20 Sep

Poetry – His New York by John Brantingham

His New York
by John Brantingham

My father chose
my first and middle names
because they were
the two most popular names
that year, and he never wanted
me to feel like an outsider,
a moment of kindness
from an American man
whose son was being born
in a hospital in the Netherlands.
These were the days
when fathers waited outside
while mothers gave birth inside,
and I imagine him
with the cup of coffee
that was always in his hands
staring out at the rain
and sea or the endless flat fields
that were so different
from his New York,
talking to people who spoke his language
because he couldn’t speak theirs,
and worrying that his son might feel
what he was feeling right then.
Now I’ve moved back to his New York
after having lived most of my life
east of Los Angeles,
and the snow is falling,
and the copse of trees down the road
are all birch, I think.
Maybe he walked these woods
when he was young.
Maybe he liked to wander
out into them and follow
the deer tracks as they wended
through the trees and off along the hills.
I like to do that too.

__________________
John Brantingham

John Brantingham was the first poet laureate of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines and in Writer’s Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016. He has nineteen books of poetry and fiction including his latest fiction collection Life: Orange to Pear (Bamboo Dart Press).

20 Sep

Poetry – 3 Poems by Ricardo Moran

Three Poems by Ricardo Moran

 

When Saturn Came Home

He knew I could no longer live in my skin. My feelings
for the body, for the soul of that boy
forced Saturn to descend from the heavens.

But when Saturn tried to come home
on that June night
he got detained at the border,
rescuing my heart from that boy
who had held it in a Loteria card,
and who, with his eyes closed, had lost it in a wager.

And seeing no other way, Saturn found an opening
in the fence, hid his brilliance,
and tumbled into my backyard.

In his embrace, my face
pressed against his warm chest,
quenching his loneliness
with my tears. He lifted my head,
tending to my broken rings, their ends
had seared the earth,
while his breath deflected the shrill voices
who claimed dominion over the holy cosmos.

His hand reached for my fingers
for he needed me just as much
as I needed him. He hurled parts of his rings
to dance, circle, and protect me
until I could ascend the heavens on my own,
until my skin was no longer alien to me.

And with that, Saturn sat with me in the darkness.
Not letting go, he held me as I sobbed,
so I would not collapse into the earth,
so that my world became mine again.

 

 

Trashy Saint

He approaches the altar
and swipes the chalice
because God has the day off
but miracles still need to happen.

Outside, smoking a joint,
he waits at the curb for his ride,
scowling at businessmen,
scratching his balls.

His stubble is thick,
and he counts the wrinkled bills
won in last night’s bet.
The shadow from his red cap
softens his eye to a muted purple.

His ride cruises up the street.
Cobalt Blue. Heavy rims.
With an airplane engine
thrusting the car up,
like a parishioner
pleading to God.

The scantily clad woman
painted on the hood
as a reminder
that even saints are human.

There are miracles to perform today
that only Freon
and a wrench
can do. What a chalice cannot,
what a prayer
can only pretend to touch.

His fingers release the empty cup,
falling
like a lotto ticket
that no one can use.

 

 

 

Blue Light Special

This flat, heat-soaked town
has a blue light,
that spins in a store.

Perched on a silver pole,
fused to a silver cart,
It looks like it could take me
to the future,
but it just sits there.

And in 1981,
I knew of no one like me
who cringed
when he held hands with a girl.

And I didn’t know
I had the right to say no.

As this blue light turns, it draws shoppers
to trinkets in bins, to stacked bedsheets,
their eyes fixed on plastic utensils.

So, I pick up a pack of men’s briefs
because I was 10
and that’s all there was.

My hand traces the smiling white man.
“Does he like boys?”

Staring at his picture, I wonder,
“How long before
I can leave this place
and smile
in a photo like him?”
Or with him,
holding his hand.

Can I hang on?

Can this spinning blue light
save me until then?

 

_______________
Ricardo Moran
www.ricardomoranwriter.com

Ricardo Moran was one of 12 finalists in the We Need Diverse Books picture book contest in 2017. In 2020, he received the Peter K. Hixson Memorial Award for Poetry. Additionally, he sits on the board of the San Diego Writers Ink, and is also a member of the Nebraska Writers Guild where he often communes with the spirit of Willa Cather at Red Cloud. You can find him at: www.ricardomoranwriter.com

13 Sep

Poetry – “Oranges” by Susan Jensen Sweeting

Oranges
by Susan Jensen Sweeting

I remember sitting with the girls at the store, waiting, waiting
like so much fresh fish
for the customers of the day to bring their demands.
The girls would sit
relaxed and non-chalant
leaning on one hip
right knee slung over left
arms crossed at the elbows.
They would lounge so
not unlike splendid iguanas
basking on rocks,
their slow lazy speech
recounting buoyant weekends.
Even their most mundane pursuits sounded animated

I remember that among us I was the thorn,
plain and unadorned in my
utilitarian khakis and sensible shoes.
No coordinated pantsuit or dress for me.
I stood out in my ordinariness
The simple patch of green grass
amidst the plots of roses and tulips
colorful
redolent
dazzling.

I remember those roses of women
each a finely groomed example
coiffed hair
gold earrings and contact lenses
painted lips and ropes of gold,
silk floral prints, pleated trousers,
strappy sandals
manicured toes
complete with decorative falsie on the big one.
Outer trappings said nothing of the insides.

I remember the nails.
Long claws attached with super glue
sanded to perfection
artfully painted with intricate fluorescent
hieroglyphics.

