Pilgrim Through Space and Time

by Marleen S. Barr

“Professor Barr?”

“Speaking.”

“This is the President of the Science Fiction Research Association. Congratulations! You have won the Association’s Pilgrim Award for lifetime achievement in science fiction criticism. You’re the latest recipient of the science fiction field’s highest honor which, as I am sure you know, is named for J. O. Bailey’s Pilgrims Through Space and Time: Trends and Patterns in Scientific and Utopian Fiction. Please join us at the next SFRA Convention in Los Angeles for the award ceremony taking place aboard the Queen Mary Hotel.”

My suitcase and I found ourselves located in a Queen Mary  stateroom. I was thrilled to be on this historic ship.  Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable, and Winston Churchill had all sailed on the Queen Mary. They might have stood on the very spot where I was now standing.

Tradition stipulated that the Pilgrim’s identity had to remain secret until the award ceremony. One peep out of me and the word would spread as rapidly as water entering the Titanic. The vicissitudes of this locutionary imperative aside, I am grateful that the now permanently moored Queen Mary Hotel is not the Titanic. I get sea sick.

Keeping quiet was easier said than done, though. As one of the biggest yentas in the world, I literally had to bite my tongue when kibitzing with the science fiction critics who had been my friends and colleagues for years. It was particularly hard for me to keep the secret from Jeffrey Blumberger–one of the few male science fiction critics who never tried to seduce me. Jeffrey, a dead ringer for Steven Spielberg is warm, humorous, and charming He waved and approached across the starboard deck.

“Ahoy Marleen ,” Jeffrey said.

“Hi Jeffrey. Are you sure you haven’t changed your mind about marrying me? You’re still Jewish and single.”

“We have a great friendship and we should just keep it that way.” Jeffrey tried abruptly to change the subject. “Any idea who won the Pilgrim Award?” I extricated myself to avoid lying.

I made my way to the deserted leeward deck and wondered how I would manage to keep my secret. I walked to the prow, jumped up on the rail, and screamed as loudly as I could. “I am the yenta of the world. I have won the Pilgrim Award.” Even though the Titanic sodden Leonardo DiCaprio had nothing to fear from me, I felt decidedly better.  Somehow I would be able to keep my secret for the next two days–even if I had to engage with people by acting analogously to an iceberg.

I entered the ship’s bar and noticed that Sara Scottywitz, a young Scottish Jewish feminist science fiction critic, was holding court surrounded by a male horde salivating over her very large and very exposed breasts.  As she bent to retrieve a fallen napkin, the force of her breasts pulled across her skin tight shirt almost caused the shirt to rip apart. The man seated closest to her nearly fell off of his bar stool.  As I approached Sara, a new-fangled next generation Monster Me, I resolved to remain civil.

“What do I have to do to win the Pilgrim Award?” she asked. I provided the true answer.

“Spend fourteen years writing books. You’re wearing a lovely shirt. But World War Two has been over for years. I didn’t know that the British are still rationing fabric.”   Sensing an impending showdown between the planet’s two most buxom Jewish female science fiction critic big mouthed broads, Jonathan Karl Goodman, one of the men in Sara’s thrall, intervened to stop our deployment of weapons of mass destruction–weapons that would not fail to turn the immobile tranquil Queen Mary into the sinking of the Bismarck.

“I have very much wanted to meet you. I love your novel Oy Pioneer!. I think it is one of the great Jewish novels of our generation.” Jonathan certainly knew how to get my attention. Nor could I fail to notice his heavy Southern accent.

“You’re just saying that to be polite.”

“Never! Never under any circumstance would I compromise my professional integrity. I have given y’all my unabashed professional opinion.”

“I am thrilled that you think so highly of my novel. I’m writing a sequel.”

“Create a compelling male protagonist modeled after me.  I trust that you will use the phrase ‘amazing sexual powers’ to describe him. Let’s take a walk on the deck.” Desiring to see relic life preservers in the fresh sea air, instead of Sara’s breasts in the musty bar, I accompanied Jonathan.

