Busboy - Kate Gibalerio
Detail - Navillus James
Lavender - David Licata
Long Term Plans - Alison Bullock
Moving Day - Mary J. Breen
New Toy - Scott N. Twombley
Poison Tongue Malady - Harvey W. Gunther
What more should I say that hasn't been said already? I've worked with words, lines and stanzas all my life. The world's language flowed through these spotted fingers that tapped computer keyboards, typewriters, or clenched leaky fountain pens to engrave white pages with verse that few will ever read.
Just what more is there to say? I really want to know. Should I sing the praise of daffodils, stain your mind with analogy, simile, metaphor? Should I rail against the politics of the day, as if Caesar never lived and men never before killed on the Ides of March? Should I paint a picture of personal tragedy—a child lost in a chemical undertow; mutated cells destroying healthy tissue; the suppression of desire? What more should I expect of myself?
I know one thing: I am too old for new crusades, even though the young poetry Turks shy from the lance, from the righteousness of the truth, from the heart of the matter. Where are those who will speak out loud and bold? Are they silent upon a peak in Darien? Christ, is that all I can conjure, fragments of Keats from my youth?
I remember my life on a two-masted schooner anchored in Sausalito harbor, long before Ferlinghetti came on the scene. My father worked as a Navy welder, my mother waitressed at a greasy spoon in the Tenderloin. On calm summer mornings I'd dress in a sleeveless blouse and shorts - my legs were worth looking at back then - and stare across San Francisco Bay. The oily-sheened water looked like a varnished painting. I thought about Jack London on his adventurous fish patrol, about syphilitic Al Capone crouched in his cell on Alcatraz, and dreamt of sailing under the Golden Gate, out past Land's End, into the deep blue thick of things.
Now, after a lifetime plying literary seas, I need directions on how to find the horizon. My compass swings wildly and I search for friendly shores to beach my craft. Notice my clever use of the word craft, its double meaning. Pay attention; your son might find it on a future examination:
"Explain what the poet intended by her use of the word craft and its relevance to the poem's overall theme."
God, nothing destroys the spirit of poetry more than being forced to study it. Yet one of the ironies of my time was that poets became teachers, or got jobs working the docks unloading freighters inbound from the Orient. They wouldn't let girls work the ships, so for more than half a century I taught creative writing. I admit that being immersed in youth gave me fortitude...and the University helped publish my work. But all that is past. I now step carefully onto ice floes, watch the progress of cobalt blue cracks, or of lumbering Ursa as she approaches, grinning. But mostly I long for adult conversation, something to spark these aging synapses.
I've been blocked before. But this time it feels different, feels more final. Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful that you introduced yourself, an admirer of my old songs. We should speak of the world, of your wife and children and the bustle of life in this fair city. Maybe I should look to those aged scientists and find solace in their proclamation that matter cannot be created nor destroyed. Or best yet, I should remember the English bard's exquisite counsel:
"So long as men can breathe and eyes can see, so long lives this and this gives life to thee."
Maybe this letter is my new this. I have written it just for you. Will it pilot me through the Golden Gate once again? Will I be up to the task of sailing? I end with more questions. I hope you will help with answers, challenge me to write something new, avoid tired old phrases, clean my palette of crusted paint, and breathe out new songs. I must keep writing until the answers do not matter, until some younger voice, separate from the mumbling crowd, does not derail me utterly by asking, "How is your new work going?"
Hoping for patience,
Terry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist-poet wife (his in-house editor) and two cats (his in-house critics). He writes full time, producing short stories, essays, poems, an occasional play, and novels (that are hiding in his closet, awaiting editing). Since 2005, his work has been accepted by more than 60 literary and commercial journals, magazines, and anthologies including the Houston Literary Review, Storyteller, the Yale Angler's Journal, and the Southern Ocean Review. Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist — who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend George Shearing.
The boy who liked Betsy's daughter walked in. He wore all black, like the rest of the staff, yet he was nothing like the others—that bland group huddled at the waiter's station. Tall, with shoulder length dark hair, Marco looked foreign born in a glamorous, Euro way. Betsy watched him bus tables, clearing glassware and dishes. Why didn't her daughter like him? He seemed to meet her primary requirement in a boyfriend—hot.
