A few highlights from Sassafras issue 7

I’ve highlighted some great lines from the current issue of Sassafras – # 7 is huge (in no particular order):

 

You fold this sweater the way a moth
builds halls from the darkness it needs
to go on living

Simon Perchik – Untitled

The struggle to take root, to look up
as I do, in awe of the elder, pray they will be able
to avoid boot, bird and belligerent weather

A.J. Huffman – From Forest’s Path

 

Possible side effects include sticky-slick crayon
sketches on paper tablecloths and your mother, smiling, her hand
on her soap-bubble belly. 

Allison Hymas – Warning

_

A woman had come in, hesitantly as if I might hit her with the broom I brandished. She wore a long red jacket and a black hat
that looked too expensive for this town and asked for books on alcoholics anonymous — she wasn’t the alcoholic, she assured me.
After fifteen minutes of her trying to catch the bird in her jacket while I chased it with the broom, I knew it was getting
ridiculous. And then, the bird vanished.

M.C. Kelly – Beware of Bird

-_
_

You pat the mound with the shovel again. She was right. It turned out to be good practice. You cough, harder this time. Dry breath hits your knuckles. Inside, a light comes on. 

Bennett Durkan – Good Practice

 

My son roared right back at them,

                        arms overhead—

                        Eyes full of wonder,

                                                I watched him instead.

Joe Wahlman – Autumn Waves

_-

I didn’t know her, yet dedicated all my activities to her, let her borrow my senses, feel her muscles through my exercise,
fill her lungs through my breaths, see art at the museum through my eyes, taste wonderful food at an Italian Christmas through my taste buds.

Bahar Anooshahr – In her Body

 

We notice things: the steady speed of dust
Accumulating at our spines, your glances

Kevin Murphy – Shelf Life

The neighbor, she likes to grow vegetables in the warm,
leaving my headaches and my heart on the front porch.
I must insert each in the proper cavity.
Sun widens over in a massive thaw.
All land obeys like a shackled chain gang.

Amanda Tummirano – The Approach of Spring

– 

Before he left, he turned,
and to all of us and to none of us
gave a slight, seemly bow,
as if to say,
Sleep well. I am here.

                       Bric Barker – 1281 Train to Andong

 

You roll over into a darkness that eases
upon your shoulder.  Within
a manageable light, your two faces
discuss themselves: hammer or nail—
nurse or patient?

Britt Melewski – In Patient

 

Where we would walk
with shadows ignoring the coarseness
beneath our feet like barefoot nomads
yours, one step ahead of mine, so carefully
avoiding this unbearable existence of following.

Carol Lynn Grellas – Before the Pink House

 

Cloudless
Eyes.  Ebi
Shinjo starry
Skies.
Friends to whom I belong.  Friends who I will wrong.

Lynn Xu – Our Love is Pure (first in Octupus Magazine)

 

“This is a game isn’t it? You’re testing me somehow.”

“Interesting you would think that. How do you feel about tests?”

“I don’t care one way or the other,” I say.

“Suppose I pulled a gun from my pocket and said I was going to shoot you?”

“I’d have to think about that. Shoot me where exactly?”

“For starters, let’s say the leg.”

Allen Hope – Not The First Time

 

Beside the refrigerator is where Mom sits, in the dark. Even though it is only afternoon, the house does not let much light in. The leg holes of the underwear she wears on her head open up to pink curlers with pressed black hair wrapped around them; they poke through like antennas. The nightgown she wears is sheer. I can see the outline of her long breasts under it. They sit on top of her tummy; these are the biggest things on her five-foot frame.

“This is my house,” she says.

Melissa Valentine – Evidence of Him

Later that evening, before retiring, Mr. P. was cleaning his teeth in his bathroom. Midway he paused,  and looking in the mirror with a mouthful of froth, he mouthed softly, “Wow, awesome!” and then, a little louder — “MAGIC!!”

