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DOMESTIC CRUDE -~-
Jane Sweet Asim
Design: George Krause
Litera ture: Phillip Lopate
For futu re issues, submissions of poetry, prose,
photographs and line drawings should lie sent
with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:
Fu11di11g was provided for this issue by the
Office of the Dea11 of Arts a11d Hu111m1ities, The
Academic E11rich111e11t Council, a11d Student
Service Fees of the University of Houston.
Subscription rate: $3.50 per year for two issues.
Monetary donations to the magazine will be
clo Phillip Lopate
Roy Cullen Building
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Houston, Texas 77004
Materials 111ay be s11/1111itted by a11y 111e111ber of
the Unii>ersity of Ho11sto11 fa111ily: st11de11ts,
faculty, workers, al1111111i. We also welco111e you
to joi11 the staff.
Table of Contents -~
2 Pattiann Rogers At the Break of Spring
2 Katlrlee11 Cambor Sisters
6 George Manner A Kinship
6 George Ma1111er Ideas I Don't Understand - 7 Ja111es Cleglzom October Night on the Gulf of Mexico
J. J. Gallegos
7 P/zillip Lopate My Drawer
5 Doug Turner
8 Jane Asim last day of dyeing
13 Jean Stephenson
8 Lora Dewey Fi11ley Elegy for a Descendant of the Half Bloods
18 Carol Gerhardt
9 Lora Dewey Fi11ley A Difference of One
26 Carol Gerhardt
10 Kari11 Hex/,erg Bra11dt My Hobby
33 Doug Turner
11 Drew Derrix Te111pleto11 Recital
12 Drew Derrix Te111pleton Morning, Apt. 201
12 Ja111es Myers Paris Night
14 George Klein Masques
17 K.L.R. Ga111111il/ San Sebastian
17 Lawrence Broclr Eve
17 Lawrence Broclz Lilith
17 Elizal1et/z McBride Vapor Trails
19 Teri Ruc/z Bliss
20 Mark Ski1111er Roland Pfeiffer
23 Ly1111 Doyle Friday Nights on the Floor
24 Ly1111 Doyle Summer Resort
24 Kay Greer Terra Clara
27 Alva Knott Jo/z11sto11 Wild Goose
27 Alva Knott Jolr11sto11 You Have To Be Quiet To Bag A Deer
27 David Oliver On Monday and the Devil
28 Tlro111as Lux Sleepmask Dithyrambic
29 Jessica Greenbau111 Muff
29 Jessica Gree11ba11111 Water #2
30 Susa11 Warren Story
31 Barbara H. Michels Babe's Case
Pnltin1111 Rogers ----------------------------
At the Break of Spring
Caddis fly larvae, living in clear-water
Streams, construct tiny protective cases
Around themselves with bits of bark,
Grass and pieces of pink gravel in mosaics.
Little temples, Felicia calls them.
Albert loves temples and knows a man who lives
Beside one, the northern wall of his cottage
Being the temple itself. He can imitate perfectly
The running of twelve tone bells announcing birth or death.
Gordon wants to study the pattern of clear
Running water covering caddis fly larvae in sunlight
And compare it to the pattern of running bells announcing
Death in the clear morning as seen from below.
Felicia thinks caddis fly larvae can fo rgive any sin
Because they live inside temples underwater
Continually in the state of baptism.
Christ called the body a temple.
Cecil loves bodies and thinks Sonia's is a mosaic,
Dark and unseen, lit as if by light underwater.
To completely cover Sonia himself
Is a baptism of sin Cecil is afraid to perform.
Felicia likes to believe the morning sky
Is a temple immersed in light and by running
Across the open lawn to the arbor house, she herself might
Become the twelve tone sounding of its multiple bells.
Sonia, walking beside the stream after dark, thinks
Any temple continually immersed in the light
Of its own birth and death, has earned the right to ca ll sin
A baptism of performance, clearly forgivable.
Kathleen Cambor •
Last February my sister called to say,
"Please, Claudia, you've got to come home.
Mother's in the hospital again." What
Susan didn't tell me was that she herself
was having an affair with a priest. She
saved that news for when I got there. The
priest came after the unemployed deaf man
she had met in a sign language class and
the divorced Jewish doctor who had abandoned
his wife and only child .
"You sure can pick them," I said. Then I
wanted to bite my tongue before the words
were out of my mouth, knowing that it
never worked with her when I was flip.
We were standing at the baggage claim
at the airport. My plane from Chicago had
been two hours late, I was tired , and, after
the news about the priest, I was wondering,
only ten minutes on the ground, why
I had come home. A man in cowboy boots
and a leather jacket pushed me as he
strained to get his bag from the conveyor
belt, and I almost fell into my sister. I was
pressed against her by the shoving crowd
so that our faces were only inches apart. It
was closer than I wanted to be, and I was
struggling to right myself when I saw that
she was crying.
"You think I'm wrong, don't you? That
this affair is really wrong?"
She shouted to make herself heard above
the noise around us.
"Not now, Susan," I mouthed, looking
around at the airport fu ll of people.
Settled in her car a short time later, with
my suitcase filling the small back seat, I
thought I'd try to be more helpful.
"You know, it's not really a question of
right or wrong. Whatever makes you happy
seems to me to be the issue here. And,
frankly, this priest business doesn' t sound
Susan took a Kleenex from her purse
and blew her nose.
" It's very hard for both of us," she said.
"The first night that we spent together, he
didn't even take off his clothes. He just lay
there in the dark and we talked, and then
She pulled out of the parking lot onto
I pushed my hair back from my face and
rested my head against the car window,
and its coolness, chilled as the window
was by the winter wind, made me realize
that I was sweating. The heater was too
much for such a small car and it made the
air thick and dry and stifling. I fumbled to
undo the buttons on my coat.
" Is that as far as it's gone?" I asked
evenly. " Crying in the dark?"
"No. No, of course not. We're having an
affair. He comes over to my place as often
as he can but it's not easy for him to get
away from the rectory without answering
a lot of questions."
''I'm sure it isn' t."
"I don't know what to do," she went
on. "I think I should be happier. That, if
this is love, it should make me happy. But
it doesn' t. And then I keep thinking, suppose
Mother were to find out."
I wanted to say, "What is it you think
she can do to you? You' re not a baby anymore."
But I didn't ask. I remained silent and
pressed closer to the door on my side of
the car, my sister and I almost hidden
from each other by the darkness, our faces
lit only by the glow from the speedometer
and clock that shone dimly on the dash-
board in front of us. Besides, I already
knew what Mother could do. With blood
oozing from her sliced wrists she could
pick up the phone and call Susan and just
like that she could stop us and bring us
away from our own lives and back to her
Susan is a caseworker with me ntally
retarded adults. The place where she works
is a day care center in the basement of a
church. People who have been institutionalized
for years a re sent home and given to
Susan and her co-workers for rehabilitation
. She does everything for her charges.
She washes them, teaches them to eat,
changes soiled pants, and drives the van
that takes them home each night. She uses
M&Ms for rewards. She spends months
teaching some young man, retarded, deaf,
schizophrenic, how to take the change out
of his pocket and put it in the fa re box of
the bus. Forget that there is no job that he
can do, that there is no place fo r the bus to
take him. She has family conferences with
his parents to report enthusiastically on
his progress, and they nod apprecia tively
at her and look at each other, exhausted
and worried. It is noble work; no one could
deny that. But I wish she wouldn' t do it.
Sometimes she's hurt. Someone turns on
her in unexpected rage and she comes away
with a bruised arm, a cut lip.
"He didn't mean to," she says when we
talk on the pho ne, and I say, " o! Of
course not. I understand that. But that
doesn' t make the blood less real, it doesn't
take the pain away. You've got to find
But I know she won't, just like I know
she won' t leave Cleveland and my mother.
Six months after I packed all my things
in my Volkswagen and d rove away I wrote
to Susan and encouraged her to get out.
"Dear Susan," I said, "You' ll die the re
with her. Find a place to go and run to it as
fast as you can, and don't look back." But I
didn't ask her to come to Chicago. The day
that I left I drove past my mother's house
in the early mo rning and almost stopped
to say good-bye to Susan, to explain, but I
was afraid that she would beg to come
along and I knew I didn't want her with
It's been eight years now, and I'm well
settled in Chicago. I edit a small publication
put out by the library at the university
and the work suits me. I like taking words
and phrases and ordering them into clear
concise ideas. I like being alone. My little
office has a desk, a chair, and a black and
white Chillida print on the wall above my
desk. I have one plant, but it always looks
wan because I forget to water it. There is
no view from my window, only a brick
wall. There are days in that little room
when it seems that I am completely alone,
the last person in the world, with no concern
about who will walk in the door or
call on the phone. No worry about what I
will be required to say or do. And I am
always disappointed when I hear a voice,
and I'm forced to remember where I am.
"How is Mother?" I had to fo rce myself
to ask, and the sound of my voice shattered
the silence in the car and made Susan jump.
"All rig ht. The cuts were superficial, but
messy, lots of bleeding. And I was scared
when I called you. Really, there was blood
everywhe re. But the doctor says it was
just a gesture. Not a real suicide a ttempt."
As if the distinction mattered. As if it had
"I don't want to see her tonight," I said.
"It's late, I'm tired . We' ll go to the hospital
in the morning."
Susan seemed to know not to object.
When we were child ren, my sister and I
believed that Mother would kill herself.
She talked about it all the time, and tried to
do it twice when we were growing up. An
aunt of mine once said that Mother got
depressed when we were babies, when
my fa ther left. I suppose that's true, but I
don't know. My mother never talked about
it and my recollections of that time and of
my father are brief and dim-an old brown
fedora tha t he wore, his large pla in hands.
I have no clear memories of those years to
sift through, no real sense of the re being
some earlier happier time when he was
there. For me it had always been Susan
and me alone with Mother in the small
frame house that was dingy with neglect:
Mother in the kitchen, crying when we
came home from school, locked in her room
on holidays, turning on us if I spilled my
milk or if Susan tracked muddy footprints
on the rug. "You' re no help at all. You' re
such bad girls!" she would shout. "One
day I'll be gone. I' ll kill myself and then
you' ll be sorry." At the slightest provocation,
the tears, the threats, the details . . .
"with a razor blade" . .. " from the East
Street bridge" ... "all those sleeping pills."
Susan be lieved her. When she was no more
than six, Susan would sit o utside my mother's
bed room door all night, hoping that
her vigil would keep the unthinkable from
happening. I would find her there on one
of my trips to the bathroom, her knees
pulled up beneath her chin, rocking back
and forth , shivering in the cold and darkness,
and take her back to bed with me
where we would lie huddled together.
Sometimes Susan dozed with her head
pressed into my shoulder and her arms
wrapped tightly around one of mine so
that I couldn' t move. I always pre tended
to be asleep and lay awake and silent waiting
for morning to come and for the sound
of Mother's door opening, her foo ts teps
on the stairs.
I worried , too, but I was older than my
sister and had convinced myself that if
Mother killed herself, I could manage. I
could get my breakfast, pack a bologna
sandwich and a cookie in a brown bag for
my lunch . I had spent long hours in front
of the mirror learning to make pig tails at
the back of my head , mastering the complicated
business of twisting hair tha t I
could not see, so that when other little
girls could barely brush their hair, I could
make two braids in mine, and even tie
bright ribbons at the ends. I could manage.
Every morning was a rehearsal for the
day tha t Mother would be dead . I memorized
the phone numbers of the ambulance
service, the fa mily docto r, and the priest. I
made Susan wait outside the back door
whe n we came home from school, and I
walked in alone, hand trembling on the
doorknob, throat tig ht, and only motioned
to my sister to come in when I heard my
mother stirring in the kitchen or saw her
shadow cast across the hallway by the afternoon
I tried everything I knew to help Susan
learn to get alo ng. I stood endlessly at the
mirror with her, holding her hands, moving
her fingers, trying to teach her how to
braid her hair. But she could never get it.
One day, during one of o ur lessons, she
cried, "My arms are tired, Claudia. I can't
do it anymore'" and let he r hands fa ll down
to her sides, sullen and pouting and suddenly,
before I knew what happened I
slapped her across the face so hard that
the force of it cut her lip and left my hand
"Baby!" I shouted. "Stupid, stupid baby!
I can' t do everything! Don't you see? I
can't do everything'" and would have gone
on if I hadn't been stopped by the sight of
our reflection in the mirror. Susan was
shrinking from me looking small and withered
as I stood over her, my arms stiff, fists.
clenched , screaming. When I stopped my
voice ra ng in my ears, and I hid my face in
my hands, ashamed of what I had done.
'Tm sorry," I said through my fingers.
The next day I took some money from
my mother's purse when she was in the
bath room and on the way home from
school Susan and I stopped at the barbershop
that we passed each day. I told the
man how we wanted Susan's ha ir-bobbed
was the word I used-and when he was
fini shed, we smiled at each o ther in the
mirror and I brushed my fingers through
her bangs as I pushed them to one side.
