Every day Amanda Treese would draw hearts on her math warm-up when she finished it, and finally Matthew Taylor, who sat next to her, couldn’t take it anymore and he said, “What do you love?”
“What are you saying that you love with all these hearts?”
She looked at her paper. “It means love.”
“I know it means love. But what are you saying that you love?”
“It’s just love.”
“It can’t be just love. It has to have a point behind it. Like as in you love something or somebody.”
“Because otherwise it’s just floating out in the air and it doesn’t have a…”
“A destination. A place to land.”
“Why does it have to land?”
“Why does it have to land? Because otherwise of course love. Of course love is nice, but…”
“Do you like love?”
“Of course! How is anybody going to be against love? But…”
“You should draw a heart too then.”
“I can’t draw a heart. I have to have some purpose for drawing a heart.”
“What is your purpose?”
“I mean suppose I loved somebody. Then I would draw a heart and write their name. That would be a purpose.”
“Do you love somebody?”
“Not like that.”
“What do you love?”
“I love my family.”
“You could draw a heart and write your family.”
“I already know I love my family. Anyway this is just a math warm-up.”
“It’s still a good place to draw a heart.”
“If you say it like that, then any place is a good place to draw a heart.”
“Any place is a good place to draw a heart.”
“Then people would just be putting hearts everywhere!”
“What is wrong with that?”
“Well, somebody would want to know what is the thing that all these hearts are saying they love?”
“You would want to know that.”
“Yes, me. And some other people. Everybody who thinks that if you’re going to draw a heart, you should say what you’re talking about.”
“What if I just say that I love love?”
She drew two hearts on her paper next to each other.
“That’s better at least. But everybody loves love.”
“Do you love love?”
“I’m going to draw two hearts on your paper.”
“You don’t think it’s girly?”
“I’m not worried about girly. Girls are people. I just don’t understood having something about love without talking about what you’re talking about.”
She drew two hearts on his paper.
“There,” she said.
“You don’t mind?”
“I don’t mind. This has some purpose to it at least. It’s not just out there floating by itself.”
This happened near the start of seventh grade. For the rest of that year and through all of eighth grade, Amanda Treese drew hearts on her math warm-ups. She always drew two hearts together.
Siamak Vossoughi was born in Tehran and grew up in Seattle. She has been published in Kenyon Review Online, Missouri Review, Glimmer Train, and Chattahoochee Review. Her collection, Better Than War, received a 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.
Miss Jeanette Theresa picks up a fallen branch from the water oak. Ozeal Autin watches her march around the front year. He thumps, thumps, thumps the top of his head. Miss Jeannette Theresa slams her feet into peat moss, an earthy sponge. Her hand dances around alligator bark. Her wrist rotates in perfect circles. She twirls. She twirls and twirls and twirls. She shines silvery. Light reflects off of her. It finds Ozeal Autin. The Light says, “Ozeal, you love that Miss Jeanette Theresa.”
Miss Jeanette Theresa circle the tree. Her hand rolls raw, tender. She nimbles the edge of a blister in the crescent of skin that links her thumb and forefinger. Ozeal wants to lie still in that space, let her rock him to sleep in the hammock of her hand.
Miss Jeannette Theresa lets the fluid drip into her palm. She gathers it there. She reaches with her tongue. Ozeal Autin thinks: salty. She sprinkles the drops into the puddle beneath the water oak. Ozeal watches them fall.
When Miss Jeannette Theresa goes inside for her lunch, Ozeal pulls a cane fishing pole from inside the flatboat he is working on. He breaks the pole in half, sands the broken edges down and sticks corks on either end. He tucks it between the trunk of the water oak and a thick heavy branch that swings down low to the ground.
For one solid week, Ozeal Autin checks to see if Miss Jeannette Theresa find the cane baton. Her sleeps under the flatboat in Mister Salmen Fritchie’s shed that rides up on the side-yard of her house.
On the seventh day of Ozeal watching, Miss Jeannette Theresa discovers the cane baton. She picks it up, runs her holy hands across its smooth surfaces. She twirls the cane baton round and round her palm. She twirls the cane baton round and round, inside and across her fingers. Ozeal thump, thump, thumps the top of his head. He wishes he was that cane baton. He wants her fingers to twirl his body. He wants to move inside her hand, between her fingers. Ozeal wants to be silvery.
