“Lucky” by David Feela

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I woke to a banging at the door, a hammering really, the sound a SWAT team might generate preparing to serve a warrant.  When I got to the door it was only Lyle, from two farms down who raises cows for a living.

“You look terrible,” I told him, “you better come in and sit down.”

“I had a wreck with my truck,” Lyle said.

“Are you hurt?” It was all I could think to ask, but he didn’t have a scratch and he was wearing his best bib overalls.

“Nah,” he said, stuffing his hands into his pockets, staring intently at the floor.

“Then you were lucky.”

“I guess so.”

“Did you total your truck?” I asked.

“Nah, nothing, not a scratch” he said.

“Then what seems to be the problem?”

“My wife, my mother-in-law, both my kids, my insurance agent, and the dog, they’re all dead” Lyle said.

“Oh my God! How in the world did that happen?”

“I told you, I had a wreck” Lyle said.  I glanced out the window and saw Lyle’s truck parked and idling in my driveway.  I
could see a stack of bodies in the bed of the truck, one bloody arm dangling over the tailgate.

“Do you want me to call 911?”

“Nah” Lyle said, “I’ll drive them into town just as soon as I feel calm.  A wreck can sure shake a person up.”

“You sure were lucky,” I said again, “to have survived such devastation.”

“I guess so,” was all Lyle could say, never taking his eyes off the floor. I could tell he was upset, so I left him alone for a minute and stepped out to the porch.  Two of the accident victims at the top of the heap had distinct bullet holes in their foreheads and I could see a rope still tied around the dog’s neck. The insurance agent’s briefcase must have sprung open during impact; a few forms were scattered on the lawn. I went back inside. Lyle hadn’t budged an inch.

“Are you sure you hit something with your truck, or was this some kind of psychological wreck?” I asked.

Lyle finally looked up at me.  “I’ve got full coverage – collision and liability.” He reached for his wallet to produce his driver’s license and registration and handed them to me.

“Yes” I said, “I can see your expiration date is still a ways off and everything is in order. I guess I can let you off with just a warning this time, but you’ll have to be more careful in the future, especially when it comes to pounding on neighbors’ doors.”

Lyle smiled for the first time.  “I’m sorry about that” Lyle said, “the wreck and all, you know.”

I listened to him gun the engine and back down the driveway as I climbed back into bed. Lyle was usually a careful driver. I hoped he’d learned his lesson.

 

 

David Feela, a retired teacher, is a poet, free-lance writer, and workshop instructor. His writing has appeared in hundreds of regional and national publications since 1974, including High Country News, Mountain Gazette, Denver Post, Utne Reader, Yankee, Third Wednesday, and Pennsylvania Review, as well as in over a dozen anthologies. For eleven years he served as a contributing editor and columnist for the recently deceased Inside/Outside Southwest.  Currently, he writes a monthly column for the Four Corners Free Press. A chapbook of poetry, Thought Experiments (Maverick Press), won the Southwest Poet Series. His first full length poetry collection, The Home Atlas (WordTech Editions, 2009), is currently available through the publisher and online.

 

“The 9:05 out of Detroit” by Timothy A. Boling

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It’s 9 pm now and the light makes its first appearance on the distant horizon. I breathe a sigh of relief and take a pull from Jim Beam, feeling it burn its way to my stomach.

This railroad bridge spanning the Rouge River on the edge of Detroit is where I go to pretend all is well with my life. The scaffolding of steel girders painted light blue that stretch out over and beside me is my sanctuary from all that hates me in this world.

Most nights I sit on the rocks next to the tracks under the train bridge, leaning against a support beam. I listen to the trash barges as they passed beneath me, monitoring their way toward the Detroit River, and wait for the water to lap the bank in their wake. I sip Jim Beam and breathe in the intoxicating smells of diesel fumes, sewer water, and dead fish. I close my eyes and wait for the 9:05 out of Detroit.

I always hear it first. The faint, lonely moaning of the train whistle is barely audible over the waves beneath me. I open my eyes to the spectre of distant light hovering above the gleaming steel rails four miles away. Sometimes I lean over and put my ear to the tracks to listen for its approach, but I never hear anything.

I watch as the light materializes into the vague shape of a massive Dash-9 freight engine climbing its way down the city. Its single headlight glows to blinding proportions as it reaches the other end of the bridge. I take two pulls from the whiskey bottle, then a third as the 9:05 out of Detroit  rockets past me at sixty miles an hour two feet from where I sit. For several minutes I hear nothing but the wind rushing past my ears and the squeaks and clicks of the train. I see distant city lights blinking between boxcars and flashing across support beams.

And just as quickly, it is gone. Left behind in its wake an eerie, lifeless silence. That exhilarating head rush fades, and one at a time the sounds of the industrial inevitably return and the melancholy shadow that follows me through life comes back full force. I stand from my perch, launch the empty whiskey bottle into the river, and leave my happy place.

But not tonight. Tonight, when the 9:05 out of Detroit passes through, there will be no coming down from the cloud; no sadness and disappointment in its wake. Tonight when it passes through, I’m going with it.

I look down at the rails on either side as I walk toward the growing light. I know there will be no time for pain and fear; regret, or sadness — only a slight bump into peaceful serenity.

The horn erupts, much louder and I look up. The 9:05 out of Detroit is slower than usual, but I don’t worry about that. I stop, lean my head back and close my eyes. I spread my arms wide as if to greet the raging locomotive. Only seconds left.

The bridge supports creak in protest of the Dash-9’s weight and the ground vibrates beneath me. The bright light pierces my eyelids. It’s too late now for second thoughts.

I don’t feel the crushing impact in the lower half of my body; nor do I remember the great force that pulls me under. Only the endless tumbling end-over-end between the tracks and what feels like water splashing my face.

City lights flicker past the train wheels. For one brief moment I see the stump where my left hand used to be; the spongy tissue white and pale, the blood having not had time to flow.

The full weight of reality hits me: I’m dying. This time it’s not just in my mind, dreams and fantasies. This time it’s real, and it’s nothing like I used to imagine it. I imagined peace and serenity, not seeing my own severed appendages. This is cold and clinical; uncaring and destructive.

Then an image enters my mind: my funeral. The casket is closed. Mom stands there, running a hand across the waxed surface of the coffin. And I hear her thoughts: If only I could see my baby one last time.

The tumbling continues after the last box car passes. The ground and sky blend as one in my new sickly spinning world. I finally come to rest with my head propped on the track, left ear against the cold steel. I have a nice view of the gore strewn down the tracks that used to be me. An arm rolls to a stop a few yards away. My lower torso lies further down the tracks, legs missing from the knee down and intestines trailing off into the distance. The light-blue train bridge is five hundred feet away.

I try to move, but there’s nothing left of me. I’ve reached the end. Was it all worth it? Was my life really so bad that this was my only way out?

Darkness creeps in at the edges of my eyes. I feel cold. Very cold. I try to draw my last breath, but my lungs don’t work. I think of Mom, my closed casket, my so-called problems and all the mistakes I’ve ever made. But none will ever compare to this one,  because the worst mistakes we make in life are ones we can never change.

 

 

Timothy A. Boling was a prisoner at Allenwood when he wrote this story. During his incarceration, he authored five novels and has had excerpts and short stories published in several literary journals. Though unpublished, his novels have been well-read and enjoyed, and hand-bound copies have found a home in his prison library. He was working on a sixth novel at the time of his release in January of 2009.

“To the Heart of the Matter” by Scott Kauffman

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How will I know how you loved me?
I have left you, that is how you will know.
–Carolyn Creedon, Litany

Jude pulled the fender-rusted Buick into his driveway and braked it to a sliding
stop, the tires skidding on the gravel and off into the ankle-high grass. He cut the
engine and just sat, wet under his suit. Wet under his socks. When he got out, he
reached behind the seat for the fifth of Seagram’s and broke the seal and chugged a
long, throat-burning swallow and started for the backdoor. Across the street, near-
sighted Mrs. Roberts throttled back her mower and waved. Jude raised his free hand
and walked all the faster.

“Better get your windows up, Mr. Hardy.”

He turned to where she pointed. Clouds black as singed dogs ran along the
horizon.

“Fixin’ to storm.”

Jude, his back to the old woman, raised the bottle.

“Fixin’ to be a bucketdropper.

He wiped his lips on his shirt cuff and nodded. “Looks like, doesn’t it?”

“We get those this time of year. Common with the change of seasons and all.”

Jude started again for the backdoor. “I better get our windows down. Christine
will be giving me hell from here to Sunday.”

His neighbor frowned. “You shouldn’t speak like that, Mr. Hardy. Your wife’s a
saint. So sweet, always asking after me since my mister passed. She works so hard.
I always hear her coming home at I don’t know what hour.”

Jude did not answer.

He went into the kitchen where he fished out a tumbler from beneath a stack of
dishes greening with pizza sauce and filled it to the rim. He sipped down the whiskey
and looked out into the living room. Through the picture window, shafts of blue-gray
light dancing with motes fell through the panes slant upon the raw cords in the worn
carpet.

He emptied his glass and filled it and walked out onto the front porch and
slumped into their one wicker chair. Across the street, a dozen ducks sheltered
under a tangle of willow branches bowing into the pond. He watched the ducks,
watched the sky darken, the ozone-charged air growing sharp as angel hair. From
the driveway, a rumble like distant thunder from the headers on her Camaro. The
back door screeched. “Jude!”

He started to rise and sat again. He sipped the whiskey.

She walked back to their bedroom calling him, past the towel-strewn bathroom
and through the living room to just inside the porch door, its screen breaking her
face into squares of light. Jude twisted his glass in half circles inside the palm of his
hand.

“Are your ears petering out too? Did you not hear me?”

Beyond the pond, thunderheads knifed into the sky. A downdraft caught a
stray duck as it swooped low, the dark liquid beating of its wings fluid against the
pewter water. Jude jutted his chin. “Too much wind.”

“Too much booze.”

Jude shrugged. He drank.

“So did you hear the news?”

“Did I hear what news?”

Blackness leached into the woman’s eyes. “Don’t start out by copping an
attitude with me, Mr. Lawyer. I’ve had a hard one today too.”

