A Bird Born in a Cage

By John Tustin 

 

The lust for freedom is ever-present

But almost none among us

Ever satisfy that lust.

 

A bird born in a cage

Instinctively knows

He does not belong there

 

But watch him,

Head cocked in pique

At the click of the latch –

 

Standing on his perch

And staring at the open door,

Feet immobile,

 

Neither

Wing

A-flapping.

John Tustin is slowly dying inside and he’s telling you even though you don’t care. fritzware.com/johntustinpoetry contains links to his published poetry online.

Drums of Silence

By Tamara Leigh Young Wandel 

Before it was known for the ferry ride, blue-shell crab and tangerine sunsets, my home, Martha’s Vineyard, was occupied by the Wampanoag Indians. The tribe is still around and has its own trust lands on the southwest part of the Vineyard.

The Island is about 20 miles long east to west, not even as long as the New York City Marathon. North to south, Martha’s Vineyard is jagged, so some places are about 2 miles long and in other places, it’s closer to 10 miles. Erosion is shrinking the entire coastline, though, with the south shore slowing forcing its way up, bit by bit, like a caterpillar making its way up a stem.

The Island is hillier than most people know. I only know because I’ve spent years walking and biking around it. It’s a beautiful place. Everyone knows about the pastel-colored cottages and beaches, but the unpopular paths are my favorite.

I can imagine how Bartholomew Gosnold must have felt the unspoiled treasure of The Vineyard. He’s the Englishman credited with bestowing the Island with her name. Martha was the name of Gosnold’s daughter, who died when she was just a baby. Martha was also the name of Gosnold’s mother-in-law and she, along with the Earl of Southampton, were the chief financiers of Gosnold’s voyage as captain of the “Concord”.  Gosnold’s wife was also named Martha.

That’s a lot of Marthas, so I’m not sure which of the Marthas the Island was meant to recognize. Maybe Gosnold wasn’t sure if he’d ever find another plot of land, so he was shrewd enough to get the most mileage from his discovery by paying homage to his daughter, wife, and his fiscally generous mother-in-law.

But as clever as he may have been, there’s no way he could have envisioned the tourists that would eventually visit his place, my place, the Wampanoegs place, each summer. Maybe he’d be proud to know The Vineyard lowers the blood pressure of corporate executives whose typical work week comprise 13-hour days 51 weeks out of the year so they can afford one week of relaxation here. Or maybe he’d be disgusted at the cost of the clapboard houses. Only Gosnold knows, and while his skeletal remains are on display in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, they aren’t talking.

I’ll tell you who does not stop talking, though, and that’s the “Jaws” lovers. In addition to Martha’s Vineyard, The Vineyard and Noepe (what it was known as when the Wampanoags were the majority), this place is also called Amity Island. People from all over visit The Vineyard because of the 1975 Steven Spielberg flick filmed here.

The Jaws groupies are easy to spot. Most wear t-shirts that depict huge Great White Shark mouths with red ink made to look like blood. I know more trivia about sharks than I’d care to admit because of these groupies. My mom tends to listen to them, and she has a habit of worrying about everything including worrying why there is nothing to worry about if everything seems to be going too smoothly. Like she’ll never buy me yellow swim trunks. Yellow is a high contrast color that sharks easily see. That’s what a group of guys from Scandia, Minnesota told my mother one day when she was at Larsen’s fish market picking up seafood chimi with sour cream and cheese. I only remember the chimi because it was one of the few times my mom talked my dad into having a picnic dinner with us on the beach, and it was memorably mediocre (the night, not the chimi).

My mom, dad and I have always lived in the same house in Chilmark. It’s one of six towns on the Vineyard (Aquinnah, Tisbury, West Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown are the others). Chilmark gets a lot of famous visitors. When Barack Obama was President, he came here and rented The Blue Heron. It’s this mammoth 29-acre waterfront property with its own private beach, a guest house, boathouse, apple orchard, and a horse-riding ring. It’s an impressive place, and I’m sure celebrities appreciate the feel of the breeze from the water and the stillness in the air.

