Room 568

by Jennifer McQuillan

Callie comes to me dragging her own fears behind her. What she can’t possibly understand is that my own anxieties, long dormant under a layer of medication and therapy and yoga, have risen to the surface like some rotting carp, sickening me with their foul putrescence, long-abandoned insecurities and self-doubt crippling me with their resurrection. Debt collectors shame me into payments I can’t afford, my colleagues whisper about me, my migraines sap my ability to function.

I cannot sleep.

Still I must rise too early to get to the high school, to make what little money I can to rescue myself and my daughter from this apocalypse. My own world is crumbling and yet I am somehow trying to keep myself together and shore Callie up too, a bulwark, a defense against razors and scars, bitches and rumors, tests and homework and expectations.

In spite of my own misery, I like it when Callie skips her class and hides in my classroom. It is my planning period, and I am supposed to be grading. Instead, we talk as her delicate hands rip to shreds my ever-decreasing pile of used file folders, “sticking it to the Man,” as she likes to call it. They have lost their authority and organization and meaning. We’ve created quite a box of dun-colored confetti, but it’s no matter. She wants to dip them in paint and make a mosaic, or maybe press it into handmade paper. That would be the transcendental thing to do, she tells me. We like to squish the shreds in our hands. Torn to bits, they are soft and vulnerable, and their hard edges no longer leave paper cuts on our fingers. Callie tells me she has an almost irresistible urge to toss the bits into the air and watch them fall, spinning their way down to the dirty institutional carpeting below. It would be a brief moment of freedom. We would still have to clean them up, the four walls would still press in on us, the florescent lights above mocking our endeavors with their stark hard glare.

Callie's mosaic

Callie & Jennifer’s mosaic

My hands are shaking.

Callie hides behind my desk as I teach, hides from her schedule and counselor and teachers and parents and so-called friends, not reading or writing but curving and looping her way through her own artistic graffiti, swirls and dots and flowers with names and pictures and messages coded cleverly in the maze.

I am lost in that maze too, despairing of ever finding either of us a way out.

***

It gets worse, of course. I am the first to crumple completely into dissolution, declaring bankruptcy, losing my house, my belongings, my mind some days. I have to ask my nine-year old daughter, Abby, to decide what toys she wants to keep and which she is willing to sell. I cannot bear to do this. Broken and wounded, I call Callie, asking her to come over to help me with this heinous task. She comes to my home and gently steers my little girl upstairs to help her sort through Barbies and art supplies and stuffed animals. I busy myself in other areas of the house, staying out of my daughter’s room, tears rolling down my face no matter what I try to do to pack up in preparation for our uncertain future. By the end of the day, Callie hugs me, but no words pass between us. There is really nothing to say. I am shattered, in pieces, the life I have known completely stripped away, and I cannot offer anything to anyone. I have lost eighteen pounds. My flesh has been flayed completely from my body.

I am raw.

***

Callie is next to fall, whatever strength and determination and comfort she brought that day only a mask, only her innate kindness shining through a heroin haze. Immersed in my own pain, I could not see. Her arms, already marked by years of self-mutilation, easily hid needle tracks. Her face-picking was just another manifestation of that ever-present anxiety we shared. When she dropped down the rabbit hole yet again, disappeared for weeks, months, at a time, I called it depression, believing she was still struggling with finding the right medication. I made excuses, I blamed her friends, I blamed her anxiety, I blamed her parents, I blamed her poverty, I blamed it all when it was right there in front of me, and I could not see. No longer a defender but an enabler, I swallowed her lies greedily when she would reemerge from the rabbit hole, so happy was I to see her. Callie had spent some time in the Oakland County Jail for shoplifting, she told me, but knowing her desperate circumstances I excused it, believed that the Great Recession was driving even the finest of us into once unthinkable situations, doing what we could to survive.

Now I blamed myself. I had been blind.

The flurry of text messages on a frigid Friday in December was devastating. Even now the story of what happened to her is too much to share. I promised Callie. It was a promise I would keep for months to come, a promise that I keep today. I went to the psych ward, I went to the detox center, I went to rehab, I went to halfway houses where her room was a cluttered shoebox. I bought her chicken finger pitas, walked up and down Main Street in Ann Arbor with her, clapping for the street entertainers. We drove to the thrift store, Macklemore cranked up in my car. We may not have had $20 in our pockets but we popped some tags anyway. In the middle of a sweltering August day with big thunderclouds overhead, Callie bought herself an enormous granny sweater, incredibly pleased with her purchase. Another winter would come, but this time, she would be prepared.

