FLARE launches Summer 2017 online edition

FLARE: The Flagler Review is proud to present this summer’s online edition. With so many amazing entries this year for our award-winning print publication, we felt the need to add an additional edition to give our readers access to even more of the inspiring work we’ve been receiving. Each piece in this summer edition was chosen because it lives up to our mission of showcasing colorful, vibrant works from passionate writers and artists. We hope that you enjoy these selections as much as we have!

Check it out here: flare.flagler.edu/online-edition-summer-2017

Taylor Diamond

Editor, Summer Online Edition

Alder Street

By Blake Kilgore 

On the August night Simon Kane turned seven years old black clouds gathered and crept slow along the earth. The raindrops whispered at first, but suddenly increased to a drumming roar that commanded silence, awe. The birthday song was drowned out and the nervous singers stopped, giggling. Then a shocking boom shook the house, lights flickered, and the children jumped and shouted. Some started to cry, but Simon turned and walked to the window, pressed his face close to the streaking panes, and gazed into the storm. Simon’s mother steered him away from the darkness, back to his chair, and soon, when the rain faded into the background, everyone returned again to singing, games, gifts and cake.

A week later, Simon’s life changed. The local high school basketball team – the Mortar Hill Pride – was on a long losing streak. A smart, hardworking coach named Johnny Christopher had been hired to resurrect the poor local boys’ chances for the coming season.

The new coach had a lovely wife, Martha, and one child – a son named Seth. The Christopher family moved into the house at the end of Alder Street, just down the block from Simon. Seth was only a year older than Simon, but he was big, athletic, and beautiful. The day he arrived, he became everybody’s favorite.

Before Seth came, Simon, who was a puny child, had been picked on by the older boys. But now he was safe. Coach Christopher had wisely taught his strong son to give protection and dignity to the weak. Seth was a dutiful son, and his own heart was grand.

So Simon had a new beginning and a chance.

˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜

Simon swayed in his mother’s porch swing and the rusty chains creaked rhythmically, almost mournfully, under his heavy load. Years had passed and he had grown into a large and strong man. As he rocked back and forth, his eyes roamed down the block and across the street, to Seth’s childhood home. The lonely mother, Martha, had died recently, and Seth sold the home. Someone new lived there. But as Simon looked far and away, his gaze fell upon the old and heavy door – its wooden surface smooth from Simon’s constant rapping over the years – and he remembered.

            He had come here to remember.

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Seth had gleaming green eyes that really saw you. His smile was an enchantment and his voice an incantation. When he walked into a room, everyone knew his presence and drew near, seeking his warmth. He was light and good, and Simon loved him.

Everyone loved him.

Seth was a ball player and as soon as he moved into town the older boys from the neighborhood wanted him around for their games. He would join them, he said, but only if they left off frightening and hurting little Simon. Some of the older boys had been picked on when they were small. These thought they regained something lost by punishing Simon, so Seth’s demand was difficult. Grudgingly, they conceded.

When Simon was ten and Seth eleven, one of the older boys, Judson Freight – Big Jud – decided he would hurt the smaller boy. Big Jud was fourteen and nearly half a foot taller than Seth. But Seth was better than Jud at almost everything, and this was the real reason for his anger. He grew tired of being told what to do by the younger boy. He wanted to bully Simon, sure. But he really wanted to hurt Seth.

When Simon ran off to join the other boys that day for baseball, his mother offered a simple gift – a candy bar. Mothers sense when their boys are pulling away to stand on their own and Simon’s mother sorrowed at the first stirrings of his independence. But his heart was still sheltered securely within hers. Simon happily brought her gift to the baseball field and was just opening it when Big Jud arrived, announcing that he was hungry. He winked at Simon and asked for the bar.

Simon, safe for so long under the wing of Seth, suddenly felt panic, the blood pounding in his ears. He looked around and could not find Seth. He did not respond to Jud, just stared down at the bar, pained by the remembrance of his mother’s smiling face. Sadness and fear made a combined assault, but he committed to protect the gift. Silly as it was, he felt that giving up that bar would be a betrayal and this distressed him, for he was afraid of Big Jud.

Everyone but Seth was afraid of Big Jud.

“Someone gave it to me,” said young Simon, and he was horrified by the shrill tone of his voice. He instantly knew that he had invited more cruelty.

