Old Mc Donald [Had a Farm]

by Joseph Anthony Hunt

When I worked for the Nobel Prize committee,
they gave me a Visa card,
a rain slicker, and fifteen weeks
to find the man
who wrote “Old McDonald [Had a Farm].”

“We want to give him the Nobel Prize.”
“For literature?”
“For literature, chemistry, peace,
it doesn’t matter.”

“Ee,” he said.
“Aye,” he said.
“Oh.”
And then he sighed—
an eighteen-second sigh.
I’d never heard anyone sigh for so long before.

I couldn’t leave soon enough.

I slept that night in the Nobel Prize Hotel.
At 2:30 a.m., the telephone rang.
“Have you left yet?”
“No.”
“You’ll find a taxicab outside the lobby,
continental breakfast in the backseat,
and slippers, underneath your bed.”
I went first to Oregon, Klamath Falls,
the city I was born in.
There, there are lots of farms,
with a quack quack here
and a quack quack there.

I met a man, at Country Villa candy store
(which also sells petroleum).
“I hear you’re looking for Shiloh McCarthy.”
“Who?” I said.
He pulled out a gun.
“Get into the car.”

The car was a’79 Cadillac Seville,
black, with leather interior, anti-lock brakes . . .
“Calm yourself,” the man spoke.
“The revolver is merely to emphasize my point.
It’s not even loaded—see?
My moustache isn’t real, either.”
I nodded.

“Shiloh McCarthy is the man whom you seek,
the man who wrote the song you know so well.
I am Emil, emissary of the Catholic Church.”

“But why?” I said.
“The Church desires to make him a saint.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
“This is no joke.”
I licked -y lips with my tongue
and rolled my eyes backwards,
to think.

“To be a saint,” I said,
“you have to be dead.”
“Yes, for one year.”
“Hm. Then he’s dead?”
“Yes.”
(I didn’t know if Nobel prizes
could be given to dead people.)
“Hm.”

“We’ve been studying his life
in this vicinity for two months.”
“Hm.”
“So far, ‘things are looking up,’
as they say.”

“To be a saint,” I said,
“you have to do three miracles.”
“Yes,” he said.
“What were his miracles?”
“Er” he said.
“Aye,” he said.
“Oh.”

Thin Daughter

by Alma Christl Call

My hands smell like onions.
The chicken breasts between us.

Well, eat up! I say.
She stares at her hand

I have molded around a fork
until it shakes open.

The fork leaves dents
in her fingers.

You have to eat.
Her head jerks up.

It is the cumin sharp
in my nose that reddens

my eyes, blurs my vision.
While marinara bleeds

with broccoli juice across
the white bones of her plate.

The Fruitcake I Bury in My Backyard Each January

by Q. Woodward

I can’t tell her no, so she brings the same thing
every year “Oh, Grandma,” I say, “you shouldn’t
have.” It is the only truth I speak all week. She settles
into my rocking chair, and I set the heavy block
beside the microwave to sit in its plastic shroud
for seven days—seven slow days until she leaves.
Every night at dinner she mentions it. I feign deafness.
She persists. “We’ve just had so many sweets lately,”
I conjure. “Besides, we want to save it all for ourselves”-
as if our greed for her gift were boundless.

Her car rolls out of the driveway, and I crouch
beside my back porch, digging the eighth identical,
tiny grave alongside the last seven years’ unmarked
martyrs. I wonder if their rubber-fruit skeletons are still
resting beneath the hard winter earth,
and if when Grandma goes the way of all
fruitcake, she’ll meet the ghosts of her
offerings and learn the secret of my annual wake.

One day, when my mother begins bringing
my children the same Christmas curse, Grandma
will soar through the sky to my home, float above
the row of stockings hanging from my mantle,
and cast an angel’s spell of hardened dates and
bitter nuts upon my calloused heart.

Congratulations on Mandela

by Patrick Madden

            Grandma Garcia hated the Negroes. For most bigots I know, racism is a matter of dissociation. They have black friends who, they say, aren’t like other black people, and they keep their attitudes under wraps whenever any real live blacks are present. But not Grandma Garcia; she declared her disdain outright and without provocation. The two years I had lived in Louisiana as a boy had taught me the routine: my neighbors hated the poor thieving blacks who lived in the Broadmoor Apartments in relative squalor, but with an impressive selection of stolen televisions and stereos. Every house within a two-block radius of ours had been robbed in the past couple of years and all my neighbors knew that it was the blacks. So it was understandable that they would harbor animosity, but Grandma Garcia seemed to have no reasons, or felt it unnecessary to explain her feelings.

“Grandma,” said her grandson Jovany loudly and slowly the first time we met her, “these are the missionaries, Madden and Kalu.”

