If it were
up to me, I’d drop you
down a well. I’d do it
turn a tide,
make strong tea. You’ll be
happy in hell— if it were
up to me.
For my serenity, I’d risk a
demon’s cell, I’d do it
you like a flea. You’re a
rotten egg smell. If it were
up to me,
I’d cut you
down, a tree that wept
before it fell. I’d do it
worry. You’ve no
more lies to tell. If it were
up to me, I’d do it
Kenneth Pobo had three new books in 2015: When The Light Turns Green
(Spruce Alley Press), Bend of Quiet (Blue Light Press), and Booking
Rooms in the Kuiper Belt (Urban Farmhouse Press). He teaches creative
writing and English at Widener University. He gardens, is somewhat of
an authority on Tommy James and the Shondells, and plans to read Hardy’s
Return of the Native this June.
My day begins in moonlight. I smell a wind shift lifting blades of grass from somewhere, skipping over stones, surrounding my heart. I am so glad of this. Come with me to the edge of tears where candles gutter but stay lit to cast a protective light over blue-iced holiday store fronts. Let’s gather our cohort. We have places to get to now that the streets are cleared of snow. Let’s go full tilt. That way we’ll never fail. My brain sings with passionate intensity.
Gail Slater builds her life around poetry and teaching ESL. She’s published in Northeast Journal, Old Ship Poets, Castle Rock Press and has workshopped her work in Cambridge MA, New York NY and Sligo Ire.
When a [man] is killed, the cicadas go looking for their shells, and put them on again and climb back into the earth and the year returns to February … .
A woman tries to remember the name of her [husband] but each letter is so heavy that carrying a whole word to the front of her [brain] is hard.
“I swear, Merk, the American Embassy is run by
a bunch of goddamned ingrate maggots.” I
folded tissue paper around the red silk kimono Merk bought me in Hong Kong.
know.” He listened to my tirade, nodding
in appropriate places.
a hard day at school, I walked into the Embassy office at one o’clock and left
two hours later, when they completed the paper work for our exit visas. Of
course, we would have to live in a county that requires an exit visa.” I put
rings and bracelets in a silk travel case, medication in pill boxes. “I mean
entrance visas are hard enough to get. The woman tells me, ‘Remember, dear,’ as
though I were a child, ‘we’re
visitors in their country. We must
follow “their policies.”’ I felt like telling the bitch, ‘Remember, deary, this we pays your salary, and we could be a bit more helpful.’”
and several guys got thrown in the clink in Singapore last month, for something
minor—disorderly conduct or something—and the American Embassy never lifted a
bloody finger. They finally ended up sending for someone from the British
Embassy who—with great expediency—got them out of jail. I guess the British
have been at international diplomacy longer than we have,” Merk said.
looked at my Day-Timer, studied the open armoire filled with rows of silk
dresses and pants, the bottom lined with a rainbow of leather sandals.
love to go on STO, but it frazzles my nerves, never knowing if you’ll get leave
time, never knowing if we’ll get exit visas, never knowing if Air Nuoc Mam is
flying. I never believe we’re going until the plane is airborne. Actually, not
until we land.”
quit contemplating your navel and finish packing.” He grinned. He found the word omphaloskepsis
in our unabridged dictionary one day, walked into the bathroom, announced to me
as I soaked in the tub, he’d found the key to my existence. He lorded his
psychology degree over me, that and his four years seniority. He knew me better
than I knew myself. “You still have a few things handing in the closet.” I
couldn’t bear to be uncomfortable. “The Princess and the Pea Syndrome” he
called it. And I insisted on being perfectly put together, in the 50s tradition
we were raised—the “revised” Christ Complex: be ye perfect.
phone rang. “Let Nhàn get it.” He looked out the window. “There’s the van. If
you need anything, Baby,” he reached under my short miniskirt and snapped my
lace pants, “we’ll buy it in Bangkok.
was a special STO. It was my birthday and our second anniversary. Last year we
went to Hong Kong in September. We loved the city, its night life. Then at
Christmas, we went to Singapore. That holiday was a dream sequence. At the
Raffles, we ran into Bridgett and Frank Ulrich, close Air America friends. We
had “slings” and my first chicken Kiev and baked Alaska. The shopping in Hong
Kong and Singapore was better than Bangkok, but the Thai city remained my
favorite, I had conquered it on my own.
