It wasn’t a very good time at all, not good. Edward Whitley stood in the corner like an old floor lamp. He wasn’t looking at anything. His beady little eyes just sat there like the last two peas on a plate, lost in some thought, away from everything around him. Winnie Spencer was passing out homemade peanut butter cookies, a good thing to do, but there weren’t many takers. It wasn’t that out of place. This was peanut country. Everybody loved a peanut. It’s what made Southampton County tick.
Why is it that the more miserable a time you’re having the slower it seems to move? It sounds reasonable, even true, but why, really? Emma Pattersoll’s little girl was sitting on the floor in her best Sunday dress, petticoat and all, playing jacks The ball bounced and she’d grab one. Then she’d do it again. George Spencer chewed Beechnut. He had a sort of slow rhythm to it. The last thing anybody needed was a clock.
Wade and Wayland Bennett were identical twins. It wasn’t until Wade died that anyone could tell them apart. “So, that was Wade,” someone said looking down into the open casket.
“Wade was the silly one. He had a mole.”
The funeral home man said, “I was expecting a bigger crowd.”
“Yes,” said Rosalie Bennett Poole, “I can’t understand it. Wade was such a good man. There weren’t no other man like him.”
“People just don’t pay respect the way they used to. They don’t come out.”
“I know. I know.”
“I always figured Wade Bennett to be queer,” said Charlie Ingram.
“For land sakes Charlie, don’t say that. Don’t say it so loud.”
“Hell, I thought that was Wayland.”
“Well, it don’t matter now.”
“Cookie?” said Winnie Spencer cheerfully.
James William Gardner
James William Gardner writes extensively about the contemporary American south. The writer explores aspects of southern culture often overlooked: the downtrodden, the impoverished and those marginalized by society. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
There once was a girl who lived with her parents in a clapboard house in the Bible Belt. One day, her mother died just as she was pulling a weed from the garden, as if the root had been attached to her heart. When the girl’s father found his wife, bent sidelong in the garden, he pulled out his hair and burned the bedsheets in the yard. Oh dear god, I am cursed, he cried. First my son and now my wife?! He watched his daughter as she watched him, her hair like coal- stained cattails, dents in her cheeks and chin, a Kodachrome of her mother when she was young, and he took her into his bed as his new wife.
After several years, the girl passed her exams on the sly and left the town to attend a school near the sea. She learned how to cook and paint and drove a cab for a living; she did not return to her child-home for a long, long time. One day, she received a letter from her father’s hired man, who had tracked her to the city to tell her about an accident in the woods behind the house. Her father had been paralyzed from his neck to his toes. The next day, the daughter flew to her old town and saw her old enemy, laid out in his old bed.
Oh my daughter, he said, I cannot hold you but please make me something to eat for eating is the only pleasure I have left. So the daughter went outside and slaughtered his hound and sliced it into a stew and served it to him. I can only wonder how you made this, her father said and he ate and ate. The servant, a canny Scot, watching from the window, laughed and said, he ets the screps of the welp he fed his screps to. Then he took from the pantry and the barn in measures equal the pay owed him, left the house, and didn’t return.
The father was still hungry so he asked his daughter to bring him another bowl of the stew. When she told him there was no more, he fell into a hard sleep and dreamt about fleas. As he whimpered in sleep, the daughter lopped off his feet and steeped them in a soup, which she fed him in the morning. This is even better than the last, he said. So that night, she trimmed him a bit more, up to his knees, and served him his shins, smothered in mushrooms she found in the forest. Your cooking makes me young again, he said. I feel like I could stand up and run.
So the daughter kept feeding him his chops. She popped off his knees and served them like halved apples, still sizzling from a buttered skillet over the fire. She cut up to his hip and tossed it with his schmocks in a broth and he gobbled it up. His belly removed, she put together a roux and when he ate, it shot down his throat and onto the sheets. Please tell me there’s more, her father said. I can’t seem to fill myself up.
The last night, she sawed off what remained below his neck, smoking his arms over the fire in the hollow of his ribs. He ate greedily when he woke, his au jus running down his chin. She lifted the sheet to wipe his mouth and when he looked down and saw no body underneath, he gave one final gasp and died of fright. The daughter tossed the head into the fireplace and sold the house, taking the money back to the bay, where she bought a brownstone on Balboa. She wrote poems and died many years later, alone and at ease.