"I like it," Susan said.
"And it'll be easy to take care of," I added,
paying the barber and taking her hand.
We held hands a ll the way home, something
that she always wanted and we ra rely
did. It didn't seem to matter to us that we
would be in terrible trouble when my
mother saw what we had do ne. It would
be worth it. Susan would be able to comb
her own ha ir, and I wouldn' t have to hear
the sounds of my screams again.
Intermingled with my mother's misery
were brief periods of warmth and effus ion.
She who rarely touche d us would become
despera te to be close. Even as a little girl I
knew such times would be brief and the
enticement of them could be dangerous,
could tempt us to hope, to let down the
guard that we worked so hard at building.
I stiffened when Mother came near me for
a kiss, slipped out from under her hand
and moved away when she reached to
stroke my hair. But Susan was so little and
wanted it so much sometimes she would
give in and sit curled in my mother's lap
and I'd watch from the shadows knowing
how she'd cry when it was over and the
lap was gone, how she'd come to me and
how tired I would feel when I put my arms
around her and said, " It's all right."
Once when I was reading, my mother
touched my arm to get my attention and,
soft as her fingers were, it felt more like a
slap than a touch. And I ran from the room
crying and couldn't stop, and the place on
my arm hurt all day, as if I had been bruised.
Charles touched that same place on my
arm the first time that I met him. It was
at a party at my friend Marcia's house. I
had lived in Chicago for three years and
knew almost everyone in the room, but I
was standing off alone, sipping my wine,
looking out the window when Charles
approached me. I must have seemed annoyed
when I turned to face him because
the first thing that he said to me was, " I'm
sorry." He stepped back as if he might just
walk away and then went on. "I didn't
mean to bother you. But Marcia thought
we ought to meet." He paused. "She thinks
we have a lot in common."
She was right. We stood at arm's leng th,
suspicious and guarded, talking about the
wine, Marcia's skill as a photographer, the
food we were fingering but didn' t eat. He
was shy and didn't look directly at me, but
at his hands or out the window as if he
knew it would be better that way. I liked
him and was pleased when he called me a
week later and asked me to dinner. We
went to an Italian restaurant and he wore a
three-piece suit and seemed quite comfortable
even though all the men around were
wearing sweaters and jeans. He told me
about his work as a consultant for a large
engineering firm and how he loved the
absolute predictability of figures and equations.
He smiled when he talked about his
work and it changed his face completely
for a moment, but then he was serious
again and blushing as if he was embarrassed,
as if the smile had been too intimate.
I had never been in love before, although
I'd known a lot of men and slept with
some of them. I liked those relationships,
the passion, the brief closeness, but was
always glad when they were over, happy
to start again with a stranger. But things
went differently with Charles, perhaps
because of the traveling he does, the time
we spend apart. When I can't go with him
on his trips it means long separations for
us and that's fine . I like to be alone in my
bed. When he is in town we spend most of
our time together, but Charles keeps his
own place. Sometimes I think we should
get married and I even wonder if I'd like to
have a baby. But I only mention it when
I'm sure that Charles doesn' t want to, and
I can count on him to pull away.
Once we went to Athens. We stayed of stairs. Susan fumbled with the lock on like those of an old woman who has nursed
with a friend of Charles' from his busi- her door and then reached in first to turn too many babies, let her breasts bear too
ness school days arn;i took an hour's drive the lights on so that I could see. I squinted much weight. I pulled my bathrobe tightly
one night to a little seaside restaurant where against the brightness of the ceiling light, around me and asked her for an extra blanwe
could pick our own fish, freshly caught. then focused on the large room-the ket and pillow for sleeping on the sofa. I
We ate outside and listened to the Aegean shabby overstuffed sofa and green chair, turned my head when she brought them
lap at the rocks below the table where we theplantssetaboutincoffeecanswrapped to me not wanting to see the hurt in her
sat. They cooked the fish and brought it in brightly colored Con-Tact paper, the eyes, knowing that she wanted me in bed
whole to our table where our friend insisted poster of the wine and fruit that I had sent with her, wanted to huddle together again
that Charles and I eat the cheeks, the most from Greece fixed with masking tape to as we had when we were children, and
delicate part of the fish, always reserved the wall. The kitchen was short and nar- that I couldn't. And, sitting silently on the
for special guests. He showed us what to row, widening slightly at one end to ac- sofa in the darkness after we said goodnight
do, how to remove that tender meat, and commodate a tiny table and two vinyl- and Susan went to bed, I wished that I had
we savored each small bite, washing it covered chairs. The bedroom was too small never come. I rubbed the back of my neck
down with Greek wine, laughing. But for the double bed and dresser that almost with my hand thinking maybe tomorrow
when we finished there were hollows left filled it, and I recognized the yellow che- I'll just go home. I'll get up early in the
where the cheeks had been, small holes nille bedspread. It had been my mother's morning and put my nightgown and tooththat
made the eyes seem large and opaque and the triangular tear that I could put my brush in my suitcase and say to Susan, "I
in the moonlight, gave the fish a gaunt finger through as a child was still there. won't go to see her. You do what you want
andtorturedlook.Icouldn'teatanymore. Susan's stuffed animal collection sat to but I'm going home." I was almost
I only pushed the chunks of fish about on propped across the foot of the bed, old asleep, half imagining half dreaming that
my plate and wondered why I felt so chilled and worn from too much childish cuddling. conversation when I heard a noise from
by the Aegean breeze. I was holding the teddy bear she had slept Susan's room and realized that she was
The day before I left Chicago to go to with as a baby, stroking his velveteen coat crying and the sound of it made me cover
Cleveland I told Charles that my mother when my sister called to me from the other my ears with my hands.
hadmadeanothersuicideattemptandthat room. And I wondered if in some early un-i
was going home. He wondered why. "Claudia, come and sit. Talk to me." remembered time my mother held my
"What's the point?" he asked me, looking She asked how I was, about my work father's hand and mine and took us for
up from his desk. I had stopped at his and Charles, and I said "Fine," to every- picnics in the park, or if she rocked me in
office on my way home from work to tell thing the way I did when we talked on the the afternoons singing softly in my ear, or
him. I had hoped that he would help me phone. I knew it didn't matter. nursed me in their bed between them, my
somehow--encourage me to go, ask me to She told me everything about the priest. skin touching theirs, under their blanket,
stay, kiss me good-bye perhaps, but he "His name is Paul. Well, Father Paul. I my father fingering my baby hair. I am
didn't. watched him for a long time from a dis- afraid that those things did happen, and
" It's not the first time, Claudia, and it tance. He's tall," she said, and pulled her that what I got from my parents dimin-won't
be the last so why bother?" knees up under her like she did when we ished so much what they had between
Before I could speak he was looking were children, "and wonderful. I watch themthattherewasnothing left.Andwhen
down at his work again, and distracted, him with the people in the parish after Susan comes the breast is dry, my father
but I answered anyway. church, the way he smiles or puts his arm gone. There is nothing left for her. It is as if
"I don' t know. It's been so long since across the shoulder of an old man and I every bite of food I took left hollows in
I've been back. I feel as if I ought to go for want all that for myself. But with me he Susan's cheeks, each day I spent in the
Susan." comes here and goes so quickly after dark I sunshine left shadows beneath her eyes.
I had never seen Susan's apartment. I wonder sometimes if he was ever here at And I wonder, my head aching, if that's
hadn't visited Cleveland since I left, but it all, or if I've only dreamed about his touch- why I don't ever find much pleasure in
looked to me just as it always had. No ing me." what I have.
renovations, no elaborate remodeling of "He says he' ll never leave the Church." Susan grew quiet. The crying stopped. I
old houses in the neighborhood was evi- There were tears in Susan's eyes. "And, of pushed back the blanket, and went over to
dent in those streets where we grew up. I course I've told him that I understand." my suitcase, aware that the first flickerings
had heard about it happening in other parts "Of course," I said. of daylight had turned the sky from black
of the city, but not where we lived. The I listened for a long time. We ate grilled to gray. I found some hangers in the closet
paint on the doors and window frames sandwiches and canned tomato soup. I by the front door, and shook the wrinkles
was chipped, the awnings were faded and had to light the gas stove because Susan from the dresses that I'd brought, thinkworn
from eight more years of weather, was afraid to. I asked, "What are you afraid ing that I should light the stove if Susan
and as we drove down the street to Susan's of?" and she said, "That it will blow up. and I were going to have coffee before we
house, I even saw the '59 Buick in the That I'll put a match to it and it will blow went to see Mother. I took the hairbrush
Pattersons' driveway that they had when up in my face and kill me." With the from my purse and brushed my hair back
we were children. I had been pleased when matches in my hand I turned to look at her until the last of the nighttime tangles were
Susan had gotten her own place, an apart- sitting at the table in the edges of the gone, and, without realizing what I was
ment on the third floor of an old house, lamplight, making ripples across the sur- doing, I began to part my hair as I did
even though it was only a few blocks from face of her soup with her breath. I moved when I was a child. And I had to stop, and
my mother's. They had dinner together to go to her, say something, or put my arm put the brush down, and remind myself
every Sunday. I have often wondered what around her, but I thought better of it and that I don't wear pigtails anymore.
they talk about, and if Mother uses the instead struck the match and lit the stove
good china now that it is just the two of to make the coffee.
them or if she is still afraid it will get Later that night, when I came out of the
chipped, if she uses the placemats and bathroom after changing for bed, Susan
linen napkins I sent for Christmas last year was standing naked, about to slip her arms
or if she's saving them the way she used to into her nightgown. Her skin was pale
save every pretty thing we had, for the and mottled, her thighs lumpy, but it was
special occasions that never came. her breasts that were so striking. They
We dragged my suitcase up three flights were long and pendulous, hanging down
George Manner ----------------------------
There is a need
like the wind that carries scents
to deer in the inevitable clearing,
a need to speak about
the meaning of shadows that collect
behind the heart, a darkness throbbing
near the lungs' great tents.
But even my hands are empty now
since touch has left them.
Oh sure I could walk out,
sit beneath the tree in a one-tree field
and wait for winter. Or I could fish
deep in the mind, be pulled in to drown.
But friend, we each carry in our throats
the same flaw: sometimes a swallowed sca r,
sometimes a wafer soft with rain, and we
both love forgetting. At dawn we search
Thursday's sky for the mother tongue.
It makes little difference that I see a vulture
and you see a cloud shaped like a wren.
Both a re birds, both have hearts too near the skin.
If we held them in our palms we could feel
heartbeats penetrate our pulse: the re is much
confusion. Still it cannot last forever.
The evening without a name is coming.
The speech that has thrown us together
will draw us closer. We will meet outside ourselves.
for Ray Beard
George Manner ---------------------------•
Ideas I Don't
each day becomes friendlier, each night retreats
further. It has even changed its sound slightly,
abcess. At first I considered touching each freckle
on my stranger's back with the tip of my tongue
but I was afraid
they would disappear. Or burn again into the one dream
of air, rinsed of dust and all odor except that of grass
cattle whisper to before they eat.
a banked garden of flowers . And each time you swallow,
one of the flowers disappears, becomes a lump in your
benign throat. A phrase arises about how
you hate, love, crave a forty year old woman
whose wishes tell again the same bathetic story.
Forty-five minutes s taring at your hand as if it
would deliver you, you approach the mirror not looking
for reflection. Eyes closed, you smile into the Gulf.
and k110wing that word from a mirror
frosted by mine and other breaths just after
speech. A finger traces the unreasonable hieroglyph
of an oak leaf with winter a live inside it
across the mirror's surface.
Finger of hand of arm of shoulder of mind tracing
a leaf, trachia of wish so near the heart,
how can one well afford to speak?
James Cleghorn --------------------------
October Night on
the Gulf of Mexico
A thin breeze off the water
murmured between the stilts of unlit cottages,
long ranks diminishing down a narrow beach.
In the rising moon, no wave lifted
from the Gulf of Mexico.
Rig-lights glittered across the lower stars.
At a cottage window, waiting,
maybe for a wave to sweep all down,
I counted to the farthest rig, and dozed
by the moon-whitened sill.
I woke, and the moon was gone
beneath those coastal waters.
Dim freighters churned
near a tanker's hull, a charred mass
tilting under, smoldering red inside.
And a few last stars
hung like rig-lights on an iron derrick.
Beyond them, a bell was calling,
"Come, sink into the open sea."
And the stars followed.
Phillip Lopate •
I am looking through the top drawer of
my bedroom dresser this morning-something
I almost never do. I have a reticence
about examining these articles which I
don't quite understand: it's as though the
Puritan side of me said it was a waste of
time, if not faintly indecent. Since I have
moved my socks to another drawer there
is even less reason to visit these redundant
objects. Six months go by without my doing
any more than feeling around blindly for a
cufflink. My top drawer is a way-station in
which I keep all sorts of miscellanea I cannot
bear to throw away just yet, but that I
fully intend to, the moment things get out
of hand. So far the drawer can take it. It is
too early for triage. But this morning I
have an urge to make an inventory of the
drawer in a last attempt to understand
the symbolic underpinnings of my character.
