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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.


    “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:

EXPIATIONS has arrived



(Augur Press, UK, 2017)


I will hope my poems stir the waking spirit in the reader: and compel him or her to Look around, yet again, at the mystery and splendour of our

existence in this grandiloquent Planetary Endowment within which we occupy a tiny space as restless, reverberating nuclei of Pain and Desire that   are our inexorable conjoint Destiny as humans. -Rajani Kanth, Preface

About the Author

Rajani Kanth is an economist, anthropologist and philosopher.He was born in India, prior to moving to theUnited States. He has, across three decades, held Affiliations with some ofthe most prestigious Universities in the world, aside from being an Advisorto the United Nations. He is the Author of over numerous scholarly works:is a novelist, and has also scribed many successful Screenplays. He is,presently, based at Harvard University. He takes a keen interest now inissues relating to Human Wellbeing, Women’s Issues, Peace, andEnvironmental Sustainability.

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Interview with Harriet Levin Millan, author of HOW FAST CAN YOU RUN




by Maribel Garcia 

Interviews, Reviews, Book Club Babble


In her debut novel, How Fast Can You Run, poet Harriet Levin Millan (The Christmas Show, Girl in Cap and Gown) gives an insightful and carefully crafted account of just one of the many consequences of the second Sudanese Civil War and refugee life in America.

In 1988, Michael Majok Kuch was violently uprooted from the Dinka plains of Southern Sudan to the Kakuma refugee camp to Nairobi and eventually to Philadelphia.  Millan’s novel is inspired by Michael’s story. [more]

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Are small publishers doing all the hard work for the big ones?

Extracted from The Guardian, UK

by Ilana Masad

These days, it is minimally staffed and funded firms who invest in new authors. The giants avoid such risk, only picking the writers once their names are made

Independent publishers have existed since the 19th century; it wasn’t until the 20th and the 21st that we saw the industry dominated by a few corporations. “The Big Four” publishers – Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Hachette and HarperCollins – have grown big by buying up small publishers. Hogarth, for example, was founded by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in 1917; now it is an imprint at the Crown Publishing Group, which is in turn a part of Penguin Random House – which itself used to be Penguin and Random House before their merger in 2013. Phew.

Some success stories have already been written about, both on the Guardian and elsewhere. His Bloody Project, published by Contraband – a imprint of Saraband, which is run by two people – was nominated for the Man Booker prize, for example, and Transoceanic Lights by S Li was published on a shoestring budget by Harvard Square Editions and named as one of the National Book Foundation’s Five Under 35.  (…more)


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In the Land of Eternal Spring Launch

By Alan Howard, Author of In the Land of Eternal Spring
My head is still spinning from the launch of In the Land of Eternal Spring in the Boston suburb of Newton on June 15 and then the following week, like a one-two punch, first to the head with some folks I hadn’t seen since grammar school and then to the outpouring of so many of my dearest friends for the reading in New York City where I lived for fifty years.
6_21_readingNearly 100 people in the course of a week, in Newton where I grew up and then in NYC with dozens of friends going back to the political battles of the Sixties and on through two Obama election campaigns and eight years of fighting the good fights.
Thanks to Mary Cotton and Jaime Clarke for the invite to the renowned Newtonville Books and to Kate Linker and Bernard Tschumi for hosting our NYC event as only they could have done it.
These events were like nothing I have ever experienced before (after all, In the Land of Eternal Spring is my debut novel). To feel directly the full force of so much energy, love and affection.
And the hardest questions!
Well, the NYC event did take place at the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, when our biological connection to the sun is charged to the maximum and we are pumped—historically one of the most sacred days of the year.
About that Bertolt Brecht inscription for In the Land of Eternal Spring
Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
–let me say there have been more than a few moments over the past seven months since our disastrous election when I have asked myself how I could have devoted so much time and energy writing this novel that takes place a half century ago in a small, poor and distant country.
It was only in conversation with these old friends and new readers that I began to understand the answer to that question. It is about that famous connection between the personal and the political and the force of our collective actions. It is about the beloved community that gave birth to the movement that still sustains us and that I feel fortunate to be part of and to have written a book that tries to give artistic form to a moment in that history.