Kay Perry – Terri and Tonka

We sleep, clinging to the elbows
of spring, shackled to the warmth
of doors.  Safety is any number
greater than one

Quinn Rennerfeldt – Low Bones

In July, chemo ended:
Wendy’s napkins
folded the same–
but I’d been rearranged

Carol Smallwood – Lunch at Wendy’s (first in vox poetica)

_

_

You are a stone chained behind my teeth, biting my tongue
until it is slashed into ribbons.
Does your throat swallow
broken glass when a shadow reminds you of me?

Carolyn D. Elias – Mother

_

_

I have felt the night quiver with heron’s wing
over the swamps, over wild pigs in a blackberry patch,
their snouts bloody & alive in the moonlight,
& I have walked on, dirty, alone, kicking to the grasses
the swollen bodies of possum, squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, bobcat,
giving them no prayer, no peace-filled silence.

Joshua Poteat – Hitchhiking in the Dying South

the best way is to have these conversations
with your backs to one another
trembling from what you may hear next

Roger Bernard Smith – said

if we could hold still
long enough in the sheen
of morning light.

Carol Tyx – Tomatoes on Windowsill

“I’ll be wantin’ decaf too, sweetheart. Make sure it’s hot,” he wheezes. His eyes, level with my throat, are disturbingly blue, but one struggles to stay open. As I turn to assist The Golden Girls, who are making eyes at the pot in my hand, his snowy hand clutches my wrist.

“Ya know, I have a fetish for ponytails,” he says, licking each word. Oh my God. I am suddenly too aware of the end of my ponytail tickling the back of my neck. I breathe in the mixture of scrambled eggs and last night’s Old Spice.

Kelsey Damrad – Breakfast at the Ranch

 

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issue 7

Sassafras Literary Magazine
issue 7, April 28th, 2014
link to download PDF or online at ISSUU 
art
Mattison Teeter
Maria Maddox

poetry
A.J. Huffman - From Forest’s Path
Allison Hymas  - Warning, Domestic
Amanda Tummirano - The Approach of Spring,
                                The Trifle
Bric Barker -  1281 Train to Andong
Britt Melewski  - In-patient, Better Than Not,
                                Minor Leaguer
Carol Lynn Grellas - Before the Pink House,
                          The Waiting Room
Carol Smallwood - Lunch at Wendy’s
Carol Tyx - Tomatoes on Windowsill, Garage

Carolyn D. Elias -  Mother
Joe Wahlman - Autumn Waves
Joshua Poteat - Hitchhiking in the Dying South
Kevin Murphy - Viewing, Shelf Life
Lynn Xu - Our Love is Pure, Two Poems
Quinn Rennerfeldt - Low Bones, Whittled One
Roger Bernard Smith - said, standstill
Simon Perchik - Four untitled poems

fiction
Allen Hope - Not the First Time
Bennett Durkan  - Good Practice
Kay Perry - Terri and Tonka

nonfiction
Bahar Anooshahr  - In Her Body
Kelsey Damrad - Breakfast at the Ranch
M.C. Kelly - Beware of Bird
Melissa Valentine - Evidence of Him

Kelsey Damrad – Breakfast at the Ranch

Breakfast at the Ranch

“Everybody, doors open in 5,” his voice calls out, heavy from the weight of his accent. Nobody pays any attention.

Stale sunlight pours through the oversized windows, which line the room. Waiters and waitresses styling the signature maroon polo and black cargo pants bustle by to check that each glass on their table is perfectly polished. Sergio, the robust manager, is not forgiving when confronted with an unpolished glass.

“No, cariña,” Sergio says to one of the waitresses, reviewing the glass under the light and shaking his head. “Otra vez.” She picks up her wet rag and resigns herself to rubbing the glass free of fingerprints.

I pretend to ignore Sergio as he checks my tables for unpolished culprits and wait for the nod of approval. I relax when he moves on without a complaint.

