“Reflection” (Author Unknown)

Image result for loon

the sun rises over the lake and he sits
on a wooden dock, careful of splinters
a loose board pinches

his last beer
after a long night
is his breakfast

a loon calls its mate
calm dark water reflects
the orange slice of rising sun

lying on his back, his head
hanging limply over the edge
he cannot tell which sunrise          is real

a splash as the loon dives
looking into the lake
he is not sure
which face
is his

 

 

Author Unknown. If you are the author of this piece or know who is, please let us know at r.kv.r.y.editor(at)gmail(dot)com. We lost records when the old website imploded, and would like to fully credit all authors who have generously shared their work with us. Thank you.

“Atlantic Retreat” by Stephen Busby

 

To get to a place of salvation takes three ferries in foul weather. In the first, I cling with gritted teeth and churning stomach to the steering wheel of my car alongside other drivers whom I glimpse as ghosts through their misted windows. At the harbor-side to the second ferry I meet a man wrapped in several layers of black tarpaulin who sells me a damp ticket – a single, for they do not sell return trips he tells me, and I do not respond to his smile. I drive aboard, caress the buttons on my cell-phone – it has long lost its signal – and wonder why I do not turn back. I don’t turn back because there is nowhere to go. My life has become too awful and will not allow it. The idea of retreating to a small island in the Atlantic for a week in winter compares well to the courage it would require of me to continue in the old ways.

In the second ferry I am almost alone, the rain falls harder and faster and the reassuring voice of the radio does not stretch this far. Instead there is a scattering of recognizable words in the midst of what might be Gaelic I guess. My destination is a few square miles or so of rock well-known as a place of seekers and sheep and – in the summer – the hub of a lively tourist trade which has made much of the island’s historic and mystical inheritance. I sneer to myself at the thought of all tourists as a lesser species: people intent upon keeping their feet safely in both camps, consumers of second-hand experience. At this comforting thought there is a sudden parting in the cloud-cover to reveal the sun and I drive more contentedly from the ferry and speed off, unencumbered by traffic down a winding single-track road toward the last boat and the thought of hot tea if I can find it.

My sense of elation is short-lived. I begin to shed small probably important pieces of my car in the potholes strewn across the road; I am increasingly hampered by sheep which, just at the last possible moment as I am passing, hurtle across the road in a bid to test my brakes; and the weather soon shrugs off this stranger the sun in order to return the world to greyness. Light rain is followed by an intense downpour: driving horizontal winds and water are thrown against the car windows in sheets and my windshield wipers cannot cope. I do my best to park on what I hope is solid ground. While the weather does its worst I fall asleep.

My dream is of my parents sitting in their kitchen which has become a vast cave; there are bats and other insects hanging from the ceiling. Conversation between them is a dialogue of the deaf: in the dream their mouths open soundlessly and I know that they are trying to say grace before the meal but somehow cannot; instead I hear from somewhere the one word which they both most frequently pronounce in daily life which is “pardon”, as neither can entirely hear the other. This pardon ricochets around the walls of the kitchen-cum-cave and I see that the back of it opens out onto a vast rocky landscape. I look down to find that the ground I’m standing on has become marshland and that I ought to be sinking into this, but haven’t yet. I bend down to look closer as the ground flies up towards me: I’m no longer clear whether I’m beneath it or still standing, or floating along in its porridge-like consistency. There is only the receding sound of a pardon and a kind of rubbery-rail which I cling to but which appears quite unattached, then a chanting sound and lightness in the air and inside me. I feel carried and graceful and unconcerned and wake up with a jolt to find that I am gripping the steering wheel again and although, now, there is absolute silence all around me – for the storm and the wind have subsided – the feel or quality of the eerie chanting I had heard is still there, inside.

………………………………..


Outside there is an extraordinary landscape: grey-green mountains squat immediately in front of me and the little road winds between them while over to my right is the coast and the sea which is shining. Everything appears to be shining I see, as the quality of the light grows more fantastic. Where before all was gloomy and grey, now – after the storm – it is as if sunlight were penetrating upwards through the rocks and the land: it is all luminous in vivid greens, amber-browns and glowing greys, and as I drive off slowly I grow drunk on these colors and on the sheen of the sea, on the sheer craziness and beauty of the rocks and boulders strewn around me and on the mountains as I drive, dwarfed, between them. There are tiny white cottages here and there with bright-red roofs and dry-stone garden walls; even the sheep are content to let me pass by in a spirit of goodwill and benevolence.

By the time I pull up at the last harbor of the day I’m high on the idea of my changed life and endless possibilities and am heartened, too, to see a few other cars parked and – in the waiting room next to the final ticket office – even a small crowd of people sitting, and so I will not be alone. I have an hour to wait. In that time the winds pick up again and to my dismay a small bus arrives and takes everyone else away: they were leaving the island and not, like me, about to arrive. I sit on a bench in the little room with its snack counter and a young woman sitting reading behind it. She is pretty and will not look in my direction. I listen to the wind and rain outside as the time of the ferry’s departure approaches but there is no one and no ferry and only the old angst in me which I know is archaic: shall I be safe and looked after, will life not then go according to plan, and how has it slipped again from my control?

Outside I find the ticket office has closed. I knock at its door, standing in the rain. On the third knock there is a grunt, the kind made upon waking. The door opens and a man dressed inevitably in a sheet of tarpaulin nods in the direction of the sea, just visible in the mist which has come down. Yes – there is a boat out there, a very small one I see, and one which the tarpaulin tells me has anchored, the sea being too rough for it to come in at the moment. “We might get one last one of the day” he says, “or we might not”. Head down into the wind, I make for the public phone box on the quay-side to call Mr. P, my host on the island. I will ask him to keep my room for me in case I have to sleep in the car or have to swim from the ship. He sounds nonchalant and cheerful: an attitude which is infectious and improves my mood. He can see when the ferry comes, he says, from his front room, so will come down then to the harbor to collect me as it docks. There is nothing but waiting to be done and patience to be gained and, back in the waiting-room-of-life, a local man clad in tarpaulin has arrived and is leaning across the snack-counter towards the young woman in order to unleash his charm upon her as I look on from my seat in the stalls. For the next hour he focuses his whole being upon her while she, amused, easily contains him: teasing and drawing him on, in, deeper into the story he’s telling her of his day, his life, all his soul’s longings, with a confidence that I envy and resent. She sits there tranquil in her power on the chair while I eat my last hard-boiled egg.

There is a loud honking which comes from the ferry and I realize that I am not ready for the ordeal of the crossing to come. I dash out to the car to pull together my bags and am drenched within seconds. There will be too much to carry I see, for this ferry is for foot passengers only: no cars are allowed on the island unless they belong to the locals. I decide to abandon my shoes for my boots – ridiculous to imagine anything being worn out here except boots and tarpaulin – and pile everything up by the side of the car where it is instantly soaked through: my suitcase was never made for weather like this. How ill-equipped I am – for the Atlantic, for life. I’ve no tarpaulins and had no idea they could be worn as opposed to being stood on, and my coat won’t stand for the kind of rain being hurled from clouds which have absorbed half the Atlantic before they hit me. My woolen hat is ridiculous and is keeping my head wetter and my hands are so damp and cold that I cannot even get them dry and smooth enough to be able to pull on my gloves. I run head down into the wind towards the little ferry which has now parked and opened its jaws ready to receive me but it hasn’t docked far enough up the concrete ramp to cover the waves which are washing up around it and which I will have to splash through; there would be no way to get any wetter. I find myself running alongside one other dark hurtling figure who has burst from a nearby truck and whom I’m delighted to see as I haul my suitcase up onto the metal tongue of the boat – run through its mouth and into the stomach of the ship, leaving more of the known world behind me.

My companion as I run inside the ship turns out to be a local farmer who has plenty to say to no one in particular. He speaks to the gods, to the empty air, to whoever might be listening and it is all one long litany of complaint: the weather, the ferries, the tides, the rising price of sheep-feed and so on. I feel easy with him, with his great tousled head of hair now released from the tarpaulin and the earnest mad look in his mild blue eyes. It is as if we cross some kind of threshold in each other’s company as the boat bucks and heaves on each trough and crest, and although my stomach is lurching a kind of peace settles upon me. He seems to calm too and turns to muttering and relaxes into himself as we sit, dripping, together: two men moving wordlessly with the waves.

We manage to dock at last at the side of the island, the floor scrapes under our feet and the steel jaw opens to reveal a misty and windswept little harbor, a row of cottages and a small man in front of a van who holds up his hand in my direction. The ship’s few crew-members have gathered to watch our departure, which is kind, until I realize that they are there for the entertainment: to see how well I will time my leap from the ferry’s lip onto the concrete as the waves wash around us. I look around intending to follow the farmer but he has already abandoned me and so, assuming the mantle of a man whom I am not, I stride confidently off the ramp – into a huge wave which breaks up to my knees and all but blows the poor sodden suitcase out of my hand. The crew have been well entertained and are cheering and I am ashore: I am here, have crossed the country and now claim my space upon this storm-swept rock. It is a Tuesday; I am soaked through and feel ecstatic at the direction my life’s taking – into Mr. P’s van, filled with the rich perfume of wet sheep. Together we grind off around the island through the potholes and the weather, to a small white cottage on a headland at the edge of the inhabited world.

Mr P grunts at my attempt to engage him in conversation and will say nothing until he throws open the door to my new home and holds up a small plastic bag of coins which, he makes clear, I will be needing for the meter and must now buy from him. He drops a couple of coins for me in a metal box behind the door and is gone: offering nothing more than that he and his wife occupy the big house up the road should I ever need them. I am suddenly alone.

