FRANK CHRISTIANSON is a first-year Master's student at Brigham Young University. His current emphasis is creative writing, but he is also interested in contemporary theory and literature. As an undergraduate, Christianson studied English and played on the BYU football team. MICHAEL MITTON, a Salem, Oregon, native, studies economics and philosophy at BYU. He plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in economics. Mitton is a previous winner of an Inscape contest and won second place in the David H. Yarn Essay Contest in 1994. DAVID PACE is finishing a Master's Degree in American literature and creative writing. After his April graduation, Pace plans on either law school or a doctoral program. He has a novel in progress titled Clear Friends and was a fiction winner in the Vera Hinckley Mayhew contest. TRACI OBERG graduated in English from BYU in December, and although she is still undecided as far as graduate work is con- cerned, Oberg knows she wants to write. Oberg has won previous Inscape contests and published a story in an earlier issue of Inscape. In addition to her writing, she is busy hosting a radio show and coaching basketball at Provo High School. DEREK OTSUJI graduated with a double major in English and Japanese and is now a first-year Master's student at BYU. Otsuji was awarded the Hinckley Scholarship, the Thomas Award from the English Department, and an honorable mention prize in the 1994 Vera Hinckley Mayhew poetry contest. KRISTEN TRACY did her undergraduate work at Loyola Marymount University and is currently pursuing her Master's at BYU. A native of Ucon, Idaho, Tracy taught high school in the Los Angeles inner city before beginning graduate work. Her poetry has appeared in L.A. Miscellany and the Student Review. CASUALENE MEYER is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Southern Mississippi. She recently completed her Master's with a creative writing emphasis at BYU, where she also did her undergraduate work. Meyer has won numerous poetry con- tests at BYU, most notably the 1994 Hart-Larson Poetry Contest. MICHAEL SMITH has studied at BYU where his fiction has earned honors. Smith's story, Luci and Lujean's, won first prize in the 1994 Vera Hinckley Mayhew Fiction Contest. Smith currently resides in Sale Lake City, Utah. ELISSA MINOR, a native of Lake Oswego, Oregon, is a freshman at BYU An English major, Minor plans on a Ph.D. and a career writing poetry. She admires the work of William Stafford, another Lake Oswego native, and John Ashberry. ADAM BLACKWELL did his undergraduate work in Norwiche, England, in theater and film and is currently working on his Master's at BYU. Blackwell won the Vera Hinckley Mayhew Playwriting Contest for his play, The Absent One. Another of Blackwell's plays, Blind Dates, was a finalist in the 1994 Siena International Playwrights Competition. Blackwell has been the BYU Playwright of the Year for the last two years. CHRIS TALBOT grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and plans to return there this spring when he graduates with a B.S.A. in photography. Talbot's photos in this issue came from a special projects class and were later displayed in a show titled "The Ends of the Earth. " His collection won an Undergraduate Research and Creative Work Award at BYU in 1994. Some of these photos won a Jurors Choice Award in the BYU Student Art Show in 1994 and were also exhibited in the 1994 Intercollegiate Art Show.
by Adam Blackwell
ACT ONE Lights on Bryan. He addresses the audience directly. BRYAN: I got this letter, this very strange, personal letter a few days ago. And I decided to do some detective work. I phoned the post office Public Relations Department and talked to a woman named Tracy who told me that people post about 10,000,000 letters a day in Britain. Or about one letter for every five people. Of those letters, according to Tracy, over 99 percent will reach their destinations more or less on time. But, most days, apparently, there are a few that get lost. Dropped on the rounds or lost in some appalling crevice in the post office, I'm not sure. All fine and good, but what Tracy failed to mention—and shame on her because this is really the most interesting little postal fact of all-was that, occasionally, many years later, they find these lost letters and—just as a joke, really—send them on to the same address. My friend Tom Conway, who works at the big post office in Camden, told me that. Light on Bryan dims as main lights come up. Paula on couch. Bryan picks up two cokes, hands one to Paula and sits down on a chair. We are joining their conversation in progress. BRYAN: But I don't see why— PAULA: I've told you. And I realize now you've got me here under very false pretenses. BRYAN: Not really. PAULA: Yes you have. You promised you wouldn't ask me to dwell on why I dumped you. I'm sorry, why we broke up. Because I've already told you. BRYAN: No you haven't. PAULA: Bryan. Bryan. Bryan— BRYAN: WHAT? PAULA: This isn't fair, it's really not. (resigned, giving in) We're just different. BRYAN: How? In what way? PAULA: It doesn't matter. BRYAN: It does Paula, it does to me. I want to know . . . how? PAULA: Lots of things— BRYAN: Name one. PAULA: I'm female. BRYAN: Very funny. (beat, hurt) Just don't even talk to me— PAULA: It was a joke. I thought you could take a joke. BRYAN: No, no that's not fair. You're not getting away with that. I can—you know I can. Just because I'm trying to get an answer from you doesn't mean I can't take a joke. I mean I got it. It wasn't funny. (pause) There's a time and a place you know— PAULA: See, you were offended. BRYAN: No I wasn't! PAULA: I never get offended like that. Americans don't take offense so easily. BRYAN: (doubtfully) Oh really? PAULA: Just, just lighten up— BRYAN: Oh me lighten up? That's new. I mean you're the one who's always getting on at me . . . PAULA: Then you're better off without me. Like I've said already. BRYAN: Don't be like that! PAULA: Like what? BRYAN: (getting upset) I'm just saying chat it's usually you who's getting upset. PAULA: When? What do I get upset at? BRYAN : A lot of things. Me, Tom Conway, anyone who doesn't agree with you. PAULA: That's not true. Just because I stick up for myself— BRYAN: Not just yourself. PAULA: So? Is that bad? BRYAN: J. Danforth Quayle recently celebrated his 45th. I can't remember if it was his birthday or IQ. PAULA: (a little dumbfounded) What? BRYAN: Maybe it was his 35th. PAULA: What, you want me to defend Quayle? BRYAN: If anything should happen to Bush, the security guards have immediate orders to go Quayle-hunting. PAULA: What the hell—like I'm really going to defend Quayle— BRYAN: How d'you spell "potato"? How d'you spell "moron"? PAULA: What is your point? BRYAN: You're mad, right? PAULA: No! I don't care. But what's the point? He's an easy target. BRYAN: Well, he's not the only easy target. PAULA: Oh come on. No martyrs please. BRYAN: Why not? PAULA: Because I don't like you when you're a martyr. BRYAN: (smiling to himself) Yea, I don't know why I said that. For effect, I suppose. PAULA: (laughing) Effect? You? No! BRYAN: (in clumsy American dialect) Well, yep, yep. That'd be me. Mr. Effect. Mr. Head Cheerleader. Mr. Captain-of-the- Football-Team. PAULA: Your accent—it's terrible. BRYAN: (in mock posh English accent)Accent, which accent? If you, my dear lady, are insinuating that I have an accent, then you're quite mistaken. I speak RP and— PAULA: What? BRYAN: (same accent) RP, received pronunciation. What the Queen speaks, what you hear on telly—the noncommercial channels that is. And it's not an accent at all. (reverting to normal accent—philosophically) In fact, it's not even a dialect. Dialect always seems to imply vulgarity, you know the kind of thing they speak in Scotland. Or in McDonald's. That's one thing I really hate. I mean I really hate it, that accent the English McDonald's cashiers put on. "Would you like anything to drink with your meal, sir?" I mean like it's somehow humiliating to buy a Big Mac without at least a medium Coke— PAULA: Oh that reminds me—something very funny! BRYAN: About medium Cokes? PAULA: No—well, yes, in a way. I had this philosophy professor at Cambridge who lectured on Pascal. You know him? Pascal I mean? BRYAN: French by the sound of it. PAULA: Yes he is. And he's the one who said you might as well believe in God. You know Pascal's bet. It's 50-50 there's a God so you might as well believe because, if there is, you'll get to Heaven and, even if there isn't, it'll be better for you in this life. BRYAN: He sounds sophisticated. PAULA: No, he is. That's just vulgar Pascality. But anyway, there was this minister who was attacking Pascal at some lecture in London, and so a bunch of us went up there including Macfarlane, the professor. And after it was over, we stopped at McDonald's. And you know he seemed lost. True, there's no McDonald's in Cambridge, but even so you'd think the guy would have made an effort. But, anyway, we all order and go and sit down. Macfarlane ordered a cheeseburger and a cup of tea. Strange combination but, you know, fair enough. So he drank his tea and unwrapped his cheeseburger—really carefully, a bit suspiciously almost. He looked pretty funny so I was kind of watching him out of the corner of my eye. And he took a bite and, I'm not kidding, he looked like he'd just eaten excrement. Anyway, we were all watching at this point. And he put his cheeseburger down and thought for a second. Then he said—I'll never forget this—he pointed to his cheeseburger and said: "This has meat in it. " BRYAN: Were you sympathetic? PAULA: Some of the guys were saying "Ah that's awful—go and take it back," but I told him it was really pretty normal. BRYAN: Now why do I believe that? PAULA: 'cause I'm such a brown-noser. BRYAN: Yes, you are, aren't you? PAULA: Well, I'm not too bad. You know I was the only woman in that whole damn class. I had to do something. Beat. BRYAN: It's odd— PAULA: I remember the first day I went to class and saw I was the only woman. BRYAN: That must've been strange. PAULA: Well, yes and no. BRYAN: Hmm. Funny thing happened this Thursday— PAULA: You too? BRYAN: I got this old letter— PAULA: This idiot came up to me—and you say Americans are pushy— BRYAN: This letter, though, it's weird. It's like it was written— PAULA: Of course I was polite— BRYAN: Paula! PAULA: What? I'm sorry—it's just that letter stuff makes me go a little jumpy. When you told me about it—on the phone I mean—you made it sound like— BRYAN: Like what? PAULA: I don't know—but you sounded weird, Bryan. Like— BRYAN: Like what? Tell me. PAULA: Just weird—like that time you were telling me about the dreams you were having about those hands and that head— BRYAN: Thanks for the memory. PAULA: It's that Peter guy again, isn't it? BRYAN: (agitated)No! PAULA: Really? Longish beat. BRYAN: Really. PAULA: (magnanimously) Well what? Go ahead, talk to me. Tell me anything. BRYAN: It's nothing. (pause) Well—I mean—you know I'm not pressuring you, don't you? PAULA: Oh come on, play fair. That's the one thing which is off limits. I thought you meant that letter. BRYAN: I did. (pause) I'm sorry, but it's important for me to under- stand— PAULA: I explained it all two weeks ago. And several times after that. BRYAN: Yea, and I think . . . I mean I think you think . . . PAULA: What? What do I think? BRYAN: Well I don't know what you think. But you're wrong. Because I'm not. I don't want anything too, I don't. I mean . . . marriage— PAULA: Marriage— BRYAN: Is out. Our! I'm not ready. I don't want that. No, that's not what I mean. But you think I do. PAULA: No I don't. BRYAN: Well not marriage, of course. But pressure, yes. You think I'm pressuring, and I'm not. I want to take things slowly— very slowly. But— PAULA: Bryan, I had fun. I'm still having fun. (beat, gently) Not now obviously, not right now. BRYAN: Then why change that? I mean there's—there's—there's no problem. Fun's not a problem. Is it? PAULA: No. It's good, it's fun—it's very good. And we can still have fun. I mean—really . . . BRYAN: Then why change? I told you I'm not pressuring you. I don't want to. Not me either, I don't want to pressure me—myself. PAULA: I know. But there is pressure. There's some . . . if we're still . . . If we're still going out then we can't relax, we have to worry about each other. BRYAN: Who's worrying? PAULA: (somewhat assertively) Well, I am frankly. Me. There are things about you that bother me. BRYAN: What? What? Tell me. PAULA: No! They're not bad things. It's me—just as much as you. BRYAN: OK, then tell me. Maybe I annoy myself as well. PAULA: No, Bryan, no—I'm trying to tell you that they're only a problem for us— BRYAN: What are? PAULA: Your problems—no, no! You made me say that. They're not problems, they're just or us problems. BRYAN: Paula, we're not that different. I mean you think we are, like you think I'm pressuring you. But we're not, and I'm not. PAULA: OK, maybe. BRYAN: So you agree? PAULA: No Bryan, I don't. Just, enough. (pause) I