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

 

Advertisement

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/

 

Issue 6

SASSAFRAS LITERARY MAGAZINE ISSUE 6  - Nov 25th, 2013 

CONTENT

ARTWORK

Emily Strauss (photos) - Covering Fog,
Hills and Barn, River Morning

POETRY

Jon Bennett - AHM#2
Michael Boccardo - What No One Told Me About Autumn,
Fable For Boys Who Chase Tornadoes

Beth Boylan - The List
Micah Chatterton: Self - Hypnosis
Nancy Correro - Pursuit of the other side,
New Life in the 21st Century

Megan Kaminski - Dear Sister
Mercedes Lawry - Trends, The Observer
Jeremy Nathan Marks - The Conversation,
The Moon

Dawn Schout - Scablands,At The Royal Palace
Emily Strauss - After a While Dumbness Strikes, Night Music


FICTION

Michael Brasier - Like Nothing Ever Happened
Ron Morita - Flight
Sherri H Levine - Footbridge
Ashleigh Rajala - Coal Dust



NONFICTION

Riona Judge McCormack - Theme in A Minor
Kelly Seiz - Pluck

(Sassafras issue 6 as a PDF)

Kelly Seiz – Pluck

Pluck

_

A fire, a separation, and a new house atop a New York mountain occur in that order over the next four years. Kelly is now seven years old.
The eyelashes have grown back. She’s constantly engaged by the new surrounding forest and there, she plays, instead of hiding beneath tables like a trapped animal chewing its leg off.

_
Life is good on the mountain. Kelly hasn’t seen a psychologist in two years and feels comfortable, if not beautiful.

_
The divorce is finalized and her mother wins primary custody. Kelly turns ten and they move off of her beloved mountain and down into the village. Soon after, the edges of Kelly’s eyelids grow bare. By now, she’s strategized that if she only plucks gradually, the main body of lashes will be enough to keep her secret hidden.

_
Middle school proves horrendous with her pudgy body and creepy eyes. The other children are starting to become opinionated, but remain unstructured enough to ask inappropriate questions and draw insensitive conclusions.

_
“Why do you only have some eyelashes?” Kelsey asks in the bathroom, her gaggle of mini-bitches eagerly waiting a response.

_
“I’ve always been like this,” Kelly responds flatly.
“But in elementary school you had eyelashes,” she asks undeterred. Their curiosity radiates like heat. Kelly’s cheeks grow hot.

_
“I know. I don’t know,” she answers lamely. She stands downcast and silent until one by one, they flock off.

_
Anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder are commonly diagnosed in trichotillomaniacs. Kelly is diagnosed with all three by a new doctor that she drops in a week. Her mother tells her it’s a waste of money, that only she can stop plucking.

_
She swears to herself that she’ll get her eyelashes back. By the end of eighth grade, she does.

_
She stars on the modified soccer team. She wins third in the state with her All-Star softball team. The weight floats away and she’s suddenly in the elite.

_
Still, she doesn’t look anyone in the eye despite the mascara she painstakingly brushes on her brittle lashes.

 

 

 

 

 

_

_
Kelly Seiz is a freelance writer and journalism student at SUNY New Paltz. She has previously written hard news stories for the Legislative Gazette and this is her first published creative nonfiction piece. She lives in Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y. with her family and a bunch of misfits.

Riona Judge McCormack – Theme in A Minor

Theme in A Minor

 The secret is this: it can only happen when you’re not looking. That’s why it tastes the way it does, sweet and slightly sharp at once, because even then you’re missing it already. It will never happen exactly the same way again.

Perhaps it goes something like this: A plan falls through at exactly the last moment. That is how you find yourself midway up a sunny street on this mild Sunday afternoon with the thrill of having nothing in particular to do.

You stretch your fingertips out as far as you can, to see if the edges of this moment can be touched, and you think maybe they could if you could reach only a little farther. Then with someone else’s voice in your ears singing of days much like this, you wander through the first open door.

Second hand books downstairs, the sign says, so you follow it. The ceiling is low down there, and the floor tilts at odd angles. There is a hush among the crowded shelves, the other people moving in slow sleepwalking circles, heads to the side reading spines, one foot out, one finger to their lips in a half-admonishment for silence.