“A present from your momma?” Big Jud had darkness in his eyes and Simon knew he meant to violate Seth’s protection. The bully smiled and licked his lips.

Then Big Jud rushed Simon and slammed him in the side of his head with an open palm.  Simon stumbled but did not fall, still clutching his candy bar in one hand and his baseball glove in the other. His head throbbed and faintness waved over him.

“Give it, punk!”

One of the other older kids – Pete – warned Big Jud, saying Seth wouldn’t be happy when he showed up. Jud responded by whacking the ball cap off of Simon’s head. He glared back at Pete.

“Come on, leave him alone,” Pete whined as Simon scurried over to pick up the cap and put it back on his head. But Pete was also afraid, and his request was half-hearted. Jud was revving up, radiating an angry energy. Simon could only guess how much more punishment he would have to take. He prayed for Seth’s arrival, though he wondered if Seth could really stop him.

Jud shoved Pete in the chest and then charged Simon, grabbed his baseball glove and threw it toward the outfield. Simon began to whimper and despite his effort, could feel the moist welling of hurt and fear along the lids of his eyes. He backed away instinctively, and put the candy bar behind his back.

“Leave me alone!” His voice cracked and Jud smiled. He saw the tears, which should have touched him and stirred remorse, perhaps gentleness. But Jud was pitiless. Simon’s tears animated him, filling him with joyful hatred. Nevertheless, he stopped and put up his hands to show he was done traumatizing the boy. His voice transformed, becoming soft and pleading.

“Sorry, Simon. I’m just hungry. We don’t got no food in the cupboards this week. My daddy done drank up all the money, you know?”

This was true. Big Jud’s daddy was a cruel man. He brought little home and least of all kindness. One of his father’s favorite tricks when drunk was to call Jud over with kind tones and then when he got close, smack him onto the floor. Then the father would bellow and roll with laughter.

Big Jud now meted out hard lessons learned.

“Could I just have a small bite?”

The other boys were nervous now, because they could see that Jud wasn’t true. They looked at each other in warning of the treachery. But Simon approached the lie meekly, naïve. He was a kind boy. As soon as he considered that Jud might suffer, his whole being forgave and reached out to show compassion. He did not offer only a bite. He broke the bar in two and offered the largest piece to Big Jud. His heart was happy, for he knew that he had made the most of his mother’s gift by passing the larger part of her kindness to another in need.

Big Jud grinned wide in mock thanks and held out his hand to receive the offering.  Simon’s soul warmed at the bridge he thought was being built. Then Big Jud chucked the offering across the field into the dust and began laughing. Simon struggled to breathe. The tears were building again and he turned away, protectively holding the remaining portion of his mother’s gift.

“Where you goin’?” asked Big Jud. There was glee in his voice and again some of the other boys moved to stop the evil brimming at the corners of Big Jud’s mind. A threatening glance stilled them. The bully stalked Simon, who now walked mournfully toward where the rejected piece of chocolate lay in the dirt several feet away.

“Here, I’ll share with you!” shouted Big Jud as he rushed over and picked up the discarded candy bar before Simon could get to it. Simon drew back away from him and turned his head to try and hide the tears that were becoming little rivers sliding down his tender and flushed cheeks.

Big Jud grabbed Simon’s head roughly and began to smash the dirty candy bar into his mouth. Simon squirmed and shrieked and spat. Soon his face was a sloppy mess of snot, tears, and mashed chocolate. He spun away and tried to run, but Big Jud was too fast. He grabbed Simon by the shoulders and threw him on his face, into the dirt, then strutted over to kick the whimpering boy. His soul was soaring with wicked hilarity.

Simon pulled his knees and elbows in to protect against the kick, but it did not come.  Instead he heard a heavy thud and then Big Jud howling in pain and anger. He peeked out from his protective shell and saw a grime covered baseball rolling a few feet away.

“I told you not to bother him!”

It was Seth and he was charging Big Jud, a wooden Louisville Slugger gripped in his hand. He was choking up and swinging, and then Big Jud fell beside Simon, his swagger gone. Now Big Jud was crying big tears, rolling and apologizing a mile a minute, crawling backwards on his hands, looking like a frightened crab.

“Get out of here, Judson Freight!”

