Table of Contents
3 Letter from the Editor
6 Fiction – “Ladybugs on the Sill” by Rhen Wilson
12 Fiction – “Klippinger, Minnesota” by Adam R. Burnett
14 Photography – “On a Night Road” by Christopher Woods
19 Photography – “To the Fire” by Christopher Woods
28 Poetry – “The Cycle of a Life” by Changming Yuan
29 Fiction – “Advances” by Alex Freeman
40 Poetry – “The Men Along the Sidelines” by Tony Magistrale
41 Fiction – “The Road is Not a Place for Playing Sherlock Holmes” by Samuel Kolawole
49 Poetry – “Chameleon: A Parallel Poem” by Changming Yuan
Letter from the Editor
This is where I write something nice about how exciting it is to be introducing the fourth issue and what a wonderful summer it looks like from 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 (a view of Paris from the Centre Pompidou perhaps, 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 transport is supposed to mean, something about going somewhere and carrying things, moving from one place to another, being moved, causing someone else to be moved, going somewhere and coming home again, bringing home, bringing it home, and then we’ll see where that leaves us. Warmest,
– Christina Phelps
Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 15-year-old photographer and artist who has won contests with National Geographic, The Woodland Trust, The World Photography Organisation, Winston’s Wish, Papworth Trust, Mencap, Big Issue, Wrexham science, Fennel and Fern, and and Nature’s Best Photography. She has had her photographs published in exhibitions and magazines across the world including the Guardian, RSPB Birds, RSPB Bird Life, Dot Dot Dash, Alabama Coast, Alabama Seaport, and The Big Issue In The North. She was also the only person from the UK to have her work displayed in the National Geographic and Airbus run See The Bigger Picture global exhibition tour with the United Nations International Year Of Biodiversity 2010. Recently she has had her photography shown on BBC News and in the most popular children’s magazine in the world: NG Kids. She was also the youngest person to take part in Charnwood Art’s Vision ‘09 Exhibition and New Mill’s Beehive Art Lounge Exhibition. See more of her work at eleanorleonnebennett.zenfolio.com.
Adam R. Burnett is a writer and theatre artist originally from Topeka, KS. He is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Buran Theatre Company, an ensemble-based collective of disparate artists that creates new work in a satellite system of communities across the globe. His plays have been produced internationally and his fiction writings have appeared in various forms. He keeps an ongoing fictional travelogue memoir called Brighton Beach Baby. He holds degrees in English, Film, and Theatre from the University of Kansas and briefly pursued an MFA in Dramatic Writing at the University of New Mexico before deciding it was a waste of time.
Alex Freeman lives in Boston, Massachusetts. When not roaming the city in a vain search for fellow Bostonian Michelle Kwan, Alex can be found working at an eldercare non-profit, dancing alone in his studio apartment to Britney Spears, or battling the rats-with-furry-tails others call “squirrels.” Though these activities consume most of his time, Alex is also working on Schooled, his debut novel chronicling his disastrous two-year teaching stint.
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.
Samuel Kolawole’s fiction has appeared in Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Eastown Fiction, Superstition Review and elsewhere. He is the author of the critically acclaimed story collection, The Book of M. A recipient of the Reading Bridges Fellowship, Samuel lives in Ibadan, southwest Nigeria, where he has begun work on his novel Olivia of Hustle House. To preserve his sanity, he busies himself with other concerns such as politics, technology, arts and culture, social dynamics, and Pentecostalism (ouch!).
Tony Magistrale is Chair of English department at the University of Vermont. He played football, quarterback in high school and college, but now he is one of the men along the sidelines.
Rhen Wilson writes in his spare time, plays golf in his down time, and runs an online lit and art journal on his own time. The Natural Tale: An Arkansas Online Journal can be found at http://thenaturaltale.com.
Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher, and photographer who lives in Texas. His photo essays have appeared in Glasgow Review, Public Republic, Deep South, and Narrative Magazine. He shares a gallery with his wife Linda at Moonbird Hill Arts.
Changming Yuan, author of Chansons of a Chinaman, is a three-time Pushcart nominee who grew up in rural China and published several monographs before moving to Canada. Currently Yuan teaches in Vancouver and has poetry appearing in Barrow Street, Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Exquisite Corpse, London Magazine, and nearly 380 others worldwide.
6.28.2011 – trans lit mag begins transmitting issue #4, “transport.”
Ladybugs on the Sill
by Rhen Wilson
Two ladybugs land on the windowsill. They rub up beside each other looking like two glassy red eyes with black pepper spots. I pet their backs but they don’t fly away. They don’t even look scared. I put my nose on the sill and stare so closely at them. My eyes cross and my head hurts.
The sun flies through the open window. Warms my face. The ladybugs crawl around and light shimmers off their round backs.
Momma and Pa walk in the room but don’t say nothing to me. I don’t look back at them neither but keep my eyes on the bugs. Two eyes on two eyes on two eyes.
“You gotta eat yur suppa.” Momma’s voice sounds crossed yet tired. I don’t like to hear her angry.
“I ain’t hungry fa suppa.”
Momma already done fed me. Chicken ‘n’ dumplings. Sloppy and salty and extra good. I can still taste the salt on my lips. Some sauce stains my fronts. Momma smacked my hand when I did it. But then she said she was sorry and that it’s not my fault which don’t make no sense to me.
“What I cook all that for then?”
“I’ll eat it later. I’m go’n for a drink.”
“Why you always gotta go for a drink when I cooked?”
“Because I’m thirsty. Now leave me be.”
“So I’m s’posed stay with him why you gone then?”
“Unless you go’n leave him by hisself, I reckon you better.”
The ladybugs are really moving now. I keep my finger behind them trailing their path but they’re outrunning me. One bug in front of the other like a polka dotted train.
The sun’s sinking lower behind the corn stalks in the fields out back. Pa works the corn fields all day while Momma works the house. Different fields but same work.
“I ain’t leavin’ that boy by hisself. I ain’t stupid.”
“Then good. But I am leavin’. Where’s my hat?”
“Wha’jue need that hat for?”
“Because I’m go’n out! Don’t you listen to a damn word I say?”
Pa growls when he talks sometimes.
“Please don’t go, hun. Please stay with us.”
“No I’m go’n. I’m tired, and I need me a drink.”
I keep my back turned to Momma and Pa. I’m watching my ladybugs too close. They is running wild now. The train is outta control! The head bug is crawling so fast the other bug can’t keep up. My finger still hurries up behind them trying to keep up but they are way too fast for me now. I’m laughing at their race.
“Quit that laughin’ over there.”
I try to stop because Pa growled but I can’t.
“You hear me, boy? I said shut that laughin’ up.”
I put my hand over my mouth remembering last time I couldn’t stop laughing.
“You want a whoopin’? You want me gettin’ my belt?”
I bite my tongue and the laughing stops. My chest is pounding.
The sun is so low now, dropping below the field til I can’t see it any more. It still reflects off the sky though. Pink and purple clouds burn it up. The ladybugs no longer have any more red. They is completely black now. As if they’d turned into shadows.