The restaurant was busy on this Friday night. Betsy had declined the forty-minute wait for a table, opting for a spot by a window in the bar. She drained the last of her martini while waiting for a friend. As Marco charged through again, she called his name. He came to a full stop at her table. Betsy smiled and looked for recognition in his big brown eyes: Aren't you Amanda's mother? Seeing none, she just ordered a refill, "Lemon drop with sugar &mdash "
Marco shook his head. He looked around and flagged a waiter, directing him to Betsy's table. The waiter was cheerful and ready to serve, but nowhere near as handsome as Marco. "Lemon drop martini," she repeated to the new guy all while staring at Marco as he cleared a neighboring table. "And one for my friend," she added pointing to the empty chair across from her.
How could Marco not remember her? And why hadn't he fetched her a drink? She checked her watch, her friend Peg was very late. Looking for something to do, she opened her compact and admired her newly highlighted and styled hair. She studied the fine lines around her eyes. Not bad, she concluded, the Lancôme was helping. With this lighting, she might be mistaken for Amanda's sister.
Betsy watched Marco hard at work. Maybe he could take a break and they could discuss his courtship of Amanda. Lay off the text messaging Marco, she would instruct. Call and ask her for a real date, not just hanging around but dinner and a movie—or bowling.
Betsy's cell phone vibrated. She answered and heard Peg's voice—all apologies for not making it—something to do with pick up or drop off. Betsy wondered where the martinis were.
The waiter arrived, set down the wide glasses, and poured the drinks from tumblers, careful not to disturb the sugared rims.
There was Marco again. She followed him as he whirred through the bar, hoping to catch his eye. Drinks gone, Betsy thought she saw Amanda with the hostess. The girl with long auburn hair came closer. It was Amanda. Betsy was certain.
Amanda came into full view, hissing, "Mother, not again!"
"Look there's Marco," Betsy said, gesturing to her daughter's hot friend observing them from the waiter's station.
Amanda gathered her mother's belongings and threw some bills on the table. "He texted me to come drive you home."
Ah, Betsy thought, pleased in spite of the head spinning, He does remember me.
Kate Gibalerio lives in Acton, Massachusetts, with her husband and three children. She writes short fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. This is her first published piece. Though truly dedicated to writing, Kate's other passions include photography, travel, and all kinds of martinis.
John was finished with the fourth detail he had done this week. Following his regular first half shift driving a Massachusetts State Police car up and down a forty mile stretch of Interstate 95 for hours on end, he had done the eleven p.m. till five a.m. night detail on a construction site. The job was to sit with his overhead lights on, inside his cruiser, in the breakdown lane as twenty or so hard hatter's worked on a new off ramp. John was exhausted. Sitting in a police cruiser gets tiresome, and John had been doing the exact same thing since he graduated from the State Police Academy in eighteen years earlier. It was a great gig initially, but now it was awful. He hated it. He loathed chasing people who sped, despised writing tickets, and making money on night details left him empty. Picking up his uniforms at the cleaners each week had become a dreaded chore. He detested the whole thing. John had gone through one messy divorce, numerous messy girlfriends, and one lovely colonial home in the suburbs. No kids thank God. John loved kids but was glad that he did not have any children. Imagine having him for a Daddy? He was a train wreck, and it was best that he lived alone in a small rented house in the middle of nowhere, away from everything. Contact with the outside world troubled him and did his best to avoid it. He was not sure when it had all unraveled, but it had. And in a big way.
John peeked into his rear view mirror, and as usual, hated the face he saw. At forty eight, he looked sixty The lines on his face, from too much work, too little sleep, and not enough happy thoughts had depleted his system of any sort of contentment. He was aging, and not well. Too much drinking and so many medications that he could barely keep them straight. Xanax to sleep, Clonazepam to get through the day, Wellbutrin to "level him off" and Zoloft to make him happy. None work, he thought. What a life.
John extracted himself from the front seat of his cruiser, where he had been captive for hours, and walked to the back of the car. He popped the trunk, and removed his orange safety jacket and his bulletproof vest and his State Police hat. He tucked them neatly in the corner of the trunk, amid the flairs and tire iron and his workout clothes. He looked down the road at the construction workers pretending to work in the darkness, and climbed back into his cruiser. He opened the glove box and fumbled around for something in the cluttered bin.