Joel Wayne is a writer and producer from Boise, Idaho. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Chattahoochee Review, The Moth, Burningword, and Salon, among other places. He was an MFA candidate at Boise State University and has won the Silver Creek Writer’s Residency, the Lamar York Prize, and is a Pushcart nominee. Wayne produces the podcast “You Know The Place” for public radio, serves as a judge for the annual Scholastic Writing Awards, and can be visited at JoelWayne.com.
When I’d walked away
from my beloved house
the new owner called: to say
she’d found a ring
and a feather
stuck into the beam
above the bedroom:
had I forgotten?
She’d saved the ring
but she’d lost the feather
I told her to keep it the ring
part of the house
I had its mate
broken in three pieces
in a little tin box
one broken circle enough
I brought her a new feather
left it in her mailbox
a long brown feather with
a blue tip and white edges
I’d let her decide
the name of the bird
Kelley Jean White
Pediatrician Kelley White has worked in inner city Philadelphia and rural New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Rattle and JAMA. Her recent books are TOXIC ENVIRONMENT (Boston Poet Press) and TWO BIRDS IN FLAME (Beech River Books.) She received a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.
Karen Carpenter was emblazoned into my retinas in the mid-1970s. I see her as the delicate, elfin creature who tiptoed into the spotlight inside the Hersheypark Arena and simply said “hello.”
That night, Karen wore a bell-bottomed, lace pantsuit and a metallic gold belt. Pantsuits were the rage then. Everyone was wearing them from Gloria Steinman to Charlie’s Angels. But this pantsuit! Fashioned entirely of beige lace. I imagined an elderly, nimble-fingered woman from Bruges, pins pressed tightly between her lips, toiling under weak candlelight with her loyal, calico cat by her side. The lace maker had read the measurements sent by the famous American pop star to a tee. That pantsuit fit like an elegant glove.
As soon as I sat down in my seat eight rows from the stage’s lip, I pretended my concert companion wasn’t there. I vanished the form of her body inside a navy pea coat perched loosely around shoulders into thin air. I blockaded her Shalimar perfume scenting our section like an old flower delivery inside a closed room and concentrated instead on the hopefully intoxicating qualities of second hand pot smoke.
I have no idea how or why my mother and I came to be sitting at that concert together. It was out of our ordinary. We never transcended. We never became more than what we were by blood. We almost never did “friend things.” It wasn’t meant to be. We were too different, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Even with the attendant mystery of why my mother and I attended a concert together once, I remember what a good performance it was. In addition to Karen Carpenter’s outfit, I have a permanent recording of her unique and beautiful voice inside my head: deeply resonant, pure, strong. But when she sang of being on top of the world, her smile was staged, a Cheshire grin on a thin face. Her brother Richard, seated at the piano, had the opposite problem. He was too consistently perky, bobbing his head every second note even during the sad songs like the one about rainy days and Mondays and having the blues.
It’s raining on a Monday. My mother forgets what day it is now. Her short-term memory has gone missing and the other parts of her, her distant memories, her sense of humor, are frequently on the fritz.
Today, she has forgotten more than usual. The index card standing at attention in the middle of her kitchen table is waiting in vain to learn: “TODAY’S DATE IS…” The Lilliputian billboard offering a daily reality check has taken the place of traditional, cheerful seasonal centerpieces and candleholders. I pick up the nearby red pencil and print: “Monday, October 7, 2019.”
“Here is your tea, Mom. No sugar, right?”
“I don’t want that milk.”
“Tea requires a drop of milk, remember? To protect teeth enamel. How about a cookie?”
I open the “sweets cabinet” underneath the toaster oven, noting the blackened toast crumbs and frozen pizza cheese coating the bottom tray like an ugly scab. Some changes about this kitchen of my childhood I will never get used to.
My mother’s sweets cabinet never harbored much promise while I was growing up in that house. Not today either.
“Fig newton or a gingersnap. Unless you want a Saltine or a box of golden raisins.”
“No chocolate chip?”
“No chocolate chip.”
“Forget it then.”
I give her one of each kind of cookie. She bites and chews.
“These cookies are stale. I can’t believe your father hasn’t inhaled them yet. Still good though. These are the classics, figs and snaps. Stick with the classics, Virginia. You’ll never be sorry.”
My mother stands. Limps. Retrieves both cookie boxes. Leaves the cabinet door open in a wide yawn. Takes one more of each variety for he paper plate. I put up my hand in protest when she reaches in for more. She hands over two fig newtons anyway.
“Speaking of the classics, Mom, how about pea coats. Remember those? People still wear pea coats.”