ease of traveling today is never the same as it was with Merk. His Air America
ID whisk us through customs almost as fast as a diplomatic passport. After a
two-hour flight, Company transportation in Sai-Gon and Bangkok, we were at the
Siam International Hotel in three hours. At the Siam, the Thai clerks knew us,
gave us the best rooms, arranged three dozen tiny purple orchids for our
arrival, and decorated my chocolate birthday-anniversary cake with white
violets. I am amazed Merk and my marriage lasted two years. I would have run
home with each fight if I’d been in the states. I always retrieved an incident
I’d been harboring for months, hurl the incident at Merk, no matter who was at
fault, and finally lose face and apologize for being a twit. The last apology
was for getting pissed at Merk and leaving him at Raush’s party. I don’t
remember what I was pissed about. He had to scale the six-foot wall outside the
house, wake Nhàn at three in the morning, and sleep on the couch. Merk seemed
grateful that I loved him. At our wedding in Texas two years earlier, his
friends from Virginia told me he had never been happier.
Merk took pictures of everything. Had he not,
I would have few memories. I sometimes wonder if he was recording memories for
me to have later—when he was gone.
night in Bangkok, we had a romantic dinner, great sex. Pictures at dinner.
Pictures in my new peignoir. Pictures I was sure couldn’t be developed. The
next day we went sightseeing, early before the sun was too hot, early so we
could see everything. More pictures on the floating market tour. A lady and her
husband sat by us in the small narrow boat. I remember being shocked when she
told me she lived in South Korea. It was dangerous, wasn’t it? I asked her. She
gasped when I said I lived in Viêt-Nam. I explained Sai-Gon was perfectly safe.
Minor tear gas incidents, the occasional rocket, monks torching themselves. I
rarely noticed military fatigues and Mattel toy guns. More pictures of a
solitary monk and his oarsman in a boat beside us on the klong. Pictures of a man
brushing his teeth in the muddy water. Pictures of the King’s royal barge, the
Queen’s smaller one.
the floating market tour, we dashed to the Rama Hotel on Sukhumvit to see Thai
dancing. More pictures of the instruments, a glawng khaek, bongo drums, a pi
chaw, bag pipes, and chings, tea cup size cymbals, the songs now less
offensive, even melodious in their dissonant patterns, the 5/4 rhythm set by
the sitar and tiny finger cymbals less irregular. Pictures of the first dancers
in batik tops and sarongs, dancing slow, like Indian round dances I saw growing
up, simple turns, eight counts, then a skip. Pictures of six Elysian female
dancers performing classical Thai dancing, embellished faerie queens in a
Wagnerian opera—three in ballooned pantaloons to the knees, three in
sarongs—heavy costumes beaded and jeweled, gold and silver brocade, like
iridescent nacreous shields in the sun. All the diminutive dancers wore
spiraling crowns the shape of temple dome spires, haloes framing their faces of
flawless complexion, their dancer hands, smooth, willowing backward, each nail
covered with a jeweled guard. The women move in unison, one flowing river of
light gliding over a faille emerald sea. At the performance’s end, the dancer
closest to me meets my eyes. The girl, who looks my age, shyly smiles at me
before she bows her head, remaining in unison with the other five dancers. Merk
caught the smile. She raises her head. I return the smile.
Merk went out on the lawn after the dance was
over, the sun to his back, so the pictures would be more brilliant. The girls
frozen: arms jutting skyward, legs perpendicular to the ground, feet in awkward
angles to the sky, caught to place me in their world. My sixth-grade students
ask me what it was like, living there. Girls want to know things like that. I
lie, tell them it was wonderful. The pictures seem wonderful.
pictures at the King’s Summer Palace and a souvenir, a temple bell for our bo
tree in Sai-Gon, now hanging in my house by the front door. Merk and I enter
the gate of the ten-foot wall surrounding the grounds and leave the little boys
hawking souvenirs, the traffic and noise, the reality of time. I stumble into a
mirage painted by a Persian artist, a fantasy for kings and queens and other
ethereal characters. The temple walls, the courtyard walls, everything is
covered in gold. The reflection teases the bright sunlight. A photograph of a
two-story statue, my figure dwarfed by it. I beg to see the Summer Palace.