Simon climbed to his feet, trying to wipe his face fast so Seth wouldn’t know he’d been crying. Seth tossed him his glove and looked away, telling the other boys to go on home. Pete and the others did not argue, though it was clear they were disappointed.

“We can play tomorrow,” Seth told them, “but Jud better not show”.

The older boys walked away with their heads down, quiet. They had known Big Jud was wrong. Pete had even had the courage to speak up. But they hadn’t stopped him. They had been too afraid. And now shame stalked home with them, chastising them for their weakness.

Seth smiled and patted Simon on the back.

“You wanna get ice cream?”

Simon nodded yes and they went to the ice cream parlor together. Seth sent Simon to the bathroom to wash his face while he bought a chocolate sundae smothered in hot fudge and grabbed two spoons. When Simon came to the table he was clean again, fresh. And Seth didn’t mention Big Jud. He just smiled and ate a little of the sundae. But he left most of it for Simon.

˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜

As the years passed Seth and Simon became almost like twins, not to be parted for any reason. They played sports together, they camped together, and they fished and hunted together.  When they started noticing girls, they went on double dates.

Then one day, a dark heaviness, negotiated out of time and before joy, fell upon Seth, and his tenderness was crumpled under its awesome weight.

It was January of Seth’s junior year of high school. Seth was playing power forward and Simon was the point guard on the basketball team. The Pride had just finished crushing another conference foe, putting their undefeated team into first place and securing a ranking in the regional newspaper’s sport section. The two had been photographed and interviewed for the piece, which would be in the Sunday paper. In the picture they were all smiles and both were hanging about the shoulders of the coach, Seth’s father.

Coach Johnny Christopher was a good man, good father and good coach. Seth was kind because his father was kind. Simon had been saved from bullies because Seth had learned from his father to protect the weak. Johnny Christopher did not smoke or drink or overeat. He went to bed early so that he could rise early. And so the day after their victory photograph for the newspaper, Coach Christopher got up in the dark of the morning to jog as he always did; it was part of his ritual warfare against the gravity of age.

Mr. Freight – Big Jud’s father – was also out early that morning. Only he was coming in, not going out. He had sipped his first bourbon, neat, about the time the happy photo for the newspaper had been taken. He kept the tumblers pouring all night and when he couldn’t stand anymore, one of his lady friends drove him to her apartment. When he woke his head hurt, so he found the girl’s liquor and turned his buzz back on. Once his head stopped pounding and he was sure that he was thinking clearly, he stole the girl’s car and headed for home.

˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜

Simon looked down Alder street, all the way to the end, where the road just began to turn.  He saw the home at number 32. It was different from the others in the neighborhood, a constant reminder. The porch and most of the front of the house had needed to be reconstructed after the accident. Seth’s father had been crushed into the porch; the damage to his kindly frame was irreparable.

All at once, the candle was snuffed out – its radiance gone.

˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜

Seth was reborn then, but it was not a happy rebirth. His intellect, athleticism and charm continued to outshine all others. But before his strength had been a boon to his classmates, teammates and friends. They were blessed and carried by him, for he had always served and loved everyone he encountered.

A black and poisonous bitterness took root in Seth’s heart, tainting his every thought and action. He no longer aided the weak or comforted the wounded or led the strong. Now he used his might to crush the arrogant and dominate all. He was still magnificent and all respected him. But fear replaced love.

Seth became haughty. He formerly celebrated those he had beaten in academics or games so that they left defeat with dignity and confidence. Now he gloated over and demeaned his opponents, damaging their souls.

The girls had always loved Seth, but he had never misbehaved, misspoke or strung along. He had been honest, and even rejections were filled with soothing kindness that encouraged. Now he became a great user, taking from all and caring for none.

His poor mother Martha lost husband and son, for though she sought the boy she had raised, she could not find him. He abandoned her to sorrow and did not raise eyes in compassion or his hands in consolation.

Before his father died, Seth had been dutiful on Sundays, serving in the altar and partaking of the mysteries every week. The parish priest even wondered if he might be chosen by God for the priesthood, so beloved and pure was he. But now he did not enter a church.  Outwardly Seth had become indifferent, selfish, and unkind. Simon understood that Seth was angry at God for taking away his hero, and wondered why God had been so careless. Seth had been the champion of the community. Now he was also gone, replaced by a cunning and merciless strongman.

