SPOTLIGHT: “A Heavenly Way To Die” by Louise M Hart from the book “A Pocketful of Weird”

A Heavenly Way to Die

            On a warm summer night my lover, Gabriel and I walked towards the bus stop. I moved with ease, lost in the pleasantries of an evening, where I had felt whole and at one with a consciousness that frequently threatened to cut me into small pieces, like a sharp pair of scissors. Then, I remembered that it was 11.10 and the journey home would take another hour.

            A long, lingering hour spent alone with my desultory mind. Dread entered my head and landed in my stomach. In the wake of a micro-second, I transformed from happy-go-lucky lover into a fucked-up, should be imprisoned in a lock-up hater of all humankind. I screamed but my mouth emitted only smoke from the cigarette that perched between my lips.

            It had been a joyful evening, beer and lingering kisses characterised it. But now it was time to catch the bus home. I lit another cigarette and tried to calm my racing thoughts.

            The city hummed with the stench of late-night drinkers and a stinking wreck of a man, carrying a walking stick.

            “Is the bus due, love?” he shouted.

            Gabriel towered above me. His six-foot, six-inch frame announced a sense of charisma that ate up the surroundings, like a gourmet meal. I wanted to eat him, too, but anxiety consumed me.

            My thoughts rushed through my mind and claimed my reason. The screaming would not abate. No matter how hard I challenged my speedy inner voice, I could not quieten her. I was weak in the presence of noise.

            The bus arrived. I kissed Gabriel and ran towards it. I needed to hold it together; keep a lid on my psychic pot. Boiling over, I was rotten from the inside out.

            The thoughts did not stop and all the time my inner voice chanted “If a double-decker bus should claim the both of us. To die by your side…”

            Save me, God, in heaven, let me board your beautiful bus. Thank you, God, in heaven for giving me the power to board your beautiful bus. Now, take me home.

            I presented my bus pass and peered at the driver. He looked back at me. I flinched; it was the driver who hated me. Before that night, he had driven me home, and although we had never exchanged words, we loathed one another. I began to sweat. I knew that I was about to battle not only for my subjectivity but my life.

            Why did he hate me? I was a reasonably presentable middle-aged woman, wearing my silly poet’s hat and a smile for most occasions. Tonight, was not one of those. My face felt as scrunched as chewed toffee, anxiety wearing down my lips, like a monstrous Freddie Mercury moustache. Maybe, if I smiled at him, he would not hate me as much. So, I smiled. His face remained immobile. He, now, hated me even more.

            I fell into a seat near the front of the bus, where I could keep an eye on the driver and waved Gabriel goodbye. His theatrical wave slowly disappeared from my view and the bus headed towards Birmingham’s suburbia. Each tentative turn of the bus’s wheels brought me a heartbeat nearer to my uncertain, but hopeless fate.

            It was the summer of 2018 and England’s football team had excelled in the world cup. Birmingham felt lighter and brighter; the atmosphere was tinged with froth. But I did not like football and my soul felt heavy. The bus vibrated with the sound of conversation about the beautiful game. People engaged with one another and chatted voluminously. My mouth remained as inaccessible to communication as a cat to her non-existent conscience.

            My thoughts began to speak, like disengaged voices. Each one possessed an individual and unique consciousness. I did not want to listen, but the more I tried to shut them out the louder and more furious they became. My head ached as though a drill had been inserted into it. I imagined banging it into a wall and felt it crush, like a grape, squelching in the grip of a fist.

            I was taken back in time to the point where a few hours ago I had stood on stage before a group of dilatants and self-styled eccentrics in an arts cafe. I read my poetry; my words emanating from a mind so bruised that it might have been an apple and a mouth whose only comfort had been the sweet kisses of an Irish six-foot, six-inch giant, who called himself my boyfriend. At over 50 years of age, he was no boy, but a man for every season I chose to claim him.

            I was a reasonably effective poet, but a poor performer. I stumbled over the text, like an awkward teenager before a potential fuck. I ought to be punished for being crap and alive. Why was I alive? I had killed myself in my mind multitudinous times, but in the realm, we call consensual reality, I walked as though I possessed free will and peace of mind. Where was my mind?

