The Elevator Scene – Catherine Thoms
The first thing I’m doing when this is all over is getting a haircut, I text my mother. My ends are frayed and splitting just like my mind is frayed and splitting and it’s all I can do to just sit here and focus on my fingers moving across my keyboard without wanting to stop and pick at my hair. My mother says she feels like we’re living the elevator scene from You’ve Got Mail, the one where they’re all talking about the nice things they’ll do for the people they love once the elevator gets unstuck and Tom Hanks realizes his girlfriend, Parker Posey, is kind of a terrible person. Except in this version of the movie, the one we’re living, Tom Hanks is the one with the virus, so maybe Meg Ryan leaves daisies on his doorstep because she takes social distancing very seriously but either way, The Shop Around the Corner closes and I’m still out of a job.
Normally I’d be at work today at the New York City bookstore that inspired that movie, slipping my page-a-day crossword into my back pocket to complete while standing at the register, bothering my co-workers for answers. Now, I’m all alone and thinking about all the things I never thought I’d miss about work, like the old woman who calls every week like clockwork, the one who nobody wants to talk to because you have to speak slowly and loudly and repeat yourself, and because she always asks if we have anything new that fits her very specific interests (beautiful ballet books, girls in other countries, girls with disabilities), and even though we all know her interests by heart, there never seems to be anything for her. I think nobody wants to talk to her because we all feel guilty, for not trying harder, for dreading having to talk to her in the first place. Every week she buys at least one book and gives her credit card and shipping information over the phone. I looked up her address once and saw that it’s a senior living community right off the expressway. The website made it sound nice enough, and at the time I thought to myself that it must be nice to get old and live with all your friends again like college, with activities scheduled every day, and to be able to simply call your favorite store every week and have someone pick out a book for you and pop it in the mail. Now I think of her and I hope she isn’t afraid, I hope someone still answers the phone when she calls, I hope she feels safe and isn’t too terribly alone. Today I thought about asking her—if I ever get to go back to work and if she is still alive (a morbid thought)—why she always calls, why this store, why those interests. Funny, the idea that I could deal in stories all day and never once think to ask about hers.
Catherine Thoms is a Brooklyn-based writer and bookseller. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Honey & Lime, Nightingale & Sparrow, and Oh Reader literary magazines. She retweets Jane Austen memes @c_thoms137.
Untitled – Elizabeth Moura
Mama doesn’t like me writing; but today she gave me a paper and pencil and told me to go ahead. I was very surprised, because she usually takes paper and pencils away from me, and locks them in her bedroom.
I wanted to thank Mama, but didn’t have a chance. She was coughing worse; she turned away from me, coughing like I had done last year, when I got sick at Christmas. Her mouth was covered with one of the thin old dishcloths she was always going to throw away.
What shall I write, Mama, I said, turning my head. She had already left the room; only the cat was there, washing itself again, and staring after my mother. Mama shut the bathroom door, still coughing. She turned on the water in the sink, real hard. It must have been splashing all over, I thought.
I lay down on the floor with my pencil and started to write on the single sheet of paper she had given me.
Here is my story:
I put on my best baseball hat, the one mama bought me, and hurried outside to play with the other kids. I couldn’t find any kids, so I spent time hitting a ball, and watching it roll to a stop far away in the brown field. You’d hardly know it was spring; the grass hadn’t turned green yet; one droopy little dandelion got squashed by the baseball. I spent my day hitting the ball around the field, figuring other kids would show up.
I stopped playing to watch two big black birds pecking at something. They were very busy doing this. I walked as close as I could; they were pecking at a dead squirrel. It was disgusting. The eyes had already been pecked out; one of the ears was half gone. They weren’t interested in me, they just kept pecking. I became bored by them and walked away.
There were no kids coming, so I decided to go home.
I forgot to wear socks, so my shoes flapped as I walked along the street to our house.
I was glad to be heading home; playing alone is no fun after a while. I opened the door and my mother had made my favorite food, macaroni and cheese. I sat down at the table, and when mama turned her back I let my cat eat some off my fingers. I still had my cat to play with. This is good.
I put down my pencil, and ran around the house, looking for Mama.
I finished the story! It’s real good! I said.
