Prelude Fall 2009 - The Prelude - Huntingdon College

Prelude Fall 2009 - The Prelude - Huntingdon College

Prelude Fall 2009 - The Prelude - Huntingdon College

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THE PRELUDE Literary MagazineVolume 90Fall 2009EDITOR: Kelsey LoftinART EDITOR: Anton JacksonASSISTANT EDITOR: Nichole PeacockPRELUDE STAFF: Kristen Morrison, Christina Barnard and Jacob BaileyADVISOR: Dr. Katherine PerryCover Design by Anton JacksonEDITOR’S NOTE:I am very proud of everyone who contributed their time and stories to makethe fall 2009 edition possible. Thanks to Dr. Perry, we stayed on track and made it tothe printers. Thank you fall 2009 Prelude staff for all of your hard work on this and thespring 2009 issue we put out this semester—especially to Anton for making it look A-mazing. The Prelude has taken a leap in a new direction thanks to your vision.Thank you so much to everyone who contributed work for publication. I, andthe rest of the Prelude staff, enjoyed reading all of your submissions. There were somany! We had a great time being picky. It was nice being able to choose the best of thebest (and we still ended up with 100 pages!).I believe that this edition highlights the best of Huntingdon’s current, creativetalent. Contributors should feel honored to be a part of the Prelude’s long-standingtradition at Huntingdon. Get excited! You’ve been published!The staff spent hours and hours turning this into something that Huntingdoncan be proud of. I know this campus is riddled with great writers, and I would love tosee the closeted ones included in future editions. Keep writing and submitting!SUBMIT YOUR WORKTOTHE PRELUDE!PRELUDE.HUNTINGDON.EDU—Kelsey LoftinPOETRY. DRAMA. ESSAYS. PHOTOGRAPHY. SHORT STORIES.ONE-ACT PLAYS. ARTWORK. CREATIVE NONFICTION. HAIKU. MICRO FICTION.HISTORICAL FICTION. FANTASY. CONCEPT-DRIVEN FICTION.BECOME A PUBLISHED AUTHOR.Visit Us On Facebook:THE PRELUDE AT HUNTINGDON COLLEGE

TABLEOFCONTENTSPOEMSMaegan McCollum It’s Just Tim.................................................4Will Francis Your Life’s Work.....................................................5Kathryn Yates Of the Willow......................................................6Beth Woodfin Soggy Book Closer Look.....................................7Nichole Peacock At Night at the Mosque...................................9Riley Prescott Costa Rican Sunset...........................................10JD Dean The Dock | The Game | The Stay..........................11-13Jacob Bailey Untie the Knot | Never Grow Old Alone..........14-15SHORT STORIESNichole Peacock Postcards from Aunt Mabel...........................18Maegan McCollum The Cut......................................................28Meredith Brogden Faith............................................................40Will Francis In for the Long Haul..............................................45Jacob Bailey His Whittled Heart...............................................54John Harrison Right of Passage |An Excerpt from Kim’s Influence........................................59, 66FLASH FICTIONWill Francis And A Breeze Blows Through................................70Jacob Bailey The Wolf.............................................................71Kelsey Loftin Hungry Eyes | On the Waves.........................73-74Kristen Morrison The Hill | Newbie......................................75-76CREATIVE NON-FICTIONJamie Demick Waging Peace...................................................80PLAYSNichole Peacock Conception of the English Novel...................82Will Francis Boardwalk at Dusk................................................88ART & PHOTOSAllyn Powell Leaves.................................................................91Mary Dawson Summer Jelly.....................................................92Kelsey Loftin My First Snowfall | Kim Woofin Fleeing Bee........93Sarah Jernigan Fairies’ Fall Frolic............................................94


MAEGANMCCOLLUMIT’S JUST TIM12:35 P.M.Sure that it’s from him.That faceless man,Whose unrequitedCorrespondenceJust won’t end.Thunderbird bleepsIts pathetic squeaksEach time another pieceOf mail comes throughFor a second I thinkIt might be from you,But, no.It’s just Tim.And the golf teamShot a combined 893When they placedSecond at BSC.Volleyball beatLa Grange. Well,That’s goodAnd all, butI’m waiting on aReply from my professor.A BLEEPING SQUEAK,take a peep.No!!!Again, it’s him,My faceless friend,Fakin’ me off, punking meLike Ashton Kutcher.The Football teamPlays Westminster,I thought it was fromMy sister.But, no.At 12:35 P.M.It’s just Tim.4It’s just Tim.

WILLFRANCISYOUR LIFE’S WORKThe world is so full of cute tragedies:paper cuts, broken clocks, and your late trains,but nothing is harder than to seeyour next poem slipping down an unplugged drain.You will start with a nice undressing poseas your mind takes hold of a brand new sheet;and cling to a verse of some perfect prosewhile you apricot scrub your filthy feet.The poem takes shape as you wash your pitsright after your mane is matted with Suavethe word Pulitzer grazes your lipsand the soapy water falls like applause.All dried off you will pick up a pen…-Then dawns- “Won’t see that poem ever again.”5

KATHRYNYATESOF THE WILLOWKELSEYLOFTINPOND MONSTER6i throw tea parties for frogs & wormsin my domain surrounded by trees and ferns.it is here i wear a crown of moss upon my headfor jewels are not needed where i rule the land.some say this green ground that i govern is haunted:red ladies, old soldiers, even cats who roam upon it.but i never cause harm and do not show my face.the water is too murky, and you could never catch me at my pace.i used to perch beneath my willow treeuntil you humans uprooted her from me,leaving behind a blank, sunny spacethat requires me to creep from this slimy, wet place.i peer above my waters just to askthat my dear friend the willow tree be returned so i may baskunder shade on lily pads, where toads sing sweet songsthat compel my soul to carry on.but i’ll stay down below, for now that you knowit is i, in the pond, that urges the green to grow.

BETHWOODFINSOGGY BOOK CLOSER LOOKSoggy Book Closer LookCrumpled, crinkled, wrinkled heapGently pry the pages apartSmudged inkcrawls rebelliouslyOff of the pageA march within“Why does the drum come hither?”Says Horatio.Sticky pages cling togetherHiding the knowledge withinTurn- againShirley Jackson’s , “The Lottery”I hide my own “black box”With names contained inside.My own “pile stone of sin”To be hurtled at the next winnerIn my personal lottery of revenge.Tim O’Brien carried a lot of things:His “letters for Martha”, his imagination, his necessities that “weighedbetween 15 and 20 pounds”And a heavy load of responsibility.I carry my head held high. My purse contains:My laptop, chapstick, pens, check book, wallet, keys, journal, andanger.Anger is heavier than my purse.AnonymousRandom things7

8Anonymous offers.Reconciliation, The White Man’s Burden, Refugee ShipTo Be Of Use, Facing It, The namesRodeo, Battle RoyaleThe rain may have came- Saturated books-The soggy worn pagesForce a closer lookInto the deep things insidePoems of men’s prideOf the things we carry insideOf the battle weFight within orOutside the Royale.Authors who have proven themselves to be of useWho encourage and teach us how to face itWho teach of the names of those who’ve gone beforeDare to ride the bull in the rodeo that is lifeDare to “Dive into the Wreck”Dare to have a Dream“To beOr not to be,”Is truly the real question here.

NICHOLEPEACOCKA NIGHT AT THE MOSQUEORDR. AZIZ AND THE ENGLISH LADYA hanging lamp lit up the mosque at night;Ninety nine names scribed black on marble white.A battle cry of Faith, “Here was Islam!”Coarse music, wild drumming, unnatural rhythmReverberated to his confusion.Shadows danced, he spoke to an illusion,“Madam, a sacred place, you have no right.”“My shoes, dear sir, I cast into the night.God is here and He sees what I have done.”Said the English woman who walked alone.So two souls, gentle and different, conversed,Then two cultures collided and converged.The Magic—conceding to comprehend,Manifests harmony, peace and then…9

RILEYPRESCOTTCOSTA RICAN SUNSETWithout notice, the sun bursts into a river of color.Flooding the sky, the ribbon of rainbow expands, then lulls.The once passionate ocean belowwaits the turn of the tide.The expected darkness that sweepsAcross is speckled with sparkles.The glazed starlight is all that is leftremind us of the day gone.Birds, perched on a gently swaying palm tree,Sing softly facing the darkened sea.I am willed with wonderAs I sit and watch the sight.Another day gone by,Another Costa Rican Sunset.1010

JDDEANTHE DOCKGoing to bedShe’s in my headA feeling I cannot deny,My heart is racingAs if I were pacingTo reasons I don’t know why,Maybe the touchI loved so much‘Made me think I could fly,Or the moonlit kissOn a night like thisThat ended with just a sigh,Perhaps with no carsJust the sight of the starsWe were on a romance high,Now that we’re hereIt is my fearThat I will be just another guyWhile she’s the girlWho sent me for a whirlThat night beneath the star filled sky11

So here now I sitMy thoughts are a litWith reasons to defend herBein’ played like a fiddleWhile my heart given a riddle‘Tis the ugly truth that it wereJDDEANTHE GAMEI believe they are liesNo matter I turn my eyesTo the lines that keep me aroundAgain for it I fallLeaving my heart out for allTo see to whom it is boundFor when I ask for timeShe sees it a crimeTo tell me the honest truthNow I am on my feetTired of being beatBy the stupid game she loved toplaySo now I am moving onTired of this childish conI am up and walking awaySaying yes on the spotWhile later, I cannotTo me this seems uncouthI do not seeHow it can beSo hard to tell me how you feelBut she never didInstead she somewhat hidAnd never told me if the feelings were real1212

And now the next nightWhile lost in the whiteHer lips slowly touched mineSo soft and sensualMy joy is now visualWith a smile I cannot denyAs she smiles backMy senses I now lackTaken by a smile so divineJDDEANTHE STAYStaring in her eyesI feel my demiseLike intoxication by a fine wineShe has stolen me nowTo this I vowWith her one slow replySoftly touching my legI could only begThis would not be the last timeShe is by my sideWhile my heart open wideAnd our movements like a mimeNo words need be saidAs we lay in her bedWith our bodies intertwinedSoftly whispered in my earThe words I wanna hearFollowed by a soft gentle sigh13

JACOBBAILEYUNTIE THE KNOTlittle love ofkind eyesandheavy heartsthat rope is minebut i don’t blame youfor the tyingor the tighteningas i drive opposite ourdestinationsnear the southern shorenear the whipping windlittle lovewritten in the sand.The tide comesmirroring our magneticcircumstanceand washing the footprintsremoving all tracesof opposites.Little Love,that noose is minei’ll tighten itby myself.1414

JACOBBAILEYNEVER GROW OLD ALONEI am no lightning stormwith dark cloudsswirlingengulfingI am no forest firechoking smokefearsurroundedI am not hopeoffered by unknown;that’s a niceideaI am not complete lovefor sometimes I amfilled withhateSo, youreject acceptanceand I’llaccept rejection15


NICHOLEPEACOCKPOSTCARDS FROM AUNT MABELI entered into the realm of life April 29, 1895, the firstborn child ofmy beautiful mother, Clara Marks Altheimer. My father, Joseph Altheimer,a young sailor and consummate adventurer, drifted in and out of our livesduring my most early days, but those visits took place in that gray spacebetween my birth and the conception of my memory. That is to say, myimpression of him is just that, an impression faint and faded, secondhandand not experienced. He was one of the 260 unfortunate souls who died asa result of that mysterious explosion on the USS Maine, in 1898. AfterFather’s death, my mother and I continued living in her childhood homewith her father, the man whom I call Papa Charlie. My grandmother hadlong since passed, but my mother’s younger sister Mabel lived there withus. Dear aunt, loving sister and sometimes mother—Aunt Mabel was all ofthose things to me. Just eight years my senior, Mabel personified all thatwas beautiful and good. There was a glow about her, and everything andeveryone that basked in her glow shone brighter and sweeter than it wouldhave sans sa lumière.Papa Charlie had never cared for my father, though for my sake hedid not dwell on his distaste, but he often remarked that no man would everbe good enough for Mabel. Well, Papa Charlie and I, for I was most certainlyof his same mind, were wrong. Just before her twentieth birthday, Mabelwas visiting her father’s sister in Macon. She met Max at a church social.Max Sheridan was from a fine Macon family and newly graduated from theUniversity of Georgia, where he was both a good scholar and a great athlete.His chiseled face and athletic build were complemented by his easy charmand most excellent manners. And he too was lit from within, either by hisown gentle spirit or by his absolute and immediate adoration of Mabel.Despite our infatuation with Max, Papa Charlie, Mama and I all cried for aweek after the wedding. Our little home in Albany was a gloomy placewithout the glow of our beloved Mabel.1818

Aunt Mabel had never traveled further than Atlanta before hermarriage, but under the tutelage of Max she became a savvy and enthusiastictraveler. Mabel and Max honeymooned in New York City. I received myfirst postcard from her.Postmark: Macon, GA Aug 24, 1908To: Miss Helene Altheimer, c/o Chas. Marks, Albany GADear Little Lady,This photo of Uncle Max and myself, also Mr. and Mrs. Flack ofDavenport, Iowa was taken at Coney Island, New York where we had ajolly time. Am sorry I did not send it to you from that place. We didnot know you had a collection of postals. Much love from Aunt Mabel.I suppose Mama must have told Aunt Mabel about the postcardsfrom Father. I did treasure them. They were all I had from him. Nomemories, no photos, just a few broken sentences written in the barelylegible hand of my paternal part scratched onto renderings of places hemight have been; thus my curiosity, my fascination with postals. I wouldadd this postcard from Mabel to my small collection.That card from her would be the first of many. Her postcards fromafar and her brief letters written from her home in Macon were awaited likethe first blossoms of springtime. Little did she know what precious giftsthey seemed to me. Even still I reread them, and they bring the same joythey did those years ago.Mabel, like all of us, had lived a very sheltered life. Max, on theother hand, had already traveled widely. He knew where to go, what to do,and what would most appeal to Mabel. The tentacles of travel wrapped herup as soon as Georgia released the maternal hold. Georgia was gentle.Mabel had hardly noticed the soft embrace of her home state, but whenshe emerged from there, she was swallowed up into a whirl-wind. Shewrote to me:19

