Still the Eyes of Our Own People

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An Excerpt

In the main hall of the History Museum hung an oversized copy of Evelyn De Morgan’s Helen of Troy.  Every man entering paused before the painting to remember, then  proceeded to the exhibition areas of the museum to begin drinking and  singing and forgetting. They did this forgetting for many years until  Helen of Troy was no longer meaningful. Without significance, she  disintegrated with time, and no artist in their midst thought to  preserve her, nor any of her mothers, sisters, or daughters.  Nevertheless, every man entering the museum for the annual Forgetting  Exhibition became aware of a black melancholy, a constant companion  brought forward in this joyous celebration, a companion to be mocked and  ridiculed, and dunked and drugged, buried.

Still the Eyes of Our Own People

Spinosis Ventrem

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An excerpt:

Carla sniffed the spray as the breeze brought it from gentle breakers, tickling her nose with a curl of her own hair, which, on occasion, she caught in her teeth, playing with her hair even as the toddler played with the sea. The sand beneath the towel was firm, but it gave when she ground in her heels. Seagulls were competing somewhere in the distance, becoming as thin pencil sketchings against a brilliant blue sky. One seagull dove nearer, and its call mingled with the squealing of the toddler. Carla smiled again as she saw him bounding away from the tickling fingers of the sea, chasing her son as a father might do, thundering with great primal power, but relenting for the sake of mirth. He expended so much motion in his legs and arms, she thought, in a perfect caricature of a running toddler, yet moving only so slowly.

It wasn’t a gun shot, but her mind had to go to that possibility first because of all the news. Nevertheless, a startling cracking sound had come to her senses, perhaps through her feet and not through her ears. Was it an earthquake? Yet the earth did not move. She was sure something critical had sounded out, perhaps beneath the waves, a tremendous unleashing in an eyeblink of time. She pondered.

A shriek awakened her from her meanderings, that shriek which every mother perceives before she hears it, the change from play-acted fear to genuine terror. She was on her feet, running to him, his eyes filled with pain, his mouth in a howl for Mommy. She was to him in one, two, three leaps.

“What’s wrong?” she cried out to him. “Tell Mommy what hurts.” Between sobs, he babbled sensibly enough that she learned he had a boo-boo on his foot. She looked. His foot was indeed bleeding from the sole. What did he step on? She searched quickly, watching a wave recede. Yes, there it was: “You stepped on a sea urchin,” she said, kissing his foot, picking him up to carry him to her spot, where she thought she might have a paper towel to stop the bleeding, “a nasty little sea urchin.”

Spinosis Ventrem


Note: I wrote this as a companion piece to the one published by Jack Sprat Press in issue #2 (Gumroad, Indyplanet) The theme was “classic Crayola crayon colors.” Enjoy.  –DD

“Where is the kid who sells the hotdogs?” Jim asked. “I’m starving.” Every day he came to the home improvement center to buy himself a hotdog from the sweet-looking kid out front.

“One hotdog,” he would say.

“Relish and ketchup?” the kid would say.

“Yup, yup to ketchup.”

The kid would laugh, deliver over the hotdog, and say, “One dollar and seventy-five cents.”

“Here’s two dollars; keep the change,” Jim would say, and the ritual would be complete.

The fellow behind the food cart grinned at him. He was missing a molar. “I don’t have hotdogs,” he said. “I have salmon eggs.”

“Salmon eggs? Who eats salmon eggs?”

“Where I come from, salmon eggs are a delicacy,” the man replied. Jim noticed that the man had no legs.

“Where are you from?”

“Far away.”

“Well, I’m starving. How do you eat them?”

“Any way you like,” said the man. “I like them raw, like oysters.”

“That doesn’t sound good at all, but I’m in a terrible hurry to get rid of this rental car and pick up my new car.”

“Must be nice,” said the man. “Getting a new car.”

“Usually, yes,” said Jim. “But this time, no. My old car just got smashed in a head-on collision. Luckily, I only have a pretty bad concussion.”

“Lucky, yes,” said the man, handing him a clear plastic bag full of little pink balls flecked with fish-shaped black so that they looked like miniature monster eyes. They were lukewarm. “That’ll be one dollar and ninety-five cents.”

“Here’s two dollars; keep the change.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Oh yeah,” said Jim. “Here’s another dollar. See you later.” The exchange was complete.

