High Point

By Mitchel Montagna

               “When you force your employer to call the fire department and shut down, you might tend to lose your job,” said O’Riordan.

             Baker listened, dismayed, as if O’Riordan’s more sympathetic judgment might help him to get his job back. In fact, O’Riordan had no influence at all regarding the matter. What’s more, he didn’t have a job himself.

            Though O’Riordan acted the sage, he lived in his mother’s basement. That’s where the two sat, as Baker tried to explain that he had been fired from Howard Johnson’s that morning for trying to fix a problem—like the good employee, and man, that he was.

Baker recalled he had been in the kitchen, “sort of” loafing, as he described it, but not for “too long”, when he saw that the dishwashing machine was jammed. It was one of those industrial-grade contraptions that carried dishes and silverware on an oval-shaped belt, and when trouble occurred, it was usually due to a plate slipping off its tines and clogging the works. So Baker clambered up onto the machine’s stalled belt, intending to reach over and dislodge the offending item. “Heroically,” as Baker insisted, with steam burning his face and filling his nostrils, he tried to stand erect on the slick, soapy surface. Just as he was about there, he heard a resounding bang, and then the machine, with a quick lurch, began to move again.  

            O’Riordan interrupted. “Wait. You didn’t switch off the power first?”

            Baker blushed. “No, I didn’t switch the goddamn power off first.”

            Like a running back upended by a low, forceful tackle, Baker had had his feet cut out from under him—by a corps of hard-charging breakfast plates. He was stumbling sideways, stomping on and shattering dishes, when to catch his balance he grabbed onto a large valve bolted to a pipe. The valve was ideally positioned for someone in Baker’s predicament—but it wasn’t designed to support someone of Baker’s weight. Baker tumbled off of the conveyor belt with his hand still gripping the valve, having torn it, and the pipe, from the wall.   

            As he landed, he heard kitchenware clattering, as well as shrieks of panic. But at least one waitress was amused: “Hah!” she snorted. “Right on his ass!”

Baker saw above him a powerful stream of water spewing across the kitchen as if from a widemouthed hose. He also woozily noted a sheet of flame leaping from the general direction of the stove, and that its searing brightness, along with the water, created a pleasant rainbow along the ceiling.   

But nobody seemed impressed by the mirage. Instead, they were sent scurrying by this man-made catastrophe. As a couple of Baker’s co-workers gruffly helped him to his feet, a harsh ringing indicated that someone had pulled the fire alarm. Baker was then escorted outside, and instructed never to return.

As he digested Baker’s story, O’Riordan sat for a moment in what looked like deep thought, his eyes brimming with knowledge.  

“So whaddya think?” Baker asked. “Wasn’t I just trying to do the right thing? Should I sue the bastards for unlawful termination? This won’t do my career any good, I can tell you that.”

Now O’Riordan smiled. “Absolutely. And when they re-build the kitchen, they ought to name it after you.”  

Baker for the first time in ages was being transported by a swing, gliding face-up toward the sky, then descending backward before momentum kicked him up again. Eyes shut, inhabiting his own space, he was taking in a swirl of hypnotic music. There were loudspeakers at the children’s summer camp where he had been hired to work in the kitchen (his HoJo’s experience coming in handy), and he had decided to spend his morning break in flight.  

It was like riding a bicycle: you never forget how. As you rise forward, you thrust your legs out, arch your back, and yank on the chains holding the seat (and you). While swinging backward, you fold your knees till your feet are beneath you. As the air rushed by, Baker kept his eyes closed, and he focused on the harmonica solo spewing from the speakers. It went on and on, an exhilarating melody that inspired him to scale higher.

Soaring backward, reaching the crest, Baker felt the sun blazing to his right, and noted the swing set’s crossbar ahead, barely above him. He had achieved a state of weightlessness. Below, the field was a blend of grass and dirt, with staff and kids ambling, some with balls and other athletic equipment, some wearing swimsuits and clutching towels. A few male staffers were shirtless; several females wore the shortest of shorts. Baker gleefully swooped down toward them.

As he remembered doing as a kid, he decided to eject. It required keen anticipation, timing your move to the instant you’ve reached your peak. When Baker got there, he pushed off, charged with adrenaline, feeling as if the sky would absorb him. Once free of the swing, he realized he was higher than he’d anticipated. He dangled in the air, as close as he’d ever get to flying. He might have been an airborne puppet with its strings cut, arms and legs crooked and jutting out crazily.

Baker was also top-heavy with momentum. As the ground reeled toward him, his legs lagged and his head hung forward. His toes hit the earth first, then he heavily fell onto his chest, his forehead banging onto grass before he rolled over. Aside from the bridge of his nose, there was little pain beyond embarrassment.

When he looked up, one of those splendid creatures in short shorts was watching him. He’d noticed her before—he thought her name was Fatima. She looked puzzled, as if Baker was wreckage dropped unexpectedly from the sky. Fatima held the hand of a small girl whose mouth was fixed in an astonished oval. Baker rose to his knees, and winked at them. At which point they resumed walking, putting some juice into their step.

“At least,” O’Riordan said, “this time you didn’t destroy an entire kitchen.”

“Just my pride,” Baker admitted, holding Kleenex to his nostrils.