Yet Seth still succeeded in every task, for he was truly marvelous. Now he worked furiously, for bitterness became an unquenchable fire, the only thing that kept his grief from burying him.

His grades were exceptional, and he was a superior athlete. Accepted into an elite university, he continued his ascendance. He graduated top of his class, having used and dominated all beneath him. Wounded hearts and minds were left in his wake. Most of his professors were glad to see him go, for though awed by his brilliance, they feared him.

Nevertheless, businessmen who seek gain at any cost know that one like Seth might become a powerful weapon they can use to annihilate competition. So he was enticed with an avalanche of job offers from respectable firms before the end of his junior year.

As soon as he took a job, he followed his now familiar pattern. He climbed over and crushed any in his way and rose to the top of the corporate ladder. His company thrived and by his mid-twenties, he was being groomed for an executive position with the firm.

There was one thing that carried over from the time of his Eden, before Seth’s father died.

Simon.

Seth did not even know why he let Simon stay close, for his presence sometimes caused discomfort, a reminder from happier times. But Seth could not live without some remnant of that content life, and so he retained this one treasure.

And Simon could never forget how Seth had saved him time and again and how he had taught him to be strong.

So Simon followed him everywhere, first to school. He struggled four long years, but with the help of Seth, survived. As his lone companion, Simon also helped Seth survive, empowering him with a lingering hope of what might still be if he ever wished to return to his true self. And Seth was grateful. He carried Simon to graduation and secured employment for him in his company.

When they were young, Seth protected Simon. Now, Simon protected Seth, restraining him and cleaning up the messes he left behind. This taught him his own strengths and also how to control people. He would never be as crafty or strong as his friend. But he was confident. Meanwhile, Seth’s friendship was becoming heavy, an unrelenting burden and apprehension.

A dark lie began to slither just beneath his consciousness.

Seth was lost. Many times Simon tried to reach him, to impart the hope that had once been given. But Seth was blind, arrogant in his own power. Insulted by the notion that he might need aid, each attempt to throw him a lifeline resulted in further entrenchment around his darkening and lonely soul. He began to lash out.

Simon wore down.

Their firm had been working on a technological breakthrough. Seth, who had made Simon his personal assistant, pushed his entire staff to find the crucial data first. None could work harder than Seth or so ruthlessly drive others. Thus, Simon split time trying to keep pace with Seth and trying to mellow the fires of discontent that were always waiting to ignite. Seth would never admit that he needed anyone. But Simon knew they needed their colleagues. Seth would push them and eventually take all of the credit. But success would only come if Simon could keep the others motivated.

His skill at damage control made Simon irreplaceable to Seth. But it also endeared him to the team. Many began to drop subtle hints that were he to lead, to betray Seth, the others would follow. The roots of his discontent sunk deep, enriching themselves on the hope that he might be relieved the great burden he had been given.

Soon Jonas, the eccentric genius on their team, came privately to him, rambling in nearly incoherent phrases that he had found the answer, but that Seth would never believe him, and that he wanted credit and Seth would never give it, and that perhaps he would give his findings to another office just to embarrass the overbearing executive. Simon calmed him, warned against putting himself in the hands of greedy strangers. Would they give him credit? Would he even be safe?

Their company was constructed for the purpose of taking. The technology they were researching would only enable them to do so more efficiently. It was not a discovery that would better mankind, only one that would enrich the firm, but more particularly a few very powerful men. Small fries like Jonas could only hope to be rewarded by small presents like vacation days or inconsequential increases in salary. Project managers like Seth could hope to one day move into the inner circle.

All of the managers in their own and in competing companies were fighting and scratching for this breakthrough and some were not above intimidation or even violence to succeed. Simon knew he had to protect Jonas. Seth would use him, sure, but the others would maul him and leave him on the refuse pile.

And, Simon had a lot to gain.

He took the research Jonas provided and evaluated the studies, finding them veritable. Then he met the eccentric man privately and looked him in the eye, swearing on his own mother that he would protect him from Seth. Jonas believed.

Next Simon called Seth and asked for a meeting in an out of the way part of the city, reminding Seth that he was probably being watched by competitors. Everyone knew how hard he was pushing and that he was getting close.

