Fruit Flies, Fox & Squirrel

Wanda Praisner

 

I discard an old cantaloupe,
fruit flies still hovering over it,
when I notice color & movement
out by the fence.

Unmistakable. A fox, its russet
coat highlighted in morning sun
as it pumps away at the kill,
a squirrel. It gnaws

at the head, perhaps the brains
tasty as a rabbit’s, to an owl.
For an hour it eats, maneuvers it,
even sits at times

at the propped-up meal,
top half-gone. I tap
on the window, it looks at me,
then returns to feed,

its backside an arch
like the bend of a bittersweet branch.
It finally stops, goes back
to leftover pieces, licks

its face with its black front paws,
then picks up the remains
& disappears. I go out,
spook cedar waxwings

at the birdbath as I lift off
the slab of ice. Nothing remains
by the fence—no bone, tuft of fur,
only matted-down myrtle

& a few old oak leaves, tawny
in sunlight. I console myself that
the squirrel had its time in my yard.

A fruit fly lives only a day.

 

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About the author:

Wanda S. Praisner, a recipient of fellowships from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the Dodge Foundation, Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and VCCA, has won he Egan Award, Princemere Prize, Kudzu Award, First Prize in Poetry at the College of NJ Writers’ Conference, and the 2017 New Jersey Poets Prize. She was a featured reader at the Governor’s Conference on the Arts, as well as the Dodge Poetry Festival. She’s appeared in Atlanta Review, Lullwater Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Her latest books are Natirar (Kelsay Books, 2017) and To Illuminate the Way (Kelsay Books, 2018). She’s a resident poet for the state.

 

 

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Marraine de Guerre, Godmother of War

Wanda Praisner

 

          In memoriam: Pfc. F.F. Villani,
          
plot A, Row 18, Grave 38,
          
the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery

 A statue of the Archangel looks down
on a woman kneeling by a white cross,
anemones and mums in hand.

A Godmother of War, Regine, like a thousand
others, has adopted a grave of an American soldier—
one of 30,000 fallen in the Battle of Hutgen Forest
to liberate Belgium from the Nazis.

Nothing known of her Pfc, named Frederick,
until his sister came in 1957 to take soil
from his grave, home to Newark, New Jersey.

In his last V-Mail, October 1944,
he asked for single-edged razor blades.

Regine’s father, ten years old then, remembers
running after GIs for chocolate and gum.
Frederick’s father’s hair turned white overnight
after receiving the telegram.

Regine places the bouquet on the headstone,
her right hand leaning on an arm of the cross.

 

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About the author:

Wanda S. Praisner, a recipient of fellowships from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the Dodge Foundation, Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and VCCA, has won he Egan Award, Princemere Prize, Kudzu Award, First Prize in Poetry at the College of NJ Writers’ Conference, and the 2017 New Jersey Poets Prize. She was a featured reader at the Governor’s Conference on the Arts, as well as the Dodge Poetry Festival. She’s appeared in Atlanta Review, Lullwater Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Her latest books are Natirar (Kelsay Books, 2017) and To Illuminate the Way (Kelsay Books, 2018). She’s a resident poet for the state.

 

Susquehanna

D.E. Steward

 

On I-80 from Newark on the way west to Wellsboro in Pennsylvania as if fleeing the thinning and diminishing urban sprawl in the empty Sunday dawn

“The roads are our nature shining / beyond delay, / fretting to race on ­– ”  (Les Murray)

Stop at one steep turnout, harvested forest below and all around, Kittatinny folds spread northward toward the Catskills, the first slate-colored juncos of the season, bright white outer tail feathers flashing away over a brush pile

Robert Frost’s snowbirds

At the next overlook above the Water Gap and the Appalachian Trail, another car alone, a happy medical school student proudly on her way out of the Bronx and into Pennsylvania for a rendezvous with a friend she met when they hiked it all, Georgia to Maine

Who knows her ethnicity, originally from somewhere, a small brown person with no accent in English, piercings and quirky clothes, got into medical school, took time to hike the Trail after she finished her undergraduate and this weekend rented a Zip Car and got back to it out of the city again

She said New England had the most open ridges and was the best, that the Carolinas and Virginia were monotonous green

The omnipresence of the Appalachian train, Georgia into Newfoundland, arcing northeastward, a terra-link for many to where it was whence they came