“Someone named Jonathan Karl Goodman must be Jewish. But you don’t sound Jewish.”

“I’m a Southern Jew. I was raised in Mississippi and I teach at the University of Mississippi.  I’m divorced and I have twins named Rhett and Scarlett.”

“Southern Jews, to my mind, don’t count as really being Jewish.”

“You’re being a New York chauvinist pig. They’re not kosher. We Southern Jews are Jews too. New York Jews erroneously think that you have to come from New York to be Jewish.”

“You’re right. I’ll think about what you said. How well do you know Sara?”

“I just met her in the bar. Her breasts are captivating. Like all the men here, I could not take my eyes off them. She warned all the ogling men that if they slept with you, they would end up in one of your novels. I’m willing to take my chances. Can we have sex right now? If you so desire, you can write away right away as soon as it is over.”

In addition to being single and Jewish, Jonathan is brilliant, charming, and trustworthy. I took his hand and led him to my stateroom. We had great sex. Moonlight shone through the porthole and illuminated our entwined naked bodies.  Jonathan had amazing sexual powers. “Write on,” said Jonathan.

“Okay.”

Maybe Churchill, Dietrich, and Gable had fantastic sex on the Queen Mary.  I woke up entangled in Jonathan’s arms. A rose adorned our pillow.

“I love you Marleen .”

“I love you too.”

“Does a hotel ship have a Captain? Do you think the hotel ship Captain could marry us?” Jonathan asked.

“I don’t think a hotel ship has a Captain.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I guess it is premature to marry someone who you have only known for twenty-four hours. I have a great idea. Why don’t you come to Mississippi and live with me? You will love the Goodman ancestral antebellum mansion. It has been in the family for generations. My great great grandfather, Yehuda Goodman, named it Shady Pines. The property includes a beautiful white mansion replete with sweeping porticos and verandahs. An oak lined drive leads to the front door. You can run your fingers through the sacred red earth of Shady Pines. You can have your very own magnolia tree. I can just see us sitting under it sipping mint juleps while waiting for the groom to bring my favorite black stallion Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside over from the barn. Please say that you will become the mistress of Shady Pines.”

“I love you Jonathan. I love you. You’re perfect. Now change.”

“Change? Change how?”

“Leave Shady Pines and join me in a Manhattan high rise.”

“I can’t leave my ancestral home. Mississippi is where I’d rather stay. I get allergic if I don’t smell hay. Hey, I can’t tear little Rhett and little Scarlett away from their ancestral roots.”

“No matter how much I love you, and I do love you, Jewish women from Forest Hills, Queens do not live with Spanish moss.”

“I see that we have reached an impasse.  Why don’t we become great friends?”

“I would love to have such a relationship. This romantic setting–this ship which transported all of those sexy actors–gives me an idea. There is a big difference between us and Marlene Dietrich and Clark Gable. We could never be as cool as Marlene and Clark.  Let’s fantasize that we are. Let’s change our names. You could be Juan Carlo and I’ll be Marlene, pronounced in the German manner.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“One last thing. Juan Carlo, would you accompany me to this evening’s convention awards banquet?.”

“Sure thing Marlene. I’ll be back at your stateroom at six to escort you to the main dining room.” When Jonathan returned, he was resplendent in a white linen tuxedo and electric red tie. I wore an elegant gold designer pantsuit. We sat at a round flower adorned table. This was my night, one of the biggest occasions of my life. I was at once excited, anxious, and overwhelmed by this dining room’s historical import. “Juan Carlo, I have held out for two days without breathing a word to anyone. I can’t wait another second. I’ve won the Pilgrim Award.”

And then I panicked. I crawled under the table. Jonathan crouched down and moved the table cloth aside. “Marlene what are you doing under there? You have to accept the Pilgrim Award in about three minutes. Come out now. Come out immediately if not sooner.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I’m scared. What if people don’t like my acceptance speech?” .

