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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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    We are stricken with it.
    A societal aphasia, and a societal anomie.
    Its all been too much to absorb.
    The Pandemic.
    And now, Ukraine.
    Society (not all societies, but all social forms rent with stark economic and political divisions like ours) is built on a shared mythology, so we all soak in a comforting vat of banana oil.
    You know.
    The usual affronts to intelligence and common sense provided by religion and politics.
    But when the(se) veils are shredded, the vista becomes too unsightly to behold.
    And now that’s really what has happened.
    The myths are (near)exploded.
    Nothing appears to be as it should be.
    And we falter.
    Who can blame us?
    Religion sells us the respite of heaven, and the comfort of a divine judge.
    And politics purveys the idylls of egalite and democrace(!) (and any other idyll that can be usefully tacked on).

    Religion has it easy, in this game.
    It , cannily, plays it safe.
    By offering deferred gratification.
    The promised land is (ever) in the hereafter.
    But politics pledges it either now , or at the very next election.
    So , it’s far more easily seen through.
    It is not that we have been suddenly deceived by our latter-day governors.
    Let’s not accord them the pride of originality.
    Our recent ancestors were also similarly deceived.
    It is that we hoi polloi have now acquired a certain sophistication in the matter.
    Why is that?
    Partly, it is the fault of the governors.
    To perpetrate a fraud every now and then is passable.
    But too many, in a row, raises suspicion.
    So ,the rulers have gotten a bit reckless.
    And partly the easy , even effortless, means of communications, across continents , have connected peoples – allowing for mutual learning.
    In prior times , only the rulers had such means.
    Now we have them, too.
    This creates a strange malaise.
    A sort of confusion.
    Its akin to when words suddenly get shorn of meaning, especially when repeated too often.
    Except this is societal.
    The social game loses some of its conviction.
    So , millions simply opt out, in apathy, and/or in disgust.
    Whilst millions of others search for new icons, and the consecration of new myths.
    The latter is fit soil for a Great Charismatic Interruption.
    A (dubious) Hero might arise, religious or political.
    To lead us , again, into a new, improved blight.
    And so it goes.
    To repeat a trite truth.
    The world is as it is less owing to the ineluctable power of Evil, as it is to the willing acquiescence of the ignorant and the gullible.
    As Einstein said it: “There are only 2 real Infinities, I know of. The Size of the Universe, and Human Stupidity. Of the first, I retain some doubts, but of the second, I am certain”.
    So. we must now (anxiously) wait for the next snake-oil magician to show.
    I know s/he is out there, someplace , putting make-up on.
    It may not bode well, but in a curious, if ominous, way it is exciting.
    Breaks the dreary monotony of social existence , now slipped far outside our control.
    What can we do , except fasten our seat belts?
    Yet another magical mystery tour!
    Bread and Circuses, anyone?


    © R.Kanth 2023


    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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    The Human Prospect?


    The ‘enlightened’ West* reneged on that idyll centuries ago.
    They were busy engineering us all to suit their new-fangled yen for illimitable wealth and irresistible dominance.
    Under the EuroModernist (EM) manifesto, they even redefined us as anthropic beings, within a canny, Hobbesian-Smithian, cleft .
    Assuming , in one part, a warrior: and, as was suggested by many, ‘a Scotsman within us all’ (I do not subscribe to any community bias, as implied in that phrase) in the other.
    Abjuring the plain fact that we are Affective Beings first, before all else.
    And thus schooling us all, in a phony economics and politics, stripped of our species-being, tailor-made for the aims of the Conquistadors.
    A real(ist) anthropology of humans was never allowed to develop, even though they encountered rich(er) cultures and high(er) civilizations, in their torrid sweep.
    And they built their EM ideological castles in the air upon that error, to the point where to be tribalist is a term of opprobrium in their lexicon.
    But that is exactly who we are, at our best.
    Their fantasy of world of spurious universalism(s) had a solid, if sordid, basis: a flat, homogeneous, world is easier to conquer and assimilate into empire.
    As they did.
    So, at least for the Collective West, the human exists only in the past tense.
    Trans-human is what they are after.
    And , every day, we are moved closer to a cyborg dystopia.
    Their avant garde today is the WEF, the shadow ruling elite of the Transatlantic Globalists, with mighty plans for a Great Reset , no less, of the human race.
    The best laid plans…
    Will they succeed?
    Because western hegemony is now passe.
    So, only in the transatlantic world will they pull this off.
    The East , outside of Japan and S.Korea, is beyond their grasp.
    China and Russia are mighty nations that will go their own way.
    And The BRICS, as a whole, will now assert their growing import, in simply deviating from the Master Plan.
    It is the Other that now , finally!, has a speaking, and acting, role in the human drama.
    There is breathing room once again.
    But will our Hegemons tolerate this?
    That is the question of our times.
    The only way they can stop it is by destroying us all, in a nuclear holocaust.
    This is not at all beyond their scope.
    Anglo-Norman hubris has a long, infamous, history.
    Will they go that far?
    Consider this.
    The Western power elites ,not so very long ago, could , in cold blood, murder over a million in Iraq, before us all, under false pretenses.
    Several more million in the Far East, in the Post-WW II era, wantonly slaughtering the hapless peasantry of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, et. al, , who had done them no harm.
    And hundreds of millions across the world – Americas, Africa, and Asia – in their genocidal fever of the preceding two centuries.
    Do such have a conscience?
    Do they?
    I’ll let you ponder that.
    So the ‘human prospect’ lies now within the patience, forbearance, and maturity, of the Emergent World in fielding/fending the wanton provocations and predations of the west.
    It is the(ir) ultimate test.
    They are, and have to be, the adults on this planet.
    One can only wish them well.
    As I have previously written, the Last Global Struggle is, in metaphor, between the Mammals and the Reptiles.
    And it is anyone’s guess which side will prevail.
    The Human Prospect?
    Let me evaluate it thus.
    In a prior post ((https://litvote.com/the-open-secret/), I had suggested that anthropic males appear to act like male Chimps, and anthropic females, like Bonobos .
    In sum, men – instinctually speaking -are prone to be destructive, women conservationist.
    But, in so referencing instincts as critical, I overlooked one other instinct.
    The instinct of self-preservation.
    If it exists, then we might stop short of universal annihilation, if owing to no virtue that we can truly own.
    Time, as the saying goes, will tell.
    It must NOT be supposed I am saying Biology is Destiny.
    I am saying we need to be aware of biological drives, so as to overcome them.

