Transience

Issue #2

Winter 2010

Table of Contents

3 Letter from the Editor

4 Contributors

5 Events

6 Poetry – “I’ll Say Goodbye” by Sergio Antonio Ortiz

7 Fiction – “A Better Place to Be” by Mitchell Waldman

14 Poetry – “Herbarium ii” by Sergio Antonio Ortiz

15 Poetry – “Importance Goes Down On Itself” by Parker Tettleton

16 Fiction – “Forget-me-Not” by Jane Hardwidge

24 Poetry – “While Financiers Assisi” by Donal Mahoney

29 Fiction – “The Sad Sentence” by Andrew McLinden

34 Fiction – “The Machine” by Anna North

38 Nonfiction – “Tompkins Square Park, by Day and by Night” by Katherine Don

 

Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader,

This is where I write something nice about how exciting it is to be introducing the second issue and what a wonderful fall it was for our little corner of the literary world, and something about what literature and the literary world, the literary life, means to all of us, and either a more professional picture of myself or just a photograph that is representative of the season without being too self-centered (something of New York City like snow falling on Second Ave, but nothing that implies the way this picture is is the way the world is because this is the only world that matters, because it isn’t), and then I’ll write something meant to be inspiring about writing or art or what trans- means and what transience is supposed to mean, something about temporariness, and how something is passing us by perhaps, but maybe the fact that it is passing by is why or how we are able to see it and experience it and then maybe write about it or share it, and then we’ll see how that goes over.  Warmest,

– Christina Phelps

 

Contributors

Stephen Batiz, born in NYC, is a self-taught fine artist who works primarily with acrylic, watercolor and scratch-board.  He has volunteered with the Valley Arts Organization, where he worked with underprivileged children.  His second exhibition will be in March 2011 at The Gallery in Essex County.  The title of the piece used for our second cover is “The Path.”

Katherine Don is obsessed with marshmallows.  She spoon-feeds Fluff and microwaves Peeps.  When she was young, she often dreamed that her house was made of marshmallows and she could eat the walls.  For more relevant information about Katherine, please visit her website at katherinedon.com.

Jim Fuess works with liquid acrylic paint on canvas.  Most of his paintings are abstract, but there are recognizable forms and faces in a number of the abstract paintings.  He is striving for grace and fluidity, movement and balance.  He likes color and believes that beauty can be an artistic goal. There is whimsy, fear, energy, movement, fun and dread in his abstract paintings.  A lot of his abstract paintings are anthropomorphic. The shapes seem familiar. The faces are real. The gestures and movements are recognizable. More of his abstract paintings, both in color and black and white, may be seen at www.jimfuessart.com.

Jane Hardwidge is an English writer who has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since moving from London in 2000. She has an MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco. Her work has appeared in the Left Coast Writers’ anthologies Hot Flashes: Sexy Little Stories and Poems, Vols 1 and 2. She is currently working on a collection of short stories titled Curves Right Round.

Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, MO.  He has worked as an editor for The Chicago Sun-Times, Loyola University Press, and Washington University in St. Louis.  One of many Pushcart Prize nominees, he has had poems published in The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal, Revival (Ireland), The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey), Public Republic (Bulgaria), Whisper, Calliope Nerve and other publications.

Andrew McLinden, of Glasgow, Scotland, likes referring to himself in the third person.  On a recent rendezvous with a girl he’d met off an internet dating site he was heard to remark, “Andrew thinks you used someone else’s photograph on your profile page.  Andrew also thinks that you’re significantly older than you said.  Andrew thinks you are a disgrace and is now leaving.”  Andrew likes to read and to write and hopes that other people like to read what he writes.

Anna North got her MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 2009.  Her first novel, America Pacifica, will be published by Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown in May 2011.  She is also a staff writer for Jezebel.com.