Being alone is a great boon, especially for the first half hour when there is plenty to do. I discover that my domain comprises a couple of barely furnished rooms, a kitchen corner, some cupboards of blankets and several large old-style and hungry-looking electric-bar radiators. Feeding the magic box behind the door with coins brings these radiators to life, soon has my wet clothes steaming, and produces an alarmingly loud and frequent thudding noise which is the sound of my hard-earned savings buying me heat, light and life, and there is a nagging suspicion that Mr and Mrs P are complicit with the electricity company because there is no way that merely staying alive – breathing and steaming – could consume this much money so often out of the plastic bag. What’s more, I discover that the thuds increase in frequency in direct proportion to how much I like to stay alive: if I wish to eat anything other than driftwood then I must turn on the stove which has the metal box thudding faster than my pulse-rate or, I calculate, my ability to earn that much per minute. And if I switch on a second antique-looking radiator then the box goes into such a frenzy of thudding that I decide I will live sleep eat and shit in front of only the one main heater; in fact I shall embrace, kneel down and make offerings to the holy warmth emanating from its bars. Once the little bed has been moved closer to my new god-of-heat I put on as much dry underwear as I can find and slip easily into sleep, accompanied by a steady and now slower rhythmical thud, and picture Mr and Mrs P nearby in their bed too, no doubt lulled by this lucrative sound coming from my cottage.

In the night I revisit a version of my recent life with my wife, based on memories of togetherness and sex. There is the little house in the mountains where we once stayed, the kitchen table – though much larger than I remembered it – and she is splayed on top of it as I pull her long legs towards me and then that moment of truth or strangeness which flashed between us when – wordlessly – we were somehow more uncaring and primeval in that foreign place, when we both knew this and held each other differently and I felt the beat and flutter in her chest. But in the dream we cannot find a way down off this table because it fills the whole room and she would climb out of the window except that it is covered with tarpaulin and I prevent her from tearing it down – I know that there is an army outside or something which mustn’t be confronted whereas here on the table we are safe. But she becomes ill and desperate, wants to leave and I cannot save her; the house begins to burn and the table starts to curl and blacken at the edges; there’s a great roaring and rhythmical beating and in the distance some murmuring or chanting sounds coming closer, and everything is burning as I tear at my clothes and then wake, sweating in the cool room, to the beat coming from the box in the corner and an absolute sudden stillness. I lie listening to the rain being driven against the windows and can still hear the echo of the same quiet insistent chant without making out the words.

………………………………..

In the morning and after I have twice rearranged my groceries on the little shelf, there seems to be alarmingly little to do. I decide to walk back towards the harbor, calling in at the little church on the way and which is apparently the reason why so many pilgrims are drawn here in the more reasonable summer months.

Outside, a mountain sits squat at the center of the island which slopes off to white beaches at the north. Apart from the squealing gulls I am alone as I walk; the skies have cleared, the sheep look up as I pass and there are worse ways I realize to spend a Wednesday. There is also the welcome opportunity for a little retail therapy: in the gift shop which hasn’t yet closed at the end of the season and which sits at the side of the church. Inside a kind elderly man introduces me to their range of table mats, pottery and souvenir spoons – all of which feature the name of the local saint: he whose church I’m about to visit and who has done so much generally for the economy of the island and for the local Tourist Authority in particular.

I wander outside, sit on a bench in the sun which has appeared and ponder the little church. It is built in friendly red sandstone and features a large ancient looking cross in its churchyard. I close my eyes and find my mind traveling back to a monastery once visited in France. I had been drawn to its cloisters and, as I sat there in their shade, saw that after one of the services some of the Brothers filed out of the church and came to sit along one side of its old walls, one monk in a white habit on each bench. People came out of the church: the young and the old, the feeble, the strong and the pretty, to sit next to the Brothers, apparently to talk. One youngish man in particular struck me: he’d chosen an older monk who listened to what he had to say attentively, seemed at the end to offer a few words of comfort or advice and then lifted and placed his hands up on the young man’s head. I see this now again in slow-motion as I sit here: the monk’s white sleeves and old hands lifting and falling gently down onto the top of the man’s head. Watching this and to my astonishment I began to shudder and to sob: great heaving sobs broke out of me in that place and they were all the more shocking because they felt so foreign and somehow familiar and a relief.

Inside this church it is cool, dark, surprisingly empty. Very few chairs, lots of space, simple stained-glass windows which cast a glow across the old stone floor, and the smell of something damp and polished. It is also very quiet. Walking around I find, at the far side behind one of the old columns, a dark space called ‘The Quiet Corner’ where visitors are invited to light a candle. Here the glass in the window is unstained, only pale light penetrates in across the floor and someone has placed a jam-jar of wild flowers on the stone windowsill, next to some round pebbles, probably from the beach. Next to it are two stripped old branches of a tree fixed together as a cross leaning against the wall. On these branches are pinned several shreds of white paper which I can just about read in the available light. They are written for Uncle John so that he may get better; for Charlotte in her grief; for Mary, Donald, Keith and Wendy, who were all killed and who are in Heaven; for Roger, may he find peace; for Smokey (in a child’s hand); and for Mummy who is with Jesus. Some of them are long letters, some are decorated, others are plain – just one word or two, which sometimes is: ‘Peace’, and ‘Love is the Answer’, and one barely legible – perhaps an elderly or an infant hand, which reads: ‘Help me please’. I see the little stack of papers and pins on the windowsill, take one of each, write my word: the name I shall leave here and which I suppose now is part of the reason I have come, and pin it to one of the branches.

Then I turn and leave the church and go out into the sun. I walk a long way it seems to me, without noticing or seeing very much, back to the cottage where I lie down and sleep. It is a name that nobody knows but me: a name I had whispered to myself privately without ever sharing it with my wife because she did not want to know whether we would need the name of a boy or of a girl, or perhaps because I didn’t trust her enough to imagine that we might be able to name someone together. The name lies, still-born, inside me, as I suppose does whatever name she had chosen, wherever she is now.

………………………………..

Three long days later I wake feeling wretched, useless and short of breath whenever I contemplate a return to the city. From outside comes the sound of rain again; above me the window is a dull shade of grey, inside me it is the same. In the corner the pile of dirty dishes has begun faintly to smell. I’ve almost no coins left to feed the thudding meter and there is nothing to do. I decide to go and see Mr P: I shall escape from my prison a day early in order to move again amongst people who lead their distracted lives in a fashion appropriate to the twenty-first century rather than so meanly as if in the medieval age. But Mr. P is unenthusiastic about this plan as we stand in the mud and driving rain in front of his farm. I ask him again if he will take me to the ferry. There is a long silence as he looks over at the mountain which rises up behind the farm, just discernible through the mist. He reminds me that tomorrow is my due date, turns his tarpaulined head in the direction of the mountain and suggests that I go climb it for the day. He looks directly at me as I am about to protest and tells me that the wind may be dropping soon, that it could be a fine day.

“How do I get up there then?” I hear myself saying, incredulous. He nods his head again in the direction of the southerly side. As he does so there is a slight clearing in the cloud-cover over there, so – the promise of some sun, and I see myself striding resolutely up the side of the rock, surveying the island from the top: it will not have defeated me; I will have met all the necessary challenges in coming here; nothing has been or will be too much to bear. Moreover I will be proud of my adventure and achievement in coming here.

The walk begins well and the cloud has cleared. I negotiate the fields behind the farm and discover a small sign posted beside a track which reads “To the Hermit’s Cell”. So I shall emulate the local saint and follow his tracks upwards, for in all likelihood he will have considered the tourists and chosen somewhere with a view. The going is not good though: the lower slopes become increasingly boggy and I lose sight of the path. Soon the reassuring tufts of grass which were my stepping-stones over the marshy ground give way and I’m sinking into the black goo underneath. It will be hard to clean off my boots but I persevere nevertheless, plopping and slurping my way ever upwards. Then one green tuft gives way completely – they have begun to fool me by floating on top of what is essentially black water – and my whole foot goes in, and under. I will have to turn back I decide, before the mud and the marsh claim me. On the other hand I see in front of me that the ground will soon rise more steeply and, anyway, once one’s footwear has been filled up with mud there’s little left to lose. Soon both boots are filled and I falter. The lower slopes seem no nearer and some of Mr. P’s sheep have wandered across the field in order to follow my progress more closely: they observe me cruelly from a distance with their little black eyes. I struggle on across the bog, sit down on comparatively dry land and contemplate my black hooves. There is really nothing in nature that is of any practical use, it seems to me, although the natural world does undeniably have a certain aesthetic value, especially when admired from the window of a very fast car.

Either I’m not equipped to deal with nature, I decide, as I get up and begin to make my way upwards, or I am not much equipped for anything at all. I picture a composite version of all the teachers whose classrooms I’ve sat and suffered in: ‘What actually are you equipped to do in life?’ they all seem to be saying, while knowing already the answer to this, and then my father joins in: ‘Stand up straighter, don’t look so nervous all the time. How old are you now? What are you going to do…?” and so on, and on.