“No doubt.”

He reached with his free hand and loosened his tie and undid the collar button.
“Sorry. I’ve a lot on my mind.”

“So what else is new? You think the whole world revolves around you and your
all so important problems.”

“Did something happen?”

“Yes, it did. Thank you for expressing an interest in something I said.”

“Of course.”

“Betty’s husband called before I left the office.”

“And?”

Dr. Sullivan died.”

Jude nodded. A clammy breeze fingered his hair. “Yes, I heard.”

“Her husband hadn’t heard the juice. Only that Dr. Sullivan was found dead.”

Lightning veined the bruise colored sky, filling the air with a frail afterscent like
burnt iron.

“He killed himself.”

A roll of thunder swallowed Christine’s words. “Jude? I asked you how.”

Jude reached to his breast pocket for his Salems. “He . . .”

The telephone rang. Jude struck a match and flicked it out into the brown lawn.
The telephone rang again. Christine still stood behind the door.

“You know he’s not calling to ask me to meet him somewhere.”

Christine looked over her shoulder to where the telephone sat in their living
room, not on an end table because Jude had smashed the one they had, but on the
carpet beside a stained sofa that smelled of vomit where he had passed out. The
telephone rang again.

“You better pick it up,” Jude said. “If I do, he’ll only hang up, and you don’t
want to spend another evening with me. We can’t afford to lose the furniture.”

Christine pirouetted on one foot. “Be my guest. Prove to me that you have
some machismo and don’t worry. We have no furniture left worth losing.”

The bedroom door slammed, the squares of glass in the living room window
rattled in their panes.

Jude sat, watched the sway of poplars bordering the pond, their quicksilver
clash of leaves. He unfastened the cufflinks she had given him on his last birthday,
the hand-tooled ones she had her old man buy for her on his monthly run into
Tijuana where he traded meth for the chemicals he used to run his lab secreted in a
Mohave arroyo. Jude rolled his shirtsleeves halfway to his elbows and leaned back in
his chair and watched the blackness close in, listened to the murmur of Christine’s
voice drift from the bedroom window she had cracked open. He could not make out
her words, but he recognized the ache in their tenor from long ago, only now she
spoke her words for Tommy Grazioso.

He never saw the two of them together, but he no need to consult Madam Zola
to read him the signs. Like phone calls she took in another room. Late work nights
when she did not crawl into bed until near dawn, sweetly smiling in the moonlight,
smelling of Tequila and expensive perfume and hours-old lovemaking. Never any
purchases by her on their Visa statement, the full amount of her salary deposited
into their bank account, checks going where they always went, but Gucci blouses
and Armani dresses, their snipped tags in the bathroom wastebasket he puzzled
together late at night while he listened for her car.

Tommy worked for Nicolo Dominic, the boss of her firm’s biggest accounting
client. A narc who Jude once partnered with on a case had seen them a month
before at one of Tommy’s bars up on Youngstown’s north side, snuggling in a back
booth, she on his lap, a diamond bracelet dangling from her wrist. Three times in
four years The Vindicator had plastered Tommy’s face on its front page after the
grand jury indicted him, once for pushing numbers, once for running a call-girl ring,
the charges dismissed after Nicolo made his amends with the Democratic chairman
who ran the county. The third time it got serious when the State Police unsealed a
woman from a fifty-gallon drum some kids on a raft found floating down the
Mahoning River after the chain holding it to its concrete anchor snapped. The
woman, pregnant and Catholic, was seen on Tommy’s arm only a week before she
disappeared. Jude never heard what it cost, but he guessed fixing it cost Nicolo
plenty, fixed the election of Larry, Curly, and Moe to the Court of Appeals.

The bedroom window thudded shut. The skew of light thrown by the door
screen darkened across the floorboards. “So how did you hear about Dr. Sullivan?”

Jude stubbed his cigarette into the sole of his shoe. “When I came back from
court this afternoon, his widow was sitting in my waiting room.”

“You never told me they were clients of yours.”

“They’re not.”

“Then what was she doing hanging out in your office?”

“She dated George some in high school.”

“Oh?” Christine rasped a fingernail across the wire mesh. “That seems odd.”

“Does it?”

“Dr. Sullivan must be thirty years older than your brother.”

“I would say.”

“So.” She tilted her head. She smiled. “Younger wife. Older husband. Who’s a
doctor. My, my.”

A skein of lightning spiderwebbed the sky. Christine looked at her watch. “I’ve got to get ready.” She crossed half the living room and came back. “Wasn’t there a rumor making its rounds about his wife seeing someone?”

Jude tapped his wedding band on the rim of his glass.

“Judy, wasn’t there?”

 

Judy had been her term of endearment for him since college, and when she wanted something she still cooed it to him. They had met at Ohio State, he in law school, she an accounting major. When she teased him then, she sometimes called him Judy and sometimes Judas because Jude she had only heard in the Beatles’ song her mother sang along with when it played on her oldies station on those afternoons when she had not passed out.

Don’t tell me you can’t afford it, Judy Judas, she said if he pled student poverty, groping deep into both his pockets. I know you’ve got at least thirty pieces of silver, and I’ll find every last one of them after I get your dick out of the way.

He fell for her at 8:55 on a July morning, the elevator door opening, his shoes cemented to the marble foyer, the door closing, a giggle echoing down the elevator shaft. Fell for her Hispanic-Indian beauty, her obsidian eyes overflowing with pools of promise, deep and dark as midnight, fearless as she passed through life save for being overlooked, alone, forsaken by God.

Tina, as she was called then, had fled to the Midwest from Fontana, California, a
smoggy town of working-class houses, each painted a differing shade of greasy dogs’
teeth, birthplace of the Hell’s Angels, of which her father remained a redwing member.
Yet despite a childhood where more than one doper dropped dead in their kitchen after
sampling her old man’s product, Tina’s juvenile sheet consisted of a single shoplifting
offense where she had not even been the one performing the pinch, but had her back
to Sonia, picking out a wardrobe in Vogue, as the other girl palmed a pack of Winstons.

Because of her honor-roll grades, the judge gave the girl unsupervised probation, and Tina was thereafter scrupulous with whom she hung out. She had plans. Plans to be gone from a mother who downed a fifth of vodka before noon, gone from a meth mouthed father who snorted as much as he sold. A month after her probation ended, Tina’s guidance counselor called her into his office and handed her a fat envelope, postmarked Columbus, Ohio. Before she finished the first paragraph, tears were rolling down her cheeks, which she could recall happening only once without her having forced them after a customer squished a sleeping Felix in their driveway under his truck tires.

She never would have applied to Ohio State had her old man not been watching the Big-Ten playoffs on a Saturday too rainy to be out on his Harley, sitting on the sofa as he sealed a dime’s worth into Glad baggies, she puzzling her way through Monday’s trig problems, scratching on a tablet at the kitchen table. She took a stretch break at halftime and went in to watch the cheerleader routines when the announcer instead gave a photo tour of the campuses. She sat, a foot away from the screen. The green foliage and blue skies differed as much from the brown sand and browner air of Fontana as did Oz from Kansas. After the second half kickoff, she went up to her room and dug out the Rand-McNally. Columbus was 2500 miles away.

She applied for a scholarship too, but Student Aid regretfully turned her away. She had sent them no financial information. There was none to send. The three of them lived off whatever wad rode in her old man’s money clip. Her parents had never deposited a nickel into a bank account, nor had they ever filed a tax return. Her old man had no social security number, and her mother could never remember hers. The time her father needed one to post bond for a cousin, he rode up to Folsom and with two cartons of cigarettes bought it from a riding buddy pulling consecutive life stretches. He paid cash for their house and as a joke deeded it into the name of an old beau of her mother’s who disappeared at the end of their courtship, his identifiable parts dispersed over noncontiguous counties, no death certificate issued.

So Tina spent her graduation summer muling for her old man, dodging rip-off artists of limited talent and narcs with less, earning enough from the dopers she shorted to pay for her first year’s tuition and a Neiman Marcus wardrobe after she got to Columbus. She left their house on Garcia Street on a Sunday morning in September wearing a red frock that showed off her brown legs and carrying a backpack that held a change of underwear and her summer earnings and walked down to the corner Seven-Eleven. From a payphone she called a cab that carried her to the Ontario International Airport where with white-lined bills she purchased a one-way ticket.

“Christine,” she said, when the ticket seller asked her name.

She excelled in her classes. She paid for her sophomore year by interning at Arthur Andersen, one floor above the law firm where Jude clerked. They spoke for the first time a week after the elevator door shut in his face, eating their Wendy’s lunches as they sat on a shaded bench beside the fountain facing High Street. She could not look away from him. She adored his dark good looks, his wicked, unprofaned humor, his being almost an attorney, the respect he showed her, so unlike the pump-and-dump-undergraduates always putting their elbows to her chest when they bumped into her at bars. Each noon she watched out her window until she spotted him sitting on the bench, their bench. Once she saw him sitting there, rippling in the haze of summer heat, his eyes not then watery from drink, smiling up at her window though she had yet to point it out, and she took it as a contract with her world to come. How could she know it was possible to rush toward disaster the way dreamers rush toward desire?

They married the weekend after Jude passed the bar. The next day they packed all they owned into a four-foot U-Haul and drove the five hours up to Hanna, the town where Jude had grown up. He began his legal career as a prosecutor in juvenile court, and she found a job with an accounting firm whose major client was the Dominic Company, a construction company deep into developing strip malls funded by Teamster dollars.

Prosecuting mental defectives abused since infancy and often dragged crying from the courtroom left an acrid taste on Jude’s tongue that Seagram’s could not wash away. He acquired a few years experience and quit. When Jude opened an office above
the Hanna Bank & Trust, he told Christine it would take time to build a practice. The past April, he showed her their tax return before she had him sign her name to it and pointed out their progress. She saw the numbers but not the progress. Not the way her old man’s wad bulged in his hip pocket. She and Jude both worked, yet they could not buy a home. While they lived across the street from Hanna Park, it was a one-bedroom clapboard, painted white so long ago it had faded to the color of parking-lot snow. They could not start a family, not that she wanted one. She resented life in a do-nothing-but-go-to-church-on-Sunday-town. While she did not miss the destructive hedonism she had left behind, she did the excitement that came with it where a night’s action downstairs was juicier than a season of Dragnet. How many Hanna housewives, their hair rolled in curlers as they sauntered the aisles of Drotleff’s A & P, searching for pistachio ice cream, had, on the way to the refrigerator for her school lunch, skipped over a corpse spread eagle across the floor and head off to catch her bus, stopping only to turn out the stiff’s pockets and pinch his nose pin if its diamond stud complimented her earrings?

