Ariel Beller – The Other Side

The Other Side
by Ariel Beller

So you want a report from the other side and I’m saying I’ll give you one. I mean no one else knows about this. And I’m going to tell you because I am here and you are there.

Should we stick to the facts? The undeniable realities? We could start there I suppose. But to be honest the undeniable realities seem pretty goddamn basic to me. So I won’t go into them. I won’t tell you about people or places. I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of shit I already know. What a lot of people won’t tell you is, they are just a little man or a little woman sitting alone in a room. Maybe it is winter. Maybe they have their socks draped over the heater and a tiny radio going on the freezing windowsill. The radio plays the music of a dead Russian composer. Etc.

But don’t go thinking there’s a person here. I am just a bunch of words. I have a mother but she’s not a person either. She’s 5,000 miles away and that makes her just an image, a sound. I have a friend named M – who lives in Oregon. Every now and then he sends me a bunch of words telling me about his life, as if he were a person. But M – is just an image, a sound. I have another friend named G – and she has a baby inside her. The baby is an image. The baby is almost a feeling. For G – it’s inevitable. The baby will come out and try to be a person but it will fail. Just like the rest of us.

To be honest there isn’t too much going on over here, on the other side. There are a lot of things I could do if I wanted. I could re-arrange my books. I could relieve myself in the sink which is where I usually go because the bathroom is so cold and I’m always up so late and I don’t want to wake my neighbours with so many trips to the bathroom. I’m drinking beer, you see. That’s one thing that’s going on. I’m also stopping every now and then to roll a cigarette. Stravinsky. Something in B-flat. That’s what the radio is about to play. That’s another thing that’s going on. It’s not really a cause and effect sort of thing, if you believe in that. It’s more just a thing that’s happening right now, something that’s being played out, and I can’t really think of any consequence in that.

Whenever I relieve myself at the sink I let the cold water run, to wash it down, and I look at myself in the mirror. I can tell you right now I don’t like what I see. It’s always a pale face with imploring eyes. A face that has forgotten what it wanted to say. And I never shake it right so there’s a drip down the legs and I feel slightly ashamed about letting that happen. Maybe I was in a hurry. I’m trying to tell you about my impotence, my incapability, and the impossibility really, of me ever being a real person.

~

I could introduce you to the Pinocchio salesman.
You might say, ‘Who the fuck is the Pinocchio salesman?’
You might use that kind of language.
I might say, ‘He’s this Italian guy down the street who sells Pinocchio dolls.’

But I will know and you will know that the Pinocchio salesman is not a real person either so, why should I bother? In fact he’s not Italian at all but Russian. I went down there the other day and there were no dolls. Only electronics like stereos and cassette tapes and VCR’s. There was an old soiled pink bunny. And some slippers. I had no need of these things.

~

There was a time I suppose when I was crazy. There was a time. But now I’m just like you. A bunch of words trying to be a person. I don’t think it’s fair really, how we ended up. I’m being a little nostalgic. I just can’t see another way of doing things. I might have a disease. I might be dead in three weeks. You just can’t know. It’s the most important things you just can’t know about. That’s why there are no people left. There are certain and numerous appearances that seem like people. But you never really know. No one really talks to each other. There’s just a bunch of words and images and sounds and sometimes when you’re alone, a rumour. On rare occasions a taste in the mouth. Fear tastes like alkaline, like putting your tongue to a 9-volt battery. I know because I was once hit by a car and attacked by a dog. Not at the same time. They were years apart.

Sometimes you can feel great about things. You can feel great about the person you think you are. You can get off on this, if you want. Most of us do. But it’s a reflex, just so you know. You can hit your knee if you want to. Beautiful feeling. Watch your leg lurch in response. That’s cause and effect I suppose. But that’s not what I’m interested in. What I’m interested in is what happens when we say nothing. Because people who think they’re people, they expect certain responses. And what happens when they don’t receive, oh that’s the funniest shit in the world. To set a person who thinks they’re a person, to set them completely off balance well, it happens every day. People who think they are people are very predictable. They’re like advertisements for their personality. Listen to them speak. You’ll know what I mean. Don’t let them see chaos unless upsetting people is what you really like to do.

I’m afraid I like upsetting people. Perverse enjoyment yes. Deliberate yes. The only thing that bugs me is it’s far too easy. That seems to be the problem with people. As if I fucking mattered. Me. Just a person who thinks he’s a person, with warm socks and a radio. You’d think anyone who expends so much effort forging such a precious identity would have a bit more self-respect. This alone is to me the finest example of how hollow you are. Even non-people can be sincere. If they really want to. If that’s what they feel like doing. Though it often turns out funny. Like a person you thought you loved. For some reason. But it turned out different. More like confusion. You get on with it. You accept it, eventually. Or you don’t. Self-hatred is fine too. Just a bi-product of being a person. Even though you can’t. A cello can’t be a person. But it tries. There is hatred in the cello. Sublime hatred maybe. But hatred all the same. Hatred is nothing but a sound and sometimes a pit between the lungs. A wooden vibration. Nothing more. Nothing to worry about. Just a certain tickling sound. Off-key. Picture everyone you know. Non-people reverberate. They have a certain sound. An undying sound. You cannot drown it out.

Waking up is different here. You don’t rub your head in the morning. You just lie there, thinking what to do. You don’t think what could be worse than now. In the morning, everything is the same. The world is a face is a blanket is a person. Sometimes you get lucky. Brush your teeth. Hum the star spangled banner. Drown out the person you were yesterday. Say yes to vague questions. Take the knives they hand you and go to work. Like a real person. Capable. Full of action. No one knows you. You are, after all, a nothing with a face. A frozen picture of yourself. Happy. Misunderstood. Grateful. Belligerent. Wise. Idiotic. Precious and full of fear. It’s a brand new sun shiny day. And you are alive.
              Don’t forget to breathe.

Janelle Ward – First Meeting

First meeting
by Janelle Ward

First meeting. 9.08 A.M. Just outside of Schiphol station. Two in a sea of sweaty commuters, fighting for a seat. Hardly the place for the gods of lust to rendezvous.

I enter the carriage without looking around. My eyes are on my regular seat. If my seat is occupied I will not enjoy my time here. I must sit in that particular seat to allow the unexpected to happen. I sit. The world aligns.

That’s when I first see you. You are looking back at me. I give you a half smile and hear the music begin to play. Yes, the music can play before my first sip of coffee. For me, the music can always play. Usually it is silent, but the promise of melodious anticipation is always just one stranger away. The music has a steady beat. Tick tick tick tick. Think Angel by Massive Attack. Think anything by Massive Attack.

Blood flow intensifies. I may or may not be blushing. I may or may not feel light headed. I remove my laptop from its snug carrier and fire it up. You are staring at your coffee. You are wearing shiny black shoes. Dark washed jeans. A crisp blazer. Glasses, dark hair. A shitty mobile phone you keep fiddling with. I can forgive bad taste in technology, at least for now. For my purposes it won’t matter.

We smile again. I am convinced you are a foreigner. You have that cautious way about you. Neither of us fit in. I wonder if you’re going on a job interview with your briefcase perched next to you like an unfamiliar accessory. You might be an academic, with those dark washed jeans and that crappy phone. Academics rarely try pulling off a suit. You look about my age. It’s always interesting to observe someone who has made it to the mid thirties and still wears dark washed jeans to a job interview. You’re probably an academic. That means you enjoy deep contemplative thinking. I haven’t fucked enough academics to know whether you also enjoy contemplating the desires of the flesh.

We’re almost to Amsterdam. I won’t ask, because I’m not ready to be that guilty. But if you came over right now and propositioned me I would say yes. I would simply gather my things and follow you off the train. Don’t believe me? Try it. I dare you. There you are smiling again, and getting up, and digging awkwardly in your briefcase, and extracting your OV Chipkaart from your pocket. There you are smiling again as you gather your things and exit the carriage.

The music is still playing.

Meg Tuite – Is there a chill in here or is mom home?

Is there a chill in here or is mom home?
by Meg Tuite

I kept hearing about global warming. The problem with that theory was that the hotter it got outside the more glacial it became inside. Whenever Mom opened the door mounds of ice covered my sisters, the dog, and all the plastic furniture in the living room steamed out its breath when we sat on it.

Mom complained of the heat wave as she tugged off her heels. She headed for the freezer, ice cubes tinkled into a glass and out came the bourbon while her hazy blonde wig turned into an ice sculpture. Antarctica blasted out of her mouth.

“What are you looking at?” she’d ask one of us as she pulled out a Kool, lit up, throwing her head back as frozen rings drifted up into the stifled atmosphere.

“Hey, hey, hey,” she’d yell. “Get your asses out here. I want to see some rosy cheeks.”

The coated furniture blustered, farted as all four of us lined up on the couch, trembling together to stay warm.

“You know the drill. Don’t tell me I wasted my eggs for nothing.”

I was the oldest, so they all stared at me. Mom sucked down her frosty drink and asked someone to refresh it every few minutes. “Don’t forget the ice,” she’d yell. Mom didn’t want to hear that we made friends or joined the girl scouts or got on some baseball team.

“I went to Marshall Fields today,” I said.

“And?” she countered.

We all clutched our bags in our laps.

“Well, lay it out on the table. Last week there was nothing. You want to eat? You’ve got to produce. This is home schooling, people. Learning how to make it in this shit economy.” Smoke slithered around words.

