Into the foothills:
intentional, like tumuli,
poised in geometric solitude;
battologizing in every direction
like a lavish obsession;
Over the clatter of lava scree,
down stress-cracked arroyos
polyped with balsamroot,
astride dustracks canine and human,
over roots of gnarled fir that
knuckle the trail like black fingers.
Into the foothills, then,
suspecting all summits false,
enduring your own shadowy weather—
unending systems of shifting mentalese;
Overtaking strangers wordless
and passing through strands of huddled pine
sunk with errant shafts of yellow light,
networks of crows bruiting your
course in the canopies above.
With ragged breath and aching limb,
you are lifted and lowered,
left to pursue protracted arcs,
like the practitioner of an esoteric ritual,
like the epigone of a mathematical formula.
Compacted and sunbaked into pavement
the path rattles talus and tibia,
climbs the fickle architecture of your spine,
and delivers spoonfuls of annihilation.
Into the foothills, then,
you are running—
but hanging on
the susurrus of the breeze,
trying to hear the urgent call of the world.
James F. Latin
Jimmy Latin is in his fourth year of Honours English at Concordia University (Montreal). He writes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.
My mother and I went to Prague because she believed that “Travel is the university of life.”
“Two rooms?” asked the clerk at the hotel check-in desk.
“No, just one. This is my daughter.” For an unknown reason my mother added, “she is still a child.”
The clerk, his hair thinning although he was quite young, peered at me over his spectacles and said, in a matter of fact voice, “Yes, still a child, but already interesting.” I was thirteen years old, tall, skinny with no breasts in sight, but I understood that I had received my first compliment. I decide to live up to it.
The energy of the city intoxicated me. While my mother did her best to get me excited about Prague’s historic sights, I was focused on the future. When the sound of an ambulance siren interrupted our conversation, my mother sighed in regret at the possibility of a life lost. To me the sound signaled the hope of life saved. I resolved to aim for life without regrets.
“Non je ne regrettte rien,” I sang with Edith Piaf on my transistor radio.
We returned home to my little town in southern Czechoslovakia. I finished my education and eventually my breasts appeared.
I left, to travel and to learn. Soon after, Soviet tanks rolled down the Wenceslas Square and I would never live in my homeland again.
I went from sleeping in a London telephone booth at the railway station to magazine covers and film, even becoming a Bond Girl. The Vietnam war ended and man flew to the moon. I fell in love, and travel did prove to be an education.
I watched in awe as my children’s lives took shape. I experienced happiness in situations I never thought that I would: the unconditional love of a child. The joy in helping people.
The Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia freed people in my country and I decided to go back to Prague, to see the change. I took my thirteen year old daughter with me. I booked us at the same hotel where I had stayed with my mother.
The hotel lobby looked mostly the way I remembered it. There was a couple checking in with a boy who looked to be about eleven. The clerk at the desk was now old and bald. He handed the couple the key to their room. Then he looked at the boy over his spectacles, and said, “What an interesting boy.”
My daughter rolled her eyes, recognizing bullshit when she heard it. I smiled at her with satisfaction and pride, humming quietly, “Non je ne regrette rien.”
Anika Pavel was born Jarmila Kocvarova in Czechoslovakia. She became a refugee when the Soviet Union invaded her homeland. She lived in England, Hong Kong and Monte Carlo before settling in New York City, where she is a writer. She writes in Slovak and in English. Her short stories have been published in BioSories, Potato Soup Journal, Tint Journal, Nixes Mate Review and others. Her story “Encounter With The Future” is currently nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
We’re cousins. Six decades of weddings, graduations, and hospital bedsides are tucked under our belts. With enough time, a language develops. A sort of Morse code. A drumbeat of inference and innuendo punctuated by sighs.
“So what’s new?” I say.
Then holding the phone away from my ear, I prepare myself. My cousin talks in a shout. No matter where I find her– whether it’s a plane or a doctor’s office or an elevator– her voice booms.
“You shouldn’t know. Five trips to the bathroom just this morning. Today I’m like a sieve.”
No one does torment better.
“How’s by you?” she throws out.
When she asks how I’m doing, I’m already sucked into the cadence of calamity.
“Not so good,” I reply. “My knee…it could be better.”
We’re getting into a rhythm now. She doesn’t miss a beat.
“You’ve got a bad knee,” she answers. “I’ve got a bad back and a neck that’s killing me.”
It’s like a bizarre poker game where whoever’s sickest has the winning hand. An Olympics of suffering. My heartache trumps yours.
The reverse occurs when we speak about our children. No lie is too small. Like an archeological dig, the essence stays underneath. No matter how far we probe, there’s another layer buried.
“How’s Howie?” I ask.
Her son is thirty-five years old and still on the dole. He ping-pongs from one financial pipe dream to another.
“A great opportunity fell in his lap. The kind that makes millions.”
“You know from Kickstarter?” she says. ” Everybody wants in.”
“And Susie? Is Susie still with the boyfriend?”
Our children Facebook. This boyfriend will never commit in a million years.
“So devoted. Such a hard worker. He’s saving for a really big ring.”
She changes the subject quickly and tosses the glove to me. “Your son?”
“A star, ” I say. The rotten kid hasn’t called me in a week. “One promotion after another.”
I’m not exaggerating here. My son went to Ivy League schools and works at a bank. Her kids work at the family plumbing supply. The news is like a dagger in her heart.
“So you’ve got a bad knee,” she says. In the background, I hear a faucet running. She’s taking her sweet time with this one. She’s probably zipping her pants.
“You know what you do for a bad knee?” she asks.
I’m fumbling for an answer when I hear the toilet flush. “For a bad knee,” she shouts over the flush, “you need to lose some weight.”
It’s my turn. Wherever she is, my cousin’s patient. The water must be circling now. She watches and she waits.
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.