Fiction Promotion – Ursa Rising by Sheila Englehart

Title: Ursa Rising

Author: Sheila Englehart

Format: Ebook available through Amazon at: https://smile.amazon.com/Ursa-Rising-Sheila-Englehart/dp/1535044446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472926859&sr=8-1&keywords=ursa+rising

Pages: 344 pages

Published: 1 July 2016

ISBN: 978-83-7606-460-4

Publisher: Createspace

Website: http://www.sheilaenglehart.com

Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/sheilaenglehartauthor/?locale2=en_GB


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Extract from ‘Ursa Rising’ by Sheila Englehart

“Rock and roll makes everyone a time traveler. 

When you hear a great song, you go somewhere cool.”

Chris Cromwell, lead guitar for Ursa

1.
Sherman Oaks was the perfect place to begin a film about a fallen star. Hadn’t O.J. lived around there at the time of the infamous white Bronco chase? Stalking seemed slimy, but Vanessa watched the Spanish-style mansion from a rental car like a jilted girlfriend. She dabbed on some lip balm and bit her lips together. Telling herself that the camera wouldn’t suck her soul away, she began her notes hoping some of the footage might be to keep in the actual film. The flashing green light next to the viewfinder mocked her anxiety. She took a few swipes at her hair, blew a fly-away strand from her eyes, and took the plunge.

“Notes for The Guitarist.” She fluttered her eyelids. Just like her to over-think how to proceed. She took a breath and pushed through. “Okay, my father was Jeremy Nash.” She held up a jewel case with a photo of the band and pointed at her father. “He played bass and wrote lyrics for Ursa. Their star was just starting to rise when he was killed the night of their last performance.” God, she sounded like a TV anchor. She willed her gaze to the lens, intent on telling the real story. “I want to know what part of my dad is in me. People always say I got my mom’s looks and my dad’s creativity. I’m not a musician like him, but I’ve always loved movies.

She closed her eyes, already editing, but kept going. He was your father. Be real.

“When my dad was on tour, he’d call and say, ‘What’d you make today?’ If I said I took a picture of a rainbow, he’d say, ‘I’ll bet it’s the most colorful rainbow ever captured on film.’ A total Dad thing to say.

“Fast-forward ten years later and I’m forgetting things about him. My memories are from my childhood and silly—his goofy laugh, his bag of laundry by the door, his voice on the phone. His cooking— everything had fruit, even spaghetti. I feel like he’s being erased like he was just a relative who doesn’t come around anymore.”

Her phone rang. She hit the end button to silence it, hating that it was now part of the recording. She cleared her throat and continued.

“I’m doing this film to find him again. Find him in me. I’m looking for answers from the people who knew him best, Benny Begara, Chris Cromwell, and Bud Gaynor of Ursa. Benny survived the accident but lost his singing voice. Let’s hope he doesn’t lose his mind when he finds out I followed him here.”  Her phone rang, again. She couldn’t avoid her mother forever. Shit.
*
Charlotte could have taught a course on how to hitch a wagon to the brightest star. Her mother called her a no-good dreamer, but Charlotte had always been a doer. She’d laid tracks in her Toyota Celica immediately after graduation. She’d given herself a year to become an actress only to find her high school drama experience a far cry from Hollywood expectations. Apparently, she lacked most of the skills required—a rude awakening that only made her more determined to gain access to beautiful people through other avenues. Cosmetology school was the smartest move she’d ever made. Hair, make-up, skin care, nails—all stepping stones to the entertainment industry. She’d get to touch greatness, help improve them, contribute to their success, and network her ass off. That had been the plan. Work long enough to pay off her loans, buy a decent car, some respectable clothes, and land a hot, eligible, rising star.

She got her license just as a chair opened in a salon near her apartment, but not so far away from The Hills that she couldn’t move quickly should opportunity knock. Chair rental was outrageous in L.A., and she had to work nonstop to survive.

She didn’t see Jeremy Nash coming. He walked in and sat in her chair wanting rock star hair. His soothing voice shot her grand plan right out the window. The last thing she expected was to fall hard and fast for a musician, of all people. A bassist even, who’d balked at the hundred dollars the shop charged for her services at the time.