She must still be in the bathroom, I thought; the water had stopped running. I opened the door. Mama was lying on her back on the floor; her eyes were open and staring at the ceiling, but she wasn’t coughing anymore. She was very quiet.
This is a perfect ending for my story, I thought; I ran to find another piece of paper and my pencil.
Stamens I have kissed (or, a prayer for our pestilence) – Faye Brinsmead
Ooievaar is Dutch for stork, and a daffodil grows in my ear.
Saying it drives the drear away. Ooievaar, ooievaar, ooievaamen. Hail daffodil, frill of grace, the auricle is with you. If I ask for a lend of my ear, if I beg – ooievaar! – do, please, refuse. I need your brown boot root, I need you bulbous, bibulous. Bubbles, yes; bibles, no. Blessed be the fruit of my fear.
Ooievaar is stork for daffodil, and an ear grows in my Dutch. Finest process powder fights cocoavirus. Droste, Valrhona, E. Guittard Cocoa Rouge in wearable keepsake tin. My daffodil’s corona masks disaster. Ooievaar, poor cochlea. I knew them, Eustachian. Fellows of infinite pollen dust. Here stung those stamens I have kissed… Have kissed… Young Lochinvar stoops in his stirrup. To kiss… Ooievaar.
Ooievaar is daffodil for ear, and a Dutch grows in my stork. They traded loonly in the cloud. That banks on higher cryptoshares. The daffodil craze made the stalk market crash. Hashtags, hashtags, we all fall. My dame has a lame tame daffodil. Daffodo, daffodon’t. Count to happy birthday while you hanitise your sands. Covert short cuts can kill. A sneeze on the breeze is worth 46,000 in ICU. I see you. My anvil restyles your stigma. Your corolla come, your calyx be done, at home as it is in Hubei. For Wuhan and Wuhan. Ooievaamen.
Ooievaar is ear for Dutch. Will a stork grow in my daffodil? I sprinkle sugar on the soil, pray for red-beaked innocence. From time-before marshes, Neanderthal caves of care. I imagine the stork in its yellow frou-frou nest. Wombing a Trojan cargo of reborn souls. A pandemic of peace, itching to infect. We’ll exclench fists, quiver fingers outwards, unthread isolation’s web. We’ll wash suspicion from behind our eyes. Leave three-ply pinatas on strangers’ doorsteps. Cosset random grandmothers with mugs of cocoakindness.
I imagine stamens I will kiss to kingdom come.
Ooievaar, ooievaar, ooievaamen.
Faye Brinsmead lives in Canberra, Australia. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Cabinet of Heed, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, MoonPark Review, The Disappointed Housewife and other places. She sporadically tweets microfictions @ContesdeFaye.
The stars have fallen – Cath Barton
The stars have fallen from the heavens and landed in beds of celandines, blanketing our fields. I would hold them up to your chin like so many buttercups, asking if you like butter and you would bat me away in annoyance because the time for that is gone, or so you fear. And in any case I now have no right. My right is only to follow the line that undulates in front of me and takes me on the path I did not know I had to travel, so close to the edge I did not ever guess was there. Was I blind, or merely unthinking, or downright selfish? Oh, we have all been selfish, we have all thought we could have… No, stop. Now there is just this, now, here, and the swish of the traffic on the road, cars coming and going who knows where or why.
There is, nonetheless, warmth in the sun, which is a kind of miracle after all that rain, the unremitting rain. It was so on the day I learned to make the bread that will sustain us through this. It is an obsession now. I wake and think of how I will mix the flours, lift and fold the dough, stage by slow stage, until the heat, slash and bake. Do stars have these obsessions? Dead? How can they be dead, shining as they do? Only a reflection? The hills would return my laughter. They are impassive, have been there longer than you or I can comprehend. Now the butterfly flits and a humble bee appears outside my window, disorientated, this is not his place, he seeks greenery not asphalt, and flies on, the only way he knows.