want to go. You're majorly violating our agreement. BRYAN: Just tell me first. PAULA: Tell you what? BRYAN: (pause) Differences. PAULA: No, not again. BRYAN: What d'you mean again? PAULA: I mean—(then, giving in, with resignation and irritation) I'm American. I don't want to live here. I happen to think President Bush is usually right—see, you're groaning! BRYAN: Yes, but— PAULA: (with increasing energy) I like McDonald's. I hate steak and kidney pie—pudding, whatever. I believe in things: coun- try, God even. I'm a student still. I'm a woman . . . I guess I've made that point. (pause) Hey? BRYAN: What! I'm not offended! PAULA: Good. See, I'm not offensive, I'm not an offensive person. BRYAN: I know! PAULA: OK, I'm sorry. BRYAN: Don't be. (pause) But it was you. At first, I mean. You, you wanted us to be . . . PAULA: I know, I know . . . I know. (beat) And I still do want us to be— BRYAN: Friends! (pause) Right, friends? I'm right, yes? PAULA: What are you making it sound like that for? BRYAN: Like what? PAULA: Like—I dunno—like it's nothing. BRYAN: I didn't say— PAULA: Didn't say, but that's what I'm hearing. What's wrong with that? You don't have anything against friends do you? BRYAN: Not against friends, no. PAULA: What's that supposed to mean? Look, I'm trying to be friendly here. I'm telling you—for the fifteenth time—why it would never work between us, and I'm trying not to be a jerk about it. But you, you're not helping. Tell me what I'm doing wrong. Am I being a jerk? Am I—am I a— BRYAN: No, you're not a jerk. (slight pause) You're just a patronizing jerk. PAULA: See, you're just rude. I mean I wouldn't say stuff like that. BRYAN: I know you wouldn't. PAULA: And you say we're not different! BRYAN: We're not! PAULA: Yea, right! BRYAN: You're not a jerk. PAULA: Oh you charmer— BRYAN: I mean I'm sorry I called you . . . I didn't mean . . . But you are patronizing, aren't you? PAULA: (patronizingly) No Bryan, I'm not. BRYAN: There—that's what I mean! PAULA: It was a joke. BRYAN: Oh. Yes. OK. PAULA: Geez, you can call me a jerk, and I can't even joke . . . Bryan steps forward as main lights dim. Light only on Bryan. BRYAN: I didn't call her a jerk, and she knew it. It was just her way of distancing herself from me. But I've done the same thing so I suppose I can't complain. I was very brave in that con- versation, very open—at least for me. But I could have been braver. I could have read her that letter. I wanted to. I wanted to get it out and—kind of mocking myself to make it seem in character—read it to her and ask her there and then whether it was a message from God. I wanted to, but I didn't. (beat) I thought she might see that I was in earnest. (beat) She's pretty damned percep- tive—I mean she was right about Peter. The letter is about him. At least that's the way I've been reading it. It's about all of them: Peter, Kathy, Alain—the whole boat really. Spot off Bryan as lights come up on Kathy and Peter. Music plays in the background. KATHY: Come and help Peter, Bryan. PETER: It's all right, I've got it. KATHY: He can't move it alone. Bryan and Peter bring on a standup coffin to use in an act. We are on a French cruise ship, and this is a rehearsal for the cabaret. PET ER: It's all right, Bryan. I've got it. BRYAN: Forget it. It's not a problem. This OK, Kathy? KATHY: (vaguely) Yes I suppose so. BRYAN: Well say if it's not, we can move it. I said we can move it. KATHY: Look, it doesn't matter, does it? (pause) Now Bryan scram, there's a dear, Peter and I have to continue our rehearsal. BRYAN: Continue—I have to start mine. KATHY: Of course you don't, now just leave us alone. Peter, come on. (Bryan still hasn't left.) Bryan, you're tiresome, you really are. (to Peter) Now get in the coffin. PETER: But I thought you said— KATHY: No individual tricks. PETER: Why not? KATHY: Have you been drinking? PETER: A little. I'm fine though— KATHY: You'll go in the coffin. There's nothing to worry about. I'm fairly sure I remember which holes to put the swords in. Bryan laughs. KATHY: But I'm sure you'll scream if I get it wrong. BRYAN: (imitating BBC newscaster) And tonight's main news again. The French company Chez la Mer has decided to refund its passengers' money after a bloody corpse shocked specta- tors by falling out of a coffin onto the dance floor. KATHY: Don't listen to him my baby, he's very sick. BRYAN: Police have refused to comment on one of the most bizarre murders in cruise ship history. Kathy Frayn, 45, reportedly stabbed her son eight times for failure to brush his teeth with a fluoride paste. Peter, 22, budding magician, died of several swords to the heart and left all his money to his good friend and your charming MC, Bryan Potter. KATHY: Droll, Bryan, very droll. But enough, because we have to rehearse. BRYAN: He was always making my fivers disappear, said the grieving mother— KATHY: Shut up Bryan. Now introduce our act since you refuse to leave. BRYAN: With pleasure. Ladies and gentlemen, mesdames et messieurs, please put your hands together, applaudissez s'il vous plait, for the fair and lovely Peter Frayn and his mum, pour le beau Pierre Frayn, Queen of Hearts, Dame des Coeurs— KATHY: Do it properly. BRYAN: What do you mean , do it properly? KATHY: I mean do it right. We agreed to use only the English name. BRYAN: We did? The Frenchies aren't going to like that. KATHY: Yes they are; I've cleared it with LeCacheur. Dame des Coeurs sounds ridiculous. BRYAN: Not as ridiculous as (heavy French accent) Queen of 'earrs. What do you think, Peter? PETER: I don't care. BRYAN: Oh more decision man, please. I mean if we're translating everything else, how can you justify omitting the name of your act, the title of the glitziest, prestigiousest mother-son act on cruise ships throughout the Mediterranean? KATHY: Leave Peter out of this, and say what I told you, or I'll have you replaced. BRYAN: Oh Kathy, come off it. You don't have that power over me. Or LeCacheur. KATHY: We'll see about that. BRYAN: Kathy! KATHY: You're dispensable. Acts don't need to be introduced. BRYAN: Yes they do, and I'm the only one on this God-forsaken boat who can speak two languages. PETER: No, that's not true! Alain can as well. BRYAN: Oh Alain, I'm sure he's got a great accent. (with a crass American accent) Mesdames et Messieurs . . . I don't think so. Besides, he doesn't have the Hiderian charisma you need to charm a bunch of drunken French nationalists whose only holiday this year is being wasted on this pathetic and inane boat ride. KATHY: And you do? BRYAN: I think so. I mean Alain seems to be a very warm person when you're talking to him, but he's not exactly a rally leader. And, yes, I am. I mean, seriously Peter, can you imagine him whipping those Nûrnberg crowds into hysterics? KATHY: Peter's not interested. One more chance, you either an- nounce us only in English, or you leave. Dame des Coeurs . . . is pretentious. BRYAN: You're no fun any more. KATHY: I don't think I ever was, Bryan. BRYAN: All right—mesdames et messieurs, veuillez accueillir, please welcome, Queen of Hearts. (pause) That's that, what's that you're grumbling about? You can't understand—can't under- stand the name of the act? Well, I'm sorry, that's what you get when you buy a ticket on a French boat with a group of English entertainers. But don't worry, you'll love the finale. A real live death, on stage, Actors' Studio style, Jocasta's Revenge. KATHY: (to Peter) Ignore him, ignore him, we've got to practice. All right, now get off stage . Good . And when you hear us being announced, come on in and take a modest bow. Try it. Just like we practiced. And please welcome Queen of Hearts . . . Peter comes on stage and bows almost imperceptibly. KATHY: Bow I said. PETER: I did. KATHY: That's not a bow, that's barely a nod. Now come on, try it again. Not the entrance, just the bow. Queen of Hearts . . . Peter bows, this time too extravagantly. KATHY: No, that's too much. You haven't done anything yet, what are you bowing to your toes for? PETER: But I thought . . . BRYAN: He thought that was the end of the act, didn't you Peter? He thought it was a minimalist kind of thing. I hear LeCacheur's a fan of the genre. (reverting to MC voice) And that was Queen of Hearts doing Richard Foreman's entrance without purpose . . . Now please give a warm welcome to Mr. Francophobe himself, yes, Mr. Totally Culturally Intransigent, Jonathan Cody . . . KATHY: (to Peter) All right darling, that's good. Now walk around the stage—remember there'll be music—so just acknowl- edge everyone. Give them a slight nod— BRYAN: Like that first bow you did— KATHY: No attention to Bryan—yes, yes, that's nice. And smile a little, good, good. Just let them know you exist, and then come to me, and we'll get started. BRYAN: (obligingly) Queen of Hearts, Queen of— KATHY: Just leave us. I've got two hours to get this act up and run- ning, and I can't deal with your stupidity— BRYAN: But I just said Queen of Hearts, I didn't translate it or any- thing. I made no cultural concession whatsoever, and you blow up on me. KATHY: I didn't blow up on you. BRYAN: I thought you'd be proud. KATHY: No, no. You're just delaying us. BRYAN: The hell I am, I was just announcing you like you wanted— KATHY: Your presence here is not at all constructive, you're simply distracting Peter for your own amusement. BRYAN: And tremendously amusing it is too! Wow I'm having fun! Thank you so much for letting me introduce you, I feel so privileged. KATHY: You're superf1uous, Bryan, I'm ignoring you. (to Peter) Come on darling. Kathy and Bryan speak their next lines together. We hear Bryan's most loudly, with Kathy's in the background. BRYAN: (to himself) Superfluous, huh? (beat) Suppose I am, really. I'm on a cruise ship, and I'm a university graduate. I'm spending my whole damn summer introducing seaside magic acts. This is slippage, it must be. This must be what they meant. It must be slippage. I finally understand you, Derrida, you old dog. KATHY: (softly, overlapping, to Peter) Don't listen to him darling. Now that entrance was fine, and the circle—that was good too. Just walk on and smile. Remember, they just want to know you're there and that you're going to entertain them. You'll like this new act, I promise you. PETER: Oh I know. I think I've got it down. KATHY: But my darling we haven't even started. BRYAN: Sure you have, you're finished. It's Johnny Cody's turn. Mesdames et messieurs, Jonathan Cody. (imitating Cody) Well, it's nice to see so many of you here, but I'm afraid the bar's on the upper deck. While Bryan imitates Cody, Kathy and Peter try rehearsing and then reluctantly watch Bryan perform. BRYAN: Oh you brought your booze with you, did you? A mace of mine once cold me that the more you drink, the funnier I become. The same mate also told me that the more I drink, the funnier you become. And I'm telling you, I've had a few pints, and you're hilarious. Makes 200 of us. Are there any children out there and, by children, I mean any- one who can't get drinks at the bar? So we're talking about the under fives. No, but seriously, I love children. I do. I went to school with them. I know it says I'm a saxo- phone player and you're probably expecting me to play the Marselleis-y, but I'm afraid that's a mistake. I actually play the whistle. And I'm going to play Rule Britannia. Bryan pretends to take out a whistle and does his best to make out a few bars of Rule Britannia. Kathy orders Peter into the coffin. A man walks in and observes. Kathy starts sticking in swords. KATHY: I'm not going to cut you, you needn't worry. Just keep calm. All right, my darling, very nice, very nice . . . The man (Alain) reacts to Bryan. ALAIN: John. John Cody. BRYAN: Father Alain! How could you tell? ALAIN: It's a fine impersonation. BRYAN: Thanks. He's pretty easy to do. ALAIN: John's an interesting character. Especially sober. BRYAN: I wouldn't know Father. ALA IN: Sure. He's lonely, and he drinks to—well, he's recently divorced. BRYAN : Yes I know. Strange that, Father, he seems the selfish bach- elor type. ALAIN: Maybe. He says it would start World War III if his wife came on board. In fact he said it in a show a few weeks ago. BRYAN: Did he really? I bet that went down well. ALAIN: Well it didn't cause any offense. BRYAN: Not a very English-speaking audience, I take it. ALAIN: Exactly. BRYAN: Do you think John will be saved, Father? ALAIN: You're an idiot, Bryan. But I like you. (beat) Poor John! Peter! Peter, what are you doing? Peter has stepped nervously out of the coffin. PETER: Hi Alain. It's the new act. PETER: I'd love to watch. KATHY: Actually, Alain, I need you to go and get that Polaroid you were using. I mean if you could. ALAIN: Sure thing, the bar doesn't reopen until six. KATHY: Good, it's just I want pictures of this stage for LeCacheur. It's not safe. Alain disappears, and Peter, disappointed, starts to follow him. KATHY: Where are you going darling? PETER: I'm just going with Alain. KATHY: What about our rehearsal? You know we're performing