The front that walled us in before the Atlantic’s rivers encouraged the roadless ways that opened up the rest of North America

The ways in, St. Lawrence, Merrimack, Connecticut, Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna, Potomac, James

Down on the Delaware itself to walk the Trail far enough northward to no longer easily hear the interstate, meet a typically civilized sixtyish Veronese, maybe a technician, engineer or craftsmen, Sundays he drives out from Essex County to hike, says it keeps him from nostalgia for the Dolomites, has seen bears, coyotes rarely

Then over the river and on into the garishly peculiar strip-mall Poconos of Monroe County, Pennsylvania, the newest commuter zone, stand-alone development houses perched for the I-80 run back across North Jersey to the George Washington Bridge

The whole planet is roads and cars

We all were there for the Chelyabinsk meteor in early 2013, that near-Earth asteroid explosion out east of the Urals, when their open highway and speeding cars looked like every open highway with speeding cars

We had the clips almost simultaneously with the event, a lot of dashboard cameras there

From way out there back of beyond for most of the world, while in Chelyabinsk of over a million with all its bridges, roads, streets, cars, they are the nexus of the world

There they drive to live and live to drive like nearly everyone else on smooth asphalt, engineered grades and curves, shoulders, with good signing and painted center lines, shoulder and edge markings

Cars worldwide are the defining contraption of the century present, century past

Allowing us to sail the hills and ridges, course along the rivers and the coasts, loop around congestion, gun up high mountains, go to deserts, take easy access to almost anywhere, glimpse asteroid explosions and car-bomb chaos

As simultaneously cities draw us into ourselves

The Eurasian norm, to live within the walls and venture out to the land, but now everywhere including Monroe County, PA, we travel everywhere outside at will

As the hamlet, village, town that has been so kind to our mortalities, becomes strip mall, filling station, convenience store

But we do what we do where we do it and will always be whether hydroponically in space colonies or underground or planting potatoes in a subsistence dystopian extreme, potato eyes down, heeled in, with a knowing wink to the kids following along to learn

We shall see

Downstream

The past has always been the future that is already there, but we cannot see the future and its shaggy little islands well enough to respond to it

So we go ahead into the expansive Pennsylvanias of our lives, trying to drive past the past as we imagine

“…the past, which is the live dark matter that flows and undismissably with us, and impends unseen over every point we reach”  (Les Murray)

The kenning of vivid mind-hunger

Of the road sometimes and always through the ease of imagination

After Wellsboro coming down the Susquehanna’s west bank on US 15 from Sunbury toward Harrisburg

November’s vellum cornhusks

Maples naked on the slopes and against the ridgeline sky with fall’s leafless red hickories and ridge white oaks

Vaulting of the bare Appaloosa-patched white sycamores on the creeks and flats before reaching the river

The Susquehanna’s broad sweeping bends, headland bluffs profusion of shaggy little islands in the stream

Imagining what else I’ve seen like this

“Imagination is nothing but extended or compounded memory” ­ (Giambattista Vico)

But then how to imagine what will appear next

Picturing what you have yet to see from what you have already known

Extending regional memories of other river roads

On along the Saguenay, St. Lawrence, Penobscot, Merrimack, Connecticut, Hudson, Delaware, Potomac, James, Missouri, Mississippi, Colombia

And glimpses from bridges and their approaches and often from the hills beside

All the rivers

Rhone, Rhine, Imjin, Snake, Yukon, the Cristalino to the Amazon

The bliss that flows from remembering things past

Natsukashi

From big rivers, mountains, large lakes, seacoasts and backlit skies

The Susquehanna’s islands’ scrubby brush and high-water saplings, driftwood, their apparent slant, everything points downstream

People here claim it is the widest unnavigable river in the world

So wide that its valley has rarely flooded in human times

“It is not that Americans exist only on the surface, but that their surface is where their depths are supposed to be”  (Terry Eagleton)

As before leaving Tioga County back up above Williamsport in Liberty, Pennsylvania, off I-99 on the way south from Wellsboro, a rural auction house Sunday gun sale that began at ten-thirty after or instead of church

ASSAULT RIFLES in .223 & .22; Browning BPS 12 gauge; WINCHESTERS: Post 64 model 88 in .308; 1892 in 32/20; two 1894 in 30/30 and 32/40; Rare model 71 Deluxe in .348 cal; also Marlin 1895 in 38/56 cal; Remington models 591 and 592M in 5mm; HAND GUNS: Smith and Wesson 686 SS .357 magazines, etc.

