Bruce McDougall – Fiction

Wishful thinking

 

 

He’d pushed his cart along three different aisles of the grocery store, through personal hygiene, paper products and crackers, and she’d appeared every time in the same aisle to look at items on a shelf right next to him. He felt sure the woman was stalking him.

It was Tuesday. His wife had gone away for the week with her book club. He’d driven to the store just before noon, when no one but old-age pensioners went grocery shopping. He had a list with him. He’d scribbled it on the back of the note that his wife had left yesterday on the kitchen counter while he waited outside in the car to drive her to the airport. “I love you,” she’d written. On the other side of the page, his grocery list began with broccoli.

He saw the woman for the first time as he was deciding whether to buy broccoli with stems or broccoli without stems, wondering if the inconvenience of slicing and disposing of a stem was worth an additional twenty cents. He saw her from the corner of his eye, examining carrots.

She had a mane of black hair, olive skin, dark eyes, dressed in black. Black stockings drew his eye to her legs. She looked fit, competent, probably good at her job, whatever it was. Judging from her appearance, he thought she might have come from a nearby office: run in, run out, so she wouldn’t have to waste time at the end of the day.

Moving past the apples, he reminded himself, as he did often these days, that he was twenty years older than he’d been the last time he’d become casually involved with a woman, and now he was married. Though he flattered himself that he was still endowed with a remnant of sexual credibility, he also knew that no woman would feel transported by the sight of a geezer of his vintage unless she was his wife or thought he was rich. On impulse, he dropped a six-dollar basket of raspberries into his cart. They weren’t on his list.

He advanced with his cart past slabs of cod in a freezer and turned into the personal hygiene section in search of hair and body wash. It came in a container that resembled shampoo, but he remembered from the last time that he’d done the grocery shopping that he’d found it, after a long fruitless search, in another section altogether, with the soap. His wife mocked him for buying it. She said it was hard on his skin and left a film on his hair. He said it was cheap and convenient; she said it was lazy. There were only three choices, and today one of them was on sale. One of them was always on sale, always much cheaper than shampoo or soap alone, probably because the store couldn’t get rid of the stuff unless it reduced the price. His wife was right. His skin felt dry, and he was losing his hair.

He looked down the aisle toward the deodorants, and there was the woman again, studying the top shelf. He wondered if she’d misinterpreted the raspberries in his cart as a symbol of disposable wealth. Perhaps in her mind, such lavish extravagance distinguished him from the poor economizing grunts in cheap nylon jackets who calculated the cost of broccoli stems. He reminded himself that raspberries weren’t on his list. Women go for spontaneity, he thought.

In recent years, he’d had a hard time telling a person’s age with any accuracy. He was often astonished to learn that men and women who hardly looked old enough to drive in fact were high-school teachers or partners in law firms, with children in the third grade. When he walked through the university campus downtown he wondered if he’d wandered into a class of visiting high-school students. This woman certainly looked older than that. She also looked as if she might have listened more than once to Marianne Faithful’s album, Broken English, in which the singer directed a compelling torrent of bile at the unscrupulous men who’d contributed to her suffering. Albums, he thought. Kids at university wouldn’t know what he was talking about. But she would.

He imagined their conversation as he fixed his eyes on the three brands of hair and body wash. He considered deviating once again from his list so that she wouldn’t think he was penny-pinching on his personal hygiene. He looked at the vast display of soaps and reminded himself that the companies that peddled these products spent a fortune on advertising. How much were you paying for the product and how much were you paying for the woman up to her neck in bubbles telling you to buy it? Of the three brands of hair and body wash, he grabbed the cheapest, tossed it into his cart and moved on. Decisive, deliberate and without hesitation: women liked those qualities in a man, too. He drove onward into paper products. The woman hadn’t been pushing a cart or even carrying a basket, and she was already holding a bag of carrots. With a tube of deodorant, her hands would be full. He’d likely not see her again.

Through the store’s sound system, he heard a song called Happy Together by The Turtles. He’d first heard that song in high school, driving in his mother’s car with a girl named Joanne, whose salesman father traveled every week to Kalamazoo, Michigan. It was the first time he’d heard of Kalamazoo. His sixteenth year was a good year. Whatever happened to Joanne?

He could have gone directly to the next items on his list. He’d shopped here enough times to have memorized the layout of the store. But today he wanted to break free of old routines, explore new worlds, live on the edge, cast his fate to the wind. Buoyed by the happy melody, he sailed through paper products and headed into cookies and crackers, grabbing a package of Oreo cookies to compensate for all the wasted years when he’d allowed caution and convention to suffocate his spontaneity. He placed the cookies in his cart, looked up and saw the woman in black, studying the Saltine crackers.