            “I hate the Negroes!” she shouted back in reproach.
            “But Grandma, these are missionaries. They’re from the Church.”
            “What does that matter to me? Get that Negro away from me!”
            She sat rigid in her rocking chair in the half-shade of the laundry yard where her family had put her, probably hoping she’d stay entertained and out of the way. We were struck silent, waiting for Jovany to calm her or explain. She stared at the broken bricks of the back-door frame as if to avoid visual contamination, or to show her disdain. Her eyes were glossed over and clammy. Purple veins bulged from her skeletal hands as she gripped the chair’s armrests in anger. Her lips moved, muttering inaudible complaints, and she furrowed her wrinkles deeper in a demonstrative scowl. Whatever manners she may have learned as a girl were not meant for Negroes, and she was unabashed in her censure.
            From then we kept our visits with the Garcia family brief, usually during the time when their grandmother was sleeping. But every now and then she was sick, or cranky, and got up from her nap to make her demands and nag her grandchildren. She couldn’t smell my companion, but she acted like it. From inside her room she heard his deep, melodious voice and shouted, “Get that Negro out of here!” Eventually, nobody paid attention to her. But it grinded on me. Offense by proxy, that’s what I’d call it now. Kalu didn’t seem to notice.
            One Lazy afternoon Elder Kalu and I were walking near the narrow sycamore-lined road to Santa Bernadina and I was worrying about his ego.
            Continuing my thoughts out loud, I asked him, “How do you deal with it?” He looked up from the road for a second, then quickly sidestepped to shuffle-kick a small rock between my legs.
            “Deal wit’ wat?” Some missionaries couldn’t understand his Nigerian English, but by
then I had enough practice to catch every word.
            “‘With Grandma Garcia’s comments about hating the Negroes.”
            He laughed silently to himself and shook his head. When he looked at me he was smiling.
            “Man,” he drew out the word through his smile, “I don’ care wat she tink about me an I don’ tink about wheda she care fah me.”
            That was that in Elder Kalut mind. He turned his eyes back to the road, searching for a small stone, and when he quickly found one, shot it just under my heel as I stepped. He looked brightly, squinting in the sun as he turned to me and shouted with glee. “Go-o-o-o-ol!” With his laugh the word crescendoed and ebbed as it faded among the trees.
            Aside from Grandma Garcia, Uruguayans are generally very tolerant of blacks. There were never many slaves in the country, and there hasn’t been more than a handful of immigrants to Uruguay from Africa, so that blacks make up a very small percentage of the population. There are no black ghettos and, thus, no natural segregation, and the white Uruguayans excitedly anticipate the only regular congregation of blacks: the Llamadas, a frantic festival of drums and candombe music that kicks off Carnaval in late February.     Ruben Rada, a black jazz/candombe singer and national hero, is affectionately known as “El Negro,” and husbands and wives everywhere sweet talk each other as “mi negrito” or “mi negrita.” I’ve wondered if the reference hails back to the days of slavery when blacks were patronized and oppressed, but even if it does, Uruguayans today don’t know that and they harbor none of the prejudicial overtones of calling each other “little Negroes.”
            So racial tensions run low in Uruguay. Grandma Garcia never explained her reasons for hating blacks, but I suspect it might have stemmed from a bad experience. Or, who knows, she might have been influenced by Nazis who escaped to Uruguay after the war. But other people never showed any prejudice.
            One afternoon Elder Kalu and I were wandering the streets just south of the Garcias’ house and talking with anyone who crossed our path, when we came across a hunched old woman with gray skin and a flowery, silky dress and a scarf which she wore on her head to protect her wiry hair from the sun. She was sweeping the dirt from her front walk into the street and into the atmosphere in great clouds of dust. She looked up curiously when we saluted, but didn’t answer back. “Hello, how are you today?” I repeated.
“Well,” she said slowly, her voice hanging in the air like a question. It wasn’t clear if she
meant “good” or if she meant to continue. We stalled silently for a second, then spoke again.
            “We’re missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said Kalu. “My name is Elder Kalu. I’m from Nigeria. He’s Elder Madden, from the United States.” She stared back at him silently, pursing her lips, but she didn’t say anything. “We have a message about Jesus Christ that we share with the people—”
            “Where in the United States?” she interrupted. It took me a second to understand her question.
            “I’m from New Jersey,” I said.
            “I have relatives in New Jersey,” she said, and then smiled contentedly, as if she’d known I would be from New Jersey.
            “Where in New Jersey?” I asked.
            “New Jersey.”
            “But what city?”
            “New Jersey,” she said with an air of finality, like I was the one who didn’t know his
geography.
            “Oh,” I said, not wanting to argue. “It’s very nice there. Have you ever been to visit?”
            “No,” she said sadly. “My husband is black.” She stood unsteadily and looked at me
slowly, waiting for my nod of understanding. But I didn’t understand.
            “Why can’t you go if your husband is black?” I said.
            She sighed and smiled kindly at me, “A few years ago my relatives invited us to go visit them in New Jersey,” she began. “They have good jobs and a big house and a car. They come to Uruguay sometimes and they wear the nicest clothes and they can speak English. They were going to pay for our tickets and let us stay with them. They said we could see New York from their window. We wanted to go, but we couldn’t because my husband is black.” She looked at me again as if I should know why that was an obstacle.
            “Why not? What does it matter if your husband is black?” I wondered if Uruguayan
passports were restricted to whites, or if the U.S. embassy discriminated against blacks for visas.
            “Because in the United States they kill all the black people,” she said calmly, like it was common knowledge.
            “What?” I asked incredulously. “Why do you think they kill all the black people? Who told you that?”
            “Everybody knows it,” she said.
            “But they don’t kill all the black people,” I said. By now I was feeling defensive. “I grew up with black people. I know lots of black people, and they’re just as happy as everybody else. How can you think we kill them?”
            “I didn’t say you killed them,” she said. “But I saw on the television that they were
killing all the black people.”
            I first thought of South Africa, then of documentaries on the slave trade. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about. She was obviously mistaken, I reasoned, but my deep-set need to be right and to correct her wrong notions kept me going. “When did you see that?” I asked.
            “Not long ago,” she said. “Right when my relatives invited us to visit.”
            “But what year?” She was getting impatient with my questions, and Elder Kalu looked at me sternly and notched his thumb between his long, bony fingers in the ‘k’ sign. He meant “kill it.” Shut up, man, she’s not listening.
            “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe five years ago.” She scratched her nose with the broom handle.
            “Was it something that happened then? Or was it a documentary?”
            “It was the news,” she said, annoyed. “They were showing it all over the world.”
            “But where was it from?”
            “The United States, I told you already,” she said. Then, “Los Angeles.”
            It clicked. She was talking about the Los Angeles Rodney King trial riots. One black man beaten by police and random riot coverage equals all black people being killed in the entire country. It obviously wasn’t a logical conclusion, but I tried logic on her anyway.
            “You mean the riots in Los Angeles? That was only one city, and they weren’t killing
black people—black people were robbing Korean people. And besides, Los Angeles is across the country from New Jersey.” She didn’t get it. I continued, “‘Would you be afraid here if the Venezuelans started killing black people?” She stared curiously, unable to connect my question to the conversation. “California is as far from New Jersey as Uruguay is from Venezuela. What happened in Los Angeles has nothing to do with New Jersey. Black people are safe in New Jersey.” I suppose I really wanted to convince her to visit her relatives.
            “All I know is what they told me,” she said, picking up her broom and turning to go back to her sweeping. “They kill all the black people in the United States.” She completed her pirouette, pushed open her front gate and slowly shuffled back into the security of her front yard. Behind her we stared for a while, then shrugged at each other and walked away. Kalu punctuated the conversation with his only contribution to the debate: “I tol’ you man.’ No matter how often I’m forced to learn it, I’ve never yet really understood why some people can’t tap into the Fountain of Reason. Nowadays, what with postmodern philosophers and the slippery nature of truth, it’s difficult to assert any such thing as reason, but I’m convinced that it exists. Still, Jesus warned that before we attempt to take the mote out of our brother’s eye, we ought to remove the beam from our own. But I guess deep down I’ve always thought he wasn’t talking to me. I try to be conscientious and civil to others, either in ignoring or in pointing out their mistakes, and I’m convinced that I can always get the right answer through reason. The most painful argument, for me, is the one that is built on the incorrect assumption that nobody can ever be right, or worse, that if I was wrong last time, then now it’s your turn. Here was a woman whose erroneous ideas were so embedded that she blinded herself to a logical counter-explanation. Yet I wonder where she got her ideas in the first place. She seemed so untrusting, and yet who was able to fill her head with the notion that all the blacks were being killed in the
United States? Did she trust her television? And by what thought process could she interpret the snippets she saw of the riots as a large-scale genocide? But she did, and there was no way I could dissuade her.
            It’s a flaw, I suppose, that I felt the need to show her the truth about my country. I grew frustrated with her denials and illogic, as she turned farther from me because of my over-excitement. All things considered, though, people’s misconceptions about the United States were small in comparison with their lack of knowledge about Africa. Their strange notions drove Elder Kalu crazy. And he decided that his mission in Durazro, besides that of winning converts to Mormonism, was to educate the people about Africa.
            It would be too much of an exaggeration to say always, but I can tell you that nearly
every person we ever talked to in Durazno after Elder Kalu had been there for a week had
already heard about him. “Ah, yes. You’re the Africano,” they’d say, and he’d smile. “I’m Elder Kalu, without an accent.” They were always calling him Kaloo and he hated that.
            “I’m from Nigeria, the ones who are going to win the World Cup,” he taunted. Uruguay hadn’t qualified, and the Uruguayan men were heartbroken. Their glory years had ended with Uruguay’s last win in the Mundial in 1950. Still, they were fiercely proud that such a small country had won two World Cups and were equally humbled that their team this year was sitting at home. Then he’d introduce me. “This is Elder Madden from the United States, where they’re playing the Mundial.”
            Anyone else would have caused a big stir with his boasting and ridicule of the most
sacred of Uruguayan traditions. But the people loved Elder Kalu the Nigeriano even before they ever met him. They seemed proud to have him, a real live African, in their little unknown town. Some Church members, who got to know him personally, claimed to have had dreams that he would come to their town. Once he was there, word about him spread quickly. He told me that in every area he’d been in he heard the same story.
            Even the people who didn’t know him noticed. One Sunday afternoon, Richard Cisneros, from across town, bicycled over to drop off a political cartoon from the Sunday paper. It showed Elder Kalu, helmet-on-head and backpack-on-back, watching a soccer game in a bar with an assortment of locals. One of them says, “Wow! Those Africans sure play well!” Another responds, “Look at the Nigerians run!” And above them all, Elder Kalu chides, in ungrammatical Spanish, “Ha ha ha. We’re in the Mundial, and you all are stuck at home!” We never found out who drew the picture.
            He was famous. Though his celebrity didn’t help much with opening doors to teach the gospel, we had many lively doorway conversations about politics and futbol. The common people were excited to have this novelty in their midst and eager to make a good impression. Most common of their show-off comments was, “Congratulations on Mandela!” Nelson Mandela had just been elected President of South Africa. It was a trying time for Elder Kalu’s nerves.
            Depending on his mood, Elder Kalu might ignore the compliment and get down to
business, or, more likely, give a geography lesson. “¿¡Qué Mandela!?” His tone meant “What are you talking about!?”
            “Mandela’s not from my country. South Africa is as far from Nigeria as Venezuela is
from Uruguay. You don’t hear me congratulating you on Venezuela’s president, do you?” They cowered. We were fond of Venezuela as a distant reference point.
            “Africa isn’t all one country. Not all black people are the same. There are more countries in Africa than any other continent. . . .” They were losing interest but smiling sheepishly. Usually by the time he was done they were casting sideways glances at me, shrugging as if to say “I’m sorry.” I usually smiled at them, basking in his didactic tirade and thinking, in a sing-song, “They’re not listening.” Surprisingly, nobody was ever openly offended by his rebukes.
            People were good natured about being taught African geography and seemed to brush off his reproaches as easily as they forgot what he told them. So, after all, I don’t know what effect Elder Kalu had on most of the people we met. They were too high in the clouds, excited to be graced by the presence of an exotic foreigner, to hear our real message—the one about eternal salvation—and they were too ingrained in their simplistic notions about the outside world to broaden their horizons even when a real live African came to teach them. Elder Kalu took it all in stride, his bright smile—the stereotypical see-it-in-the-dark whites against his dark face-was a constant reminder that he was happy being who he was and doing what he was doing. I was happy he was doing it with me.
            When he realized with certain people that he could never change them, he started telling them, “In Africa, we have lions roaming the streets and eating the garbage just like the dogs do here.” They’d become wide eyed. “And we ride on elephants to go to work.” C’mon, they’d say, You’re joking. “No! And for us malaria is just like an ataque de higado
for you all.” The liver attack was painful, but nothing like malaria, they’d say. “It’s true!” and he’d laugh and they’d know he was pulling their leg, or, in Spanish, pulling their hair. Then he’d whisper to me, “You tell dem enough lies and maybeh you wake dem from deir slumber.”
            We spent our days talking, laughing, singing old Catholic hymns as we rode down the street. We told the skeptical people we met that we had both been altar boys at one time and that the Mormons and the Catholics believed almost the same things. When people just wouldn’t listen, Elder Kalu would tell me, “You can’t fight wit’ a bull.” Then we’d leave. When we saw the sad results of drunkenness, abuse, and irresponsible and fighting parents, Kalu said, “When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.” He talked about the members of his tribe, the Igbos, who had mysterious powers to control the weather, and he kept me rapt with accounts of the tribal wars and governmental uprisings in Nigeria during his lifetime.
            One day like any other, as we left the house right on time, according to our prescribed schedule, I mused, like it was a revelation, “There’s nobody here to tell us what to do. We could be doing whatever we want.”
            “Yeah,” he completed my thought, “but we doin’ da right ting anyweh!”
            Though I don’t think it had anything to do with being black, twice in the time I knew him Elder Kalu was called to be a district leader and then a week later “demoted” because another missionary complained and was given the position. Both times it was because Elder Kalu was younger missionwise than another missionary in the district. Usually callings weren’t given on the basis of mission age, but in the two instances involving Elder Kalu, they eventually were. The second time it happened was in Durazno. Once again, I felt offended on his behalf.
            We were sitting on our beds one night in our long underwear and socks with our electric heater boxes blowing in our faces and we were talking. Finally I got up the courage to ask him, “What do you think about Gull and Newton complaining and getting called as district leader over you? That’s twice.”
            He always smiled when I asked him questions he had figured out long ago. He looked up beaming and said simply, “Hey man, we’ all missionaries here.” I understood, and my love of Elder Kalu found a new hold. “Hey man, we’ all missionaries here,” and nothing more. I determined that I would emulate his humility and disinterested service—be a missionary like he was. Shortly after that conversation, we were separated. I went off to remote Carmelo, on the southwestern coast of Uruguay, across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires, and Kalu stayed on for another month in Durazno to train a new missionary. I always remembered what he had taught me.
            Because I kept up on the news from Durazno, I was the one who told Elder Kalu when Grandma Garcia finally died. It was the closest to vindictive I ever saw him. “Good,” he said, nodding. I was surprised. He continued, “I hope when she get dere dey put her wit’ all the Negroes dat evah live.” Then he laughed, a great big hearty laugh, and I hoped God would listen to him.