Nature is all of this, stars, celandines, rocks, tiny living things, precariously strong. There is, in her domain, neither good nor evil, merely a striving for balance. That’s the trick, to arrive at the point of equilibrium and hold it. It see-saws, the pendulum movement chaotic and unpredictable, even by the largest of the cleverest. Hold steady, fall, regain your composure for a moment and fall again. We must not seek gain. Shall I say it once more so that one of us may understand it? No gain. Look into my eyes, see the reflection of the light from the celandines, feel my breath on your cheek and know that it is benign. This is the impulse, to carry on, to feel the warmth on our foreheads and hear the sparows in the lilac which will blossom in mere days, open from tight buds to an unleashing of scent.
It is merely this that is required of us, to wait for the time of the lilacs, to breathe them in and to let them go, knowing that the pendulum will swing back. Holding on is useless, we will fall. So sit, listen to the birdsong close, the hum of the traffic on the road beyond and, further off, the quiet river and the flow and the continuity of everything.
Cath Barton’s second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, will be published in September 2020 by Louise Walters Books
March is Now Officially 300 Days Long – Sheila Scott
Go for it, brain. The next five hundred words are all yours. Actually only four hundred and eighty six now…seventy eight. Stop counting.
It’s now half past midnight though we all know it’s really only half eleven. I’ve never understood this insistence in putting the clocks forward and back so, for one week either end of summer, our Pineal Gland can sit smugly in the midbrain going ‘Well I’m not seeing any extra daylight here, how about you?’ And Pineal Gland would be absolutely right. All we’re doing is shifting the window ever so slightly while nature rolls its eyes at us like teenagers – mother of f- something just went ‘BONG!’ in the ceiling. Adrenal Glands’ turn to take centre stage and send a muscle-jangling squirt of homebrew amphetamine into the system.
That’ll help me sleep.
It’ll be the house settling no doubt. That’s what people say when big structures make disquieting creaks and groans: the house settling. Should it have hung in there and waited for something better instead? Is it unhappy with us? We’ve treated it well, bought it nice things like windows and doors, hell, even walls in places. To be honest, we’ve practically rebuilt it to the point where I feel we paid a really big sum of money for a patch of ground and the cube of air hovering above it. We even plastered the front room ceiling twice after the first effort applied by Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid fell on our heads before twenty-four hours were out. Perhaps it liked its old seventies vibe with the geometric carpets, spirograph-on-acid wallpaper and flesh-grating Artex.
The big, bricky ingrate.
I do not see why I can’t have a portal. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable request in 2020.
Wy do people like flying dreams. What on (or, in fact, off) earth is so wonderful about flapping around completely detached from anything of substance?
Do fish have walking dreams?
The fox left a turd right in the middle of the back grass last night and I can’t help but feel it was making a statement.
If the CIA and Russian Secret Police are really listening to us through the smart telly, all they’ll get from our house is sarcasm and farts.
We found a summer replacement for Fireplace on YouTube today. In the dark, sodden winter nights, Fireplace really tied the room together, man, and with our first energy inefficient smart telly it actually warmed it too. It was like having an ornamental panel-heater with a light entertainment function. Now we have an ice-cold Euro-thingummy rated upgrade. For the coming months which we shall optimistically call summer, we’ve got Tropical Beach, replete with lapping waves. They must loop these things perfectly because, from the palm tree shadows, the sun stayed in the exact same spot this afternoon for eight solid hours. So did we.
How can it be a full moon when the Apollo astronauts fecked off with bagfuls of it?
No more ceiling-bongs. For now.
gently rocks the chair – Christine A Brooks
When my mother was dying and the end was so near we could hear it creep around the house, creaking floorboards and gently rocking the chair, I made a promise to her. I vowed that, no matter what, she would not die alone.
No matter what.
My family and I stayed with her around the clock, at her hospice bed in their dining room, monitoring each inhale waiting for the corresponding exhale. Each rise of the floral bed sheet seemed to stay longer, resting, before finally releasing and falling to her chest. On the third night of our vigil, I stayed alone with her trying somehow to take in her last last’s and let her know I there and she was not alone.
When Death came, He did not thunder in snatching her away from me with brutal force. He did not cause her pain or fear as He came to be with us that night. She lay in a deep peaceful sleep with a look of acceptance, not defeat, on her waxen face and breathed easily, free from pain. Death joined us that cold night in February with grace and peace and what can best be described as respect. We sat for a moment with Him before He absorbed her last exhale and just like that —I was alone.
