My Picture Book Days

by Robert Leeming


You lined up empty metal film canisters, like bullet casings, across the glass dresser top and filled each one with paper scraps ripped from your notebook covered with bits and pieces, patterns of thought, observations of endless fields through train windows, nothing special, nothing particularly revealing, just little written trinkets ready to be given away.

After each one was loaded you would pass a dozen to me and keep a dozen for yourself and we would duck below the wooden window ledge of our fourth floor room in the Bristol Hotel and toss the canisters out as gifts to the city. Christ Almighty people don’t half kick up a fuss when confronted with the milk of human kindness, consumed by the unruly nature of the presentation rather than the contents, hammering at the door, summoning porters and night porters who would flee their elevator homes throwing back the cage doors with a flourish calling for explanations and room keys.

You were all frowns and vapour in the wardrobe mirror as I threw you your overcoat and you threw me back an inflatable beach ball and you told me to let it down or leave it behind because we couldn’t move quickly with that and I decided to let it down.

In the street I slipped on our own canisters and you cursed me with one of those words you’d picked up while working the zeppelins in that brief period during the twenties when you could make an honest living checking tickets up there.

And I seemed to be recognised in the street, you weren’t, but I seemed to be, everyone seemed to be looking at me and I didn’t know why. Perhaps they recognised me from my television days? My radio days? My Kinetoscope days? My picture book days?

You waved your hands and gestured towards me to hurry up and I did and then I fell backwards and I slipped away again.

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Love Streams

by Robert Leeming

Susannah? When did I see her last? We've been through all this. Haven't we? Outside Peter Jones. We'd been to Cadogan Hall and she'd just been offered an international tour playing second cello in a Candide revival. We've discussed this. I set it up for her. You've got to be a fixer in this life, there's nothing better to be than a problem solver, to take on other people's burdens seamlessly, confidently, because you have all the answers.

I had all the answers. I scribbled them all down in a notebook. I was one of those insufferable people who kept a notebook, a diary. Chatto and Windus published it and the book topped the New York Times bestseller list. I was a bestselling writer. I sat on the set of The Tonight Show, talking to Johnny in my Brooks Brothers suit, smoking my Lucky Strikes, talking about how Henry Miller had considerably altered my perception of life, even though I've never read him. My publisher gave me a gold watch because I'd sold so many copies, all while Susannah was playing second cello in second-rate cities across America. She must have seen my face on the television, she must have, appearing through the static on one of those motel sets as a Missouri cloudburst rattled the metal blinds in her bedroom.

She used to take me to concerts, Mahler and Bruckner and Charles Ives, even though I liked rhythm and blues and only rhythm and blues she insisted that I gave these things a try. They played Mahler's 5th Symphony and I hated it, apart from a couple of seconds, a bar I suppose, of the Adagietto, about eight minutes in when the strings made me feel like I'd stumbled into a universe full of pillows. So, tired, in other words.

We went to a Venetian coffee bar. After the concert. Did I mention we were in Venice? For her birthday. It was the Feast of the Redeemer, the Festa del Redentore, and there were fireworks exploding everywhere, coloured light licking the top of terracotta steeples and terracotta tiled domes, and it was too crowded. Oh, how I hate crowds, nothing beautiful should ever be crowded, don't you think? Well, Venice was full that weekend, people were surging through the piazzas shouting and yelling and carrying colourful streamers and all the boats out on the lagoon were blaring their horns.

I said something meaningful to her, like, 'I've never been so happy in all my life', or some such thing, but she didn't hear me. I can always say something meaningful amid a clamour, but I can never speak my mind in total silence. Strange that, isn't it?

We kissed by the Lido. There was too much noise and someone kept tugging at my sleeve trying to sell me firecrackers. We made love in The Gritti Palace. We flew home.

A year or so later her depression set in and I arranged for her to get away and the last time I saw her was after that concert. At Cadogan Hall. Outside Peter Jones, remember?

Funny, every single vestige of that night that I had on my person when we returned to London Airport is still collecting dust on my writing table. The ticket stub for the concert, the receipt from the coffee bar and a couple of matchbooks from here and there, little pieces of a night that I had little recall of and didn't even like all that much at the time. It all seemed to mean so little to me then, but means so much now.

I'm losing track of things. I can't remember where I left my cigarettes, my loose change. The love streams of my life have stopped leading anywhere in particular. People still ask me to sign that book, its purple dust jacket increasingly battered in the copies I see these days. Please tell me I haven't written something enduring, something abiding, I couldn't cope with that, no, never. Time shows up all dishonesty in the end.

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Amadeo's Girlfriend


by Raquel Wasserman

 

Was she cheating on him again?

Come on, she murmured.  Let me go, AmadeoJesus.

She was a Ford model with sunbaked hair and one quarter Choctaw blood.  The next Bridget Hall.  Her name was Danny.  She was head taller than him.  She was real tall.

He was a movie director named Amadeo.  He knew Toback and Woody Allen.  She was with him because he was hot – half Italian and half Russian with curly brown hair, a white boy’s afro. They fought all the time, and she would throw away her key, but something always brought her back, with a bottle of vino.  The soft camel hair coat sliding to the ground.  He kissed her and all was well.  They listened to Leonard Cohen.  He called her his shiksa.