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Appointment with ISIL by Joe Giordano (Book Spotlight, Author Interview & Giveaway!)

9781941861080-Perfect (1).indd

by Laura Fabiani, via Library of Clean Reads, on June 19, 2017 in 50 states of America Author Interview Giveaways Italy Book Tours Joe Giordano

After reading Joe Giordano’s first book, Birds of Passage, I was eager to read his latest release Appointment with ISIL. Although different from Birds of Passage, which was historical fiction, this latest work is a literary thriller. It contains the same bold intelligent writing, with mobsters jumping off the page at every turn. Check out my interview with the author and enter to win a copy of the book!

Book Details:

Book Title: Appointment with ISIL: An Anthony Provati Thriller

Authors: Joe Giordano

Category: Adult Fiction, 299 pages

Genre: Literary Thriller

Publisher: Harvard Square Editions

Release date: June 2017

Format available for review: ebook (mobi, PDF and ePub)

Tour dates: June 19 to 30, 2017

Content Rating: PG (No f-words but there’s mild profanity, and mild religious expletives such as “damn”, “hell” and “Oh God!”, some depictions of violence or brief sexual content (kissing). No drug use or underage drinking.)

Book Description:

This time, Anthony’s libido threatens his life. He flirts with Russian mob boss, Gorgon Malakhov’s mistress. The Russian deals in death. ISIL, the Islamic State in the Levant, wants the product. Russian Intelligence supplies the means, and an art theft funds the scheme. ISIL’s targets are chilling. The chase across the Mediterranean is on. Can Anthony thwart ISIL? Will he survive?

Praise for Appointment with ISIL:

A roller-coaster ride to the finish, this book confirms Giordano as a writer to eagerly watch.”

Kirkus Reviews

A sexy, all-in-one-breath read, this is a story for those eager to strap on their boots and immerse themselves in a whirlwind adventure that will take them from espresso in New York with the Italian Mafia to walking the Old City of Jerusalem with the chief of Israel’s security service.”

The iRead Review

If you like gritty intriguing thrillers involving the FBI, Russian/Italian mobs or Islamic Terrorists you will absolutely love this book…. The characters, the plot and prose come together for an outstanding work of contemporary Americana. PRIMO highly recommends Appointment with ISIL.”

Primo Magazine

Buy the Book: 

Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble

Add to Goodreads

Interview with Joe Giordano:

LCR: Welcome to Library of Clean Reads, Joe. Can you describe your novel in 20 words or less?

JG: Anthony’s libido gets him into trouble with the Red Mob, ISIL, and Russian Intelligence, played out on an international stage.

LCR: Your last novel Birds of Passage was an historical coming of age romance. What made you want to write a literary thriller?

JG: Ben Fountain, author of the best-selling Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and a writing mentor of mine, told me that the literary thriller was the “holy grail.” I took on his challenge. The genesis of the novel was an Islamic History course I’d taken from the University of Texas in Austin, and a short story, “The Unkindest Cut,” published, by decomP Magazine.

LCR: You include an art theft in your story. Are you an art lover?

JG: On my travels, I enjoy visiting museums, and have taken numerous course in Art History from UT. I enjoy incorporating some of what I’ve seen and learned into my writing.

LCR: How has your own Italian heritage influenced your writing?

JG: The genesis of my first novel, Birds of Passage, an Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, was a graduate course at UT on the Progressive Era, 1880 – 1930. I wanted to understand the environment that my family encountered when they arrived as immigrants from Naples, Italy. I’m old enough to have known Italian immigrants born in the nineteenth-century. The famed poet, Jorge Luis Borges asked, “What will the world lose when I die?” When my generation passes, the first-hand connection to the turn-of-the-twentieth-century Italian immigrants will be lost, their culture, their thinking, their experiences. Writing Birds of Passage allowed me to reconnect with my roots. In Appointment with ISIL, an Anthony Provati Thriller, the protagonist is an Italian-American from New York, giving the novel an Italian flavor. By the way, in Manhattan’s Little Italy, on Mulberry Street, the connection with the past is maintained by Dr. Scelsa and The Italian American Museum. The Manhattan launch for Appointment with ISIL will hosted by the Museum on Friday, July 7th.

