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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.

      aao cover

      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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    Home » Archives » Recent Articles:

    IS THERE LOGIC IN LOVE AND LIFE?

    LLL-Perfect4.inddSPOTLIGHT ON UDAY MUKERJI, AUTHOR OF LOVE, LIFE, AND LOGIC; COMING TO A BOOKSTORE NEAR YOU ON NOV 29

    Set in Exotic India, Singapore, and in Central Europe, Love, Life, and Logic captures the individual struggle of a young man against the seemingly unnamed, unknown, anonymous power of the universe. In a shocking revelation of his innermost thoughts, the book depicts a painful account of his emotional turmoil arising out of his own confusions and dilemmas, and his personal developments through all that.

    Rohan grows up in a middle class family in a small town in Goa, India. He asks himself many life questions like we all do every day. Is our life and death an end in itself, or do they have a much deeper implication in a gigantic universal process? Is each human life also someway connected to the chain of events unfolding every day in front of our eyes? We all have different thumbprints; but why? Are we all a part of big numbers game, or does each one of us really matter? Chased by these and many such questions, Rohan leaves his lucrative job and his family in search of the truth. The journey gets complicated when he meets Adeline, a 23-year old vivacious girl in Vienna. Love, again? That brings him back to question his failed marriage. Is marriage an end of the road for love? Do all marriages come with an expiration date?

    It’s the search and the road leading to his final realization that makes this book insightful and thought-provoking.

    (Via Dehaggerty)

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    THE ENVIRONMENT NEEDS MORE QUALITY FICTION

    By Randal Eldon Greene

    We read fiction to escape from reality, right? So why would one want to write about such a controversial, hot-button topic as the environment in their fiction?

     

    Fiction can explore many things—many topics, issues, and instances of life. A novel like Frazen’s The

    Corrections explores middle-class lives in the midst of a changing economy; Truong’s The Book of Salt explores Vietnamese identity and diaspora; DeLillo’s White Noise explores the quotidian ephemeral of distraction and white noise of daily life.

     

    With so many potential topics to write about, why am I advocating one above the others?

     

    Well—it’s important. In fact, it may be the most important issue of our time.

    The environmental health of our planet both transcends and unites humanity together. That’s right, we’re all in this together and it’s bigger than us.

     

    But why fiction?

     

    Fiction is a forming and shaping of mindstuff through the sieve of imagination. Mindstuff, as I term it, is the material we use when we write fiction. Our stories aren’t creatio ex nihilo, but from something.

     

    Certainly the environment, conservation, global warming, and green energy are topics which—even if we

    were to actively try ignoring them—come up again and again. Environmental news is all around us. To think about the world today means thinking about the environment. Ergo, to write about the world today means writing about climate change.

     

    Not that there aren’t other worthy topics. There are. And those should be explored too. But it could be argued that it is only climate change and the environment that are universal to all peoples of all nations.

     

    Fiction also gives us a story. It allows us to explore the themes of human impact and human reaction to a damaged ecosystem. Stories can move us. Stories can tell deeper truths about humanity and its relationship with the Earth—the adage fiction tells truth with lies applies here. And, done well, it can tell truth in a deep and insightful way without climbing up on the proverbial soapbox.

     

    That’s why we need fiction that talks about climate change. That’s why we need fiction to explore the complicated history of humanity and environment. That’s why we need fiction to imagine a future for us. We need these stories to compel us to look around at our world now and help us realize our own part in the reality that drives the story.

     

    Yes, we need fiction—books, short stories, tales—to run imaginatively with the issues of our day. Because fiction can effect change, can help us look closely at the complicated issues of our day, and help integrate these topics into the social mindset without the divisiveness that even the best journalism and news headlines inevitably and instantly generate.

     

    This isn’t to say that journalism and non-fiction about environmental issues aren’t important—they are. They are, in fact, the stuff we wrench from reality to make our fiction. Non-fiction is the number one source of our eco-topical mindstuff. We need that research to fuel our fiction as much as we need it for our activism: statistics, photographs, interviews. Fiction, using all of these, works in tandem with activism. Fiction adds to the equation its ability to touch a deeper psychological part of our brains. Make these concerns come through with the books and stories we write and we will help reach more people with a love for the Earth and a worry for what is happening to the Earth.

    That’s why I wrote Descriptions of Heaven; rather, I let my concerns about the environment express itself

    9781941861271-Perfect.indd

    in my book. Yes—it’s a book about a linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death. But it’s also about the Earth and ecological catastrophe. How far can we go before there’s no going back? And what if we do go too far—what do we, as humans, believe will follow when all is ruined? Can we really give up and let it get to this point? These are the questions my novel poses. But these aren’t the only questions or only environmental topics that can be explored. There’s so much more yet to be written.

     

    We need more quality fiction about the environment. The environment needs more quality fiction. We the writers need to let our worries, our anger, and our love for the Earth find its way into our words.