Coming here for the quiet is fitting for Chilmark. It was once a deaf stomping ground, minus the sound of the stomps. The first year a deaf person can be traced to Chilmark is 1694, and his name was Jonathan Lambert. Even though we both share deafness as a trait, Lambert’s branches and my branches don’t cross in the genealogy tree.

Chilmark’s utopia of silence was the first real mark of notoriety for the town, and it stayed a quiet place for a long time. Over 200 years after Mr. Lambert had died, one out of every 25 residents of the Vineyard was deaf. At the time, the national average was closer to one out of every 6,000. Deafness was so common that people thought you could catch it, like the flu.

My own deafness has an important sounding name – congenital, bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. It means I know these sounds exist, but I can’t hear the boom of fireworks or the water splashing on rocky, eroding cliffs. I’m blisteringly intelligent, though. This isn’t my opinion. The myriad of clinical psychologists I’ve been sent to since I was little all agree.

Instead of teaching me to ride a bike, my father spent our time together having me tested using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development, the Hiskey-Nebraska Test of Learning Aptitude, the Weschler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, the Preschool Language Assessment Instrument and countless other tests that refused to register the results he wanted.

Strong intellectual assessments by pediatricians, otolaryngologists and audiologists didn’t appease my dad. Actually, they infuriated him. It didn’t matter how patiently the doctors explained the hand of genetics I’d been dealt, my father seemed to view my deafness as an act of willful disobedience. He was hell-bent on getting me into a public school seat like the other kids, and he started to look into hearing aids.

Hearing aids depend on the cochlea to amplify sound. The sound is then carried through the ear to the brain, but only if enough functioning hair cells in the cochlea can transmit the sound to the auditory nerve. Me being profoundly deaf means there is no sound to amplify. So my father fixating on the idea of a cochlear implant never got off the ground. It has worked for hundreds of thousands of people. I’m just not one of them.

As much as my dad wants to solve me, my mom doubles down to celebrate my deafness. She has done this as long as I can remember. I know she means well, but her methodology is massively flawed. She regularly namedrops accomplished deaf people, which is more irritating than inspiring.

“Oh, you’re watching baseball?” she’ll sign. “I remember enjoying watching that Curtis Pride fellow play major league baseball. The total athlete. Played soccer, too, and scored a couple of goals in the FIFA U-16 or 17 World Championships in the 80’s.”

This from a mother who couldn’t tell you who won the last World Series or World Cup.

“That’s a nice drawing, darling. You should consider taking a class. I always admired the work of Chuck Baird. He used to teach at Gallaudet University, I believe.”

She doesn’t believe. She knows. She’s basically a Who’s Who Directory for the Deaf. Along with names like Pride and Baird, she could probably rattle off 100 other hearing-challenged people who reached the pinnacle of something or other.

Meanwhile, Mr. Glass Half-Empty never lets my mother forget that my hearing loss is her fault, even though the choice was never really hers. I have what’s known as X-linked hearing loss. It’s when a woman carries a recessive trait for hearing loss on the sex chromosome. She can pass it on to her sons but not her daughters. The son gets the XD hearing loss gene from his mother and the Y chromosome from his father. It’s like a mathematical equation in which XDY=hearing loss. There’s a 50 percent chance that a son will have hearing loss when his mother is a carrier of the gene. God flipped a coin the day I was born, but I couldn’t even hear it drop to the floor.

I’m not broken, though, and I do belong. This Island is my home. I imagine being part of the Wampanoag ceremonies, with water drums to beat, gourds to rattle, and hollowed bird bones to whistle. I am critical to the tribe. I am heard.

