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  • The Vale of Cashmere

  • by Sean Elder

    green forest

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Jesus, what the hell you drinking?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Here you go, ma’am.”

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

    “Drinks are complimentary, ma’am.”

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

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

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

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

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

    “Yes, ma’am.”

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

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

    “Now isn’t that something?”

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

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

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

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

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

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    That’s when Floyd said no more.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Does she have a cell phone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Hello?”

    “This ain’t no telemarketer.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “I know that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Can you do it?”

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

    “How do you mean?”

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

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

    “Now that’s gotta hurt!”

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

    “Is it important?”

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

    “Uh, oh. Better have another drink.”

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

    ______________________

    voice from the planet

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

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  • All at Once: Excerpt of the Novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Screencraft Winner Next Gen at Cannes

 

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May 13, 2018, Cannes, France –
Screencraft winner Next Gen was acquired for a reported $30 million at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday.

 
photo by Melanie Meder

The animated film stars the voices of Charlyne Yi, Jason Sudeikis, David Cross, Michael Pena and Constance Wu.  Directed by Kevin Adams and Joe Ksander, the film was written by ScreenCraft Fellow Ryan W. Smith, alongside directors Adams & Ksander, with story-by credit going to Wang Nima. 
The animated feature film centers on two friends who form a close bond in a world populated by robots.

This acquisition deal for Ryan’s film Next Gen marks Netflix’s first at Cannes this year. Netflix has been in the news lately after pulling all of its films at the world’s most glamorous film festival after Thierry Fremaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival, refused to screen any Netflix films in competition due to pressure from French exhibitors.

Ryan W. Smith won the 2017 ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship and attended the 1-week program in Los Angeles, receiving meetings at top Hollywood studios and mentorship with 3 Academy Award-winning screenwriters. Ryan said of his ScreenCraft Fellowship experience:

The ScreenCraft Fellowship experience has been incredible! Each step of the way, John and Cameron have not only met, but far surpassed my expectations. They have opened a whole slew of doors for me, and introduced me to many wonderful, talented people. I would say that I’ve benefited most from the ScreenCraft team sharing their industry knowledge and vast network of relationships.

 
Give Ryan a warm round of congratulations on Facebook here!

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Dolor of Gaia

by Rajani Kanth

 

Oft did I travel in the haunts of old

Memories warm, lienholders though cold

By Stygian charnels b’neath leafy groves

Beside seething beaches , sultry coves

reminisced deep, recalling such forms

shadows departed, dead antic norms

pleated of travesty, latticed of spite

impassable glooms, split by tendrils of light

O the dim worlds entered, all unprepared

Guilty, innocent, where no one is spared

Beseeched high heavens, found heavens all bare

As dystopic disorder reigned everywhere –

What penances expiate our sordid sins

What love absolves afore prayer begins?

What fair deeds of charity still remain

To repeal forever our birthmarks of Cain?

Upon earth mother’s long wrenched breast

There be no redemption, nor any sweet rest

She ready casts off our worn mortal coils

Curtailing our trespass, moribunding our toils:

touch her once more, prostrate , at her feet

In Homeric despair , are we made obsolete –

 

Forfeit all mercy, she doles us our due –

O in Homeric dolor, she bids us adieu:

In Fealty to Others, as Mother to All –

She lets go the Lapsarian Children of Baal

9781941861110-Perfect CODA.indd[©R.Kanth 2018]

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

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Dirge

by Rajani Kanth

I rant of a riven, alien shore
Reft in recall, even more
Mocked, reviled, door to door:
Drowned in what has gone before:
 
There’s mottled shade in every spring
A gentle peal in every ring
A sign, in deep, in everything
That , soft, does to its mentor cling
 
Beswept, betrayed, in storm and stone
Filletted, flayed, bereft, alone
With no native thought to call one’s own
Nor holy rood to call it home
 
No music may ever linger here
No blooms of breaking day appear
No canticles to sweet endear
save abstinence and fretful fear
 
Earth quakes in garn’red opulence
Life numbs in lazy indolence
Skies smile in fulsome innocence –
Even as the passing rites commence
 
the vampire fiend of peckish time
redacts this fav’red, flaunting rhyme
in residue of its grot and grime
languish all idylls, once sublime
 
prodigal in waste does lie
earthly beauty in free supply
where the heart be not dearly fond –
all canting joys does it decry
 
the great aurora boreole
cannot make the night sky whole
drapes all dreams in diablerie
staggers the wilting soul
 
where is the vaunted , idle ease
bards of civilization commend?
here can be no armistice
where the battles never end
 
raw dust in an urn, our Destiny
yet one touch betokens love
I cling to where pulsing flesh abounds –
let gods keep the heavens above
 
in hemlock steeps my flavored grape
the fevered asp is at my breast
Tomorrow, I know not what portends –
But tonite, will I have rest
 
Twixt hemlock and this clinging asp:
Perhaps there can be rest?

 

[©R.Kanth 2018]

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

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1st Place Chanticleer Winner: NATURE’S CONFESSION

Dante Ros

Nature’s Confession won 1st Place in Chanticleer’s
Dante Rossetti Awards.