If Death should come for you, tell Him I said hello. We’re old friends. He’ll take good care of you.
Christine Brooks is a graduate of Western New England University with her B.A. in Literature and her M.F.A. from Bay Path University in Creative Nonfiction. Her recent poems are in The Cabinet of Heed, Door Is a Jar, Cathexis Northwest Press and Pub House Books. Her book of poems, The Cigar Box Poems, was released in February 2020.
Communion – Glad Doggett
Preparing and sharing food is one of the ways I express myself creatively. But it’s more than that: It’s a way to communicate love. Basically, cooking is my love language.
It started when I was a young, single mother of two small children. I would pore over cookbooks and watch chefs and cooks on PBS. This was before the days of HGTV on 24×7. Back then, I had to seek out the cooking mentors. There was no Gordon Ramsey or Giada on TV at Prime Time.
I watched, I burned, I learned. Over time, I figured out how to combine ingredients to make a dish that tasted good. I knew almost intuitively how to get around in the spice drawer. I never measured or worried. And in spite of being raised in a family that never
ventured beyond salt and pepper, I was not intimidated by what I thought were “exotic spices” like cumin or ginger. I added this and that, throwing caution to the wind. In the end, my reckless abandon became dinner. And most of the time it tasted good.
My kids are grown now and I cook primarily for my husband and myself. But this Coronavirus lockdown has changed everything. I cook as an escape from the uncertainty of the outside world. When I make soups, bake cookies, mix up casseroles, a switch flips and the worries fall away. These culinary distractions come easily. No thought or recipe required. No chemistry involved.
The one thing I’ve never tried until now is to bake bread.
The real test for a home cook is to transform flour, salt, yeast and water into bread. In bread, you can’t hide your mistakes. There are rules to the measurements and bake times. Bread keeps no secrets: too much salt, it’s inedible; too little, it’s bland; not
enough yeast, it’s flat; short-change the rise time, it’s a brick.
But oh, bread is worth the effort. Fresh homemade bread is manna. It nourishes the body, pleases the palate, and delights the senses. Everybody loves warm bread. A buttery slice of bread briefly heightens your senses, and stops your wandering mind. You forget to worry. You just taste joy.
It’s no small thing to create sustenance from a list of ingredients. Baking bread is a form of magic. Wet dough comes to life, rising and breathing. Add heat and the conjuring is complete.
Baking bread is a form of meditation. It requires you to get quiet, slow down and purposefully use your hands to knead, measure and mix the components. You stop to read the recipe, focus on the instructions, ensure the measurements and the oven temperature are right. It requires present-moment attention to wait and watch the crumb become browned and crisp. Time slows; it’s just you and the bread.
Offering the finished loaf to another person is communion. It’s a way to say, “I offer you my time, attention, and love through this nourishment.”
Revels with Nic – Will Fihn Ramsay
Two weeks ago, an actor friend of mine died.
Due to the pandemic, there was no funeral.
There was, however, a brief window to say goodbye. The hour after I found out, I was in a suit, ironed shirt, and at the Chapel.
I hadn’t realised, but here they do open-casket.
So I “saw” him. Made it easier to say goodbye. Talked for ages. Cried.
At the end, gave him a rendition of Revels (Tempest).
Which was so utterly apt. I had learnt it the week prior and had had trouble linking it to death.
Then I walked out. He was a dearheart.
It was a beautiful glimmer of time. Little things. I had chosen black and silver cufflinks. Had combed my hair. (My hair is unmanageable). He lay motionless, peaceful, wearing a tux with a rainbow bowtie.
I remembered our time together and how kind and supportive he was.
And twice when I spoke to him, I am convinced, absolutely convinced, he smiled, and that whilst I delivered Revels he opened an eye and looked at me. And he was still supporting and encouraging me in death. As a fellow actor.
Then the speech just made ever more sense.
And I thought about the bizarre synchronicity of it all. How I’d only learnt it the previous week as an exercise, and struggled, and now everything clicked.
Something important about our friendship for you to know:
We once had a conversation in the car driving back from some terrible am-dram show. We were talking about smoking. We both said we used to. I mentioned how I sometimes miss it and still think it’s “cool.” He looked slightly, ever so slightly, reproachful, said nothing.