Sergio Antonio Ortiz is a retired educator, painter, poet, and photographer. He has a B.A. in English literature and a M.A. in philosophy. Flutter Press released his debut chapbook, At the Tail End of Dusk, October 2009. Ronin Press released his second chapbook, topography of a desire, May 2010. Avantacular Press released his first photographic chapbook: The Sugarcane Harvest, May 2010. His third chapbook: Bedbugs in My Mattress, will be released by Flutter Press, November 2010. He was recently published, or is forthcoming in: Fried EyeShot Glass JournalCavalier Literary Couture, and Touch: The Journal of Healing.  He is a three-time nominee to the 2010 Sundress Best of the Net Anthology, and a three time 2010 Pushcart Nominee.

Christina Phelps is a writer and bartender in New York City and the founder of trans lit mag.  She has a master’s degree in Humanities and Social Thought from NYU and recently rescued a bamboo plant that has been thriving under her care, wonder of wonders.  Unfortunately, we can’t say the same thing for the basil.

Elana Seplow is a native New Yorker and a poet.  A Columbia and Oxford graduate, she is the recipient of the 2009 Burns Society Prize and the Helene Searcy Puls Poetry Prize.  She has a firm handshake with a too-quick release.  She is, after all, a young professional.

Parker Tettleton’s work has appeared in ABJECTIVE> kill authorelimae and Mud Luscious, among others.  His chapbook Same Opposite was published earlier this year by Thunderclap Press.  He blogs at http://parker-augustlight.blogspot.com/.

Mitchell Waldman’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in numerous publications.  He is also the author of the novel, A Face in the Moon, and is Fiction Editor for Blue Lake Review. (For more information, see his website at: http://mitchwaldman.homestead.com.) In addition to writing, in his spare time Mitchell enjoys various other activities, including inventing ways to win the lottery so that he can move, with his partner, Diana, to a distant tropical island.

 

Events

12.21.2010 – trans lit mag begins transmitting issue #2, “transience.”

2.13.2011 – the first trans lit mag reading – 6pm at Txikito in New York.

3.6.2011 – past issues and submission guidelines are added to the website.

 

Poetry

I’ll say good-bye

by Sergio Antonio Ortiz

Tribute to Federico Garcia Lorca

among the forests clocks,

not at the crossroads.

I will return for an eternal minute

to my infancy, the shadow,

a flower.  These bones, General,

are an immense cobweb,

the true sphinx is a pendulum

standing with its mirror.

 

Fiction

A Better Place to Be

by Mitchell Waldman

I was walking, trying to lose myself in the streets, afraid to face the silence of my room again.  I’d spent the day setting up shelf after shelf in the company’s newly acquired warehouse.  The work had relieved me of my senses.  At quitting time I’d stood by the door staring back at the endless rows of empty blue shelves; it was amazing – a sea of shelves on which not a single item had yet been stored.  I’d thought about my life and the events that had gotten me to that place.

And I walked.

I picked up a paper at the corner newsstand and gave its pint-sized proprietor a buck.  He growled at the cold and wrapped his scarf tightly around his unshaven face.  I wondered, did he go home at night to a happy family?  I pictured a wife with thick, compact arms, dishing out soup to a table of awaiting elves; or did he – left with nothing to enjoy but the television’s monotone breath and a bottle of cheap whiskey – go home to a dark room tucked away on a third floor somewhere?

I skimmed the headlines as I walked, killing time, killing thought.  There were the usual burglaries, rapes, and murders.  Someone had taken over another embassy and the weather forecast called for more snow.  I walked past a decaying movie house which showed only dirty movies now, past a hamburger joint where pouchy-eyed men and women sat all day and night slurping coffee, looking out the smudged windows at the crowds, past an adult bookstore with its blinking advertisement: PEEP SHOWS-25 CENTS, past a drugstore of no particular character and a tiny restaurant that filled the air with Mexican fumes.

I walked, fighting my way through the elbows, shoulders, past the shuffling feet, finally finding my way out of the business district.  Apartment buildings stood all around me, shabby reminders of how lives were pressed atop one another here in the city.