It’ll be cool, I say.
temperature inside is degrees cooler. Everything is spotless. Pictures of
murals, mythological beasts and fables, oversized carved teak furniture,
Chinese Buddhas, rigid arm positions, rounder faces, eyes more pronounced. Not
pictured are my mood swings. A tender bud, brittle and unresponsive in winter,
a butterfly, buom, tattered-winged
and disoriented, backwinded in a hole in summer.
drag Merk out of the palace. We brush against a scaffolding hanging eight feet
up from the walkway. A young Thai woman sits cross-legged, applying thin
squares of gold leaf. She turns to smile at us. Another picture. The swish of
Merk’s Nikon engages numbered images for the future. This
picture I remember, even though the slide’s been lost, probably some
careless student borrowed the slide to prepare a report, but I don’t need it
now. It’s real. Merk says in her lifetime, she will barely complete one wall,
square inch by square inch of gold leaf. The contentment of the young Thai’s
face is mine. Her perfect posture is mine; the straight spine, the green and
golden patterned cotton wrapped gently around her hips, mine; the white
polished cotton blouse, her hair in a chignon, shining iridescent in the sun,
mine: a living lotus: the sarong a lily pad, the blouse a glossy
lotus, petals opening, tan arms joined with reflecting gold, mine.
sun had risen higher and higher. The gold refracting from the buildings,
momentarily dazes me. I peer into the sun, now directly overhead, the red tile
roof piercing thirty feet into the clear sky looms above: the red shifts
upward. The roof repeats the Oriental pattern again and again in romantic
refrain, each lilting point swinging up, around, under, up, around, under,
shaped to ward off evil. No negative Karma must enter the temple: insouciance
preserved and repeated. I hear the bells and look up to see them swaying from
the tipped roof points. They create a lotus blossom. The faerie-like
tintinnabulation of the miniature dome-shaped bells harmonize with the gold
effulgence in the sunlight. Looking at the dome of the temple, staring into the
sun, I feel faint. Our excursions from one alien culture to another upset me
more than I allow Merk to know. Shocking infusion of Eastern mores into my
fragile psyche: alien feelings woven into the warp and woof of my life, all
absorbed into my schema. The dream continues, a schizophrenic disputation: Why
am I here? What is the purpose of my life? But I’m afraid to pause long enough
to find answers.
climb the thirty steps to the temple, then remove our shoes to cross the holy
ground. At the top, before entering the temple, I turn to look below, my eyes
gazing down the steps, steps worn smooth by disciples drawn to this holy place
for millennia. I can see myself in the courtyard at our casita in Taos, sitting
in a worn but comfortable can-back chair, a frayed straw hat down low, shading
my face; in my lap, palms raised upward, fingers suppliant. In the shadows, dew
hangs cloyingly on cornflowers heaped on the patio. A grey field mouse nibbles
on apples stacked by the wood pile. Tiring of the chore, it scampers to the
figure in the courtyard and sniffs, whiskers twitching at bare feet. I sit,
meditating on my writing, compelled to delve deeper into the past, to find
answers. A lone hawk silhouette in the noon sun. A fluorescent luna moth dances
from blue spruce to pine, aspen to cedar, mercurially through the paint brush
and dandelions and thistledown, to light on my left palm, the curling, twisting
tail caressing my encircled thumb and forefinger. I stroke the velvet chartreuse
wings, the Argusian eyes. The black and white etched wings kiss my fingertips.
Opening. Closing. Opening. Closing. Opening. Closing. I am a dry well filled.