I remember the nails rendering the hands useless,
disempowering their hosts to peel an orange.
Dolefully, the girls would eye the orange,
juicy, inviting
hopeless on the counter.
Their vanity overpowering their longing perhaps.

I remember peeling oranges so the disempowered hosts could eat.
My unencumbered fingers tearing skin from delicious fruit.

 

______________________
Susan Jensen Sweeting

Susan Jensen Sweeting is currently working on her first novel. She’s the wife of an aquaponic farmer and the mother of two bona fide adults, but she’s also a massage therapist, an artist, a Scottish fiddler, and an intrepid traveler living in Freeport, Bahamas. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Antioch University.

13 Sep

Poetry – “Thursday Night” by Zama Madinana

thursday night
by Zama Madinana

a tower of loneliness
stands still in front
of his heart
& only a cold quart of black label
remembers his plight at hideout bar
& its hungry ear ate
all his secrets
on a thursday night
drunk & upset
until he found himself
sunk & burnt
between the glory thighs
of a german tourist
her lips dripping mulberry juices
deeply dipping a poet in her poolside
after an extensive pata pata
to end a poet’s kalahari times

 

___________________
Zama Madinana

Zama Madinana is a South African poet, based in Johannesburg. His work has appeared in The Shallow Tales Review, Stanzas, Africanwriter, Poetry Potion and other literary publications. His poems have been published in Zimbabwe, Nigeria and USA. Zama’s work focuses mainly on love, politics and social issues. In 2021, he won the third prize of Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award. His poetry chapbook, Water & Lights was also published in June 2021. He has performed his poetry in places like Cape Town, Maputo, and Gaborone.

06 Sep

Poetry – Adam Deutsch

Four Poems by Adam Deutsch

Heme

You just want to be held
up, like a bullet a movie character
embraces between fingers
before dismissing it to the floor,

and want to remain nearby
when a hammer’s done driving.
That hollow slam can be a reason
for living—can be grief that

your life went on, until
a machine lights you up.
A burn through a pipe
and air, cloth and skin

and what’s covered. If
you must arrive, lodge
somewhere, love half your body
given up to a world

you can only compare
to your own radius. This
much deterioration you’d
hold anyone with you through.

And I do not want
a card in response
to this passing.
We’re always dancing

with speculation
in a street. Maybe
it’s blood. It’s lipstick,
a wine-dark crayon

in the sun, our hero
shaped from a candle’s
carcass, cold honey
that’s crystalized. It’s

a healing prism
in January’s frozen waters.
There’s an ornament
on the shelf we made

that will be taken
sooner or later
the way stars take
ice by melting it

and teaching it to run.
Maybe spilling away
feels good, and we should
be careless with our limbs.

Add Salt

Not for flavor
It’s put to pull
on the water

get a body
to a place
with room

for heat
that won’t
vapor off

On the side
of the box
are directions:

wait for a sizzle
that is a note
left on a nightstand

that says
I’ve left you

Baby Chicks

1.
Because the coconut husk bedding
had to dry out for a few in daylight,
and the lamp was red and low
over an open box—I didn’t breathe
then the chicks inside tried,
stretching their days old bodies
toward any place away from the heat.

Each of you got so firm so fast,
and I screamed for my wife
to come in, see a cardboard casket
we made from carelessness
with small life, each one unnamed.

Then the sun set. I dozed in the sound
of replacement hatchling chirps
after we grieved on a drive
back to the feed store, where
the clerks recognized us, and we
told them that we’re not bad people.
He says that this can happen,
that there’s almost nothing to
them. He trusts us with another flock.

We get to know these new four.
We promise them a cool spot.
Each one, in my head, has
the spirit of two birds.

2.
Maybe in these first two weeks
of small fluffy life
the sky isn’t just red bulbs
but a pile of broken glass
we are all able to digest.

Their little song is for what is
discovered under the bedding
and a gift they’re still
too young to do anything with.

They’re supposed to, at least,
hesitate at our still hands, but come close.
A little straw-colored one
burned out just before
today’s sky blued. Legs folded back
like she lounged in our own bed
dressed in clean sheets just last night.

She stays that way, elegant
and golden. She might
have been he, a cockscomb
way deep behind a tiny beak
and eyes that will
never get to erupt.

3.
They’re soft, like a book
soaked in water,
and we’re all mostly fluid
and there’s stagnation.
The small film, the skin
on a surface that gets pulled at
by these baby beaks
to reveal the fresh water.

Man, just a month in,
and what I’m most afraid of
are that four of the chicks
living in my bathtub
are roosters, as feathers grow
from the saddle, their
general size and struts.

We’ve let this world read
our own plumages
all this time, their ways
to interpret a language
without ever looking
to the dictionary.

Occasions on Water

Respect that bass trout,
deep watered who pulled
at the lines in the lake,
got the whole bait,
left nothing of themself
behind, ducks out in the dead docks
in these still starred morning minutes.
Behind a shed. Know golden beds, grape
vine saplings who disguise
as maple leaves.
Believe they’ll be mighty
up a bonfired hill.
Meteors will shower
tonight. They will burn,
dissolve, dust a coat. A meat
sciences laboratory door
stopped open with collection,
the flurry in a so far snowless season.
A library will weather
the soak beyond the walls
down
around it.