A Horton crossbow, three Malayan throwing daggers, about seventy boxes of different caliber bullets, at least fifty antique wooden ammo boxes, German dagger by Siegfried Waffen of Soligen, scope mounts, “a good selection” of holsters

With ammunition and reloading tools and casings, bayonets, swords, big knives, and suchlike paraphernalia table-displayed to be auctioned after the many dozen guns

“It might be interesting if, after spending too much of the last fifty years talking in circles [about the gun issue], we in America could see ourselves as reluctant tourists in the land of our own psyches. It might be helpful to begin shifting our discussions to the way in which all our souls are broken when we dehumanize by general habit”  (Patricia J. Williams)

But then the peaceful Pennsylvania woods, over half the state in forest

Rolling south toward through Tioga and Lycoming toward Williamsport on US15, almost nothing but trees, hardwood trees with conifers in the gorges

And in Northumberland where the West Branch of the Susquehanna joins the main river, Joseph Priestley’s Georgian-Federalist house lies back from the water on the open shore

The apparently rational English Unitarian, a millennialist sure that he would see Christ’s return, worked on phlogiston theory chemistry to his death there in 1804

Trapped in their times and their beliefs weeks from “the news,” five days rough travel west of the port of Philadelphia over two hundred years ago

Querying minds making the most of their ideas and what substantiations they had, and imagining the rest in extension of their compounded memories

Tourists in the land of their own psyches on the frontier of their Anglo world like many who landed here and pushed west with the goal of clarifying the soul and edifying the social condition

“The good and happiness of the members, that is the majority of the members of the state, is the great standard by which every thing relating to that state must finally be determined”  (Joseph Priestly)

Defender of the French Revolution in 1785 Priestley said, “we are, as it were, laying gunpowder, grain by grain, under the old building of error and superstition,” arrived in Philadelphia to find his kindred Quakers fat and smug so kept going

As it were

And when to his chagrin slave craftsmen were brought in on the construction of his big new Northumberland house with his old man’s new world chemistry laboratory he demurred when told that there was no one else to do the job

As Günter Grass put it, Weimar will always be down the road from Buchenwald

 

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About the author:

D.E. Steward has never had a pedestrian job since college. He has nearly a thousand publication credits in journals and has also published Chroma Volumes One through Five (Archae Editions, Brooklyn, 2018, in press).

 

Italiana

Lauralee Leonard

 

And when the garlic hits the oil
and the sizzling begins,
a memory of you opens.

Your tall unbent self
sturdy as an ancient tree,
standing, in your blue morning robe,
cooking some feast required by the law of families.

Did you ever speak within all those hours?
Pots laid on top of pots –
no inch of kitchen untouched
by the splatter
of your deep red gravy.

 

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About the author:

Lauralee Leonard has been a resident of Mercer County since 1995 and has also worked in the county for the majority of that time.

Old Ladies

Lauralee Leonard

 

We meet in dusty rooms.
No one misses us.

Ha! Let them revel in the flesh.

We hold truths
even we cannot bare.

 

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About the author:

Lauralee Leonard has been a resident of Mercer County since 1995 and has also worked in the county for the majority of that time.

Numbers Don’t Lie (But They May Fib a Little)

Allen Appel

 

Any foods that diet gurus declare to be unhealthy are taboo in our home. My wife won’t bring them into the house because she would like to stick around for as long as possible and she values my company.

In order to get through our doors, a product must carry documentation including at least one of the following qualifiers: sugar-free, no sugar added, fat-free, reduced-fat, caffeine-free, low-sodium, low-calorie, or “lite,” although I have no idea what “lite” actually means.

So one day last September I was amazed, when she was unpacking the groceries, to see that she’d brought home a package of muffins.  Our home is a temple where worshipers practice gustatory restraint.  How could she desecrate that temple by admitting a package of killer carbs? Did she think that just because the package had a kosher symbol on it that all the bad stuff had been removed?