We are not whole, but we are no longer broken.

 About the author

Jennifer McQuillan is a veteran English teacher in the metro Detroit area. Her work has been published in The Literary Encyclopedia, The Dictionary of Literary Biography, and Proteus: A Journal of Ideas. She is working on her first novel.

To My Would-Be Boss and Corporate Curator (You Know Who You Are)

by Nancy Jackson

I was told that you wanted to maximize the benefits of a mature workforce

And that my experience would reward both myself and

my corporate co-workers.

 

I sat there, leaning in, with my run-down shoes

and throbbing varicose veins, and

I knew you weren’t talking to me.

 

I had just been discharged from a call center

where I couldn’t keep up with the recommended rate of production

and the dual-screen set-up left me:

 

confused…………………………..amazed

desperate………………………….anxious

hopeless……………………………flummoxed

 

(occasionally the words “senile” and “dementia’

would turn up in my inbox)

 

Eventually, after my tuna sandwich disappeared from the office

refrigerator and was replaced by someone’s deceased canary, nicely arranged

on a bed of hummous,

I determined that I was not going to be chosen poster girl

for maximizing the benefits of a mature workforce.

Once around that particular merry-go-round was enough for me.

 

So I explained to you that I had to leave, that I felt ill –

I terminated the interview –

I had a double Dewars at the corner bar

Where I met a nice guy to move in with.

Now we sell weed on CraigsList

And my benefits are maximized beyond my wildest dreams.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 7.59.44 PM

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 7.59.54 PM

About the author

Nancy Jackson was born in Findlay, Ohio. She received English and Juris Doctor degrees from The Ohio state University, and an MSW from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. She has retired from the practice of law but still works as a psychiatric social worker. She has traveled a lot of the world, and she looks forward to doing a stint as a volunteer in Haiti in the near future. She has two grown daughters, four grandchildren, a husband and a dictatorial cat. She resides in Monroe, MI, a Detroit outlier.

Sunday after Sundown

by Colton Green

Highway 41, where the incident happened

Highway 41, where the incident happened

We couldn’t figure it out – not in twenty seconds anyway. Something had flashed above the road toward our car and disappeared like a low-flying UFO nobody else saw. On Highway 41 in the foothills above Fresno on a hot September night, a dark sedan had parked on the shoulder, other side of the road, headlights off. A man and woman were standing on the highway side of the car, an underestimated danger. Years before, two teenagers changing a flat tire had been killed by a drunk driver on that very stretch. I was seventeen when my dad and I set out that Sunday after sundown to collect plankton from Millerton Lake for his high school biology class the next day. Seconds before it happened, the five-gallon aquarium was between my feet on the floor as we coasted along about 45 mph so the water wouldn’t splash much. Whatever the flying thing was, it had seemed to be aiming for our car.

“What was that?” Dad asked. We were in silent agreement that whatever it was, we’d never seen anything quite like it.

“Yeah, that was weird.” I looked back through the rear window at the too-dark road.

The atmosphere inside our Chevy Monte Carlo was now frosted with an otherworldly chill that posed the question of whether to get involved.

TUAS-Author as a Teenager copy

The author as a teenager

“Should we . . . turn around?” Dad asked slowly, as if hoping some logical Oh, that’s what it was would come to mind and make sense of the puzzle for us.

After holding my breath I said, “I think we should go back.”

The mind works fast but not always efficiently when faced with an unknown, especially when turbulence is in the air. Adrenaline can either save you or lead to your undoing. We cautiously headed back, drove up slowly and parked behind the sedan with our high beams on. The man and woman were now inside the vehicle. Dad, squinting hard, told me to stay behind him.

We got out of our car and approached their driver side door. With the authority of a highway patrolman he announced, “Evening folks, I’m a school teacher and just wanted to make sure everything’s alright.”

Our suspicions were answered with a shriek when a young woman bolted out of the passenger door holding something in a light blue blanket and screamed, “He tried to kill my baby! He threw my baby at a car and it landed in the road!”

My spine was now in full-blown tingle as my mind raced from solve-the-mystery to life-or-death. The young mom didn’t realize that it was our car the baby had been thrown at, and that we’d turned around.   She frantically scrambled to where she could use me as a shield against her perpetrator. Clutching the back of my shirt, scattering gravel, she pulled me backward with her toward our passenger door. Dad signaled me to get her into the car.