________________
Adam Deutsch
adamdeutsch.com

Photo Credit: © ALANNA AIRITAM

Adam Deutsch is the author of a full-length collection, Every Transmission, forthcoming from Fernwood Press in 2023. He has work recently in Poetry International, Thrush, Juked, AMP Magazine, Ping Pong, and Typo, and has a chapbook called Carry On (Elegies). He

teaches in the English Department at Grossmont College and is the publisher of Cooper Dillon Books. He lives with his spouse and child in San Diego, CA.

06 Sep

Fiction: “Blackout” by Zach Murphy

Blackout
by Zach Murphy

My roommate took off right before I lost my job at the pizza place. The only thing he left behind was a note that read, “Moved back home.” If only the unpaid rent had been attached to it. 

I sit at the wobbly kitchen table, gazing at the floating dust particles that you can only see when the sunlight shines in at the perfect angle. Sometimes, you have to convince yourself that they aren’t old skin. 

The air conditioner moans, as if irritated that it has to work so hard. I haven’t left the apartment in four days, for fear that the hellish temperature might melt away my spirit even more. Is a heat wave really a heat wave if it doesn’t end? I gulp down the remainder of my orange juice. The pulp sticks to the side of the glass. It always bothers me when that happens. 

As I stand up to put my head in the freezer. The air conditioner suddenly goes on strike in silent protest, and the refrigerator releases a final gasp. I walk across the room and flip the light switch. Nothing.

There’s a knock at the door. I peer through the peephole. It’s the lady with the beehive hair from across the hall. I crack the door open. 

“Is your power out?” she asks.

“Yes,” I answer. 

“It must be the whole building,” she says.

“Maybe the whole city,” I say.

“The food in your fridge will go bad after four hours,” she says. 

I’d take that information to heart if I had any food in the refrigerator.

“Thanks,” I say as I close the door. 

When the power goes out, it’s amazing how all of your habits remind you that you’re nothing without it. The TV isn’t going to turn on, and your phone isn’t going to charge.

There’s another knock at the door. It’s the guy from downstairs who exclusively wears jorts. “Do you want a new roommate?” he asks.

“What?” 

He nods his head to the left. I glance down the hallway and see a scraggly, black cat with a patch of white fur on its chest.

“It was out lying in the sun,” the guy says. “Looked a bit overheated, so I let it inside.”

Before I can say anything, the cat walks through the doorway and rubs against my leg.

“Catch you later,” the guy says.

I fill up a bowl with some cold water and set it on the floor. The cat dashes over and drinks furiously.

At least water is free, I think to myself. Kind of

I head into my dingy bedroom and grab the coin jar off of my dresser. “This should be enough to get you some food,” I say.

I step out the apartment door and look back at the cat.

“I think I’ll call you Blackout.”

____________
Zach Murphy

Zach Murphy is a Hawaii-born writer with a background in cinema. His stories appear in Reed Magazine, The Coachella Review, Maudlin House, Still Point Arts Quarterly, B O D Y, Ruminate, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. His chapbook Tiny Universes (Selcouth Station Press) is available in paperback and ebook. He lives with his wonderful wife, Kelly, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

14 Mar

WE ARE OPEN FOR ROLLING SUBMISSIONS

East Jasmine Review is pleased to announce that we are shifting our model to publish almost exclusively on our website. We will still publish anthologies in print on an occasional basis along specific themes. However, in an effort to publish more writers who may be overlooked by more traditional mainstream publications, we have decided to implement rolling acceptances for all submissions. This means that we will have open submissions all year long. 

A reminder: Our main goal is to publish diverse voices that may not have mainstream or traditional access to publishing. This includes but is not limited to LGBTQIA+, ethnic minorities, women, lower socio-economic status, chronically ill, writers and artists with disabilities, those who are older or younger (over the age of 18 for legal reasons), religious minorities, and non-American persons. We are looking to build an inclusive online community and audience for our voices.

Submission guidelines and where to submit: http://eastjasminereview.com/submissions/
02 Jan

BEST OF EJR – Fiction: “Number Six” by Lauren Candia Salerno

Photo Credit: iStock

Number Six
By Lauren Candia Salerno

Content Warning: Mentions of Violence, Horror

Word was the guy stole hearts. A recent slew of murders had everyone on the boulevard talking.  Five girls had been found dead, their hearts neatly cut out but with no signs of any external incision, as if they had simply been born without this vital organ. No one even knew the heart had been taken until the autopsy. I thought the story was bullshit. Still, five girls were dead and maybe I could be next. I asked around about who the john might be, but no one knew what the guy looked like or what he was into. This isn’t the safest job, but the lack of information made me feel more vulnerable than ever. Lots of girls were taking it easy. I wished I could have done the same, but I had a rent check due at the end of the week and not nearly enough money to cover it. 

It was a slow night, and I was one of the only girls out. I pulled the collar of my coat over my nose to keep the cold wind from burning my face. I was ready to walk home when a guy carrying a small duffle bag approached. He looked around nervously as he caught up to me.

“I’m…I’m looking for a date,” he said. 

I uncovered my face and smiled at him and relaxed as much as I could without letting my teeth chatter. “Baby, I’m a sure thing.”

He blushed. “I was hoping that.”

I stepped closer to him, eliminating the space he left between us. We were close enough then that the steam of our breath mingled as we continued the conversation.

“What’s in the bag?”

An incredible shade of red spread from his collar to his hairline.

I smiled. I have a thing for the shy ones.

“It’s okay,” I softly stroked his cheek. “Tell me what we should do tonight.”

He struggled to get through the details, pausing and lowering his voice for words I imagine he didn’t say out loud too often. All he wanted was a night with no talking and no questions. He just wanted me to follow instructions.

“I don’t know, kid. That’s not really my specialty.” 