But not much pride left to destroy, he was thinking. Sure, he’d secured another job, but there was no future in it. He was 24 with a college degree—albeit in sociology, which hardly counted—but scrounged for whatever work he could find. Meanwhile, assholes he grew up with wore suits and had professions. Some were actually married.

When the hell had all that happened?

The only guy he knew like him was O’Riordan. Not quite a role model; though if you spoke to O’Riordan about it, the man would say: “Yeah, you could do a heck of a lot worse than emulating me!”

After Baker had been hired at Camp High Point, he had tried to convince O’Riordan to apply there, too. This was pretty much a joke, as O’Riordan was as averse to working as a sloth. But to Baker’s amazement, O’Riordan had taken him up on the suggestion, and even further from likelihood, had secured a job—as an arts and crafts counselor.

“You have to know what to say, and when to say it,” was O’Riordan’s cryptic response to Baker’s query about how the hell he had pulled it off. Baker felt he had missed out yet again—while he sweated his ass off washing pots, community college dropout O’Riordan held one of the camp’s cushiest jobs.

The previous day, Baker had decided to see for himself how O’Riordan got away with pretending he knew anything about arts and crafts. Baker walked into the camp’s main pavilion where O’Riordan sat at a table with about a dozen ten-year old boys. Speaking in a voice somewhat deeper than usual, O’Riordan held up a piece of paper and announced that today they would construct “something special—paper airplanes. Or, as I like to call them, paper fighter jets.”

“Watch closely,” he intoned to the rapt group of boys. “And learn something.”

Baker noticed that the boys’ regular counselor stood to the side, smoking a cigarette and ignoring the charade.

O’Riordan folded paper. “I collaborated with Lockheed to develop these crease patterns,” he said.  “You have to be geometrically precise. Now, voila.

O’Riordan tossed the paper, which sailed a few feet then plummeted. “Amazing!” he cried. “Now let’s see what you got.”

Baker watched the boys eagerly folding papers and tossing them. They yelled in delight and contributed sound effects: “BAM!” “BOOM!” “WHEEE!” “KKKRRRUNCH!” O’Riordan applauded and encouraged them, as if having the time of his life, too.  

Baker had seen enough. He left the pavilion, muttering to himself, and walked toward the kitchen where a dozen filthy pots awaited.   

Now, as they sat in the small cabin they shared, O’Riordan changed the subject and asked Baker whether he liked any of the female staff members.

“Well,” Baker said. “I got eyes, same as you.”

O’Riordan said, “But what are doing about it? Your youth is running out, my friend.”  

“Listen” Baker said. “I’m the kitchen help. I wear this silly costume and a fucking apron. What woman here would even look at me?” 

“One looked when you fell off the swing. Fat…uh, or whatever her name.”

“Well, if I need to go to that length,” Baker said.

“Market yourself,” O’Riordan said. “You got one or two things going for you. You went to college, right?”

“Fuck you,” Baker said.

“There’ve been some gals coming around watching me work,” O’Riordan said. “I think I got groupies.”

Baker laughed. “Yeah, to see the latest line of bullshit you’re throwing.”

“Not necessarily.” O’Riordan looked offended.

“I will say this,” Baker said. “You know who’s gorgeous? That nurse, Resa.”

Resa? She’s old enough to be your mother.”

During meals, Baker would sometimes peek out of the kitchen to enjoy the sight of this tall, commanding woman who patrolled the dining room, watching alertly for choking campers and other medical emergencies. Resa’s expression was usually beetle-browed and serious, befitting her heavy responsibilities, yet Baker discerned soft, sultry features behind her oversized glasses.

That she was obviously in her 30s only heightened her appeal for Baker. He didn’t bother to counter O’Riordan’s crack about mothers, as he was sure straight males of any age prone to arousal would gladly hurtle toward Resa like a shooting star.     

At lunch the next day, as Baker spied on Resa, he found her posted regally in the middle of the dining room, chin aloft and vigilant as ever. She happened to be standing a step away from O’Riordan, who sat at a table with the other specialty counselors. Resa was monitoring activities throughout the large room, missing only what may have been happening under her nose—which is where O’Riordan sat, candidly appraising Resa’s skimpy shorts and the delectable body that filled them.

But O’Riordan wasn’t being crude. In fact, he was behaving in the respectful way of a connoisseur inspecting a valued piece of art. As Resa focused on her duties, O’Riordan focused on her, his face rapt with concentration. Sometimes, he’d lift an eyebrow as he perused something especially fine. He appeared to be taking the time and care required to formulate an evaluation worthy of its subject.   

Finally, O’Riordan nodded his approval, conveying the lofty certainty of a cultured man. He looked over at Baker and indicated “A-OK” with a circular thumb and forefinger. Baker made an “A-OK” sign in return, proud that his manly instincts had been vindicated. 

Later that week, a two-day intersession period began. No campers were present; it was a time for counselors to undergo training as well as enjoy some free time. Baker had learned that Resa was scheduled to host a refresher CPR demonstration and although kitchen workers weren’t invited, he showed up anyway.

He stood among a couple-dozen counselors, including O’Riordan, who had assembled near a picnic table next to the swing set. A few smoked cigarettes. Others sipped from Styrofoam coffee cups. Some did both. The day was humid, with the sun large and hazy, so everyone had taken a minimalist approach to their wardrobe.

