by Florin Purluca If somebody asked him to give her description in the blink of an eye, he’d be at a loss for words. At least, for the fancy words. But if the logic of a sentence wasn’t so important, then Abigail was: beer, froth, smile. And maybe dance. When she was chopping herbs she used to hit the hardwood floor with the tip of her foot. While waiting in line somewhere she used to drum her fingers on the surfaces nearby. Despite all of these, when real music was playing she only shook her ass like a monkey. The distinction concealed inside the ordinary, she’d say. She flashed a smile every single time she came up with such explanations. And he was only happy that the girl didn’t have to make a living out of dancing. She’d have starved for sure.
She was his tenth partner and he’d met her in Chicago, while he was working in a gin-mill. He didn’t actually need the money or the job but he mostly liked to be around people. He’d become accustomed working in busy avenues -- restaurants, bars, hotels -- for far too long a time to even remember exactly how long it was. Chic&Weak, even though favoured by decent people, it still looked like a honky-tonk. That was because prices were reasonable, the patrons quite scarce, and
Darius-- the owner -- lived not exactly from hand to mouth, but his living was humble enough that no big restoration could ever be a viable issue. In fact, he wasn’t good for any kind of restoration. The floor was worn-out and it creaked at every step. A good thing that the music was loud, it helped cover the noise. Elegance was out of the question entirely, for the tables were the same since the year after the Allies’ victory over the Reich. Despite this, the usual patrons turned a blind eye on all drawbacks. The beer was aplenty, exquisitely frothy, and rum went for almost nothing. How Abigail ended up in Chic&Weak, that was a colossal mystery. Or maybe the hand of destiny. Her spindly legs, quick darting, surrounded by the hiss of a gown he’s immediately compared to the summer blue sky. Josephine Baker would have raised an eyebrow herself. She equanimeously cut a path through the men in the room and perched herself on the first
empty chair at the bar. She ordered a pint. With lots of froth. As she waited for her beer, she drummed her fingers on the countertop. And, fifty years after that moment, she still favoured a pint three quarters full of froth.
“You’re not that deft”, she told him.
He didn’t reply. He just shrugged and gave her a prudent smile, all the while seeing to pour her beer exactly the way she liked it.
“And you also wouldn’t tell me a beautiful girl like me has no place in a barrel house such as this?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Nice”, she said, and she passed her spread-out fingers through the muslin veil of her auburn dishevelled curly hair.
He knew the moment would come. It always comes sooner or later. He sometimes forgot, even though it wasn’t often that he lost himself in the euphoria of forgetfulness. He cradled in his heart the pain of nine departed loves (soon enough a tenth would join them there) and that made him restless. Especially when he felt the moment was near. Sometimes even a few months after that.
He’d gone out to do some errands and Abigail had made her mind to have her usual morning tea. The block they lived on had long ago started to drown into nothingness. People migrated towards downtown, pushed hard foreword by their hopes and dreams, leaving behind the ones who didn’t want or couldn’t leave. He knew the signs. He’d seen this happening before in too many places and far too often to even feign surprise.
Since turning sixty, she’d started drinking tea. Almost any flavour, it didn’t really matter. She was convinced after a certain age you had to hydrate your body well. If that habit gained her a year of life, he
couldn’t ever know. When he came back, she was sprawled down on the floor.
The coffee table was at its place, so was the teacup. Only the chair was upturned. Her lean body, Abigail’s reduced body lay mid-distance between the short table and that upset chair. She hadn’t gotten out of her nightgown, even though he’d went shopping for groceries first thing in the morning and he’d been away for more than three hours. Because of the coldness of her inert body and the white cotton that the excessive use of bleach had thinned greatly, she looked like an ice queen fallen from her throne.
The moment comes for sure but it is never easy to give up on fifty years of common history. You just can’t. It was impossible even for one like him, and time was maybe the only thing that he never lacked. It was painful, it had always been. With every parting something precipitates down there, deep inside the heart. You become in a way like a bottle of aged wine. The essence is good but don’t you ever shake it. The residue will cover the flavour.
It was the moment for him to depart. To leave everything behind as though all the years had been just a long dream. He kneeled and placed a kiss on her forehead. He caressed her hair now the colour of sugar. He stood and went to the parlour. He took the money, their years’ worth of savings. It was no good to her, anyway. He sat on the couch and started taking mental pictures of the place where they had spent most of their life as a couple. He knew that in a few years that image would be but a faded out memory, like an unfinished painting. But until then sadness would linger. The memory couldn’t take the burden off his shoulders but it somehow helped. Especially at night.
After you get to know enough people, you start seeing patterns. The type you hate, the type you love. And the one you’re indifferent to -- as long as they mind their own business, because otherwise you inevitably come to hate them, too. Without any exaggeration, she’d been a special kind of person -- the one you adore.