Jude’s working late, his attending Knights of Columbus meetings to cultivate clients, made Christine certain he had a woman stashed aside sucking up their money, notwithstanding the nights she had parked outside his office and saw him at his desk, his forefinger to his temple. She trusted few women and fewer men. It had been common when she came home from school to see strangers coming out of her parents’ bedroom. Once she found a man standing on his head in the middle of their kitchen,
naked save his mismatched socks.

“Hi there, sweetie,” he said.

“Hi there, yourself.”

“My name is Cosmo, and I’m a free spirit.”

“You don’t say?”

A dozen times her old man had thrown she and her mother out, and until he exhausted his supply, they passed from the house of one club crony to another.Don’t you be letting no sonofabitchinman pin your neck into the dirt, was her mother’s advice. You always keep a stick at hand, one with rusty-lockjaw-inflicting-spikes asticking out of it – one that’ll keep him on his knees, begging from you like the dog God made him to be.

It was advice her mother ignored. If within a week of throwing them out he failed to sober up, she would step out to Hendron’s or J&R’s or Fibber McGee’s. It took her no more than an evening in the back seat with a car full of the boys before her old man would be knocking on their door, clear eyed and holding two bags of groceries and a bottle of Smirnoff under his arms, smiling a toothless grin as sweet as candy a week after Easter. She always went back, tears glistening her eyes, no matter his strewing their clothes across the yard, no matter her cauliflowered nose. No matter. Until one of the two overdosed, he was all the security her mother would know.

Christine took to heart her mother’s advice, and at the office party last December,  she found her stick. While she waited for Jude to retrieve their coats, Tommy came up  behind and patted her bottom. For once she gave him the time of day. Maybe we should  discuss it over my lunch hour, she said, and smiled when he whispered that what he  had in mind would take more than an hour. Tommy nodded at Jude when he came back  into the room. I ain’t no jackrabbit, honey.

A week after New Year’s when he asked her if she wanted to meet him for drinks,  she asked him where.

“Do you think that’s why Dr. Sullivan killed himself?” Christine said. “Because she  was seeing someone?”

Jude looked out into the darkness. “I don’t know.

She studied him a moment, fixed him with her black eyes. “I supposed you want  me to believe she told you nothing?”

Jude shook his head.

“Like hell she didn’t.”

“You want me to get it?”

“You stopped answering, remember?”

She walked away and picked up the telephone in the living room, her back to  her husband, her voice low, cooing.

Before retiring to Florida, Tommy’s father worked as a bill collector for the  Dominics, looking so clean and bland when he appeared on a doorstep some debtors  mistook him for a Mormon missionary. His street name was “Thomas and his Singing Hammer,” but the homicide detectives called him Saint Thomas the Philosopher  because in his work he liked to quote the Montaigne the sisters had taught him at  convent school.

The utility of living consists not in the length of days, he recited when he swung his ham-thick arm behind his head as the sisters had their rulers, but in the use of time.

Jude was in the third grade when a hardware store that was part of a discount chain opened up across the street from the one owned by the father of his best friend. His friend’s father matched their prices and tried to keep his store open by sitting in on Thomas’ poker table. In a fortnight he ran up a ten-thousand-dollar chit. Jude’s friend began staying over so often at the Hardy house that he kept two pairs of pajamas in Jude’s room. On the afternoon of the last day of classes at the start of the Christmas holidays, his friend’s mother came home from her job as a biology teacher at the high school, opened the garage door, and found her husband sitting on the floor, his gelatinous eyes open, slivers of brain sliming down the wall, in his hand a .32 revolver with its serial numbers filed off she told the police could not be his.

He never even got drafted on account of he had flat feet. What would he be doing with a pistol?

The police labeled it a suicide, notwithstanding the revolver was clean of even the deceased’s fingerprints, notwithstanding every bone in his right hand had been pulverized to rice grain bits and pounded into the worktable. To the left of the bits of bone fingernailed grooves gouged the soft pinewood. Near the revolver lay a strip of masking tape with facial hair on its sticky side, the deceased looking like he had shaved a square around his mouth into which was stuffed a card hand of aces and
eights, all spades.

Christine hung up the telephone and came back to the door.

“So?” Jude said.

“So I think even if she was seeing someone, it was silly of the doctor to check himself out.”

A raindrop thudded on the porch roof, solitary as a church bell.

“Why?”

“He was a doctor, for Christ’s sake.”

“A doctor can’t have his heart filleted out?”

“What’s it matter?” Christine said. “He should’ve paid her some humongous alimony – that would take him maybe a week to earn if he didn’t pay the taxes on it like you would – and moved on to wife number two.”

“Wife number three.”

“What?”

“She was number two.”

Christine rolled her eyes. “Well, you certainly learned a lot about his married life in just one afternoon.”

Jude did not answer. Black clouds crossed the horizon, their dark tendrils following.

“Or was it only one?”

An hour before, Jude had walked the doctor’s widow to the parking lot in the alley behind his law office. She wore no makeup and none of her jewelry except a wedding ring she fidgeted off and on her finger. At the door to her pink Jaguar, she put her arms around Jude’s neck and kissed him on the cheek, and as she drove away she watched him in the rearview mirror until he had shrunk to a flyspeck.She and Dr. Sullivan had celebrated their anniversary ten days earlier with her going on vacation to Nassau without him. They had met the year before when Christine was working as the seating hostess out at the Oak Tree. Their marriage three months later gave excuse for some snickers in town, but most respected the girl for her moxie and said good for her that she could snare a doctor after all she had gone through.

Her parents had died in a car crash minutes after dropping off her and a sister with an elderly uncle and aunt, the account of their deaths retold on endless evenings as their aunt tucked the girls in after returning from her prayer meeting and tipping back the gin bottle a second time. She swore to them she had heard the scrunch of steel, the screams in the gasoline fire and had turned away from her front window where a mile away a pillar of black smoke snaked heavenward and looked at the girls as they sat in their flannel nighties, drinking hot chocolate and watching the Lennon sisters sing on The Lawrence Welk Show and knew they were now hers.

Taking the girls in proved no small hardship for an uncle and aunt who struggled to get by on the miniscule pension Youngstown Sheet & Tube paid for a forty-foot fall their uncle took where he missed by inches dropping into the bucket
that fed the blast furnace. Yet, while there was much the girls would have liked, prettier clothes, a fancier car to be seen in, they never suffered want. Though they were popular, the worst said about them at the time was that for Baptists they knew
how to have fun. Save for his brother who dated Denise when they were seniors. He told Jude he now found his memories sullied after he learned at a class reunion that on those nights when he had stayed home to study, Denise found her way into
more than one backseat.

The week before George left for college, he and Jude drove out to take Denise and her sister on a farewell picnic. Behind the tar-papered farmhouse, their uncle had already laid in a seven-foot pile of coal for a furnace he had not cleaned since his fall.
The next February the house burned down to its sandstone foundation. A son took in the uncle and aunt, but his wife sniffed something of herself about the girls. They were much too pretty she said for her to be worrying whether she had married a
man who could resist anything except temptation. If he did not bed one, he would with the other, no doubt seriatim, and after her hysterectomy she could not again go out and trap a new one into marriage. She doubted anyway if God made men beyond forty that randy and stupid.

The girls rented a one bedroom in town. Denise’s sister took a job clerking at the discount hardware store, and she found employment at the Oak Tree, first washing dishes, then waiting tables. Once outside the kitchen, Denise raised her hemline, catching the attention of the owner’s son who suggested to his father that she was a natural to seat the upscale dinner crowd they wanted to attract. His father, eyeing her from behind, voiced no demur. A week later when the son and Denise stepped into the alley to share a cigarette, he laid a hundred dollar bill atop a stack of liquor boxes and ran along it from a prescription bottle a needle line of cocaine. A line on Saturday nights became a line a day. Some afternoons she did a line so she could roll out of bed before her sister came home and began questioning her about when she was going to come up with her share of the rent for the last two months.

When his wife moved out with their children, Dr. Sullivan started coming into the Oak Tree. He had never learned to cook anything more exotic than an egg sandwich, and he hated going home to a house without children even if he saw them as seldom as he did his wife. He came in early, having quit surgery because he said his focus had deserted him with his family. Denise often sat at his table until customers began to come in, and the two would share a glass of wine from the bottle she had picked out. As they drank, she liked to kick off her heels and watch his face blush when she ran a silk-stockinged foot up his trouser leg past his knee.

The first weekend after his divorce, she pressed him into their taking a flight to Vegas where for a hundred dollars he hired an Elvis-look-alike off a Strip corner to act as his best man. He hung in his office a picture of the three of them on the steps of the Love-Me-Tender chapel, he and Denise shoulder to shoulder, Elvis’s arm behind her, angling down from her waist, he winking into the camera, her eyes darting to him, smiling. When a month later The Hanna Bank & Trust called to ask about the checks a dozen bars had cashed on his wife’s endorsement, Dr. Sullivan closed the account and moved it up to Youngstown.

He soon had to return to surgery, and as he worked late, Denise killed the hours trying to make friends with the other doctors’ wives. When one after another failed to return her calls, she caught up with her old ones. She sometimes telephoned George, who worked the police beat for the Columbus Dispatch, complaining that marrying skinny-legged-Old-Man-Sulkivan was like caring again for her invalid uncle and aunt. She questioned him once if he had ever blown coke. When she asked if he was still there, he told her that every corner hooker he had ever bought a cup of coffee for seemed always to have gotten there by blowing coke.