“Those were smart. Nice, big buttons with embossed ship anchors I think. Sailor coats.”
“Remember when you and I saw The Carpenters at the Arena? Remember the lace pantsuit Karen Carpenter wore?” I ask.
“I don’t really like pantsuits on women. Pantsuits make them look like astronauts.”
“What’s wrong with women being astronauts?’
“Nothing, I guess. If you want to fly to the moon, go ahead.” A rare laugh erupts from my mother, but it doesn’t succeed in changing the flat expression that has come to reside on her face.
“Do you remember that, though, Mom, when you and I went to the Hersheypark Arena and we saw The Carpenters? We sat really, really close to the stage?”
Outside, the rain intensifies. In the street, drops dart earthward, bounce off the standing, trampoline puddles. A red bird waits under a grey shrub, twitching nervously. Down the cement sidewalk, across the street, and up an identical walk, Mrs. Milhimes’ has arranged her customary, autumnal display of rust and yellow mums. The straw-hatted scarecrow stuck in one of the pots doesn’t like cold rain on his face. He’s slouched forward. He’s waiting it out.
My mother blinks, smiles weakly, swallows cookie.
“Yes, I do. I surely do,” she responds. “Didn’t we have a lot of fun together.”
I open my mouth and close it. Outside, the red bird decides she can’t wait huddled underneath shelter forever. She leaps, lifts her wings and flaps silently away.
Virginia Watts is the author of poetry and stories found or upcoming in Illuminations, The Florida Review, The Moon City Review, Palooka Magazine, Streetlight Magazine, Burningwood Literary Journal, Ginosko Literary Journal among others. Nominee for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net 2019 in nonfiction, Virginia resides near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Wife calls me from her cell, says all the way to work whitetails lined the roadway, four and five deep in places, says they looked like passengers behind the line to board a train. I remind her that today’s the day the governor comes to town with his entourage and motorcade. I ask her if she saw the rabbits. Come to think of it, she says, it did look like the doe were wearing fuzzy slippers. And were there birds perched atop bucks’ antlers? Hundreds, maybe thousands, in the voice she gathers for amazement. She asks if they’ve all left their nests to greet the governor as he passes. I tell her each and every creature have been summoned for extinction. Did you not see the front end loaders, dump trucks in the background? Silly me, she says, you’re right, always with a new administration.
First Friday, and I am only visually deconstructing a mixed medium while sipping a snappy little chardonnay and blowing foam through my minced bologna when I trip over my own two feet and slice a piece of thigh on the slivers, squirt blood floor to ceiling on a new white wall and spectators gather while I text for an Uber to Urgent Care to get stitched up, then return to where everyone surrounds me like iron filings on a north magnetic pole, not out of concern for my accident but in awe of it although Pollock would deny the accident and I am gracious and even a bit proud yet properly acknowledge the on-call physician’s assistant, the glassblower, the grape stomper, the casing stuffer skyping from a range of locations and of course, my parents in assisted living for their feet in this.
Charles Springer has degrees in anthropology and is an award-winning painter. A Pushcart Prize nominee, he is published in over seventy journals including The Cincinnati Review, Faultline, Windsor Review, Packingtown Review and Tar River Poetry, among others. His first collection of poems entitled Juice is forthcoming from Regal House Publishing. He writes from Pennsylvania.
Sand is future glass, so get in the car,
fast-forward into the future, and stand
on the giant glass bridge of the beach.
We can listen to the waves while we stare
at the creatures frozen below, encapsulated—
there’s a crab mid-stride and there’s a plastic
cup. There will always be a band-aid, and we’re lucky—
the washed-up jellyfish is under glass—just
step right on it and laugh. Mostly there’s just rock, though,
and it’s too hard to sit on all day. Let’s take the car
to the diner and the past. Let’s stare out the window
and watch the fish bones and shells, glistening in the sun.
Danielle Hanson is the author of Fraying Edge of Sky (Codhill Press Poetry Prize, 2018) and Ambushing Water (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2017). Her work has appeared in over 70 journals, won the Vi Gale Award from Hubbub, was Finalist for 2018 Georgia Author of the Year Award and was nominated for several Pushcarts and Best of the Nets. She is Poetry Editor for Doubleback Books, and is on the staff of the Atlanta Review. Her poetry has been the basis for visual art included in the exhibit EVERLASTING BLOOM at the Hambidge Center Art Gallery, and Haunting the Wrong House, a puppet show at the Center for Puppetry Arts. More about her at daniellejhanson.com.