September 1, 1908Dear Little Lady,Max and I had a marvelous time. There is a world outthere that was beyond my dreams. Our small Georgia towns, evenour larger cities like Atlanta, Savannah and Macon, they are languid,serene, lazy, and I love that about them. But New York is gay, fast andlively. Seeing N.Y. was a bit like peering into a kaleidoscope, brightcolors moving, multiplying and changing shape, so different onemoment from the next. A kaleidoscope is a trick with mirrors, youknow. That is how the city is, mirrors everywhere, light and colorbouncing from shimmering surfaces, and everyone seeing himselfcoming and going. Each different place has its own individual palette.Coney Island is full of clear candy colors, sweet and gay. At the NewYork Theatre we saw a George Cohan minstrel show including a newproduction Belle of the Barber’s Ball. The theatre was opulent anddramatic and the play lively and patriotic. We also saw a moving picturestarring the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. The experience wasone I will always remember, but to be honest the story was lost on mesince the captions were in French. Max, like you, knows enough Frenchto understand the plot and he simply adored it.The gardens and parks are softer in hue, less startling than theaudacity of Coney Island or the elegance of the theatre district. Forgiveme, Lady, I am a silly girl. I mean to say only that it was exciting, moreexciting than anything I have ever done. I hope to take you placessometimes. Wouldn’t that be wonderful!I hope all is well with you, your mama and granddaddy. Maxand I will visit Albany soon, and I will share more details about ourtrip. Much love, Aunt MabelI found Mama in the kitchen, setting the table. I could not wait toread the letter to her. Reading Mabel’s short epistle out loud thrilled me.Aunt Mabel’s words seem to bubble up from the page. “I do believe thedemon of travel has Aunt Mabel in his grasp. He may never let her go,” Isaid to Mama.2020

“You may be right,” she replied. “It does seem she had a latentadventurous spirit that’s caught us all unawares. It does frighten me a bit—reminds me about your father.” She spoke slowly, pausing betweensentences, as if waiting for a reply from me. I listened dumbstruck, quitefrankly, waiting for lightning to strike here in our kitchen. “He followed thatdemon, as you call him, in and out of a few dens of iniquity. In the end, hewas trapped in a burning hell on earth, that poor lost soul. I pray that hehas found peace in heaven. I just don’t know. Sometimes I wonder if Ireally ever knew him.” Then her eyes met mine, “I’m sorry, Helene, that’snot much comfort for you, I know.”Finally I mustered the strength to speak. “No, it most certainly isnot. I don’t know why you say such things. We were speaking of Mabel,anyway, and her magnificent trip. She had such a gay ole time. Let’s notspoil the moment with morose talk of Father.” Father—that word felt strangeon my tongue. I listened to Mama speak of him often and I always wishedshe wouldn’t, but I never said so, until this moment. My boldness surprisedher, I think.She did not speak for several seconds. She continued setting theplates around the table, precisely positioning each one. When she wasdone, she looked up from the table into my face and spoke, “You are young,Helene, and will not understand. I think—no—I am afraid Mabel has becomerestless. Perhaps you will believe me to be envious of Mabel. I am not, andif Mabel has found true joy, I celebrate with her, but in my experience restlessspirits are not made to last. My mother possessed this restlessness ormaybe she was possessed by it. Your father did too. Their lives were fartoo short. Not unhappy, just short, to the sorrow of all that loved them.”“That is a sad notion. Our choices are limited to a long gloomy life,or a short gay one. Surely, that is not what you mean.”21

“You equate restlessness with happiness and solemnity with gloom.That is not the case, Helene. Contentment is the key to life. It is not thesame thing as happiness. Contentment is about complete and uttersatisfaction with oneself. It is about finding peace and joy in what is athand, never wondering if life is better or more fun somewhere or withsomeone else. Contentment is slow, steady and true. Papa Charlie isblessed with that gift. He is everything to all of us and glad to be so. Thereis nothing bad about restlessness, the fervor for adventure. We are drawnto people lit by energy and excitement. That is quite natural. I loved yourfather, that fire in his soul. I adore my little sister, but I don’t aspire to that;I am intimidated by it, that’s all.” I watched as tears welled in her eyes. Shespoke once more, “I apologize, my dear,” then she left the room.From that time on, I did not share my correspondence from AuntMabel with my mother, but Aunt Mabel still sent me postcards from all overand short letters from her home in Macon. I reveled in every one of them.In just two years I received cards from the sultry Southern cities—St.Augustine, Charleston, New Orleans and Mobile, but she also traveled toWashington, Boston, and Richmond. During those two years Aunt Mabeland Uncle Max also found time to visit us in Albany about every two or threemonths. We all loved those visits. Mabel and Max offered up tokens andtales and the three of us devoured all they served up.During these years, my mother was courted by a dull, pallid sort offellow named Clark Anthony Grantham. Grant, as he liked to be called,was never in my mind or Papa Charlie’s worthy of my lovely mother. I don’tremember my own father, but if Grant was a reflection of her judgment…Well,I will not speak ill of the father I never knew. Aunt Mabel had said manytimes, my father was a beautiful man, lively and smart. His shortcomingwas that he never could stay in the same place long. Grant, on the otherhand, loomed over us like a perpetual gray cloud. I kept looking for thesilver lining, but I could not find it and in March of 1909, my mother marriedhim, more out of need than love. Papa Charlie was growing older, andquite frankly, she was getting older. was his own, not just the leftovers ofsome sea-faring wanderer.2222

Mama and Grant wasted no time; after fourteen years of nocultivation, the soil of her womb was as fertile as ever, and in January 1910,my brother Henry Charles Grantham was born. Three months later Mama,Grant, Henry and I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. That day, I will alwaysremember, was the saddest one I had known. Mama had asked PapaCharlie to come along, but he had said, “No, Georgia is my home, I couldnever be happy anywhere else.” He said what I thought. For me, it wasn’tjust leaving Georgia, it was leaving Papa Charlie. He was the only father Ihad ever known, and I could not imagine a home without him. Neithercould I imagine this home in Albany without Mama and me. Papa Charliewas going to be very lonely. The thought of it made me cry a trail of tearsfrom South Georgia to Ohio.After we left Albany, Aunt Mabel checked in on Papa Charlie. Shewrote me from there.Postmark: Albany, GA May 12, 1910To: Miss Helene Altheimer, 357 Hearne Av, Avondale Cincinnati,OhioDear Little Lady,I’m sorry you and Henry are sick. Hope you are feeling a gooddeal better. We are going for a river ride today. Wish you all werehere to go along with us. I am having a very pleasant visit in Albany.Tell Mama and Grantham I send lots of love. Kiss little Henry for meand a good kiss for yourself.Fondly, Aunt MabelThe picture on the flip side of the postcard was a lovelyrendering captioned “Steam Boat on Flint River Albany Ga.”My life changed greatly when we moved to Ohio, and I was veryunhappy there. I could not wait to finish high school so that I could return toGeorgia and attend Female Wesleyan College. Neither Mama nor Mabelhad attended college; in fact no one in our family had. I felt fortunate,indeed and I counted the days to my graduation.23

Sixteen months after we moved to Ohio, I was packed and ready tofind my way back to my beloved Georgia. Papa Charlie had offered to rentme a room, but since I was attending college in Macon, Mabel and Max hadinsisted I move in with them. Of course, I agreed. I made many friends atcollege and I felt blessed and privileged to be able to continue my studies,but the best part of this time was that spent with Mabel and Max. In thesummer of 1912, I returned to Ohio until school resumed in September.Max was planning a grand trip in honor of Mabel’s twenty-fifth birthday.They were traveling abroad. Max and Mabel had traveled extensively inthe United States, but neither had ever traveled to Europe; moreover, theywould be traveling aboard the extraordinarily beautiful luxury liner, theKaiserin Auguste Victoria. They would travel from New York to Hamburgwith stopovers in Dover and Cherbourg. Mabel mailed a postcard from theHudson River Terminal. The postcard featured a rendering of the magnificentKaiserin Auguste Victoria.Postmark: Hudson River Terminal, August 1, 1912To: Miss Helene Altheimer, 357 Hearne Av, Avondale Cincinnati,OhioDear Little Lady,I must begin my postal that way, even though you are all grownup.We are traveling to Europe aboard this magnificent ship. Can youimagine! As always, love to you and all the rest. Affectionately, MabelWhen I read this card, even now, I can hear Mabel’s voice saying“Can you imagine!” I can see her sweet smile and twinkling eyes. I canfeel her excitement, even though I never saw Mabel again. The day beforethis last postcard arrived we received a telegram from Max that Mabel hadcontracted pneumonia on board the ship and died. The telegram, with itsshort, unspecific message felt quite like a punch in the face. I wasdevastated, as was Mama. Poor Max, I had thought. No man could love awoman so much as he loved Mabel. I wondered how he would survive thejourney back. I wondered how he would be able to climb out of bed everyday. I wondered if he would ever smile again. I supposed that the fireburning inside the heart and soul of Max Sheridan was snuffed out the daysweet Mabel left us.2424

In September I traveled back to Macon, this time taking the boardingroom Papa Charlie had arranged. Papa Charlie, the Sheridan family andI were all there in Macon when Max’s long sad journey home alone ended.Max was much changed as we all expected, but I was glad I was there.Maybe someday a little of the “Old Max” would return. Aunt Mabel wouldwant Max to be happy and we all reminded him so. It has been said, “Lifegoes on.” And it does. After awhile we all went about our business just asbefore. I continued my education at Wesleyan and was doing quite well,in fact. On occasions I would attend church with the Sheridans andafterwards we would all enjoy a Sunday dinner together. Max was fortunateto have the diversion and the sustenance that a family business provided,but every time I saw Max, I immediately became aware of how much hemissed Mabel. I wondered sometimes if the encounters with me prolongedor even prompted his perpetual somberness.I was in the midst of my third year of college when on the ill-fatedday “a shot was heard round the world.” World War I began. Citizens inthis country watched the upheaval in Europe with grave interest. I couldhave completed my studies at Wesleyan in 1915, but decided at the urgingof my professors to pursue additional studies. Early in 1916, Max,encouraged by one of his college friends, was convinced he had the idealqualifications to become a part of the newly formed LaFayette Escadrille,a group of young American men being trained as fighter pilots to assist theFrench in the war against the Germans. Mr. Sheridan approached me atchurch to let me know Max was gone. “Max’s friend convinced him hewas just the kind of man needed,” he said. “He’s young, in good physicalcondition possessing good vision and reflexes. His rudimentary Frenchand skills as a marksman, well…” Mr. Sheridan had lowered his eyes andnever finished his sentence. Before he walked off he said, “I’m sorry, mydear. I’m sure you will worry over him as we will. We will all pray for him.”I had heard of this. A few American men were moved to assume apost in this foreign war, even though President Wilson still spoke adamantlyagainst the United State’s entry. I supposed it to be a noble occupation,but I feared it was a deadly course to say the least. Max was still mourningMabel and he had become desperately restless. I worried that his was adestructive restlessness.25

Max wrote me often, and I wrote back without fail. His first letterswere apologetic. “I’m sorry I left without saying goodbye,” he wrote. “Howcowardly not to face you and explain why I needed to do this!”Indeed, I would have appreciated the opportunity to talk Max out ofthis dangerous mission, but I had no right to admonish him in any way, andI said as much in my first letter to him. The tone of his letters became morepositive, as time progressed. He said that it was extremely dangerous anddifficult work, but he was doing well. He was a natural at flying and hislanguage studies at college had proved to be most beneficial. “The worldis becoming smaller,” he advised. “We must be intelligent and well-informedcitizens.” He would occasionally send me columns clipped from Frenchnewspapers. Sometimes I would write him in French. This pleased him asit offered us both the opportunity to practice our mutual second language.The summer after I graduated from Wesleyan, I received the newsthat Max had been injured. He had lost his right arm, but was otherwiserecovering. He would be coming home soon. A few days later, I received aletter in a barely legible hand.Lucieulle, FranceAugust 24, 1916Dear Helene,I am sure you have heard of my injuries, but please rest easy. Iam well. I have had much time to think, laid up as I am. I haveconsidered many of the world’s problems and a few of my own. Iknow you, of all people, know how much I loved Mabel. When shedied and too long after, I believed I could never be happy again, but Iam beginning to think otherwise. I am, at the very least, content, for Iam fortunate, more than I thought. Many people in this world are notas fortunate as I. I have learned much while I have been here, but tobe honest I am looking forward to coming home. I am coming hometo you, if you will have me. I am broken, in more ways than one. Youknow that, but I believe you love me anyway, and I am certain I loveyou. You may be thinking about Mabel. Mabel loved us both. Shewould be happy that you and I could find life again without her. Thatis what it would be for me, Helene. Life again. Think on it and sayYES. All the love I have to give, MAX2626

After I read Max’s letter a hundred times or so, I slid his note backinto the envelope and opened the lid of my wooden lap desk. I untied thebundle that was the collected correspondence from Max to me and addedthis one to the top. Just next to that bundle was another bundle, all thosenotes and cards from Mabel. On top was the last postcard I had receivedfrom her, the onewith the rendering of the Kaiserine Auguste Victoria. Just underneaththat card was another, a picture of Mabel, Max and me. On the flip side thenote read.Postmark Macon, GA July 21, 1912To: Miss Helene Altheimer, 357 Hearne Av, Avondale Cincinnati,OhioDear Little Lady: Isn’t it a wonderful photo? Our sister, ourbest friend, Max and I miss you desperately. We cannot wait ‘til youreturn in September. In the meantime, have you heard? Max is takingme to Europe for my twenty-fifth birthday. He is simply the besthusband in the world! We will not be back before you return, but arearranging for the Sheridan’s to help settle you back in.All our love, Max and Mabel“He is simply the best husband in the world!” she had proclaimed. Whata grand recommendation from the dearest person I had ever known.27

