Mildred

Standard

a short story by Jerry Zinn

“I don’t know. I think her teachers are fine. Jenny’s just having difficulty engaging with her classmates. It’s hard for her,” Mary said.

“Well Mary, that’s understandable. You know our girls are at that age now where they are starting to figure things out,” Taylor replied, disregarding the suggestion of Jenny’s hardship. “Take Lucy for example. Two weeks ago I was trying to get her to go to sleep and I said, ‘Lucy, it’s time to go to bed. You have to wake up early tomorrow for school.’ And you know what she said? ‘No, I’m going to stay up later. I can just call in sick tomorrow.’ That’s is what I’m dealing with, and she’s only seven,” Taylor said.

“I can sympathize, but I can’t empathize,” added Sally. “Taking care of a seven-year-old boy is like taking care of a pet sometimes, and I’m guessing Andrew will continue to act this age for at least three more years. When he makes noises at the table, sometimes I wish he were making sarcastic comments like Lucy. I just want him to say stuff Will and I can laugh about, but he’s not giving us much to work with.”

“It is good though that we make time for all of them to play together like this,” said Mary.

“Absolutely, how many of them are we supposed to be watching anyway?” Taylor asked jokingly as she head-counted seven kids exploring the community park.

It was a brisk day, but the warm sun permeated the splotchy cloud cover to take the edge off. The jungle gym, with its yellow and green bars, ladders, slides, and unclassifiable structures, shined brightly over the cushy rubber padding beneath, as Jenny, Lucy, Andrew, and four other like-minded children weaved their way in and out of parental surveillance. The three mothers designated to officiate the leisure sat on one of the park’s bench and continued talk of their children and the school, along with comments of spousal annoyance.

“Hide and seek,” Lucy said perched atop the highest platform.

“Yeah I’ll play,” Andrew added.

“What about you guys?” Lucy asked the remaining kids. Her question was met with unanimous yeses, and the proceedings commenced.

“Who’s going to be it?” Jeff asked from underneath the slide.

“I’ll be it first,” offered Andrew. “I’ll count to fifty.” Andrew covered his face loosely, allowing some visual information to slip through the cracks in his fingers as he began to count, “One, two…”

“Wait!” Hannah called out from the ground, “Let me just finish tying my shoe!”

“Come on Hannah, hurry up!” Andrew yelled back.

“OK, geez! You wont find me anyway!”

“Whatever! One, two, three…”

As Andrew restarted, the kids sequestered themselves to the far reaches of the structure and its surrounding obstacles. Lucy ventured the furthest, managing to hide behind the mothers’ bench with the unspoken understanding they would protect her location. Jeff wandered in circles for half of the count with a frantic look on his face as he scanned the area for possible refuge. Finding none to his liking, he settled for a “hide in plain view” strategy, parking himself directly beneath the perforated platform atop which Andrew was standing.

“Fifty!” Andrew exclaimed, rising up and removing his less than exemplary blindfold. His modus operandi was apparent immediately, as he left the confines of the structure and hunted the playground extremities.

Lying at the end of the macaroni-elbow-shaped, plastic slide was Jenny. She stared at the hard shell cradling her body, its imperfections appearing opaque in an otherwise translucent material, as the sun heated her surroundings and made her so comfortable she wished she were never found. With her hands she felt the seam where the pieces were bolted together. It was smooth except for one coarse bump, which she rolled her fingers on over and over again, hoping to wear it down.

“Excuse me,” she heard a woman’s voice whisper from outside her hideout. “Excuse me,” it came through again.

Jenny sat up in the slide and popped her head out to investigate. As she looked around, her head stopped on a dime when she saw, flanked on either side by bushes, a purple monster covered in green stripes that zigged and zagged like recurring M’s and W’s. The monster’s head was green with larger than life features. Its eyes were wide and a soft hazel with a small nose and ear-to-ear smile. The beast didn’t scare Jenny, as she slowly pulled herself out and stood staring at it.

“May I talk to you for a minute?” the monster asked, waving her over.

Jenny didn’t answer, but she approached the strange thing, her head tilting side to side, enchanted with curiosity.

“What’s your name?” Jenny asked, now standing face to stomach with the monster.

The green and purple monster leaned its head down to Jenny’s level and answered, “Mildred. What’s yours?”

“Jenny,” she answered as she reached out to hug Mildred.

“It’s very nice to meet you Jenny and thank you for the hug; that was very kind.”

“Are you a monster?” Jenny asked.

“No, I’m not a monster.”

“Then what are you? I’ve never seen anything like you at the zoo.”

“You wouldn’t find any of us there. I’m a nimalfog.”

“A nimalfog? What is that?” she asked, giggling.

“Well what are you?”

“I’m a person.”

“What’s a person?” Mildred asked crossing her arms.

Lucy stood with pursed lips and laughed, “I don’t know! A person is just a person.”

“And a nimalfog is just a nimalfog.”

“Hm,” Jenny replied, nodding her head approvingly. “How come I haven’t seen you here before? My mom brings me to the park a lot.”