            “Did you watch the game, last night, love?” It was the smelly man talking to me. He dared to interrupt the flow of my thoughts and bring me back to the bus. The passengers continued to chat around me, a smile following each enunciation and my adversary, the driver, stared into the night, undoubtedly, planning my downfall with every turn of the steering wheel.

            “No, I missed it,” I replied, even managing to smile. I was polite to the point of duplicity. My smiles belied sneers.

            “Do you think we’ll go all the way?” The “we” was the England football team. At that moment I did care about “we’s” only me’s. I was no longer myself and became, rather, the other self, the self of the mind. The one I concealed from all other human hearts and eyes. Then, guilt arrived.

            He was only being friendly, but he smelled as though he had bathed in fish guts and caramelised dog shit. He was harmless as he was, charmless and did not deserve to be denied, a mere scrap on humanity’s plate of redundant human leftovers. I looked down my nose and scoffed a smile of derision in his affable face. I deserved to die.

            “How’s your leg?” I asked stink bomb, pretended to listen to his answer and felt better.

            The driver peered at me. I saw his eyes in the mirror above his seat and my brief respite ceased.

            Travelling home on the penultimate bus of the day, the night was as dark and warm as I. Most people were tucked up in the haven of their beds, but I was as upright and awake as someone shitfaced on coke and black bombers. The sleeping world looked eerier and its reflection denser and darker than the waking world.

            I longed to be in the safety of my home, but the bus moved further into the night, seemingly enveloped in blue painted armour, protecting my soul. The more I reached for the light, the further it drifted and so did I. I looked at my watch and saw that it would be at least another forty minutes before I reached my destination.

            I sighed with distinction and tried to think about rainbows, kittens and puppy dog’s mittens, but my thoughts told me that I was about to freak, as never before. You will lose control of your mind, scream, collapse and die. You will rise from your seat with demonic zeal and curse the Gods for giving you a head as full of noise as a nightclub; thoughts clinking like glasses, raised above a dance floor, shattering like glasses on a dance floor. You throw yourself on glasses on a dance floor and curse the Gods for letting you bleed.

            The manager approaches you. He is a bastard and even bigger than Gabriel, who picks you off the dance floor, like a flower. You are a rose. Your thorns bite into his hands, but still, he clings to you. Do not leave me here alone, Gabriel, I am as frail as a flower. My nails are thorns that long to tear your skin. I want to get under your skin; to become you. Please let me in.

            Gabriel screams in pain. You have removed his skin, layer by layer until he is but bone and blood. The dance floor is stained with blood, yours and his. It mingles in coital terror, drowning broken glasses in an ocean of pain. You scream. The manager grabs you by the scruff of your neck, like a helpless kitten and throws you out of the club. You have crossed the line of demarcation and lie in the shadowy realm of exclusion, where insanity is but a trip away. You trip.

            I felt tired and began to yawn exaggeratedly the way the terminally bored yawn. But I was not exaggerating, I was terminal. My head thumped and thudded as though a pugilist were beating himself within it, bouncing off the sides, like a boxing ring and striking his reduced form with blows so low that only Tyson at the height of his powers would dare to bestow. I could smell my armpits. My t-shirt clung to my curves, like a lascivious lover.

            The bus approached Harborne. My journey was half over. I had nearly done it, survived the impossible, my anxiety state. I would soon be home with my cup of cocoa and Sky News. Then, my eyes momentarily met the driver’s, again catapulted me back into the abyss.

            “Who’s on your t-shirt, love?” Smelly was talking to me, again.

            “Morrissey,” I replied sheepishly.

            “Morrissey!” Someone had joined the conversation, a man sitting opposite me. He looked shifty; his eyes were as deep as a pint of Guinness and his skin, liver yellow. Then, I remembered that I, too, had been drinking alcohol, forfeiting my moral right to judge. Could he smell it on my breath?

            He might be a pervert. Perhaps, he could smell alcohol on my breath and thought he could overpower me. That evening I had desired to escape the torments of my mind and sink my being into three too many bottles of lager. Maybe I was about to pay the price for it. A stranger I had met on a bus would assault me as I walked from the bus stop to my house. I surveyed his appearance thoroughly but discreetly, digesting the details of his face and clothing so that I could describe him to the police the following day when I would report my assault.