“Oh God,” the waitress, Maria, says. I follow her gaze out the oval window that overlooks the terrace and half-hearted gardens that sketch the outline of the driveway. Three buses unload the weekend guests. It is not unusual for people to come in groups to the Rocking Horse Ranch. Moral support, I assume. “It’s an old peoples’ weekend.”

I shrug, preoccupied by the clang of the bell in the distance and the familiar “Come and get it!” screamed at the guests by two of the waiters. Breakfast time.

She shakes her mane of tangled hair and her midnight irises focus on me.

“Old people don’t tip and so gross!” she explains. “And you make damn sure their coffee is hot, mami, because you won’t hear the end of it.”

Sergio calls for us again to line up to seat the guests. I don’t have time as my table starts to pile with a group of eight clucking women who seem to have come straight from the set of The Golden Girls.

I grab the handle to the coffee pot, and pause. Better bring the decaf. I replace the black handle with the orange.

Everything is buffet style, except for omelets. I stand next to one lady as she munches on a cantaloupe with cottage cheese and knits a scarf with the other hand. Her pink mouth stretches in a smile as I introduce myself, with lips as cracked as the Sahara in a drought.

“Honey! Has anyone ever told you? You are the spittin’ image of Molly!”

“Ringwald? Yeah, I get that sometimes.” Their popcorn heads bob in agreement at my uncanny resemblance to the 80’s actress – their own little breakfast club. I pull out my pad to change the subject.

They give me their egg orders and demand their decaf.

Hot, they remind me.

I ask them what their plans are for the rest of the weekend. Honestly, what do people do on a ranch getaway? My generic question produces a predictably generic list: swims in the lake, horseback rides and endless gluttony. One of them suggests nude swimming and they all burst into cackles of delight, but know they would never, really dare.

After I drop off my slip of egg white omelet orders to the chef, I make my way to stand against the wall and plaster on a smile as a new cluster of elderly folk claim their tables. The other manager, Katie, asks if I gave my egg orders to the chef. Her stomach bulges over the top of her belt, and a button is threatening to pop open.

“Old people are so adorable,” she coos. One of the ladies at my table, who I pick as Betty White, hears her and shares a look of disdain with the woman next to her. I stay quiet. Who am I to call someone with 50 years on me adorable?

Across the room, I notice an elderly man struggling to occupy the corner table. Waiters around him either don’t notice or don’t care. I worm my way through the littered floor of squashed grapes and abandoned napkins toward him. Two chairs, made from heavy oak, block his path and his knotted fingers scratch at the nape of his neck with what I can only assume to be frustration.

I move the chairs out of his way.

“Coffee?” I ask, as I make room for him to sit. He relieves his massive frame onto the chair and doesn’t answer immediately. Dressed in a pallid gray suit and glossy shoes only suitable for Sunday brunch, his chest heaves with exhaustion and he ignores me. A stuttered sigh later and I begin to wonder if he had even heard me. But, finally, he turns a milky gaze on me.

“He’ll be wantin’ decaf,” a voice aged with tobacco answers behind me. Of course. I could have guessed that. I make a note on my pad and repeat my question to the newcomer. He is sturdy, yet slight, and exudes an air of boyish confidence. He must have been a charmer in his day. For some reason, this makes me more uneasy than his silent friend.

“I’ll be wantin’ decaf too, sweetheart. Make sure it’s hot,” he wheezes. His eyes, level with my throat, are disturbingly blue, but one struggles to stay open. As I turn to assist The Golden Girls, who are making eyes at the pot in my hand, his snowy hand clutches my wrist.

“Ya know, I have a fetish for ponytails,” he says, licking each word. Oh my God. I am suddenly too aware of the end of my ponytail tickling the back of my neck. I breathe in the mixture of scrambled eggs and last night’s Old Spice.

“Can I tug your ponytail?” Without consent, he reaches behind me and gives a feeble tug. I throw a desperate look around the dining hall, but still nobody pays attention. The silent man turns his thick neck to watch the horses that graze in the paddock. A woman who favors purple paisley attire pushes her walker past me.

