#74

John Greiner
Plush

Curtains rise. Applause.
The show is about to start.
Please take your plush seats.

 

Alan King
Conundrum

A decade before, my brother
and I were strapped inside the leather
belly of an Oldsmobile 88 that roared

like something feral, with speakers
coughing up bass and spitting rhymes
from Busta’s first album. I don’t recall
where we were headed, just that we

cruised the city with our fresh
haircuts and fragrant whispers
of Egyptian Musk behind our ears.
We thought the secret was in scented

oils, or the abracadabra of a barber’s
clippers reducing stubborn curls to rows
of waves. What we would’ve given for
the answer to the riddles of women,

the open-says-a-me to a hidden door
in the wall they might have erected
for trespassers. And wasn’t it something
deeper than what our father called

a “lack of game,” when science
defined pheromones as nature’s airborne
love potion? That decade, we rode
with the windows down; the breeze

a cool tongue lapping at our sweaty
foreheads, both of us wondering
what the recipe was.

 

 

Kristen Henry
The Hunger

I pulled my neon blue Sunfire into the same spot in the Target parking lot I always did. It was 7:55 a.m. – I still had five minutes to run into the store before I’d be late. The drive there had been a blur. After four years of making the same trip there and back, I could practically do it in my sleep. I’m sure I may have at one time or another.
          I was tired after the closing shift the night before. It was a Friday night full of teens without lives running around and messing up everything my co-workers did. They would giggle and try on ridiculous outfits as I watched them tear a perfectly folded table to shreds.
          I gathered my knock-off designer purse and my already warm lunch, climbed out of the vehicle and walked toward the looming building with faded red letters.
           I greeted Derek, the security guard at the door.
“It’s gonna be a long day,” he said.
“Yeah, I’ll try not to kill myself with boredom.”
           He made a crack about the line of “guests” waiting outside, holding mugs of coffee and praying to get their hands on a Nintendo Wii that we probably didn’t have. They had been out there for an hour already.
           After over four years of observation, I figured out who these people really are. I call them the desperate parents, waiting in line at 7 a.m. for a video game system their spoiled kid absolutely had to have. They always acted like it was a matter of life and death, getting one of these games. I’ve seen them act like children themselves, attempting to rip one from another’s hands like a wild beast after its prey. It made me feel mature.
           I checked my watch: two minutes until I had to clock in. I walked to the rear of the store, thinking about the “guests” outside. The desperate parents are the closest to hardcore shoppers, but they don’t usually reach the ranking. Hardcore shoppers really only emerge at certain times of year, Black Friday for one. They’re a terrifying breed in that they have the ability to blend in with the rest for the majority of the year, making them twice as deadly when they do strike. The hardcore shoppers are much more vicious and violent than desperate parents, and as long as they get good deals, money isn’t really an object. They’ll buy something they don’t need or want just because it’s cheap.
          I think back to my last Black Friday, a particularly eventful one. I stood at the jewelry boat all day, opening cases left and right and practically throwing jewelry into the crowd. Then they unloaded a truckload of video game chairs from the backroom and the crowd dispersed, running to the doors to get their hands on one. I saw an elderly woman walking by me carrying two. She remarked, “I don’t even know what these are but they sure are cheap! I had to get some!’
          I’m sure she got a lot of use out of it. Later that day the hardcore shoppers struck again, throwing TVs at each other, giving a cashier a concussion from a credit card machine when their card was declined and telling me that “I had no right to live.” Clearly she was right: I shouldn’t live if I don’t know the exact location of a pink lotion pump.
           I burst through the door to the Team Member Service Center , where a crowd huddled around the time clock, waiting for the very last minute they could begin their workday. After a minute of searching for a locker, I deposited my purse and sweatshirt, revealing my red Target shirt. I wore it far too often. It even smelled like the store. It was enough to make you sick.
           I made my way through the Employee’s Only door at the back of the store and took the short walk to meet my boss with her fiery red hair and a list of things to do. Things that weren’t officially my job. I cracked a fake smile through my exhaustion and asked about her daughter and fiancé. Bosses like when you ask about them; it makes them feel important.