            “He was a good singer,” the man continued, “Does the body rule the mind, or the mind rule the body, I dunno?” 

            He likes Morrissey, he must be alright. I smiled at him. He smiled back. I now felt less alone. But he alighted from the bus at the next stop, nodding goodbye to me in acknowledgement of our shared reality, the shared reality of Manchester’s favourite son and right-wing wanker.

            But, in the merest blink of an eye, I had re-entered the realm of the other me, the me that was not my real self, but a self of fear, anxiety and paranoia. I had become my alternate reality and it felt like the sound of fingernails sliding down a chalkboard, a dentist’s drill or someone slurping a bowl of soup. Stop the bus, I want to get off. But I could not, I was twenty minutes from home, it was dark outside and unsafe for someone like me whose petals were larger than her thorns.

            Why did the driver hate me? Whenever I boarded his bus, he wore an expression that channelled a scowl and a snarl. I could almost hear him snarling at me beneath his breath. He should concentrate on driving the bus and not on me. If he did not pay more attention to his driving, we would surely crash. I imagined dead bodies strewn across the bus, blood seeping everywhere. I could hear the passengers screaming, like animals in a slaughterhouse. Smelly became a pig, a swine of Birmingham’s gutters, screeching until his final breath. I did not scream; my mouth was gagged with the cutting ropes of my polarised ego.

            In a flash everything became clear. A single medicinal thought shot through my ontological being, like the serum from an injection, reality’s truth serum. It stimulated more thoughts and imagery. I finally understood why he hated me. I was a woman in sensible shoes. He hated women and sensible shoes were a sign. My Dr Marten boots symbolised an upside-down world, where women kissed women and wore boxer shorts. They were a sign that men were redundant; the only desirable cocks were poultry.

            A film unwound before my inner eyes. The driver arrived home from an evening shift. His wife sat in the kitchen. She looked pensive. Her eyes were lowered. He asked her if she was okay. She had not kissed him. Had something happened? Was it his Dad? Had one of the kids been in trouble at school?

She did not answer. Now, he was doubly afraid.

            “What’s the matter, love? Tell me.”

            She began to cry, her face turning purple. When she cried, she looked so ugly that he wanted to suffocate her until she could no longer breathe. He felt sick; not only with fear but, because her appearance offended him, like the gay comedian who was always on TV, joking about back passages and hands, on his entrance. He wanted to shout at her to stop it, but, rather, asked her, again, if she was okay.

            The floodgates opened and a tidal wave of confessions immersed the driver. His wife had been seeing someone else, someone who treated her with respect, who did not shout at, or slap her when they were drunk; someone who was a she.

            I gasped. The truth hurts, but I finally understood. I understood the loathing in the driver’s eyes and the odium he felt towards me and all other women in sensible shoes. I understood the driver but supported his wife. For, I liked comfortable shoes. Anyway, I had a boyfriend and my sensible shoes were purely aesthetic.

            The truth catalysed my resignation. Though she and I wore different skin. I was the driver’s wife, I symbolised everything that was wrong with modern life…bloody women.

            The bus began to empty. My stop was almost last, by which time I would be the only person remaining on it. I imagined the passengers alighting from the bus, one by one, each heading for the safety of home after an evening of fun. Although I felt like the centre of the universe, everyone’s eyes turned towards me with scrutiny and dislike, I was as invisible to them as the H. G. Wells eponymous anti-hero.

            The driver gripped the steering wheel as though it were his wife’s neck, naked and vulnerable, begging to be crushed. His weight bore down on the wheel. His fingers were as thick and tough as overcooked sausages. He wrapped them around the wheel, shedding sweat, like fat in a frying pan. His face reddened with anger, like an exploding raspberry, leaking juice upon everything that neared it. His skin was now clothed in his manly substances.

            He stopped the bus and I nearly flew off my seat. I sat back and tightened every muscle in my body. The driver rushed towards me, like an injured rhino, roaring with an agony so intense that it could only have emanated from the toil of sexual politics. He stood before me, monstrous in his capacity as a wild beast; his eyes protruded, like a madman’s.