The brand new car was everything a brand new car should be, complete with the requisite smell. Those monster eyes sat on the passenger seat, staring at him, jiggling, while his stomach growled.

“Man,” said Jim out loud. “I can’t eat these things raw. But I’m so hungry.” At a stoplight, he loosened the knot on the bag, reached into the roe, pinched a few eggs between his thumb and forefingers, and ate. Fishy, but not terrible, so he took a few more hits of monster eyes. He parked behind the house, stood up from sitting in the car, felt a wave of nausea, and threw up on the ground beneath the bedroom window.

“Well,” he said. “That was horrible.” And he went inside. A pleasant evening with his wife passed, and they retired to bed together for the night.

“You’re soaking wet with sweat,” said Steph, his wife.

He looked at her. “What time is it?” he asked.

“Three-thirty in the morning. Are you all right?”

“I feel horrible,” he said. “Food poisoning. I’ll be all right in the morning.”

The next morning, he called to Steph from outside. “Look, Steph, a spring! In our backyard!”

“There’s no spring,” said Steph, looking at the spot where Jim threw up.

“Yes,” said Jim. “It’s not all the way formed, yet, but those are sure signs of a spring.”

That night, Steph woke him again, saying, “You’re clammy and wet, Jim. Are you all right?”

“I feel horrible. Must be the after-effects of those salmon eggs.”

A spring indeed formed in their backyard. Jim whooped and hollered, running around with his arms over his head. “A spring!” he cried out. “A spring! A real spring!”

“Jim, turn off the hose,” said Steph. “You’re frightening me, and the neighbors aren’t happy with their flooded basements.”

The next day, the spring had grown larger still, and Jim had grown happier with its increase. The building code inspector arrived.

“Look, Mr. Brycoddle,” he said to Jim. “This is class one residential. You can’t have a spring or a pond in your backyard.”

“This is my home!” shouted Jim. “You can’t tell me what to do with my home!”

“You can ask for a variance, I suppose,” said the building code inspector. “But in the meantime, I have to write you a citation. Don’t worry; it’s just to get the ball rolling.”

At that, Jim pinned his arms to his side, fell flat upon the ground, and sprang into his spring, where he lay letting the water flow over him. He spluttered for breath.

Steph quickly turned off the hose, and she said, “Jim! Jim! You’re frightening us! Can’t you come out of your spring? I’ll turn the hose back on if you promise to see a doctor tomorrow.”

Water dripped from Jim while Steph and the building code inspector looked on. He said, “Okay.” The two of them helped Jim inside the house.

That night, Jim flopped around in bed without ceasing. “I feel like I’m going to suffocate. I can’t breathe. I’m going to suffocate.” For the third night, he was drenched in cold sweat, which made his skin slick to the touch.

“We’ll go to the doctor first thing,” said Steph. “First thing. Can you make it?”

“Okay,” said Jim.

First thing in the morning, Jim was in the new car, driving away. He shouted to Steph, who was running into the driveway, “I’m going for a pleasant swim in the lake!”

“It’s April,” she said. “What lake can you mean? You’ll freeze!”

After getting out of the car, Jim dove off the pier into Lake Ontario. The cold was numbing, invigorating. He swam as he’d never swam before. The greater the effort he put into swimming, the less he needed to come up for air. His legs melted away, and he remembered the man who sold him the salmon eggs. “My savior,” he thought. “My redeemer. He’s set me free.”

He dove further down after each time he surfaced, reaching new speeds and new depths. A thought strayed into his mind: perhaps he didn’t need to breathe air at all; perhaps he could breathe water.

Just as the Coast Guard cutter came near to him, he dove for the last time, his lungs filling with water. He heard Steph on the pier, weeping. He was happy, for now he could swim to wherever his daughter was, who had been sitting next to him just before the collision.


A Very Fine Wine

The Médoc Peninsula features a gravelly soil, which the winter wind, coming off the Atlantic Ocean, flings into the swells of rolling lowlands. Salt and grit, then, imbue themselves into the vine. The summer sun cooks the salt and grit after long, soaking rains drench the soil and the vines. The vines while away the summer by sucking everything that might be considered a nutrient into itself, the sun, the wind, and the sucking clasping hands together in a common effort to cause pollens of every sort of weed to be infused into the grapes, which are trampled and pressed, dumped into great vats to be left to the ravages of yeast consuming the sugars, then stored in wooden barrels in musty basements.

Some mighty fine vintages are thereby produced.

A Very Fine Wine