So Denise returned to the Oak Tree in the evenings. She put on her midnight blue gown cut in the back almost to her sacrum and sat at the bar, wearing her Las Vegas jewelry and drinking champagne cocktails, chatted with Sammie, who, besides tending bar, earned her extra tips as the go-between with Denise’s dealer. One night Jude wandered in after finishing a drunk driving trial that ran late when the jury hung and Judge Biltmore refused to send them home, a night whited out by a blizzard on which Jude dreaded going home to a cold house.

“Or,” Christine said, laughing, “he could have gotten a little chicky on the side. Saved on the alimony. What do you think, hon?”

Jude swiveled the whiskey at the bottom of his glass, considered the storm-darkened night. “So a man discovering his wife is seeing another isn’t sufficient reason to check himself out?”

Christine’s laugh stilled. She studied the silhouetted figure before her for a long minute, and when she answered she spoke in a whispery voice out of their past. “No, of course not.”

Jude shook his head. The storm had broken, and white sheets of rain harried down the street. Phantoms unloosed. “If on the night they first sat together, clinked their wine glasses and smiled into one another’s eyes, she had seen in them the corpse she would one afternoon give her breath, would any of it had differed?”

The wind rose and rippled the pond. Jude sat, his forefinger at his temple. Christine studied him. “What did she say to you?”

He raised his glass as if to drink, but lowered it again. A black Cadillac had turned at the corner. It cruised by and slowed for a moment in front then continued on. It pulled into the last driveway at the end of the street and dimmed its lights. No one got out.

“Jude?”

“Yes?”

“What did she say?”

Jude pulled at a loose thread hanging from his tie. Its seam slowly unraveled.

“An easy chair in their bedroom was turned to the window, looking out over
the corral where they kept the blooded Arabians he had bought for her last birthday.
On the nightstand stood a bottle of Jack Daniels. One, maybe two shots gone. Next
to it, a notepad with her flight number. Her arrival time. The coroner reckons he killed
himself a few minutes before she found him. Maybe as he watched her car coming
down the road.”

“Did he leave a note?”

“Oh, yes.”

“What did it say?”

He shook his head.

“Jude?”

“No.”

Christine let go a breath. “Well, as this conversation, like so many others, is
going nowhere, I might as well shower. Girls’ night out.”

“Wasn’t that last week.”

“No, you weren’t listening. Last week was some of us celebrating Kathy’s
divorce from her sonofabitchphilandering husband. Not that there is any other
species inhabiting the planet.”

“Oh.”

She disappeared into the darkness of the house. Jude rose and refilled his
glass and came back and watched the rain. Thirty minutes later she returned, doxy
eyed and smelling of the perfume she wore when she came to bed near dawn. She
had on a too-tight skirt and an orange and green sweater that showed off her
breasts. She again had left her wedding ring by his toothbrush. When she leaned
down to peck him on the cheek, she covered with her hand a diamond pendant
pinned above her heart he recognized from a catalog she had dog-eared and left on
the sofa last Christmas, and he had thrown out with the newspaper.

“I won’t be late,” she said. “But don’t wait up.”

She turned on her stiletto heals and went inside. At the door, she looked back,
holding the door open the thinnest of cracks, studied the man at blackness’s edge.

“You going to be ok tonight, Judy?”

“Oh, sure. I think there’s still some pizza in the frig.”

She tapped a plum-shaded fingernail on the screen. “Maybe I should pass on
going out tonight.”

The Cadillac had backed out of the driveway and was driving by their house
again, its headlights out.

“I can if you want me to,” she said softly.

The car stopped at the corner. A cigarette in the back seat reddened and faded.
“Judy?”

He shook his head. “No, that’s ok. You go.”

“You sure? I can, you know. Stay home with you.”

“You need time with your friends.”

“I can have time with them some other night.”

Jude shook his head. “Please leave.”

The nacre paring of a dying moon shown through the clouds. Thinly. Briefly.
“What is it, Judy?”

The air had cooled, and with his words Jude’s breath rose in a gray bouquet.

“He stabbed himself. Standing at the window, he watched her coming up the
road, and with his scalpel he stabbed himself. Dead center in the heart.”

They listened a long time to the hiss of rain.

“When I was a girl, I thought of the past as a thing I could repair. A thing that
existed and the wrongs within it awaited my righting. But what righting is there for a
thing no more? What righting carries a price we are willing to pay?”

Jude said nothing. The windowpanes behind him refracted the staccato
lightning.

“Why did you marry me?” Christine asked. “Why haven’t you left?”

Rainy light from the street lamp fell on Jude’s face. “Because you’re the woman
who loved me. With all your heart. No one will again. Like Doctor Sullivan, I have only
one answer.”

Christine pushed on the screen door as if to come out. The Cadillac headlights
came on, illuminating within their beams the pencil drizzle of rain. She let go the
door. Jude stood. He looked at the glass in his hand and cursed and threw it out
into the night, shattering beside the Cadillac. The driver and rear doors opened. He
went inside as Christine was going out. He waited to hear the deadbolt click home,
and when it did not, he walked back. As he reached for the bolt, the doorknob
turned, slowly, first one way, then the other. Once, twice. Three times.

 

 

Scott Kauffman tried dozens of criminal cases, first as an assistant state prosecutor and then as an assistant public defender in a rural Ohio community, which provides much of the background for his first novel, In Deepest Consequences. Scott now resides in Newport Beach, California. He maintains an active law practice, which includes the representation of those charged with white-collar crimes. He is currently at work on a second novel and a collection of short stories. When not working or writing, Scott gardens, reads, and listens to baroque music.

“About That Glass Slipper” by Ann Howells

The ball is a sham: each face
masked, each mirror framed in ormolu
or gilt.  I flee early, gather skirts
about my knees and run, full out,
through candlelit halls, down
the grand staircase, race into midnight.
I totter, correct, leave one shoe glittering
like ice on the carriageway, for fear
a single misstep might shatter the second,
slice my flesh like razor wire. Glass slippers
are impractical for dancing, more so
for running.

Behind me the waltz continues, taunting,
merry on chill night air. Behind me
footsteps thud, a lumbered gait; breath
blisters my bare shoulders.  Feet stone bruised,
gown in tatters, I fear something
more ominous than pumpkin coach,
rodent steeds, lizard footman plucked
from garden wall.

Weeks later, the prince raps at my door:
fanfare of golden trumpets, full entourage
in satin breeches, six white horses prance
before a glittering carriage. My foot
glides smoothly into the slipper, but he
is no Prince Charming. How soon it begins
to pinch.

 

 

Ann Howells is a longtime member of Dallas Poets Community and currently serves on its board.  She has been managing editor of its semi-annual journal, Illya’s Honey, for ten years. In 2005, her poem La Restancia was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In 2007, her chapbook, Black Crow in Flight, was published by Main Street Rag. She has had work appear most recently in Avocet, Plainsongs, Barbaric Yawp, SENTENCE and the anthologies The Weight of Addition and Big Land, Big Sky, Big Hair.

“Nothing Happens” by Paul S. Piper

I wait for the faucet
to drip.  I wait by the window
for the white cat to bound
out of the bushes.  I watch
the sky for the circling gulls
or a wayward jet.  The day is
mist.  People in hats, hunched,
grimaced.  Even the bamboo
in its elegance is bowed, trailing
like a soggy tail in the mud.  I read
in the morning paper that only 23%
of the country is happy.
In the front yard, still bruised
by winter, four brilliant
red tulips, petals poised to drop.

 

 

Paul S. Piper was born in Chicago, lived for extensive periods in Montana and Hawaii, and is currently a librarian at Western Washington University in Bellingham where he
spends more time than he should writing.  He takes his lead from Luis Borges.  His work has appeared in various literary journals including The Bellingham Review, Manoa, and Sulfur. He has four published books of poetry, the most recent being Winter Apples by Bird Dog Press.

“John Doe 43” by Christine Beck

Image result for denim work clothes

A dingy heap of denim work clothes
lay behind Frankie’s Bar and Grill,
a gin mill with no juke box, dart board–

just the basics: dim lights, shots and beer.
As Jackson and Loretta angled for a parking spot,
she thought she saw the clothing tremble,

then collapse. Jackson was halfway in the door
when Loretta yelled, “Oh, my god! It’s a man!”
His head was bloody at the back where he must

have hit the concrete, his pockets filled with
crumpled ones. He smelled like sileage.
It didn’t seem to be an accident, according

to the cop who finally came, probably a bar-room
argument that turned ugly in the back. No one
seemed to know his name or where he lived.

The ambulance took him to the hospital. They
called him John Doe 43. No CSI searched
for a murder weapon, missing persons.
Fingerprints

seemed pointless. Finally, the hospital found
his former wife, asked if she would pay the bill.
He was cremated by the state, which shipped his
ashes

in a cardboard box. My mother kept them
on her closet shelf, the only time she knew where
she could find him when she had dinner on the
table

 

 

Christine Beck is the President of the Connecticut Poetry Society and the Contest Chairperson of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Her poems have been published in the anthology, Proposing on the Brooklyn Bridge, Grayson Press, 2003, J Journal, John Jay School of Criminal Justice; Passager, Connecticut  River Review, Connecticut Poetry Society; Long River Run, and Caduceus.

 

“Whitney” by Louis J. Gallo

 

Image result for stone fireplace

We’re gathered in the big room with its hefty stone fireplace trying to keep warm. It’s a long time ago. We’re all young and hormonal and insufferable. Upstate New York, atop a mountain called Claymoor or something pretentious that ends in moor. Lots of them around, uppity mountains I call them, each pinnacled by a gargantuan fortress. Mansion is the word – this one has about fifteen bedrooms, the whole thing constructed of heavy stone dragged up from the river. Who did the dragging? Sammy says in the past they were financed and lived in by robber barons and tycoons. Sammy owns it now after his father dropped dead at forty-two.

Impressive as hell. Nobody believed Sammy’s boasts back at school when we were undergrads at Tulane. But it’s cold and drafty and we’re all constantly carrying in new logs, stoking the kindling, adding sweaters, bunched together on the three sofas arranged in a semi-circle around the flames. You can literally walk into the fireplace – it’s that spacious. The old 1920s radiators in each room stay icy to the touch even when set at full blast.