            He launched at me. His body seemed larger than when he was seated. His weight overwhelmed my pulpy form and threatened to unfurl the life out of me. I tried to scream, but it was too late. His hands were around my throat, his thumbs pressed deeply into my oesophagus and fingers plunged into my skin. I could not breathe and tried to fight him off. My hands beat against his back and my legs kicked out in desperation. I fought to save myself, but he was too powerful. He crushed me, like an insect. I was as weak and as valueless as an insect. I did not deserve to live, so he killed me.

            I opened my eyes and sighed from the pit of my stomach. There were only two other people left on the bus. The end was near, and I must prepare for my inevitable fate.

            “Bye, love.” The smelly man left the bus; he raised his hand in a farewell wave.

            I bade him goodbye and felt proud that my voice had not demonstrated the fear that defined my mind as floridly as my daydreams. Now, there was only one other passenger on the bus. Bring it on.

            I glanced at the other passenger she, also, was a woman. She looked relaxed and comfortable in her orange painted skin. The driver did not worry about her, or her, him. Nevertheless, I did not envy her. For, I possessed the glory of an omniscient mind that perceived beyond the concrete into the truth. In contrast, she was merely part of the herd, a cow that mooed solely when she accidentally smudged her make-up, or developed a spot on her, not, pretty face.

I imagined her sauntering off the bus, her hips swaying in unison with breasts, which hung bovine-like between her knees. “Thank you, driver,” she swooned.  He smiled at her and I wanted to spew.

            Two stops left and now, she did alight from the bus. Stumbling up the aisle, she disappeared into the night without a word. The driver did not look her way. Now, I was alone with him.

            My imagination yielded me into another universe. This one was even darker and more malevolent than the previous. I rose from my seat and embarked down the aisle of the bus. My heart beat audibly between my ears and sweat dripped down my torso, burning my flesh, like acid. When the bus reached my stop, it did not stop. Anxious, I turned to the driver and said, in the feeblest tones, “Sorry, I wanted to get off there.”

            The driver grinned; it was not the grin of comradeship, but that of Mephistopheles, a Jack Nicholson-like: twisting, demonic grin, striking my soul with unspeakable fear. He thrust open the door of his driver’s cabin and grabbed me with the full force of his being. His hands reached for my head and he clasped my hair in his right hand, dragging my head behind me. I screamed so loudly that I felt I would erupt and tumble to the ground, as fragile as a flower. With a gargantuan thud, my body struck the floor.

            The driver pulled me along the floor by my hair as though I were feather-light, not a full-bodied woman of hearty mind and soul. Blood oozed from me, like tomato ketchup on a hamburger. The pain was the most excruciating I had ever experienced. I sobbed in infernal agony and terror. Then, he jumped on top of me and began to eat my face. He gorged on me until all that remained was the blood-soaked essence of my somatic identity. My screams had been stifled and my life deleted like a meaningless entity. My anxiety was now confined to the annals of the past alongside the imprint of my life.

            Finally, the bus reached my stop. I hurried down the aisle. The driver halted the bus and said, “Night, bab.” I looked at him and saw that he was smiling. His smile illuminated his face, like a beam of friendly light. I reached into my bag and pulled out a pistol. Aiming it at his head, I fired the pistol and his brain splattered all over the side window. His body folded into his seat. I stepped off the bus and walked home.

SPOTLIGHT: Half an Owl in Garden Light by Michael Sikkema

Dark Start

Problem is

I’m afraid

We’re surrounding us

In this former plant nursery

turned park, an old circuit

box yawns, connected to nothing

All the leaves halo trees

Rich, rich, rich

Some fliers, some swimmers

Some walkers, some rooters

Some of them glow

Sometimes these others make

the signal glow too

Trailsiders travel in

animal wind

Little hooks catch

coats or rabbit fur

Spores spin in

the exosphere

Weather is sex

Weather’s a way

for places to become each other.

Native or invasive depends on

the timeline. Right here in

a teaspoon’s worth of dirt

miles and miles

Rich, rich, rich

Smiles for oysters

golden or winter

or underwater

How many acres is

a mushroom song?