From somewhere came a loud popping sound, an explosion of some kind that reverberated off the walls of the local buildings.  I moved past an apartment with an open courtyard in front, where two children threw rock-laced snowballs at one another.  I stopped for a moment to watch.  Their parents were nowhere to be seen. The Latino boy was calling the black boy a nigger bastard and the other was yelling back “Greasy spic, greasy spic!”  They couldn’t have been more than five years old.  I moved towards them.  Their name-calling quickly ceases when a snowball whacked hard against the black boy’s head and he fell back onto the white carpet, a stream of red dripping down the side of his forehead, dirtying the fresh fallen snow.  The other boy stood behind me, screeching with laughter as I stooped over the fallen child.  His eyes were closed.  For a moment I didn’t move.  I felt dumb.  I was startled by the contrast of his fine glowing skin against the white snow.

When I turned around, the other boy was gone.  I shook the little boy on the ground, but he didn’t stir.  I clumsily felt for a pulse at the front of his neck, but couldn’t quite find it.  I’d never been good at these things.  I jumped up, ran inside the building, and banged on the first door I saw.  No one came.  I banged harder.  The door opened only as far as the chain would reach, a red-eyed woman with dirty white hair peering out from behind.

“Whaddaya want?”

“Miss, do you know whose child that is out there in the courtyard?  He’s badly hurt.  I’m afraid he might be dead.”

“I don’t know any children.  They deserve what they get, anyway.  Go away before I call the police!  I know your kind.  Y’come up to the door with some phony story made up in your head, just so you can get inside and take advantage of a poor old lonely woman.  Whaddaya think?  I don’t read the newspapers?  Now go away.”

“But, ma’am…can I just use the phone?…can you call an ambulance or something?  Let me describe him.  He’s about five, a little black boy, dark blue-hooded jacket.  Do you know who his mother might be?”

“Listen, you.  I don’t keep account of no niggers, and especially not of their children.  Now shoo.  Go back to where you came from.”  She shut the door in my face.

I knocked on two other doors, but nobody answered.  Then I ran back outside to check on the kid, having decided my best bet was to call an ambulance from the corner (I’d seen a booth there), but when I got back he was gone. I looked all around, into all the shaded windows.  Not one of them bore a hint of the child, to whom he belonged, or where he’d gone.  I stood startled for a second, slightly shaken, then turned to pick up the paper I had dropped in the snow during all the excitement.  There was a drop of red spotting the first word of the headline which read “TERRORISTS TAKE OVER ZAMBIAN EMBASSY,” and, in smaller print below: “Threaten to trade lives for lives.”

I got back on my way and heard the squealing of brakes in the street and the crunching of metal.  Two men jumped out of their wrinkled cars, hurling abuses and fists at one another in the middle of the street.  The other motorists leaned on their horns, producing a loud, symphonic discord.  I walked on, determined not to get involved.

Down a side street I walked, away from the traffic and grind of the boulevard.  It was peaceful there in the snow.  I felt almost secure in hearing the soft padding of my own steps down the deserted walk.

It was getting darker.  I was dreaming, yearning for a hot bowl of soup and a glass of good white wine.  It was the most I could hope for now.  But then, out of the silence, a new sound came.  It was the sound of footsteps.  Someone was following me.  I looked at the darkened windows and imagined eyes peering out from behind the curtains.  I quickened my step and heard the irregular breathing, along with the rapid beating of my own heart.  The steps came faster.  I didn’t turn around to look, but rounded the corner quickly, headed back to the busy street.  The sound of the distant cars seemed like a soothing ocean tide to me now.  I was almost running.  The steps were getting closer.  I thought of running up to one of the houses, but the incident with the boy kept me from doing so.  If I ran up to someone’s house would they even bother answering the door?

Invisible eyes spied me.  I was leaning, reaching towards the sounds of the main street as if I were some sort of track star lunging toward the wire.  The traffic sounds grew louder.  The footsteps behind echoed off the wood frame houses.  An unseen dog barked.  My chest was tight, sharp pains traveling through it, but I did not stop, urged on by the now melodious sounds of squealing tires, raucous horns, drawn toward the bright lights that lit the crowds that walked perpetually back and forth, as if there was nowhere for them to go, nothing else for them to do but walk, back and forth.  Then I was there, in the street among the people.  It was only then that felt safe to turn around and look at the stranger following behind me.

I saw no one.

A hand touched my shoulder and the air flew out of me, and I was falling down and down, it seemed, fighting, then letting go, letting myself drift with the fall.