Oil

by Melody McGrath

Following a brief rain,
your car will unintentionally deposit
in an asphalt nest
a perfectly shelled and shimmering
egg of oil.
It arcs a rainbow under 
your Toyota,
a slight pocket of crude
within a rim of color.
You will marvel at its loveliness,
remarking on its wild, murky abandon,
feeling the grandeur of life in a 
handful of swirling blue.
The sky dampens and repeats the downpour,
and your lovely rainbow creature
driven to frustration by an incessant drumming of rain
breaks its shell
and rolls away.

Pro Libertate

by Kent Wallace

The pub where I was drinking with a group of Brits and Egyptians one foggy autumn evening in 1991 in Aberdeen, Scotland, used to be a church. The ornately carved wooden preacher’s pulpit still stood high on the right side of the nave. But now the pulpit contained a mixing board, three spinning record turntables, and a grinning black Rastafarian D. J. with long dreadlocks and a large Jamaican hat. Bob Marley was pounding out of the speakers and reverberating off of the grey granite walls. The music became a cacophony. No one seemed to mind. The pews had been removed to make space for tables, chairs, and a dance floor. The bar stood in place of the altar. Where the crucifix of Jesus Christ, King of the Jews, should have been hanging, there was, instead, a huge mirrored sign advertising “Budweiser—King of Beers.” Despite the high vaulted ceiling, cigarette smoke was thick. It was crowded. The women there were all typically Scottish-ugly, with bad teeth and short, stocky legs. 

lan, Kieran, and I were sitting at a table where the first row of pews should have been. We were ignoring the Egyptians. A barmaid came over and asked us what we wanted, She looked at my elephant skin cowboy boots and Wrangler shirt and asked me if I wanted a Budweiser, and tried to pronounce “Budweiser” with an American accent. I ordered an Irn-Bru, an orange-colored but rusty-tasting Scottish soda pop, lan and Kieran, my two friends, ordered Glenfiddich neat.