Resa’s bikini briefs and tank top may have been inviting, but her face had assumed its usual stern look. She thanked everyone for coming, and reminded them the topic of today’s demonstration was “life and death.”

“If a camper is in medical trouble, instantly notify me or one of my staff,” she continued. “But if we can’t get there immediately, you’ll need to take proper lifesaving measures until one of us arrives.”

She paused to let that sink in. “Can I get a volunteer, please.”

Baker had barely registered that when he felt someone push him from behind—hard. The shove felt like a solid blow that vibrated his spine and cut off his breath. The culprit was O’Riordan, the bastard. Baker took several loping, stumbling steps forward, his arms twirling for balance, then he fell to his knees.

Resa stood over him. “Well, that was an entrance, all right.” she said. The counselors chuckled. “Thanks for your generous decision to help. We haven’t met, have we?”

Baker clambered to a standing position, his face burning from heat and embarrassment. “My name’s Mark Baker, mam.” 

He was awed by the force of Resa’s eyes, a penetrating blue, and the abundant waves of her dark hair.         

Resa directed Baker to lay supine on the picnic table. She explained that if a child isn’t breathing, they should lay the camper on their back and place the heel of one hand in the middle of their chest “at the nipple line.” This remark drew a few titters, and the titters grew to giggles as Resa approached Baker, who had put an arm across his eyes to protect them from the sun. As he sensed Resa getting closer, he peeked. A rich, winding curtain of her hair swung toward him.  

For a moment, Baker was terrified that the close proximity of a scantily-clad, beautiful woman would embarrassingly excite him. But he was so self-conscious about the entire situation and all the eyes on him that he was too drained for stimulation. In fact, he was more likely to faint.

“It seems Mr. Baker’s nipple line is right here,” she said, placing her hand on the appropriate spot. “To do this properly, you’ll need to push down on the breastbone about two inches.”

Resa demonstrated by pressing on Baker—twice. She may or may not have driven down the full extent, but Baker felt the weight like a tightening vise. The sensation fused with the lingering ache from the blow O’Riordan had struck, sending a throbbing pain through his upper body.

Baker tried to stifle any expression of discomfort but failed and emitted an audible groan: “Unnnhhhh!”

Resa stepped back. “Looks like I got a little carried away. And it had nothing to do with Mr. Baker calling me ‘mam.’”

Everybody laughed. Apparently, this woman did have a sense of humor.

“I apologize, Mr. Baker.”

“Call me Mark,” Baker gasped.

“The recommended number of compressions is 30,” Resa said. “That, I will not do to Mister ah, Mark.”

She also demonstrated what she called “rescue breathing,” lifting Baker’s chin, tilting his head back, and pinching his nostrils until they felt enflamed. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he couldn’t decide which, she declined to press her lips against his. “One of us might have cooties,” she quipped, and Baker’s grin looked aghast while the counselors roared as if Resa was Joan Rivers.

Finally, she reviewed the Heimlich maneuver, and Baker’s breastbone was again attacked, this time from behind. Then Baker stood unsteadily, sweating, while Resa thanked him for being a “good sport.”

As the gathering broke up, Baker looked around for O’Riordan so he could chew out his ass.  But of course, O’Riordan had fled. As Baker stood wondering how to kill more time before his shift began, he heard a female voice call his name. He looked up to see Fatima approaching.

“Mark,” she said with a grin, practically laughing. She stopped a few feet in front of him.

Fatima’s brown hair was pulled back so that it streamed behind her. The sun flared in her eyes. “Your name’s Baker and you work in the kitchen, right?” she said.

“Right,” Baker said emphatically, trying to maintain a firm posture. 

“Kind of cute, isn’t it, a guy named Baker in the kitchen.”

Fatima’s smile was playful, but there also was something focused and searching in her look. Baker guessed that she hoped for a response of some substance. Uncertain of whether he had it in him, he looked around fretfully, as if for rescue or inspiration.

Across the field, he saw O’Riordan walking near their cabin. O’Riordan moved with long strides, confident as a surgeon, his jaw pointing the way.

“You mind if I ask you something? Fatima said.

Cautiously, Baker looked back at the wondering light in the girl’s eyes.   

Later, with a scouring pad in one hand and a steel brush in the other, Baker saw a huge billow of steam wafting through the kitchen like a malevolent fog. It approached, then engulfed him, and the quantity of perspiration that already drenched his skin and clothing quadrupled. He felt like he’d been dropped into an oven.

It appeared that the steam’s origin was Baker’s old nemesis, an industrial-grade, assembly-line dishwasher of the type that had ended his career at Howard Johnson’s. The steam spewed from behind a square metal panel on a side of the machine, and had quickly saturated the entire kitchen. Baker inhaled the vinegary body odor of himself and the other employees. Gobs of sweat slid into his eyes.

The cook, a man named Ford with a tattoo of an anchor on his forearm, shouted curses that would have projected to the back row of any theater. He hustled to the dishwasher and hollered that he “needed some dipshit to shut it down.”

Baker, sometimes a dipshit but presently feeling good about himself, ran to the far side of the machine where, with his fist, he pounded on a large red button. When nothing happened, he did it again. The dishwasher rattled, moaned, then gradually settled to rest.

But steam continued to flow.

