I thought about taking up Art once. Before I met Margery. Before I went into investment banking. Something I picked up in the military during the war. Not a real war. More of a military intervention. The Mongolian Intervention we called it. The gas fields of Northern Mongolian. We were liberating the gas lines there. We did liberate them. Very successfully. Exxon stock went up 15 points. Wall Street gave us a parade.
A bit of art can be a great solace to the human spirit. Especially alone, in a drafty barracks, in a strange land at thirty below, somewhere north and west of the Yangtze. Nothing that unusual, actually. It was quite big back then. Painting-by-Number. That’s where the pattern of what you are to paint, the picture, is already printed on the canvas in very faint blue lines, with dozens and dozens, if not hundreds and hundreds, of little blue numbers inside of them. And you begin to paint. Filling in each little numbered space with the correspondingly numbered pigment. It’s quite systematic. For an art.
I did a very handsome Spaniel I recall, and then a Golden Retriever, 12 by 14, but my favorite was the Old Masterpieces Series, “Recreate the Experience of the Old Masters in Your Own Home,” it said on the box. I did a rather nice BLUE BOY, that’s Gainsborough; a very good MONA LISA, and a passable Van Gogh, because with Van Gogh, for some reasons, I kept slipping outside the lines. There were sunflowers. A big vase of sunflowers. I used up two entire tubes of Cadmium Yellow #17 on that one. Oh, those sunflowers nearly did me in. Sometimes I was tempted to cheat, and smear over some of the numbers, but I restrained myself. I stuck with the rules. To the finish.
You need a great deal of patience to pursue Painting-by-Number. And a very steady hand. Not mine tonight. A young man’s hand. I recommend it, because at the end of the road, when you’ve painted in that last number 17, you have a very fine piece of art, your own Van Gogh, done in your own hand. You’ve sort of re-experienced his suffering. But without having to cut off your ear, of course. No amount of money can buy that. That sense of accomplishment is priceless. It stays with you a lifetime. My very own Van Gogh.
by Charles Leipart
Charles Leipart was a finalist for the 2017 Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize for What Wolfman Knew, Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival; What Wolfman Knew is published in the Summer 2017 issue of the Jabberwock Review. His work has appeared in the Bayou Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, Panolpy Literary Zine, the Eastern Iowa Review, the Scene and Heard Journal, QU Literary Magazine, and Projector Magazine of the University of Greenwich, London UK. Charles is a graduate of Northwestern University, a former fellow of the Edward Albee Foundation. He lives and writes in New York City.
Amidst the murky gloom of San Francisco’s fog, on my commute to work into the Financial District this morning, a little boy got on the bus with his mom as I yawned. He must have been no older than seven or eight. The boy resembled my father when he was that age, which is probably why I couldn’t keep my eyes off him when he sat across from me. We shook hands with a glance.
The boy sat next to a man who’d brought onto the bus a husky-looking dog. The dog sniffed the boy’s feet. The boy looked down, and it was then he realized the dog had two different colored eyes. This fascinated the boy, as did me and everyone else who’d noticed. After some curiosities were shared between boy and Mother, the boy asked the man holding onto the leash what his dog’s favorite color was.
You could see the man contemplating how deeply to go into the fact that a dog’s color perception range is limited compared to that of a human’s. Or, maybe the man was under the influence of the myth that dogs are colorblind and did not want to be the equivalent of a stranger telling a believer that Santa isn’t real.
Instead, the man simply stated, “That’s a good question. I’m not sure. He tends to be more interested in food than colors.” To which the young boy replied, “Brown. It’s probably brown.”
During an intimate moment between boy and dog, when the man reached to pull the cord to notify the conductor of his desire to get off at the next stop, the dog turned to the boy, nodded like men often do when saluting each other as they walk by, and then winked with its crystal blue left eye at the boy. The boy tugged at his mom to see if she had observed this moment, but she too was reaching for the cord.
All four got off at the corner of Market and Third streets. Man leading dog by the leash up Market Street. Mother pulling boy by the arm heading toward the Third Street crosswalk. But the dog and boy remained locked, looking back at each other in a scene of beauty, silence, and sympathy that can only be described as colorful.
by Julián Esteban Torres López
Julián Esteban Torres López spent 13 university years studying Philosophy, Communication, Justice Studies, Political Science, and Latin American Studies. He’s a researcher, writer, educator, and editor with nearly two decades of experience working with publications, historical societies, and cultural and research institutions, and has held leadership positions in the academe, journals, the business sector, and history museums. His debut collection of minimalist poetry, Ninety-Two Surgically Enhanced Mannequins, can be found on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter: JE_Torres_Lopez
You draw colored circles on my back in front of a fire that might have burned for centuries. Important Things always existed, always pierced us, always blew our minds. We went hiding under the pecan tree, one for each of us, on opposite corners of my yard, where all the leaves fall, the squirrel cracks up, and the hawk watches like he cannot believe us. Never mind the oak. The oak was too big, too old, too true. (“Two” does not make sense anymore.)