Muscles loosen as pieces of a puzzle comfortably mesh. Behind me I feel a
shadow approach. Perspiration runs down my pale cheeks and drips onto my
sundress. The sparrows stop their chattering. The sky is cloudless with the
smell of bitter almonds. The image fades. I feel the thread from Merk tangle.
let’s go in. Are you okay?” One of his hands grips tight at my waist, the other
tight on my arm. His lips reassuringly brush my ear. I cannot allow him to see
behind my mask. I smile, obdurate, and enter the room through the center of the
sunlight diminishes. I am with the dark again and out of the light and at
peace. The cool floor calms me. My feet feel fresh and clean, as though
removing my sandals and the dust on them had removed my questioning.
the temple, the sparsely furnished room has a feeling of asceticism. Remotely
placed at the other end, away from the three doors, the altar holds the small
Buddha. I anticipate a huge room-size god. This altar, however, possesses a
two-foot high, lotus seated, graven image. Carved from a single piece of
emerald jade, the statue is covered in a garment sewn from silk spun with gold.
The focal point forcing my attention, seducing my eyes as I approached from the
outside of the temple, is the small Buddha, beginning initially with the ascent
up the step—elicited to come up the path—educed to enter the temple
doors—magnetism compels me to cross the floor, to stand in front of the emerald
idol. I feel a oneness: a wholeness, a sanctifying fusion. The encounter is
unlike anything I have experienced in a Christian sanctuary. A suffusion with
Buddha Dahmna, the truth.
continue to stare into the statue’s eyes, into the emerald brilliance of opaque
darkness: into the gauche lightness of dark. I feel fear, sitting like a mother
brooding over her young, clawing, demonic, refusing to relinquish the
imprisoned offspring, damning me to an existence of pain, a symbiotic existence
what’s wrong? Are you alright? You look pale, baby.”
He allows me my silence.
just get scared … far away from home … without Mother and Daddy …
sometimes … I feel small and alone … . “
here.” He runs his fingers through my hair and pulls me toward him. “I’ll never
scent of bitter almonds draws me to the three doors. The flicker of a shadow
passes by the middle door and for a moment darkens the sun.
New York Times 18 Feb 1970
CIA Pilot Killed First Casualty Plain of Jars
A U.S. helicopter pilot was killed by sniper fire while ferrying
supplies to beleaguered Laotian government forces on the Plain of Jars. The U.S.
Embassy spokesman reported Sunday the pilot was identified as Jon Merkel of
Fort Worth, who was flying for Air America, a contract airlines to the Central
History is written as we speak, its borders are
mapped long before any of us open our mouths; and written history, which makes
the common knowledge out of which our newspapers report the events of the day,
creates its own refugees, displaced persons, men and women without a country,
the living dead: Are you still alive, really?
Boruff lived in Viet-Nam 68-70 & was married to an Air America pilot who
was killed flying in Laos 18 Feb 70. Her work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, Texas
Short Stories 2, Taos Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, and the Wichita Falls Record News. In
addition, she has work in Suddenly,
Grasslands Review, Behind the Lines, Fifth Wednesday, Adanna, Stone Voices, and Paper Nautilus. Letters of her husband’s
and hers were included in Love and War,
250 Years of Wartime Love Letters. NPR interviewed Boruff regarding her
non-profit Merkel & Minor: Vets Helping Vets: A Class Act Production. She
attended Burning Man 2012 and then climbed Wayna Picchu in Peru on her 71st
Something in the rear of the Plymouth station wagon rattled, kept me awake, that and the snores from my two sisters. We girls filled the rear seat of Dad’s aging clunker, its way way back crammed with our family’s luggage.
At 4:50 AM Dad had uttered one of his many proclamations, “We leave in ten minutes. Anybody not ready gets left behind.”
Even at fourteen, I never functioned well in the morning. I had downed a few gulps of Mom’s battery acid coffee, but it had little effect. We girls had squeezed into the downstairs bathroom of our 18th century stone farmhouse, brushed teeth, pulled combs through tangled long hair, and pestered Mother to let us use her lipstick. Dad paced the hallway outside, twirling the car keys on a finger while his face turned dangerously crimson.
Finally, he shouted, “I’m bloody well leaving,” betraying his British pedigree.
Squealing, us women and almost-women flew from the bathroom, grabbed sweaters, jackets, and purses, and hustled out the kitchen door to the rumbling car. Within five miles of home, nine-year-old Nancy fell asleep. Carolyn clicked on the dome light and squinted at a dog-eared edition of Glamour Magazine. Her 12-year-old femininity far exceeded mine.