I came out from under the table as I heard the SFRA President start to introduce me.

“SFRA’s Pilgrim for this year has published three feminist criticism books: Alien to Femininity, Feminist Fabulation and Lost in Space. Science fiction written by women is seen by this year’s Pilgrim as occupying a ghetto of its own within the more general ghetto of science fiction. Consequently, she has argued for placing it within the larger context of feminist fabulation. This year’s Pilgrim has devoted herself with remarkable courage and energy to her work. She is a controversial figure who would rather create real dialogue than go along with the status quo. Friends and colleagues, we are proud to present our new Science Fiction Research Association Pilgrim, Professor Marleen S. Barr.”

Oh my god. I worked all of my life to win the Pilgrim Award. And I just did. I walked on stage and began to speak.

“Although I am being given an award for producing a large amount of writerly verbiage, I do not have the words to express how grateful I am to receive this honor.  I found it exceedingly difficult to be secretive about being the award winner. I so much wanted to run up to everyone, jump up and down, and scream, ‘I won the Pilgrim Award!” I’m standing on the Queen Mary and this is no ordinary venue. Think of all the luminaries who have traveled on this ship. Marlene Dietrich or Clark Gable or Winston Churchill could have occupied this very room. But, despite their considerable achievements, Marlene and Clark and Winston did not win the Pilgrim Award. I did not want to be an actor. I did not want to be a Prime Minister. I did want to be a Pilgrim Award winner-‑and now I am. I am thrilled to have accomplished my objective. There is just one appropriate utterance: Thank you.”

I returned to my seat as enthusiastic applause resounded. The dining room was soon empty–with the exception of Jonathan and myself. I began to cry my eyes out.

“Why are you crying? You were great. You just needed a little help to garner the courage to come out from under the table. Everyone was enthralled. Why are you so upset?”

“Everything that was said about me is true. But it is hard to be a courageous groundbreaker. I wanted to win the Pilgrim Award. And now it is over. What do I do now? What will become of me? Where will I go? What will I do?”

“Frankly my dear I do give a damn,” said Jonathan as he picked me up and carried me back to his stateroom to make use of his amazing sexual powers.

“Juan Carlo, tomorrow is another day.”

About the author

Marleen S. Barr is known for her pioneering scholarship in feminist science fiction and teaches English at the City University of New York. Together with figures such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and Samuel Delany, she has won the Science Fiction Research Association Pilgrim Award for lifetime achievement in science fiction criticism. Barr is the author of Alien to Femininity: Speculative Fiction and Feminist Theory, Lost in Space: Probing Feminist Science Fiction and Beyond, Feminist Fabulation: Space/Postmodern Fiction, and Genre Fission: A New Discourse Practice for Cultural Studies. Barr has edited many anthologies and co-edited the science fiction issue of PMLA. She has published two novels: Oy Pioneer (2003) and Oy Feminist Planets: A Fake Memoir (2015).

 

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Read My Shoe

 

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high school graduation picture, 1955

by Pete Peterson

He could fix any car of any make of any malady. If the water had fish in it, he’d catch them. In his younger days, he’d stay up Saturday night drinking adult beverages. Sunday afternoon, he’d float his knuckle ball past you, then rip your curve into the left field corner for a double. He was my brother, four years my senior. He was my first hero. He called me Little Sister. I often called him, Trees.

He was born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks, miles from any town. When not yet fourteen, in 1951, our Dad’s stroke hit in the middle of a winter storm that turned small creeks turned into roaring rivers, washed out roads and turned pastures into quagmires, followed by three days of snow. Somehow, with the help of two neighbors, Forrest got Dad to a hospital, thirty miles away. 

Dad’s stroke changed our family. Forrest went to live with a sister in Kansas. I stayed in Missouri. He became the first in our family to graduate high school and joined the Marines. Back in Kansas, he fell in love, got married and became a fireman. Soon after, he was blessed with a daughter and two sons. When his marriage soured, he stayed a month or three with me and my family. My consulting work took me to California. Forrest moved to Iowa, remarried and became a foreman for an asbestos removal firm.