In it I find a pair of 3-D movie glasses. A
silver whistle. A combination lock in good
repair but whose combination has long
been lost. A strip of extra cuff material for
the legs of my white linen suit-should I
ever grow an inch or two I can sew it on.
One plastic and one aluminum shoehorn.
A button that says Boycott Lettuce. Keys to
old houses and offices. My last pair of
glasses before the prescription changedwho
can throw out a pair of eyeglasses?
Two nail clippers. Cufflinks. A pair of rusty
unusable children's scissors. A windproof
lighter I won at an amusement park; too
bad I don't smoke. Oh, and lots more,
much more .... But before I goon, shouldn't
I try to approach this mess more systematically:
to categorize, to make generalizations?
One category which suggests itself is
gifts I have no particular affection for, but
am too superstitious to chuck out. (If you
throw away a gift, something terrible will
happen: the waste basket will explode, or
you'll never get another.) They include
this pair of cloth finger-puppets which I
suppose were meant to give me endless
hours of delight while sitting on my bed
pretending to be Punch and Judy with
myself. Because I work with children, people
keep bringing me juvenile toys-magic
sets, mazes with ball bearings, paddleballs-
confusing the profession with the
profession's clients! Over the years I have
been given a whole collection of oddities
which do not really amuse me or match
my sense of perversity. Nothing is trickier
than bringing someone a novelty gift, since
each person's definition of cute or campy
is such a private affair.
Now we come to my "jewelry." Most of
these items wandered into my possession
toward the middle of the Sixties during
those few seconds in American history
when it was considered progressive for
men to wear medallions and layers of necklaces.
In my top drawer I find an imitation
elephant-tusk necklace, a multicolored
string of Amerindian beads, and a hodgepodge
of what I can only call spiritual
amulets-tangled-up chains and rings that
are supposed to contain special powers or
that symbolize the third eye. Usually these
ornaments were given to me with the
explanation that most men the donor knew
would be too uptight to wear jewelry like
this in public, but that I was free enough
so as to be at peace with my feminine side.
Little did they know. Each and every one
has landed in my top drawer, enough for
me to open my own jewelry stall at a street
Other mementos of hipper days include
a large brown velvet Kings Road bowtie, a
pack of moldering Bambu cigarette papers,
and both Dump LBJ and Impeach Nixon
buttons. I find it hard to throw away political
buttons-as hard as it was in those
days actually to wear them. There is also a
badge from a conference with the words
"Hi1 I'm--" and my name on it. Toward
the back of the drawer are my war medals:
my high school American History award
with its peagreen/navy/blue/peagreen tricolor,
my yellow-and-white-ribboned English
award, the silver badge from the Fire
Department for best fire prevention essay.
Glory days! They do cheer me up when I
see them, though they are as useless now
as the keys that no longer fit any door.
Those keys belong to the category of
thing~ I kept to be on the safe side. For
instance, an official bank card for cashing
checks, no good to me now since I no
longer go to that bank, but what if it were
to fall into the wrong hands? I find also a
wristwatch case with midnight blue lining
that seemed too pretty to part with, and
that would make an excellent box for safety
pins or-whatever. Oh, and a suedelooking
drawstring purse that once held a
bottle of overpriced shampoo (I seem particularly
susceptible to these packages for
luxury items). I realize I'm fooling myself
when I say I will someday find a use for
.these containers. How can I when I ignore
them for months at a time and forget that
they're there? They live a hidden life in the
back street of my consciousness. Perhaps
the drawer's purpose is to house objects
that arouse only half-digested desires never
fantasized all the way through. That is
why I must not look into it too often. There
are secret fantasies even I am not supposed
Even more than desire, they seem to
have the power of arousing guilt: that is,
they have fixed me, each and every one,
with the hypnotizing promise not to throw
them away. I find myself protecting them
with an uneasy conscience, like someone
whom I caused to be crippled and who
now has the upper hand. I suppose if I
were to examine the derivations of each of
these keepsakes, many would call up some
road not taken, some rejection of possibility.
Or perhaps they are secretly connected
to each other by surrealist logic,
like the objects in a Joseph Cornell box,
and if I were to Jay them out on the top of
the dresser I could put together the story
of my subconscious mind ....
When I consider my peculiar, fitful relation
to the drawer as a whole, I have to
think back to the original top drawer: the
one in my parents' house when I was seven
and eight years old. There was nothing I
liked better than to sneak into their bedroom
when everyone else was out of the
house and to approach their large dark
mahogany dresser with its altar atop com- must have left it behind, as she did this
posed of the round reversible mirror, the frayed pair of panties. Do you know we
wedding photograph, the stray hair- almostmovedintogether,beforewebroke
curlers, and the Chinese black-lacquered up for the very last time? And finally, the
music box where my mother kept her most forbidden object of all: the five-and-ten
Woolworth jewelry. Then, taking my time, I.D. heart with Kay's name on it. Since I
I would pull open the three-sectioned top have forbidden myself to brood about her
drawer by its brass handles .... What was anymore, I must open and shut the drawer
so fascinating about rifling through their very quickly to skip seeing it, and inevitdrawer?
I used to find nothing very unu- ably I do catch sight of that heart-shaped
sual: some objects of obscure masculine button, the sort that high school sweetpower,
like my father's leather travelling hearts wear. She gave it to me in our first
case, a shaving brush, a pair of suspend- year, and thinking I didn't love her enough,
ers, a wallet with photos of us, the chi!- she accused me of being ashamed to wear
dren. Then I would go over to my moth- it in front of my friends. She was right, of
er's side of the drawer, and visit her course-I have always been wary about
bloomers and her gypsy scarves. I would advertising my heart on my sleeve, whether
pick up each item and smell the perfume: political or amorous. Kay was right, too,
Arabia! ... Then back to my father's side, that in the beginning I did not love her
for some clues into his stolid, remote, enough. And now that I do, and she loves
Stakhanovite personality. In the middle me not, I faithfully continue to wear her
section was no-man's-land, with elastic pin, in my top drawer. It has the place of
bands, garters, pipe cleaners. Once, it honor in that reliquary, in my museum of
seemed to me, I found a deck of porno- useless and obsolete things that stand ready
graphic playing cards. Am I imagining this? to testify at any moment to a ll that is never
Isn't this rather what I kept looking for lost.
and not finding? I know I came across the
rumored box of prophylactics, which my
older brother had assured me would be
there. Yet these balloons did not thrill me
much, or as much as they might have if I
had only been seeking "dirty things." I
was searching for, not clarification, but a
mystery, the mystery of masculine and
feminine. Certainly I was looking for the
tools of sexuality that held together the
household, but this went further than mere
rude instruments: it included everything
that made my moth~r so different from my
father and that still enabled them to share
the same life, as they shared this drawer.
The drawer recorded without explanation
the ordinariness of this miracle that had
given birth to me.
And now I live alone-Oedipal child that
I am. The contradictions of my top drawer
stem from my own idiosyncracies and not
from any uneasy cohabitation of two creatures
of the opposite sex. To pry through
their things, I see now, was a kind of premasturbation.
Where better to indulge than
in the bedroom of one's parents? Even
now I must be affected by that old taboo
against self-abuse-in going through drawers,
at least-which explains why I go
through my own top drawer with embarrassed
My drawer has its secrets as well. To
honor the old prying and bring it down to
earth, so to speak, I keep a box of prophylactics.
Also, toward the back, I am ashamed
to admit, are a few of those ads handed to
me in the street for massage parlors: " Beautiful
Girls-Complete Privacy-One Price
.. . Tahitia-Gives You Just What You
Expect!" and an awful color photo of two
women in a bubble-bath with a grinning
curly-headed man. These are also kept just
in case, to be on the safe side .... A
squashed-up tube of diaphragm cream,
with just enough in it for one more go. Kay
jane asim ------------------------------
last day dyeing
the sweater i knitted is finished now,
warm fall colors, dyed to last when
all the leaves abandon-reds,
browns, rusts and gold,
gold to catch the sun in your hair and
break a hundred hearts when you leave,
or maybe only one.
or maybe only one.
here, try on the sweater-feel how
warm and soft against the skin, how the
colors come together,
each hand-dyed to match the next and
compliment the pattern, blending like
so many paths in a forest
converging on a tiny stream,
then coming out the other side.
then coming out the other side.
Lora Dewey Finley --------------------------
Elegy for a
Descendant of the
Close to ears of the wind,
he lays his head
upon new pillows of re-packed soil,
his eyes attentive to the chant of numbers.
He worked his toes
through blankets of earth
the colors of frozen fire.
He drew pencils across dust,
danced through engineered mysteries,
walking in his polished black shoes.
But we have whispered
in the absence of our goodbyes,
(For Ray Gilbreath)
caught the sound of his hands
whirling in paper on the wind.
I cry out for yet another life
cut down as a tree broken
by our battle with war.
I whisper "Cherokee, Tsa-la-gi."
I repeat his white name,
but this cave in my throat
hollows the long way to my side
and earth is empty of the sound
of his voice. I hear fingers thrum
on deer skin across an absent drum.
We wrap our arms around his echo.
Lora Dewey Finley--------------------------•
~ A Difference
(For Lisa 011 Her O11e-l11111dredt/1 Day)
The trees on Nam San Mountain are interwoven with light,
an upright carpet of greens and gold.
Wind ski tters th rough branches whe re the day floats .
/11 Korea, they hang a 111a11
who cuts a free without per111issio11.
Lisa's hair is fragile- floss ends unraveled from a scrap of fog.
On a summer day; her eyes a re wide, wheels
for her wo rld to turn upon.
Every day they grade the /1eaches at four o'clock.
They erase the day's footpri11fs so they 111ay see
the marks left /1y any new intruder.
But today, Lisa is one-hundred days old.
Here in the yellowed light beside a pumpkin-colored tree,
she tilts her head to watch the wind's hum. Perha ps
she hears three languages, the accents braided together
inside her ears-each sound beating on its own tiny d rum.
In Korea, a half- blood natural child, i1111oce11I
as a tree, is left to die in the woods.
Beneath the sky of my living room, I gaze at the image
of her face. My field birds hear her sing. My hands hold the sun
as she turns on the bed mat of her night.
I await a glimpse of this child, who will help me crack the bones
of a new star.
At four o'clock they grade the beaches.
Karin Hexberg Brandt •
Pretty Miss Wilson wrote in a neat script
on the clean, green chalkboard: My Hobby.
Then she enclosed the two words front
and back with a perfectly matched pair of
quotation marks. As Rebecca copied the
words into her tablet, she tried to make
her letters as beautiful as those of Miss
Wilson. Dissatisfied with the way they
turned out, she tore out the first page and
tried again. And then again. She was still
concentrating on this seemingly impossible
task when Miss Wilson began to explain
the assignment: "For tomorrow, class,
your homework will be to write a onepage
essay about your hobbies. After they
have been graded-and remember, neatness
counts- I will choose the best ones
and read them aloud in class. We' ll also
put them up on our bulletin board for parents'
night. Any questions?"
Ernie, the chubby boy who always made
rude noises after lunch, raised his hand to
ask whether or not it had to be written in
"cursive." Rebecca frowned to herself: "Of
course, it should be in cursive." At the
school she used to go to they hadn' t been
allowed to print since the beginning of
third grade. After Miss Wilson told him,
" Yes, of course, Ernie," Rebecca looked
around the classroom, hoping someone
else would raise his hand to ask the more
important question- the one that would
elicit from Miss Wilson's pretty red mouth
the explanation of that mysterious word
on the board: hobby. But no one did- not
even Gabriel, who could hardly speak En-
glish and was so dumb he had to be held
back in fourth grade twice. He was from
South America, and Rebecca was a little
afraid of him-not because he was foreign
and not because he was so much bigger,
but because he always smiled at her in a
strange way and whispered strange words
to her across the aisle, words he knew she
didn't understand . Then he'd laugh and
pull at her blond curls. She knew he was
teasing her, but it was not the same kind of
teasing. the other boys did out on the
schoolyard when they ran up behind her,
grabbed her lunchbox, called her a "Yankee,"
or pushed her off the swings. These
boys made her angry, could make her cry,
but Gabriel made her feel afraid and she
didn't know of what.
All the rest of the day, Rebecca kept
hoping someone would ask Miss Wilson
what a " hobby" was, but they didn't. If
this had been Green Hills School, if it were
old Mrs. Thomas in front of the class instead
of pretty Miss Wilson, or if her best friend
Virginia had been there instead of back
in Connecticut, perhaps Rebecca herself
would have raised her hand to ask. But
she didn't. At the end of the day, after
everyone else had left the room, she walked
up to stand before Miss Wilson's desk. But
Miss Wilson was busy with some papers,
and after Rebecca stared at the top of her
head, where the pretty red hair was parted
neatly in the middle, and smelled her
cologne, she knew she would not be able
to let Miss Wilson know how ignorant she
was. She turned toward the door quietly,
hoping that her teacher hadn't noticed her.