Tamara Leigh Young Wandel is a professor by profession at the University of Evansville, publishing book chapters and journal manuscripts both internationally and in the states. Her fiction writing is much closer to her heart, as are her two children (Brock and Layla Leigh), and a love of Hoosier hiking trails, outdoor concerts, and traveling in Europe. Years ago she was blessed to have a deaf student enroll in her class, serving as a muse for the tale of Drums of Silence (that and a long-ago trip to Martha’s Vineyard).

Migrations

By Heather Sager

After staring down
the frogs,
their sad-mute eyes
reflecting my own,
I picked one up, and kissed him on the lips.
Into woods, ponds I’d chase,
collecting and admiring
tone of skin, angling of protuberances—
the feel of shifty, leggy treasures. Nearby,
Hard-shelled soldiers rose,
showing dilapidated hungry mouths.
My father ran at me with a shovel,
once, to free a pinched finger—
I wiggled free on my own, then he tapped
the snapper’s large shell.
Still, there I remained—
watching my parade,
sentient, croaking, green.
Author Note: An earlier version of this poem, titled “Green,” appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly’s Slush Pile podcast. 
Heather Sager is an author of poetry and short fiction. She grew up in rural Minnesota and lives in Illinois. She really did kiss a frog as a kid.

A Real Cowboy

By Yvonne Morris

At the Broadway Tavern in MadisonIndiana,

a skinny man under a big hat holding a tall beer

sidles up to a local at the bar and calls out,

You can tell a real cowboy by how he rides!  

But the local just smiles back so serenely that this

cowboy howls, I can ride anything with fur on it!!

I look up surprised from my Aussie shiraz

while my friend with his shot of rum sighs.

Ain’t no call for that attitude, Rum grumbles.

And well, feeling a little fuzzy—ready for a tussle—

loosely knotted and a bit tipsy from the wine, I reply,

Well, then giddy up!

Previously published in Mother was a Sweater Girl, The Heartland Review Press, 2016.
Yvonne Morris has been published in a variety of print and online journals, including The Lake, The Bengaluru Review, and The Galway Review. She is the author of Mother was a Sweater Girl (The Heartland Review Press, 2016). A California friend once described her as “midwestern as Jimmy Stewart.” Currently, she tutors and teaches at a community college in Kentucky.

Sui Generis

By Paweł Markiewicz

I have just returned from a walk with my beloved hound on foot, which has a good heart, tenderly shaped. I’m feeling very well at home, as well as blissful. I have a light heart. It’s frosty outside, to wit it’s 3 degrees below zero, as if the Winter Queen ruled without any snow.

There is not a starry night. A moon is not visible. I dream of starlings of philosophers on sibyl-like heaven. I have not seen a red sky in the evening, such an Apollonianly marvelous charm, a weird of druids. All night long my dreams will be live in my dreamy soul. Afterward, I will sleep in meek silence. I want to say you, my tender reader, a manifesto of my dearest dreamiest being.

As far as I’m concerned:

My immortal soul is typically German. I am able to feel a sempiternity, each poetical winglings, namely: Apollonianly tender-eternal vans that philosophize about dawn of ontology of poetries. My poetry, like a poesy of Poseidon’s dreamery, heralds fulfillment of each stars, morning starlet and shooting stars. Rilke likes me in the eternal time. Goethe said me he were proud of my meek poem, under the title: “Prometheus.”

In effect my body is Polish. I can indeed design neither robots nor spaceships such as the Americans. My parents, my home, my language are Polish. My Polish blood seems to be indeed red. My nation knows mourning and death, wars and subservience. This time is my Polish time, the ontology and logic of starry night above the Polish homeland.

In my heart, the Japanese Basho lives who likes the melancholic fantasy of a handful of haiku. My heart beats in the rhythm of dancing samurais’, enchanted by each morning glow. My haiku are carried by some metaphysical traces of the eternity which loves my gorgeous three verses. In each haiku, the beauty of sirens-like dreamery-miracle comes true, as if the Japanese soul had told me: Be thankful valedictorian of a sheening time!