In July 2004, my son, Matt, out of college two years, joined me on a fishing trip with Uncle Forrest. It was a jolt to me that Forrest used a cane. “Problem with my circulation,” was his explanation. He built a fire on the lake’s bank and fried our catch almost as fast as we pulled them in. “Just like we was boys, livin’ with Dad, after Mom died,” he laughed.

His brown eyes flashed when Matt landed another perch or bluegill. “Come live with me, Boy. We’ll fish ever day.”

 I’d always phoned him, or sent a thank you card, on the anniversary of Dad’s stroke, yet I was a bit surprised when he called in the Spring of 2007. “The owner where I work kicked the bucket. His wife inherited it, kitten and caboodle. She’s green as owl shit when it comes to business. I said you’d help. Come out. We’ll go fishin’.”

I stayed in a motel in Muscatine and installed an accounting and tracking system for the lady that ran her company. The fish didn’t bite that week, though.

A few months later, another call. “The lady wants me to buy her out. No down. Just a monthly payment for six years. Whatcha think?”

“Can you afford it?”

“Ten grand a month? No problem.”

“That what you want?”

“I can build sales goin’ after older hospitals and schools. They was built with asbestos. Agree?”

 “Do what you think’s best.”

 On my anniversary call, he said, “I’m makin’ a shit pot full of money, Little Sister. Like we thought, schools and hospitals are good clients.” 

September, 2008, he had a different request. “The mob’s after my business. I need ya to negotiate with ‘em.” 

 “How’d you get involved with them?” 

“I ain’t. Might be Chinese. Whichever, a feller walks in with a satchel of cash and says, ‘I’m here to buy ya out.’ They’re partial to trash and garbage companies. Vending machine dealers. Reckon that’s how they hide drug money. They laid five mil, cash on my desk. Think I can get more?” 

“If it’s the syndicate, you can’t negotiate.”

“No. But you can.” 

***

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United States Marine Corps, 1955

I recruited Matt, an ad agency VP by then, to ride shot gun. In Muscatine, Forrest greeted us at his house in a walker. “Legs are no better.” If he wasn’t worried, why should I?  

We met the buyer’s representative in a local bank boardroom. He was professional and polite. We went over Forrest’s financials. Yes, our offer included rolling stock. Yes, the only debt was two equipment loans. Yes, my Power of Attorney gave me the ability to sell. Yes, Matt and I served pro bono. A wire transfer deposited almost 6 million into Forrest’s account. On our way to the airport, Matt said, “Wish you were my brother, Little Sister.”                                                                        

***

At Christmas, 2014, I asked, “Trees, how’s your health?”

“You know sawbones. Somethin’ different ever visit. Yet send ya a big bill. I’m thinkin’ about buyin’ a Lexus. What’d ya drive?” 

Hit too close to home, huh? Fine. Still, I didn’t expect the call that came a few weeks later. “Where ya been? I called twice.” 

“We went skiing.” I notice my message light blinks. 

“Actin’ like rich people, huh?”

“You should know. You’re the one with the bread.”

 He turns serious. “Get yer ass out here, Little Sister. They’re cuttin’ off my leg.”

 “What happened?”

 “Diabetes. Ya comin’ or not?”

 “It’ll be Thursday before I’m there.”

“It’ll be gone by then, but come anyway.”

He coughed. Hard. Janet, his wife, took the phone. “It’s been bad,” she says. There are tears in her voice. 

***

Janet met me in the hospital waiting room. “He’s weaker every day. Has a stupid thing about his shoe. Right foot. The one they cut off. Won’t let it go. He slurs so, I can’t understand half of what he says.”  

Her body trembles at my hug. Gray roots show in her black hair. Her finger nails are ragged. “They want to take his other leg next week.” 

