had been wearing that same damned hat with the stingy brim so long it had come back in style.

    “It’s the law of attraction,” she’d continued. “You can deny it all you want but that don’t mean it’s not true. “Everything coming into your life you are attracting into your life. You’re like a magnet.”

    “Well, this magnet’s going to attract some milk,” he’d said before going out the door.

    He had made fun of her ever since she first heard Oprah talking about The Secret but deep down she thought that maybe he believed her. Or would, if he would just give it a try. He would come home so angry about something that happened out there – the security guy asleep in the chair, or someone who wouldn’t give his seat up on the subway – and she would tell him, “Every bad thing that comes into your life, you make happen.”

    Sometimes that really made Floyd angry. “Is that right? Every bad thing? I made happen every bad thing that came into my life, Marcy?” He would tower over her, breathing heavily, staring at the top of her lacquered hair until she was silent.

    She looked closely at the big digits on the clock by the bed. It was almost 8:30 and she still had not done her makeup. From the drawer in the nightstand on her side of the bed she looked for her own pill organizer and then realized she had already taken it out. She put it under the light, right beside that picture of her two boys, smiling in the lap of a black Santa, and looked at Wednesday. There were still pills in the morning box but the evening box was empty. Maybe she took the evening pills by mistake. Not that it mattered ‘cause they were basically the same. Or maybe she hadn’t filled the PM part.

    Looking at the rainbow colored compartments (Wednesday was green, Thursday red) she thought of Wilson, who had the hardest time with his R’s when he was little – “Weeding Wainbow,” he would say about his favorite show, and his brother would laugh at him. She felt overcome for a moment and then heard her husband’s keys in the door.

    She took the morning pills, four altogether, as Floyd shouted at her from the kitchen.

    “Do you know how much they wanted for a half-gallon of milk?” She imagined his face as he said the price and the way he would look at her afterwards. He might be looking that way right now, even though she wasn’t there.

    “Cost of everything is going up,” she yelled back. Then she stood and headed for the bathroom. “I got to get a move on.”

    “Ain’t you even going to drink your milk?” She heard him swear as she closed the bathroom door.

    The bus driver turned out to be some white guy who’d been sleeping in the back while people waited outside. The whole bus was talking about it, even after they got out of the Holland Tunnel and were getting on the turnpike, people tisking and hmm-hmming until Floyd wanted to yell, “Who told you to stand out there in the first place? It’s not even cold.” But he kept quiet and sat by a window, alone thank you very much, though Tommy insisted on sitting right in front of him, while Marcy huddled on the other side with a bunch of ladies. They outnumbered the men five to one anyway; he let Tommy represent, going back and forth across the aisle like some congressman making a deal. Each time he went over to the ladies he would say something so low that Floyd couldn’t hear and they would all laugh and holler.

    “I think it’s about time for some music,” Tommy said after one of his sorties. He had a gym bag with him that also said Mets on it, and from it he pulled a boom box that he tried to balance on the seatback in front of him. He pushed play and Johnnie Taylor started in on “Who’s Making Love” and the ladies all laughed, even though the sound was kind of wobbly. From the front of the bus the driver said something, they could see him looking at them in the rear view mirror, but no one tried to hear him. In fact Tommy stood up, with the boom box on his shoulder, and started to shake it in the aisle, which made the driver get on the mike.

    “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to sit down.” He had some kind of accent, Russian or something, but no one really paid him any mind.

    The hits kept coming; it must have been some kind of collection since Floyd never heard a deejay. Tommy jammed the boom box between the headrest and the window so it wouldn’t fall down and turned around to look at Floyd, but not before looking at the driver, who had his eyes on the road again.

    “How ‘bout a little taste?” Tommy said, taking a half-pint in a brown bag from the pocket of his jacket.

    “Too early for me,” Floyd said, looking out the window. To him it always looked like New Jersey was halfway through being torn down.

    Across the aisle Marcy was in the middle of a conversation with the other ladies but she didn’t feel quite right. It started as soon as she left the building; she had picked out a brooch to go with her blue blouse, a little gold tree with red apples on it, but she had left it sitting in front of the mirror. Now she felt naked, all that blue stretching out below her chin like an empty ocean almost and she felt like she was being pulled back from drowning each time one of them stopped talking. That meant somebody was supposed to say something, you were supposed to jump in like it was a game of double-Dutch.

    “What I value most is the privacy,” Marcy said, but no one answered. She had a feeling she had said that before. The topic was assisted living and how to know when you needed it.

    “Until you wake up privately dead,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. Marcy didn’t remember meeting her before, a friend of Helen’s was how she was introduced, but she didn’t like her now. She had these gray and white streaks in her hair, extensions by the look of it, but it reminded Marcy of mud. Besides she was probably the youngest woman of the bunch, what was she talking about dying for?

    “My boy checks in on us every night,” said Marcy and immediately wondered why she had. It wasn’t true. Most times she had to call Eric and he never sounded too happy to hear from her. He did come to visit though, once a month at least. They saw less of him after his divorce, though you’d think it would be the other way around.

    “Where are we?” she said suddenly, looking out the window. Everything looked the same.

    “You keep asking that,” the lady in the Kente cloth said, or maybe she said. Marcy wasn’t looking at her and the music Tommy was playing made her feel lost.

