From the President

Dr. Wang Kelsey

MCCC is delighted to share with you the work of many local writers and artists in the Kelsey Review. This year marks Kelsey Review’s 35th issue, and it is a pleasure to see how this journal continues to serve the community by sharing the work of talented individuals who live and work in the larger Mercer County area. This literary journal is just one of the many ways the College shares the cultural wealth of our area.

Mercer County Community College directly serves thousands of county residents, and indirectly tens of thousands through its many ties to the community. WWFM broadcasts quality programming to the county and even the world through the internet. Kelsey Theater stages a wide range of drama for county audiences, who also have access to the college’s Art Gallery. Our nationally-ranked MCCC athletic teams offer chances to root for stellar local athletes. See more about the college and Mercer County at www.mccc.edu.

Kelsey Review is available online and can be shared world-wide! To keep up with the Review year-round, “like” the publication on Facebook.

The Kelsey Review is distributed in part through the Mercer County public library system and funded by Mercer County Community College. Each edition of the Review presents professional-quality poems, fiction, non-fiction and art that provokes thought and with luck, inspiration. Enjoy what you find here.

Sincerely,

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Jianping Wang, Ed.D.
President
Mercer County Community College

 

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by Dorothy K. Kohrherr

My mother ironed her way through six games of the 1953 World Series. Mel Allen was ever present in our living room, although he never sat on the couch, had a beer with my Dad, or stayed for dinner. Billy Martin’s three run triple in the first game match up between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers was not met with wild cheering, but the quiet rhythm of my mother extending her arms to lift and pull the linen tablecloth up and over the wooden ironing board. Yogi Berra’s home run on the Philco’s 20-inch screen, reflected an image of my mother running the iron back and forth across my father’s crisply starched shirt, creating order out of the chaos of wrinkled cotton. She expertly turned the shirt almost inside out to iron under the collar and yoke, moved onto the cuffs and sleeves, and finished with the back of the shirt and then the fronts. Her domain was not Yankee stadium or Ebbets Field, but 19 Jefferson Avenue, New Brunswick, New Jersey. The house, strong and sturdy, rested on a 50’ x 100’ plot of land in the sixth ward, the Irish section of town. The three bedroom, one bath up, with a living room, dining room, kitchen down, was built in 1940, and purchased by Robert (Bob) and Madeline Kane in January 1942 for $7200.

Jefferson Avenue was my neighborhood growing up. A small town within a city. People knew who you were. You knew who you were. I was Bob and Madeline’s daughter. The second child sandwiched between two brothers. A sister came later. I could walk the neighborhood to visit cousins and if out of line sent home. The streetlights set boundaries in time and place.

I was seven years old in 1954. My brother, Bob was eleven, a worldly eleven. He and his friends built clubhouses in the woods and told me stories of the fox that roamed there ready to attack if I dared ventured into his “territory.” One afternoon, Bob and his friends teased me, “Nah nah nah nah yesterday we saw the fox run through the woods and he was looking for little girls.”

One of our neighbors had polio. Every Halloween dressed as ghosts and goblins kids would be ushered into her bedroom. Her head stuck out of the iron lung. Her “costume” a giant tin can that helped her breathe. We stood still as statues on the floor’s white line so she could see us reflected in the mirror over her head.

At school we practiced “Duck and Cover,” air raid drills. We were taught to crouch, shield our eyes, and scrunch into the tightest balls possible in order to protect ourselves in the event that the Soviet Union dropped an atomic bomb.

Some nights I would lay awake, hiccuping tears and watching the shadows move across the ceiling. The shapes changed from a fox stalking me, teeth bared ready to pounce, to the polio virus that could “freeze” my muscles and then the virus morphed into a giant Soviet mushroom cloud that would kill us all. When I couldn’t sleep, I would ask my Dad for a story. He told me that scary things happen, but he had been in the war to make the world safe. He would give me a hug and sometimes ask me to read him a story. I had mastered the art of changing lines and shapes into words and he wanted to know what I could do; just like when he taught me how to ride a two-wheeler. I read from the Poky Little Puppy, “Five little puppies dug a hole under the fence and went for a walk in the wide, wide world….”

From April to June that year, the Army-McCarthy hearings were taking place in our living room. The living room where we lived our lives: a fire on chilly autumn evenings, Madeline playing canasta with her card club, the kids’ table at Thanksgiving, the Christmas tree in the corner, a bookcase filled with poetry, great quotations, and the latest novels, and the chairs where Bob and Madeline read the paper, had a drink before dinner and shared the details of the day. There were the stairs my father climbed each morning with a thermos of coffee. He left it on my mother’s nightstand before he left for work. A kiss while he was on the road.

In June 1954 my mother’s ironing board was set up in front of the television. Senator Joe McCarthy was sparring with U.S. Army special counsel Joseph Welch. Amidst the hearing’s discord, my mother smoothed pillowcases. The easy rhythm of the iron’s back and forth motion pressed school clothes and Sunday dresses. McCarthy’s accusations were accompanied by smirks, tight thin-lipped looks of disgust, and at times he waved his glasses to deflect Welch’s comments as one would swat at an annoying mosquito. Even then I knew that my mother would not entertain the thought of inviting McCarthy to a neighborhood cocktail party or Fourth of July picnic. I saw a smile spread across her face as Mr. Welch responded to Senator McCarthy’s attacks on Fred Fisher, “You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

My father’s shirts were hung neatly over the arm of the floor lamp. The laundry basket was filled with freshly ironed sheets and pillowcases. My mother turned off the television, folded the ironing board and began to prepare dinner before my father came home. After dinner, it was the Howdy Doody show, a story and then bedtime.

In 2011 world events are much like those of 1954: the U.S. is sending aid to Japan, China’s economy is growing, and the President of Egypt was forced to resign. I like to iron. The steam warms the spring day as I turn the antique towel face down shaping the monogram; my mind wanders as I move my arm back and forth creating the rhythm of comfort and accomplishment. In many ways, I’m unlike my mother and father. I’ve lived in small apartments, in the middle of a potato field, and on a 125-acre farm raising Christmas trees and ostriches. One year I spent 200 days at Memorial Sloan Kettering when my infant daughter was diagnosed with stage III cancer. Today, I live I the “beehive,” a condo community for “active seniors.” But when anyone asks, “Where are you from?” I always answer, “19 Jefferson Avenue, New Brunswick, New Jersey.” It is the DNA of my soul, just as much as my mother’s hazel eyes and my father’s straight nose.

As I smooth the towel, I glance at an old black and white photograph. I’m standing tall on the front steps of number 19. It is my fifth birthday. I’m dressed in my new cowgirl outfit, a gift from my mother and father: boots, short skirt trimmed with fringe, a vest, neck scarf and a hat that would make Dale Evans turn green with envy. Slung around my waist was my “gun belt” with silver “six shooter.” I was ready to take on the world.

The phone rings, my daughter Corinne, asks, “Mom, are you concerned about my political angst over the death of Bin Laden?”

“The truth,” I replied, “I’m ironing.”

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Author Bio:

Dorothy K. Kohrherr retired from a 35–year teaching career and presently serves as an educational consultant. Her essays have been published in Visible Ink (Memorial Sloan Kettering’s writing magazine), the NJEA Review, and the Kelsey Review. She lives in Lawrenceville, NJ after many years raising ostriches on a small farm outside of Lambertville, NJ.