Slamming it shut he leaned his head back on the headrest. He allowed a long, quiet sigh to escape his chest, and closed his eyes. Opening his reddened eyes a minute later, he started the car. He slowly pulled out onto the dark desolate highway and steered towards home. Another day and night had passed, and he was unable to pull the trigger.
Navillus James is an actor and writer who's returning to prose after a prolonged hiatus. His passions include his young nieces and nephews and the rest of his large and supportive family. He lives in the Boston area with his Love and Inspiration Ingrid, who recently received her MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College.
For my mother's 75th birthday I bought her soaps and a tube of lotion, both from France, both containing shea butter, and both lavender scented. She had cancer, see, and her body was betraying her a little more each day and I imagined it was not capable of experiencing much, if any, pleasure. I thought these things might bring her some temporary comfort and I could think of nothing better. After all, what do you give a woman who has had that many birthdays and is not going to be alive in a few months?
"Oh, you shouldn't have," she said as she unwrapped the box. "I'm not opening them. You return it."
"No," I said. "This is something for you to use. Everyday."
"You return it."
"It's too late and I don't have the receipt anyway," I lied. I broke the seal on the lotion and forced a dab of cream out of the aluminum tube on to the back of her hand. "It wasn't expensive at all. It's for everydaysies." She rubbed the cream into her skin.
"It's very luxurious," she said.
She lifted an unsteady hand to her nose. "Lavender. I used to love lavender."
She died as expected and several months later my brother Bill, his wife Anne, and I began the dreadgery of relocating my father from what was their four bedroom house to his one bedroom apartment in a senior facility in Cliffside, New Jersey. Over the course of a few weekends we weeded through the stuff of their 52 years of life together, hauling much of it away in Bill's pick up. We threw out a lot and gave a lot away, though we told my father we were keeping it all. I kept three wooden spoons that she used to cook countless—no, eminently countable—meals with. My brother and his wife kept her sewing machine.
On moving day I unpacked a box marked "toiletries" in my father's new bathroom and found the soap and lotion, the former still wrapped in its paper, the latter with the indentation made from my initial pinch and no other. I took the lotion, stuck it in my back pocket, and pulled the tail of my shirt over it. When I rejoined the family I snuck it in my backpack. This was easy to do; my brother and his wife were busy putting dishes in a cupboard and Papa Larsen was staring at the television, hypnotized by a story about some horror or other on Fox News.
It didn't surprise me that the gift had gone unused because we are predominantly of Nordic-Catholic stock and our lives are to be endured, not enjoyed. Until the end. This goes for me, too. For instance, I own 27 dress shirts and three of those are made of the softest cotton and classically stylish. They are comfortable and make me feel desirable. I would never buy these shirts for myself; they are too good for me. Each was a gift from someone who loved me, including a blue button-down that my mother gave me years ago when she still had her mind and cancer didn't have her body. I rarely wear them, because they are special shirts for special occasions, such as my funeral.
But I do keep the tube of lotion by my bedside, and I do occasionally use it at night on my dry hands in the winter. Sparingly though, but only because I want it to last. Some nights I don't use it but unscrew the cap and breathe in its fragrance and I think how my mother could have enjoyed at least this on her dismal last days and how absurd the denial of such a pleasure is.
My nice shirts, though, go mostly unworn.
David Licata is currently working on a short story collection. He lives and writes in New York City.
When visualizing the future, sixteen-year-old June saw herself sitting on a train, the express train that is—the one that ran from Boston to New York City in only three and a half hours. She knew from reading her Starbeat magazine, that Connor MacMillan rode that train periodically to visit his brother, who lived in Cambridge. That was the way Connor was. Even though he was a big star living in New York, he still kept in touch with his family. He said it helped to keep him grounded.
June would be sitting by herself on the train, caught up in her reading, when someone would slide into the seat next to her. "How're you enjoying the book?" the person beside her would ask, and when she lifted her head she would see that it was Connor himself.