Outside the body, there are magical romantic notions, which keep me one step closer to heaven, namely the gorgeous English poesy. Some Herculean muses bring me into a woodland in the midst of England, next to a druidical fireplace. The druidic altar is also my heart, my whole being of the sui generis-miracle. English muses dancing under the most philosophical stars such as my English hound, the mixed dog, between cocker spaniel and field spaniel, my houndlet, that likes huntings in a fairytale-like holt.

Paweł Markiewicz lives in Bielsk Podlaski, Poland. The poet from Poland also writes flash fiction.

Spoon

By Simon Perchik

 

Before each mouthful this spoon

rests beside the bowl

as the shallow turn a shovel

learns to widen, sift the dirt

for washed out roads

–it’s your usual breakfast

facing the window, humming

over your shoulder

to a canvas bag growing wild

alongside the woolen socks

and rope for the hole in your chest

–you pack till there’s no room

for cardboard and the dress

still wanting to go somewhere

still telling you it will be back

Simon Perchik’s poetry has appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, The New Yorker and elsewhere.

The Streak

By Rich Elliott

Around the pond where the willows nodded, then across the prairie to the trail running up the hill, the steep incline with its sweet resistance, then the carefree descent. From there he skirted the organized playfields and jogged through the tall grass to the river, which moved brown and languid now in late June, in sync with his cadence, the tap, tap, tap of his flats. Like this for another twenty minutes, gliding into the forest, the best part, the soft surface and pine scent, the trees rushing by, the green beauty a little heartbreaking. Now the path bending, lifting, then dropping along the train tracks, under the old trestle smelling of creosote, and finally out to the ridge bordering the tract housing, the crunch of his flats on the gravel, a straight shot now, through welcoming clover, then pavement, then home.

There. Another completed run. Good pace. Felt fine. Seven miles logged into the journal. Number 5,901. That is, 16 years and 61 days of running without missing a single day.

The Streak, Casey’s beloved Streak, was intact for another day. And it worked its magic on him, calmed him. He could use a little Runner’s High right now, for tomorrow was his wedding day.

Friends of Tim Casey and Candice Clarke were surprised the two ever got together. They seemed so unalike. Candice—everyone called her Candy—was bubbly, outgoing, impulsive, emotional, a true social animal.

Her boyfriend Casey—everyone called him by his last name—was cerebral, controlled, introverted, naturally ascetic, and suspicious of all social gatherings.

When Candy was a sophomore at State U and Casey a senior, the two fell in love inside the Hinshaw Library among the shelves encompassing the 614s. Candy appeared at the Reference Desk, looking flushed and impatient, and she found Casey on duty. He emerged warily from his shell, then warmed to the appealing brunette with her research paper on the Bubonic Plague. The senior was so earnest and so skilled at finding primary sources that the two lingered for hours back in the stacks in the low light and the fog of musty pages during which time Candy began to take an interest in the Black Death and her helper with the wire rim glasses.

Soon the two were inseparable, and their friends said, “I guess opposites attract.” Casey waited patiently while Candy finished college, and Candy waited patiently while Casey finished grad school, then they were patient with each other as they started their careers, Casey, a high school librarian and Candy, an event planner.

Candy loved her fiancé’s ironclad steadiness. Casey loved his fiancé’s spontaneity. But what he loved the most was her acceptance of the Streak.

“You go run, Honey,” she said sweetly. “I know you need it.”

Casey’s Streak had defeated past girlfriends. The girls grew outraged when he put them second place. They believed he had a mania. They complained when his mandatory run postponed a dinner engagement or ruled out a Saturday football game at the stadium. They questioned his priorities when he missed a voice recital or drinks with friends. They questioned his sanity when he went to extremes: the 20-below run when he feared his appendage was frostbit; or the time he dragged his flu-ridden body out for ten miles, puking all the way.

These girlfriends decided Casey would not change for them, not ever, which of course is the death knell for relationships.