They Are Taking Him Away

By Luz Nereida Horta

I sit at the counter stool in my kitchen where I can look into the dining room and see my son conversing and laughing with his friends. I pretend that I can’t hear what is being said but I am taking in every word he is saying.  I need to cherish every last word he says for soon he will no longer be my son. He is sharing childhood stories, telling his friends of things he has done to his siblings. He tells the story of how he once put a blue capsule in the shower head so that when his brother showered he would turn blue. Now I realize why my bathtub has blue stains that I can’t remove, still I laugh and cry silently – how can they take him away?

I stare at the clock, six more hours and my son will be no more. How I wish I could stop time.  Where is my husband, why isn’t he near me to comfort me? I find him outside standing, staring out into the yard; his eyes are as red as mine. He says, “I could have been a better father,” and I say, “I could have been a better mother, but would it have changed anything?” We hug each other and I walk back to my place at the kitchen. Five hours remaining. If only I could stop time. He is much too young, why does he have to leave now, why are they taking him away?

My thoughts are interrupted as a wave of laughter comes from the dining room. My son is telling yet another story. He is recalling how he had cut out small footprints that led into the hallway closet. He told my youngest son that they were the footprints of a leprechaun or monster that hid in our closet. Now I realize why his younger brother is afraid to go upstairs alone or why he dashes quickly past the closet doors.

Well, I must confess that I don’t think this disclosure is funny, considering that I had spent time and money taking my youngest son to a therapist because of these phobias he developed. We couldn’t understand his apprehensions, until now. But I can’t get upset at a time like this, there are only four hours left and we will never see our son again.

Such little time left and he is choosing to spend it with his friends. I think he is trying to cope with the situation the best he can. I can no longer cry quietly, I go into the bathroom where I start to wail, softening my sorrowful cry by placing a bathroom towel over my mouth. Suddenly, my state of mind shifts and I quickly pull the towel away from my face and stare into it. Just learning that my son is a prankster I wonder if he had done anything with towels, too. I find myself laughing and crying at the same time.

Two hours remaining, I don’t know if I can make it. It is late and some of my son’s friends have fallen asleep on the couch, on the floor, wherever they could find a spot. My husband has joined me at the kitchen and we sit in silence. I start reminiscing about the first time we brought our son into our home and the mistakes we made as first time parents. Why is it that we prefer to place guilt on ourselves at a time like this? Nothing we could have done would have changed the fact that they are taking away my son. Truth is we did the very best we could and we did raise a good son.

One hour remaining and I don’t know if I can keep it together. Darkness only makes my sorrow deepen. I cannot believe my son is still reminiscing with the few friends that are awake. He should spend his last hour with us, his mom and dad, doesn’t he realize that we are falling apart, that our pain is so deep and rooted that it will change who we are forever? What I mean is, he doesn’t understand the ramifications of what is about to happen.  He really is too young to be taken away. He is still a little boy at heart.

I can hear the minutes ticking away and silence is beginning to fill the air, no more laughter and no more talking. My son’s last moments and he walks into the kitchen. “Mom and Dad, I love you so very much and I am sorry that I have to go, you didn’t do anything wrong. You have given me a good life and I will never forget.” Forgetting his strength and size, an issue that has plagued him since he was born, he hugs me until I feel I have been deflated. He doesn’t want to let me go and I don’t want him to.

We sit in silence awaiting the foreseeable and then I hear the sounds of wheels as a car enters our gravel driveway. For sure my beating heart will wake the neighbors! Can I keep my heart in place, how can I stop this from happening? “Oh, God, please help!” The sounds of feet on my wooden porch get louder and louder as do my prayers. “Mom, its time, Mom, sorry for the things I did when I was younger, I love you.” The dreaded knock on the door and I can see the silhouette of this person who has come to take my son away.  I should hate him but he is only doing his job.

My son’s sleeping friends leap up from their sleeping positions, boys and girls alike are now teary-eyed as they give their last goodbye to the person they knew.

I can’t open the door, that job is left to my husband. Standing at attention is a tall lean Marine; my son takes his position, and salutes the Marine, who yells, “Are you ready to be a Marine?  “Sir, Yes Sir,” responds my son proudly.

I watch as my son walks away, his heavy footsteps making the old porch creak. He walks side-by-side, next to the Marine taking my son away. While I feel a moment of pride, the feeling is quickly overshadowed. I can’t stop thinking that my son is leaving, never to return as we had known him. As if reading my mind, the young Marine turns around and with conviction in his spoken words says to me, “Madam I am here to claim recruit George William Horta III – your son leaves today a boy but will return to you – a MAN.”

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Author Bio:

Luz Nereida Horta is employed as the Executive Director of a Child Care Center in Hightstown, NJ. Originally from the Bronx, NY, she has lived in the Hightstown/East Windsor Area for over 40 years. Married 43 years, she and her husband are the parents of five adult children and ten grandchildren.

 

Mercenaire

by Patrick Walsh

I lived in an Elysium strewn with orchids, bougainvillea,
Hibiscus by the roadsides as if chucked by profligate gods;
Plumeria perfumed the breeze that bowed the palms
And set their fronds to click and clack like vegetal chimes.

Vanquished time; undying days put the calendar to rout,
Like starting a stint in solitary in the middle of the night —
Day in, day out and no mortal bearings, only the tides
Governed by an indifferent moon amidst a swoon of stars.

Camouflage concealed me from the eyes of other men
But could not hide me from myself.  I knew my name.
Or back in barracks in starched fatigues, spit-shined boots to mock the sun:
A gold bar on a collar gussies up a hired gun.

Gulches seething with guavas; valleys overrun by verdure
Sprung from red volcanic clay; paths littered with the corpses
Of rotting passion fruits; through this incomplete Paradise
I slither, like that famous snake so unjustly maligned

For bringing death where once there had been only life.

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Author Bio:

After graduating college in 1989, Patrick Walsh served four years as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division. He later returned to school to receive an M.Phil. in Anglo-Irish literature from Ireland’s University of Dublin, Trinity College in 1997. His poems have appeared in Barrow Street, The Christian Science Monitor, Evergreen Review, The Hudson Review, and War, Literature & the Arts, as well as in venues abroad, including The Malahat Review, Poetry New Zealand, THE SHOp, and The Quadrant Book of Poetry, 2001-2010. Recently, he had a poem in the March issue of Chronogram magazine.

Saying Goodbye

by Donald Lasko

      for Galway Kinnell

Say goodbye to the rocker – and the infant
buoyant in the mother’s liquid lap,
eyes bursting with the blinds-filtered sun.

Say goodbye to the simple white desk
with papers once overflowing, and the chair
where you sat in mid-air contemplation.

Say goodbye to the opened white doors,
the gleaming floorboards connecting, to the linens
and pillows stacked high up the wall still flowering.

Say goodbye to yourself in the mirror,
then the mirror itself and the pail entwined with
wandering vines, and the throw rug abstract-patterned.

Say goodbye to the brown knob turning,
the final white door now closing, and
then – to yourself, the stairs descending.