Connor would have just finished reading the screenplay version of the novel and would be in the process of deciding whether it was a project he was interested in pursuing. He would look to June to find out what America thought of the story. It would be a very obscure choice, not a best seller. Connor would be impressed that she had found it.
There were two different scenarios that she played out in her mind at this point. In one, she was a person who was completely detached from the world of show business. She wouldn't recognize Connor, and he would find that refreshing. In the other, she knew exactly who he was, and this would allow them to fall into an in-depth discussion of his life's work. She'd impress him by knowing all of his independent films, in addition to the popular blockbusters.
"I loved you in 'Wait for the Light'," she'd say. "Your portrayal of a gay, blind man really moved me," and Connor would admit that he felt it was his best performance to date.
"Do you consider yourself more of a method actor?" she'd ask next, not having any idea what that meant, or what the alternative to method acting was.
June would ask only about the acting process itself, making sure to refer to it as "his craft" and avoiding the more intrusive personal questions. Eventually though, Connor would confide that Marsha Allen was a bitch to work with and never got to the set on time.
"It must be so frustrating when someone doesn't care about the work," she'd soothe, and by the end of the train ride he'd be asking for her number.
Her vision always stopped there, never moving forward to the first kiss, or to how they would handle the challenges of a long distance relationship. June felt that once he got to know her, the rest would be easy.
As the weeks went on June began to seriously wonder how often Connor took that train, and if an actor's schedule resembled a typical work week, making it more likely for him to travel up to Boston on a Friday and return to New York on a Sunday. June lived just outside of Boston and could get to the station fairly easily. How many train rides would it take for their paths to cross? she wondered, and what would be the costs involved? Eventually, June conceded that the plan was lacking, and probably too much of a crapshoot. Maybe I should try to get a job working on the train, she thought. But that wouldn't work either. She didn't feel she could be alluring in a conductor's uniform.
June thought of these daydreams as planning sessions, and they occupied most of her free hours throughout the day. If she wasn't plastering her walls with pictures of Connor, she was logging onto his website at hourly intervals. This bothered June's mother, who was constantly nagging her daughter to find "a real boyfriend". Finally, in an effort to appease her mother (and in order to get back the Starbeat magazines she'd confiscated) June agreed to go out with the son of her mother's hairdresser, a boy named Donald. Donald went to a private boy's school and needed a date for the spring dance-something they called "The Wild Rumpus," a term borrowed from a children's book but which sounded perverted to June. On the night of the dance June was a vision in taffeta.
When Donald arrived at her door, the first thing June noticed was his portly frame and ruddy, pink cheeks. Missing were the chiseled features that she'd come to admire in Connor. In comparison, Donald looked like a baby. As it turned out, he was a quiet baby, who practically ignored her the whole evening, preferring to listen to his friend Peter critique the girls in attendance and rate them with scores ranging from one to ten. "Six," Peter might announce, to which Donald would ask "body or face?"
Donald barely spoke to June at all until the ride home, when after several swigs of Wild Turkey and with Peter driving; he let his fumbling hands do the talking. For a reason she could not quite pinpoint, June allowed him certain privileges. When she closed her eyes she imagined that it was Connor sitting next to her in the back seat. She tried to shut out all of the sweaty urgency and frenetic pulling of zippers, tried to ignore the pants that were bunched around his ankles.
When they pulled into her driveway, Donald pushed the car door open with his foot and rolled to one side to let her out. June gathered her pink taffeta skirts and climbed over him, escorting herself to the front door. She thought she heard snickering as she got out of the car, but June ignored all of this, taking solace in the fact that she had long term plans. She didn't know how or when she would meet Connor Macmillan yet, she only knew that it would happen. And when they did meet, he would find her fascinating.
Alison Bullock has been published in the 2005 Momaya Annual Review, is soon to be published in Every Day Fiction, and was a finalist in one of Glimmertrain's short fiction contests. She is currently working on a novel, and this story is based on one of the characters from her book. Alison lives in Massachusetts with her husband and three children. She is not sixteen and has no plans to ride the express train in the near future.