It was nice to see you breathe it.
The soundless old woman dressed in blue and white left me here alone and naked. Many years passed, stretched before the fire, with my head north, with my head south, all track of time lost. I did not expect you anymore. And yet you showed up eating a hamburger sitting at the table, surprised, but only a little, to see me naked in front of the fire with this crown of white and blue feathers.
Maybe if I give you my headdress, you will change your ideas. You get up and come to stretch before the fire with me. I turn around and I show you my white breasts, rather than make love, your hands get closer to my heart to draw more circles.
Never mind, I tell you about the Patriarch, a Child of the Magnetic Desert who believes he’s a witch cause he’s wearing a black mask painted like a tiger that someone lent him; that I went there to know why I was not important to a father that loved me so I could work in peace; that my job was to walk the path around the pond, picking flowers and making wishes, while he looked at me from the balcony grinding his teeth and stroking white cats.
His stories will never be as good as mine, his desire never so intense, his pleasure will never satisfy him! He thinks he is the ringmaster of worlds, the savior of his kind, the rider of beasts. Because of him, I returned to the wall of pain, climbed it, answered my own questions. I have no parents. I made the incredible effort. I am beginning and end; I said my name. I took off the garment they gave me, dropped it onto the checkered floor.
Now I walk so the stars connect with the earth on my back, I throw a healing blanket, Black and White are no more. I watch the blood of dragons penetrating each other, birthing the rose that I carry, so young men wake up excited and old men can die in peace.
Be my lover.
By the way, it is the time of the rose. I eat the density that was the bread of those days, I exhale the scent of roses.
by Viviane Vives
Viviane Vives is a filmmaker, actor, photographer, and writer. Viviane is a Fulbright scholar for Artistic Studies (Tisch School of the Arts, NYU) and her translation work, poems, and short stories have been published internationally. Viviane’s recent publications are poetry in the Southeast Missouri University Press, a short story, “Todo es de Color,” in Litro Magazine of London, and a ten page story in The Write Launch: ” In the oblique and dreamlike style of Marguerite Duras, Viviane Vives weaves memories of her ancestors and place—Nice, Barcelona, Perth, New South Wales, Texas—in “Dialogues With Your Notebook,” a stunning literary achievement.” One of Viviane’s pictures and a poem, “Step-Nation” will be published in July on Vagabonds: an Anthology of the Mad Ones and four of her flash fiction pieces were published in Five:2:One magazine this year. She was also a finalist of the Philadelphia Stories’ Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry.
The rain tapped against the window intermittently for days, hypothetical ellipses leading nowhere, until noon today, suddenly intensifying into staccato exclamation points. Monsoon season arrived during the bus ride back from the clinic at Hannam ogeri.
Not impossible to get an abortion in Korea, despite what the first doctor said, immediately offering to perform an ultrasound in his neat, contraction-free English. “We cannot do that. Would you like to see the baby?”
This clinic is forty minutes away on the 110A, on the same block as all the embassies: not behind, tucked away on a backstreet, but right on the corner, like a welcome mat. The clientele is exclusively foreign, save one Korean woman, clinging to the arm of a boy no more than 19, so blond he’s nearly translucent, the faint lines of his veins showing through his crew cut. Her nails dug gouges into his forearm, but the rest of her body angled away from him. If not for the armrest, she’d topple to the floor. At least she caught him, brought him here, even if the welts on his arm say he’s still trying to get away. Every other woman in the waiting room sits alone.
The clinic accepts cash payments only. The borrowed credit card of a pragmatic, unflappable coworker who comes from money and enjoys the association with something sordid isn’t going to cut it. Five days before the next available appointment to scrape together sixteen hundred dollars. The receptionist still demands two hundred for the appointment today, for taking up time that could’ve gone to another patient.
Did they say cash-only on the phone, their meaning lost between the language barrier and the code words?
Women, foreigners especially, in this part of Korea must be prone to problematic miscarriages, judging by the quantity of grimaces in the waiting room, the dozen pairs of eyes focused just to the left of the television. These women, all waiting to see a doctor who will record they underwent non-prosecutable evacuations.
He transferred to Japan a month ago, Seoul to Osaka, left Korea in a haze of Jagerbombs and shitty beer and cigarettes and fibbing about the condom. Everyone was thrown out of the bar at 4am, proceeded to the norae bang, where he spat the entire Eminem oeuvre, sharp joy evident with every over-enunciated bitch and faggot. It was well into Sunday morning before collapsing together on the apartment floor, because it was only going to be the once, and the sheets are clean, washing them again too much of a hassle. Worse, somehow, that he lied in the daylight, lied when he was mostly sober. Worse to have lain there and let the lie happen.
It’s impossible to leave a place entirely: a sock behind the dryer, a book lent and never returned, old text messages from now-defunct numbers. In all the ways that matter, though, he will be gone entirely by Thursday next.
Tristan Durst is a graduate of the MFA program at Butler University, where she served as the fiction editor for Booth. She will, no lie, step on your baby’s face if there’s even an 11% chance it gets her off an airplane half a minute faster.