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Author Bio:

Donald Lasko  is a retired public high school English teacher. He and several of his colleagues at Columbia High School in South Orange-Maplewood had the privilege of receiving an NEH grant to study with Galway Kinnell and Sharon Olds from NYU School of Creative Writing. He is a graduate of Oberlin College and has an MA with additional doctoral studies in English at SUNY Stony Brook, where he was also a Lecturer in Education. In addition, he has taught creative writing and poetry for many years at Summer Institute for the Gifted on numerous college campuses, most recently at Princeton University. Beginning in 1963, he has had numerous poems published in “little” magazines and is a co-editor of a two-volume anthology This Is Just To Say: An Anthology Of Reading For Writers for use at the high school level. He is currently in a writers’ group conducted by Nancy Demme at Twin Rivers Library and is a member of Princeton Pro Musica, a semi-professional 100-voice chorus performing locally four concerts per year.

Two Feet In, Six Feet Under

by Lois Marie Harrod

And this my mother shifted, and this
let drop, this forced
into the drawer where she might find it:
you never know what you will need,
the useless, the screwed,
slap-dashed and staring . . .
clattering dump of gray plates
beneath the splash, forgotten saucers . . .
might come in handy.
So we slit the cardboard boxes,
we move the plastic crates
her long fingers no longer touch,
long ears hang until the pitcher breaks.
Ninety-seven years listening
to the muddled ash lying to come clean.
Thirst. Water. Single file at the fountain.
When we got too close, teeth clocked
nickel.  Quick.  Barely a swallow.
Turn it off, the hollow closes
over the mouth, the witch follows,
old oak slam shut,
that’s how things are locked,
hearts twisted among the tumblers.

__________________________________________________________________________

Author Bio:

Hopewell resident Lois Marie Harrod has often appeared in the Kelsey Review. Her most recent collection is a chapbook And She Took the Heart (Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press, 2016). Her 13th and 14th poetry collections, Fragments from the Biography of Nemesis (Cherry Grove Press) and the chapbook How Marlene Mae Longs for Truth (Dancing Girl Press) appeared in 2013. The Only Is won the 2012 Tennessee Chapbook Contest (Poems & Plays), and Brief Term, a collection of poems about teachers and teaching was published by Black Buzzard Press, 2011 She is widely published in literary journals and online ezines from American Poetry Review to Zone 3. See www.loismarieharrod.org.

Daguerreotype

by Carolina Morales

Plated in brass, cushioned
with velvet, silvered
on copper sheet, embedded
in ornamental Union Case,
his grey eyes stare
from a youthful face
collared and capped
in Union garb, protected

by glass from a war fought
more than 100 years ago.

My bronze skin and dark
hair surface across
the pale image mirrored
from my palm’s lined map,
as slanted to the left,
tilted to the right, we
reverse through darkness,
transpose into light.

__________________________________________________________________________

Author Bio:

Carolina Morales is the author of three collections of poetry, Bride of Frankenstein and Other Poems (2008), In Nancy Drew’s Shadow (2010), and Dear Monster (2012), each published by Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in the Journal of New Jersey Poets, Paterson Literary Review, US1 Worksheets, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Spoon River Poetry Review, and other journals. In 2011, Carolina’s short play The Last December was produced by Fire Rose Productions in North Hollywood, California.

Self-Portrait, Pregnant, NYC 1945

by Carolina Morales        

                                                  after Diane Arbus

Years before my birth
              she poses in a mirror

hung on the back
              of her bedroom door,

composes her tawny stance,
              ripe breasted, melon bellied,

tilts a head crowned
              in thorn-brown hair, balances

along an angled cane,
              preens her slender neck,

cropped inside the frame, camera,
              naked wall, bed already made.

_________________________________________________________________

Author Bio:

Carolina Morales is the author of three collections of poetry, Bride of Frankenstein and Other Poems (2008), In Nancy Drew’s Shadow (2010), and Dear Monster (2012), each published by Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in the Journal of New Jersey Poets, Paterson Literary Review, US1 Worksheets, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Spoon River Poetry Review, and other journals. In 2011, Carolina’s short play The Last December was produced by Fire Rose Productions in North Hollywood, California.

 

 

 

That Fall

by Daniel Picker

The previous summer, around the end of June, with the weather still cool in the morning, I joined two older kids in the neighborhood, both of whom lived on Twin Birch Avenue, the next street which our street curved and flowed into, on a bike hike to downtown.

I had a low black bicycle my father had put together from various bikes he had found, or were in disuse in our garage; my bike had twenty inch wheels and tires.  It was far from a new bike, but it served its purpose.  My dad had moved out of our house the previous year.

Finlay and Fenny were both at least two years older than I was then.  Fenny was originally from New England and I had never entered his house, but I had seen him and heard him shout from the second story window above his steep lawn; his house was similar to ours, but it was white and behind two sycamore trees.

But Finlay lived in the only house in the neighborhood that housed his family on the top two floors, and another family on the first floor.  He had no dad as far as I could tell, and I never saw his mom around either.

When I showed him the art books with pencil drawings of women he seemed very disappointed.  I don’t know why or how I ended up being friends with either of them; perhaps they were just lingering up their street one day where we played “Cross the Ice” in front of Finlay’s; I do remember one day walking to school on Main Street and walking beside them for a bit over the bricks and past a small colonial office building near the Town Hall, and Finlay rhapsodizing about “Lacey Brynne,” the daughter of a local realtor, as we walked past her father’s small office.

But this bright morning about 10 AM as we crossed Montcreek Street on Tulip Poplar Avenue, just one block from Fenny’s and Finlay’s street, Finlay shouted out, “Let’s race!” and they were off pedaling as fast as they could on bigger bikes.

I recall turning down their street and pedaling fast past first Finlay’s, then descending the steep hill at speed, then passing Fenny’s house and blurrily seeing them waiting for me at the flat bottom of the hill straddling their bicycles over the grey macadam.  Then my handlebars started to wobble and shake and I had a sick feeling in my gut of great fear and two seconds later I seemed to fly over my handlebars landing in such a way that I was soon crying and my mouth was bleeding.

Someone ran over and up our more gently – sloping hill to get my mom who was probably still sleeping on the couch in the living room.  I recall her rushing down the hill while wearing her purple bathrobe over her pajamas and helping me up as another mom was wiping my face with a damp towel.  Mom walked me back home after that fall; I had felt deep embarrassment seeing her rushing down the street, but I was glad she arrived to rescue me that bright Saturday morning.

Later, that fall I began my first paper route which was my very own.  I had handled another neighborhood kid’s route, but never handled my own route.  Fenny, whose middle name was actually Fenny, had abruptly decided to give up his route for The Evening Bulletin; I don’t remember why exactly.  Fenny’s first name was Theodore, and teachers called him Ted; once, early on the first cold morning that fall, Teddy wore a tan, fuzzy velour jacket; he had a big, round pumpkin head; kids, boys mostly, that day in school started yelling, “Teddy Bear!” or “Dancing Bear!” down the hallways at some distance in elementary school after he had walked by.  As that went on through most of that fall of fifth grade, he eventually asked school friends and teachers to call him “Fenny.”

“Fenny?” we said to ourselves in school and after.