It took Miriam Schneider over a year to convince her father to move into Riverview Gardens, and now, four months later, it looked like she'd done the right thing. He was eating well, sleeping well, even playing checkers most days with a man from Montreal. As for his dementia, it was no better, but no worse either. And, now that Riverview was in the process of building a new state-of-the-art facility—with more space and more light and wonderful things like a pool and a library and a little movie theatre—Miriam felt even more sure that she'd found a good, safe place for her father to live out his days.
The new building was going up with surprising speed. The last time Miriam was there, the Countdown To Moving chart in the lobby said, "Eighty-nine more days," each day represented by a red brick. Miriam's father seemed to love watching the construction from his window on the second floor. Much more fun, he said, than watching the soaps always playing in the lounge. After the site had a break-in, the board fence had been replaced by a wire one, so now he had a really good view, especially with the bright spotlights on at night.
Last Sunday, Miriam noticed a change in her father. She'd just told him how it had taken ages for the city to clear the tree that had come down on their street during the weekend storm, and at the end he'd said it was odd they'd had such a dry spring. Actually, he said it was odd they had none of, "You know, those tears from the sky." She had to fight back her own tears when she realized what he meant. And what this meant.
Then on Friday she arrived to take her father to see Rob's basketball playoffs, but he had completely forgotten even though Rob had reminded him the night before. First her father was flustered and then furious no one had called him. So here it is, she thought. "Diminishing cognitive functioning." Just like they'd all predicted.
She noticed other signs too, especially a new restlessness, even during supper despite how much he loved a two-pie night. There the cherry and pumpkin slices sat untouched while her father paced between the tables, a look of despair on his face as he wrung his hands as if he was deciding whether or not to go to war. When she got him to sit down, he began telling her about playing hide-and-seek with his two brothers in Krakow. His eyes were filled with tears.
The following week, it seemed as if he was even more absent from himself. All he wanted to do was stare out his window at the new building.
Finally, Miriam decided to report these things to the staff. When she began describing it, she realized that it wasn't just her father who seemed anxious. "Maybe it's my imagination," she told the ward nurse, "but I thought Mrs. Himmel had the same wild-eyed look my father has. I saw her sitting in the lobby today not talking to anyone, just continually looking back over her shoulder."
"This happens," the nurse said. "They get confused. And paranoid too. Poor things. Just keep reassuring your father that he's safe, and that we won't be long in this old place. Moving date: September thirtieth. And not a minute too soon."
"Yes," Miriam said. "I keep reminding him soon he'll have a bigger room as well as a pool and a movie theatre. He knows that; he's very interested in the construction, always watching the trucks coming in and out, especially those really big ones, the ones that are like boxcars." She smiled a rueful smile. "This morning my little grandson and I were looking at the trucks and cranes near his daycare, and now here I am talking about trucks and cranes with my poor old dad."
The nurse nodded and smiled.
"Today," Miriam said, "as we were watching those trucks, he started to cry. Know what he said? 'Momma.' I didn't know what to say. What should I say?"
The nurse told her to just reassure him that things are fine, and not to worry. He was in good hands.
That Friday night, Miss Klein and Mr. Górski killed themselves.
Miriam didn't hear about this until she arrived on Sunday and the ward nurse whispered the terrible news to her. Mr. Górski they'd found during evening rounds. He'd used a broken thermometer to open his veins. As for Miss Klein, no one had any idea until she didn't show up for lunch. She'd left a note beside her empty bottle of beta blockers. The note said, "Never again." Probably not willing to face the upcoming surgery on her other hip. "And to think both of them were survivors, camp survivors," the nurse said. "Poor dears. They'd been through so much already."
Miriam promised not to mention these calamities, but the first thing her father said was, "So, what do you think of this? Stan Górski's killed himself. And not just him. Vera Klein too. Everybody's talking about it." He hadn't been this clear in a long time. "Well good for them, I say. We should all be so brave."
"Oh, Dad!" Miriam said. "You mustn't talk like that. After all you've been through."
"You watch, Miriam. You just watch. They're already trying to cover this up! Just like before." He was shouting now. "And shut that door. People are listening."
"Cover what up, Dad? What are you afraid of?"
He was looking out the window again, pointing and still shouting. "You have to stop them, Miriam! You have to do something. I can't. I'm too old."
"What, Dad? What?"