“I can pay,” he blurted out with an almost frantic look that quickly passed from his face.  “Anything you want. Up front even. Right now.”

I couldn’t refuse at that point. I took care of rent right then and there.

We got a by-the-hour room. He asked that I undress in front of him. At first, I made a dance of it. I imagined a smooth saxophone playing in the background while my body slithered out of my top. I opened my eyes to see what effect I was having on this guy. It pissed me off to see he wasn’t paying attention. He wasn’t even looking at me. He was just sitting on the edge of the bed, examining his hands and rubbing them together. I stopped with the theatrics and shed the rest of my clothes. I waited for his next order, all the while keeping an eye on the clock and reminding myself that rent was due.

He gave my body a quick look up and down before he stood from the bed. He held my face in his hands, brushed my hair behind my ears, and kissed me. His lips tasted bitter and my tongue went numb. I wanted to push him away, but he grasped my head and pressed his lips hard against mine, keeping my lips open. I got my arms between us and tried to get some distance, but he wouldn’t let go. My mind went into panic mode. I tried to scream but I couldn’t make a sound. It felt like my entire body was turning into stone. I couldn’t fight back. When he finally pulled away, I was helpless and immobile. My hands were frozen in front of my chest, palms out. My eyes were wide and unblinking. I became a grotesque statue.

He carried me over to the bed and laid my body down. He rolled me on my back and pulled my arms down to my sides. I don’t know how much it matters now, but he did all of this with an unexpected gentleness. He was about to push down my eyelids but then he stopped. He hovered over me, studying my face. He stroked the side of my cheek and whispered a name. Something with an A. He left my eyes open. I realized that I would have to see everything as it happened, and the first tear fell. 

 He moved out of my line of sight, but I could still hear him moving around. I heard the shuffling as he moved away from me and the canvas of his bag rustling as he stepped closer. The mattress bounced with the added weight of the bag and I heard a zipper unfasten. When the guy came back into my view, he was still fully clothed and holding a jar. He unscrewed the lid from the jar, and the chemical smell of the liquid inside was so strong that breathing in became another kind of torture.  

He straddled me and stroked my cheek one last time. I was breathing hard as he put his hand on my chest. I wanted to fight. I wanted to make him hurt. But I never got the chance. My chest burned and I felt some pressure as his hand went through my skin. My body instantly went cold and I never breathed again. 

The burning served to both cut away and cauterize the arteries. The heart pulled easily through the rib cage and out of my body. He eased my heart into the jar with such care, making sure to wipe the edges of the jar clean before fastening its lid. He sat there examining the specimen from all angles with a look of awe on his face. He seemed so far away as he twisted the jar around. Then he must have realized that too much time was passing because he returned to my body. A burn scar was the only evidence of foul play that remained. He glided his hand over the scar, and with each pass, the skin healed until it looked as if nothing had ever happened. So there I was, Number Six, and the man who stole my heart got away.

_______

You can follow Lauren Candia Salerno on twitter: @ParanormaLauren

02 Jan

BEST OF EJR — Fiction: Jaded Mirrors by Mercy Dhliwayo


JADED MIRRORS
by Mercy Dhliwayo

The smell of the over boiled chaumolia carried a nauseating stench of anger: an instant appetite killer. With their green boiled out, the roughly chopped and browned vegetables, served with an intimidating mountain of maize meal took class out of Mother’s expensive china. The one’s she received at a relative’s funeral during the distribution of the deceased’s belongings. The ones she kept in our glass display cabinet and only used when we had visitors. We did not have visitors, but because Njube, like many other places in Bulawayo had not had water in almost two weeks and we had exhausted all the clean dishes and had little water left for just cooking, Mother had no option but to use her special plates, even in the foul mood that she was in.

Mother was angry at Father and this was testament in her cooking. Father had bought me a new pair of shoes from Edgars using his overtime pay. In his defence, Father said that I had worked very hard at school and he felt that I at least deserved something new for our form four farewell party. Mother, on the other hand, found it extravagant for Father to have bought me shoes when we had mounting unpaid bills. What aggravated her more was where the shoes had been bought when there were other cheaper options like Chinese shops. Because I understood Mother’s reasoning, I felt guilty about the shoes and more especially about the fact that I loved them and was unprepared to let them go.

I glared at my food, feeling hungry, but lacking the appetite. I had not eaten since morning and now wished that I had volunteered to cook even if it was mother’s duty. I had, however, been too preoccupied with thoughts of the night ahead for me to be bothered about cooking. This was the night that I had been waiting for for weeks. Our farewell party and more especially my date with James. A night that I had fantasized about for ages. If my prayers were answered, by the end of the night I would be having a boyfriend and will be bidding farewell to all the years of invisibility.

Not wanting to aggravate Mother, who sat next to me seemingly struggling to digest her own food, I dug into my plate and scooped a lump of maize mealand a bit of the vegetables and pushed the combination into my mouth. I, on impulse, instantly spat out the food as a strong bitter taste of a granule of coarse salt that I had chewed stung my tongue. Mother was insulted. ‘My husband has never spat out my food. I guess those rich friends of yours have made you too good for my food.’ she said. I thought of apologising and explaining my actions but Mother had already worn her victim-face and knowing her, any word I would have said would have been countered by a stream of guilt provoking silence. A sudden knock at the door, rescued me from the lurking awkwardness. I immediately abandoned my plate and attended to the door.