“The novel is epic” –The Guardian

As governments give $5.3 trillion a year to fossil fuel companies, while the media propagates the idea that solar and wind energy are unprofitable (IRL!), comes the epic tale of two teens in a fight to save a warming planet, the universe . . . and their love.9780989596077-Perfect.indd

The Dante Rossetti award honors young adult fiction. Nature’s Confession was also a Readers’ Favorite Award Winner Book Excellence Award Finalist, and a Top 10 Best Science Fiction book.

Nature’s Confession is available at Amazon and bookstores everywhere.

 

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Sixes and Sevens

By Rajani Kanth

 

Aria

Today:  

They bomb.

 

Iraq

Afghanistan

Yemen

Somalia

Mali

Niger

Sudan

Libya

Syria

Gaza.

 

Yesterday:

They murdered.

 

in Africa

in Asia

in the Americas

in Oceania

 

Twas

The Sixth Extinction:

a Seventh yet

to come:

here’s to

a  yo ho ho –

and a bottle

of rum:

 

Tomorrow?

They will kill, again.

 

So many Peoples,

Still remain.

 

*

 

 

Chorus

 

 

Riding high

In  Entropy:

Reeking of

Misanthropy:

Rolling in

Hypocrisy –

All too plain

To see

 

Shall be no more

Rise and Fall

For They Plan,

 To kill Us  All

Can you hear the

Angels call?

 

It’s Omnicide 

They swear

To  bring

when

they form

that  deadly

ring

 

around you,

me, and

everything:

As they drill,

march,

And lusty sing:

Of wanton

slaughter

On the wing

 

Unsmiling Ravagers

From Hell –

Plim with Pretexts

They know so well

Acting out some Orphic

Spell

Making Delphic

Passions swell

 

Ain’t time left

To  show and tell

O come Heed

the  Antic  Knell –

One Last Time,

 That blighted Bell

One Last Time!

Ding, Dong,  Bell

 

[©R.Kanth 2018]

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

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TEARS BEFORE EXALTATION is Launched

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The Medical Thriller Tears Before Exaltation was launched on Saturday March 31, 2018 at Gervasi Vineyard, a block away from author Fidelis Mkparu’s house, in Canton, Northeast Ohio.

 

Tears Before Exaltation is a story of the challenges a third-year medical student, Ben, faces in Memphis. It details incessant challenges in his relationships, love life, loneliness, loyalty and survival. Events that are overwhelming at times. It’s a book about perseverance. A testament to the art of not giving up. A psychological thriller about the influence of past events in our lives on our psyche. A journey of self-discovery for the protagonist.

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Though it is not Memphis, Tennessee where the novel takes place, Fidelis loves his hometown, Canton, Ohio. There is no equivalent to the Mississippi River in Canton, but he has a small manmade lake on his street. “Go ahead and laugh,” he says. “In place of the Delta Blues, we had Harp music for the book launch. To make up for some of the inadequacies, notable citizens of Northeast Ohio attended, judges, lawyers, real estate developers, bankers, and wonderful regular folks. It was a memorable event for me.”

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Tears Before Exaltation is a stunning literary drama that combines key elements such as romance, suspense, and psychological intrigue. The author immediately caught my attention by creating a likable, compassionate hero who rules his life by acting with integrity. He is surrounded by several key players who do not share his ethical standards. The writing is contemporary and compassionate, tackling highly relevant social issues such as mental illness, including alcoholism and depression. The story has an engaging pace that makes it hard to put down with twists and excitement that will leave you wanting more.”

Reader Views

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Fidelis, who spoke to a crowd of about seventy people, said, “Words are not adequate to express my gratitude to my friends and supporters. I am also grateful to my publisher Harvard Square Editions. I am grateful to my friend and confidant of twenty-two years, Christine Dickey, the planner of the event. Christine did not ask me who to invite to my book launch since she knew my friends and my predilections. A plus for our close friendship.”

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Fidelis O. Mkparu is a Harvard-trained cardiologist who has written medical articles for both scientific and lay audiences. His previous novel, Love’s Affliction, was a 2016 Nautilus Book Awards Silver Winner for Fiction, a Reader Views Literary Award Winner for 2015/2016, and a finalist for the 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award for Multicultural Fiction. He lives in Canton, Ohio.

Tears Before Exaltation is available at Amazon and retailers everywhere.

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Hindsight

By Rajani Kanth

Oft, when Eating

Humble Pie

I resort to Question

Why

Some live high

Whilst Others die:

Unrequited,

To the Last –

And Answer came in

By and by

As Lions lord it

In Jungle law

We, too, be red

In tooth and claw

Justice, Fairness

Truth, and Right

Are but swindles

We must never

Buy:

Whence,

revealed,

In lurid light,

Are both Present

and the Past

Nothing Changes

The Game, simply,

Rearranges

And, In a blink

Of the listless eye

Reverts to Primal

Cast

Doff all Myths

Old and New

heed not the

rants of the ruling few

cleave not to roads

that lead to Rome

instead, tilt to

the hearth and home

where Spirit

can rest, at last

[©R. Kanth, 2018] Author of  Coda, Rajani Kanth has held affiliations with some of the most prestigious universities in the world. He has also served as an advisor to the United Nations. He is the author/editor of several academic works in political economy and culture-critique, is a novelist and poet, and has also scribed several screenplays. He is, presently a visiting fellow at Harvard University, and permanent trustee of the World Peace Congress.