“Got some necklaces, rings, and a whole rack of bracelets,” I said.

Mom leaned forward and looked the pile over, pushing each jewel with her finger while her face cracked.

She leaned back in her chair, grimaced and lit up another Kool. “You kidding me? A rack of beads and cubic zirconium? What are you? Twelve, thirteen? You’re hitting the age when hundreds of eyes watch you from every two-way mirror. A few more years and they’ll put you behind bars for this? Mother’s taught you better than that.”

“Next?”

The kid’s rifled through their bags and lined up the goods. Jenny was in charge of breaking into houses around the neighborhood. She usually came home with electronics, cash and real jewelry. Mom’s favourite, small enough to get in anywhere, fearless or stupid as a mouse.

Betsy was ten. She rode subways all day, memorized her script about lack of food and Mom out of work, neither that strayed from the truth. She came home with a hefty stash of cash she laid on the table.

“How much?” Mom asked.

Betsy was good at math. “Four hundred twenty eight dollars and eighty-two cents.”

“Nice. You’ll be getting dessert tonight. Now pour Mom another drink. Monica?” The cubes danced as Mom swirled her empty glass.

Monica was eight. The youngest always had the toughest task. Mom dropped her off in one of the rich suburbs and had her go door-to-door hawking cheap jewelry Mom couldn’t sell to her contacts. “Now remember, kid,” she’d say. “Innocence and a few dimples will get you everything. I didn’t spend the whole morning whipping up those Shirley Temple curls for nothing.”

Monica pulled out a wad of cash. She wasn’t as good at math as her sister.

Mom licked her finger and counted out the bundle. “Not bad, baby, not bad. Your father would be proud. He was one cold ass turkey without the ass,” she said and laughed. We stared.

Stalactites hung like earrings from the sides of Mom’s face. She shook her head at me, slush trailing down my cheeks. “Let’s go,” she flurried to the others. I didn’t pretend to follow the group. “Hey,” she slurred at me. Eyebrows raised and her cigarette voice erupted hailstones. “Good news is one day you’ll be buying Mom her bourbon and cigarettes. Now go practice picking some locks.”

I put on the smoldering face, stomped up to my room and slammed the door. But Momma was one sloshed fool for believing her posse was anything but piercing. There was always one kid shut out. So we’d taken some of the cash years ago and had a mini-fridge delivered. Stocked it with sandwiches and desserts stashed in the back of our closet. Also procured a case of brandy sent via eBay. You could get anything if you had the cash and a credit card. I’d eat the best meal of the night and the sisters knew it. Though we always made sure to have ice cream with brandy together with all the lights off after Mom was passed out and the freeze started to melt.

Philibert Schogt – Fragment van Einde verhaal

Fragment van Einde verhaal
door Philibert Schogt

Voordat hij besefte wat hij deed, had hij een balpen gepakt en iets in de rechterbovenhoek gekrabbeld:

Holysloot,
Monday, May 6

Had hij dat geschreven? Eerder was het zijn alter ego John. Er stond immers “Monday” en “May”, geen “maandag” en “mei”.

Daar bleef het niet bij.

Nu het maagdelijke wit eenmaal was geschonden – waarbij de interessante vraag zich aandiende of een grafoloog een verschil zou kunnen bespeuren tussen Johns handschrift en het zijne – was er geen houden meer aan. Driftig pennend, zonder aarzelingen of doorhalingen, had hij binnen de kortste keren de bladzijde volgeschreven en alweer omgeslagen om aan de volgende te beginnen, heel anders dan hoe het er bij een vertaling aan toe ging. Dat was dan ook geen eerlijke vergelijking: ‘John’ mocht met zijn gedachten gaan en staan waar hij wilde, terwijl je als vertaler zo precies mogelijk in de voetsporen van de schrijver moest blijven.

Johan liet hem voorlopig zijn gang gaan, maar zoals wel vaker wanneer er in het Engels gedacht, gesproken of geschreven werd, bleef hij als Nederlandstalige toeschouwer aanwezig. Het omgekeerde gold trouwens ook: John had staan toekijken bij wat er vandaag was gebeurd en dacht er het zijne van. Dat bracht hij nu onder woorden.

Hij was het er niet mee eens dat Johan deze vertaalopdracht had aangenomen. Hoezo was End of Story een feestelijke afsluiting van een mooie carrière? Eerder was het een nodeloze herhaling van zetten. Maar het ergste vond hij dat het ten koste ging van de memoires. Daarmee liet Johan hem lelijk in de kou staan!

Philibert Schogt – Excerpt from End of Story

Excerpt from End of Story
by Philibert Schogt

Now where were we? Ah yes. Johan and John. It may seem a bit childish for a man of our age to refer to himself in the first person plural and with two different names. But to us, it’s perfectly natural. In fact, the two names weren’t even our idea. Our parents were already using them before we had learned to speak, and in all probability, from the very day we were born.

Although we have no conscious recollection of the scene in the maternity ward of Bracebridge General Hospital, on February 15, 1946, we have often pictured ourselves as a newborn baby, asleep in our mother Elsa’s arms. Nine months earlier, she and a few friends joined the crowds lining the streets of Amsterdam to cheer as the brave Canadians who had liberated Holland from the Nazi occupation came marching by. One of the soldiers tipped his cap for her, she rushed up to embrace him, and the rest is history.

Bruce Butler, her Canadian hero, was now seated on the edge of the hospital bed, nervously clutching his cap while trying to catch a glimpse of the baby boy asleep in her arms. Back in those days, husbands didn’t help their wives huff and puff during labour, nor did they ceremoniously cut umbilical cords; they waited outside in the hallway until all the screaming was done and the mess cleaned up, the midwife only then stepping out of the room to congratulate them on their baby son or daughter.

“John.”

That is what our father called us. And that is how we were officially registered at the County Hall. Our mother looked at him with a pale smile, meanwhile cradling us a little more tightly in her arms. Everything was new to her in this country, everything so strange. She was already eight months pregnant by the time the paperwork was finally in order, allowing her to board one of the boats from Liverpool to Halifax with all the other war brides. From Halifax she had travelled onwards by train to Ottawa, where our father was waiting for her with his pickup truck and some extra blankets. The trip across the ocean had been enough of an ordeal, but nothing could have prepared her for the bitter cold of an Ontario winter.

“Johan.”

That is what our mother insisted on calling us. Perhaps the Dutch sounds comforted her.

What’s in a name, Shakespeare’s Juliet may have asked herself out loud, but if we compare Johan’s life history to mine, my answer would be: just about everything. From day one, our roads diverged. It wasn’t just that our mother spoke Dutch to Johan, while our father spoke English to me. They introduced us to two vastly different worlds.

Upon returning to Canada from the war, our father had taken over a derelict farm for next to nothing on the shores of Three Moon Lake, just west of Algonquin Park. It was derelict for a reason: the soil in this part of the province was poor, and the growing season too short for any serious farming. Whether it was a keen business sense or a lucky hunch I do not know: long before tourism became the most important industry in the region, he reckoned that the value of the land was not to be extracted from the soil itself, but from the magnificent scenery. Tearing down everything but the main farmhouse and the adjoining barn, he reused as much of the material as he could to build holiday cabins. Slowly but surely, Bruce and Elsa Butler’s Getaway Cottages took shape, Butler’s Getaway for short.

Always outdoors, always at work, he had little time for us, although occasionally he would let us help, or make us believe we were helping him, the way parents do with small children. “Stand back!” may very well have been the first English expression that I understood, my own first word “hammer” or “axe”.

When we weren’t getting in our father’s way, we would follow our mother about. She was usually to be found indoors, cleaning a cottage for the next guests, in the barn hanging the laundry between the rafters or in the kitchen preparing dinner. So Johan’s first words will have been quite different from mine.

Obviously, since we share a body, the two of us have always occupied the same position in space at the same moment in time. Yet when we look back at our lives, it is as though we see ourselves and each other from different camera angles. I too, remember how we used to sit by the wood stove listening to our mother reading us a Dutch children’s book, but there is a built-in distance to the recollection, as if I am standing outside the house, peering in through the window, and it’s only Johan who is actually sitting on her lap. And I am sure Johan will attest to a complementary experience, seemingly looking out the window while our father is in the yard splitting logs, resting his axe every so often to let a little boy gather all the firewood and load it into a wheelbarrow. And that little boy will be me. It’s the difference between looking at a picture and being part of one, between hearsay and first-hand experience, between a translation and the original.

As we grew older and other sources of language became available to us – school, friends, books – the gaps in our respective vocabularies were gradually filled. Once we had moved to Holland with our first wife Cindy and had lived here long enough to catch up with the latest vernacular, any outsider would swear that we were perfectly bilingual. Yet to this day, the original “feel” of both languages has never changed. To us, Dutch will always be the language of the hearth, English the language of the great outdoors. Certain words miss the immediacy that they do have in the other language, as if we’re still that little boy peering in through the window or that little boy looking out into the yard. A cookie will never taste as good as a koekje (“kook-yuh”), a kano (“kaw-no”) will never glide through the water with the grace of a canoe. So in a deeper sense, we are not at all bilingual, we’re semi-lingual twice over.

Perry McDaid – The Rebellion Chronicle

The Rebellion Chronicle
by Perry McDaid

“My Da says your Ma was a writer. He sez she used to do poems an’ stories an’ stuff.”

“Your Da sucks bottles dry.”