The old man, clasps his black and blue hands together and indulges in a toothless grin.

“Ahh, my wife hates it when I tug other girls’ ponytails,” he wheezes a chuckle, his skeleton hand still clasping my wrist as he sits. I force myself to stay polite, for the sake of my tips.

“Shall I get a decaf for your wife too?”

“Nah. She’s been dead for four years.”

He lifts the scalding mug to his cracked lips and sips. His hand trembles. Should I pretend to ignore?

I settle for an apology.

“I’m so sorry.” Even as the words come out, I am not sure if they are sincere. He ignores me.

He digs into his plate of sausage links and pancakes. Mouth full, he taps on the rim of his already suffocated mug and I top it off.

A hand squeezes my hip and Alex, a waiter, is next to me with a serving tray piled with The Golden Girl’s omelets.

“Hey you,” he says, with a crooked smile. “Thought I’d help you out. You looked like you needed it.” His eyes are mocking, and the same disturbing blue as the ponytail puller.

I silently relieve him of the tray and deliver the eggs to the ladies. I am prepared this time, with a fresh pot, when they hold out their lipstick stained mugs.

Decaf, they cluck. They noticed, by the handle, that I brought the caffeinated kind.

 

I finish their refills and stand beside a bus stand, topping off a mug every now and then as the room starts to thin out. The Golden Girls are one of the last tables to leave. They each grab my arm to say goodbye on their way out, pulling my face close to theirs. They all do that, I notice.

Maria helps me clear the table of their untouched eggs and empty half & half containers. Rolling her eyes and muttering aggressive Spanish under her breath, she snatches a broom and dustbin from the kitchen and begins to sweep away the muffin crumbs the ladies had carelessly strewn on the carpet.

I glance over at the corner table. Looks like Curly and Larry left.

“I’ll go start that table,” I say, and slip the empty bus bin under my arm. The plates and fork handles are sticky with maple and the table is littered with egg carcasses. My stomach curls as I gingerly pick up a stained, crumpled napkin and toss it in the bin.

The charmer’s coffee mug is left untouched and the lukewarm contents swirl like oil. Not hot enough.

Katie’s manicured finger calls me over. Maria’s eyes follow me, squinting at the object in Katie’s hand.

“Your table left a tip.”

She holds a pocket-sized manila envelope, containing a tip from The Golden Girls : $2.87. Maria screams a laugh as she looks over my shoulder at the amount. I pretend to ignore.

I slip the envelope into my apron, and continue the mundane task of scraping the crumbs off the surface of the table in preparation for lunch.

 –

 

Kelsey Damrad is a writer and journalism student at SUNY New Paltz. Born and raised in Rhode Island, she hopes to move to a big city after graduation to pursue magazine journalism. Aside from her being in front of her laptop, her favorite places are on a mat in a yoga studio or in nestled in a corner of a library. Kelsey’s is infatuated with culture, people and the power of the pen. Her main priorities in life are to try new things, eat anything red velvet and start the day with a decent cup of coffee.

Bahar Anooshahr – In Her Body

In Her Body

 

 

I didn’t know her, only of her.  Only that she was thirty-five, mother of three small children, going through divorce, and now in the hospital with some old TIA’s: transient ischemic attacks or mini-strokes.  Old strokes need no treatment, but the doctors found obstruction in the artery leading to her brain, the left carotid.  They inserted three stents and warned the family about risk of re-stroke.  I knew, from residency, they must have put her on anticoagulants…blood thinners.  She deteriorated the next day, had a subarachnoid hemorrhage, the worst kind of stroke. She bled into her brain, in the area where the speech center lies, where motor control of the right side rests.

I didn’t know her.  Just that she had been through enough already with his affairs and the divorce.  Why this?

Grandma used to say, “When Muslims fast, all their prayers are answered.” So I stopped eating, even recited Joshan Kabeer–the prayer that says God’s name 100 different ways–in two languages, taking care to pronounce the glottal H’s perfectly.  I read it despite practicing Buddhism now.  Though I chanted too.