I sit in a folding chair next to Forrest’s bed. When Janet goes for coffee, he pulls me close. He smells like fish sticks. He shoves a dirty tennis shoe at me. Clear as a TV announcer he says, “Read my shoe. Bank account numbers. Stuff you’ll need when I’m gone.”

 In the shoe’s lining is a 3×5 card, listing bank information. Everything seems in order when I review his documents. His sons are his main beneficiaries. No mention of Janet or his daughter. An envelope has, “Open When I Die” scrawled across it.

Back in his room, I say, “I’ve a problem with your will. Why cut Janet and Sandy out?”

“After what they done to me?”

“What did they do?”

“Mouth off. Like you now.”

“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. Mine is, now’s not the time for pride. Now’s the time to forgive and forget.”

 The room goes quiet. The elevator down the hall throbs to a stop. A meal cart chatters by.

Forrest turns to me. Tears run down his face. There’s no slur to his voice. “Okay, Little Sister, do it yer way.” He signed the codicil that afternoon. 

* * *

Back home, calls to Janet start and end in tears. The week before Christmas, 2015, her daughter says, “Forrest, died 40 minutes ago. Can you come?”

On the plane I open the “When I Die” envelope. It shows a safety deposit box number and pass word. After his funeral, I visit the bank. In the box is a picture of Dad and I in front of the house we lived in before Dad’s illness, 12 pocket watches and 14 wrist watches, all well-known brands. And, $20,000 cash. 

In a letter addressed to Pete, not Little Sister: “You were a good brother. Dad’s stroke made us what we are. Hope I go easier than him. You too. Have a watch for your trouble. Sell the others.”

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relaxing on the lawn in 1959

 About the author

Pete Peterson could hit neither the fast ball nor the curve, thus he changed his career trajectory from baseball’s Hall of Fame to something easy like becoming a famous writer. His fiction has appeared, or will appear, in Dead Mule School of Literature, Stone Slide Corrective, Planters and Gatherers, The Hunter’s Horn, Red Ranger, and Leatherneck. He’s a 2015 finalist in the William Faulkner Foundation Writer’s Competition.

 

                                                                                   

Clearing Out Daddy’s Basement

by Anne Anthony

Daddy hands me a folder thick with papers.

“Hospital bills?”

“What it cost to bring you six kids into the world.”

I’m fifty-one. Daddy’s a hoarder.

“Put in the stack to keep.”

The goal is to clear out his basement. The cans stocked on the floor-to-ceiling shelves bear long expired used-by-dates. He lived through the Depression. That hunger sticks.

“Enough for today.”

He shuffles in his boxy shoes, breathes heavily.

“Get off my mother’s trunk!”

I jump, feel clumsy like an elephant, then pull off piles of blankets to reveal the aged steamer trunk.

“Can I have it?” I ask, wanting some piece of his life.

He nods. “No place for it in Assisted Living.”

I hold my breath, but he doesn’t say it. Where they send you to die. His lips quiver, press together, and he smirks, like I missed the punchline of his inside joke.

About the author

Anne Anthony is a graduate of New York University with a Bachelors of Arts in English and Carnegie Mellon University with a Masters in Professional Writing. She is a full-time writer living in Chapel Hill, NC.

 

The Way We Move

by Kathleen Harris

I’ve never punched anyone in my life. Nor have I slapped anyone. I don’t believe in spanking children. I’ve defended myself with a quick mind and a sharp tongue. My family moved out of Queens before I reached the requisite age of teenage girl hair-pulling fights on the Q29 Express bus. I’ve almost never had to use my hands to get out of trouble.

Just once, actually. Twenty years ago, I’d been fêted by colleagues with drinks on the last day of my job. A lot of drinks. Lost-count-of-how-many-drinks kind-of drinks, at the kind of goodbye party where your colleagues are no longer your colleagues, and feel comfortable telling you the dirtiest details of their lives, now that everyone’s guard is down and you’re a few bottles into the evening.