Their friend Aimee giggled despite herself.

“Does not,” Sinead objected a little too loudly in her broad Derry accent.

“Sssshhh, she’ll hear us,” Eimear hissed.

“So what,” Sinead snapped, albeit in a low voice, “Auntie Bronagh never lifted a hand to anyone.”

“Aye , but she’ll shoo us out of her room quick enough,” Aimee pointed out, posing this way and that with some costume pearls. Her soft Donegal twang was in no danger of carrying downstairs.

“They’re gorgeous,” Sinead faux-gasped. “Here, gimme a go.” She got up from her hunkers where she’d been examining the box at the bottom of the built-in wardrobe. The lid slammed shut. They all froze.

Eimear made clawing, strangling motions with her hands in Sinead’s direction as they waited for the sound of footsteps on the stairs.

Although the pile on the stair carpet muffled any movement, the handrail wasn’t fully secure and tended to issue a low squeal as wood and metal argued about parting company. There was a creaky board under the carpet of the fourth tread. Alone, the first sound would indicate that someone had grabbed the rail and was likely listening intently for any justification to ascend. On its own, the second would suggest that the adults were mounting a sneak attack. The two together meant that the girls were in bother no matter what.

Aimee eased the pearls from around her neck and lowered them with only the slightest of clicks into the pressed cardboard case. Noiselessly, she held both sides of the box and controlled its closing, wary of hinges and the metal catch. The downstairs voices started up again with accompanying laughter. It must have been a natural lull.

Sinead opened the box again. Something had caught her attention: a thin manila folder with the word STOPPED emblazoned in red capitals along the edge of the tab.

“What are you doing?” Eimear hissed. “I told you….”

“Look, my mother told me that some high-flyer, an M.P. or something, is the reason your Ma stopped writing entirely.” She turned with the folder in hand. Her eyebrows did a little dance to her wicked grin. “There could be state secrets in here … or a terrible scandal. See …. ” she continued in an animate whisper, indicating the legend.

“It’s not as if she was a journalist,” Aimee cajoled, moving away from the jewellery cache. “It won’t be illegal or anything. It could be entirely innocent.”

“What about what Sinead’s mother?” An uneasiness was possessing Eimear now, despite her usual level-headedness.

“Um,” Aimee didn’t say.

“What do you mean “Um”, Blondie?” Sinead demanded.

“Well, your Mum claimed last week that Mister Collins, the newsagent was a spy.”

“So?”

“He lost an eye in a car accident.”

“Well,” Sinead muttered sullenly, “it was a natural mistake. He had an eye patch. He was hardly going to be a pirate.”

Snot ran out of the noses of the other two girls as they tried to contain themselves. The shadow of embarrassment passed and Sinead joined them.

When they had all coughed a bit and wiped their noses, Eimear relented. “Go on then. I might even get a story out of it for English homework. I’m stuck at present.”

“You?” Aimee and Sinead chorused in an ugly combination of accents.

Eimear winced. “Don’t do that again, girls. Pleeease?” They grinned. “Yes, me,” she continued. “I have this maddening block.” She shrugged. “I suppose that’s why I came up here in the first place: to find inspiration. Let’s hear–”

“It’s about the rebellion,” Sinead announced, sotto voce.

“What rebellion?” Aimee, being from a ‘quiet’ part of Donegal, was just about ignorant of the “Troubles” in Ireland from the 1960s to the nineties.

“Ssshhh!” Eimear was snared.

Rebellion, by Bronagh Sproule…” Sinead began.

“Sure that’s not your mother’s name,” Aimee objected.

“Probably a pen name,” Eimear guessed.

“To protect her from prosecution,” Sinead said; all drama.

“Go on, for God’s sake, and catch yourself on.” Eimear was eager to hear the real content.

Sinead read a few lines into herself. “Awww, it’s just a story.”

“Go on anyway.’

I’ve looked teenage since I hit nine… “My Ma always said that about yours. She towered over…”

Eimear glared, Sinead returned to the text.

…and was teased ruthlessly for hanging about with my classmates. When older boys called to me in the street, I used to be mortified; and thankful when adults told them off. Mum said men used to whistle at girls. You never get that now. “Where was she living, a convent?”

Another glare.

“Well Parr-donn me,” Sinead drawled before returning to her narration. I also used to be chuffed when neighbours would scold that I looked older than my age and they should be ashamed of themselves. She paused as if to comment but spotted the lurking glare-athon. “Do you want to read this?”

Eimear snatched it from her. “Yeah.” She drew her forefinger and thumb across her lips and widened her eyes. “Got it?”

“Aye,” Sinead sighed. “All right.”

“Aimee?”

“What did I do?”

“Nothing yet… Well?”

“I’m a mouse.”

“You’ve a what?” Sinead was always looking for a double entendre, especially where none existed.

“Did you bust your zip?” Eimear asked dryly, tapping her own top lip.

“Arrarr,” Sinead said between pursed lips, pinched between forefinger and thumb. She made a twisting movement to represent locking and mimed throwing ‘the key’ over her shoulder.

“Okay then. She writes:” I also used to be chuffed when neighbours would scold that I looked older than my age and they should be ashamed of themselves. “I remember her telling me of that sort of neighbour. They used to be very protective. Now you could be murdered in the street and they wouldn’t twitch a curtain. It’s getting as bad as the big cities.”

Aimee and Sinead glowered silently.

“I’m just providing background,” Eimear said defensively, and moved on. Then I turned thirteen. Apart from the obvious body changes all girls have to deal with, I found myself growing embarrassed and resentful of my protective neighbours. It no longer seemed they cared, but rather that they were interfering. My best friend shrugged agreement when I shared this with her. What they can’t see…was her approach. “Hah, sounds like you, Sinead.”

Sinead swivelled where she sat and pawed the ground as if looking for the invisible key she had thrown away. Eimear rolled her eyes.

Together we’d sneak off to quiet corners for a snog with boys our own age and up. We even pitched tents during summer and stay out all night, secretly arranging with lads up the street for them to visit for some harmless experimenting in the wee hours. Because the tent was in other parents’ front gardens, no-one seemed to suspect.

“Whaoh-ho, Aunt Bronagh, ye girl ye!”

Eimear ignored Sinead’s outburst and regarded Aimee, who was having a silent laughing fit.

“What’s with you?”

“Snog,” Aimee mocked, catching her breath. She went back to her amusement.

Eimear sighed loudly and went back to her recital. The nosey neighbours who never seemed to sleep said nothing, despite our terror. They just leaned out the windows giving us dirty looks before shaking their heads and drawing the curtains when we gave them the fingers. Their lips moved, but I never heard what they were saying; I was just thankful my parents couldn’t either.

“Well, that explains the change in attitude by today’s neighbours. This is actually rather insightful. You could do the school project on the reason behind shifting social responsibility.”

“Frack!” This was Eimear’s favourite cuss word.

“What,” Sinead said. “Is that such a stupid idea?”

“No, it’s actually brilliant,” Eimear acknowledged. “I’m just surprised it came from you.”

Aimee laughed out loud at this.

“Ha, ‘fracking’ ha,” Sinead drawled. She made a spooling motion with her right hand. “So, are we nearing any sort of story by this great writer Ma of yours?”

Eimear read into herself a few lines ahead. “Hmmm, it seems to be getting interesting. You’ll appreciate this, Aimee.”

We smoked. My friend’s father sold booze and ciggies from his house, so we were never without. We’d get drunk and sing into the wee hours, and tell anyone who complained where to go until, that is, the ones at the corner house appeared. They didn’t take any abuse, and we lost many a can of beer when running away. One of them had a particularly loud voice and used to yell ‘What sort of home do you come from that lets you out at this time of the morning?’ at the top of his lungs so our parents would hear. God, it was mortifying.

Eimear grinned at her friend. “Any idea who the black marketeer is, Aimee darling?”

Aimee stopped laughing, and started wondering about the windfall which had allowed her parents to buy a big house near Letterkenny.

“I know who the loudmouth is,” Sinead volunteered. “That’ll be my Grandda! He can still scare the rooks away with that goul of his.”

“Goul?” Aimee was eager to deflect the conversation in any direction at all.

“You know …,” Sinead explained, ‘… a big loud angry growl with enough swear words to curdle cream.”

“Oh!” Eimear had read on to the end and now sat face flushed bright red. She had dropped the pages at her feet.

Aimee bent and snatched them up, eager to retaliate after the reference to her parents. She one of those readers who don’t anticipate more than a few words ahead: following the words as they fell in recitation and thus narrating in a sing-song presentation which skews the meaning for those listening.

Fortunately my parents were either out ‘on the razzle’ themselves, or too busy smoking the ‘wacky baccy’ and knocking back cans themselves to pay any notice.

Aimee took that much in well enough, and stuck her tongue out: licking a finger and chalking a point in the air. Heedless to Eimear’s silence, she continued. Unfortunately, one of my Ma’s friends heard and passed it on when they sobered up the following day. She mimed a quick chortle.

We moved base to a secluded park left open at night. The seventeen and eighteen year-olds there were really cool about sharing space. My friends didn’t want to stay. When I wouldn’t come, they deserted me. Big deal! I thought. One of the guys was really nice. He was really friendly. I stayed to talk to him when his mates went to bed.

“Hmmm,” Aimee muttered appreciatively. “Naughty Bronagh.”