In the front seat, Dad hummed classical music that he played incessantly in his artist’s studio. We shared a love of that longhaired stuff, while Carolyn and Nancy wanted to buy Elvis records. The car twisted and shuddered. We shot through the darkness, heading west and south through the Pennsylvania hill country, then across flat farmland into Maryland. Carolyn clicked off the dome light and fell asleep with her head on my shoulder, drooling on my new blouse that I’d bought specially for that summer trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. I complained to Mom.
“Margaret, just put a Kleenex on your shoulder,” she whispered. “You know how hard it is for her to sleep. You’re older. You can handle it.”
Carolyn had survived polio a few years before and suffered recurring nightmares of weeks spent in an iron lung. Our whole family had those dark dreams.
At dawn we cruised through Baltimore, the city asleep, the highway and boulevards still free from the morning’s traffic crush. I retrieved my sketchbook and penciled quick drawings of brick row houses with their identical marble front steps. The day filled with Mom’s complaining about the heat, Carolyn’s chatter about Hollywood stars, Broadway, and the New York fashion scene, and Nancy’s insistence that every fifty miles we take a pee break. After one of these stops I caught the faint scent of Christmas trees in the car. Dad had brought his pocket flask full of gin and had taken nips. He thought none of us knew about it. He was careful, but not careful enough.
Sometime in mid-afternoon while we girls and Mom discussed buying clothes for the upcoming school year, Dad cut loose. “Will you women shut the hell up? I’m trying to concentrate here.”
“Now Charles, please don’t swear at the girls,” Mom said. “This trip was your idea, remember?”
“Yes, yes. I bloody well remember. I just miss my afternoon cocktails. They take the edge off, you know.”
“Believe me, I know – for the afternoon and the rest of the evening.”
I waited for the argument to erupt. But neither of them took the bait. She continued to stare at her Good Housekeeping Magazine, pretending to read while Dad muttered to himself and drove faster. The speed combined with the unrefrigerated sandwiches we’d downed at lunch to make me carsick. Mom looked over the seat and yelled at Dad to stop the car. He stomped on the brakes and we all squealed. I scrambled out and barfed into the weeds somewhere north of Newport News. We were in sight of water and the freshening wind off the Atlantic made me feel better. I sucked in deep breaths. My head cleared. I staggered back to the car, slumped onto the seat and barely got the door closed before Dad gunned it and spun the tires on the gravel shoulder.
“Slow down, Charles,” Mom yelled. “You’ve already made the girl sick.”
“I’m taking a bus home,” I muttered. “You guys can drive this thing into the ditch after that.”
“Oh come now, Margaret,” Dad crooned. “We’ll be there by the cocktail hour. You can walk the beach and collect conch shells, like the ones in those nature books Uncle Alf gave you.”
Mom handed me a Kleenex to wipe my mouth. “You’re gonna love it. My school chums and I used to drive down from the City on long weekends. Took us all day. Back before the war we’d camp right in the dunes near Kitty Hawk. It was so romantic.”
Carolyn sighed and I sensed that her pre-teen imagination was at full throttle.
Dad grumbled. “Your Mother always fantasizes about those years before she met me. Why don’t you ever tell them our story?”
“They’re your daughters too, Charles. If anyone is a story teller it’s you, especially fiction.”
We all laughed, except Dad. I sometimes felt sorry for him, ten years older than Mom and living in a house full of women marooned in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch country. I knew he missed New York, his commercial artist friends, and the nightlife. He told me plenty of stories while teaching me how to draw and paint in his home studio. But the City had…had destroyed him, a nervous breakdown the doctors called it. They’d ordered him to stay away, and he had, for the last seven years.
The late afternoon turned cool. Mom handed me the road map and I traced our progress. We crossed Croatan Sound to Roanoke Island, then pressed eastward to the Outer Banks before turning north toward our final destination, an inn near Currituck Beach and its famous lighthouse. Everyone shut up and stared at the harshly beautiful landscape sailing past. A wide lagoon bordered the western edge of the narrow island, its waters dotted with sea ducks and gulls. Sand dunes and broad beaches formed its eastern edge. Endless lines of combers rolled onshore under a blue sky with clouds tinged in gold. It felt wide-open, wild, desolate, and exposed. A stiff evening breeze bent the dune grass over, bringing with it the smell of the Atlantic. I could almost taste the salt in the air. I shivered with excitement and fear. Was this the place we were supposed to relax? The place where the problems between Mom and Dad would magically dissolve into the sea?