LCR: If you could travel back in time, where would you go?

JG: We tend to romanticize the past, especially in troubled times. Perhaps I’d be present at the Sermon on the Mount. Marching into Persepolis with Alexander would’ve been a blast. If I could pick a person to be, Augustus would be an interesting choice. A clever emperor, administering over a peaceful period, living large. Okay, his wife poisoned him, but only paradise is perfect.

LCR: Are you working on another novel or project? Can you tell us anything about it?

JG: My next novel will be another Anthony Provati thriller with the working title, Drone Strike, and will include some of characters introduced in Appointment with ISIL, but each novel can be read independently. Drone Strike includes a victim of “collateral damage.” Where can they turn for justice? Without a higher authority to arbitrate, is the desire for revenge understandable?

LCR: Any advice for writers and authors?

JG: Read a lot. Write a lot. Criticism and rejection come by the bucketful. Embrace them. Persistence is one of life’s least appreciated success factors.

LCR: Thank you so much for taking the time to tell us more about you and your writing.

Meet the Author:

Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Jane, have lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and the Netherlands. They now live in Texas.

Joe’s stories have appeared in more than ninety magazines including The Monarch Review, The Saturday Evening Post, decomP, The Summerset Review, and Shenandoah. His novel, Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, was published by Harvard Square Editions October 2015. His second novel, Appointment with ISIL, an Anthony Provati Thriller will be published by HSE in June 2017.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest

Harvard Square Editions has released Appointment with ISIL, An Anthony Provati Thriller. Read the first chapter below. The book is available on Amazon (link provided), Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and Apple.


Chapter 1

When her son Billy was sent to Iraq, Angie Dekker purchased fifty-two pairs of athletic socks. She sent him one every week. Like an hourglass, the pile shrunk marking the year until her son returned home. Pair thirty-two was in her hand when the two marine officers appeared at her door. She heard, “Fallujah,” “Killed in action,” and “Deepest sympathies.” The funeral at Arlington National Cemetery was mostly a blur. She remembered Taps and the folded flag clutched to her breast.

At home, a female friend tried to console her. “You’re an attractive woman with plenty of life ahead of you.”

She might as well have spoken to a corpse. Angie’s depression was as deep as a canyon. When everyone left, Angie cried alone. She anguished over Billy’s last moments like a stuck record in her brain.

Angie’s grief evolved into a singular desire to see where Billy died. The U.S. State Department blocked her visa applications; Iraq was dangerous even before the Islamic State in the Levant, ISIL, ate its cities. Frustrated, Angie flew to Istanbul. She approached the hotel concierge for a guide recommendation. He called an ex-colonel in Turkish intelligence.

Erol Dogan had gray, cropped hair, and a mustache. He’d lost a son in a military helicopter accident. He was sympathetic to Angie, nonetheless he recoiled at the danger of her requested destination.

Dogan said, “Mrs. Dekker, may I call you Angie? Please accept my condolences for your loss. Going to Fallujah won’t accomplish anything.”

Angie’s eyes wandered to the horizon.

Dogan continued. “Why don’t you allow me to show you the real Istanbul? The Bosporus is beautiful, especially at night. I know an excellent seafood restaurant.”

“Erol Bey, you’re very gracious. I’ll go to dinner if you agree to take me to Fallujah.”

Dogan said, “I understand your need for closure, but there’s nothing for you there. Trust me.”

“I have money for expenses.” Angie reached for her purse.

Dogan raised his palm. “I don’t want payment. It’s a matter of safety.”