By fête’s end, it was just my newly-ex-boss and me, sitting on padded stools in a bar in Chelsea. We’d just ordered another God-awful round of drinks. He had a drinking problem. I knew that from Monday morning meetings. I just didn’t know how bad his drinking problem actually was.

I lit a cigarette and waited for our order. He looked at me, and asked why I was leaving him, in a mock-sad voice with a pouty face. I smirked. What the hell was he talking about? I had explained all of this when I resigned. My husband had a job opportunity in San Francisco. I had to go with him. There was a ring on my finger. I loved the man.

He stared at me. He repeated himself, this time in a colder, more serious tone. Why are you leaving me? And then he slapped me across the face. Hard.

I was stunned. Literally stunned, as every person in the bar moved before me in psychotic slow-motion ballet. I’d been hit across the face. A man hit me. That had never happened before. That had just happened. The mind registers such events out of sequence.

I turned back to him, my face frozen in the open-mouthed position it had assumed when his palm struck my cheek. He was sneering at me, and he actually raised his hand to me again. He actually had it held up in the air to strike me a second time.

I caught his wrist with my left hand as it came down — my good hand. The one still holding the cigarette. High school softball drills surfaced to defend me. I held his wrist between my thumb and first two fingers in a vice-like grip that I didn’t know I was capable of. I felt surges of blood pulsing in the veins between his weak wrist bones. Maybe it was from my own fingertips. I couldn’t tell. My heart was erupting out of my blouse.

I  held his arm on the bar. I didn’t cry from the sting. The alcohol must have numbed the pain somewhat. Instead, I told him, quietly and plainly, that if he ever did anything like that again, to me or any other woman, I’d leave a cigarette burn so deep in his hand that he’d never forget me. Ever. I’d do it right then and there if he thought he couldn’t keep that promise. I stared at him until I watched tears form in his eyes. I was bluffing. But I had to seem as if I meant every word. I had to make him stop.

Our drinks arrived just then. Somehow, the bartender had missed the slap. I let his arm go, walked out of the bar, propelled by a tsunami of adrenaline, and hailed a cab.

About the author

Kathleen Harris is a writer, native New Yorker, wife and mother living in northern New Jersey with her husband and two children. Some of her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Creative Nonfiction, The Rumpus, Full Grown People, Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, Literary Mama, and Family Fun Magazine. I’ve also been named as a Glimmer Train Press short story finalist, and as a three-time finalist at the Woodstock Writers’ Festival Story Slam.

Binky Atop the Ideal Diner

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The author

by Thadra Sheridan

It was me, Terri,
my best friend Binky,
and whatever guy she was dating at the time.
I think it was Chad.
On a nondescript summer evening
We loafed about our
sleepy midwestern college town, where
nothing ever happens around here,
GOD!
Someday we were all going to
get the hell out of this place, but
tonight
we were sixteen years old
and there was nothing to do.
Chad, let’s call him Chad,
wanted to impress us all
with his urban exploration skills, so he said,
You want to see something cool?
He took us around back of the Ideal Diner,
where they’d kicked us out for cramming
eight teenagers in a booth every day after school to
split a single basket of fries and make a
general nuisance of ourselves.

It was really dark back there.
The weed colony
obscured a vast collection of
furniture skeletal remains and
unidentifiable rusty objects.
Chad scaled a drain pipe on the back of the building like
a monkey
or Spiderman
or Evel Knievel,
and we three girls looked at each other
in doubt and trepidation
and dare.
I’ve never been too good with heights,
but I’ve always considered myself
macho
Binky,  the girlfriend,
had to go first.
That’s just how it was done.
I followed her with false courage,
Terri brought up the rear.

At the top, Chad beckoned us to follow as he
slid across a narrow ledge that ran
along the brick wall that lined
a seemingly bottomless courtyard that came
between us and the rooftop
where Chad now stood.
He’d done it so fast
like a tightrope walker or
a monkey.
But we were teenage girls, not gymnasts,
so we lined ourselves up holding hands,
me in the middle,
our backs to the wall,
facing the bottomless courtyard
from which grew an elm tree
not three feet in front of us.
We sidled along this tiny ledge,
just a few inches wide,
our toes hanging over abyss
very
very
slowly.
There was nothing to hold onto,
but two hands.
I pictured plunging into the darkness onto
rusty shapes or dining room chairs
or whatever lay below,
so that’s what I did.