The smartest thing my dad did that night was resist the urge to back away. Thinking fast, he leaned into the car until he was nearly nose-to-nose with the accused, and could smell the alcohol. As a teacher, my dad knew that bullies are cowards at heart, and as a cross country coach that ran with his team every day, he still had the confidence to physically engage if necessary.

“Now Mister, we’ll be taking the little lady and the baby to the hospital. I reckon it’s better if you leave us be and head on home.”

Even though Dad was a transplanted Indiana Hoosier with a leftover drawl, he never talked quite like that. In the face of a violent situation that could have gotten worse fast, he decided to talk like a farmer in the hope that this guy, a dead ringer for Charles Manson, might come from farm folks. Dad told me later he was reasonably certain this type of guy would have a gun somewhere, and was only hoping it wasn’t under his driver’s seat. Dad had always kept a sawed-off baseball bat under his driver’s seat just in case he ever needed it, but the one time he might really need it, he’d chosen words instead. He backed away and headed for his steering wheel.

Now that the four of us were inside our car Dad started off slowly after a U-turn, gradually and deliberately speeding up. When I looked back I saw Manson’s car send dust flying as it also launched a U-turn.

“He’s following us Dad.”

“We’re going to be fine, son, don’t worry – there’s no way in the world he’s going to catch up.”

The author's father, Coach Don Green

The author’s father, Coach Don Green

Now, we were traveling along at a soothing 85. It would be about fifteen minutes before we got back to the reassuring obstacles of town traffic. Of course, my dad would have preferred to leave the troubled man in the dust but he held steady, testing his ability to gain on us. In 1970, Chevrolet general manager John Z. DeLorean introduced the first Monte Carlo. Dad had decided on the most powerful option, the SS 454 with Turbo-Jet engine, four-barrel carburetor and 360 horsepower. Earlier that summer on the way back from our Indiana vacation, driving across the Mojave Desert, he got it up to 115 “with power to spare,” he said at the time.

Just then, I looked back and saw Manson’s car swerve, skid and roll over in a spiral before tumbling to a woeful rest upside down.

Back at the scene of the mysterious flying object, when we’d first seen young mom leap from harm’s way toward us, I’d thought she was older than me, but now on closer inspection I realized she might be younger. She cuddled her baby and shook convulsively, trying to catch her breath. Her plain beauty took me by surprise; I hadn’t noticed it when she was screaming her desperate survival plea. If she had gone to my high school, I would’ve wanted to talk to her, and I couldn’t help but compare my situation with hers. Where were her parents and what was her upbringing like? How could someone my age end up in such a terrible situation? Had her father taught her how to stand up for herself? I hoped that she would never forgive her boyfriend or husband, or whoever he was that had tried to kill her baby.

When I said, “He just crashed and it looks bad,” young mom sighed a sigh that made me ponder every woman ever who has suffered under a coward.

Then she uttered her only words of our ride: “Please don’t tell my father what happened; he has a bad heart and if he finds out, it might kill him.”

At the hospital, everything slowed down. She called home on a pay phone after Dad gave her a few dimes. At the same time, he called the police to inform them of Manson’s accident.

Soon enough, she was introducing us to her father as “the kind gentleman and his son who gave me a ride.” And he surely did look like he was just a horseshoe nail away from heart failure. In his cowboy boots and hat, smelling of nicotine and hay, her father kept repeating, “I’ll kill the son-of-a-bitch.”

Finally, after a long wait, we found out that by some miracle the baby had nary a scratch or bruise. I surmised the possibility that in mid-air, having been cruelly sent flying onto Highway 41, the baby had also spiraled as the blanket enfolded him before cushioning his impact.

Outside the emergency room doors, a siren wound down and hospital commotion ensued. Emergency care workers yelled as they barged in with a gurney. I noticed Manson before she did. He was on the gurney, strapped down with bloody head bandages and a neck brace on, helpless as a newborn yet not nearly as alive. He was looking straight up, to heaven I suppose, maybe offering a plea for forgiveness, wondering what life would be like paralyzed, or thinking of all the I’m-sorry-baby-it’ll-never-happen-again-I-swear-noone-will-ever-love-you-like-I-dos he was going to trill and coo when he saw his sweet darling again.