She took his hand in both of hers. “I beg you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’ll go on my own.”

“A woman shouldn’t travel alone. Men will take advantage.”

“Then guide me.”

Dogan said, “Give me the chance to dissuade you over dinner.”

Angie released Dogan’s hand. “I’m not hungry.”


Angie said, “Excuse me. I need to get ready. I’m starting out tomorrow.”

The next day, Angie was at the Istanbul Atatürk Airport waiting for the Turkish Air flight to Diyarbakir. A shadow fell across her.

Angie said, “You followed me.”

Dogan said, “Angie, please don’t leave Istanbul.”

“I’ve decided.”

Dogan crossed his arms. “Perhaps I’ll have you arrested and sent home.”

“That won’t stop me. I’ll fly to Amman and enter Iraq through Jordan.”

Dogan puffed out a breath. “You’re being stubborn.”

Her eyes held his. “I will go to Fallujah. Erol Bey, have you gotten over your son’s death?”

Dogan broke eye contact. “No.”

“Then you should understand. Will you help me?”

Dogan sighed. He sat next to her. “You can’t go alone.” He rubbed his forehead. “If I agree, you must follow my instructions.”

“Of course.”

“We must cover your blonde hair, or you’ll be recognized as foreign. We’ll buy you Arabic dress.”

Angie offered him money in a pink pouch.

He refused. “You’ll need that when we’re back in Istanbul. Insha’Allah.”

Angie gave him a tight smile.

Dogan made a couple of phone calls.

The two-hour flight was bumpy. Dogan had prearranged a taxi for the six-hour, two-hundred-mile trip to Silopi at the Iraqi border. Dogan cautioned Angie not to say, “Kurdistan,” as a Turkish inspector in fatigues reviewed her passport and kept a copy. Dogan showed the inspector his credentials, and the man saluted.

A huge yellow sun pictured in a red, white, and green Kurdish flag flew over the customs building when they crossed the Habur River into Iraq. Dogan negotiated a ten-day visa, lying about Angie’s purpose and paying the Iraqi stamp tax.

“The south is aboil,” the uniformed officer said.

Dogan grimaced. Angie smelled the sour sweat that rose on Dogan’s back. In Zahko, they procured another taxi, a gray Renault with the “e” lost from the Magane hatchback logo. Dogan told the driver that Erbil was their destination.

As the car passed brown hills with patches of green, Dogan turned to Angie. “Don’t be alarmed.” He showed her the luger pistol he’d carried in his shoulder bag.

Her eyes widened.

He said, “It’s necessary.”

He leaned forward and put the barrel of the gun to the Kurdish driver’s head.

The man’s cigarette dropped from his mouth. His hands flew off the wheel of the car. “I have no money.”

Dogan said, “Drive. South.”


“Fallujah. You’ll be well paid.”

Al-ama. Give the money to my widow.”

The taxi smelled of rose water and rattled like a box of wrenches on the three-hundred miles to Fallujah. They traveled at night. Angie dozed on and off. Dogan was alert. 

They arrived in Fallujah at dawn. The city looked like an ancient ruin with broken palm trees and spiked with mosques. Morning Prayer had begun. Atop a minaret boomed the melodic chant of the muezzin’s voice. “Allah Akbar…”

Dogan’s face glistened. He turned to Angie. “Fifteen minutes, then we go.”

The taxi driver’s head swiveled as he searched the street and nearby buildings. He left the engine running.

Angie wore a black niqāb and burga covering her from head to toe. She trembled as she opened the taxi door and stepped onto the dusty street. Billy died here, she thought, what a filthy desolate place, and tears welled.

The driver’s neck craned from the car window. “Let’s go.”

Dogan said, “Angie, we must leave.”

Angie sighed. She nodded and slipped back into the vehicle.

The taxi moved thirty yards. Two stolen U.S. military jeeps with camouflage paint appeared on either side of the street and sped toward the taxi, blocking its path back and front. A brace of dark-haired men in black flak jackets, gray pants, and boots carrying rifles with scopes and large magazines emerged from doorways on both sides of the street and surrounded the taxi.