Seth consented, and Simon could hear the anticipation in his voice. His normally controlled demeanor was almost unraveled by greed. Simon sensed that he would not reward Jonas, but this was his last hope. He questioned Seth and the curt reply cut a chasm of despair in his soul. The insecure, peculiar researcher would get burned. Seth would expect him to repair the damage. He would make Simon share in his guilt again.

The roots of gloom and resentment began to throb with unrighteous virility and a wedge grew, hewing Seth out of Simon’s heart at last. Bitterness burned his devotion to ashes; the unthinkable wormed into his soul.

He knew the break would have to be clean, total. And he knew that some of his spirit would be destroyed in the rupture. He needed to count the cost.

˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜

So, he had come home to remember.

Simon looked across at the stump which had once been a grand oak with thick spreading branches. Coach Johnny Christopher had worked with the two boys, guiding them as they built a rickety summer home in the tree. The two spent countless companion hours in that hideout, confessing hopes and fears while marveling in faith at the majestic expanse of the flickering skies.

Seth had saved him time and again when they were children. They had loved one another more than brothers. Seth and Simon, Simon and Seth – that was their name. Simon’s life had been changed for the better at every turn by the intervention of Seth. But since the death of Coach Christopher, there was always too much burden with the blessing. And Seth was hurting too many people. The guilt of covering all that injury was festering in Simon’s soul, an unrelenting remorse that filled him with panic. Seth was dragging him to hell.

He thought of Seth’s mother Martha, who had never given up finding her little boy. Seth visited his mother rarely and mostly at the bidding of Simon. She died hoping she would see the pure child she raised. That child stared blankly down upon her when she was set beneath the earth and had not even rewarded her faithfulness with a single tear. Simon considered – perhaps the Seth he loved might have been buried long ago, when his father died. 

A new family lived in Seth’s old house. They had chopped down the old dead oak; the treehouse had come down after the death of Coach Christopher. Almost all of the reminders of the boy hero who had saved Simon were gone.

Sorrow streaked Simon’s face.

The sun faded to blood red, gradually baptized into the suffocating blue black of cloudy night. Simon rose and kissed his mother on the brow before he left. He had a woeful look.

“Has he never come back to himself?”

“No, Momma – I don’t think he ever will.”

“Maybe you should let him go, son. I know you tried hard, you really have, but only God can save him.”

“If I let go, he’ll die. I have failed; what will become of my soul?”

Simon Kane drove down Alder Street, past the gloomy and dimming reminders of the boy he loved most of all, and grief energized his clarity and transformed his heart into a blade of stone.

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The headlines in the paper the next day told of a junior executive from a big firm and his assistant who had been found, beaten, in an out of the way part of the city. The executive had traumatic brain injury, was in a coma, and wasn’t expected to live through the week. The assistant had a collection of nasty scrapes and bruises, a broken nose and a few bruised ribs. But, he had survived.

Authorities suspected foul play. The two victims had been working tirelessly on research that would set their firm on solid ground for decades to come. Suspects included several competing firms and other teams of researchers within the company itself.

A few days later, the assistant – whose injuries were already mostly healed – was promoted in the interim to the position formerly held by the now comatose junior executive. The two had indeed made a ground breaking discovery and the firm’s stock soared.

The eccentric – Jonas – received a week’s vacation and a pay raise.

˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜

A new agony hounded the spirit of Simon Kane. It was the remembrance of a chilling encounter on a bright day three weeks before the assault. Tormented, Simon had sought refuge inside a corner bar outside of the city. Sitting in the last booth at the back of the bar was a disheveled and grimy ruffian sipping on cheap bourbon, neat. The boy, now grown to misshapen manhood, at once recalled in Simon every nearly forgotten childhood dread. But inside the shady haze of betrayal and revenge, beneath the neon advertisements for amnesiac tonics, the monster became an escape. It was a lie – the door of freedom opened instead to a haunting dishonor.

There had been many attackers; Simon could only remember the pounding rhythm of Judson Freight’s boots stomping an abandoned friend to nothingness upon the cold, damp cobblestones of the obscure alleyway, where trust laid down to die beside all that was already lost.

It was August and a storm slowly gathered gloom as it crept somberly above Alder Street.

Ishiganto




Ishiganto 

By John Soltysiak 

 

“Hugging you feels like home,” she said.

But I wasn’t sure I knew what home felt like.