From her features and the way she was dressed, she might have run her own business or managed the loans department of a bank. He sensed that she was single or at the very least, available. Her features seemed composed like a model’s, with no deeper purpose than attracting a man’s attention. He sensed no foundation of commitment that would lend gravity to her flirtatiousness. Was she flirting? Or was she seeking revenge, Marianne Faithful of the Saltines, waiting for a chance to drive a pair of nail clippers into his eye?

She looked perplexed, as if she couldn’t make up her mind whether to buy crackers with salted or unsalted tops. He noticed that her hands were free. Whatever she’d carried from other sections of the store, she’d abandoned. She must be one of those people, he thought, who fill a bag with cashews in the bulk section and then, when they see in the confectionery section cashews in a jar at a lower price, simply discard the bulk bag on some random shelf, relying on an underpaid, beleaguered shelf stocker to retrieve it and put the nuts back where they belonged. He felt disappointed in the woman. He had little respect for people who make life difficult for others.

In the yoghurt aisle near the far end of the store, he realized that, in his moment of liberation from the tyranny of his list, he’d forgotten to pick up paper napkins. The price you pay for freedom, he thought. He parked his cart in front of the six packs of single-serving yoghurt. He figured no one would mind if he left his cart there. He’d never seen anyone buy those things. They were too expensive for most people’s budgets. He hurried back to paper products. When he returned with the napkins, the woman was standing near his cart, examining kefir through the glass doors.

Even then he resisted jumping to conclusions. She could be following a path similar to his through the store. It happened all the time. Two people entered the store, started their expedition in fruit and vegetables just inside the door, passed each other at the canned tuna, reconnected by the spaghetti sauce, made eye contact near the soda water and, by the time they reached the yoghurt, they felt as if they knew each other. They might not be friends, but they’d shared intimate details about their preferences and tastes that remained unknown to all but a few other people. Maybe she had her own list. He glanced again at the woman’s empty hands. She could have kept it in her pocket. Her hands looked sensitive and experienced.

He told himself to get a grip. Women didn’t dress up in attractive clothes so they could wander around a grocery store picking up strange men. He’d heard of men and women having casual encounters, but they happened in bars, not in the dairy aisle. Years ago, on a trip to Chicago to attend a medical convention, his friend, a doctor, had encountered a woman and her mother on a hotel elevator and ended up minutes later having sex with the daughter in a linen closet. When his friend told him the story, he hadn’t known exactly what to think. It sounded adventurous, spontaneous, kinky, unpromising, pedestrian, desperate, thoughtless, cavalier, aberrant, indulgent, perfunctory, silly and rather dog-like, all at the same time. Complicated, he’d said. “Complication’s all in your head,” his friend said. Such occasions had never presented themselves to him, or perhaps they had, and he hadn’t recognized them. Maybe this was such an occasion.

He pushed his buggy all the way to the back of the store, past the meat counter and the fresh fish, to the far corner where fresh-baked bread was stacked on wooden racks in front of a swinging metal door. The door opened into a dimly lit storage area. He seldom went to this part of the store. He didn’t eat much bread. He lingered for a moment beside the pumpernickel, feeling mildly disappointed that the woman hadn’t followed him. He turned and chugged past the over-priced organic produce and the shiny green root vegetables that cost less than a dollar and would feed a family of six. His wife once brought a durian home, where it sat for days on the kitchen counter like an organic brown Sputnik, until she finally hacked it apart and baked it in the oven. It smelled like a smoldering gym bag. He dropped a durian into his cart. A woman would have to be truly interested in a man who bought one of those things.

He made his way to the check-out counter. He’d loaded far more items into his cart than he’d put on his list, but he’d forgotten sparkling water. The store wasn’t busy. The cashier told him she’d wait while he went to fetch it. He returned quickly. After the conveyor belt transported the last of his groceries past the cash register, the cashier helped him stuff them into the canvas bags that he’d brought with him. He hoisted the bags into his cart and went back to the cash register to pay the bill. And there again was the woman in black, waiting for him to insert his credit card into the terminal. He tried not to look at her, but he noticed on the rubber conveyor belt a solitary bright green package of sugarless gum. She looks after her teeth, he thought.

Years ago, in the third grade, he’d ridden his bicycle up and down the street outside the house of a girl in his class named Oksana, hoping to draw her outside with the sheer force of his animal magnetism, but even then, he’d known that his magnetic force extended no further than his own imagination.

He took his groceries to his car, imagining that the woman was nearby. Perhaps that was her SUV in the parking space two away from his? He pushed his empty cart to the buggy corral and returned to his car, resisting the urge to survey the parking lot. What in the hell did he want to happen? He was a married man.