“Musicians are slackers who are always broke,” her mother had warned. “Every teenage boy in America has a G.D. guitar gathering dust under his bed. Pretending he’s a Beatle won’t make him John Lennon.”

But Charlotte couldn’t help herself. His eyes, his smile, his voice, his song lyrics, just the idea of him made her salivate. Her mother had never taught her how to undo bad decisions.  She’d followed him to all his gigs and still made it to the shop every morning, bleary-eyed. She’d finessed him into moving in with her. Even lured him home after he finished at the studio instead of “drinking it over” at the bar with the band.

She’d fallen so hard for him that she stupidly let herself dream of marriage. But Jeremy Nash had no interest in a conventional life, even after she was pregnant.  She’d gone as far as making an appointment with Planned Parenthood to terminate the problem but then, thought keeping the baby would keep the connection if he ever made it big. He still didn’t put a ring on her finger. Jeremy had committed to the baby and loved Vanessa a thousand times more than he’d ever loved Charlotte, if he’d ever loved her at all. She often wondered if she’d ever been his muse.

The last time she saw him they’d had a horrible argument over something as small as Vanessa’s science class. Long suppressed feelings came out of him before he stormed out. Charlotte knew before the door slammed in her face that there was no undoing the damage. Her life as she’d known it was over forever. A few hours later, his was too.
*
Benny had done a walk-through to make sure the place was tidy before his client arrived. Then he took a deep cleansing breath. The sixty-five hundred square feet of black and white marble smelled like freshly printed money.

The foyer led to a circular space showcasing a Steinway grand that stood as regal as it would have next to Julie Andrews or Barbara Streisand. He stepped into the kitchen trying to ignore the sexy beast in the next room that whispered his name. He checked his phone for messages, and his watch incessantly before peering past the door frame a few times. Finally, he could take no more.

Benny removed his suit jacket and laid it on a pristine white high-back by the doorway. He stepped into the room and paced a little before facing the piano.

He glanced at the security camera in the foyer that faced the front door. No cameras faced the piano. The last thing he needed was to be caught pounding on a client’s treasure. It might have been a gift from Billy Joel. Nah, they’d have mentioned that for sales purposes.

Benny lowered himself onto the bench sideways. He hadn’t touched a keyboard since the night Nash died. Thought about it, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. He felt as if he didn’t deserve to enjoy music anymore – his or anyone else’s. But it had been ten years, and the itch was one he couldn’t ignore any longer. He glanced over at the shiny keyboard fall. Don’t do it. But his hands had minds of their own and lifted the fall to expose the ivories.

Oh, there you are. The black and white jewels screamed to be touched. This beautifully crafted piece probably sat ignored by the film producer who had paid a decorator to feature it as furniture. What a waste. A piano was made to sing.

Did he still have it in him?

At his grandmother’s insistence, Benny started lessons at four. Even though he’d enjoyed the prestige and respectability, by twelve his musical motivation had shifted from pleasing family to getting girls. He switched to the guitar, which was portable, looked cooler, and didn’t get him chased down by neighborhood bullies for wearing a suit to a recital.

His hand reached out to the keys, only to snap away as if they burned. It felt wrong. He didn’t play anymore, didn’t sing anymore, and wasn’t a musician anymore. His hands reached and retracted several times until his middle finger pinged the C as if on its own. The reverberation filled the room with as delightful a sound as a giggling toddler. He’d always loved the key of C. Conviction gripped his shoulders, and he swung his legs around to center.

His client was as late as any other in her tax bracket. Benny was used to it. He certainly wasn’t stealing their time. One more glance at the empty spot next to his BMW alone in the entryway before the keys had his full attention.

He sucked in a breath, loving and loathing the familiar pulsing in his nervous system, warm as a shot of bourbon. The piano offered safety to overcome the stage nerves he hadn’t felt since the last time Ursa had played a packed house. He let his fingers run scales up and down the length of the keyboard. The movements didn’t feel as foreign as he’d expected, so he progressed into a couple of arpeggios until he fell into a groove.

Nash said, “Got your balls back yet?”

Benny looked up to see Nash; bass slung low, looking as if he’d swallowed a secret. His aqua eyes and pearly white innocence annoyed Benny.  He had that look every time they went on stage. As he waited to hear Nash count them in, Benny’s cheek twitched as he threw another quick glance outside.