tonight, don't you? Do you think we're ready? PETER: Well, yes, I-I-I thought we were done. KATHY: (with mock incredulity) Thought we were done? PETER: Yes. I remember everything. KATHY: What do you think Bryan? Are we ready for tonight? BRYAN: (oddly sincere) You're as ready as anyone else. Ten minutes' practice may not seem like a lot, but that's more than most. You don't want to peak too early. KATHY: (to Bryan) Well, it's been more than ten minutes. (to Peter) We'll go through it one more time. Now get off stage, and I'll have Bryan announce us. BRYAN: Oh forget it, I'm bored! Alain returns unexpectedly with camera. ALAIN: I forgot, I just left it at the reception. KATHY: All right. Peter, you can go now, we're through. No, that's fine, please go. Peter hesitates, then leaves. Alain, under Kathy's direction, starts taking pictures of the stage. Bryan imitates him vaguely in the back- ground. Lights fade on scene as Bryan walks downstage into spot. BRYAN: I always thought he was a Moonie—Alain, that is. To me, all those weird American religions beginning in "M" were the same. Moonie, Methodist, Mormon, take your pick. I wonder if it matters. Lights up revealing two female Mormon missionaries, sitting in Bryan's living room. BRYAN: Are you sure I can't get you something to drink? SISTER MOON: Yes, honest, I'm fine. BRYAN: And your friend? SISTER JOHNSON: I'm fine too. BRYAN: Well, you'll have to excuse me because I'm rather thirsty. Bryan drinks. JOHNSON: So how much do you know about our Church? BRYAN: You don't drink . . . (realizing) Would you like a Coke or squash or something? MOON: Really, we're not thirsty. BRYAN: And you don't swear much or eat rice. MOON & JOHNSON: What? BRYAN: You don't eat rice, do you? Or swear— MOON: Well I do! JOHNSON: Swear? MOON: No, eat rice. I often eat rice, and so do you. JOHNSON: Of course. BRYAN: I thought—well, (beat) Alain didn't. They'd always have to make him pasta. He was one of yours . . . I think. I knew him on a cruise. JOHNSON: A cruise? BRYAN: Yes, yes. Two summers ago. It was run by these crazy French mafiosi. MOON: Who didn't eat rice. BRYAN: No they did. It was Alain who didn't—on religious grounds. MOON: Are you sure? That sounds very strange. BRYAN: Yes I'm sure, I remember because, as I say, he'd always get pasta . . . or bread sometimes. MOON: Was it soaked in whisky or something? BRYAN: The bread? MOON: No, the rice. Did they soak it in alcohol? BRYAN: Why would they do that? MOON: They wouldn't, but I'm just saying, did they? BRYAN: Of course they didn't. Not even the French go that far. MOON: Alain was French? BRYAN: No, he was Mormon! (pause) American! MOON: And he didn't eat rice. BRYAN: (devoutly) He wouldn't touch it. MOON: Bizarre, where was he from? BRYAN: America. MOON: Yea, where exactly? Idaho? BRYAN: No, I don't think so. That's not in Boston, is it?—no, of course it's not, Boston's not a state. He was from Boston. JOHNSON: Did he know the Richards? BRYAN: I don't know. MOON: It's a big city, Sister Johnson. BRYAN: (surprised) You're sisters? MOON: No! Not for your purposes. BRYAN: (recapitulatingly) Well it is a big city, Boston. JOHNSON: You've been? BRYAN: No, but I've seen maps. MOON: (diverted) That's strange. A city like Boston—you wouldn't think they'd have such folksy beliefs. (to Bryan) He didn't ever quote you any scriptures explaining why he didn't eat rice, did he? I mean, it wasn't part of any strange new order? BRYAN: No, I don't think so. He just didn't eat it. MOON: On religious grounds . . . BRYAN: Well I assume! MOON: (realizing) You mean he never actually said. BRYAN: Not in so many words, no. But he didn't drink beer or wine or eat rice, I remember that much. MOON: Well, I can believe that. The beer and wine he wouldn't drink, but the rice . . . That—that must have been a per- sonal choice. JOHNSON: We're warned against a lot of things— MOON: Yep, but not rice. BRYAN: Well I suppose he could have just not liked it. But it seems to me he said it was religion once. Maybe not, I dunno. JOHNSON: So really you don't know too much about our Church? BRYAN: It's a fair cop. (pause) No I don't. JOHNSON: But you'd like to know more? Right? BRYAN: Well actually . . . I mean yes, yes—yes I would. Tell me. JOHNSON: Have you heard of a man called Joseph Smith? BRYAN: No. JOHNSON: Well, he's the founder of our church. He translated some ancient plates and gave us the Book of Mormon. We believe that to be God's word— BRYAN: Wait a minute—I'm sorry—but that rings a bell. Maybe I have heard—I've got a friend Tom Conway who was telling me about that. JOHNSON: Oh really? (with tremendous enthusiasm) That's great! BRYAN: Yes. It's a fake, right? JOHNSON: What? MOON: What d'you mean fake? BRYAN: He forged it, right? I mean, they proved it, and there were all those people that died. Look, I'm not making this up, seriously! Loads of people thought it was real but—but then it was proved—I mean they proved it—that it was forged, that it was a . . . forgery. JOHNSON: There are a lot of people, Mr. Potter— BRYAN: Mr. Potter! Don't call me that, you're no younger than me— JOHNSON: (unphased) A lot of people who try and bring the Church down. Try to bring it down because they've been offended in some way. BRYAN: Like the press? The press in this country even? Tom Conway showed me an article about it in The Guardian. MOON: When was this, Bryan? BRYAN : Oh I don't know, a few years ago. I mean, not too long. JOHNSON: The Restoration was over 150 years— MOON: He's not talking about the Restoration, he's talking about the Hoffman thing. BRYAN: I am? JOHNSON: Hoffman? Moon tries to impersonate a salamander. MOON: (hissing) Salamander! BRYAN: What? MOON: Nothing, nothing relevant. A man forged some documents stating that Joseph Smith had seen a heavenly salamander. And some people got killed. BRYAN: Thar's not nothing. MOON: True, but it doesn't have anything to do with the beginning of the Church. JOHNSON: (trying to restore some order) We believe that Joseph Smith received a vision— BRYAN: (interested) From God? JOHNSON: Yes, and his son. BRYAN: What kind of vision? Like in the sky? Or—or a dream or something? JOHNSON: Well, we know he saw God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ. BRYAN: I mean, visually—or physically rather—he saw them. JOHNSON: Yes. MOON: Why d'you ask? Are heavenly messages difficult for you to come to terms with? BRYAN: Oh no—well, of course—but I mean that's not what I . . . I mean that's not why I asked . . . JOHNSON: We believe that Joseph— MOON: Sorry, Sister Johnson, let Bryan finish. BRYAN: That's it, I've finished. JOHNSON : We call that the First Vision. And it's the basis— MOON: Sister Johnson, just give him a minute. BRYAN: A minute? What of? What for? I'm getting another drink. Are you sure— MOON: Look, you didn't drag us all the way from town just to offer us Cokes all the time— BRYAN: No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend— MOON: No one's offended. I just want to know why you brought us here. You can't date us, you know. BRYAN: As if . . . I have a girlfriend. (beat) Well, I did anyway—'til last week. JOHNSON: I'm sorry. BRYAN: No, it's fine. (smiling to himself) I mean I had to end it, she wanted too much. She wanted to get married. Johnson and Moon exchange a glance. BRYAN: What did I say? Did I say something funny? What are you— MOON: No, it's nothing. We—well, we know a few people like that. BRYAN: She was—is—American. But not Mormon , I'm pretty sure. She believes in God though. MOON: Do you? BRYAN: Me? I? MOON: Yes. Do you think that there's a God out there who orders our universe? BRYAN: And sends people messages and stuff? Well, no . . . no . . . I don't think . . . no. I mean—what do you mean? Like a person, a real person in the sky? I mean—you know—that's kind of hard to swallow. (pause) MOON: But do you think about it ever? I mean do you ever wonder? BRYAN: Sure I wonder. Especially . . . MOON: Especially what? BRYAN: Especially . . . (beat) Forget it, there's no order in this world. I mean, come on! (beat) If he is meant to be benevolent, then . . . Well, I mean, there's no way. MOON: You're saying that there can't be a God if there's suffering. BRYAN: It's a cliché, I know. MOON: It's a valid concern. BRYAN: Well, not—not just suffering. I mean , fine, that's OK, I suppose. If everybody suffered, then no one would be left out. But we don't, not the same amount. I know I'm not saying anything original, but— MOON: That doesn't matter. BRYAN: I mean—well—the other night—Saturday—I was on the train, coming back from Leicester Square. It was late, and there was just me and this other bloke in our compartment. I was feeling kind of friendly—perhaps a little drunk—and so I struck up a conversation. And he slurred, he slurred all his words, making it really difficult to understand. (beat) He—he was handicapped, I realized. And you know you hate to make people—people like that—repeat themselves, but you don't want to pretend like you understand them when you don't. So we just stopped talking. But a few min- utes later—he had crutches, by the way—he started saying something else. I realized he wanted something, but I couldn't think what. I think I said yes a few times and just kind of smiled inanely. But I knew I wasn't helping. Then he let out this awful noise—this cry of pain—agony—and got up. And I figured out—too late of course—that he'd wanted me to give him a hand. That's what he'd been ask- ing me. I wanted to do something for him, I wanted to carry him up the escalators and put him in a taxi—my treat! But I didn't. And, with great difficulty—and pain, he got off the train. And that was it. He left, and I just sat there wondering—wondering what kind of God would do something like that to a man. I mean, why can't God step in? I mean, if he's so great and powerful—why doesn't he help people like that man? And why does he let me just sit there—sit there—like an idiot and not do anything? Why? JOHNSON: I don't know. But Bryan, he does care. MOON: So you do wonder? About God, I mean. That's something you think about. BRYAN: No, not really. It's just that I had a few things on my mind. Paula had broken up with me the day before and . . . MOON: And what Bryan? What else? BRYAN: (very defensively) Stop playing the knowing psychiatrist! I told you . . . it's not important. MOON: (taken back) I'm sorry. Beat. JOHNSON: Bryan, God is there. He'll listen. He hates our suffering, I know he does. That man on the tube, God knows about him. And you too, he knows what you need. Just give him a chance. BRYAN: (too resolved) Yes. Yes I will. Thanks for coming, listening to me spout nonsense. MOON: It wasn't nonsense. JOHNSON: Of course it wasn't. They're all things we have to deal with. Can we stop by again? We'll probably have to bring someone with us. BRYAN: Well, I don't know. I don't want to waste your time. I mean if there're people out there more likely to listen . . . JOHNSON: We don't just want to convert you. MOON: We want to help. BRYAN: You do? MOON: Of course. BRYAN: (struggling) Then—I mean—OK—don't go. Not yet. Just a second. JOHNSON : Well actually, we kind of—sort of—have to. BRYAN: Eight seconds. JOHNSON: We've got an appointment at 3:30. BRYAN: It's just that . . . a couple of weeks ago, I got this letter. (makes sure they are staying and sprints out of the room) Hang on! Bryan returns and coughs, startling the missionaries a little. He is carrying the letter. BRYAN: This letter, right, it wasn't addressed to me. I mean it was addressed to this flat, this street number. But it was to an older occupant, Lionel Morgan. It was originally posted in 1971! MOON: How strange. BRYAN: Postal humor, I think. I've got a friend who works at a sorting station who tells me that they do that occasionally. You know, send one on that's been lost for ages. Funny thing is, and I think I believe him, he swears it wasn't him. JOHNSON: Sister Moon, it will take us half an hour to— MOON: Just a minute. BRYAN: It's odd—really odd—and I don't know how to say this without sounding odd myself—it's like it was written to me, at least written for me. I mean the references, the situations, a name, it's like it's me. It seems like—well—it seems almost supernatural—no, uncanny. That's the word. Uncanny. Especially, as I say, the name. Peter. Peter Frayn. I knew a— JOHNSON: It's five of three. MOON: (resigned) OK. Bryan, we're sorry, but it's true, we have an appointment which we really can't be late for. The woman works. Another time though. We'd love to come back and— BRYAN: It's all right. Forget it. It's probably just a joke. JOHNSON: We'll be back. Have you got a phone number? BRYAN: Sure. 071 744 5351. JOHNSON: We'll be in touch. Lights fade. Then they come up again. It is night, and Bryan (a little drunk) is in his room with a Chinese woman, Tessa. Bryan goes to a drawer and takes out an envelope. From inside, he pulls out a letter, the letter. He approaches Tessa. BRYAN: Listen: that's all you need to do. Listen, and then give me your opinion