We’re still in college or just recently out. One of us is edging through law school now, Rick. He’s here with a girlfriend he will marry in a few months. Sammy, our host, bides his time. With money you can do that. Rick used to be my best friend, way back before college, before I’d even met Sammy. We three belonged to the same fraternity, though I couldn’t stand it and dropped out after the first year. It’s law school that killed me and Rick. His first year and he’s talking about how much power he will have.

Sammy’s father sold historical calendars to the big breweries as premium giveaways.  Just think up some catchy theme – like relating each day of the year to, say, a milestone in women’s liberation – do a calendar, make millions. He should have known better than to fiddle with time.

Some others here too, like my current girlfriend, Rachel, who will fly home next day or so while I spend a few more days with Sammy. It’s an off-on deal with some minor violence thrown in like bitter salad spices. I keep my eyes open. Then the jerk of a law professor, one of Rick’s teachers, trying to stay hip with long, sandy hair, caved-in cheeks, wire glasses and endless plastic sandwich bags full of marijuana. Very good weed, though I regret giving him any credit at all. His wife, Vera, I think that’s her name. Another law professor. Same stringy hair and glasses, long hair, thin sallow face. The two look like male-female clones of each other. Hands-on, hungry, sarcastic jaws working their way up the rungs. He’s debating over teaching versus private practice in D.C, where he says he’ll make a lot more dough.

There are others too, friends of the lawyers, but I can’t remember them. No interesting women except maybe this one called Whitney, a grad student somewhere up here in the Catskills. This is not my territory. I’m deep south, tropical, in grad school myself on a fellowship. Living month to month on the paycheck. The hand I was dealt, so I don’t think about it much aside from occasional spasms of envy and regret.

Sammy, always the mover, likes gathering people together.  He stands
back and watches the intermingling and secretly, I think, enjoys a good
personality clash here and there.  Or maybe he sincerely hopes to nurture us,
bring us all together as some loving, happy family.  He’s the common
denominator, a behind-the-scenes auteur.   And a natural host, providing top-
notch booze and food – lots of caviar, pate, deli sandwiches, egg nog, ham
and turkey roasts.  He drives down to the market every day for supplies.  And
let me tell you, the road is treacherous, what with snow blanketing the earth.
It’s the Christmas holidays after all.  Sammy’s battered old station wagon
slides all over the place.  The other day he wound up in a ditch with a cracked
axle and had to call towers down in the valley.

The truth is there’s not much to do around here.  Can’t get back to
Manhattan,  only a two-hour drive usually; can’t spend much time outdoors
because of below zero wind chill; can’t roam the house because you’ll freeze
to death inside; can’t watch television because Rick doesn’t believe in them
and there’s only a tiny set in one of the bedrooms, an old ten-inch black-and-
white with no reception.  So we all spend a lot of time reading and trying to
make small talk.  The first few days or so we got into serious discussions
about the big issues, clashed, learned to distrust and steer clear of each
other.  It’s as if war is about to erupt.

The one thing we wind up doing a lot is cards, mostly poker, because,
well, what else is there?  I never play cards, shudder at the very idea of table
“games,” haven’t handled a deck since I was a kid.  But my old grandpa
taught me a thing or two about poker.  Back then I had no idea it would ever
come in handy.  The lawyer and his wife must have memorized Hoyle’s
because they know all these fancy, weird gambling games and want to show
off.  But the rest of us protest and finally prevail because without us, it’s
Solitaire, not poker. We wind up with five card draw or  seven stud,  easy no-
brainers.  The lawyers and Rick, of course, have lots of money to bet.  The
rest of us don’t.  I can’t afford to lose one penny.

So I decide to make a little spare change.

The lawyer, Dave, had taken instant aversion to me and vice-versa.  I don’
t like his snotty arrogance and wire glasses.  He hates me because I don’t
want to fuck his wife.  He’s one of those guys – there are lots of them around –
who wants all other men to want to fuck his wife.  It must make them feel
macho and giant balled.  He doesn’t really want anyone fucking her, he just
likes it when they yearn to.  And I’ve made it pretty clear that I have no interest
whatever.  Guys can always tell when other guys are sniffing.  It’s all in the
eyes, the joshing, the feeble compliments and enthusiasm.  In effect, I’m
telling Dave that his taste in women sucks.  Thus he’s peeved and seeks
revenge.

Or maybe I’m distorting the issue altogether.  I am, after all, telling the
tale.  Dave is long gone on one of the byroads of history, and so is his wife –
though I heard later that they divorced.  Maybe Dave can’t even remember my
name.

Mostly it’s Rick, Sammy, Whitney, Dave, Trudy (his wife), this guy Mark
and I shuffling the cards..  Rachel and I aren’t getting along.   I’m feeling pretty
low.  We’d replaced one of sofa’s end tables with a proper game table near
the fire.  The other guests  join in every now and then, but their hearts aren’t
in it.  Mine isn’t either, but I want to make some money and I’m pretty sure I
can.  Anyway, the games become serious after a day or so and now often last
until dawn.

Whitney makes a point of letting us know that she’s one of those
embittered feminists who hold men responsible for all evil.  She presents
herself as such but I can’t decide if she’s genuine or a party-liner.  Anyway,
during the games, the conversation drifts to the difference between men and
women, and, bingo!, every time I say a word she jumps all over me.  As if
there aren’t any differences!   But that’s exactly her position: society alone,
male-dominated of course, creates the differences..  Otherwise, we’re all be
the same.

“That’s preposterous,” I declare.

So we get into hormones, anatomy, the extra Y chromosome . . . all of
it.  But we’re antler-locked because nobody’s willing to yield an iota.
Meanwhile, Dave baits me at every turn with trivia questions.  He must spend
his nights memorizing them for occasions such as this. Historical stuff like,
What’s Herbert Hoover’s middle name?  He thinks I’m a smart ass and wants
to outsmart me.  He’s paying only minimal attention to the Whitney situation,
though Trudy chimes in often enough on Whitney’s side.   Rick and Sammy
won’t help me out.  They hardly say a word but every now and then exchange
glances.   I could use an ally.

The more I drink and toke the better Whitney looks, but she’s fierce,
hostile, poisonous.  I wish she’d take off the wire rims.  Blue eyes, long blond
hair almost to her waist, she’s wrapped in layers of wool.  But there’s a
disconnect between the sweet Heidi looks and all that rage, so I pull the switch
and withdraw from the games – not the poker, just everything else that’s going
on.  Dave keeps passing joints around and I’m feeling all right, comfortable
but withdrawn.  Herbert Hoover, every second word from his mouth.  I just sail
into a sea all my own, with special background music: Herbert Hoover to the
tune of the Hallelujah Chorus.

I’ve won practically every hand.  After a while, when he’s lost another
twenty-five bucks, Dave looks me in the eye and says flatly, “You’re good.”

Not good, Dave, just severe..  The simple, dumb secret of poker is
bluffing.   Bet high and reckless and keep raising the stakes even if all you
have is a pair of deuces.  Keep a straight face.  And never show your cards
even after the game’s over.  Nobody can stand a straight face, and most drop
out after a few rounds and you’re left with one die-hard who thinks he’ll
clobber you with his mighty ace of spades.  That die-hard is always Dave.
Whitney’s one of the first to fold every time.  Then Trudy and the rest of
them.

Maybe the simple, dumb secret of life itself is bluffing.

It’s late Christmas Day and Dave, Trudy and their troupe are leaving in
the morning.   They’re upstairs packing, making a lot of noise and endless
phone calls.  Rick and his fiancee have already left.   So has Rachel.  Sammy’
s down in the valley getting more food and supplies.  I’m sitting alone by the
fire, about seven hundred dollars richer.   But I feel a little hollow and groggy
and decide to take a walk outside.  Behind the house there’s a gentle slope
full of white birches, one of my favorite trees.   Much of the snow has melted
and you can trudge through the stuff without chunks of it sliding between the
boots and socks.   And it’s a little warmer than usual.

So I’m just hiking a bit with a long branch to keep my balance.  I stop a
moment to take in the beauty surrounding me, breath in the cold, crisp air.
From here you can’t see any houses or signs of civilization or people.  Kind of
nice.   I figure it’s all over between Rachel and me finally — and that’s ok too.
We were lonely and sad with each other.   How stupid is that?

I hear a swoosh from one of the white capped burning bushes and out
flies the reddest cardinal I’ve ever seen.  Crystals of snow explode into mist as
the stems fall back into place and silence resumes.  The cardinal
disappears..   Everything is white and cloudy.  I’m surrounded by white birch
and burning bushes.   It’s so peaceful and spectacular that for the first time
since arriving I’m glad to be here.  Delight, that’s what I feel.  I figure that the
only people who know much delight these days are little kids.

But my toes start to freeze with numbness and I’m hungry, so I start back
for the house.  The wood smoke smells good.  Sammy uses only hickory.
Hungry too for some of that leftover ham and pineapple.   Just as I ram the
staff into a soft spot of ground for bearing,  I’m suddenly knocked face down
flat into the snow as if stuck from behind with a hundred or more pounds of
dead weight.  At first I think maybe it’s a falling branch, but no, it’s got arms
and legs that clutch my body like adamant vices.   I’m on the ground, spitting
out snow, cursing, crying out.  The arms and legs ease a bit and I manage to
twist around for a glimpse of what’s assailed me.  Whitney!  She’s wearing a
heavy military looking surplus jacket and thick wool cap.  She just stares at
me, specks of snow dotting her cheeks.  For the first time I notice she has
freckles.

“Jesus!” I cry.  “What the hell are you doing?  Were you following me?”

She doesn’t say a word,  just keeps staring with what I take as pure
hatred.  No expression on her face at all.  She looks like the snow.

I wriggle loose from her body and stand up and brush myself off.   She
now squats on the ground gazing at me.

“What is wrong with you?” I roar.  “You could have broken a bone!”

My face is scratched from scraping against some twigs as I went down.
There’s a little blood.

Whitney squats, saying nothing, like some animal on the hunt.