    “Sending this one out for all you ladies,” said Tommy, like he was some deejay, and they all laughed but Marcy didn’t think it was funny. It was that song about sitting on a park bench that always made her sad. “I see her face everywhere I go/on the street and even at the picture show/have you seen her?”

    There was a hospital up there high on a hill and for a second she felt that the bus was going to take off and fly straight up to its doors. She closed her eyes and felt herself rise.

    They parked in the lot of the Showboat casino. Though they could have gone anywhere they wanted, the thirty odd passengers that disembarked made for the Showboat as if summoned, shuffling and limping toward the entrance in a broken conga line.

    “No one says we got to go to this casino,” Floyd said to the crowd of ladies leading the way.

    “The Showboat has a Mardi Gras theme,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. She turned around to give Floyd the fisheye, pulling down her glasses as she did. “Besides, we got coupons for the Showboat.”

    He fell in line sullenly beside Tommy who offered him another drink. Floyd took a swallow this time without pulling down the brown paper to see what it was. It tasted like mouthwash.

    “Jesus, what the hell you drinking?”

    “Little peppermint schnapps.” Tommy tried to slap Floyd on the back but the big man danced away, handing the bottle back as he moved.

    “What she mean by a ‘Mardi Gras theme,’ anyway?” Floyd said.

    Tommy shrugged. “As long as they got free drinks and blackjack I don’t much care.”

    Seagulls screamed overhead. Floyd saw his reflection scowling in the window of a parked Humvee. He went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras when he was in the Navy, how many years ago? He got lost and someone stole his wallet. A man dressed as a woman tried to put beads around his neck, he remembered. You could have your Mardi Gras.

    Marcy was among the first of the women to enter the casino and the air conditioning hit her like a cold wave. “Good thing I remembered my shawl!” she said but no one answered. The music and the sound of the slot machines, dinging and ringing with sirens going off every five minutes as if some crime was being committed, swallowed her voice.

    Marcy had thought to bring rolls of quarters and silver dollars. While the other ladies were getting change she was already pouring her silver into a red plastic cup provided to her by a girl in the shortest skirt she had ever seen.

    “You must be freezing!” Marcy said but the girl didn’t seem to hear her. Maybe she just got tired of people trying to talk to her.

    The slots area had thousands of machines and at noon it was already half filled, mostly old timers like her and Floyd. He and Tommy had set off in the other direction like there was a sign saying ‘Men, That Way.’ The carpets were in a pattern of red and orange and gold that reminded her of a kaleidoscope and the ceiling was made up to look like stained glass, though she knew real stained glass when she saw it and this wasn’t it. She felt like if she didn’t sit down she might just fall into the colors. She sat down at a quarter machine and began feeding it. She didn’t know where the other ladies had gone and looking over her shoulder left her none the wiser.

    “Y’all gonna have to find me,” she said and as if summoned a different lady in a short skirt appeared.

    “How you doing today?” she said. She had a tray filled with drinks and a notepad tucked into her belt. “Can I get you something to drink?”

    “Well I suppose you can!” Marcy turned in her chair to show her appreciation. “My name’s Marcy by the way, I come here from Brooklyn with a bunch of folks from my church group.”

    “Now isn’t that nice? My name’s Kim Sue. What can I get you?”

    Marcy smiled and opened her mouth. But she could not think of the names of any drinks, not just the fancy ones but any drink. She felt a trickle of sweat run down her back underneath her blouse.

    “It’s funny,” she said, embarrassed. “My mind’s just a blank today.”

    “Sure, no problem!” Kim Sue smiled back at her like one of those Chinese dolls, her name right there on her badge. “We have beer and wine and soda and mixed drinks.” She kept smiling at Marcy and continued. “I could make you a nice white wine spritzer, if you like.”

    “Oh, that sounds nice,” said Marcy, and it did sound nice, like a sprinkler in the summer time, the kind the boys used to play in. Kim Sue left and Marcy returned to the machine. Cherries and plums rolled past, never stopping at the same time.

    Eric used to chase Wilson through the sprinklers in the park and sometimes when Marcy wasn’t looking he would hold his little brother down and try to pull off his shorts in front of all the other children. She would get so mad at him, always teasing like that, knowing it would make Wilson cry and come looking for her, but she had a job then, looking after a little white boy named Oskar whose parents lived in Park Slope and worked all the time. Oskar’a parents didn’t mind too much when she brought her boys with her when she took him to the park. “As long as you remember,” the father said, “that Oskar is your first priority.”

    Well of course he is, mister doctor man! Why would my own flesh and blood come before your little prince? Good gracious, the things that man would say. If the wife heard him she would weigh in and try to soften the blow. “What my husband means is that we don’t want you to get too distracted. Three children is a handful.”

    Now that was the kind of thing only a white person would say. Where she came from three children was just getting started, even if she was done after Wilson, something her own mother could never understand.

    “Oh, don’t worry, ma’am,” Marcy would say. “I won’t ever let Oskar out of my sight.”

    All these people thinking someone was going to steal their child then, like the whole country had gone crazy. Soon they’d be putting their pictures on milk cartons and billboards and on TV during the news – “Have you seen Brandon?” Usually white kids. If a black kid went missing generally people know who took him.

    “Here you go, ma’am.”

    Kim Sue was back with her drink. It was in a big plastic cup with a straw that went in curlicues, like a roller coaster, like this was for a child. She started fishing in her coin cup.

    “Drinks are complimentary, ma’am.”

    Like I didn’t know that. She pulled out a Susan B. Anthony and put it on her tray. “That’s for you,” she said.