It was later someone told me he had only one lung. By then we were already friends. As I believe quite strongly in agency, and don’t like hearing people’s news from others. I cut that conversation and walked away. It was for Nic to relay to me if he wanted and he hadn’t.
And I knew he was ill from what he’d said to me, and that was enough.
And this was germane to how we spoke.
Incidents and happenings and retellings prima facie formed the basis of our friendship. Perhaps it can only be that way with someone who is daily made aware of their mortality.
I don’t know whether he had been terminally ill, nor how he died. I hope it was that final and wonderful natural progression of a life-well-lived and a body worn-out and I was peaceful.
I am honoured to have shared some time and some thoughts with him, and I’ll miss him.
Saying ‘goodbye’ was genuinely lovely, and melancholic, but only in that cathartic way that humans need, and hold a perverse longing for that we never voice.
These layered and muddled thoughts, I hope, explain why the speech was so utterly intrinsic in bidding him adieu as his little life was rounded with a sleep.
Will Fihn Ramsay sometimes acts, sometimes writes. Skis often. Lives in Geneva, Switzerland. You can check out some of his other stuff at http://www.fihnramsay.com
Blossom – Sherri Turner
There is a tree in next-door’s garden, cherry I think, hooching with blossom and purring like a well oiled Ducati. The bees are feeding, oblivious to the danger that they are in, that they are a threatened species. Such lovely oblivion. We think we want to know things, we Google and we Wikipedia and we ask Siri – ‘What was he in?’ ‘What’s the population of China?’ ‘When do the clocks go back (or forward) and which is which?’ Information overload. Stuff we need to know to live our busy-as-a-bee lives and pretend that we are enjoying ourselves. There are things I’d rather not know, things we would be better off not knowing, so that we could just be happy, enjoy the passage of time, feed on the blossoms. But we do know, though nobody likes to talk about it. Or they didn’t use to. Some days there is talk of nothing else. Yet the tulips are flowering as though nothing is happening, as though they can’t hear or smell the fear and the sadness. Thank goodness for that. And please, nobody tell the bees.
A Little Bit of Rain – Michelle Noonan
Midday on a warm Sunday, I’m out for a run. The streets are quiet, empty of both cars and people. A bright orange sign warns that the park is closed until further notice. I think of that app I used to use while running, the one with the story in which you run from zombies in your search for survival supplies. Wouldn’t that be so eerie right now? I’m tempted to try it, for a moment, before deciding maybe that would be a little too spooky even for this horror movie lover. The sky is gray and somber, like everyone’s recent mood. But as I turn the corner, I discover brightly colored words chalked across the sidewalk. Messages left by neighborhood children: be happy, love always, read books, keep learning, learn love. One has drawn a rainbow, with a reminder that you can’t have a rainbow without a little bit of rain. I stop to take a picture of each one, grateful to be smiling. I start to notice other bright bits of the day: birds singing, trees budding, a few flowers beginning to bloom. Amidst all the news of illness and death and looming catastrophe, the world is coming to life as it always does in the spring. Our children remain hopeful. I think of the parents or teachers or whoever sparked the idea of leaving messages on the sidewalk, and am reminded that this is how we care for our children. We give them hope. We remind them of the bright spots and silver linings. I think about how opening my eyes to let in the light, to notice beauty, has kept me going since I tried to take my own life last year. How long I struggled, clawing my way through each day for the sake of my own children, with determination but without true desire to live. And now here I am, running on this sidewalk, shedding worry with every step and hearing, for the first time in a long time, the voice inside myself that wants to live. I want to keep going, keep moving, keep living, keep running. I want to see where life will lead me now, to see what will happen, who I’ll become, who my children will become. And I’m scared, not of becoming ill or of dying, but of not living, of missing out, of not being able to experience what the future holds, however grim or joyful or difficult or exhilarating it might be. I want to be. I want to become. I want to learn. I want to always be this free, the way I am right now, running through the cool spring air, my body moving as if this is what I were born for, heart pumping, lungs working, eyes seeing, ears hearing. The earth beneath me is solid, the sky above boundless with promise and wonder. The birds are singing. Each step I take feels like a wish, like a mantra, like a promise to my children: alive, alive, alive.