Rich, rich, rot




Mud Witch

this pit’s everything a mouth of sky

Mud Witch dreams me in her teeth

it all vibrates wrong when the pain stops

this pit’s everything gathers worms

moles beetles so I don’t starve I cup

mud it all started with the sinkholes

we lost the whole golf course Mud Witch

grabs the rope over my pit leans out

grips her mound with one hand and pisses

down on me the stars change faster than

they should she says a pit’s a walking

tunnel everything a mouth

I thought Mud Witch’s hands around

my throat while I had to milk her

into a half gallon mason jar stars so fast

it all vibrates wrong the milk greenish

howling dogs collapse the distance

it all started with the sinkholes the baptist

church was gone this pit’s birthing me

I guess I could make a little nest to fuck

some leaves I have to bleed

some more she drops in

a rake head I press it to my chest and drag

she says the pit’s just walking

I lick the shadow of the rope she thinks

me with her teeth faster stars I hear with

the dogs sucking down into the mud

Mud Witch names me as the sun rises

names me cup-spit rat-fish waste-face

throws in a ladder to set me free maybe

now that I have a name I step up

the rung breaks it turns to mud

the rung’s on fire gone it turns to water

the rung grows a mouth and names me

it takes all day it all started with a

tunnel that fell on the golf course near

the baptist church I thought her hands

gripping my spine planting me

she leans out and waters me in my pit

I’m born when she picks me my legs have

fused gelatinous skin my feet a spike

my spine cracks I’m a scorpion I sting myself

in the back of the head if Mud Witch

would toss in a fresh friend

I’d have somewhere to keep my songs

moles worms a shrew the worms are

the worms are barking when the rain cleans

me too far Mud Witch throws in rocks throws

in burlap doll parts that erase my body as

they land in the pit hands feet legs splash in

the mud-suck and I’m mostly

gone floating voice it all started when I had

to bleed more in the baptist church

the walking tunnel made a little nest

a mouth of sky is everything a pit a half

gallon mason jar thinks me in her thighs

it all started with

the sinkholes I was going to get

to the bottom of it now here I am in

full dark Mud Witch tossed down her

eyeball the left one I think it burst into flames

shed light on a tunnel forming right

beside me I took two steps towards

it and saw platters of food inside

fried chicken fresh fruit gallon jugs

of water my ankles

exploded tiny bits of bone everywhere

pain like air around me I collapsed

the tunnel was gone then I looked back

at Mud Witch’s eye still glowing it had

turned into a silver sphere it split open

and out came hundreds of tiny Mud Witches

they crawled all over me biting pinching

hissing singing I tossed one into my mouth

felt the bones crack and everything went

white I was sitting at my breakfast table

clean dry hungry my kids were playing

cars and dolls and stuffies I  had coffee

hot still in the blue mug a plate of eggs

and bacon steaming the light outside

pure summer I grabbed a handful of eggs

shoved them in my mouth got under

the table hugged my daughter Anna but

she got smaller as my arms tightened

she turned into a grasshopper smaller than

a penny she jumped into

the keyhole of the front

door I chased after opened the door

and it all started with the sinkholes

this walking pit fell on everyone I had

to eat them I’m all that’s left Mud Witch

comes to the edge again fucks herself with

a femur human probably O’Connor

the hardware guy she bled into my pit

I remember to make the roses grow the roses

hundreds of colors they covered me thorns

ripping as they grew filled the pit blocked

the light and Mud Witch whistled them into

snakes cackled as I screamed then

they were skins just skins their bellies covered

in words a list of everyone I’d ever hurt

this pit’s everything  it started growing in

the baptist church when we lost the golf course

that walking tunnel ate a lot of people

for a long time a thick nothingness

having grown used to formlessness I woke

to Mud Witch sitting in a chair across from

me her feet up on a wooden stool her

skirt hiked up high and one

of her legs was a huge dildo bulging rubber

veins I was tied to my chair with

someone’s tendons I was so thirsty it

started raining and I opened my mouth leaned

back Mud Witch

stood then grabbed my hair pulled my

head back and spat into my mouth “every

little bit helps,” she said for a while I could

see through crows so I did I couldn’t

steer we flew out over top of my

pit in loops tree tops I could see the city in