Sinead was frowning, sharing glances between the terribly quiet Eimear and the pages. “Aimee…”

No-one, Aimee went on, heard my screams or saw,… Aimee trailed off. “Oh dear God, Eimear, I’m so sorry.”

Eimear’s face was white now, and she stared into space, echoing in a murmur the last line of the story: the real reason her mother had stopped writing.

I can’t hide now, and I’m not laughing. He’s in prison. I’m carrying mine.

Arthur Davis – Roy’s Desert Motel

Roy’s Desert Motel
by Arthur Davis

“Of course I’m going to make the meeting on time, so stop whining and give my message about the Markson account to Lenny.” Jerry Bishop switched off his cell phone and tossed it on the seat next to him. It bounced off the leather, tumbled to the floor, and disappeared.

He shouldn’t have spoken to Donna so harshly. Some day she would up and leave him and he’d spend another year going from one gum-chewing dimwit to another trying to find someone who can take a message or file a document, or spend most of the day on the phone with their friends.

Though he reasoned, who would want to work for the vice president of a three-employee insurance office in the middle of nowhere hustling retired farmers, day laborers, truck drivers and outcasts from trailer parks. And, every month, the same divorcees, screaming kids, drunken husbands and cheating wives.

He reached into his shirt pocket for a cigarette but came up with a wad of messages from Donna. He had given up smoking a week ago at the insistence of his doctor and, because his second ex-wife wouldn’t leave him in peace after realizing his getting emphysema might threaten her alimony.

The drive from his office in Bisbee, Arizona, only an hour southeast out of Tucson, was something he looked forward to each month. The tail end of the swing south into New Mexico ended back north in Douglas, Arizona, and a night with Sherry Burgeon who ran a little cafe her mother opened twenty-one years ago. Sherry was sweet, wore too much make-up, believed every Hollywood tabloid and, though she had long since seen her fortieth birthday, still had a body worth a wet dream.

Jerry turned down the air conditioner to conserve his battery as a jackrabbit jumped from the roadside into his path. He watched with fascination as the little gray-brown creature sat there, unaware it was about to become road kill.

He hammered his horn a couple of times. “Lazy little prick.”

Twenty yards away he swung the wheel sharply, skidded against the shoulder of the road, kicked up a whirlwind of dirt, and struck a small rock that bounced up against the undercarriage. When he regained speed and composure there was no sign of the rabbit in his rear view mirror.

Three country western songs and an endless commercial for Texas Southern Beer later he noticed his gas gauge dropping. He got out of the car, bent down and spotted gas draining through a two-inch gash the rock must have made in his tank. He jumped back in the car, jammed down the accelerator and prayed. The odometer quickly passed ninety miles per hour on the late-model sedan. He steadied himself out at an even hundred. If there were police around, he only hoped he would be picked up on their radar.

“OK. We can do this.”

He searched for another channel but it was all the same shit-kicker’s droning, same lamenting pathetic men and women spilling out their sad guts over lost loves and misspent lives. The gas gauge’s thin red indicator slipped under the quarter tank mark. He had eighty or so miles to go to the next town.

“Think,” he exhorted himself.

The desert just west of the Continental Divide was barren with only scrub, sand, saguaro, dung beetles, and rattlers. He had left a good job in Los Angeles eighteen years ago with his first wife. It was supposed to be a new beginning for both of them, and turned out to be a repeat of past failures.

The indicator slipped through the red, Empty-zone. A few emergency gallons and the engine would sputter and die. He was trying to calculate how far he had to go when he spotted something at the edge of the horizon steaming up from the heat waves on the tarmac.

“Yes!” he shouted, fist-pumping the air. “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

The sedan slowed but not before it covered enough ground for Jerry to make out three small bungalows behind a main house. He couldn’t recall it being there in his last trip. His car rolled to a halt no more than fifty yards from a battered sign reading, Roy’s Desert Motel.
He switched off the engine, grabbed his briefcase, and slammed the car door shut. The baking late July afternoon sun was still a formidable presence. He hadn’t seen any sign of life except for one lousy rabbit. No trucks or cars on a road that was routinely used by both.

He walked a few paces, remembered his cell phone and returned to the car. He bent down at the side of the car and examined every inch of carpet under the seat. It was not on the floor between the rear and front seat either. A sickening feeling welled up into his chest.

“OK, don’t panic.”

The neon light announcing Roy’s was broken. Two weathered pine chairs sat on the front porch. Neither looked as though they would support life. The vending machine at the end of the porch was empty. A pair of tumbleweeds lazily crossed the tarmac nearby and fell into a patch of cacti.

Jerry Bishop opened the screen door and stepped inside. The air was cool. A long couch occupied one side of the office, a desk the other. A radio was playing in the background. He dropped his briefcase on the couch and straightened his tie. He leaned over the partition but couldn’t find a telephone. He heard voices, music and footsteps.

A young man came out of the back clutching a dog-eared paperback under his arm. The boy couldn’t have been twenty. He was wearing regulation jeans and dust stained black t-shirt. His face was round and soft and with small grey eyes sunk deep in his freckled face.

“What can I do for you?”

“Well, for starters, I could use a phone.”

The boy sat down behind the desk. “So could I.”

“I ran out of gas a few yards down the road. Can you spare a few gallons?”

“You want a room?”

“No.”

“All we got are rooms.”

“No phones or gas?”

He looked up again. “We rent out rooms. Rooms are what we’ve got.”

Jerry glanced around the office. The weathered blue walls were bare. The linoleum frayed. “And there are no phones in the rooms?”

“No phones anywhere.”

Playing along. “So you’re all booked up?”

“We were. They all left this morning. You can have your pick if you’re staying the night.”

“Do you have a car around here?”

“Mister, we got no cars, no phones, and no gas.”

“I have a meeting up in Douglas and I need to get gas or find a phone so I can tell them I’m going to be late,” he continued. “Do you have any suggestions?”

“No, but I see your problem.”

“Anybody around these parts have a car?”

“Sure. Some folks do.”

“But there’s no way to call or reach them. Right?”

“Maybe someone will drive by and you can flag them down.”

Jerry walked to the door. The mountains in the distance were cloaked in a charcoal afternoon shadow. Soft white clouds drifted high overhead. “I’ve landed in goddamn lost fucking world inhabited by inbred cretins,” he lamented quietly, and turned to the boy. “So when was the last time a car came by?”

The boy folded his book up and set it on the desk. “Just now.”

“I mean before me.”

“Don’t know. I was out back reading. Expect I’d still be there if you hadn’t come along.”

Jerry had meetings scheduled for afternoon and evening and Lenny was going to need help processing the new Markson account. “You live here?”

“Born and raised here.”

“Parents?”

“Two.”

At least the kid has a sense of humor. “Where did the name come from?”

“Grandfather’s name was Roy.”

“What an amazing coincidence. My brother’s name is Roy.” Of course it wasn’t. It was just that Jerry couldn’t figure what to do next. No car. No gas. No phone. No brains.

“Take your pick. All three of em’ are empty.”

“Jacuzzi in every cabin?”

“Just like in the big hotels.”

“You’re kidding, of course.”

The kid got up and came around the desk. “My grandfather was a very smart man, mister. He wasn’t a cretin with a sense of humor either.” He reached back over the desk, picked up his book, and before he disappeared into the back, added, “Keys are on the desk. They’re all fifty bucks a night.”

Jerry Bishop stood in deafening silence. He hadn’t considered the possibility of a mind-reading cretin. He picked up all three keys and went out into the suffocating heat. His car stood like a beached whale in the desert.

“Fucking wilderness.”

Without immediate help he was going to miss a night between Sherry’s welcoming thighs, her shapely buttocks in once hand and Jack Daniels in the other.

“Fucking rabbit,” had plenty of time to save itself he considered, and stepped up to the first cabin, inserted the key into the lock and pushed. He was met with a blast of cold air.

The inside was several times the size he would have imagined and decorated in rich fabric and accented with ornate antiques. Rose and green silk curtains covered the two windows. There was thick, wall-to-wall pile carpeting, a loveseat, a lounge chair upholstered in some exotic burgundy colored fabric, and two heavily cushioned chairs offsetting the front of a king-sized, four-poster oak bed. Music was seeping into the room. He went directly to the bed.

“Perfect!”

He let his fingers graze the fine finish on the large Korean enameled chest of drawers. Just like the one he had seen in a museum in San Diego years ago. His heart pounded with excitement.

The bathroom contained a large white Victorian sink, toilet and oversized glass-enclosed shower and an ample Jacuzzi, as promised.

“Not a bad love nest for fifty bucks.”

It took half an hour for him to go through the other two cabins, which were much like the first. He went out to his car, checked for the phone again, removed his suitcase, searched around for signs of life, then bounded back to the cabin as though Sherry was waiting for him in her favorite black silk teddy.

He stripped off his clothes and plunged into the warm Jacuzzi. The shower had twin water poles on each side of the enclosure that sprayed out high intensity water. He held onto the safety railing and turned up the pressure. He stepped out, toweled off, and rolled onto the bed.

“Well I’ll be dipped in shit and rolled in cracker crumbs. This is definitely not bad.”

A small chest in the corner of the room held a freshly stocked bar. “Sherry is going to love this place.”

By the time he’d finished off two mini-bottles of Jack Daniels he realized he hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

He flipped open his suitcase, took out a pair of casual trousers and yanked open the door. The night was desert black. A moonless evening illuminated only by the twinkle of dying stars. Forgetting his shoes, he hopped the distance to the office and pushed open the door. He tapped the silver desk bell but there was no response.