at the end. It's a letter, right? I got it about two weeks ago, but it was written twenty years ago. Got it? Bizarre, I know. Dear Lionel. (to Tessa) This bit's in French so I'll translate. (reverts to letter) If you don't like the sea, if you don't like the mountains and if you don't like the city, then forget it. (to Tessa) OK, now it's English. Tessa stands up. TESSA: I go, I'm going. BRYAN: (very angrily) You'll listen to this, damn it, now sit down! (completely calm again) I'm sorry, but I need your opinion, no one else will listen. Now, please, sit. Come on, sit down. Thank-you so much. This next bit's difficult because the handwriting's bad, and it looks like something's spilled on it. (reads somewhat tentatively) Put away the bottles and forget your sorrows. Nobody—nobody likes an alcoholic, and neither do I. (to Tessa) Can't be Tom because he does like alcoholics, he is one. (as if to read, then looks up) Oh this next bit's really kind of fascinating. Don't know what it means though. (reads) Treat it—treat it like a tragic play. You've been doing a Chekhov for the last few weeks, and tonight it ends. You've had to internalize all the heartache and sorrow, but no longer, for tonight the curtain came down for the last time. (to Tessa) Isn't that an interesting way of looking at things? I really like this fellow. TESSA: Can I have a drink? BRYAN: No you can't, you've got to listen to the end of this letter. (beat) Yes, you can have a drink, help yourself. Tessa pours herself a drink. BRYAN: It's such an odd letter, this. And the way it's written: all that movie stuff—that opening monologue is from Breathless, I've checked—and—and the play bits . . . It's most intriguing. What's the fellow called—Raymond. An unlikely name, he sounds like a Tyrone or something. And Lionel Morgan—the bloke it's written to—well I finally heard back from my landlord, and there's been no one of that name living here for as long as he can remember. OK, you've got your drink, sit down again. TESSA: Is it much longer? BRYAN: Don't offend me, Tessa. No, no it's not much longer. Now sit, please. Thank-you. (as if to read, then looks up) This bit, this is what really chills me. (reads) Don't worry about old Pete Frayn. (looks up) Frayn. Pete Frayn. F-R-A-Y-N. Same spelling, same everything. (reads) He's in a better place. Now don't tune out, Lionel, I know you're not a "believer. " But you'll be all right if you just trust in the good Lord above, as the Americans say. He'll lead you out of these dark scenes, and the lights will come up on some glorious comedy. Your true friend, Raymond Dunbar. (to Tessa, who is actually asleep) That's it, that's the whole letter. You don't know how odd . . . That theatre stuff, and that name, Pete Frayn! (beat) All right Tessa, darling, let's have it. Who's it from? God or Tom Conway? Come on love, wake up, I need some answers. He goes over to Tessa and shakes her gently. She won't wake. BRYAN : (gently) All right, All right. Sleep there. Let me know in the morning. Blackout. End of Act One. This is the first act of a two act play
by Michael Mitton
The first trip chat I took with my grandfather was to Auschwitz. He served in World War II and that was, as he says, the single most important thing he has ever done. Grandfather was one of the first people at the concentration camp in Auschwitz, an event from which he never fully recovered, for he saw the mounds of shoes and glasses collected from the dead. We never spoke and I'm not sure if he even opened his eyes. As I held his hand and walked him, he felt the air and listened to the memories, learning, trying to understand the incomprehensible. After several hours of his quiet thinking in the early morning, the tourists began to arrive, father wondering if they'll make the train, mother worrying about lunch, and the children listening to Michael Jackson on their walkmans. But even after the return to that place, he could never fully recover: Grandfather was Jewish. Our second and last trip together was a drive from San Francisco to Calgary to visit his brother, my great uncle. The trip was long and I decided to make it longer by visiting one of the places that I had only heard about and never seen, the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in southern Alberta. When I was a child, I learned that the Indians would, after disguising themselves, lead the buffalo closer and closer to the edge of the cliff before finally stampeding them over it. That was the Buffalo Jump. As legend has it, one year, a young Indian wanted to see how the whole event looked from the bottom of the cliff. That was the Head-Smashed-In. Such buffalo jumps were common across the plains, but as far as I know, the interpretive center at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is the only commemoration of the Indians' slaughtering methods. In grade school on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving holiday, we spent the day learning about what life was like for the Pilgrims and for the Indians. We ate corn bread, made fresh butter from cream, and even tried salted meat one year. It was always Mrs. Horning who talked about the Indians— she would speak from inside a genuine teepee—and she would some-times act out her fervent words, leaping around in her teepee, pounding her hand on her mouth to make her whoops vibrate, and making as though she were shooting buffalo with a bow and arrow. For a third grader, it was quite impressive. She held her body near to the ground as she painted the picture of the Indians herding the buffalo nearer to the cliff and she occasionally gave sharp calls like a shepherd controlling her dogs, except that her dogs were imaginary Indians. I can still remember my excitement when she started going crazy, screaming and yelling, to stampede the buffalo; I can remember falling on the floor laughing when she mimicked the buffalo flying through the open air and crashing onto the earth below. For a fifth grader, it was tremendous. When I told Grandfather about the detour I had planned, he said, "Do you go there to learn or do you go there to gawk?" ''I've heard about this place my whole life. I just want to see it." "How long did Moses wait to see the promised land? And even then he was given only a glimpse of it before his death. He never set foot in it. Died on Mount Nebo overlooking the valley. But Moses died a wise man overlooking that valley." Since my mother abandoned her heritage and married a goy, a Mormon, Grandfather would always return to Moses, he being the only significant, common religious ground that we had. I know little of what transpired between my mother and Grand- father, for both sides were reticent, but I know that he refused to go to the wedding. And since I have no memory of Grandfather from before mother's death, I suppose there was little talk, if any, between the two. After her death, though, Grandfather began inviting me down to California for vacations and I started receiving phone calls and birthday cards. At first I thought my father would be angry at Grandfather's sudden resurrection into my life. I saw later that my father was happy with Grandfather's change, for it was an attempt to pay for the harsh way in which he had treated Mother. I began to visit Grandfather frequently in my high school years, even spending an entire summer with him one year. Each night, to keep up my religious education, he would read to me from the Bible the stories about Moses and the Israelites; thus, he taught me as both Jew and Gentile. Since Mother was an only child, I suppose that her leaving the Jewish faith would have been particularly hard on Grandfather. I asked him once about why he had turned so bitter against Mother and he told me another story about Moses. Moses gave up his inheritance to return to the religion of his birth. With the hand of God, he led his people out of Egypt and kept them safe from Pharaoh's armies. Then he climbed up the mountain to receive from the Lord the commandments which would better guide his people, and when he returned, the people were melting their gold and building idols. After all Moses had done for them, they could still turn their backs on him. Even Moses got angry, throw- ing the stone tablets into the multitude. Then, after Grandfather told me that story, he said the only thing I have ever heard him say that was directly about my mother. He said, "The point I had to make was too costly. Your mother was gone, and there was nothing I could do about it. I do as I may, but there remains a gap. God is our hope that the gap will be crossed, that the pain may be healed." The cliff was cold and gray. The land was barren. The wind stormed across the plains. I saw a mound of buffalo skulls collected from the area and standing firmly on a pinnacle of rock, a sullen-faced Indian in the full chieftain ceremonial clothes that would have been worn at a tribal council from an age now past, and I realized that it was far more complex than I could under- stand. But I understood that Mrs. Horning did not understand. When I returned to the car, Grandfather was sitting on the hood, sipping from a can of pop, wind blowing across his face. Without looking at me, he said, "Disappointed?" He handed me the soda and I tipped the can back. "It was Joshua who finally led them into the land of Canaan. It used to trouble me that God could allow the Israelites to march in and conquer the people. But they were going to build a nation of righteous people where there used to be unrighteous. To build and grow after death, that's what must be done. Any- thing else is disrespectful to the dead. So when the Israelites turned wicked, God allowed them to be conquered." "You've told all this to me before, Grandfather." "The lessons of God are worth repeating if they are lessons of God at all." Taking the can from me, he added, I think for him- self as well, "Especially when one does not understand them. " When we at last arrived at my great uncle's home in Calgary, the night had fallen and the dinner that had been pre- pared for us was cold. I sat quietly in the living room as my uncle prepared Grandfather for bed. The austerity of the hardwood floors, oak bookcases, and leather chairs filled the room with a heavy but warm silence. Picking up one of the oversized books on the coffee table, I thumbed through it absently. My uncle came into the room and sat in the leather chair next to me. "It's good that you had the time to bring him up from California. He needs to be around family now. " 'Tm going to miss him." "We all will." I still turned the pages in the book, but now I was looking at my uncle. He said, "Your Grandfather's been through a lot. The war. His wife. Your mother. I remember when he came back from the war, he only answered our questions with vague phrases and then tried to change the subject. It was hard enough for our people here in America; I can only imagine how it muse have affected him. When his wife died, I was sitting with him at the hospital. He said to me then, 'I can understand this because still a baby has come from it. But what has come from the deaths over there?' He kept going, though. He kept going." I recalled the trip I had taken with my grandfather to Auschwitz. At the time, with my youth, I didn't understand some- thing Grandfather had said to me but which my uncle just helped me to understand. Closing the book I had been thumbing through and standing up to go to bed, I repeated to my uncle what Grand- father had said on the ocher side of the world. "For every man, there is a pain which only God may heal." I am thinking of healing. The accidents, the injuries, the abnormalities, they come and I am not sure how to stop them, as much as I may want to. When I was only a few years old, I went on a vacation with my parents to visit my paternal grandparents. We went to a city park for a picnic and, while the adults were at our pic- nic table a few hundred yards away, I was climbing on a rail slide when I fell off head first and broke both my arms on the pave ment below. I didn't regain consciousness until my mother took me in her arms. In the hospital that night, as I suffered from an allergic reaction to the painkiller, my mother held my limp hand and scratched my itching body. Gripped by the pain surging through me, I stole my hand away from my mother and demanded, "Why didn't you catch me?" But now I, too, will do as I may, and that is what I have learned. The spring rests easily upon Grandfather's grave. High upon this hill, a cool breeze shakes the trees and puts me some- times in the shade and sometimes out. Decorated randomly with fresh flowers, the tombstones quietly reach above the cur grass, and from a distance, I hear the birds sing as they take fallen twigs and dead grass to build a nest. I watch the birds as they create a home. I open up my Bible and turn to the Torah, and read aloud, "And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses." And from this hilltop, I can watch over the valley below.