I tipped,
unable to stop,
ever slowly forward,
watching myself tumble to unknown.
At the last moment before my feet lost their purchase,
I grabbed the tree.
There was no coming back from this,
no reverse momentum I could imagine.
I hung at a 45 degree angle from the wall,
feet gripping the ledge,
hands clutching feeble branches,
Binky, whom I’d inadvertently pulled along with me,
hanging from my arm over the chasm.
As I accepted that she would surely soon fall to her death,
and I might be able to swing out to the tree,
but I’d most likely fail, she said,
Hey, there’s another ledge down here.

It was not twelve inches below us;
a good couple of feet wide.
You could walk it leisurely facing forward,
for chrissakes.
She let go of my arm,
just
standing there,
and I dropped down easily,
death faced and overcome.
Chad, when challenged,
admitted he knew about the other ledge, but
That one’s not as fun.

When we reached him,
I choked him to death.
Or at least I pretended to.

And we all looked out over the cornice
of the Ideal Diner,
two floors above the street
at the cars below.

There wasn’t really much to do after that.
We didn’t stay up there long.

 

About the author

Thadra Sheridan is a writer and performer from Minneapolis, MN.  Her work has appeared in Rattle, The Legendary, Specter, Blotterature, The Pine Hills Review, Abyss & Apex, on Upworthy, HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, Button Poetry, and in several anthologies.  She is a recipient of the Jerome Foundation’s Verve Grant for Spoken Word and a past weekly columnist for Opine Season.  She reads her live stories regularly at live storytelling shows nationwide such as The Moth in St. Paul, MN and Story Showdown in Oakland, CA.

Fifty Years Later

Since we opened our doors nearly 3 years ago, Tell Us A Story‘s mission has been a simple one: to publish stories about “true things” once per week, every week. We loved that model, and the way it allowed us to focus on one writer’s story each week.

But as we begin year 4 of the blog, we wanted to try out a new approach: we are shifting to a quarterly format. That means we will still be bringing you the best true stories we can find, but we will publish these stories 4 times per year: in the fall, winter, spring and summer.

We feel this new format will better accommodate submission cycles as well as our own busy lives.

We will close out year 3 with a few of our favorite recent submissions, then we’ll be back in the fall with our new quarterly schedule. Next up? “Fifty Years Later” by R. W. Haynes, first published on January 13 2016:

***

Fifty years later, the writer reflected that it might not have been such a good idea to drop acid before the high school graduation rehearsal, but, by then, there was nothing more he could do than remember and regret, if regret is the right word, because there was some curious pleasure in recalling the consequences of that decision, if decision is the right word.

He remembered the ceremony itself, with Billy Bonstead*, who had also missed the rehearsal, marching a few students ahead in line with an air of having marched toward academic excellence many times before. And he remembered how the principal growled fiercely, his glassy eyes bulging with vindictive vindication, standing there with that pathetic diploma case as though it held all happiness, all futurity, all the silly bullshit that academic (if that’s the right word) bureaucrats pretend they have a death grip on.

As the writer told his students long afterward, he had replied with two words, the second of which was “you,” but the first of which was not “Thank,” even if it ended with the same letter. It happened that there fell one of those unexpected moments of total silence just as he reached the principal, so his words sounded like a war cry on the ancient steppes of Russia and were followed by a horrific gasp from the audience. He had taken the half-extended diploma case from the furious principal and walked on off the platform, noting with embattled pleasure the smile on the face of John Quincy, the student walking just ahead of him in that glorious parade.