“Breathe,” his grandmother would remind him. “Relax your shoulders. Don’t lean.”

One, two, three, four. The opening drums to Bob Seger’s “The Fire Inside” had rolled through his mind before he played into his favorite rocking piano piece. His fingers worked the notes as smoothly as a dress zipper. His hands relaxed until they moved as naturally as when they’d played every day. He looked up to see Nash in his mind’s eye, as a younger version of Seger: long dark hair, goatee, leather vest. A blue spot shone on him as they soared like gulls enjoying an up-draft. Benny glided through the melody. Nash belted out the lyrics just a few feet from him. They were at the edge of the piano solo when movement in his peripheral vision stopped him cold.

Shevaun Michaels, the wife of rapper X-Pat, stood in the foyer wearing more jewelry than clothing. Ferragamo bag linked in the crook of her arm, hand resting on artificially enlarged breasts that strained every stitch of her halter top, the diamond in her navel sufficient collateral for financing.

Shit. He might as well have been raiding the fridge dripping water from the Jacuzzi all over the marble. And now, she’d spread the word about how sad he looked trying to resurrect a moment of his squandered youth when he was still able to produce a vocal. There was nothing more pathetic than having a client witness him struggle to perform. But that wasn’t the most painful part. He didn’t get to finish the piece. That was worse than unfinished sex.

Benny hopped up from the bench. “Piano’s tuned.” He didn’t meet her gaze but stepped back into his real estate agent skin without bothering to retrieve his jacket. “I understand you were in catering?”

Shevaun smiled.

“Shall we start in the kitchen? You won’t believe the appliances. The owner’s wife was famous for her parties. A restaurant walk-in . . .”

“Mr. Begara?”

He stopped. “Mmm?”

“You get your voice back?”

“Ah, no.” He glanced at the Steinway. “Just noodling around.”

“Shame. I liked your album. A lot of R&B undertones.”

Benny nodded. “That’s very kind. We did two, actually, but the label dumped the first.”

“Really?” Shevaun glided to him, a model down a catwalk without the horse-like gait. She laid a hand on his chest. “Too bad.”

Benny’s libido was being played. “Rap’s king now. When does your husband’s album drop?”

“Who knows?” She reached up and loosened his tie. “They’re still in the studio. I stopped waiting up.”

“Recording can be grueling. Especially if things aren’t . . .”

Her hand dragged slowly down to his crotch.

“. . . coming out to everyone’s satisfaction.”

Her handbag dropped to the floor with a thud. Did she have a gun in there? She stepped up and pressed her chest against him. A common occurrence to which Benny had grown accustomed – neglected wife desperate for attention while spending her husband’s money.

“Where would you like to start?” Benny asked.

Her curves were well measured and her lips equally full. She flashed a wicked smile. “Show me the piano.”

Benny enjoyed nontraditional spaces. He gazed at her mouth full of unnaturally white teeth as she tugged his belt buckle open. Now, how to close the deal without her jewelry scratching the piano?

“How do you feel about handcuffs?”
*
Vanessa watched the house from the street wishing she could get closer. Neighbors might call the police, but she needed a closer look at him. Would he even know anything? Would he agree to do the film? Would he be willing to dredge up the past again or tell her to get lost? What could he tell her about her father? Did he know what her mother had been hiding? She would not remind him about the restraining order.

She looked over at his BMW and wondered if he considered it less pretentious than a Mercedes. There was a little sticker in the bottom corner of the rear window. She picked up her camera hoping she could zoom close enough to make it out. Might be a parking pass. The built-in zoom whirred brought the focal point closer. Vanessa grinned. An old Bear Square, the black and blue band promo stickers with a profile of a bear’s head, mouth open in a full roar.

Her dad had been reading a lot of mythology at the time he’d come up with the name. Ursa was Latin for bear. Then Benny created the Bear Square. They used to give the stickers away, hoping a few fans would make it an iconic logo. Once the band hit its stride, their manager charged a buck for them. He’d marked his Beemer with his square, maybe so he could find it in big parking lots, or maybe to tell the world he wasn’t dead.

Time dragged. Impatient, she shouldered her camera and climbed out of the rental car, careful to bump the door closed with her hip, so it caught the latch with little noise. She imagined her approach to be like the Pink Panther slinking across the street through the open gate along the hedge line, hoping there weren’t any nosey neighbors watching. Vanessa had no idea what she might run into, or what she would say if she came face to face with Benny.

