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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:

Perspectives

American Indian's perspective

 

They kill Palestinians,

Do they not?:

Alas: so what?

 

Do we know

Our History:

Or have we clean

forgot?

 

They killed

Native Africans:

Native Asians,

Too

 

Native Americans,

By thousands,

Native Australians,

not a few

 

They killed them

all, blithely,

once upon a

time:

all the way

from  Mandalay

to Timbuktu

 

 

They slew them,

calmly, then –

And  they do so  still:

The Preachers

Still  Preaching:

Thou Shall not Kill

 

‘Liberte, egalite!

And Justice for All!’ :

Slogans , inspiring:

How they keep us 

in thrall!

 

Yes , they kill Palestinians

it is  so sad to say:

O, and hundreds of Others

Every blessed  day –

 

We can only wonder,

Long as we live

 

At the Great

Enigma

At the Great

Anomaly

At the Great

Mystery

 

At the Great

Travesty –

At the Oxymoron

Of Western Civ

____________

[© R.Kanth 2018] 
Professor Rajani Kanth is the author of Coda, and Expiations
and trustee of the World Peace Congress

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Fidelis O. Mkparu to Appear in Memphis at B&N’s Urban Fiction Day

Fidelis O. Mkparu will appear on a panel for authors of urban fiction at Barnes and Noble in Memphis’ Wolfchase Galleria to talk about his diverse medical novel, also set in Memphis. Tears Before Exaltation is a National Indie Excellence Awards Gold Medalist 2018.

Saturday, July 21, 2018, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Memphis’ Wolfchase Galleria B&N

The authors will discuss the process of writing urban fiction, their own experiences and their books. Everyone is welcome to participate in the discussion.

9781941861608-Perfect LS NIEA s“In his new novel Tears Before Exaltation, Fidelis O. Mkparu’s literary growth is evident as he delves deeper into matters only touched on in his previous novel, Love’s Affliction. His characters are dealing with realistic issues that you and I can identify with, but with a twist of suspense, curiosity and intrigue. Packed with pathos, the impact of Fidelis O. Mkparu, Tears Before Exaltationwill stay with you long after you put it down. Fidelis O. Mkparu has written yet another worthwhile read.”

—Kayron El-Kildani, Michigan Book Club

When Ben Ava, a struggling medical student facing insurmountable financial worries, receives a scholarship offer for a Medical Center in Memphis, he thinks that his tenuous future is finally secure. But Ben’s past will not leave him alone. His fellow scholarship winner is his old friend Brenda—a young medical student with extraordinary talent whose troubled past has made her self-destructive and dangerous. In Memphis, their lives become increasingly tangled as Ben is pulled into Brenda’s orbit. Soon, he finds himself risking his medical education, his new romance, and his entire future in the hopes of steering himself and Brenda through the tumult of their shared loneliness and trauma.

Tears Before Exaltation is a literary drama about coping with the past, surviving the present, and the blurred lines between courage and insanity, hate and love. Available at Barnes and Noble and bookstores everywhere.

 

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World Refugee Day: June 20th, 2018

#WithRefugees

Via Globalgoodspartners.com By – June 06 2018

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Heir of the Thunderbird

Heir CS5 File.idmlVictoria is a 16 year old girl, who has been to the hospital with illness more times than she can count. She has a strange disease, which renders her bones incredibly fragile, breaking by the slightest pressure. The doctors are clueless to what is wrong with her. One day, she is summoned to a new meeting in Dresden, with promises of a possible cure. It does in no way go as Victoria had anticipated, although she gets a taste of a mysterious concoction, which makes her strong. Back home in Denmark, Victoria begins investigating her deceased father’s Native American family and soon discovers, that there is more to her family than first realized.

She and her friend Beate decide to travel to Canada, where the father’s family lives, in order to learn more. This begins an adventure, which the two girls will not soon forget. For there are mysterious forces and old superstition at play, and other people are chasing Victoria!