‘Mandy.’ My heart pounded rapidly at the sight of the lean and beautiful figure that stood at our door step. ‘I’m coming just now,’ I said before slamming the door in Mandy’s face. Mother thought it rude. I did not. What was she doing at my doorstep when our arrangement was to meet in town?

I ran to my parent’s bedroom, where we kept our clothes and changed into the clothes I had put aside for the night. A brown leather skirt that I had found in an old trunk in which my parents kept old clothes from their younger days. I wore it with a black string top and my new shoes. Having dressed up, I knelt down to inspect my hair in the little triangular surviving potion of our dressing table mirror. Inspired by an image of Mother in an old photograph stuck on the dressing table, of her sitting on a high stool with Father standing behind her staring into her eyes, I had combed my hair into an afro and had worn a black elastic hair band above my forehead just as she had. I however did not look as beautiful as she did. Her face was clear and did not have a sign of a pimple. I on the other hand had a manifestation of pimples that never disappeared no matter how much I squashed them. They had a revolting character of their own. It was as if the pimples had a face as opposed to my face having pimples. The pimples made it difficult for boys to notice me. I really did not desire all the boys’ attention. All I desired was James’ attention, but he too never seemed to notice me, until Mandy and I became friends.

When I returned from the bedroom, to my astonishment, Mother had let Mandy inside the house. I was angry at her but angrier at Mandy for disregarding our arrangement and coming to collect me from home. Who did she think she was? And who had told her that I needed to be collected. Now she sat on Father’s sofa. The one that only Father sat on. Mother said nothing. Maybe it was her who had told her to sit there since she was angry at Father. Father’s sofa was the better sofa in the house after all. As much as I prayed that Father would not walk in and find her sitting there, I was glad that Mandy had not sat on the other two sofas. The worn out sofas that we had stuffed with old clothes, would have sucked her into their hollowness. Or worse, she would have heard the rattling movement of the fearsome rats that came out of their hiding and ran about the sitting room even climbing on the sofas as we slept. Noticing Mandy’s eyes zoom from my plate of food to the cracking plaster peeling off the wall of the interior of our house, I quickly announced to Mother that we were leaving and hurriedly walked out of the house with Mandy following me behind.

Mother also came out of the house and went to speak to Mandy’s mother who was in her car waiting for Mandy and I. Since I was to return home later at night, way after my usual six o’clock curfew, Mother had expressed her desire to speak to Mandy’s mother who had undertaken to bring me back home after the party. While I had foreseen then speaking to each other telephonically, I had not foreseen them talking face to face. There was Mandy’s mother. Having gotten out of her twin cab, you could see the Daniel Hechter floral dress that set well on her body and her neat matching court shoes. From afar, one could imagine how she smelt: like rich scented roses. And then there was Mother, wearing an old pink morning gown, that had not only grown khakish from over washing, and smelling a combination of sweat from a hard day’s work at the factory and soot from the fire on which we cooked from on those days when there were power cuts.

While I was still recovering from the trauma of Mandy having been in our house, Mandy requested to use the bathroom. Our bathroom was located outside the house. It consisted of a blare toilet and a shower. The room was dark as we hardly replaced the bulb and it maintained its stench no matter how much I cleaned or disinfected it. I thought of someone like Mandy inside our toilet and I wanted to die.

‘I think there is someone inside,’ I lied.

‘I don’t think so, the door is not closed.’ Mandy knocked on the bathroom door and proceeded to get in without waiting for a response. Despite always having desired to be her friend, I, at that moment hated Mandy. She was invading on my privacy just as she had when she set foot in our house. Although I had been at Mandy’s place countless times, I had been there on her invite and besides, unlike me, she was from a rich family and really had nothing to worry about. I therefore cursed the day that she got to know where I lived. I had just walked out of our gate on my way to school when our neighbour, maSibanda, from across our house, bellowed a greeting to me. When I looked back to respond, I was shocked to see Mandy walking out of maSibanda’s shabeen. I wondered what she was doing in my neighbourhood and with a person like maSibanda around seven o’clock in the morning. That, however, was the least of my concerns. Mandy had seen where I lived. No one from school knew where I lived; not even my closest friend, Shami. While I could live with being the invisible girl at school, I was terrified by the thought of people from school about the kind of house I lived in.

I was not embarrassed about where I came from. I was just not proud of living in the rented crammed space that we lived in; a two and a half roomed house which consisted of my parent’s bedroom, the sitting room where my younger brother and I slept on separate sofas and a tiny kitchen. Contrary to my fears, Mandy did not tell anyone about where I lived. She had instead requested me not to tell anyone about our encounter when we met in class after two days of her being absent. I found the request awkward but did not think much of it. I was rather overwhelmed by the thought of Mandy talking to me and her friendliness since she hardly spoke to me in class.

I did not need much convincing to keep our encounter a secret. In addition to being rich, Mandy was the most popular girl at school. Everyone wanted to be friends with her and her small clique of friends. Being friends with them enhanced one’s chances of being someone and even of getting a boyfriend. Thus, my sole purpose at Prestige College, apart from maintaining high grades to keep my bursary, had been winning Mandy’s friendship. Disregarding her request would have killed my chances of achieving this. My chances were already slim thanks to the unnecessarily numerous casual days and school functions that tended to reveal my poor background. Since my parents only bought us new clothes once a year towards Christmas, I often had to wear clothes that I had already previously worn at school and second hand clothes passed down on me by relatives while everyone else always wore something new and trendy. This made it difficult to be noticeable to Mandy and even the boys at school. Being maSibanda’s neighbour however seemed to have changed my fortune.