Suddenly the head bug opens up its back like its ripping it off, but wings pop out instead and it soars out the window. I try to follow it with my eyes but it’s too fast. And before I even know it that head bug is gone forever.
But the smaller bug sits there. It doesn’t move any more. It stares out the window wondering where its friend’s got to. But it doesn’t see it anymore than I do. We both sit there staring out the window.
The door slams behind me. Everything is real quiet. The house ain’t moving. I ain’t moving either.
The ladybug twitches for a second as if it’s going fly out too but it don’t.
I sit there wondering for a long time if it ever will.
by Adam R. Burnett
94 east heads out of Minneapolis and into the lushness of Wisconsin where the highway opens up like a museum and abruptly one recognizes the cheese state is worth considering.
Two hours out of the twin cities: only to escape Minneapolis, only to escape Minneapolis, I repeat to myself, my only motive, my chant, my prayer. I speed along, a little high from the hash in the trunk of my car. I promised Klippinger I would only skim off the top and he agreed that it would be best if I smoked or else I might be a danger to others on the open road. “You’re going to kill someone behind that wheel if you’re so fucking sober all the time,” he spit at me.
I’d told Klippinger as they pulled my car away the night before, with the snow plows descending upon us, that I would never return to the dreadful city again. He cackled and hit me in the head with a snow shovel. I awoke in my car this morning in the holding lot. How I got there, how he transported my body, I’ll never know – these are the elfish trickeries Klippinger is capable of, to both entertain and rid the world is his motive.
When I had first arrived in Minneapolis 26 hours earlier I was hopeful at the prospects; to visit the city in the midst of its winter, a season it wears on its sleeves all year, seemed only appropriate. No other city, no other people could sustain the goodness, the progressiveness, the straightforward logic and rationale of the city itself. Minneapolis makes too much sense in the summer, it is too damned humane and this is why it must endure the winter – a deathly, icy grip that chokes relentlessly beyond decency – none should have to recall, let alone relive the blinding horror of subzero migraines, a frozen hell. But it is this same sufferable winter that molds a sound mind, a clear disposition of rightness, a beacon of intellectual prowess in the midst of the large continental body America.
I arrive to find Klippinger living in a chic vacant townhouse with only a couch, a TV, an X-Box, the complete works of Tolstoy, cupboards full of Kellog’s name brand cereal, and a closet full of top-grade hash. There are no pleasantries, he is in the midst of a fantastical journey on the X-Box, “Sit down, get high,” he commands, his eyes arrested on the screen. I stand in the foyer of the magnificent space, attempting to piece together what story he will tell me, what patchwork line of bullshit brought him to reside so meagerly in this small castle. “Hey, dickwad, sit down. Smoke this.”
I exhale. Shit. I revel in it, unlike the pot I’ve been smoking out of my tarred and feathered one-hitter for the past few months this is monumental, original and fierce. I fall back, a bit wearied from the haul, having taken the back roads from Denver in one ambitious charge. When I open my eyes from the glistening Pink Floyd-induced crystal dream sequence, I see a black spider dangling in front of me. I bat at it. It’s a heavy metal spider.
No, it’s not. It’s a gun.
Klippinger is less dangling it, he’s handing it to me. I overreact, obviously. I heave; I jump to my feet and pace.
What is that metal spider?
“Self-protection. My brother gave it to me. I think it’s a good idea.”
You need a gun. For what? What do you do that’s gun-worthy?
That’s when he takes me to the closet and introduces me to the hash I’ve just smoked.
What is the meaning of this?
“I’m in a new line of business,” he says, picking the morning’s Frosties from his teeth. “I deal mass quantities of drugs. Wanna do some coke?”
I want to leave Minneapolis immediately.
I’m just leaving Minnesota, I tell her.
“Yea, yea,” she smacks her lips and looks back down the road, at the ghost of my speeding car a mile back, “Ya know you’re in Wisconsin, yea?”
Yeah, I am in Wisconsin. Beautiful, beautiful country by the way. The bluffs! Right? I love the bluffs, is that what – bluffs, you call em?
She gives me an incredulous smile. “You know you were speeding?”
I was? I was. I must have been, otherwise… trailing off.
I stare at her. Her eyes go to my passenger’s seat, to the back seat and to my face in one sweep, “You traveling?”
I have bags, yes, those bags are for travel. Like I said, just trying to leave Minnesota.
“Yea, you said that. Now you’re in Wisconsin where the speed limit is 65.”
I look out in front of me, the cars speed past, and the whole moment turns into water, it drains out of me. The sky is grey, the land is dead, and Wisconsin, the foreign soil with an incredibly slow speed limit, is my death, because it is at this moment I remember what I have in the back of my car. It all drops from me, held by some god who has my testicles, my lungs, and my tongue in his hand and has injected my stomach with feverish tickle juice. It is all over now. I see him before me, this invisible inventor, the mad scientist-love child of cosmos and afterbirth, “Yo, bitch,” god rumbles in me, “You shoulda left that hash where you came from.”
Does he know I had no choice?
After we steal the groceries I ask him if he has any immediate intentions for his life, a question he always avoids but I ask anyway. He shakes his hand at my face, as if to detract a frenzy of paparazzi, and demands that I drive. I don’t mind driving, I just don’t know where I’m going. He jumps on top of the car and flashes his genitals to a passerby. “Hurry,” he screams. “They’re gonna turn around and kick our ass!” He jumps into the passenger’s seat, getting his way after all. I’m driving.
Klippinger had lived in and around Minneapolis most of his life. I had met him in Pittsburg years earlier at which point in his life he was an attorney and was well regarded amongst his colleagues as the craziest motherfucker to ever step foot into a suit. He was fresh out of school at the time and had landed himself what he referred to as an “idiot’s job,” fighting for the rights of small time criminals. His greatest accomplishment, equally bewildering to him, was his ability to make anyone believe he was telling the truth and for this he was the only honest lawyer I have known. I would meet him in the evenings at our favorite bar and he would arrive bowled over in hysteric laughter at himself, tears welling up in his eyes as he relayed his day in court. He could barely get through his monologue without choking, “And they believed me!” he would scream in finality.
Klippinger slammed into shots that he would share copiously and if you wouldn’t let him buy you a shot, he would pull a knife out and quietly, quickly, remind you, in a whisper, how close we all are to losing everything and that it’s a terrifying comedy so one must participate absolutely. You could not argue a man with a knife disclosing these profundities, especially when you knew it was meant for you only. His terror was inflicted intimately, his only means of bridging the gap between his wealth of knowledge and his inability to communicate.
His face remains the ugliest. It wasn’t that way when I first met him but alcohol will add surprising creases to the mask. His face bulges and pops, and when it rests it sits in constant disapproval, mocking your idiocy. His eyes sit on the edge of the lids, looking over effortlessly saying, “Fuck, this is too easy.” I have never seen anyone so consistently unimpressed. There are times when his side commentary and grins would reveal a man who might be interested in your opinion, but this does not exist.