She put away the last freezer item, a container of fat-free, no-sugar-added ice cream, and noticed that I was still standing there. She traced the imaginary line leading from my eyeballs to the counter and realized that I was staring at the muffins.  Without even waiting to be asked, she went right into her explanation.

“Every night after dinner,” she began, “we have coffee. I have a couple of pieces of whole grain flatbread with mine, you have three sugar-free cookies with yours. I got bored having whole grain flatbread for dessert every single night. I needed a change. I was sure you would welcome a change from those sugar-free cookies you have night after night. So I got these muffins. They’re sugar-free and they’re not too high in calories. In fact, one muffin has no more calories than your three cookies.”

I was skeptical, so I picked up the package and tried to read the label. Why do they put all the important information on food containers into such small print? In order to read it I had to get out my magnifying glass.

Yes, it was sugar-free. Okay, that was one thing in its favor. At least it wouldn’t wreak havoc with my A1C. Under “Nutrition Facts” it stated that a serving contained 170 calories. Three of my sugar-free cookies total 130 calories. I could have argued that 170 is more than 130 and, therefore, one muffin did have more calories than three of my cookies  but, in the spirit of the presidential polling season, I ignored the disparity and considered the two numbers to be in a statistical tie.

Some other numbers on the label, however, I found impossible to reconcile. The serving size was defined as 2 oz. The net weight of the package was 15 oz. The package held six muffins. Even the Wizard of oz couldn’t divide 15 oz. by 2 oz. and come up with a quotient of 6. Were the basic rules of arithmetic changed while I wasn’t paying attention? Had I somehow slipped into an alternate universe where mathematical rules are arbitrary? I re-examined the label, passing the magnifying glass slowly over each line. There had to be some explanation. Then I saw it, the key to unraveling the mystery. The figure it showed as “Servings per Container” was 7.5. In order for there to be 7.5 servings in the package, each serving would have to consist of just 4/5 of a muffin.

Silly me! I had assumed that one muffin equaled one serving. I guess I was wrong to think logically. But it was understandable that I should make such a mistake. After all, when I went to a diner and ordered coffee and a muffin I was sometimes served only 4/5 of a cup, but never 4/5 of a muffin. I’ve seen menus where the daily lunch special was a cup of soup and half a sandwich, but never 4/5 of a sandwich. Maybe I don’t eat out often enough.

But getting back to the muffins, I calculated that each muffin actually contained not 170 calories,as implied, but 212.5 calories. I can just imagine some marketing executive saying, “We can’t tell  customers that our sugar-free muffins contain over 200 calories. Who would want to buy a sugar-free product that can put on weight? But if we define the serving size as 4/5 of a muffin, we can honestly claim that a serving has only 170 calories. And if that doesn’t work we can redefine the serving size as half a muffin, bringing the calorie count down to barely over 100. We won’t have to change the product at all – only the label.”

So, accepting that a serving is 4/5 of a muffin, how do you divide a muffin into two pieces with one piece exactly four times the size of the other? And what do you do with the smaller piece, the one that is only 1/5 the size of a whole muffin? Do you accumulate fifths until you have four, which would qualify as a serving? What do you do with the half serving, the fifths left over from the last two muffins? Hold on to them until you buy another package? Save them for a very small child?

Isn’t it wonderful how we consumers are protected from misrepresentation by the government’s requirement that Nutrition Facts be supplied with each product?

 

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About the author:

Allen Appel was born in 1937. He received his BA in English from Brooklyn College in 1959, and his subsequent career involved developing computer applications. He moved to an active adult community in 2003, where he writes for the community newspaper.

 

 

 

I’m Waiting…

Ivana Vranjes Field

 

How long will you let the silence pierce my ears…
Till they bleed?
Should I hold my breath,
Or will I faint?
If I wait,
Will I wait forever?
… I think I heard my heart drop.
Will you pick that up?

 

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About the author:

Ivana Vranjes Field is currently a photographer in the tri-state area. She lives in Mercer County and graduated from TCNJ. She is a self-taught photographer and was recently inspired to start up writing poetry again after taking many years off. Working on film sets was her inspiration behind taking up photography. Seeing the shots being set up and creating the mood within a scene, was very beautiful to watch and very intricate in its own sense, which pushed her towards purchasing a camera and giving it a go. She has earned some IMDB credits for previous independent film work, and currently she enjoys reading books, studying the human mind and the human experience, art, more reading, and a lot of traveling.