Baker approached the fuming Ford. He bowed, interlocked his hands, then indicated that Ford should step onto Baker’s hands to assist his climb over and behind the machine. Ford gave Baker a flashing look of surprise, like a teacher might give a dunce who unravels an algebra problem.

Ford lifted a heavy, booted foot onto Baker’s palms. Using Baker’s shoulder for support, he scrambled up over the machine to reach the panel from which the steam leaked.

Ford twisted screws and bolts, added WD-40, and the dishwasher more or less sputtered back to life. Soon Baker took a break, and he walked out through the kitchen’s back door into the late afternoon humidity which, given the steam bath he had just emerged from, felt like a relief.

O’Riordan was nearby, perched on a railing when he saw the bedraggled, sopping Baker.

O’Riordan feigned concern and said, “Son of a bitch. With the working conditions you guys got, you oughta form a union.”

Baker laughed and clapped O’Reilly on the shoulder. He headed for their cabin to change his shirt, looking forward to meeting Fatima at the swing set.

When Fatima had asked whether she “could ask him something,” it turned out to be a lighthearted inquiry regarding how he occupied himself when he wasn’t working. Baker couldn’t easily respond. The query made him ponder: What did he do? Well, in truth, he sat around, and he brooded. Sometimes, he wandered around and brooded. Even watching TV, he brooded.

But on this occasion, Fatima’s wide-set, lustrous eyes lifted him out of himself. Fascination swept away timidity. He suggested to Fatima that they could talk more when his upcoming shift ended, say around 4:30? And maybe they could meet at the swing set?   

“There’s something about this,” Baker said, as he pulled the chains and thrust out his legs, “that’s liberating. And not just for kids.”

Fatima, on the next swing but manipulating hers with less urgency, said, “I’ve seen you doing this before.”

“Oh really,” Baker said. “I didn’t know that.”

The camp’s sound system was switched on to the same song that had inspired Baker during his previous adventure on the swings. Its rousing harmonica solo re-entered his blood, further charging up the electric excitement he felt at Fatima’s presence.

Baker swung down, leveled, then arched back as he ascended. Air rushed against his face. The sun glimmered gold to their left.  

“Anyway,” he said. “When you asked what I do outside work, it reminded me that this can be a pretty fun activity.

“Who is this, by the way? The music.”

Fatima flew past him, a colorful blur. “Stevie Wonder,” she said. “Where have you been?”

Good question. How could he not know that? “Oh,” he said. “You know. Around.”  

As he climbed again, he knew he would leap off. No planning or thinking; just do it. He anticipated gliding earthward with his fall softened by some kind of mysterious entity. Like an invisible elevator. Or palms gently easing him down.

“Ha! Watch this,” he yelled. As the swing lifted him toward a sky of glittering blue, he let himself go.

Mitchel Montagna has worked as a special education teacher, radio news reporter, and corporate communicator. Publications include Amarillo Bay, Yellow Mama, and Leaves of Ink. He is married and lives in New Jersey.

That Was the Last

By D. Marie Fitzgerald

We were nine and seven then

cowering against mom like spindly scared calves

backed up against the enormous white stove,

mom’s protective arms Medieval shields of armor

across our tiny chests.

The enemy that night was dad swaying in the doorway,

the gun held loosely in his waving hand.

Every once in awhile he would swing it in the air

causing a tightening of mom’s arms,

a loosening of sobs.

That was the last between mom and dad.

We backed out of the driveway of the house

with the big white enormous stove

and shifted our focus from scenes such as that

to one of looking ahead—-

moving into our new modern apartment without dad

where we would eat steak and shrimp every night

have lots of kids to play with.

It was kind of like Christmas and an adventure all rolled into one;

we would be different

bear the mark of Cain.

It was all too exciting,

this tragedy that fed my need for the dramatic,

my soul either too young or too shallow to feel the import

except for that image growing ever smaller as the car pulled away

my face watching from the rearview window

a shake of the head

a wave of the hand

disappeared into the white house with the enormous white stove.

Editor’s note: This poem was first published by One Spirit Press in the book I Have Pictured Myself for Years.

D. Marie Fitzgerald is the author of four books: Reruns, A Perfect World, and I Have Pictured Myself for Years. She actually published her first book in 1978, but alas, that was a long time ago and has not stood the test of time, or talent for that matter. Her work has appeared in numerous publications over the span of forty plus years. She is a retired English and creative writing teacher, but spent the first twenty years of her working life mostly food serving and bartending. She retired from teaching in 2010 and currently hosts a poetry critique group and volunteers for a local theater company. She lives in Palm Springs, California with a very nice man who just happens to be from Indiana.

Secret Northwest Indiana author to give talk to Michigan City Historical Society at Michigan City Public Library Saturday

Secret Northwest Indiana author Joseph S. Pete will give a talk to the Michigan City Historical Society Saturday about his new book, which explores the Indiana Dunes National Park, shipwrecks, Lake Michigan submarines and more Calumet Region history.

Pete will give a talk at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Michigan City Public Library at 100 E. 4th Street in downtown Michigan City.

The book tackles questions like where in the landlocked state of Indiana can you sunbathe on a beach in the shadow of hulking steel mills, surf by an oil refinery or scuba-dive to see old shipwrecks?