His scheme is so perfect it only works for him. His rules are so illogical they resound like waves and you think to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
I once asked him, What do you like to fuck? “As long as it isn’t another person, I’ll stick my dick in it.” And this epitomizes Klippinger, to some level, and at another much more complicated level, it is only the beginning.
He throws directions my way, “You’ll want to take a right eventually. Not now, of course, but in a ways. Jesus, listen to me fucking go on! Blah blah blah. Shoot me already. Shutup, Joe! Shut the fuck up, Joe! Why don’t you shut the fuck up already, Joe! Jesus! Just keep driving and I’ll shut the fuck up.” He puckers his mug and puts his finger to his head, “Bah!”
We don’t talk the rest of the drive to the unknown destination, which at this point I can only assume will end in our deaths – an overarching plan Klippinger is always pining for, dreaming of, “One of these days I’m gonna blow up,” he confesses at his drunkest. “Kablammo!”
Driving into Prescott, Wisconsin from the west we stop where the St. Croix crows into the Mississippi, two disparate bodies of water touching but keeping their own properties, their own personalities, at the intersection the St. Croix remains the St. Croix and the Mississippi the Mississippi. Nothing is lost in their meeting. Prescott remains a dream to me now thanks to Klippinger’s hash. The people on the street are large and white, the formidable description for the common Minnesotan – cows overfed on their own meat, cannibals of the great white north.
We pull into the Prescott VFW and Klippinger reveals a clip on tie; even during his years in the courtroom, he never learned how to tie a tie.
What’s the tie for?
He grins at me, a menacing joker, “My brother’s wedding. I told you about this right?”
Your brother’s wedding? This? Now?
“I guess we missed the wedding. We didn’t leave in time. But it’s fine, he didn’t even want the wedding anyway, just the party. And I’m the best man!” With this he leaves me in the car and jogs into the VFW.
I take another necessary hit of the hash before I follow.
Inside the VFW the large white Minnesota cows graze over the toxic sandwich meat, mooing back and forth at each other. They gnaw their meat and bow their heads as they feed in their stalls, digesting with multiple stomachs. Klippinger runs about shaking hands and buying shots for every cow he knows, whose eyes protrude in fear at our tornadic arrival. Many of these cows have Klippingeresque features, square jaws, fat cheeks, foreheads like facades to banks of the past century, and wide stances that begin in the mid portion of the belly and crane out to the air between their knees. This stance elicits a movement that is offensive, only exacerbating as the Klippingers drink more and moo louder. There is a clear distinction between the indigenous Klippinger tribe and the timid class of Anthropology 101, the bride’s family, being married into the ordeal.
As I am lost in the mix, Klippninger pulls me aside, introducing me to his brother and the bride. Our late arrival does not seem to faze his brother, as if it were expected. The truth is, I would not have held it against him myself if he missed my wedding either. This is what happens when you are born with a spirit built for Greeks, for gods, for men larger than should exist in our times; the hugeness of his soul has prevented his horrendous acts from ever going unforgiven. Klippinger’s insanity is that he was born for bronze, a golden age where he could have ruled the peasants and slaves with a poetic cruelty; his first ruling would have been to rid the world of Klippingers first and then move on from there.
The centerpiece of the evening is his best man speech, as he takes the microphone wiping his nose of the cocaine that somehow materialized. No one offered me, which is fine; from my one night affair with cocaine I recognize it as an event I would enjoy far too much to ever indulge in again. “You’re all pathetic,” he begins. The cows roll their eyes as his speech turns into roaring demands that go on and on as he surpasses the fifteen-minute mark, he shouts and marches across the stage like a little Napoleon. “I want you all to see what this whole fucking thing looks like,” he seethes, over articulating each word. He cackles like a hyena and the room sits on edge as he pulls out his little black spider. His gun. “Hey, Firefly,” he bellows at me.
Please don’t bring me into this, I scream as I run out of the VFW, the cows all turning towards me, on the verge of stampeding what feels like this deus ex machine moment.
As the doors to the VFW close behind me the gun goes off. Has Klippinger killed himself or a heifer? Or is this a warning shot to be recognized as the start of an internal revolution that will be played out for the rest of our lives, as long, of course, as we all knew who Joe Klippinger is? I can hear that, I can hear that he has been preparing for that since the day he was born.
There are few people in this world who are born for something, for something specifically; we are all spit out unknown, disordered in birth with only the idiotic destiny of genes to guide us blindly through our great meaningless tenure. Klippinger was born on the messiah-track, among those giants whose future is carved in their tenacity to tear at the surface fearlessly and expose their own truth bolder and louder than anyone else, baring their internal flame to the rest of the world though irrevocable acts by night with no rest. Others of us, the common men fear of some stupid final judgment that will never come, but even our rational logic cannot interfere in this dumb magic show, the fear is too powerful. The gods among us rise above and know inherently that the difference between creation and destruction is personal taste. Klippinger embodies this and breathes it into those lucky enough to know him.
Klippinger runs out of the VFW and kisses me on the lips, a wet sloppy embrace. We jump into the car screaming, he hangs out the passenger’s side window and shoots his gun into the air as we make our way for downtown Minneapolis, on fire.
New York City is a woman. New Orleans is a belly. Minneapolis is an ungendered experiment in rightness, in human goodness, an American venture that presents the possibility of living with the best intentions. It is in this light that I think of Klippinger and believe that he should never leave this city he hates so much, it is why all of us should stay trapped in our worst nightmares, to flourish in them, to seize them, and finally, to conquer them. I don’t see the city he talks of with so much disdain; rather I see a city that pleases itself. Never has a city looked at itself and been more pleased. Other cities build to hide from themselves, like so many people, or perform acts of self-destruction, but Minneapolis, at least in the physical, is not a city suffering from an identity crisis. The buildings are not haughty, they are proud and you are too as you swell from their breath. I walk away from the city with this to report: the chest is full in downtown Minneapolis, it is weaker from afar. Minneapolis, city of progress, austere and regal in its reflecting glass robes of steel stars and sky, is a pleasure to watch.
And this is to say nothing of the people.
Because His Majesty Klippinger commandeers my time in Minneapolis and I will only ever participate in a violent assault on the city. And even as I do so, as the provocateur’s agent, I feel drawn to run from him, to leave Klippinger in his murderous rage and find a bench to sit quietly and make love to the city alone. If he saw me do this it would surely be the end; if he saw me falling in love, if he saw my heart exposed to the world Klippinger would castrate me for my own good, knowing that someone would surely take advantage of me sooner than later.
Just west of downtown we stop at Lee’s Liquor Bar for what he finally professes is going to be a drug deal.
Oh, that’s why you brought the gun!
I ask if I can wait in the car, he shrugs saying drinks are on him if I go in, a hard offer to turn down, especially because deep down I want nothing more than to be a part of this drug exchange.