by Michael Smith
LuJean is at her station preparing for a shave. "Preston" is the name that has come off the computer, a new patron, a walk-in, got in just before closing, and he's reclining in her chair. The computer says he's a radiologist. A shave usually doesn't come for months, and this guy, Preston, wants one right off the bat, wants to know why he was greeted by someone who introduces herself by one name and prefers to be called another. LuJean takes water from a tea pot, whips lather to a head in her mug and brushes it on. Preston was greeted by Gilda at the com- puter when he came in. Her Christian name is Gilda, and that's how she introduces herself. But if she catches you in the eye or detects something in your aura, she'll tell you why she prefers Luci. "Gilda" is now a family heirloom, her mother's best friend, and she likes that, having a name with some consequence. "Gilda is my godmother's name." Her diction is perfect, wafts off her tongue like a fragrant aria when she says it—sounds theis- tic. But Luci is a name she has chosen for herself. "I suppose it's a bit curious," LuJean says. She's thinking now of the mnemonic she has down for telling people why Gilda prefers to be called Luci. Right eye squinting, her head cocked to the left slightly and looking up, she chases the words down. She stops lathering Preston's jaw. It comes bobbing up like a cork. "Luci comes from 'Silent Lucidity,"' she says. That's the white lettering at the top of the window tinting on Gilda's windshield. A decal. "She has that painted on her car," Lu Jean says. "On her car? It says that?" Preston says. Her truck, some call it a truck—Gilda prefers "outfit"—is loud. She drives a big, black, ranch-suspensioned Chevy Blazer. Double wiper blades. Oversized knobby balloon tires. "Silent Lucidity" it says coming at you, higher off the ground than it should be. You can be at the Frosty Top on the north side or at the mortuary on the south side and when she makes a turn onto Main you see it. "On her outfit? It says that on her car?" he says. Gilda returns from loading towels into the washing machine. She's heard the conversation. Salons have a resonant quality. You could cut a record at LuJean's, acoustics are that good. "Yes, " Gilda answers, "that's what it says," neither angry nor inter- ested. Just confirming facts. LuJean is at Preston's neck. Her left hand, thumb and index finger, are a capital C against his skin, holding it taut while her right hand removes the shadow. She knows a man's jaw. Normally you keep the same line when you approach the mandibular fossa from below—follow the natural bone structure and keep even pressure on the blade. She ignores the crowded capillaries at the jaw line and finishes each stroke with a bold wrist flourish. She slides down Preston's chin like a child playing on a banister. "You do nice work," he says, getting up to pay. "I've been looking for a place like this. Good to know you can still get pampered." "Three dollars," LuJean says, keying the exchange into the computer. 'Tm in town twice a week to look at x-rays over at the clinic. Stop by if you ever break anything," he says. He flashes a grin and leaves a five dollar bill on the counter. He's our the door walking the two blocks to the clinic, puzzled about Gilda's outfit and how hair grows into split ends. He's a radiologist; he knows bones will knit. But hair? * * * Valois Crimshaw is in early for her manicure. Ac the com- puter she keys her name in and with the mouse selects Luci as her stylist. She likes the technology. "May I hang your coat up, Valois?" Gilda says. "Get you a cup of coffee?" "Yes. Thank you, Luci. Cream, no sugar please." Gilda is at the coffeemaker before Valois answers. This manicure has been going on for six years. Tuesday mornings. Eight o'clock. Valois talks about her husband and his work while Gilda pushes her cuticles back. Valois has found her way to the cable when Gilda brings her the coffee. Gilda pulls Valois's left hand to the folded towel armrest and starts the conversation. "Anything new with you and Jimmy?" she says as she starts stripping the old polish. "Oh no, nothing to speak of, except maybe our new little problem. " "Problem?" "Well, me and Jimmy, we want to put a deck with a jacuzzi in back of the house." "Vino, Vivaldi, and hot bubbly water. Can't be a problem with that, Valois. " "You know what savers we are, Luci. 'Pay cash for every- thing' is what Jimmy tells me. But we don't have that kind of money saved up." "There's the problem," Gilda says, not looking up, her concentration still on Valois's hand. She's removed the polish from the left and starts on the right. She's quick. No reason not to be. All a patron knows is that they want a nail that lasts and looks nat- ural. It's up to the stylist to decide on tips, wraps, freeform sculpt- ing, or a liquid and powder system. Though she's had them her whole life, Valois can't tell you a thing about her own hands- couldn't pick them out of a line-up. She had a nicely curved nail place and a bit of length, so sculptured nails give her all the strength she needs. "Why not try credit?" Gilda says. "That's just what I was thinking! But I'm not sure. We've never done this before. I mean, other than the mortgage. I was hoping you might be able to . . . to . . . tell us, Luci." Gilda knows this means they want a revelation. They want to know from God if it's going to work out. Seems like a petty thing to bother God over, but Gilda has the gift and it is for helping other people. She doesn't mind. "Can you speak it for us, Luci?" Gilda is pulling dead cuticle into the finger bowl with a nail brush when the request comes. Before she answers, she pats the hand dry and applies moisturizing cream, starting at the first knuckle and moving up the forearm, massaging in a circular motion with her thumbs—all the way up the elbow and down to the fingertips. She milks toxins out of each finger. She finishes, wipes her hands dry, and shuts her eyes against the immediate environment. People here know Gilda has the gift of tongues. She was raised Pentecostal but slipped into the twice-a-year Protestant mode. No zealot. But nearly nine years ago now, she was weeding her garden and saw a snake. A simple, pest-controlling, innocuous garden snake. This was a sign. God wanted her back. Gilda never misses Monitor Radio, and that same day they aired a program on the snake-handling religious sects of the West Virginia Allegheny Mountains. Two signs. Same day. This was what God wanted. Radio confirmed it. She understood the need for pain and repen- tance—even faith. But snakes! She let her head clear a little and realized that what God wanted her to do was speak in tongues. That is what he had meant. Gilda closes her eyes and looks up: '¿Dónde esta el aerop- uerto? ¿Qué hora es? ¿Cómo puedo encontrar el correo? Múestrame el supermercado,"she says. Valois is holding tight to the sides of her chair. The super- natural always gives her goose bumps, but she loves it. Gilda opens her eyes, looks drained. "What does it mean , Luci?" Valois's face looks like this at only one other time: when she opens Publisher's Clearing House envelopes. "God wants you to gee credit. You will have an application in your mailbox today from CHOICE Visa. They're offering 6.9% interest to new card holders." Gilda keeps a post office box and always picks up her mail at 7:00 a.m. She saw the postal workers stuffing the card applications into everyone's box an hour earlier. "Really, Luci! We get the deck! That's what he wants for us?" Valois doesn't even wait for a seal coat on her nails. She pumps hand lotion for herself and gets up to pay. Luci helps her on with her coat. They hug and Valois leaves a four dollar tip. * * * Gerald Numan walks in as Valois leaves. Here for a shave, and he wants LuJean. He stops at the computer to enter his name, choose a service and a stylist. This time Gerald can't work the machine. "It's locked up," he says. LuJean is at the strap with her razor giving it a few licks. Gilda walks by and says, "Control, Alt, Delete." "Hold down the Control, Alt, and Delete keys at the same time," LuJean says. "You need to reboot the computer. It's hung. " "Someday all these computers are going to form a union," Gerald says. "They'll tell us how and when they'll work and what they're to be paid. They'll go on strike and cripple us all." This salon is an outbuilding—a converted butcher shop. And still you key your name into an Intel-based, Pentium-chip computer, 32 megabytes of random access memory, a gigabyte hard drive. Two people and they need IBM and Bill Gates to let patrons choose a stylist, to say: Lujean or Luci. Gerald keys his name in with two fingers when the computer comes back on. He tells himself that if LuJean didn't give the best shave in town, if she didn't give the only shave in town, he'd go elsewhere. LuJean walks flimsy over prospects of stealing the shadow off a man, better than a post-sauna, naked cold roll in the snow. Patrons always seem satisfied, like they've just participated in hygiene, when they leave, but LuJean's the benefactor. She fondles a man's jaw with a pearl-handled, double-honed edge, hollow ground, stainless steel, straight-edge razor—both blades on the same side so if she cuts you once, you'll bleed twice. Going and coming. Hemorrhage tension like Big Daddy's taught you a lesson and wants a nod, like the Messiah's come. When she started out, she couldn't buy produce within a seventy-five mile radius. Store managers banned her. She wanted to practice on produce, cut the fuzz back. They had her face up on posters: "KEEP THIS WOMAN AWAY FROM THE PEACHES. " For positioning a man's face during a shave, a chin in her palm is more at home than a gear shift under a trucker's. Standing on the left side tilting the head to the right, right side tilting the head to the left, palming his chin for placement. She tilts Gerald's head back to get at his neck—always watching growth patterns to prevent ingrowing hairs. Most men grow facial hair like the nap in cheap carpet—sometimes in circles. Gerald's would be some hybrid of 70s shag and 80s burber. LuJean hawks for follicles under a chin like Michelangelo reverenced the grain in marble. If something goes wrong, this is where it will happen. Four minutes from the time he sits down, Gerald is fishing through his trousers for three dollars for the shave and four bits tip. * * * On Monday Preston is back in the chair. This time it's Luci and Manicure he chooses on the computer. His hands have had work before. A renaissance man. But he fidgets. He's a seven- year-old on a sugar high when you're at his collar trying to square off the neckline, when he's sat too long. "Something bothering you today, Preston?" "Life is good. Bené bené bené." He's got something to say, but it won't come until he's been lubed, got to work it out of him today. Gilda rests his hands in the finger bowl and shuts her eyes. Like you've reached down to pinch her, she lashes up, hair in a fan, eyes concentric as silver dollars, sensitive, in tune, and looking past Preston's pupils, past the retina, syncing up with the optic nerve. "La cocina está en mi abuelita. ¿Sigame al doctor? Las aves bailan en la carretera al tragar piedras. Lo siento señor, no hay credito. " "You speak Spanish." "It's God's word. This is his message for you. " "The kitchen is in your grandmother?"' "Maybe not that part. What else did I say?" '" Follow me to the doctor's office; birds dance on the highway swallowing gravel; I'm sorry, sir, we don't take credit.' That's what God wants me to know. You're sure." "I didn't ask for this gift. It's part of the service. " "Well, thanks, Luci. Very kind of you. I'd like square edges and a medium buff. Careful around the left index finger. It's prone to hangnails." His first visit to LuJean's Preston was smitten. There was something to be gained here. And maybe not. Maybe it's just the shave LuJean deals out. 