"What do you take me for?" He started to cry. "Don't you see? They're not just moving us. It's starting all over again. I know I'm right. You've got to get us out of here."
Mary J. Breen lives and works in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. She has been a freelance writer and editor for many years, and she teaches memoir writing and creative non-fiction.
"Jesus Wayne, he was only forty-six! I mean, sure…he was WAAAY overweight, maybe 315 or so, but he was my BABY brother! It was that fuckin' sheet metal factory and his asshole boss that really killed him…And I should've made it home this summer…Ahhh, fuck me…I'm such a piece of shit!"
"Come on Laird, don't beat yourself up man…What could you have done back there that would've changed things?"
"I could've talked sense to him Wayne! I would've gotten smack dab in his face and made him listen…I'm the big brother, dude…it-was-my-job! Anyway, Doug's dead now and there ain't shit I can do about it."
I sit imprisoned on Los Angeles' most notorious freeway, the 405, as I listen to my best friend vent his rage and sadness. Hideously large jets packed with perpetual strangers choke the sky on their way to controlled crashes at LAX. I'm preoccupied with the ugly snarl of traffic and wishing I had a hands-free headset, all the while eyeballing the curiously attractive older woman in the car on my left as she uses one of those little pink disposable razors to shave a bare leg with long, sensuous strokes, her right heel solidly indented into the dashboard of her decrepit Toyota.
"I'm telling ya Wayne, it doesn't make one god damn bit of sense anymore! And what the fuck does it all lead to anyway, all this bullshit of living and always…ALWAYS dying?"
I'm inching forward in a sea of slow-motion lemmings, doing my darnedest not to run into the Jaguar in front of me while I practice a little shaving voyeurism.
"I don't know Laird. Maybe it was simply his time, you know, like we all have a destiny, right? I mean like, hey, I don't even know if I'll make it home today with all these Mario Andretti wanta-be's fuckin' with me out here."
I notice the speedometer indicates a little over fifteen miles-per-hour as I finish talking, and I begin to drift away once more, suddenly enraptured with the idea of what death would look like at fifteen miles-per-hour…Lazy, simmering agony, my flesh morphed into unrecognizable road kill…
"Fuck destiny Wayne…And fuck you and me and everyone else! We're all gonna die, and it don't matter when it happens or how. If there is a 'higher power', it should show its hand! I'm just too tired of all the shit life offers up to keep believing there's something wonderful waiting for me just around the bend. And I'm done believing I can make it better somehow, just by believing it will be!"
Suddenly, I wish I could end this conversation, but instead, I pull the phone away from my ear and see that its battery is low, and I use this break to look around for the woman with the wonderfully bare leg and pink plastic razor…I could introduce myself, I think, get in with those smooth legs, drive away and be happy somewhere out beyond life's margins…But she's vanished, taking with her the impression of smooth flesh and unexplored possibility. And in the near distance, Laird's voice sounds like a tiny, tin music box as he calls out to me from the phone now cradled between my thighs.
"Wayne, where'd you go? Come on bro, I can still hear the traffic…"
My body feels rigid and heavy, especially the arm attached to the hand that cradles the phone. Raising it to my ear takes considerable effort, and I realize that the herd of autos is loosening up as my speedometer passes forty-five in a slow arc of hope. Finally, I answer;
"I'm still here Laird. Battery's running low though..."
"Okay man, I gotta go anyway, but I wanta tell ya about my new toy. I just got it last week."
I can hear the stain upon his voice left by tears already fallen, and the future echoes of those still to come. This makes me feel softer, sadder and lonelier than I've felt in a long, long time.
"What did you get Laird, a sports car or something?"
"Oh man," his voice chirps, "How'd you know? I found a sweet little 1999 BMW Z3, like the one Pierce Brosnan drove in that James Bond movie a few years back, remember that one? Mine's charcoal-gray though, with a black convertible roof and gray interior. Only 60,000 miles and super clean. Ya gotta come down soon and check it out dude!"
This sudden change in Laird's mood is palpable, and a most welcomed reprieve for both of us.
"That's awesome Laird! Sounds like good medicine to boot. I'll see about coming down next weekend…Ya gonna let me drive it?"
"Ya, ya, of course bro. It's just a thing anyway…Hey Wayne?"