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    Descriptions of Heaven, cover reveal

    By Randal Eldon Greene

    It’s time. The long awaited first book cover reveal.

    First, a little about the book. Descriptions of Heaven wasn’t originally intended to be a book. It was a writing exercise, at most a short story. I started, as I do with most things, at the end. The last line.

    As many of you know, this book is—in part—about a lake monster. This central image came to me after a night of rare insomnia. The next day, still unable to sleep or function in any appreciable way, I sat on the couch binge-watching a monster hunting show that was having a marathon run. And it was with one of these episodes that the muse decided I’d find inspiration. The particular episode featured, of course, a lake monster. It wasn’t the Loch Ness Monster we are all familiar with. No. It was another lake with another monster. In fact, the show’s host mentioned a number of lakes with legends of monsters lurking in their depths, and, if my memory serves me right, the number was in the hundreds.

    Thus the beginning (or rather the ending) of Descriptions of Heaven. I’m not going to reveal the ending of the book here. What I will say is that I got off my back, took my sleep-deprived self down the steps to the basement where I had my writing desk, and I wrote. And I wrote. And I saw it was more than a writing exercise. So I wrote more. And I saw that whatever it was, it was a thing with chapters. And I wrote. And as I wrote, it became this little, lyrical novel: Descriptions of Heaven.

    I wrote the first draft between winter 2012 and spring 2013. Since then I’ve picked it up to revise and put it away a few times. And it was last fall that I finally decided it was ready to be sent out in search of a publisher.

    And the publisher I went with, Harvard Square Editions, has sent me a finalized cover. For my IRL Facebook Friends I’ve given a sneak peak of this cover, using an unpolished version of the main artwork as my cover photo without telling anyone (kind of an Easter Egg for those I know) for a few months now.

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    CODA Book Launch at Barnes & Noble

    B&N Ft. Union, Midvalem UT

     

    Join Harvard Square Editions author

    Rajani Kanth at his book launch

    for the title Coda

     
     
     

    April 16th from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

    Fort Union  Barnes & Noble:

     

    7119 South 1300 East St
    Midvale, UT 84047
    801-565-0086

     

    Author RAJANI KANTH is a visiting scholar at Harvard University. Coda chronicles the life, and afterlife, of the last human, in both flashback and future shock, after the apocalypse of the millennium, where timeless, misanthropic aggression, and blindness predictably destroy all life on Earth.

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    A bit o’ (motley)goose

    BOOK SIGNING 1

    Rajani Kanth signing copies of his new book at Barnes & Noble

    by Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda

    a bee in my bonnet
    A care in my cap
    Sing me a sonnet –
    grief is on tap

    Sing me a sonnet
    A groat in my spats
    just came upon it:
    my pockets in tats

    Jackdaws twitter
    Whittington’s afoot
    Banbury’s cross
    Jack Horner’s all mute

    Boy Blue’s awake
    Bo-peep’s fast asleep
    Jack Sprat’s hungry
    Wee Willie runs deep

    Simon’s no wiser
    Muffet’s no bolder,
    spiders surprise her:
    cider won’t hold her

    some like it hot
    some like it cold
    some simply care not
    truth be told

    Humpty Dumpty
    still sits on the fence
    Neither giving –
    Nor taking offence

    no, no, black sheep
    dont give me any wool
    pulled right over my eyes
    I am pretty much full

    one two buckle my shoe
    no,no, just shut the door:
    King Cole, in heavy rue
    cares to play no more

    Pussy cat, alley cat
    Where have you been?
    in deep lucubrations –
    No time for the queen

    a Jack and a Jill
    went up the hill:
    Jack, in atonement
    Still payeth the bill

    Pat a cake pat a cake
    Baker’s man
    You cant make a mistake
    As fast as I can

    Hush a bye babies
    Daddy’s right here:
    dog’s got rabies
    The end is quite near:

    rain, rain
    say no to Spain:
    darkling spring
    comes not again

    A dillar, a dollar
    Be ye late, or soon
    Once an everyday scholar –
    Now in immovable swoon

    I still dont like thee
    Doctor Fell:
    heal myself now,
    if not very well

    bye baby bunting
    the ships are out to sea
    times they are a-shunting
    nothing real can be

    so fare thee well,
    my mother goose,
    to rhymes that braise
    to words that bruise

    Xmas ain’t coming
    the world is getting flat
    Time, friend, to pack it in
    And that is that

    So, how many days
    left, now, to play?:
    love comes but once,
    It’s over: away!
    [© R.Kanth 2016]

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    The Book Soup Best Seller list for last week

    FICTION
    PAPERBACK
    1. The Beard
    (Alan Swyer)
    2. Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch
    (Henry Miller)
    3. A Little Life
    (Hanya Yanagihara)
    4. Inquisitor’s Niece
    (Erika Rummel)
    5. The Harder They Come (TC Boyle)
    6. A Map Of Home
    (Randa Jarrar)
    7. Alchemist 25th Anniversary
    (Paulo Coelho)
    8. Chelsea Girls
    (Eileen Myles)
    9. Kafka on the Shore
    (Haruki Murakami)
    10. Untamed State
    (Roxane Gay)
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    Alan Swyer’s THE BEARD

    Alan Swyer at Book Soup

    photo by John Solt

     

    Book Soup in Hollywood launched The Beard – April 4, 2016. March 30th, at 8:30 PM, Alan Swyer interviewed on KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles— or KPFK.org on the internet— speaking about his new novel The Beard. Tune into Poets Cafe to hear Alan interviewed by the one and only Billy Vera.