           After a couple minutes of schmoozing, I grabbed my list of jobs for the morning. Good, nothing too extreme. I could be done in less than a half hour.
           I walked to the front right corner of the store and stopped at the Guest Service counter. Jess was working there. We’re not friends, but she’s nice enough to waste a few minutes with.
“Hey, Jess, nice to see you’re working mornings again.”
“Yeah, I’m finally getting hours again. Unfortunately, they’re all on days with a hangover.”
          She was one of those people who was a borderline alcoholic and didn’t know it. A typical college student. I forced a laugh at her comment, and asked about her night out. After a few stories of expensive drinks, skimpy clothes and creepy men in bars, I got down to business.
“Can you grab me the jewelry keys?” I asked.
           Jess unlocked the metal container holding the keys to all the precious areas of the store: jewelry, electronics, the stockroom and the cash office. She handed me my set and I signed my name into the log book.
           As I walked away, the keys jingled from my belt loop. To some, maybe an annoying sound, but not to me. The jingling keys made me feel important, trusted. They made me feel like I actually had power.
           I glanced at my watch — 8:15. Once 8:30 hit, I couldn’t leave from the jewelry boat. At 8:30, you were essentially locked in.
           I hurried to finish the work my boss had given me: printing labels, making signs and moving purses and control-top pantyhose. It was 8:27 when I took my post behind the counter. Success! Almost. I still had eight hours in the boat to look forward to. Eight hours of boredom.
           I had been working in jewelry for over three years now and I do almost the same thing every day. I occupied myself by watching people who walked by. While they shopped, I studied.
           The store was still essentially a ghost town. A few early-risers walked around the women’s clothing department, already making a mess my fellow team member would have to clean up later. I was used to this.
           I always make a joke to people about how “this job made me lose faith in humanity.” Maybe an overdramatic statement, but most days it felt true. I’d come to be an expert on judging people, categorizing them into almost breeds.
           The night before had been trying. I had faced old women with hats, who tried on Target’s largest and most hideous jewelry imaginable only to be upset they don’t sell clip-on earrings; argumentative men who insist that I can work on their watch even though it’s against store policy and I might injure myself in the process; and far-too-good-looking-men who complained that the men’s rings we sell are hideous and didn’t match their outfits. I hoped today would be different, but I doubted it.
           One breed, the overzealous soccer mom, approached the boat.
           “Can I help you find something?” I asked. It’s my job to say those words, forced into my brain by my ditz of a boss and passed down from the CEO of the corporation, who obviously doesn’t know correct grammar.
           “No, I’m just looking,” the soccer mom answered. She was wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt from last spring’s clothing line. Apparently she came here a lot.
          She walked around the boat, glancing and shaking her head at jewelry that just didn’t suit her seemingly expensive taste. She already wore plenty of jewelry. She had a giant rock on her left ring finger and more diamonds strategically placed on her ears, obviously genuine from the way they shone. She pushed a stroller. Her small daughter played with a doll covered in spit that she kept dropping on my recently Windexed glass counter. At least it gave me something to do later: cleaning passed the time.
          Finally the soccer mom, true to her breed, plastered on a huge fake smile and asked, “Can you show me this necklace please?”
          I walked to the case she hovered over. She pointed at her choice, making yet another smudge on my clean counter. I pulled out the necklace she wanted, one of our more expensive choices, and stood there while she made small talk. For some reason she was trying to justify to me buying the necklace. I didn’t care; she could buy whatever she wanted.
           After staring at herself in the mirror and fixing her already perfect hair, she decided that the necklace “just isn’t right.” Typical with the breed, she proceeded to ask for necklace after necklace to try on. In the end, she bought nothing.
           “Thanks,” she said over her shoulder with a slight fake smile. Apparently Target’s just too cheap for her.
           I checked my watch again. I had seven more hours of boredom. Seven more hours of watching.