There is a woman on her knees in front of Classics, re-sorting books with featherlight hands. She is humming a tune that you take out your earphones to listen to, something unidentifiable and wonderful.

 You don’t want anything in particular, except to be here surrounded by these books that somebody loved once. You run you fingers along the shelves not for titles but for their feel, for a thick frayed binding or faded lettering, for a solid weight or an inscription-

To Judith, I hope this brings you some comfort. I will always be here for you if you need a shoulder. Christmas ’93.

You lose yourself for a while, in the sacred bookshushed silence. You find – after an hour, maybe more – that you have collected an armful of treasurers, misfits, stories with their own stories to tell. The humming woman rings them up, handling them like old friends. You think, purchases, and roll the word around in your mouth. Things to be tied with a piece of string and wrapped in brown paper, like sausages and hatpins.

There is more to come, though you don’t know it yet; a quiet coffee shop overlooking the aimless crowds, the lost hours within the pages of a pocketsized gem that once belonged to a Peter you will never meet. Knowing and not-knowing, some spent and some still to come.

 Outside, a little snatch of the woman’s tune escapes you, but it’s already fading and you can’t remember how the rest of it goes.

Riona Judge McCormack was born and raised in Ireland, but currently lives in Johannesburg with her partner, three cats and an underperforming lemon tree. She works in international development and has only recently made time to write, something she has wanted to do for a very long time. This is her first submission to any magazine or journal. 

Jane Rosenberg LaForge – Dialysis of the Mind

Dialysis of the Mind

 

I was working out today when I thought of my mother; how she required dialysis at the end of her life. A test to determine whether she had pancreatic cancer shut down her kidneys. Before the cancer could be treated, her kidneys had to be restored. So dialysis it was, for two weeks.

I exercise because exertion requires the heart to pump more blood, and for the blood to take in more oxygen. This has an invigorating effect, as if my blood and my organs are cleansed by my movements. Exercising also occasionally settles my mind.

My mother had at several illnesses leading up to pancreatic cancer: Cervical cancer, for one, although we did not learn of it until after her death through the medical records. She also had peripheral arterial disease. This is a painful condition in which blood fails to circulate in the limbs; it stops, as though the route to nourishing knees and shins has been blinkered off; as if it no longer exists. Peripheral Arterial Disease is caused by smoking. My mother smoked for many years before quitting at age 49. Mild exercise was prescribed to deal with this illness.

My mother once exercised quite frequently, playing tennis several times a week. But at age 70 she injured her knee on the tennis court. Surgery and therapy were ineffective. She also endured terrible arthritis most of her adult life. She hid it by taking long hot showers in the morning. “She steamed herself open like a clam,’’ my father once said.

We knew she had also experienced something like leukemia, except her body produced too many red blood cells, instead of white. The disease revealed itself through high blood pressure. She had too much blood for her vascular system. This condition was mistreated in my mother, and the result was pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, and it causes pain, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting. It also may lead to pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatitis is most often found in aging male alcoholics, although our mother did not drink. My sister drank, and she lived with our mother until our mother

died. My sister and I had a great sibling rivalry. We competed for friends, over our grades and social status, and for the affection of our parents, especially our mother’s. Who knew her better, who was the most thoughtful of her, who sacrificed more of her life and time? Perhaps I just gave up, and moved out the house. Perhaps my sister actually won this competition.

For dialysis, my mother was required to lie on a table. An intravenous line was inserted in a vein in her arm to siphon out the blood. The blood was then run through a series of filters. Blood takes in everything: sugars from our food, oxygen from the air; the toxins there too. The fine silk of the filters removes excess water, nutrients, waste and detritus. The blood is returned to the body through another intravenous line in the arm. Dialysis is not perfect. It is a manual approximation of a natural process, and therefore lacks its grace, and precision.

My sister was with my mother as she was forced to do nothing but stare at a ceiling for four hours each day. She asked our mother which was worse: dialysis or the mental hospital. No one knew this at the time of our mother’s mental illness, but diseases of the mind are caused by the faulty cycling of neurotransmitters in the brain. Instead of dispersing into the blood once they were used, our mother’s neurotransmitters batted back and forth, over and over again, between her synapses. This can lead to obsession, mania, depression, and psychosis. These illnesses resist a dialysis of the mind.