If you like magic, supernatural phenomena and the struggle between good and evil, then this book is heartily recommended.

Heir of the Thunderbird  is exciting and captivating, and even though I did not know much about Native American culture, I learned much on the way and found it all interesting. The story is well written, and the pages almost turn by themselves. There are good descriptions of Canada’s wildlife and the places that Victoria and Beate visits, and you can almost feel the cold winter’s breath against the skin and taste the frosty air in your lungs.

Besides involving magic, wizardry and power struggles, the book also revolves around friendship and budding love, which may prove impossible. Victoria develops notably during the story, and even though it spans only a short period of time, it is a realistic and true to life development. We feel her terror of never finding a cure, and of the doctors in Dresden. We understand her curiosity about her family, and her desire to travel to them. Almost everyone knows how it feels, to be in love for the first time. The writers hit all of these feelings exceedingly well, and it makes the book not superficial, but well-done and thorough.

I give Heir of the Thunderbird my warmest of recommendations – both to the young readers, but certainly to the adults who enjoy good fantasy as well.

Forestilling om Paradis

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Traits

The head’s
replete
with Reasons
Too multifarious
To know

The heart only
Two Seasons:
The high and the
Low

No
Intervenient
stakes
No neutral
stance
It takes

But all that
it feels:
either
Cleaves –
Or forsakes

O the head
is so
conjugated:
The heart,
simple,
syncopated

But O what
A difference
That dissimilitude
Makes !

[© R.Kanth 2018] 
Professor Rajani Kanth is the author of Coda, and Expiations
and trustee of the World Peace Congress

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Krakow by Sean Akerman

Review by Kelly Zhang via The Manhattan Book Review

Akerman’s latest novel is a story about the end of a story: Krakow documents, with the frankness of two people who believe they are writing things nobody else will read, the slow disintegration of a two-year relationship that everyone around them long saw coming.

Akerman makes an otherwise generic story of how a couple met and fell apart more interesting by presenting it from both sides. The novel begins with the man’s perspective; halfway through, the woman takes over, filling in the gaps in his narrative. Apart from some minutiae, however, they reveal the same fears and regrets, the shared knowledge that what they have will soon end, and the feeling that perhaps it already has.

9781941861578-Perfect2.inddKrakow, in spite of its title, has little to do with Poland. The story unfolds in Brooklyn; both protagonists are Americans with ambiguous American roots. Krakow for them is four days of a magical holiday taken the previous spring, a memory from the days when they were so in love with each other nothing else mattered.

This short novel captures beautifully the twilight of a relationship: the doubts we have about our partners, about ourselves, and our pain at having to leave something so familiar yet wrong.

Rating: 4/5 ★

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Powells’ Staff Pick TITLE 13

Michael A. Ferro SMALL
TITLE 13 is a Powell’s Staff Pick!

 

Read what Powells’ staff had to say about Michael A. Ferro’s debut novel

 
 
Via Powells

Staff Pick

For a book that started out with a lot of breezy and absurdist humor, Title 13 takes a sharp dive straight into heartbreak and sorrow. Heald is an office cog with a fierce sense of humor, slogging away at the census bureau; he’s half in love with a coworker, somewhat inconvenienced due to a recent security breach, and desperately casting about for some meaning in his small life. When there’s an illness in his family, Heald returns to his childhood home, and things begin to seriously fall apart.

9781941861462-Perfect.inddExploring themes of addiction, loneliness, self-protection, and the facade we present to the world, Title 13 packs a much bigger punch than I originally expected.

The best of authors would be hard-pressed to write such a painful account of a life slipping into alcoholism, but Ferro does a beautiful and wholly devastating job.