We rolled along for miles, through tiny villages called Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, and Kitty Hawk. Near Corolla we pulled into the quarter-full parking lot of an inn that overlooked the island’s seaward side. Parts of the lot were covered with sand drifts from the adjoining dunes. The two-story structure rested on a raised foundation, with a veranda encircling its first floor. Its wood siding was bleached a dull gray-green, the color of the ocean.
“All right, everybody out,” Dad ordered. “Grab as much as you can. I want to unload in one trip.”
We struggled up the steps and pushed through the inn’s front door into a foyer and a check-in counter. A parlor with overstuffed chairs and sofas opened off to the left while the entrance to the dining room opened to the right. A pleasant looking dark-haired woman relaxed behind the counter. She read a copy of Life Magazine with a sexy photo of Margaret O’Brian on its cover. When we entered, she rose quickly.
“You must be the Colgrove family,” she said. “We’ve been expecting you.” The woman spoke correct English but with a smooth Carolina cadence.
“You are correct,” Dad said, letting the two bags in his hands drop to the floor.
The woman smiled. “We have your room ready for you. You’ll find the inn quiet since it’s the middle of the week. The weather’s been fantastic.”
As Dad signed the guest register, Mom held Nancy’s hand and we girls shifted from foot to foot, waiting for the key and the final dash to our room. Dad had asked for a big suite that could fit all of us and leave space for him to set up his easel and paints. He never went anywhere without them. At Christmas his brother Alfred had criticized him sternly.
“I know you freelancers never take breaks. I’m going to book you into that resort your lovely wife’s been talking about. And damn it, you’d better rest.”
No chance of that happening, I thought.
After Dad signed in, the hostess thumped a call bell twice and a young woman dressed in a maid’s uniform descended the stairs into the lobby. Three chattering couples passed us on their way to the dining room.
Dad stretched his arms and sighed. “Is the bar or lounge open? I need a Martini immediately, if not sooner.”
The clerk frowned. “I’m sorry sir, but we don’t serve alcohol.”
Dad stopped fiddling with the room key. “What the seventh-circle-of-hell do you mean?” His face twisted into one of his ugly sneers, lips quivering. Blood filled his nose veins and he swelled to his full height.
The clerk backed away from the counter. “We…we can’t serve alcohol to anyone, sir. This is a dry county.”
Dad’s eyes got huge and he turned on Mom. “Edith, what the bloody hell…you let Alf book us into a dry county? Are you out of your God damned mind?”
Mom shuddered and shoved us girls into the parlor. “Put your things down and be quiet,” she whispered and rejoined Dad.
Nancy’s lips trembled and tears spilled down her cheeks. She buried her face in my skirt. I’d seen my father furious plenty of times. Several months before I’d found them in our kitchen, Dad clutching a carving knife and pointing it at Mom who’d backed against the counter. He’d quieted down when I’d walked in on them. After that I didn’t like leaving Mom alone with him until he calmed down for the night.
Dad stood clutching the room key and muttering. Finally, he glared at the frightened clerk. “Here’s your damn key. We’re leaving.” He slammed the key on the counter and turned toward the front door.
“Please…please, sir,” the clerk pleaded. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy your stay with us. We have a fine dining room…and…and the island is so beautiful. Why don’t you take a look?” She pointed through a side window at the dune tops bathed in golden light.
Dad stormed out the door. I moved to follow him. Mom gave me a dirty look, but I continued to tail him at a distance. He walked into the dunes, working hard in the deep sand for a couple hundred yards before he stopped. He held his shaking hands out in front of him, then jammed them into his pockets. I backtracked, keeping low so he wouldn’t see me, and rejoined Mom and my sisters. She had dragged all of our luggage into the parlor.
“What’s he doing out there?” she asked.
“Just staring at the ocean. I think he’s calming down.”
“I hope so. He’s just tired, you know. It’s been a long day cooped up with us in that car. He’s been working too hard and his New York clients are so pushy.”
“Yeah sure, Mom.”