I didn’t know her, yet dedicated all my activities to her, let her borrow my senses, feel her muscles through my exercise, fill her lungs through my breaths, see art at the museum through my eyes, taste wonderful food at an Italian Christmas through my taste buds.

When she went back to the operating room for a decompression procedure, I imagined her brain on the CT scan, the left hemisphere spongy white from bleeding.  She would have been just a case in residency, the subarachnoid hemorrhage case, the exciting craniotomy case, a cool brain to operate on.  Now, she was Anna, the woman I wanted to protect against death from thousands of miles away.  Had they shaved that beautiful chestnut brown hair?  Did they staple or suture the incision?

The ventilator huffed in my ear, as it pushed oxygen into her lungs, clicking at the end of each breath cycle. A monitor, with tentacles stretched onto her limp torso and fingertip, would display her vital signs in different colors, beeping to her heartbeat.

I sobbed while searching the literature for new treatments: surgical, medical, holistic, anything.  Had we baboons made any scientific progress in the past five years? Screw the poor prognosis.  Blast it’s-the-worst-kind-of-hemorrhage. I wanted to fight death on her behalf; fly to where she was hospitalized and sit by her ICU bed, not as a physician but as a woman; read to her; play her children’s recorded voices; have harp music at the bedside, because in one study it helped stabilize patients’ blood pressures. I would do what the doctors didn’t have time to, recruit her mother to read her favorite book, ask her father to tell her stories of childhood Christmases. No one was allowed to walk away from Anna or assume she wouldn’t make it, not even the soon-to-be-ex-husband.

I needed her to fight, for her life, for the sound of her children’s voices, for her youth, to prove she can, and because he had resigned.

I didn’t know her, yet wanted to be there because no woman should face death or disease alone.

I still don’t know her.

What makes me wage the war of the century for her sake, convinced I’m the only one in her corner?  Is it that I have experienced divorce too?  Or, that the woman I want so desperately to devote my senses to, the one I’m defending with all my might, the one I wish others wouldn’t give up on, is me inside Anna’s body?

 

 

 

 

Bahar is an Iranian-American woman who immigrated to the United States at the age of seventeen, having lived through the revolution and Iran/Iraq war. Once a non-stop talker, she had to remain silent for a year before being able to communicate effectively in English. She left a career in oral and maxillofacial surgery to become a writer. Her works have been published in a number of literary journals including: Mslexia, the Newer York, Mandala Journal, Monkey Bicycle, and Marco Polo Arts Magazine, where she is a regular contributor. Her non-fiction essay is forthcoming in the anthology In The Night Count the Stars.

 

Melissa Valentine – Evidence of Him

Evidence of Him

 

 

I.

I find Mom sitting in the dim kitchen nearly naked, wearing only a see-through nightgown and a pair of holey underwear on top of her head to protect her curlers. Her eyes droop. She hasn’t slept.

“What?” I ask, frightened, my backpack still in hand. Back and forth her head slowly shakes. “What?” I ask again.

“Your Aunt Evelyn called.” I have some idea of what’s coming, but I wait for more. She shakes her head. Despair is not an uncommon reaction to phone calls from my father’s sisters. “She’s coming.”

Evelyn isn’t bad so much as she’s rich and white, and judgmental. She wants to help, to check on us, make sure we’re still alive inside our rat’s nest. So every year, she gets off of her husband’s yacht in Miami and flies to Oakland where her brother, his black wife, and all of their millions of children (five) continue (to her amazement) year after year, to exist. How were we not dead yet? How had we not been killed by one of Dad’s booby traps? How had we not been killed by a bullet on the murderous Oakland streets? And those public schools. So many things could have and should have killed us. That’s what Mom would have us believe about our aunt, and so even though she was nice enough, bought us things, bought things for the house, I remained skeptical. I watched for her judgments. But often, they never came.

“When is she coming?”