But from behind her back she heard in a
beautiful voice shaped just like the handwriting
on the chalkboard, " Yes, Rebecca?
Did you want something?" Rebecca didn' t
even turn around as she said, "No, Miss
Wilson," and hurried out the door, her
As she came out of the yellow brick building,
she was relieved to see, at least, that
the boys who always teased her were
nowhere around. The playground swings
were empty for a change, and for a moment
she contemplated taking advantage of the
opportunity. But then she remembered that
Miss Wilson was still inside the school and
could possibly see her through the win-dows,
so she went home.
That night after dinner, before her poppa
fell asleep in his chair behind the newspaper,
she asked him about the "hobby."
Across the room, Rebecca felt her mother
look up from her knitting in surprise. Normally,
it was to her mother whom she
turned for help in her schoolwork; conversation
with Poppa was usually "How
was school today, Rebecca?" followed by
"Fine, Poppa. I got an 'A' in spelling," or "I
got a gold star in arithmetic," or 'Tm in
the bluebird reading group-that's the best,
you know." Rebecca didn't know why she
felt her poppa should be the one to ask
about this particular question, and it surprised
her to see that he was pleased she
did. He took a long time in answering,
looking up the word with her in the big
Webster's and explaining the other words
they found there, like "occupation" and
" leisure"-words that she kind of knew
but not really. As he explained, Rebecca
became very quiet. What if, after all this,
she should discover that she had no hobby?
What was she going to do then? Her poppa's
patience and kindness emboldened
her to put this question to him as well. He
laughed then- but not in a mean way-and
pulled her up into his lap in the big chair.
"So, the little white mouse is afraid she
doesn' t have a hobby? Well, not to worry,
little one-you do. In fact, you have a couple
that I can think of. Remember the
stamp-collecting book that Grandpa sent
you? Well, stamp collecting is a fi11e hobby.
And what about your Brownie camera- the
one your mother bought for you to take to
camp? Photography is a fine hobby, too.
Take your pick." As Rebecca hugged her
poppa for giving her this wonderful information,
her mother said, "You'd better get
busy now, Rebecca. You won't have much
time to write your essay before bedtime."
She w'anted very much then to prolong
this moment with her poppa-maybe he
would help her to write the essay, too--but
he put her down from his lap and gave her
a little pat as she went to her room to get
Sitting at the kitchen table, she stared at
her paper for a long time before she wrote
as neatly as she could her first name in
the upper right hand corner, where Miss
Wilson always liked to have it, and then
on the top line: "My Hobby." Below this,
in imitation of her books, she wrote "by
Rebecca Ruth Goldstein." Then she stared
at the paper another long time as she tried
to decide whether to write about the stamp
collecting or the photography. She had
lost interest in the stamp album not long
after her grandpa had sent it to her. It had
lain in the bottom drawer of her chest since
before they had moved. And the camera
had been rather a disappointment. The
two rolls of film she had been given to take
to camp had yielded less than a half dozen
pictures that contained anything recognizable.
The one of Virginia was the only one
she had taped to her mirror; the rest had
gone into the drawer with the stamp album.
The longer she thought about it, the longer
she felt that neither topic was interesting
enough to make Miss Wilson read her essay
aloud in class, much less pin it up on the
Finally, she decided she would write
about both, hoping that somehow the
quantity of her hobbies would make up for
the lack of quality. She carefully added an
"s" to the word on the top line of her
paper but deciding that that didn't look
right, she erased both the " s" and the "y"
and wrote "i-e-s." Then, she tore that sheet
of paper from her tablet and copied what
she had written onto another sheet. "Remember,"
Miss Wilson had said, "neatness
counts." And no matter how carefully
one erased, the erasure always showed.
Rebecca knew that most of the other children
didn't care about things like this, but
Rebecca didn' t often compare herself with
After she had written "My hobbies are
stamp collecting and photography" carefully
indented, just enough but not too
much, two lines beneath her name and
had gone on to give the particulars about
her stamp album and her Brownie camera,
she had a nice, perfectly shaped paragraph.
But was it enough? It still seemed uninteresting,
and, besides, Miss Wilson had
said a "one-page essay." So she began to
think about how she could make her essay
more interesting, more lengthy, more sure
to be heard aloud in class. She began to
write about what kind of stamps she had
in her collection and the wonderful places
they had come from. She wrote about how
many she had, how rare they were and
how expensive. She wrote about how her
poppa had had to take her album to the
bank so that it could be safe from thieves
and in case of fire and hurricanes. She
wrote, too, about how her camera had
come in a black bag with lots of " attachments"
and about how she had once been
standing in front of her big white house in
Connecticut taking pictures of her best
friend Virginia when a terrible car accident
happened right on her street. And about
how when her poppa called the newspaper
to tell them about the pictures she
had taken of the ambulance and the bodies,
the newspaper people had come to
her house to buy the pictures and had
printed them on the front page of the paper.
As she went on, the writing became easier
and easier, and Rebecca forgot all about
trying to make her handwriting look like
Miss Wilson's. When the essay was done,
it filled almost two pages, and as Rebecca
read it over, her face grew hot as it did
when Gabriel whispered to her in class.
Not really wanting to be done with it, she
copied it all out again on clean paper, and
at the bottom she wrote "The End" and
under it a s ign that looked like this:
~ . She hoped very much that
her mother and her poppa would not ask
her to read the essay to them. Although
she was proud of her work, she felt just
then that she would prefer keeping it to
herself. And she went to bed imagining
what "'My Hobbies' by Rebecca Ruth
Goldstein" would look like up on the bulletin
board on parents' night.
In the morning, after the children had
handed in their essays and were doing the
next lesson in their spelling workbooks,
Rebecca kept glancing up at Miss Wilson
to see whether or not she was grading
them. At one point she thought she had
seen her paper, but she couldn't be sure.
Finally, after lunch, the time came for the
reading aloud. Miss Wilson stood in front
of her desk with the stack of papers in her
hand and said that she would not be reading
anyone's name. Rebecca felt an edge
of disappointment at this, but it disappeared
as she imagined once again how
the prize essays would look pinned up on
the board. The first essay-probably by a
girl- was about a horse and the second
about model cars. Everyone knew the third
essay was by John, the class clown, because
it was all about his hobby of writing essays
about his hobby of writing essays. Rebecca
tried to listen attentively, but as each essay
was read that wasn't hers, her growing
anxiety and disappointment kept getting
in the way. After each one, Miss Wilson
would say a few words about how good
the essay was and how it could have been
a little better-things like organization and
spelling and neatness---things that Rebecca
felt very confident about.
Finally, when she had just about given
up all hope of ever hearing her words on
Miss Wilson's lips, there they were. They
seemed to Rebecca to fill up the room and
spill out through the windows onto the
playground. And as Miss Wilson moved
from the first paragraph to the second, the
children stopped fidgeting, sto·pped snifflingand
dropping things. And when Miss
Wilson read "The End," a ll of them sta rted
talking at once: "Wow! Who wrote that?"
"Whose is it, Miss Wilson?" "Come on,
tell us." They were all looking around the
room trying to discover the author on their
own, and Rebecca sat very still waiting for
Miss Wilson's comments. "Hush, class,"
she said. "This is a very well-written essay
as you all can see, but there is one very big
problem with it-a serious problem. Who
knows what it is?" All the students, including
Rebecca, were dumbfounded, and
Rebecca felt her face growing very hot.
"The problem, of course," said Miss Wilson,
" is that this essay is not true. It's what
we call fiction- a story. When things that
are not true are put into an essay, they are
merely lies. The person who wrote this
essay has deliberately lied in order to impress
you. There are two lessons to be
learned here, class---one for the writer,
whom we hope will not be writing any
more lies, and one for the rest of you,
whom we hope will not always believe
everything you hear."
Rebecca Ruth Goldstein made it through
the rest of the day without crying. And she
made it through the rest of that particular
school year although, all in all, it turned
out very badly. She lost the fourth grade
spelling bee, dropped down into the redbird
reading group, and had a birthday
party to which nobody came-all of which
she unquestionably felt she deserved as
just punishment for being a liar. It was
years before she could tell anyone about
the incident, and when she did, she always
laughed and defended herself by saying,
"But she never told us it had to be true."
Drew Derrix Templeton -------------------------
When Michigan is dark wet green
and mosquitoes whine at the doors,
the heat makes damp curls on my neck
in the Allendale church .
I am awkwardly thirteen
in my too-small confirmation dress,
the June night hugging my skin.
I walk down the a isle
to recite my catechism,
the Hungarian Rhapsod y,
for an assembly of parents.
Students scuff their feet in the pews,
someone's baby cries.
The piano yawns wide, solemn;
I have never played a baby grand.
Beneath the lace, my shoulders itch,
and bent knees drip sweat.
I cannot remember the Commandments,
Warm eyes wait,
my mother nods, eager.
My fingers know the way,
Liszt, have 111ercy.
The Friska tumbles out:
into blessed silence.
The offering is received.
Tonight the heat brings memories
that curl into fingers
and stirs forgotten chords,
the pianist no longer plays.
Rec i ta I
Drew Derrix Templeton -------------------------
We are wrapped
lightly in the cool
of Sunday morning.
The straight green light
from the open door
across our knees,
the twice-read paper.
Our comple tenessthreaded
the purr of the cat-is
sliced with raw volume,
and screaming vocals
and our walls throb bass.
In our honeycombed lives,
intrude on each other,
the stucco walls meaningless
boundaries for air.
We eat Brie
and a French loaf
in bed, never mind
the crumbs, and wait
for the gift of quiet,
the green day hemmed
with wind and the sound of birds.
James Myers -----------------------------
She walks with me
and hungry eyes
appear in the dark
Circus figures do pirouettes
yet their masks fall off
when they see
her face .. .
The sword swallower could
tear out his guts
if she should
pass so near.
causes the fire thrower
to bungle every other throw .
he cannot take his eyes
off her ...
She is not
my kind ..
Dining out on cha rcoal briquettes
on slender razors . . .
She is not unkind
she tells me so
with her eyes
but our walk
must come to and end
for there are too many
who see her now
Par i S Night
-f ean Stephenson
George Klein •
When Bombay was far behind me, I got
down from the bus and started walking
along, trying to hitch a ride-I didn't really
know how it was pone here or if it was
possible. Thereweren'tthatmanycars and
it took me a few minutes to remember that
cars drove on the left over here just as in
England. But at least here was the countryside,
villages, farmers in bullock carts,
water buffalo, goats; and as I walked along
the road, I felt comfortable splashing
through the monsoon puddles with the
smell of animals and warm mud.
Toward the end of the day, a monsoon
shower blew up, the sky grew black, the
branches and leaves on the trees turned
over, the leaves white like the bellies of
dead fish, and the rain came pelting down.
A while later, the sun came out for a minute;
the mud and road smelled of steam
and earth, and the sun set. Exhausted, I
rolled myself into my poncho under a banyan
tree-I was lying in the mud, but so
tired I didn't care. I put my head on a root
and slept, dreaming of Liu.
I woke up for a second when they hit
me. I couldn't get out of the poncho; I was
all tangled up, arms, legs, everythingfeet
were all around me. I was knocked
The water brought me around. I wasn't
in my poncho, but spread out on it, in the
middle of a field, a lantern hissing and
faces shining in white light. They were in a
circle and I was the center of the circle, a
dazed point on his back-and everyone
was looking through my stuff. I thought,
if they're disappointed they're going to
kill me. I noticed they were wearing shirts
and saris and they had very long hair and
were wearing nose drops and earrings and
anklets, bangles, and other matching accessories;
in other words, they were chicks.
My head was pounding. I felt very
strange; something was not quite right.
They were all gabbing: it was Ram Lal this
and Ram Lal that; they were gabbing and
bickering, waving their hands around. They
had deep voices, awfully deep voices for
chicks, and they inspected my passport
and a couple of my knives, got the switchblade
figured out pretty quick and started
snapping it open, waving it around-easy,
ladies-and fighting over who was gonna
I kept my lids all but closed. Then I
thought, okay, I've had enough of this
stuff, time to split, and I jumped up. I
forgot I was dizzy and staggered and fell
just as they gave a big yell, but I got my
footing and started to run.
They tackled me-hard-brought me
down and started to beat me and hit me
with sticks (I later learned they were lathes)
and kick me, and suddenly one chick raised
a long curved knife which I later learned
was a kukri. I screamed just as someone
grabbed her wrist.
I don't know. That might have been it.
Right then. But Ram Lal called them off ...
her off. He was their leader; that was
another thing. They weren't chicks.