Coney Island Mermaid

Ilene Dube

 

My mother grew up on Coney Island. Her family rented the third floor of a rickety wooden building three blocks from the sea. From the greasy windows of the apartment you could see the bungalow next door, where one of the broken panes was replaced with a dirty rag.

It was hot on the third floor—a fan my mother’s aunt had loaned them chugged away, barely blowing the mail, including the overdue rent bill. Every evening, amid the smell of burnt onions, my mother could hear the Schramms below, screaming at each other, throwing pots and pans. The house would rumble as if it were under the Cyclone.

Sometimes, my mother saw a shadowy figure pass in the window of the bungalow next door. No one knew who lived there. Nobody ever came out to talk to neighbors, to buy groceries, even to throw out garbage. My mother and her sister named the shadowy figure Ray.

Whenever the weather permitted, my mother escaped the apartment to the magical world surrounding her: the beach, the Parachute Jump, the Cyclone, the Steeplechase. She didn’t have money for the rides, but she learned to scour the ground for fallen change that would buy her the occasional thrill.

Her parents—my grandparents—ran a candy store. My mother and her sister were not allowed to eat the candy, not because my grandparents were concerned about their teeth rotting, but because they needed every penny to make ends meet. The Schramms were bean counters, making sure their inventory brought maximum profit. “Shoo,” they said whenever children wandered in without parents. With the ever-present temptation, my mother and her sister played in the streets, ragamuffin girls in hand-me-down dresses.

There was a boy who played with them whose name sounded like Morris. The boys playing stickball called him Missy. Morris often stayed home from school, reading and drawing.

My mother and her sister didn’t have books. Sometimes they’d go to the beach with Morris and draw in the sand. Anita would draw stick figures of girls in nice clothes. My mother would draw children with round cheeks who were allowed to eat candy. Morris would draw sea creatures, monsters and mermaids. Soon Anita, who was a few years older, grew tired of these games and ran off to find older friends, or even help my grandparents in the store. My mother would stay and listen to Morris’s stories about the figures he drew. She would sit at the sandy shore, staring out at the sea, as Morris talked about an ugly old witch who lived on an island they could just barely make out on the horizon. The old lady’s hair was made of seaweed and she had a spiky wand she’d use to beat children. If the children were especially naughty, she would turn them into pigs.

“She was once beautiful,” Morris told my mother. “And in love with a handsome prince. But then the prince drank a potion that gave him wanderlust, and he sailed away to another land. The beautiful young girl also took a sip of the potion, hoping it would transport her to her hero. But the potion reacts differently for different people, and it made her grow warts and develop evil powers.”

My mother wondered whether the Schramms had imbibed a potion that made them so mean and ugly. Sometimes, when they threw pots at each other, she secretly wished they’d maim one another. Then her parents would become the bosses of the candy store. She promised Morris that if that ever happened, she’d share the candy with him.

There was also the story he told my mother about a mermaid named Pearl. “Although Pearl was a magnificent swimmer, she aspired to be a singer, but alas the sounds she made were not quite as beautiful as what she heard in her head. This made Pearl sad. The sea witch loved to find others who were even less happy than she. She went into her laboratory and mixed up a potion, attaching a label that read: ‘Take one tablespoon a day for voice enhancement.’ Then, with a stroke of her wand, she dropped the bottle in the sea so that it floated just above Pearl’s head.

“What’s this? thought Pearl, grabbing the bottle and reading the label. When she saw what it was purported to do, she screwed off the cap, sniffed to make sure it wasn’t poison—in order to guarantee success, the witch had made it smell like chocolate—and took a sip.”

Meanwhile, the ship on which the witch’s handsome prince sailed was on a mission in Pearl’s part of the sea. When he spotted Pearl sunning herself on a rock, her hair and fin flowing beguilingly, he became smitten. He ordered his crew to sail closer.

The sea witch was watching on her crystal ball. She knew this was her opportunity. The potion Pearl had just sipped would switch the soul of the witch into Pearl’s shimmering body, leaving Pearl behind as the witch of the sea.