the distance just lights really I looked

down or the crow did I saw rows and rows

of pits like mine Mud Witch was standing

over every one these were houses once

an ice cream place a liquer store that

hole was a coffee shop that one a muffler

place each pit had someone inside I thought

I’d eaten them all when the food ran

out after I had the fevers it’s hard to

remember we all just did what we

had to it started with the sinkholes

I was counting frogs for the state the survey

the ground shook the whole golf course

caved I was safe on the edge I saw all

the bones the bodies from before the stories

were true I learned the mass grave

was real from my crow I saw the bones

fuse and flesh out  all of them into one

body into Mud Witch the size of a field

some flowers a tree growing through then

another she opened her mouth and shouted

a tunnel into the cloud cover it twisted

through itself pulled in water and trout from

the stream to the south pulled in burning

garbage from someone’s backyard in

the north the shingles of a house a mile

east a small flock of wild turkeys from

the west it all twisted and spun turned into

a dull light fell down into her mouth it seemed

her arms fused to her sides legs fused together

her whole body sealed over with scales except

her head Mud Witch’s head with the body

of a snake now 300 yards long going slowly

towards the lake then finally circling it finally

submerging she inched across rocks her eyes

blued skin dulled she scraped her skin on

the rocks her face slowly pushed through her face

split down the middle her face drug her body

behind it she pulled all the way through her

old skin inside out behind her all the birds

fell from the sky mine too I woke up in the pit

it all started in the pit here where I’m becoming

the fevers help it all gets clearer I can hear

their blood at all the pulse points throat’s the easiest

you’ll never starve if your mouth reaches some

part of your body but the others they taste better

it all started at the golf course I was safe

just fine then I woke up with the fevers so thirsty

I saw those kids all those throats to be fair one

called me zombie weeks ago it was already happening

right around the time of the sinkholes they called

me zombie then their little throats burst I burst

their little throats for christ sakes we eat

the brain last you can’t bite through a skull

I wasn’t a zomie just had the fevers I was counting

frogs thirsty for weeks I woke up in the pit

splayed out tied to stakes in the ground

Mud Witch was standing over me I could hear

the blood in her throat things vibrate right

when I’m fed on time I started eating the others

doing the world a favor those kids

were the first normal ones then I was in the pit

Mud Witch has built a door up top it’s dark all

the time time changed I guess the speed mostly

must be night now stars falling no

fireflies land on my ribs burn through

embers maybe it hurts

right and makes these little tunnels I pull away

the meat the rib bones and see a pair

of wings hanging inside me I try to fly

but they just rattle and buzz til the crows come

to confuse them for food and pick them clean

Boing, Extinction VS Wow! Signal

Kenning is shadowy paragraphs illicit

                Bernadette adjusts

                the pitch of

                the headtake

Mahalia is rotary asteroid barnacles

SPOTLIGHT: Morsels of Purple by Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar

The Watchmaker

I lose time—my watch stops and my phone dies as I’m hiking the trail across Cinque Terre, the cluster of scenic seaside villages in Italy. Tired and sun-burnt, I rest in an air-conditioned restaurant. When the waiter approaches, handsome in a crisp white shirt and black vest, I ask him the time,

“Time is good, Signora. I meet you,” he winks before looking at his watch. “Four pm.”

I’m not annoyed at his blatant flirting. Instead, I’m buoyed that a handsome man with his foreign accent, aquiline nose, angular face, and piercing black eyes, is hitting on me, an average middle-aged woman.

 “American?” he asks.

 “Si,” I say, and tuck stray hair behind my ear.

 I order lemonade and a tomato-basil Panini. He leaves a whiff of his woody cologne before heading to the kitchen. 

This country, with couples kissing and necking in every nook and alley, is cruel to someone like me who hasn’t dated anyone in more than a year. Not since the divorce.

Claudio, I read the waiter’s nametag when he returns with my food. Some gray in his beard peeks out when he bends down to set the tray— he isn’t as young as I first thought. I ask him if he knows a place where I could get my watch repaired.