I guess that night Ram Lal decided I'd be
useful to them and maybe got a kind of
crush on me. He was a little shorter than I
was, with hair as long as a saddhu's-or
mine for that fact. He had a handsome face
with large light brown eyes, lighter than
most Indians. But the main thing was he
had speed- he was quick- he was clever,
and he commanded the others with absolute
authority. They were afraid of him;
they really didn't know how many bolts of
magic he might be able to deal down on
That night they set right into it. They
had my passport and everything else. I
couldn't do a thing.
They held me down and pierced my
ears with tips of daggers. They smeared
my ears with ointment and hung heavy
silver rings through the bleeding holes.
They made me put on a big tribal skirt, a
sleeveless vest covered with small mirrors
like armor with embroidery swirling in
between them. They had to crush and
squeeze my hands until I screamed to slip
the gold bangles up onto my wrists. By
now, when the others saw how Ram Lal
was fitting me up, they started getting
jealous because he was blowing some of
their best jewelry on me. Ram Lal sat with
the lantern hissing in front of him and
insisted and that was that. No one wanted
to mess with him. He took toe rings and
anklets out of a pouch and put the rings on
each of my toes so it was painful to walk at
first. The anklets had bells on them. Every
step I took made them jangle. Here I come.
When they dressed me, I was still dazed
from the beatings and from the daggers
being poked through my ears. The blood
was drying on them-so when Ram Lal
told me to stand, I staggered. He directed
me to turn to the lantern light. He smiled.
He liked it. His hunch about my white
skin was going to be proved right-another
thing that would add to his power.
When I realized what they were going
to do with the dagger, I fought again, and
they had to fight to hold me down, though
Ram Lal wouldn't let any of them hit me
too hard. I struggled until I started knocking
some of the mirrors off the blouse, and
then Ram Lal came over and slapped me
and said something I couldn't understand,
but the way he looked at me almost stopped
me. When I kicked him, he laughed out
loud. He kicked me back and stared at me.
His eyes were strange. I got feeling numb.
Hands covering every inch of my head so I
couldn't move, they pushed the tip of the
dagger through the back of my nostril. At
the bit of the iron I ground my teeth. I
wished they were at least chicks ....
They set a guard on me. I finally fell
In the morning, they washed the blood
off my face and put some medicine on my
ears. Then Ram Lal brought a small gold
nose-drop out of his pouch and they fastened
that in my nose.
Eventually, Ram Lal and I became lovers
and got to understand each other, he
teaching me some Marati, I teaching him
some English. We passed information
back and forth with our eyes, not in a
faggy way, but in a way of understanding-
this guy is bad news, this situation
is going to get out of hand in thirty
seconds, heads will get bloody ... that
kind of thing.
The first few times, I followed along
with the troupe, but didn't try to do anything.
I was still tan enough from the boat
and crossing the equator-the equatorial
sun-so that I looked dark enough to pass
off as Indian and wasn't really noticed. If I
thought it to my advantage, I wrapped a
half-sari about me and pulled it down
completely over my head, holding the corner
in my teeth like the chicks did for a
quick little purdah while still digging what
was going on by staring through the cloth.
Even on the road, as we would pass in
two's and three's, I'd notice the farmers
in their bullock carts, the women, the
children, everyone giving us wide berth.
They'd see us coming and they'd cross the
Weddings were the big thing. During
the wedding season we'd travel all up and
down through Maharastra and Gujarat.
Oh man, Ram Lal knew all of the rich
ones, all of the important days. He'd map
the whole thing out so that we'd make· a
sweep from one place where there would
be two weddings-we'd hit 'em both-to
the next place and so on and so on.
We'd show up outside the gates of some
Big Brahman's place and you could see
from the look on the chipossi's face right
off that he was thinking: oh, man, now
we're in hot water, the master's going to
be out plenty and these guys are bad news,
no telling what curses ....
The wedding party would come out to
the gates to get a glimpse of us, and surprise,
there we'd be stoned from todiwine
which came from the sap of the todipalm.
And also, they had some very fine
hemp bhang and gunja, or in plain English
grass and hash, and we'd crank up a few
drums, finger cymbals, flutes, harmoniums
and shenais, then dance up a storm for
them, hump and grind a nd dance in
They didn't really have any choice but
to watch. They'd look at each other uneasy
as if they weren't sure how they were going
to get out of this ....
But the main way they were going to get
out of our dancing was by paying us
money-plenty of money.
You see, Ram Lal was known among
our kind as a very potent man, a man to be
reckoned with ... a man of powers. And
one way of keeping these powers from
descending on you and your family in the
form of the bridegroom being struck impotent,
zonk, a womb being scorched barren,
a child being born with two heads or
no legs, or the old man dropping dead or
developing leprosy, was by paying Ram
So we'd dance and the bread would fly.
Ram Lal would indicate by a certain very
cool look that the head of the house had
the right idea, that really, basically, he was
doing just fine, and after a little more dancing,
he'd really get the idea ... which was
our signal at the clap of his hands to do a
few more numbers.
We'd stop and money would come from
the wedding party. I loved it. It was like
In several cases the people treated us
badly. One family we heard afterward was
in a te rrible car accident- the old man fell
asleep at the wheel, veered, hit a water
buffalo; the bride was killed, it took the
police two hours to get the animal out
of the woman's lap; the old man was
paralyzed from the waist down and hasn't
said a word to this day. The police came
hunting for us, but they didn't look too
hard because they might have caught us
and then if Ram Lal ... if ...
Ram Lal insisted I keep my face and
arms covered and stay out of the sun as
much as possible because he wanted me
nice and white.
I have funny eyes, kind of grey green
around the outside of the iris, maybe light
brown in the middle, and a spot of black
pigment in one iris. They have lots of colors,
really, and Ram Lal liked to stare into
them. He'd nod and shake his head as if
he were staring into my head and thinking
pictures on the inside back of my skull. I
didn' t care much for this pastime of his.
He taught me to put my eyes into a kind
of trance look. When I'd faded nice and
white, he put kohl around my eyeswhich
is like black eye shadow-since we
were getting dressed up to go to a big
wedding. He said to me:
When I tell you, you come forward, up
close to the bride and groom. Dance slow
in one spot and s tare through them until
they cover your feet with money. Don't
move until they're covered.
At this wedding, I danced forward and
tranced up my eyes like Ram Lal taught
me. I stood in front of the bride and groom.
I don't think they had tied the s tring on
the ir wrists yet, but here was this bea utiful
young girl, maybe sixteen or seventeenshy,
blushing, in a gold Benares sari-and
her groom, a nice-looking young guy,
maybe twenty, the two of them almost like
fawns, and I felt really kind of mean, and
also sorry for the young girl, but I danced
closer and closer, and dancing in one spot,
I moved my feet up and down slowly so
the only sound was the jangle of the bells
on my anklets. I swayed in front of them;
then, just her, like a cobra; and by the spot
of black pigment, I raised my hands slowly
over my head, and her eyes never moved
Even in the heat, the coins were cool as
they started to sprinkle my feet. Then there
was the feathe ring of bank notes on my
feet and ankles like birds' wings. I sudde
nly realized what Ram Lal had taught
me to do with my eyes-and what I had
known in the jangle of the ankle bells-was
to hypnotize he r.
My arms me t, forming a vault over my
head, and my ankle ts janglP<i_ c;oftly; the
bangles on my wrists jangled together as I
raised my arms higher.
I knew that she was hypnotized, and
suddenly I felt so sure, I looked away from
her eyes, looked down into the circular
mirrors of my tribal vest and saw the thou-sands
of splintered faces of the bridal party,
of Ram Lal, of the troupe, the servants, the
bride, each one reflected in each of the
mirrors, each of the mirrors flashing like a
beam of sunlight on a wave. I looked down
over the left side of my chest, then arched
my back slightly, still softly stamping the
jangle of my ankle be lls like the whisper of
a telegraph. I looked down at the faces
reflected on my back; then, turning slowly
back to the bride, I peered down on my
right side and was instantly blinded by
thousands of suns. It was to my right or it
must have been in the East; my eyes ached,
and I suddenly thoug ht: what am I doing
here?-where am !?-how did I get hung
up in a group like this? I've got to go find
Ram Lal was very pleased with me-as
a lover, as a chela-student. . .. Ram Lal
was pleased that I could go into a wedding
party and knock 'em dead, bring the gold
out of their pockets.
I started getting my own reputation.
No o ne knew who I was or where I came
from. I had various names-the one with
pigment in his eyes, the white one, and so
on. It was a gas watching the brides right
off look into my left iris, searching for a
black spot-yes, it's him!
I'd nod for Ram Lal who would s tart a
smile because word had already been here
ahead of us and it would be a cinch .
I don't think he was jealous. It was more
bread for everyone.
I don't know how long Ram Lal had
been considering this next move, but one
time the show wasn't proceeding so
well-a very uptight wedding party, no
money. I'd been dancing in trances in front
of the bride, but no thing was working.
They were getting ready to heave us out.
Ram Lal clapped his hands and got us
all dancing, not frenetic, but a very steady,
very slow, menacing kind of dance, Duleep
playing the deep drum, very slow, very
loud, like it was tolling, boommm . . .
Ram Lal danced slowly through the
troupe over to me and stared straight into
my eyes, looking up slightly because I was
talle r- though I always thought of him as
taller-and he put his arm around my waist
and taught me the first curse.
It was humid, very hot and close, flies
swarmed in the air; it was the season for
chills, convulsions, viruses, fevers, unnameable
diseases, bad water.
I didn't even know what it was and
maybe that was why Ram Lal taught mebecause
there was no power if you didn't
know what it meant. Maybe he thought
Whatever I said, the coins cooled my
feet in the dust.
They had to pay plenty more that day to
buy the curse back off.
Ram Lal took the curse away himself,
but only after hours and hours, ple nty of
money ... not until the old man got down
in the dust, stretched out his hands, and
cried. I didn't like Ram Lal for that and
wouldn't sleep with him for a few nights
He loves me so much.
And now I'm worth more than ever. He
watches my every move. I've really gotta
find Liu; he obviously knows I'm thinking
We're getting rich.
The other members of the troupe have
grown afraid of me.
The hell with Ram Lal. But he really
turns me on, too. Compared to him, Pretty
Blue was-nah, I loved Pretty Blue, just
different. But I'm almost a prisoner of Ram
Lal. I'd s plit, but what if he curses me?
One day Ram Lal took me aside.
His arm encircling my waist, we strolled
slowly along while he spoke: like a brother,
like a father, like a son, like a lover, in
all these ways, and so many other ways, I
love you more than any o ther person; you
are the most beautiful faced person, the
most beautiful of movement ...
Ram Lal told me lots of other things.
We made love.
The sudden chalky seawater gag of him
in my throat.
We slept. After washing in a s tream, he
said: Now my lover, I'm going to teach
you some simple tricks so if I am ever hurt
or killed or cursed to death or you a re
being hunted, with these tricks you can
survive anywhere in the world .
He taught me to crush a light bulb in a
handkerchief and eat the glass.
He taught me how to get out of chains
How to hold my breath for long periods.
How to take pain.
He taught me tricks in controlling men
with my gaze.
He taught me to put a dagger through
my arm in the space between my taut biceps
and the bone.
He taught me to swallow ha lf of a sword
which he assured me was very good. He
could get it down until the hilt clanked
against his teeth.
He taught me to handle venomous
snakes-cobras, adders, etc.
Simple things like how to slit a pocket
with a razor for a wallet or papers.
The first time I tried the mouthful of
gasoline was like when I let someone come
in my mouth once. I gagged and puked
and wept and wouldn't try it again, but
Ram Lal said it was the fear of the gasoline
that was choking me and not the gasoline
itself, and I said, forget it, Ram Lal, don' t
give me any of that fancy talk, and puked
again. The first time it was miserable.
But I remember another first time. It
was getting dark out. I blew the gasoline
into the air across the torch, saw the eve-ning
stars, calm and still in the purpling
sky, disappear in the orange white blast of
the fireball, felt my face scorch with the
blast, then spat and cut it off like he'd
taught me. (It can go back down your
throat.) ... I sta rted laughing. The stars
He'd been standing right behind me with
a blanket ready'to throw around me just in
case, but when the fireball disappeared in
the air, he dropped the blanket; he ran
over to where l was. He was laughing
hysterically and then kissed my lips, still
sweet with gasoline fumes. (Kissing on
the lips was something I taught him.)
Above us, the low branches of a banyan
tree were still crackling with flames-you
could smell the scorched bark and the sap
from some of the leaves.
Ram Lal explained:
With the things I have taught you-you
will always be able to make your living
anywhere in the world. People will always
pay to see a man risk cutting his arm open,
gag on glass, or catch fire. Always. Their
secret hope is this time he slips and burns
up. With this secret, they feel guilty; you
can shame them. They want to see flames
come leaping through your chest. They
want to see your heart still beating in the
fireball. They will pay to buy back the ghost
they want you to be.