'Birds dance on the highway swallowing gravel.' Is there supposed to be something existential in that— symbolism, hidden meaning? God spoke to him in college, 'heal bones' is what the man had said, and that's what he does, end of story. Who is she . . . Ms. Delphi Oracle Cosmetologist 1989? Dispatching communiques from God like fortune cookies. Get your nails buffed and your palms read $12.95—come in before noon and have your transgressions waxed, no extra charge. "So what's it like over at the clinic, Preston? Do you operate often?" Gilda says. "Never. I look at pictures. You break something, some- thing takes your picture, and I tell you what it is you broke." He's never lost a patient. Never really had a patient. He sweeps into town in his Cessna, makes a diagnosis into a microcassette recorder, and then leaves—does it for eleven rural communities, never meets the person behind the x-ray, money flows, never on call, no blood. No hair. He gets a clean shot at the bone. Sure he needs to be precise, but 80 percent of his $380,000 a year could be done by a technician. Insurance companies make him what he is. His degrees followed by his signature—just to seal out litigation. "That sounds pretty technical. Did you have to go to school for a long time?" "Eighteen years beyond high school." "That's a lot to learn. You must be dedicated." "I do my job." Preston pays Gilda and doesn't leave a tip. Walking back to the clinic he rubs his knuckles unconsciously and kicks pieces of gravel with pleasure. ''Es un buen día, ¿no?" he says grinning. * * * Wayne and Maxine Metzger come in together at 10:00 a.m., usually Maxine to get her hair combed out and set, Wayne to get a shave or trim, but today they are in for full treatment, Maxine a perm with LuJean and Wayne a cut and manicure with Gilda. LuJean does love to shave a man, but a per- manent wave is science transcending beauty. She understands the math. What she really likes is having an attentive patron in the chair—she'll tell them the treatment takes its name from the idea of rearrang-ing covalent bonds and reforming them "perma- nently." It's about breaking down disulfate, sulfur-to-sulfur bonds, rearranging and then fixing them hard into the desired aesthetic position. "Are we going with the usual cut today, Wayne, or do I get to go crazy?" says Gilda. "I really wish we could, Luci. I'm sorry I'm not much of a canvas for your creative outlet. Maybe you can go nuts at the nail table." "Virility . . . remember what they say. Yours is not thinker's baldness, Mr. Metzger." "You're flirting with me again, Luci." "Can't help it." "He was hotter than fresh buns in a Dutch oven when he had hair, weren't you, Babykins," Maxine pumps in. All the way from senior year eighteen years ago these two have gone every- where, hands clasped, grabbing each other. You see them in the grocery. At the filling station. He gets the door for her to the ladies' room. Handholding has yielded nine children for Sugarlumps and Babykins. Food and Drug Administration has these two on retainer for testing new birth control methods. They shack them up, pro- vide champagne, and ask for the data. If love blossoms, the FDA starts a $20,000 trust fund. LuJean says, "We're going to start you out with a treatment of Mane 'n Tail, Maxine." LuJean got the treatment from Clive Eggert who raises Appaloosas. What did he feed them, she wanted to know. Alfalfa. Mane 'n Tail 'swhat make 'em look so good, he said, and sent a bottle for LuJean to try. She substituted hair for coat and followed the directions. Not rinsing the conditioner out completely is her idea. Patrons love it. The Metzgers are checking with the FDA on patent procedures for her. It's quite dynamic when the Metzgers come in for service. You've got husband and wife sitting ten feet apart with women at their heads working the hair. The Metzgers speak to each other, to the stylists, stylists speak to each other, to the Metzgers, conversations crisscross and dissect. At the end of the waiting process, the double helix proteins in Maxine Metzger's hair have been softened, moved, and locked into a new confirmation of wavy beauty. Having styled with blowdryer and brush in one hand, shaping comb in the other, LuJean delicately moves the hand mirror around the back of Maxine's head. Toothy with pride and framing Maxine into the large mirror she says, "This is what happens when you have your disulfide bonds broken, Maxine. "You're magic, honey. I love you," Maxine says. * * * It's been a week when Preston walks in waving a folded newspaper. He throws a copy of the New York Times next to the computer and impatiently keys in his name and chooses Lujean and Shave. LuJean's got him in the chair and tries to put a towel around his neck, but Preston is here to talk. He unfolds the paper in his lap to B8, The Environment. There's one article with annota- tion, large areas of text bracketed, phrases underlined, handwriting in the margins, photos of fish and a biologist: "Clues Found to Puzzling Single-Sex Fish." "This has got to stop," Preston says. "What's got to stop?" "Birth without sex. Listen to this: For the female fish, the need has always been clear and compelling. If she is to complete her bizarre reproductive cycle of cloning her eggs into a brood of offspring all female replicas of herself she must have a male fish's sperm. And she needs his sperm, not for its genetic con- tent, as most would-be mothers do, but to serve as a simple chemical trigger that secs her embryos growing." Preston has underlined "a simple chemical trigger" and hits it pretty hard, with exaggerated emphasis when he reads the phrase. "What kind of fish," LuJean says. "What kind?" "Yes, what kind?" "Doesn't matter what kind. How can a fish live and progenerate if there is no sex? Plants can do this, simple sponges. But these are animals with full functioning dynamic systems." "Did you read Jason and the Argonauts?" "Homer?" Preston crosses his legs in the chair. "Aeschylus, I think. They visited a matronly island where only men felt the pain of childbirth." "The men had children?" "No, the women had the children; the men just felt the pain. I think the women were called Amazons." "Thar's the name of these fish!" "Read more." Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, studying a classic case of an interaction between members of an all-female species and the males they seduce, have cracked the mystery of what's in it for the guy. They have learned that when the male fish called sailfin mollies mate with females of a related but gynogenetic species called Amazon mollies, the males become much more attractive to the females of their own species. The Amazon mollies look enough like female sailfin mollies to convince the female sailfins that when they see the male sailfins courting and mating with an Amazon, what they are witnessing is a purely sailfin affair. And nothing, it seems, is sexier to a female sailfin than a sexually successful male. "You sure these are fish?" "That's my point. That's the danger. This shouldn't happen in nature, and if it does, we've got no right putting it in print." "Are you upset that the females can have babies without sex, or that the females are attracted to males who cheat?" "This is going to get around. We'll have an epidemic. Virility as currency." "Is it the no sex or the way women choose men?" "How can a fish come into this world with genes from only one parent? It will have inferior parts. It will never have sex. If a fish wasn't born of sex, it never lived. It was never conceived. Men and women don't need each other, or if they do need each other it's just to get more sex, or more offspring, but not the product of sex. Never sex and offspring together. Where's the rub?" "Did you want a shave?" "This is debilitating. It's threatening." "Threatening? These are fish, not your buddies, not your family. That's a pretty big leap from little fish." "It says that the biggest factor in a female's choice of partner is not the properties of the male himself, but who all the other females in the neighborhood are choosing. That's not right." "These are fish ." "Yes, but the piece concludes with a quote from a professor: 'If you take a woman out for a drink, and you just happen to let her see a picture of an old girlfriend in your wallet, you can be sure that will immediately pique her interest and heighten the pursuit.' This is a professor using science—and university research funds, no doubt—to manipulate women." "It's a theory, a hypothesis. This isn't news, Preston. Do you want a shave? I've got a ten o'clock this morning." "Al l right. Shave, please." LuJean lathers his face and hovers above him for three minutes brandishing the blade. The razor slides down his face like a toboggan waxed for an ice storm. The beard is dense, but the fol- licles come too easily, like evening ice droops beneath a defroster gently blowing warm, like snow burns landing on flesh, like so many blades of grass fall to each swoop of a mower's winding- pores tight like porcelain, growth like velveteen. Preston leaves quietly, walks back to the clinic stinging clean. At the clinic there's a note from Dr. Pickering—her husband is locked out of the house with ice cream getting warm in the car, can he watch the clinic, shouldn't be more than fifteen minutes. No problem. Get to play general practitioner. On the corner of the desk Preston sits down, one leg touching the ground, where Dr. Pickering's assistant updates records. He shows Luci's handi- work to her, bends his wrists down and splays his fingers out for her to see, and as soon as he's done it, realizes that he's done some- thing horribly feminine. He should have balled his hands into fists, palms up, to show her. He pulls them back quickly, sneaks them into the pockets of his smock and, feigning interest, asks what she's working on. "Updating records." "Have you ever seen a bird swallow gravel?" "My finches need grit to digest their food." "You don't see finches dancing on the highway here, do you?" "We have pheasants." He lifts his leg back down to the floor and turns to the window to see a woman flying into the lot, half miss- ing and bouncing over the curb, in a pick-up. He lurches forward and pulls himself back. "X-rays, x-rays can always wait. I've got time." Marge Eggert busts in with eyes aching to see Lazarus doing handsprings in the waiting room. "My husband's been kicked by a horse. He's not breathing." With her pulling him by the hand, Preston moves out to the truck, his legs denying the urgency. In the bed he sees Clive Eggert purple as rhubarb. He climbs up and puts a stethoscope to his chest. There's a faint pulse but no breathing. Then life stops too for Preston as he runs the litany of Hail Marys and good uses of a clean x-ray. What good are silver salts and radiation when a man's lungs won't rise and fall. How do I make him breathe? There's still a pulse. Tracheotomy, CPR? I can't see a thing. This isn't my ballgame. If there's a break, if there's a frac- ture I could tell you. I've found hairline fractures on three-day-old, four-pound infants. Understand? Don't talk to me about ability. I can see these things. "Dr. Pickering's at home. Have the woman inside call." And then he's alone, sitting on the sidewall of the bed and looking down at a dying man who can't be helped, not by an x-ray. Next day Preston stops by the salon just before closing. LuJean and Gilda are cleaning up after a long day. "Suppose you ladies have heard about Clive Eggert." "Valois Crimshaw was in earlier. She said Clive was banged up pretty good by that horse," Gilda says. "Collapsed lung. He pulled through," Preston says. "You okay by it, " LuJean says, while cleaning red and brown and black strands of hair out of brushes. "Shouldn't I be?" "Well, I guess so. lt's not often we have a fatality here," Gilda says. "Fatality? He pulled through. " "He and Marge are good people. Too young to die, either one of them," says LuJean. "He didn't die." "I was just saying . . . ," LuJean says moving closer, sweep- ing hair into piles on the linoleum. "But he didn't die." "No, and we're glad to have him with us," LuJean says. The curtains on LuJean's salon, red hot chilies on the fore- ground, green bellpeppers in the background, are drawn closed for the day's business. Had they been chopping cabbage for kimchi today, she and Gilda would have cropped enough heads to fill a minefield of kimchi caches. LuJean likes Korean coleslaw, and this is how she learns new things. By making associations. You chop a head of cabbage—you trim a head of hair.