“Here Lightning Boy. Here Lightning Boy. Come out, come out wherever you are.”

He walked to the partition behind the desk where the boy first appeared then disappeared, and knocked. No answer.

When he could no longer stand the frustration, he yanked the door open. The same twinkle of stars greeted him. A light breeze swept across the desert enveloping Bishop in a deep chill. He shuddered violently.

“What the fucking hell is going on here?” He fell back through the doorway and against the partition. The view from inside the doorway was a framed chink of iridescent desert defying a jet-black sky.

“Where’d he go without a car?” he said in a voice only his fear could hear.

He fought to control his trembling and walked back to his cabin. He locked the door, turned on the oversized television screen, grabbed a bottle of beer and a can of macadamia nuts, and watched basketball until the nightly news came on.

“Fucking rabbit bastard think he could stand in my way, in my way, like he owned the road?” One of the empty beer bottles fell off the bed.

“I’m drunk, and I’m worried about an empty beer bottle. But, you know, it’s the empty ones you have to be concerned about,” he garbled, crawling like a scared child to the fridge. He pulled the door open. “OK. That’s better.”

Jerry Bishop slept on the carpet in cabin number one of Roy’s Desert Motel that night. He slept, as they say, like a baby, having gone through a six-pack and a handful of bottle shots of Jack Daniels. He woke to an acid dry day. He stumbled half-naked outside and threw up behind the office. When he stopped heaving, he wiped his face and looked up. A jackrabbit sat a few paces away, staring him in the face.

The rabbit’s eyes darted left and right, assured itself that it was in no danger from the rattler that had been following it all morning, and eyed the evil smelling creature with suspicion.

“You’re responsible for all this!” Jerry screamed, swinging his arms in a wide, senseless arc. “But you’re not going to get me. Not you, not my wives, not any of those incompetent parasites in my office.”

He lunged forward and landed on his face. When he looked up the rabbit was gone. Bishop ran haphazardly through the scrub and sagebrush. Following an imaginary path, he lurched forward past mesquite and ancient Palo Verde trees. Soon the pain in his legs was matched by the burning clutch in his lungs and the throbbing pain in his head. When he stopped stumbling and looked around, Roy’s Desert Motel was gone too. “Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no,” he frothed. “You can’t hide from old Jerry here.”

Another hour of wandering and he fell to his knees and began frantically digging a hole in the sand. He used both hands to scoop and scour until he had dug a pit in which he could almost kneel. “There’s water down here. I read that aquifers are under all deserts.”

He dug and dug until his fingers bled and the sun baked his back a deep umber. He dug until he was half submerged in the hole. He dug until the rattler that had been stalking the jackrabbit, having found the scent of his puke behind the office, caught up with him and struck squarely at his buttocks, before sliding back into the sagebrush.

He became dizzy and disoriented. His breathing became shallow and labored. He flapped his arms around, every so often, slapping the air near his buttocks to prevent another mosquito from taking advantage of his vulnerable state.

He grew weak, and could barely sit up. He remembered falling over into the pit. He remembered the sun hurting his eyes. He remembered watching a tiny ant scamper away a few feet from his nose. He felt the sweat drip down his forehead and sting when the salty solution bled into his eyes. He thought he felt something crawling up his back but he couldn’t be certain. But he did know Lenny was going to screw up the Markson account. He just knew it.

David Lawry took his usual half-hour to walk from his parents’ trailer park and opened Roy’s Desert Motel at exactly seven o’clock. He took down the welcome sign, switched on the air conditioner and checked for spiders and other nasty creatures that might have invaded his sanctuary.

The asshole’s car sat on the shoulder of the road, only the key to cabin one was missing. He would tell the asshole about the trailer park after he paid his bill and checked out.

Most people would have considered reading people’s minds as clearly as their own, a gift and not a curse. But it had plagued Lawry his short life and he felt much better as a recluse than a spectacle. It was probably the reason he enjoyed the solitude of maintaining Roy’s. It was preferable to listening to a soundtrack of evil most people had in their heads.

The rental car was eventually towed to the local police station and examined by the medical examiner for signs that might lead to the whereabouts of one Jerry Bishop, who apparently had disappeared into the desert without a trace. While the investigation proved inconclusive, the auto mechanic assigned to detail the car at the rental agency in Bisbee discovered a cell phone wedged high into the springs under the seat next to the driver.

A deeper sweep of the surrounding hillside a week later revealed Bishop’s partially decomposed body. A forty-three year old male Caucasian of average weight and height. The coroner concluded that the body exhibited no unusual or suspicious injuries or trauma, but that Bishop’s system was overwhelmed by a lethal amount of snake venom. When combined with a substantial amount of alcohol, the coroner suspected it rendered Bishop incapable of making his way back to the motel. Essentially, he died in the grave he seemed to have dug for himself.

David Lawry, the grandson of the man who the motel was named after, later confided to the coroner that he sensed that Jerry Bishop had a death wish and was so depressed about his life that what happened in the desert may have more to do with his frame of mind than the more obvious forensic and pathological circumstances that precipitated his death.

When the coroner inquired as to what made Lawry so certain of Bishop’s mental state at the time, the young man quietly withdrew his observations.

Sara Shea – Parchment

Parchment
by Sara Shea

Title: Parchment
Medium: Parchment, New Inks
Artist: Jacob Hugh
2074 – 2120

This museum wing contains “Parchment”, masterpiece created by artist Jacob Hugh. “Parchment” is exhibited behind climate-controlled casing, guarded by military personnel and monitored by twenty-four hour state-of-the-art surveillance. Photography of any sort is strictly prohibited. Please remain behind the velvet ropes and supervise children. Once you have viewed “Parchment”, move to your right, so others may have their turn. Proceed into the corridor and board the travellator, which will transport you through halls displaying panoramic 3D footage of scenes from Hugh’s life. Debark in the South Wing. Exhibits of historic photographs, videos, media clippings, memorabilia, ephemera from Hugh’s estate, and interactive displays are housed in the South Wing. Do not re-adjust your earpiece. Your multimedia guide will automatically correspond to your shifting location within the museum. To pause the narration at any point, simply think of the color red. Think of green to re-start.

Be sure to visit the gift shop. Holographic clones, body scan magnification apps, documentaries, accessories, holographic skin suits and temporary appliqués are all available for purchase.

***

The Colorful Life of Jacob Hugh
2074 – 2120
Multimedia Biographical Guide

Jacob Hugh’s masterpiece compares to works by Michelangelo, Escher, Klimt, and Warhol. In his lifetime, Hugh became one of the most influential and highly valued artists in history. Born in Tahiti in 2074, Jacob Hugh was the only child of courtesan and political spy, Cora Hugh. Scholars and critics place great emphasis on Hugh’s earliest childhood years in Tahiti. Captivated by color and light, Hugh often described his childhood as “a kaleidoscopic realm where tanagers and iridescent parakeets flickered in emerald jungles; where prismatic fish drifted through aquamarine seas, and sunsets the colors of frangipani flowers gave way to phosphorescent tides and starry nights.”

The identity of Hugh’s father is unknown, although academics surmise he was of Polynesian descent. Little is known regarding the true identity of Hugh’s mother, Cora. There is evidence she served as a social media savant and undercover geo-tagging analyst for the French Government. She held passports under several pseudonyms. Regardless of her mysterious origins, there is no doubt Cora Hugh was a cultured, intellectual woman. After leaving Tahiti, Cora traveled extensively with her young son, residing intermittently in luxury apartments and finest hotels of Paris, Milan, Berlin, Qatar, Rome, Singapore and Bangkok. She hired an elite contingent of private tutors to educate her gifted son.

Nurturing Hugh’s early artistic aspirations, Cora spared no expense on the finest paints, pencils, tablets and graphics programs. Though Cora never enrolled her son in any traditional school, she equipped him with an eccentric but extensive discipline in the visual arts. In interviews, Hugh later admitted that his mother had “frequently vanished for days, or weeks at a time, with no explanation.” When tutors or other caretakers were unavailable to look after Hugh, Cora deposited her young son in the halls of museums and art galleries, instructing him to memorize works of art. Jacob Hugh credited his unusual upbringing as the foundation and inspiration for his masterpiece.

By age nine, the ambidextrous Jacob Hugh was producing accurate reproductions of works by DaVinci, Escher and Klimt– entirely from memory. Most of these early works were lost in a fire that ravaged Cora Hugh’s Milan apartment in 2087. Recently, however; five of Hugh’s exquisite sketches were discovered in a safe deposit box that his mother purchased in Paris in 2085. Four of these original drawings sold for over fifty million dollars a-piece, in a Dubai auction. The fifth drawing is now displayed in the South Wing of this museum.

Cora Hugh died in London in 2089. Medical records cite her cause of death as an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol. She was thirty-seven years old. Whether this overdose was accidental or intentional is not known. Regardless, the tragedy left Jacob Hugh orphaned at the age of fifteen. He began work on his masterpiece that same year.

Funded by a considerable inheritance, the grieving Jacob Hugh returned to Polynesia, where he apprenticed himself to a traditional tattoo artist; a Samoan Chief named Tyrian Freewind. Under the guidance and tutelage of Freewind, Hugh gained recognition as an emerging tribal tattoo artist. Hugh inked the initial tattoos on his own arms during that period in Polynesia; elaborate bands of geometric designs that morphed into scales of coiled serpents circling his biceps.