A blend of Indiana and neighboring Chicago, Northwest Indiana is a one-of-a-kind place filled with wonders like Frank Lloyd Wright homes, Helmut Jahn buildings and a hike USA Today described as one of the country’s most scenic. And behind its unique coastal setting lie some equally intriguing hidden gems and untold stories.

Secret Northwest Indiana: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure leads a whirlwind tour of the Calumet Region that extends from Chicago’s far South Side, through the south suburbs and Northwest Indiana, and into Southwest Michigan. Read about a submarine inventor who sailed under Lake Michigan and the free-spirited Diana of the Dunes who inspired preservation efforts that led to the Indiana Dunes National Park. Explore hidden NIKE missile silos, Brigadoon-like World War II munitions factories, POW camps, bygone ski jumps, secret spots to photograph the jets taking off for the Chicago Air and Water Show, and the infamous Marriage Mill where celebrities like Muhammad Ali flocked to get hitched. Prepare for singing porta-potties, tree graveyards and other strangeness.

It shines a light on Region history like the strip-mined Hoosier Slide, the Mount Baldy dune that ate a small boy, serial killer Belle Gunness’s farm, grandfather of aviation Octave Chanute, ecology inventor Henry Chandler Cowles, the Muskegon shipwreck, and the tragic fate of the SS Eastland that was bound for a company picnic at Washington Park. It’s filled with tales of Indiana cacti, carnivorous plants, and a 28-room Scottish castle where peacocks roam the grounds smack-dab in the middle of a bedroom suburb of Chicago.

Local author and journalist Joseph S. Pete gives you a look behind the curtain in a region you might think you already know well. With his stories and tips, you’ll find no shortage of new secret places to explore in Northwest Indiana.

Region native Joseph S. Pete writes for The Times of Northwest Indiana, a job that’s taken him all around the South Shore. The author of Lost Hammond, Indiana and 100 Things to Do in Gary and Northwest Indiana Before You Die, Pete is a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio, the treasurer of the Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and a literary writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 journals. His many accolades include Lisagor Awards, SPJ Awards, Chicago Journalist Association Awards, Inland Press Association Awards, Hoosier State Press Association Awards, and a calculator he won at a Hammond Civic Center circus raffle.

What Next?

By Dan Yonah Johnson

Lloyd Farm – Radnor, Ohio – Friday, May 8, 1970, 6:30 AM

Sheila Lloyd couldn’t wait for the school bus to arrive, but she had to. It was fairly cool in the early hour and Sheila didn’t care…even in her especially short tartan plaid mini dress offering a lot of leg to the morning frost. She stomped her shoe into the gravel at the edge of the berm, goose-necking a far look down the road for a blob of yellow. Her brothers Tommy and Davey noticed her fidgeting but didn’t make much out of it. Sheila was typically nervous anymore. They were getting used to it. But one thing earlier in the morning made them complain to each other…how Sheila had spent an exceptionally long time in the bathroom—for whatever reason. And it seemed like there was an excessive amount of long black hair in the sink…more than usual. Maybe she was still nerved-out by the Bob Jones funeral a few days before.

      Finally, the yellow blob appeared on the horizon and grew larger. After a seemingly long approach, the bus tires finally skid-gritted to a stop. Tommy and Davey hopped onboard first and split up, siding along with different buddies. But Sheila bounded on past them toward the back seat where her red-haired early morning date awaited. She dropped her fleshly hip next to Julia’s and immediately slid her hand down the backside of Julia’s jeans deep into her butt cleavage. Julia Watkins whimpered a low murmur as they melded discreetly into a cuddle. Discreetly, they thought.  Actually, they weren’t accurately cognizant as to how their recently established next-level physicality was more prone to observation. In the middle of the bus, Jon Goldsberry bantered loudly back and forth with his posse—some were actual friends, others just wannabes…because Jon was all that…and would tell you so. He was the school blonde hair pretty boy asshole jock. His mom was the school drama and speech teacher. Mary Goldsberry was popular. Jon was popular. So, Jon got away with shit. A lot of shit. It was math.

       And so, Jon was holding court in his bus seat with his groupies all-round. Stories about insults to others was his specialty. His head jacked-turned one way and the other, tracking who was paying attention to his show. In a split second, his eye fell on Sheila and Julia in the back. He caught them being a bit handsy with each other. His eyebrow popped, and his mouth gaped whaaaat? and immediately slid into an obnoxious sneer. Slapping several buddies on their shoulders and leaning into their ears, he spat-whispered his fresh instant guffaws with repeated lookbacks at Sheila and Julia. Laughs followed. And the girls caught it. Sheila immediately panicked. When you’re fifteen, most bad events are instant. The girls straightened themselves up. But Sheila hyperventilated, stealing repeated looks at Jon Goldsberry in his jocular self-glory.

       Julia took Sheila’s face into her hands. “It’s okay…it’s okay,” reassured Julia with steady eyes. “It’s alright. We’re fine,” her voice calmed in a strong whisper. With her slender fingers she smoothed the fret wrinkles from Sheila’s forehead. “We’re alright babe. We’re alright.”

      Sheila sat herself hard and square with her eyes straight out ahead toward the front windshield of the bus. She embedded her hand down into Julia’s. They could feel each other’s pulse. The moment hung in the air with a sense of the sacred…to the drone of bus tires on a country road.