    “Very nice of you, ma’am. And if you need anything else you just let me know.”

    She turned to leave and Marcy was afraid to see her go. “Kim Sue, it’s like your momma gave you two names.”

    “Kim is my family name. Family name comes first in Korean.”

    “Is that right?” said Marcy. “Well I think family should come first, don’t you?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    Marcy thought that was something else she should write in her book but realized that she hadn’t brought it with her, and then forgot what she had said. “But they probably don’t spell it like that in Korea, do they? The Sue, I mean.”

    “No, ma’am, we have a different alphabet.”

    “Now isn’t that something?”

    She was balancing a tray full of drinks while she talked to Marcy so she let her go, disappearing into the big Tiffany lamp around them. A band was playing Dixieland and Marcy strained her eyes to see them. The music seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

    “Let me tell you another,” she said, sipping on her drink. The lady at the machine next to her looked at Marcy and then moved away, taking her quarters with her. She watched as the drink spun up the straw when she sucked. Here we go loop de loop.

    Sometimes Eric would help her push the stroller as they went around the park, and Wilson would run so far ahead she would shout after him. “Don’t go where I can’t see you!” she’d holler, and Oskar, too big to be pushed around in a stroller, would try and stand up and yell after her. “Go where I can’t see you!”

    Wilson would hide like that at home as well; hide so good she couldn’t find him sometimes. They were living in Prospect-Lefferts, more house than they needed but you could afford those big limestone buildings then even on a Con Ed salary and Wilson would go into different rooms and be so quiet that she would get hysterical, be practically beside herself by the time her husband got home. Then they would hear him laughing. “Got you!” he would say and emerge from the cupboard or from behind the sideboard and Floyd would get so mad. That one time he came out of her closet wearing her bra and Floyd just about went crazy; took off his belt and chased him.

    She put in a coin and pulled the lever: a watermelon; a bell; the number seven in gold.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

    She turned her head but nobody was there. Who had spoken? Just turning her head made the colors around her move and when she looked at the floor she saw the pattern there was moving too. It was like a flying carpet, the Vale of Cashmere –

    The Vale of Cashmere! That was the name of that strange corner of the park where she took the boys now and then. They were getting older; other boys took the place of Oskar, and Eric got too big to want to be with them. But Wilson kept her company as she made the rounds, bought them ice cream and wiped their sticky hands. People used to call it The Swamp and there was a muddy pond okay and some hanging trees.

    “How come you don’t play with boys your own age?” one of the kids had asked him once.

    “I just like to help my momma,” he’d said.

    He was the one who found out the real name of The Swamp, checked an old book out of the library and showed her on the map. There was a poem that went with it and Wilson stood up by the pond and put one finger in the air as he read: “Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere/With its roses the brightest the earth ever gave?”

    Another babysitter saw them by the pond once and came over to warn them. “You shouldn’t be down in there,” she said, afraid to come too close with her stroller in front of her. “They say men get together down there.”

    And after that Marcy noticed them, lurking about, standing in the trees. Once when she came down with Wilson and a stroller two men ran out, going in different directions.

    She didn’t think about it again for years, until Wilson was grown and still living at home, and he came back one night that first time with his face all bloody, drunk or high on something and smiled at her, blood on his teeth.

    “Hey, Momma, I been to the Vale of Cashmere!”

    That’s when Floyd said no more.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

    She turned and the colors whooshed like a scarf being wrapped around her head. She saw her this time, a little woman, no bigger than a dragonfly like the ones the boys chased in the park, Wilson would put them in a jar with holes punched in the top, while Eric tried to cover it up with his hand so they would smother.

    “I’m looking for three sevens,” Marcy said to the dragonfly woman. “Are there some other numbers to play?”

    “That is the question, isn’t it?” said the faerie. “Are there other numbers to play?”

    And then she flew away, just like a little hummingbird, and Marcy got up to follow her, passing into the pattern of colors and leaving her cup of coins behind.

    Floyd went through all his money the first hour. Not all his money but all the money he’d meant to spend, the money he put in his shirt pocket, seemed to fly off the table. Dealer beat him every time: if Floyd had 18, the dealer had 19; if Floyd sat on a 19, the dealer hit him with two bricks.

    “I guess this lady feels like she has to show us what a blackjack looks like,” said Tommy, when the dealer drew her third in ten minutes. She apologized to them both, even though they didn’t tip her, and Tommy’s luck was better than hers: He doubled down twice and made a hundred bucks in the blink of an eye. All Floyd could do, once he had spent the money he had earmarked for this outing, was sit there and simmer in his resentment while Tommy’s chip pile grew.

    That was when Helen, the lady in the purple pantsuit, came and asked if he knew where Marcy was.

    “I thought she was with you,” said Floyd. It came out like an accusation.

    “Well, we agreed to meet for lunch at three,” she said, “but then nobody could find Marcy. We figured maybe you two went off together.”

    And that’s how well you know us, Floyd thought. “Maybe she just went off to another casino by herself,” he said. Even though he was losing, and wasn’t even playing at the time, he didn’t want to have to leave his spot and go look for his wife. “There’s no law says we got to stay here.”

    “Blackjack,” said the dealer, flipping another ace.

    But after a minute he did get up to look, as he knew he would, leaving Tommy, who still had a hot hand and no doubt wondered what all the fuss was about.

    “Did you try the ladies room?” he asked Helen.