    Because, if we don’t….
    You know the rest.
    * As ever, I refer only to the governing elites of the West: not the toilers who fare alike , the world over.

    © R.Kanth 2023


    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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    Open Secret?


    We are, as humans, above all things, myth-making animals.
    In a law
    are our
    Inner Law(s)

    To kill is
    it is our

    there is
    can we be?
    drive our
    like dogs
    and swine
    in high
    we think

    Whence the
    and repine
    the Alpha
    of our
    Dismal Human

    It is time
    were bespoken?
    I swear
    it’s not
    too late!
    I can take a horse
    to water
    but can’t make
    it water-ski
    I can proffer
    but can I make
    you see?

    I entreat you
    Can I
    you see?

    N.B. In plain prose , as a species, we are (leaving at least half the human race aside this judgment) no better than Chimps.
    Indeed far, far worse – armed with lasers, computers, and nuclear weapons.
    Nature dealt our species a rough hand: we might wish we were Bonobos, instead.
    Now ,consider: given where we’re at right now – do we really have a bright, benign, future?
    Do we?
    Go on: make up another myth.
    Political, religious , it doesn’t matter.
    I’m ready.
    [© R.Kanth 2023]


    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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    The Force

    (For those who know we are , thankfully !, Affective Beings first: before we don the guise of calculating automatons that Euro-Modernism schools us to be)

    The mind runs
    plim with disquiet
    the heart is rent
    with weal

    the mind wanton
    garners reasons
    the heart only
    wants to feel

    the mind adjures
    laws and treasons
    the heart only craves

    the mind burns
    in its own lesions
    the heart but yearns
    to heal

    the mind ebbs and flows
    with seasons
    the heart holds
    an even keel

    the mind bumbles
    into open war
    the heart demurs
    in mute appeal

    Though to both
    we be beholden
    and before both
    though we may kneel
    it’s the love
    of the lambent
    that stays
    the Juggernaut ‘s

    [© R.Kanth 2023]


    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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    (For John Hobson)

    The English do not trifle
    at Devon Cream Tea

    they put away the Bible
    and dreams of rule at sea
    The noblest of rites begin
    before they even start
    instead of whipping Gunga Din
    whip clotted cream for tart

    If only afternoon could stretch
    the entire day, or more –
    why, Britannia might never have
    blighted our native shore!

    [© R.Kanth 2006]


    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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    Paradise hath no need of rules

    Hades scribes a dozen score

    the generous spirit ranges free

    the hidebound locks the door


    I’ve roamed the barren fields of night

    walked the thorny wild

    borne the yoke of a thousand ills

    borne them meek and mild

    Calm lies the diurnal shore

    though tempests break at sea

    in dearth of human solicitude

    lies the true heart’s atrophy


    Immure me in penury

    steal from me my weal

    let love but loan me one fair breath

    and I shall, though dying, heal
    [© R.Kanth 2017]


    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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    It’s a virus.
    And it’s contagious.
    Like Covid.
    That’s why the power elite lives in morbid fear of it.
    And why they have so many vaccines against it.
    You know the usual vaccines.
    Shaming, intimidation, sanctions, firing, torture, and, yes, even death.
    Since you know the above, let me ask you.
    Which side have you been on?
    The giving – or the receiving end?
    I know.
    You spend years at the receiving end , in all due patience, and then you get to be at the giving end.
    Reward for good behavior.
    The door(s) of recruitment into the elite are kept open.
    You just have to know the passwords.
    And they pass it on, one day, after you have passed all the tests.
    Have you?
    Or, are still accumulating the needed brownie points?
    The soul-less.
    They inherit the earth, not the meek, every time.