In Lee’s Liquor Bar, one of the truly outstanding American bars that embody what it is to drink beer in the middle of this country, it is Gay Cowboy night. Ralph, the aged barkeep, pulls his stool up to our corner and slouches over our drinks, “Ya all know what LGBT means?” On a bad day Klippinger confesses to prefer the sexual advances of his own gender, yet has had sex with every woman we’ve known, so he smiles stupidly and says, “Oh, faggots?” Ralph bobs a yes, “Yup, but they’re good folks. They been doin this goin on six years now. We certainly like em here.” We all stare at the gay cowboys, line dancing in front of the large stage mirror; we are entranced in our collective silence, perhaps with a secret wish that we were dancing right now, maybe not here, but somewhere.
But of course, this is not to say I actually believe Klippinger is thinking this in the moment. What his silence signifies I will never know.
All of a sudden he is there. His presence is immediate and I know who he is. Ralph nods us good night and pulls his stool away to serve a surly gay cowboy. Klippinger stands, “Rufus, follow me.”
I don’t want to.
“Ruffy, get up.”
He’s too convincing. “This is Rico. Rico this is Ruffy.” I put my hand out to shake his. Rico is a big man and the sunglasses at night throw me. I search for his eyes behind them.
“I don’t give a flying fuck who this cracker is.” His jaw trembles with violence, he cracks his neck, his barreled chest heaves – and then he busts into a heavy bass laugh. “I just fucking with you Ruffy, I’m Rico,” he pulls me in and bumps me in the chest. “Now fuck this shit, let’s take care of business, bitch.”
So thoroughly authentic this maniac is!
We huddle out to the parking lot. I see it looking down at us, the city of Minneapolis, oh please, why must we do this outside? This is the first time I have felt physically protective of a city.
Joe, I say, why aren’t we doing this inside the bar? You know, discreetly?
“Because, Ruffy, it’s a beautiful night out.” And it is, the snow is just beginning to fall fat dry flakes, powdering the cityscape. The city arches its stomach, concaving its bare back to hold the flurries. It looks so right doing it too.
Klippinger instructs me, “Go get the shit in the backseat?”
In the backseat? The shit in the backseat? What shit? Oh, is it drugs I’m looking for?
“No,” Rico says. “You’re looking for fucking tootsie pops.”
Klippinger cackles, “I love this guy!”
I go to the backseat and look around. What stuff? I turn around, Rico’s handing him a gym back. A deal is happening! A deal is happening! Joe, what shit?
And it is this moment that everything changes. Klippinger turns to me with wild eyes and he pulls his gun out. “Hey Rico, fuck off.” He shoots Rico in the foot and runs towards the car. It all happens so quickly I cannot even piece it together.
“Front seat, Ruffy! Front seat! Drive!” Rico obviously came unprepared, as his only defense is throwing rocks after us as we peel away.
“Rico never carries a gun. He’s a walking target. Maybe this’ll learn him to carry one of these,” he flashes the gun and his large teeth at the moon, magnificent.
Joe Klippinger discovered at a young age that he was smarter than his parents, his teachers and his pastor. It happened in that order for, as he puts it, “I realized that there were these incapable idiots making decisions for me.” He was astonished at this discovery and used this knowledge to charge after the world in which he would live. He pursued academics and sports and art and was the best at everything because, as he puts it, he knew “how to dupe every asshole who had grown up with idiots.” He was student body president, the only president to serve two terms because he was so well liked by the students who voted for him, and the faculty, who fudged the results and supported his liberal movements, like supplying condoms in the bathrooms. “I wanted to see all the young people fucking each other! Idiots!” This followed him into his university career where he scampered back and forth between every possible department during his six years as an undergraduate, where he never once initiated relationships that would get too personal. This was when he began to discover the Terror, as I would later come to understand it, which he would inflict upon his world and those inhabiting it. Pulling the cloak over imbeciles in power became easy for him and he could see his future clearly, he was too smart not to see what would become if he stayed on this trajectory: he would become a great power who would control others and the world would be no better for it.
So he pulled the cloak over his own eyes to save humanity from his will and now here he was, in the place he hated the most, dealing drugs in the Twin Cities.
The years had changed Klippinger from when he first opened his practice in St. Paul, to his successes in the courtroom, to his nightly drunken brawls, to the constant excess through a variety of drugs and women and men who he would bring to his bed and kick out after he was finished with, screaming insults in their face.
He always made sure they would never return or reach out to him again.
Klippinger’s truest moments of delight come from man-made disasters, a nuclear meltdown or an oil spill prompting him to chant, “More oil in the sea! More oil in the sea!” watching the nightly news, as if it were a Roman gladiator fight. “Oh!” he belches in orgasmic disgust, punctuating it with a cackle, “These people! They’re all so fucking stupid! I love it!” His ability to recognize the collective death we’re all heading toward is terrifyingly prophetic and he wants nothing more to than to be here for the last breath.
Others would throw Klippinger aside deeming him reckless or harmful to humanity, a bad influence, but he cannot be seen this way, or at least I will never think in this light. In our world when one acts out even in small terrors it is merely a drop in the well to validate the existence of the water, and one drop carries no more significance than any other. Consequences have no meaning, no purpose in the world of Klippinger, a precious thing to be reminded of when the seriousness of our existence weighs upon us. This is why I will never hold Klippinger’s atrocities against him, for he is only half responsible – because I am participating too. I am willfully not telling him to stop.
The snow is falling now, Klippinger’s death-defying heist is beginning to settle, and I ask, Are we going to be killed?
Klippinger reaches across and grabs my hand on the wheel, “You’re going to be fine, buddy. You’ll be out of here by the time anything happens.” I believe him. He releases his hold and lights a cigarette, he inhales, “Either way, no one knows where I live.” Yes, I think to myself, but this Rico, this man you shot in the foot knows what I drive, and I am now inextricably tied to this act. As I drive us god knows where I want to stare at Klippinger, to catch him contemplating, to see if I can imagine what he might be thinking. But it’s impossible, his wall of silence too thick. He loads a pipe with the hash, puts it to my lip and lights me up, gently. The hash burns and crackles as I pull it into my lungs and melt into the seat. Thanks.
“Yeah, your driving was really starting to scare me.”
After I wake up in the parking compound with a welt from Klippinger’s snow shovel I decide to leave immediately. (The longer I spend time with Klippinger the more concussions I attain.) I get the largest coffee I can from the 7-11 and check my bags to make sure he hasn’t set a bomb to go off and I head west for Chicago, the nearest safety raft from this sinking ship.
It is somewhere near Prescott, where the St. Croix and the Mississippi meet and remain separate bodies, that Klippinger calls me and says, “Pull over, look in your trunk.” On the other side of the St. Croix I open the trunk and see the hash. “Sell it once you get back to New York,” he says, “I’m done with my dealing days.”
What are you going to do? There’s silence as I hear him hitting the hash pipe on the other end. Joe. Joe, what are you going to do?
He exhales and coughs, “Sorry what? Stimpy was on TV.”
What are you going to do?