Dogan’s fist slammed down. “Bok.”

Angie stiffened. Her stomach turned to acid. She put a hand to her mouth.

A tall, well-built man in a black skull-fitting takiyah and full beard strode to the car with rifle pointed. He said in Arabic, “Get out.”

The driver stepped into the street with hands raised. Two men grabbed him. He struggled, then burst into tears. Dogan grabbed the pistol. Angie touched his forearm. He nodded and left the gun when they stepped from the car.

The tall man turned to Dogan. “He’s a Kurd. You look to be a Turk.” His rifle pointed at Angie. “What nationality are you? Remove the veil.”

Angie didn’t understand.

The tall man’s voice rose. “Woman, remove the scarf.”

Dogan spoke English in a low voice. “He wants you to uncover your face.”

The tall man’s voice became excited. “English. Turk, what have you brought me?”

Angie peeled off her mask. She wanted to be defiant. She had the urge to urinate.

Dogan said in English, “She’s Swedish. A tourist. We meant no harm.”

The tall man stroked his beard. He spoke English with a British accent. “You didn’t pray. That was a mistake. Lying to me is another.”

The tall man turned to Angie. “I’m called Al-Nasir li-Din Allah. What’s your name and country?”

Angie glanced at Dogan. “My name is Angie Dekker. I’m Swedish.”

Al-Nasir tilted his head. He pressed the barrel of his rifle into Dogan’s chin. “Lie to me again and you’ll watch his head explode.”

Dogan said, “Don’t …”

Al-Nasir cracked Dogan’s skull with his rifle butt. He fell to the ground bleeding and unconscious.

Angie gasped. She bent to Dogan.

Al-Nasir said, “Tell me, woman. Now.”

Angie gulped. She didn’t look up. “I’m an American.”

Al-Nasir’s grin revealed white teeth. “And why have you come to Fallujah?”

Angie’s eyes rose. “My son was killed here. I wanted to see what he fought for.”

“Now that you’re here, what do you think?”

“He died for nothing.”

Al-Nasir roared in amusement. The men around him didn’t understand, but they smiled.

Angie said, “What will you do with me?”

Al-Nasir caressed his beard. “Something Shakespearean.”

The building where Angie was kept smelled like an outhouse pit. Bugs in her lumpy bed bit her left eye and it swelled. Fly bites itched and festered. Weeks past. She was grimy from unwashed sweat. Her hair was filthy and matted. An old woman, clothed in black, brought food and water and emptied her latrine bucket. Angie feared she’d be raped, but no man touched her. She worried about Dogan.

The old woman wouldn’t say what had become of him. She regretted involving the Kurdish driver. She had plenty of time to think.

When the old woman brought the orange tunic, Angie gulped. She didn’t want to die. She prayed for the first time since she was told of Billy’s death. The thought of an afterlife comforted her; she’d see Billy again. What if it all was a myth? There’d be nothing. They said that Billy died instantly, without pain, without contemplation of his fate. That was better, she thought.

The morning Angie was taken to the desert, something in the water tasted bitter. Angie became unsteady; her mind dreamy. The old woman helped her put on the orange tunic. The military jeep bumped along the sandy road, then swerved onto the dunes for about a mile. In her sleepy state, Angie saw a line of men, dressed completely in black, all but their brown eyes covered. The tallest man in the middle she guessed was Al-Nasir. Angie’s hands were bound. She was half-carried from the jeep across the sand to Al-Nasir by two men on either side of her. She thought, I must fight, run, scream, but her spacey head damped down action. They pushed her to kneel at Al-Nasir’s feet facing a camera on a tripod.

Al-Nasir spoke to the lens in Arabic. To Angie, it seemed a long speech. Dogan came into her mind. She said a silent prayer. Her vision blurred.

Al-Nasir’s last line was in English, “America, you can’t protect your women.”