MAEGANMCCOLLUMTHE CUTDelilah gazed into her bathroom mirror. Each sob she let out soundedmore and more excruciating until at last they started to gag her. She couldn’tkeep her eyes off her long, bragged on hair. Everyone wanted it. WhenDelilah was fifteen a woman offered her two hundred dollars to get it cut, sothat she could make a nice wig out of it, but her father wouldn’t let her.“We’re all known for somethin’,” her father had said, “if you aren’t known,then you’re a nobody. And nobodys waste into nothing or become criminals,and there ain’t gonna be no criminals in my family.” Delilah didn’t have theheart of a criminal, but she, like everyone else, could waste into the obliviona small town like her Gu-Win, Alabama offered in an instant without thatgorgeous, envied hair.Standing there bare foot, Delilah stared at her coveted hair througha glaze of tears. If only she hadn’t run into Janine Rhodes in Wal-Mart,then Delilah wouldn’t have been crying with swollen lids. It was the firsttime in ten years that Janine had seen her, and she didn’t even bother toturn her choppy-haired head to say hello much less how great Delilah’s hairstill was. Delilah nearly cried it was so horrible. Right after high school thesame thing happened. Only it was Mrs. Faulk, her high-school Spanishteacher that she saw at Fred’s, but she’d remedied it by going from brunetteto blonde, had been that way for two years, and had met Sammy the dayafter the change. They had been dating ever since. Changing her hair hadrenewed her life, and Janine’s ignorance meant it was time for anotherrenewal. So, after thinking it over for fifteen minutes—the time it took herto finish grocery shopping—Delilah went down the hair color aisle, grabbeda box of dark brown Clairol, and one of those neat caramel highlighting kitswith the neon green brush, all while Miley Cyrus sang about some party inthe U.S.A.2828

Delilah had never put hair color on anyone before, let alone herself,but it was only twenty dollars for both boxes, less than a quarter of whatshe would have paid at the beauty shop, and that was all she could affordwhile Sammy was stretched out on their couch with a severe case ofbronchitis. Three hours after she began coloring and highlighting, the horrorof what she’d done came to the surface. Her once thick, perfectly blendedhair was now jet black with giant orange stripes throughout. When shecombed through it, hair fell out in brittle orange wads. Her once fluffy layerswere now hacked, completely gapped up. In her desperation, she hadtaken her purple sewing scissors and done her best to make a clean cut.Each whack left another hole, which had to be whacked again until all Delilahwas left with was hair that reached her ears, and in spots, touched hershoulders—the right side longer than the left, the gaudy orange stripes stilljust as vulgar short as they were long. She hadn’t moved since, or ceasedher ghastly whaling.“Calm down!” Sammy yelled from the hallway, before paying forevery syllable with rapid succeeding coughs, the sound of stocked up mucusin each one. “Dell, baby it can’t be all that bad,” he said entering the bathroomwearing a pair of faded black sweatpants. A coughing fit took hold when hesaw her.“What do you know?!” Taking her blood-shot eyes off the mirror,she whipped around to face him. “You might as well be the walking dead.Just go and lay back down before you kill over. I don’t care if I have to takeout a loan, somehow I’m going to come up with the money to get—” Shepulled at a strand, holding it between her fingers, the incandescent lightabove catching the orange making it appear positively neon. “This messfixed! First thing Monday morning!”Clearing his throat, he leaned his back against the maple doorframe.“It’ll be all right. You’ll get it fixed back.” He looked at her, brown eyeswatching beneath tired lids—a grimace forming on his face.“I don’t know how you can say such a thing! Has the bronchitismade you blind too?!” Turning away, she glared at the mirror, her cheekscovered in running mascara.29

Before Sammy could offer a rebuttal the phone rang. He slippedhis bony fingers around the white handset, pulling it off its cradle on thewall. “Hello,” he said as sickly as ever. “Yeah. Here ya go. Yes. I will.”He held the phone out to Delilah, but she shook her head. Coveringthe mouth piece, he motioned again, mouthing, “Fran.”Fran was her boss; she had no choice. Taking the phone fromhim, she wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Hi, Fran.”“Delilah, dear, I’m glad I got you. I was just callin’ to remind youthat you promised to come to church tomorrow. And I wanted to let youknow that you should be there by at least ten forty-five,” Fran said, heraged voice giggling as she finished.“I can’t beca—”Fran interrupted, her words stumbling over one another. “I hopeyou aren’t about to say you can’t. You’ve been tellin’ me you would forthree weeks now.”“I’m really sorry but—”Her voice rose, tone growing serious. “I can’t believe this!”Remembering the fate of Cheryl Loyd who’d been fired the weekbefore because she lied to Fran about the existence of a lilac flowerarrangement, knowing she’d need her income at the flower shop to get herhair fixed, and realizing that Fran Davis had always been sensitive andwary—burn her twice and she’d snuff out the next flame even if it neversparked up—Delilah interjected, “I’m coming! I was just gonna say I can’tremember how to get there.” She faked a chuckle. “I’m sorry. I knowyou’ve already given me directions once, but the post-it I had it on musthave fallen out of my purse.”“Oooohhhh,” Fran sighed, bubbly again. “It’s right off highwaytwenty-three. You take a left and go about—”Delilah glanced over at Sammy who was staring at the floor. Shefollowed his gaze, finding that it rested on the mound of black and orangeshe’d cut off. The sight of it made her nerves jump.“—two miles and you just go right on in there.”Tracing her nails against the pseudo-marble counter, Delilah said,“All right, Fran. I’ll see you there.”“Oh, Delilah, it just warms my heart that you’ve decided to come.”3030

“Yeah. Gotta go now. Sammy’s really sick. Should check on him.”“Okay, I’ll be prayin’ for him. See you tomorrow. Bye-bye.”A familiar click signaled the end of the call. She set the phoneback on the cradle, and looked back at her mirror, the reflection scarred bya meandering bunch of jet-black and neon-striped hair.It took Delilah half an hour to get what little hair she had left tuckedinto a Scarlet O’haraian straw hat, white ribbon wrapped around its middle.Sammy couldn’t see out of the passenger side window and nearly pulledout in front of a pulpwood truck; he blamed it on the bronchitis instead ofthe hat to avoid a screaming match his lungs couldn’t take. Delilah clutchedhis hand the whole way to church, something she hadn’t done since herfather’s funeral three years ago.Sammy spoke up as he turned in beside the maroon church sign,“There’s nothin’ for you to be afraid of. It’s just church.” He smiled at her.“Sammy, I’m not afraid of church. I’m afraid of what people aregonna say about my hair,” she twiddled her thumbs in her lap.“With that big ole hat on, ain’t nobody gonna see your hair.” Helaughed, getting out of the car.“Should’a left you at home.” She stepped out of the car, sticking herblack heel into the gravel. Wobbly, she walked toward the church entrance.Fran was standing on the white steps, her husband Frank behind her. ThePorters, who owned the town building supply, were with them, but Delilahdidn’t recognize the rest of the five entrance guardians, all of them abovesixty years old. She sighed, relieved.Sammy pulled at his polo shirt, making sure it was tucked into theback of his jeans. “See, we don’t even know these people, Dell,” hewhispered.She didn’t reply, but the anxiety was slowly leaving her.“Delilah?! Is that you?” The voice was husky, and there was onlyone woman Delilah knew who sounded like that.“Rhoda?” She hunted for the voice.“Yes! It is you!” The skeletor of her senior class wrapped herbony arms around Delilah’s shoulders, but she’d gained a bump.“It’s me,” she said, unsteady.31

“Girl! The last time I saw you was in the bank. Like three monthsago.” It had been six. “How are you?” Rhoda said in that voice that neverfit her build.“I’m fine.” She didn’t want to say, “good” or “great,” fine was enoughof a stretch for her while standing in a church yard.“That’s good.” Her big blue eyes started wondering aroundDelilah’s face.“How are you? And . . . .” Fading, she pointed at Rhoda’s swellingbelly.“I’m good.” Her “good” always sounded more like “gud”; Rhoda’svoice was simply too deep for double o’s. “Yeah, I’m pregnant good.”“Ro-ro, don’t go off leavin’ me with your little heathen,” Karen,Rhoda’s younger sister, came marching up, her hefty build and high voicedirectly opposite her sister’s. She drug little Larry behind her.“How old is Larry now?”At the mention, he pulled at his khaki pant’s pocket, straiteninghis muddled clothes. “Me six.”The last time she’d seen the boy “me” had been “four” and wasracing around a table at Pizza-Hut screaming for a “cheeff stick.”“No, Larry, that’s not right. Say it right.” Rhoda sighed as if shewent through this routine in her sleep.“I . . . I six,” he said surrendering—a slump in his shoulders theresult.“Delilah, your hat is just gorgeous! Almost as gorgeous as yourhair.” Leave it to Karen to remind her.“Thank you.” She said it so fast it melted in the air until it was justa k and a u. “What are you doing now Karen?” She asked even thoughshe knew.“I run the register at the Texaco in Winfield,” Karen answered,gazing past Delilah. “Is that Jackie? Oh, it is! I better go talk to her aboutthat Henderson girl’s baby-shower this afternoon.” She returned her attentionto Delilah and pasted on a smile. “It was sure nice seeing you.”“Uh huh.” Delilah nodded, careful not to lose her hat.“Larry, what are you doing?!” Rhoda yelled across the churchyard—her son waving his sock in the air, Sunday-shoe long forgotten. “See youlater, girl,” she said, marching over to her son.3232

For the first time since Rhoda and Karen came over, Delilah realizedthat Sammy wasn’t beside her. She spotted him standing in front of thesteps, having just finished a conversation with Mr. Nolen—one of the meatbutchers at the Pigly Wiggly.“There you are,” she said, patting him on the back of the shoulder.He faced her. “I was just tellin’ Mr. Nolen how much we like theirground chuck.” Turning toward the stairs, he pointed up at Fran. “Ready?”Delilah went ahead of him; she touched Fran on the elbow. “Hi.”“Hi! Oh, Delilah and Sammy! Sammy?” Fran took a step back. “Ithought you were sick.”He cleared his throat. “I am sick. But it’s nothing contagious.”His clogged voice was convincing. “Bless your heart!” Fran turnedto her husband who was talking to the Porters. “Frank. Frank.” Rolling hereyes, she smacked him on the shoulder with her purse. “Frank!”“Yes, dear,” he said between clinched teeth. The Porters went onin the church.“Frank, have you met Sammy?”“No, I haven’t.” He smiled, genuine charm showing.“Nice to meet you.” Sammy shook his hand before his body wasracked by the coughs again.Frank took his hand back, rubbing it up and down his navy pantsleg. “He sounds a little sick,” he said, directing his attention to Delilah.“He is. But it’s not contagious.” She pointed at Frank, makingsure he understood there was no need to worry.“Delilah, how’d you get all that pretty hair up in that hat?” Franasked, innocence all over her wrinkled face.“Sammy helped me,” she blurted.“Frank!” Fran smacked his arm again, bringing him out of theconversation he and Sammy had started. “This man,” she said pointing atSammy, “is sick and yet, he’s up helpin’ his wife fix her hair. And if he’d dothat I bet he’s been doin’ all kinds of things around the house. Why is itevery time you get a cold you’re useless for half a month?”33

Frank’s lips went crooked. After a deep inhale, he changed thesubject. “Shouldn’t we be going inside and getting a seat?”Fran looked down at her watch. “Goodness gracious! It is alreadyfive till.” She took his arm and the two of them walked through the whitedoors. “Hurry on now. Y’all can sit with us,” she called after Sammy andDelilah.The sixty-five degree air hit them with a rush as they entered.Delilah kept her head down, hidden beneath the brim of her hat. Fran andFrank scooted down the third pew. The thought of sitting so close to thefront caused Delilah’s stomach to turn; she swallowed the lump forming inher throat. Shuffling her feet, she went between the pews. She ploppeddown on the blue cushioned seat. Sammy sat beside her. Her legs shookup and down on her toes, and her hands were in her lap rubbing againstone another over and over.Sammy took her right hand in his, leaned in and whispered, “Idon’t know these folks.” He surveyed the pews. “Ain’t nobody here.”Delilah raised her head, beginning to relax, as she looked overher left shoulder at unfamiliar faces who were conversing amongstthemselves. The only person that was looking their way was a ridiculouslyold lady, couldn’t have been a day under one hundred, who seemed to beon the verge of a Rip-Van-Winkle nap. Delilah put her feet back on thefloor, heels popping. Then, she looked over her right shoulder. Her headsnapped back to the front, her feet bouncing wildly again. She jerked herhand away from Sammy’s grasp.“What’s wrong?” Sammy asked, clearing his throat.“Nothing.” She twisted her hands.“Don’t lie. Especially in chur—” His cough got the best of him,bringing all kinds of stares from those around them.“He’s got bronchitis!” Fran bellowed to the middle-age couplesitting in front of them.“Well, bless his heart,” the woman said, turning to give them asmile, her lips a vibrant red.“I had that last winter. No fun at all,” the man said, his graying haircatching the light.Sammy nodded, and the middle-aged couple faced the front again.3434

The Porters are back there. And Karen and Rhoda. And Mr.Nolen,” Delilah whispered. “I didn’t see any more, but that’s enough.”He glanced over his shoulder, inspecting the same crowd she’dnamed. “Don’t matter.” He turned back around. “You got that hat on.”A short man with a jolly stomach grabbed the microphone. Hestood behind the oak pulpit, leaned across it, and started announcing events.“Next Sunday we’re gonna have a Barbeque after church, so bringsomething if you can and if you can’t . . . get ready to eat a lot.” He chuckledmore than the other fifty people in the congregation. “And Saturday thetwenty-third the youth will be goin’ on a canoe trip to—”“Excuse me.” An elderly male voice whispered behind her. Hepoked her shoulder. “Excuse me,” he said louder.“Yes.” Delilah reluctantly faced him.“Can you please take off that hat? My granddaughter can’t seeanything.” He smiled, wrinkles around his eyes deepening.Delilah’s eyes nearly popped right out; she looked down at theseven or eight year old girl. She had big blonde curls, bright green eyes,and was chewing on a wad of gum.The woman, on the other side of the little girl, joined theconversation, “Please. If you don’t mind.”“I’m sorry, but I can’t.” Delilah said quickly, turning back around, achorus of heaving sighs following. Out of the corner of her eye, she couldsee Fran glancing back and forth between her and the family behind her.The choir began to assemble at the front of the church. A seemingly5’ 10" brunette beauty with olive skin joined their ranks. She wore a simplegrey, pencil skirted dress with a wide red belt around her waist—a regularwannabe model and Delilah hated her for it. Her hair spilled over hershoulders, shiny—exactly how Delilah had envisioned when she picked upthat Clairol box. Standing beside the wanna-be-model was a pimple-facedboy. He had curly blond hair, and a pocket protector hung from his shirt—definitely a nerd. The wanna-be model and the nerd opened their hymnals,and the choir began to sing “Just a Little Talk with Jesus.” Behind Delilah,the little girl’s voice was sweet, soothing even, but then the song ended andthe choir dispersed, taking their places among the rest of the congregation.35