When my sister told me she had asked our mother which was worse—the dialysis or the mental hospital–I did not say anything. My sister did not tell me the answer. Instead I thought to myself, “But did you ask her which time?”

 

 

 

Jane Rosenberg LaForge is the author of a full-length poetry collection, “With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women” (The Aldrich Press 2012) and three poetry chapbooks. Her experimental novel and memoir, “An Unsuitable Princess,” will be published by Jaded Ibis Press in 2014.

Sheree Shatsky – Exposure

Exposure

My mother hates the front door to our house.

It’s not the red peeling paint or the fact the door is warped making it hard to open and close, it’s about what the door represents, the function of access and in her opinion, far too much access. “Anyone standing in the doorway can see directly into the bathroom,” she says to anyone who will listen, “and with two kids who refuse to conduct their business in private, well, that’s a peep show in the making, a real birds-eye view.”

I watch her iron sheets in the living room, spritzing each with water before pressing out the wrinkles in a haze of steam. The television is on and she listens to her stories play out on the screen that rolls black and white vertical more often than not. She plucks at the top of her blouse to cool her sticky self, pulling a tissue from the box to dab away sweat collecting under her arms. The front door stands open to let in any semblance of a breeze while she works, ironing sheets in our tiny clapboard house.

She must be plenty hot to leave that door open and risk a potential look-and-see by strangers into our house, I think, slipping into the bathroom.

I stand on the toilet to reach the sink and turn the water on cold. Black slimy insects spill out the faucet, tumbling one upon another to skitter about the wet basin and disappear down the drain. I discovered the bugs the first time I turned on the tap and have been fascinated every since, learning cold water typically results in more bugs swimming out the faucet than hot, although my mother says that makes no sense, the pipes all stem from the same place. My brother, on the other hand, learned quick there’s nothing more gruesome than Alabama water bugs after he stumbled into the dark bathroom half asleep and lapped a drink from the running water without the benefit of a cup. He swallowed two bugs whole that night, screaming himself awake after one landed on his face and tried to scramble up his nose.

The telephone rings. “Shirley,” my mother yells, “I hear you in the bathroom! Stop playing with those damn water cockroaches and go check on your brother!”

I trap the bugs inside the pipes with a rubber stopper, its metal chain chinking against the porcelain. I can hear them thumping underneath, trying to escape. “He’s still taking a nap!” I yell back, but she’s on the phone and doesn’t hear me. Otherwise, I say to myself, he’d be screaming his fool head off over these crazy water bugs. Always let the water run clear, I’d tell him, before taking a drink from the sink.

“He’s sleeping,” I said again, rounding the corner. She shushes me, irritated, her face twisted in reprimand. She mouths the words, I’m on the phone, and gestures wildly at the receiver as if playing charades. “I can’t get five minutes peace, is that too much too ask?” she asks the person on the other end of the line.

The iron is up, propped back, still hot. Steam puffs out the vents. I smooth out the sheet left draping the ironing board and remember my mother purchased the iron with thirty books of S&H Green Stamps. My tongue tasted gummy for hours after licking all those stamps.

She sees what I’m doing and shoots me a look, a glance some kids might take as a glare meaning get away from there this instant while others like myself might consider with more soulful interpretation, perhaps as a maternal plea for help with ironing the thankless, unforgiving fiber known as one hundred percent cotton.

A voice at the front door startles me. I swing around and knock the iron off balance. It falls on my forearm. I yank back and the iron clatters to the floor.

I sway, but give pause before the faint, thinking how funny my brother must be awake because I hear my grandmother screaming at him to shut the bathroom door now, that she could see his naked fanny propped up on the commode the very minute she stepped foot into the house.

Grand is a nurse who lives a couple of houses down the street, which is the single reason my mother agreed to live in a place where a bathroom stood in direct sight of a front door and more likely than not, could be seen from the neighbor’s yard across the street, if someone really tried. I sit at the table and she dresses my burn. It looks like melted vanilla ice cream, only bubbly.