After school, in the afternoon, below the orange-leaved maples, with a flame red maple across and further down the street from my house, I rode my bike from my street  the day before I took over his route;  that fall afternoon, Fenny didn’t seem eager to start folding his papers as yellow leaves scattered beside his feet.  Fenny didn’t seem interested in delivering his papers either as I watched him pull one paper from the middle of the bundle and open it, and begin reading the front page; my main interest in the paper was usually just the front page headlines and the headlines and photographs on the Sports page, until I had more time later at home to read the paper.

But after school Fenny would become so engrossed and read and read, all the while concentrating his heavy forehead and brows down on the paper as if he were up to something of great seriousness and importance.  He had a big, oblong pumpkin head.  He sometimes had this look of concentrated consternation on his face.

I asked that afternoon, “Don’t we have to get folding?  Aren’t you going to show me the route?  We are not going to finish the route before dinner time!” I exclaimed.

“That’s prescient of you,” Fenny said.

He enjoyed demonstrating his sophisticated vocabulary at odd times.

A few minutes later, sitting in front of Fenny’s house, he cut an audible fart as his father came out the front door of their white house and stood on the porch.  His dad, Mr. Van Grundy worked odd hours and seemed to be home in the afternoon often.  I had heard he had been an English teacher and coach in New England before they moved, but now he ran Fenny Glens Men’s Store downtown.  His dad came down the steps and heard Fenny’s fart and saw Fenny leaning over the newspaper spread out over his legs, and noticed Fenny’s reddening face and embarrassment.

“Do you have to go grunty Fenny?” he asked.

Fenny’s face turned even deeper red and he abruptly got up and ran up the front steps.  He returned some minutes later after his dad said to me, “He’ll be out in a minute.”

He seemed gone for over 10 minutes; he had the paper with him.

The next day, my first day handling the route the sun was still warm after school and the sky was still blue with those thin gauzy white clouds high up, cirrus clouds stretched far beyond the tallest oaks and tulip poplars and buttonwoods on which the orange turning leaves still danced from the cool wind through the high branches.

As I pedaled my bike I could hear the rustling leaves under my tires shoosing by the spokes.  This was the bike mom had bought me just weeks before for my birthday.  I recalled after my fall in the summer she and dad took me to a local Penn – Jersey Store; dad drove us; as we stood looking at the new bikes, dad asked, “Which one do you like?”

I couldn’t make up my mind, and felt sick to my stomach and dizzy.

“I don’t feel so good, couldn’t we just go home?” I asked.

But months later, a season later, now with my new green Columbia Sting-ray bicycle I enjoyed a low silver-grey banana seat and the handle bars accommodated my aluminum “horns” as Mr. Hidalgo called them.  The horns wrapped around my handlebars and I balanced my canvas newspaper bag upon them.  Earlier, just after school I saw the bundle of papers on Fenny’s street since the newspaper company had not yet switched the drop off address to my street, near my house, or in front of Driscoll’s past the top of our hill where Strawberry and Neil picked up their papers.  But earlier on this day I sat on the grass slope just above the sidewalk in front of Fenny’s, and with my box of fresh red rubber bands proceeded to fold in thirds and wrap that day’s papers: 29 of them, and at least one extra.

That day I looked down Fenny’s street to “the old man’s house.”  The house was a dull dark brown, the dirty windows dark with ragged lace white drapes; the wooden porch under the black shingled roof was a dull grey, completely devoid of any paint, just deeply grooved, dry, worn wood.  Fenny, with his younger brother Robert nodding beside him said very matter-of-factly that “‘the old man’ shot rock salt at us from his shot gun when he came out on the porch and would at anyone else who even approached his front walk.”

This story filled me with silent fear and I accepted what they said as the truth.  From the appearance of that dark, mysterious house it seemed entirely plausible.  I never thought to question Fenny or his brother Robert or their next door neighbors, those two brothers, Sean and Conor, who were nearly the same age, just a few years younger.  Fenny’s street was lined with old, strong towering buttonwoods with rounded bumps like ancient gargoyles on their peeling trunks;  Fenny’s street descended and curved down just as my street did, Buttonwood Lane, and both streets seemed similar to a witches’ glen.

Fenny and his younger brother were the first family I knew who kept rabbits, many of them in their wire-fenced pen in their backyard;  they sometimes picked them up and brought them in the house;  they handled them tenderly.  The rabbits were grey and brown and furry and friendly with noses which wiggled.  Fenny called their droppings, “rabbit putsies.”

I recalled as I folded papers all by myself, once, a few years before, when I was with my mother at the A&P Market downtown I had seen the old man near the back at the checkout aisle where I swung from the metal railings that divided the check out aisles above the green and cream tiles of the floor.  The old man wore old baggy denim overalls and his deeply creased face looked out below straggly white hairs across the top.  But his face was neither a kind face, nor an unkind one; but just an old face. I had heard from Fenny that his wife had died years before.

That afternoon at the A&P, a few years back, I saw him a few minutes later putting the brown paper grocery bags in the back of his old, faded green and dull white Studebaker wagon; that vehicle was of another era; there was no other car as old in the entire town.  We rode in a dull green Checker Cab of Main Street Cab Company; the cab was huge with two small flip up jump seats between the back of the front seat and the big back seat where mom sat.

Previously, I saw the old man driving his car beside and past the side of his tall dilapidated house which stood stark above the railroad tracks which ran alongside and below.  Those same railroad tracks where years before my older brother and his friend Corey at age five had walked and walked and then sat down, not realizing trains still traveled those tracks and one was fast approaching.  A police officer in his car saw them sitting on the burnished tracks that afternoon as he drove down the curving hill, and he flipped on his lights and siren and the train was able to stop above and before the curve of track that led to them.  They were oblivious as the officer ordered them to “walk on home and stay off the tracks.”

But now those tracks curved behind a tall wire fence.

The old man’s large backyard, the entire green expanse grew hidden behind these massive hedges of about 15 feet which were not only tall, but also thick; you could not see through them or around them as they wrapped around and enclosed the entire deep backyard.

The first day of my route, as I folded and counted, I liked seeing the crisp dark headlines atop the paper; the Philadelphia Flyers’ season had commenced and the Phillies’ season had come to a merciful close.  Once I had the bag full with folded papers I knew I still didn’t know my route by heart, so periodically I would sometimes slow and cease pedaling and stop below the shade of a large tree and study my small black spiral book for the next address.  Fenny had shown me his route just once the day before, his last day.  The first part of the route was not so difficult, riding my bike up and down familiar streets, one of which I walked up and down to and from school.  Even though this was my first week, I knew I would need to begin collecting this Thursday and Friday to meet my bill on Saturday with Mr. Hidalgo.  Fenny had quit in the middle of the week of the last week of a two – week cycle.

That first Thursday began as the day before, but after the first three houses, and stopping at each, putting my kickstand down, balancing my bike, and taking a paper from my grey canvas bag I realized this was going to be a very long afternoon.  Already, two homes of the first three customers yielded no response to my ringing the bell and knocking on the door.  I had a total of $4.00 in my red canvas collection bag that Fenny had given me.  There was with it one $1.50 tip in the form of that fourth one dollar bill.