***

           As the clock on the cash register blinked to 4:30 I passed of my precious keys to a co-worker, grabbed my things and made my way to the exit as quick as humanly possible. It had been another day full of breeds. The old women in hats and augmentative men had made reappearances as they usually do and I had a few sightings of teenage Abercrombie & Fitch-model-wannabes.
I got into my car and sped off. It felt good to be rid of the Target stench and the mind-numbingly boring work of standing in one place, robotically opening and closing cases when asked.
           The relief didn’t last long though. Something that day clicked; something wrong. With all my time standing in my jail cell of a jewelry boat, my mind wandered, thinking on all the breeds I see every day. They all had one thing in common. They hungered. They hungered for material objects that they didn’t really need. People would fight each other like animals to obtain the hottest toy or the best deal on GPS systems. My co-workers were yelled at daily because of these pointless material objects.
           They all possessed that trait; that hunger. Even I did. God knows I just had to have the new iPod the second it was released. I was no different from the commercialistic people I mocked in my store, the people I studied from the jewelry boat almost daily.
           My mind snapped into focus as I pulled into the driveway of my large brick house. I parked and made my way inside, throwing my bag on the table. I plopped down on the couch with my feet throbbing from the day’s work. I plopped down, and turned on my big screen TV.

 

 

Erik Moshe
PSALM FOR THE CLOUDMAKERS

when true love missed it’s mark
every wisp of dark fume
transformed to a pistol’s bark
Soon…
it got mother nature’s nipples hard, too.

 

 

John Rocco
New Years Day

Arrivals and departures,
arrivals and departures.

My friend Fran’s
Irish aunt used to babysit
Robert Motherwell’s kids
and she knew all those
guys but liked Frank O’Hara
the best. Poor Frank
was killed on the beach
at Fire Island .

Last night at the
airport
arrivals and departures
arrivals and departures
I never go anywhere
I just work at the airport
and take people to it
or pick people up from it
Queens ferryboat driver to
Hades Kennedy Airport
and last night I was picking
up a relative and waiting
airport waiting
when intense young blonde
woman began elaborate
pacing and copying my
walking flirting game at
International Arrivals. We did
it for an hour, she sometimes
quick to anger to sit and mope
or passing so close to me that
her shoulder touched me
as we passed. When I left
carrying bags I could feel
her eyes burn into me.

Back from the airport
I get drunk
to enter this new year as
a Bruce Lee of words
on airport angel acid
called
arrivals and departures
arrivals and departures

 

 

Dave Coates
All Souls’ Night

The envelopes are all addressed,
neatly ordered, earliest to latest,
with my name, in your handwriting.
I pawed through them like a vinyl collector.

Neatly ordered – earliest to latest –
I picked out a narrative as
I pawed through them like a vinyl collector,
weight on my chest like a bad spirit.

I picked out a narrative as
I recalled the tone undeniably yours,
weighed on my chest like a bad spirit.
I would do the voices if I could,

recalling the tone undeniably yours,
channelling you like an amateur shaman.
I would do the voices if I could,
but that would only make things worse.

Channelling you like an amateur shaman,
I touched the page as if it were Braille,
but that only made things worse.
So I put it in the box with the others.

I touched the page as if it were Braille,
as if the letter could seal itself closed.
I put it in the box with the others,
wishing it could send itself away, somehow,

but this letter can’t seal itself closed,
and these envelopes are all neatly addressed.
I wish it could send itself far away, somehow
Without my name, in your handwriting.

 

 

Icy Sedgwick
The Crossing

     Miles of golden farmland stretched as far as the eye could see. The old railroad snaked through the empty countryside, cutting a line through the fields as it meandered across the state. Hardly anyone used it any more, save the occasional express goods train speeding its way west. Transportation had long since switched from the railroad to the highway that cut across it on its way north.
      It had been a highway in the 1950s; now it was just a glorified dirt track. Of course, that didn’t stop young men driving up and down it all night, showing off their cars. The parade of Jeeps, Corvettes, Chryslers and Porsches grew more expensive as the years flicked by. The young men liked to play chicken at the crossing, waiting for hours for a train to pass. They believed they could prove their masculinity by throwing their hot rods across the track just as the freighter bore down on them.
      The crossing had claimed fourteen men over the years, two less than the crossing eight miles west. It was losing notoriety as fewer men raced there. Still, it could be patient. As the last car departed at dawn, it hunkered down, ready to wait.

 

 

Chris Major

Example

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