“You’re crazy,” I say.  I snatch up my staff and thrust it back into the mud,
limp away fast.  The fall twisted something in my left ankle.  All I’m thinking as I
ascend the slope is, “Hell, this is going to hurt.”  I spot the woodpile and
Sammy’s station wagon.  He’s back with more food.  I don’t even look back to
check on Whitney.  She can crouch out there forever for all I care.

And that’s the last I saw of her.  She never returned to the Sammy’s, not
even for her bags and luggage.   For a while we thought maybe she had
wandered off and frozen to death.  Sammy and I searched some, then called
the police.  But later Dave phoned to say she’d hitched a ride with them to the
airport.  So at least she didn’t die.

It’s many years later and sometimes I still think of Whitney.  Mostly she’s a
blur except for the freckles.  I see them clearly, like tiny, scintillant specks of
time.  She’s just some random woman I happened to encounter back in the
days.  I’ve tried to figure out why she attacked me, but every time I think I’ve
nailed it one way or the other, I change my mind..  None of the options are
good.  I have no idea why she attacked.  She didn’t lose that much money.
An odd sexual game maybe, but not the kind of approach that kindled my fire.
I saw no ardor or interest in her eyes.  Only blank ferocity.

A few days later I too flew home to face varied strains of music and
Sammy returned to the city.  I left him a hundred bucks to help with the
expenses, stuffed it between two books on the mantle above the fire, one of
them Freud’s The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.   I don’t believe anyone
else left a dime of gratitude.  But surely the rich have learned by now that it’s
better to give than receive.

 

 

Louis J. Gallo’s work has appeared in American Literary Review, Glimmer Train, New Orleans Review, Missouri Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Portland Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Rosebud, Amazon Shorts, storySouth, Paradigm, Clapboard House, Raving Dove, Flash, Rattle, Babel Fruit, Oregon Literary Review and many others.

 

“Before Breakfast” by David Feela

Image result for cow

All night the cows next door bellowed. By dawn I opened the bedroom window and called to the nearest cow. “What’s all the bellowing about?” I asked. “You should ask?” the cow replied, “You who sleep all night in a comfortable bed while we stand in the field?” “That’s not an answer, and besides, it’s only Orwellian cynicism about the human condition” I said. “Have you no depth, no inner cow resources to plumb so as to describe what’s innately wrong?” I didn’t want to sound overly philosophical, but I hadn’t slept well and the opportunity to talk with a talking cow was unprecedented. I decided on another approach.  “Maybe it’s health, one of your stomachs is upset from ingesting too much fiber” I proposed. The cow stared at me with disdain, as if I’d just made a tasteless joke about hamburgers. “Don’t look at me like that” I said. “An upset stomach is the cause of much discomfort among our kind. Your kind has twice as much risk for suffering with a condition that’s easily treatable.” The cow continued to stare. I knew I’d gone too far, that this cow had nothing else to say to me, that never again would I be taken seriously by any cow,
that I might not even be taken seriously by my neighbors once word got out about me talking to cows. “Moo” I shouted and slammed the window closed. I had more important things to do than try to understand cows, and all this before a bowl of cereal.

 

 

David Feela, a retired teacher, is a poet, free-lance writer, and workshop instructor. His writing has appeared in hundreds of regional and national publications since 1974, including High Country News, Mountain Gazette, Denver Post, Utne Reader, Yankee, Third Wednesday, and Pennsylvania Review, as well as in over a dozen anthologies. For eleven years he served as a contributing editor and columnist for the recently deceased Inside/Outside Southwest.  Currently, he writes a monthly column for the Four Corners Free Press. A chapbook of poetry, Thought Experiments (Maverick Press), won the Southwest Poet Series. His first full length poetry collection, The Home Atlas (WordTech Editions, 2009), is currently available through the publisher and online.

“The Tunnel” by David Feela

Image result for moles

Traffic moved unusually slow, probably an accident in the tunnel up ahead, but because I had time to look around I spotted the sign half hidden among the trees: Mole Problems?  Call 4U2–MOLE.  Normally I ignore advertisers, so what got me interested is still a mystery.  I dialed the number.

“Hello, Mr. Mole speaking.”

“That can’t be your real name” I said.

“Yes, yes, the business has been destiny since the day I was born. How can I help you?”

For an instant I was speechless.  I didn’t have any moles. “Can you tell me what time it is?”

“I’m sorry, it’s too dark to see a clock” Mr. Mole replied.

“So you’re at the job site, very industrious of you” I said.

“No, No, I live here.  Is there anything else you need?”

“You live underground?” I asked.

“Did you expect me to live in a tree?”

I could hear the sarcasm in his voice. Perhaps this signaled the beginning of my mole problems. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.” I apologized, believing he’d hang up, but the line stayed open, a musky panting coming from the other end.

“Are you still there?” I asked.

“You don’t get rid of moles by just hanging up.”

“I don’t actually have any moles” I said. “I just called because I’m stuck in traffic and didn’t have anything better to do until I saw your sign.”

“Do moles attract you?” Mr. Mole asked.

“I have no feelings whatsoever for moles!” I snapped back, but I was immediately sorry for my temper.  I pictured the dirty burrow where moles live, the wife clearing a cavern under someone’s garden, preparing a cold kettle to mix a meal of pale roots.  My problems with traffic were trivial compared to the struggles moles face, so I pulled over to the shoulder and settled back.  “Go ahead” I encouraged, “I’m listening.”

And Mr. Mole started talking, all his dark secrets coming to the surface, passions that made my cell phone blush though I’d had it set to vibrate.

 

 

David Feela, a retired teacher, is a poet, free-lance writer, and workshop instructor. His writing has appeared in hundreds of regional and national publications since 1974, including High Country News, Mountain Gazette, Denver Post, Utne Reader, Yankee, Third Wednesday, and Pennsylvania Review, as well as in over a dozen anthologies. For eleven years he served as a contributing editor and columnist for the recently deceased Inside/Outside Southwest.  Currently, he writes a monthly column for the Four Corners Free Press. A chapbook of poetry, Thought Experiments (Maverick Press), won the Southwest Poet Series. His first full length poetry collection, The Home Atlas (WordTech Editions, 2009), is currently available through the publisher and online.

“The Prison Diaries of Arthur Longworth” by Arthur Longworth

one:  where I am

Sunday, July 27th
(first day of diary)


I suppose I should start by telling you where I am. This is an
old prison (well over a hundred years old) and it would be better
suited as a historical site, than a place to keep prisoners. It’s
falling apart. The state wanted to close it years ago because it
cost too much to operate, but they can’t, Even though they are
constantly building new prisons and adding to the ones they
already have, there are too many of us.

They have nowhere else to put us.

The massive Romanesque architecture of the prison’s
buildings, gun towers, and the thirty foot wall that surrounds us
is composed of worn red brick. Millions of them. The mortar that
has for so long held them together is falling out. In places, the
bricks have separated in distinct fault lines. Weeds have taken
root between them and sprout directly from the sides of buildings
and the wall. It’s a funny sight.

There is a contrast in the wall between the uppermost
section—which was replaced after it broke apart and toppled into
the big yard ten years ago during an earthquake—and the rest of
it which is covered with a dark, crusty type of moss. The contrast
is becoming less apparent though. Long streaks of rust from the
razor wire that crowns the top of the wall have stained the new
section and the moss is beginning to encroach.

I’m not as old as the prison (43 now) but there are times I
feel like it because prison is all that I know. I have been in since I
was eighteen. That is, if you don’t count the juvenile institutions I
spent my childhood in. Longer, if you do. Looking back it seems
like a long time. I’m conscious that I’m swiftly approaching the
limit of a prisoner’s life expectancy—which isn’t the same as that
of a free person’s.

two: proximity
Monday, July 28th

My celly, Bucky, began vomiting a few days ago. He’s in the
infirmary now with some kind of food poisoning. He isn’t the only
one who got it, so he has company.

I wouldn’t wish a sickness like that on anyone but, I have to
admit, his absence from the small place that is our cell is a bit of a
relief. I am less distracted, able to write more, and can get off my
bunk whenever I want, instead of the way we have to do it when
there are two of us…taking turns.

It isn’t that I don’t like Bucky, or care what happens to him. I
do. He came highly recommended (my friend Jimmy vouched for
him). After my last celly was transferred, the cell house sergeant
told me I would have to find another, or he would find one for
me. I had Bucky move in later that day.

Bucky came to prison as a juvenile with a four year sentence,
but in the few years he has been here six more have been added
to it because of his behavior (and I suspect he will stretch it to
more than that before he is through). He gets into trouble
because he’s afflicted with what used to be called in my time
“hyperactivity”, now ADHD. They give him Ritalin in an attempt to
control it, but he sells the pills. He has no other source of money
–no parents, he was raised by the state.

You may wonder why I choose to live with a prisoner like
Bucky, afflicted as he is and only nineteen years old. But, the
truth is, I am more comfortable around him than I would be
around someone who wasn’t sent to prison until he was older. I
have patience for Bucky because I understand him…at least the
circumstances that brought him to prison, because they are not
much different from the ones that brought me here when I was
his age.

I have to yell at Bucky sometimes to take a shower because
he forgets, or to wash his socks. But, besides that, he isn’t a
problem. He’s trustworthy and his word is good. What more
could I ask?

The problem isn’t my celly, it’s that this prison has the
smallest cells in the system—we literally live on top of each other
here. State officials know they aren’t supposed to put more than
one prisoner into a cell this small. An injunction was issued by a
Federal Court years ago that kept them from doing it—until the
state got it lifted by telling the court that prisoners were
volunteering to be crammed in together. Bastards.

I’ve pondered writing to the court to tell them the truth, but I
know it wouldn’t be wise. Others have tried it and everyone
knows what happened to them. Because of the overcrowding,
more than a thousand of our state’s prisoners are housed in
other states (long distances away), and I would quickly find
myself with them if I were to write the court.

Bucky is a decent celly, but I am going to enjoy this time while
he is gone. I don’t miss being forced into such close proximity
with anyone.

three: birds of a feather
Wednesday, July 30th

We were allowed out into the Big Yard this morning and I went
with the hope of catching sight of the young osprey that has been
hanging around the prison recently. Last week he landed on one
of the lights above the wall and I was able to get a good look at
him. He at me, as well.