     

    via NewYorkSocialDiary.com

    MUSIC PRODUCER/filmmaker/manager Alan Swyer has finally kept a promise he made long ago to the late, great Ray Charles. The two men became friends while Swyer was producing an album for the soul legend. Ray was fascinated by Swyer’s abilities as a storyteller, his many adventures and projects (managing Ike Turner, writing and directing “The Buddy Holly Story,” making music videos and commercials.) “You gotta promise me to write a book!” Ray exclaimed. Swyer said yes, but nothing came of it, until, well — now. While he was finishing “From Harlem to Hollywood” a documentary about singer/songwriter/author Billy Vera, he also began to write. And on April 2nd Swyer’s comic novel The Beard will debut from Harvard Square Editions. It’s been described as “an insider’s guide to the cutthroat phoniness of L.A.’s west side nouveau riche.”

    Novel or not, one can be sure Alan Swyer’s adventures protecting his own throat from being cut will be melded into the fiction.

     

    Alan Swyer

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    Big Sister, Older Brother

    big sisBig Sister Older Brother by Courtney Stinnett, based on a true story of sibling support when mental illness takes over. The journey of these two lives in a very short period of time reminds many of us of the value of family.

    Excerpt of the book : From the moment I was born, I was not only a daughter, but I was a little sister as well. I looked up to my big brother, and he looked out for me. He took his job of being a big brother very seriously, and he was really good at it. Sometimes I would get picked on, and he would physically defend me by beating them up. Today I am the big sister and I look out for him. I don’t beat people up, but I do the protecting now. I make sure he has everything he needs. Now it’s my turn to take care of him. This is our story as told from both our perspectives… The story of how I became a big sister to my older brother.

    ISBN-13: 978-0974684178; Papperback $16

    Ladybug Publishing Company (2015)

     

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    ‘Twittermorphosis’, A Short Story by Diane Haithman

    Diane Haithman’s HSE novel Dark Lady of Hollywood, inspired by Shakespeare, has been featured twice on Nikki Finke’s hot new Hollywood fiction website Hollywood Dementia (one excerpt and one short story, Enter Ghost, adapted from the novel).

    This time around, Diane once again mashes up Hollywood and classic literature with The Twittermorphosis.

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    A short story by Diane Haithman, picture by Thomas Warming

    In her vain attempt to please her agent by getting 10,000 Twitter followers, screenwriter Gina Sampson finds herself in a parallel predicament to Kafka’s Gregor Samsa in his short novel The Metamorphosis, who wakes up to find that he has become a giant cockroach.

    By a similarly alarming twist of fate, @GinaS finds herself stuck in Twitter.

     

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    Abduction, a short story by Bradette Michel

    Abduction takes place before the opening of Bradette Michel’s debut novel, For Their Own Good, published in 2015 by Harvard Square Editions. For Their Own Good tells the story of nineteenth century women committed to an insane asylum for reasons that have nothing to do with their sanity.

    Mrs. Packard balanced on the edge of her chair as if ready to pour tea for guests. If the room had been full of women from church, only the most observant would notice a slight curve in her back or the tremor of her dress against the bare floor. She struggled to maintain a pose she had been trained to assume since childhood—the pose of a lady.
    Any other morning she would have been in the kitchen preparing breakfast at the wood burning stove, her little angels waiting for her to fill their plates with biscuits and gravy. Except this was no ordinary morning. This was the day her husband had prepared for, plotted for, connived for. Pastor Packard intended to take her to the insane asylum today.
    A carriage braked in front of the house. The cheerful giggles of the Packard children greeting a familiar visitor reached her ears. Perhaps friends were calling. Perhaps her pleadings the night before had convinced her husband to give up his cruel plan. “Theophilus, have I not fulfilled my duties as wife and mother? Our children are healthy. Our household is well-managed. Have I not ministered to your congregation? A woman whose mind has flown could not have performed such duties.”
    She had not been surprised when he closed his Bible and climbed the stairs to sleep in one of the children’s rooms. His reprimands to her words of defiance had been replaced by a rigid glare months ago. She shuddered at the thought of the sleepless nights that came with his silence. Often she woke alone, tangled in bed sheets, shaking and sweating like stalked prey just before the lion pounced.
    At the sound of heavy boots ascending the stairway she rose quickly, and turned the key in the lock.
    “She is in here, doctor.” (more…)

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