Angie caught the glint of the steel knife in his hand.

Al-Nasir brought his lips close to her ear and said in a soft voice. “I’ll be quick.”

Angie gasped, and a black curtain fell.


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A  ‘Best of All Possible Worlds’?

I have, for some 2 decades now, inveighed  against EM (Eurocentric Modernism)  models of ‘society’ ( amongst other issues).
Let me repeat myself, here , for it simply  cannot stale by repetition.
I repudiate  virtually ALL  of its  variegated myths/idylls.
Let me list  but a  scant few…

We do not need  annual GDP growth.
We do not need mass production and distribution.
We do not need perpetual technical ‘progress’.
We do not need  a score or so years of   costly, credentialing,  ‘schooling’  robbing children/young adults of childhood , common sense, and innate shrewdness.
We do not  need an adversarial ‘democracy’, nor an adversarial legal /juridical system.
We do not need armies ,  navies,  and bases.
We do not need to toil, en masse, all our lives,  at meaningless jobs designed  by corporate agents under command of  remote Simon Legrees, only to be periodically ‘set free’ whenever it suits the latter.
We do not need  formal, empty, pledges of  a specious  ‘equality’.
We do not need  nations, and states,  and  other such dubious  lines in the sand, armed with decrees , fiats, and constitutions (drafted by  a few , privileged, of one generation, forever,  for others).
Nor ‘Parliaments’ that govern us on behalf of  distal power elites.
Nor ‘elections’  where we duly  ‘elect’ our oppressors.
We do not need global markets,  global trade, nor ‘competition’.
We do not need giant corporations running it all,  from  atop their ‘commanding heights’.
We do not need organized mass media filling our minds daily with dessicating  drivel.
We do not need  vast, organized ‘religions’  exploiting  fear , dread, and insecurity , with  vain promises of desserts  in the after-life. whilst propping up every iniquity of the status quo.


We do ‘need’ communal autonomy and self-management: albeit  within small gemeinschaft (face-to-face) communities , governed by  reciprocal, affective ties.
No: (and this is Imp to stress) this is NOT yet another new, arid,  manifesto of  ‘invention’ (like so much of EM sloganeering) .
It is  simply  Re-discovery of  extant antic norms, drawn from our real,  anthropic heritage.

What are these norms?
Here, but  a few.
Not competition,  but co-operation.
Not opulence, nor  power – but conviviality.
Not a material economy of  interests , but a moral economy of affections.
Not ‘civil society’ , but communal society.
Not  asocial ‘individualism’,  but ‘mutualism’ (to coin a term).
Not ‘majority rule’, but consensual orderings evolving over time.
Not nihilistic ‘freedoms’,  but positive enablements to better our conjoint welfare.
Not endlessly  ‘doing’, or ‘becoming’,   as some perpetual motion machine , but, more importantly,  in  ‘being’.
Not ’producing and consuming’ as though that exhausted  all of human potential,  but living, sharing, caring,  participating in the myriad qualities of  life  – at times,  by not producing and consuming.
Anthropic life, short as it is, is more  about qualities, than quantites.
That is  just how ‘we’ began our  long ‘history’ before sordid  empires (like EM, but  not limited to it) conquered and took over.

Such is our  ‘birth-right’,  a  parcel of our  essential species-being.
It is where we ‘belong’.
It is where we could  return, IF we are to be whole and sane again.
That bears repeating: we are NOT sane and whole in this  EM world of make-believe: a mere  five minutes of reflection on how we live our lives under its gathering panoply of constraints (which we foolishly venerate as the artefacts of ‘civilisation’)  would be sufficient to understand the inescapable madness of it.
Not to mention its callow brutishness.

So, no:  false salves won’t do – e.g., electing  a Bernie Sanders or a Jill Stein  (honorable as they might be) won’t cut it.
Not even as fantasy.
No, your life would be not a whit more meaningful if the two venerables , above,  were to be Co-Presidents for Life.
Global ‘free’  Markets, Universal Wage-Slavery, and  mindless production of disutilities to help swell  the coffers of even more billionaires – even with slightly higher minimum wages and health insurance –   would still give us a treadmill.
And,  take note: a treadmill is a treadmill is a treadmill.