He laughs and the sound of his laughter makes my blood dance, my pulse quicken. A full-hearted laugh, the kind I haven’t heard in a long time.

“You, lucky, Signora. You find me,” he says, bending his knees in a little bow. “I repair and make watches.”

He invites me to come with him to his place after his shift to get the watch mended. I say yes instantly, my tongue an automaton. What’s wrong with me? I’m not looking for a fleeting fling in Italy. But, I do need the watch fixed to track time in this foreign place.

Claudio’s place is a tiny studio on the second floor of a quaint pink-and-yellow house. Once inside, he takes off his shirt, without asking for permission or pardon. Black hair carpets his chest. I can’t imagine how it would feel—coarse like wire or soft like corn silk—under my fingers.

He pours us Chianti and starts looking at my opened-up watch through a loupe lens. I watch him, and he knows very well that I am watching.

After scouring through his many boxes and canisters, he declares he doesn’t have the part my watch needs but could arrange to have it in a day. I agree to return the next day, and he walks me to the train station.

As I am about to board the train to Rome, where my hotel is, he grabs my shoulder and kisses me, slowly then hungrily. I love his long nose resting on mine. 

As it turns out, my watch can’t be fixed the next evening—the part isn’t available after all—but he pulls out, from a velvet pouch, a beautiful, white-dialed pocket watch with filigreed hands. He says he assembled this one himself while learning the trade from his father.

“It is, I think, the last of its kind,” he says, curling my fingers around it. “You, keep it.”

I kiss his hands, the hands that have given me the gift of time I’d lost. I sleep in his bed that night, the night after, and the one after, my fingers caressing the hairs on his chest—softer than wire, harder than corn-silk.

“Stay in Italy,” he says, on the tenth night, kissing my cheek. I’m scheduled to depart for Boston the day after.

“You come with me,” I whisper in his ear, and nibble at his lobe.

Claudio invites a bunch of his friends for drinks the evening before we plan to fly out. “Farewell, amici,” he raises his glass and tilts it towards mine. “I leave for America.”

“This Signora, with green eyes,” one of the men winks at me. “Your green card to the USA.”

“Lucky bastardo!” All his friends whoop and cheer.

I dunk the pocket watch into Claudio’s wine glass, and flounce out of the house.

SPOTLIGHT: Motherfisher:  A haiku-story of grieving in the time of COVID by Theodore George

How do those fish feel?
Is it an urge or longing
For origin grounds?

Is what makes them run
Perhaps rather anger at
The meager time left

The locks were alive
With hope-filled travelers
This stream is empty

Autopilot now
The hum of folding waters
Pilgrim hears progress

Empty and alone
This salmon takes time to think
What is this all for?

Under the full moon
Shafts of light refract and dance
Salmon wants Potlatch

At the hatchery
Some flop against the ladder
While others wallow

At the hatchery
One pilgrim jumps the ladder
Onlookers applaud

The hatchery is
One thing but the older haunts
Are a thing apart

Remote spawning ground
It must be a pristine place
How can they find it?