She turns away to snip a piece of medical tape off the spool and I take a peek. Stop that, she says, popping me with the handle of her scissors square in the center of the gauze-covered wound. I flinch. Sit still, she hisses, raising the

scissors like a cobra ready to strike. This is what you get for not listening to your mother.

I’m afraid to ask where my mother is, so I don’t.

My father curses more often than not and I consider this as good a time as any to let one rip. I try to think of a good cuss to say in my head, but I’m only six years old and I’m afraid God might hear me. Worse, my grandmother might hear me or worse yet, read my mind or maybe even do both. Be it her own flesh and blood kin or the captive students attending her weekly Sunday School class, she can always detect when children think wicked thoughts. For those Grand caught stepping off the path of socially acceptable casual register, she relished dish soap on the offender’s profanity-ridden tongue, slick with drool in mighty effort to fight past the bitter aftertaste. Once certain the punished had swallowed, she offered a glass of water and said, Consider yourself lucky. My grandfather’s mother snipped off the tip of his tongue when he swore.

Rather than confront her with a how dare you or hands of my child, mind you, the parents of the church kids as well as my own mother and father would instead thank her very much for washing the filth from our dirty little heathen mouths. I recall one lady threatened to call the police, but she was up from Florida visiting family with her son (who was as brown as a mole, my grandmother called it a tan) and left town soon after without stirring up the promised trouble.

My arm smells cooked. It throbs fingertips to shoulder. I squeeze my eyes shut and think of Mighty Mouse. The caped cartoon crusader swoops through my thoughts to save my day anytime I feel scared and need help. He waited with me in the dark after I fell into a heating grate and flew circular patterns around my bed when I woke one night to see a shadow man on my bedroom wall. He lands on my shoulder when I get a shot and doesn’t care when I run from the doctor because I’m so afraid of the needle. Mighty Mouse is with me when I need him and he’s with me now, puncturing Grand’s poking, prodding fingers with his sharp rodent teeth. His red cape snaps with each bite.

“Well, that’s that,” she says, packing up the first aid kit. “Should leave a nice fat scar that will always remind you of what happened here today.” I hear my brother yelling my name. I look out the front door still open wide and there he is, running down the sidewalk, waving a couple of what were once frozen fudge bars at me. “Shirley! Shirley! Grand sent us to the store for something special, she said it

would make you feel better!” He stops to lick a trail of melting chocolate from the elbow up. Our mother catches up with him and pulls a wadded up tissue from her pocket to wipe up the mess. She notices me leaning against the red peeling door she despises so, backlit by the light of our peek-a-boo house, cradling my bandaged arm. I can tell she’s been crying.

“With them both screaming and carrying on, I couldn’t concentrate on nursing your foolishness, so I sent them both up to the Piggly Wiggly,” my grandmother says, massaging her hands and turning her back on me. Mighty Mouse gives me a wink and flies off towards the bathroom where the water bugs have pushed free from the darkness of the plumbing and into the light of the pastel sink.

 

 

 

Sheree Shatsky has called Florida home for fifty years. She writes short fiction believing much can be conveyed with a few simple words. Her work as an opinion writer has appeared in print and online. Ms. Shatsky’s forthcoming story “Florida Sightings” will be published by the Journal of Microliterature December 2013.

Sassafras Literary Magazine issue 4

SASSAFRAS LITERARY MAGAZINE ISSUE 4 

TABLE OF CONTENT


fiction

Paul Beckman - THIS IS NOT SELF SERVICE 
Gloria Garfunkel - Thunderstorms in South Dakota 
Matthew Laffrade - Choked City 


poetry

Gary Beck - Night Thought, Remote Father 
Tina Egnoski - Electroconvulsive Therapy;Dinner Guests at the Country House,
Apolitical Apothegm

Bruce Hinrichs - What seems now, well, only too ordinary
Seth Howard - Stepping Through The Door 
Kathie Jacobson - NEWTOWN

Don Kingfisher Campbell – Brothers 
Maureen Kingston – Threshold Dream, Dementia Aspic 
Steve Klepetar - A Silence, Laughing at the Leaves 
Justin Million - Convent, The Fourth Act 

Gaetan Sgro -Every Night We talk About The Same Thing, 
Afternoon, June 
The Coast
John Sibley Williams - Beirut,
                                I'm Reading Sunday’s Headlines That Call for Things Like Justice 