The jolly-bellied man came back up to pulpit. “Ushers if you’ll comewe’ll take up the offering.” Frank walked to the front with the other ushers.They took the offering plates from the altar-table and made their way throughthe congregation.Someone tapped on Delilah’s right shoulder, her blood pressureshot up about twenty points. Whipping her head around, she looked, andthen, looked down.“Excuse me. But I . . . I can’t see anything,” the child said, bigeyes trained on Delilah.“It’s not a show. Ain’t nothing to see,” Delilah whispered quickly.“But, I want to se—”“Too bad. You don’t get everything you want,” she quietly snapped.The child’s bottom lip began to quiver.“What does she want?” Sammy leaned in, his voice raspy.“That little girl like you?” Fran asked with a goofy grin.Delilah kept her head down, her mind fighting to come up with asolution.“Actually she was asking this lady to take off her hat because shecan’t see a thing,” the grandfather interrupted.“Oh.” Fran addressed Delilah, confused face full on. “Why aren’tyou taking it off?”Frank handed Fran the offering plate, shutting them all up. Frandropped her tithing envelope in, and passed the plate to Delilah, who passedit to Sammy, who passed it back to the other usher who’s handle barmustache that didn’t fit his face. Then just as quickly as it came the peacewent.“Can you please take it off?” The woman sat up, her hand on theback of the pew behind Delilah’s shoulder, tone no longer friendly butprotective—the mother no doubt.Fran pursed her lips.Everyone stood to pray over the offering. Delilah bowed her headand prayed that they wouldn’t ask her to take her hat off again. When theyfinished, a tall lanky man stood up, carrying a worn Bible. He placed it onthe pulpit. “It’s good to see you all here today. Nice to see a few unfamiliarfaces. If someone hasn’t already said it to you, welcome. We’re glad tosee you.”3636

“Please.” The mother began again.“Delilah, for goodness sakes, just take the bloomin’ hat off,” Fransaid.Delilah glanced back and forth between Sammy and Fran, findingjudgment in both their faces. She thought about her father, what he wouldtell her to do—”hold your head up.” Putting her hands on the brim, shegripped it, as tightly as she could until it began to curl. Closing her eyes,she lifted it off, jet black-striped orange hair falling out. She took a deepbreath, never glancing down. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Sammylook away; she thought it was sweet of him to take at least one pair of eyesoff her.“Delilah, what happened to your . . . to your hair?” Fran gasped,voice a screaming whisper.She watched the man at the pulpit. “I was trying to do somethingnew, and it didn’t work out. Gonna get it fixed as soon as I can.”“Tomorrow,” Sammy added.“Oh, gracious,” Fran said, turning back to the front.The lanky man continued—”And next week we need all membersto be here for a vote”—but Delilah wasn’t listening. She felt eyes all overher. She scanned the room, moving her head as little as possible, so Frandidn’t look her way again. As far she could tell with her peripheral vision, noone was paying her any attention.“Today’s scripture is from Matthew chapter six.” The lanky manput on his reading glasses and opened his Bible.Sammy began to hack. Delilah slapped his back, while he hunchedover, fist against mouth. The sound reverberated through the whole churchas if diseased cells were singing a chorus while they flew out of him. Delilahscanned the crowd, everyone was watching her—Frank, Fran, the Porters,Mr. Nolen, Rhoda and Karen, that nerdy high school kid and the wannabemodel, that one hundred and fifty year old woman, and all the other peopleshe didn’t know. Every direction she looked there were people watchingher. The expressions on their faces were all identical, shock and horrorwith a hint of fear. Sammy kept coughing.“Something needs to be done about that.” She heard Frank whisperto Fran over Sammy’s drum roll of disease.37

She winced. The whole congregation must have thought the samething, that light above her couldn’t have helped those orange streaks any.She imagined she looked like Wilma and Betty mixed together. Someonegiggled behind her, probably the wannabe model laughing at that samethought. The nerd was probably saying she was Cruella Deville and CarrotTop’s love child or something else equally as lame, yet funny enough tomake the wannabe model laugh. Sammy’s cough ceased, but Delilah didn’tdare look around to see all those faces. She held her head up, listening tothe lanky man.“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth andrust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” He paused,his brow crinkled in concentration.The sound of a pants leg swishing made Delilah twitch. It was awoman across the aisle; she was reading along in her Bible. Nothing to beafraid of. Then a whisper came from somewhere behind her. “That.” Justa preposition, but she knew what that was. Studying her hair, withouttouching it, she looked all around her head, crossing her eyes to stare at astray strand that’d fallen to her forehead.“Dell,” Sammy said, his fingers tapping against his knee.“What?” She whispered.“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven—”“You gotta . . . you gotta put it back.” He didn’t look at her, justkept tapping his knee.“What?”“—where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt—”“The hat!” He said aloud, the force of the burst causing a fit ofcoughs.“Really!” The mother behind them gasped.“Shhhh,” Fran reprimanded.“I told you something had to be done,” Frank muttered.“—and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”Delilah leaned down to get the hat from the floor. Sammy’s handdashed out for it, wildly frantic—his coughs thunderous. But, Fran snatchedit up, frowning at them both. “What is wrong with you people?!” She askedin a muted shout.3838

Delilah stared at the man she lived with, her mouth held openand soundless. Eyes on the hat, he clenched his teeth, the musclesin his jaw trembling, face turning red. In that moment, she didn’trecognize him at all; she couldn’t even feel the congregation’s stares.“For where your treasure is—”“Well, it’s her hair, ain’t it?” Fran asked.Sammy stood up, and with the stride of a wounded warrior,walked down the aisle and out the front doors. He said nothing.“—there will your heart be also.”And Delilah watched him go. It cut her.39

MEREDITHBROGDENFAITHAs a slow roll of thunder sounded in the distance, she climbed outof her bed. Her small body tingled with hopeful anticipation, but she shookher head to get rid of her thoughts. It wouldn’t rain. It never did. Quickly,she pulled off her thin shift and replaced it with the light blue dress hermother had laid out for her the night before. Bounding happily out of herroom, she greeted her parents with an excited squeal and a hug aroundtheir knees.“Is my little girl excited about going to the ceremony today?” herfather asked, picking her up and whirling her around the room.“Come here, Fayanna, so I can fix your hair,” her mother calledgently, the smooth, dark folds of her dress clinging to her slender body.Fayanna skipped over to a small chair and plopped down into it,grimacing as her mother began to brush her light brown curls and pin themaway from her face. Humming softly, she watched her father murmurabsentminded prayers as he wandered around the open room in the goldrobes marking him as a priest.“Now, Fayanna, you are going to have to be careful in your newdress. You can’t play with the other children today. You’ll have to stay withme. Understand?” her stately mother asked, a wisp of golden hair fallinginto the older woman’s face.Nodding, she jumped up from the chair and into her father’s arms.“Do you think the gods will be pleased with our sacrifice this year,Gabriel?” her mother asked, her worried eyes searching his face.Gabriel cuddled his daughter closer. “I don’t know, Eliane. I don’tsee why this year will be any different.”4040

Eliane smiled, her thin lips pressed tightly together. “We had bettergo. It wouldn’t do if you were late for the most important day of the year.”Taking her hand, he led her out of the house, still cradling Fayannain his other arm; the young girl sighed softly, already bored.Chuckling, Gabriel gently placed Fayanna on her feet. “Stay withyour mother, little one.”As she watched him walk away, Eliane pulled Fayanna to her side.Holding tightly to her mother’s hand, Fayanna’s anticipatory exuberance ofthe approaching ceremony slowly faded into a melancholic watchfulnessas she observed the somber mood of the crowd moving around her. Asmall squeeze of her hand from Eliane instilled a small amount of couragein the young girl, but she clung closely to her mother; the undeniable touchof fear on the people’s faces causing a shiver to run down her spine. Thecrowd gathered oppressively close to the stone altar; rooted firmly in theexact center of the small village, it rose into the sky. The large rocks of theintimidating edifice had always fascinated her; their strange rusty coloring,so unlike the coloring of other rocks, reminded her of the loose red dirt ofthe streets. Curiosity drove Fayanna to move closer, but her mother quicklytightened her grip on Fayanna’s hand. Whispers swept through the throngof people as they parted to make a pathway for the approaching priestesses.Fayanna watched the procession of girls chosen to be in the service of thegods as they sang prayers to the foreboding heavens; all clothed in shining,spotless white, the priestesses were merely young girls on the threshold ofblooming into womanhood. As they made their way to the altar, the priestsfollowed behind. In their midst, a frightened man in ragged, filthy clothesbabbled to himself. The small amount of sunlight that managed to breakthrough the dark canopy made the priests’ golden robes shimmer, creatinga protective, intimidating aura of light. Fayanna started to smile when shesaw her father among the priests, but his stern, hard face banished herhappiness, driving her to cower against Eliane’s side.41

As the priests surrounded the altar and their esteemed elders mounted theold stones, the people began to cry out prayers to the heavens, begging forrelief from the drought that had plagued them for the past six years. Raisinghis arms, the oldest priest quieted the loud requests of the crowd andmotioned for the babbling prisoner to be placed on the altar. The mancowered pathetically at the priest’s feet, rocking back and forth as he muttereddesperate prayers to deaf ears.Looking out over the crowd, the priest proclaimed, “This plague,this drought was set upon this land by the gods to punish our people for ourunbelief. Just as we pluck the weeds from the ground, so must we cullthose from our midst who hold back the relief the ground needs from itsimplacable thirst due to their blasphemy and evil deeds. In answer to suchrebellion, we pour out these lives on the altar, the gods’ table, so the godswill break the lock on the gates of the heavens and allow life-giving rain tosoak the parched dirt underneath our very feet. May the gods find pleasurein this sacrifice we give to them today.”As he finished speaking, the priest pulled a gleaming knife from hisrobes and slit the throat of the prisoner kneeling before him, a sadisticsmile spreading over his face as the blood spilled onto the worn stones andsplattered the ground with brilliant red. In horror, Fayanna screamed untilher mother managed to make her stop, but the priests had already locatedthe source of the disruption, and two moved quickly through the crowd totake hold of the child.“Please,” Eliane begged, fear showing plainly on her bronze face. “Shedoesn’t know any better. She’s too young. Please, forgive her, forgive us.”His lips twisted into a smirk, a young priest looked down at her,keeping a painful grip on Fayanna’s small arm. “That is not an excuse. I’msure, though, that we could make a compromise…”“Take your hands off my daughter,” Gabriel commanded as heappeared at his wife’s side, his eyes flashing with anger.4242

With an obliging smile, the young priest let Fayanna go. Shepromptly ran sobbing into her mother’s arms.“But she broke our laws,” the other priest protested, stepping forwardto grab Fayanna again.Gabriel quickly turned a threatening stare on the man standing beforehim. “Are you suggesting that a six-year-old girl should be punished like agrown man? She is merely over-sensitive and doesn’t understand thesacrifice yet. Believe me, this will never happen again, and I will deal withthis in my own home. Now, go attend to your duties. We can’t leave acarcass in the street.”Bowing their heads in mock deference to their elder, the two priestswalked off in the direction of the altar, clearing the crowd away from thebody. Fayanna watched through tearful eyes as the people dispersed, stilluttering prayers and chants towards the heavens.“Did they hurt her?” Gabriel asked urgently, examining his daughter.Eliane shook her head, “I don’t think so. Gabriel, the priest, whenhe said…did he mean…”Pulling her into his arms, he placed a gentle kiss on his wife’sforehead. “They are becoming more open with their misconduct. Soon, myinfluence will not be enough to keep them under control, but I can promisethat I will never let them touch you or Fayanna.”Looking into his dark eyes, she gave him a slight smile beforepressing a kiss to his lips. “You should go. I’ll take care of Fayanna.”Nodding, he kissed his daughter’s cheek and hurried off to the templeto join the other priests.43

“Why, Mama? Why did they do that?” Fayanna asked pitifully,drawing Eliane’s attention back to her.Kneeling down in front of her, Eliane wiped the tears off thegirl’s face. “You can never scream like that again, Fayanna. It isagainst the law, and your father can only protect you for so long.”“But why did he have to die?” she persisted, forgetting hertears in her desperation to get an answer.Sighing, her mother shook her head, “I know it doesn’t makesense. But you have to understand one thing. We serve the godsand the priests are the only ones who know the gods’ wills. Younever question what a priest tells you. They will destroy you if youdo. So, you just have to close your eyes and hope for somethinggood to come. There’s nothing else you can do. Now, stop yourcrying, little one. It will be better tomorrow. I promise.4444

WILLFRANCISIN FOR THE LONG HAULIt caught my attention while I reached for the faucet. Whereveryou go… There you are. I’d never been unsettled from bathroom scrawllike this before, but there it was next to erotic drawings and racial slurs,inked in the brightest of red markers. I thought that maybe I heard it in abar once, but I’m the kind of guy who remembers Cracker Jackphilosophy like that. As I let the spewing tap water warm my achinghands, I couldn’t help but eye the other graffiti. Names with phonenumbers that begged for a partner in every which way. A Smuttyreproduction of the Mona Lisa who flashed anyone who cared to look.In one corner, a larger gang insignia of The Latin Kings: A crown wearinglion, roaring hate. My gaze traveled back to the red. It made me feel asif this had been my longest haul in years. From Needles, California, toRockland, Maine, with nothing but Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and atrailer full of cement mix to keep me company.I finished up in the bathroom and headed for the coffee in theback of the filling station. Pouring the last of the pot into a warpedstyrofoam cup, I caught a glimpse of an old man in the corner of my eye.The man wore a warm smile, a grease spotted mechanic’s uniform andsported a frayed red baseball cap. He rose from a lawn chair in the frontof the store, pulling himself up with a soft groan. I noticed he had thesame characteristics as the chair: aged, but comforting. Slightly hobbling,he walked to where I stood. He slowly looked me up and down while Istirred in powdered creamer. I didn’t know what to do.45

This happened sometimes when I was unshaven and wearing dirtyclothes, but today I thought I was decently dressed. Did I look like I didn’thave the money to pay for a cup of coffee? Quickly I searched my reflectionin the window for anything that might make him think so. And then his handfound its way on my shoulder as he welcomed me with a strange greeting,“I was wondering when you’d pay this place a visit, Bill.”The sweet pretty things are in bed now of courseThe city fathers they’re trying to endorseThe reincarnation of Paul Revere’s horsebut the town has no need to be nervous.Can’t seem to find my route. Called it in a couple dozen times. Noanswer. Think there’s some sort of storm on the other end. I can hear voicesbut they sound like they are far away—just talking to someone else, maybeover a meal. My maps are soaked and unreadable. My glove box hadsomehow leaked. It hadn’t rained once.Now the wintertime is coming,The windows are filled with frost.I went to tell everybody,But I could not get across.Her eyes were glazed over until I asked where I was. Shakingas though she had just woken from a nightmare, the woman stared atmy empty mug. Slowly she looked up and smiled as if there wasnothing strange about the previous scene.“Refill, Hun?”“Uh….sure. I asked if you knew where we are. Seem to bekinda lost.”“Well, the rig drivers call it No Man’s Land.” I wondered if thiswas some sort of joke.“No man’s land you say?”4646