“Next week.” Mom pretends to weep in her hands. “Just look at this…” She lifts her hands from her face and motions to display the state of the house.

She describes the state of the house in shapes. It’s in good shape or it’s in bad shape. After relatives visit, when we clean the best we can, make things “passable,” as Mom says, meaning there are chairs to sit on, and more than just a narrow pathway to squeeze our bodies through each room. Bad shape is when we haven’t had visitors for a while, when we forget our furniture is made of wood because we can’t see it. Every surface is covered in papers, seeds, tools.

The house is in bad shape.

I put myself in the shoes of my aunt who will arrive in a week. She will notice a chainsaw near the front door, an industrial-sized ladder resting on the couch. She’ll see a coffee table covered in mail and plants.  Horrified, I continue scanning the house as far as I can see.

Evelyn would have to take large steps over boxes used for organizing with labels on them in Dad’s handwriting: BILLS, TAXES, MAIL they said. She would then enter the dining room where she would see more papers, surrounded by boxes stuffed not with what their labels would have you believe, but full of more fun finds like pine cones, naked headless barbies, photo copies of very important articles that Dad cut out from the Oakland Tribune, and old issues of Outdoor Alabama magazine.

The six chairs around the dining table were also covered. They were storage for phone books, all seven of them, electronics Dad wasn’t ready to part with—a broken walk man, a retired boom box, walkie talkies with wires hanging out of them like guts, lots of dead batteries.

I join Mom in her anxiety, knowing that when Aunt Evelyn walked on, into the kitchen, she would find a room from which no perspective or angle could you see a sliver of counter or floor space. The surfaces were completely filled: a toaster, four or five half-full loaves of bread, open jars of peanut butter with spoons inside. More peanut butter behind the pile of plates. A pot of rice from the day before. A skillet coated in congealed oil. Cans of soup. Packages of Jell-O. Tapioca pudding. Dirty mugs. Cardboard coffee cups stacked from the nearby coffee shop for reusing. Oily paper bags full of day-old pastries, also from the coffee shop.

She’d see our latest acquisition, a small TV sitting on top of a broken swivel chair found on the street that offered five fuzzy channels. In the middle of the kitchen, near boxes and broken appliances, there is a chair for sitting while either talking on the phone or watching TV. This is where Mom sits.  Above her is the refrigerator, which we’re proud of; water and ice come out of it. On top of the refrigerator is Dad’s filing system for receipts. Every time anyone opens or closes the refrigerator, a shower of receipts falls on top of their head.

Beside the refrigerator is where Mom sits, in the dark. Even though it is only afternoon, the house does not let much light in. The leg holes of the underwear she wears on her head open up to pink curlers with pressed black hair wrapped around them; they poke through like antennas. The nightgown she wears is sheer. I can see the outline of her long breasts under it. They sit on top of her tummy; these are the biggest things on her five-foot frame.

“This is my house,” she says. “How can I live this way?” She says this to no one, as if I am not standing there witnessing. “We have a week,” she says, regaining some composure.  She looks at me, wanting me to acknowledge that she’d said “we” and not “I.” We we’re on a team. Dad was not on that team. I like being on her team. I can see life come into her eyes. “Vivian will help,” she says and smiles at me now. Now I am in the room. “We can do it.” There she is. Now she sees me. “Maybe Claire will even come and help.”

 

II.

Claire. When I open the door I find my beautiful seventeen-year-old sister Claire sitting on the living room floor, her long bohemian skirt a pile around her legs, her lips red, her curls fallen onto her face as she and Mom laugh. I am merely seven. She is my hero, in part because she doesn’t have to live here.

“Guess who’s here to pitchfork!” Claire shouts when she sees me. She calls cleaning for relatives pitchforking. It’s a term she made up for the final moments before they arrive when things gets desperate and we stop thinking about logical places for things and just started tossing entire boxes down the basement stairs, under beds, and into closets.

 

III.