Her tiny Japanese apartment seemed worlds away from the States. The radio spoke a language I could barely understand, and none of her books that were stacked next to us had any English in them. Everything in her room felt compact, and I wondered how she was able to fit it all into such a small area and keep it so tidy. Wrapped up tightly with each other on her thin sleeping mattress in the dark, I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt this at peace. I had escaped to teach English for a year overseas because I didn’t know what else to do after graduating from Colorado State. It was just by chance that I ended up in Okinawa, and I didn’t even know the island existed until I read about it in an email, asking if I wanted to teach there.

“If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?” She asked. I knew what she wanted to hear. But I wasn’t interested in formalities. Nothing would come to mind. So I just sighed and stroked her shoulder a bit and looked up at the ishiganto talisman near her small bedroom window. The stone had “ishiganto” engraved into one of its sides written in kanji with each character stacked on top of one another. It was meant to repel evil spirits. The talismans had originated somewhere in China—making their way to her island during the 15th century. The locals had written the three kanji characters on the side of walls, plaques, even on small ornaments and placed them any place they wanted to keep safe.

I wondered if they worked.

Guys had been fawning over her earlier that night, the way I had seen it done time after time in salsa joints. As I smoked my cigarettes at the bar I took notice of the portraits hanging above the shelves of liquor. One of the pictures grabbed at me, it was a black and white portrait of an old man, his features rough with crisp folds in places that would only appear on a younger face full of expression. It looked barren with dead eyes and long mangled hair that no longer followed order. I wanted to know where he had gone.

The salsa music blared from the other side of the room near the dance floor. I ash’d my cigarette next to my empty beer glass and lit another. That’s when she took a seat next to me and ordered a couple of beers for her and the handsome gentleman in a suit on her other side. Why she was buying was beyond me, but I wasn’t interested enough to pay it any more attention. I just kept staring up at the picture. I had had enough to drink where I thought the old man might try to expel wisdom to my twenty-eight-year-old self. But he didn’t. I remember faintly hearing the gentlemen excusing himself for a moment, and I wondered which guy would come slithering his way over to her this time, but she closed herself off to such an approach by turning her back to that part of the open bar; by facing toward me.

I could feel her eyes scanning my body.

I had not dressed to impress that night—just a t-shirt and some long shorts on a hot and humid summer night. I had abandoned two of my drunk colleagues at a bar called Rehab, and wandered to this establishment further down the main strip of Kokusai street, spotting the large red sign with the white outline of a woman’s heel. It could have easily been mistaken for a strip club had I not known better.

“Why do you keep staring at picture?” she asked. I pretended to not hear her. I didn’t think she legitimately cared. And she could easily get attention from anyone else at that bar that night. I pulled out my wallet and took out some yen to buy another drink, but the bartender reached her first and set down two beer bottles sporting a mythological creature on the labels. They were supposed to bring about good luck. He then turned to ask what I wanted, but she curtly interrupted in Japanese and slid one of her beers over to me. The bartender nodded with a smirk and walked away.

“Why do you keep staring at picture?” She asked again. I turned my head. Her eyes deliberate, focused—not fishing for a line. I sighed and picked up the beer.

“Kanpai,” I said clinking her glass as both of us took a drink.

The gentleman in the suit had come back, and looked displeased to see her conversing with me. He tapped her on the shoulder and wedged between us muttering something in a low voice that I couldn’t pick up. I just took another sip and pretended to mind my own business. She turned and lightly grazed his arm to pacify him, then gave him a quick peck on the cheek. She let him leave with his dignity. He was smart enough to accept it, and disappeared back out into the mess on the dance floor.

“You owe me answer,” she said tapping the top of my hand.

“Nande? Why do you want to know so bad?” I adjusted my body toward her so that our knees were lightly touching.

I didn’t think I was worth a beer in this place, especially with my attire. I was the only American, and local women typically wouldn’t dance with anyone that didn’t look at least a little Asian here. Yet, she sat there in her pastel green dress, which complemented her large chest that guys had been ogling over every time I had seen her dancing on the weekend nights past.

“If you tell me why, I’ll tell you,” she pursed her lips as if she wasn’t certain I was going to take the bait, but as if the very moment depended on it. Her face was soft. She was younger than me, but no stranger to dancing or drinking at this place.

“I’m Jack,” I said reaching out my hand.

“Megumi,” she smiled, embracing it. “So why?”