****

Mandy began to speak to me more often after her awkward request. I soon found myself hanging around her and her friends at lunch time and it was not long that I began to visit her house. I helped her with her school work and allowed her to copy my assignments sometimes. It was through our acquaintance that James began greeting me at school. The cherry on top was Mandy arranging for James to be my date at the farewell party when she realised how much I liked him. Before going to the party, we passed by Mandy’s house because Mandy had insisted that there was no way that I was going to the party dressed the way that I was dressed. This despite her mother having told me that I looked beautiful and unique. I however did not disagree with Mandy.

Mandy having been in our house, I, for the first time, felt embarrassed about being in Mandy’s house and in her room. The house was a lot neater than ours. Her room was much bigger than my parent’s bedroom and even bigger than our sitting room and kitchen combined.She had her own inbuilt closet, more spacious than my parents fully packed wooden wardrobe that had some shelves missing and the back board falling off no matter how many times Father hammered in new nails. She even had a proper dressing table with an intact mirror. The old dressing table that we had at home had uneven legs and therefore had to be supported by differently sized bricks strategically placed on the two shorter legs. Its mirror was broken and the wooden board that had been left exposed by the absence of the mirror had been covered with family photographs glued on to the board with chewing gum. The only surviving part of the mirror was a small rectangular portion at the bottom left of the dressing table board, that forced one to always kneel if they wanted to make use of the mirror which was only big enough to reflect ones face. I envied Mandy’s life and would have done anything to live in a house like hers and have as much clothes as she had.

From the clothes Mandy gave me to choose from, I picked a short green dress and matching pearls for the night. Mandy then produced a makeup kit and began working on my face without enquiring if I needed make up or not. I did not protest although my heart pounded at the thought of turning into one of those girls whom Shami and I often ridiculed because of their daily after school ritual of rushing to the bathrooms, as soon as the siren rang signalling the end of the last period, to secure a spot on the bathroom mirrors where they would smear their faces with vanishing cream or thick layers of cheap face powder that we called isibhuda.

Girls who would tweeze off their eyebrows only to replace them with thick eyeliner drawn where their eyelashes used to be. Although we often laughed at the effort these girls took to enhance their beauty, I saw nothing to laugh at when I glanced into the mirror and saw what Mandy had done to my face.

I was stunned by the reflection of myself. The makeup had concealed my pimples and I, for the first time, had a face of my own. A face I could own. I felt the beauty Mother said I possessed. I saw the beautiful eyes that Father said I inherited from Mother. I imagined James looking into my eyes the way Father looked in Mother’s eyes in that old photograph on our dressing table. Such a beautiful moment with James was possible for the young woman in the mirror as she was simply stunning. The green dress she wore looked lovely on her as though it were her own. Yet staring at her in that Cinderella moment, the initial embarrassment I felt when I saw Mandy in our house clung on to me like the foul breath of unbrushed teeth that overshadowed that fact that one had actually bathed. It was more than just shame. I felt  some sort of guilt that was different from the guilt I felt earlier over my new shoes. I felt guilty of something that I could not identify. Something that seemed to be represented by the mirror glass that separated me from the reflection that gazed back at me. That something left a sour taste in my mouth that reminded of the real life that the stunning girl in mirror had to return to when the night was over.

On arrival at the party, Mandy and I, having met with our dates, immediately drew the crowd’s attention. I could sense what my association with the company that I was with would do for my popularity. James invited me for a dance. Mandy and her date were already dancing and I eagerly accepted James’ invite. While he danced around me in circles, I nervously moved my shoulders back and forth without moving much of my body. After our dance, James took me to the kiosk where he bought me a soft drink. He, on the other hand drank something that was in a yellow water bottle labelled “Power Sport”. We stood against the wall with our drinks. James moved closer to me and brought his face close to mine. My body shivered as I foresaw what was to be my first kiss. I was glad Mother had finally bought some tooth pasteafter almost a week of brushing our teeth with just a tooth brush and salty water. My lips grew itchy with anticipation but James’ lips did not reach mine. Instead, I felt their hotness against my ear and they grew erect in anticipation of a romantic whisper. My lips were ready to whisper “I love you too,” but were instead compelled to shout out my name to correct James who had just shouted ‘Erica’ into my ear.

‘Jerica?’ James laughed. ‘What kind of name is that?’

From his laugh, I foresaw James finding ridiculous my explanation of how I got my name from the combination of my parent’s names, Jerry and Monica. I therefore did not respond. I blushed shyly and waited for him to shout in my ear again. Although not as romantic as the whispers I had fantasised the two of us exchanging, I did not mind the shouting as it was the only way I could hear him in the noisy hall. Besides, I did not want to miss a single word from his mouth even if it was the ridiculing of my name.

 

‘Anyway Jerica,’ James continued. ‘Tell me something about your friend.’ These words prematurely melted my Cinderella moment. No girl liked to hear such words from a boy she had a love interest in. I however stayed calm and asked: ‘Which friend?’

‘Mandy. Is she dating that guy?’

I did not know whether Mandy was dating the form six guy that she had brought as her date . nonetheless confirmed that she was.

‘I need to talk to her. Can you arrange that for me?’