by Frank Christianson
Maggie wakes to find she is too exhausted to move. She puzzles. It is mid afternoon. The television set on the dresser is at full volume. Most of the day-time talk is over and she has forgotten to set the recorder. "On the Phone. Judy. Hates sex." Host, guests and audience wait sympathetically while Judy explains her dilemma. A long while later Maggie wakes again and remembers that she was up all night in her dreams. Mama Lufkin has returned and wants her to clean. She has come back smaller than before as if even death could not stop the shrinking. After thirty years, Mama can now sit on the mantel shelf and dangle her legs, looking no larger than her own picture beside her. So Maggie cleans. And it takes her all night. No wonder she is so exhausted. Such a work. But now she is up and walks herself to the kitchen, where she makes eggs. She scrambles the eggs and scrapes them onto a plate and eats them with a dash of pepper. She pulls to the parlor and sees the mantel where Mama Lufkin sat through the night and pointed her in the right directions. On the sofa, in the hall, a pile or a smear without pattern or shape. Like mud but not and no use pretending. She cleans alone, breathing through her mouth. This is when Howard would find his way to the door remembering something to be done in the orchard, preferring the mosquitos to the signs of his mother's age. In bed, Maggie watches Reverend Schuler on 36. Always a serious message and a prayer line that is toll free. She never calls but likes the gesture. Sunday mornings at nine on The Cry-stal Cathedral they hear about sin and punishment, divine retribution. It is night in Mama Lufkin's house. And it is the same air from four hours before when Helen came to clean. The chirping outside is loud enough it does not fade. Maggie sits on a wood stool beside the bed, so hot she can't abide its touch. Howard's shiny face stares up off the pillow. I don't know what you had to throw a fit for, Howard says. Maggie sits mouth tight and breathes as little as possible. Howard says, You ought to apologize to both of 'em. Draggin' poor Helen over here. I would've . . . Maggie stands and walks out and down the hallway of Mama Lufkin's house. Mama's house by squatter's rights of more than twenty years before Maggie even met Howard. And Maggie a guest for twenty-seven years after that. That is when Mama dies and Howard three years later. And Maggie still a guest though she has now spent more time with the house than Mama Lufkin ever did. She stops in the parlor and leans before a tan and gold wing-back chair. Carpet, wall-paper, other furniture all replaced or sold over three decades, all except the chair. She sees faint outlines. She sees Mama Lufkin, vaguely desperate, more lucid than she has been in years, trying to make it all disappear with the hem of her smock. In her confused movement, Mama manages to spread herself over the entire room. But the chair, the only thing Maggie brought from home, is the worst. Mama says nothing when Maggie finds her. She stops her effort and stands staring at the wing-back while Maggie calls her sister-in-law and loses her mind. She wakes and opens her eyes and sees black. She wonders if it is time for another stroke. She hears the television shriek static at her from the dresser. She hears the hum of the heater and the hiss of air coming our of the vent. She hears the clock. She hears the soft footsteps of her pulse in the pillow and turns face up into night or day.
by David Pace
Kathy turned her head to the right, where the sun dripped red across the harbor. Seagulls floated across its face, pocking the sun with blemishes. Kathy said, "I need more sun." She crossed her palm with her forearm, comparing the whiteness. "You really look fine ," Simon said. "I want to be black. I want to look like a nut, " she said. "I want skin cancer before I'm twenty-five." Simon turned his head and breathed against the car window, misting it. He said, "It's winter, you know." Simon drove them home. He and Kathy wanted to get married, but Kathy tried to kill herself too often for either of them to commit to something permanent. He parked almost in front of the apartment, and came around the front of the car to open the door for her. She reached into the back seat for the brown paper package that they'd just retrieved from the post office and stepped onto the curb. Halfway up the stoop beneath their apartment, Simon kicked the bottom of Kathy's foot while she was between seeps. He wanted to see her look at him over her shoulder with half a smile and half a frown, pretending to be mad. She didn't—he'd knocked her foot off track enough to make her miss the step. Her support- ing foot slipped off a glassy patch of ice. Kathy cradled the package and snapped the fall with her elbows. Both dug into the corners of the concrete steps and spiked pain all the way to her chest. The elbows puffed like dumplings. Kathy lay still for a second and breathed sharply as tears bled into the corners of her eyes. Simon watched Kathy fall, and his stomach wrenched. He remembered seeing his father step on a steel pipe in the garage. His father's feet kicked into the air, and his upper back and head smacked into a pile of pipes on the ground. Simon had thought he was watching his father die. Simon lunged to grab Kathy, but he couldn't do more than flap his arms through the air. 'Tm sorry," he said, after she lay crumpled on the steps. Kathy reached and set her package two steps above her head, on the edge of the landing. Then she stood up like a baby giraffe afraid of snapping its knees. She grasped the handrail, but tried to nurse her elbows at the same time—she kept them pinched into her sides, like an old woman. Although the pain was in her arms, she limped up the steps. Simon grabbed her arm and Kathy swam herself free. He reached for her shoulder and she shrugged his hand off. Simon skipped up a step, picked up her package, and then opened the door on the landing and waited for Kathy to shuffle through. Inside the apartment, Kathy let Simon ease her peacoat off. He folded her coat over the edge of the recliner, shrugged off his matching coat, and set it on top of hers. He sat next to her on the sofa and rubbed her diamond solitaire with his thumb. Simon said, "I didn't think. Forgive me?" Kathy said, "Would you open my package for me?" Simon found a fillet knife and slit the brown paper and string, revealing a shoebox, which he handed to her. She pulled off the lid and picked out a wad of tissue paper that contained a worn wooden figurine. Kathy cooed. She looked up at Simon. "This is all I wanted of my mother's. It was all she had as a little girl." "I can polish it," he said. From her nod, Simon ducked into the kitchen and returned with a can of Pledge and a soft cloth. Kathy held the figurine gingerly, and Simon sprayed Pledge onto his cloth. Instead of vapor, however, green foam hissed out of the can and dripped onto the wooden coffee table. The puddle of de- natured Pledge soaked in. Kathy leaned back into the couch, clutch- ing her inheritance, while Simon dropped to his knees and tried to keep the Pledge from making a permanent mark. "Simon, what can you do right?" She placed her figurine on the mantle while Simon scrubbed. She walked into the darkened kitchen. Simon followed her and flipped the light switch on. "Could you leave the light off, please," Kathy said. Simon stood in the door with his hand on the switch and his mouth open. Simon watched a tear bead up under her half-inch eyelashes. He'd pulled the eyelashes once, just to make sure they were real, but had only gotten mascara-blackened fingers, a laugh, and a punch in the stomach for his troubles. "Could you turn the light off," she said. She marched three steps to the door and knocked the switch down, under his hand. She looked at his dim silhouette in the doorway, lightly haloed by the light from the living room. She sat at the table in the dark, while rain popped against the windows. Simon walked to the bedroom. After reading the latest Newsweek, Simon found Kathy bleeding on the kitchen table. She stood, then fell towards him. Kathy's blood soaked into his white shirt. Her eyes rolled white, like a horse corralled with a wolf, and she slumped. The hair ring- ing her face was soaked with blood, and her forehead was caked. He pressed his palms into her gashed wrists, but couldn't stop the flow. "Kathy. Kathy honey. Kathy stupid. Speak?" Simon held her up by her wrists, trying to keep her upright by pinning his elbows to her sides and pulling her against him. He took shuffling steps to drag her through the doorway and over by the phone. Simon knelt by the phone and eased Kathy to the floor next to the coffee table. Blood dripped from his hands and onto the front of Kathy's blouse. Simon knocked the receiver off the phone with his head and extended a pinkie to punch 911. He rested his face on the table to talk to the dispatcher and waited for the ambulance to come. Simon counted seconds while he waited for the ambulance. He appeased the dispatcher with shouted answers. The bleeding had mostly stopped when the ambulance crew burst through the door and carried Kathy away. * * * Simon waited at the hospital in a freckled vinyl chair welded to the wall. The greasy-haired man in ripped clothes, the lady in the pink pantsuit, and the boy in the corner all stared at Simon over the tops of their magazines. Simon yawned and felt the dried blood flake from his neck. He looked at his crimson-stained pants, shirt, and arms. Simon said, "Damn. Lady Macbeth can't hold a candle to me." He walked to the bathroom. Simon bent over a porcelain sink with the cold water running. He thrust his hands under the spray of water and let it pummel the blood from his skin, filling the sink with red water. Individual flakes left wavering trails of rust in the water as they settled to the bottom. Simon closed his eyes. A man in a Harris tweed suit stepped into the bathroom. He unzipped his pants as he walked by Simon, but he stopped half- way to a urinal and stared at Simon, who was filling a sink with Kathy's blood. The man gasped and leaped to the paper towel dispenser. He pulled the raw wood pulp towel protruding from the bottom and folded it over. Simon cocked his head to watch. The man jumped back, then grabbed Simon's left forearm and jerked it out of the sink. The man slapped the paper towel onto Simon's wrist, and said, "Don't hurt me. I'm here to help." The man clamped a hand onto the towel on Simon's wrist and turned to the dispenser for more. Simon parted his lips, then raised one eyebrow. He flexed his shoulder to pull his arm from the clawed hand, but instead of pulling simply let his arm go limp. Simon dropped to his knees and leaned his head against the sink. The man clenched Simon's limp arm tighter and furiously worked the crank of the towel dispenser. He tried to push through the crank's automatic stops, banging it forward without reversing. With a burst of adrenaline, the man succeeded in pulling the crank from the dispenser without releasing a single sheet. He said, "Don't worry. I'll save you." His voice cracked. Simon exploded with laughter. He said, "You don't . . . have to . . . worry." Simon tossed his head back for a full belly laugh, then gave it a full-throated follow-through and slammed his forehead onto the edge of the sink. He crumpled to the bathroom floor. The man finally let the crank clatter to the floor and pulled a white silk handkerchief from his breast pocket. He gritted his teeth and pressed the handkerchief to Simon's right wrist. The man shouted for help. White-coated men came. Simon awoke in starched white sheets, on a bed next to Kathy. The man stood between the beds cradling a bundle of black- eyed Susans, daisies, and two sunflowers. The man said, "Sorry." He turned the bundle towards Simon, then twisted around to Kathy, but kept the flowers in his arms. Simon rubbed the lump on his head. Kathy said, "You're not supposed to be here, Simon." "Maybe," said Simon. Kathy looked at the man. "Why are you here?" He said, "I was confused. I'm just sorry he got hurt." He shuffled his feet. "Could I give my flowers to someone?" Simon pointed to Kathy's nightstand. "Put them over there." Kathy smiled. "They're all like little suns." The man set the flowers next to Kathy. He said, "I didn't want to get involved." Simon said, "You were good. I thought it was funny." The man shrugged, and waved, and walked out the door. Simon looked at Kathy, who had laid a sunflower on her chest. He asked for the other, and Kathy passed it across to him. Simon looked at the flower's face of seeds. One of the buttery petals drooped into the face, like a shock of blond hair. He said, ''Are we going to be all right?" Kathy turned the sunflower on her chest face down. She said, "Of course."