“Yup. The states have been fighting over this stretch of highway foryears. Never seems to be a solid verdict.”“So which state owns it now?” Her expression was one of insult.Then confusion.“Montana, I’d guess.”“ I’M IN MONTANA?!”“Well Shug, I don’t rightfully know! I just serve the pie.”The both of us gave up on the conversation. She poured my promised refilland walked away. I had stopped in at The Crossroads Café because a thickfog had rolled in on the road.The place was an oversized Airstream trailer converted into aroadside diner. There was room enough for a short hand cook, a waitress,and 4 to 5 customers. For some reason there was no cash register,something I had grown accustomed to in places like this. Currently it wasjust me, what looked like a tall thin Navajo man –covered with burns andscars on his hands, most likely from this very kitchen, the waitress namedPam, and a ginger haired teen in the corner who was crouching over a thinnotebook.I watched the cook swim around his tiny cubicle of a kitchen. Heacted as a well oiled machine: constantly flipping, frying, and cleaning. Allthe while, managing to keep his cigarette firmly stuck in his lips. For sure Iknew he was Navajo, as sure as I knew he was wearing an apron. It was allin the cheek bones. They looked like arrowheads sunk under his eyes.High up and jutting, so they might shade the rest of the face. You could seeit in his temper too. Every time his frying pan spat bacon grease at him, hewould stamp off in a quiet retreat and sulk on a padded bar stool, as ifwaiting for an apology.The laminated menu—the whole place—was covered with greasyfingerprints and cigarette burns. I had to wipe it off just to make out thedesserts. I looked out a window covered in similar grime and frowned. Itdidn’t even look like the outside world existed. A starch cotton-mist coveredthe earth.47

You raise up your headAnd you ask, “Is this where it is?”And somebody points to you and says”It’s his”And you say, “What’s mine?”And somebody else says, “Where what is?”And you say, “Oh my GodAm I here all alone?”My maps are wet. All of them. Somehow the box leaked. CB’s out.Well, I don’t know that for a fact. I’m just sick of the white noise that it relaysback, so I tore out the cord. I’ve been looking for Exit 89 for hours now. Noroad signs anywhere. Maybe the maps will say something about them. Icheck but they are all wet. Was the box leaking? The tape keeps gettinghotter and there’s been nowhere to stop for a while now.I think I could be in the hunting lands west of Vermont. I’ve heard they weremostly deserted. Can’t make out much of the sky, there’s a fog closing in.Cross roads ahead. Only way I know that is from the first road sign I’veseen in days. Crudely painted on the side of a smooth straight rock formationit’s there:The Crossroads Café - 5 or 6 miles“It’s a cactus.”“Oh.”“It’s all I can draw.”“I like them. Realistic, you know?”He closed his notebook. From what he showed me the pages were filledwith the desert plant. All shapes and sizes. The kid—maybe 17, maybeyounger—looked like he was waiting for something, an order of fries orthe apocalypse. He had a way about him that seemed as if he wouldhave taken either without complaint. Moving his arm, I noticed themustard colored backing of his notebook bore a bright red stenciledsentence: YOU ARE HERE. He must have seen the look on my facebecause he spoke up.4848

“It’s just something I like to think about.”“What is?”“You know, the fact that you can never leave that constant state ofnow.”“Lost me on that one.”“I saw it on a T-shirt once made me laugh, that’s all, really. ““Oh.” I tried to make sense of it, but the boy was on some level Iwould never be on. This is why I refused to have one of my own, in casethey got smarter than me.“Hey kid, can I ask you another question.”“ It’s Julian.”“Ok. Julian, why are you here so late, don’t you got school tomorrow?”Eyeing the cook, who returned the gaze, he just shrugged and took a swigfrom his Coke bottle.“Nothing to do, Bill. Nothing to do.” That was the second time I hadbeen called by name by total strangers. This country was too full of friendlies,and I felt like I was a part of something that no one ever came clean about.I began to sweat. Even so, I had told no one in the diner who I was.“Julian, how do you know my name?”“It’s on your hat, man. I ain’t Houdini.”The kid was right. In the metal counter I could just make out mySunshine Trucking hat that had my name embroidered into the side. Thesweat that had started to form on my back and the heat in my cheekssubsided when I stopped my quiet panic. We stayed quiet for a few minuteswhile I drank my coffee and finished my omelet. Looking out the window, Isaw the man in the suit approaching the trailer. Just then, Pam dropped aplate. The cook looked at me with fierce eyes as he threw his apron on thefloor. Opening his mouth, he changed his expression to one of worry.“I think you should go, Bill.”You said you’d never compromiseWith the mystery tramp, but now you realizeHe’s not selling any alibisAs you stare into the vacuum of his eyesAnd ask him do you want to make a deal?49

Tape is about worn down. Every time I flip it and stick it back in itfeels hotter. I know the songs by heart now, so I guess I could do without ifit melted. Don’t want to think about that too much. I keep seeing hitchhikers,stopped being nice to them years ago. I was held at gun point by a manwho I had just driven 50 miles once.Along the road are all kinds of strange things every couple of miles.I’ve seen a naked girl on a white horse, both covered in dirt, a chain gangbreaking rocks with a fat foreman leaning on a cane, miners with pick axes,walking from some unseen prospecting point, and I think I saw a collaredpriest, sleeping on a couch. Living by the border will do that to you.“The name is Pam, what’ll you have?”“Well, hate to be rude, but what’s the least unhealthy thing here?” Ittook her a while to answer, which meant the menu was a death trap. Thecook picked up an egg and shrugged. I knew it was full of cholesterol butI’m sure the coffee here was too. My doctor would have burned this placedown. I gave him the go ahead on an omelet anyways.I was scared when I saw this one. He wore a suit—a nice 3 piece—and dark round glasses. He was standing across from the diner when Ipulled in. I tipped my hat, but he just grinned. I hope he didn’t need a ride.Reading my mind it seemed, he pulled back his sleeves. 6 watches on hisleft arm. He checked the time and kicked the dirt a little, right before hewalked away into the fog.“So which way is which?” I nodded to the crossroads.“Huh?” The kid looked up from his notebook, not knowing if it washim I was talking to.“You wouldn’t know, would you? I’ll ask the cook.” Pam laughed, asshe cleaned a stack of plates.“Don’t bother. Squatting Dog over here s’been a mute since he wasborn.” The cook slapped his spatula in the sink, flinging hot water on thewaitress.“Geez! Calm it, Joe. Don’t take yourself so seriously.”5050

The kid laughed and moved a seat closer to me. “I know theways.”“Yeah?”“Oh yeah. If you go North you’ll be on the logging route to Canada.That’s the road directly to the right of us. West is mostly for the oil tankers,haven’t seen one of those guys lately. Fish convoys come from the Eastroad, but you, you look like you’re going South. ““What’s South?”“The way home.”Pam walked by and checked to see if my mug was empty. I couldn’tquite remember how long I’d been here, but I was thankful I was strandedin a place that had equal amounts of Crisco and hospitality.“Wanna see my drawings?” The kid offered up his notebook,beaming all the while.“Alright sport, whatcha got?”I got this graveyard woman, you know she keeps my kidBut my soulful mama, you know she keeps me hidShe’s a junkyard angel and she always gives me breadWell, if I go down dyin’, you know she bound to put a blanket on mybed.The fog was gone. Every single bit of it. I was driving the way Juliantold me to go, but I had no idea what was ahead of me. It was too late toturn back. I needed to go East but if I went back to the crossroads I wouldhave to see the man again. I had left the diner in a hurry. I had been told to.Went for my truck and saw him staring into the trailer - like he was windowshopping. Joe The Cook said there was nothing to be done about it. Didn’tknow what he meant. I’ve seen plenty of things solved with violence, but apart of me believed him. Overhead, vultures began to circle.The old man just smiled and waited for me to acknowledgehim. “Excuse me?”“Heard a lot about you, that’s all.”51

“Low Polly, Cake Boy, and Tucker the Trucker – they drove withSunshine didn’t they?”“I….well, yeah. Years ago though. I convoyed with them plenty oftimes. Last I heard C.B. had died, and Tucker moved in with his mom inMiami after he tried to commit suicide. Doesn’t call me anymore. I don’tknow if you’d ever heard the story. Hope that doesn’t change your opinionof him. How’d you know them?”“They’ve all stopped in on routes. Good guys. Low Polly was herelast month in fact.”“My boss told me he had cancer? How in the world did he manageto make it from Seattle?”“Well Bill, he said that the road was calling him, and I took his word.”You used to be so amusedAt Napoleon in rags and the language that he usedGo to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuseWhen you got nothing, you got nothing to loseYou’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.I turned into the gas station. Taking the keys out of the ignition, Ilooked over to see the tape deck smoking. Goodbye, old friend. From themirror I made out dark figures in the sky. The birds were calling my nameand getting closer. He saw me coming, but didn’t bother to get up from hischair. The door opened, the bell clanged, he looked up.“I guess you know then.”“Yes sir. I think I figured it out.”“And?”“I don’t think I want this.”“You just let me know when you want to come back.”“I will, sir.”5252

I walked to the back of the store, turned the knob to thebathroom, and walked in. I was still lying on the floor, the reddestof markers in hand. Never used. When I came to, they asked meif I was alright. I nodded, a little dizzy, and smiled. They told methat they almost lost me. I just shrugged and told them I knew. Itmust have been a strange sight for anyone in the station. Twosterilized men in the dirtiest of places, surrounded by their equipmentand with me on a gurney. I heard children tugging on sleevesasking their mother what was wrong with me. I don’t know if sheever answered them. The ceiling spun and I just grinned. Slowlygetting up I looked for the blank space on the wall and popped offthe cap. No one stopped me as I wrote it out, right next to all theracial slurs and erotic drawings.53

5454JACOBBAILEYHIS WHITTLED HEARTThe clouds hung low and gray, piled one on top of the other—drawn tight as a curtain, closing off a particular house from the outsideworld, essentially sealing the inhabitants in fogged glass. No wind sailedthrough the valley today, at least none that ruffled Jack’s hair, and sothe rain dripped straight and slow and cold. But despite the unfortunateweather conditions, the little boy sat facing west on his back porch,pondering how to start.Whenever Jack decided to whittle something, he first had tofind the perfect piece of wood. Birch was his favorite—the white barkwas always uplifting in some strange way—but there was only one birchtree that he knew of in the woods behind his house. So he only tookbranches from that tree for extra special projects—and this wasabsolutely one of those.Two paths led from Jack’s house to the birch tree. The first wouldtake nearly the rest of the day to hike because it wound and coiled itsway slowly around the mountain. Safe and boring. The second—theone Jack would take—was another story entirely. It was a simple pathfor about half a mile, but a near-vertical rock wall separated the pathfrom the birch tree, and he would have to climb it. Jack loved to climbalmost as much as he loved to whittle. It was quite a venture to the tree,especially for an eleven year old, but Jack couldn’t settle for any otherwood. Not this time. And he wouldn’t settle for any other path.Jack leapt to his feet and raced through his backyard, not pausingfor anything. The grass was wet from the light rain and he could feelwater soaking through his tennis shoes—drenching his socks as well. Afew squirrels darted out of his path and up the trunk of an old oak,which was – apart from the squirrels – lifeless in the cold. The forestloomed ahead of him and Jack was concentrated on nothing else. Fasterhe ran, faster and faster, picking up pace as the distance lessened.Imagined Olympians appeared on his right and left, huffing with theexertion of the race, but Jack couldn’t afford to look at them – he wasrunning to win.

Steadily, Jack overtook each runner; a few even tried to trip him ashe easily passed, but he managed to dodge their cheating attempts, crushingtheir hopes of winning the Gold. The trees seemed to grow at an exponentialrate as he exerted the last of his speed on the straightaway. Snappingthe finish line, Jack flung up his hands in victory to the ecstatic cheersof the crowd – bowing to his left and then to his right – waving at each fan.Slowly, the make-believe crowd grew silent, giving way once more to thenear-quiet of the forest that now fenced him in.Dead and withered trees surrounded Jack on all sides, lofting theirpitchfork branches to the heavens. Dull brown and lifeless leaves litteredthe forest floor and broke apart beneath his footsteps. Crunch, crunch—like fresh cereal. Rain fell freely through the empty canopy, meeting noresistance from leaves. He never could find beauty in winter without snow.The cold just seemed pointless without any way to enjoy it. So Jack had tofind beauty elsewhere. Ever since the first day of class four months earlier,Jack knew the exact meaning of beauty—Janie Marrison. She had beautyenough to outshine the golden face of summer and to fill even this drearylandscape with wholesome happiness—even beautiful enough to put poetryin the mind of a boy. She had splashed her way into the pools of Jack’smind, blanking any thoughts of playing war or dirt that had been his childhood.And he knew exactly how he would win her affection.Jack looked up. He was almost there. The birch tree sat waiting forhim—perched on the cliff—and the eyes of the rock wall stared him down.Jack’s heart thumped in his chest and he ran the rest of the path to thebase of the wall. He was drenched with rain and the rocks were wet, so hewould need to be careful. He let his eyes drift over the climb ahead of himto find the best way to scale it. The green-brown rocks seemed polishedfrom the rain. He finished picking out his course and grabbed the first rockwith his outstretched hand. Foot by foot he slowly clambered up,concentration etched on his face.55