In fact, let me bring my Argument  home , succinctly.
It wouldn’t work any better  if YOU – yes, you – were elected Prez.
You see:  it’s NOT the subjective qualities/graces of the individual (nor the  lofty slogans of the Party, or Platform),  running for Prez, or Prime Minister,  that matters –  in the slightest.
And it is quite astonishing how ALL  entities on  the EM political spectrum are even now, in these latter days,   seriously deluded in this regard (showing how successful is its   hegemony).
It is, au contraire,  the (inexorably ill-founded) SYSTEM  – that I term  EM –  as a whole  that is pernicious.

Worse, we didn’t  – contrary to legend –  buy it  all at some open , smiling, supermarket of ‘free choice’( that EM venerates as an idyll: in stark contrast to the contrary real-life observance of it): it was  violently thrust upon  a hapless ppopulace  by the masters of the economy and polity centuries ago in Europe –  and then propagated , fiercely, across the globe – by  brute force.
As it is, to this day.

9781941861110-Perfect CODA.indd[2016 © R.Kanth, author of Coda]

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IPPY Award Winners Susan DeFreitas and Harriet Levin Millan

Harriet and Susan

Susan DeFreitas and Harriet Levin Millan donned their medals May 30th, 2017 at the Independent Publishers (IPPY) award ceremony at Copacabana in New York.


Millan’s true-fiction novel How Fast Can You Run portraying a migrant in Sudan won a bronze medal.
Sizzling Gold Medal Winner Hot Season is DeFreitas’ debut eco-novel.

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Spotlight on Kyla Bennett at the Sharon Public Library

The Sharon Public Library interviews Kyla Bennett, author of No Worse Sin

1. As noted in your biography, you have a lot of experience in the fields of environmentalism and naturalism. What led you from that into writing? How has your knowledge of these topics influenced your writing?

            I have always loved writing fiction, and tried my hand at writing my first book when I was ten years old. As I began working in the environmental field, I realized how little people really knew about biology, the environment, and animals. I also knew the power of books—when my daughter and all her friends were obsessed with the latest vampire book du jour, I decided that it would be a good idea to try to combine a young adult romance with critical environmental issues to raise awareness about our planet. The work that I do today as my job as a scientist and environmental lawyer greatly influenced my novel No Worse Sin. People always advise to “write what you know,” and I did just that. Two of my legal cases involve pharmaceuticals in water and the critically endangered North American right whale, and both of these issues are highlighted in my plot.


2. Has your focus on environmental issues affected your book’s reception—in ways you anticipated, or in ways you did not?

            My focus on environmental issues has not affected its reception, but did cause one reader to tell me there was “too much science” in the book. However, others have told me that they loved the environmental slant, and it made them do more research into the things I wrote about. The environmental themes in my novel did help me get published, though. My publisher, Harvard Square Editions, focuses on publishing environmentally and socially conscious literary fiction, particularly things about climate change (i.e., cli-fi). I wish that more publishers focused on these genres, because we can change the world for the better by educating young people through literature.


3. You are a self-described “avid reader.” Which books have made your “Best 3 Books of All Time” list?

            It’s really hard for me to select my three favorite books because I have so many! One is easy—Watership Down by Richard Adams has to be my all-time favorite book. I read it as a child when it first came out, and numerous times since then. I recommend it to everyone, children and adults alike—it is timeless and ageless. I’d have to say that two of my other favorite books are The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas, and And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. But I have so many more! (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I also adore any book by Louise Penny, Tana French, and Liane Moriarty, three wonderful female mystery writers from Canada, the UK, and Australia, respectively.)