In jeans and T-shirt, she stuck out like a cat burglar in a ski mask. She jogged to the east end of the house, tucking herself into the shrubbery, praying there were no sensors wired to a security system. The branch poking into her rib cage reminded her of how stupid this idea was, but she was committed. Logic said she should be able just to go right up to him, no problem. After all, she used to call him Uncle Benny. But if he contacted her mom?  Big problem.

She still hadn’t dredged up the courage to tell her mother about the money she’d liberated from her trust.  And Vanessa was painfully aware that her money had once been Benny’s, extorted from him in a lawsuit over her father’s death. Her mother would never have consented to her having anything to do with Ursa.

The sound of a piano caught her attention and drew her closer. She could hear it clearly enough to recognize that it was not from the Ursa playlist. Was it Benny or someone else? She had to see for sure. God, what if this was his girlfriend’s house? She was about to be a peeping . . . Tanya.

A door chime interrupted the piano. Vanessa’s heartbeat quickened. Had someone called the cops? She moved to another window trying to get a look at whoever was at the door. Vanessa tiptoed to the back of the house. The lovely waterfall in the corner made too much noise for her to hear anything. She edged around the stone pavers onto the grass to muffle her steps. The place was all windows. She couldn’t imagine why anyone of affluence who liked privacy would live in a glass house. Don’t touch the glass, she thought. Fingerprints were damning.

She crept as low as possible, ducking behind a stainless steel barbecue grill, then a lounge chair, back to a hedge. She dropped to her hands and knees.

Through French doors, she saw a grand piano, the back of a man, and a woman who was every bit as beautiful as Halle Berry with big autumn-colored hair and the jewelry of an Egyptian goddess. The way she held her handbag said that she was a visitor. And she was looking at Benny like he was a plate of caviar. Yeah, he was lunch and this lady hadn’t consumed a complex carbohydrate since the early nineties. She was chatting him up as if he were still famous.

Benny gestured toward the kitchen doorway, but the woman didn’t take her eyes off of him. As Vanessa got a better vantage point, she looked through the viewfinder. The woman was all smiles when her huge Ferragamo bag fell to the floor. She was probably older than her open midriff let on, married, what with the two-pound boulder on her left hand. Some poor slob was probably working hard to keep his adulterous wife in high-ticket costumes. Vanessa wondered what kind of car waited in the drive. She’d have to remember to check as she left.

No sooner did Vanessa have this thought than the woman tugged Benny’s tie off in one long fluid motion. Another move and his shirt opened. Then his hands disappeared inside her tiny wraparound skirt. She had looped the tie around her neck before he relieved her of the halter that probably cost more than Vanessa’s camera. Benny reached for his attaché on a side table and produced something shiny. Vanessa jerked away from the viewfinder as if her conscience had slapped her in the face.

Uncle Benny, you bad boy.

By the time she took another look through the lens, the woman’s hands were cuffed behind her back. Benny slid the bench backward with one foot and lifted the woman up onto the piano; her knees braced on the keys, her breasts pressed against the closed top. How was he going to . . . ooh.

Vanessa ducked away to get her breathing under control. Her face was hot, and the little voice in her head scolded her for being a voyeur. She usually heeded that voice. His behavior was probably nothing compared to what the entire band was doing at the height of their popularity. Did Ursa have a bear cave for this kind of thing?

Bad girl. But you’re young and lacking in practical skills. Who better to teach you than Uncle Benny? Sleazy.

But he wasn’t her real uncle.  She didn’t wrestle with her conscience long before repositioning and looking through her camera again to see the woman staring right back at her.

Vanessa’s phone rang again. The vibration caused her to start and the movement gave her away.

“The back, the back,” the woman shouted. “Ratzo!”

Busted.