    “That was one of the first places we looked. They have sofas in there, you know.” She paused. “Do you think we should call security?”

    The suggestion made his blood pressure rise. “No, I don’t think we should call security. Christ sake, grown woman goes off for a few minutes and you want to call the cavalry?”

    “Does she have a cell phone?”

    “Our son gave her one but she couldn’t figure out how to use it.” This was literally half true: Eric had given them each one last Christmas, and neither of them could figure out how to use it. By the time Floyd got the hang of it he realized that the only person he would call was his wife, which was kind of stupid since he saw her all the time anyway.

    They looked all the places that they had already looked and the lady in the Kente cloth joined them, acting more concerned that Floyd felt. “We need a system,” she said, as they circled the room for the second time. The place was more crowded than ever and Floyd could hardly hear what she was saying. “How about I go stake out the buffet and you stay here?” she suggested to Helen.

    “How ‘bout I go stake out the buffet?” Helen said. “I haven’t had lunch yet.”

    Floyd said they could both go feed themselves and take their time doing it; Marcy would turn up. He stood like a sentinel beneath the bells and sirens of the Mardi Gras slots, scowling most of the time. He hated slot machines; there was no sport in it, as he often told his wife. Blackjack at least you were playing the odds. Slots to him was just dumb luck, like a rabbit betting it wouldn’t get run over when it ran across the road. Twice he thought he saw his wife, and each time he took pleasure in anticipating just how much grief he was going to give her. But each time he was wrong.

    By four o’clock they were back together, Tommy too, and they began to set out in search parties. They were a small group: most of the travelers didn’t want to leave their stations, since the bus was scheduled to leave at six and this whole business had already cut into their time as it was. The lady in the Kente cloth, who finally introduced herself as Niobe, took charge. She contacted the hotel security, who seemed to have some experience with old folks wandering off, and as the witching hour neared, and the day-trippers started heading back toward the bus, she went out and argued with the bus driver, who was pretty adamant about leaving on time.

    “You can’t just go off and leave an old lady alone,” she scolded him. The engine was already running, gently shaking the bus, while the AC gusted out the door in heavy welcoming breaths.

    “I won’t be leaving her alone,” the driver said. “I will be leaving you to find her.”

    He agreed to wait as they made one last search. A handful of them fanned out, going to neighboring casinos and restaurants, off the boardwalk and into the side streets. Floyd couldn’t help but think that Marcy was messing with him the whole time, and when he saw the impatient faces of the other folks on the bus – they’d lost their money and had their fill, they just wanted to go home – he couldn’t help but side with them.

    Most of the people he saw as he wandered were wearing shorts and T-shirts. Used to be people would get dressed up to go someplace. And when did everybody get so fat? Walking down the boardwalk, bag of French fries in your hand, what did you expect? The new motto for the city was “Always Turned On,” which he found kind of creepy. There was nothing that he saw that turned him on.

    Doors were open, air conditioning blasting out, cooling nothing. Floyd took to popping into places and doing a quick look around, not even asking half the time if they’d seen anyone who looked like his wife. One, they couldn’t hear you with all that noise and two, half of them couldn’t speak English.

    “You seen an old black lady?” he shouted at one girl scooping ice cream. Her nails were so long he figured they might end up in somebody’s cone. “Blue shirt, about this high?” She stared at him like he was the one with the language problem.

    He kept walking. Going in and out of the summer sun was making him dizzy, to say nothing of thirsty. He wished for the first time that Tommy was with him. That man would always stop for a drink. He saw people in those rolling chairs, being pushed by young people, girls sometimes. And you wonder why you so fat?

    Down at one end of the boardwalk he found what looked like a real bar. The crowd had trickled off as the sun sank lower in the sky. Go on, get out of here. A lot of good you been. Floyd ducked inside and felt the rivers of sweat roll out from under his hat and chill on his face and neck. His glasses steamed as he took a seat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. He perched on the stool and looked up at the game on TV. The waitress brought him his drink and man did that taste good. No skimping on the gin, either. He forgot to ask her about Marcy. His wallet was bothering him, he felt like he was balancing on it. When she asked him if he wanted to start a tab he simply nodded.

    “You got a phone?” She pointed to an old-fashioned booth in the back, kind Superman used to change in. The place was filling up, young couples waiting for dinner. Went back to the hotel to put your dress shorts on? Once inside the paneled wood booth he forgot who he was going to call. Eric, right. He searched the scraps of paper in his wallet for the number he never had cause to memorize and let it ring, go to voicemail, and then dialed again.

    “Hello?”

    “This ain’t no telemarketer.”

    “Hey, Pop.” He did not sound happy to hear from him and Floyd had already put enough change in the machine so he cut straight to the point.

    “We in Atlantic City and your mother’s gone missing.” He backtracked from there, explaining the whole afternoon in greater detail than Eric needed, but never did his son sound any more excited than Floyd felt. He asked the obvious questions – had they called the police? Who else was looking?

    “Did she have her cell phone?” he asked, pointedly.

    “That’s why I was calling,” Floyd said. “I figured maybe she’d called you.”

    Eric was silent, and Floyd knew that he knew he was lying. He imagined him at home, still in his work clothes, the sound on the TV muted, his eyes on the game. From his perch in the booth Floyd could see the TV over the bar. Jeter was trying to steal.

    “I’m sure she’ll turn up, Pop. I mean, where’s she gonna go?”