Hugh’s quest for enlightenment, his passions for art and adventure, led him from Polynesia to India. In 2093 He traveled from Calcutta up the Ganges River to Bangladesh and Delhi, studying with various Swamis, learning the practice of yoga, the art of henna and godna tattoo. Shocked by the extreme poverty he found in cities along the Ganges, Hugh gave away his inheritance to the children, the poor, the sick and hungry of India.

He trekked on toward Nepal, traveling at times by foot, by bus, by camel and caravan. He became disoriented and lost in the Himalayan Desert during a sandstorm. He suffered dehydration, starvation, extreme exposure to sun and wind, and early stages of photo keratitis– desert blindness. His sunburned skin began to peel. Distinct hues and colors of the surrounding desert began to blur, fading slowly into a vast white light. When death seemed most certain, Hugh came upon an ancient formation of metamorphic boulders; fantastic geological forms, eroding in harsh desert weather. The boulders offered shade, protection and relief from violent winds.

Hugh discovered a gnarled pomegranate tree growing safely in a rock fissure amidst the boulders. The miraculous tree bore one ripe fruit. Hugh survived for seven days, curled within the fissure, staving of starvation by rationing his consumption of pomegranate seeds and blood-colored juice. On the seventh day Hugh was rescued by Tibetan monks, who found him and carried him to the safety of their Zen Monastery. Under the care of these monks, Hugh recovered his strength. His vision and perception of color slowly returned.

Hugh adopted Buddhist practices of the monks. He shaved his head and donned a monastic robe. He spent the year of 2094 with the monks, fascinated in particular, by their tantric art of sand mandalas. Hugh assisted the monks in gathering substances used to create the mandalas; colored sands, granules of lapis lazuli and ruby dust. He helped the monks to collect desert flowers; first drying the flowers, then employing mortar and pestle to grind blossoms into colorful powders. He knelt with the monks, painstakingly arranging colored grains into elaborate patterns.

Hugh identified the moment of his spiritual awakening as a day in the monastery: “I balanced a single indigo grain of sand in the palm of my hand,” Hugh explained in later interviews “admiring it in rays of golden sunlight. Suddenly, I saw my whole life reflected in that grain. As Himalayan wind swept the grain from my palm, I understood the purpose of my life.”

Hugh parted ways with the monks, traveling on to Paris and Amsterdam where he served brief stints of employment in various tattoo parlours, inking under the pseudonym T.J. Windhue. During this period (2095-2098) Hugh began to experiment with inks, pigments and carriers. He began an extensive correspondence with European and Asian ink manufacturers, as well as other notable tattoo artists. He began developing recipes.

In 2099, Hugh rented laboratory space in a science building owned by the Berlin University of the Arts in Germany. (Hugh’s early notes, along with sketches and recipes for his masterpiece, are exhibited in the Berlin University Gallery.) In Berlin, Hugh began importing small quantities of heavy metals; cadmium, chromium, cobalt, barium, cinnabar, as well as azo chemicals. He corresponded with chemists and gemologists, obtaining dust from finely crushed Aubergine Tahitian pearls, jadeite, black opals, blue garnets and various precious gems. He experimented– mixing platinum, silver, copper and crystalline gold dust; with rare earth elements, ultra violet pigments and liquid crystals. He refined recipes for carriers and binders. All the while, Hugh funded an elite team of Berlin University engineering students, whom he’d commissioned to develop a laser-precise tattoo gun.

Over the next year, Jacob Hugh illustrated his chest with stunning layers of tattoo; silver dust, aquamarine, indigo. He captured dazzling waters of the south Pacific, adding images of tropical fish, sea fans, starfish and turtles. He etched an over-layer of ultra violet ink, until his chest and shoulders glowed with a phosphorescent aura. On the rippling surface of ultramarine, just over his heart, Hugh inked a portrait of his mother. Her gentle face floated faint, diaphanous; as though distant and viewed through deep water. Some critics claim that Hugh mixed his mother’s ashes with various ink pigmnts and silver dust to achieve her vitreous portrait.

The complexity of Hugh’s project evolved as he illustrated his body with memories of his fantastic travels. Phosphorescent waters of the South Pacific spilled down his torso, swirling into darker waters of the Ganges River, which ran the length of his left thigh. Faces, exquisite portraits of his spiritual leaders, shimmered like holograms emerging from dark currents of the Ganges.

The Himalayas rose along Hugh’s shoulder blades, jutting into a pale blue sky at the base of his neck where desert wind swept grains of sand into thin air. Brilliant dots of color rose up the back of Hugh’s neck, gathering at the top of his skull and swirling into a more cohesive pattern; the edge of a mandala. It took Jacob Hugh seven years of painstaking work—dot, by dot,—to complete the tattoo mandala that eventually covered his entire face.

There was no anonymity for Hugh once his facial mandala was complete. In the streets of Berlin, people stared. Media and paparazzi pursued him, demanding interviews, answers and explanations for his unbelievable art. Tattoo artists begged Hugh to publish his innovative ink recipes. His Berlin laboratory was burglarized.

In 2101 Hugh retreated to a small island off the coast of Greece, where he continued to work on his masterpiece; adding mysterious neon inks to illustrations of urban streetscapes and skylines of Paris, London and Amsterdam that ran the length of his forearms. But public curiosity could not be satiated. Finally, in 2102, at the age of twenty-eight, Hugh agreed to an interview and photo shoot with a young reporter from the London Art Review. Then came the exorbitant offers. A preeminent gallery in Basel, Switzerland offered Hugh one million dollars to pose, nude, for three days in their gallery, in conjunction with the opening events of Art Basel. Hugh accepted the offer.

Art critics went wild. Those who saw Hugh in the flesh during that first exhibition described the experience as pure rapture. They claimed his flesh “glowed and glittered; as if he’d been dipped in stars.” They praised his elaborate designs of sea creatures that morphed into Escher-like tessellations. They described his facial mandala as mystical, breathtaking, holographic; a layered millefiori of vibrant color. The medical community voiced concerns regarding toxicity of ingredients in Hugh’s inks. The public demanded more showings of Jacob Hugh.

Some critics proclaimed his art as genius, revolutionary, the future of modern art. Others condemned him as a grotesque, deviant, circus freak. A prominent gallery in Rome invited Hugh to display his nude body, but the Vatican forbid the exposition and censored all media coverage. Protests, strikes and riots ensued in the streets of Rome.

Hugh was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2105. Prestigious art schools bestowed honorary degrees upon him, inviting him to teach and lecture on the intersection of Ethnographic art and Modernism. Once again, Hugh began to travel. Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Madrid, Moscow, Cairo, Mexico City, Stockholm, Buenos Aires, Lima, Cape Town, Sydney. Galleries, museums, and art institutions worldwide scheduled exhibitions of Jacob Hugh. All the while, Hugh embellished his masterpiece. To him, it was always a work in progress.

Hugh took great pride in inking himself by his own hand. He commissioned a select group of renowned tattoo artists to assist in completing his designs on areas of his body he could not reach. There was ink between his toes, on the soles of his feet, his tongue, his gums, his earlobes and eyelids, the corneas of his eyes, his genitals. He had his fingernails and toenails sliced away, in order that he might access and illustrate the pink ovals of empty flesh below. Fine art photographs and nude videos of Jacob Hugh circulated through the Internet, appearing in pornographic websites and erotic publications worldwide. Much debate centered on Hugh’s illustrated genitals.

A pomegranate tree rose from Hugh’s loins, its windswept branches arced the length of his penis. On the right side of his scrotum, an ancient boulder shielded the tree from desert winds and gold rays of a neon sun that stretched over his right hip, blazing into his abdomen and pelvic region. On the left side of his scrotum, a fragile branch bowed with the weight of a single, crimson pomegranate.

While visiting China in 2107 to lecture at a Beijing university, Hugh disrobed in a public park, exhibiting his tattoos to a group of art students. He was promptly arrested and imprisoned. The President of the People’s Republic of China chastised Hugh, labeling him as “vulgar, perverted . . . masochistic.” Hugh spent forty days and nights in a communist prison while international governments negotiated his safe release. This experience likely led to Hugh’s addition of the gleaming metallic handcuffs he inked around his wrists. He was banned from China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel, Syria and several other countries. Media coverage of his artwork was censored in Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Sudan and Turkey. Hugh was offered political asylum in America, and granted American Citizenship through Refugee Status.

Hugh became the wealthiest man in the world. He achieved status in The Guinness Book of World Records in 2109, as the most tattooed human in history; creator of the world’s most the vibrant tattoo art. He was celebrated as “a man who stood beyond the bounds of race and skin color… beyond categories of ethnicity.” With funds raised from exhibitions, he launched art schools, galleries, elite tattoo parlours, color research corporations, environmentally responsible ink manufacturers, progressive advertising design firms, and art museums. He brought art schools, art initiatives and museums to far, impoverished corners of the globe.

In 2111, at the age of thirty-seven, Jacob Hugh was diagnosed with the HIV virus. American tabloids claimed Hugh had contracted the virus from a homosexual lover in Tahiti. Those rumors were never substantiated. Art critics now claim that the virus came from an infected tattoo needle. Hugh sought treatments; but the virus quickly progressed into AIDS. Lesions began to rise through the ink of Hugh’s priceless masterpiece.