Earlier, I turned down Montcreek Street, the first side street of my route, where I delivered just one more paper, before heading further down Tulip Poplar Avenue and pedaling past the huge houses set back from the old giant trees which lined both sides of the street. There the trees towered and over reached the street as they also did on the side streets.

The second house on the side street Montcreek, on the left, set back from some narrow stone steps that cut into the steep hill of the narrow front lawn belonged to the O’Fallon’s, and Kelley O’Fallon, I believed the prettiest girl in my grade, partially due to her long brown hair, and also partly due to her sweet smile, and her fair face with tiny freckles; the fact that she was not taller than I added to my fondness for her.  I hoped silently that after I rang the doorbell that she would arrive at the door and open it.  When I saw her through the screen door after she opened her big dark brown front door I chortled out, “Collecting for The Evening Bulletin.”

“Hi Billy,” she said.

I heard her mother’s voice call from the darkened living room.

“Who is it, sweetie?”

“It’s the paper boy; we have a new one.”

Kelley asked me conspiratorially in a lowered voice, “How much is it, Billy?”

“Two dollars and fifty cents,” I said and smiled.

I’m not certain my Keds were still touching the dark bricks of her front porch.  Her smile, her long softly shining brown hair and her bright green – brown eyes made me briefly lose a sense of where I stood, and I could not help smiling after she replied –

“I’ll be right back.”

“OK,” I said with my throat suddenly dry.

When she returned she pushed open the screen door and reached her hand toward me; the closeness of her forearm, wrist, and hand were striking to me, but then she did something unexpected; she pressed her hand with the folded bills in it deep into my open palm and smiled.  It was a smile that silently said “don’t worry about the change.”

Then she said, “I’ll see you in school tomorrow Billy,” and she smiled again.

“OK,” I said.

She had given me four folded one dollar bills.  I uncinched my bag and stuffed them inside.  As I turned and walked down her walk I was aware I was still smiling.  I recalled that she and I held a secret.

Two years earlier I discovered inside my small rectangular wooden desk in Mrs. Pascal’s third grade class a folded white paper; within it were two pale orange rubber monsters, one with a suction cup below its feet.  The other had wild rubber hair and protruding rubber eyes.  The note said, “These are for you Billy; I really like you.  Don’t tell anyone.”

I remembered that from years before and seeing her in school that fall because just before Christmas she and her family moved away and I never saw her again.

Before school, in the early morning during that year, we would sometimes stand near each other watching bigger, older kids playing box hockey.  There were two rectangular boxes of worn grey wood, and in the middle were square holes in the board that separated one half from the other.  We stood on the shadowed macadam in the still dark, dim early morning light behind the oldest brick school building with the small yellow and black Civil Defense sign just above the stone foundation of the Administration building.  With long, thin grey wooden sticks, usually a lanky blonde girl, a few years ahead of us furiously battled a boy in her grade.  Her forehead glowed and glistened below her pulled-back blonde hair where a few strands strayed.  Her cheeks were damp and pink.

Once they put their sticks down as their bell rang – the junior high kids bell began their day about five minutes before we were called into the school by our bell – Kelley and I stood looking at each other; we both picked up sticks, and there was a ball in the middle of the box.  She whacked it through the square hole and then smiled at me; I whacked it back, but missed the square hole.  The game seemed more interesting to watch than to play.  But when I looked up I saw Kelley was still there smiling, but then the bell rang loudly, and she threw down her stick and said, “Let’s go!”

But this afternoon, I started to kick up my kickstand, and then I remembered that I didn’t check the O’Fallon’s off in my book as “Paid.”  After Fenny introduced me to Mr. Hidalgo, the District Manager, Mr. H. as he told me to call him, said, “Always check who paid right after you receive the money; otherwise, you won’t remember who paid and who didn’t, later.”

As he said this he patted his stomach and then combed his wavy dark hair with his right hand.  He wore a fat brown tie that was tied too short, and his gut showed below it through his beige shirt.

But this fall afternoon I stood with my bicycle leaning against my side and opened my book and checked “Paid” in the small square for the third week of October for O’Fallon of 45 Montcreek Street.  I shoved the book back in my newspaper bag, kicked up the kickstand and swung my right leg over my bike seat, and began pedaling down the sidewalk of her street; then I rode down a driveway and crossed the street and began pedaling back toward Tulip Poplar Avenue, then turned right.

But before riding on toward Everett Avenue, there was one customer on Tulip Poplar.  The biggest house on the entire street had a side door in addition to the large front door.  The side door stood just past the wide overhang of the side porch that covered part of the driveway.  Fenny had told me to “always leave the paper just outside that door on a small brick porch.”

That afternoon, I rang the doorbell and heard a screechy, scratchy voice ask from far above the dark stairwell beyond the closed door: “Who is it?”

“Paperboy: The Evening Bulletin,” I called out.

I then heard footsteps clopping down and down and down what seemed an endless flight of stairs, and the door creaked open just about four  inches.  The shadowed face of an elderly lady was barely visible and I could see only dimly up this endless, dark flight of stairs which seemed to ascend to not just the second floor, but all the way up to the third floor.

The woman then said rather crankily, “Just give me the paper; I’ll have to pay you next time; I left my purse upstairs,” and then this thin heavily-veined right hand, like a vulture’s claw, snatched the paper from me, and she said, “Thanks,” and slammed the door with a thud shut.

I was relieved to soon be back on my bike and feel the cool wind on my face and the fresh, late afternoon air blowing through my hair and past my ears.  I made a left on Everett Avenue, and realized how long this was all taking, and how late it was already in the afternoon, and remembered what Mr. Hidalgo had said, “Start your collecting on Thursday; a lot of people aren’t home on Friday.”

But it seemed collecting was going to take hours, and some people were already not home on this Thursday, so I rode up on the sidewalk toward my next house on Everett, and threw a paper side arm on to the wooden porch of one of the duplexes, and then pedaled down a driveway, and up another, across the street, and did the same thing again; then it was on toward one of the busiest streets in my town, Woodrow Road.  This road seemed busy with so much traffic it really seemed not safe to ride a bike on it, so I stayed on the brick sidewalk and rode under the towering trees to my next house, a tall Victorian with a wooden porch, and steep, narrow concrete driveway that went back and back into the shadows and where I never saw a car parked.

I parked my still shiny green bike below the steep steps making sure it balanced, and pulled one folded paper from my canvas bag.  Surely these folks were home I thought to myself.  The wooden steps had some peeling paint and the house itself was a dull white, also peeling slightly in spots.

With a little trepidation I rang the bell; I noticed they had a storm door over the stout front dull white door, of dirty enamel without gloss.  I could hear the bell clanging inside and soon I could hear elderly voices calling out: “Is that the door bell Lois?” a man’s voice inquired.

“I don’t know, dear,” she said.

I pressed the small round plastic button once more.

“There it is again, dear; there’s someone at the door.”

I could hear feet shuffling inside and soon a white – haired lady stood just inside the door which was opened about a quarter way and an older man stood hunched beside her.  Their front living room was dimly lit, and the lady looked at me, and said, “Yes?” as if posing a question.

“I’m the new paperboy,” I said, “and I’m collecting; here’s your afternoon paper.”

She then turned to the man near her and asked, “What did he say dear?”

“He said, ‘He’s the paperboy and he’s collecting.'”