We were all taking a three-week course to familiarize ourselves with a new drilling tool our company had developed. Our company, a large American oilfield service company, had its eastern hemisphere office in Aberdeen, and engineers from all over the hemisphere were sent here to train on the new equipment. This new tool was used for measuring the angle and direction of the drill bit, and it gave the data while drilling. It was cutting-edge technology. Some of the components were the same as those used in the Cruise Missile. I had learned more about the inclinometers and magnetometers than I
had really wanted to know, but it really was an interesting course. 

I had become good friends with Ian and Kieran. Kieran was an Irishman who was based in Saudi Arabia, lan was the instructor, and today was his last day at the school. He would be leaving for the Far East the next morning. 

“I’ll miss you two,” Ian said, “but it’s good riddance to our tea-towel-headed friends. Present company excepted, of course, but this was the thickest bunch of engineers I’ve ever taught. I can understand that there might have been some language problems, but we used Arabic numerals in the equations.You’d think they would have understood that part, at least. What a lot of gits.” Ian glared over at the Egyptians’ table.

The Egyptians would all be going back to Egypt and were trying to drink as much as they could before returning to a country where Allah could keep an eye on them. I shared Ian’s dislike of the Egyptians. When we ate lunch, the Egyptians would paw through the food hamper and cast aside all the BLT’s and the ham and cheese sandwiches. They were all married, but they still tried to hit on the secretaries and any other females they saw. At night they drank like fish. These Egyptians were all officers in their army and were as conceited as any group of people I had ever met. They were also incompetent, and the class had dragged along slowly because of them. Until I had met them, I had always wondered how a numerically superior Egyptian army could get its butt kicked consistently by the Israelis. After a few weeks with these guys, I was convinced the pyramids must have been designed and built by aliens. 

Kieran, like the Egyptians, was headed for a Muslim country and seemed to feel a need to get particularly blasted now that the course was over, Ian had been in a black mood all day, Like me, lan was recently divorced. His ex-wife was destroying him financially, so he was going to leave the country. I would be returning to Norway the next day, and I really wasn’t looking forward to going back.

I had been concentrating so much on successfully completing my course work that I had managed to block out all thoughts of anything after this course. I should have been sending out my Christmas cards. For each of the past six years I’d written a cheerful letter full of good news—job promotions, interesting family vacations, the births of my three children, the purchase of a lovely new house with a great view of the ocean. And each Christmas letter had a picture included of my happy family, two proud parents and three lovely blonde children. My ex-wife was a typical Scandinavian beauty. Unfortunately, I thought of her, and the image that came to my mind was of her naked. She had a great body with perfect, full breasts, fine feminine curves, and flawless skin. Even after giving birth to our three children, she still didn’t have a single stretch mark, And I could smell her perfume. 

“Kent,” Ian said as he punched me in the shoulder, “Hey, mate. You still with us. You look like you could use a drink.” I shook my head. 

“You know what sober means?” Kieran asked, He was pretty drunk and slurred the words, I shook my head again. Kieran counted each letter off on his fingers. “Son of a bitch, everything’s real.” I laughed, but Kieran had hit too close to home. Everything was real and it was rotten. I wanted my old life back, but there was nothing I could do about it. I kept drinking my soda pop. Ian was pretty drunk when a uniformed woman police constable came up to him and told him he was under arrest. The woman read (or attempted to read; she was unable to pronounce many of the words) from a typewritten sheet detailing crimes from drunk driving to lewd conduct. Then she took off her blouse. A circle formed, and I found myself with no way to escape and with an unobstructed view as the stripper removed clothing until she was completely nude except for high stockings and a garter belt. She had stretch marks on her belly and thighs. Probably in her mid-thirties and a bottle blonde-not a woman I wanted to see naked. 

The fattest of the Egyptians had gotten so excited about this stripper that he had climbed onto a tiny pedestal table in order to get a better view. The crowd pressed in on me until I was so close to the stripper that I could smell her and see every blemish on her skin. I felt claustrophobic and frantic. I pushed back hard against the crowd to keep as much distance from her as possible. 

She hugged Ian and he grabbed for her breasts. She pushed him away. I saw fear in her eyes. She was trapped by a drunken crowd of men, and she was naked. Before anything else could happen she quickly hugged Ian again and kissed him on the cheek. Then she gathered her clothes and began dressing. Once she was mostly clothed, the crowd broke up. I was disappointed that the Arab’s table hadn’t collapsed underneath him. 

Everyone ignored the stripper as she left. People from the office came over and shook Ian’s hand or pounded him on his shoulder. Ian was in a good mood now. The cigarette smoke hurt my eyes and gave me a headache. Kieran launched into another of his Irish history lessons and told us of the outrageous things the English had done to his people starting hundreds of years ago and continuing right upto the present. 

“What’s it like to be from a country with no history?” Kieran asked me in a break during the Irish history lesson.

“It’s not too bad,” I replied, “What’s it like to be from a country with no future?” I asked flatly. I’d been playing the ugly American with them before, but now nothing seemed funny. On other nights, when they were as drunk as they were now, they’d get serious and start to ask questions about my religion. I’d always make a couple of jokes and let the topic slide. I had learned as a missionary that it was futile to teach religion to someone who was under the influence of alcohol. But, now, I wanted to tell them about my great-grandfather and his baby daughter who was born in a dank dugout in Winter Quarters. This little girl survived the long trip across the plains and died as my great-grandfather’s wagon train entered the Salt Lake Valley. She had the dubious honor of being the first person to be buried in the Salt Lake Cemetery. The mob had forced my people out of the United States while the government stood by and did nothing to protect their rights.

I wanted to tell them about another ancestor who was a scout on the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition in southern Utah, where a group of Mormon pioneers had taken a wagon train through an area so impassable and barren that the area still has few roads and hasn’t been settled. The wrongs my people had suffered were in the last century, but we had gotten over it and pushed our way back into American society. We remembered our past, but, unlike Kieran’s people, we didn’t need to use bombs to punctuate our struggle as a minority group. I wanted that little Irishman to know that my people had a history and that I knew my heritage. Kieran leaned over to me with his whiskey breath and said something else about America that I didn’t catch.

“Do you know what an American is?” I asked. They both shook their heads, “We’re just Europeans who had intelligent ancestors.” They smiled, but I was feeling really angry. Everything suddenly felt so very wrong. I told Ian and Kieran that I needed some fresh air and would be back in an hour.

I stepped outside but I still felt dirty. My clothes smelled like cigarettes and beer from where the barmaid had spilled on me. But the feeling of dirtiness went much deeper. The stripper made me sad. That woman was obviously uneducated and was exploited and demeaned in order to earn money, and I felt like I had been part of it. After all, I had looked. There was more to it than that. A stripper and a bar in a church. It was blasphemous.

A grey fog had rolled into Aberdeen, a grey city built of granite. Everything was monochrome. Grey people wearing grey coats scurried along grey sidewalks. I was wearing an oilskin duster and Tony Lama boots. I was sure I looked as out of place as I felt. I hated Scotland, hated living for three weeks in a constant overcast drizzle. I was glad my ancestors had been bright enough to hightail it off to America. The chieftain of the Clan Wallace now lives in Bermuda. Bright boy. l could hardly wait to leave too, except that I really had nothing to go back to. In the morning I would fly back to a town I used to call home and take another load of my things from what used to be my house to my basement bachelor’s apartment, all under the cold, watchful eye of the woman I had been married to for seven years. We had three children together, but now she would recoil from my touch as I had from the stripper.