“I’m gonna get high. I suggest you do the same so you don’t fucking kill anyone on the road. Safe travels my friend. I love you dearly.”
He hangs up in the midst of a cough leaving me on the side of the road in Wisconsin with a trunk full of top-grade hashish passing the torch, as it were, on to me.
The policewoman writes me a ticket for $350 and directs me to pay attention to the speed limit. I tell her once again how beautiful I think Wisconsin is and she rolls her eyes. She pulls away and I light up one last time, to get me through to Chicago and then to Indianapolis and then to Pittsburgh and finally, back to New York, the lady-city I remain faithful to despite her constant irrational demands.
A city, any city, can only exist in the arms of the people who offer it to you. The many years have seen me traveling to visit no one but myself, with no one waiting at the station or the airport, so the cities of the world have remained a reflection of my own desires and romances, rather than the bounty of offerings they could be from others.
I can no longer travel for myself or visit the far flung reaches of the globe in search of myself and walk the streets calling my name out in desperation; my well is far too full for that now.
And I will return to Minneapolis again and I will sing to Minneapolis now: You open heaving chest city / Lung and wind Minneapolis / The foshy the foshy the foshy/ At night.
I will return to visit your people next time, not just Klippinger, Minnesota.
The Cycle of a Life
by Changming Yuan
Like a morning dewdrop
Hanging on the east side of
An unknown leaf, ready
To be hatched out
By the warm sunlight
Of late spring
|with stripes and patches
So fashionable as a fancy garment
Designed by the newest summer god
You keep wriggling, wriggling
Towards the heat of south
As if to display your pride
Over your colored being
|Unlike a south China cicada
Trying to slough off its old self
For a different song of the west wind
You wrap up your outer life
With your innermost thoughts
About reaping sorghum
In the far fields of autumn
|As colored snowflakes
Beat their wings
Against northern dreams
You forget whether you
Are the butterfly, or the
Butterfly is you among
White wintry wishes
by Alex Freeman
Quinten, the bulge in his boxers growing, hurriedly removed his shirt. “Let’s not waste any more time, boys,” he said, his broad smile revealing his white stock-trader-salary-treated teeth. He flung his shirt to the hotel room’s corner. “We all knew this was going to happen,” he continued as he moved onto the foot of the bed, crouching in front of Daniel and Tom. As he crouched, Quinten’s slight stomach flab hung in the air.
Daniel’s mind jolted to years before – college – when Quinten’s stomach was defined and taut, not the doughy flesh now pressed against Tom’s torso.
“Are you sure you guys are okay with this?” Tom asked before Quinten went to kiss.
“Oh, honey, yes. We do this all the time,” Daniel answered, moving closer to them both and running his hand along Quinten’s spine. Daniel was amused – no, perturbed – by Tom’s question. Are you sure you guys are okay with this? As if it mattered who was okay with what. By Daniel’s estimation, Tom had spent the weekend consumed with bedding Quinten, exiting the shower wearing only a perilously loose towel and offering Quinten a spoonful – Tom’s spoonful – of Crème Brulee at the restaurant the night before. Among other obvious advances.
“Daniel and I aren’t married or anything,” Quinten, now fully atop Tom, breathlessly whispered. “This is just fun.” Quinten and Tom began to kiss. Daniel, pressed beside them, watched: hurried kisses, like fearful teenagers.
Daniel removed his shirt. His mind again jolted to years before – college – when his stomach was exactly the same as it was now: hairless, not fit, not fat. There.
Daniel pressed closer to them still. Quinten was now moving his lips along Tom’s neck, his hands adroitly unbuckling Tom’s belt. Daniel assisted by tugging Tom’s jeans, squeezing them downward along the sheets.
No underwear. The contrast between Tom’s tan torso and white crotch revealed that Tom was most definitely not wearing underwear. Are you sure you guys are okay with this? As if this threesome had just been flung onto him, a present left at his doorstep. Oh, I guess, sure, yeah, okay. I could threesome. But only if you’re, you know, sure about it and all.
“You know what guys,” Daniel began, rolling away from them, “I have a headache.”
“What?” Quinten lifted his head from Tom’s sternum.
“Yeah, seriously. It’s been here all day, but now, it’s just much worse.” Daniel moved to the corner of the room and put on Quinten’s shirt. This felt right somehow.
“Well, I don’t want to…” Quinten moved off the bed and toward Daniel, his head titled, eyes sympathetic. The bulge was larger.
“Babe, it’s okay. You guys have your fun.” Daniel paused. Searching. “I’m going to Starbuck’s to finish reading my book.”
Tom took this opportunity to fully remove his jeans.
“Are you sure?” Quinten tilted his head the other way.
Daniel glanced down at Quinten’s boxers. “I’m sure, yes, really. No big deal.”
The coffee was bitter; Starbuck’s always is. Daniel didn’t read his book, opting to call his mother instead. Yes, San Francisco was as beautiful as the postcards; no, sharing the room with Tom wasn’t awkward, they were all friends, after all; yes, he would be home for Christmas. So, when are you two going to finally tie the knot? she asked. I’m ready to plan a wedding, even if it is a gay one.
“I don’t know, Mother, I’m not too worried about marriage,” Daniel answered. “What Quinten and I have, it just feels right somehow. The way it is.”
Patricia had three males in her life: Pierre, whose hair had always been gray; Gordon, whose hair had turned gray eight years ago; Daniel, whose hair was brown and would probably turn white, like hers, but not for many years. She was on the subway, seated beside a young mother holding a napping infant, when she realized she loved all three males, but to vastly varying degrees.
Daniel, her son, came first. Her only child and the lasting remnant of her second marriage, Daniel was nothing like she had imagined.
Daniel was gay.
Daniel was materialistic.
Daniel was short.
He was also bitingly smart, and he addressed Patricia as “Mother,” despite her insistence otherwise. She had suggested Mommy, Ma, Mom, even; signed his birthday cards thus; he was unrelenting. She loved him for “Mother” and because she had grown him in her womb, for the knowledge he would be successful and would speak well of her long after her death.
Gordon, her third and (she was sure of it this time) final husband, came last. Gordon was everything she had imagined her husband at 65-years-old would be:
Gordon was going deaf.
Gordon didn’t pressure her for sex, even when she wanted it.
Gordon like red wine.
He addressed Patricia as “Patty,” which made her feel young and aspiring, as if one day she would be old enough for the solemn “Patricia,” but not today. She did love Gordon, had loved him for twenty years, hoped to love him for at least ten more (that’s as much time as she gave his life), had travelled with him to France and felt warm when he wore that blue shirt that made his eyes, wrinkled as they were, sparkle. But, she had not grown Gordon in her womb and he couldn’t hear her when she, drunk on red wine, embarrassingly whispered, “Let’s make love tonight.”
Pierre was dying. He came second. Patricia had just dropped him off at the vet. “He has Hepatic neoplasia,” his vet (who was annoyingly named Kitty) had announced three weeks before when Patricia had taken him to address Pierre’ vomiting. Patricia, like any sane woman, had responded, “What the hell would that would be, Kitty?”