“I’ve never been to this park before. Recently I’ve been moving around, learning about new places, trying new things, and meeting other people like you.”

“That’s nice. I’m in first grade.”

“What is that?”

“School. It’s where they teach us stuff like math and how to read. But reading is hard.”

“I wish I could go to school. I would love to learn new things.”

“I can teach you if you want. I like the learning part, but sometimes my classmates and I don’t get along.”

“Why not? You seem like such a nice person.”

“They don’t understand me. I feel like we speak a different language.”

“That’s why you can communicate with me!”

“What do you mean? I’ve never talked to a nimalfog before. How can I speak it?”

“The language we speak isn’t like English or French. It’s based on something even more amazing, something unique to each and every thing. It’s called imagination, and you have to have a very special imagination to talk to me.”

“So I have a very special imagination?”

“Yes, Jenny, you do.”

“Sometimes I think people are upset with my imagination. Maybe that’s why I don’t get along with everyone.”

“You should never be ashamed of your imagination. It’s what makes you who you are. It lets you see things that other people can’t because their minds are too closed. You have a gift, Jenny!”

“I do?”

“Yes, you do. A rare gift at that,” Mildred replied.

“Found you, Jenny!” Andrew called from behind. Jenny turned around and frowned.

“Jenny! Time to go!” her mother called from the bench.

“Sorry, Mildred,” Jenny said hugging the nimalfog lovingly. “I hope I get to see you again, but now I need to go. It was nice to meet you!”

“It was nice to meet you too, Jenny. Goodbye!” Mildred answered.

“Mary,” Sally said putting her hand on Mary’s shoulder, “Andrew told me he found Jenny hugging and talking to a bush behind the park. He said she was kind of… mumbling.”

“She does seem to communicate more with things around her than with people. The doctor told us to expect that with autism. But you know the doctor said it to us like he was delivering a terrible diagnosis. I like to think that Jenny gets to experience things we don’t. I often wish I could see what’s going on inside her head. I’m sure something amazing is happening in there, something we could never imagine,” Mary said.

The kids clustered around their drivers until all of them were divided between the three cars. Jenny gave her mother a hug and climbed into the way back of the van. She liked the back because it was her own space. As Mary backed up, she looked lovingly at Jenny in the rearview mirror, who was quietly having a joyful conversation. Mary tried to hear what Jenny was saying but she couldn’t quite figure it out. She thought Jenny said something about a “nimalfog?” But Mary decided she probably misheard, after all, there’s no such thing.

Other Side

Standard

a short story by Jerry Zinn

“The grass is greener on the other side.” It’s a phrase said by many but truly understood by few. People have said it to me, people who haven’t the slightest appreciation of the meaning.

When I sat down in the hard plastic chair, I tied my shoes slowly. Almost like I was tying them for the first time even though I’d done it thousands of times before. If Law & Order is a reliable source, I had jamais vous. I stood up and moved my feet around, enjoying the comfort of the shoes’ padding. But the enjoyment was short-lived. As I looked to my wrist for the time I became nervous and then slipped from nervous to nauseous. Seeing my wrist bare I patted my pockets in rapid succession.

Scanning the room I was relieved to see my gold watch, with it’s worn, hazelnut strap, resting atop an old issue of TIME Magazine on the coffee table. The timepiece was my father’s, the only remembrance I have of him other than a few choppy memories from toddler days, really just pictures I’ve seen that directed the blips. Even though his impact in my life was small, his watch is the most valuable possession I have, and I don’t think it’d be worth a damn thing at a pawnshop. After all it’s fake.

I threaded the strap through the buckle and pulled until I could slip the stem through the prescribed hole, raised from repetitive use. Then I looked at the face but didn’t bother to read the time; I just wanted the comfort of seeing it. On my way to the door I stopped. Something inside me kept my shoes glued to the floor, and I couldn’t bring myself to move forward. I turned my head and looked back out of the corner of my eye and felt a confusing sense of nostalgia.

“Keep going,” I heard, or maybe just imagined.

I reached for the knob and felt the cold metal on my hand, or perhaps I only pretended it was cold, through my thick callouses. Achingly, the door creaked as I crossed the threshold and stepped outside onto the path. The sun was bright in the sky, brighter than I’d ever known it to be. Slowly I made my way down the path, each step carrying the weight of a milestone. As I approached the end, the fence door opened like a blooming flower with the breeze. Again I found myself paralyzed, and again I heard, “Keep going.”

As if stepping into another dimension, the world around me changed fantastically as I went through the aperture. The fence door swung shut behind me with a jangle. In the sky I didn’t see a shade of blue; I saw open and limitless space. The clouds were not puffs of white cotton dotting the sky; they were passengers on the wind, caught in a migration from one part of the world to another. Even the breeze took on a different meaning. As it washed over my arms, below the rolled cuffs of my beaten button down, I sensed not its pleasant freshness, but the warmth of its welcoming embrace. Through the rustling of the leaves, a couple birds chirped in an orchestrated call and response intended only for me. It was as if the world and I were being introduced after years of exchanging letters.