      Before Sheila and Julia entered the front doors of Hedgewood Junior High School, they tarried awhile as a rush of cacophonous bodies scrambled past them for the halls. Sheila was tremorous at the prospect of splitting up. They had different homerooms. And it was a long time before 3rd period art class—when they could be together again…and then later in 5th period—lunch in the cafeteria. Julia slid off her shoulder bag and rooted down into the bottom under schoolbooks and a plethora of girl paraphernalia. She extracted a clump of old-fashioned butterscotch hard candies and thrust them into Sheila’s bag. “Just suck on these and think of me,” said Julia with a sly smile.

      Sheila huffed a small laugh, her dark worry dissipating a little in the morning light glinting off Julia’s flame-red hair.

       In the school lobby they waved their goodbyes and went down their respective hallways—into the sound blast of locker door crash, deal-making, and last-minute gossip echoing off cement block walls. The electric bells rang, and soon enough Sheila was hunched down into her manila-color homeroom desk chair. Immediately, she popped her first butterscotch and closed her eyes…thinking of Julia. The homeroom teacher, Kathy O’Shea, silently began taking the attendance role, scanning the room, and checking off names one by one in her record book. The PA announcements began in their typical blather with the Pledge of Allegiance. But Sheila didn’t notice. She wasn’t listening and didn’t rise for the ritual. Ruby Taylor though—in the next row…stood and leaned over to rib Sheila.

      “Pledge,” whispered Ruby urgently.

       Sheila just groaned and remained seated. She dropped her crossed arms and head onto the desktop and whimpered, “I’m sick. I’m not getting up. Just tell O’Shea that I’m sick if she comes back,” pleaded Sheila in a thin whine.

      But Miss O’Shea didn’t notice, and the announcements droned on…

      Sheila really liked Kathy O’Shea, who in addition to being her homeroom teacher, taught geometry 1st period—making for a pretty decent beginning to Sheila’s school day…indeed, something of a safe zone for a couple of hours. It tended to calm Sheila down.

       Kathy O’Shea was a good sort and a beautiful woman. Like Julia, she had flaming red short-bobbed hair and was svelte with fine chiseled features. Kathy always dressed the teacher-role—prim and proper. But her way of carrying herself with a confident sophistication belied, in Sheila’s estimation, a certain something else…something French-like that Sheila had seen in fancy women’s magazines painting a feminine world in vignettes gauzy and ethereal. In contrast to Kathy’s reserved exterior, Sheila imagined her to have a lingerie drawer to die for. She saw Kathy as a sort of future-Julia and mused that perhaps growing old wouldn’t be so bad after all. Kathy did it well. Damn well. Sheila figured that Kathy was about thirty. And she surmised Kathy to be a liberal, but a quiet one. She did her teaching job the way it was supposed to be done—according to the school district…without personal or political commentary. But one day, Sheila overheard Kathy talking to one of her teacher-girlfriends in the hallway. Kathy was worried about her younger brother who was a student down at OSU and up to his eyeballs in the protests. He burned his draft card by day and the ROTC building by night. Kathy had serious doubts about whether her brother would survive the war. Would the draft board or the police catch up with him…take him away somewhere…before he ever had a chance to bolt for Canada? Would the fucking war kill him one way or the other? And Sheila heard Kathy literally say fucking war.

     Sheila had clear had it with the war-thing. She had inherited her father Evan’s WWII service post-traumatic stress—which came mainly from his participation in the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp. So even though Sheila’s mother Alice rendered admonitions on what not to verbalize about Evan’s ways…still, the war-thing loomed. For both Evan and Sheila, it wasn’t ever a question about whether going to war against Hitler was morally right…like Evan had a choice…but God Damn…how was it that so-called Christianity in Germany and Italy let Hitler and Mussolini and all their bastards get so fucking far down the road in the first place? That was what ripped it for Evan with religion.

       Sheila was trying to navigate her life’s topography in very rocky times—including a funeral a few days before…for Bob Jones—a local boy killed in Vietnam. The stench of death and the exotic sweetness of Julia’s perfume made the very air mosaic. Which would prevail? Would the air ever become breathable again outside their personal-private enclave? The barometric pressure of Death increasingly enveloped and oppressed. A few nights before—in bed, Sheila heard something on her transistor radio about four Ohio students getting killed…at someplace called Kent State. The short news report kind of sounded like no one really understood what had happened.

       “You okay, Sheila, honey?”

         Sheila looked up to find Kathy O’Shea’s countenance upon her. Her eyes were kind. The room was empty. Kathy crouched down and caressed her hand along Sheila’s arm. Sheila began to weep. There was something about another person giving a damn that got to her. It didn’t happen very often.

      “It’s okay, honey. It’s okay,” reassured Kathy—kind of like she had been in the same place sometime or another…maybe when she was fifteen. Or maybe it was the day before. “Honey…if you feel bad…if you want to take a break…down at the nurse’s office…or if you want to go home…you just let me know…do you know what you want to do right now?” probed Kathy as gently as she could muster. From experience, Kathy had a strong feeling that she was dealing with a young girl who was profoundly emotionally vulnerable if not wounded. A kid on the edge. Of something.

     The 1st period students began sailing into the classroom and plopping into their desk chairs. It jolted Sheila. She immediately wiped her eyes and replied, “I’ll be okay, Miss O’Shea. I’ll be okay.”