“Come in,” she said.

As I looked at the husband’s face behind her I started to realize something; his one eye had a dull blueish hue to it and it was half closed.  His other eye was completely closed, just a pale fleshy eyelid over his sunken eye.  He moved sort of slowly, but his presence was essential to his wife, as her presence was essential to him.  They were indispensable to each other.

She said to me, “Just a minute, let me get my purse.”

“OK,” I said.  “It’s two dollars and fifty cents.”

When she returned to the living room with its drapes over the windows part way open, she turned to her husband and asked, “How much did he say it is, dear?”

“He said ‘it’s two dollars and fifty cents,’ I think.”

“Yes, its two dollars and fifty cents,” I said, with my voice raised a bit louder.  I then realized something:  while these two were a good team together, apart they could not truly function.  As far as I could tell, the wife was completely deaf, and the husband was completely blind.

I had witnessed blind people; my grandmother was blind.

Then the wife turned to me and handed me a five dollar bill.

“This is too much,” I said, and “You’re only the third customer who’s been home this afternoon; I’m not sure I have enough change.”

“What did he say?” she asked toward her husband.

“He said, ‘He doesn’t have any change.’”

She turned back from him toward me and said, “That’s all right honey; you know what I mean, honey?  I do not have any change either,” she said as she smiled toward me.

I thought I had been in their house for what seemed about half an hour, and the sky was growing a deeper gray.  I felt a chill when I finally stood out on their front wooden porch again, high above the sidewalk and road.  The rush hour traffic sped by and I had delivered less than a third of my route.  I would have to forego collecting until Friday after all, and I could barely recall which house was next.  I just knew I must somehow pedal my new bike across this busy road and head up Everett Avenue, then turn down either Heath Avenue or Cloverhill Road; I couldn’t remember exactly which was first now.  But I had to get going, but safely too.  People might be upset that they had not yet received their papers, and now it was almost the dinner hour.  The sky had grown grayish purple as I finally pedaled across that road and up the Goodbrother’s driveway across it, then down the sidewalk and up Everett Avenue.

Nearly an hour later I turned my bike down my street.  The air was cold and the sky was near dark.  My bag was empty of all but one paper and my money bag held less than ten dollars.  I rode my bike down our empty grassy driveway and leaned my bike against the garage doors and trudged back up the driveway with my bag slung over my shoulder.

When I opened the front door I heard mom call out, “Where have you been?  You’re late and your dinner is cold.”  She spoke with a slightly lilting English accent and I could understand what this meant.

“I’m sorry mom, but I tried collecting as the District Manager suggested; it really slowed me down.”

“Oh dear heart, sit down.  This is all we have, a lamb chop and apple sauce.  Would you like a glass of milk?”

“OK,” I said.

“I’m going back to my typing.”

I sat alone in the kitchen chewing the small warm chop and shoveling the cool apple sauce down.

I thought to myself: it’s the end of the week nearly, and called from the kitchen across the living room beyond where my mom sat in her library: “I’m going for a bike ride downtown.”

“OK, dear. Could you get me a pack of Lucky’s from the machine in Homestead Restaurant? Let me give you a dollar.  Don’t be long.”

I walked out the front door and back down the mostly dark driveway as the kitchen light burned above and the wind reshuffled autumn leaves above me and at my feet.  I could hear them crunchy underfoot and see the strange grey cold autumn shadows before and beside me. I held the handgrips of my handle bars.  It felt good to push the bike without the horns and paper – stuffed bag over them.  I reached the top of our drive, swung my leg over the seat as I pushed down on the near pedal and began pedaling up our street.  I pedaled hard through the fall chill of buttonwoods, then down under the canopy of Tulip Poplar toward the school and past it toward the highway.  I crossed the street and pedaled toward the a couple in long coats, he in a tan overcoat; she in a dark wool coat; another identical, middle – aged couple was several doors behind them.  I rode past the lit Community Bookshop next to Lantern Lane; the Homestead Restaurant was dark behind me, but its many-paned front door emitted a dim light where I had walked back to the shadowed cigarette machine at the end of a long, dark, carpeted corridor to buy mom her Lucky Strikes.  Then I rode past and away from Fisher’s Bike Shop where mom had purchased my bike, the one I rode, which once stood jauntily behind the plate glass windows that fall, and recalled that late evening, not unlike this one, when we stood side-by-side in the mid-October chill, and she asked me, “What do you want for your birthday?”

“That bicycle, that green Columbia Sting – Ray,” I said.  “It’s the same brand as big brother Harry’s.”

And a week later she surprised me, with it parked in her library behind the big white heavy door.  “Happy birthday,” she said, and reached down toward me and hugged and kissed me.

“Wow!” I said, “Thanks.”

I think that evening and the one a week before when she asked me what I wished for my birthday when we stood together in front of Fisher’s Bike Shop in the fall evening were the happiest moments of my life.

This night I enjoyed the freedom of pedaling past the downtown people, and sang to myself the words of Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” the lilting up and down sing-song plaintive in my ears, and the pedaling cheered me somewhat, but I felt lonely, riding past the shadowed faces of adults in their long overcoats and I knew this was the only world I would ever know.

________________________________________________________________

Author Bio:

Daniel Picker‘s work has appeared in Harvard Review, The Sewanee Review, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Oxonian Review, Poetry(Chicago), Soundings East, Vermont Literary Review, Sequoia: The Stanford Literary Magazine, Rune: MIT, The Dudley Review at Harvard, The Abington Review, and many more. He is also the winner of The Dudley Review Poetry Prize at Harvard, and a Fellowship from The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and he is the author of a book of poems Steep Stony Road.

Young Brown Man and the Laundromat Werewolf

by Mark Galarrita

When Bonnie dumped me after gym class, I skipped the rest of school and went home to do my laundry.  It was two days overdue and it had to be done. Whenever something bad happens and I get anxious, I fold my shirts. It’s the least I could do. On the drive back to Pop’s apartment, I replayed the morning so I could get the memory right. She stood in front of me, hands folded over her stomach. The same way the ER doctor did when he delivered the news that my mother said sayonara to the world.

“We’re growing up and we’re growing apart,” she began, “I don’t know how to feel about you anymore. We should take some time alone.”

The hell does that mean, ‘We should take some time alone.’ I thought it was a line she took from a band. On the drive home, I Googled it, but nothing came up.

When I came home, Pops didn’t ask why I showed up from school three hours early. He asked if I was hungry. When I said no, he nodded, and I went into my room to get the hamper. It contained a mix of dirty gym clothes, crusty socks, and shirts that were overdue for a clean. As I made my way out the door, Pops cursed in Tagalog and I asked him what was wrong.

“Ay jusko po! The country’s going to hell! We have a crazy man running for President.”

I shook my head. “I wouldn’t worry about it Pops. America isn’t that crazy.”

“What?” Pops asked. “I’m talking about the Philippines. I’m talking about our home.”

I nodded to let him know I understood, but I didn’t. I knew nothing about my father’s home beyond a few hamstrung pictures of farmhouses and beaches. The Philippines was as far from New Jersey as my love life was away from reality. I took my hamper and made my way for the Laundromat, a two-minute walk in a basement underneath the landlord’s room. When I flicked the fluorescent lights on, they sputtered on and off.  The neighborhood kids used to call it the murder basement but those dudes grew up and weren’t around anymore so it’s just a dirty, creepy, place to wash your pants. The lights crackled for a good minute before they kicked into gear and stayed together as one. Once they were on for good, the washing began.