No sight of the osprey today though. It was warm early and the
only birds to see were starlings, a small group in the grass on the
far side of the yard. They are always here because they don’t
migrate, the prison is their home. I have watched enough
generations of them live out their lives here, go from chicks to
death, to be able to tell you with certainty that they don’t go
anywhere.

I like to watch birds—which is strange when you consider that I
have spent many years of my life in IMU (maximum-security)
where I was unable to see them. There you are confined only to a
small cell, you don’t get to see outside. Then again, maybe it is
because of that experience that I have gained this appreciation for
them. I don’t think I had it before they put me in that place.

The starlings in the yard this morning were parents with their
offspring. Although the young ones were no smaller than the
adults, they were easy to pick out because of their coloring and
the way they behaved. While the adults search the grass for
food—thrusting their heads down into it and looking around, then
taking a few steps and repeating the process—their fledglings
follow them raising a ruckus, squawking and shaking their wings.
The only time the youngsters were quiet was when one of their
parents stuffed a bug in their throats. As soon as they got it
down, they would begin squawking again.

Sometimes when I am watching birds, thoughts come to me—
like the one I had this morning. As I watched the starlings, I
couldn’t’t help but recognize a correlation between them and a
certain kind of prisoner—those who were raised by the state in its
institutions. They, too, were brought up to be where they are.
Free people, I suspect, would think it ridiculous to say that, but
that is only because they don’t know what it is like—what growing
up in those places teaches you, and what it doesn’t. It doesn’t
prepare you for a life in civilized society. The only thing a young
person raised by the state is fit for is this right here. I’ve been in
long enough to see that cycle play itself out too, generation after
generation—I’m thinking of Bucky now, one of the most recent
generation.

Is it fair to write this? To believe it? My own generation comes
to mind now, those who grew up with me in those places. Yes, I
think it is fair…because I can’t think of a single instance where it
wasn’t true.

four: home
Thursday, July 31st

It is raining today. When we’re locked in our cells we can’t see
outside, but I know it is raining because water is running in
rivulets down the inner wall of the cell house, being absorbed into
state-issue blankets that have been laid out for this purpose. The
blankets must be changed frequently by the tier porters. Water
drips from cracks in the ceiling, the drops fall into large plastic
garbage barrels placed strategically on the cell house floor four
stories below.

It isn’t raining hard, if it was, more water would be coming
through the cracks. It’s funny to see streams of water pouring
from the ceiling (funny in the same way it is to see errant weeds
growing from the sides of old brick buildings here and on the wall).

I wonder how much longer this place is going to last. What if it
fell down? Wouldn’t that be funny? What would they do? Tell us
to go home? When you have lived your entire life in prison, where
is home?

five: fight
Saturday, August 2nd

There was a fight tonight during the last movement period.
(Movement periods are times during the day when we’re allowed
to move from one area of the prison to another.) Fights are
hardly unusual here, they happen all the time. I wouldn’t bother
mentioning it if there wasn’t more to it.

The fight broke out in the main corridor leading to our
cellhouse between two prisoners of different races and quickly
swelled to include more prisoners of those same races—six of one
and eight of the other. This kind of fight is more serious than
usual because it affects everyone in the prison, tautens the
already threaded line of tension that runs through everything
here, and carries with it the very real possibility that the entire
place will erupt into violence.

Alarms sounded, and the gates inside the prison that control
movement on its sidewalks and through its corridors slammed
shut, cutting off other prisoners’ ability to get to the disturbance.
Guards converged from every section of the prison.

I saw the fight from behind a wall of bars that separates one
end of the corridor from the other, part of a large crowd that was
caught there when the gates slammed. All of us watched as the
drama played out. One of the race groups involved in the fight
was my own and I was immediately conscious that there were
members of the other race in the crowd around me. I tallied the
numbers in my mind—theirs, ours— and shifted in the crowd,
moving closer to the others of my own race. I watched myself
doing this and realized what I was doing was automatic—having
done it so many times in the past, I didn’t have to think about it.
And I wasn’t alone, everyone in that crowd did what I did. The
races separated. I wonder at what point in a prison sentence that
a person becomes like this. Reaching into my memory as far as I
can…I can’t remember. I’ll have to ask someone newer.

We are in our cells now, locked in for the night. The cell block is
quiet, that’s  how you can tell something is going on. All it would
take is for someone to say something, to direct it out through the
bars of their cell into the quiet bock. Maybe not even that. It may
be already going to happen anyway. We’ll see what tomorrow
brings, when the cell doors are racked in the morning.

six: search
Monday, August 4th

I found my cell destroyed when I returned from the Big Yard this
morning. It was impossible to take it in all at once, so I stood at the
bars for some time looking in, trying to make sense of the mess,
assess the damage.

Everything was on the floor. The sheets and blankets that cover the
thin foam pads we call mattresses, stripped off and thrown there—
Bucky’s and mine. The cardboard boxes that I keep my property in had
been turned upside down and dumped there too. My heart froze at the
sight of my writing tablets in a twisted pile, loose pages scattered.

Anger came over me and I entered the cell. The door racked shut
behind me. Bucky’s property was dumped in the corner and his meager
collection of possessions were pushed under the toilet. The cover of my
favorite writing book was torn and I realized that it is as good as gone,
its useful life ended—not because the damage had destroyed it, but
because it is the reason guards will use to take it in the next cell search.
According to prison policy, it is now “altered.” No matter that they did it.

When I picked up the writing tablets, I noticed that my photos were
under everything, strewn across the concrete floor face down. I
dropped the tablets and hurried to pick them up. Some lay in water and
there was no way I could salvage them.

It would have been easy at that point to tell myself it was the last
straw, to self-destruct. It was what I wanted more than anything to do.

The photos were of Kriss—of Kriss and me together. Kriss, who has
visited me for the last fifteen years, who sacrificed so much in her life in
order to befriend me, then more in order to marry me. She has been
with me through the hardest times and is the only family I have ever
known. Do they not know that I love this woman more than life itself?
My anger turned red-hot; my hatred of them, implacable.

I reminded myself that the photos aren’t her, they’re just photos.
She doesn’t want me to self-destruct and end up in the hole. I tried to
imagine her here, what she would say. A shadow passed in front of the
cell and I looked up to see a guard standing there. He looked young and
a bit nervous. I stared at him with the blank cast of my prison face, not
saying anything. I didn’t know why he had come to my cell (to witness
firsthand the misery he had caused and revel in it?) I remember exactly
what I thought at that moment, “It’s too soon…I haven’t composed
myself yet…I’m not ready to hear what you have to say…get out of here
and leave me alone!”

The guard smiled in an attempt to appear friendly, to bridge the
gulf. He offered an offhand apology for the mess and informed me that
it wasn’t their fault (he and the others guards who did it), the order to
search the cell had been handed down “from above.” He looked at me
as though he expected me to say something.

I held on to my deadpan expression—as much a part of me as it is, I
had difficulty maintaining it. I told him quietly to leave.

The guard began to say something, but I didn’t give him the chance.
I yelled, ”LEAVE!” imbuing the word with all of the anger that I felt, no
longer interested in concealing it. It was as civil a tone as I could
manage, His expression turned angry instantly, his lips compressed into
a tight resentful line and he moved off.

For a moment, I tried to look at things from the young guard’s
point of view, but it was useless. There is no way I could understand a
guard like that, how he and his buddies could possibly think that it was
okay to do this, and that he would be able to come by the cell afterward
and explain away what they had done, that I would be okay with it and
everything would be all right—or, at least, no different than before they
did it.

I sat down heavily atop the wreckage of my property, no longer
interested in trying to sort through them or pick things up, the photos
of Kriss still in my hands. I counseled myself—as I have done countless
times in the past—that I don’t really own anything…photos or anything
else. No one does here. What you have in regard to property, you only
have through good fortune, and only for the time being, there is no
guarantee you will be able to retain it. If you lash yourself to it—what
you think is yours—prison will break you. Anything you have in here can
be taken or destroyed on the whim of those who keep you, and the
more you cling to it, the more likely it is to happen.

Breathing deep, I allowed my thoughts to settle and reminded
myself of the source of my strength, My strength lies in the knowledge
that guards can take everything from me, strip me naked and throw me
into a concrete and steel cell with nothing, leave me there an indefinite
period of time (months or years) and I will find a way to survive, to
come out of it sane and still a functional human being with the ability to
start anew. I know this because they have done it, and I have made it
through…many times. It is these times that are my greatest victories.

The only thing we truly own in prison is what we possess when we
are naked…locked inside of a cell with nothing. If a person can figure out
what that is and cultivate it, abide in it, what they take from him
materially means nothing, that is when he is doing time right. If you’re
unaware of what you have to fall back on when you’ve been stripped of
everything…then you truly are poor.

I feel better now. I realize I only get upset because I forget, lose
touch with what I already know, the source of my strength. When I’m in
touch, none of this is able to bother me…and I don’t feel the need to hate anymore.

seven: fat jack
Tuesday, August 5th

They transferred Fat Jack to the infirmary today. I was glad I got the
chance to see him before he left, but it was difficult watching him go. I
have known him a long time and he really is a decent person.

It’s funny that I still call him Fat Jack even though he isn’t fat
anymore and hasn’t been for some time. His belly protrudes, but that is
only because his organs are distended, painfully bloated with the toxins
his liver is unable to filter from his blood. The rest of him is skeleton-
like, the flesh that remains hangs loosely from his bones. He is in the
latter stages of Hepatitis C infection.

Jack’s transfer isn’t a surprise, he knew it was coming. It’s inevitable
when you lose touch with who and where you are—when you ask
guards questions that don’t make sense and wander unconsciously into
sections of the prison you aren’t supposed to go. We have both seen it
before (infirmary staff say that the prison HVC infection rate is over
seventy percent), most recently with some of Jack’s closest friends:
Chuck, Leo, Speedy…Bill.

Jack took Bill’s death the hardest. Bill, who spoke of being betrayed
before his transfer to the infirmary. He passed most of his sentence
working as a clerk in the chapel, certain that Jesus would get him out of
prison one day. “Faith” he called it. As it turned out, it was nothing
more than overconfidence in Jesus’ ability to influence the affairs of the
Department of Corrections. Bill died within days of his move out of the
cell house and Jack has made a point of declaring his own position on
Jesus ever since. Even when he is in one of his delusional states, his
position doesn’t change—there is no Jesus.