Operable, but likely only six more months, maybe nine.
It was a small price to pay for her second-loved-male. As Patricia sat in her subway seat, the infant beside her slowly waking up, she pictured Pierre, his stomach shaved, sliced, stitched. She was terrified. More terrified, exponentially so in fact, than she had been two years before during Gordon’s heart surgery. Her terror was then replaced by repulsion. Who loves their cat more than their husband? A freak, that’s who.
Patricia cried. An ugly cry – slowly released, her features twisted, her foundation splotched. She removed a Kleenex from her purse, dried her eyes, and got off at the next stop, even though it was four more stops until her home.
Rosa had three thoughts as the crying lady exited the train:
- I don’t want her to see crying yet. She’s only three weeks.
- Do tears have germs? That bitch better not get my baby sick.
- I’m a mother now; I can’t think things like bitch.
Rosa looked at her baby, a round face framed by a mint-green fleece blanket and a clover-green cone-shaped cap, as the subway doors closed. Eva was the name on the birth certificate. Peapod was the name Rosa’s mind used.
“The green will be muy bonita, with that orange hair of hers,” Rosa’s mother had curtly said when presenting the handmade cap, her Dominican accent spiking the English. Indeed, Peapod’s orange (Rosa preferred “auburn”) hair had shocked Rosa’s family and they had reacted as they had been pranked by God Himself.
“Maybe Conan will claim paternity,” Eric, Rosa’s oldest brother, had joked.
“Drinking Guiness while pregnant, I’m disappointed in you hermanna!” Julio, the youngest, had chided.
“Cabeza de fuego,” Rosa’s father had shrieked in the delivery room, his index finger pointing and mouth agape, as he watched the nurses towel Peapod.
Peapod’s hair had also surprised Rosa, though, for her, the orange was less God’s prank and more God’s message. For eight months of her pregnancy, Rosa had convinced herself the baby growing in her womb was solely her descendent. Not an immaculate conception – Rosa wasn’t that naïve (and there was The Truth) – but, instead, a miraculous rejection of competing genetics.
Rosa likened her three week relationship with Peapod’s father to a two-liter Coke left in the fridge for the same amount of time: bubbly sweet first taste; quickly fizzling; disappointingly stale; undrinkable; finally, trashed. Problem was, Rosa had already trashed Peapod’s father once she finally realized she was pregnant. Hence, the convenient trashing of his genetics.
Peapod’s hair – His message – made obvious what Rosa had denied: Peapod was made of two people and Peapod needed both of them in her life.
Rosa moved the blanket up, loosely covering Peapod’s mouth. No baby of mine is gonna get sick from tear germs, she thought. Five stops later, Rosa carefully exited, holding Peapod close on the escalator and the brief walk to his building. When she arrived, Rosa scanned the apartment listings for his last name – O’Malley – even though she knew he lived in Apartment 15. He buzzed her in without asking her identity.
As Rosa made her way up the drafty stairwell, Peapod’s clover-green cap slipped, falling to the concrete below. Peapod began to cry. Again, His message.
Despite Peapod’s wail, Rosa could hear the violent hum of a video game when she knocked on his door. Then, an electronic-clink-pause followed by slow footsteps. Rosa brushed her hand over Peapod’s head, smacking Peapod’s auburn hair onto Peapod’s ivory scalp.
He – Kevin O’Malley – opened the door, wearing the gray sweats he’d worn their last morning. Rosa watched his eyes meet hers and then travel to Peapod.
“Will you marry me?”
Tom was annoyed to hear a crying baby in the stairwell as he tried on his Seersucker suit. Fucking breeders, he thought; then, damn, this girl can sure turn it out, as he admired his reflection. He knew Seersucker was ridiculous, but, only as ridiculous as the wedding he was dressing for. He contemplated the gray suit last worn to his uncle’s funeral, but he decided he’d rather leave when the baby’s cries grew louder. Quickly. Seersucker it was.
Tom filled the forty minute drive with three cigarettes and Dolly Parton. The last ten minutes, he felt the fabric’s puckered texture begin to make impressions on his ass, strike-that, bottom (he considered himself a lady, after all). Tom wasn’t wearing underwear; he never did; he knew it was inappropriate; he didn’t give two shits.
“Can’t talk,” Tom answered while parking. “At my sister’s wedding.”
“Julie’s getting married?” Quinten screeched, a fake optimistic disbelief in his voice. Tom knew what Quinten was hiding behind this tone: ‘tards get married these days? “How come you didn’t say anything?”
“Well, it’s not a big deal. I’m not sure it’s even official.” Tom was annoyed by Quentin’s question. They’d fucked, yes, but that didn’t obligate Tom to update Quinten on his family life.
The wedding, hosted by the Emmanuel House (which supported Julie and other adults with Downs Syndrome) was, in fact, official, as noted in the program a seated and obese black woman handed Tom as he entered.
“Name and relation, please,” she asked, her marker poised above a name tag.
“Tom,” he replied. “Julie’s brother.”
“The twin!” the woman exclaimed, writing “Tom Twin” in bold capitals. Tom grimaced. He defined twins as two-bodies-one-soul: unexplained pain when the other got hurt; sharing of ends of sentences; unintentional synchronization of life’s milestones (marriage, children, death). Tom had never experienced this with Julie, though she was five minutes his senior sibling and by definition, his twin.
The Seersucker continued to claw during the ceremony and it took restraint to not inappropriately exit for a bathroom respite. Tom’s mother, serious and seated to his right, would have killed Tom if he had done so (which, Tom observed, would cement the non-twin relationship: Julie getting married the day Tom died).
When the Justice of Peace announced the husband and wife, Tom’s mother rose from her chair, shouting “Bravo Julie! Bravo Matt!” As if this is a play, Tom thought.
When the newlyweds advanced down the aisle, Tom stood and joined in the applause, the Seersucker thankfully relinquishing its grip. The obese black woman, hidden in a corner, pressed play on a CD player. “Walking on Sunshine” blasted throughout the room and the guests – staff, disabled adults, Tom and his mother – followed Julie and Matt into the reception room.
For the duration of the song, the crowd danced with abandon, the majority of them circling their pudgy Downs hips off-time to the beat. During the euphoric coda of the song, Tom caught Julie’s eye. And don’t it feel good? Something deep within him smiled along with something deep within Julie. I’ll say it again now. The twins waved to each other. Anddon’t it feel good. Had Julie felt this too? Tom watched as she turned to her new husband and gave him a sloppy kiss. Tom wiped his own mouth and headed for the door.
The Men Along the Sidelines
by Tony Magistrale
Saturday afternoon, cold-edged to fairly bracing,
a scrim of winter frost on the chalked field
like confectioner’s sugar sprinkled over the geometry of sport.
Every Saturday, the same men on the sidelines
intense, unsmiling, arms folded atop expansive bellies
or fists fidgeting in jean pockets,
each of them re-intoxicated by the fragrance of mud
and a willful suspension of time and place.