The public clamored for a cure for Jacob Hugh. Hugh donated billions to research and pharmaceutical companies in search of a fast-acting cure. He agreed to serve as a test subject for a new, experimental AIDS antidote. In an unprecedented, internationally broadcast reality television series, Hugh shared his real-time experience with AIDS and the experimental antidote. Fifty Hues of AIDS became the provocative, reality television series of an era. The visceral series ushered in a new genre of reality television. Reality Pharmaceutical Trials: Cures and Futures. Real People, Real Progress: Yesterday’s Epidemics and Tomorrow’s Drugs.

The AIDS antidote was hugely successful. In a matter of months, Hugh was entirely cured. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Time Magazine honored Hugh as Man of the Year, and published his iridescent face on their cover, along with the caption “The Man Who Became Art, the Art That Became the Cure.” Jacob Hugh became the spokes model and avant-garde advertising campaign for the pharmaceutical company that patented the antidote. Hugh honored the young biochemist responsible for discovering the antidote, by illustrating the man’s portrait on the palm of his right hand. The pharmaceutical company copyrighted the slogan; “Let’s give a hand for the cure!” running that tag line, accompanied by their logo; across a photograph of a joyous and grateful Jacob Hugh, applauding. The advertisement became an icon for changing times; end of an epidemic.

Produced from a particular genetic protein found only in a near-extinct species of deep-sea starfish, the AIDS antidote was prohibitively expensive; only available in the United States, and only in limited quantities. As scientists worked frantically to duplicate the protein synthetically, distribution of the antidote became the hugely controversial issue. Distribution was carefully controlled by a new, government-run, health care initiative. Waiting periods were lengthy. Applications for the antidote were processed in order of most-to-least extreme AIDS cases. In a backlash against the government health care act, Hugh voiced concerns and protests, advocating for the establishment of privatized antidote distribution centers.

As Hugh’s fame escalated, so did concerns about his safety. Everywhere he went, people wanted to touch his radiant skin. He was mobbed in the streets by fanatics. In 2116, The U.S. government required Hugh to employ body guards. While visiting the Caribbean in 2117, Hugh was approached by a masked man carrying a vessel of battery acid. Fortunately, one of Hugh’s body guards wrestled the would-be attacker to the ground in the nick of time. Both the body guard and the attacker were grotesquely scarred and disfigured in the incident.

Following the horrific attempt on Hugh’s life, the government designated Jacob Hugh as a National Treasure. The government demanded a halt to Hugh’s international travels and placed strict restrictions on his passport. Hugh vehemently protested these restrictions. He went into hiding in the mountains of northern Idaho, refusing to exhibit his masterpiece, granting only radio interviews.

Over radio broadcasts, Hugh proclaimed; “Below the ink, I am no different from anyone. My skin is merely my chosen media for recording my life story. Freedom of artistic expression and freedom of travel are imperative to my journey. I need to be with the people! I must share a masterpiece symbolizing transformation of my life journey into spirit. My art is merely a map and archive of my time here. I must travel and teach about the impact of art and ideas on social consciousness.”

Eventually, the American government lifted restrictions on Hugh’s passport, assuaging him with a private jet to assist in his international travels. Hugh immediately scheduled a retrospective exhibit in Tahiti. En-route to Tahiti from LAX, on May 1st of 2120, Hugh’s jet was hijacked. The jet vanished entirely from tracking systems. And Jacob Hugh disappeared.

Hysteria rocked the world of modern art. IT ON Had Hugh been kidnapped?IT OFF The FBI and the CIA launched an extensive investigation. Art critics raised the possibility that Hugh had grown weary of fame, fortune and publicity . . . and finally staged his own disappearance.
Two days afterward, the President of the United States addressed the nation; revealing news that the White House had received a ransom note. Hugh’s captors demanded that billions of dollars in U.S. aid be funneled to key embargoed countries. His captors demanded a lifting of certain U.S. trade restrictions. And, they demanded a supply… of the limited antidote. The terrorists would guarantee the safe return of Jacob Hugh, only after their demands had been met.

An emergency UN summit was held. Negotiators were called in to work with the terrorist. U.S. embargos and trade restrictions were temporarily lifted. A medical distribution task force was readied to transport the sensitive antidote to an undisclosed location on a moment’s notice. As the nation endeavored to appease the terrorists, the FBI traced clues regarding Hugh’s kidnapping and whereabouts.

Seven days after his disappearance, FBI agents located Hugh and his captors on a tiny island near French Polynesia. Employing satellite surveillance and body scan technology, FBI agents pinpointed the unmistakable glow of Hugh’s elaborate tattoos. In a secret meeting, on May 8th of 2120, the President of the United States authorized a covert operation to liberate Hugh from an island prison guarded by terrorist kidnappers. FBI agents and SWAT teams planned a night raid to overtake the compound.

But something went amiss, in the jungle, on the dark tropic night. A flock of florid parakeets startled one of the kidnappers. Two American Green Berets and an FBI agent were killed in a sudden burst of machine gun fire. Remaining SWAT team members opened fire and took the compound by storm. But they were too late. In an apparent suicide pact, Hugh’s captors had taken their own lives, as well as the life of their hostage. A single bullet to the chest had pierced Hugh’s heart, as well as the diaphanous portrait of his mother, Cora.

Hugh’s body was flown to a forensic morgue in Washington, DC. As news of his death made its way around the world, investigations and international litigations were launched against the U.S. government. Italic on Had the government covered up crucial information? Mystery, controversy and conspiracy theories swirled as the world mourned.Italic off Memorial services were schedule in Tahiti, Nepal, India, France, Germany, the US, and an array of other countries.

Hugh left no heirs, and no known family. As lawyers struggled to untangle Hugh’s estate and assets, several countries began to argue over his body. Tahiti petitioned for the return of their native son. The U.S. upheld Hugh’s status as an American Citizen and National Treasure. Monks from the monastery pleaded for a traditional cremation ceremony in the desert. The Pharma Company that had cured Hugh of AIDS, produced and publicized a document Hugh had signed; donating his body for exclusive, scientific research by their company.

“Who Owns the Late, Great Jacob Hugh?” ran headlines of the International Herald Tribune. Litigation dragged on for months as Hugh’s body lay in cold in the morgue. Finally, the case reached U.S. Supreme Court. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court initiated the process of dividing complicated ownership of Hugh’s body. Hugh’s skin was granted to the U.S. Government as a National Treasure, under conditions that his flesh be removed and adequately preserved by a select team of medical experts and parchment archivists. Hugh’s internal organs became property of the Pharma Company, on conditions detailing the transport of all bones and unused parts to a grave site in Tahiti and a Monastery in Nepal.

***

Today, millions of guests arrive annually to experience “Parchment.” Many describe the journey as a pilgrimage. Those who knew Jacob Hugh in his lifetime claim that the priceless “Parchment” has lost its once vibrant glow. Yet, children, who never knew Hugh in the flesh; marvel at its fresh, halo-like aura. Italic Every visitor describes different sensations, different experiences with “Parchment.”

Some visitors are fixated by the colors, vibrant hues, designs and patterns. Others seek meaning in the timeline of geographic travels. Some are awed by its potential to influence and impact. Some express horror, disgust, guilt and shame; or anguish, denial and grief. Still, others experience healing and spiritual awakening. Many admit their perspectives on “Parchment” are dynamic and shift over time. Most express concerns that despite all efforts toward preservation, “Parchment” will ultimately crumble to dust.

This concludes your multimedia tour. In an effort to further this exhibit as a progressive, educational and interactive experience; the museum offers feedback stations. We invite you to reflect, share and upload your responses to “Parchment” in the guest tablets provided.

Thank You for Visiting “Parchment”

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***

Sara Shea — EZ Money

EZ Money
by Sara Shea

This the ring?” The man behind the register at EZ Money Pawn Shop asked. His cool, steady gaze was on the girl, as she slid the ring over a slender knuckle.

He already knew the ring was hers. The tan line on her finger gave it away. Exact outline of the gold filigree. He felt bad for her. She was young, pretty … dazed and starring at the ring with wide eyes.

Intimidated by his piercing blue eyes and severe features, she’d nearly fled from EZ Money without inquiring. Too innocent to know his hard gaze resulted from decades dealings with addicts, thieves and liars; she’d only sensed he could see right through her.

“I’ll call the police if you wanna press charges. I’ll get an officer out to file a report.” She stared up at him; a deer in headlights. “Or you can just buy it back. Without pressing. Up to you. I take cash.”

***

She’d met Nick three years ago. They’d tumbled into love. After her grandmother died, he’d suggested they move in together and rent a one-bedroom near the lake. She felt grateful Nick had been there for her at a difficult time. She’d never lived with anyone else besides Nana.

She’d waitressed while Nick ran rentals, boat repairs at his friend Gordy’s marina. Out on lake summer nights, drinking Rolling Rocks with Nick and skinning dipping under the stars, her life had finally made sense again. Thus, she didn’t want to admit that he’d changed.

Nick’s late nights with Gordy; days he’d slept through work, his moodiness, strange anxious behavior … tip money gone missing from her purse. She’d discovered the drugs last week. Prescription bottles of painkillers in Gordy’s name. Then the ring had vanished. The ruby nana had left her.

***

“Watcha wanna do?” the man at EZ Money asked again. “Press charges or pay cash?