“But, once again, the potion didn’t work as the sea witch intended,” said Morris. “Her soul indeed went into Pearl’s body, but at that moment a huge wave came and swept Pearl off to sea. The prince was mystified. He ordered his crew to find her. They searched for days and days. All they found was the seaweed snarl that had been the witch’s hair.”

“What ever happened to Pearl’s soul?” asked my mother.

Morris shook his head. “Never found.”

When Morris wasn’t telling stories about sea witches, he taught my mother to blow bubbles and swim like a mermaid.

One rainy afternoon, stuck indoors, my mother heard the Schramms’ door slam below. She heard screaming, and the usual throwing of pots and pans. She couldn’t make out the words. When my grandparents weren’t working in the Schramms’ candy store, they’d tell my mother and her sister to ignore the fights. My grandfather would whistle and my grandmother would sing. One day they brought home a radio. The radio remained on whenever they were home, helping tune out the Schramms.

But even the radio could not block this argument. It sounded like Mr. Schramm was killing Mrs. Schramm. Although it had been what she wished for, my mother didn’t want Mr. Schramm to survive his wife. She didn’t like the way Mr. Schramm looked at her. He frequently talked about how he hated children. He’d let my grandparents rent the apartment on the condition that the children were kept out of his way. But lately Mr. Schramm was looking at my mother in a creepy way.

They had to share a toilet with the Schramms on the second floor. It was actually a small closet with a filthy toilet, and a tank hanging on the wall. My mother would hold her nose. She and her sister would drink as little as possible so they didn’t have to use the toilet.

In the evenings, after my grandparents cleaned up from a dinner of fried fish and mashed up hardboiled eggs with potatoes, my grandfather would go downstairs to play pinochle with Mr. Schramm and two other men. They drank something that lingered on their breath in a way that made my mother feel like she had to throw up. Mrs. Schramm must have felt that way too, because she’d leave their apartment when the pinochle players came.

Mrs. Schramm sat at my mother’s kitchen table, talking to my grandmother. My grandmother served her tea in a jelly jar. She would have preferred to have the evenings to herself, to catch up on housework, to darn socks or cross-stitch a tablecloth, but felt beholden to Mrs. Schramm.

On the afternoon when it sounded like Mr. Schramm had murdered his wife, my mother wondered whether she should check in on Mrs. Schramm. In the end she decided she’d let someone else find the body, but she did have to use the bathroom. Quietly, on tiptoes, she made her way to the second-floor water closet. The door was slightly ajar, and Mr. Schramm was inside. My mother tried to slip away before he saw her, but it was too late. “Hello little girl,” he said, turning around, not even bothering to zip up his pants. There was a sneer on his face as he exposed himself.

She ran back up to the third floor and closed the bolt on the door. It wasn’t a very strong bolt—Mr. Schramm could easily break in if he wanted to. My mother stayed pushed up against the door for a long time, her mouth dry, her heart pounding. She only let go so that she could find a tin can to pee in and then wash it down the kitchen sink.

When my grandparents came home, she told them that Mr. Schramm had killed Mrs. Schramm. They looked at one another and then at my mother. They didn’t say anything. Soon Mrs. Schramm was at their door.

After that, Mr. Schramm would come home in the afternoon and knock at my mother’s door. She would remain quiet, under the covers, with the door bolted. “I know you’re in there,” Mr. Schramm would say. My mother told her parents, and they would just look at each other. My mother was terrified of using the bathroom.

My mother was 12 years old when she developed tonsillitis and had to stay home in bed with a fever. My grandmother would take periodic breaks from the store to check on my mother. When Mr. Schramm offered to check on her, my grandparents were powerless to stop him. He let himself in with the master key as my mother slept off her fever. When she awoke, he was sitting beside her on the bed, his hand on her breast. She was too terrified to scream, too weak to run. His hand made her pain even worse. At that moment, she wished she were dead.

The next day, though barely better, she forced herself to get out of bed and go back to school. She didn’t tell her parents what happened. She knew they would just look at her and stare down at the floor. “Beholden” was the word they always used.

She was afraid to tell Morris or Anita about Mr. Schramm. Would they believe her? Maybe they would think she was sick for thinking up such things. Or maybe they would think she had done something to provoke it.

One day, Morris came to tell her he was moving away to Long Island, a real island.

“You drank the magic potion,” she said. She wished for some, too.