When she laid eyes on his hapless form, a crimson wind whipped across her face. After a scornful stare that morphed to a daydream of sadness and then to the positive resolve of new found freedom, she gave a kick to the back right wheel of the gurney, the one directly under the accident victim’s karma-targeted head. Predator and prey had traded places. She stood statue-still staring down at him, saying nothing and everything.

With healthy baby safe in her arms, she exited the emergency room doors walking tall as triumph alongside her bowlegged pop under the yellow parking lot lights. I wondered what would happen to her. Had tonight altered her tomorrows and her baby’s forever, in a good way? Would she be a struggling single mom now, and would she ever be able to go to college and escape farm town America, like I was determined to do?

As her dad opened the passenger door of his old banged up pickup truck, she took a moment to lean down and kiss her tiny miracle on the lips. Then young mom looked back at the emergency entrance, took a breath, and shook her head before getting into the truck and driving off toward the unknowable future.

About the Author

Colton Green is a New York-based writer, actor, teacher and coach. After a career in Broadway theatre (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Ragtime), film and television, Colton won the Honors Colloquium Writing Award at Marymount Manhattan College, and earned a master’s degree in English at Columbia University Teachers College. Currently, he collaborates in creation of an experimental high school in the Bronx. In his Spoken Story Workshop, Colton guides authors preparing for literary readings. Above all, Colton is the pleased-as-punch father of Curtis and Pearce.

At the Sound of the Beep

by Trudi Taylor

photo credit: Trudi Taylor

photo credit: Trudi Taylor

He read Mark Strand poems into my answering machine.

Masculine firmness mouthing each word. Susurrus of certain phrases. Over the next weeks, he quoted Laughlin, Brautigan, to return to Strand. I stopped. Listened. His daily messages were like worms fed to a starving baby bird. Beak to beak. I fell in love.

Then he disconnected and married a roadrunner.

 

Trudi Taylor, Ph.D., is a Scottish immigrant descended from sculptors, musicians, policemen, and mariners. Starting when she won the 8th grade creative writing contest, Trudi has been published in online and print anthologies. Her book, Breasts Don’t Lie, a short story collection, explores body image, sexuality, and identity. To support her writing habit, Trudi works as a yoga teacher, massage therapist, and counselor in North Carolina.

 

The Pink Room

by Angel Eduardo

The editor’s 5 yr old draws the inside of her school’s “pink room.”

By the third grade, we had all become experts at knowing exactly when and how to ask to go to the bathroom. Even I, who moved to Fort Lee at the beginning of that year and had just begun to settle in, was wise to the system from practicing it back in New York. The ability to read the teacher’s mood and determine the precise moment to ask was essential. You didn’t want to interrupt her train of thought during a lecture, and you definitely didn’t want to draw too much attention to yourself by breaking classwork silence. The exchange had to appear as casual as breathing and as unimportant as a paper cut. You also couldn’t ask if someone else had just gone, for fear of a pattern being suspected. If the teacher ever caught wind of something like that, bathroom breaks for everyone the rest of the day would be under high scrutiny. You did not want to be that guy.

Proper scheduling was also important. In the morning, you had to gauge the distance between your bathroom trip and recess. In the afternoon, it was finding a good spot between lunch and three o’clock. Planning things this way, you could maximize your free time. If you asked to go to the bathroom twenty minutes before lunch, you wasted a perfectly good break. You also couldn’t go at the same time every day, because they’d definitely notice the pattern. I’ve seen many of my friends fall into that trap—mysteriously having to use the bathroom at ten forty on the dot, three days in a row. Their teachers called them out on their schemes, denied them escape, and embarrassed them in front of the whole class. Their bladders were never trusted again.

Asking for the bathroom pass in elementary school had little to do with actually using the facilities. Sure, we did our business while we were there anyway, but it was more an opportunity to take a slow walk down the hall and dilute the drudgery of the school day. Once, early in the year, I had been biding my time for that golden moment. When it finally came, my hand shot up and I asked. The words had been rehearsed endlessly in my mind. I experimented with shifting the emphases, altering the tonality, doing anything and everything to make sure I sounded as casual as possible.

“Mrs. Urgo, can I go to the bathroom?”

After this come the few seconds between the petition and the response, when your heart feels like it might fly out of your chest from the anticipation. This is the hardest part. You have to keep your face straight, your hand up, and your eyes wide with the subtle urgency of nature calling. If she accepts, you’re free to venture out into the hall for a brief respite. If she declines, you can do nothing but slump down in defeat, sharing your red plastic chair with the boatload of disappointment that she has just dumped on you. Moments like those seemed to slow the clock, make class subjects even more mind-numbing, and bring your tolerance for it all to near non-existence.