He was halfway. Jack lifted his left foot and placed it on a new rock.Then his right hand, then his right foot, testing each new hold before puttingweight on it. The frosty tips of the birch tree came into his view above thetop of the cliff. More and more of the tree became visible until finally Jackfelt grass beneath his hand. He hoisted himself up over the ledge withease, a broad smile covering his face. He nearly fell backwards jumping tohis feet, but caught himself quickly. The white birch seemed even purer upclose. He wiped down his pants and walked over to the tree.With a practiced grace, Jack flicked out his pocket knife and admiredthe freshly sharpened blade. It shined despite the still gray sky. He reachedup a dirt covered hand and pulled down the closest branch, cutting off asection large enough to carve. This was it, the perfect piece that would winJanie over. He wasn’t sure she even knew his name. That didn’t matter,though. She would.Jack sat down and rested his back against the glistening, whitetrunk. The grass was still green here—deep and rich like summer leaves.He hadn’t noticed before. Wet seeped into Jack’s pants, but the rest of hisbody was already damp so he didn’t mind. He adjusted his grip on thepocket knife and with a practiced hand started carving.It didn’t take him long to get the basic shape going. He had beenplanning this for a while now and he knew exactly how and where to makehis cuts. Stroke after stroke and the wood seemed to melt away beneaththe knife. He felt the bark against his back and the tree gave him a strongsense of security, like the birch was telling him that he was doing the rightthing—that his plan would succeed. He twisted the wood in his hand andflicked his wrist to send small slivers of birch into the grass beneath him.His hand wasn’t his own anymore. Monet had possessed him from the wristdown and was sending brushstrokes through the wood. A collectedsymphony of all the greatest musicians was before him, playing in time withhis fluid motions. Note after note, measure after measure—each perfect.All strings, woodwinds and brass and drums – each stroke in time withnotes and strums. And almost as quickly as he had started, he was done.And it was flawless.5656

Once again, Jack flicked his knife, this time closed, to silencethe orchestra and he struggled with his jeans until he got the knifeand his carving jammed in the front pocket. He pressed his palmsagainst the wet earth and pushed himself to a stand, readying forthe climb down. Approaching the edge, he took a look. The dropwas even more sinister from his current angle. Rocks jutted out fromthe cliff side, resembling jagged teeth ready to swallow him whole.The tops of trees that normally towered over him were now a goodtwenty feet below. He didn’t want to climb down—he never liked togo backwards—but the sky was darkening further as the sun traveledbehind the veil of clouds; it would be setting soon and he didn’t wantto be stuck in the woods at night. Jack turned around once more togaze at the tree. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the woodencreation. It fit perfectly in his palm, resting across his love line. Jackgave the tree a nod, put his wooden love back in his pocket andslowly began his downward trek.Placing his foot down on the first ledge, Jack dropped himselfbelow the rim and the tree was out of sight. Down was always harderthan going up. The rocks were frigid beneath his fingertips and Jackcould feel his hands going numb already. He paused in his descentand reached into his pocket, once again taking out the timber figurefor comfort. Jack was excited to give it to Janie.Stabbing wind shot across the rock face causing Jack to shiversuddenly and violently. He fumbled the piece of birch and it fell fromhis grasp. Without thinking, Jack flung out his arm to catch his mostprized possession, losing his grip on the sodden rock. He could feelthe rough stone scraping against his fingertips as each one lost itsclutch. Falling hadn’t even crossed his mind, but he was falling now.All he could do was grab hold of his carving and wait for the ground.The wind that was mysteriously absent earlier in the day whippedaround his body, tousling his hair like his mother would do. As heplummeted, his mind thought of Janie and how much she wouldhave loved him.57

5858He landed on his back and it sounded like the earth hadcrunched in beneath him. Immediately the sky finished darkening—whether from the sun going down or from his vision ending, Jack wouldnever know. He lay lifeless at the base of the cliff, gripping tightly to hiswooden carving. It was his whittled heart, flawless and beautiful –guarded for only one, even in death.On the opposite side of town, a little girl peered out of her frostedwindow. No sun could be seen behind the clouds that colored the skydull. Her mother wouldn’t let her go outside today; it was far too coldand wet. So, Janie had spent the day in her father’s red armchair—sunken in just right—staring out into the winter, not knowing of Jack orhis heart. And happier for it.

JOHNHARRISONRIGHT OF PASSAGEWilker County, Alabama has a system of its own when it comes totaking out the trash. It is almost like a “South’ within a “South”. It is also truethat some communities here have a bizarre way of recycling its trash intoupstanding citizens. If you have never been in a court-room in Wilker Countyit would be very, very difficult for an outsider to believe this truth because ofthe modern age in which we now live. But I have been there, in the courtrooms,the place where this mystery takes place. It is true that there isusually an unspoken code when it comes to turning trash into a reputationof treasure. That code is as green as nut-grass that grows in front of theexhaust fans of a Chicken House. If you have money in Wilker County, youcan have a reputation that people will not even gossip about. Some saythat fence-post talk can make you just disappear, like vapor off the BlackWarrior River, because for a few people, it has done just that. Unusuallythough are the people that really don’t amount to jack. Yet in the smallcommunity where I lived people just seemed to be drawn to them like a carwreck. Three of these men are still living today, and are just as popular nowas they were when I was a teenager. For me, trash they were, and trashthey still are.All three are alcoholics and have always been since I couldremember. Now, Maw Maw, my grand-mother on my father’s side would tellyou and them in half a heart beat how sorry and low-down they were. Butfor the community as a whole, people seemed to like them. It remains amystery to me today as to why this is. All three are divorced, two would notprovide for their families even though one did raise his three sons himself.He never would work, and two of his sons followed his example while themiddle son, has made a career working at the local McDonald’s at the ageof fifty today. The other two men would work and then drink it all up. Nowthese men would never hang around Maw Maw’s store because they knewexactly how she felt about them “outfits” she would call them. They wouldoccasionally hang around at the Service Station that Paw Paw owned andran himself.59

I remember the Store “Harrison Grocery” was what it was calledand it provided for my family until the Bruno’s moved in on the main highwayin the mid-seventies. Everything seemed to fall into place because it wasabout that time that my grandparents were retiring and about to move intothe new home my grand-father had built for my grand-mother. He usedwood he bought from the rail-road after a train wreck right behind the Storewhere we lived to build it. My babysitter, Mattie Lou, helped him build it. Shehelped him build the garage and two barns as well. When she wasn’t workingwith him she would be running the cash register at the Store while mygrand-mother stocked or cut meat. Maw Maw sold everything in that Storefrom fresh meat to dry goods, furniture, cloths, toys, shoes, hardware, andeven dynamite to the local mines.The Store was the gathering place for a lot of the people in thecommunity. It was a block building with a flat roof that had a tar and gravelsealer. It was built on a slight incline from left to right with the parking lotjoining the road. When you would back out to leave, you would be backinginto the road. There were no stripes to go by where you parked and youcouldn’t really tell where the road ended and the parking lot began as bothwere paved with asphalt. There were big windows in the front that spannedthe whole length of the building. Inside there were two cash registers withcounters about the size of the fast lane at Wal-Mart. The drink coolers werethose old chest-types with the Coca-Cola Logo on the tops and sides ofthem. The floor was the old original black and white checkerboard thatmeasured about a foot square. Along the back of the store there wereshelves where the feed was stacked. If you had a dog or a hog, there wasfeed for any type animal you could think of. To the right was where thecanned goods were stocked, right behind that ever so precious candy rackthat seemed to grab my attention when I came in the front door. To the leftwas where the furniture, cloths, hardware, was displayed. You could seethose items through the big windows as you drove by. All the way back andto the left was the meat market. I can remember my grandmother carryinga hind quarter of beef and dropping it on the large wood table that wasabout twelve inches thick for cutting. She had everything a butcher wouldhave today to process the meat.6060

The ice machine was also located inside the meat market behind the displaycases against the wall. This was that crushed ice, which back thenbecame addictive if you hung out there at all. Everybody would be carryinga small cup of that ice around the store with them crunching it and rubbingthe back of their head and neck from the headache it would give them ifthey eat it too fast.When my grand-father finished building the new house across theroad on top of the hill, you could see the roof of the Store if you were settingon the front porch of the house. Everything about that house was concrete.My grand-father apparently loved to pour concrete driveways, sidewalks,and even the front and back porches had a concrete floor. There was justso much concrete, everywhere. When you were inside the house you couldnot hear when someone would drive up. We had a fenced in yard andalways kept a couple of dogs inside the fence so that they would bark andlet us know when someone came up. My bedroom was between the garageand the house. My grand-father had intended to make it a carport butchanged his mind after he had already poured the floor with concrete. Ifthey were asleep, they would not know when I came in or when I left. Thismade it easy for me to have a place to take my girl friends. Their bedroomswere at the front of the house opposite of where mine was at the back. Itwas a big house with four bedrooms and two baths. There was also a onebedroom apartment built in the back of the garage with its own kitchen andbath as well. My grandfather died in 1985, and I continued to live with mygrand-mother until I married. In 2000, her health was going down and shesold the house to Mattie Lou’s son, Hezekiah. Mattie Lou was living withher son when they moved in; she was living in a house that she helped tobuild. I moved my grand-mother to Jasper behind me in a mobile homebecause she would not even think of moving in with me, she was still independentand stubborn.61

In Dora, where I lived, there were mini communities within the smalltown that covered about a six mile radius. There was one distinct “blackonly” community, one distinct “white only” community, and two “racially mixed”communities. I lived in one of the mixed communities in a place on RailroadAvenue, built into the end of the Store, until we moved across the road ontop of the hill where the new house was located. Everywhere I went or hadto go, I could walk to it. I walked to school with all the other kids in ourcommunity. The other three communities would have to be bused in. Wewould walk home together after Football, Baseball, and Basketball games.My grand-mother could always hear us coming as we walked down theroad (there were no sidewalks) in our steel baseball cleats as she sat onthe front porch. She could hear us laughing, as we always laughed extraloud when we were together. We talked loud, laughed loud, and lived loudas we thought we owned the world, when in fact we didn’t own anything.What we had was worth more than money, we each had a place, a place tofit in with each other and that was fulfilling enough for us.Our sense of community took prevalence over the color of ourskin. The only time that unspoken code of community was loosened wason the football field. There, it was every man for his self. You could be fromthe Camp, Dickinson Subdivision, Railroad Avenue, or Yirkwood, but whenyou put on the uniform, the “Right of Passage” was taken off. Back then,Junior High Football was very popular. There was an elementary school,Junior High, and a High School. So we had a distinction between the Highschool and Junior High football teams.I call this time in my life the “Right” of Passage because most of uswere right handed and we often would fight a lot. You would always bewatching for the others’ right hand, because that was the one that wouldhurt you, sometimes bad. About the only time that we would end up in afight would be when all four communities or at least some of us were togetheror when we practiced football. We fought so much and it got on thecoach’s nerves so bad he brought some boxing gloves to school and madeus fight each other during P.E. If that happened today there would be jailtime for the coach, but it did help us get it out of our system. After this wewere able to focus more on football and less on fighting each other.6262

In Railroad Avenue, we did not fight each other, ever, black withblack, white with white, or black with white. We had a common bond fromgrowing up together in our small community. There were about twelve of usaltogether; Rock, Henry, Charles, Wayne, Larry, Frankie, Cedric, Ralph,Skeet, Thomas, Jeff, and me, whom they would call “John Sweetwater”. Inever have figured out why they give me that nickname. Wayne’s fatherwould let him drive his truck after dark when he was thirteen and he wouldcome through to pick us all up to go play basketball at the Park behind CityHall. The police could not tell who was driving after dark. Everybody kneweverybody so he wouldn’t let Wayne drive during the day light.We had been playing ball for a while one night and it was gettinglate. The Park had an unusual atmosphere about it during the spring andfall of the year. We would notice that after about nine or ten o’clock, therewas a fog of heat that would linger about twenty or thirty feet above thebasketball court and below huge bluish bright lights. We didn’t realize thatit was probably the heat from our energetic bodies playing ball. You couldlook right into one of those large bright lights and it would not blind youwhen this fog appeared. It was cool enough to continue to play for hours,but warm enough not to have to wear a jacket. The fog would remind me ofthe same mist that lingered above the Black Warrior River at night; it waseerie, but soothing at the same time. It was like eating chitterlings, thethought of it just didn’t seem right, but when you tasted them you werecontent.About five from the group that lived in Yirkwood was playing with us.It was me, Wayne, Rock, Frankie, and Charles, Rock’s little brother, playingagainst Tim, Big O, Nick, Mark, and James. Now Tim and James werethe ones that always instigated a fight just to see who would stand up tothem. They were from the other mixed community at Yirkwood. I had alreadywhipped James a few days earlier at school, so he wasn’t sayingmuch until Rock blocked a shot of Tim’s to the point of embarrassment.63

Now Rock was usually quiet and he always laughed at other peoplewhen they would make cracks on each other. At the age of fifteen, he stoodabout 6’-3”, and he weighed about 200 lbs. Tim was 5’-11” and about 185lbs. But Tim had a mouth on him and he was stuffed all full of his self, andthis bluffed a lot of people. When we all laughed and “high-fived” Rock onthat blocked “jam it in your face” blow that he did to Tim, James started. Allthat Tim needed was a hiss from James. Rock just got quieter as Timwhipped him with his tongue. Tim told Rock that he “was goin’ to stomp amud hole in his ass, and then walk it dry”. Then, Tim finally pushed Rock,and there it came, that “Right” hand of passage across Tim’s left cheek asit also split it about two inches. Tim fell to his back and then jumped back upstaggering from the solid lick that he had took from Rock. We all separatedthem and went home after the excitement ceased.It was after this fight that Rock began to come out of his shell thathe had been living in. We were too young to realize that he had not reallybeen his self; we just thought that he was a quiet person. Rock became theking of Railroad Avenue after whipping the king of Yirkwood. There were alot of fights during those days, but even though we were young, we werewise enough to realize that we had to finish school together so we usuallydidn’t hold grudges.Even my grandparents would argue sometimes to the point thatthey would not speak to each other for six months to a year. I would have toleave when “it was on”. My grandmother could out-cuss a good drunk on abad day when she got mad. I would quote her and my grandfather here butI would be afraid that if I did, they would bust out the ground and pick upwhere I left off! One of the main issues that they had was one truth that theyboth were afraid to name. My father was drunk when he got killed in anauto accident. This explained why she wouldn’t hesitate to call down thosethree “outfits” no matter where they crossed paths. My grandfather wouldtolerate them and allow them to hang out at his business. She never evenhad to say why they argued, it all would come back to those three drunksthat the community seemed to love and embrace. She would tell my grandfatherthat he was no better than the trash that he hung out with. But both ofthem could not bring their selves to name the problem and talk it out, it hurttoo bad to name. They dealt with the problem through their anger, whichgot them nowhere.6464