I came to a soft landing on a patch of grass.  She sat before me, just as she had in life, her long brown hair laying against her soft bare back.  We were on a hill overlooking a range of brown carved mountains that reached toward a melting sunset.  As I watched, she turned toward me.  Since her death a year before I had not been able to get it together.  I had not been able to get over her, to get her out of my mind.  And now, here she was.  I wanted to touch her but couldn’t move.  She looked at me and nodded with an expression of knowing that I had never before seen in her.  The light of the sun was there in her eyes and I felt it seeping out of her into me, warming me from the inside out.

I opened my eyes.

A small crowd had gathered around me.  There was a low mumbling hum traveling through the faces.  Their eyes were cold.  Their teeth seemed to glisten from the street lights.  Behind the crowd stood a lone figure – a brown-haired woman with large brown eyes – who looked for an instant, then turned away.  Was it possible?  Could it be?

I craned my neck to look.  A policeman was walking toward me through the crowd, moving onlookers out of the way.  I tried to get up but the policeman had reached me by then; he clutched both my biceps, pinning me to the concrete.

“It’s all right, fella, just take it easy.  You’re just a little shook up.  Now lie down here, relax, and tell me what happened.”

“Elizabeth!” I screamed.  The officer turned his head for a second and his grip loosened.  I freed myself of his grasp and got to my feet.  “Hey,” he said as I ran, following the figure of the dark-haired woman.  Looking around, running, where was she?  Then I saw her.  On the other side of the street, moving away from me.  I was afraid I’d lose her, again.

I ran into the street, not noticing anything but her, not noticing the screech of the brakes and the car until it was too late…my body was flying through the air and then…nothing…silence.

And I was back on the mountain top, the patch of grass where she stood now, waiting, her hand held out to me.  I walked toward her inviting eyes, her warm smile, bathed in her sunlight.  Then I took her hand.

 

Poetry

Herbarium ii 

by Sergio Antonio Ortiz

You are a verse that goes toward dawn dancing with my hair

            a lover in the lighthouse of a lost port

            a night oscillating with the wind

You are a mute line curled like anger around my fingers

            the soul of a quiet old parrot observing

            from the compressed park

            the noses of children crushed

            against an opaque glass

You are the garden traveler

            that opens my herbarium, laughing

 

Poetry

Importance Goes Down On Itself

by Parker Tettleton

I tell the girl in line behind me that’s true. It’s good what you do for your heart to take you away from anywhere, anything, anyone. You won’t miss. Seven minutes ago the moon covered your feet in a way that began Who cares? I knew I would lose you after I knew you were the one I meant the first time I tried I love you.

 

Fiction

Forget-me-Not

by Jane Hardwidge

Before her mother realizes the girl is missing, the bulldozer driver will find her in a ditch behind the large pussywillow tree that he has come to fell.  He’ll see a little girl wearing a yellow gingham dress, half-hidden in the tall grasses.  He’ll edge down the slope towards the ditch, his heavy boots at sharp angles to steady himself.  He’ll slow down when he approaches, hoping she’s asleep, fearful she is not.  He will gently touch her shoulder to rouse her, thenleap away in fright at the sight of the tiny bunch of forget-me-nots crushed in her waxy white hand.

*          *          *

Flora lives at the very edge of town where the suburbs reach fingers of mock Tudor houses around the throat of the countryside, stretching to the front door of her home at the very end of the road, on the brink of civilization.

On three sides, steep, beech-covered, chalk downs surround her home, the last house on the right at the dead end of a No Through street.  Nature fights back, lying in wait to pounce, to claw what it can snatch back of its meadows and valleys from the intruders.  An underground bourne rises up along the ditch and floods the houses on the other side of the road.  Foxes creep down from their earths and kill hens.  Out of sight of their parents, the neighborhood girls and boys play Cowboys and Indians with the bloodied feathers left scattered on the ground.