Although I knew what that meant, to save face, I smiled and nodded my head. I was both hurt and confused. It was Mandy who had set me up with James, yet James was now asking me to set him up with Mandy. The anger I felt towards Mandy earlier returned. I felt alone and out of place. I missed Shami. I had not seen her at the party and I was not sure if she had even attended. It would have been sad if she had not attended, I thought to myself. We had both eagerly anticipated the party since our first day of form four and often fantasized about what we would wear and what it would be like. We had also both shared the same desire of being Mandy’s friend. For some reason that did not happen for her and since Mandy and I became friends, Shami and I hardly spent time together as we previously did. I now needed her company more than ever. Had she been there, we would have found so much to talk and laugh about and I probably would not have had to spend the rest of the night watching James watching Mandy closely and waiting for an opportunity to be alone with her. It was particularly torturous how he would now and again send me to her to ask for a private moment with her. Unfortunately for James, Mandy’s date stuck on her like glue and I did not send any of his messages to Mandy. I merely reported back to him how she had no interest in speaking to him as she was at the party with someone else. It nonetheless made me feel inferior watching him watching her.

While I looked beautiful in the borrowed green dress, I was not good enough for James, or anyone else at the party for that matter. I did not spend the whole night with James as he now and again disappeared and reappeared later and in his moments of absence, none of the boys approached me for a dance or a simple chat. After his last disappearance, James returned later rigging of alcohol and invited me for another dance. Because of the loneliness I felt and the fact that he seemed to have forgotten about Mandy, I again, accepted the invite. He put his arms around my waist as we danced. Although everyone seemed to dancing with their arms around their partners, I did not feel comfortable. I however continued dancing. James moved closer to me and began fondling me.

Although I had always dreamt and fantasised about being in James’ arms, the manner in which his hungry hands sunk into my flesh, especially after witnessing his obsession over Mandy, made my body shiver with discomfort. He brought his face close to mine in an attempt to kiss me. I moved my face away from his as a strong stench of alcohol hit my nostrils.

‘Come on; just a kiss,’

‘No,’ I responded trying to tear myself apart from his grip.

‘Loosen up. It is only a kiss.’ With these words, James’ lips forcefully covered my lips with a repulsive wetness that made me want to throw up.  His saliva wet my lips making them sticky with some unforgivable staleness.

‘I said no,’ I screamed angrily and tore away from him. This was not only a kiss. This was my first kiss and I had envisaged it to be romantic even if it was with him.

‘You crazy freak,” James yelled as he noticed the attention that my scream had drawn.

‘You think you are special, you and those borrowed clothes. Well you are nothing. There are a lot of girls out there, more beautiful than you.’

I hoped the music in the hall had been loud enough to swallow James’ hurtful words, but from the eyes that glared at me, I feared that everyone had heard him. Feeling naked and as stale as his kiss, I ran to the bathroom regretting having attended the party. Tears filled my eyes and I desired to just let them loose but when I reached the bathroom, Mandy was there, alone, shedding tears of her own.

Seeing Mandy in the bathroom was infuriating. She had everything and all I wanted was time alone to cry out my pain. Yet, even in a moment of pain, Mandy still had to have it all. Without noticing my pain or waiting for me to ask her what was wrong, Mandy sobbed: ‘Everyone knows.’

‘Knows what?’ I brushed away my own tears.

‘It was a secret. Only Catherine and Sammy knew. I thought they were my friends’.

I had no idea of what Mandy was moaning about but the thought of someone as infallible as her in tears was, in a way, intimidating, so I dared not ask.

‘You did not tell anyone did you?’

‘Tell them what?’

‘About maSibanda.’

I glanced at Mandy through her reflection from the bathroom mirror trying to comprehend her question. Her face was soggy with tears and snorts were almost running down her nose.  She wiped some tears off her face smudging makeup across her cheekbones.

‘You have no idea what I am talking about; do you?’ she sniffed. ‘You will soon find out anyway,’ Mandy added before confiding in me about an abortion she had had. This explained what she was doing at maSibanda’s house and her subsequent strange request for me not to tell anyone about seeing her with  maSibanda. It made perfect sense especially in light of the rumours that I had once heard in my neighbourhood, about maSibanda assisting young girls and even married woman in removing unwanted pregnancies.  I was not sure of how to respond to Mandy’s revelation, so I asked her the first thing that came to my mind, and that was whether her mother knew about it.

‘No,’ Mandy chuckled. ‘She wouldn’t have noticed even if I had kept the baby and maybe dumped it or given it away after giving birth.’

I thought of Mother and imagined hiding something that big from her. It was impossible. Mother could sniff a pregnancy from a neighbour’s child and living under her roof, she probably would know if I fell pregnant even before I myself knew.

When we left the bathroom Mandy wanted to go home. For obvious reasons, I too wanted to leave. Having failed to contact her mother, Mandy called a taxi that took us to her place, situated ten minutes away from our college. We entered the house through the kitchen and my attention was immediately drawn to the sound of smashing glass and Mandy’s mother quarrelling with someone in the house. “Not in this lifetime, Never,” she screamed. Ignoring the commotion, Mandy led me to her room. She switched on her music player and let the music play on high volume. She picked up a magazine and threw herself on the bed.  I, without saying anything, removed the borrowed clothes and wore my own. Wishing to go home, I sat quietly before the dressing table and waited for my host to say something. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and noticed the makeup I had applied. I certainly could not go home with it, but the prevailing atmosphere made it difficult for me to freely go to the bathroom to wash it off, or to even ask for permission to use the bathroom. I therefore pulled the top part of the string-top I now wore and wet the inside part with my tongue before vigorously rubbing my face in a bid to remove the makeup.