They had not been speaking for about two or three monthsone time, only through me and my brother. Them not speaking wouldremind me of that fog that lingers over the Black Warrior River atnight, you knew what was on the other side, but you couldn’t see yourway to it. They would continue to do daily chores for each other, butthey just did them quietly. I came in from a baseball game at schoolone night and I went straight to the bathroom to change. When Icame out, I heard a muffled sound calling “John, John”. It was mygrand-mother. She had slipped down backwards between the bedand the wall and she was all pushed together like a person that wastoo big for a ride at Six-Flags. She said “get me up”. I pulled her up toa sitting position on the bed and had to hold on to her because shesaid she had been there for about two hours. Her body was numb asher arms and legs had gone to sleep. That is how stubborn she andmy grand-father were. She would rather die where she was than tocall for him to help her get up. And he had been in the next room thewhole time.Families should try to act more like children when it comesto forgiveness. I can remember breaking a boy’s nose so bad that hismother had to take him to the emergency room to get it reset. Withinthe next few days we were friends again. It is good to argue, but it isbetter to argue and say everything that needs to be said so the healingprocess can begin. Rock and Tim were friends again a day or twolater. I saw Henry, Rock’s other little brother the other day and he toldme that Rock was serving a life term in St. Clair Correctional Facilityfor beating his wife to death. I also saw Tim about two months agoand he is humbly working everyday driving a truck. I would almost betthat either one of them could even remember the fight at the Parkthat night.65

JOHNHARRISONAN EXCERPT FROMKIM’S INFLUENCEWe were setting in the black Rambler station wagon at Buck andVirgie’s, our grandparents on our mother’s side. Kim and I were in the frontseat waiting on Papa to come and drive us to the store. As he came out ofthe back door and was walking to the car, Kim leaned over, cupped hersmall sweaty hand around my ear, whispered, and looked at me with thosedaring eyes. We could look at each other and hold a conversation withouteven speaking a word. She had a convincing grin on her face. She knew itwas a done deal just by looking into my eyes, and she barely could containherself. She was making that high-pitched wine trying to hold back thelaughter. It was similar to playing hide and seek when you were about to befound.Papa was a big man, tall, with big feet. We all loved going over tospend the weekend with Granny and Papa. There was never a dull momentwith them. Even the trip over to their house was never dull. Me, Kim, Wendyand Lee would always have to ride in the back because Randy was big andhe fit better in the front seat. Kim was the creative one of the bunch thatusually set the tone with interesting games to play. She would have uscount Volkswagens, in 1971, there were a lot of them on the road, sosometimes she would make it hard and only certain colors would count.When you seen a Volkswagen, you was suppose to say “onesit, twosit,threesit” and like so. Even setting in the back she would usually win, shecould find a way to cancel out the cars that we counted. The trip was overbefore it started, a twenty-five minute drive just seem to disappear.That was the way life was growing up with Kim. She lived life wide open.Randy taught me how to survive, Kim taught me how live and enjoy life.Even as teenagers we spent time together. When I got my first job at fifteen,she would take me to work and come to pick me up, I could always counton her to be there, like clock-work. I worked in Adamsville, so we wouldusually go by Uncle Mon’s in Graysville on the way home to have a midnightsnack together.6666

When Papa opened the door to get in the Rambler, the airwas so thick with anxiety you could write your name in it like a foggywindow. When Papa shut the door, Kim had already fixed her facialexpression into that business secretary way, looking straight aheadinto nothing. She was ready, it was up to me, I just followed suit. ButPapa was real perceptive, he said “what is it?”, Kim said “John justcan’t wait to get to the store to buy some junk”. That’s what we calledchips, candy, and ice cream. When Papa cranked the car, Kim grabbedmy right knee, like I would forget or just back out. When Papa put thecar in reverse, Kim said “here we go”, and I said “yep, here we go”.Papa put his foot on the gas pedal and when he did that, Kim pokedme in the ribs with her elbow, looked at me with an exciting smile, andthen I did it. I stomped Papa’s foot to the floor, and when I did, the carstarted slinging gravel until it caught the pavement and burned rubber,backwards. Papa moved his foot as fast as he could off the gas ontothe brake. The front of the car felt like it came off the ground as wehad one of the back tires dropping off into the ditch behind us at anangle.After we got stopped, Papa looked at me and chewed me outworse than he ever had.67


WILLFRANCISAND A BREEZE BLOWS THROUGHShe began the ninth hour with the brushing of a single strandof amber hair out of her eyes. A large bead of sweat lazed its waydown her face only to be swept up by a shirt sleeve. The tomatofield stood on the edge of town near an old aluminum water tower. Ithad been empty for years. Figures with long shadows stood pacesapart or isolated near the edges of the soil. All were in shoutingdistance. The week before had brought rain along with the fallout ofhumidity that left the body drenched. By now her reaping bag shouldhave been full but even the recent rain was too little and too late foreven a meager harvest. Watching the sun slowly being sucked intothe horizon, she let out a long but quiet sob. Her eyes followed theshadows their bodies were making and thought of a battlefield ofwrithing giants. All laid to rest in a patch of tomatoes. Close by, anolder man wearing a gentle expression and no shoes looked up andnodded slowly to her as if to ease the painful truth he thought theyboth shared. She just smiled, knowing it would seem out of place.With a questioning eye he stared, but for only a moment. Her longbrown dress stuck to her skin and dragged on the ground as shewalked. No one noticed the large bag tied to her leg slowly spillinga hard powder. Burnt clouds and tired sunlight filled the sky as theflickering day shed its once bright skin. Coyotes whispered in theforest uncomfortably close. There seemed to be a silent agreementamong the men that it was time to head back. Cradling her feeblesack and starting the long walk home she was surrounded by aflurry of crackling leaves. The men stopped to watch the wind blowingthrough the field, just as the girl scattered her salt onto the earth’sdying bounty.7070

JACOBBAILEYTHE WOLFThe lightning that crashed through the coal-colored clouds litup my surroundings, making the torrential downpour visible in the black.Booming in my ears moments later, thunder overpowered the constant,driving rhythm of the rain, drowning out sound like the water drownedeverything else. The trees cast pitchfork shadows all around me,creating vague shapes and figures in the darkness that left my minduneasy. My eyes darted back and forth through the blackness, tryingin vain to penetrate the shrouded nighttime. Even completely coveredin my coat as I was, the needling rain stung my skin, serving as acontinual reminder of my decision to not make camp earlier. Aregrettable decision, surely. I bowed my head, hoping my wilting hoodwould guard my eyes from the onslaught, but it was to no avail.No moon was visible through the ceiling of trees; although withthe thick cloud cover, I doubted it could be seen anyway. The only lightthat enhanced my vision was from the number of lightning bolts thatthrust down in frequent succession from the midnight above, whichonly served to further the fear that had crept upon me with the night.Not much could be heard above the crashing of the rain or the nearconstantthunder, so I was unaware of any life in the forest around me,as I was sure – if there was anything – they were unaware of me. Still,I couldn’t stop the sensation that I was being watched. The hairs onmy neck stuck out like spikes and my skin was littered with goosebumps,alerting me of unseen danger. My stomach churned and boiledlike the ocean in a storm, sending wave after wave of fear crashinginto terror then being drawn away by the current of my calming thoughts,only to have another dread-wave crash seconds later.Although the rain stung and the night was beyond black, I wasthankful for two things: the wind that wound its way through the woodwas not cold, even drenched as I was, and I knew my pack to bewaterproof; meaning I could build a fire later with the dry wood I hadcollected. But I still needed to find shelter soon – a tough task with littlelight. I decided to take a rest.71

7272Kneeling close beside a rather large oak, I gained a little respitefrom the rain. I waited for the inevitable flash to familiarize myself withthe surroundings again. Shadows danced on the edge of my vision asmy eyes flickered back and forth, taking in the forest around me. Andthere were the eyes, reflected in the lightning. Yellow like the moon ona cloudless night. Yellow like his bared fangs, dripping hatred. Bilerose to the top of my throat, filling my mouth with an acidic taste – thetaste of terror. Horse hooves raced in my chest, crashing louder thanthe thunder. I saw him only an instant before the light dissipated, butthe ferocious form was imprinted in my skull. I could still see him in mymind’s eye – fur as black as tar, wet and matted to his sinewy body;hidden somewhere in the night. I now knew the source of my chokingfear. He was no ordinary beast.

KELSEYLOFTINHUNGRY EYESAll of him was lying on the floor. All of him just wasn’t in theright place. His insides were now his outsides. Compliments of the22 calliber revolver that slid underneath the coffee table when hefell.Kevin had spent much of the last year in Sudan,photographing the state of things near United Nations food camps.Three months before the current state of things in his apartment,he took the picture that changed his life.In front of the fireplace, a crimson rose bloomed. It stainedthe eggshell shag where Kevin lay. Inches from his outstretchedhand was the picture that brought Kevin to this place on the carpet.When the shutter snapped, the Sudanese boy had crawledmost of the way to the UN food camp. The child’s arms and legswere folded under his torso like bendy straws. Skin was strechedtight over his rib cage. Face down in the fetal possition, Kevinwondered if the boy wasn’t strong enough to lift his head. Maybethe string of white beads around his neck was just too much.Kevin was still thinking about the boy when he got off theplane, when he put his bags in the taxi, and when he keyed into hisapartment. No one at the UN could tell him what happened to theboy. He sent them the picture and called repeatedly. They had norecord of the boy wearing white beads.It wasn’t just the health of the boy or the negligence of theworkers at the food camp that continued to haunt Kevin for monthsafter he left Sudan. It was mostly those hungry eyes. The patienthunger that burned in the eyes of the vulture. The vulture that sat,waiting, four feet from the starving boy in the photograph. Thephotograph that was lying next to Kevin in front of the fireplace.73

7474KELSEYLOFTINON THE WAVESThe girl stood on the edge of the cliff, her scarf blowing behindher in the wind. On a small island in the distance, she could see thegun smoke and explosions of war. She saw the smoke that onlyrises from torched houses. Then came the black spots on the water.She waited for them.Specks floated toward the cliff in rows, five wide. The firstones came into view, and they turned out to be exactly what the girlhad imagined.The coffins came in all sizes. Some were six feet long, othersthree, and all lengths in between. She saluted the fallen floatingtoward her, not knowing if her father was among them. The violentwaters knew nothing of the war. Still, they hurled rows and rowsagainst the rocks where the cliff met the water, but none of thembroke. They merely vanished.

KRISTENMORRISONTHE HILLI’m going to The Hill today. On the hill is a lone tree with atire swing, supposedly built and left by a father decades ago for hislittle boy. Apparently they had a house near here and The Hill waswhere his little boy played day in and day out. People say it’s haunted.People say no matter what the weather is like, no matter how calmthe day is, even if there is no breeze at all, the tire will swing. Peoplesay you can hold on to the tire, keeping it still, let go, and it will swingagain. This is where I’m going. I’m going to The Hill. I’m goingbecause this is my tree and my tire swing. I’m going because decadesago, my father built this for me. I’m going because this is where Iplay day in and day out. The Hill is my favorite place to be. And onthe hill, I’m always swinging.75

KRISTENMORRISONNEWBIEI’ve lost a bit of my spark, so I’m sitting in the waiting room waitingto be seen. When I said I’ve lost a bit of my spark I mean literally. When Itouch the TV or the lights, they don’t flicker anymore. How can I be a properghost if I can’t mess with the electricity? At least I can still walk throughwalls. I’d probably kill myself again if I couldn’t do that. Humans don’t realizehow tedious it is to open and close doors. Trust me. It’s a hassle.Sitting in the waiting room, reading Daily Apparitions, my favoritegossip magazine, I notice a woman, probably about twenty years old, walkingthrough the door. She looks dead and she’s hysterical. Great. A newbie.“Hey, get a load of the newbie, Rick,” I say as I nudge the fella sitting nextto me. I don’t really know who he is, but his trucker tag says his name isRick, so I assume it is.“I didn’t mean to do it! I… I didn’t mean to!” squeals the newbie in ashaky voice. Oh, of course she didn’t. They never do. “I just had a headache.That’s all. I… I just had a headache. I wanted it to go away. And… and hehanded me the bottle and told me to take some. So I did! I didn’t mean todie! I promise I didn’t!” the newbie says in a staggered rush.“Sit on the right side of the room. The Listener will be in shortly,”says the secretary. Man, I almost feel bad for the newbie. The accidentalsuicides are always the worst. So young. So inexperienced. They nevermean to do it. But really, how can you know for sure? Take me for instance.I meant to do it and I’m proud of it. I even paint the scars on my wrists foreffect. Paint on our side is especially bright compared to everything else.As for those bastards I left behind. They deserved the misery they got. Butthese newbies… sometimes I feel bad for them. Is it really so scary beingdead? I mean, they can still see their family, but… well just not the way theywant. Which is okay, because how often did you wish you could get awayfrom them anyway, right? And yes, you do miss them after a while, but…well it fades. It really does. The memories don’t fade, but the feelings do.They become more of what has been instead of what can be, if that makessense. Hm… I wonder how long it’s been since I died. I haven’t stoppedand thought about it in forever. Forever. Funny.7676

“Lia, The Mechanic will see you now,” says the secretary. Istand up to walk through the door. I pause to look at the newbie. Igrab at an emotion I forgot existed. Pity. Hope follows immediatelyafter. I hope they send her back home. Right now, in this second,even though I’d never admit it out loud… I wish I was a newbie. Anaccidental suicide. Home would be nice right now.77


JAMIEDEMICKWAGING PEACEWar, a consequence of a human lack of ingenuity, besets us.A malignant tumor overlooked for fear of the truth. Here it is in ourmidst; long years, long suffering, tragedy, rape, murder, amputation,blood, desolation, agony, ruin; and yet, we are as a global societyaltogether unhindered by it. Pestilence is raging somewhere andhearing no echo of it, we ignore it. Its rockets whistle, impinged notby guilt or consequence; they know no boundary or restraint. Menand children alike cower at that terrible shrieking wail, ducking forcover in a last moment of pure terror, or perhaps, never knowing, lifeitself ends without a thought of the ending. Wading through bloodiedmud, crawling through trenches flooded by rain and littered withcorpses, war revels in its own scent. Tyranny, control, fear, miserycoupled with machine gun fire, grenades, or the slice of machete onflesh. War gleefully feeds on us; our humanity is collateral damage.Violence, hatred, revenge, vengeance, malice; we wage them all, inall ages, in all aspects of war we give in to them, we surrenderourselves, our dignity. And abroad, away, removed, a global civilizationcarries on; fighting traffic, complaining about the coffee, barteringour time as if any of it really matters. We arrange in battalions ofToyotas and Mercedes, Fords and Chevrolets on highways andinterstates and we willingly succumb to our ignorance; we areasphyxiated by it, we drown in the blood of the innocent who werelaid to waste while we changed the channel. We fail ourselves ashumans, we fail each other. For truly, what cause is there worthdisemboweling our souls for? Do we still exist as a human race, if weare incapable of recognizing the humanity in each other? The samespeechless wounds which have plagued us since our inception, begus to wage not war, but peace.8080