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To continue reading chapter 2 of Ursa Rising by Sheila Englehart, you can purchase a print copy at:  https://smile.amazon.com/Ursa-Rising-Sheila-Englehart/dp/1535044446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472926859&sr=8-1&keywords=ursa+rising

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James Babbs – 1 poem 

Before All the Light Was Gone

 

I started drinking late in the afternoon

before all the light was gone

when the sun was still shining

making everything seem

warmer than it really was

I sat there in the kitchen

drowning in the silence

the table near the window

I sat there

drinking cold bottles of beer

until the room began to change

I leaned back in my chair

looked up at the ceiling

I saw a stain up there

I hadn’t noticed before

it looked like the face of a woman

I knew several years ago

she was a beautiful woman

with this big obnoxious laugh

it made me laugh

and I started thinking about

what she was doing now

but it was funny

when I realized she would be

almost as old as I am now

the last time I saw her

she was backing her car

slowly out of the driveway

giving me the finger

I stood by the front door

and I couldn’t hear it

but I knew by the look on her face

she was laughing

her big obnoxious laugh

filling up the whole car



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James Babbs is a writer, a dreamer, a three-time loser and an all-around nice guy who just wants to be left alone. James is the author of Disturbing The Light(2013) & The Weight of Invisible Things(2013) and has hundreds of poems and a few short stories scattered all over the internet.

Tobi Alfier – 1 poem 

Bus Pass

 

Every day Marisella wears dancer’s pants.

Black—like crows lined up on the wires between

houses, between work trailers, their eavesdropping

feet vibrating with voices lying, voices calling

union men for jobs, men calling girlfriends

and wives calling girlfriends who are the loves

of their husbands. Black—like nights with no moon,

mountains with no snow, water with no whitecaps…

Marisella’s everyday uniform, apron to match,

ticket book and pen tucked down one side, tips down

the other.

 

Dreams don’t always happen as planned. Fathers lose

jobs, brothers lose hot-rod races, medical bills pile up,

and family is family. Marisella wears ballet flats with gel inserts,

her only luxury, for eight-hour back-breakers, bums a smoke

when she can, brings home every penny. Her beloved movies

went the way of her boyfriend—no empathy, no understanding

that church will carry them through, no choice, no worries.

 

Icicles of light stab the corners of the café. Marisella

takes another order, mixes more iceberg, muscle memory

of obligation like her smile. She needs no pity, only

40 hours a week, a bus pass and medical insurance.

She does pliés at the bus stop because she can.

Well behaved and well-intentioned, she comes home

each night exhausted, kisses her mama, looks in on her brother

to judge on what scale of depression he sits tonight,

and she’s done. A clean pair of pants for tomorrow,

dreams that give her hope, another day, another day.

Vanishing taillights to take her home. She exhales.


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Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee.  Current chapbooks are “The Coincidence of Castles” from Glass Lyre Press, and “Romance and Rust” from Blue Horse Press. “Down Anstruther Way” is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).

Carol Roan – Fiction

AFTER  GOD  LEFT

by

Carol Roan

Frank Wilson decided to cook some oatmeal for his supper. Why not? At his age, he could eat whatever he damn well pleased. Truth be told, his stomach wasn’t what it used to be, and it had been acting up ever since his encounter with that newcomer, Geoffrey . . . Geoffrey . . . No matter his surname, not worth trying to remember. He didn’t know why he let the man upset him. 

“Now, Franklin, you know as well as I do why you’ve taken a disliking to that man.” Edith had been in her grave for fifteen years, but she still hung out in the kitchen, ever ready to tell him where he’d gone wrong. 

He’d eat in his den, that’s what. He poured some cream on his oatmeal, never mind his damn cholesterol. The thought of his doctor, and the feeling that Edith was glaring behind him, inspired him to throw some chocolate chips on top before he headed for his leather easy chair.

He was halfway through his supper before he could admit that Edith was right. As was too often the case. The Geoffrey fellow reminded him of himself, or of the man he’d been in his day. Except that Frank had been for bringing Spring Valley up to date, modern, and the new man was for taking the town backwards. Either way, the two of them were do-gooders, thinking they knew what was best.

The difference was that Frank had finally learned his lesson. Spring Valley wasn’t about to be changed. It would plod along its own mulish path, ready to give you a kick with a hind leg if you thought otherwise.

He put his empty bowl and cooking pot in the sink, told the hovering Edith that he’d wash them in the morning, and went upstairs. Where he lay straight and flat on his side of the bed, and made order of his tomorrow. Frank watched himself as he would move around the gardens and paint the front steps and, if he was up to it, fix the drain spout. If he planned until he was weary, he could sleep without dreaming, without seeing beyond his house and yard. Sharp on the edge of his mind were thoughts of who he might have been and what he might have done if he had not married, if he had not come back to Spring Valley. His order began at that fear’s edge of naming the ifs.