"Still here dude, what's up?"
"You know I love you man."
"I know ya do buddy…and right back at ya."
And right then, my phone goes dead, and I'm not even sure if Laird heard me or not, but I know he already knows. I'll call him back when I get home anyway, and besides, the traffic is really starting to move and I feel the need to concentrate more than I usually do. All around me is the burgeoning rush of cars and more cars, impatiently carrying their passengers toward the infinite mystery of their lives, too fast perhaps, to allow time for the remembering of where they've been.
Scott lives in Ventura, California, and is still trying to decide what he'll be once he grows up, though he greatly hinders this process by sneaking away to surf whenever he can. This is his first published work…He hopes it won't be his last.
Frank Ogleby's tongue swelled and itched with a runny rash of white blisters. He almost gagged on the green, sap-laden drool dribbling down the front of his blue disposable, tight-fitting medical examination gown.
He glanced around the room at Dr. Bob's diplomas and awards. Dr. Bob was an MD, a shaman, and an honorary chief of the Potawatomi Indian tribe. Other decorations included several pictures of possums and a small sign that read, Possum Power is Awesome Power. Frank shook his head. What the hell have I gotten myself into?
The door opened and a barrel-chested white-haired man burst into the examination room. "I'm Dr. Bob. You must be…" He flipped through a manila folder. "Frank Ogleby. Welcome to our clinic." Dr. Bob pulled up a stool and sat next to Frank. "How can I help you?"
Frank growled, "Why do I have to wear this stupid medical gown for poison ivy of the tongue?"
"Well, I try to treat the whole patient. What do you do? For a living that is."
"What the hell does that have to do with anything?" Frank shifted his weight. "Oh, what the hell. I'm an office manager."
"So it's safe to say you're under a lot of stress." Dr. Bob pulled out a small flashlight.
"I manage a bunch of idiots. What do you think?"
"Well, let's take a look see." Dr. Bob reached for a wooden tongue depressor. "Open wide, please."
Dr. Bob poked and prodded Frank's mouth. "Well, you definitely do not have poison ivy of the tongue."
Frank shifted on the seat and split the gown up the right side. "How the hell can you be so sure?"
"Urushiol-induced contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction to direct contact with the toxicodendron radicans. Did you put the poison ivy plant in your mouth?"
"No, of course not."
"Did you smoke poison ivy leaves?"
"No! So what the hell is it?"
"Urushiol Hysteria." Dr. Bob smirked. "Some call it Poison Tongue Malady." His smirk quickly disappeared.
"What the hell is…what you said?"
"It's a psychotic hysterical reaction to bad mouthing others, especially behind their back." Dr. Bob pursed his lips. "Sort of like speaking with a forked tongue."
"That's ridiculous. What makes you think I bad mouth people?"
"I try to treat the whole patient, Mr. Ogleby."
Another itching spasm attacked Frank's tongue with a sworn vengeance. "Please do something. Amputate my tongue-"
"Calm down, Mr. Ogleby," Dr. Bob said evenly. "There are two less drastic alternative remedies for Poison Tongue Malady. One is easy and the other isn't."
"Godammit, give me the easy one."
"Three times a day…" Dr. Bob paused and another razor thin smirk crossed his face. "Fresh possum manure has to be painted on your tongue."
"You're shitting me!"
"Only your tongue—"
"That's the easy cure."
"For you, yes."
"So, what's the harder cure?"
Dr. Bob paused and looked down and then to his right. "You have to pay genuine and sincere compliments to everyone you come in contact with."
Frank considered this. Could he really say nice things about people in his life? His boss, Mortimer Lazenby, was a brown-nosing nincompoop. His secretary, Betty Stoop, had the worst case of acne in the Wisconsin. His co-worker, Emil Hepplewaite, could write a book on how to expense porno pay-for-view films on business travel reports. Frank's wife, Alma Marie, routinely shacked-up with the cable man, which explained how they had all of the premium channels. "Do HMOs cover possum manure, Dr. Bob?"
Harvey W. Gunther is a retired software engineer. He is transitioning into fiction from writing whitepapers and technical articles for software engineering journals. Harvey lives in Cary, North Carolina with his wife, Alice.