As I walk home, I see the back of a picture frame by one of the windows on the second floor. I imagine a lifetime kept in a couple of drawers, someone’s slippers carefully placed under the bed, the folded duvet — I can’t think of the colour. We never know how far far is until we are there. I walk home carrying my backpack and a shopping bag. I have just popped into the supermarket after dropping my son at school. Inside this backpack which I carry with me everywhere, I keep my wallet, the house keys, a pocket kite, and an emergency umbrella.
Most days I’ll buy a treat on my way to pick him up — you know the way children are always ravenous after school. This week it will be a gingerbread man. I am walking home, and this small town has become my ‘hometown’ now, no matter how far it feels. The years, the ocean, it all contributes to this inconclusive equation. It’s my own private epic, this invisible saga where all I have is what’s in me, not what I carry. And what I hold in my arms and tend to on a daily basis is an extension of my seeking; it’s the reward for not staying. It is a strange set up to be born to leave, but that’s how I see it now, our birth being the first departure.
When I was younger I often though of Laika. But it was only when I finally moved to this country at the age of twenty-two that I felt an even deeper connection to her journey; the bewildering clash between innocence and adventure. It became some sort of amusing allegory during my early days as a foreigner, back when I was unfazed by the distance.
I am home now writing this. There’s a pile of laundry on top of the drying rack, waiting. This morning there were doves by the empty bird feeder, waiting. And then some time after that, my son stood by the door with his raincoat on, holding his water bottle and book bag, waiting. We rushed past the puddles born out of the rain that fell overnight, and he ran towards the falling leaves, trying to catch them.
On the way back as I walked past the nursing home. I noticed the picture frame with its back to the road, and next to it, a glass vase with artificial flowers.
He was sat on a bench as she clutched her bag. They were strangers then. She asked him if he knew the time, he said it did not matter, “this is where we are now”. His name is John and her name is Mary. Years later, a week or so before their daughter’s wedding, John finally tells Mary that that was a lie, that it does matter. Mary does not understand what he means, and so she hugs him, thinking this is about their little girl being all grown up now; about the young couple’s big move abroad.
Mary offers John a coffee but he says nothing. He stands by the window, looking into the distance. “What is there?”, Mary jokes as she hands him the coffee anyway, the steam rising from the cup like a lone feather. And John says, “all these years and I never wanted to think of this, of how this time would come, and how we would find ourselves alone again, almost like strangers.” Mary immediately stops in her tracks as she handed out the cup which John did not see. She begrudges the sign: no one could ever cling to a feather. For a moment Mary considers telling John about the broken pane, and how that particular window is long overdue to be replaced. And the tree which they both can see from where they stand should have been trimmed last autumn, and so they’ll have to wait until November, after the first hard frost. Yes, deadheading and pruning should take place every year after the first frost.
She gathers enough strength to ask him, “how do you mean, ‘almost strangers’?”. John says he wants to book a ticket, he does not know where to; and that he would like to travel and see how far he could go before he came back again. Back again. Mary grabs hold of his words almost the same way she had clutched her handbag all those years ago, when she first laid eyes on him, and asked him the time. She brings the cup to her lips and takes a sip of John’s sugarless coffee, fallen leaves look a lot like feathers, she thought.
Luciana Francis is a Brazilian-born, UK-based writer of poetry and fiction. She holds a BA (Hons) degree in Anthropology and Media from Goldsmiths, University of London. Her work appears in various publications in Brazil, the UK, and the US, including Popshot Magazine, Literary Mama, Minerva Rising, amongst others; her poetry is forthcoming in two anthologies as well as in the print issue of Confingo Magazine. More recently her micro-fiction has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best Short Fiction Awards.
Fast/efficient—I was competent in both. Each task was prepped and aligned to reduce wasted time and eliminate unnecessary arm, leg, head, and hand movements. Every action was gauged against an internal stopwatch. I successfully turned daily living into an obstacle course race with a satisfying red pencil finish line crossed through each to-do list item. My heroes were robots, sleek purveyors of performance perfection. They got the job done.