    “I know that.”

    “You got your cell phone with you? So I can call you if she does?”

    Floyd muttered something and got off the phone. That boy would go to his grave asking about those damn phones. He should just wrap them up and give them back to him for Christmas. Turn ‘em into salt-and-pepper shakers.

    When he got back to his seat at the bar Jeter got picked off and he ordered another drink. Now they could send the search party out for him. The tumblers were tall and when he turned in his seat he found he had company. Big old white dude with long hair and a pointed beard. He was sipping a Budweiser longneck and looking at the screen. His arms were covered in tattoos; dragons, snakes and skulls disappeared into his shirtsleeves.

    “Fuckin’ Yankees,” he said and turned to look at Floyd. “Nice hat.”

    Floyd turned to face his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. “You wouldn’t believe how long I had this hat,” he said.

    “There isn’t much I wouldn’t believe,” the man said.

    They got to talking. Turned out he worked in a tattoo parlor on the boardwalk, which explained all the ink. Half way through his second drink and Floyd was feeling generous in his opinions.

    “Back in the day,” he said, “man had a tattoo it meant he’d been someplace. In the service, in the joint, you know.”

    “I hear you,” the man said. “These days it just means you been to the mall.” He drained his beer and held up the empty. “Buy you a drink?”

    “Let me buy you a drink,” said Floyd, and pulled out the fat wallet that had been giving him such a pain and laid it on the counter. Soon he had the pictures out and was showing him snaps of Eric, bragging on his job even if he wasn’t exactly sure what he did. Then one of the whole family, when everyone was young.

    “Where’s your other boy?” the stranger asked.

    Floyd made a face like he was sucking on a lime. “Wilson got killed in a hold-up ten years ago,” he said.

    “Oh, man, I am sorry. They catch the guy who did it?”

    “No, it was in Prospect Park one night. Lot of crime in there.”

    “That’s why I could never live in the city,” the man said, which struck Tommy as funny. Most people would be scared of him, even in Brooklyn.

    “So what happens when folks get old?” said Floyd, changing the subject. “Maybe they don’t want all those tattoos any more.”

    “Shit, you don’t have to wait ‘til your old to regret something stupid you did.” The man laughed and Floyd got a glimmer of a gold tooth in his head. “People come in all the time wanting to have tattoos taken off, usually the name of some girl that don’t love them anymore.”

    “Can you do it?”

    “Sure,” the man said. “Hurts like hell and costs twice as much. But we can do it. Easier just to change it, though.”

    “How do you mean?”

    “Well, there was this one girl who loved a guy named Chris and had it tattooed on her ass. Until she found Jesus and then we just added a ‘T’.”

    He didn’t smile at first and it took Floyd a minute to figure it was a joke. He smiled first. “Hey, I got one,” he said. The stranger’s eyes gleamed in anticipation. “There was this guy who loved this old girl so much he had her name tattooed on his Johnson.”

    “Now that’s gotta hurt!”

    “Hell, yeah.” Floyd wiped his mouth. “Then they broke up, you know, and soon he started missing her real bad. So he went all over looking for her, from Wisconsin all the way down to Jamaica. Then he’s in the bathroom one day and he looks over and he sees this other guy’s dick.” He stopped for a minute. The stranger kept staring at him. “Now I can’t remember that girl’s name.”

    “Is it important?”

    “Yeah, it’s the whole punch line.”

    “Uh, oh. Better have another drink.”

    He felt flushed and excused himself to go to the bathroom. There he stared straight ahead at the wall and read all the graffiti as if looking for a message. And by the time he got back to the bar he was not surprised to see the stranger was gone and with him his wallet though all Floyd could feel was a keen sense of disappointment: He remembered the end of the joke now. He had remembered that old girl’s name.

    ______________________

    voice from the planet

    ‘Vale of Cashmere’ was first published by Harvard Square Editions in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others. Sean Elder’s writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, New York Magazine, Salon, Slate, Vogue, Elle, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Details and many other publications. The essay he contributed to the collection of men’s writings The Bastard On the Couch (Morrow, 2004) was reprinted on three continents; his essay on ecstasy, included in the collection of drug writings entitled White Rabbit (Chronicle Books, 1995) was called “seminal” by Granta; and a piece he wrote about being a stay-at-home dad for Oprah was included in her best of O collection, Live Your Best Life (Oxmoor, 2005). He has co-authored several books, including Websites That Work with designer Roger Black (Adobe Press, 1997) and Mission Al Jazeera with former Marine captain Josh Rushing (Palgrave, 2007). He also works as a book doctor and helped edit the forthcoming Making Rounds with Oscar by Dr. David Dosa (Hyperion, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and daughter.

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  • All at Once: Excerpt of the Novel

  • I step onto a wide stone platform surrounded by water and lie on my stomach to peer down over the edge. At my approach, tiny fish scatter like drops of colored light; crabs pause, wary, then scuttle along the sides of the basin, stuffing their mouths as fast as they can with alternate pincers. After a while, a kind of brown finger wriggles out from the shadows. Another one emerges, then two more, and finally the bulbous body of an octopus comes into view. It skims along until the water is too shallow then starts to walk, using its tentacles as legs. When the water gets deeper it pushes off against the sandy bottom to glide, once more, just beneath the surface. It circles round and round my platform.

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    My back begins to prickle, and I realize I’ll be burnt to a crisp if I don’t find shelter pretty soonthe ocean breeze masks the sun’s virulence.