The desk clerk joined us in the parlor. “I’m sorry your husband got so upset.”
Mom sighed. “He gets that way when he doesn’t have his…his evening cocktails.”
“I have a brother who acts the same,” the woman said and ducked her head. “You know, we can’t serve liquor in the dining room. But we can provide the glasses and ice if you bring your own supply and serve yourself.”
Mom brightened momentarily. “If this is a dry county, where can we buy what…what he needs?”
“There’s an ABC store in Nags Head. But they close early on Wednesdays. You’d have to go inland, probably to Manteo or Manns Harbor, about a ninety-mile run, round trip.”
“Thank you, you’re very kind.”
Mom sat with us on one of the huge sofas, cradling Nancy’s head in her lap. That kid could sleep anywhere, anytime. In a little while, Dad returned. He kept his hands in his pockets. Mom, Dad and the desk clerk huddled at the counter. In a few minutes Mom returned to the parlor.
“Now listen to me, girls. Your father and I are going for a drive to buy some…supplies. We should be gone a couple of hours. But don’t worry if it’s longer.”
“I should come with you,” I said. “You know how Dad can get…”
“No, you stay here with your sisters. The night maid will also help out. They’ll bring you food here…I know how you all love spaghetti.”
Nancy and Carolyn grinned at the idea.
“But why can’t we just go to the room?” I asked.
Mom tisked. “They don’t like children left unsupervised in the rooms. Besides, your father hasn’t exactly given them a good impression of us.”
“Come on, Edith,” Dad called. “Let’s get moving while there’s still some light.”
Mom touched my cheek and hurried to join him. At the door she glanced back, her lips turned downward, and waved. The door clicked softly behind them. We settled into the parlor. I read from a book of Shakespeare’s plays that Uncle Alf had given me for my birthday. The night maid approached me slowly. She had a pretty face with blonde hair tied in a bun.
“Ma name’s Lucy. Sorry your folks had to run off and leave ya with me,” she said, smiling. “Y’all feel like eatin’ supper?”
“God yes,” I blurted, realizing how famished I felt. My sisters nodded vigorously.
“I’ll bring it to ya here,” she said. “That way me and Evelyn can keep track of y’all.”
I nodded sheepishly, not wanting to acknowledge that I needed to be babysat, but grateful for the help with my sisters. After spreading a cloth on one of the parlor’s low tables, Lucy brought us plates of spaghetti and meatballs, with hot garlic bread. We girls sat Indian style around it, slurping up the noodles and trying not to mess our clothes. Other inn guests descended the stairs, heading for the dining room. They stopped to gawk at us and whisper to themselves. Nancy greeted them with a wide grin and a face smeared with tomato sauce.
After eating we cleaned up in a tiny bathroom off the foyer. Returning to the parlor, we found that Lucy had left us board games, including one of my favorites, called Risk, and fashion magazines for Carolyn. A wall clock in the corner chimed every fifteen minutes. After the dining room emptied, Lucy joined us and told stories about the Outer Banks, how her family had lived there since before the Depression, had survived hurricanes with huge storm waves that had cut clear across the barrier island and created temporary channels between the east and west shorelines.
Outside the wind picked up and slammed against the inn, causing it to creak and groan. The louder it howled the more nervous I got. Two hours passed, then three. The desk clerk turned off the light over the check-in counter and disappeared into her adjoining apartment. Lucy left to turn down beds and to service the restrooms. Lights in the dining room flickered off and the kitchen staff left for the night.
I clutched a couch cushion to my chest and waited, imagining all sorts of calamities that could befall our parents, including murder and suicide. Nancy continued to snore and Carolyn had joined her. As time passed, my fear turned to anger. Where the hell were they? Mom said they’d be back in two or three hours. They should have phoned the inn and let us know they’d be late.
At half past midnight I heard a low rumble. The wind had died and the cold seeped in through the walls. I rose quietly so as not to wake my sisters and moved to a window next to the front door. Our Plymouth wagon had turned into a parking stall filled with a sand drift, its front wheels half-buried. Dad slammed the car into reverse. With tires screeching, he backed out of the space and slid into a vacant one. The headlights clicked off. Mom and Dad climbed from the car slowly. He opened the tailgate and lifted something out. Mom joined him and they moved forward unsteadily, cutting a crooked path toward the inn.