    Just give me some truth, sang the ill-fated John Lennon.
    And they vaccined him.
    He also sang ‘Imagine’.
    I could have told him, otherwise.
    Get real, John.
    Dreams are for they who’re asleep.
    There’s an old Sanskrit idyll.
    Satyameva Jayate.
    It means only the Truth is Victorious (in the end).
    Read that with care.
    Truth is victorious, but not the truth tellers.
    The latter, alas, get vaccined.
    But you already knew that.
    I really admire you readers: you are so much more savvy than I am.
    So tell me: which do you fear more?
    The Virus, or the Vaccine(s)?
    Never mind.
    Don’t ask, don’t tell?


    [© R.Kanth 2023]


    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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    They got him
    they got him
    was a dreary
    they shot him
    they shot him
    hip hip hooray
    who got him
    who shot him
    that no one will
    but you can bet
    your beating heart
    wasn’t the one
    they say
    They can bring
    down anyone
    in the land of the
    smoking gun
    yet get away
    scot free
    under a smiling
    sure they named
    a fall guy
    there is always
    such a one
    it’s the old old
    a conspiracy
    of one

    The deep state
    gets deeper
    every dogged
    the climb gets
    only steeper
    every blessed

    In god’s own
    it is far from
    being odd

    just a little bit
    of force
    and a whole
    lot of fraud

    the bigot’s heart
    is black not red
    his blood runs
    redneck blue

    if Martin had
    a successor
    they’d do that
    to him too

    So recall
    MLK today
    now that he’s
    all gone
    but remember that
    his struggle
    still goes on
    and on
    Yes bad faith
    and bigotry
    just go on
    and on

    cast them out
    with a pitchfork –
    they come surging
    back anon

    Fling not repentance
    into the sordid
    this bad blood
    may fester on
    till judgment day
    the MLK
    of human kindness
    dried in blood
    that day

    that ilk of
    human blindness –
    yet abounds


    [© R.Kanth 2023]


    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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    Scott Ritter, ex US Marine Officer

    Time to wake up.
    Few today have any idea of the calamitous severity of the global
    situation today.
    We trundle along, as if life were predictably normal, when it is anything but.
    In fact, normalcy vanished, for thinking folk, with the detonation of a Nuclear Device – the greatest single act of infamy in human history – on a live , human, population in 1945.
    That was the Unthinkable, come alive.

    Since then, it has been a dreadful game of spine-chilling suspense.
    It could go off any day, even by accident.
    So we are all living on borrowed time.
    Life on earth faces, for the first time, near-total annihilation, caused by one species.
    The fact that the idea of nuclear war is still bandied about casually in the corridors of power is a testament to the criminal idiocy of Our Usual Suspects.
    They clearly concoct , and swill , their own brand of hallucinogenic Kool-Aid – making Dr Strangelove seem like Greta Thunberg.

    What choice(s) do we have?
    Dreams of democracy and the will of the people turning things around are just that: dreams.
    The robber barons whose rule has been uninterrupted for 400 years charge on, with their escapades unabated.
    Princes, kings, and emperors are replaced now by millionaires, billionaires, and wannabe trillionaires.
    That’s Progress.
    Their daily scams fetch no more than a yawn.
    The people declared defeat and turned off , a very long time ago.
    100 million do not vote in the US.
    How’s that for Vox Populi?
    So, what can the hoi polloi do?
    I’m reminded of the serious admonition of the Govt, in their short on the subject of nuclear war – as only the Govt. could do it– back in the Fifties, to whit:
    Duck, And Cover (1951): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKqXu-5jw60
    Duck ,and Cover indeed!
    Not a laughing matter, despite its farcical nature.
    We function but in a torpor, within a deep malaise.
    A FEW stand put to put an end to ALL.
    That is our current destiny.
    How did we get here?
    By following the false, EuroModernist trails of adversarialism, asocial individualism, and materialism.
    A destructive triad of values that most of us have swallowed wholesale.
    Whence comes the discomforting thought.
    Perhaps, at times, we get the govt.(and the policies) we deserve?
    At any rate , we have need to incorporate the Impending Doom into our daily preoccupations.

    [© R.Kanth 2023]


    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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    Letter from Dystopia


    I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever…

    Thomas Jefferson


    Hello there, my fellow humans!
    How do you fare?
    have you caught our bug yet?
    or do you not dare?
    Do you spend all your monies
    on missiles and on guns
    and are you more warlike
    than all of Attila’s Huns
    do you lock up black and brown
    like it’s going out of style
    keeping poor folk down
    in severe durance vile
    Do you claim democracy
    whilst being its antipode
    do you augment liberty
    by gun and by sword
    do you rule an empire
    by force and by fraud
    chanting very piously
    one nation under god

    do you war on helpless
    the weak and the low
    the mills of fate be grinding
    though they oft grind slow

    If there be an Auditor
    what might S/He say
    reckonings are just as sure
    as every dog its day

    so my fellow beings
    ape not Our Ways
    cause we live in Dystopia
    the Muse of these lays


    [© R.Kanth 2023]


    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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