I moved off Union Street and followed a street I had never been on before. It felt good to be away from the smoke and the noise. I had learned the appeal of pubs. They were clean, well-lighted places that surrounded a person with sound and a kind of warmth. As long as you had money, you could feel part of something larger in a pub. The loud music prevented serious discussion or thought, which was also probably part of the appeal. Outside it was numbingly cold. The dank fog from the North Sea seemed to go right through to my bones, but the fog also seemed to soften things. I could see no farther than ten meters, Away from the noise of the pub, I could think clearly again. 

I had been divorced now for three months. The four MormonsI had known who worked with me in the oil business had, within a two-year period, all gotten divorced. In each case it was the wife who had wanted out. I was the only one who still managed to remain active, and I was only barely hanging on.

I came to an intersection where there were churches on each corner. Two of them were, in fact, no longer churches but an architectural firm and an insurance building. The third one was being remodeled and had a “For Sale” sign on it. Stained glass windows were being replaced with double-glazed ones.

The one that was still a church looked shabby. Its exterior was darker than the others. Moss grew a few feet up the sides. The massive wooden door was old and scratched and battered. It had a key-hole that would fit a giant skeleton key, and I felt that a good kick could put my foot right through the rotten wood of the door. The times of the services were stapled to the door in a plastic sheet. Scotland seemed in a hurry to join the rest of Europe in its post-Christian splendor. I wished the door was open and that there was a priest inside to talk to. I felt like I was badly in need of absolution. 

I thought about Provo, Utah, my hometown. Churches were still being built there, and they were filled to capacity each week. But Utah seemed so far away to me that I almost doubted its existence.

Maybe I needed to get back to Utah where my Mormon God could keep an eye on me. I was thousands of miles from where I wanted to be and light years away from being who I wanted to be. I could feel the drag of the world working against me, and I knew that if I stayed in the oil business I would eventually turn out like Ian. Or, worse, I might find myself perched on a wobbly bar table like a fat bird straining for a glimpse of an ugly stripper. The money I was earning, however, was too good to leave. Oil is an exploitative business, reaping where it hasn’t sown. It exists for quick profits and leaves town the moment the wells run dry.

I felt like just quitting and taking the next plane to Utah, but I knew that I couldn’t. I was shackled to my job by a golden chain that I didn’t have the will to break. After all, if I left its employ, what would become of me? 

Ian had said that the stripper had been the first naked woman he’d seen after his divorce. I couldn’t have said the same, I hadn’t slept with any of them yet, but it seemed like it would just be a matter of time before I did. Women have always been my weakness,
I thought marriage would have been the cure, and, in a way, it was. I had never been unfaithful to my wife. I also hadn’t ever been totally happy with her, or, for that matter, any other woman I had ever known,.

Hugh Nibley, a notable Mormon scholar, and I once talked about the nature of man. He said that he felt that men belonged in one of three classes-celibates, monogamists, and polygamists. He felt that he was, by nature, a celibate, but he had been married for nearly fifty years and had a fine family. I guess that I have always been inclined more toward polygamy. I was working in the North Sea region and had girls in Bergen, Stavanger, Oslo, Copenhagen, Esbjerg, Aberdeen, Cheltenham, and London. lt was nice that I could get into nearly every town I worked in and have someone to spend time with. I never liked being alone for too long. The girl in Bergen was tall, blonde, and had been a model. The girl in Aberdeen was short, dark, and (by Scottish standards) a beauty. None of the them, however, seemed like someone I wanted to marry. 

A couple in long coats came toward me, gliding like chess pieces through the knee-deep fog. They were the only people I had seen in sometime. Almost everyone was inside on a night like this. As I went further, a man came out of an alley with a glowing cigarette in his mouth. My company had warned all of us engineers about walking alone in Aberdeen, since a Dutch engineer had gotten beaten up and robbed a few weeks previously, I laced my keys through my fingers. I let the big key to my company BMW stick out between the second and third fingers on my left hand. With my right hand, I released the snap on the sheath of my Buck hunting knife. I really wasn’t very worried. Standing six-feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds, I felt like a giant in Scotland. The man was a good six inches shorter than me. He ducked backdown the alley. I could see the glow of three cigarettes as I passed by. No one came out, I was almost disappointed. Getting into a fight would have let me release some of the anger that I was holding in. I am, by nature, a very violent person, but I always keep my anger under control. I did, however, find myself regretting my good behavior and often wished that I had beat up some people who seemed to deserve it.

A few weeks before I left for Scotland, I had gone to a party at an American couple’s home in Stavanger. It was a theme party, and we were all supposed to come dressed as a song. I couldn’t think of anything for a costume. When I got there, one man was dressed as Puff, the Magic Dragon. One very confident woman wore an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka dot bikini.  And one guy was wearing a cheap, shiny blue suit with a tie that had the narrow part hanging below the wide part. He had on white socks and scuffed brown shoes. None of us could guess what song he was. “I came,” he said, “dressed as a ‘Norwegian Wood.”‘

A few days after the party I found myself in front of a Norwegian judge who was dressed just like the guy at the party, and I stood there meekly while he gave my car, my children, and the house I had built to my ex-wife. 

The fog was getting more dense. It swirled around me as  Iwalked. I could no longer see the ground. I began to be afraid, silly fears like my next step would be into a manhole missing its cover. I was sliding my foot along the ground and making sure I was stepping onto firm ground before putting my weight down. The streetlights and autumn trees played tricks on my eyes. I would think I could see someone, but no one was there. My visibility was reduced to a couple of meters, but a thick patch of fog would occasionally drift past and reduce my visibility to nothing. As the fog boiled and swirled around me, I thought I could see faces in the fog.

I became disoriented and terrified, And I was angry at myself for being so afraid. As I walked along, I noticed that the newly painted, black wrought-iron fence by the sidewalk now had painted metal crests between some of the bars. The painted crests were bright colors—red, blue, and gold—the only colors I could see. As I looked closely at one of the crests, I recognized it as the crest of my clan—the same crest that was on the key fob I still had clenched in my fist. Ahead of me loomed a large, lighted statue. The statue was on a little island in the street where the road made a T-intersection. I crossed the road to the statue which stood higher than the fog. The statue was of Sir William Wallace, Scotland’s national hero. A wreath of fresh flowers had been placed at the base of the statue. William Wallace had been dead for nearly seven hundred years, and yet someone was still placing flowers on his statue.

According to legend, William Wallace was six-foot-five-inches tall, brave, fearless, and loved by everyone-except the English. Standing there at the base of the statue, I drew my right hand out of my coat pocket. The blade of my hunting knife looked ridiculously tiny compared with the claymore in the hand of the statue.

I didn’t know where to go, so I sat down on a park bench, the toes of my cowboy boots pointing upwards, my arm along the top of the bench, the knife still held in my hand. I took stock of my life. Nothing was going right, and I had lost everything that mattered to me. I couldn’t think of a single reason for carrying on. I wasn’t suicidal. I just didn’t want to continue to exist. I wished that I could just disappear into the fog. 