Although the music was loud, the commotion from the other room could still be heard, but from a distance. However, as the song that had been playing faded away as the disc that had been playing came to an end, Mandy’s mother could be heard screaming aloud: “Kill me now. Kill me if you want”. I grew highly uncomfortable and immediately stopped rubbing my face. I resorted to chipping off my finger nails using my fingers. Mandy did not change the disc or do anything to resume the music. I suddenly felt like an intruder and Mandy’s silence and prolonged gaze at same page of the magazine that she had been gazing at for the past five minutes only reinforced the feeling. I wondered if Mandy hated me as I had hated her earlier when she was at our house. I wanted to go home and could not help but wonder what Mandy was thinking of and whether she had forgotten that I needed to go home. Without anticipating it, I felt Mandy’s abrupt movement from the bed and out of the room. A few seconds later I heard her scream: “Stop it. The two of you. I am tired of this. I wish you were not my parents. I hate you both.” After a few seconds, Mandy stormed back into the room, threw herself on the bed and buried her head under a pillow. She was shortly followed by a man who appeared startled to see me. I assumed the man was her father. His shirt was torn and had blood stains on it. While I was speechless and still deciding whether to great him, the man greeted me. ‘I did not know Mandy had a friend sleeping over tonight.’ He added.

‘I am not.’

‘Oh, I see. I will take you home then.’

These words were relieving. The man disappeared from Mandy’s room and returned a minute later wearing a clean t-shirt. He asked Mandy if she wanted to accompany me home but she did not respond. We walked out of the room and on the way out of the house, we walked past Mandy’s mother in the lounge. Her face had a fresh scar and she sat with a bottle of whisky and a half filled glass. I did not greet her. I did not know how to. I just rushed out of the house hiding behind Mandy’s father.

  The ride home was quite uncomfortable. I was forced to engage in small talk when all I preferred was some silence to calm my nerves. Speaking to Mandy’s father was however inevitable since I had to give him directions to our house. I was relieved when I finally arrived home. It was just after eight o’clock; almost an hour earlier than the time I had been allowed to return home. My parents and brother were on the fireplace heating water for the evening tea. My brother sat on a log one side of the fire, arguing with Father about which team was likely to win the upcoming 2010 World Cup soccer tournament. My parents sat on the other side, with Mother squashed in Father’s arms, laughing at Father’s failure to counter my brother’s reasoning as to why an African team was unlikely to win the World Cup. Her earlier anger towards Father seemed to have disappeared. It was not surprising though. Mother never managed to stay angry at Father for long and I could not think of a time that I had ever seen Father angry at Mother.

I joined my family by the fire place. Everyone was delighted to see me and had millions of questions. In no time, the four of us were sharing some tea and the warmth of the fire place. A familiar warmth that surpassed the embarrassment that I felt over our house in Mandy’s presence. A warmth that replaced the hurt I had felt over what had happened with James. It was a warmth that I had known all my life. A warmth that I would not trade for anything in the world.

05 Dec

BEST OF EJR – Creative Nonfiction: “The Wind and The Thunder” by Alana Saltz

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Wind and the Thunder
Alana Saltz

When I think of you now, I see trees and waves and stars. I can’t separate you from the places you took me, from the places we discovered and loved together. From the tall sequoias, to the freezing winter ocean, to the impossibly clear night sky with stars and planets pressing down on us, their fingertip sparks mere inches from our heads. You brought me so many places that I had never been before.

We traveled in winter because we both hated crowds. We only needed one another. You told me I was one of the only people in the world who you could stand. You told me people cared too much about things that didn’t matter. You told me that people made you tired. Whenever I strayed into emotion, into irrationality, you saw me as one of them. Sometimes I wonder whether you ever cared for all of me, or if you only liked the parts that made you comfortable.

You loved nature, but you were my nature. I explored you the way that you explored the forests and beaches. The ocean was beautiful like you, but the harsh waves frightened me. They threatened to take my air and carry me away. The stars were lovely, but they unnerved me. Their brightness, their infinity, my inability to comprehend them. Even the trees in the forest hurt my fingers when I touched their rough bark. But you were there, and you were safe, and I understood you. I couldn’t see that your currents carried me away as easily as the waves. I didn’t know that I could comprehend you no more than the stars. I couldn’t feel the roughness of you underneath my touch, but it was there, always there.

You never said much. When you did speak, I could barely hear your words over crashing waves or across snowy fields in the mountains where it was only you, me, and the trees. You spoke so few words that each one mattered. I wanted to learn that from you. I wanted to learn the peace inside that allowed you to spend hours plucking strings on your guitar. I wanted to learn the serenity that let you stare out the windshield for miles and miles without noise.

I was the noise. I came crashing in and made your quiet world loud. I talked and cried and asked. I begged and sighed and laughed. I thought you liked my sound, and that’s why I didn’t understand when you told me you didn’t want to hear me anymore. I thought we’d grown into one another, but I was wrong. You changed because of me, but you hadn’t wanted to. I changed because of you, but it hadn’t been enough.

When you left, you told me I was broken. You said you couldn’t take care of me anymore, and that you never should have tried. I see now that I was broken because my sadness was loud while yours was silent. Your silence caused you to spend hours plucking guitar strings. Your silence made you stare out the windshield for miles and miles and miles.

Sometimes I still stop and listen to the wind make the music you spoke of when we first met, that rustling of leaves akin to the most beautiful sonatas. Natural, soft, smooth. You were my wind, and I was the thunder your breeze blew in. The night our storm ended, I remember stepping outside and looking up at a clear summer sky. I knew that now the red moon above me was mine, and only mine.

_________

You can find Alana Saltz on twitter: @alanasaltz