Heald’s story carries with it an urgent hope of redemption; it’s intense, but Ferro will hold your hand to the end. Do not miss this gorgeous read. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com

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Song for Ahed

By Rajani Kanth

 

Ahed Tamimi

Stood , Fearless,

up to Power –

 

A mere

Schoolgirl:

become Heroine

Of the Hour

 

Yes, she was

Arrested:

 

Her mettle,

Sore tested –

 

Sure, Defiance,

Was bought at

High Cost

 

But that should

Not faze us –

 

Rather, amaze

us:

 

At   Sixteen,

She ,  the

One War –

Zion Has Lost

[©R.Kanth 2018] 

Professor Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda, and Expiations
Trustee; World Peace Congress

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Jack Clinton talks about CLOVIS on National Public Radio

Extracted from Montana NPR

 

Jack Clinton talks about his debut LGBT eco-novel Clovis in an interview on Montana Public Radio to air on KUFM this Thursday evening, May 31st, 2018–Listen now!

 

Jack Clinton, book signing 2“Clinton’s novel is an artful literary response to the unutterable and largely ignored decline of our collective natural wealth. Clinton mixes a sardonic misanthropy of our own current environmental course with jubilation, and the joy of love, the celebration of the human condition, and the intense passion of being immersed in the natural world. Clovis will continue Harvard Square Editions’ tradition of promoting fiction that furthers civil and environmental causes in a market that would rather leave such voices unheard.”      —Eco-Fiction.com

 

About the Book:

In the opening pages of Clovis, Hanna traverses an ancient glacial moraine at the edge of an American desert, to revisit the obsidian Clovis point (Spear point) that she had found and hidden on a previous archeological survey.  She feels a fundamental attraction to the point, and as she contemplates it she can envision the ancient race that left it for her there on the vast sage steppes at the foot of the Rockies.

Cover CLOVIS final.inddHanna lives briefly out of a hotel while she completes an archeological survey on the multi-state, CanAm gas line.  It is here that Hanna reunites with Tim, Hugh, Dog, Gina, and Paul.  While running in the desert alone, two men attempt to rape her.  She escapes by dousing them with mace and flattens the tires of their truck.

The attempted rape forces her to go to the northern camp where she finds chaos and filth.   The ever-faithful Paul is there and he helps her through the reorganization of the camp.  It is the damaged and angelic Paul whom she dotes over.  It is Paul who tells her the unspoken histories of America.  It is Paul who steals the most controversial artifact in North America.

Although Hanna harbors a deep affection for Paul, she gravitates towards Tim in the field camps, the deserts, and to climb challenging routes in the mountains.  Her liaison with Tim forces her to face the contradictions of her life: She is a vegetarian surrounded by carnivores.  She is a marginalized environmental regulator against a Goliath of a gas industry.  She is a transcendentalist who can’t catch the wave of nothingness.  She is the guardian of Paul, who she loses in the mountains.  And finally, Hanna is a lesbian, but she cannot deny that she also loves Tim.               

After Paul’s death in the mountains, Hanna comes unhinged.  Then CanAm belligerently bulldozes a culturally rich valley, and Dog retaliates by burning two of their vehicles.  Hanna senses the impotence of the act and realizes that all the work they do simply facilitates the power of such companies.  She leaves and she drifts towards the magnetism the mountains where she runs a mountain route that challenges her to the very limits of her endurance. On her rest day, she joins a small party for dinner and is assaulted by a man from a petroleum company and she stabs him.  This sends her head long back to the desert to answer the sirens’ song of the Clovis.  She goes out to desert for lack of any other plan and climbs the distant desert buttes that seem to hold her in their orbit.  It is here, in the vacuum of a high desert night, during a long, nightmarish epiphany that the cicadas sing out their perspective of her tribulations.

About the Author:

Jack Clinton lives in Red Lodge, Montana and works as a Spanish teacher.  Jack spent most of his adult life living in Wyoming, working as kitchen help, laborer, carpenter, and mountain guide. He earned his undergraduate and graduate degree in Spanish at the University of Wyoming, in Laramie, Wyoming.  During these University years, Jack started writing freelance, covering environmental news. His work regularly appeared in the Caspar Star Tribune, and in diverse periodicals such as High Country News, Western Horseman, E-magazine, Rock and Ice, and Climbing. During his years at the University, he also won the Neltje Blanchan award for fiction.