I really loved Ram Lal at this time and
didn't care that I wasn't free to do anything.
l often kneeled and kissed the
ground he walked on. I even thought I
didn't care that much about Liu anymore,
though I loved her more than ever, but
didn't know it, perhaps the worst curse of
So it was more of the same old thing.
Like anything else, it gets to be old hat, me
and Ram Lal and the boys, up and down
the countryside, both of us now with big
reputations, worth a lot to placate and buy
off. And now Ram Lal was teaching me
more and more curses because they were
having such good results coming out of
my mouth. One wedding we showed up
and they had about three astrologers and a
couple of saddhus hanging around ready
to field our curses like infielders shifting
around for a line drive hitter. I brought
down every curse Ram Lal had ever taught
me, all of them, pissed and mean as I
could be, and when they threw money this
time, I laughed and picked it up and ate a
few of the coins and threw the rest back at
the wedding party and the saddhus and
astrologers. I tore the notes up into shreds
and ate the shreds; I spat them out; I danced
on them; I threw them at the saddhus so
that when I caught my breath and looked
down in one of the mirrors, I saw a look of
terror horror and amusement all at once
on Ram Lal's face. When I saw Ram Lal's
lips moving quickly, I knew he was trying
to ward off my evil. Maybe he thought I
was possessed and maybe I am, but when
I saw Ram Lal mumbling preventatives
and anodynes, I knew I had him on the
run, I knew he could be had. I was no
longer afraid of him, a t least completely
afraid of him; soon, I'd find a way to split
and find Liu, because now I knew I was
going to find her.
Out for a walk yesterday evening, at the
edge of a field. Suddenly Ram Lal pops
out from a ditch and says, where you headed,
For a walk I tell him.
He sure didn't believe that. He thought
I was splitting.
He took my hand and insisted on coming
with me. Now I don't like that from
Yesterday, he said he wanted to do a big
show, two hundred kilometers northwest,
small village. I'm tired of going in the wrong
direction; I don't like traveling west, if
only for a few miles. Each morning I see
the sun come up, I want to go that way.
East for Liu. Anyway, Ram Lal said we
could knock off this show in pretty quick
time. We were washing up by a s tream
and I start moving my lips, a plain English
curse, Goddamn your ass, Ram Lal, le t's
move East for a change!
Ram Lal was rinsing out a skirt when he
saw my lips moving. He couldn't hear
because of the rushing of the stream, but
he dropped the skirt, and the current
swirled it away down s tream. Ram Lal
jumped back, then his lips started moving,
what? wha t? He laughed it off, but I
knew he was afraid I'd laid one on him;
the skirt was gone and I had him on the
Finally, I said look, Ram Lal, you've been
good to me, there's no getting around that,
good to me right from the start when you
could have let them kill me for the fun of it.
You've been good to me and taught me
life breath and meditation and lots of street
We've made a lot of bread together.
And you've loved me.
I don't want to be ungrateful, but let me
go find Liu and then maybe we can work
I tried to be kind.
He wouldn't hear of it.
Fear of my leaving is making him irritable.
Impossible to live with.
He curses everyone at the weddings
now-bad curses no matter how much they
pay. I feel guilty because indirectly it's my
fault. When Ram Lal, dark circles under
his eyes, lets the curses go, I repeat the
anodynes as fast as I can to myself. I try to
find someone in the wedding party to concentrate
on. I beam ••••energy•••• with my
eyes••••. Sometimes I get through, sometimes
I don' t. Ram Lal might be jamming
me, but I don't think he can curse them
hard and jam me at the same time.
Just because I wanted to leave and find
Liu, Ram Lal's curses go haywire, they
screw up the entire sense of justice. When
I see the old fathers quaking with fear at
the weddings, I feel so lousy because
they're getting gypped. They're not getting
what they' re paying for. One time Ral
Lal was so angry, he even tried my trick of
eating the money-which pissed me off
because that's my scene .
Another show. Ram Lal wasn't doing
too hot at all, monsoon making him irritable.
I finally had to step in and do the
curse for him. Later, jealous and quiet
under a tree, he stood on his hands and
mumbled some funny little song; I couldn't
catch the words, but anyway, I kept the
anodynes going the whole time.
Still feel uneasy, though, because he must
know lots of ways of getting through, even
though he swore at the time he taught it to
me, that the chant of the four days would
take ca re of anything. I've been jamming
him as hard as I could. He's trying to pick
me like a lock. I've lost ten pounds concentrating
on keeping him o ut. He's not liking
the way I'm looking lately-a littled peaked,
Yeah, Ram Lal, I wonder why. You're
looking a little thin yourself.
We tacitly called a truce when we both
lost another five pounds.
Made up last night and made love, things
good again. Duleep, Ram Lal and me war
councilled up some new ventures. Ram
Lal wants to s teal some kids and sell 'em to
the beggar gangs. Young ones, he insists.
Preschoole rs. We' ll get some of the shepherd
kids; we can sell them to rich old
fags. The rest we ca n nab on the way home
No kids, Ram Lal!
He called me a sentimental fool: Wolfie,
I'll do what I please. We're stealing kids!
Okay, Ram Lal, you steal kids and I
won't ball you no more! Okay? Find yourself
someone else. I'm moving EAST.
I felt a curse knocking on my nervous
system and jammed him .... His face
immediately looked drawn and I knew I
was younger and could wear him down
on sheer animal energy-tho ugh he had
the experience and the moves . He knew it
too, but gave the whole thing up immediately.
Alright, Wolfie, how about this? Let's do
a straight kidnap and ransom.
Ram Lal, kids are out in all forms!
I put a stop to that shit. Kids are where I
put my foot down.
Christ, Ram Lal'sdriving me nuts today.
He's so uptight. Now he's accusing me
and Duleep of having something going.
Duleep' s practicing his juggling, and I've
got a Iota full of gasoline we've siphoned
from an ambassador. I've already put up
one beautiful fireball- almost a perfect
sphere except for the neck itself, and, amid
shouts of atcha! and shabash! from the
boys, I'm feeling pretty good, very fluid
and limber, when Ram Lal sits down next
to me and starts sharpening his daggers
on a whetstone. Sunset, my favorite quiet
time- next to sunrise-and he has to sit
down right next to me and start screeching
away with his blades. Now look, I ask
you, impartially and fairly, isn't that interference?
Isn' t he hassling me? I'm not
making any excuses, but I blew the next
one pretty badly .. . and suddenly, the
ball kind of fluttered and collapsed. The
fireball was coming back at me; it was going
down my throat; I cut it off, duckedsomething
Ram Lal told me never ever to
do-duck. The flame died about an arm's
length from my lips. Lucky. I can' t jam
him when I blow fireballs.
He started right in. You are terrible. You
can do nothing right.
He picked up a torch, took a mouthful of
gasoline and shot out the biggest fireball
I'd ever seen; really, it was beautiful, high,
round, perfect, and it seemed to stand for
a s plit second, stretch, and inflate as though
there were a big face inside puffing its
cheeks like those hoary old faces of the
wind in the corners of the 16th century
maps. Mmmmmm. Ram Lal didn't even
look at me. He flung the torch on the
ground and walked away.
Well, the re wasn't much I could do. I
knew he was trying to take me over again,
scare me, beat me down, and though I
couldn't stand the thought of it, the gasoline
really had me terrified, but I had to do
I picked up the torch out of the grass real
quick like nothing in the world was wrong,
like I wanted nothing more tha n to put
one up in the air, and more, that Ram Lal's
was ordinary, just ordinary.
I think the boys sensed it was coming
down to some kind of contest between us
because they gathered around, I could see
them in a circle at the edge of the torch
I put up a real beauty.
Ram Lal matched it.
I put up another one. I'd never blown
Ram Lal matched it.
I swear it wasn't premeditated. I'm not
that bad. It was when I had the mouthful
of gasoline, it suddenly came to me, and
maybe I was a little drunk or sick or stoned
on the fumes, my head and eyeballs burning
with it; I was so liquid and black with
the gasoline, and now the stars were out
like phosphorescent seeds floating in the
gasoline fumes in my sockets. I held the
torch in front of my lips, saw Ram Lal in
the corner of my eye, his arms crossed
haughtily on his chest, the gold spangles
shining in the firelight, and suddenly, I
turned and spat the whole thing out across
the torch. He looked transparent in the
flames, almost as though he'd been x-rayed .
He started rolling in the flames, his hair
and clothes burning. He drew back his
hand and threw one of the daggers. I could
hardly take my eyes from his flaming arm
to duck. The dagger came at me in flames,
but he missed. Then I knew I was going to
make it, and I threw the Iota of gasoline
over him; in the flames I could see his lips
moving, the fire starting to go down his
throat, but he was still cursing me, and I
suddenly broke through the circle and
started to run across the field for the road.
Some of the boys were trying to beat the
flames out and I hope to God they did, he
was so beautiful, and I didn't want to kill
him. I just wanted to be free to find Liu
again. I felt so sick for her, love, Liu, love,
and some of the boys suddenly started to
chase me. They were about thirty or forty
yards behind, waving torches and throwing
daggers, and they were gaining, when
suddenly I stopped dead, raised my torch
below my lips so they could see my lips
moving, and I began to curse them- things
to shrivel them, make them impotent, make
them blind, make them gnaw their own
arms and legs, things to make them go
mad and things to kill them. They stopped
dead. They made a lot of noise, but not
one of them dared come forward ... I even
walked back toward them, but they backed
up. They were completely mine. I turned
and walked across the field to the road
without looking back once over my shoulde
On the road, I dropped my skirt.
When I took off the tribal vest, I suddenly
realized a big part of me loved the
vest and jewelry. So I took the vest and
smashed it on the surface of the road again
and again the way the dhobi smashes a
shirt on rocks in the river again and again
until my hands were bloody from the
shattered mirrors and the vest was in rags.
I was free to look for Liu.
Elizabeth McBride --------------------------
Sometimes when you come to me
I think of a mechanical bird standing
on the edge of a glass,
dipping its beak into the water.
The street extends itself,
branching into roads. Outside my
window, river deltas-veins of life.
I believe the pavement is breaking apart;
I can almost smell the fresh bread.
In this shadowed room, your arm
curves over me like the arc of a street lamp.
I am grateful for the light.
Lawrence Broch ---------------------------
K.L.R. Gammill --------------------------
Beauty: never more than fragrance of cloves
Borne on that salt air, as inlet mist deferred
To blooming sun; that tangled hair, and earrings
Caught by sun; those leather sandals gilt with dust
That clung to bitter apples, washed with wine;
That laughing, despe rate water-fight in spray
Thrown off by fish-strewn harbor rocks, and strong
Bare toes of mammoth women plying nets
For fishing; brown sinewed arms in cotton sleeves
Drying sweat with a hat-flick; and that dwarf,
Smelling of bacon, from whose eyes the Virgin
Shone and blessed the wilting flowers he sold.
This it must have been that disarmed Charlemagne's
Rear guard, on looking back from Ronceveaux.
Lawrence Broch ----------------------------
I love each creature named by him I love,
I teach their glad names to myself, and they
Teach mine to me. And since that precious day
1 came from him, and for him, thinking of
Just him, I see him and his God above
In everything. And every day I say
My prayer to him, and Him, and every day
I think I hear them answered. Tha t is love.
But sometimes, when he's sleeping quietly,
He stirs and calls a name I do not know,
And then he thrashes wildly, tears the ground,
And wakes up sweating; then he turns to me,
I search his eyes and find a darker glow,
And then he takes me. I don' t make a sound.
I sank when he insisted on naming each animal,
each plant. I knew their true names, but he
wouldn't listen; and the othe r man sided with him.
I whispered love to him, and tried to teach him
what it really was, and he went blank, like when
he prays; and again the other inan sided with him.
I loved him, but I knew him; that angered them both .
So I called a name he' ll never know, and left.
Sanvei, Sansanavei, Samangalaf, go tell the men
I won't re turn; tell his chattel, too. And tell her
I came from adamah, not adam, and I know all
their names. Then tell her I will see her husband
in his dreams; and he' ll feel my hair touch his chest,
and wake, on fire, and hold me when he holds her.
-Carol Gerhardt -----------------------------------------
Teri Ruch •
It is possible Te rrence meant nothing
vindictive when he told me he'd be moving
to New York City next week and that
he'd be living with the jazz singer April
Gardner. Maybe he really thought I'd be
glad our perpetual partings would finally
become a single, permanent one. But I
doubt it. His sorrow was not fierce enough,
his smile not hidden .
When I came home balancing a six-pack
of 16-ounce Cokes in my right hand with a
six-pack of Pepsi Lights in my left, to find
our ste reo missing, along with the Bix
Beiderbecke, Dizzie Gillespie and Duke
Ellington albums, I stopped walking so
suddenly that Martha, behind me with
two bags of groceries, ran into my back
and d ropped a head of lettuce. Terrence,
twirling his trumpet and singing sweet
whispers in the phone, stopped speaking.