    Standing up makes me momentarily dizzy. The tide has gone out, uncovering rocks studded with barnacles or slick with thick green hair. I head back toward the flat sand and continue walking, looking for a place to rest. I’ve just about resigned myself to the idea of a plastic chair, when I spot a barraca that’s not open for business. The beach in front of it is empty, the small structure shuttered; its thatched roof casts a nice, wide stripe of shade onto the sand. Gratefully, I set up camp, taking out the water and crackers I brought, spreading out my towel to sit on, and leaning against the barraca wall with the empty backpack in between for cushioning. A sigh of relief.

    The ocean is now more white than blue. At the horizon, a wavering smudge might be a cruise ship or an oil rig. The great mass of water is barely disturbed by shifting waves, fretful and sluggish like a dog settling down to sleep. There’s an occasional bloom of white spray when a wave breaks against rock; wisps of cloud trail across the sky. I yawn, lie down on the towel, and close my eyes.

    Now the landscape is reduced to the rustle of wind in the palm thatch, the faint piping of a distant bird, and the dull roar of the ocean. I stretch my arms and let them flop back down. Rolling my head slowly from side to side to loosen the tension in my neck, I notice that this movement causes the pitch of the ocean to vary ever so slightly. Intrigued, I try it a few more times, just to make sure.

    There’s a lesson in that, I reflect: reality changes according to your viewpoint. I roll my head once more from side to side then lie still again, listening to the tiny, ceaseless fluctuations within the monotone.

    An insect lands on my footwithout opening my eyes I flex my toe to chase it away, and realize that the gesture produced an infinitesimal shift in the ocean sound. Bizarre! I can understand the position of my head influencing what I hear, but the position of my toe? (more…)

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HOW FAST CAN YOU RUN and MR GREEN JEANS Make the First Cut

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A drum roll for two Harvard Square Editions books

Foreword Reviews has chosen migrant novel How Fast Can You Run by Harriet Levin Millan and cli-fi/eco novel Mr Green Jeans by Chris McGee as INDIES finalists, ahead of the final selection, to be made in three months. Both debut novels, published by Harvard Square Editions, deal with social and ecological themes.

INDIES finalists are moved on to final judging by an expert panel of librarians and booksellers curated specifically for each genre and who will determine the books who will be named Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award winners. Winners in each genre—along with Editor’s Choice winners, and Foreword’s INDIE Publisher of the Year—will be announced during the 2017 American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago on June 24, 2017.

Past Harvard Square Editions INDIES finalists include Fidelis O. Mkparu’s Love’s Affliction, Charles Degelman’s A Bowl Full of Nails, and Yang Huang’s Living Treasures.

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Author Abda Khan Honored for Her Work

Abda Khan

Abda Khan, Author of STAINED

The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation named lawyer and author Abda with a ‘True Honour Award’ Honouree for her work on women’s rights. Harvard Square Editions published Abda’s debut novel Stained, which has won acclaim for its depiction of a young woman struggling for her right to an education and to consent in all its forms.

(more…)

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READING, WRITING, CHANTING: My experience at the 2017 AWP Conference

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BY HARRIET LEVIN MILLAN

I was elated. By an act of fate, I was scheduled to talk in Washington, DC. I’d been attending the conference for over 20 years, but this would be the first time that the conference would be located in the eye of an American political storm of this magnitude. Participants from all 50 states would find themselves in Washington during Trump’s first 100 days…[more from the Smart Set]

 

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Farewell to Modernism, Rajani Kanth

FWFarewell to Modernism: On Human Devolution in the Twenty‐First Century is an original, pathbreaking, revolutionary, and totalizing critique of received Modernist ideas, including Modernist Utopianism. In that vein, it unseats virtually every dearly held myth of EuroModernist discourse. It offers a new episteme based on our true ontic nature—our anthropic species‐being—as an offset and correction to all brands of EuroModernist idylls, be they of Left or Right, that have repeatedly brought the world to the brink of annihilation. In sum, this book argues that neither philosophy nor social science are tenable without a true, realist anthropology of the human species that sets limits to both poli cal idealism and social engineering.

“The book you are holding in your hand Farewell to Modernism is a very important book…the bottom line is this: read this book, take your me, think out of the box (straitjacket?) of Euromodernism, and this will change your life.”
—Amit Goswami, Theoretical Quantum Physicist, Emeritus Professor, University of Oregon

“Rajani Kanth has been denouncing for a long me the analytic misunderstandings and moral misdeeds of Eurocentric Modernism. He has done this forcefully and with great consistency. This book puts together the en re case. Whether one agrees with his theses wholly, partially, or not at all, these are propositions with which one must seriously engage if we are to make our way to a be er world.”

—Immanuel Wallerstein, Yale University

Professor Rajani Kanth is an economist, a philosopher, and a social thinker. His major research interests lie in the fields of political economy, social theory and policy, and women’s issues. Over the course of three‐plus decades, he has taught in the areas of anthropology, sociology, poli cal science, history, economics, and philosophy. Currently based at Harvard University, he has served as an advisor to the United Nations in New York and on the faculties of prestigious universities around the world. His most recent book is The Post‐Human Society (2015).