Candy was not like them. She indulged Casey his “crazy.” She found it endearing. Casey could not believe his good luck in finding such a girl.

Now the day had finally arrived when they would take the plunge, become husband and wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse.

The only subject about which they ever disagreed was the social aspect. Casey hated large groups of people.

“Why can’t we just elope?” Casey asked in the months before the wedding. “Why do we have to, like, have people there?”

“Oh, Honey.” The adorable Candy leaned close, blinked her eyes at him. “What fun would that be? Besides, I want to declare my love for you before all the world.”

There was never really any contesting the size of the wedding, for the girl’s demanding parents were paying for everything, and they had certain expectations. Candy’s mother and father came from big, really big, Irish Catholic families. So there was no avoiding a monstrosity.

The initial tabulation of the guest list came in at fifteen family and friends for Casey’s side—and 305 for Candy’s. The couple studied the list. Casey fretfully stretched out his hamstrings. “Are you sure we can’t just elope?” he asked again.

An axiom in the sport of running: The later in the day you put off your run, the less likely you will do it.

Thus Casey had a best-laid plan for his wedding-day run. At 9 am sharp, wearing his new running flats and his favorite “Go Pre” T-shirt, he was bounding out the door of his apartment. But he heard his cell phone. He almost ignored it, then he thought, What if.

It was his bride.

“Oh, Casey.” The voice was distressed. “I need your help. Something happened.”

“But I’m on my way out for my run.”

“It’s my brothers. They’re in jail.”

“Jail? Why?”

“Oh, God,” Candy sighed miserably. “Drunk and disorderly.”

Candy had two younger, twin brothers who were determined misfits. They were especially psyched for the wedding, anticipating a long weekend of free booze and pretty women. Casey immediately knew he’d made a mistake the night before at the bar where the bridal party met after the rehearsal. He’d left the boys unattended.

“We’re staying for one more coldie, mate!” The boys recently had returned from an ill-advised month of carousing in Australia, and now they were pretending to speak Aussie. “No worries, mate,” they told Casey.

“Shouldn’t your dad deal with them?” Casey asked his bride.

“Oh, God, no! We can’t let Daddy know. Bill and Bart are in enough trouble already.”

“I’m on my way,” grumbled Casey.

The groom trooped to the local police station to extricate his soon-to-be brothers-in-law.

“G’day, mate!” The still-drunk twins called out to their savior after their release. They slapped Casey on the back.

Casey waved them into the back seat of his car. The boys launched into a confusing story about the third bar, or was it the fourth, and the two beautiful “sheilas” who came to their table, and the ordering of bottles of champagne, and the great time, and later the astounding, unpayable bill, and the disappearance of the two beauties and the appearance of a really big man, and then the pushing and shoving and the knocking over of the table.

“Are you guys OK?” asked Casey.

“Never better, mate,” said Bill.

“Stoked,” said Bart. “Say, can you stop at that shop?”

“What shop?”

“You know, the penguin shop.”

“The tuxedo shop,” Bill clarified.

“You never got your tuxes.” Casey shook his head and looked at his watch.

“Well, not yet,” said Bart.

The tuxedo shop took longer than expected. The boys, in their inebriated state, had trouble putting on the pants.

“Sorry,” Casey told the manager.

Later he dropped the boys at their parents’ house. “Go in the back door, go right upstairs, and get some sleep. Please.”

The boys staggered to the house. “You’re a good bloke,” Bart told Casey.

“Bloody awesome,” said Bill. The twins burst into laughter.

By now it was noon. At four the bus was collecting the bridal party for photos around town. Casey took a breath. Still time for a run. Don’t sweat it.

The mantras of his old high school coach came back to him.

“You can always make time for a run.”

“90% of success is showing up.”

In high school, as Casey stood shivering in the cold air of his first, early-morning cross country practice, the words of the fierce young coach struck a chord deep inside.