‘What are you going to do’ becomes a mantra that accompanies me as I climb on upwards, and ‘How old are you?’ as I maneuver around the rocks and boulders that are becoming more frequent, ‘…going to do… What are you…?’ What, where, why, and who – who are you, why are you here on the side of a mountain at all? Who are you, as I slip on the rocks and the rubble, and have to stop for breath: I haven’t climbed very far. I look up: the clouds are gathering, thick and dark overhead but the bog is well behind me now and would be impassable in a storm. I clamber up a bit more, there’s no semblance of a path although there is a kind of cleared way through the boulders. But now the storm breaks: little patches of wetness grow larger on the green and yellow-brown lichen-covered rocks and then very soon everything is wet; the rain is dropping and plopping all around me; my thin coat is wetted again, and my hands – cold and gloveless – find it harder to hold on to the rocks on either side of me and to lever myself upwards. I’m slipping more on the steep rubble-ground but won’t stop now – what are you equipped for – what are you going to do – I go on hauling myself upwards: this is what I do, there is only this, as I slip and slide and grip onto rocks and pull and pant and go on climbing; how old are you now – I’m 42; who are you – I don’t know; where are you – I’m climbing this mountain; I’m climbing, and the storm is certainly worse: the wind has gotten up and I probably shouldn’t go much higher; it’s colder now – I go higher: I pull myself up, something in me hauls myself up over and around and through the slippery rocks, over the rubble, through the driving rain and the wind whipping my face: I’m all wet, everything’s wet and I’m part of it and there’s a kind of new strength which comes into my feet, for there’s nothing which is dry to defend anymore – only the climb, the next handhold to find and the feet to move again, ever on and upwards. Suddenly there’s a break – a clearing in the rocks and nothing to hold on to anymore: I’ve broken through and past the rocky slopes and seem to have reached a bit of clearer less-encumbered ground. It’s still steep though and so I stand there a minute, heaving and breathing, but the wind is even wilder here: it whips and shoves at me so that I sway, have to spread my legs and brace myself against the ground, and for the first time I wonder at the threat of the weather or of something much larger than me. I’m too exposed and so I stand up straight again, ready to head off for the rocks. But there’s a loud crack of thunder not far away as the storm gathers itself for more and something bright flashes nearby. I look around blinking: the slopes and the land below me are barely discernible now through the curtain of rain, and neither can I make out much of what lies ahead: a patch of rocks and beyond that a cluster of huge-looking boulders, perhaps the promise of some shelter. I prepare to move on out of the worst of the wind.

Suddenly I feel both feet lifting slightly from the ground: it is momentary but might as well have lasted hours and a terrifying exhilaration comes through me then. I turn – too quickly – to make off towards the boulders and I slip on the rubble floor; I fall heavily – hands splayed out and scraped heavy against the splintery ground; something in my leg twists as I fall, there’s a sudden dark streak of pain but it’s the shock of it which winds me more and I sit there too stunned to move. I have to get up: I can’t get up, I cannot stand; I have to move – I move: I scrape and pull myself along the ground, scrape and pull and have my leg follow me, there isn’t any sensation – just the howl of the storm and the wind and the rain all over and inside me and the pulling and the scraping: Where are you going – I’m going to those boulders; Who are you then – I’m here, crawling up the mountain; How old are you now – don’t know; Who are – don’t know. I don’t know, and I don’t know but I go on, I think, something happens, nothing happens, nothing changes, I don’t remember: I’m pulling and heaving and scraping along and there’s another lightening flash somewhere near me or another light or nothing at all; yes nothing at all – only blackness and an instant and near-absolute absence of sound: only that faint chanting again which fades towards black silence and into which I slip gladly, how welcome and wonderful because there is nothing more now that needs to be done.

………………………………..

When I open my eyes there are green and yellow-grey shapes in front of me. The air feels cool and the ground is hard underneath and everything is quiet except for some birdsong nearby. The colored shapes turn out to be lichen on the rocks, near my head. I turn slightly: there’s rock overhead too. I am lying at the entrance of a kind of small cave formed by boulders and outside there’s a clear blue sky from where the birdsong is coming. I lift myself up, look around: there’s nothing in the small cave, it’s really just some large rocks lodged together. I move my leg – it moves, aches a little. I get up and walk outside.

There is a light breeze; the sun beats overhead and everything is shining, just as it was when I drove off the ferry I remember: sunlight reflects off the ground and the rocks and the patches of so-green grass; it is all so light and intense that I have to shield my eyes. Down below I can see my small cottage on the headland, Mr. P’s farm, and way beyond that the church and gift shop and – beyond that – moving along like a slow animal in the water is the little ferry, flashing in the bright sun. I turn around: the western flank of the island stretches before me: an expanse of glowing green and grey rock which leads in the distance to the unimaginable expanse of the Atlantic, heaving gently under the wind. I must be standing near the highest point on the island. Can there be many better sensations than this? I notice a small plaque, incongruous, on a carved stone nearby. It tells me that these boulders are the remains of the Hermit’s Cell. Somebody once lived a life of unimaginable devotion and sacrifice here – and here am I, meanwhile – shot through suddenly with a kind of fire and lightness which seems to be coming up from the mountain itself under my boots. Over the aeons here people have offered something of themselves and lived in awe. Perhaps they’ve anchored something more-than-mortal here, and which didn’t die with them.

Clouds rush across the sky. I decide to climb on a little higher. My leg is stiff but quite bearable. Here the lichen is splashed across the rocks in an evermore dazzling combination of colour. I go on up and over the peak and see now – not so far away – the northern shore: its white beaches glittering in the sun. I walk, scramble, even – in places – scamper down the mountain towards the shore. Eventually I’m alone on the beaches, quite alone. No footprints, litter or noise other than the soft regular swish of the sea. This is all that the saint and his followers had for recreation and it hasn’t changed much since. The waves are full of white icing against the sheer blue cloudless sky; the clear white sand is studded with rocks reflecting the sun while others sit half-submerged in the swaying steely-blue sea. I find some quiet little rock coves with their own sheltered pools and peer, astonished, downwards – through the clear water. I see the pools are heaving with life. There are tiny round shells, small fine-frilled creatures crawling along the bottom and, when I lift up one of the stones in the water a beetle scuttles away and a crab stands its ground. As I look down I realize that the wind has almost entirely died away: it is so quiet that for the first time in years the persistent ringing in my ears has disappeared. Where – who – am I really? I’ve a sudden urge to go and kneel down somewhere in silence, to offer myself up to some great cause, to pour out all the words which have always escaped me. It would be a simple thing here to go prostrate myself before an altar, to live alone in a cell, to live each day and night punctuated by prayer, to forgo all the luxuries of life which seem, in this moment, superfluous. I kneel by the pool.

………………………………..

The next day when Mr. P comes to the cottage to collect me and drive me to the ferry we speak more easily – about the unpredictability of the tourist trade and the politics behind the government subsidies which finance the ferries and local services upon which all the farmers depend. I shake his hand and tell him that I shall be back then turn and walk onto the boat.

Back in my car I’m surprised to find so much that is familiar again. The act of driving, so strange: the curve of the car seat, the feel of the old shoes again on my feet: comfortable, reassuring and somehow illusory, I realize, as I move off: this measure of control that I seem to be exerting over my environment, over my life.

 

Stephen Busby is a traveler and writer based in the Findhorn Community, northern Scotland.  His prose and poetry have appeared in Cezanne’s Carrot, r.kv.r.y. (visiting hugh and love ends), Visionary Tongue, The Battered Suitcase, Santa Fe Writers Project, and Secret Attic.  Stephen also works in the corporate and not-for-profit sectors, running transformative learning events there. His website is here.

“Pssssssst” by Carol Kanter

Image result for unripe banana

It is a secret what happened
once and more than once
when I was small
much smaller than my cousin

who taught me how to feel
helpless and afraid
for doing what I knew
was wrong

only because he made me promise
not to tell, NEVER
to tell. He would hiss at me
“Or Else”

and twist my skinny arm
behind my back
to show he could and would
make me suffer worse.

He did not explain how
he had the power
or what worse might be
just left me

to imagine—
how in the night dark
mom and dad would leave
Forever.

I try to keep the secret
buried deep
but it leaks out in bad dreams
I cannot shake

because they grip me
the way a not-quite-ripe banana
holds tight its peel.
But already I can smell

how delicious it will be
to strip off fear
when I get big enough
to tell.

 

 

Carol Kanter‘s poetry has been published in Ariel, Blue Unicorn, ByLine, Common Ground, Explorations, Hammers, Iowa Woman, Kaleidoscope Ink, The Madison Review, The Mid-America Poetry Review, Pudding Magazine, River Oak Review, Sendero, Sweet Annie Press, Thema, Universities West Press, and a number of anthologies. Korone named her the Illinois Winner of its 2001 writing project. Atlanta Review gave her an International Merit Award in poetry in 2003 and 2005. Finishing Line Press published her first chapbook, “Out of Southern Africa,” in 2005, and her second, “Chronicle of Dog,” in 2006

“To Love Again” by Steve Cushman

 

Pulling onto I-4, heading out of Orlando, Fay told herself to relax.
On the seat next to her was her purse and an overnight bag stuffed
with a couple days worth of clean clothes, suntan lotion, a romance
novel, and a manila envelope with the divorce papers.  She was going
to Cocoa Beach for the weekend, just long enough to clear her mind
and sign the divorce papers Dale, her soon to be ex, had the nerve to
send certified mail to Dr. Hasell’s office where she worked as a dental
hygienist

Fay concentrated on staying between the white lines of the highway.
Driving had gotten somewhat easier in the last month.  More than
once, in those first few weeks after the separation, she’d had to fight
the urge to jerk the steering wheel hard to the right and plow into the
pine trees lining the highway.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to die as
much as go to sleep for a while, perhaps long enough to make it
through the grieving process, however long that might be, maybe wake
up on the other side, ready for life again.

She’d reserved a room at the Ocean Shore Suites.  The front of the
motel faced US 1 and the back faced the beach.  While her first floor
room didn’t offer a view of the ocean, only sand dunes, she could smell
and taste the salt in the air.

Hungry from the drive, Fay walked across the street to Sonny’s Pit
Bar-B-Q.  She ordered a pulled pork sandwich and watched a baby boy,
maybe a year old, at the table across from her, gobble up a plateful of
baked beans.  His face and hands were covered in the red-brown
sauce.  The parents, a scruffy looking pair of nineteen or twenty year
olds, didn’t seem to notice when the baby started running his dirty
hands through his blonde hair.  Fay had to fight the desire to reach
over and stop him, to fling one of her French fries into the back of that
worthless father’s head.

She could not help but think of Dale and her son Owen, who was a
high school senior and still living with his father.  Dale had come to her
that Sunday morning on his way out the door to go fishing.  He had on
that stupid hat with the hooks and lures fastened to the brim.  She
was reading the paper without much concentration, thinking that what
she really needed to do was get out there and tidy up the garden, get
it ready for winter.