In my first week as an art handler at the Brooklyn Museum, I was tasked with cutting individual archival storage mats for their extensive collection of John Singer Sargent watercolors. Easy. “Measure twice, cut once,” I was advised. Not likely. I immediately reconfigured the poorly set up frame room, creating a mat board—cutter—artwork assembly line. I could now accomplish the cutting with just a quarter-turn of my body.
In poetry, there is a moment called a “turn” where something unexpected is introduced that changes everything. Opening the first portfolio of art was like pulling back a curtain, being struck breathless. Gone was the tidy frame room. I was gliding along the dappled waters of Venice, finding a bit of shade against a mossy bank, silenced by the play of light across the beautiful façade of Saint Mark’s Basilica. With each watercolor, I was transfixed. Rapid strokes, translucent to opaque brushed dabs of color, created infinite moments. I felt I saw directly through the artist’s eyes.
Nearly nothing got done. Maybe one or two mats an hour. My shame was mixed with wonder and hunger for more beauty, more journey. Day after day, I toured Venice.
“How is it going with the matting?” Sarah Fay, the seasoned curator of the collection, inquired a month into my employment. No lie could explain why I’d only gotten a tiny fraction of the massive collection safely into their mats. I fully confessed my greedy fixation, this unproductive love affair.
She gazed at me, her eyes narrowed. I waited for the inevitable, “You’re fired!”
“Isn’t it marvelous,” she said, “that moment when you realize that our job in life never really was to ‘get it done.’ Our job is to fully live it, let it wash over us, wave after wave. That’s why we’re here.”
I followed her gaze, gently taking in our surroundings. Our eyes caressing each carved pilaster, gliding further upward into the airy, sunlit dome of the museum’s vaulted marble ceiling. Finding a space where breath itself is sacred, where the one and only responsibility is simply to be.
Slow now, and even older than Sarah was back then, I see how that turn in my life touched every aspect of my existence. Slow to taste each morsel, slow to let go of the hand of a friend, slow to leave a moment full of generous giving. There is no race except the one you create. Measure twice, cut once. Take your time. I promise you, what needs to get done has already happened.
Lou Storey is an artist and psychotherapist living on the edge of coastal New Jersey with his husband of thirty-three years Steve, and a happy bounty of dogs, cats and chickens. Lou’s writings have appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times Tiny Love Stories, as well as an assortment of poetry magazines and various academic journals related to mental health.
The pawnshop faced the traffic of Putnam Avenue. The people who went inside usually ducked their heads and moved with quick movements, but my dad liked to go in and wander around and buy things like old VCRs and televisions and dishwashers – a purchase he would forever regret after our house became infested with roaches. But Dad’s biggest regret came not from purchasing from the pawnshop but from selling his most prized possession to it.
I don’t know what lawsuit or worker’s compensation claim landed my dad with the money to buy that Gibson Les Paul. What I do remember is him giving each of us kids $100 when the windfall came down. I held the money in my hand, vowing to save it, but over the course of a week bought $100 worth of pickles instead because those Big Papa pickles were the shit.
He had guitars before but none as beautiful as that dark green Gibson. I watched him open its case and run his hands over the red velvet interior before picking it up and stroking its strings. One thrum and a dreamy sort of faraway look passed over his face.
Dad loved that guitar but pawned it on the regular because on the regular, we were broke. He always managed to round up the cash to get it out of pawn before they kept it. Then one time, he didn’t, and when we drove by the pawnshop, his Gibson was sitting in the window with a for sale sign slung around its neck. One day we drove by again, and the Gibson was gone.
Each time Dad drove by the pawnshop, he cringed a little until eventually, he wouldn’t look at its windows at all.