He had begun planning his retirement from the insurance business in Philadelphia when he decided he would move back to his hometown. Edith had wanted to settle in Delaware, near their daughter. But she’d been after him for thirty years to make peace with his father, so the next time she brought up that subject he agreed with her.

 “You’re right,” Frank said. “He’s not going to be around that much longer, and I’ll regret it if we don’t patch things up now. A few years in Spring Valley, and then we’ll move wherever you want.”

He thought it best to give her a week or two before he told her that his grandfather’s house had come up for sale, and that they’d be moving east sooner than she expected. He’d checked out the commute. He could drive—I-95 was a straight shot—or he could catch the train that ran between New York and Philadelphia. All in all, it had seemed like a good decision at the time.  

He had intended to spend his weekends fishing and golfing. But after they were settled in  and his gardens were planted, he began to see what Spring Valley needed with eyes he had brought from the outside world. He had a vision then of how the town and its men could be. 

Frank had been mayor for two terms but had not yet accomplished all that he’d set out to do. He had been up for re-election, with his head full of plans for the next two years. And then those plans had all withered and blown away one Saturday morning at the barbershop.

When he stopped in that morning for a trim, most of the chairs along the wall had been occupied by men waiting for a shave or a gossip, holding newspapers up near their faces to keep the talk from turning womanly. Then a man over by the window had made a remark, not meaning anything ugly by it, just joshing about how the mayor‘s father was walking the streets saying the town didn’t need any more of an uppity mayor who’d gone to college.

Frank’s father still held a sore spot in his heart. When the barber turned him around to face the mirror and give his blessing to the trim, that heart sickness came up into Frank’s eyes and changed his vision. He didn’t see anyone in the mirror that he recognized. He paid his two dollars, walked out of the shop, and saw his father clomping along the sidewalk in his fishing boots. He was flicking his dentures in and out of his mouth and talking loud to the trees about his son. Clomp, “uppity”, clomp, “college,” clomp, “idiot,” with the false teeth rattling like a skeleton’s jaw.

Frank walked back to his own yard and never let his thoughts drift toward the town again. As soon as his car was in the garage at night, he changed into his overalls and knelt in his gardens. Sunday mornings he drove Edith to church and himself out of the valley to play golf.

After he retired, he took Wednesdays for his sabbaths and left the town to fish in a lake beyond the hills. He went alone. 

Unless the neighbor-boys’ ball landed in his tomatoes. Then he asked if they wanted to go fishing on Wednesday. Beyond the ridge, memories of the outside world came back to him and he became a storyteller, a teacher. He laughed and told the boys stories about the life he lived outside, about the golf tournaments he’d won and the country he’d seen on his travels. He talked to them about how they should help their mother more and gave them advice about school, all mixed up with how to set the hook when a fish bites. 

“I was a psychology major myself,” he told them. “Remember, boys, there’s no better preparation for business. Doesn’t matter what you do in this life, you’re going to have to deal with people.”

On some Wednesdays when he fished alone, with only his past self for company, he thought about the girl Edith had been. He lay on the lake shore and felt strong and lazy again, and thought of bringing her with him. He imagined dipping his fingers into the cool edges of the lake and drawing her youth on her face until it shone, and then carrying her off into the woods.

He had asked her once. He’d made up his mind before he reached the ridge that he would not look down into the valley, but just keep his eyes on the winding road and walk straight into the house and ask her.

But she had said that he must be getting old, or maybe sick, because he knew that Wednesday was her prayer group day and that the Lord’s work came first.

The lake-smile that had traveled all that way on his face turned quiet, and his eyes lost their distance. He went to the garage to change his clothes. He put away his tackle and floated the pickerel not needed for supper in coffins of water for the freezer. That had been the end of such dreams.

Frank knew God had left the town long ago, without leaving behind any work for the women to do. And He was’t coming back, that was the plain fact. No matter that he had learned not to believe in God, the town had believed in God and that meant God had been there. Even the men had believed. Because they had needed God more than the women had.