“With Owen graduating this year I think we should consider splitting
up,” Dale said as easy as could be, as if it were something he’d
practiced hundreds of times before and were no bigger deal than
suggesting they plant a new crepe myrtle in the front yard.

At first she didn’t quite understand what he’d said; she didn’t listen
to half of what he said.  He was always talking.  Plans for expanding his
landscaping business, plans for buying a new work truck.  Talk, talk,
talk.  Always something she didn’t really care about.  Lowering the
newspaper, she noticed a cartoon was on the TV behind him.  This
seemed strange to her, because weren’t cartoons for Saturday
mornings?

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Split up, divorce.”

“But why?”  Other questions occurred to her: Is it another woman?
Have you felt this way a long time?  Is it me?  Am I fat?  Am I not
attractive?  But the words to these questions, thankfully, she would
think later, didn’t come out of her mouth.

“You know neither of us are happy,” he said.

And it was true.  She hadn’t been particularly happy with the
marriage for years.  But half the people she knew weren’t happy with
their marriages.  Were you even supposed to be married and happy?
She didn’t know.  They had a decent life—minus romance and
excitement and shared secrets—but it hadn’t been awful.  He had never
slapped her around or come home drunk wanting rough second-hand
sex after a night at the strip clubs like some of her friend’s husbands.
He had never, as far as she knew, cheated on her.

“I’ve got to go,” he said.  “I’m already late.”  And then he walked out
the door.

Fay spent the rest of day shopping, buying flowers and a new
blouse, some shoes.  Anything at all but to think about the fact she
would have to start living alone.  What upset her most was that she
would probably have to move out.  Dale hadn’t yet said he wanted to
stay in the house, but he’d built a three-car garage out back the year
before so he could store his lawn equipment and they’d converted the
back bedroom into his office.

*
She leaned back in the motel bed, her head and neck up against the
strange headboard.  The old, green comforter was on the floor at the
foot of the bed.  Julie, Dr. Hasell’s wife and the other hygienist in the
office, had told her to never touch those things.  She said they were
only washed once a month and you never know what type of bodily
fluids might be on them.

This weekend trip had actually been Julie’s idea: get away, she’d said,
it’ll help you clear your mind and make plans for your future.  To Fay,
this sounded like a good idea at the time.

Fay took two big mouthfuls of the beer she’d bought at 7-Eleven on
the way back from the restaurant, then pulled the papers out of the
manila envelope.  His name Dale Ray Brown was above hers, Fay Alice
Brown.  The details of the divorce were what they’d already discussed
and decided: he’d get the house and pay her half its value over the
next ten years.  They would split the cost of Owen’s college education
and she’d cover his insurance.  There were no surprises here.

All she had to do was sign, slide her pen across those three lines
with the red X beside them and the marriage would officially be over.
But she couldn’t sign them just yet.  While she knew the marriage was
over and that she didn’t love Dale, the movement from one person, a
married woman, to the next, a divorcee, was more difficult than she’d
imagined.  She slid the pen back into her purse and turned the bedside
light off.  The beer and her breathing exercises helped ease her toward
sleep in only a matter of minutes.

*

Fay was at the beach by ten the next morning.  She’d bought the
bathing suit Tuesday night, after work, at Target.  It was a little loose
in the hips.  Without trying, she had lost fifteen pounds since moving
out.  The only time she bothered cooking dinner was when Owen came
over on the weekends.  Most nights she was in bed by eight, a half-
eaten bowl of cereal on her bedside table.

The beach was not crowded yet, but it was April and a Saturday—
temperatures in the mid-80’s—so Fay was sure it would fill up
eventually.  She found a spot twenty yards from the water, set her
towel down and her bag with the change of clothes, her lotion and
sunglasses, and the romance novel, To Love Again, Julie had given her
for the trip.

Fay had woken an hour ago, but the water and sun and sand made
her sleepy again, so she closed her eyes and drifted off.  The crashing
of the waves against the beach was calming and easy.

*
She had met Dale twenty-two years ago.  He’d come in to have a
tooth pulled.  He was well-built and attractive, but she was not
available.  Two days before, a man she’d been dating for over a year,
and whom she didn’t truly love, had asked her to marry him.

As she prepped Dale’s tooth for the extraction, she began telling him
about this other man—a man whose name she could no longer pull
from her memory—and about how he was a nice enough guy.  He wore
suits and argyle socks to work and had a yellow canary named Finch.

“Sounds like a fag,” Dale said.

“He’s a good man.”

“You know what you need?”

“No,” she said.  “What?”

“You need to go out to dinner with me, tonight.  I’ll show you a good
time.”  Dale reached over and ran his hand against her naked calf.  And
while she knew she should have been offended, she was not.  She
slapped his hand away, but took him up on his offer for dinner.  Four
months later they were married.

It was the sound of children that pulled her back to the beach.  Two
boys, no older than ten or eleven, were running in and out of the
water, screaming.  Fay sat up and pulled To Love Again from her bag.
On the cover, a couple stood arm-in-arm facing the sea.  In the right
corner of the book was a round sticker with 25 cents scribbled in black
pen.  It was not a new book.  Julie had told her to read it, said it would
show her there were more men out there.

The first chapter introduced the reader to Marie, a woman whose
husband was leaving her for another woman after twelve years of
marriage.  Chapter two and three went through the next couple
months of Marie trying to understand what to do with her life now that
she was alone.  A woman in her forties who had not worked in years.
There were obvious similarities to Fay’s life and she knew Julie had
given it to her for that reason.  She could imagine what was going to
happen; Marie would meet a man and they would fall in love and she’d
be happier than she’d ever been with that old cow of a husband.

Fay had read forty pages of the three-hundred page book when she
felt the need to pee.  Her motel room was only fifty yards behind her
but she didn’t want to leave her things out here unattended and she
didn’t want to lose this prime spot, so she headed to the water.  It was
cooler than she thought it would be.  It was only April.

In waist-deep water, she could see the crowd of people on the
beach.  White-fleshed tourists from places she’d never been:
Minnesota, New York, and Iowa.  She squatted and felt the warm rush
against her thigh, swimming around her knees, her ankles, and then it
was gone.  She was embarrassed as she walked out of the water, sure
that everyone knew exactly what she’d done.  But she told herself it
didn’t matter.  She would never see these people again.  Anything she
did this weekend would stay here, away from her other life back in
Orlando.

On her stomach now, propped up on her elbows, Fay continued to
read the novel.  Marie had started working the counter at a flower shop
where a customer named John came in every Friday and bought a
dozen tulips.  He didn’t wear a ring, so Marie assumed they must be for
his girlfriend.  After his fourth visit, she asked him who the flowers
were for and he’d smiled and said shyly that they were for his mother’s
room at a nearby nursing home.

When she told him how sweet that was, John invited her to come
with him and meet his mother and to have dinner afterwards.  Marie
accepted his offer.  What harm, she wondered, could happen to her in
a nursing home?  Or from a man who was kind enough to bring his
mother fresh flowers every week?

Fay smiled and shook her head.  Of course, it was ridiculous and
predictable, but still she read on, turning to on one side when she felt
her back starting to burn.  Over the course of the next few weeks,
Marie learned that John was an investment banker.  His wife had died a
dozen years earlier in a boating accident.

Through the next hundred pages, the couple began kissing, holding
hands, taking long walks on an unnamed, empty beach.  There were
long passages where they gave each other massages, would not have
sex, but would lie side by side, running their hands across each other’s
excited, naked bodies.  Marie would ask John to make love to her, but
he said he didn’t think he could move on to that stage of the
relationship while his mother was still alive.  She had loved his ex-wife
as if she were her own daughter.

In the parts of the book which detailed these massages, and oiled
hands gliding over  foreign flesh, Fay could feel a stirring inside of
herself.  She ignored it, pushing forward, wanting to know what was
going to happen and how they would finally consummate their love.

But for the next fifty pages, they continued to visit John’s ailing
mother and to explore each other’s bodies with their hands and to tell
secrets of their previous lives: the time John kissed a man in college,
Marie’s admitting she once watered her backyard naked.

With thirty-five pages left to go, Fay’s back and shoulders felt
officially sunburned.  She walked back to her room.  She’d been out
here long enough.  She closed the curtains and took a cool shower and
instead of putting her clothes back on climbed into bed naked.  Her skin
tickled.  The fan swirled overhead.

Fay leaned against the headboard and continued to read.  John’s
mother died.  Her heart simply gave out.  The night of the funeral, after
all the guests had left, Marie stripped John naked and made love to
him.  The book ended with them waking up the next morning with sun
streaming through tall, white curtains.

By the time Fay turned the final page, and dropped the book, her
right hand was stroking herself, pressing and pushing, and that was all
it took.  The force of the orgasm surprised her.  All alone in this
strange motel room with her hand moist, resting on her stomach, Fay
felt a little dirty, a little embarrassed and sore, but, all in all, she felt
pretty damn good.

After a nap, she took another quick shower and got dressed for
dinner.  A mile up US 1, there was a bar named Conchy Joe’s.  She’d
eaten there years ago with Dale.  She decided to go there tonight, have
a beer or two, some oysters and a plate of conch fritters.  Then she
would come back and sign those damn divorce papers, be done with it
once and for all.

Conchy Joe’s was hopping and Fay took a seat on the balcony bar
under a faux straw-mat roof. Behind her was the Intercoastal Waterway
and she watched as a pair of sailboats cruised under the bridge. It was a
fine evening. The heat of the day, though mild, had burned her shoulders
and her neck. She could feel the fabric of the shirt touching her skin and
this, she thought, was not completely unpleasant. She hadn’t worn a bra
and her nipples felt firm, reacting to the soft cotton of her top.

The bartender was tall and young and cute and he winked at her. But
she knew he probably winked at every woman who came in here. His tips
counted on it. There were a couple men, both older than her, sitting at
one corner of the bar and a married couple sitting to her right.