“Yes, Angel, go ahead.”

Success felt great, and it was always difficult to hide that, but you had to. Your teacher could just as quickly retract her permission if she began to suspect foul play. You had to keep cool, acting like you were doing nothing more than carrying out a simple bodily function—a biological necessity. It was also important not to dash out of the room. Besides making your true intentions obvious, you were also risking everyone thinking you had diarrhea. You didn’t want to seem totally lax, either, though. After all, if you asked to use the bathroom, it clearly meant you had to go. It took practice and skill to find the right balance, but, like I said, by eight, we were pros.

I slowed my pace significantly once I walked out of the classroom and into the hallway. I hummed my way down the hall, looking at the art projects that adorned the bulletin boards on either side of me. I had the added luxury of getting completely lost in thought this time around, so the three-minute trip to and from the bathroom felt like a glorious eternity. I stopped at the water fountain to take a drink—another great trick for stretching the break time. The best part about this was that it could be done once on the way to the bathroom and again on the way back to class without arousing the slightest suspicion. We need water to live, after all, and you can have as much as you like. Still daydreaming, I pushed open the bathroom door and stepped inside.

My mind suddenly snapped back to reality as I looked up and around the room. There were many more stalls than I remembered, and they were on the opposite side than the day before. The walls and tiles were pink, and there weren’t any urinals. I stood for a moment, disoriented, with an ominous sense welling up in my gut that I was at once lost and trespassing. Halfway through wondering why the school would suddenly re-paint the bathroom pink, it hit me. Horrified, I quickly jumped through the door and started back towards class. My mistake was painfully obvious. The water fountain was located on the wall between the boys’ and girls’ bathrooms. Since ours was closer to class, we had to pass it to take a drink, and then double back to it afterwards. I must have been so lost in my daydream that I just kept walking. Luckily for me, their bathroom was empty; they didn’t care as much about ditching class as we boys did. Nobody saw me. No one can tell. Still freaked out, I forwent my second stop at the water fountain and tried to hurry back before anyone would notice.

No dice. Mrs. Urgo was talking to another teacher outside the classroom door as I approached, and since I was the only kid in the hallway, I was impossible not to see. There were no corridors to duck into and no nooks to hide in. Noticing that I was a little farther down the hall than I should have been, they stopped chatting and stared as I made my way towards them. I struggled to force nonchalance into my gait as the fear of what might happen to me filled my belly and threw me off center. My legs were shaking. No matter what I did, I was scared as hell and completely unable to hide it.

Mrs. Urgo’s friend turned to her with a smirk and asked, “Was he…?”

I stopped in front of them and stared blankly.

“No,” Mrs. Urgo answered casually, “he wouldn’t do that. Would you, Angel?”

It took me a moment before I shook my head in response. They both took a long, hard look at me as I stood there, staring down at my sneakers, desperate to just get back to my seat and forget about this whole thing.

Finally, Mrs. Urgo spoke.

“Ok, Angel, go ahead inside.”

I didn’t realize that my entire body had tensed up until I heard those words. Upon her pardon I felt my shoulders drop, my breathing slow, and my face loosen. My body felt like jelly as I walked back into the classroom and sat down at my desk. Pulling out my notebook and pencil to get ready for the next subject, and trying to avoid eye contact with anyone, I looked up at the clock. There was still an hour-and-a-half left until recess.

About the author 
Angel Eduardo is a writer, musician, and photographer from North Jersey. He writes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing for Memoir at CUNY Hunter College in New York City. More of his work can be found on his official website, www.angeleduardo.net.

Riding the Schilthorn

by Bob James

The author rides the Schilthorn

The author rides the Schilthorn

 

Stephen and I stood at the edge of a steep incline and stared down into the bank of fog fifty yards below. To our left stood the Piz Gloria, the revolving restaurant propped on top of the Schilthorn, and up whose slopes we had hiked earlier.

We had taken some cardboard boxes from the back of the restaurant, fashioned them into makeshift sleds, and the plan was to ride them back down the mountain.

It was the middle of August, the peak of summer. Stephen had done this before in April. On lunch trays. And it was at his encouragement that we were here now, holding onto our bits of cardboard, looking at the fog, and wondering what might lie beyond. For all I knew, the edge of the world might have been buried in there. The journey back down, he assured me, “will be the ride of your life.”