William Wallace’s life had never been easy. His father had been killed when he was young. The English had drowned his wife. He had fought against oppression his whole life, and he never compromised. Pro Libertate. For Liberty, the motto of the Clan Wallace, William Wallace wasn’t the type of man who would have allowed himself to be ruined by a badly dressed judge and some lopsided laws. He would have gotten out his claymore and fought for his rights. Of course, he got hung, drawn, and quartered for his efforts. I just had to move into a basement apartment. 

My life had been good for so long. I had always succeeded at anything I’d ever tried, and I usually hadn’t even needed to try very hard. And now it was all unraveling. I just wanted to go back to the pub and get drunk. It seemed too much to have to face the tail end of this century stone cold sober. On the other hand, I’d seen enough of the world to know that it didn’t have much to offer. 

I sat there a long time. After resting for several minutes, I got up and circumambulated the monument. There were inscriptions on each side. One of the inscriptions was some advice that William’s uncle and guardian, Argyle Wallace, allegedly gave to William that had inspired him to fight for Scotland’s freedom. “l tell you the truth, liberty is the best of all things, my son, never live under any slavish bond.” 

The fog started to lift as I sat there. I looked up into the autumn sky and watched the familiar stars. I was no longer as world weary as I had been. Wallace’s statue was luminescent in the starlight. I have never considered myself a mystical person, but something had happened to me. I felt a real connection with my legendary clansman, William Wallace had changed me, had given me some hope. 

Orion was directly above me, I hitched up my own belt and put my knife back into its sheath, I felt some new strength and was ready to go on. Ian, Kieran, and the others would be waiting for me to drive them back from the pub. I remembered the words from Ecclesiastes and decided that I would discover if being a living dog really was better than being a dead lion.

 

Pica

by Krista Halverson

This eighth month I have been painting women. Gesture
Juncture, profiles next to apples, in poses that embarrass
Me. This one cracks her knuckles on the back of her neck, stares

Like the plump sister in another wash–arm raised overhead
Like a crescent roll. Same skin
Slipping over her jaw, same monochrome and glaze,

Poised, like she could never think of breathing,
My doctor tells me to explore, play music, buy yellow–for a boy
Or a girl. Explains why I hold mouths full

Of soil, bite my tongue until my eyes run,
And take small swallows of warm grit. She calls this Pica,
Which condition bothers women, mainly, She knows

A woman whose husband found her digging clay
From under a cold rock; she ate the roots of her Geraniums.
The hair on this girl looks like roots. She smells like me, like paint
And that hole in the wood floor where the oil drains.

Soupe de Poisson

by Eric Freeze

The bench was cold. Red carnations sprouted from a worn stone pot on one end, and I slouched against my pack at the other. It was nine-thirty, about the time my friends the Houdins were supposed to get home from church activities in Montpellier a college town in the south of France. They didn’t know I was coming. 

At the front of the house was a wrought-iron gate. I jumped it after a hitch from a guy going directly to Castlenau-le-les. He said that I was the first Mormon he had ever met, though he had often seen them on T.V. And the fact that I was Canadian, not American, added to a general awe which I admittedly enjoyed. He had a round face and bright eyes, and I really felt that picking up strangers wasn’t something he did everyday. At least that’s the only way that it made sense to me.

I had been lying propped against my pack for twenty minutes when the gate opened the first time. I wasn’t expecting the branch president to come walking up. I was half-asleep, and I know he recognized me, I served as a missionary in the Montpellier branch for five months a year before. It was my last area. He couldn’t remember my name, and he covered his hands when he talked. He came to drop off some items left from a camping trip in Ardeche that the youngest of the Houdins, Augustin, had forgotten. I was talking to him when the gate opened the second time. It was the Houdins. I remember they were happy to see me.

As a missionary, I first met the Houdins at church one Sunday in March. I had just been transferred to Montpellier and was introduced to them by my companion—a missionary whom I had known since the MTC. Specifically, I remember meeting Mathilde Houdin, She was light complexioned and had bleached blonde hair and would playfully hit people when she talked. I remember her because she didn’t hit me, just asked me how I was doing. She had four children: Roman, Samuel, Gisèle, and Augustin. Roman was not living at home and was to be married in a month, Samuel was on a mission, Gisèle had just graduated from the “fac” similar to high school, and would eventually go to Utah the following year to learn English—the same time that I would be going to BYU. Augustin, the youngest, was obnoxiously funny and often went tracting with the missionaries.

I don’t know exactly how my companion and I ended up getting to know them better. I know they invited us over to eat every Sunday. She would make soupe de poisson, and we would eat cheese. They had a nice apartment in a small town not far from Montpellier called Carnot-les-plages, where they had moved after their father died. Their father had been a physician, and they had lived comfortably in a large villa in Bordeaux. Their new apartment reflected the furnishings of this larger villa—their lavish meuble a façade of a less austere life when they lived in Bordeaux, had two cars, and didn’t worry about money. 

We started teaching Sister Houdin’s parents after the long Sunday dinners we had in their home. While the rest of the children went out to play volleyball on the beach, we lingered to teach them both about the gospel. Sister Houdin was excited to see her parents discussing religion so openly; it had been a source of friction ever since the missionaries frist started coming to their home when she was a teenager. Though her parents were never baptized, we found they enjoyed learning about the Church—to know why their daughter was baptized (wasn’t a Catholic baptism enough?) and why she was happy even after her husband died. We also loved coming over to teach because it gave us more time to be with the Houdins. Often after teaching, we would join the children on the beach and play mock games of soccer or volleyball. Sometimes, those Sunday afternoons would turn into evenings or nights; the Houdins would also invite us over during the week for special occasions: a birthday, holidays, Sometimes just to spend time when they wanted company. By the time I finished my mission, my companion and I considered them our family—or we told ourselves they were. That was the only way we could see things clearly—we had both been away from home for almost two years, and this was the first time either of us felt so readily accepted by a family. Her soup, the cheese, grandparents, gospel, and the beach all became part of a familial collage we had been searching for during our missions. We were close and had already started planning time together for the next year, when we would all return for the summer and Bastille Day—not as missionaries, just as her kids.

The first bise was uncomfortable. Mathilde hadn’t seen me for a year, and we hadn’t really written much; I always assumed that since I was coming back, it didn’t matter I hadn’t written. We could cover the whole year when I got there, and I always felt it was better in person. I called them at Christmas and for birthdays—wasn’t that enough? Her daughter was at school with me—I saw her almost every week, so I didn’t think anything was wrong when Mathilde scolded me for not writing. Everything that had happened over the last year, for me, was everything that had happened with them. I still felt so necessarily connected with their lives, and the memory of the apartment, the meals, and the discussions were a part of me. But it was uncomfortable when she bised me. The way she formed her lips and kissed the air—and her cold cheek when she asked me why I hadn’t shaved in the last few days. “l’ve been travelling,” I said, then told them how I met a nice man in the neighborhood who had given me a ride and knew where avenue de trident was because he lived a couple blocks away, and was going there anyway, how it was blessedly coincidental, and weren’t they glad to see me anyway? She still thought I could’ve shaved. 

When the branch president left, closing the wrought-iron gate behind him, Mathilde shooed me inside along with Augustin. They were in a house now. She had found a job and was finally able to pay for something that could accommodate friends and relatives. It was not far from her other house, still near Montpellier, but in a more residential area. Most of what was in the house I still recognized. The meuble was the same-large, dark finished cabinets, and armoirs. They were beautiful, but not perfect. Pock marks from termites a few years ago scarred their surface, but just on the bottom, under the finish. She had bought a new kitchen table, larger than the first, and she had a set of chairs that I thought was new, but they were actually her older chairs, recovered with red cloth and brass studs. I walked on the Turkish throw rug they had had in their living room in Castlenau. I took off my shoes, gripped it through my socks. I spread my feet a shoulder widths apart and started talking to Mathilde. 