Just relax, she told herself again. The beer tasted good. The oysters
felt soft and soggy on her tongue but she didn’t care. She was miles
away from her home and that apartment, from her son who had
disappointed her by choosing to stay with his father, from her all-but-final
divorce. She was a woman alone at the beach enjoying herself. This, in
itself, was a new life for her, one she couldn’t have imagined a year ago.

She thought about that little apartment she’d lived in for almost five
months. The only personal decoration she’d added was a pair of framed
photos atop the entertainment center: one of her and Owen at the state
fair and Owen’s senior photo. The apartment had come furnished and she
was grateful that she had not had to go out and purchase furniture that
would be hers, and not theirs, for the first time in twenty-one years.

Maybe she shouldn’t sign those divorce papers as they were written.
Originally she’d agreed to leave Dale the house because it was set up for
his business, but now with the conviction of beer and distance she
wondered why in the hell he should get it. Sure he would be paying her,
but she deserved it as much as him, if not more. She’d painted almost
every room, had picked out the carpet and appliances and she’d hung the
borders. Plus, she had been the main breadwinner for almost all of their
marriage. If she had to move out and start over, maybe he should have
to do the same thing. They could sell the house and split the profits. But
she knew it would be easier to just let him stay in the house. Plus, Owen
would have that little bit of consistency when he came home from college
on summer breaks.

“May I buy you another?”

It took Fay a moment to realize someone was talking to her. She
turned. He was a thick man, a couple years older than her, with gray hair
and a deeply tanned face. His pale blue button-up shirt was not tucked
into his linen slacks.

Fay smiled, lifted her bottle to finish it and said, “Sure.”

“Chuck,” he said, extending his hands. “Chuck Mulhauser.” The only
jewelry he wore was a gold band on his pinky.

“Fay,” she said, shaking his rough, calloused hand.

“Another beer for the lady and a Jack and Coke for me,” he said to the
bartender. He turned back to Fay. “So the obvious question is what is a
beautiful lady like you doing alone in a place like this?”

She could see tufts of his grey chest hair at the top of his shirt. Dale
was practically hairless. She could see a slight shaving nick by his right
ear. Dale wore a beard. This man’s lips were full. Dale’s lips were almost
non-existent. Chuck Mulhauser was the physical opposite of Dale and this
alone was enough to make him attractive to Fay.

“A little vacation from life,” she said. She considered telling him why she
was really here, the divorce papers and whatnot, but did not want to seem
like easy prey.

“We all need one of those sometimes.”

She knew this was playful banter. For twenty-four years now, she’d
done that, leaning over patients and talking, saying words that didn’t add
up to anything. “And you, what are you doing in a place like this?”

Fay was well on her way to being drunk. She’d had two beers before he’
d approached her, and she knew she was a certifiable lightweight when it
came to alcohol. What was she doing talking, even flirting, with this
strange man? For all she knew he could have been a murderer, a
rapist.

“I was hungry,” he said and smiled.

He ordered another dozen oysters and eventually each of them another
drink. Fay felt herself leaning into him. He ran his hand along her knee, an
inch or two up her thigh. A respectable distance, she thought, confident
but not too aggressive. As they ate and drank, he told her that he was in
the import/export business over at the docks. Boring stuff, he said,
except plenty of money to be made.

“I’m not sure why I’m even talking to you. Women, I’ve discovered, are
the enemy. My wife, Sheila, married twenty-nine years—two sons—built
her the fancy house she wanted. You name it, I gave it to her. Well, she
runs off and leaves me for some pansy-ass out of work physicist. I
should have beat the shit out of both of them. But what are you going to
do? Am I happier now without her? Hell, no. Would I take her back in a
minute if she called me? Hell, yes.

“I don’t even understand how these things happen. You think
everything is going along at whatever rate it’s supposed to and then
bamb, you’re blindsided. Hell, I just don’t know.”

Fay saw the tears in the corner of his eyes and she reached out and took
his hand in hers. Why couldn’t Dale be more like this man? Huh, why
not? Because, she knew, life is not fair and never would be.

“Let’s go back to your hotel,” he whispered. She looked into his eyes
and nodded.

*

Inside the hotel room, they went at each other’s clothes before the door
was even shut. He was thicker around the middle than she’d imagined,
but this Chuck Mulhauser was a sure and confident lover. She closed her
eyes and held on and enjoyed herself. Although he was not particularly
big, maybe even smaller than Dale down there, it hurt a little at first. But
she liked his smell and the way his rough hands gripped her waist and
squeezed her breasts. And then as quickly as it had begun it was over.

She rested her head against his hairy chest, could feel his heart
thumping wildly. “Was it good?” she asked, embarrassed as soon as the
words left her lips.

“Amazing,” he said in a low, satisfied voice.

“Tomorrow we’ll go for breakfast,” she said.

“I’ll serve you fresh eggs and fruit,” he said. “Orange Juice. We’ll take
my boat out.”

Fay closed her eyes, thought that sounded damn good. Maybe Julie had
been right after all. Just let yourself go and you’ll find happiness, you’ll
find something. Chuck started to snore and she slid away from him,
listening to his even breathing.

When Fay woke early in the morning, he was still sleeping and snoring
on his side of the bed. She thought about what he’d promised, about
breakfast in bed, a day out on his sailboat. That sounded good to her,
the way something like this should begin. She wanted to do that, but
knew she couldn’t, not yet. She’d come here, met a man and discovered
that she just might be able to love again. While she knew two people
meeting at a bar for a one-night stand wasn’t exactly love, it was a start,
perhaps a sign that her life could be filled with a sort of intimacy she’d
forgotten she was capable of.

Fay got dressed quietly. She wrote him a quick note on motel
stationary: thanks & take care, Fay. After writing the first three numbers
of her phone number, she scribbled through them. Walking outside, the
bright sun almost took her breath away. Fay blinked a couple times and
headed to her car, climbed in.

Instinctively, as she always had in times of crisis, Fay dialed her old
phone number. It rang two, three times. She could see Dale standing
there with his mug of coffee, one hand scratching his fat ass. Then his
voice was in her ear: “Hello.” When she didn’t say anything, he said it
again, annoyed this time, “Hello.”

She turned the phone off and dropped it on the seat beside her, pulled
the divorce papers from the envelope. After signing all three required
lines, she slid the papers back inside and sealed it shut. Then Fay climbed
out of the car and walked back to the motel room and knocked on the
door. When Chuck answered, he had a towel around his waist, his eyes
cloudy with sleep. “I thought you left,” he said.

“Not yet,” Fay said, taking him by the hand and leading him back to bed
and those still warm comfortable sheets.

 

 

Steve Cushman has worked as an X-ray Technologist for the last fifteen years. He is the author of the novel, Portisville, and a forthcoming short story collection,
Fracture City.

“Desecration” by Mike Bove

https://thecatholicirishman.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/broken-crucifix.jpg?resize=284%2C422

Father Tooley woke to a terrible sound. It was gone in an instant, and he wondered briefly if it had been some trick of the mind. As silence reassembled, he pushed back the blanket and went for his robe. Pulling the folds tight around his waist he reached for the door, but the shuffling at his back made him pause. Behind him, the woman in the sheets lifted her head.

“Stay there,” he said.

The sound, a crash, had come from outside the rectory, and he made his way in the faint-light dawn to the double doors that served as gateway. On the other side the darkened nave yawned, vast and empty, and he paused as the door closed to listen. Silence. He walked slowly to the center aisle and looked down between the rows of pews at the front entrance. The carpet scraped his naked soles, the fibers near threadbare from decades of hosting the faithful. Turning to face the altar, he signed the cross and genuflected, whispering an apology for appearing in his bedclothes. Then he saw the face of Christ.

It was above the altar, on the altar, smooth and pained, monochromatic in the dim light. Up the marble steps and closer, recognition dawned. The bare wall behind the altar: the mighty crucifix had fallen.

Ten feet by six and forged from steel, the gold plated cross held a pewter Messiah, massive in presence, hung emaciated by outstretched arms. Now, the head lying prone against the cracked marble alter, the figure looked even more helpless. Father Tooley trembled to see the battered face of the Savior surrounded by broken bits of marble. He felt dizzy, nauseated, but breathed slowly and collected himself in time to follow the base of the cross down to the floor behind, badly scraped and encircled with shards of marble and- something else, pale wedges and bits of ivory moon-spilled communion wafers.

He breathed, he buckled, he fell to his knees. The crucifix had somehow detached from its clasps, falling from the wall, the steel stem splitting the top of the tabernacle like an eggshell, dashing its contents to the floor as the weight of the cross above pitched forward and swung the face of Christ violently down to the altar. Why? Pieces of aftermath lay at Father Tooley’s knees, why, and the answer appeared.

“What happened?” Mrs. Bertrand was wrapped in his bed sheet, her bare shoulders visible even in the shadows. She padded slowly up the marble steps to his folded frame.

Father Tooley stiffened. “I asked you to stay in bed.”

Momentary silence and the two looked down at the wafers on the floor, sacred confetti mingled with terrestrial stone. Before mass, merely discs of unleavened bread purchased in bulk from a Catholic supplier, but during the ceremony of the Eucharist, when Father Tooley held them before the congregation in a gilded platter, they acquired hallowed form. Transsubstantiatio, the miraculous changing of the bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Christ.

“What a mess,” Mrs. Bertrand said, holding the sheet closed at her breast with one hand. She leaned forward with the other and started to sweep the debris into a small pile.

Father Tooley caught her wrist. “No.” He felt her shrink, but he would not have her further defile the holy pieces with common touch.

No one else could handle the wafers after their metamorphosis; if any were left over from mass they were stored in the tabernacle and used the following day. But it was his sole responsibility to convey them from their resting place on the platter to the hands or tongues of the parish. And if one should fall to the ground by clumsiness of a careless child or arthritic elder, he alone could bend down to retrieve it. It was his touch that preserved their sacred state, kept them free from sin.