The impressionable boy had never heard such fiery declarations.

“Consistency! Perseverance!” spake the coach.

“Days off are for losers.”

“Greatness is in you already. Like the giant oak inside the acorn.”

Coach’s words clenched the boy’s heart. Casey became a mainstay of Coach’s state champ teams. Though never talented enough to be a star, the boy developed into an unbreakable cog. His improvement wasn’t flashy, but it was inexorable, and it eventually earned him a small scholarship to a D-2 college. Coach’s mantras were proven true.

The great manifestation and test of Casey’s dedication was his Streak. The rule of a running streak is simple: Anytime before midnight of each day, you get out for at least one mile of running. This sounds easy, but every day a hundred things can knock you off your routine. For sixteen years Casey had vanquished them all.

Once more Casey donned his running gear. This time he made it down the front steps before his ringing cell phone again stopped him.

It was Wade. Best man, best friend, college teammate, companion of a thousand runs, the ying to his yang, the erratic foil to Casey’s cool. Why the hell was he calling?

“Ready for the big day? You can still back out.” Wisecracking Wade.

“Yes. And no, I don’t want to back out. I want to get my run in.” Casey was suddenly suspicious. “What’s up?”

“You got the ring, right?” the best man asked.

“Very funny. I entrusted the ring to you, remember? For safe keeping.”

“Yeah. You’re right.” Long pause. “Well, I can’t seem to locate it. Currently.”

“Jesus, Wade.” Casey had a fleeting thought that he might laugh about this in the distant future. “Have you retraced your steps?”

“I’m trying to.”

Casey winced. “Shit, man, you’re killing me. I’ll be right over.” Casey threw on his sweats and drove to his friend’s place.

“It was a cheap ring anyway, right?” Wade, as always, turning all into a joke.

“Let’s go over yesterday, shall we?”

“You gave me the ring on the way to the tux place,” remembered Wade.

“And you checked your clothes and the tux?”

“Three times.”

Casey called the tux shop and put the phone on speaker. “You didn’t find a ring or any forgotten piece of clothing at your store yesterday?”

“Well, we found a windbreaker.”

Wade leaped to his feet. “Shit, my windbreaker!”

But the examination of the windbreaker turned up nothing.

“OK, later we were at the bar,” said Casey. “With the bridal party. You got shit-faced.”

“Yeah, I remember.” Wade concentrated. “Irma! I showed the ring to Irma!”

An immediate call to Irma Ramirez, a bridesmaid.

“Do I have the ring?” Irma laughed for quite a while. “Oh, you guys are in deep shit.”

“Don’t say anything to Candy. Please?”

Doggedly, Casey kept at his friend. “You came home from the bar. You still had the ring in your pocket. Probably. You took off your clothes, you went to bed. Next morning, ring is gone. Did I miss any steps?”

Wade scratched his head. “I went to the bathroom.”

The two men looked in the toilet. Casey emitted a groan of desperation. “We’re taking this toilet apart. Get your tools.”

They struggled with the toilet. One bolt was stripped. Finally, with a violent push, they tore the bowl from the tile. They tipped it over and shook. The trap coughed and spit out a dark clump. Dull gold shone from its center. Casey and his best man leaned against the bathroom wall and fist bumped.

The bus was coming in thirty minutes. Casey scrambled to shower and dress. He combed his hair just so. He nervously rocked on his toes to stretch his Achilles.

He grabbed the marriage certificate. Check. He wrote the payment for the priest. Check.

His daily run? Not checked. For now. But he’d find a way. He wore his running clothes under his tux.

The church was glorious. The dusk light filtered through the stained glass casting the altar in sepia. “Canon in D” drifted over the congregation, shyly at first and then lush with gorgeous strings. She appeared in white satin and lace, looking impossibly beautiful, and everything sort of hit him, his throat caught, and he thought, Keep it together, and then she took her place at his side and held his hand and he felt safe and fine.