Jeremiah Walton - Road Trips Seen Thru Motel Rooms 
Jeffrey Zable - Natural Born Killer, Dear Editor/s 
Thomas Zimmerman - Forget to Die
Ali Znaidi – Counter Replica, Australian Horoscope 

nonfiction

Rebecca Andem - Fumes
Terry Barr - “Andy, It's Therapetic”

artwork 

Ece Zeber: Self-Portrait, Scene 1 - 6, untitled

Sassafras issue 4 - PDF

Rebecca Andem – Fumes

Fumes

R

“Please keep going. Please keep going.”

R
A mantra, a prayer, it didn’t matter as long as it worked. The road ahead disappeared, a straight line evaporating into a haze of heat. Rice fields, spiky green with new shoots, flanked my peripheral vision and curved off into the horizon. They seemed to circle in behind me. I passed a wat and the occasional warehouse. Nothing else. Trucks sped past. Their hot wind pushed me further onto the breakdown lane. I held my breath through clouds of diesel fumes that gathered grit. Pebbles spun off their wheels and pelted my visor. Again, I glanced down. I wasn’t going to make it.

R
“Please be around the bend. Please be around the bend.”

R
I changed my plea, anything to get me there. But there were no bends in this road. I slowed down. I remembered a moment from childhood, my mother coaxing an enormous black sedan down a country road. She drove slowly, and my sister and I practically squirmed out of our skin we were so anxious. We wanted her to hurry up and get to the station before the tank was empty, but she said driving slowly would save gas. I was willing to try it, but I didn’t have a chance. Was it my imagination, or was the moped slowing down of its own accord?

R
I began to picture the possibilities. How far could I push a moped?  How much did a moped weigh? The temperature had been well over 100 degrees for days. I had one inch of melted Yogurt Fruit Tea hanging in a little plastic bag from my helmet hook. When I looked down to check that it was still there, I couldn’t resist another obsessive glance at the gas gauge. The needle hovered near the bottom of the red zone.

R
But then there was a town. It rose out of the heat. There must have been a bend in the road. I scanned the cluttered sidewalks, the greasy little shops, the side alleys. I looked up through clusters of wires and signs, holding my breath for that giant yellow shell or a simple Esso, a bold Caltex star. Cars and motorcycles passed me from behind while several others came toward me, shortcutting through opposing traffic to get where they wanted to go. I dodged them and kept looking. They were all running on gas. Where did they get the gas?

R
But then the town was gone. I contemplated turning back. Perhaps I could take my own little wrong-way shortcut, but my u-turns were still a point of embarrassment – and danger – although in comparison, a farang woman pushing a moped down the highway was bound to draw some stares.

R
While I tried to make up my mind, I covered ground. Somehow the moped continued to run. I saw a sign up ahead, one of the official ones, black script on white, and I willed the moped forward. Suphan Buri 15. The needle rested at the bottom of the gauge. I couldn’t see even the tiniest sliver of red beneath it. How far could I go on fumes?

R

Up ahead tall trees bordered the road. They cast a shadow, a long, cool shadow, and I let off the accelerator, yearning to drift into it like a leaf into an eddy. But heat rose off the pavement, and another truck bullied past. I squinted against the grit and almost slowed to a stop. When I opened my eyes again, I saw it. Just past the trees, an entrance, a slight rise of tar off to the left. And there at eye level sat an old-fashioned sign with large removable numbers, white on navy blue. I didn’t need a logo to know what those numbers stood for. Gas.

R
Two old women sat on a concrete hump between the pumps. When I braked in front of them and turned the engine off, one of the women climbed to her feet. She wore oversized shorts and a polo shirt, and the bagginess made her thin arms and legs appear birdlike. Her hair was slicked back, and her smile was missing every other tooth.
She spoke, and I shook my head. I took the key from the ignition and unlocked the seat latch. I pointed toward the tank and mimed filling it up. She smiled again.

R
“How much?” she asked in English.

R
“Full,” I said.

R
“Hòk,” she said. “Six.”