Mrs. Bertrand shifted in the sheet. “What now?”

The sun was beginning to filter through the windows above, illuminating the faces of Aquinas, Augustine, and the Holy Virgin cast motionless in stained glass. The reds and golds, blues and purples of their static garments crept down to the pews onto the marble steps to touch gently the edges of the white bed sheet wound around Mrs. Bertrand’s shape. Father Tooley held a special fondness for the early morning light of the church, all color and silence, and he let his eyes fall on the mixed hues that skirted her waist, her thighs. To see her like this, bathed in these tones, was blasphemy, and he felt the bitter pangs of guilt resurface.

Mrs. Bertrand was a boxy woman of forty, a widow fifteen years his junior who had returned to the church of her childhood after losing her husband, her faith. Father Tooley was her console, although his contributions had expanded of late to include physical as well as spiritual sustenance. It was never his intention, but she sparked a forgotten longing not felt since the days before Seminary, a tension that waned during the years of prayer and silent obedience. She was swimming in sin, as was he now, and he longed to free himself from the sensual grip of a forbidden undertow.

She sensed his gaze and loosened her grip on the sheet. The fabric went slack at her chest, dropping just far enough to expose the top of a breast, pale and round.

“Cover up,” he said, looking away.

She reached for him and placed a hand on his robe, finding the fold and slipping her fingers in against his skin. Her touch warmed him, but when he closed his eyes he saw the broken visage of the fallen Christ. He stood up fast and loomed over her. She let the sheet fall full, both breasts burning now with the sacred fire of stained glass sun.

“Cover up.”

The spectacle of the crucifix- the broken alter, the shattered tabernacle and scattered wafers- was a warning he brought on himself. He’d allowed her to entice him and invited her into his bed. He knew well the price for such actions, the price for them both. Neither were innocent. He knew, too, that it was her inborn deceit that brought them to this place: of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die. It would be a death without honor, shameful in the eyes of Christ; he’d fallen victim to her charms. Serve only your God and fear him alone. You must destroy the false prophets who try to lead you astray. And so he did, most every night, until he could destroy her no more and collapsed in a heap at her side.

Mrs. Bertrand pulled the sheet up and stood. Father Tooley could not meet her eyes. Filled with such loathing, he couldn’t bear to look. “This isn’t right,” he whispered, “you know it.”

“It is right,” she said, “and you know it.”

It was not the only time he’d made a false claim of repentance. The first time, a winter storm wrought chaos on the roadways. He’d ended their counseling session early, but by then it was too late; the power was out and ice had frozen her car doors. He’d prepared the bed in the rectory’s guest chamber, but she never made it. Somewhere between lighting candles and building a fire in the hearth he yielded. The next morning he rose with the dew of her body still on him and wept in the shadows while she gathered her things. There was no explanation, no reason he could offer to God or himself; he’d tasted the fruit. When she left he purged her from his thoughts and adopted immediate resolve. Never again, and he would spend the rest of his life toiling for forgiveness in the service of the Lord.

But he slipped. Their sessions turned into more than talks about grief, and he found himself drawn farther away with each touch, each kiss, each night of empty pleasure. Weeks passed, months. She kept a toothbrush in his medicine cabinet. She cooked him meals and called him John. She insisted that he call her Lilian, she was no longer anyone’s Mrs., but it terrified him.

Standing in the Sanctuary with her now, he trembled to think what punishments awaited. God was angry. Sickened with lust, he’d enraged his Savior. “It’s sinful,” he said.

“Sinful?” she shook her head, “it’s love, John. There’s nothing sinful-”

“Stop it,” he said, and stepped to the crucifix.

The aftermath of the fall was overwhelming. The altar was ruined; he’d have to hire a mason. Some of the minor cracks in the base could be filled, but the main slab would have to be replaced, he was sure. He’d need to commission a new tabernacle. It had been in the church before he arrived; he’d have to call the Diocese office to inquire after the original records. The small door was gold, could it be salvaged? He looked at it now on the floor, unhinged and speckled with marble and dust. These were the pieces of his own desperation, the flotsam of weakness.

And suspended above it all, supported at each end by cracked stone, the crucifix. He went to it, touched the scraped face of Christ, and placed his hands firmly underneath the cold torso. It would not do to wait.

“What are you doing?”

Mrs. Bertrand was behind him, he could almost feel her breath at his neck. He closed his eyes and felt the muscles tighten.

“John, stop,” her voice again, “it’s too much.”

But he pressed the bare flesh of his fingers hard against the torn metal, feeling the skin open. The pain was mad but he kept on, wrenching, twisting, trying to lift the cross away from disgrace. He pulled with his body, with his being, and his breath went quick. The heat of the task rose in his face, his eyes, splotches of white coming and going like the apparitions of Elijah. He was reaching, stretching, cleansing himself with the burn of exertion, rinsing away sin with his own hot blood. And he reveled in it, rapt with holy subjection. This was atonement.

Paralyzed with strain and nearing exhaustion, there came a sudden jerk from behind. He groaned as his fingers tore loose from the steel and spun to see Mrs. Bertrand, upright and naked, her hands at his sides, the sheet at her heels. She was heaving, fear in her eyes. “Stop.”

He hit her. He swung a hand at her face and she cried out, reeling back into the soft light with blood on her cheek.

Neither spoke. Father Tooley stood with the crucifix at his back, looking into temptation. The tips of his fingers pulsed. His hands bled freely now; crimson globes falling onto the marble, spattering the debris. Mrs. Bertrand’s face was an enigma. In an instant he saw fear, true pain, a mix of the two that boiled in her eyes. He imagined a tear, a bevy of them brimming and falling to wash away the blood mark on her cheek. But she did not cry. As quick as they appeared, the hurt and fear were gone, wiped clean by an unseen hand. The face that remained was stone. Father Tooley shrank within himself but couldn’t look away.

You’re not an evil man, she had said. Three months into the affair: he was a wreck of shame. A wolf in sheep’s clothes, he led his flock into the sulfur and hadn’t the courage to admit it. This is bigger than God, she told him, and he cringed. Yet a small light flickered inside, call it doubt or truth, and he’d sobbed freely in her arms and told her he loved her.

Now Mrs. Bertrand didn’t speak. He watched as she pulled the sheet up around herself once more and stepped lightly from the altar down into the center aisle and away, past the pews and into the shadows.

Father Tooley heard the hollow click of the rectory door and knew she was gone. He spent a moment in stillness, watching the nave lighten, the windows burning with morning sun. Thoughtless, he turned back to the prostrate crucifix and worked his bloody hands beneath. In the emptiness of the cavernous church he heard his own whimpers against the distant ceilings. He tightened his grip and pulled, pulled with the fervor of sacred will, but the stone-cold Christ would not rise.

 

 

Mike Bove‘s fiction  has appeared in Mindprints and Eastoftheweb, his poetry in The Cafe Review and Off the Coast. He lives with his wife and son in Portland, Maine and is a member of the English faculty at Southern Maine Community College.

“The Beetle’s Gleaming Back” (Author Unknown)

 

Image result for black beetle

Even now, she couldn’t help looking at her watch to see how long she had left. It was
something like the ghost of a feeling, the excitement that used to get her through the
trudging and the tiredness, the gradual erosion of her patience by the queues and the
crowds. It was time to go to the café where they always met, to put down the bags that
were biting into their fingers, to rest their legs and recharge.

This year he would not be there. She stood on a corner and tried to understand this,
looking out on the slow-moving shoppers, the coloured lights from the Christmas displays
casting patterns across their bobbing heads. It was strange, the world that he had left
behind. When something tragic happens in your life, suddenly everything else seems
surreal. The ridiculous things that people do with their time, like Christmas shopping, here
on Oxford Street, in late December. The strange things that people do to earn their money,
like their son Jerome, persuading people to change from one mobile phone company to
another.

Standing there on the slush-covered pavement, outside a temporary shop selling
perfume and underwear, tears began to swell behind her glasses. To fight them back she
decided to go to their café anyway. She could still get some enjoyment out of it, surely?
Falling back into a big chair and taking the weight off her feet. Choosing a cake with which
to complement her first slurp of coffee.

After much too long in the queue, she paid for her gigantic latte, and took her place at a
table that was crammed with cups and plates. She poised her bags, full of carefully
considered presents, between her feet to protect them from thieves. Warming her hands on
the mug, she thought of all the potential presents she had seen, decided who would like
what, and tried to plan a route to pick up the winning gifts.

This had been one of the few areas in their marriage in which she had been equal to
Leon, in which she had occasionally been able to impress him. A few years ago, when
Jerome had been around thirteen, she had bought him a Playboy calendar and, from a
different shop – she had been sure to keep the presents in their separate bags – some
matching Playboy tissues. When she’d shown Leon this, he had tossed back his head and
laughed, that deep, warm laugh that was free of pretension, and people at the surrounding
tables had turned their heads.

Now she was alone.  She stared out of the window at the dark mass of bodies, shuffling
along under the street lights. This was very near where it had happened. The CCTV had
captured five of them even though only had been charged; the two who came back. The
magistrate asked if she would like to see the footage herself.  At first, she refused, with
what she felt must have looked like a television widow’s grief. You were never prepared and
it never seemed real.

Leon had been driving at a snail’s pace round the car park under Park Lane, looking in
vain for a space, when another car turned on its engine and backed out suddenly, straight
into the side of his. She only imagined the crumpling sound of the metal, the tinkle of their
brake lights hitting the pavement. As usual, Leon lost his temper, but his gesticulating must
have stopped when the car doors opened in unison, and five young black men got out. He
was black too, of course, one of the few with a real reputation in Comparative Literature.
Sometimes, guiltily, she thought his career trajectory might have been boosted by his charm
and undeniable good looks. It was this winning combination that massaged away her
mother´s stiffness the first time Leon met her parents; by no means the first black man to
cross their threshold, but definitely the first to eat at their table. Perhaps it was this same
strength of personality that  aggravated the young men in the car park even more.