Looking back, I don’t know why I paid any attention to Stephen. He was from New York. What did someone who lived on 61st Street, whose only brush with the outdoors was when he crossed Central Park to pick up bagels, know about mountains? I don’t know if he had considered that conditions might be different at this time of year or not, but if he had even hinted at how melting temperatures during the day, combined with cooling temperatures at night, would replace the soft powdery snow of earlier in the year and leave this part of the mountain wrapped in sheets of ice, things might have been different. I like to think that if he’d mentioned this sort of detail, I would not have sat down on my strip of cardboard.

But he didn’t. All I knew was that he’d gone down on a tray earlier in the year and that it had been an experience worth repeating. And I knew that I wanted that experience for myself. If I were a smarter person, I might have wanted something different. But I’m not. So I got into position and sat down on the cardboard.

I’d figured that if I just sat there, a step closer to launching myself down the mountain but still able to back out if I chose, I’d get a better feel for whether or not this was something I actually wanted to do. I distinctly remember that at that moment I had not made up my mind to actually go anywhere.

I knew immediately that I’d made a mistake, and it wasn’t anything intuitive. It wasn’t like I’d gained a sixth sense and could see beyond the present. It was the very real knowledge that during normal everyday activities – like vacuuming or ironing a shirt – I did not suddenly accelerate from zero to sixty at a rate that would outstrip a Maserati.

There was no warm-up to this shift in scenery, no gentle gathering of pace during which I might have looked around and enjoyed the view. There was no moderation at all. It was instant, life-throttling speed. There was nothing, and then there was everything. The Big Bang of sliding down mountains.

I’d like to say I had thoughts as I shot like a heat-seeking missile toward the village of Gimmelwald some five miles below. I’d like to say I gave thanks for not being seated on a polished, restaurant serving tray. Or that I wondered if I hadn’t possibly misheard Stephen, and what he’d actually said back there at the top was that this would be “the last ride of your life.” But all that existed on that lonely mountain as I was pounded against the ice was the very real sense that this was not going to finish well.

My instinct was to somehow get off. But I was 10,000 feet up, and the only way to get off was to get down. I was already heading down. I realized that the only thing I could do was to keep hold of the cardboard. That seemed important.

I was moving very quickly and getting pounded against the ice. Deep ruts had formed, and I would go down, slam into the other side, and come shooting up again out of the crevice.

Until I arrived at a stretch of ice that stood like a tsunami frozen into place ahead of me. When I smacked into it, my cardboard went in one direction, and I sailed off in another. Sometime later I landed, bounced on my back and slid for what must have been a few hundred yards, and eventually came to a stop. I don’t know if this was because the ice ran out, or if it had been the cardboard the whole time that had kept up my momentum.

I found myself alone on the mountain, and in pain. The grey fog was above me now, the day bright, the sun warm on my weathered face. My leg was on fire. When I looked, it appeared twisted at an odd angle.

I shouted up the mountain. “It was an experience!” But I didn’t mean this in a good way. I hadn’t intended it as an enticement to follow me down. They were simply the first words out of my mouth. If I’d had time to reconsider, I would have said something else. But it was too late. Stephen had heard me.

Let me explain something about Stephen. He had landed in Europe from New York with a train ticket and a plan to stay two months. Fourteen months later, returning to New York in the foreseeable future was still not on his agenda. His goal was to take in every blade of grass. He wouldn’t be finished until he had collected a lifetime of experiences. There was nothing that meant more to him than the experience. The experience was everything, the paint to life’s canvas. So when he heard me shout this word back up to him, he didn’t give it a second thought, and unknown to me, leaped onto his cardboard.

The first thing I saw emerge from the fog was a couple of apples. They were still gathering speed when they passed me. And then a peanut butter and jelly sandwich came sliding down, and I realized the bag Stephen had been carrying must have burst open, and now the contents were in a race to the bottom. I looked at the fog, and wondering what might be next to appear, tried to visualize the exact contents of the bag.

The next thing to appear was Stephen’s hat, and this surprised me because the hat hadn’t been in the bag. Stephen had been wearing the hat. And then Stephen’s cardboard appeared, without Stephen on it. And for a brief moment, I might have actually started to worry.

But of course, Stephen finally did emerge from the fog. He was on his back, and spinning in circles as he slid over the ice. He was also obviously bleeding, and by the looks of it probably quite badly, because he was leaving a red trail in the snow.