I looked back down at my cigarette that was burning out. She followed my eyes and then glanced back up at my face.

“Well, if you really want to know, I just feel a connection to him. I mean—I’m not an art snob or anything. Hell, I don’t even know anything about sketch.”

“What sketch?”

“I don’t know, drawings that are in between being finished and unfinished.” I said pointing at the portrait of the old man.

“It doesn’t look finished?”

“It doesn’t look like it’s been meddled with for months. It looks like it was drawn in the moment, and left there. It’s not all overworked and fake like a magazine cover.”

She squinted her eyes, thinking about it and then she opened her mouth like she was about to say something but shut it and just nodded. “What kind of connection?”

“Um,” I scratched the back of my head, and set it back down on the edge of the bar. “I guess I just know how he feels.”

“How does he feel?” Her tone was off putting, like she had begun to interrogate me. I shrugged and took another drink. Megumi did the same, still waiting for my answer.

“I think he just feels like he’s done it all, that maybe there’s nothing else to explore. And even though he’s been through it, he can’t see where he fits into the grand scheme. He just has this gaze. His eyes—you can tell the artist chose to focus all of the attention on them. He’s just sort of… wandering.”

She pursed her lips and looked up at the sketch and then back at me.

“You want it, then?” she said uncertain.

“No,” I winced tapping my cigarette on its tray. “I don’t want it.”

“Why not, you just said you liked it.”

“I never said I liked it, I said I connect with it. It’s different.”

“What difference?”

“Just because I identify and admire something doesn’t mean it’s meant for me. I just understand it.”

“So you don’t like it?”

“I don’t like the way it makes me feel. It’s well drawn like all of the other work,” I said pointing at the gallery.

She thrummed her fingers on the bar like she was growing impatient, but I could tell she was just digesting what I was saying. “You’re not him yet, you know?”

I shrugged and moved my knees away from hers—starting to lose interest in being psychoanalyzed. She didn’t like it, and slid a little closer to me from her chair. We spoke for another two hours at the bar about art and her work as a nurse, where she declined dances from men who would try and cut into our conversation. Each time, she was polite and quick to dispel them. It was almost closing time when she asked:

“Don’t you want to know why?”

“Know why what?”

“Why I asked you about the picture,” she said.

“Sure,” I felt the weight of my beer bottle and decided to polish it off.

“I drew him,”

“Hah!” I coughed a bit.

“I’m serious, I drew. It’s all my work.”

“You’re very talented,” I looked back up at the old man, it was the only picture I was interested in. “Who is he then?”

“Arigato,” she smiled taking a drink from her beer nervously. “Do you—would you like to see more?”

“Sure,”

“But they’re not here…” And I understood the rest.

The ishiganto stone on her shelf was barely visible in the faint moonlight through her window, but it had been placed there for a reason. It was said that spirits would travel in a straight path, so if the road forked, the spirit wouldn’t change course, and in this case it would run through her window. Okinawa was riddled with roads that would twist and turn. You never ended up where you thought you might. Seeing the wards were normal, and they fit in with the island’s haunted history after the war. They were said to be tribute to a man named Ishiganto, who stood up to evil once.

I took my eyes off of the stone and watched as she gave a long stretch, arching her back so her breasts perked up under her loose fitting tank top. The walls of the apartment were plastered with portraits she had drawn. People of all ages and ethnicities, people she’s never met before. I didn’t understand what I was doing there, how it had gotten to this point, or where it was going to go. I didn’t care.

“If I could go anywhere, it would be in space—like Mars. Even if I had to say goodbye, I’d do,” she said.

“Nande?”

“Because no one’s ever been,” she said resting on my shoulder. “But at same time, there’s so much I want to do here, I don’t think I could leave right now… not yet.”

I remember dreaming once that I was in outer space. It was terrifying. I was the sole organism on a tiny planet in some unknown galaxy. No one knew I was there and all I knew was that I was stranded on the rock, but it was better than floating helplessly through cold darkness with nothing to hold onto. It’s how I felt as I gripped onto her sultry body. I was holding onto uncertainty, but somehow it felt okay.

“Oh… but your pictures aren’t of space. So I’m not sure it grabs you as much as you think it does.”

“Grabs?”

“I’m not sure you want it as bad as you say, it’s not your art. You aren’t making it out of mashed potatoes,” I said.