April Pride Sharp
April Sharp is an English instructor at Felbry College School of Nursing, and a graduate of the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program. She often writes of her childhood growing up in Southeast Ohio. Her work has been featured in The Devil Strip, Rubber Top Review, and Appalachia Bare. When not writing she can be spotted stomping through the woods with her two dogs.
On fine spring days, my mother and I take the number 52 bus — “a tuppenny and a penny, please” — to the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens. Today, however, I’m with Father and we have travelled here by taxi. I’m holding my solid, blue sailing-boat which we’ll sail together, like other fathers and sons, although this is not something we have ever done before.
While with my mother, I exercise caution. I place my sailing-boat carefully on the water and — disregarding her encouragement — I set it on a shallow course along the rim of the pond. I know my mother to be a woman who is willing to take risks. This is not a temperament I share.
My sailing-boat is nothing more than a crude wooden hull with a light cotton sail. I know this but to me it’s still precious. I’m at a blessed age when what I have is what I want and — although I greatly admire them — I’m not envious of the older boys with more elaborate craft.
I watch them adjusting the trim, wading a few feet out into the water, holding their sleek ships in position, waiting for the right gust to fill the sails. Away they go across the ocean. All the while I clutch my boat tightly.
Father looks on while I make my timid coastal voyages. I release my boat and run to be there to retrieve it. Run and retrieve. Run and retrieve. Is it boredom that prompts him to suggest, very gently, that we could be more adventurous?
Little by little I pick up courage until at last we decide to launch the boat across the pond to the far shore. The wind holds steady and we’re there to meet it when it makes landfall.
Which of us suggests we should try one final voyage across the pond before we go home? Maybe you’re fearful this will end in disaster? Don’t be. It doesn’t. It’s true there’s a moment when the wind drops and changes direction, but it picks up again and my boat sails safely back to shore. I go home happy, relaxed, relieved.
My mother and I return to the Round Pond as before. It’s an uncertain day of sudden squalls. I won’t risk further voyages across the pond and my mother is content to let me potter by the edge of the water while she reads her library book on a bench.
She isn’t witness to an episode later that afternoon. A boy with his father watch as their boat — becalmed and water-logged — sinks in the middle of the pond. I always knew this is how it might end. The father’s helplessness, the son’s heartbreak. I pick up my boat and walk thoughtfully back to my mother. She closes her book and we catch the 52 bus home.
That summer we move house. Our visits to Kensington Gardens come to an end. My blue sailing-boat is consigned to the bottom of a cupboard where — in time — it’s forgotten.
Nicolas Ridley lives in London & Bath (UK) where he writes fiction, non-fiction, flash fiction, scripts and stage plays under different names. A prize-winner and twice a Pushcart Prize nominee, his short stories have been widely published in anthologies, literary magazines and journals in the UK, Ireland, Canada and the USA.
In 1969, we had just started dating. Michael was in twelfth grade and I was in eleventh. We were standing in the halls of Miami Norland Senior High. Lockers were clanging and feet were shuffling. Holding out his hand, Michael offered his wrist.
“It’s from my uncle,” he beamed.
The face read Bulova, the band black, the dial stainless steel. At first glance it looked like any other watch.
Michael side-glanced like he was telling a secret. “It’s for my graduation.”
That watch followed him everywhere. He wore it at our wedding. To Michigan where we finished school. To the law office where he had his first job. But while we grew up and moved on, the rest of the world went backward. His parents divorced. The uncle and his wife divorced. When we bought a house and a car, the so-called grown-ups downsized. And when we started a family, they started smoking pot. How crazy it all seemed! My husband in his Brooks Brothers suit. My in-laws and the uncle with their new hippie lifestyles. Lava lamps and waterbeds. Nehru jackets. Bongs. On good days, we were amused. On bad days, we were mortified.
The uncle was the oddest of the oddballs. And it didn’t take long before drugs addled his brain. Birthdays were forgotten and bills were overlooked. Instead of furniture, his living room was filled with pillows. To have a conversation, you had to reach down to his level. Lay on the floor. Shout over the rock music. Pick at food on paper plates.