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In Augury, by Rajani Kanth

by Rajani Kanth

 

Neither  a  moon of our delight
nor a  prince  of darkest night:
is it   eclipse,  or ellipsis?
no one  can  really say –

the times they  are  all distrait
judgment, long, has fled away:
to protest, too,  is quite outre
for every dog must have its day –

the stage is set, the die is cast
no link  there be to remem’brance past:
main street, torpid, drags along
wall street, turbid, admits no wrong –

History’s over, the Game is clear
soothsayers say:  the End is near
we may not smile, nor shed a tear
Hope all  dead, what’s left is Fear:

so woe betide,  alack,  alas:
dare we hope this, too, shall pass?

[© R.Kanth 2017]

RAJANI KANTH, author of Coda, has held affiliations with some of the most prestigious universities in the world. He has also served as an advisor to the United Nations. He is the author/editor of several academic works in political economy and culture-critique, is a novelist and poet, and has also scribed several screenplays. He is, presently a visiting fellow at Harvard University, and permanent trustee of the World Peace Congress.

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Tears, by Rajani Kanth

Tears

Whence do  tears form,
Sired in  expectorating ,
crystal grief
wrought of  withered spirit
slivered on  rack of  wretched rue
gushing up the  glassy eye
In  lush monsoon of liquid woe ?

So erupts ever eddying  ether
in spluttering geysers
of quintessential life :

when bare, bleak,  breathless ,
the parched soul  escapes
its  fallen, flailing , hosting corpus
of  fading , eviscered , vitals
in  shuddered , tremulous rigors
of searing, swift-martyring ,
sudden , cessations of  living spirit

churning waters of a
wasting heart bubble,
bleed,  well up , wash  wounds
of  slow dying, sacramental ,
seraphic, desire –

as  heart itself,  incendiary, inflamed,
implodes, apace, in spasms of
fast, furious,   fulminating fire:

To  heaving,  smitten,  human grief
is  thence  given warmth,
fluent,  fluid,  relief –
in respite real,
in  reprieve  brief:

but for  free-frothing
turbid  releases
would  ruddy tissue ,
borne of bare  breath,
break , burst,  splinter
in irredeemable,
incarnadine pieces
never to beat,  bleed,
or blanche again –

A tearing heart,
not the  addled brain,
makes  mortified mammals
of us: fey  phantoms
of a shadow race –
out of time, out of place

risen raw from
remote reptilian root
succored of slime –
ignobly astir
in ravaged bounty –
in passion mute,
of blind, boorish ,
vacuous,  desultory
Evolution –

in ever so  barren feud –
aborting  all ,
in treachery of
teaseful, tergiversing time,
in decay, death,  and
stark , stark,
desuetude

physic to tormented soul
tears tell torrid the  toll :
of  indurate  treason,
torture, trauma –
whence the heart is
never whole –

of insensible, insensate,
remorseless  mis-Creation –
that lets us feel all,
but never  know –
feel,  but not know:
can there be
more rending woe?

and  so they gush,
and so they flow –

and  so they flush
and so they flow

and so they rush
and so they flow

here in a fit
there in a start
draining  oasis
of  a fulsome heart

they flow :
and they flow
and they flow
and they flow:
from far away
to long ago

born tomorrow,
live today –
seeking alpenglow:
of yesterday

[© R.Kanth 2016]

RAJANI KANTH, author of  Coda, has held affiliations with some of the most prestigious universities in the world. He has also served as an advisor to the United Nations. He is the author/editor of several academic works in political economy and culture-critique, is a novelist and poet, and has also scribed several screenplays. He is, presently a visiting fellow at Harvard University, and permanent trustee of the World Peace Congress.

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Icon

Icon

By Rajani Kanth, author of Coda

Behold
Last Icon
laid to rest

amongst
his ilk
was he the best

few others left
to pass the test –

*

Icons no longer
now can be

the good , in riddance,
quick set free

but empty shells
and ne’er do wells

live on forever
in entropy

*

the shallow rule
the petty thrive

and old zombies
are come alive

in lowered cast
is virtue past

so nothing true
can ever last

*

antic norms are
duly fled

and empathy
is vanished –

yes, enter world
of the living dead

*

into the trough,
drink the swill

as slowly grinds
the cancer mill

and Sysiphus, weary
climbs the hill

like all the rest,
pushes it still!

addled mind,
or triumph of will?

*

woe betide
and woebegone –

past adulation,
bitter scorn

yet, ever true to
the manner born:

the Last Icon
is gone


© 2016 by R.Kanth, author of Coda

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Black Friday Poem, ‘On Giving Thanks’

On Giving Thanks

By Rajani Kanth, author of Coda

Give thanks that we be
still alive
whilst others gratuitous
die:

those that did none
any harm
nor knew the reason why:

and as we feast
and murmur thanks
joyous, night and day

think of they who face
our wrath
miles and miles away;

killed at feasts, and funerals
children , infants, too
blown to bits by aerial fire
coming at them from the blue

stop not to think, think not to care
the spree just goes on –
as we hop from shop to shop
when black friday is on

’tis the season don’t you know
love , and joy, and cheer:
as for the rain of fiery death,
it falleth there, not here

the rarity of our charity
is sheer wonder to behold
where hearts have thus ceased to feel,
can lives ever be whole ?

and so it goes, another feast
another season past
but there will surely come the day
when the first shall be the last

when grievous iniquity
shall not visit the weak
when ambrosial human kindness
even a tyrant heart shall leak

So feast away, this livelong day
it is our hour under the sun
but I have seen tomorrow –
when the revels will be done

© 2016 by R.Kanth, author of Coda

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Harvard Square Editions Author S.Li Receives National Book Foundation Award

Debut author S.Li received his National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35 Award’ at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan on November 14th–a wonderful night for S.Li and Harvard Square Editions.