How to reach first grounds
People of the Large Lake
Might still remember

But where to search now?
Past Kirkland and Bothell
And Issaquah too

Perhaps in Gold Bar
In Carnation or Snoqualmie
I will never know

SPOTLIGHT: Our Tiny Little Lives by J.I.B

Television and Oncoming Traffic

You’re a child. Your mother started drinking coffee. The lights are out and the windows are blind. There are things you don’t understand. Your father is asleep on the porch. You eat your breakfast. Get dressed. Watch television. Honor thy mother and thy father. Your mother drinks her coffee in the dining room alone, every morning. Every morning, when your mother drinks her coffee alone, she asks you not to talk. Your mother wants to drive her car into oncoming traffic. You’re a child and you don’t know. Your mother tells you other peoples’ mothers shoot dope. Other peoples’ mothers drowned them in bathtubs. You’re lucky, your mother tells you. You’re a child and you have a problem sitting still. You have a problem not talking. You’re a child and you have a problem. Your father falls asleep on the porch/in the kitchen/in the bathroom/in the backyard/in the dirt/in the mud. In his piss. In his shit. To say he falls asleep is inaccurate. Your father doesn’t sleep. Honor thy mother. Honor thy father. There are things you don’t understand. You’re a child. There’s a television. You’re a child and you watch a lot of television. There are things on television that you don’t understand. You’re a child and you don’t understand most things. Other peoples’ mothers drive their cars into oncoming traffic or off bridges into rivers. You’re lucky to be dry. You’re a child. Your mother tells you that you hardly know anything. You know that. You’re a child and you have a problem. Your mother drinks her coffee alone and wants you not to talk and wants to drive her car into oncoming traffic but she doesn’t. You’re in the car with your mother and she’s taking you to school. You’re a child going to school. You have a problem. Matt Lauer told you someone else’s mother left them in a hot car so long they died. You’re lucky. You’re a child. Your father doesn’t sleep. Your father passes out and your mother doesn’t drive her car into oncoming traffic, so long as she drinks her coffee alone, every morning. So long as every morning you don’t talk. You’re a child with a problem you don’t understand. You’re a child and you understand almost nothing.

A Dead Horse

You’re a child and there’s something wrong. There’s always something. Always crying and never stops talking, the teachers say. The doctors say there’s medication for this, and your mother says nothing. Your mother nods. A horse breaks a leg. Your mothers fills your prescription. Your mother tells you to take by mouth twice daily. On a full stomach only. The horse takes a bullet to the skull. You. A child. There is something wrong. Always something. Wrong. There’s the smell of vomit always and never crying. Or talking. Or sleeping, eating. Or thinking. Nothing. Only fragments. Only vomit and medication and wrong. You were a child who was always crying and never stopped talking, and now you aren’t. You avoid conflict, any cost, the teachers say. The doctors say the medication is working and you’re a child, or you were. You are no longer a child. You’re still taking medication. You’re taking anything given. An empty stomach. You avoid conflict. Avoid conflict. Avoid conflict. You avoid conflict. Avoid conflict. Avoid conflict. Avoid. Conflict. Avoid. Conflict. Until there’s nothing but. Avoid. Conflict. Vomit. Medication. Nothing. Wrong. A dead horse.

7up and Adderall

Carbonated water. Citric acid. Potassium. Corn syrup. Natural flavoring. This combination is supposed to make the vomiting stop. It’s in a glass, sitting on your nightstand. It stopped bubbling hours ago. You sipped it in between dry heaves, until the dry heaves weren’t dry. There’s a mop bucket beside your bed. It’s threatening overflow. You are a child and you talk too much. You have a medical card. You have a t.v. in your bedroom. You watch it in between dry heaves and vomiting. You wait to go to sleep. You watched the glass on your nightstand until the bubbles stopped. The glow of Adult Swim floods the room. Some nights you wait and nothing happens. 7up is supposed to stop the vomiting. Adderall. Active Ingredients include dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate and amphetamine sulfate. Inactive Ingredients include colloidal silicon dioxide, compressible sugar, corn starch, magnesium stearate, microcrystalline cellulose and saccharin sodium. This combination was supposed to stop the talking. It worked. There’s a mop bucket beside your bed. It’s always beside your bed. Adderall. A medical card. A child that’s always talking. You stopped talking. You can’t talk if your mouth is full of vomit. You can’t sleep if you’re always dry heaving. Can it be called a mop bucket if it’s always full of vomit? You’re a child and you take Adderall by mouth twice daily, on a full stomach. You wash it down with 7up to stop the vomiting.

One of God’s Hideous Lessons
During my last two years on Earth as a child, I suffered a sudden and horrifying transformation. My once disturbed but perfectly terrestrial body was now two separate and distinct specimens. The first and most viable was the bucket of bedside vomit, somehow breathing despite a lack of lung. The second consisted of a brain rotten with Adderall and images of the crucifixion of Christ, the skeleton my muscles once used, what used to be my skin, now like a nursing home blanket, covering something that spends most of its time dying, eyes that are difficult to sleep and impossible to dream with. This is the body they expected me to praise God with and for a while I did. For a while I prayed without ceasing for God’s big hands to come down and mold my two halves back into one. He answered with a deafening and absolute silence. Ultimately these horrid vessels I was drowning in were good for only one thing, teaching surrender.