At night Flora lies in bed straining to hear the fierce cries of the marauding savages she imagines roaming the hills, bloody spears in hand and eating the raw flesh of their prey.  In her dreams, the savages ransack neighboring gardens, strips of cultivated land that climb the hillsides in narrow licks into the tangled, bramble-edged beech woods.  Last week she coaxed the hordes out of her mind and down into the woods behind her house, where they lit fires of terror.  Her mother, smelling harmless bonfire smoke, climbed the track behind the house to extinguish the flames.  Flora still sees the sparks from her bedroom window and hears crackles through the blistered glass.

“Did you see them, Mum?  Were they roasting children?” she asks.

“You and your nonsense.  It was Dr. Weiss burning papers.  Peculiar thing to do, though,” she adds.

Dr Weiss and his wife live directly opposite, sharing the road’s dead end, their house obscured by a tall, clipped hedge.  Flora’s mother has told her that the Weisses came to England during the war, to escape the Nazis.  Flora thinks the Weisses must still be afraid, which is why they hardly ever emerge from behind that dark wall of a hedge.  Never speak to Dr. Weiss, she and her older sister are told.

Flora wouldn’t want to talk to him anyway.  She saw the old man the time the police took him away.  He was shouting and waving his hands because they wouldn’t let him smoke his pipe in their car.  His skin gray as ashes.  A girl from the other end of the road told her parents that he’d tried to make her touch him there when he found her looking for frogspawn in the ditch that runs the length of the street’s back gardens.  No one believed her; she was always making things up.  The police kept him all day then released him saying it had been a “misunderstanding.”

The day after the fire in the woods Flora, still dreaming of savages, goes exploring with her sister, to search for traces of the nighttime forays.  As she pokes through silky, soft ashes, her sister squats at the edge of the blackened circle and carefully picks up an old-fashioned, photograph of a little girl.  Her sister passes it to Flora with a gasp.

“Look at this!  Where did he get this?” her sister asks, as if Flora is responsible for the answer.  “No wonder he looks at you strangely,” her sister says.

Curled and singed at the edges, the photograph shows a child’s face quite clearly.  Dark hair cut into a sharp bob, immaculate bangs that frame a fine, thin face, dreaming eyes.  Tousle the hair, change the crisp checked pinafore for a hand-knitted sweater, and it could be Flora.

*          *          *

Flora plays on the last undeveloped lot in the street, which bursts with wildflowers and grasses.  A pussywillow tree grows above the tangle, throwing out a pool of shadow.  Flora has told her sister she sees fairies dancing in its branches.  When the other children exclude her from their games, she seeks out the fairies who crown her their princess.

In the unexpected warmth of a springtime afternoon, the meadow buzzes with insects.  Clumps of egg-yellow cowslips are unafraid to show off their prettiness.  Frilly calyxes form ruffs that circle the flowers’ long, soft necks, making them pale queens, their yellow petal heads proud and tall above the grass.

When Flora searches the hedges that edge the field, she finds yellow primroses tucked in for cover.  Even harder to find are the tiny violets – white or purple and so shy they stay close to the foot of the trees or under the brambles.  Her mother lets her play on the lot with the understanding that she stays in view of the road, in front of the pussywillow.  Behind the tree the ground slopes down to a ditch where you slide away from sight.

Most of the time Flora likes being the youngest on the street, but not today.  The others are bored with her and tell her she can’t play with them any more.  The boys run off to play on a bulldozer parked at the edge of the road.  Who left that here next to her paddock, she’d like to know?   They clamber over it, astronauts now.  Her father says that the Americans will land on the moon one day.  Better the Yanks than the Commies.

Either way the boys haven’t let her join in their space travel since their white mouse died.  One of them took it out of his pocket and the next thing you know it lay there on the grass with its little feet bent under and head twisted strangely to one side.   And of course, when they looked for a scapegoat, they found her.

Her sister, in charge of keeping Flora out of trouble, has forgotten about her, and is instead watching the boys from a bedroom window with her friends.  The girls make daisy chains from a pile they have gathered, piercing the soft green stalks to thread another through.  They twist their hair, drop daisy necklaces around their necks and whisper to one another about the boys they would like to kiss.

Resigned to being by herself again, Flora swings from her arms on a pussywillow branch and strokes the velvet, silver grey blossom.  It looks like a tiny piece of her rabbit’s fur.  She sits down to wait for the fairies, but damp from the ground seeps through her gingham dress.