He drove away feeling relieved, disappointed, unadventurous and foolish. He couldn’t count the number of times in his life he’d felt the same way. If Oksana had burst out of her house when he was nine years old and pursued him down the street like an intoxicated groupie chasing Mick Jagger, he wouldn’t have known what to do. Now, as always, he doubted that he would ever find out.

 

 

🍃

Bruce McDougall 

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Lindsey Claire Newman – 2 poems

Speak

 

In space we talk amongst ourselves,
through skeletons of machines,
spurt radio, infantile talk.

 

We walk
and speak
to the end parts of settlements

 

drifting further only.

 

Come wash apples,
kabob all of my hearts.

 

Pull roots for our meals
and write the songs that describe
the volatile states of our insides.

 

🍃

 

 

Na Lu’um

 
I waitressed today in my bare feet.

 

Nothing was ordered
and nothing was paid for,
and everything got
what everything needed.

 

No more.
No less.

 

🍃

 

 

Lindsey Claire Newman is an interdisciplinary artist from Chicago, IL. She makes mixed media paintings, found object sculptures, poems and zines. Her award winning work has been exhibited throughout the Midwest, and can be found in numerous private collections. She is just beginning to release her writing into the world and this is her first poetry publication.

www.lindseyclairenewman.com
@llover7

Kim Peter Kovac – 2 poems

THE INKHOUND’S NAME

 

 

Scattered through Ireland are ‘thin places’,

where the veil between this world and the next

is very thin, and my Myth-hunter’s trained

weather eye can, on certain evenings

at nautical twilight, see to the other side.

 

The Newgrange Monument, a half-century

older than Stonehenge, is vibrantly thin

and abuzz with stories of The Dagda,

a Druid god, his son eldest son Angus,

and the shapeshifter called Pooka.

 

Perhaps it’s the latter who runs at me

out of the evening mist, on four legs,

with curved tail all aswirl.  White fur,

mostly, with black blotches around ears

and tail, body shrinking as he nears.

 

It’s a puppy racing from the Newgrange

mound to the only human visible, and I await

his arrival, punctuated by leaps into the air.

bouncing as if built of spring-metal, finally

leaping higher than possible, into my arms.

 

As he licks my face I hold his energized head

with my hands and smile, “What’s your name,

boy, what’s your name?”  He holds my gaze

tightly with his deep russet eyes

and speaks out loud: “Fermac of Croboy”.

 

 

🍃

 

 

THE FOG OF WOLF

 

 

Captured in a photo

from the Sarajevo Siege,

emerging from the rubble

of a neo-Moorish archway

fronting the National Library –

first a book, next a young girl,

 

moist blood streaking her face.

In hospital, her fairy tale book

never left her side, so her nurse

christened her Crvenkapica (Little

Red Riding Hood) which always

resulted in giggles of joy.

 

Two decades later the world

hears her, a singer now called

Garnet Capely with an aching

soprano growl floating above

thrashing, jangly guitars

in an electro-punk swirl.

 

🍃

 

 

Kim Peter Kovac works nationally and internationally in theater for young audiences with an emphasis on new play development and networking.  He tells stories on stages as producer of new plays, and tells stories in writing with lineated poems, prose poems, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, haiku, haibun, and microfiction, with work appearing or forthcoming in print and on-line in journals from Australia, India, Dubai (UAE), England, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, and the USA, including The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Red Paint Hill, Elsewhere, Frogpond, Mudlark, and Counterexample Poetics. He is fond of avant-garde jazz, murder mysteries, contemporary poetry, and travel, and lives in Alexandria, VA, with his bride, a Maine Coon cat named Frankie Malone and a Tibetan Terrier named Mick. @kimpeterkovac – www [dot] kimpeterkovac [dot] tumblr [dot] com

Kenneth Pobo – 1 poem

SKIP SAYS TERRIBLE THINGS

 

about Raylene, making her out

to be vain, petty, and lazy.

 

I’m his best friend, Zell, or

At least he still has me

To hang with.  When I got married,

he didn’t like that I had

hitched a guy, said I’d be sorry.

I’d see—marriage

was like Home Depot.  All

these things that you think

you want but get them home

and they break.  When Raylene

 

got pneumonia and almost died, Skip

looked like someone walking

on hot coals… If she dies… if she dies…

he said again and again.  She

pulled through.  Happy until

complaints piled up

like uncollected mail.  Jokes

at her expense repeated,

 

a record

with a terrible skip.

 

 

🍃

 

 

Kenneth Pobo had a book of poems out last year from Circling Rivers called Loplop in a Red City.  Forthcoming is a book of his prose poems from Clare Songbirds Press called The Antlantis Hit Parade.  His Twitter is @KenPobo.