For me, what the state is doing to Fat Jack throws into question
their assertion that their prisons only house those who are too
dangerous to allow into society. After all, Jack can hardly get around
anymore—he was sent to prison for drug offenses. What would it hurt
to cut his sentence and let him die outside these walls? Wouldn’t that
be the right thing to do? Every terminally ill prisoner I have known
asked for this, but I’ve never seen it granted.

It was hard to watch Jack make that walk today. I tried to lighten his
mood by telling him that Bucky (my celly) is in the infirmary…that he will
see him there…but my words sounded phony because they didn’t match
what was in my heart. I wish that I could have thought of something
more meaningful to say. Jack seemed unusually clearheaded. Watching
him trudge off down the walk in the direction of Medical, I believe he
knew this would be the last time he was going to make that trip.

eight: about education
Thursday, August 7th

Everything stopped while I was reading a newspaper in
the library today—the article said that Alexander
Solzhenitsyn passed away in his home in Moscow. The rest
of the world continued on, I suppose, but everything
stopped inside of me. I retreated to my cell and remain here
in order to contemplate his life, and the connection I have
for so long felt with him. I realize you may not understand—
why Mr. Solzhenitsyn meant anything to me, why the news
of his death affects me. Let me try to explain.

When I was sent to prison many years ago as a very
young man, I had only a seventh grade education and didn’t
read or write very well. I had never heard of Mr.
Solzhenitsyn. I wanted to go to school and get an
education, which was something that was not available to
me before I came to prison, but I soon discovered I wasn’t
allowed to attend school inside either. Prison officials said it
would be a waste of their time and resources to educate me
because I had a life sentence. They told me I would only be
allowed to take barber or janitor classes—two vocations that
would make me a useful prisoner.

At this point, I didn’t even know if it was possible for me
to learn—if I had the same abilities as others—but I had
made up my mind to try, so I set out to educate myself. I
went to the prison library and began to check out books. It
was a small library and poorly stocked, but I read everything
I could…biography, history, philosophy, language. Then I
made tests and gave them to myself in order to be sure I
had retained all that I was pouring into my mind.

On the back shelf of the library one day I came across a
treasure—a three volume set of Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag
Archipelago
. When I got it back to my cell, it held me
entranced long after I finished it.

I went on to read all of Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s published
works. My favorite is a small book entitled One Day in the
Life of Ivan
Denisovich—the story of a day in the life of a
prisoner in the Soviet Union. I love that book, not only
because it reflects the strength and perseverance of the
human spirit in the face of seeming hopelessness but,
because it could have only been written by a prisoner…only a
prisoner can know of so many of the things he wrote. In
fact the book startled me when I read it because I knew it
was written about prisoners in another country, during a
different time, under different circumstances, yet I felt as if I
was reading about prisoners and guards I know, what goes
on here, and what goes through many of our minds while
we’re experiencing it. There were so many parallels, I couldn’t
help but feel close to them. Of course, I am conscious that
Ivan and many of those in prison around him were political
prisoners, and I and those around me are criminals, but
there is still a connection…and that connection is that we are
human beings.

The experience of prison as it exists in our country today
is no less damaging to the individual or society than the
experience of it that Mr. Solzhenitsyn wrote about. There
are many differences, but it is no less harmful and those
who would believe otherwise are deluding themselves;
certainly they have never been prisoners. The only argument
to be made is whether or not (because of the harm many of
us have caused others) we deserve it, and if the price of
doing this to so many of us is worth the toll it takes upon
society. I’ve often wondered what Mr. Solzhenitsyn would
think (write) if he were able to experience what it is like to
be a long-term prisoner in this country today where prison
has become an industry into which human beings are fed,
and out of which is spat a product that is much less capable
of functioning in society than the one that went in.

Being in prison in this country is different now than it ever
has been before. There are more people inside—many times
more. Never has there been anywhere close to this number.

And sentences are longer and harsher than ever. Is that
because people are worse today than they were in the past?
Worth less? Less able to redeem themselves, or less
deserving of the opportunity to do so?

And young people—the ones with the greatest potential
to reform themselves—are given those sentences. We have
prisoners in this state who were given mandatory Life
without the Possibility of Parole sentences when they were
thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen years old. We have prisoners
struck-out as career criminals when they were nineteen,
twenty, and twenty-one. They too have mandatory Life
without Parole sentences. “Mandatory” means that a judge
didn’t have a choice in the matter, the sentence was
mandated by legislators (lawmakers who decided without
ever meeting these young people or considering their
circumstances, that there is nothing in them worth
salvaging, that they can never change, and that they
deserve nothing ever other than unremitting punishment.

Maybe I am deluding myself, but I have always felt that
Mr. Solzhenitsyn would be able to relate to what is going on
here with many prisoners…feel as close to us as I have
always felt to him. Getting a sentence of Life without Parole
when you are young is hopelessness. Continuing on after
that, learning to survive in an American prison and proceed
forward as decades stack one atop another, and you have
long since forgotten what is on the other side of these
walls, is perseverance of human spirit.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s writing inspired me as a young prisoner
to continue my efforts to educate myself and, eventually, led
me to write a book modeled after his One Day in the Life of
Ivan Denisovich
. It’s a manuscript that is passed from
convict to convict; the story of one day in the life of a
prisoner inside the prison in which I grew into adulthood and
have spent most of my life—the prison in Walla Walla. When
officials there discovered a copy and read it, they threw me
in the hole and revoked my medium-custody classification.
But the manuscript still makes its rounds. Prisoners read it
because it puts words to what they are unable to, relates
the truth about prison, and what it does to those who are
in it. I have always felt that Mr. Solzhenitsyn is as
responsible for the existence of this convict manuscript as I
am.

I wonder if Mr. Solzhenitsyn ever dreamed while he was in
prison that his life would turn out as it has…that he would
live outlive the system that imprisoned him… that he would
one day live free…that he would own a home (in Moscow)
and that he would be able to die there. Perseverance of
spirit. Thank you Mr. Solzhenitsyn for showing us what that
is. No better example could have been given, no better life
lived.

nine: crowded
Friday, August 8th

Bucky was released from the infirmary today around noon. He
surprised me when he showed up at the cell haggard and pale,
hunched over because his stomach still hurt. He said that he had
seen Fat Jack.

Part of me is glad that he is back. Tomorrow, if he is up to it, we
will play chess. He likes getting beat.

I am trying to suppress the other part of me—the part that
doesn’t like to be crowded.

ten: a river of faces
Tuesday, August 12th

My friend, Kenny, got out of prison yesterday. He felt bad
about leaving, I could tell. Not bad that he was getting out, but
that I’m not.

It’s a kind of guilt that I don’t understand. He wanted me to
say something, I know, to allay what he was feeling. But I didn’t.
It’s not my fault what he feels.

Kenny is a decent person, but he cannot fathom the endless
line of people I have seen get out in the last twenty-five years, a
river of faces almost as large the one I have watched flow in. And
he is only one ripple in that river. I didn’t want to try and explain
that to him. Better that he just went…thinking what he thought,
feeling what he felt.

Never do I mouth the same tired platitudes I hear from
others—“Good luck…” “I hope you make it…” “It’s been good to
know you…” etc. I can’t bring myself to do it. Only in the last few
years have I become aware of what I say—“See you later…” Maybe
that is what I am hoping for. And…why not. The odds are it’s
true. Am I supposed to feel bad when they come back? You think
I want to be alone in here? Or surrounded only by those I don’t
like?

I realize it’s a fucked up way to think. I’m working on it.

Eleven: The Sting
Thursday, August 14th<

An unusual sight on the Big Yard today—two gold finches. I
heard them and looked up in time to see them flit over. That was
it, only a second or two worth of sighting, but enough to be sure
of what they were.

The young starlings were more independent than last time I
observed them—they have ceased to bother their parents so
much. All that differentiates them from adults now is their
coloring.

I’m not sure what made me think of it, but as I watched the
birds it occurred to me that prison is harder on people who were
sent here when they are older. At least, those who are older than
twenty-one. When you’re sent to prison younger than that, there
comes a point when it loses its sting, you lose touch with the fact
that you are being punished. This is true especially if you have a
life sentence because when you live your entire adult life in prison,
no matter how bad it gets in here, your situation is only what
you, as an adult, have ever known it to be. You go about life the
best you can without the handicap of memories of a better time
or place (unless it’s memories of a better prison you were in
once, compared to the one you are in now).

After living so long here I’m conscious that prison is
punishment only because of what I see on the faces of those not
yet accustomed to it. Watching the newly arrived, it’s obvious
that what they find in here isn’t what they are used to, not what
is considered normal outside these walls…undoubtedly a long way
from it. Their reaction infuses itself on their faces, a dawning look
of horror; realization that they now have to live like this, will have
to find a way to do it…or knot a sheet around their neck. They
don’t know the half of it yet.

Even as I write this I’m aware that it isn’t completely true, I’m
not entirely unbothered by prison, the experience of life here isn’t
bereft of punishment for me. That is because I’m not blameless. I
am responsible for the death of an innocent person, that is why I
am here. And it eats at me…always has. What bothers me is that
I don’t feel like I’ve ever been able to pay anything back, in any
way make up for the crime I as an ignorant young person
committed—no matter what happens in here, no matter how bad
or intolerable it gets, prison has never made me feel like I am
doing that.

 

 

Arthur Longworth has been incarcerated since age 18. His youth was spent in a variety of foster homes – usually for only two or three months at a time. He was separated from his sister at an early age and, in his teens, he lived in a series of youth facilities. At sixteen he was released to the streets with no means of support. He had only a seventh-grade education and began life in Seattle breaking into cars and doing petty criminal activity. At age 18 he escalated to armed robbery and in one holdup a victim was killed. Arthur was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.  After Longworth arrived in prison he asked to go to school to get an education. He was told that as a “lifer” he wouldn’t need an education. Eventually he visited the library and educated himself.