From the shadow of the pussywillow tree, Flora can see her mother, across the road in their front garden.  Her mother, her queen, is kneeling on a mat, a tin basin full of weeds at her side.  Earlier she showed the girl a snake she had killed by whacking its head off with a shovel.

“Look, darling” she said.  ”It’s an adder.  See those beautiful black markings along its back?  Never go near one of these when you’re playing outside.  They’re poisonous.”

*          *          *

Flora hears wheezing.  It’s the savages come to get her!  The dreadful prospect of her nightmares made flesh thrills her.  She spins around.  Her mother, walking down the driveway to call her in for tea, pauses to pull stray weeds at the gate.  Behind Flora comes the sound of heavy sighing, but instead of the wild hordes of her imagining, it is Dr. Weiss, tears running down his face.   She takes a few forbidden steps behind the willow, out of the line of her mother’s sight.

“Bitte verzeihen Sie mir!”  Forgive me, Dr. Weiss gasps.

Flora waits, as still as the tree, for him to pass by. Eyes closed, she holds her breath.  He must have gone by now.  And then, before she seizes her chance to make the quick dash home, she’s distracted by the brightest of chalky blue flowers.  Forget-me-nots.  All thoughts of savages flee.  She hesitates, should she pick them?  She knows how quickly wildflowers wilt and lose their color once they’re gathered.  Then, enchanted by the tiny sunburst yellow in the center of the vibrant blue, she stretches out her hand to pick a few for her mother.

 

Poetry

While Financiers Assisi

by Donal Mahoney

Mind you, now, my brethren,

the Scriptures never claim

one day all whores will Magdalene

and disbelievers Paul

and you will never find in Scripture

a single verse that claims

one day all thieves will Dismas

outside the castle gate

while financiers Assisi

inside those castle walls,

their sharkskin suits in tatters,

their eyes, their tin cups up.

 

Fiction

The Sad Sentence

by Andrew McLinden

When I left school I worked for a week in a newspaper office.  I’m ashamed of this fact.  More ashamed than of the time I first went to a brothel or the time I stole drugs from a friend who had fallen asleep.

 The journalists played cricket while they waited on stories.  They used yesterday’s newspaper as a bat and a sheet of tomorrow’s copy for a ball.  For the stumps they used an upturned waste paper basket.

 One journalist didn’t play though because she cried a lot.  She would sit at her typewriter working steadily before bursting into tears and running off to the bathroom.

 When someone was upset like that people kept their distance – as if the sadness might be contagious.  The men trying to catch the ball tried not to catch her eye as she retook her seat.

 I was there Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and every day was the same: cricket and crying.  On the Thursday morning I came in and took my seat just in time to see her break down again.

A roar went up from the cricketers, and I saw the ball spin over a desk before burying itself beside the skirting board.  A fat little hack chased it with his tie flung over his shoulder.  His face was red, his eyes determined. After throwing the ball back, he walked over and asked her what was wrong.  When she told him he started crying too.

 I walked out to the College Bar for a lunchtime drink and talked to old washed up writers about why they’d never made news, only reported it.  It was a good pub.  There was a jukebox they never put on, a beer tap they never turned off, horse tips that never came in, and a barmaid that never put out.

A journalist sat down beside me.  He told me he’d just reported a story he knew to be false but that it didn’t matter because as soon as it became news it became true.  He wrote the word news down on a napkin and messed around with the letters until he’d made the word sewn, and then said that in the end it was just about stitching people up.  He started crying and moved seats.

When I left I walked back to the newspaper building but couldn’t go in.  All I could see were crying faces pressed against the glass.

By nightfall, police officers wept onto the shoulders of prostitutes on street corners.  Car windows steamed up stationary with condensation.  Yuppies stood bereft as they looked out of the windows of fancy city centre flats.  Bin men, traffic wardens, taxi drivers, road sweepers, all hearts broken where they stood, while old men on park benches blew their noses into handkerchiefs as their dogs howled at the moon.  On cold train station platforms, crying commuters forced sad leathery luggage into the holds of trains bound for Edinburgh, London, and other places.