     “Alright, honey. But let me know if that changes, okay?”

      Sheila nodded, bracing herself up with her geometry book and notebook. Stiffening her lip, she smiled up at Kathy, her redemptrix.

       The class began. Kathy passed back a recent quiz and she led the class through a review of the problems. Sheila hadn’t missed any. She usually didn’t, but she appreciated the confirmation inherent in going over all the problems again…especially on such a troubled morning. One by one, Sheila contentedly retraced each theorem and its proof. She deeply valued having a Given in every problem. It meant that in any morass of space and number, one still started with something that was true. And if that something was applied to something else, it too would be true. And if, in the wild case, some empiricist might prove that a certain Given wasn’t really true…it really wasn’t a Given…what next? It would mean that something else was true. Something. Everything true and real…came from Somewhere-Something true and real. Right? At least, that was what Sheila believed in…what she relied on…what she could imagine to be possibly left of her dad’s religion, and hers, after him and so many others…who went not just walking through—but dwelt smack in the middle of the valley of death…where there really are no shadows at all, but only the heap-piles of the dead rotting putrid under an indifferent blazing sun, garish for a lifetime of nightmares, the stench-taste seared into a soldier’s…into a survivor’s brain for eternal vomit. The Giver didn’t give that. Right? Then, what next? That was the geometry problem for the ages.

      1st period helped. Sheila calmed down as the quiz review transitioned to new problems…geometry problems. Kathy kept checking on Sheila with direct verbal and eye contact, and then a lot of surreptitious observation. She loved the girl. She worried about her. The thing that was different about Sheila Lloyd…that Kathy knew from experiencing Sheila’s geometric mind was that Sheila thought and felt more deeply than most people would ever guess. To most she was just another straight-haired buxom teenage girl…affable enough, but not a member of the most popular school social circles. Sheila and her friends were on the outer rings. But that’s just the way school always is. So, no one gave it much thought one way or the other. Common opinion was that Sheila was just one of the outer ring kids with her own certain set of weird traits. She likes that Julia a little too much. She needs to branch out more. She’ll grow out of it.

        But Kathy O’Shea knew that Sheila was far more grown than most discerned. And she had figured out what the deal was with Sheila and Julia. And she feared others might be doing the same. There were whispers in the halls and in the teachers’ lounge. Kathy wasn’t married, and congruent with social norms, had no children…but just the same, she kept a vigilant tigress mother-eye over both Sheila and Julia.

      The bell rang, and it was on to 2nd period. History. Goddamn history with Mr. Stack. Actually, Mr. R. Stack.  No one knew what the hell R. stood for. It was just that he signed every goddamn thing he ever signed with R. Stack. He was a short, compact, and paunchy-built man

with a crewcut. Wore a lot of khaki-colored clothes. Ex-military…Korea…which he constantly alluded to in his nasal droning lectures. To hear him go on…it sounded like he’d be completely satiated if most took his war stories to mean that he, himself, did major foxhole time. Most students though just rolled their eyes, and traded hallway theories that Stack Attack had really just worked in the mess tent or something. Congruently, most students discerned that Stack was flat-out: NOT the sharpest pencil in the box. Like, everyone knew of Stack’s stash—a shit-load of candy and peanuts in his right-hand desk drawer. He thought nobody knew. Everyone knew. And apparently, he wasn’t very good at inventory control. He continually bitched at students over their gum chewing. They weren’t chewing gum. Dumb fuck.

      But Stack knew all about war…he claimed. The title of the spring semester course was World History. To Stack…World History meant the history of the Roman Empire…because he was quite sure that all of Western civilization (specifically the good parts of it still remaining) and especially These United States (specifically the white parts) owed their unparalleled and beneficent qualities to the legacy of the Romans. He was quite sure of it. It was in this vein that he had for months been lacing his lectures with repeated allusions to the new movie Patton. “You should go see it. You really should…,” preached Stack Attack. With each occurrence of him making such a bid, he would roll out a little more about what emotional lotion he found in the movie that greased his privates up into full three-star generals. By wide gossip, the man had no wife.

      And so, the class went into its usual gears. Stack droned on and Sheila zoned out, her head laid horizontally in her right hand with her eyes closed. She dreamed of her and Julia laying on the large flat stone at the creek and the summer coming on. But then her dream was suddenly punctured. Stack said a word: Cambodia. And it jolted Sheila. She raised her head and rubbed her eyes out, and actually started to listen to the sonofabitch. He was going on about Nixon. He was comparing a Roman general to Patton, and then Patton to Nixon. He was conjecturing that Nixon had probably watched the Patton movie, and that Patton’s philosophy of war probably influenced Nixon’s decision a couple of weeks before to invade Cambodia. An arc of electric pissed-off shot up Sheila’s spine to her brain, and her hand speared up into the air. Stack dismissively called on her, girl that she was.

      “So…um,” started Sheila with piercing eyes. “…Would a new American Army base…put in South Vietnam…right next to the Cambodian border…like, back at the beginning of last month…would that…be part of Nixon going into Cambodia?”

     “Yes, of course, honey,” blurted Stack in complete condescension. “That’s the way the world works. War takes planning and strategy. And then you carry it out…and see it through no matter what. No matter what. That’s the Roman and Patton way that Nixon’s following.” Stack was demonstratively satisfied with his matter-of-fact delivery. (Perhaps one day there would be a movie about him.)