Irving A. Greenfield — A Symphonic Afternoon

A Symphonic Afternoon
by Irving A. Greenfield

Mario’s fourth epiphany occurred in Avery Fisher Hall. He came into Manhattan from Fairfield, Connecticut, to attend a 2 o’clock performance of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the featured soloist, a young Russian violinist, who would play Dvorak’s Violin Concerto.

Mario bought a ticket for the cheapest seat—a third tier box seat—though he readily could have afforded to buy a center orchestra seat. But he was there to immerse himself in the music and not be distracted by the conductor’s bouncing movements. In his opinion, having a conductor was just another example of showmanship and had nothing to do with the music.

Though there was an elevator to the third tier, Mario slowly climbed the marble steps. He told himself it was good for his heart, and therefore worth enduring the pain in his arthritic knees and hip joints.

Settled in his seat, Mario laid his coat neatly over his lap, took out his white metal frame glasses and began to read the program notes. He read carefully. None of the three pieces to be played were familiar. In addition to the Violin Concerto, there was another Dvorak composition, the “Overture” to The Devil and Kate, and Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony, the Little Russian.

When he finished reading the program notes, Mario replaced his glasses in the outside breast pocket of his brown tweed jacket; and the folded program went into the inside breast pocket to show Anya, his wife. But he knew that she wouldn’t even bother to feign an interest in how he spent the afternoon. Rather than think about Anya and become upset, he gave his attention to what was happening in the concert hall. A French horn player and a trombonist tuned their instruments. Two violinists began to bow.

Suddenly the woman on his left said, “Isn’t it exciting to see and hear such a talent?”

He was about to answer, because the soloist will be on the conductor’s left, we will not see him. That would have been an accurate statement. But instead, he smiled and said, “Certainly to hear him.” Though it was half an answer, it seemed to satisfy her.

More of the players drifted to their places. The timpanist tuned his drums.

Mario’s attention was again diverted by the woman next to him. She said, “I have a subscription. I spent the morning in the museum and come here in the afternoon. Friday is my culture day,” she laughed.

Because it was an open invitation to engage in conversation and the woman seemed to be so jovial, Mario answered. “I’m in the city for the concert,” he said looking at her. She had gray hair done up in a bun, tortoise frame eyeglasses and wore a white jacket with a green sweater under it, and black slacks. In his opinion, carelessness not fit for a concert hall. He, on the other hand was fittingly dressed for the occasion: wearing a white shirt, a Brown tie and tan slacks and a brown Harris Tweed jacket, perfect attire for the afternoon event.

“I live within walking distance,” she said.

“I don’t think I could take the city on a full-time basis,” Mario responded. “I’m always thankful when I return home.”

Her round face became pensive, and several moments passed before she said, “I like the country, especially the seashore. From time to time, I go to Cape Cod or Sag Harbor. I’ve done paintings of each of those places. But the city—well, it throbs and I like the throb.”

Out of courtesy, he asked, “Should I know your work?”

She laughed, “I’m just an amateur painter with a means to indulge my amateurism.”

He was going to say she was in an enviable position. But he was in one too. He had been left a considerable sum of money by his father and received a substantial monthly pension check from the university where he had taught philosophy for thirty years.

“Painting provides me with another language, a way of expressing myself,” she said.

It was the way she said it—the self-congratulatory tone that immediately rankled him.

During his thirty years of teaching, he had heard and had read so much about self-expression that he had come to believe it was just another excuse a certain type of person would use to avoid responsibility either for an act of omission or commission. He wondered which of the two it was in her case.

“I’m not very good, but I have a great deal of fun being not very good,” she said with a smile.

Mario wanted to end the conversation before the woman said something that would disturb him. At sixty-six he was easily disturbed. Luckily the house lights dimmed, and there was a burst of applause for the concertmaster who began tuning the orchestra.

“Enjoy,” the woman said.

Mario managed a smile.

The conductor came on stage, and the applause was louder than it had been a few moments before and lasted longer. Eventually the applause subsided. A heavy silence filled the hall broken by several staccato coughs. Then, the music began.

The first selection, the overture to The Devil and Kate, didn’t last long enough to impress Mario. But the audience applauded wildly. The conductor took his customary walk offstage, returned and left again for several minutes while the stagehands rearranged the chairs to accommodate the additional instrumentalists for the Violin Concerto.

“The last piece had such lovely dance music,” the woman next to him said. “You could just feel the youthful exuberance.”

“Perhaps that youthful exuberance was a youthful lack of ability,” Mario suggested. “And to cover, if you will, to hide what he lacked the talent to express.”

The woman looked as if she were about to answer; but another burst of applause signaled the arrival of the conductor and the soloist.

The house became quiet and the music started.

Closing his eyes, Mario listened intently. The soloist played deftly and with emotional involvement. The music was intricate, and Mario found himself drifting away from it. Anya was the cause. She was his third wife. Lily was his first. He had been married to her for twenty-three years, long enough for his son, Paul, to graduate from college. He had endured almost a quarter of a century of marital and agony. He would have ended it sooner; but he not only had a son to consider, he also at that time had been a practicing Catholic.

The marriage ended without any explosion, not even a whimper. On a Friday afternoon he walked into the kitchen and said, “I’ve had enough. I’m leaving.” Lily didn’t even bother to look up from whatever she was doing, washing her hands, Mario remembered.

Four years later, Mario married a former student of his, Ellie. The marriage lasted two years. The woman was pathologically jealous; and he was guiltless of any marital indiscretion.

Shortly after his divorce from Ellie, his father died. His mother had died while he had been married to Lily. With a sizable inheritance from both his parents, he no longer had to scrape by on a professor’s salary out of which he had to pay two alimonies. His new status had enabled him to consider marriage again. By this time, he had met and had fallen in love with Anya, an Indian woman.

Of his three wives, Anya was the most beautiful and twenty-three years younger than he. She had a classic Indian face, black flashing eyes, waist-long, black hair that at times seemed to be iridescent, and exquisitely proportioned body. Her beauty captivated him; held him spellbound. Looking at her nude body not only gave him erotic pleasure but also artistic delight. Her breasts were high in fall with large pink nipples. Her ivory colored skin had a unique scent, especially when she oiled it with body lotion. And, unlike his supremely first wife, she thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of sexual intimacy.

Mario frowned; and the flow of the music caught him again. But the frown lingered. His own sexual needs and her ability—obviously her desire to fulfill them waned as he became more cognizant of the intellectual disparity between them, or so it seemed. But in truth he was aware of the difference between them before they married. She was an ordinary woman with no more than a secondary education while he had a doctorate in philosophy and taught aspects of it, especially those connected with Platonism, at the University. He hoped his overwhelming feelings for her would compensate for her lack of intellectual maturity. Even with this hope for their future, he came close to cancelling the marriage, but couldn’t see any way to do it and continue to maintain his dignity.

The sudden eruption of applause wrenched Mario away from his thoughts and back into the concert hall.

“Wasn’t that wonderful?” The woman next to him asked.

“Yes, quite spectacular,” Mario answered.

“It’s soulful music,” she said.

“Soulful?”

She laughed. “You know—the longing that is expressed. Something just beyond reach.”

Mario cocked his head to the left and raised his eyebrows.

“Haven’t you ever had that feeling that—you know something is out there but you can’t grasp it? I feel that way about my painting. Even with my dabbling, I feel I could do something… something better. But it’s not within my grasp.”

Mario nodded gravely. He understood what she said. “Yes, I know exactly what you mean.” His tone of voice matched his considered nod.

The conductor returned for the last number on the program, The Little Russian Symphony.

Mario thought about the woman’s words. They expressed something about his own ideas about art, but they also expressed his concept of love—the passion, the sexuality, and the intellectual ties between a man and woman. He knew his problem: he wanted to be loved absolutely; and none of the women he married were capable of that kind of absolutism. Lily was passionless. Ellie’s accusations killed his desire. Though Anya had the passion, but she mistook soap opera reality for REALITY never bothering to think about those things that he spent his life thinking about. Once he asked her what she thought about good and evil; and she answered, “They exist.” He waited for some sort of development, a follow-up. But none came. “Why do they exist?” he pushed.

Anya shrugged. With her eyes glued to whatever nonsense she was watching on the TV she said, “Does it really matter?”

Mario wanted to scream, Of course it matters. It matters very much. But he restrained himself and walked out of the room.

Suddenly Mario sensed the end of one of the symphonies’ movements was coming. But because he had not been following the music, he had no idea which one it would be.

The music’s last three chords sounded and the applause exploded.

To Mario surprise the symphony had ended.

“What a delightful afternoon!” The woman next to him said; and she clapped vigorously each of three times the conductor reappeared on the stage.

The applause subsided. The house lights came up; and the people began to gather up their coats and move into the aisle.

Mario followed the woman.

When they reached the corridor behind the box, she said, “It was a pleasure to speak to you.” She held out her hand. “My name is Florence Winter, but my friends call me Flo.”

Mario took her hand and shook it. “The pleasure was mine,” he responded “I’m Dr. Mario Fusco.”

“A medical doctor?” She asked.

“To my father’s disappointment, only a Dr. of philosophy,” he answered. They were still holding hands, and he liked the feel of her hand in his.

“I’m impressed with anyone who has the stamina to get any kind of doctoral degree,” she said.

Mario nodded and released her hand.

“Will you be here next week?” She asked looking at him as they walk toward the stairs.

Mario hesitated looked at her as if he was seeing her for the first time, and with a smile, he answered: “Yes, I think I will.”