When God had been there, the hills had been His hills, men’s hills, set on the earth to contain God’s people and to protect them. The hills had touched God’s sky, a strong sky that had kept the men upright and tall, had kept them from being sucked into the rich, giving earth of the valley.

The hills had never been breached when God was there, for the men then were heroes who went over the hills to fight the enemy. They had had order, then, and a reason to die. Even if they lay in the churchyard circling the oldest oak tree, an obelisk nearby marked their earth-covered bodies, and another monument marked where a famous speech about freedom was given, and another the house of a signer of the Declaration.

But after God left, the monuments stood lonely, and there were only the closing, circling hills, and a random sky that parched, or flooded, or ravaged the streets with lightening. 

Frank never told his wife God was gone. There wasn’t a man in town who didn’t know the hills didn’t reach to God anymore. And not one of them so cowardly as to tell a wife the sky was empty, a loss they had each borne in silence after that night when they had all felt the cold rise up out of their guts and never come back to them warmed by a Protecting Father.

Young as he’d been that Halloween night—still in his teens—he’d tried to warn the men. He had seen them going toward the train station with their shotguns carried low and strong. He had gone out into the middle of the street and tried to tell them that it was just the radio. That it wasn’t real, but just a made-up story about the Martians landing over in Grover’s Mill.

But they had pushed him aside with their gun barrels. The invaders would never get through the hills, they said. “The British didn’t get through and, by God, the Martians aren’t going to get through. We’ll turn them back at the station.”

He had watched them coming home in the chill of near-dawn, had seen them dark under the pale sky, their guns lifeless and drooping. A laugh had started deep in his belly for their cold night on the tracks scaring away nothing but voices that had come through the air. But their necks had been so bent, so vulnerable, that his laughter had twisted down into fear, and he had looked up for heaven. The first time he had done that since he was a little kid. 

Back then Frank could look up and find God with a white beard and white robes sitting on a gold throne straight up above the Presbyterian church steeple, looking down at the valley and smiling. He remembered how he had creased his eyes nearly shut and stretched his mouth open until God had shone out of the sun, or the moon, and had sat there as clear as anything.

He’d grown out of such childish beliefs more than a year before, and had expected he’d soon grow out of the loneliness that followed. But then the silent men had walked past his window—a crowd of them, each man somehow made lonely by the night—and the sky above the steeple was empty.

Tears started in Frank’s eyes at the old, old memory. Tears he’d thought had dried up long ago. Out of habit, he reached across to Edith’s side of the bed. But his hand found only the smooth, cold sheet.

He got out of bed, fumbled for his slippers, and made his way downstairs, holding onto the handrail, as he’d had to do of late. He filled a bowl with chocolate ice cream, added some caramel sauce, then some peanuts, and sat down at the kitchen table. He didn’t smile, didn’t want to encourage Edith that much, but he did look toward her chair.


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With graduate degrees in vocal performance from Indiana University and in business from Columbia University, Carol Roan has sung in the television premiere of a Ned Rorem opera and has testified about gold trading before the CFTC. Several of the stories from her collection have been published in literary journals; others, as yet unpublished have won awards, including a fellowship to Summer Seminars Russia, where she studied with Gina Ochsner. More information about Carol’s meandering career is available at www.carolroan.com.

Olivier Cousin – 1 poem

ELECTRONIC PANDORA’S BOX 




He lives behind his box 
Spending, earning 
sharing, rendez-vousing 
leaving, loving 
So many opportunities 
fall flat on the screen 
None to fill up 
the emptiness of his new life 
He never knows whether he’s opening 
his email box or an enamelled bin 

Denying the critical mind 
he thinks he still possesses 
he can’t prevent himself from opening 
every single door 
He sits running after 
a true life he’ll never grab 
Last nail to his coffin 
wireless or not 
the mouse is no buoy 
He dies behind his box 



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Olivier Cousin was born in 1972 in Brittany (Western part of France) where he teaches French. Among his poetry books, the most recent are: La Hache de sable et autres poèmes (La Part Commune, 2015), Fragments du journal d’Orphée (Kutkha éditions, 2014). He has also published novels, short stories and children books. He has also translated into French two books of poetry by the English poet Roy Eales who now lives in Brittany. And sometimes he writes strange poems directly in English… 
See : http://oliviercousin.blogspot.fr