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Harriet Levin Millan Splits Rock

 

Harriet Rocks!small

Earth Day, April 22, 2018 – Author Harriet Levin Millan talked about her upcoming poetry book My Oceanography, and her award-winning debut novel How Fast Can You Run, amidst other Harvard Square Editions titles at Split This Rock 2018, Washington D.C., for and about socially engaged literati:

 

“There was interest in books about climate change. Some complained that Split This Rock had very little addressing climate change so they were happy to see our Harvard Square Editions booth!”

 

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The Split This Rock social justice fair features the critically important work of socially engaged poets, writers, organizations, progressive presses, literary magazines, and independent newspapers, at annually, for free. Some of the fair’s events were held at Busboys and Poets⎯a friendly coffee house in a multicultural neighborhood. Unlike in medieval times, poetry in recent years has drawn smaller crowds than other forms of literature, but with activism growing in popularity, the number of attendees swelled to over 500. All manner of progressive causes were represented. Participants included writers of all ages, with a heavy concentration among 18- to 40-year-olds.

 

For Harriet, it was a great chance to catch up with some of her fellow writers, including poetry hero E. Ethelbert Miller, Editor of Poet Lore

 
 
9781941861202-PerfectMEDAL.inddHarriet’s migrant novel How Fast Can You Run is an IPPY medalist; a Living Now Book Award medalistINDIEFAB Finalist; and #1 Amazon bestseller in biographical fiction. It was included in Reader’s Digest’s Best Books That Inspire You to Travel and featured in Drexel Magazine.

Harriet Levin Millan is a prize winning poet and writer. Her poetry collection, The Christmas Show, (Beacon Press) was selected for the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and The Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She received a MFA from the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop and has written for The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Harvard Review, The Iowa Review, PEN America, The Smart Set, among other publications. She and her family founded the Reunion Project and along with the participation of Philadelphia-area high school and college students, raised money to reunite several Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan with their mothers living abroad. She teaches creative writing in the English Department at Drexel University and directs the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing. She lives with her husband outside Philadelphia.

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The Stolen Life of a Cheerful Man

Gurshaan Kaur comments on the one remaining copy that wasn’t stolen of The Stolen Life of a Cheerful Man by Dimitris Politis at the New Delhi World Book fair.

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“The thing I really like is, the guy is suffering from everything…he just wants to fight for himself. That is what made me interested in this book.”

 

The contentious yet universal issues of intolerance and understanding, discrimination and acceptance, violence, terrorism and forgiveness come to life. Dimitris Politis plunges boldly into the Irish reality but always in equilibrium with his Greek consciousness. The Stolen Life of a Cheerful Man explores the area between Greece and Ireland, where the glittering Aegean waves are crowned by the rainbows of the Atlantic and the west coast of Ireland.

The reader is drawn to the story through its exciting twists and turns, interlinked through a fast cinematographic pace: the book is an excellent contemorary example of “black” fiction with a subtle and delicate deepening of sentiments, feelings and beliefs linked to the human nature. It voices a loud protest against social and historical stereotypes and is a stern warning of how intolerance and ignorance can lead to disaster. In today’s world where many countries are mired in a financial crisis, where make people tend to forget the importance of tolerance and acceptance of their fellow human begins, the author cleverly reminds us that difference and diversity are universally present: they indeed shape our world, they are the rule rather than the exception. He prompts us to remember that we are all born different and grow up differently, making each of us very special in our own unique way whatever the circumstances.

Snapshot 32Dimitris Politis was born in Athens, Greece on 16 March 1960. He studied Economics in Greece and Classics and Literature in Ireland. He has lived in Greece, Ireland, UK, Luxembourg and Belgium. He has published articles and reviews on Working Conditions and Occupational Health and Safety and short stories in literary magazines and websites. His first novel “The stolen life of a cheerful man” was published in Greek in 2012. His second novel in Greek “The next stop” is nearing completion. He currently lives in Brussels. He works as a Webmaster and Editor for the EUROPA site of the European Union.

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Mother and son writing team win accolades

By Mary Thurman Yuhas

 

From the time Charles Todd was a boy, he and his mother, Caroline Todd, loved mysteries. “She read Sherlock Holmes to me,” he says. After Charles grew up, he moved away and became a successful businessman. The summer of 1993 after a family visit to Kings Mountain Military Park in Blacksburg, SC, Caroline suggested they write a mystery together, and the two started writing.

Thinking their completed first book needed some professional input, they sent it to Ruth Cavin, an acquaintance and editor at St. Martin’s Press to see how they could improve it. Three months later, they received “the call” that every author dreams of receiving.  Not only was she interested in their first book, A TEST OF WILLS, she wanted a sequel and within days, she requested two more in the series.

Test of WillsA TEST OF WILLS went on to win the Barry Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for the Dilys Award and the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. (more…)

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