Feeling as she imagined the sea witch had felt—before she turned into the sea witch—my mother went for a swim in the sea. Looking back at the shore, so far in the distance, she felt free. Free from the Schramms, from her beholden parents, even free from the loss of her best friend. Swimming was like flying, she thought. She could swim forever. She could swim to another continent and never grow tired. Her body was meant for swimming. Suddenly her legs melded together, her feet turned into a fin, and her body was covered with shimmering blue-green scales. Basking in the sun and surf, she formed bubbles on the curl of her tongue and blew.

My mother loved being a mermaid, and as long as the weather was warm, she would swim out to sea for hours. She had to swim beyond where anyone could see her, in order for her fins to form. As long as she was a mermaid, she didn’t have to be beholden.

One afternoon, during lunch, the Schramms started in. There was yelling and screaming in Yiddish, words my mother had been taught never to use. She turned up the radio—she loved listening to The Shadow and The Inner Sanctum, but she could barely hear it over the cacophony of the Schramms. She made it louder. Suddenly the shadowy figure in the bungalow next door opened the rag-patched window. Ray revealed himself, a bald man, shirtless, with a hairy belly. “Shaddup in there!”

Terrified, my mother ran out without even turning off the radio. She didn’t have time to grab a bathing suit. She ran the three blocks to the beach, took off her shoes in the sand, and waded out in her skirt and blouse. She swam the distance she needed and as her fin formed, she felt soothed. She thought long and hard about what it would be like to stay out at sea, a mermaid forever. There was no reason to go back.

This time she began to feel cramps. She’d been warned not to swim after eating, but she ignored the pain, focusing instead on how good it felt to be wild and free.

She got caught up in the tide, which was dragging her out, but didn’t fear drowning because mermaids don’t drown. Her clothes were weighing her down. She thought she was alone, and then a man appeared, carrying her back to shore. Back on land, her fins and her tail disappeared. She was a girl again.

“You could have drowned,” the man said. He was kind. My mother blinked to make sure she was seeing right. The man was Ray.

My mother eventually wandered far from Coney Island, spending her adult years in California where she swam every day, albeit in a lake. And perhaps because she feared turning into Mrs. Schramm, she never fought with my father, though so many times I wished she would have stood up, but she always felt beholden to him for rescuing her from her childhood.

When I was 5, my mother took me to the library. There on the shelf were books written and illustrated by Morris. I grew up reading tales of sea monsters, mermaids and sea witches. But the story of my mother’s near drowning, and being saved by that strange and reclusive man, was only recounted in the final days of her life. In all the years of watching her swim back and forth across the lake, we had no idea. In finally telling it, it was her way of letting us know she was ready.

 

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About the author:

Ilene Dube grew up in Brooklyn and spent much of her childhood in Coney Island, hearing about its glory days from her parents while witnessing its demise and then resurgence. She recently illustrated a children’s book, Smell Coney Island. Her short stories, poetry and personal essays have appeared in Atticus Review, Corvus Review, HerStory, Huffington Post, Kelsey Review, Foliate Oak, The Grief Diaries, The Oddville Press, Penny Shorts, Unlikely Stories and U.S. 1 Summer Fiction.

 

Hitting the High Notes

Steve Smith

 

Doo Wop 1961

At fifteen years old, running out the front door and cursing my father
again, promising never to come back, I wondered if I was as bad
as he said I was. I climbed the steep hill and rocks below
Palisades Amusement Park, crawled under the bandstand
then ran up the aisle and blended into the crowd of fans to watch
my favorite Doo Wop groups up on stage – “The Flamingos”
“The Five Satins” “ The Turbans” “The Cadillacs”-
beaming young black men, their conked hair slick with brilliantine
trying hard to please their adoring young fans. The singers were
resplendent in purple and white, hot pink, canary yellow and glittering
periwinkle tuxedoes, hips grooving as they did a syncopated stroll,
their gospel honed falsettos and deep basso harmonies like salvation
lifting me out of my gloom, showing me how I’d like to feel, look
and sound. And in my mind I saw myself gliding across a stage
microphone in hand, my blonde pompadour  polished back
with pomade, a pronounced roll to my gait, my father almost forgotten
as the audience clapped and cheered me doing the Hand Jive and the Madison
and hitting the soaring  high and low notes, the Doo Wop she Doo be Doo be Doo Wops.