The art of laundry is soothing. It’s all about mindfulness. I have to keep the type of clothing separate, whether they’re towels, cotton sheets, or just a big ole pile of white socks. I have to watch the timer and add just the right amount of detergent for the washer and fabric sheets for the dryer. If I don’t do any of this right, a shirt could be covered in different colors or a pair of gym shorts would be tied up in knots. Before the heart attack took her away, my mother taught me this. She told me that all clothes have a purpose. Colors had a purpose. Bright colors stayed together, whites stayed together, and you couldn’t mix, because if you did it would mess everything up.

I liked to listen to music whenever I did this and since I was in a breakup mood I listened to one of Drake’s older albums. While I loaded the washer, I fiddled with my iPod until I stumbled upon a Drake and Jhene Aiko collab. I sorted colors and whites while the lyrics took me out of the present. It was after the second verse when Drake started talking about the Hooters waitress in Atlanta that a pale werewolf walked into the room.

He had a twisted, lanky body, like a boy in fifth grade who grew up too fast. More awkward than athletic. His legs were bony and jagged like a goat living in in the Alps, and his arms were thin but hairy with hands as big as webbed chicken’s feet. It was his chest that was the biggest feature about him. Without any clothes on, he looked like a giant overfed rat with a werewolf’s head. The werewolf walked towards the other end of the laundry room, to a small corridor where the storage room closet was. The thing noticed me once I took my headphones off.

I stood there, staring at it, and the thing stared at me back. Red eyes wide and all. I waved.

“Kamusta po kayo,” the werewolf said in Tagalog. Like fresh off the boat in Newark kind of Tagalog.

“Sup,” I said. Drake was still spittin’, so I paused my iPod.

The werewolf purred and got on all fours to stretch.

“What are you listening to?” The beast said as it cracked its back.

“Drake.”

“Never heard of him.”

“He’s pretty popular. You listen to stuff on the radio?”

“I don’t listen to radios,” The werewolf coughed out a gray hairball the size of a jawbreaker. “I don’t listen to anything, except the siren’s call. She’s calling for me to find her.”

The werewolf turned his head into the corridor and the laundry room’s lights flicked on and off in a flash of seconds. I held onto my khaki’s as the lights flickered.

When the lights went back to a normal state, the werewolf was still there.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

He smiled and I could see his teeth. Bony and sharp, every single one. A mouth of nails. “Peter,” he mumbled.

“Cool,” I said. “My name is-”

“Wala akong pakialam! You’re just a boy,” Peter hissed. “Tulong ako?”

“Help? You look like you can take care of yourself on your own. Better than I could ever help you.”

When Peter the werewolf laughed, it sounded like a snake’s hiss. It was uncomfortable for me to be in the same room but I stood still, trying to feel the back of pants for my iPhone.

“I know that, boy,” Peter said. “But I can’t do everything by myself. Especially when the siren calls for me to help her. Wala akong magagwa,”

“Everyone has a choice, man,” I said.

“Tulong, tulong, tulong-”

“Alright!” I shouted. “I’ll help you real quick, but I gotta finish my laundry. Then I have to do my homework.”

Peter stood up and howled. The hairs on his body stood up as if he had just been struck by an electrical current.

“Thank you, boy! Thank you!”

The werewolf got on all fours and told me to come with him into the dark corridor. I stepped from one end of the light and into the darkness; the fluorescents behind me sparkled until they shattered, sending flickers of light to the floor and disappearing into the darkness.

“Not to worry,” Peter hissed as he walked. “That happens sometimes whenever we enter the siren’s land.”

Rambling into the dark, I thought of my oxford shirts and the khaki pants unfolded. They were jumbled into the big pile I left on the folding table and they would have to be ironed by the time I got back. All I wanted to do was to do my laundry and listen to Drake. I wanted to forget Bonnie. But forgetting someone is never about how you plan on doing it, it’s what you do to forget them.

We traveled for half a mile in the dark until we reached a door colored like a stale, moldy, croissant.

“This is it,” Peter said as he stood on his pencil legs. “The siren’s just in here.”

“Okay,” I said, scratching an itch on my neck from a cobweb that fell. “I will be home later tonight, right?”

Peter growled low. “Yes, yes. Come on, we’re burning daylight.”

With his chicken hands, he turned the nob and pushed the door open. I was hit by a flash of light as I fell from a thousand feet in the air with the werewolf next to me. I screamed as the winds took me from a clear, sunny sky, and smack into a great ocean. It was crystal blue and clear, like touristy photos of the Caribbean. I plodded into the endless depth of blue, the water’s chill engulfed my skin, filled my lungs. I swam towards the sun’s light and reached the surface. The rays of the sun poured over me in a pleasant, warm, embrace.

The werewolf paddled like a grown dog next to me.

I spat water out of my mouth. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

He ignored me and pointed to something behind me. I turned around to see a great big island of jungle and rolling hills. The werewolf paddled past me, kicking his legs up and out of the water like a toddler learning to swim.

“Well,” Peter said, “come on then!”

There was nothing behind me but an endless, clear blue. I turned and swam with the werewolf to the island.

While the journey looked as if I’d have to swim half a mile, it took two minutes. I ducked my head and swam, and before I knew it I reached the shore with the werewolf next to me. Once I dumped the water from my ears and got a bearing on where I was, I heard a sad voice, a singer’s voice. The noise came from within the island and high above me, atop a mountain. I turned to Peter and he heard it too, sniffing with his huge pink nose as he got on all four of his webbed feet.

“You hear it too?” I said with a redundancy to make sure I wasn’t hearing things.

Peter sniffled. “Good, the siren is still with us. Let’s go save her.”

Save her? I wasn’t in the business of saving lives or knowing where to begin. We followed – or I should say I trailed behind Peter – deep into the island. It was a craggy land of endless uneven hills and jungle. With every inch I took, I spent the time swatting flies, mosquitos, and watching my step as I either tripped or fell into a pile of wet mud. I passed by empty straw huts and farm houses, like the ones from pop’s old photos. I wanted to stop and search them but Peter didn’t relent and I wasn’t about to be lost in the middle of a jungle.

Peter stopped in front of a mountain. The sad woman’s song echoed from the top, where I couldn’t see anything but the clouds. I reached Peter at the bottom, panting and begging for a break.

“No stopping now,” the werewolf grinned, “the siren calls to us to save her. We’re just the creatures for the task!”

“Save her from what?”

Peter looked at me with a grin. “From herself, of course!”

The werewolf jumped up and grabbed onto the mountain’s side effortlessly. He stopped short of his climb to nudge me towards the long path, a spiraling road that went around the mountain. I sighed and followed.  By the time I made my way to the top of the lush knoll, Peter was already there trimming his toes. At the top of the mountain was a circular, trimmed, lawn like the kind you find in front of a house in the suburbs. Across from us was a woman with flowing red hair and pale, pink skin, singing and starting at the opposite end of the island in a green summer dress. From the back, she looked familiar. Like the person who I thought I knew before.