And because he was spinning, the effect was quite striking. A kind of naive but bold art.

 

About the author

Bob James was hitchhiking in Europe when he met Stephen in a Luxembourg youth hostel. It’s because of this meeting that he now lives in New York. He has yet to forgive Stephen for this. Recently, Bob started his own website, bobjamesink.com, where he writes about whatever he wants. 

 

Manfred (a poem in 4 parts)

by Ruth Sabath Rosenthal

Manfred photo

Manfred

 

i. Raus! Raus!

soldiers shouting
father shaking me awake
father shaking in fear
soldiers shouting
raus, raus, dreckige Juden!
father yanked from my grasp
me grasping at air
raus, raus, dreckige schweine!
soldiers dragging Jews
out of their homes
into the streets of our village
dogs barking
soldiers shouting
the menfolk separated
from their women and children
menschen! geh da rüber! menschen! geh da rüber!
mütter, weitergehen! kinder, weitergehen!
wide-eyed women and children
catching sight of their fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles
being lined up in the town square
me spotting my father
schnell, schnell, Jüdische schweine!
gunfire erupting
soldiers shouting
dogs barking
me shoved onto
one of many waiting military trucks
along with my mother, sister, brother, and neighbors
my ears ringing from the gunshot blasts
tears streaming down mother’s face
me huddling her trembling body
she clutching my wailing sister
gripping the hand of my little brother
wetting his pants
our truck packed
latches locked in place
motor upon motor thundering
we plunge into the dark

Footnotes:

  1. “out, out, filthy Jews!”
  2. “out, out, filthy pigs!”
  3. “men! get over there! men! get over there!”
  4. “mothers, keep moving! children, keep moving!”
  5. “quickly! quickly! Jewish pigs!”

 

ii. The Dark

is a Yugoslav concentration camp where I go to sleep
hungry and thirsty and cold. Sleep, on a filthy floor,
huddling with my mother, sister, brother — riddled with
lice, rats running rampant. Passing each day, dazed,
just sitting around except for garbage detail and
cleaning soldiers’ latrines and other chores
given us by the Germans guarding us, all of us
wait for what, we don’t know.

Me, trying to be grown-up for my mother, act like
father to my brother and sister. All the time frightened
of doing something that angers the soldiers — living
with that, awake or asleep. And in the dark of night,
what fills my head I can’t even put into words; it keeps
me awake, till I doze off. When I wake, it’s hard
separating what’s real from what isn’t. I feel helpless,
as does everyone around me. I see it in their eyes.

Escape is what grownups whisper any chance they get,
yet I don’t think they believe they can pull it off. But,
when a German victory had the guards celebrating,
I, along with my mother, sister, brother, and a handful
of willing cellmates — do escape — no long-time plan,
just a spontaneous flight: Slivovitz, passed round to
soldiers guarding us, left a drunk guard off guard —
that, the impromptu cue for an exquisite Jewess

to single-handedly lift keys off the snoring soldier
she’d so thoroughly pleasured moments before
he passed out. What brilliance! What bravery!
I’m so proud of us, so relieved, yet frightened
to death. Under cover of darkness, hours and miles
away we are still whispering. “Magical” is the word
describing the escape we can’t stop talking about,
and we hear “magical” escape stories from those,

like us, who’d fled other camps and are hiding with us
deep in the woods. Stories of courage and daring shared
in hushed murmurs. And through that sharing, we learn
that our escape had taken place only days before our camp
(and other camps) were emptied of the fellow Jews left
behind — each one in the dark about where they were
being taken. We fear the worst, as whispers of “death”
camps are coming to us by way of the Partisans

who’d rescued our little band of Jews, and who have
me doing whatever Tito’s generals want. And, though,
living with the Partisans is strange (and, for me, scary)
it’s nowhere as scary as the concentration camp was.
Here, we are well fed and get all the water we want
and my family is safe enough, though I’m not
because of what I do in the darkness of night,
in the denseness of the mountainside.

 

iii. Mountainside

Always, there is darkness in the wilderness I tiptoe
through, shoeless, machine gun slung over one shoulder
and, strapped across the other, a leather pouch
holding coded messages I deliver encampment to
encampment. Locations I was trained to find

in the dark, even in rain. Focus! Focus! And — focus on
blocking out thoughts of being captured and tortured.
Me, a recruited Partisan Courier being sent into
the wilderness, night after night. The same darkness
my family and I escaped into, before being rescued

by the same people now sending me back there.
“He’s only a boy!” Mother pleaded. “Tall for his age,
yes, but only eleven. Please, please believe me!”
And when she learned I could be promoted to Saboteur,
targeting German soldiers transporting war machinery

through Yugoslavia’s Mosor mountain villages —
the same villages the Partisans live as farmers hiding
families like mine she cried for days, spends hours
week upon week trying to get us to a place where
we can be safe.