 

Fiction

The Machine

by Anna North

At first they worked together on the machine.  She knew how to fit the fine gears together, tooth on tooth.  He praised her work on her parts of the machine.  It grew in the barn like a foal feeding.  At night she saw the gears in her head, when their bodies fit together she saw them.

The machine grew taller than they were and they had to stand on chairs to reach it.  Then iat was too big for the barn, and they had to take it apart piece by piece and rebuild it in the field, where the cows would graze if they had cows.  It was spring and warm in the sun, and she liked to look at him rebuilding the machine, his arms and his keen eyes.

It began to rain in the middle of the night, and he jumped out of bed to cover the machine with winter blankets, to protect it from rust.

Her cousin came to visit from the city.  They had played together as children, and she still teased and touched him with a childish ease, but he treated her politely, with a new deference.  He was an engineer.  They took him out to the field where the machine loomed huge and unfinished.  He asked, “What does it do?”

How had she never thought to ask that question?  She lay in bed afterward, indignant at herself.  His response had been evasive – to her cousin, “You’ll have to come back and see it in action,” – and to her, later, “If you really don’t know by now, I’m not going to explain it to you.”  When she looked at him, his eyes slid away from her face, embarrassed.  He didn’t know, she thought.  He had no idea.

The next day when he got up to work on the machine she didn’t follow.  She lay in bed a long time and felt his absence in the sheets.  Then she got up and drove to town and bought a hoe, and fertilizer, and seeds.

The garden flourished that summer.  Up from the earth rose fat-bellied tomatoes and eggplants thick as a man’s arm.  She made stew and fried zucchini and she learned to pickle and can things for the winter.  She bought a rabbit snare and one fresh rain-scrubbed morning found a big hare lying broken inside it, past struggling.  It looked at her with black uncomprehending eyes, and she turned its neck with her bare hands.  She felt young and strong and full of rage.  Every night he came home covered in rust and oil and ate the food she made.  The smell of metal filled their bed.  She didn’t ask him about the machine anymore.  They barely spoke, but their fucking had grown violent.  One night she bit him in the face so hard his cheek bled and swelled.  He didn’t complain.  No one saw them anymore, anyway.  Her cousin sent an e-mail she didn’t answer.

The leaves were falling and she was putting up the last of the pickled beans when the machine was finished.  He didn’t say anything, but she could see it in his face, that anxious pride.  They went out to the field.  She was touching him tenderly for the first time in weeks, kissing his neck.  She wanted to see him triumphant.

The machine was in the shape of a woman, arms raised. Its eyes were made of clock faces and its breasts were the hubcaps from a Chevrolet.  Its dress was sheet metal, rusted over like lace.  From its belly emerged a silver lever, shining in the dying sun.  She could hear the machine buzzing, and felt from it a sense of great power.  He climbed up its scaffolding and pressed the lever down.

For a moment the whole field seemed changed by the machine.  The colors of the grass and the turning leaves grew brighter, the birds went silent, and the clouds seemed to stop in the sky.  And then the birds started up again, the clouds resumed, the greens and reds and yellows faded, and the machine stood still buzzing before them, the same as ever.

“I don’t understand,” he said.  “It worked before.”

And she patted his hand, and told him he could try again tomorrow, but that night in their bed there was a sorrow between them, a finality.

The next day he left before sunrise.  She pretended to be asleep, and she didn’t try to stop him, but all day she lay in their bed, bent double with the sickness of his absence.  At dusk she got up and went out into the field.  The birds were quiet, and she could smell the coming winter on the wind.  The machine raised its arms toward the sky.

Almost immediately she saw what was missing.  At the machine’s waist, a bicycle chain lay slack, dangling off its gears.  As she climbed the scaffolding she thought of how he must’ve stared at the machine for days on end, and so lost the ability to see it clearly.  The chain slid easily back into its place.  She pulled the lever.  And then from deep within the machine came a sound.  It spread out though the metal skirts, out through the skybent arms, out through her own fingertips and her own shivering bones, out through the whole winter-waiting field – a sound of great loneliness, and terrible joy.