Casey presented such a cool demeanor to the world that few suspected his inner turmoil. Growing up, he rarely felt safe and fine. Armchair psychologists might point to his overbearing father and over-medicated mother, but who knows, really, where people get their insecurities?

One thing seemed certain: As soon as he’d become a runner, he found some solid ground. Then the Streak helped him shape an image, and it gave him a tiny bit of fame.

“Did you know he never misses a day of running?” his classmates whispered. “Not in four years!”

“I saw him running at midnight,” said the sorority girls at the university. “I wish I had his drive.”

Indeed, Casey developed a frightful passion. He studied while jogging by listening to audio books. He wrote term papers while sprinting on the treadmill. He planned his days with military precision. There was that time, during a long day of cross-Atlantic travel, he did his workout in the airport terminal, jigging through the crowds.

Once, an emergency appendectomy nearly defeated him. As the clock approached midnight, he freed himself from the annoying tubes, slid past the nurses’ station, and stumbled five morphine-hazed laps around the hospital campus before security stopped him.

This year Casey had broken into the top 50 on the USA Active Running Streak list. That was special. The Streak had transcended the notion of sport. It had become a philosophy of life.

Surely there will come a chance at the reception for me to slip away. Maybe fifteen minutes. That’s all I’ll need. I’ll excuse myself to go to the bathroom. That was the groom’s thinking, and it was not unreasonable.

But the many duties of the groom hamstrung him for much of the evening. Casey and his bride performed the grand entrance, the toasts, the floating from table to table giving guests their due, the watching of the slideshow, the posing for pictures, the cutting of the cake, the first dance.

Casey had not anticipated so many obligations. Nor could he have imagined so many strangers pressing on him.

He offloaded his tux jacket. His white shirt clung to him. His face ached from smiling, like its muscles might go into spasm.

“Poor dear! You’re sweating so!” His bride took his handkerchief and dabbed his forehead. “Are you OK?”

At last, miraculously, his duties seemed to be exhausted.

“Whew!” Candy exhaled. “Let’s sit for awhile.”

Now, thought Casey, this is my chance.

He excused himself to go to the bathroom. Halfway there he began to levitate.

“Hey, you cobber!” Bart and Bill hoisted him.

“Think you can avoid us? Come have a drink!”

Shots were poured. Then some more.

“Have you done your walkabout?”

“My what?” asked Casey.

“You know. Your run!”

“Well.” Casey tried to control his rising antipathy toward the twins.

“Oh, you’re fucked, aren’t you?”

“Have another shot. You’ll feel better.”

Later, in the bathroom, Casey ditched his dress shoes. His best man handed him his running flats.

“You’re welcome,” said Wade. “Want me to run with you?”

“No. The less attention, the better.”

Casey had his shirt partially unbuttoned when a boy raced into the bathroom and cried, “Found him!”

The boy, one of Candy’s many cousins, stood blinking, trying to remember his message. “They need you! To throw the, the, the thing.”

Yet another performance was required—the tossing of the bouquet and the garter.

The unmarried women gathered in front of Candy. There was an unseemly amount of elbowing and positioning. Casey’s sister Karen stood placidly at the back of the group. Onlookers pulled out their cell phone cameras to record the moment.

Candy gripped her flowers, turned her back to the group, and tossed her bouquet into the air. The bouquet arced high over the frantic hands of the women. As if predestined, it sailed above Karen’s head, who as a former college centerfielder, deftly backpedaled, leaped, and made the catch.

The crowd cheered, the guests clicked their cell phones, Karen held up the bouquet, and because she had backed into a candelabra, her hair burst into flames.

A gasp went up from the crowd, followed by screams. Karen for a moment did not understand the cause of the commotion. Her brother shoved aside frozen bridesmaids and rushed to his sister’s aid, slapping her hair to put out the flames. Someone else raced over to pour a pitcher of water over her head.