They shouted at him, forming two finger guns and pretending to shoot. On the CCTV it
looked both child-like and terrifying. Right then, although it was a strange thing to think, he
must have rejoiced in the long line of cars, creeping inch by inch along the concrete. She
often tried to imagine how he had experienced that night’s chain of events, through a wash
of adrenaline, relieved to feel the animal warmth of the people in their slow-moving packs. It
must have taken a long time for him to calm down, maybe an hour or so of shopping, until
the difficult process of selecting gifts became meditative.

She assumed that by the time he finished and returned to the car park, he’d succumbed
to temptation, and started to do what he had enjoyed doing most: turning the experience
into a set of ideas, an intellectual exercise. The mob mentality that can be provoked by
enforced proximity. The paradox of crowds, how badly people behaved in them, restriction
giving rise to freedom. Maybe it had been this, his absorbing train of thought, that
prevented him from noticing that they were still there. In the long corridor that connected
the car park’s entrance to the bay where his VW Golf was parked, two of them waited to
settle the score.

“Mind if I sit here?”

The voice snapped her back into the present, in which ‘Christmas Goes Jazz’ was playing
a little too loud, and people were lurking at the edges of the seating area, to swoop upon
when a table became free. She felt a familiar, embarrassed smile appear on her face, and
nodded. The stranger, a boy around seventeen, thanked her and sat down, sliding a single
carrier bag onto a small space at the corner of the table. He had spiky hair in which a bluish
dye had nearly washed out and ear-rings that were actually inside his ears. In spite of this,
she thought him good looking for his awkward age, around the same age as Jerome. Like
her son, this boy’s features were in a fascinating state of suspension that presaged
imperceptible change. She realised now that she found this beautiful, this age at which
time’s work on the face was still welcome.

She wondered what the boy thought when he looked back at her. He would see the
brown eyes, almost black. Short dyed hair, a small mouth with thin lips behind which were
what Leon used to call her ‘tiny teeth.’ And of course the glasses, which had spread like
contagion amongst all of their friends, when their forties had turned into fifties.

After they took Leon, she’d quickly became re-acquainted. She knew it much better now
than she had even in adolescence. In the first month alone, she spent hours studying it in
the mirror, staring at herself until Jerome told her to stop. She knew now that when other
people look at your face, they transform it, for themselves and for you. And when Leon’s
gaze was gone, her idea of herself disappeared as well.  Instantly.

“I’ve been at it for nearly two hours now,” the boy announced, animated, sitting forward
in his chair, “and guess what? I’ve bought one book. That’s it.”

She wanted to take interest, to ask which book he bought and who it was for, but her
thoughts were still with Leon.  She didn’t trust her voice not to waver and crack. She didn’t
want to embarrass the boy with her thoughts. Regular visits from Jerome’s mute friends had
taught her that, amongst adolescents, friendly people were few and far between. She just
gestured towards the boy’s Waterstones bag with her chin and gave him an enquiring look,
as if about to speak. He seized the opportunity as her thoughts returned to the car park,
almost a year before.

Shane was the name of the one the court had watched on the CCTV recording, tapping
Leon on the shoulder. Before Leon had a chance to turn round – they had been too
cowardly to let him do that – the young man had pulled a pistol from his jacket or the
waistband of his jeans and shot Leon in the head. On the footage it was hard to tell what
had happened. The tension left his body all at once and it folded onto the ground. Shane
and his accomplice stood over him for a second and then  run, their movements jumpy and
full of excitement. When she saw this, it made her think of her own youth, ringing
someone’s doorbell and then running as fast as they could, amazed at their own
naughtiness. She tried to concentrate on that, or on the presents he bought that day,
returned to her by the police, or on anything else that would take her mind off the central
fact of what happened. A shooting from another world, and its occurrence in their lives was
unreal. She would never understand it, she thought, and looked up from her cooling coffee
at the strange boy, who was reaching down into his bag.

Noticing that he had lost her attention, he was waving the silver paperback under her
nose, turned so that the title was facing her. He was eager for approval, like they all were
really, but as soon as she realised which book he had chosen, she turned pale. He was
thrown by her startled reaction but attempted in heroic fashion to maintain a good-
humoured conversation.

“The Metamorphosis. I mean, there’s other stories in there, but that’s the one I bought
it for.”

She wanted to say that she knew the story, that Leon had spoken to her about it many
times. But she couldn’t speak. Here she was, in conversation with a young man with blue
hair who was young enough to be her son.

While at home, and she hated herself for even thinking of the expression, Leon was
being baby-sat by Jerome.

Under normal circumstances, the few daylight hours that Jerome saw were usually taken
up practising DJ-ing. So when he rose mid-morning and mumbled to her –
over his shoulder while he was switching the kettle on to make tea – that he would be
happy to look after Dad until college started again, she was so proud of him that she
feared she might choke. A brief squeeze, standing behind him so they would not have to
look into each others’ eyes, had been the only way to communicate her feelings.

“Have you read it?” asked the boy. “Well, it’s about this guy, Gregor. He’s just a normal
guy, he works in an office or whatever, he lives with his family… But then, one day, he
wakes up…” Here he smiled, as if about to give away a premium piece of teenage gossip.

“And he’s been turned into a giant beetle! And no-one gives a …I mean, no one cares.
So he just has to get on with all the normal stuff, except that he’s this huge insect, and so
everyone’s shocked and no-one really knows what to do.” He paused, studying her, this
implacable woman who seemed so hard to impress. He sat up and decided to change tack.

“Of course, it’s like a critique of society as well,” he said offhandedly, “of how we deal
with outsiders and, well, not losers but you know, unfortunate people.”

“Yes,” she finally managed to say, and smiled at him. She remembered the title of
Leon’s ground-breaking study, the work that had made his career, which she’d  been fishing
for since he first handed her the book. She turned The Metamorphosis over, studied the
blurb, then handed it back to him, glancing under the table to check that her bags were still
there, between her feet.

“I … I think you’re right,” she added, gaining composure, “I think that’s exactly what he
was trying to do.” For the latest in an endless series of occasions, she felt something like a
ghost stirring, the old Leon, not the slow-moving man who had been discharged from the
hospital and into her care. The boy’s interpretation was a world away from his own
argument in Surrealism and Semantics: There Can Be No Escape. She knew this not because
she read it – Leon assumed she never would – but because he had on several occasions,
with a theatrical patience he seemed to enjoy – explained his theory to her ‘in a nutshell’,
using The Metamorphosis as an example.

“On one level,” she could hear him saying, perched in an informal and accessible manner
on the arm of the sofa, his legs crossed and a steaming cup of coffee in his hand. “you have
the aesthetics of it. What commands your attention? This gigantic insect!” The more
repulsion her face betrayed, the more he relished his description. “The gleaming back, the
bloodless legs, working in a frenzy as it tries to get back on its feet. And that,” here came a
miniature crescendo, “is an undeniable part of the story, and of life. The awe you feel at the
strangeness and the beauty of it all.”

Only now did she realise that she never knew if his idea of ‘strangeness and beauty’
included her. From their first meeting, at a party thrown by the department for a visiting
lecturer, all the way through her rapid promotion – from department administrator, to lover,
to wife – she never dared to ask if he was actually in love with her, or whether he thought
her to be beautiful. She was from such a different background, where everybody looked the
same and nobody went to university. When she thought about it now she could see that it
seemed pathetic, but she always suspected that he saw things on a whole other level, and
that she had simply not understood.

“But of course,” he would continue, “there is another level to surreal works like Kafka’s
story, which is the need for analysis. The desperation to understand. And the real benefit of
these stories is that they show that, to interpret what happens in our lives, we can’t avoid
either of these systems. The surreal and the semantic. Both are perfectly useless on their
own, but together, infinitely superior.”

Only now, in the café, with the boy making as if to go, did she wonder whether the
terms ‘perfectly useless’ and ‘infinitely superior’ had been relevant to their relationship. Even
though she’d  been good at booking his meetings and tutorials, organising conferences and
parties for visitors, she sometimes worried that he really saw her as perfectly useless, and
himself as infinitely superior.

Pointedly, the boy zipped his coat up under his chin. She must have been terrible
company, she realised, her silence stifling his admirable enthusiasm. His She movements
had a sudden purpose to them. He’d decided that this experience was over, maybe he
already saw it as an anecdote, talking to a mad woman in a café, and was preparing it for
repetition to his parents or friends.

“Who’s it for?” she asked, aware that she would never know unless she said something
now.

“Oh, it’s for Katie,” he replied. “my sister. She’s just getting to that age, you know, when
you start to love things that you don’t understand.” She smiled at him, gathering her things
to spare him the guilt of leaving her on her own, and it struck her that there was no end to
the age he had just described. She had certainly never understood the few things she
loved, any more now than when she had been a teenager.

They walked together to the entrance and he held the door for her. Outside, they
shared an awkward goodbye; he walked backwards and waved, then spun suddenly
around and disappeared into the crowd. She was disappointed he had gone.  He would
break a few hearts in his time by doing exactly that, turning his back on someone and
joining the ranks of the oblivious.

She knew immediately that shopping was over, that all ambition to find perfect presents
had gone, and that she needed right now to be at home with Leon. Gathering up her bags,
she made her way to the edge of the pavement and, seeing that a cab was about to pass,
raised her arm to hail it. As she leaned down to the passenger window to tell the driver
where she was going, she heard somebody shout a little further up the street.  She  turned
see a woman around her age, gesturing at her, then punctuating the end of her tirade by
flicking her cigarette at the ground, where it bounced in a shower of sparks. She stepped
into the darkness of the taxi, slammed the door, and breathed a sigh of relief when the
locks clunked shut.