 

Nonfiction

Tompkins Square Park, by Day and by Night

by Katherine Don

On a Sunday morning in early autumn, a woman stands behind a table in Tompkins Square Park, ladling out bowlfuls of soup for a scattered gathering of grey-bearded homeless men, who chat and chuckle amongst themselves as they eat-standing-up.  Nearby, drug dealers pretend to play chess.  Their clientele sit on the ground Indian-style, scratching their arms.  On a winding pathway bordered by towering trees, a scruffy young man with untied sneakers and a flannel shirt walks about in circles, jamming the same chord again and again on his electric guitar, balancing a Micro Cube amp on one arm as he plays.  This fragile arrangement nearly ends when a wrinkled man in a disintegrated green suit jacket – who had been careening up and down the pathways in a ruined office chair – nearly pummels into the guitarist.

The East Village, they say, is gentrified.  It’s gone vanilla.

But here in Tompkins Square Park – a smallish rectangular park that spans across one avenue, A to B, and up three streets, 7th  to 10th – it’s a potpourri of flavor.

The winding pathway leads into an open expanse where animal rights organizations set up informational booths.  The Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary has taped a huge sign onto a tall wooden pole: “Peace begins on our plates.”  The young man for W.A.R. – Win Animal Rights – denounces with blazing eyes the abuses of Huntington Life Sciences.  “They shot all those animals up with Splenda!  17,000 of them… I think it was 17,000… died.”  Across from the animal rights cohort, the Organic Athletes, cyclists dressed in orange, yellow, and black spandex, sit behind their booth or lean against their bikes.

In the playgrounds at the northern end of the park, children swing from monkey bars and slide down slides, while their older counterparts in the nearby basketball court land switch kickflips on their skateboards and shoot tennis balls with hockey sticks.

The previous night at Tompkins Square Park, a Saturday night, the park is closed.  Its winding pathways, circumscribed along every curve and every turn by short, stately railings of black-painted iron, are like the empty corridors of an abandoned labyrinth.  All along the labyrinth, tall lampposts shine forth dim orbs of light that illume the grey stones of the pathways.  As the paths wind into the distance, further and further from the iron gates that bar entrance to the park, these orbs seem further, and scattered, and higher up, and soon the orbs illume only the canopy formed by the tallest of the trees, like hazy stars revealing a deep green sky.

Across the street from the park are restaurants and bars overflowing with crowds that spill out onto the sidewalks.  The torrent of drunkards dries up on the darker sidewalks across the street, the ones that border the empty park.  Some wash up here and there, little clumps of beached fish, oozing the stink of alcohol.  Two pass by, then silence, then a chattering group of five, then silence again.  The air fouls with Polo, and the lamps delineate the dim specters of three lumbering young men.  Deep voices argue.  “If it was atmosphere you wanted,” booms out one, “there are hundreds of other places we can go.”

The people along the park are all going somewhere, so they all walk quickly.  The park is not their final destination.  It can’t be; it’s closed.  The sidewalks around the park have become a reluctant crossroads, an inconvenient purgatory that one stumbles into between Horus Café hookah bar on the one side and Horseshoe Bar on the other.  The faster they walk, the sooner they’ll get to the next bar.  The louder they talk, the sooner the bartender will know they’re approaching.

Inside the park, it is still empty.  There is no movement, no sound, no activity, until a posse of six – tall, thin men – are seen walking across the basketball court.  They have materialized from the dark center of the park, and their movements are quick, mechanical and synchronized.  They head quickly for the gate.  It is padlocked.  They turn to their sides and, one by one, shimmy through the narrow opening.

Once on the sidewalk, the lamps show their faces.  They are boys.  Six Asian boys, undergraduates, taking to the sidewalk with a self-conscious saunter, the shamefaced bravado of crooks that have just stolen their own watches out of hock.  They approach, walking in unison.  Their eyes blaze red.  They reach into their jacket pockets, simultaneously, and pull out identical packs of Marlboro lights.

“Got a light?” each says to the other.

These morning people are exalted or degraded, inspired or despondent, shining forth or burning out; some are young, some are ancient, some are children, some are pregnant, and all of them are awake.  One can only assume that these morning people were not here last night.