He still remembers her like she was that day when she asking that first pint from him. Because of all that froth, it looked more like a pint of
cake than beer. He’s smiled -- she’d smiled back -- and they went on making small talk. A white vaporous moustache had bracketed her full lips. The following afternoon she’d been there again, at the bar, on a stool. A frothy beer, she’d asked.
With lots of froth, he’s added. And life, one next to another, from that moment on, had slid like honey on a piece of glass, for fifty years, downhill. Even after she’d found out his curse. Because, frankly, in time, he’d waited for discrepancy to creep in between them. But it never came, and that was good. Surprisingly good, even, especially given his physical stability.
He went to the hall, picked up the received and dialled 911. He couldn’t leave her like that. To be consumed by worms? Maybe someone else would’ve done just that. Not him. Even though he’d always taken a risk -- you can bet on it -- he had never done that.
“Hello. I want to report a death.”
And he put the receiver down. They would certainly come to take care of everything. He gazed at her for one last time and he went out of the house. His heart was full of grief, but his face was clean. After a number of such departures you forget how to make tears. He also took a picture of her with him. From times gone by. At least he had pictures with the last two of them. The other eight beautiful women were present only as vague memories.
It was a sunny day, warm and pleasant, a day fit for making a new decision in life, for getting ready to make a fresh start of it. Way too pleasant to even think that someone could accept death at such a time. But it wasn’t like all the rest had a choice. It’s not that everybody has time wrapped around their finger, like him. Not everyone is immortal.
This story was first published in Aphelion The Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, May 2016. FLORIN PURLUCA is a Romanian writer, living in Focșani, Romania. He has a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and works in a psychiatric hospital in his hometown. His fiction has been published in several Romanian periodicals, online and paperback. His work translations have been published in Samovar, The Singularity, SF in Translation and Aphelion. He has published five novels so far.
Better Than Fiction!
from ALONG THE PATHWAY HOME:
Vignettes and Prose-Poems of Childhood, Chapter 16.
Nois-sir was what the middle uncle used to say coming across the yard. Moving and suddenly for no reason stopping with not much on his mind. Maybe a truckload of logs, or the long trip to Maryland where he worked at the mill. Grabbing my lunch bag, I imagined him in the cab or maybe even on the back, spitting out on the roads that took him from home and hardly wanted to bring him back—the long, narrow La Plata bridge, he said one night in the dark, he was scared to go across.
He was kind like that, told you things you wanted to know, looking up kind of sideways in the room I shared with him. How long I been here? Two years? Nois-sir—you been down here most of your life—off and on. Y’all lived here when you was born—‘fore y'all went over on the dirt road. Y'all stayed with ya’ mamma’s mamma for a while and Tomcat—your daddy's buddy. Then here you are again, smiling but still kind of a memory I hadn't had.
He didn't use the word too much with me, just sometimes I think because he was used to saying it to his daddy and the white boss man he and my daddy sometimes also worked for across the field. The oldest aunt used it, too, and she was much like him in the mystery she seemed to keep in her pockets and alongside pillows, sometimes dangling out like soft pink tissues. He never married but often looked like a pretty girl was lost in his eyes. A tall, square body like an old picture frame with an old chief stuck in it.
He was also wiry as a ball of twine, and his long flannel sleeves and shirttail would try to unroll themselves in the March wind. Most of the time they would not. His green work pants jacked up like a giraffe's, a pony with bushy hoofs. But he was no good at running. He walked at a steady pace. Stopped sometimes to take in the air that was always moving. Passing the wardrobe with the gray mirror, he hardly looked up. He didn't care much about how he looked.
No'm, I'm riding with Merridge today, the oldest aunt said to grandmamma where he stood under a large rusty nail in a tree. Granddaddy, brown as morning biscuits, didn't like the idea. There's a lot of foolishness out there, and the aunt in her work apron wiped her mouth ‘cause she also had asthma like the uncle.
Kelly Writers House
Her little brother who then was a man a little like a scarecrow waiting beside a tree didn't say too much in general except if I got real close to him. Then he would only talk mostly one sentence at a time—except when he had his bottle, which was a lot. Wild Turkey and Virginia Gentleman—clear moonshine in a Mason jar with a golden cap. (He hid 'em everywhere.) Beside the bush—against the dinted wall of the bed. Then he would slur and beat against the wall and cuss like there was somebody there.
There was nobody there.
A sober angel, he said it to granddaddy who would pass him near the stable on his way to the fields as if he were passing a white man on the street, though granddaddy was often spry and smiled at strangers and if he stopped long enough would recite a good joke from old times or a bible verse. Good to see you, Cap'n. The son was no joke having come close to death, the young smart aunt told me, as he ailed as a teenager and some had given up on him. His mother though took up for him. A quiet feather came to his bed and I think she brushed his head, and the house quietly moaned and pulled a bit closer the two youngest girls’ droopy pigtails, though the oldest aunt was best at getting the girls to sit up straight.
Granddaddy, though, must have bristled. Yessum, he said to the mother he loved, he alright.