Once, after a fight, she had rushed out of their apartment.  As she wandered near Union Square, she saw a man in the deli staring at her.   It was Leonard Cohen.  Crazy! He had a baseball cap on, and tipped it, at her.  It was a testament to New York.  And to her perfect and endless beauty.

Her first youth crush had been the nicest boy.  Boy, did she love that Michael Thompson.  He lived once in the weeping Mississippi mossy trees near the busted-up plantation of their school.  She adored those old houses.

How she chased Michael.  Beautiful name.  His eyeglasses, buttery hair to his shoulder, and one of those aristocrat’s beak noses.  She saw him at the middle school dance; she couldn’t get the chutzpah to dance with him.   Oh well.

It was the enduring passion of a girl who had never been kissed by anyone but her randy teenage neighbor, Seth. The first man to call her beautiful.  She was wearing a yellow dress and jelly shoes.  He caught her by her black hair in the back yard and called her Indian princess and kissed her at sundown.  What was the use with country boys?  Being kissed by your neighbor too early was the story of every girl from Tennessee to Florida.

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The Weaving Woman

by Joshua Greschner


                When contemplative silence settles among the wooden desks, among the aging ochre pages, thoughts tingle, thighs shuffle and silently, galaxies within the empty space of O’s swim in circles.

                Walled within 3 barren slabs of diffidence, but with her back exposed, she tilts her head at a studious angle, draped in wild hair harangued, then negotiated into X’s of bobby pins like slanted crosses. Her fingertips, drifting over waves of frozen text, have yet to callous like the Weaving Woman’s, a widow of the sea, a master of delicacy and attentiveness.

                Waves whip the coast, and tails lash at the sky. “Only strings,” mutters the Weaving Woman, embroidering details of her life: birth, mid-age and resolution against dying. What happens when the ship doesn’t fully sink, when the line snaps but stays lodged inside? The knowing don’t speculate. “It’ll wash up,” she says, assuredly, “sure as hell along with everything.”

                Within the library’s silence, my gaze lingers. She gets up, drinks from the fountain. I follow, hiding among shelves of towering ruin. She walks back intently, free from reticence, her arms dangle uncrossed, like tranquilized vines on a tree slipping out of the forest, unnoticed. She runs bare fingers through matted and ferocious hair, cuts loose the weak ties and shakes free her head. Wreckage spins and disintegrates within hurricanes forming and calming. Ancient history resuscitates, to die within moments. Bare fingers emerge from rapture like blanched pillars, uneroded. After fastening shut the ocean, she turns and looks at me.

                I, standing naked in my shameless voyeurism, droplets diving down my temple, pooling on the indifferent floor, get a sudden impulse to plunge into the water, to hide from the tempestuous stare of the shore. She recoils, gathers her things and leaves. I sit back down. My sweat dries.

                The Weaving Woman bites the final thread of a pall-thin blanket, with her remaining shards of teeth, without her cloudy eyes.

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Fair Society

by Chelsea H. Bryan
 
     This morning a beautiful woman sat beside me on Metro. She was wearing a camel hair coat and she held her tall black coffee with slender fingers and pink fingernails. I got off before Arlington Cemetery, but she was wearing a wedding ring and I let the ridiculous image linger in my head all morning of her getting off there, carrying her empty coffee cup to the grave and mourning a dead soldier, laying what she had down as tribute — newspaper, coffee cup.
     I am not a soldier. But I do work at the Pentagon, in the fifth ring, security clearance five, and I sit in a cubicle and I hack. Or, to be more specific, I counter-hack. About twice daily, rogue aircraft show up in my Holy Six airspace: the White House, Pentagon, Capitol building, Washington Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial. It makes me angry that the Library of Congress is not included, so sometimes I monitor that too. But it’s not in my job description.
     My Holy Six airspace frequencies sometimes show a signal broadcast from a supposed aircraft that wasn’t there milliseconds before. Air traffic control ignores the “sudden aircraft alert” for about six seconds, in which time I must find out whether it’s just a signal sent by some sicko on a computer and counter-hack it, making the blip on the radar disappear or if it’s a real signal from a real aircraft that turned its radar off and snuck into the Holy Six, I issue the national security emergency to the DoD. My job is to make sure that the spoof aircraft, the ones that are not really there, don’t get the panic and coverage reserved for real terrorism.
     That’s what the point of the spoof is, to achieve massive terror with only a signal and sudden blip into 18,000 ft where there is no actual hijacking terrorist. Culprits are maybe a smart MIT grad student also interested in literature, like me, but maybe who read one too many of the wrong conspiracy books that left him (almost never her) too disillusioned to work a job like mine. Whoever it is though, it’s definitely not Al-Qaida. Al-Qaida doesn't know much code right now. So I have to counter-hack all these over-educated malicious fingers. It’s said that there’s always someone smarter than you, but DoD pays me for that not to be true.
     I counter-hack, on yearly average, two spoofs per day. I am only 24 but the woman on Metro looked as young. I don't think in any universe she'd describe me as a man, maybe not even a guy. Boy is the word. I like to think of myself more as a creature, or an animal. Crawling through the universe, subsisting on space food. She looked at me, though. I saw her.

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