It was evening. We were standing near a line of trees that looked like conifers; the sky was darkening behind the trees. It was time to go back. This was the last crossing: our damaged equipment would permit no more. We had seen things that were almost impossible to believe. Ahead of us, our scientist turned a dial as her assistant busied himself next to her, attaching leads, connecting wires. Before long we saw the familiar blue flames, the portal hanging in torn space. One by one we stepped through. As soon as we emerged on the other side, we hurried down the corridor and up the stairs: it was necessary to conceal the equipment. We had already been away for too long.
In the small room at the top we worked quickly, boarding up the passage to the stairway, dragging bookcases across the room.
One of us stopped working. It was the scientist’s father. He looked around curiously, as if he had forgotten something, pushing between us, peering short-sightedly into the corners of the room. When he didn’t find what he was searching for, he looked at us, searching our faces for what we all knew, although none of us knew how to tell him. As his eyes looked up to one of us, that one of us would look towards another helplessly, who would then shrug and turn his own gaze towards a third, who herself would look away with a small gesture of impatience towards a fourth, and in this manner his terrible expression was deflected between us like a beam of light, until, with a sudden violent gesture he began undo our work, shouting and dragging the bookcases away.
But the bookcases were too heavy; he took the books down from the shelves, but the piles of books proliferating at his feet made it impossible for him to drag the bookcases away; and when we, taking pity on him, began to help, we ourselves only blundered, getting in his way and in each other’s way; and when at last we had removed the bookcases, it still remained to pull the boards away from the boarded-up passageway; and with every new delay, he became more frantic and inconsolable, and we milled around and watched him, hardly knowing what to do.
Then, quite suddenly, the way was clear. I followed him down the passageway and down the stairs. The portal was still open, burning at the end of the flickering corridor. It was difficult even to move through its blue light; impossible to actually approach it. Through it we made out, for the last time, the scientist and her assistant making an adjustment to their apparatus, preparing to close the portal forever.
The scientist’s father raised his hand. He was crying inconsolably. The scientist, glancing up through the portal, stopped and raised hers. They stood there for a moment, looking at each other through the burning doorway. Then it flickered and went out.
Tom Payne lives in London. His work has previously appeared in Lighthouse and The Sun.
The last night I slept soundly was the night before my wheezing father announced the succession. He named me – his daughter – as his heir. He hoped aloud that my brother would advise me faithfully. The pulsing vein in Damian’s forehead suggested otherwise. With one word my father had severed our fraternal connection more effectually than any witch’s curse.
I sit up in bed watching the candle-gleam on the door handle, making certain it doesn’t move. Four guards stand watch outside. The points and hilts of their too-long swords scrape the stone of the narrow corridor. My clock chimes three. Four. Five. I doze…and rise…and drift.
Father dies. My soul screams; my desiccated eyes are tearless.
I order a spinning wheel brought to my room; and the motion of my hands allows me to stay awake. I watch the gleam. A week goes by thus, or a year.
“You don’t deserve to be Queen,” says Damian.
Phantasmagoric creatures haunt my darkness – no beneficent elves, these. Sinister witches leap from the fireplace’s shadows; a dragon bars my escape.
At my coronation banquet, my taster grows purple – and still. Damian is strangely unruffled.
The replacement is the dead boy’s sister. Her lip trembles; she hugs me. The ladies-in-waiting hiss; I hush them, and stroke her mouse-colored hair. Her breath is warm against my chest.
Something boils within me.
I address my captain of the guard: “Teach me to fight.”
He laughs – then remembers his place. “Your highness –”
“That was not a request,” I intone. “Captain.”
My sword arm droops; I feint altogether faintly; I forget his corrections after mere moments. He peers into my face. “Forgive me, your highness…you look exhausted.”
“Again. Let’s try it again.”
My captain doubles the guard and arms them with knives: “You’ll be safe.” The blue has fled my eyes and they blaze like fire. The clock strikes twelve, still I thrust and parry…
One night, outside my door – shouts, shrieking steel, unholy screams of men – “Don’t open the d–” roars the captain, before his words are cut sickeningly short.
The gleam pauses, dances, vanishes: In its place stands Damian. He has a knife in his hand and a sword at his waist. He hurls his knife – I drop – I draw my own sword from beneath my mattress. His blade clangs against it before I can draw breath. There is murder in Damian’s heart, and there are no good fairies coming to my aid…
I stumble into the spinning wheel, steadying myself against it even as it collapses…I prick my finger on something but manage to hold on…
…his sword kisses my neck. “Any last words?”
The man who used to be my brother has bulging blue eyes –
“Go to hell!” I cry, plunging the broken spindle into his belly. He staggers, falls, curses me, even as his blood pools.
I keep silent watch while he dies.
I send my taster back home to her mama.
I feel I could sleep for a hundred years.
Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, and Foreign Service Officer who has previously served at U.S. embassies in Africa and Asia. She calls Wisconsin home, and currently lives outside Washington, D.C.