R
I didn’t think six gallons would fit, but I figured she’d realize that soon enough. And then I remembered the concept of liters. Perhaps six would fit, but if they didn’t, would I have to pay for them? Why did I have to decide up front? Once again I mimed filling up the tank.

R

“Full,” I said.

R
She counted off on her fingers for me in English. “One, two, three, four, five, six.”

R
“Okay.” I was too tired, too hot, and too grateful to care about particulars, but just to be sure, I put the seat down and pointed at the gauge. “Empty.”

R
When she saw the gauge, her mouth dropped open. She flipped up the seat again and removed the cap to the gas tank. Bending over, she pressed her eye close to the opening to survey the inside, and when she stood up, it was with a gush of wonder. She gestured to the other old woman, who hurried over and repeated the motion, staring in close, standing with amazement. They chattered rapidly with each other, and then the first woman turned back to me.

R
“One hundred,” she said.

R
I shook my head, confused. Did the price go up when the customer was quite obviously stupid? The woman pointed at the last sale on the pump. The numbers were the old-fashioned kind that flipped. Either they were stuck on one hundred, or the customer before me had bought the same amount. Perhaps it was a standard amount to buy. I didn’t care. I didn’t even calculate how many liters that might be or what the price would be in US dollars. She could have said five hundred baht.

R

“Okay,” I said.

R
She pointed again to make sure and repeated the number. We agreed, and she picked up the nozzle. Within a second, the numbers on the pump had flipped around to one hundred again. I looked down. I could see the rainbow sheen of gas in my tank, right up to the brim, the perfect amount. Perhaps I wasn’t the only customer who took a chance with fate now and then.

R
The woman replaced the cap, and I paid her. She laughed and pointed at me.

R
“You good,” she said.

R
I laughed. I pointed at her. “No, you good.”

R
I straddled the seat and started the engine. I smiled my thanks one last time, and then with a little rush of power, I maneuvered down the sloped entrance and accelerated into traffic. The heat and haze encompassed me again, but I felt free. I glanced in my wing mirror. The station was already gone.

R

R

R

 

 

Rebecca Andem earned an MFA through the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as Petrichor Review, Hamilton Stone Review, and Upstreet. She also has three novels. Currently, she lives in Chengdu, China, where she teaches writing at an international high school.

Terry Barr – Andy, it’s ‘Terapethic’

Andy, It’s ‘Therapetic’

 

 

I’m standing in the early spring darkness: a day-for-night scene in the vein of those “Andy Griffith” episodes when they wanted to portray Mayberry by night but you could see the sun shining through the dark filters.

Our hosts have provided a keg of Busch and are keeping the late New Wave tunes cranking. Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” has segued into Wang Chung’s “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight” into Men At Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?”

I don’t know a lot of these people even though they’re members of the English Department, like me. But then, I’m beginning my dissertation, and so many of them are thinking only of whether they’ll take Master’s comps or write a thesis. I see my friend Steve talking to the woman he loves and who maybe loves him back, but then, she’s married so “who can it be now” indeed?

Like usual, I invited my roommate, Sean, a wild and worldly guy from Pittsburgh who spent the previous two years in Senegal under Peace Corps auspices. I didn’t know him before last fall, but I needed a roommate, and he seemed harmless. But he’s caused trouble at other parties, hitting on already-taken girls and causing one boyfriend to confront me:

“You better tell that roommate of yours to leave Joanna alone. She’s mine.”

As if Sean were “mine.”

Still, I like Sean; he’s a good late-night companion, and I don’t care whom he hits on as long as he leaves my face out of it. So I invited him again, for in another month I’ll be moving to a basement apartment across town and never see him for the rest of my life.

So as I’m observing Steve and listening to Van Halen’s “Jump” and wondering just who has taken over this time in my life, I see Sean coming, followed by a guy I’ve encountered before. A short guy with a combo peach-fuzz beard and upper-lip sneer. An obnoxious jerk even when he’s not drunk.

I give Sean a look.

He shrugs, half-grins, and whispers, “He followed me.”

 

 

Terry Barr writes about music and memory for culturemass.com, and his essays have appeared in Red Fez, Steel Toe Review, Bookends Review, and Hirschworth. He teaches Creative Nonfiction at Presbyterian College and live in Greenville, SC, with his wife and two daughters.