He hung up and told me this tale:
Before we hear Terrence's tale, let us
About the author:
Judy Plishker was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin
on December 15, 1957. Daughter of
a Lutheran minister, she developed at an
early age an overwhelming capacity for
feeling guilt. Often she could be overhead
crying, "God I feel guilty!" when brushing
her teeth, when writing letters, when making
love. Martin Luther once said when, at
a cocktail party, someone confided in him
her theory that J. Plishker suffered from a
sick sense of sin: "This is most certainly
About the narrator:
The " I" of this story is not J.P. , but
Hippolyta, a foolishly tense and trapped
woman, confined by he r own confusion.
We weep for this woman.
An aside from an outside voice:
This Judy P. is a bit too harsh . To be
frank, she irritates me with her continual
harrassment of Hippolyta.
Back to what Terrence told Hippolyta:
"On a spring eve fresh with flowers,
April danced with her fri ends in a field.
Like Tess, she was, but even more beautiful
, and bare. She sang: 'Follow me; dry
the tears; warm the snow where the rains
never go. To our home by the sea, we shall
fly. Follow me.'
"She had only sung jazz before, Hippolyta.
I was trapped. I followed .
"What a silly victim I was, Hip. Will you
fo rgive me?"
Hippolyta, hugging her hysteria to herself,
stood in apparent composure before
Terrence, whose crow's-feet were twitching.
She was thinking of Bliss, the pianist
in Terrence's group.
Bliss was beautiful, always swinging
himself in his seat to some inside beat.
Being blind never bothered him. " It frees
me," he said o ne night when drinking gin
after a jam. Hippolyta knew he meant it
and wished she could be as in love as he
was with music. How she admired the
way he smiled and held his to ngue between
his lips while he played, his head moving
fo rward and backward above the keys.
" Bliss! Bliss!" the crowds would hiss.
"Beautiful, brillia nt, blind, black Bliss!"
Bliss never complained about living with
his cousin's fa mily in a one bedroom house
on the hem of downtown Houston. Terrence
(or Terrence and Hippolyta, if she
came to listen) used to give Bliss a ride to
wherever the group would be playing that
night. In the d usk his cousin's house and
those next to it seemed sadly magicaltorn
sheets and T-shirts on lines in the
front yard flapping slowly; children's voices
whining or singing somewhere; an old man
barely visible rocking on his porch; and,
under it all, TV voices chattering.
But what fa scinated Hip most about Bliss
was his honesty and insight. From a pe rson's
voice, he knew their heart. Once,
while Terrence and Lee were tuning up
and she was sitting with Bliss as he finished
drinking, Hip noticed he seemed
wistful and asked him why. He explained
that a man a few tables away was ca lling
another man his friend when he actually
hated him. "Why wo rry over their problems?"
she asked. "All problems are mine,"
he answe red . As she touched his arm, he
added, "Yours make me saddest." Then
he rocked in his chair, humming softly
and tapping his fingers. "Explain," she
insisted. He stopped moving. "Terrence
doesn' t love you and you don' t love him."
Hip felt he had more to say, but, scared,
she placed her hand on his lips . He was
Now Hip thought of Bliss. Then she
thought of some thing else. She glared
at Terrence and said : 'Tm bearing your
fucking baby, trumpet boy."
He smiled .
Hip wanted to hit those trumpet-puckered
lips. She wanted to see Terrence ache
from the pain of the smack and from the
pain of his vanity. Nowhere could you
find a man so protective of his fine facial
"Get out," Hip yelled instead. Terrence
didn't pause; he took his trumpet and left.
Hip copes with the future abortion of her baby:
Hippolyta had wanted three babies: a
brown one, a gold o ne and an orange one.
She preferred fall colors which would match
the decor of her living room. Perhaps, she
thought, they could sit on her credenza.
Then, every week, when she dusted, she
could rearrange them to alte r the effect.
Visitors could use them fo r hat holders,
or, with hands extended, the babies might
serve as coaste rs for coffee cups. The variety
of uses abounded.
I sat in a chair, hand on stomach. Martha
looked at me as she did four years ago in
Sharpstown Mall when, after accidentally
discovering that we both had the same
boyfriend, Gregg Leggio, we drank beer
together in Good Time Charly's and realized
that each of us disliked Gregg but
liked each other quite well. We roomed
together, then, for a year, until her friends
began to sleep all over the house. When I
had to step over Barry and Dean as they
embraced on the kitchen floor just so I
could get milk from the refrigerator for my
coffee, I knew I'd had enough .
I looked out the window and watched
women and children leave the professional
building across the street from my apartment.
Martha unpacked the groceries in
the kitchen. I could n't cry; I was too angry.
Martha had too much tact to say so now,
but she had warned me about Terrence. I
would n't listen. "Have you never fallen in
love with a voice?" I had asked her then.
"My first fa ll was in high school when
David Rex sang in 'H.M.S. Pinafore.'
There's some thing sensual about voices,
Martha. Maybe that's why foreign accents
are so alluring." I had paused to see if
Martha understood, but she said nothing.
We were at her house at the time, and two
of her roommates were fighting in one of
the bedrooms. She seemed distracted, but
nodded. 'Tm in love with Terrence Rivers'
trumpet. I love the voice of his trumpet. It
makes me want to cry, it's so beautiful."
"But he's not beautiful. Nor is he sensitive,
Hip," Martha said, finally looking at my
eyes. "He likes himself too well to like
anyone else. I'm concerned for you. Bastards
can leave permanent bruises."
"Thanks for the advice," I said, "but I'm
a victim of myself, willingly."
Now Martha was kneeling beside me.
" Hip," she said, ' 'I' ll take you to the
Tranced, I rose. I was imagining Bliss.
Together we were rocking and singing a
rhythm. Millions of voices were singing
against us, using our beat as a base. Suddenly
I realized why Bliss had cried the
day he told me of his fears for me and
But I lay in the hospital, anesthetized,
while Bliss, with the group, left for New
Two girls leapt between two bamboo
canes. Two others clapped them to the
ground, then up and together, and apart
and down again, to the beat of "The Elephant
Walk." One girl holding the ends of
the canes glanced down at the cassette
player in her lap, then licked a drop of
sweat from her nose. It was July.
Hip watched the two girls hop and the
other two tap. She leaned against the stop
sign and tapped her bare blistered toes on
the hot sidewalk. With her teeth, she pulled
the last bit of fudgecicle off its stick, tasting
wood. She knew the pulse of her nerves. It
was seething as the song of the locusts.
Tense, she thought of her new job as a
waitress which she'd held for three weeks
now. She was calculating how much money
she'd save by the end of August.
A bird dropped shit on the sign, barely
missing Hip's hair. I would have laughed
had it hit.
I'm taking over this na rrative now. Hip
matters naught for the nonce. Hyper Hip,
too tense, too trapped. She cannot get her
mind off Bliss' blindness nor her own. Let
me carry you, reader, away from Hip's
hopelessness and beyond ner neurosis.
We are in a helicopter. Please ignore the
sound of the whipping propellers. Don't
let them frighten you and don't feel dizzy
from the height of our flight. Look! See!
Below us, so small, so insignificant: Hip, a
speck upon a street, an angled figure, kissed
by none but cared for, lonely though befriended.
How can we help this child? How
can we help her if she first won't help
(Let me remind J. Plishker that Hip is
helping herself. She has a job. She's making
money. She got an abortion. So what if
she never told Bliss that she loved him! So
she slipped up. Give her a break. She's
Hip slipped away from the pole, wakened
from her reverie by the plop.
You are pale, Hippolyta. You are as confused
as the narrators of this story. You
need the rhythm of play right now. Walk
the block. Kick a rock. Hickory, dickory,
Who has broken Hippolyta's clock?
Beautiful, one-breasted Hippolyta draws
taut the string of her bow and aims as
Amazons watch. Theseus does not flinch.
He does not move.
"I give you my arrows," he says.
Hippolyta looks into the eyes of the warrior.
They are equals, this pair, and in love.
She chooses not to shoot.
In Galleria I, Hippolyta leans on the rail
overlooking the ice-skating rink. It's a Tuesday
morning and she should be at work.
But she quit today, and, to celebrate, she
a te a piece of apple ~trudel from Helmut's,
then cut her hair short as a man's.
Last week she saw Marvin, a man she
knew before Terrence. "Hey Hip how are
you let's go to bed," he said. Last year
she'd have done it, too, but sitting in Trader
Vic's and sipping a Singapore Sling, she
shook her head and shot him a refusal. "I
know a man," she said, "who loves without
looking and cares without screwing.
He hears people's hearts from afar. You're
heinous and I hate you."
It was a pleasant evening. She remembered
she had wanted three babies: a brown
one, a gold one, and an orange one. She
remembered that she wanted Bliss.
Hip hangs her hands over the rail, leaning
on her elbows. Below, a flat-chested
girl skates figure eights, one over the other.
Hip listens to the sound of the skates slicing
ice and to the song on the PA: 'Tm Gonna
Be Your Number One."
She will reach Bliss, she decides. She
will call him or write; or if need be, she will
Looking down, Hip sees that where the
girl was skating, a single infinity sign
"We have an enormous demand for these
pans in this part of the state," said the man
behind the counter, licking his lips. He
concentrated on a Texas-shaped cornbread
pan and, puffing words through thick
cheeks, explained the s ig nificance of
Houston cornbread as opposed to Amarillo
Hippolyta chuckled to herself as the
salesman bantered. He was her tutor and
soon she'd be selling these expensive souvenirs.
Through the display window she
watched two women leave a shoe s tore,
each with large broad-ankled legs supported
on tiny high-heeled feet. Perhaps
there was a craziness to the place, Hip
thought. Maybe she would enjoy working
here. So much depended on perception.
I've had it with Hip's hesitations. I've
waited long enough. It's time to bring back
Bliss. Harken how he hums while by the
yogurt counter, fingering the glass and
breathing in the smells, he contemplates
the condiments. Now he sits nearby, a cup
of plain vanilla yogurt on the table by his
hands. Spoon in mouth, he taps the table
like he would piano keys.
Greetings to you, Bliss. I'm glad to see
you' re back at last. Why took you so much
time to realize you should return?
"Well, I must be honest, J.P. I've noticed,
in listening to your story, that you tend to
discredit Hip. Lean more lightly on your
pen, please, my friend. She asked me to
come back. She couldn't find my phone
number in New York, because I don' t have
one, and she didn't want to leave a message
with the group because of Terrence,
so she wrote me, care of Lee, asking him to
read the letter to me. But Lee read it to
Terrence and he threw it away. Finally,"
Bliss said in earnest, "Lee confessed to
A waitress looked up from the yogurt
sundae she was fixing and s tared at Bliss.
She considered calling a psychiatrist, but
waited to hear the end of his s tory.
"I called Hippolyta," Bliss said. " I had
to hear it from her. I had to hear her voice."
You wish to taste the tart bacterial tang
of yogurt, Hip. You drop the cornbread
pan and leave the shop. Entering the Yogurt
Culture, you see Bliss. Bliss hears you .
You hesitate. He does not move. You do
A kid flicks a raisin at your knee, but
you, Hippolyta, flinch not. You walk
toward Bliss. Bliss turns his face to you .
This is Hip. This is Bliss. This is love. In
Galleria I, Houston, Texas, 1981.
Mark Skinner •
Roland Pfe iffer was tall and thin. His
trousers were too short in the legs and
gathered at the waist by his belt that always
flapped about in the front. Sometimes the
older boys would grab his belt and pull
him around for fun . Roland Pfeiffer's ears
rested flush against his head. His pale gray
ey"es were sunken in their sockets which
appeared darkened as if he were wearing
Roland Pfeiffer prided himself in being
the only seventh grader at Fort Caroline
Junior High School to be tru sted to run the
school supply counter alone. He considered
himself a successful businessman in
the thriving world of pens, pencils, binders
and notebook paper. He ran an efficient
supply business for the school. The
counter was dust-free, orderly and open
on time every morning. "NO FREE ERASERS"
was Roland Pfeiffer' s hard-nosed
motto that hung in large print behind his
Roland Pfeiffer's Adam's apple bulged
when he craned his neck over the counter
to watch Janet Williams standing in front
of her locker, reaching up for her grammar
book. He had dreamed of her ever since he
had first seen her. He had watched her
from across the wide corridor every morning
for the past two months as she stood in
front of her book locker, chatting with her
friends. Her skirts were short and tight.
Her calves were covered by her shiny white
plastic BeeBop boots. He loved to watch
her stretch up to pull her books from the
top shelf. Her skirt would draw up to the
tops of her thighs. She wore silky creamcolored
panties. She was teasing him. He
swore she was doing this every morning
to tease him- to break him down! He loved
her smell, her clear face, her long fingernails.