“Comme tu es mince! You’re thinner now. Haven’t you been eating anything?” she said. 

“I just haven’t had anyone stuffing soup de poisson down me every time I turn around,” I said. She gave me a curious glance—looking first at my backpack, then at the frayed cuffs of the coat I had bought when we were in centreville in spring a year ago. She looked at my boots, then my face. 

“It’s funny, I still want to call you Elder.” 

I stayed with the Houdins for about a week. Two of those days she took off work, and three Augustin skipped school to stay with me. I felt that they felt obligated to spend time with me , and I was never entirely comfortable with that. Mathilde had worked hard to acquire what she could, to provide a place, things, and room for her children. We talked often about the “Celebration of Music” holiday when my companion would show up as well, and we would all leave for Montpellier to watch different groups perform in cramped cobblestone streets, playing music with instruments, hands, and voices. But my stay there wasn’t summed up in anticipatory events—it was the reality of being a stranger in a strange country among people who claimed to be family to me. I realized that even though we both claimed this bond openly, I was still being looked at, questioned, watched. 

That weekend, the Houdins invited the missionaries over for dinner. We didn’t have soupe de poisson like when I was on my mission, but an easier hamburger and pasta dish. I asked Sister Houdin why, to which she replied,”Je n’ai plus le temps.” With her job and church responsibilities she didn’t have time to make it anymore, In fact, she hadn’t made soupe de poisson since we left over a year ago. It was also the first time in a year that the Houdins had invited the missionaries over. I knew one of the missionaries fairly well—he was in my zone before I finished my mission and was always a good missionary: hardworking, jovial, and open. While they were there, I felt different than I had during the past week. I was comfortable, relaxed. The house and the family were again a part of me, flowing through me. The summer table on the patio where we sat was white and sturdy, nicked on the edges from being so long folded up in the corner of an apartment. It had been left out the same way the missionaries had—put aside for the right occasion, We talked. One of the elders asked me what it was like to come back and visit people in areas where I had served. 

“It’s great,” I replied.

“l’m hoping to do the same thing next summer,” one said. 

“It’s worth it,” I said. 

I looked at Mathilde. She was smiling. If she had been wearing a hat, it would have been white, broad-brimmed.

“It’s hard to see people leave,” she said.

“That’s why I came back.”

“Sometimes I wonder, though, if it’s really good to get close to people. I mean really close. Because then when they leave you start playing like they’re still there, and then when they’re not . . . well, it’s just confusing.” 

“What do you mean?” I said. Getting close to people seemed to me to be exactly what life was about.Wasn’t that why I was here, why I was dipping my straw in my glass of ice water on this white table on the patio? Now, today, with these people? 

“l don’t know, I mean, when you two left, it was hard. Too hard. Maybe if we hadn’t got so close, it wouldn’t be so difficult. If I had distanced myself a bit, or if we had distanced ourselves a bit, then maybe none of that anxiety would’ve really had to happen—whether or not I would ever see you again, or if you would come back, whether or not it would be the same.” 

She was still smiling, but not coyly or without looking at me. The missionaries were also looking at me. They had heard the story before: how when we left, she was depressed and wanted her “children” back. She always said we were like her children. To me that was endearing, meaningful: belonging to someone else in another country like I had been born there, crawled on their furniture and sat at their table, put my clothes neatly in an armoir on grey wire hangers in my room down the hall. She said that we were like that to her, and I felt it. I had reached a point where I felt our lives were completely in common, where we had become family. Now I couldn’t see how someone would rather it hadn’t happened. 

“Do you really think it would’ve been better if . . .”

“If what?”

“Well, if we hadn’t ever met each other, helped your grandparents and everything.”

“No, it just would’ve been easier.”

At this point, one of the missionaries broke in, talking quickly.

“I think that’s why many of the missionary rules are there—so separation is easier. I know in my last area, since the members knew that we couldn’t write after we left, and since we weren’t allowed to call or anything, it made it easier to get to know other missionaries.” 

“We didn’t break mission rules, though,” I said.

“Well, I guess separation is always difficult,” he said.

My hands were cold. I had been playing with my glass of ice water, not thinking. The patio was still white with the sun, and we had finished our meal. I wiped my plate clean with a snub of bread, then carried it over to the sink inside where I washed it and my solitary fork and knife, then left them gleaming to dry. That night, I decided that I needed to see some of my other friends. 

I left the following afternoon, and promised to return before next week for the “Celebration of Music.” My old companion had not yet called or told anyone anything, but we knew he was still planning on coming. It didn’t take me long to gather my things—most of them stayed deep in my backpack. As a guest, I had tried to be meticulous, not leaving anything out for fear I would infringe on their hospitality. That morning, I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom. 

When I left, I didn’t expect the trip to be as long as it was. I took the bus to the train station, then waited for my train, only to find out that the trains were on strike. I was rerouted on a regional train leaving in a couple hours. When I eventually got to Marseille, I was tired, bought a box of french pattiseries at a station bakery, and ate all three of them sitting in a corner between a magazine store and some restrooms. 

I saw three good friends in Marseille—one of whom I had helped teach. Every one of them was happy and flattered I would see them. 

I called, dropped in, and left feeling good, like I had reminded them of something. But I wasn’t as close to any of them as I had been with the Houdin family. 

I returned to see the Houdins the following week. I admit I hadn’t called ahead of time—I mean, I did say when I would be there, but I didn’t give them a day’s notice—just called them before I got on my train. I had used up my phone card the day before trying to figure out how to call home to Canada to let my parents know I was O.K., and I didn’t immediately have any other money. I wasn’t at all prepared for what I heard. 

“Well, I’m not really sure we have any room for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Roman and Valerie are coming tonight, and I think they’ll be staying in the room you were in. Plus Augustin might have some friends over. Sorry.” 

“O,K.,” I said, “l’ll try to work something else out.” 

This initial rejection started a long series of phone calls and curt, very polite conversations—all refusing my company. Mathilde never gave any explanation for her rejections—to her, there just wasn’t any room for me: not on a bed, or the floor, or even outside. 

I was on a bench the next day, eating. I bought a baguette and cheese from a small corner store that wrapped everything in brown paper, then found a bench near a fountain and took off my boots. There was a market that day—a weekly event which always generated crowds of interesting people. I watched the yellow stands of fruit, dark nuts, and olives, and the man selling mushrooms who always wore a brown cardigan, even when it was warm enough that most other people were in shorts. All of the scents and scenes reminded me so much of my mission: the way we would go whizzing by on our mountain bikes, having just enough time to catch a whiff of garlic or chestnuts roasted by a street vendor. 

Through the surging marketplace, a man walked up to me. He carried a boxy tape recorder with myriads of black, white-lined knobs along the side. 

“Could you tell us about the first time you fell in love?” he asked. My green hiking boots were also set up against the bench, and my feet were naked, ready to jump into my open-toed sandals I had retrieved from the depths of my pack. 

“The first time I fell in love?” 

“Yes,” he said. “What was it like? Where was it? Were you immediately attracted to her?” 