Each night, returning to my farmhouse hideout,
the communications I’d been charged with delivered
hours before, miles away, the fear almost freezing me
begins melting away. And in the moments it takes me
to hang up my courier bag and machine gun, I’m ready

for the evening meal of pit-roasted mutton and stone-
ground bread, washed down with goat’s milk. Then,
a foot soak (weekly, a full-body scrub), followed by
deep sleep, swaddled in hand-woven blankets,
on the cement floor of a cellar hidden below

a wooden trap door. And, come summer, when
it’s the end of July, plans for me and my family,
and other escapees, to go to America should be
ready. Imagine! In just a few months, we’ll be
on our way to America! It’s guaranteed we will

find safe haven there, because everyone knows
America is the land of the free, home of the brave.
And we are the bravest people I know!

 

i.v. Into the Light: Safe Haven, 1944

Thank God for you, Henry Gibbins, ship of dreams
filled with my bedraggled brethren dark and fair,
tall and short — all frail-boned and gaunt —

each of us a survivor reborn in the wake
of conscience, reborn on this buoyant sea revered
for strong currents and changing tides, fresh air

filling the sunken chests and ashen lungs of those
who’d escaped the fires of Auschwitz-Birkenau,
Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Treblinka…

Yes, thank God for you, Henry Gibbins —
your sky-crowned decks surrounded by sea-
speckled rail — a far cry from barbed wire!

And during hours of German bombardment,
the shelter of stalwart bulk, mahogany halls,
tier upon tier of canvas hammocks —

warm blankets and soft pillows helping
to smother my nightmares, set in motion
sweet dreams; dining hall, with cornucopias

of vegetables and meats, kaleidoscope
of treats swelling shrunken bellies, smoothing
withered souls; and treasured beyond belief —

glistening white toilets! You are America
to me! The America of my dreams! Home
of the free and brave!

 

The Henry Gibbons

The Henry Gibbons

 

Note on “Into the Light: Safe Haven, 1944”

The Henry Gibbins, a United States army transport, first launched in 1942 as the Biloxi, was delivered to the Army Transportation Service on February 27, 1943, renamed, and readied for the purpose of transporting 1000 holocaust survivors (982 Jews) to the United States from Naples Italy, on or about July 17, 1944, under an order signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and carried out by his emissary Ruth Gruber and American Repatriation Officer, Captain Lewis J. Korn.

After 17 perilous days, the exodus, named **“Operation Safe Haven,” arrived mid-afternoon August 3, 1944 in New York Harbor — the Statue of Liberty literally rising out of a rainy-day haze.

The sojourn from unimaginable tyranny and enslavement, to peril on the high seas, to eventual safety on dry land, continued, by railroad, to Oswego, New York’s army base, Fort Ontario, which had been converted to a refugee camp.

It was on August 5th, 1944, that the bedraggled group of survivors arrived at the fort, and there, for 18 months, tended their wounds and immersed themselves in the process of healing and preparing for their moves into houses and apartments across America and any countries, world-wide, that proclaimed them welcome.

Today, the site of Fort Ontario serves as a memorial to these survivors. The fort’s administration building, renamed “Safe Haven Museum and Education Center,” houses priceless photographs and documents mapping the extraordinary exodus out of darkness, into the light.

** not to be confused with “Project SAFEHAVEN – tracking Nazi gold” — an operation designed by The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to root out and neutralize German industrial and commercial power wherever it might be found.

 


RUTH SABATH ROSENTHAL is a New York poet, well published in literary journals and poetry anthologies throughout the U.S. and also in Canada, France, India, Israel, Italy, Romania, and the U.K. In 2006, Ruth’s poem “on yet another birthday” was nominated for a Pushcart prize. Ruth has authored 4 books of poetry: “Facing Home” (a chapbook),“Facing Home and Beyond,” “little, but by no means small” and “Food: Nature vs Nurture.” These books can be purchased from Amazon.com (USA). For more about Ruth, “google” her and visit her website: www.newyorkcitypoet.com