Jeremiah Walton – Road Trips Seen Thru Motel Rooms

Road Trips Seen Thru Motel Rooms

R

R

Why are you scared all the time?

she ask

Stroking my yellow knuckles,

smiling with eyes

wet,

red,

electric

blue,

spider web wrapped.

We we’re young.

Not scared.

Just too willing

to store our cigarettes

books and change

all in the same

shopping bag.

“We’re making money

solely

to get drunk

in motel rooms

& buy $1 coffee. Our

grocery stores are

7/11 & Exxon”

“We’re making money to go no where,”

she said.

“That’s where I don’t want to go,” I said.

Our bodies roll

in tangles

of sheets

stained by 1000s of

piss drunk fucks

where neither participating

left satisfied.

“We’re not doing anything with our lives” I say thick mouthed

“Where did this drunken optimism come from?”

She slurps laughter, coughs, laughs, coughs smiling

She’s always smiling

I laugh,

smell of booze

calms red nostrils

flaring

like irritated

innie belly buttons.

Pupils shutter

like skin of a snare drum,

skittering like peddles

in an earthquake.

She was a seismograph

that could register me

1000s of miles away.

Empty orange bottles

snagged from her parents’

medicine cabinet

are catching Zs

before further ingestion

in

our jackets and shopping bags and clothes 

piled

room’s corner.

We lay naked in more than one way

Outside sleeps like dogs

muggy warm dreams

bout Las Vegas

desert road trips

& California

road side oasises,

hidden beaches

& margaritas.

We all want to get outta here.

The motel windows are oily,

smudged with age, lit by

neon lights,

the glare of people waking,

driving cars full of Lack Of.

We’re all lacking something someone has,

and

I don’t want it all.

The road cracked

sand tumbling

Earth shaking

like corner lip

of an angry bullet

her smile tastes metal

Their business calling

waiting to ring

with every cellphone charge,

every empty payphone

on the street.

Wives,

children,

mortgages,

unpaid bills & landlords,

old washing machines

sputtering, church meetings,

therapy, jobs

and the absence of jobs,

low monthly incomes. There’s

a lot on our chests

and even more

beating

inside of them.

I’ll drink more

to feel healthy again.

Healthy in the way

only a doctor prescribes.

“I want you to enjoy life. Smile and mean it.

Because you haven’t in so long.” she said rolling

into my side,

her head

resting

like wisdom.

My gut

rises and falls

as ocean swells.

I love her. I love our

freedom.

“Your feet are freezing” I say

Looking at red spider

webs

dripping sludge

from electric blue

punctured deep

with black hole

goodness.

“Smile!”

She laughs again,

smiles,

laughs,

slurs,

laughs.

I love her.  

R

R

Jeremiah Walton is 18 and backpacking the East Coast. He manages Nostrovia! Poetry, WISH Publishing, The Traveling Poet, and is an editor at Underground Books. He blogs at Gatsby’s Abandoned Children.

Gloria Garfunkel – Thunderstorms in South Dakota

Thunderstorms in South Dakota

The summer of our cross-country trip, west from Massachusetts to Yellowstone down Utah to Arizona, New Mexico and a quick drive home. Elder was six, younger was four, Mr. Brave and Mr. Misery.  We camped in the Badlands of South Dakota and noticed some flashes of light in the early evening. More and more intense, and then rain so hard it flooded our tent. Our sleeping bags were floating and we had to sleep in the car. Bolts of lightening. Booms of thunder.

“The rubber tires will keep our car from getting hit by lightening,” Dad reassured.

Mr. Misery said he nearly peed in his pants. He had always been terrified of thunder and lightening. The next morning was gorgeous. Birds so much more brightly colored than in the east. As we drove around the next day, people told us that was the nature of South Dakota weather in the summer: thunderstorms every twenty-four hours. Poor Mr. Misery. We thought the exposure would make him less scared. It only made him worse during the tornado warnings in the Black Hills where Rangers made us abandon our car for the cinderblock lady’s room. Mr. Brave told Mr. Misery Star Wars stories in the shower stall until the storm was over. Such a lucky boy to have such a good big brother to know exactly what he needed in a shelter in a storm.