Along the cold, winding road past the abandoned cemetery to my small colored school in Miller’s Tavern, I looked it up, and it ain't in the dictionary. The things my uncle must have said and thought getting in the blue pickup—nor what my aunt said to the girls looking down at their socks. The words I hid in lunch pails and between secret pages because they made the Tappahannock children snigger. With a window half down—and a hack forming deep in his throat, without words—my favorite uncle headed for the bridge named for the land and many tribes none of us for years ever knew.
copyright, Ldgiles.1.22.18.d4 Author's Note. The perspective is that of an 8 to 10 year old boy in the 60's on a farm along the Rappahannock River near the town of Tappahannock. Larry D. Giles was born in Richmond, Virginia. Educated at Livingstone College, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the University of Virginia, he taught English and writing at his high school alma mater in Essex County and for the city of Richmond. While at Richmond, he received two writing fellowships, teacher of the year, the prestigious REB Award for Teaching Excellence, and an educational leadership fellowship. His work appears at Highlandparkpoetry.org and in the River City Poets Anthology, 2018. His first book Flesh and Blood: Collected Poems of Mind, Body, and Spirit is currently in publication with NavWorks Press.
From The Mad Mind Of
Whose Houseboat is It, Anyway? Not long ago I wrote a poem, in fact, I have written 12 in the first 23 days of February. This one was a bit of a concept poem, which is not generally how I write a poem.
As I think it illustrates a few points, I will share it now, and then discuss the points I mean to raise because of it:
I had an ending, a footnote, but to me, it was part of the poem. When my wife, who is a much better critic of poetry than I am, read it, she said she thought the footnote hurt the poem. I mentioned this where I shared the poem on Facebook. One person agreed with me that it made the poem a bit of an experiment. My nephew reminded me of a statement I had made to him in the past, as the all-knowing poet uncle, that if one gives the reader information that is not exactly in the poem, it limits the poem. I had to agree with him and my former self. One of my favorite sayings for many years is: “If you have to set up a poem, you probably need to rewrite it.”
I have removed the footnote, though I am sharing it at the very end of this article. If you want to read it so you can see whether it is an interesting experiment or simply something that kills the poem, feel free.
The bigger question is what right does the poet have to screw up his/her poem? And how much background information helps a reader “understand” a poem? The understand is in quotation marks, because I have long wondered how much a poet should or can help a reader understand a poem. I have to admit I sometimes enjoy knowing a bit of background of a poet when I read their work, but I also am a big believer that a poet makes a poem, releases it to the universe and like a crystal of light, that poem is owned and co-created by every reader every time they read it.
Once written, can I say who the poem is about? Is it about me? Is it true, as I am fond of saying about my stories - they are all true - even if they didn't happen that way? Does the poet get to pick the narrator, or does the poem do that after the poet has written what he thought he meant?
Speaking of reading, I have never been a big reader of poetry. I mean I read hundreds of submissions, that we get here at BTS, and I try to read the poems that are part of the ModPo curriculum, though I tend to get swamped. I am not sure why I tend to write two poems for every poem I read. I hear so many people in poetry say “read, read, read” but I just want to write, write, write.
I love a lot of the poetry and poets I do read. I have no idea if what I write is poetry, is good poetry or what, and somehow, reading great poets does not seem to inform me regarding this. As much as I can tell, it doesn’t even make me a better poet. In fact, my brother, who has been a long-time reader and fan, isn’t very impressed with half the stuff I write now. He says I make him work too hard to “get it.” He is as uneducated as I am, but he, too, writes poetry, sometimes stuff I consider really good, though he writes one to a hundred of mine. So, I worry.
I have a very hard time imagining reading other poets can do anything but make one a better poet, but that brings me to the next question: How can people read poetry and not write it? I mean, writing poetry is easy, writing good poetry may be hard, I don’t know - I am not sure if I have ever done it, but sitting down, and putting thoughts on paper, then looking at those thoughts and deciding how they look best on the page, and then calling it a poem is an easy thing for me. (I also am a huge believer in the title, if your poem is “Untitled” then I wonder why you wrote it and even more why the heck would I read it?)
I say this as a person who has dedicated himself to writing poetry since age 5, and now at the age of 58, is unsure that he has ever written a poem. How does one know? And if someone, the reader, is going to co-create, how important is it that the poet write a great poem?
Most of all, because I am just one silly middle aged man, who will soon enough be old and then dead and then most if not all of what I write will go into the dumpster and both me and my words will disappear as if we neither had ever existed, but we did, and still do, in the meantime I wonder how many other poets deal with this, and how do they deal with it? If you are poet, or know a poet, or if you once met a poet, and you have any thoughts about any of this, I would love to hear from you!
The Footnote: The above poem is a lie, inspired by the title of a John Ashbery collection, which I have not (yet) read. I had two rich uncles, but neither had a houseboat, and if they had, they would never have let me spend a summer on it!
Contributors to this issue:
in order of appearance Raymond Byrnes Featured Poem 5
Adjei Agyei-Baah Interview, New & Award winning Haiku 7-21