Every Saturday, they come alone
leaving wives and small children, Saturday
errands, the daily tedium of worrying about money,
to revivify their memory of the game—
breaking open down the sidelines, eyes
catching the peripheral blur of bodies and colors
while holding tight inside the long white line
that, eventually, separates everything.
The men along the sidelines
are invisible to the cheerleaders;
no coach will ever again call out their names.
They watch in silence until the game is done,
until it is time for them to go,
to exit apart from the crowds
the diminished field, heads stiffly bowed,
impervious to final score.
The Road is Not a Place for Playing Sherlock Holmes
by Samuel Kolawole
I came to the awareness of a form close to me. The form was enshrouded in a cluster of clouds and dazzling white sunlight. As the cloud cleared, the image assumed a more distinct form. The image seemed to expand while everything else grew smaller, the haziness peeling off with each passing moment. I was not sure how long the whole process took. I was not sure of anything. I simply waited for things to unfold, like I was watching a movie, completely detached from the experience. Only that in this movie the end would decide my fate. My existence would depend on it.
A man emerged from pale confusion – the man had my face. I stared at my mirror image. He was bending over me. His glazed eyes roved gently over me as if scrutinizing a strange specimen on a slab. His eyelids blinked as though to catch a clearer view of me. Then his face assumed a frightened expression as though he had seen something terrifying. His face froze and twisted with horror. I tried to figure out what horrified him. Tried to move but pain pinned me down. I tried to turn my neck but it was as stiff as dried cement. The way he looked at me, made fear grip me. I also became afraid because I was a spectator. Because I wasn’t in control of what was happening to me. In a way I had always been in control, bad as things have been, as I struggled in vain to claw my way up the food chain but not now. It was as though I had lost touch. For years I kept hoping that things would turn out differently for me while acting as though things were fine. It’s ok, a few more months and I’ll be fine, things will work out perfectly. It’s only a matter of time. I never lost faith in the life that I lived. I was faithful to it. I was faithful to myself.
A few moments passed and my twin was no longer startled. He moved one of his arms slowly towards me. He did it carefully, as though reaching out to a lover in the dark. At that point I became aware of his intentions. I realized what he wanted. I knew he needed me to come. He needed us to be one and the same. He gave me a pleasant smile and I knew the end was near. It was one of those rare smiles that you may never come across again, an unmistakable sign that something dreaded was quivering on the horizon.
Then I mounted the very height of pain. There, every breath, every palpitation ached. There, my throat throbbed and bobbed. Jolts of air shot out of my foaming mouth, sucking on what pap of life remained. I fetched the thoughts of my wife. My waning faculties groped desperately for her image; her black eyes and chubby face, her ever so sweet and shy smile, her little damp hands. I hoped to be strengthened by her image. I hoped against hope that my broken flesh would cleave onto my soul for her sake. I needed to ride the storm a little longer. I reckoned that by hanging on a little longer help would come. I had grovelled miserably for a miracle like the films. Help had been nowhere near me. So I had no choice but to slip helplessly into darkness. I fell into a dark slippery pit wrapped in silence and slipped as if falling into the gaping jaws of an abyss, where darkness sucked you into a whirlpool of flames and you disappeared forever. I felt cold. I have never been so cold in my whole life.
I was dead.
I had become one flesh with my image as he wanted. The body I used to occupy lay sprawled and empty on the hard, black road. A federal road, they called it. It was a dual highway, broad as the pathway to Hell. It was the pathway to hell. The road bore various degrees of deterioration: ruts and potholes. So it was not uncommon for vehicles to skid off the road, topple over or make fatal collisions. It was a road no one could avoid, a major thoroughfare in the city’s sprawling landscape. Nobody bothered about it. They were not the government. It was okay as long as it was at least accessible to motorists. But then, at times like this, when a soul is engulfed and his mangled flesh spewed out as though the road were some predator and the victim, a prey half-chewed and spat out in distaste, people begin to complain. People begin to curse the military government and call for repairs.
From where my life was violently extinguished, the road stretched for a few kilometres, jumped a vast concrete bridge and continued its damaged journey to the outskirts of the city. The unbroken parts of the road gleamed from the asphalt-melting energy of the mid afternoon sun.
For a few moments I observed my corpse and the damage done to it. What used to be my face tilted towards the sky, my bleeding head, an outcome of a ruthless impact with the heated metal of the truck, disgorged a grotesque white mash and thick dark blood on the hard black tarmac. The stuff formed a thick glut behind my smashed skull. My lips were swollen out of recognition and covered with spittle. My clothes, a French suit which was torn and blood-soaked on my limp form, were stiffening, as though they it been starched and spread in the hot sun to dry. The French suit was my best outfit. It was my Sunday garb, my weekday attire, my only clothes. Just a few feet from my corpse, one of my shoes was crushed beyond repair. The other shoe was nowhere in sight. If it weren’t for the clothes I would have convinced myself the body did not belong to me. Even then I became ashamed of it, sorrowed at what it had become. I turned away from it as I wondered how a body once pulsing with life and hope could be stripped of so much dignity. Dozens of typed papers, my papers, littered the road, which reeked of burning rubber. Those were the sheets of my manuscripts, filled with what I thought would amaze the world. I pictured a female trader picking one of those sheets to wipe her infant’s bum, disregarding the imaginings therein. Not because she is without a conscience but because she can neither read or write and the sheet is just a worthless piece of paper to her.
A young lad from a nearby stall jumped gleefully and seized a leaf fluttering in the soft breeze some distance away. The boy seemed to be totally unaware of what was going on. It was not long before a middle aged petty trader smacked him for fooling around.
“What are you doing here? Oya! Run home to your mother you little beast!” she shouted at him, her eyes popping out of her skull. She gave the boy a good smack on the buttock and the poor lad made a break for it, wailing and clutching his rear. The woman, having satisfied herself, joined the crowd of onlookers and mourners cluttered around the scene of the tragedy.
People expressed their shock and bewilderment in all kinds of ways. Some women wept quietly, dabbing their eyes with the corners of their filthy wrappers. Some sorrowed openly, cursing and slapping their thighs in anguish. The men gawked and shook their heads.
A fat man caught my attention. He exhibited a solitary and tearless ritual of a kind. He shook his head, bald and glistering with sweat, slowly, as though his neck was injured and he was afraid to rotate it. He then chewed his stubby index finger for a while before placing both hands on his head. He murmured something about how wicked and wretched death was, and then repeated the process of grieving again, careful not to omit anything.
A few feet from the hubbub stood another man. A roadside vulcanizer in greasy overalls, who was describing the accident in pidgin English to a group of young men. The fellow pitched his tale animatedly, sweating profusely, describing and analyzing, touching every point and every detail with his hands. Once or twice, he licked the tip of his finger and stabbed the air with it, as he swore by his mother’s grave that the things he was saying were true. The men who gave him audience swallowed his volley of words, nodding quietly and shaking their heads.