The man’s tie dangled near my face, and he held the mike up under my chin. I wondered why his top button was undone. He had hairy arms and his shirt was tucked ruthlessly into his pants, making his tweed slacks seem bigger than they really were, He wore them high, over a modest belly.

“l don’t know what to tell,” I said, “I mean, I have been in love before.” 

The man started recording. I suddenly wanted to slam my feet into my sandals, and walk somewhere-just do something. But it was sunny, and in the park there was a fountain, and I had found an unoccupied bench. I was alone under a tree in the sun which sat like a bright Buddha on a cloud. The man nodded at me to keep talking. 

“Well, I met her during school in the United States,” I said. “It was a private school, and I met her during a Hula exposition from the Polynesian club. I remember her because she didn’t like pizza. They had pizza at the Hula thing, and she wouldn’t eat any of it,.I didn’t ask her out until the second semester, because I didn’t feel that we knew each other well enough.” 

“So it wasn’t love at first sight?” 

“Not exactly. I think I was immediately attracted to her, but I don’t remember actually thinking I was in love. No, I suppose it wasn’t.” 

“So what did it feel like being in love? Were you instantly filled with passion? Did you do anything drastically romantic for her? Did you ever write her a love poem or sing to her?” He was staring at me now, and he talked fast.

“l don’t know,” I said. “We were really good friends. I felt more of a comfort than any passionate fire sort of feeling. I suppose I did romantic things for her, but I don’t think that they were really outlandish. I wanted to write her a poem once, but she was too much of a friend, and I don’t think I’ve ever sung anything that didn’t scare anyone. It wasn’t very mushy, does that make sense?” 

“Yes,” he said, then lowered the microphone and adjusted a knob on the recorder. “Thanks for you time.” 

When he left, I was expecting to feel relief, but instead I felt cheated. The man had not wanted a description of platonic love, but something more deeply passionate, drastic. I began to question whether or not I had been in love, or whether or not I even really knew what the concept of real caring, real basic love for a neighbor or for a good friend would entail. My behavior made it apparent that my perception of the whole relationship with the Houdins had been inherently one-sided; I would only care for people as I wanted to be cared for. I didn’t want outlandish displays of affection because they made me feel uncomfortable—probably because I wasn’t willing to do the same for others. I didn’t think I needed to love with everything that I had, regardless of whether or not it was reciprocated, regardless of hatred, scorn, or negative feelings.

The marketplace was now vibrant. People were bright slashes of reds and oranges, surrounding stands of fruit, bending down like they were bowing, praying. They existed to me only as I existed to them—watching them watching me. I had come to the marketplace and found a bench and sat so it was all mine—so no one could sit next to me, bother me. My father told me once that life was an exercise in empathy. What he said now made sense—love people completely, the way they would be loved, a way they understood. I reworked the conversation that I had had with Mathilde and the missionaries. “Would it had been better if . . .” I heard myself saying, “No, it just would’ve been easier.” Mathilde thought it would’ve been easier because I wouldn’t love her and her family back in the same unconditional way she cared about me. She was experiencing sorrow—I was only willing to do as much as I would require from someone who I thought cared about me. It would’ve been easier—not because she didn’t care, or thought that people shouldn’t get to know each other, but because people don’t always love back unconditionally. People leave, forget, stop sending letters because they think those left behind will understand. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” I stuffed my feet in my sandals, strapped on my backpack and headed to a telephone. 

The next week was interesting. Mathilde eventually accepted my apologies and invited me over for dinner. I called well in advance to let her know when I was coming, and reevaluated my criticisms, my feelings I had the first time. 

When I got there, the table was already set, and it was sunny, reflecting from silverware like wind chimes. We had soupe de poisson— made fresh.
The next day we sat again on the patio, this time near a small fountain in the yard. Augustin and Gisèle had gone shopping and Mathilde had been complaining about the branch, how she wanted to meet someone, remarry, but how it was so hard to find a good member of the Church like her husband. 

“l know you’ll find someone,” I teased.

“But when? I’m already fifty, I don’t like being alone.”

“What do your kids feel about you getting remarried?”

“Well, I know it would be hard for some of them. Gisèle—well, she was always attached to her father. She takes more after him than me, you know.” 

“Why, what was he like?” 

“Oh–he was a good man. Sporty, hardworking, and caring when he wanted to be. But I never really felt that he was the right person for me. I don’t know why, but after I married him, I felt I might’ve made a mistake. Does that bother you?” 

“Not really, but I guess it seems strange.You have a wonderful family.” 

“I know. Yes, I know.” She paused and looked at the fountain and threw a franc she had kept in hidden in her lap. She tossed one to me. “Don’t ever tell my children, though. It’s not like I didn’t love him. I mean—I really did love him—I still do. Sometimes I wonder if he was right, though, I do love him,” 

“Of course you do,” I said, then threw my franc into the fountain. It was hard for me to understand the amount of sorrow this woman was willing to experience, and how she could be the way she was—loving, but wondering always if others shared that love as completely as she was willing to share it. I watched my franc sink like a bright Star of David to the bottom of the fountain. I remember wishing only one thing: that she would be happy. 

My Father, Keeping the Backyard

by Shannon Castleton

With the lump in his back there’s more
to think about. My father, still
in a wicker lawn chair, scans his aspens
and thinks of morning—of the smooth blade
opening his new scar for the second time in May.

When I visit like this, he corners me
with endings, says he's ten years
past the age his father reached
when a '62 Chevy split him wide
against a blunt curb. Two days later
the town mortician, tonic-haired
and grey-suited, shook my sixteen-
year-old father's hand. He said,
"We almost couldn't view your dad
he was torn so bad, But I wrapped
his side with the same stuff
the ladies save Sunday dinner in.
Some days all you can do is keep
these bodies together."

Of course my father has become
the mortician, Each time he performs him
the last words change. Tonight
it was blood, the thin wrap seeping,
and, "The inside always wants out."

Later, viewing my father
from the sliding glass door,
I know the mortician is who he believes.
Even with my mother, brown-legged
and deep in her tomatoes, fuchsia nodding
from their pots on the deck, promising
love in each round flower, he dreams

his way out. Lips straight, a long finger
circling the chilled rim of a juice glass,
he eyes this yard till dar., When he creeps
to the house I can't tell his arms
from the warm, rich black.

A Farmer at Confession

by Jim Richards

Well, what would you do, Father,
if sinking your shovel into a potato field
you struck metal, and bending down
you uncovered a sword, crumbling with rust?
And you've got sweat burning your eyes
when you see this man, and somehow
you know he's left-handed
and he's got a scar under his eye
real shiny pink, like a pig's snout.
I'm thinking "does he want this sword or what?"
so I drop it and go back to digging—
I've got kids, you know, two sons
and a daughter, Kate. Anyway,
I turn a few more piles of earth
and the heat is coming down real hard
when I find another sword, so heavy
I can't lift it. And "what time is it?"
I'm thinking as I squint at the sun
and see some giant-sized man
with hair like fur and real small ears.
So small, I know he can't hear the screams,
Thousands of them , buried so long
they're black from reflecting the earth.
What would you do, press a blade
to your ear and listen for the roar?
Would you look up to see who
was watching? No Sir. When everything
has gone to dust except lingering blades
that can't resurrect, like spirits stuck
somewhere between hell-fire and the sun,
you bury them, Father, beneath the mounds
of the quiet earth and walk away.