The fragrance of freshly mowed grass brought tears to my eyes with its soothing aroma. With hesitation I brought my gaze down to meet the source, and yes, the grass was greener. It was greener than it had ever been, greener than any of the sorrowful grass I’d seen in ten years behind that prickled fence, behind that cold-knobbed door, and behind those unforgiving bars.

For My Dearest Jim

Standard
IMG_3634

artwork by @babyboyjw

a short story by Jerry Zinn

The cold brakes of the bus screamed in front of Wellworth’s while Anne Parkhurst adjusted her white gloves and repositioned the pillbox hat on her carefully set hair. As she stood up she did her best to smooth out the creases in her dress, some refusing to disappear after settling on the hour journey. The bus driver tipped his cap as she exited onto the sidewalk, stepping over the mound of snow. Lining the streets, tinsel trees of silver and gold glistened from the streetlights even in the grayness of the day, throwing sparkles onto the path. A gust of lake effect greeted her as she cautiously navigated the sidewalk. Instinctively she pulled the fabric of her threadbare jacket close around her neck, hoping to create a tighter seal.

Anne approached the large doors of the front entrance with Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” emanating from the speakers above, a man dressed as Santa Claus providing backup bells by the bright-red Salvation Army bucket. Anne rummaged through her purse for some spare change for Saint Nick. She found eight quarters and, recognizing she’d need five for the ride home, plucked out three and inserted them in the slot with metallic clangs. She turned toward the store but stopped. She only needed one dollar to get home. Anne’s good nature wouldn’t allow her to proceed until she donated her remaining spare quarter, adding 25 more cents to his collection.

The last five years had been trying for Anne and her husband. In 1955 a quarter was a quarter, but she knew there were still others who needed the money more than she. Anne had worked hard to earn a day of vacation for Christmas shopping, and the two-hour round-trip journey, and the purchase she was in town to make, would put an even bigger strain on her finances. But she also understood that hers was an important mission. She earmarked a small percentage of her wages each month to buy a special gift for her husband Jim, because Anne knew Jim would never spend any of their savings on himself.

The doorman greeted Anne with a big smile, and he brought the heavy door to a close behind her, shutting out the harshness and enveloping her in the Christmas spirit hanging from every ledge of the department store. A manager, dressed in a well-fitting suit and tie, came up to her. “Here for some Christmas shopping?” he asked politely.

“I’m here for something very particular, for my husband,” Anne answered as she opened the clasp on her purse and pulled out a folded page torn from a periodical. “Perhaps you can tell me where I might find this?”

“Ah wonderful, if you’d please follow me, Mrs…?”

“Parkhurst.”

“Mrs. Parkhurst, my name is Gregory. Let me take you to the proper department,” he said, inviting her to board the escalator bound for the second story. Anne was captivated by the array of lights and ornaments that made her feel like she was moving through the stars. She always stood up a little straighter and talked a little more formal when she made the rare trip downtown, and so mindfully she improved her posture. Anne looked down at her dress and tried again to wrestle out the creases, unsuccessfully.

“Mrs. Parkhurst, this is Miss Rubinstein. She will be glad to assist you in making your purchase and with anything else you may need. Merry Christmas,” Gregory said, excusing himself.

“Thank you and Merry Christmas to you too.”

“Mrs. Parkhurst,” Miss Rubinstein began, “How may I help you?”

Anne returned to her purse and produced the advertisement she pulled from a magazine at the beginning of the year. Anne realized material possessions were not of paramount importance, but the message behind the gift was, and so she saved up the exact amount she needed and took the day off for the trip to downtown Cleveland to make the purchase. She knew how hard Jim worked at the bank. He’d been forced to work harder and to put in longer hours since the lay-offs, and he had been passed over for a promotion a second, and a third time. Jim Parkhurst was among the last people who needed to be told life wasn’t fair.

As a banker, one of the most important factors to success was being presentable. Jim had a rotation of three suits, constantly in need of mending; a handful of ties, handed down from his father; and a watch that stopped working a year ago, but he still wore it to look the part. Twice a day, as he often joked to Anne, he could provide the right time when asked. At the office, he constantly looked at the wall clock so if he were ever asked, he could pretend to read it off his wrist.

“I have the model right here,” Miss Rubinstein said, sliding the glass backing and drawing out the watch. It’s hands, numerals, and bezel were all gold, and the face pearl white. A black strap of leather bound the timepiece to the cushion in the case.

“It’s perfect,” Anne said. A thousand times she imagined Jim putting it on, wearing it confidently to the office, and the image made her happy. Anne pulled out an envelope from her bag and handed it to Miss Rubinstein with the exact amount printed on the tag.

“Would you like it engraved, Mrs. Parkhurst?”

It would be, Anne thought, a great personal touch. But she realized she had no more money to spend. “How much would it cost?”

“Engraving is $1.”

Without a split-second of hesitation, Anne pulled out the four remaining quarters designated as her fare home and handed them to Miss Rubinstein. “Please write ‘For My Dearest Jim.’”