NICHOLEPEACOCKTHE CONCEPTIONOFTHE ENGLISH NOVELCHARACTERSMadame Aphra Behn was the first woman writing in the Englishlanguage to earn a living as a writer. She was a highly successfulplaywright in her day and a very controversial character. She was also apoet of some renown, but presently she is best remembered for her twonovels. They were among the earliest novels written in the Englishlanguage. Her novella Oroonoko, A Royal Slave is her most famouswork. This short novel is set in an exotic, faraway locale and the issuesof slavery and racism are essential components in the story.Daniel Foe who added the prefix De to his name is 1695, is the author ofRobinson Crusoe, and for this effort he is often considered to be thefather of the English novel. However, he wrote his novel some thirtyyears after Aphra Behn wrote hers. Though he was reasonably welleducated,he was not part of the literary establishment of his era. In fact,his most famous works (his novels) seem to have evolved more from theinfluences of a group of women writers of which Aphra Behn was the firstand most notorious, than from the formal Augustan tradition thatdominated literary circles during the Restoration.Miss Elizabeth Stafford is a fictitious character created to act as anintercessor between the stronger, more colorful characters of Foe andBehn. Since Behn suffered from arthritis during her last years, she wouldhave employed someone as a scribe, as her most famous works werewritten near the end of her life.8282

The scene takes place in February 1689 and is set in the boudoir ofAphra Behn, Britain’s first female professional writer. Madame Behn is notso old, but she is nearing the end of her life, and she suffers from a ratheradvanced case of arthritis and is bed-ridden. Her companion, Miss ElizabethStafford, a young attractive womn, also acts as a secretary of sorts. A manin his thirties, Daniel Foe, who later assumes the name Daniel Defoe (thefather of the English novel) has written Madame Behn requesting aninterview.Behn’s boudoir features a large imposing bed with lavish linens.There are also two comfortable chairs in the room, one near the bed forMiss Stafford, and the other for Mr. Foe. The room may have other decorativeelements appropriate for the time period. When the scene opens MadameBehn is sitting up in bed and wearing, of course, luxurious bedroom attire.Miss Stafford and Mr. Foe, who will each enter the set on his/her respectivequeue, will be wearing day wear appropriate for a young lady and gentlemanof the era.(A knock is heard).Behn: Yes, dear, you may enter.Miss Stafford: (Enters the room with a letter in her hand. She places theletter on the bed so she can interact with Behn. She fusses with the pillows,tidies the room and grooms Madame Behn, all the while speaking). GoodMorning, Madame Behn. I hope you are better today. It is a wretched dayoutside, but it is quite cozy in here. Mr. Foe is visiting us today. Did youremember? I think he will be here soon. (She takes up the letter). I havehis letter here. Would you like me to read it for you again?—to remind youof what he wishes to discuss.Behn: Elizabeth, my dear, you are a busy one this day. About this andthat, asking questions and not waiting for answers. This nervous behaviorwould not be in anticipation of our visitor, our young male visitor, would it?Stafford: Yet given the opportunity to answer my question, you answer nota one.Behn: And I suppose you have learned the art of evasion from the masterthen.83

Stafford: Indeed I have. Mr. Foe should have a fine time of it today, I think.Little does he know that we are women with far more questions than answers.(Sitting down and holding the letter in front of her, preparing to read). Now,shall I read his letter?Behn: You may.Stafford: (Reading from the page). My Dear Madame Behn, I had theoccasion to meet you recently at the Dorset Garden Theatre. I aspire to bea writer. I am more interested in political and social issues. Frankly, some ofyour dramatic literature I find objectionable—the confession of a prude, Idaresay. But of course, you are cognizant of your critics and are unperturbed,I should think. Prude or not, I am intrigued by your legendary boldness andI should relish an encounter with such a wit. Your poetry I find more appealingand I am fascinated with what I know of you. Undoubtedly, you are athoroughly independent woman, unburdened by the moirés of our strictsociety. I am a religious man, and though I am not charmed by your illicitplays, I am enthralled by your latest work, Oroonoko. I must admit I cannotstop thinking about it. I am very interested in the technique used in thedevelopment of your main character. The simple way you tell your story isfresh, and innovative. I believe that your story is one that would appeal tomany readers, not just educated, politically-minded men of letters. Quiteobviously, you know how to reach an audience. You must have written adozen and a half plays that have enjoyed great success. However, I believethat this story about the royal slave may be your most important and timelesswork yet. I would welcome the opportunity to converse with you about suchliterary matters. Please reply if your health and time permit such a discourse.A humble admirer, Daniel Foe.Behn: ‘Tis a curious letter don’t you think! What do you know of this Mr.Foe?Stafford: Not much. He is young, I understand, thirty or so, and he issomething of a scholar. He says he met you. Do you not remember him?Behn: I shall not pretend that I do. He is clever and forthright. I deducethat from his letter.Stafford: And no doubt you favor him with an audience because he praisesyour dear Oroonoko.Behn: Elizabeth, you’ve a quick wit and a barbed tongue. I like that mostabout you and I despise it all the while.8484

Stafford: (Standing up and holding Behn’s hands, massaging her fingers).Despise me if you will, but you know that it is I that keeps you fit. These oldfingers are twisted and broken. They will never be the same, but you are aclever woman. The cleverest I have ever known. It is admirable enoughthat Mr. Foe sees your worth. That is a feather in his cap. (There is a noisefrom backstage). I do think I hear someone downstairs. Perhaps it is Mr.Foe. (She leaves the stage).Stafford: (Reenters with Mr. Foe). Madame Behn, may I present Mr. DanielFoe!Foe: (Bowing). You honor me by receiving me. I am sorry to hear of yourpoor health. Had I known before, I might not have deigned to be a bother.Behn: My dear Mr. Foe, I am indeed tired and twisted, but I am not ill, anda handsome young man in my boudoir is never a bother, on the contrary.(She pauses as if waiting for a reaction). Mr. Foe, surely you are blushing.I should apologize for being reduced to entertaining guest in my bedchamber. I could say that you are the first, or one of the privileged few, butthat would be a lie. (She laughs at her own bawdy humor).(Foe begins to speak, but cannot find the words).Stafford: Madame Behn, you have upset the poor gentleman. I beg of youhave mercy on him. (She looks to Mr. Foe, motioning him to sit down). Mr.Foe, please, have a seat.(Foe sits in the available chair).Behn: My dear, if he is as familiar with my works as he says, then he didnot come here in search of a prim and proper lady.Foe: (Only a momentary loss for words). Yes, I have attended many ofyour plays. You do have a way of appealing to the masses. I find you to bea singularly remarkable personality and I expected no less. (He takes hisspectacles from his pocket and puts them on and also takes a sheet ofpaper from his pocket).Behn: Are you going to read to me, Mr. Foe? I do enjoy all kinds of poetry.Do you write poetry? Elizabeth, dear, perhaps we could use somerefreshments. Will you see to it?Stafford: Very well, then. (She turns to Foe). But I should warn you, Mr.Foe. If those are questions on that paper, you should not expect answers.Madame Behn is very skilled at evasion. She has the habit of answering aquestion with a question. Have you ever known someone like that?Behn: That is enough of that Elizabeth. Now off with you.85

Stafford: Yes Madame. (She makes a quick, rather sarcastic curtsy andleaves the stage).Behn: She is right, you know. If those are questions…Well, let’s just sayour meeting will be on my terms, Mr. Foe. I am a dying woman, you see. Iknow I said I’m not really sick, but I am dying just the same and I haven’tthe time to yield to the absurd notions of others. I shall tell you what youwant to know and you will want to know just what I tell you. As to your letter,I shall not pretend that I remember our introduction that you referenced.This is troubling, you see, for I have a very good memory for handsomefaces. Surely, I should have remembered one such as yours. Oh well. Inany case I am sure you are a clever man and I am most intrigued by yourfrank assessment of my literature. It is literature, don’t you think? Of course,it is. However, many scholars would not even feign interest in my plays,and therefore, my books would likely be unread by them. I do not like thesearrogant, overeducated elitists. That is no secret to one who follows mywork. Did you see my play, The Dutch Lover? If so, you will know just whatI mean. Since I wrote that play, I have become more aware of the seriousimpact that literature can wield. Nonetheless, I will always bring my ownbrand of audacity to the subject at hand. Quite obviously, you are not one ofthese pedantic self-important men because you have deigned to requestan audience with me. That, in itself, is flattery that even I find irresistible.Foe: Oroonoko. . . that is what I wish to know about.Behn: You are a wise man, Mr. Foe. You ask me questions I wish toanswer. My Oroonoko is my love. That is my secret, Mr. Foe. In this bookI have created an obscure world, a world that is at my command.Foe: Your prince. . . is he real? Did you know him?Behn: My character, this prince, is real to me, but he is, of course, portrayedas I perceive him. The magic of the pen is to tell the story as if it weremomentarily unfolding. If I, as the storyteller, adore my hero, my audiencewill adore him, as well. That is the allure of writing. I can create a place. Ican manifest every detail of its beauty, or shame. Did I know him, you ask.I have known him. I have loved him as I have loved no other. I havecreated a character to fall in love with and other characters to bear armsagainst. I am the creator of my own society, and it is as a society should be.The only law is reciprocation. Yes, I love Oroonoko, not just the book, butthe character, as well.8686

Foe: (Smiling). Have you loved Oroonoko more than you loved Mr. Behn?Behn: Mr. Behn is gone. That is that.Foe: But there was a Mr. Behn?Behn: Mr. Behn has afforded me opportunities that I’d not had otherwise.That is the best that I can say of marriage. A widow may lead a much moreremarkable life than a spinster. Spinsters are dowdy. Widows are tantalizing.Wouldn’t you agree?Foe: You have a unique perspective. I can’t say I’ve ever considered thepoint.Behn: Of course not. You are a self-declared prude. Such improprietymay bother you, but certainly not surprise you. I will suggest to you, if youhave aspirations of becoming a great storyteller, that you set your propernotions aside. Imagination is a great vehicle. For me, I go there, anywhere,in my mind and heart and I watch it happen and I tell it just as I see ithappen. That is my genius, and perhaps, it is yours. We are the storytellers,Mr. Foe. Let the reputation of the pen be considerable enough to make theglorious tale we tell survive to all ages. The pen is our weapon and with thisinstrument we work our magic. I will await your magic. Do not disappoint.Stafford: (Reenters with tea and cakes). I hope you have been polite andanswered at least a few of Mr. Foe’s questions.Foe: I feel most enlightened. One of these days, when I am brave enoughto forego my inhibitions, I shall write stories and the good advice I havebeen offered here today will guide me. I will make my magic. I will notdisappoint.87

WILLFRANCISBOARDWALK AT DUSK:A PLAY ON WORDSGideon: Boardwalk at dusk, and it’s all the same. Nightmares of industryheirs float above our heads – shrugged to the side, but never leaving ourthoughts. It’s a carnival on wood tonight for our tired, our poor. The yearningmasses, no doubt. *Gunshot!* (Gideon jumps at the sound, but plays itcool)(Vagrant with sign enters, Stage Right. Facing audience)Vagrant: “Where are we today that isn’t right?Millions of pages, stirred and turned to get us here.”Gideon: He’s an antiprophet, an unsaint, that against the grain guru on allthings peachy. Sweating gin and vinegar, he hiccups and kicks a dog.Vagrant:“Hark! Hark! The mutt does it BARK!”(Gideon travels further into the mess to meet the night)Gideon: Smells fill the air, vicious jazz to the olfactory; it’s a butcher knifeto the nerved ones. Fried, Baked, Boiled, Slathered. It’s all here, and it’s allfor you. Market fever is shaking them loose as they crawl from plank toplank looking for their next big barter. Boardwalk at dusk, and it’s all thesame.(Gideon picks up a trinket to examine, but shrinks back when he sees theowner of the tent)Hands made of scrap metal grab and poke among the patrons. Shallowbowls of dirt water are half off, “This hour only!”. Those tin soldiers, ourangels, guard the scales.8888

(Gideon leaves the market and travels futher finding a tattoo parlor inan alley)Tattoo Artist: There in the inks, those damnable inks. Mercury andlead based poison. It’s painted on your arm the family crest, your favoriteline, a naked lady. Something the eyes might have chosen. With athousand little knives that tear inside your pores, it’s a wonder thatyour spirit is unbroken.(Gideon admires the crow on his bicep and leaps from the stage andshakes the director)Gideon: I hurled him into the orchestra pit, where the bows and reedspunjied into his art.(Gideon stares madly at the writer and walks swiftly with purpose, hehas a pipe. Approaching he swings back and…)God: There in these nightmares I made a home, those fakes, thoseactors-all the rigamaroll. We called it a boardwalk and laughed in thenight. The lights all blew out, all except one.89






CONTRIBUTORSNOTESWill Francis: How’s My Driving? Call 334-797-3102Maegan McCollum supports Huntingdon College athletics and is not fromGu-Win.Jaime Demick: cells, blood, bones, and skinoutwardly a vacuum, butinside, galaxiesJohn Tom Harrison’s individuality is the result of an interesting, incited,and by all means, an inextricable childhood, which he would not change foranything.Jacob Bailey likes popcorn, scuba diving and puppies.Allyn Powell is an English major who enjoys art forms including: drawing,dance, and theater.Nichole Peacock is from Pike Road, Alabama. She is a junior majoring inEnglish with a concentration in creative writing.Kristen Morrison: “Don’t let the censor snuff out the spark, nor the gagsmuffle your voice. Put your shit on paper.” - Gloria AnzalduaSarah Jernigan is a sophomore Biology student with hopes of becoming adoctor. She enjoys writing, knitting, painting and, occasionally, entomology.Kelsey Loftin’s “On the Waves” was previously featured in SleetMagazine.She wants to be an editor when she grows up, but until then, she is contentwith writing, drawing and being a barbeque champion.

Huntingdon CollegeVolume 90

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