Now poor trembling Karen wore this horrified look, like that of Stephen King’s bespattered Carrie. Casey attempted to console his sister. They quickly decided, because her hair smelled something awful, she must go back to the hotel, and he arranged a car.

Then he spent several depressing minutes talking down his mother, who was mortified, and his father, who somehow blamed his son for the fiasco.

In the chaos, the throwing of the garter was totally forgotten, which may or may not have been bad luck.

Casey stared at his watch. With great resolve, he strode again to the men’s room.

In front of the door he was tackled by the great aunts. Candy’s mother had two aunts who’d flown in from Dublin. They were sometimes referred to as the Weird Sisters. There was an unspoken rule that Beryl and Brigid Yeats be invited to every family event.

The sisters clutched the groom and pirated him back to their table. “Oh, you dear lad,” they chirped.

The sisters were smoking, and they offered Casey a Don Corleone, which he declined. Anxiously, he shook out his legs, one leg at a time.

Beryl observed his running shoes. “Poor boy, your feet must be knackered by now.”

Brigid, who was hard of hearing, thought her sister had asked if Casey shot skeet. This launched a remembrance. Apparently, Brigid, many years ago, had been a marksman of great repute at her local club.

Her sister noted with pride that Brigid nearly made the Irish Olympic team in the biathlon. “Had it not been for the blackguard Conor Doyle!”

“Well, I shot him through the leg, didn’t I?” Brigid said remorsefully. “So what’s done is done.”

To change the subject, Casey asked about their surname Yeats.

“Are you a fan of the great bard?” Beryl asked.

Ordinarily this would have piqued the young man’s literary interests had he not been consumed by thoughts of an exit plan.

“Surely you know the poem ‘Running to Paradise?’” Brigid asked.

The sisters broke into singsong:

“For I am running to Paradise;

Yet never have I lit on a friend

To take my fancy like the wind”

The sisters were debating the poet’s obsession with gyres and the supernatural when Candy finally rescued her husband.

It was 11:30. The reception hall was booked to midnight, so the call went out for the last dance. A circle of family and friends formed while the young couple held each other and slow-danced in the middle of the floor.

The bride easily sensed her husband’s anguish. She noted the “Go Pre” showing through his damp shirt.

“Oh, Honey. Your Streak. I’m so sorry.”

Her lover’s tortured eyes scanned the exits.

“Here’s what I’ll do.” The man’s face shone with desperate hope, searching for a stay of execution. “I’ll run back to our hotel. It’s only a mile. You go back on the shuttle with the others.”

She leaned back and stared at him. “Oh. Well.”

“With the traffic, I’ll probably beat you to the hotel.”

The music continued, but they had stopped dancing. They studied each other closely for signs. The crowd looked on.

“Of course, Love. Do that,” spoke the girl tenderly. “I know how much it means.”

Yet with this sublime offering came the faintest shadow across her face, the slightest tremble of her lips.

And Casey knew he would forfeit.

He was surprised how serenely this came to him.

Yes, they were opposites. But they were alike in one key respect: Neither could bear hurting the other. Indeed it was this magic that would sustain them in the years ahead.

Casey slipped quietly through the door and into the darkened room. He opened the curtain a crack, letting in a faint dawn. He kicked off his running shoes and threw his T-shirt in the corner. He made some coffee. Then he came and sat on the edge of the bed.

He touched his bride’s lovely face. Candy opened her eyes and looked across the pillow.

“Day one?” she asked dreamily.

“Day one.”

 

Rich Elliot’s published work has mostly been in the field of sports nonfiction. He’s the author of The Competitive Edge: Mental Preparation for Distance Running and the anthology Runners on Running: The Best Nonfiction of Distance Running. Elliot also writes short fiction, having stories published in several literary magazines, including Confrontation, Quail Bell, Soft Cartel, and Aethlon. His first collection of fiction, Duck and Cover: Eleven Short Stories, came out last year. He is a resident of Valparaiso.