“Of course, Mrs. Parkhurst. I’ll just give the watch to our engraver,” Miss Rubinstein answered, as she stepped away from the desk, disappearing into the back room.

Anne wondered at the decorations and the teems of people moving about in a beautifully spontaneous dance. They too were buying gifts for loved ones, trying to make the season special. As she stood in awe, she pictured the expression on her husband’s face on Christmas morning, when he unwrapped the watch. She knew that image would keep her warm on the long, cold, walk home.

Sunday Sam’s Last Stand

Standard
Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

artwork by @babyboyjw

a short story by Jerry Zinn

Sam let out a grunt, grabbing his left shoulder in pain. His cream color shirt was dripping in the maraschino blood seeping steadily from the fresh bullet wound. He tore off his sleeve and tied it around the injury to help stem the bleeding while using his leg to straighten himself up against the corner of the adobe walls, spurs jingling on the heels of his life-beaten leather boots.

“Poetic, isn’t it?” The words came from below and behind a distant wall. Sam flashed a quick glance around the edge from his perch, holed up in the bell tower of the white washed Spanish church of St. Sebastian. A bullet took a chunk from the edge of the structure near his face and threw some plaster dust into his eyes, causing him to recoil. In the brief look, Sam was able to discern where the sheriff and his two deputies were settled.

“Sunday Sam,” the sheriff continued, “picked a church for his last stand, and on Sunday afternoon no less. It’s almost like the good Lord planned it. You’ve knocked off eight banks from here to the Mississippi, and you’ve still got the audacity to show up in church every week. I can’t quite figure if you’re a God-fearing man or if you think weekly service somehow absolves you of your sins. Well I’m done chasing you, Sunday. You’re only leaving that church one of two ways: walking out in handcuffs or in the box I had made up for ya. It’s up to you. There’s three of us and, at two guns a piece, that’s six barrels lookin’ for your head or your heart.”

Sam heard the sheriff but the message didn’t faze him. He pulled his revolvers from their holsters and slipped out the bullets from his belt to fill them. The wooden handles had crosses carved deep like crevasses, something he’d done over a bottle of whiskey one lonely night in Nevada. A fine job he thought, professional-like. With his uninjured arm, Sam reached for his hat, a light brown wide-brim decorated with sweat stains and the same dust that filled his lungs.

He leaned forward and affixed it to his head, mopping the moisture from his forehead with his remaining sleeve. Even in the seclusion of the tower, the sun was inescapable, branding the drenched arm hairs to his skin. Without looking, Sam pointed one of the revolvers through an opening and took a shot, a puff of smoke quickly dissolving in the dry breeze. He counted eight blasts of return fire, and by the sound he could tell none of the men were any closer to the church.

Convinced of his momentary safety, Sam reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a cigar, damp with perspiration but still dry enough to light. He struck a match on the hardened mud and took a deep draw, the tip curling to accept the flame. As he smoked, Sam looked at the large bell hanging above, its thick rope dangling to the ground. The bell was simple but large, a cast bronze with the year of its installation fastened to the side in raised numbers: 1817. His teeth dug into the end of the cigar, freeing a bit of the tobacco, which he fished for with his tongue and spat onto the planks under his soles. In spite of the predicament, Sam was calm, and his mind drifted. He wondered how heavy the bell was and how many men it took to raise it up.

“Hell of a time for a smoke, Sunday!” the sheriff called out with a chuckle. A sly smirk worked its way across Sam’s face. He took a drag and tilted his head back, opening up so the smoke could scale to the roof and dissipate. Then he tossed the cigar out the tower, and a few shots fired. It was a good sign, Sam thought. They were nervous.

“Well? What do you say, Sunday? You don’t want the next time you go to church to be for your own funeral, do you?” There was impatience in the sheriff’s voice. Sam yawned, scratching his bristled neck and grasping the red bandana at his throat.

“How tall are you, sheriff?” Sam yelled.

“What’s that?” the sheriff replied, confused.

“Just wonderin’ if I’m taller than you.”

“What difference does that make?”

“I was just thinking we could put you in that coffin you had made. No reason it should go to waste.”

“I didn’t realize you had a considerate side, Sunday.”

“Sheriff, if you think I’m gonna surrender myself to you, you’re even more of a God damn fool than most in your profession. And about every one I’ve met I’ve turned to dust.”

“You should be more careful with your language son. You are in church after all.”

Sam stood up and kept his back glued to the corner, wincing at the sharp, throbbing shoulder pain. “Why don’t you and your boys join me? The service is about to start,” he teased.

“Joe,” the sheriff whispered, “you head up to the well quickly. Abe and I’ll cover you.” Joe looked back skeptically.

“You sure?” Joe asked.

“Look, Sunday’s not budging. Our only chance is to get into the church, so we got to get over there in stages. Now we’ll cover you. Just keep low and try to be swift and quiet about it,” the sheriff responded. Joe’s insecurities remained as he looked over the wall and saw the well halfway between the church and his refuge. Back in the tower, Sam was considering his options. He knew he couldn’t go down; his shoulder was done for, unable support the weight to lower himself.