“Bonnie?” I shouted. The woman jolted to her feet and turned to us. When she saw me, Bonnie’s brows raised together as she swatted her green dress of dirt. Her freckles shined in the sunlight and her eyes twinkled in anger as she asked what I was doing here. She looked cute, happy, like whatever happened earlier today didn’t mean a damn thing.

“I was doing my laundry and he asked me to come here,” I said, pointing to the werewolf.

Bonnie narrowed her gaze at Peter, who bowed his rat-faced head at her.

“I thought he would make you feel better, my queen,” the werewolf said. “I can make him go away if you want.”

Peters webbed fingers grew into sharp claws. On instinct, I took a few steps back but Bonnie placed her hand on his hairy shoulder.

“Peter, stay,” she commanded. The werewolf retracted his claws and his sneer turned into a whimper. Bonnie walked over to me and raised her lips in a half-smile.

“I should’ve told you all about this sooner,” she said, “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” I said.

Bonnie turned her back on me and walked back to where she sat at the edge of the hill.

“Sit with me?”

From our seat on the hill, I gazed upon an endless ocean and a clear blue sky beyond the jungle island. There was nothing out there. The werewolf squatted behind us, eager for the next command from his ‘queen.’ Before I could raise the question of what it was, she started to talk to me about something else.

“I was hoping that by being with you, I could feel something,” she said. “Did you?”

“Did I what?” I asked.

“Did you feel something for me?”

I thought back to our relationship. Junior prom, where we had our first dance. Our first date at the AMC in Hamilton where we saw that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in 3-D and how big of a mistake that was. Walking in crowded New York City in the middle of the night, looking at Manhattan as tourists and deciding that neither of us would apply for any city colleges.

“Of course I felt something for you,” I smiled. “You’re my girl.”

She beamed for a second and faded after another. “I wish I could tell you exactly everything I’m feeling. But I can’t. I have all of these thoughts in my head, all of these worlds, and places I want to visit. But I know I’ll never be able to go to all of them or ever see them with you…and it makes me sad to think about that. After the summer ends, we’re going to be in two different worlds.”

I felt a warm breeze blow through us, left to right, gentle as Bonnie’s body up against me on a chilly winter night. She grabbed my hand and traced her thumb around my knuckles. I noticed the cracks on my skin and I thought of how I should’ve put some lotion on them before I left.

“This is where I come to think,” she said. “And now you’re here. This place will end soon, like all of my places to dream, my places to breathe. When I enter our world, I go on autopilot. Classes, field hockey, band practice…even hanging out with you. It felt ordinary, small.”

I was hurt by the last statement but I didn’t let it show. At least, I thought I didn’t. I tried to ask again about the island but she blew past it.

“If this is it, if this is all we’re worth after we graduate and go on to college, is this what our lives are going to be like? On autopilot and not doing anything exciting because the world is cruel and-”

I didn’t know what to do so I wrapped my arm around her. I heard Peter’s growl behind me but she told him it was okay.

“Do you want to listen to something?” I said.

She nodded.

I pulled out my iPod mini and untangled the white cord headphones. Placing one headphone against her earlobe and the other in mine, I put on a Jhene Aiko and a Childish Gambino track with an easy beat. She bobbed to the rhythm and smirked at the Childish Gambino verse. When it ended, she rested her head on my shoulder.

“Do you remember when we first started dating and I asked you that stupid question?”

“Which one?” I asked her and she slapped my chest with the back of her hand.

“I asked you if you were Filipino or Mexican. I couldn’t tell. You gave me this look like you were offended-”

“I wasn’t offended,” I crossed my arms and squinted.

“You did that! Just that! You always do it when you’re mad, you can’t help it.”

I rolled my eyes.

She smiled a little longer and I had a feeling she was back, but before I could get my hopes up and maybe kiss her on the cheek, do anything to make her feel better, it didn’t work.

“We knew nothing about each other,” she said, “you told me about your parent’s home in Mindanao. The country of over seven thousand islands. It was so beautiful to hear you describe the water, the farm house your father grew up in. The small parochial school your mom went to. Where your dad and your mother met at the pharmacy in Manila. I wanted to see all of that with you.”

“We can still see that.”

She squeezed my hands.

“No,” she said, “we won’t.”

I shifted away from her. The grip around her hand slipped away like grasping a greased ledge, hanging on to the edge of a building.

“You’ll be on one Coast and I’ll be in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “But I want to go back to that. First times are nice. We were innocent. We had these thoughts of the world that anything was possible, so long as we were there together.

I turned around to see if the werewolf was facing the other side of the island. His chicken legs and arms faded in a slow, concise, shadow.

“Bonnie,” I said, “What are you doing?”

“We have to let go of our dreams and grow up, don’t we? We have to accept that our lives are not in our control but in everyone else’s.”

The island shook. The lawn on my feet crackled, spitting out dirt and grass in my face. The werewolf looked at me with a sullen look. He growled and howled at the sky.

“Thanks, lalaki,” he grinned with his mouth of nails. “You saved the day.”

He faded like a seceding fog, as did the ocean and the lawn and the hill in front of me. They were replaced by a white, endless, room. A ceiling and floor of all white. Only Bonnie in her green dress and I stood there. I didn’t ask where we were, what was the point?

“What are you afraid of, Bonnie?” I asked her.

She looked down to the ground and crossed her arms, her back to me.

“I want to tell you, but I can’t. I don’t feel anything for you anymore and it’s just best…best we go our separate ways. Thank you, though, for everything.”

I walked to her but as I got closer, she vanished. Poof. A light appeared ahead of me and I ran towards it. Once I reached the bright light, a door appeared, and I turned the knob. I came back upon the Laundromat where my clothes were astray on the folding station. Portly Mrs. Rodriguez and her two ninita’s saw me enter through the darkness. The big mother of two jumped first, pointing at my chest.

“Oh Mia!” She said as I rubbed my eyes from the light. Rather than shock them, I stuck my hands out but I saw what they were shouting about. Not me, well not totally me, but what I was in. I was soaked in water from my t-shirt, to my Nike’s. Mrs. Rodriguez asked if I was okay and I nodded. One of her girls gave me a bottle of water. The other gave me a warm, beach towel.

“Gracias,” I said.

I took my hamper, shoved all my clothes in, and headed back to the apartment. Pops was in the living room watching a Kurosawa film, not one I remembered at the time.

“Is that you?” He asked.

“Yes pops, it’s me.”

“Did you eat?”

“No Pops.”

“Okay.”

I went to my room and sorted my clothes. When I looked at my computer I saw that it was Sunday, five days since Bonnie broke up with me. The world moved on without us.

I reached for my cellphone and called Bonnie but it went to voicemail. I thought about calling her a second time but I didn’t. I sent her a message on Facebook but she ignored that too. The next time I saw her was at graduation a month later. I waved to her but she glided past me, like I wasn’t even alive. I tried to contact her a few more times in the summer. Same results. Life passed on to a new current and she created her own distance from me and I guess, screw it.

 

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Author Bio:

Mark Galarrita is a Filipino American fiction writer from New Jersey. He has a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Creative Writing from Marymount Manhattan College. He also has a forthcoming short story with Bull: Men’s Fiction.