After a long hiatus from writing to engage in raising his daughter, Emma, he has returned to writing and produced a new novel. Clovis, an environmental novel, is a fictional composite of many of the stories and people who filled those Wyoming decades.

               

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On Emancipation

By Rajani Kanth

[For Noam Chomsky]

EM (Euromodernism*) ideology, born in the ferment of the Late Middle Ages, and representing the burgeoning mercantile interest, brought with it, amongst other things, tendentiously, the chimera of the litany of emancipation.

Seeking to free itself from the customary restraints of the existing social compact, which curbed its own budding material ambitions, it offered the notion as bait to social orders whose support it needed to succeed.

It worked.

And generations of the desperate sans-cullotte dreamed goodly dreams, the world over, if only as ersatz for the real thing.

And not just back then.

‘Democracy’, ‘Socialism’, ‘Equality’: O they fell for it all – in heroic sacrifice – even as the holy grail(s) eluded them generation after generation after generation.

You might know the game, as recently played out in the national politics of the greatest EM formation on earth, in the genre of ‘yes, we can’, sloganeering.

What a delectable con that was!

And the short answer to that mode of deception: no, we can’t.

Entrenched Power does not give away valuable perks to the impuissant simply because of the inducements of a noble ideology of amelioration.

They may , if at all, only be wrested (a very old lesson of real-life politics): and which creates, generally, but a temporary amelioration.

So, what is the value of the elaborate rhetoric of emancipation widespread, for long, amongst both left and right?

None.

It is rhetoric only.

So, is there any real utility to the notion at all ?

Yes: there is but one mode of ‘emancipation’ that is rather compellingly necessary.

We must emancipate ourselves from the sway of the notion itself i.e., from all political and religious fantasies.

Why?

Because men (who wield the reins of power) , qua men, find the corruptions of power irresistible: little men may occasionally overthrow big men, using such means as they can, often (if not always) moved by high ideals – but they only end up as the ‘new big men’ in a very short period of time.

And so, it recycles.

That is a sort of an Iron Law of Oligarchy in societal affairs.

It’s the sad, nay tragic, story of all societal revolutions till now.

The ‘monkey on the back’, alas, never appears to go away.

Of course, struggle against tyranny is inevitable, but it rarely leads to permanent human betterment.

If it did, given the martyrdom of millions over the Modernist centuries, we would all be living in utopia by now.

Oddly, the times we live in may be quite conducive to such a modus of ‘liberation’ from the idea.

It is the leaders, left or right, that are being led, today, much to the consternation of the corporates.

People are waking up globally – seeing through, albeit slowly, and incompletely, the Great Games of Modernist Politics.

They are legitimation games only : and ‘democracy itself is a powerful, and wildly successful, ideological tool – of effective domination.

From the point of view of the hoi polloi, it’s a very dispiriting bind: having it is bare cold comfort; not having it , even worse.

At any rate, an important, may be even profound , change is in the air: the internet, together with the excesses of the governors, have made fake news and false flags the pedestrian vocabulary of our times.

Caesar’s wife – to drag in an old adage – may be chaste or not, but must appear to be so: and today the system , everywhere, has lost , so to speak, its pristine chastity.

So, in that sense , whilst far from being the best of times, these may also not be the very worst of times.

· EuroModernism is my term that describes the entire ideological apparatus deployed to achieve the Modernist Revolutions in Late Feudal Europe. It is specified, in detail, in the Work referenced below.

R E F E R E N C E S

Kanth, R. Farewell to Modernism, New York: Peter Lang, 2017

[©R.Kanth 2018]

Professor Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda, and Expiations
Trustee; World Peace Congress

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