From morning till noon, from noon to dusk, Miss Jeannette Theresa twirls. Ozeal like the way her skirt flares up, showing her slippery petticoat. On one twirl he sees her underpants; he grows hard.
On the ninth day, he climbs from under the flatboat before the sun rises. He washes his face in a bucket of rainwater that collects behind the boathouse. He takes a sip and rinses out his mouth. Ozeal is hungry. He pulls a pickled egg out of his pocket, but forgets to eat it. He leaves it rolling on the open lid of the tackle box that sits on a bench inside the flatboat.
Ozeal Autin crosses the yard and pulls himself over the chicken wire fence. He sits down under the water oak, on a thick root balancing his feelings. They teeter-totter inside. They burst into his throat and burn.
Ozeal takes off the steel-tipped boots he inherited from his daddy, and wipes smudges of creosote from the shipyard of the toes. Socks peel off like second skin. He washes his feet in the puddle that holds the driblet of Miss Jeannette Theresa’s blistered palm. Then he pulls his boots back on again.
Betsy Woods is a native New Orleanian. Her fiction has appeared in The Louisville Review, The New Orleans Review, Alive Now, and The Literary Trunk. Her nonfiction has appeared in ACRES USA, The Times-Picayune, Citizens Together, and Sophisticated Woman. She is a writer, editor, teacher, and narrative therapist. She has an MFA in writing from Spalding University.
In the 1930s, all we English society girls were mad for Munich. Unity Mitford, one of the six troublesome Mitford sisters, was living there at the time. Unity had become a Fascist and a Hitler groupie. She adopted the name “Unity Valkyrie Mitford.” UNITY VALKYRIE roaring around Munich on her black motorcycle steed. She wore a black shirt and a man’s tie and a gold swastika pin on her collar, dressed in black leather head-to-foot and could skillfully dismantle and clean a carburetor. One day she picked me up and said, “Hop on, Sybil, we’re going to the Hofgarten to have tea with Hitler.”
As we approached the table, Unity grasped my hand, she was shaking with excitement. Hitler was so short that when he got up to greet us, I thought he was still sitting down. Really. And his hands, I couldn’t help but notice, when he passed the milk and the sugar bowl. They were rather small and twitchy. Yes, twitchy. Unity told me later it was nothing to worry about. That was just the cocaine. He held a German shepherd puppy in his lap and stroked it with his doll-like fingers, while he held forth on the merits of a small affordable car he was designing for the German people, he called the Volkswagen. He sketched it in a shaky hand on the tablecloth, a squiggly blue-inked bug of a thing. He bought an ice cream for a little girl at the next table and squeezed her pink little knee. I don’t remember much more than that. My strongest impression was that he was FLAT. Flat and made out of painted tin, like one of those little tin metal soldiers you find in a souvenir stall on the pier at Brighton.
In September of ‘39, when Britain declared war on Germany, Unity took a pearl-handled pistol to the English Garden and shot herself in the head. Unfortunately, she survived. They left the bullet in. While Unity lay in hospital, a huge bouquet of yellow roses arrived in her room. She showed me the note, written in Hitler’s nearly illegible schoolboy scrawl, “My dearest Fraulein Unity, you are for me the ideal Aryan-Nordic woman. I hope you have saved a lock of your precious blonde hair for me. Get well soon, yours Adolf.” Unity lay there half-paralyzed, her dark roots growing out quite healthily. But with that 9mm bullet lodged in her brain, Unity was never quite right again.
Finalist 2017 Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize for What Wolfman Knew, Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival; Received the 2016 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, 1st Prize Award for the One Act, Cream Cakes in Munich. His play, A Kind of Marriage, exploring the private life of British novelist E.M. Forster, received an Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation LGBT 2015 Playwrighting Award. His original portrait of Pamela Harriman, Swimming at the Ritz, developed with award-winning BBC director David Giles, began a UK National Tour in March 2011 supported by the Arts Council England; American premiere at New Jersey Rep Company, Jan 2015. Charles is a former fellow of the Edward Albee Foundation and a member of the Dramatists Guild. www.charlesleipart.com