by Traci Oberg
It had been an even July. Thistle mornings, afternoons of bloated cows, litanies of squash- colored skies. Men shuffled and grew fat as dogs. Women rocked and sang to rolling, twitching, spitting-up babies. Children played tag in the furrowed fields-kicking up clouds of paprika dust. The preacher came to town early one morning. He set up his primary color kaleido- scope tent and strung Christmas lights around the edges. At night, he preached salvation while the lights flashed against the dark. Outside the tent, in the purple sky, fireflies twittered and cicadas hummed. Sarah sat still on a wooden bench search- ing his face for a trace of God. The people surged. The preacher said, "Stand up and be counted among the flocks of Jesus." Thomas Markham fell on his face, squealing. His suspender snapped and lolled on the ground. Sarah watched him writhe in the dust. She shook out her head and looked to the preacher. His paunchy face was dull, pasty yellow. His arms flapped. Spit hung like webs in the corners of his mouth. The women cried. Men fumbled with their wallets. Sarah held her knees in her hands and swung her feet beneath the bench. She squinted at the preacher. He said, "Stand and say I believe." And one woman said, "I believe Brother Brown." Another said, "Praise God." Brother Brown said, "Hallelujah, Sister." Christmas lights flashed. Mr. Markham snorted. The plastic tent flapped and Brother Brown sold Jesus like an auctioneer. Mama said, "Where you been?" She was sunk in the sofa knitting something big. "By the river," Sarah said. "It's dark." "There's a preacher in town." "I heard." Mama's elbows flailed with the knitting. "You been saved?" Sarah said, "I don't chink so." She looked out the window. Her dog, Johnson, was sniffing at the fence. "Don't give him no money. " Sarah turned and looked around the lampshade. "Brother Brown said if you give him ten bucks you'd be rich in a week. " Mama dropped a stitch. "Did he," she said. "Soup's on." Sarah walked to the pot and lifted the lid. Soup bubbled thick. Something green. She peeked through the doorway. "Is he a man of God?" "Bread's in the cupboard. Wash yourself a bowl. " Mama's head bobbed. "Depends." "Where's a spoon?" Sarah spun the lazy susan. Pots and kettles winked inside. "We out of butter?" She stopped it shut with her palms. "Depends on what?" "We got jam. Depends on what you think God is." A game show erupted on TY. "Don't life up your skirts either," she said. Sarah dipped soup. Tapped glass at Johnson. She balanced her bowl on a mug full of milk and held a spoon with her teeth. Sarah set her bowl on the carpet, pressed out a dent for her cup. She laid her hand on her mother's thigh and touched her calf with her face. Mama was sweating beneath the chin. The TV lights tinted her eyes like stained glass and her eyelashes brushed her cheeks as she picked up yarn along the row. Mama went still and pushed the knitting from her knees. She bent and put her forehead on Sarah's. She rocked. She sang. She blew lavender breath into Sarah's mouth. Years ago, Mama had the spirit. She gathered her folk on Sundays behind the willow tree. Sarah watched from the ravine. Mama was mountainous. The people skittered around her. She sang. She warbled. She healed headaches, children, an occasional horse while Sarah clung to the side of the ditch. Mama wore white and sold strands of her hair as talis- mans. Saturdays, they bottled them up like slivers in jars and were rich off remains from their hairbrush. These days, Mama never left the couch. She wore acces- sorizing blouses. She knit tissue boxes. She watched talk shows and wrote letters to the paper. One morning, a long time ago, Sarah asked where the spirit had gone but Mama said, "Hush girl, it weren't God any- way." Sarah asked where God was and Mama said, "You'll know him when you find him." Sarah said, "Where should I look?" And Mama rolled her eyes up to look at the ceiling. She said, "Ain't no telling." So Sarah munched on cereal and poured her mother some milk. Mornings, Sarah went fishing. She walked-Johnson tramped-past fat, swinging dewberries and ragweed paths. A sign said No Trespassing if you pushed the leaves away from the fence. She crouched in the dirt with a bamboo pole and knit fishline like silk beneath fingery branches of cottonwood trees. She spun yarns and told tales about snapping turtles ringed round the neck with gold and the dance of dragonflies-electric, shockingly blue. Perch round as plates arced in the water and bullfrogs beat in the rushes. At midafternoon, she ran home through alfalfa. A five gal- lon bucket dented her shins with the three fish she'd caught yawn- ing inside. The field rolled and snapped. The clouds cast cool shadows. The sun was warm in her hair.
Mama was putting up peaches. The kitchen was steamy thick with cooked sugar. Mama was blanching peaches. "Catch anything?" Sarah scooted the bucket across the floor. The fish were stiff and hard inside. Mama looked, "Perch." She wrinkled her nose. "Get those outta here and wash up." She edged the stove burner up. "I need some help." Sarah turned the water on. Stringy peach pits gaggled in the sink. "I was thinking maybe I'd go see the preacher tonight." "I need you to peel." Mama dropped peaches into a kettle of boiling water. "Get the other peeler." Sarah's shoes stuck to the floor. Peach paste went brown on the counters. She opened the drawer. Mama said, "Why?" Sarah said, "Why what?" "Why you wanta go?" Sarah played with the utensils. She shrugged. "I don't know." Mama looked at her-her head forward on her neck. "What does that preacher man tell you?" "He's just interesting, " Sarah said. She wiped the counter with a dishrag. "He says Jesus is knocking and you got to let him in. He says you got to open up your heart. " "And your wallet. " Mama's hair sprung from her head. "What else he say?" "He said my heart is hardened by devils." Mama swiveled, "He said what?" "He said if you don't have Jesus in your heart you'll burn in the fiery pits of hell. " Sarah looked at the stove. Mason jars jit- tered in the kettle and slops of water hopped on the lids. Mama squeezed her lips together. She wiped her hands on her shirt. She opened her mouth, closed it, and walked to her purse. She handed a five dollar bill to Sarah. "We need milk with these peaches. Get some on your way home." She edged the stove burner down. "Give him the change if you want to." Sarah sat on the back row with the money crushed in her hand. The people pressed tight against her shoulders and rain fell on the tent. Brother Brown stood behind the pulpit. He clutched the microphone in his fists. He said, "If you need help—If you need somebody to point you co the Christ of Calvary—I have a message for you tonight." He raised one arm level over the people. "Jesus is here to touch you." Sarah whipped her head around the crowd. Brother Brown said, "You can get to Jesus." A woman in front fell on her knees and clasped her hands. "Tell me how, Brother Brown," she said. "I know the way, sister!" She tottered back. "Sir with your head up and your eyes open. Have faith in the coming of the Lord." Sarah straightened. Brother Brown paced behind the pulpit. He raised his hand to the sky, "I see the glory cloud hovering in chis room. Christ Almighty Jesus will walk among us-among you people shaking your hands-if you have the faith. God is knocking. Open your heart and lee him in. " He screamed, "Do you have the faith?" The people stood and swayed. They shouted hallelujahs and sang praises in the tent while Sarah stumbled in the aisle. "The holy cloud of glory is burning above your heads. Say 'hello Jesus."' The people said hello. "Be saved in the holy blood of God's lamb. Come to Jesus my brethren. Submit yourself to Jesus my sisters." Brother Brown's voice rose like steam. Sweat crawled down his face. "If there are none among us with wavering faith Jesus Christ the Almighty Himself will walk with us-performing miracles and healing you of all your infirmities. Praise God." The people raised their hands and jostled Sarah with their elbows. "Let every single one of you—man, woman, and child— submit your hearts to the saving grace of Christ." Sarah slipped between the people and backed our of the tent. The preacher rocked and swayed. His eyes were wild. Sarah turned and ran. Rain fell from the sky like sixpenny nails. She ran as it beat on her head. Her jeans were tight against her knees. Water dripped between her shoulder blades. The ditches rushed by the side of the road—churning with rocks and chunks of mud.
The next morning, Mama stirred grits in the kitchen. "Missed you last night, " she said. "You bring me my milk?" "Aw Mama," Sarah set down her spoon, "I forgot." Her mother nodded. "You bring me my money?" Sarah said, "Yeah. It's in my room." And Mama turned to look at her full in the face. Sarah fished for hours but the water was cloudy and the fish were quiet. She walked home with her pole across her shoul- ders. Skunked. Johnson ran through the ditch, kicking up mud. Past the corner, Sarah saw a break in the trees. She stepped over tree limbs and squeezed through the space. She walked a trail through the forest layered with wet, buttery leaves. The trees were thick. Branches whipped her face and spiderwebs tangled in her lashes. Armadillos scurried in the brush and Johnson chased them— crashing. He sniffed back while Sarah touched and pulled the twigs in her path. The light was shallow, dimly yellow—thick as antiqued glass. Sarah reached and pulled. Johnson crashed. And snakes bent grass at the middle. The sun broke on a pear tree at the edge of the woods. A meadow green and swollen as velvet stretched beneath the clear sky. And all around her, everywhere she looked, bones. Thousands of bones slung on the ground like ivory beads. Porcelain bones bleached white and transparent. Crows swooped and crickets called while the gold sun shimmied in the cloudless sky. "Johnson, " she yelled. "Johnson. " He trotted back. She knelt by his side and circled his neck with her arms. "God," she said, "this is beautiful." He wagged his tail. The pear tree stood and woodpeckers chattered in the trees. A storm was coming in. The air was heavy and winds were stirring. From the road, Sarah heard the preacher's voice whisper through the trees. She walked to the back of the tent and stood beyond the blinking lights. Brother Brown turned. His neck was smooth. He moved his mouth without sound. The people swayed. Back and forth. Rubbing shoulders, touching thighs. Sarah stepped forward and caught the light. The crowd hummed, drowning out the sounds of shivering leaves. The preacher saw her. "Come here, child," he said. He lifted his hand. Held out his palm. "Come to Jesus." His eyes were blue. His lips glistened wee. Outside the tent, in a darkening sky, clouds tumbled like sheep. Sarah went to him. He touched her on the head. Stroked his fingers through her hair. Slid his hands to her shoulders. "Do you feel it, child?" His voice was soft. His breach was warm and sweet. The preacher's hands moved down her arms. Sarah looked at him. She nodded her head. "Are you God?" she whispered. The preacher smiled, showing his teeth. He looked over her to the rest of the people. He cocked his head to the sky and shouted, "Brethren and sisters. Rejoice in the name of the Lord! Sing hallelujahs. Another lamb. Another lamb." And Sarah stood still on her trembling legs while the man reeled and seized with the fren- zied crowd. In August, the weather turned cool. Men, sucking cokes on their gap-toothed porches, yelled, "Nice weather, eh Hank?" Women knit slippers and children closed up shop. They dumped jugs of lemonade in the marigolds and pulled card tables back in the garage. The preacher left. He packed up his tent and left in the night. Leaves flitted in the space. Sarah went fishing on the last day of summer. She kicked dire clods and chatted with Johnson. She set her pole on the knuckled ground and lay down beside it to watch the clouds. The leaves were starting to crisp and crack. The sky was burnished and flat. Sarah stood up and walked past alfalfa, over the fence, toward the sun. Burrs coated her sneakers. They hung from the laces and circled her ankles. Grass became dust. Dust became road. She trudged in the shimmer of asphalt. At the turn, she kept on walking. Johnson frolicked from side to side—peeing on new territory. She passed a general store where two men and a woman swatted flies. She passed a pond with a fishing boat tied to a broken tree. The sun was low in the sky when Sarah saw the train tracks. They were carved in the side of a hill overgrown with grasses. She climbed the hill and sat above them, beneath a willow tree. She looked at the tracks—rusted around the stakes on dark slabs of oiled wood. The train came roaring toward her. Wood ties arched with the weight. Grasses blew chis way and that. Sarah held her ears then reached to the train. The boxcars were tagged with chalk-colored spray paint. Trust Jesus. Trust Jesus—scrawled like it was someone's last breath of spit from the mouth of a phlegmy God. Trust Jesus. And then she knew. Trust Jesus. She just did. So she jumped. Trust Jesus. In the twilight her hair looked like kite tails. And Johnson, on the side of the hill, sat back on his haunches with his tongue flapping in the wind.
by Elissa Minor
The world chat lost you never had a name; you fluttered your soft cadences, built a cocoon, and were gone. In the end it was the words chat remembered you (the permanent dent in the sofa, the morning jog past unlighted windows, the seeds your detail planted, only lent a hand). When this thought came, you had already abandoned your wings; the knowing that test run after test run had prepared for you. These seeds haven't heard beyond the soil—might never touch the air outside the poem your life has written, the thread you followed and the warning you gave: "The darkness around us is deep."
by Casualene Meyer
When I asked you why David couldn't warm himself with a woman already his concubine or wife, why they appointed Abishag, a virgin water bottle, to comfort the doddering king, you said perhaps the concubines and wives lost their heat, too. This makes me think of Bathsheba, the once desirable, in bed alone in the limestone chill of Jerusalem nights, fearing to feel Solomon's forehead cold should Adonijah, or another of his many half-brothers usurp his rightful throne. Perhaps she feared another beloved cold, for at last no man could replace the heat of Uriah's chest, nor David's thighs, nor the warmth of her firstborn of David and dead.
by Kristen Tracy
There are women living a much longer life in this winter. I stand it with its cold side almost breaking into me. I lie here in night and let myself think of them— some of them make it back to me. They hold my shoulders press near my neck and with their almost hands untangle the hair across my throat. While they are here they want to tell me everything— of how I am a woman of how the beds are growing past their time.