A week later Aunt Evelyn arrives. Just hours before her plane touches down, the house is finally becoming passable. Dad paces nervously around the house peering over at what we’re doing, making sure we don’t throw anything valuable away.

“What are you doing with that?” He comes running towards me. In my hand is a cracked plastic filing rack that I’m about to toss in my garbage bag.

“That’s perfectly good,” he says, taking it from my hands.

“But it’s cracked,” I say. “And we have a bunch of others that aren’t.” I point to a pile I had uncovered as I cleaned. He storms out of the room. I hear the front door slam. And five minutes later he returns, eyes on my garbage bag.

He waits until the very last moment to leave for the airport to pick up Evelyn. From the front window I watch as his truck pulls off and drives down the street.

“He’s gone!” I yell.

“Pitchfork time!” Claire calls.

I run to the kitchen to join Mom and Claire, as they stuff everything in sight into bags and begin tossing them down to the basement.  I stuff several bags in the closet of the bedroom all of us kids share and other bags under Mom and Dad’s bed.

The phone rings. It’s Dad calling from a payphone.

“He’s stalling her!” Claire announces. “He’s taking her to the Botanical Garden.”

We’re relieved to have a little more time. Mom goes to the Laundromat to wash sheets, towels, and a tablecloth.  Claire sweeps and I shove the receipts on top of the refrigerator out of sight.

When too much time has passed, I glance out the front window every few minutes. I have watch duty. From the window I see the truck pull into the driveway, her luggage precariously loaded on top of a layer of gardening tools and the chainsaw Dad took out of the house earlier that week in his fury.

“They’re here!” I alert everyone to get into position, look normal, wipe the dirt and sweat from their faces.

Evelyn opens the truck door. I watch as she looks up and down the street, re-familiarizing herself with the neighborhood. Her red hair is exactly the same color as his. Her nose just as big. Claire says the only difference between them is that Evelyn married well.  I think about Mom, I think maybe she didn’t marry well when she married Dad.

I hear Claire and Mom scuffling in the back. Vivian has retreated to our bedroom. I wait in my place on the couch to greet Evelyn when she comes through the door. I am the greeter. Someone has to be the buffer between Dad and everyone, so I stay.

Evelyn looks like she’s just stepped off a boat. Her white Capri pants reveal her pale, freckled ankles, strapped into wedge sandals. A freckled chest shows beneath her loosely buttoned plaid shirt

“Hello my dear,” she sings the word hello and comes towards me with wide-open arms, grinning.  Up close, she smells just like chlorine. When she lets go, she looks at my Dad and asks him if she can use the bathroom.

Dad scratches his head where he still has a halo of red hair.  “We don’t let our guests use the bathroom,” he says.  She looks at me for confirmation that he’s joking and laughs. “I’m serious,” he says. “The café down the street is open, Sophia will walk you there.”

“Oh Bruce!” she says, hitting him on the chest.

“We only invite guests over who have superior, enlarged bladders.” She laughs to be polite. “I thought we were related, but I guess not. My relatives all have enlarged bladders,” he says.

“Well if it’s too much trouble…”

Dad stops his act.

“Let me go ask Shirley if it’s ready,” he says, walking through the dining room he now barely recognizes. All of his things are missing from it. He doesn’t know how to act, where to put his body, and he most definitely does not know what to say. And in his dismay at the state of his house, the absence of his things, he has ruined it all. The whole point is to pretend we haven’t tried to make the house look this way, that there aren’t bags of garbage hidden behind every closed door.

He returns with the okay, but explains that the toilet is rigged so if she has to go number two she really can go to the café if she wants to be comfortable. Still, Evelyn opts to use our bathroom.

When she comes out, we wait for her to have something to say or do because we have nothing to say or do. We don’t even know where anything is. We barely recognize the surfaces she begins placing her things on: her purse, her sunglasses. Do something, Evelyn. Say something. We have nothing planned besides having a passable house for her to enter.