Joe inched around the corner of the wall and, gripping his rifle tightly, he bent over and shuffled towards the distant stone watering hole. Sam crouched down and extended for the rope, giving it a strong tug. The bell rang out loudly as it swayed, the large clapper inside clanging against the cast frame. The sheriff and Abe fired a few shots each and Joe froze where he was, panicky eyes set on the tower and its swaying mechanism.

Sam took a breath, raised both of his revolvers, and turned the corner to see Joe stuck in no man’s land. Faster than any of the three law-enforcers could think, Sam fired a shot from each pistol at Joe and ducked to the other side as the replies whizzed by.

“Joe?” the sheriff called out. When no response came, he peeked over and saw Joe lying motionless on the ground, his head an unappetizing bowl of ground meat. “God damn it. Joe’s dead,” he said. The color flushed out of Abe’s face when he heard the words, and it fell to his toes when he got a look for himself. Sam stealthily glanced at his handiwork.

“It’s too bad about Joe, sheriff. Why don’t you and your other little friend go home now while you still have each other,” Sam said, loading more bullets into the rotaries. “Maybe order a bottle of hooch and hold hands.”

“You’re going straight to hell when I’m through with you, Sunday!” the sheriff yelled.

“That’s quite a prophecy, preacher,” Sam replied. “Didn’t know you were ordained.”

The sheriff turned to Abe and motioned with his head for Abe to try where their comrade had failed. Abe shook his head in refusal, his shock over Joe’s demise still fresh on his sunken cheeks. The sheriff read Abe’s expression and loosened his lips.

“We’ll both go at the same time,” he said, which seemed to settle Abe. Sam let out a deep breath and closed his eyes, cocking back the hammers on the nickel-plated guns in effortless synchronization. A piece of leftover cigar made its presence known in the back of his mouth, and he chewed it a little, extracting the peppery spice from its fibers. Almost as quickly as his bullets, Sam darted across the opening, saw the sheriff and his remaining deputy, and fired. One of the bullets struck the bucket hanging above the well, and water gushed out the hole. The other shot caught Abe in the neck, and he collapsed to the ground. The sheriff threw himself against the stones of the well and looked back at his fallen deputy. Abe gripped at his wound, but the sheriff recognized there was nothing either man could do. He knew his partner would bleed out in a matter of seconds. The sheriff sat still as a boulder, watching helplessly as he lost his second man of the day.

The sting in Sam’s shoulder was intensifying, and the sensation radiated. Blood was coming through the makeshift bandage, and he knew he needed to end the standoff soon and find a way to get himself medical attention if he was to stay out of the made-to-measure coffin.

“You’re going to have to be speedier than that, sheriff.”

“Those were two good men, Sunday. Your body count’s not going to help you where you’re going.”

Good men? Good at what?”

The sheriff stood up slowly and pointed his rifle at the bell. He didn’t respond to Sam’s jab. He remained focused. For the first time, fear sent chills over Sam’s body, a strange freeze in the hot New Mexico summer. The sensation was foreign, and he almost didn’t recognize it. Since it was one of the few things he’d never experienced, he was able to identify it by process of elimination, knowing, for example, that he hadn’t just fallen in love. His palms secreted sweat and loosened their hold on the cross-embellished handles. With the tip of a barrel, he pushed up on the brim of his hat and let it fall behind.

“You’ve made your decision,” the sheriff said without flinching, the intensity of his words weighing uncomfortably on Sam’s ears.

“How’s that?”

“There’s only one way you’re leaving that church now: sealed up in a pine envelope.”

“Envelope? Well I’m not much for writing, and I damn sure ain’t much for dying.”

Sam prepared himself for one more move. He took a deep breath in and out and said, “It’s been a real pleasure getting to know you over the years, sheriff. I’ll be sure to lay a flower by your gravestone.” Immediately after he finished speaking, Sam turned, and three shots went off. One of Sam’s bullets hit the sheriff in the leg, the other struck the dirt, and the force of the sheriff’s shot threw Sunday Sam back toward the bell. As he fell down the tower, Sam reached for the rope, and when he struck the ground, the bell tolled.

“I hate flowers,” the sheriff said to the audience of emptiness, grabbing his leg and hobbling toward the church, the bell still singing its somber song. He threw open the doors and stumbled into the aisle, a simple wooden crucifix hanging nobly on the altar. The sheriff looked to his left and saw Sunday Sam on the ground, head turned the other way, rope still swinging above his body. As the sheriff made his way over with labored steps he could hear the sounds of several horses riding in from the distance. It was his backup, conveniently and substantially tardy. Slowly, Sam’s head rolled over to face the sheriff. Sam looked him straight in the eyes and winked with his last exhale.

“Sheriff? You all right?” one of the men said as he dismounted and entered the church.

“Yeah, I just got shot in the leg. I’ll go see Doc Otto first thing. I guess you saw we’re going to need to more coffins out here?”

“What about Sunday Sam?”