There was the time Michael’s first cousin got married in California. Little did the uncle know that pot on the West Coast packs a punch. An hour into the cousin’s wedding, someone called the rescue squad. They thought it was a heart attack, but the father of the groom was just stoned.
How Michael laughs at this story, like it happened to another family in another life. One glance at his watch and all is forgiven. One kindness erases a lifetime of hurt.
Years passed. My husband’s parents died. Then the uncle slid into dementia and he died, too. The uncle’s second wife is still around. She’s about our age, or she says. She’s a little bit like a stranger and getting stranger all the time. Though we invite her to Thanksgiving and Seder, she seldom makes an appearance. If she comes, she’s the last to arrive and the first to leave.
But all is forgiven. Each year we make an invitation. And each year she either ditches us or leaves. Like the hands of a watch, time circles in a loop. What’s the use of complaining? Memories fade. The heart heals. And after two or three shakes, that Bulova still ticks.
Marlene Olin was born in Brooklyn, raised in Miami, and educated at the University of Michigan. Her short stories have been featured or are forthcoming in publications such as The Massachusetts Review, PANK, Catapult, and The Baltimore Review. She is the winner of the 2015 Rick DeMarinis Short Fiction Award, the 2018 So To Speak Fiction Prize, and a nominee twice for both the Pushcart and the Best of the Net prizes.
Forgetfulness runs in my family. My brother, the original absent-minded professor, offers me a ride home. “My car’s not far away,” he says, “I’ll be right back to pick you up.” We part outside the Fine Arts building on the campus where he teaches. I wait, and here he comes… and goes, right past me. His car disappears down the street.
Oh well, I think, he’ll remember eventually. And he does. Soon, his car glides up and he rolls the window down. “You’ll think I don’t love you,” he says, “but I came back as soon as I remembered.”
Forgetfulness often involves cars. I have trouble remembering where I park, so I have a system. When I go to a familiar place, I park as close as possible to the same spot each time. When I can’t, I’m grateful that my key has handy buttons that make the horn honk. But in the parking deck today, I wander around my favorite spot, looking for my car. I press the “lock” button until I hear my horn. At least, I think it’s my horn. It does sound a little muffled. I walk on, and the sound recedes. Have I passed my car? I retrace my steps, and it happens again. Finally, I realize I’m on the floor directly above my car, and hear it honking when I pass over it.
I’m not alone. I approach my grocery store entrance and meet a woman coming out. She pauses, looking back and forth, “Now where in the hell did I park my car?” she mutters. Perhaps the fault lies in our cars and not in ourselves.
Water is almost as bad as cars for provoking forgetfulness. After boiling two pans dry, I give up and buy an electric kettle that turns itself off.
I’ve had plumbing-related floods in two homes, so I’m instantly on alert if I hear water running. Today I start a load of laundry, go upstairs, check my email, take out the trash, then happen to walk through the hallway by the bathroom. Then I hear it, the telltale sound of water in the pipes. I wiggle the handle of the commode; it’s not the problem. I run to the basement – no water there – then to the first floor powder room. Mystified, back in the kitchen, I finally remember my laundry. The rinse cycle has started.
I console myself that forgetfulness is common. Else, why would they sell electric kettles? Why would my friend Marlene wear a necklace that says “I Can’t Remember?” I’ve even seen packs of gum labeled Instantly Remember Where You Left your KEYS – intense memory-stimulating mint gum.
Did I mention that forgetfulness runs in my family?
Sandy Fry is a writer, photographer, traveler, and lifetime art student. Past publications include Minerva Rising, Number One, StoryNews, Dreamers, and an essay in the ‘Your Turn’ column of the AARP Bulletin. Her photographs have appeared in Minerva Rising, Unearthed, Oyster River Pages, and The Longleaf Pine, as well as in the Light Space and Time online gallery.