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John was one of the first black students to graduate from Suwanoochee High School, and he had had a fair amount of hell from the rednecks and the administrative stuffed shirts. There had been a kind of lifting of shadows at that moment, possibly for many present, but as surely for John as for himself. As the closing invocation began, John lifted up his resonant voice in a powerful farewell to the school and his persecutors (more gasps), and it was easy to tell he had much sympathy among his fellow students as he announced at some length he was signing off.

What was most memorable about the night which had produced the outrageous non-attendance at the rehearsal was that on the radio was played again and again a strange song which seemed to reach to and from an unanticipated world. “The Israelites,” by Desmond Dekker and the Aces was the first Jamaican song extensively aired in the region, and it appeared to have hypnotized one or more of the late-night disc jockeys on local radio stations. Perhaps chemically-stimulated susceptibility lent it a mystical profundity that made the antics of school administrators loom even smaller than those of ants (or ticks) and inspired defiance of petty tyrants in stoned brains.

Outside the football stadium where graduation was held, the writer had parked his father’s Ford station wagon, his parents having come in the family’s other car, and he headed briskly for it, meeting Billy on the way. It had been reported that the head football coach had encouraged some of his players to give graduation haircuts to some of the more visible hippies, and Billy was evidently mindful of the need for all deliberate speed as he extended his hand in congratulation. Billy also had Desmond Dekker stuck in his mind as well, as he danced a step and sang “We don’t wanna end up like Bonnie and Clyde….”

“Watch your back,” said the writer, and Billy replied “Always.” The writer went on to the station wagon and got behind the wheel. He reached down and took up the double-barreled 16-gauge, opened the glove compartment and took out four #4 shells, loading one into each barrel and putting the others on the seat beside him. He waited about twenty minutes before he realized that no one was coming. “Good thing nobody did,” he said to himself, fifty years later.

*All names have been changed in this story.

About the author

R. W. Haynes is a professor at a South Texas university, where he teaches Shakespeare and Early British literature.

Note: “Israelites,” written by Desmond Dekker and Leslie Kong. Recorded by Desmond Dekker and the Aces. Trojan Records, 1968.

My Face

Since we opened our doors nearly 3 years ago, Tell Us A Story‘s mission has been a simple one: to publish stories about “true things” once per week, every week. We loved that model, and the way it allowed us to focus on one writer’s story each week.

But as we begin year 4 of the blog, we wanted to try out a new approach: we are shifting to a quarterly format. That means we will still be bringing you the best true stories we can find, but we will publish these stories 4 times per year: in the fall, winter, spring and summer.

We feel this new format will better accommodate submission cycles as well as our own busy lives.

We will close out year 3 with a few of our favorite recent submissions, then we’ll be back in the fall with our new quarterly schedule. Next up? “My Face” by Brandon Antonio Smith, first published on October 28. 2015:

***

My Face

The Face in question

A child, sitting in the passenger’s seat

While my father drove,

I’d do my best impression of

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s

Peculiarly raised eyebrow

In the rearview mirror,

However silly that may sound.

I was enthralled by

What was known as

The World Wrestling Federation

At the time.

I would imagine having his face.

I found it attractive, unlike my own.

I detested smiling in school pictures.

To this day I’m still not fond

Of smiling in pictures in general.

My hate amplified when

Puberty debuted in my life.

Pimples soon bulged from

Every corner of my face,

And I’d scratch at them menacingly

Until they bled sometimes.

Blots and polka dots are the remnants.

I could see myself in a character like Shrek.

One of the first stories I wrote

Was unconsciously based on the ugly duckling motif.

It was about a dog with only three legs,

Aptly titled The Weird Dog.

The original was lost and I rewrote it

From an opaque memory in Mrs. Aldridge’s

Creative writing class when

I was a freshman in high school.

That version was lost too.

 

In hindsight, I realize

The weird dog always

Represented me

About the author

Brandon Antonio Smith is a 23 year old homebody from Tampa, Florida struggling to embrace himself. Thus far he’s been published in The Stardust Gazette. Writing is the closest he’ll ever come towards freedom.