The sheriff pointed his nose to the lifeless body and added dryly, “Sunday Sam got his last rights.”

La Fontaine

Standard
Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

artwork by @babyboyjw

a short story by Jerry Zinn

The air had the chilled nip of a kiss from an early spring mistral in the French countryside. Paul Van Dyke stood, Bordeaux in hand, at the top of the elevated patio overlooking the endless stretch of fastidiously manicured grounds. Van Dyke felt the cold touch of the breeze against the back of his neck like a stroke from the hand of a siren, receding into the imaginary sea forthwith. He took a sip from the glass and allowed the full body of the wine to roll the fullness of its body around his tongue, its alcoholic constitution a welcome radiance as it made passage. His wrist turned naturally in the constant search of temporal awareness, but he recognized and ignored the inclination to check his timepiece.

The button of his expensively tailored, black wool suit was unfastened, and he thumbed it through the hole as he walked slowly down the stone steps, his arrival at the base marked by the crunch of the fine, white gravel. He proceeded forward with a deliberate lack of pace, placing his hand on the weathered stone ledge feeling the small pores and imperfections as he slid along. The boxwoods lining the long network of green and gravel lines were geometrically flawless as though he were inside a famous diamond, and from his distance the network’s constituents appeared solid as Italian marble. He came toe to toe with the fairway-length lawn, its alternating light and dark green stretching from the caps of his polished oxfords to the horizon point where they met in the distance. The spray of the fountain shot up and fell down continuously, creating the illusion of a transparent tree of water growing forth from the discolored pedestal.

Right or left? That was the decision to be made in order for him to continue without infringing upon the blades of sacred Poaceae. Van Dyke allowed his feet to choose for him, following their heading to the right. Each subsequent, crackling meeting of his leather soles with the tiny stones brought him closer to the somber expression on the Grecian statue who called the garden home, her head turned as if preventing her gaze from falling upon him. With the brilliant canopy of trees stretching to the sky chirping from within, Van Dyke fell into unpleasantness. He had no one to blame but himself for the position in which he was immovably set. After all, he had taken the money, and with that he signed away the luxury of a clean conscience. He finally understood that he wouldn’t be able to eat the cake he had collected, an annoying cliché, frustratingly fulfilled.

As Van Dyke followed the sharp angle of the path, forcing him nearer the fountain, he heard but could not see the plane overhead, remaining as it did, hidden behind the peppered gray matching the shade of his hair. Initially he wished to be aboard the plane instead of where he was, but he struck down the thought with the remembrance that actions have consequences, and those couldn’t be avoided or escaped, only faced as in duels belonging to earlier times. Regrets were poisonous, poisonous as Botrytis blight and just as difficult to treat, Van Dyke thought as he turned another corner and walked to the bench, placed equidistant from the parallel sides of the garden. He stood between the bench and the fountain circled with lavender. Van Dyke could never go back and undo the damage he’d done, the greed to which he succumbed was like spilled soup never to be fully returned to bowl. In his business dealings he became well acquainted with the valuation of land, and to his disgust he also knew his own price, to the cent.

With glass in hand, he felt the gentle mist of the peripheral fountain water brushing against his face. What’s done is done, he mused as he took another appreciative sip of the vintage 2003. Over the years, Van Dyke often stood in the very spot in which he found himself, and presently its familiar comforts were no less familiar or comforting. He closed his eyes and welcomed in the subtly aromatic lavender with none of the artificial enhancements added in reproductions.

“Mr. Van Dyke.” The introduction did not startle him; he knew it was coming. Slowly he allowed his eyes to welcome back the splendor of his surroundings. Van Dyke set the glass down carefully on the moss-patched bench as he about-faced. He adjusted the cuffs of his starched shirt peeking out from his jacket sleeves.

Van Dyke didn’t feel the piercing metal bullet work its way through the infinitesimally thin fibers of the black wool fabric, past his pink silk pocket square, beyond more dermal barriers, and into his heart. He didn’t even hear the muffled pop of the shot through the suppressor. But Van Dyke could feel the life leaking out of his body, and each shuffled step backwards felt heavier as his balance began to fail him. While engaged in a rearward fall, the rippling, clear waters waiting to receive him, a strange thought came into his head given the circumstances: he hadn’t finished his glass of Bordeaux. It was an unfortunate, though appropriate way for him to go out, he thought, as the known world dissolved away.

Halloween Party

Standard
IMG_7504

artwork by @babyboyjw

a short story by Jerry Zinn

“What do you think it’ll be like tonight?” Oscar asked.

“It’s impossible to know for sure, but I’m predicting the most insane one yet. After all it is the tenth, and I hear they’re going all out. We’re talking epic proportions,” Ryan answered.

“Last year was pretty crazy though. You think it’s going to be even more out there this go around?”

“Yeah but come on, this is the tenth anniversary. The first couple were kind of lame, but the last few years have just been insane.”

“Duly noted. I’ll brace myself for impact.”