 

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About the author:

Steve Smith is a Poet/Artist from Pennington N.J. A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, he is retired Theatrical Scenery Painter.

The Driver’s Seat

Judith Salcewicz

 

At seven, I had a creative mind without a firm grasp of consequences and there was a monster in our basement.

The monster’s name was Maytag. His shiny white cubed body was elevated on four legs tapering down to tiny wheeled feet. I liked watching the colors of clothes swirl in the sudsy water of his belly. They would dance and have fun until life was squeezed out of them by the monster’s toothless and terrible turning wringers.

My mother fished out each sacrificial garment and fed it into the perpetually hungry rolling jaws. The clothes dove into the rinse water tub to be swished by hand. Then it was through the wringer in reverse and into the wicker basket balanced on her hip. She sighed at the occasional cracking sound that signified the need to replace another broken button.

I played with my dolls but was really watching each step of the familiar cleaning process. Mother smiled as I poured pretend tea and awaited my chance to be a hero. I knew she wanted to ask me to come outside but didn’t because I was having a nice picnic with my dolls.

Mom carried the basket of stiff, damp, lifeless laundry up the stairs to the pulley clothesline that ran from the back porch to the big tree on the other side of the driveway.

I had been told not to touch the washing machine, but not today. Today I was almost invisible. Mom was worried about my sister. Carol had the measles and was wearing a harness that kept her in bed. If she stayed in the darkened room until she got better, she wouldn’t ruin her eyes. Mom and I waited until Carol was asleep to do the laundry.

Mother was outside. Carol, my shadow, was asleep. I was alone. I reveled in the freedom to do what I wanted. I removed my doll’s dress, picked up some washcloths that I’d used as picnic blankets, and marched to the monster’s lair. He slept, but I knew the location of the lever that would bring him to life. I used both hands to move the bar and shivered with happiness as the monster awoke. I heard the mumble, the rumble, the whir as the monster taunted me with words I couldn’t quite understand but knew to be a challenge.

I accepted.

Waving a green washcloth, I moved closer and closer, lightly touching the turning cylinders with the fabric until they bit. The fiend was strong, but I was stronger.  I snatched the green square from the jaws of death.  I felt my heart dance. I tried again with a white washcloth. Victory, the hero wins.  I raised my arms above my head and kicked imaginary balloons into the air.

I picked up my doll’s dress, a pretty pink one with tiny white flowers, two snaps in the back, and lace around the hem.  The dress fit on my hand like a puppet, I waved my arm back and forth in tantalizing dance movements. Closer and closer I inched. I was teasing. I was twirling. I was testing. I was caught!

My fingers hurt. I screamed. My wrist. I’m being squished. I screamed louder. My elbow. The rollers spun round and round.

“It hurts, it’s hurting me. Mom, mom, mom!”

 Can’t she hear me? Why isn’t she coming?

 Mother heard and rushed to my sister’s bedside. Carol was still asleep. My screams reached a crescendo punctuated by quick hollow thuds of mother’s feet on the cellar steps.

She shrieked when she saw what I had done. She unplugged the menace.

“Oh no, oh no. What have you done? What have you done?” she said.

My screams became sobs. Mom pulled the release lever on the wringer, cradled my arm, and surveyed the damage. It wasn’t pretty.

My elbow bone stopped the wringer.  A friction burn from the roller, that continued to turn in place, created a patch of angry red mush on the side of my arm.

Still screaming, mother improvised. She tied my arm to a Sear’s catalog using diapers. This seemed to be the only idea she had.

When she completed this task, she just held my arm and made loud wounded cat noises.

She isn’t helping me. She needs to help me and she isn’t. I will never be like this.

 I stopped crying and put a finger on a tear on my mother’s cheek.

“Mom, it’s okay. Let’s call dad,” I said.

She did.

Although I was only seven, I climbed into the driver’s seat of my life and made a decision that formed my character.  I resolved to be calm.

 

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About the author:

Judith Salcewicz has lived in Mercer County for over forty years and is a retired teacher. She is on the Board of Trustees for Lawrence Historical Society and is a member of the Lawrence Writer’s Group. Her work has appeared in The Kelsey Review, Horse Network, and Women’s World Magazine.