As they came into the full glare of the porch light Mom pushed him away. Her lipstick was smeared, coat open, dress disheveled with buttons unfastened. Dad clutched a cardboard box. I heard the clink of bottles. He put a finger to his lips and shushed Mom who had started to giggle. I hustled back to the parlor, slumped into an armchair and closed my eyes. A blast of cold air hit me as they pushed inside, followed by whispering and more giggles.
Dad’s heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs. Mom laid a hand on my shoulder and I jumped.
“Sorry to wake ya, kitten. Time for beddy-bye.”
“Where…where the hell have you been?” I growled, ignoring her baby talk that she hadn’t spoken in years.
“Sorry. We kinda got lost. Then we stopped for some grub at this little joint on Roanoke Island. Best damn bay scallops I’ve had in years. Reminded me of the time Charley took me to–”
“You’ve been gone more than five hours. You shoulda called.”
Mom smiled and patted my head. “Look whose playin’ the little mama tonight. Relax, we’re all on vacation, remember?”
“Yeah, yeah.” I felt royally PO’d but hugged her hard anyway.
“Ah, honey, it’s gonna be all right.” She rocked me in he arms. “Your father and I just need to…to get reacquainted. Maybe this Godforsaken island will be good for us after all.” She laughed softly and stood to rouse my sisters.
In the morning I woke to gray light filtering in from the suite’s sea-facing windows. I moved to the balcony in my nightgown and stared out at Dad. He gazed along the beach and the rolling dunes with their carpet of golden sea oats. His easel held a large sheet of watercolor paper. His hand grasped a paintbrush, dabbed at a palette of grays, browns, and blues, and made confident strokes. Mom sat in a deck chair beside him, hair a tangle and wearing no makeup. She sipped coffee and watched him paint.
I backed away from the balcony door, dressed quickly and slipped downstairs to the dining room. After gulping a glass of orange juice, I left the inn and picked my way through the nearby dunes, keeping low on their shaded sides. I crouched against a dune shoulder. The Atlantic looked immense, with wave after wave pushing up the strand toward me. The gulls wheeled and turned in the blue-white sky, their cries barely heard over the sea’s constant rumble. I pulled my sketchbook and pencils from inside my coat and turned to stared up at Dad, his thin hair whipped by the wind, his glasses balanced precariously on the end of his nose. Mom sipped coffee and smiled to herself. Their shadows stood out sharply against the building. I began to draw them, trying to capture the details of that moment, to freeze it in time so that I’d have something to show them, to remind them when we got home.
Terry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist-poet wife (his in-house editor) and one skittery cat (his in-house critic). He writes full time, producing short stories, essays, poems, and novels. Since 2005, his short stories have been accepted by more than 200 literary and commercial journals, magazines, and anthologies including The Potomac Review, The Bitter Oleander, Shenandoah, and Conclave: A Journal of Character. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for his story “The Sweeper.” Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist – who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend George Shearing.
Opposite branching, a geometry rising, turns tree into V.
Tens of millions of ash lost.
Emerald ash borer kills in two or four years. Pests work silently. Treetops thin. Bark splits or flakes. Autumn’s yellow fire can’t burn out disease.
Look up. A spreading emptiness.
Kenneth Pobo had three new books in 2015: When The Light Turns Green (Spruce Alley Press), Bend of Quiet (Blue Light Press), and Booking Rooms in the Kuiper Belt (Urban Farmhouse Press). He teaches creative writing and English at Widener University. He gardens, is somewhat of an authority on Tommy James and the Shondells, and plans to read Hardy’s Return of the Native this June.
Light shining through the stain glass, Light passing on printed book cover letters. Little shades pass above the letters, Light flickers over the covers. Little ones, little hands cast shadows, One by one they cast little shades. Pass over the old books, pass away, The little light moves with the little shades, Passes now, passes on, and fades.
Isaac Westerling Sauer is a Pennsylvania poet, currently living and working in West Chester. He received a Bachelor’s degree at Eastern University studying literature, politics, and philosophy. Isaac writes mainly stream-of-consciousness and perspective/narrative poetry.