Claire, Mom, and Vivian still won’t come out. Junior still isn’t home. I have Dad duty. I have to be there with him. I can’t leave him alone to do something like offer to hang her sweater in the front closet where I know for a fact a garbage bag is stuffed. I watch in horror every time Dad opens his mouth.

Luckily, Dad’s first instinct in uncomfortable situations is to leave them.

“Would you like some Chinese food? I’ll get some Chinese food while you rest.”

Evelyn smiles. “That sounds fantastic, Bruce.”

Dad returns nearly an hour later with a bag full of Chinese food from the restaurant around the corner. We eat at the table for the first time in almost a year. Vivian emerges with the smell of food. She greets Evelyn, makes herself a plate and sits at the silent table with us. Evelyn attempts to fill the silence with questions, which Vivian responds to with one word answers: good, no, yes.

With the slam of the door, Evelyn, Vivian and I are left alone. Our chewing fills the room. After minutes that seem hours, Mom appears. She is dressed for Evelyn in a red blouse, jeans, and maroon lipstick. Her head is full of fluffy pressed curls, shiny with oil. Even over the smell of Chinese food, her perfume fills our noses. Claire follows. She wears a loose green knit sweater that slumps off one shoulder, jeans with holes in both knees, her hair an explosion of curls that she has to constantly move out of her face.

I am instantly grateful for their presence and furious with them for leaving me alone for so long on Dad duty. I relax into my seat and let them take over. Claire is good at talking to people.

“Well hello!” Evelyn shrieks. “Were you two resting? Bruce tells me how hard you all were working to clean the house. You must be exhausted!”

Mom shrinks.

I can see the rage growing behind Mom’s squinting eyes and half smile. Her body moves with a rigidity saved just for Dad’s sisters.

 

IV.

Evelyn takes my brother Junior and I for a walk through the part of the neighborhood full of shops and cafes. Evelyn walks ahead, waiting and looking back at us from every corner. Her long, freckled boat legs are faster than ours.  She walks like she knows the place.

“Here,” she says, pointing to a bookstore. We follow her in and then we all separate. I go to the kid’s section and Junior goes to the comic books. She has a stack of books on the counter when we’re ready to check out. She buys Junior and I one book each. On the spine of one of her books I read the words Driven to Distraction, followed by the words Adult ADD.

Later that day I notice that Driven to Distraction is sitting out on the dining room table in plain sight.  I don’t move it. It stays there all day. I see everyone pass by it, reading its title, picking it up, putting it back down in its place. When Mom sees it, she picks it up, too.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Mom holds the book up. When she’s upset, her speech is styled in anger. She repeats herself in a British accent. “What is the meaning of this?” She sets the book back down and looks at me.

“It’s for Daddy. Evelyn got it. She thinks he has ADD.”

Her body moves towards me, stiff, in slow motion, a half smile. “Is that right?”

 

When I see the book again it’s on the front porch. There is evidence of Dad in it—it’s bursting with receipts and newspaper clippings, an envelope of seeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melissa Valentine is a writer and acquisitions editor living in Oakland, CA. She received her MFA in nonfiction from Mills College. In 2013, Melissa was a finalist for Glimmertrain’s Family Matters writing contest. She is currently at work completing her memoir, The Names of All the Flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sassafras issue 7 is here!

SSFRS cover7

Finally – after a long break since issue 6 – introducing the brand new Sassafras:
Number 7 is a plump little beast, 80 pages*, making it (at least) a double issue.

*Well, a large chunk of the 80 pages = white space and the non-compact font of choice, Deco Type Naskh.

Thank you all writers and artists who contributed to issue 7:

SSFRS7contribsThe issue 7 page will follow after this post.

Art preview issue 7:

Black Mare Topsy & Lyca's Relief Wagon

Black Mare Topsy & Lyca’s Relief Wagon by Maria Maddox http://www.mariamaddox.com/tales-from-the-thousand-isles/

Cyclops kitty

Cyclops kitty by Mattison Teeter http://www.instavillage.com/u/mattisonteeter/