Oscar returned to his desk and sat watching the clock tick slowly with his chin resting in cupped hands. The annual Halloween Party at Blair’s Dopamine Center was an event people talked about anxiously as soon as the Labor Day weekend played through. And while its reputation for excess was well known, officials turned a blind eye each year and allowed it to go mostly unregulated.

Officially, the Halloween Party didn’t exist. It was organized purely by word of mouth. Most offices scheduled the following day off in advance, citing obscure holidays as reasoning, as expectations for productivity were meager at best. It seemed no one was immune to the temptation, the lowest workers in the food chain frequently rubbed elbows with CEOs and bigwig decision-makers. It had evolved over the decade into one of the biggest days of the year, and even those few who didn’t attend, mostly because there were still necessary operations that needed tending to, received a contact high from the festivities.

Part of the reason the celebration was so over the top was the prevalence of a particular drug in almost limitless supply. While not illegal, the substance was tightly controlled the other 364 days of the year, and Halloween was the one occasion where it was not only unchecked, but policing and governing officials frequently indulged in it themselves.

Overdoses were common and accepted for what they were. Hospital’s usually found their ERs and bed towers filled beyond capacity the following morning, and it often took almost a week to process and administer care to every patient. Politicians, when asked how they could better manage the festivities, frequently responded ambiguously so as not to infuriate any of their constituents. It seemed the entire affair was more or less a necessary evil to maintain order and keep happiness at acceptable levels.

The workday ended later than Oscar wanted, and he quickly went home to change out of his work clothes and into something that would permit him to live a little, let his hair down, and so on. He arrived at Blair’s, dimly lit and decked in ghostly and ghoulish ornamentations, where loud music was pounding. The crowd had a raw energy, an unstoppable energy, a lift from which no one so much as considered the prospect of the inevitable downturn. From the sprinkler system drugs rained down in a fine mist, seeping into clothes and lungs with equal indifference. The party stormed on for a few hours before nearly all in attendance, clothed in everything from togas to pinstripe suits, had either passed out where they stood or went home to retire to the most easily accessible places in their homes. The music died down until it could no longer be heard, and somewhere far off in the distance, as if reaching the space from the end of a dark tunnel, voices murmured.

“Do you think we should have let Blair eat all the candy?” the woman asked.

“Well honey he is ten now. Halloween’s going to start meaning less and less to him as he gets older, so we might as well let him enjoy it. Besides, its just one night, and after eating his weight in sugar I think he’ll probably sleep the whole way through the weekend,” the man responded.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so amped up. I bet his dopamine center was having the party of the century.”

“Well he probably wont want to eat another piece of candy till Christmas after tonight.”

The man left the room and the woman lingered a moment longer, smiling at her sleeping son sprawled out on his bed. She flicked off the lights and left the room, shutting the door quietly behind her and officially ending the year’s Halloween Party.

Lágrimas da Noite

Standard
Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

artwork by the gifted Jimmy Wyngaarden @babyboyjw

a short story by Jerry Zinn

As I peered aimlessly through the delicate fog of Lisboa into the sea of black and white tiles rolling like imperfect waves over Rossio Square, I felt a stream of rain fall on my toes with their crimson-painted nails exposed. I adjusted my umbrella, which I had allowed to list back as my distant memories swam in the square. Sentimentality often strikes me when I am at my weakest, a warm refuge for the cold and lonely spirit. Decades of experience taught me there is only one cure when I fall into the trap of musing, and fortunately for me I was standing just near that very medicine. My feet carried me swiftly and surely to the tiny counter of A Ginjinha, an establishment smaller than my closet and as old as the vines in Porto.

My visits were regular, perhaps even daily. Though my days often appear similar, I never intend for them to be. I follow my heart, and my heart often longs for familiar comforts. My years of patronage are too numerous to count, and in so doing my true age would be revealed. Suffice it to say the trips were many over a long period. To Emilio, working with the kind of graceful movements that masked his mechanical efficiency, I simply smiled and raised a finger to indicate one drink would do.

Emilio nodded as he placed a small, white plastic cup before me and tilted a large glass container, pulling out the wooden knob and allowing a few of the morello cherries to jump out before putting the stopper back in just far enough to hold back the fruit and allow the sweet, dark-red Ginja liqueur to fill the vessel. I placed the Euro coin on the countertop, but he didn’t take it, raising his eyebrows as if to say, “I know you’ll want for another.” Of course he was right, but for my own sake I left the coin there just the same as I took little sips of the delicious elixir, the tartness of the cherries bound by alcohol to the sweet syrup. When it was gone I tossed the two fruits in my mouth, manipulating them with my tongue to extract the pits and holding them off to the side as I enjoyed the soaked bits of bliss. Then in the classic Portuguese way, I took great pleasure in spitting the seeds on the mosaic square, adding them to the scattered collection from unknown mouths.

For a moment I considered walking on, but the dry, sour pull at the back of my tongue beckoned for another, and I obliged. Emilio had already prepared my next drink, and I placed another Euro on the table. My second offering he promptly stacked on the first and handed back, patting his chest to signal the charges were to be added to the house’s tab.

“Obrigada,” I said with great sincerity.