R

R

Gloria Garfunkel has a Ph.D. in Psychology from Harvard University and was a psychotherapist for thirty years. She has published almost forty stories in literary journals. She blogs at Querulous Squirrel Microfiction Daily.

issue 3

Sassafras Literary Magazine issue 3 - Sep. 30th

(issue 3- pdf)

Poetry

L.S Bassen – Vixen, October
Michael Brownstein – The Sound of Fear Late in the Midnight Hour, When You Die, Can You Still See The Moon?

Wayne F Burke – White Lines, Rat
Sam Caldwell – Below The Dock
Valentina Cano – The Wait, Missing an Ocean
Rose - Anne Chabot – For Jeanne
Sara Flemington – My Palm

Gabriella M Geisinger - Exit 13, Set Adrift                  
Christopher Hivner – Extra Credit, Manifesto
Alex Rieser – Everything’s the Cause Nowadays, The Thing That Saying Nothing Says, Mantes That Summer
Tom Sheehan - Born to Wear the Rags of War
Dylan Wagman – Ice

Fiction

Tom Darin Liskey – Watershed
Tom Sheehan – Searching for Mushrooms and Trolley Cars
Jeroen van Honk – Something in the Air

Nonfiction

John Brantingham – Graham Greene Saved Me That Year
Optimism One - Five Photos, Nine Lives

Artwork

Miko Maciaszek - Instagramming, Dusk Trap, Ghosts
Mike Stanko - October

Optimism One – Five Photos, Nine Lives

Five Photos, Nine Lives

 

My grandfather sits on the cement in my parents’ garage taking the training wheels off my bike. I stand above him with my arms at my side, shaggy hair shielding my eyes and fear.

“Okay, Craig, you ready?” he asks. “I think so.”

I started drinking when I was 8 years old.

“When I let go, just keep pedaling. You’re going to be okay.”

Window blinds shut tight, doors locked, phone unanswered, answering machine turned down, car parked in the backyard. Drunk and spun again, a CD case, driver’s license, and hollowed out pen on the table next to me.

I remember watching M*A*S*H every day after school, fascinated by the breaking and repairing of relationships and bodies.

I am sitting on the bike, each hand gripping the handlebars and my feet resting on the pedals, my butt at the closest tip of the long banana seat, and my grandfather is running beside me, his right hand on the back of the seat and his left hand on the edge of the left grip of the handlebars.

When I got to the top of the stairs, my mom was already on the phone. She had walked out of the bathroom and not zipped up her jeans. Her hand on her mouth, her head dropped.

Passport #: 477646535. It says my birth date, 17 April 1970, but it doesn’t say my sobriety date, 5 March 2002. It also doesn’t say my birth name, but it does say the name I gave myself.

My grandfather walks into the garage and asks, “Why do you still have training wheels on that bicycle?” “I can’t ride without them,” I respond. “The hell you can’t. You’re too old to be riding around like that. Gimme a wrench.”

At the end of the last episode, from the sky and zooming out, color-faded rocks spell out ‘G-O-O-D-B-Y-E’ on the clean dirt.

I am obsessed with (addicted to) fear, Korea, addiction, China, escape, Japan, booze, Vietnam, pills, Laos, powder, Cambodia, needles, Thailand, health, Burma, exercise, Indonesia, guitar, England, meditation, Ireland, recovery, Italy, service, Guatemala, friendship, Belize, family, Costa Rica, reading, Nicaragua, writing, Mexico. I am obsessed with (addicted to) kissing love and life on the mouth. And running from it. I am obsessed with (addicted to) riding my bike.

My grandmother told my mom that my grandfather had called the sheriff to report finding a dead body in his field, then walked out into that field and shot himself in the chest with his shotgun.

“Okay,” my grandpa yells, “one…two…three!” He pushes me even harder than he had been running, launching me forward into a speed and freedom I have never known, my tiny legs like pistons, my hair pushed back by the wind, and a grin on my face that I have never grinned.

I never wanted to stop.

I am on the beach on an island in the Gulf of Siam, having taken several planes, buses, tuk-tuks, songthaews, and boats to get here, and am staying at a remote resort called The Sanctuary.

I never want to stop.