She gripped onto the collar of my v-neck and pulled it toward her cheek like a blanket. “Mashed potatoes,” she laughed. “What are you talking about?”

“Never mind,”

“If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be? I mean, alive or dead doesn’t matter,” she asked. “You don’t want to answer? That’s fine.”

“No, I just haven’t thought about it before. They’re heavy questions. I don’t know who.” You would think being halfway around the world would give me some sort of perspective, but it hadn’t.

“Maybe you would benefit from thinking more,” she said snuggling closer to me and sniffing my shirt. “I like how you smell,” I stroked her hair and smiled while she kissed my neck. It reminded me of when I enlisted in the military fresh out of high school. I remembered staying with my girlfriend on leave—counting down the minutes before I had to board my flight and disappear. It was a motion we had done many times over my four-year enlistment and each visit only made it more dreadful to leave again. At age twenty-two we never knew for certain when I’d be home. I never knew if she’d still be waiting, and she didn’t know if I would be shipped back in a box. But to hold onto everything you wanted and cared for—knowing it was going to be stripped away from you in the morning by life—maybe that was home.

My girlfriend would sleep, but I’d fight the drowsiness because I didn’t want to lose the moment. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold her forever. I didn’t want to let that go. Her. But that was a long time ago, and feelings like that didn’t come around that often for me anymore. It wasn’t that I was numb. I had just ridden that roller coaster too many times. I knew how long the anticipation of the climb would be, where the turns came, and how swiftly the plunges would take your breath away.

“Holding you feels right,” I told her. And it did, even if I had to get ready to teach a class in a few hours. I wrapped my arms around her a little tighter, knowing somewhere in the back of my mind that the collision of our worlds was by accident—we weren’t heading in the same direction.

“I like how you hold me,” she said softly. I liked that she wasn’t a cold calculator like so many other women from my past—Megumi was driven by something else that radiated her warmth toward the world. The same fire that had been extinguished inside of me in a time I no longer cared to remember. I could tell I had only just landed on the surface of her being, there was still so much more to explore. But I wasn’t interested in rediscovering the past in the present.

“I’d meet Ishiganto,” I said as she froze for a moment and then looked up at me, pressing her lips against my temple. I wondered what she meant by I feel like home when she barely knew me. Maybe we were two wandering souls who understood each other on some dark frequency, and what we were both searching for couldn’t be found in the present with each other. Maybe home dwelled somewhere in my past and somewhere in her future.

Maybe I had just imagined Ishiganto whispering to me in that moment:  Disappear

Non-poisonous

By Carol Matos

 

Watching a fawn arch its spine

and track its parents’ prints in near darkness,

a woman exaggerates her memories,

the cruelties that invade her sleep—

dark-blooded men throwing her

out of the sky, and she falls fast in the unreal,

the downward landscape revolving.

In the mornings, she rebels against fear

and picks squash blossoms from her garden.

She prefers lilies, but cats die after ingesting them.

Now she waits deep in the flux

of remaking herself on her unlit porch,

and like a pup coyote practicing a howl,

she vocalizes, I will close the gap

between truth and provable.

Startled by her cat’s leap

from the porch railing, she finds

purpose in the paw he licks clean,

in the lines separating each claw as dusk

reaches them and their fading edges disappear.

I Hold the Wolf by the Ears

By C.T. Salazar

It is 1995 and a gunshot has big-

banged inside the courtroom where my mother

 

is working. I am three, and two rooms over

where everything is set to sudden motion—

 

carousel of over-turned chairs and falling books.

Panic, like the city of Gubbio where citizens

 

for months were trapped behind their gates

because of a man-eating wolf. His jury of teeth

 

lawless and gleaming like the stainless steel

of the revolver smuggled into the courthouse.

 

In my three-year-old heart fear made room

for itself for the first time. The hammer falling

 

like a gavel. The bullet traveled from the audience

to the wall behind the witness stand, but

 

not before scything through the chest of a man

pleading guilty. The courtroom gone feral:

 

the full moon of the mind where screams blend

to a single howl. A woman ran from the audience

 

to the empty-chested man still in the chair.

Head back and mouth open—face still wet

 

with the tears of confession. How she took him

into her arms the way Saint Francis accepted

 

the wolf of Gubbio into his. How she cried

the same words of the saint—O my brother of god why?