“Boa noite, Carlota,” he said as I carried on past the theater with its Ionic columns, slick steps shimmering under a thin film of moisture. It is an image, along with the city’s winding streets and pastel hued buildings, carved resolutely in the marble slate of my mind. The backs of my hands are strangers to me when compared to Lisboa. It is a city that weeps its glorious history from every crack and seam, its spirit stiffened by an endless chain of hard times but still breathing an inextinguishable flame of life from within. I am only a dot in its present, a passing thought in its timeline, but still present in an intimate and indelible way.

Night was soon to fall upon the city, but the fog would let the light of day linger on longer, dimming imperceptibly to darkness, replaced by the artificial luminescence of lamps and storefronts. I continued to weave my way through the city, up the steep inclines that led only to steeper inclines, and whether the Tejo was at my back or facing me I seemed to be climbing up. This is the Escher-like reality in which alfacinhas are inextricably tangled, a metaphor for the uphill battle of Portugal itself. As I wandered I could smell the intoxicating aroma of salty bacalhau and the foamy head of beer. Conversations skipped off the plaster walls of buildings that ran together like a long, winding train, the road cutting them at harsh angles.

I reached my destination, more a time than a place, and I peered out over the city below. The myriad colors that decorated the structures by day had turned to black, and the scattered flickers sprinkled bright dots like Christmas lights hanging above the water. I heard the bell of the tram as it rounded the bend, its sign floating above the solitary headlight, and I raised my hand so it came to a halt at my feet. I closed and clasped my umbrella before climbing aboard and paying for the privilege, the coins earlier refused, accepted now. I found a solitary seat in the back corner at a window from where my insatiable appetite for the environment could be satisfied.

The tram worked its way along the tracks, smooth in the straightaways and choppy through the curves. When I was full I pulled the cord and hopped off, back out into hidden alleyways. Before I could unfurl my umbrella the rain subsided to a fine and bearable mist, so I left the protection tightly wound. By then the night was alive as if spiked with espresso, but without the tempering effect of sugar or cream, an unnecessary luxury. Day is only an activity to be endured, serving as the time which comes before the night and which rears its unwelcome brightness when night turns in. At night, life possesses endless possibilities as the worries of the day drift away like a blue-tinted wisp of smoke from a damp cigarette. My heels clapped against the tiles like the clicking of an antique typewriter, driving my imagination to ruminate more poetically as I arrived in front of the small bar nestled between busy restaurants and shops. The blue and white tiled number 85 affixed to the stone doorway receded from the brightness as I stepped inside.

“Olá Carlota! Como vai você?” Franco asked from his seat, teardrop-shaped Portuguese guitar set upon his lap as he carefully tuned each of its dozen strings.

“Tudo bom, Franco. Tudo bom,” I answered. “Tonight, I’ll just be doing one song.”

“Lágrimas da Noite?”

I confirmed without speaking. Around me the crowd bustled. Words and phrases from all angles entered and exited my ears, fortified like fine port with the clinking of glasses and scraping of silverware. The space was full, and though the bar was not much larger than the tram, the pack of people made it seem more expansive. I knew the place well, familiar beyond the unknown faces. I was at home in its routine. Sometimes the greatest comforts are found in normalcy. Once Franco was satisfied with the sounds of his instrument, he looked up to me and nodded. The patrons needed no other signal as a hush fell upon the room, and all eyes turned to me.

“I will be singing one song this evening, one of my favorites: ‘Lágrimas da Noite.’ For those of you who don’t know the piece, it speaks to the fleeting nature of the night and the inevitable transition to the responsibilities of day. ‘Lágrimas da Noite,’ ‘Tears of Night,’ will not just be my only song this evening, it will also be the last I ever perform,” I explained to gasps and the great surprise of Franco, who has been at my side for many nights through many years. I closed my eyes, and Franco recovered to begin plucking, delicately and masterfully, transforming the mood of the room as he played. As I sang I let the song take me away. It transported me to the first time I sang it all those uncountable years before. My younger self danced with my present to the tune of my future as my emotions carried the melody. I felt as if all the raw passion inside me was invited to flow out from within as I swayed, the power of fado. When I arrived at the final line, it emerged slowly, savoring as I did the feeling of each word as they passed over my lips one by one into the hazy air:

Como lágrimas da noite, passo contra a minha vontade em dia.

(Like tears of the night, I pass unwillingly into day.)

“Dia” hung around a moment longer, undulating like a radio wave as Franco played the remaining notes. Applause filled the room, pouring over into my grateful heart. As I opened my eyes I bowed in appreciation, one final time. Franco gave me a loving embrace, and the next singer, a young girl a sliver of my age rose up to take my place. I stepped back out into the street and opened my umbrella to ward off the drops that fell with the heaviness of my saturated soul. They were tears, tears of the night, raining down through an atmosphere seasoned with enchantment, which would, as I would, pass unwillingly into day. I wandered down the avenue alone, but my story, transforming from present to past instantaneously, entered the ranks of Lisboa’s distinguished history.