4. Who or what do you rely on to give you good recommendations when you are looking for a new book or author to read?

            I rely on my friends, my mother, and my library to give me good book recommendations! My library has this cool app where you can type in the name of a book you loved, and it will give you suggestions of other books to read. I love it!


5. Is there a particular genre you enjoy reading (or writing)? Why is that?

            I adore mysteries, particularly British mysteries. I have a hard time reading non-fiction, probably because I get so much of that in my work. Mysteries are my go-to genre, and I can’t fall asleep at night unless I read at least a few pages. I think I enjoy mysteries so much because they really take me out of my present life and make me forget any personal struggles I am experiencing. They are all-consuming, and I find that relaxing. As far as writing, I love anything for and about young adults. I’m not sure why I’m drawn to young adult writing… maybe I want to try and change the world through the next generation.


6. There’s a recent trend, I think, in terms of YA novels being optioned for the big screen. Hypothetically speaking, if your book were adapted, what would your ideal casting list look like?

            I have actually spent time thinking about a cast for the movie version of No Worse Sin… and, I actually modeled the heroine, Laena, after my daughter (she is an actress). I think Leonardo DiCaprio would make a great father (Ben), and Julia Roberts or Jennifer Garner as the mother (Michelle). Cree is the big unknown… he would have to be a newcomer!


7. Are you working on any new novels or stories at the moment?

            I am working on two books concurrently: one is a sequel to No Worse Sin (I had always anticipated that it would be a trilogy); and the second is a book I can’t discuss because I will have to use a nom de plume. It will be a little explosive for some people, because it is based on experiences I have had and that my colleagues have had. I wish I could say more, but I’m actually in discussions with a lawyer about how far I can go with this book!


8. That sounds exciting! I won’t ask you to reveal more about this mysterious book, all things considered, but here’s a related question: Are there any local spots that particularly inspire you? Any that have made it into one of your works?

            There are two local spots that inspire me: Borderland State Park and the Hockomock Swamp. I have a half-written mystery that takes place in Borderland, and I have a book idea that takes place in the Hock. I love nature, and both of these fabulous places move me… I would love to share them with others.


6 Books That Will Change You

(according to Kyla Bennett)

All of these books either make the reader care more about animals, the environment, or the world in which we live, or they challenge the commercialism and standards that pervade our society today. I feel that literature has the power to change people, and I think each of these six books do that in one way or another.


Watership Down

by Richard Adams

The Dog Stars

by Peter Heller

The Story of

Edgar Sawtelle

by David Wroblewski

Nature Girl

by Carl Hiaasen

The Ethical Assassin

by David Liss


by Scarlett Thomas

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Outtasite MOOC

On May 15, 2017, the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa will open Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in Fiction and Nonfiction, a free massive open online course. This creative writing MOOC will focus on writing about identities, communities, and social issues in fiction and nonfiction. There is no cost to enroll; registration is completely free for all participants. No writing experience is required. This MOOC welcomes writers of all communities and identities.

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Post Mortem

By Rajani Kanth

love rent
like  a ravage
of war

admitted  no

near strangled


riven,  I cross-ed
the bar


gruff  ills

wooing grim

under  a
nescient  star

or  the Will,  I
cannot much

nor how I
thus far


give unto
love that
which is

not enough! –
now there’s the

one loves:
An-other consents
to be loved

ah, lovers
are Never
on par


that,  the bane
of  the passion

no truce –
even after
the war

lo,  after the

and tarring:

flares, invisible ,
from afar!

[© R.Kanth 2017]

Rajani Kanth is the author of Coda, a chronicle of the life, and afterlife, of the last human, in both flashback and future shock, after the apocalypse of the millennium, where timeless, misanthropic aggression, and blindness predictably destroy all life on Earth. Coda is a compelling philosophical, and quasi-theosophical, post-modernist narrative, that (re)solves eventually the Riddle of the Universe, from the unique vantage point of the last sentient being left alive to ponder the question of existence. It is the quest of a latter-day Siddhartha, albeit in the context of an apocalyptic  world  sundered by global  catastrophe.

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