Kevin Doalty Brophy – Fiction

Hippareni Dome 

 

 

  [Late last year a treasure trove of ancient tablets was discovered in a hidden level of a ziggurat in Sippar during the British Museum’s excavation of the contemporary site of Tell Abu Habbah. What follows is a newly translated excerpt from the last pages of the Sumerian Book of Stones, written by the successive generations of a family belonging to the mushkinu. The methods with which the Sumerians constructed and deconstructed the Hippareni Dome (and if it ever existed at all) is still the subject of debate and dispute among scholars and historians.] 

 

  The memory resides beyond the grandfathers of our grandfathers. They too were able to commit it to text so that it may be preserved for those who followed and have yet to follow. Due to this reasoned foresight, we now know that the advent of this great nation state ushered in with it not just the usual promises of prosperity, liberty and appeasement of the Gods, but also that of safety. The only promise a ruler cannot keep – neither King nor Queen can ever guarantee their own safety.

 

  The denizens of Tell Abu Habbah went about their daily lives, generation after generation, the same repeated processes of birth, education, marriage, children, middle-age, old-age, rebirth. With any promise of safety lurks the spectre of danger and chaos. Threads of doubt emerged within the fabric of each passing year. Stone poles erected for border security slowly transformed into sun-baked walls. These expanded along the coast until they converged with other border walls. Eventually a great wall separated our hill city from our immediate neighbours and the rest of the world. Centuries passed. Our gross domestic product fell exponentially. Times were not as prosperous as they once were but our people, disciples of asceticism, living their vocational callings, continued on tirelessly against the practices which did evil unto them.

 

  Did the generations before us notice when their shadows began to follow them around, first for more than half the day, then twelve hours, then twenty-four hours? Did they consciously witness the building of the great wall? Did they survey the slaves condemned for life to place fired stone upon ochre and sand all their waking day in sweltering heat? How many tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of lives were given to this great construction, this gargantuan tribute to a King whose name was long forgotten? Not to mention why the structure was ever commissioned to begin with? They, of course, believed they were doing God’s work, that God wanted to keep them safe from whatever was out there. (When provided with a task so demanding one must conjure up a valid reason as to why.)

 

  Eventually plans changed, no longer horizontal but vertical. It was not a question of what could advance from the sea or neighbouring cities or states but what could careen from the sky. They began to build upwards, brick after brick, year after year, life after life, with no end in sight. Eventually the day came –  they managed to fill in the last brick at the very top of the dome, the apex point. Up there, Heaven in plain sight, with their pulleys and canvasses, they celebrated. On ground level, in the Great Tower, a celebratory feast was announced. All royalty ate fine foods and drank red wine older than they themselves. Down below the moat and the bridge the people too cheered and cried in delight. Finally, the original promise of the King was vindicated – their safety was assured forevermore.

 

  The fantastical architecture served a dual function: it acted as a gift to all of us and as a warning to whoever may approach us. Our Kings and Queens may be bestowed otherworldly powers by the Gods but they do not possess clairvoyance. They could not have known we would cheerfully live in this cage when construction commenced. The day the last brick was filled was the day the universe became insurmountably smaller, finite – acting as a guarantor for an eventual backlash against the powers that be. For that was the day the sun never rose, casting us into a perpetual night. There is something oddly unnatural about a lack of sunlight, even if only experienced for a short amount of time. It is another one of those states humankind cannot bear for very long. By the time the bricklayers reached the ground level, expecting a hero’s welcome, there was blood on the walls, thrones built from skulls and bones, hollowed carcasses and hungry wolves lying in wait. The operative orders of the new Executive were to tear down the dome, brick after brick, year after year, life after life.

 

  It is impossible to know what will happen when our internal clocks recover – will we remember why the dome was decommissioned, why it existed at all or what existed before it? Will we be afraid of the outside – or will we simply live in wilful ignorance of such a concept? When will we hear again the crash of waves, the dawn chorus of birds, and the wholesome laughter of youth? Did we ever before?

 

  There are whispers around the ziggurat forecourt. One can eavesdrop on those who gather at the central pond for purification. Light has started to trickle in from the very top of the dome, where the bricks are being removed one by one. We can hear the strange songs of lapwings and chants from faraway places. No visitors yet – to them we must be like the egg in the void, hidden, waiting for chaos to emerge. People are hushed, but the tone is persistent, the message pervasive – we must rebuild the wall, this time with stronger materials. From reading my family’s entries in the Book of Stones, I have lived centuries, perhaps millennia. I understand from reading the accounts of my grandfathers and their grandfathers before them that one must always pose the questions: who is spreading paranoia and trepidation around town at the most foundational of levels; who is giving such claims the buttressed support they need to infiltrate the minds of the impressionable; who profits from the building of the wall; are they building the wall to keep others out or to keep ourselves in?

 

 

🍃

 

 

Kevin Doalty Brophy