The car crawled along Oxford Street, and the shoppers surged around her. It surprised
her how much she wanted to see Leon, and she felt guilty and elated at the thought. It had
never been like this before. She had been proud of her handsome husband, proud of their
three-storey home, but it had been the idea of her life, the theory, that she had enjoyed.
There had been none of the ease, the everyday affection, that she saw signs of in other
peoples’ marriages. She certainly would not have dared to use the word ‘love’. It was an
item of her vocabulary that had taken refuge twenty years ago, especially from Leon, who
saw it only as an idea, a strange new thing that people hoped would suddenly appear in
their lives.

Steadily, though, in the course of the last year, she had noticed something happening.
Sometimes, when she had shown him – as if for the first time – how to chop vegetables,
and they were quietly preparing a meal behind the steamed-up windows of the kitchen. Or
sometimes when she was taking him on a long, slow walk around the park, and he stopped
to pick up conkers, marvelling at their wooden sheen and the mystery of their concealment
in spiked green globes. At times like these, she would realise how often they were together
now, more in the last year than in the previous ten, and how much pleasure they obviously
took in the simple fact of each others’ company.

After six months, his hair had grown back over the wide, black-red scar that ran across
the back of his head. But even now, she would sneak up behind him when he was sitting
down, trying to decipher a magazine or a newspaper, following the print with his finger, and
she would stroke his hair to reveal the traces of the scar underneath. And sometimes, when
she did this, he would turn around and look up at her.

He was handsome still, although his expression had changed, the devilish charm that
used to animate his face had disappeared. His previously pursed lips were now fuller, more
relaxed, and softer when she kissed them. His eyes did not dart around to follow the ideas
in his mind, but were still, two peaceful green pools that she could stare into. And his
expression, when he did this, was what she thought of now, as the lights changed at
Marble Arch and the taxi gathered speed along the side of the park. That look contained
elements of both fear and fascination. When he looked at her like that, she felt love surge
through her, and she dared to think that perhaps it was love that shone back at her from
his face, the face that was waiting right now behind the glowing windows of their home.

Of course, sometimes he had bad days too. Days when he couldn’t understand what
Jerome was trying to explain about finding things on the computer, or when she would let
him lead her to the park and he would stop, suddenly terrified, with no idea where they
were.

After days like that, she would often wake up in the middle of the night, and find that
Leon was holding her, his arms tight around her body. She would shift to show him that she
was awake, and he would bury his head in the hollow of her neck, his beard prickling the
soft skin. She would hold him like that for an hour or even two while he gradually relaxed.
And although she would never really understand how he felt when this happened, she
thought that these moments were the most perfect. Snug to his warm body underneath the
duvet, she would look at the bedroom’s soft silhouettes in the blue light of the coming day,
and listen to his breathing as it slowed down, became calm.

“Just here please,” she said, as the taxi drew up opposite her house. She handed the
driver a twenty pound note and told him to keep the change. Naturally, Leon had been
insured, and last month the claim had finally been settled, relieving her from the need to
work, for the immediate future at least.

“Merry Christmas then, love,” said the driver as she gathered her bags.

She made her way up the miniature path, and had been about to set her shopping
down and fumble for her keys, when the door opened. Rather than coming out to help her,
or standing aside to let her in, Leon remained perfectly still in the doorway, staring at her.

She did not move, but stood there in the pool of light, looking back at him.

 

 

Author Unknown. If you are the author of this piece or know who is, please let us know at r.kv.r.y.editor(at)gmail(dot)com. We lost records when the old website imploded, and would like to fully credit all authors who have generously shared their work with us. Thank you.

“Freedom” by Sandra Ervin Adams

Image result for fireworks

Her last Fourth of July with him.
Skyward, bursts of colored lights,
cascading, reflecting off the sullen
clouds over the ocean.
The two of them stand together
as they always do,
spectators on the beach.
Salty spray stings her skin.
The waves suck the sand
out from under her feet.
In the glare she sees the high rise bridge
to the mainland.

 

 

Sandra Ervin Adams

“Practice Runs” (Author Unknown)

https://i0.wp.com/photo.foter.com/photos/pi/250/1950-formica-table-and-chairs.jpg?w=584

I sat down at the black and pink Formica table in my studio apartment in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen to construct a paper model sailboat from an “easy-to-assemble” book.  The book contained 18 boats of all types from bark canoes to ocean liners, each six to ten  inches long.  First I unpacked my tools – scissors, an exacto knife, glue, a cutting board, toothpicks, and nickels and quarters for ballast.  During the next few hours I cut the boat from the page, scored and folded along the dotted lines, and glued the pieces together.  By the time the afternoon light faded I had assembled a sailboat – not unlike Viljandi the thirty-two foot sloop, named for my husband’s birthplace in Estonia, he and I sailed from Maine to Key West, two years before he died.  Although we were novice sailors we learned along the way, traveling short distances each day, making our way through the murky seas of New England to the lucid blue waters of Florida.  John was most comfortable when he was moving down a waterway, whether in our Klepper kayak, in a raft on a wild river, or sailing Long Island Sound aboard Viljandi.

Constructing the little sailboat was not my first paper boat creation.  I’d begun making them on a long cross-country trip to relax after a day gripping the black leather steering wheel of my van camper driving on unfamiliar roads.  I didn’t tell anyone about the boats.  Making them seemed a bit like the work of a crazy person cutting out paper dolls.  I was not yet sixty but my daughters were looking for early signs of senility and I didn’t want to give them any ammunition.  Soon after I assembled a boat I’d long to set it free, off on its own explorations, to make its way in the world.

Sending off these paper vessels evolved into ritual.  Because they are made of heavy waterproof  paper I can almost believe they last forever. I spend a great deal of time searching out the waterway with the greatest potential for my ships’ joy and adventure.

As I let the sailboat dry and packed up my tools, I remembered my very first send off on the Virgin River in Zion National Park in Southern Utah.  I hiked a few miles up the Riverbank Trail with a six-inch paper replica of a bark canoe tucked in my daypack next to my water bottle and high-energy breakfast bar.  The winding trail led me into a slot canyon along the river lined with giant pines. A mist hung in the air intensifying the fresh pine smell all around me.  At a solitary spot, right before the canyon narrowed, I put my canoe into the ripples along the bank.  I imagined two people in the boat; one kneeling toward the front and the other in back; both paddling with the current.  The canoe was soon out of sight, lost in the shadows of the canyon walls – on its way.  As I retraced my steps to the road, I felt a twinge of envy because I wasn’t part of the little canoe’s voyage and sadness because I knew I would never see the canoe again.

I put the completed sailboat on a bookshelf to dry, christened her Little Viljandi and began to plan her maiden voyage.  I intended to send her off in Central Park in the middle of Manhattan.  I pictured her surrounded by dog walkers, bicyclists, and sunbathers spread out on rocks.  Over the next few weeks on long walks in the park I charted a course for Little Viljandi; one that would allow the boat to keep moving toward its final destination.  It was a challenge to find a solitary place at the beginning of the course to send her off.  Although it’s not easy to be alone in Central Park, with careful planning, it can happen.

On a late July morning, I put Little Viljandi into a large cloth bag and took the bus along the edge of the park up Central Park West to 100th Street.  I hurried along a path north toward The Pool and west along The Loch.  There in The Ravine in a calm pool at the bottom of a cascade I helped Little Viljandi set sail.  I wanted the sailboat and her crew eventually to reach the Harlem Meer, at the northern end of the park, but I feared that she would get stuck in an iron grate or run aground in the shallow water.  Although I hoped she would get some help along the way from one of the park workers or a Central Park Conservancy Guide, once I let her go I had no control over her lot.  I crouched at the edge of the stream
placing the boat bow first into the water feeling my fingers turn numb from the cold.  The sail caught the wind and she began to move away from me out of sight.  I felt the now familiar nostalgia, a mix of loss and exhilaration imagining the adventures awaiting Little Viljandi on its journey – a journey without me.

Sending Little Viljandi on her way in Central Park was my fifth launch of a paper boat.  I had let a dinghy go just as the sun poked over the horizon among the reeds of a small pond at a ranch in the Gallatan National Forest in Montana.  My paper replica of a river paddle boat plies the waters of the Mississippi between St. Louis and Memphis.  In Houghton Lake, Michigan I picture my mahogany runabout pulling water skiers across the lake leaving squeals of laughter in their wake.  Assembling the boats was getting easier but my sense of loss and excitement when I let them go never changed.  For the first time in six years, when I launched Little Viljandi, I thought about my husband’s ashes in a paper box on the back shelf of my closet.  I’d never known what to do with him.

Two weeks later, at our home in Connecticut, my daughters and I arose early on a Sunday morning.  Taking the box of ashes with us, we drove to the clearing at a riverbank that I had scouted out earlier in the week.  Jennifer and Joanna were quiet.  I think they were going to do whatever Mother wanted this time.  After we parked the car I opened the square green box and took out the plastic bag holding the ashes.  We walked to the water’s edge and I opened the bag, knelt, and scattered the ashes into the widening in the river called Diana’s Pool, my husband’s boyhood swimming hole.  I knew they would reach the Atlantic Ocean.

Like my paper boat launches, it was over very quickly.  I recognized the feelings of sadness and expectation as they swept over me. Standing by the shore with my daughters I remembered all my paper boats, and for the first time I realized that with each launch I was saying goodbye to John.  I needed all of that practice to prepare me for this final goodbye because it gave me permission to start the rest of my life. It was a send off for him and a new beginning for me.  When we walked back to the car I tossed the plastic bag and cardboard box into a trash can and wondered if anyone would notice it and know what it had held.

 

 

Author Unknown. If you are the author of this piece or know who is, please let us know at r.kv.r.y.editor(at)gmail(dot)com. We lost records when the old website imploded, and would like to fully credit all authors who have generously shared their work with us. Thank you.