Once when she bought unlined paper
from him, she handed him a quarter and
withdrew her hand, lig htly rubbing it
across his. She was teasing him! Janet
Williams was a ninth g rader, a cheerleade
r, and very popular in school, and
she was completely unaware of Roland
That morning the corridor was crowded
with students. The boys wore Gant shirts
and corduroy Levis and smelled of English
Leather cologne. The girls all emulated
Janet with their high plastic boots,
short skirts and Heaven Sent perfume. Janet
was bea utiful, more so than any of the
others, Roland Pfeiffer thought. He wanted
to touch her- to run his hands over her for
just a second. He daydreamed about her
while he sat in class. He humped his pillow
while he dreamed of her at night. He
would awaken in the morning breathing
heavily-his pajamas damp, his pillowcase
Janet Williams stood before her book
locker. Across the clouds of cologne, the
sound of snapping gum and penny loafers
clicking on the tile floor, Roland Pfeiffer
was closing up the supply counter. He
stared at h e r inte ntly. He had to, he
thought, he had to do it. If it only lasted
two seconds- even one second-it would
be worth it. Once- just once! Before she
could turn around he would be gone- lost
in the crowd. What possessed him? It
excited him. His breath quickened. There
was no fighting it! Roland Pfeiffer squeezed
amidst the other student moving through
the corridor. Janet faced her locker, thumbing
through her looseleaf notebook while
her girlfriend chatted away. Roland Pfeiffer
loved the brunette hair that ran down onto
her shoulders and halfway down her back.
He loved the way it swayed when she
turned her head to look at her girlfriend.
He couldn't help himself! He hoped she
would understand. He moved slowly with
the noisy traffic of his peers. Locker doors
were slammed shut. Friends yelled across
the corridor to each other. People sang out
rock and roll lyrics. Roland Pfeiffer knew
he would have to be discreet and fa st.
Janet's light blue skirt hugged the curves
of her bod y. The confusion swelled when
the 8:30 bell rang. The traffic moved faster.
Roland Pfeiffer grew nervous as he fidgeted
with the I. D. bracelet on his right wrist.
Janet Williams reached her hand up to the
top of her locke r. Her skirt hem drew up
around her behind. His palms sweated .
Don' t back out now! Be bold! His heart
quickened . He nervously jingled the bracelet
on his waist. He had to do it. Passing
her, he moved his hand down and groped
it wildly across her behind. She gasped
out loud. Her girlfriend's eyes widened .
Roland Pfeiffer' s bracelet tangled itself with
the elastic band in her panties. He dropped
his books. She was pulled into the moving
traffic of students. Roland tripped and fell;
Janet fe ll on him. She cried and slapped at
Later that day Roland Pfe iffer had tried
to leave school when he got word that
Janet had a boyfriend, David Silva, who
was looking for him. He had tried his
stomach-ache act out on the dean of boys,
who was never impressed with the antics
of seventh graders.
At the bus stop the older boys held his
arms while David Silva pulled Roland
Pfeiffer's trousers down to his ankles.
They pushed him about and watched and
laughed as Roland Pfeiffer waddled around
trying to keep his balance. Some of the
other kids giggled out of fear, some shouted
for it to stop, some walked away shaking
the ir heads in disbelief. Roland Pfeiffer's
trousers were tied around the top of the
street sign. His books and papers blew
alo ng the gutter with the passing of cars.
He chased his homework assignments and
pamphle ts down the street in his underwear.
David Silva and his friends stood
around the street sign guarding the trousers
"You stay the hell away from her!" David
Silva shouted at him. "Next time you mess
with her I'll tear your arm off and beat ya'
over the damned head with it!" The other
tenth grade boys laughed.
He reached home clutching his dirty
books against his chest. They'll be sorry,
he thought. I'll get back at them one day.
And I'll get them good! Roland Pfeiffer
slipped through his bed room window. His
parents were at work. His key was in his
trousers. Tears dried on his face. ''I'll get
them. David Silva, I'll get you1" he thought
as he washed himself off and put on clean
clothes. "I can never go back. Never again."
The laughter had frightened him. The smell
of the older boys clutching his arms was
sour and leathery. He opened a can of
Campbell's Chicken Gumbo soup, then
wrapped tin foil over the top of the soup
can . How emba rrassing! She had cried and
slapped at him. His wrist ached. His bracele
t was gone. He sprinkled Parmesan
cheese into a cup and added water, then
covered it with tin foil. The scrapes on his
knees burned . He placed the soup can and
the cup in the back of the cabinet under
the bathroom sink. It works-he had done
The next mo rning Roland Pfeiffer was
"What is it, son?" His father sat on the
side of the bed.
"I feel terrible," Roland Pfeiffer moaned,
gazing up at his father.
"Where do you hurt?" His mother looked
"My stomach," Roland murmured, letting
a bit of saliva roll from the corner of
his mouth. Suddenly his eyes opened
wildly. He sp rang out of bed holding his
mouth. His fa ther jumped back as Roland
Pfeiffer bounded to the ba throom, nearly
knocking his mo th er to the floor. He
s lammed the d oor and locked it. He
coughed loudly into the toilet, then quietly
crawled over to the ca binet. He knew his
parents would be listening at the door. He
quietly swallowed huge g ulps of air as he
opened the cabinet and d ug out the soup
can and the cup that was stashed behind a
box of tide. Roland Pfeiffer belched into
the toilet and removed the tin foil from the
soup can .
"Roland, honey, a re you okay?" his
He coughed as he poured the Chicken
Gumbo Soup into the toilet, then removed
the tin foil from the cup. He swirled the
Parmesan cheese around in the water.
Roland Pfeiffer knew that it would have
smelled worse had he let it sit for two days
instead of one, but she would never know
"Roland? Can mommy help her boy?"
He swallowed more air then took a large
gulp of cheese water and swished it around
in his mouth and belched it into the toilet.
He had learned that it made an authentic
sound. He poured in the rest of the cheese
water and stirred it all together. He placed
the empty can and cup back in the cabinet.
"Okay, Roland, open up," his fa ther
The ba throom door opened . Rola nd
Pfeiffer crouched, holding his stomach; his
mouth hung open . He breathed the cheesy
smell into his mother's face.
"My God, son." She covered her nose.
"Get in bed! I'll call the school." She passed
him and disgustedly looked down at the
Roland Pfeiffer laid down in bed and
pulled the quilt up over his head. He could
hear his mother swish the large brush
around in the bowl, then flush. Soon Betty
Pfeiffer placed a pail beside his head.
"Do it in this if you can' t make it to the
bathroom next time."
"Okay," he slurred .
When his parents had left for work,
Roland Pfeiffer was up. He threw the empty
soup can away and washed out the cup.
He wondered how long he could stay out
of school. He looked in the kitchen cabinet.
Two cans of Chicken Gumbo remained;
he could stay out two more days, then
came the weekend. He wondered if anyone
had taken his trousers off the sign
post on the corner. He spent the morning
watching game shows and reruns and eating
shredded wheat cereal. By noon,
Roland Pfe iffer was sitting on the floor
of his parent's walk-in closet, thumbing
through his father's various nude magazines.
Again and again he found himself
flipping the pages back to the same picture.
She held whips and chains in one
hand and a wooden chair in the othe r. She
had that sultry look in her eyes and the
inviting mouth. It was her' The brunette
hair, the long fingernails, the same curves.
"Janet!" Roland Pfeiffer shouted. He shook
under her sensual sta re and pressed the
magazine against himself.
She slowly saunte red toward him. She
tied him up with the chains and gagged
him with the leather whip. She danced
before him. She hit him over the head with
the chair. "More Janet!" he heaved as he
teethed the whip. "Janet, oh God' More'"
"What are you doing?" His mother stood
in the doorway. "Get up!"
"Give me those'" She snatched the magazines
He held the lump in his pajamas as he
stood up to face her.
"What do you think you're doing snooping
around in here and looking at these'"
Betty Pfeiffer held the magazines in her
fist. The light gla red on her glasses. Her
lower lip was straight and tight. "Well?"
His eyes roamed the walls. He could n't
think. He passed by her and walked into
his room. She trailed him closely.
"Well? Are you going to tell me? I thought
you were sick."
Roland Pfeiffer laid down in bed and
pulled the quilt over his head . She stood
"I was worried," she insisted, " I came
home to see if you would eat something
fo r me. And look wha t I find ."
'Tm feeling better," he said from beneath
"I could see that' I'm glad you made this
spectacular recovery. You can vacuum the
ho use this afternoon . That' ll he lp you
regain your appetite." Betty Pfeiffer slowly
shook her head, swaying the cha in hanging
from the sides of her glasses.
He lay before her. What could he say?
Nothing! Think. He sho uldn' t have been
so careless. He was willing to spend the
rest of his life under the quilt.
'Tm serious," she demanded, "You are
going to vacuum. Say something-talk!"
'Tm not feeling that good ." His voice
"If you're healthy enough to grunt and
snort over those magazines, then a little
work won't hurt you ."
"I wasn't grunting and snorting!" He
flipped the quilt from his face. "I was read-ing
"On what?" she grinned.
"I didn't look at the title."
Betty Pfeiffer rolled her eyes back and
turned; her rubber soled shoes squeaked
against the tile. "Stay out of our closet.
And stay away from those filthy magazines.
I know that boys will be boys, but not in
my closet you don't." Her dress rustled as
she walked from the room. "I don't know
why your fa ther keeps those things around
anyway." The sound of her voice dimmed
as she moved away. Roland Pfeiffer could
hear her moving around in the bathroom;
brushing her dark blond hair back and
picking open bobby pins with her teeth. "I
saw Kathy Gibson's mother today. She
said that Kathy's throwing a Halloween
costume party. Have you heard about it?"
"Nope, not a thing." He stared at the
ceiling. Everybody had been talking about
it for days.
She leaned out of the bathroom and
looked down the hallway into his room.
"It's supposed to be a big party. Drinks
A band too, he had heard. Outside with
gas lamps on the large basketball court
that Kathy Gibson's father had poured for
her brother, Harold, when he thought he
wanted to become a basketball player.
Everybody would be there.
"I think she said that there w·ould be a
band playing also. Are you going?" Betty
Pfeiffer appeared in the doorway of his
"I don't know anything about it and I
She straightened her collar. "Mrs. Gibson
said it would be fine if you came, and I told
you all about it."
"I don't have time to get a costume."
''I'll help you. We have three days."
He hated when she pressed him. " o. I
don't want to go. I don't have a date."
"You're too young to have a date. I'm
sure there will be plenty of kids who don't
have dates. She said that she was sure
Kathy would love to have you." Betty
Pfeiffer's red lips parted as she smiled
enthusiastically. "I'll make you a pretty
costume." Her eyes lit up in excitement.
He shook his head, "No."
She bent over him. "Come on now."
She softly stroked his hair. " You' ll look
nice." Her smile persisted. Pinching his
cheek, she used her high-pitched baby
voice. "Mommy's boy will be the most
haaaandsomest one there!"
He thought she had grown out of this.
Roland Pfeiffer turned his face to the wall.
"I don't want to go."
Her smile soured. "We've been over this
before. When are you going to start going
out and having friends?" She sat down on
the side of his bed. She took her glasses off
and let them hang by their chain. "When I
was your age I always had friends coming
over and I would go to parties and dances
every Friday and Saturday night." She tried
to meet his eyes. Roland played deaf; he
had heard it all before. He knew it by
heart. Next she would breathe deeply and
start pleading. Betty Pfeiffer exhaled
quietly. "Roland, if you would ju,st give it
a try I know that you would like it."
"I don't want to."
" Please give it one try- for me. For your
mother. Please- I'm begging you-Have
"Come on, lay off- "
"Go to the party." She nudged his shoulder.
"I don't want to. I don't like parties."
"How do you know? You've never been
"Leave me alone."
She stood quickly. "Well, I told Mrs.
Gibson that you would love to go." She
moved toward the door.
"You heard me."
" It's time you got a push." She turned;
her stockings scraped together. "Who else
would have done it7"
"I'm not going'"
"Here' s Kathy Gibson's phone number."
She handed him a slip of paper. "Call her.
Tell her that you're too shy to go to her
party. Then apologize to her."
"No, you call."
"Roland! It's for your own good! You'll
be fourteen years old next month and you
have never been to a party or a dance. It's
time we change that. Your father thinks so
''I'm not going!" Roland Pfeiffer knocked
the quilt onto the floor as he got up. "I
don' t want to, dammit'" He crushed the
slip of paper in his hand.
"Don't talk to your mother like that! You
know, you don't look sick at all."
" I feel better."
"Vacuum and mop then. I'm going back
''I'm not going!" he screamed after her.
"Yes you are. And stay away from those
He had to go. She was sure to be there.
Kathy Gibson was Janet's best friend . He
had seen them together many times. What
would Janet be wearing, he wondered.
Would he be at the party and turn to see
her covered in chains interwoven with
leather whips? Would she beckon him from
across the floor? He would be concealed
by a mask and a costume that his mother
had promised to make. Zorro, or maybe
Superman, he thought. Batman was acceptable,
but not Robin; he was too whimpish.
His identity would not be known. No one