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S.Li’s debut novel Transoceanic Lights, Harvard Square Editions, 2015, chronicles the hardships of a Chinese family after immigrating to the US. China-born author S.Li, graduated from Harvard College and took up creative writing as a hobby when he was in medical school. Now he has a dual career, as a neurologist and as an award-winning author.

“A tender and persuasive portrait of Chinese-American immigration in the post-Mao era.” —Pleiades Book Review

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HSE authors from left: Abda Khan, S.LI, Harriet Levin Millan

Transoceanic Lights was selected by an author who won the award last year, Karen Bender (below, right, with Harriet Levin Millan, left, author of How Fast Can You Run, Harvard Square Editions, 2016). Next year, S.Li will select a ‘5 Under 35 Award’ winner.

 

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“For me it was especially wonderful because I got to meet other HSE authors!”says HSE author Harriet Levin Millan, pictured left. “What a treat to actually meet them.” With Harriet pictured below, are New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature winner Kelvin Christopher James (People and Peppers, Harvard Square Editions, 2015), center, and debut author Abda Khan (Stained, Harvard Square Editions, 2016), right.

 

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The HSE authors and the other ‘5 Uner 35’ winners will also attend the 67th annual National Book Awards, hosted by Larry Wilmore, live on FacebookTwitter, and at nationalbook.org, are November 16th, 2016 at New York’s Cipriani (below, left).
 

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5 Under 35 Award winners, photo via Publishing Trendsetter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[…more]

 

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Available at booksellers everywhere

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Wake-Up Calls…

by Rajani Kanth, author of Coda

 

So,  James Blonde is Prez.
So what?
Wouldn’t matter if Jane Blonde were Prez.
(She did try hard, didn’t she?)
You don’t get it?
To rework an old  sound byte:’ it’s  an Oligarchy, stupid…’.
The entrenched power elite – Corporate Chiefs, Wall Street Bankers, antic Tycoon dynasties –   are in it  forever.
No election alters their fix on the  nation’s jugular.
They are in Power: Presidents are in Office only – for  a short stint.
Only dictators (Mussolini, Hitler, et. al.)  can displace that lot, if not for long.
Yes, so it’s all  nice and cosy – as ever –  for the 1% of the 1%.
Their tentacles reach far, and deep: within the highest layers of institutions.

The rest of the 99%  are imploding, slowly but surely.
Whom you place in the White House is not of terribly great significance.
They will , more or less,   be forced to compromise: by the Powers.
Btw do you know why it’s called the White House?
Read up: not everyone knows why.
Might surprise you.

I’ve often suggested we  should secure a good computer and make it Prez, for the life of the machine.
The job, such as it is, signing off on the claims of this or that special  interest would get done.
Perhaps even more efficiently.
But most of us are tribals,  for all the sophistry.
We want a chief, a totem, a commander.
The Anglo-Norman  elites prefer a monarch (and may still revert to it): for   ‘democracy’ was thrust upon them – in the UK and the US.
A democracy of rich white  men was as far as that went.
Nor is there a vast   difference between the Prez,  and the Roman Emperor, as far as the populace goes.
That had to be ‘extended’, howsoever grudgingly , owing to various pressures.
Nominally.

Of course, many  thought – think –  that having a vote is having a say in matters of state.
They need to think again, using their brains this time.
It’s about time.
People  simply don’t connect the dots.
When white cops insouciantly execute innocents Afro-Ams on camera,  they still think it’s an aberration.
Just a bad apple.
Or two.
Or Three.
Ditto,  when private security unleashes slavering attack dogs on peacefully protesting Native Americans.
What an important , educational, recall of history!
But you have to know real history to recall it correctly.
When someone who couldn’t be elected grade school president  – for his ideas on race, gender, and disability –  in any decent school in the country,  becomes Prez of the nation,  they still ride along.
Stop.
Think.

There is less excuse today than ever before.
The system is transparent.
And broke, in more senses than one.
Barring  the propaganda screen,  it is plain see-through.
The real economy went belly-up years ago.
Now the polity, and media, are collapsing.
The moral order is now, if at all,  an intra-familial entity only: has little  place in the public domain.
The great game of pretence – a charade always –  at values of liberty, toleranc, and charity has been abruptly called off.
No more fig-leafs.
And what’s revealed is bare and ugly.

A Vampire State is afoot.
And ‘society’ ,  shriveled to microcosms only.
Other than permanent war – and  its ‘treasons, stratagems , and spoils’ – the system is good for  very  little else It’s a return to Beowulf, by way of Caligula.
For my Euro-friends,  this may all be a  rather painful surprise: but for legions of  Post-Colonials ( of Africa, Asia , Australia, and South America) who bore the brunt of the depredations of the ‘Brutish Isles’ (and other Euro Powers)  for centuries,  it is  only back to basics.
You see: what everyone’s seeing of/about  the ‘system’ now, in shock and  dismay,  is all that the  wretched of the ex-Colonies ever saw – in their corners of empire.
Doubt it?
Check out some real histories: of Afro-Ams.  Of Native Peoples.  Of  Women.
The more things change…
[© R.Kanth 2016]

Rajani Kanth is the author of Coda 

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