The crowd swelled with new arrivals bursting into grief-stricken ejaculations of “Oh my God! Oh my mother! Eo! Eo! Ah!”
“Whoever did this will not sleep in peace! He will surely come to swift destruction!” an old woman swore, grabbing her sagging udders as she swayed from side to side. “Only if he did not suck from a woman’s breast will he escape from a curse!” she added, squeezing the breast cupped in her hands to emphasize her point.
“I know him. He is an educated young man. He carried books everywhere like he was a professor. He must have been a professor, he must have been a very intelligent professor, may Allah rest his soul, may Allah give all of us good and peaceful deaths,” an old Imam said mournfully, his eyes leaking isolated tears. Religion and age had taken him to a point in life where death was no longer a surprise, it only elicited surrender and profound reflection.
Every Tom, Dick and Harry in that place had something to say about me. Everybody thought they knew me and had seen me before. They did not know jack, but they stared at my corpse as though they did. I became more popular in my death than when I was alive. Maybe mine was not a wasted life after all.
Soon a major traffic jam, or go slow in local parlance, gripped the highway. A harsh, discordant din from the cars in the rear filled the air, adding to the confusion. People spilled out of their vehicles and joined the crowd of onlookers, half furious, half curious. Some pushed their way through to catch a glimpse of the corpse, so the circle of crowd kept opening and closing, embracing the new arrivals.
A newly painted military van halted and a couple of soldiers wearing military fatigues surged forth, screaming threats and waving their guns. The crowd began to murmur.
“Wetin do this man? What happened to this fellow?” a barrel-bodied individual who looked like the leader of the squad demanded of no one in particular. His voice sounded loud and hoarse as though he had a faulty microphone embedded in his throat.
Everybody stared at him as if he had just uttered the stupidest statement in the world. No one dared say anything. When an officer is talking you keep quiet until he tells you what to do.
“I say who killed this man? I will take all of you to the barracks if someone does not speak now. If you try to escape I will tell my boys to open fire. Have mercy on your families and loved ones!” He growled, waving his gun, scanning the crowd through restless and bloodshot eyes. Perceiving now that the affair was no longer a joke, someone spoke.
“Na motor hit am sir!”
“I saw the tin happen, sah! I saw eferytin!” The greasy Vulcanizer tore out of the crowd, eager to tell his story. He then saluted the army officer.
“Are you a soldier?” the barrel bodied leader asked him.
“Are you a police?”
“Are you a man-o-war?”
“Then why did you salute me?”
“I…I…” he stuttered, not knowing what to say.
“Can someone help me give this bloody civilian a dirty slap?”
Hardly had he spoken when one of his boys walked towards the vulcanizer and struck him across the face. The vulcanizer reeled from the unexpected attack. He covered his face with his hands to rub off the pain inflicted on his face.
“Now tell me what happened! I want to know everything. The whole truth and nothing but the truth and when I tell you to sarrap you sarrap ok?”
“Ok, Sergeant, Colonel sah!” he spurted, his voice trembling, face swollen and smeared with tears. Again, the Vulcanizer plunged into another round of melodrama, this time for the fear of another slap. He took longer than bargained for. Surprisingly, the soldier did nothing to stop him. The leader nodded at intervals and wiped sweat from his brow as he listened.
Ten minutes went by and the crowd began to get impatient, the car owners just short of furious. As a reaction, the soldier murmured something about doing his job and his intention to discharge his duties to the letter. The murmurings began to grow louder.
“Oga soldier, are we going to sleep here? We cannot revive the dead, life must go on,” one said angrily from the crowd.
“Five minutes and we have waited here for nothing. Do you think we don’t know our rights?” another shouted, riding on the effrontery of the first speaker.
“You think because you are in khaki you can harass us any way you like?”
“The road is not a place for playing Sherlock Holmes. People have jobs to do please,” spoke a bespectacled man garbed in a plain white shirt and blue tie. His words came with a mixture of insolence and good manners, a polite contempt.
The statement touched the officer’s nerve and this was mainly because of the name ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ He was angry that he had never heard that name before. He was annoyed at the fact that the man wanted to make him look stupid and uneducated. Many people there had never heard the name too but they however could infer its meaning. The army officer was simply making a fool of himself.
The soldier marched towards the speaker and scrutinized him, knitting his eyebrows together. With an accent of anger he spoke.
“Do you know who you are talking to?”
“I am not an illiterate who doesn’t know his rights. I am a lawyer,” the man lashed back. He was not about to bow out in the exchange of words. By reason of his profession, he had learnt to make his wishes clear and exhaust all he wanted to say. The officer however, was not going to continue with him in the battle of words.
“By the time I finish with you, you will know who knows his right or not!”
With that the officer pounced on the lawyer. He hooked one hand into his trousers and slapped him with the other. The lawyer’s glasses flew off; he staggered but did not fall because of the soldier’s hold. The crowd gasped and began to protest. The murmurings intensified but no one did anything. The lawyer lifted a balled fist to retaliate but the soldier launched another attack. With one swift movement, the officer tackled him to the ground with his right leg. The man’s mouth flew open, whether in shock or to scream, it was not to be known. He landed with a loud thud, his hand flailing. The soldier then began to pummel him with his fist. This time there was a riotous scream. People picked up stones and lobbed them at the leader. His boys came to the rescue. They slung their guns over their shoulders, unleashed their kobokos and began flogging the crowd and kicking them. Some fled, running in different directions, some didn’t. The highway was plunged into confusion. The air was filled with shrieks and wails. Not long after that a shot rang out. Silence engulfed the place. Some looked around to be sure they had not been hit then ran for their dear lives. Some simply stretched on the ground and allowed their cheeks to be burnt by the hot tarmac. The officer ordered his men to clear my corpse from the road. He threw the lawyer into the van himself. He slapped, punched and cursed as he forced the lawyer’s head into the van. The lawyer began to plead for mercy, his tie now twisted around his neck, his white shirt covered with dust. He had been humbled. The soldiers picked up three more people from the ground, roared the van to life and zoomed off.
People screamed, cursed. They counted their losses, picking up the pieces caused by the free-for-all broken windshields, swollen faces, wounds from falls and so on and so forth. Those who had been on the ground and were not seized by the soldiers, offered praises to their gods. Some gathered to talk about what happened and the vulcanizer was there! In between his monologues, he swore and showed the gathering his swollen face. He mimed how the squad leader addressed and eventually dealt with the lawyer. He seemed to be getting a lot of satisfaction from telling his tale. Soon people became tired of him and drifted off.
My soul keened with wretched sadness.
The accident and the military bully were forgotten but I didn’t leave the place. The violence and the senselessness of the incidence left me dazed. As I stayed there sitting on my heels, staring at blood and mess splattered on hot tarmac in the blazing sun. I thought about my now scattered sheets of paper. I thought about my wife. These two things I would never touch again.
Chameleon: A Parallel Poem
by Changming Yuan
— when it looks in a mirror, what color does it have?
changing your skin color
they know it for sure
but isn’t it
with their minds
longer even than yours
we are actually colorless