     Sheila nodded, protruding her lower lip. “So,” she retorted. “What you’re saying is that Nixon watching your goddamn little cartoon Patton movie is what got Jake Jones’ brother Bob killed in Vietnam three weeks ago. Great. Just fucking great.”

      A brief deafening silence hung. And then, the whole classroom rolled, hissed, and squealed in complete shock. What did she just say? The firefight was on. Full metal jacket.

      Stack’s eyes jacked. His jugular bulged. He grabbed up his teacher’s manual and flung it backwards. It slammed in a thud on the blackboard behind him.

      Sheila didn’t blink.

      “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?… LITTLE MISS JOAN BAEZ…OR WHAT, HUH?” bellowed Stack. “AND HERE’S A LITTLE MESSAGE FOR YOU, MISSY…YOU JUST EARNED YOURSELF A WEEK OF DETENTION, RIGHT HERE, FOR YOUR DISGUSTING NASTY LITTLE MOUTH!” added Stack lurching full forward on his little shoe tips to the point of losing his balance and having to catch himself from falling.

     The classroom ooooh-ed lowly and deeply…taking in the horror.

     “What?” blurted Sheila with a Black girl head-rock she learned from Ruby. “So, you can just stare at my tits the way you always do…except in private?” she shot, under-cupping her right breast and throbbing it upward and outward. “I can tell you now Sergeant Pepper, you ain’t EVER even gonna see…let alone…suck somethin’ this pretty!”

       The class couldn’t take it. There were several audible ejaculations of Oh shit!

       Stack was got. Rocked back on his heels got. Eyes wide, he stammered a few grunts. And then, silence. And then something had to be next. His eyes under his wild-hair eyebrows narrowed.

       “Welllllll…uh…I can see that you’ve got yourself some major head problems, missy,” he tried for an opening attempt at re-taking the hill he had just lost. “You just earned yourself expulsion, Miss Lloyd,” was all Stack could muster to blubber with his eyes all bugged out.

       “Fine, fine,” replied Sheila, resolutely throwing her flat hand up. “But before I go, I just want to know why you think history is just all about war. I mean, what is it with you? War, war, war…and like, war, only in terms of who wins and who loses. You don’t ever seem to give a shit about anyone who suffers and dies a horrible suffering death in war. You love Death, don’t you Stack? You think it’s, like, the coolest thing ever, don’t you? To you, Death is better than sex…or maybe not, huh? Maybe to you, Death is sex…your sex, anyway.”

      Total silence hung in the classroom.

      “YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY INSANE MISS LLOYD!” cried Stack. “GET OUT OF THIS CLASSROOM RIGHT NOW!” Spit and drool flew out of Stack’s jowls as he masturbated his pointing finger to the door.

      “Yeah. Okay. Fine…,” nodded Sheila defiantly. “But I’ve got another question for you…teacher. Are you a Christian?”

      Stack just stared at Sheila with huge wide eyes. Deer at night caught in unexpected illumination have more self-cognizance.

      “What does that have to do with anything?” replied Stack with a wary crack in his throat. His eyes panned all the students in the room. Their eyes were riveted to his.

       Sheila got up. She sauntered her curvy mini skirt legs up the center aisle and threw a hip thrust at Stack as she passed round him on her way to the blackboard. She grabbed a piece of chalk, wiggled her ass, and hastily scratched out a diagram on the board. It looked like a map of some kind. She slammed an X on a particular spot, and then a second X on another spot. Sheila turned abruptly, flipped her long black hair, and spoke sternly and authoritatively.

      “Now…,” lectured Sheila, stab-pointing at the first X. “…THIS is Israel…where Jesus and all his original followers came from, right? And THIS…,” declared Sheila pointing at the second X. “…is Rome.”

       It could then be recognized that she had drawn the boot of Italy and the whole Mediterranean basin with Israel on the far east end of it.

       “So…,” continued Sheila. “…Israel was all the way over here on the edge of your precious big-ass fucking war-crazy Roman Empire. Not because the Jews wanted to be in the empire. No. They were, like, being conquered by the Romans…getting the shit kicked out of them every day…Jews were getting killed all the time…on crosses and shit. So. You got Jesus and all his followers. And you got the Romans who reportedly nailed his ass to a cross.” And Sheila stepped forward on her high platforms all pretty and leggy, gliding her curves, and flipping her girl-hair. She went right at him and hovered over his face. She was taller. “So, Stack. Which side are you on? Roman…or Christian?” queried Sheila.

      But then suddenly, Stack relaxed. His eyebrows raised and a smart-ass smirk cracked across his blather hole. He had a retort. An easy one. He had her, he thought.

     “My dear,” he began in complete condescension. “I thought you were a better student. For you not to know that the Christians ultimately became Roman…well…I am just…uh…surprised that you did not know that. The Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the early 300s…”

     “Yeah. The year was 323,” informed Sheila impudently, cutting Stack off with her glare-eyes.

     “Uh…yeah…The point, missy, is that the Christian leaders wanted that to happen. So…”

      “Yeah, yeah, yeah…,” blurted Sheila, cutting Stack off again. “That was a bunch of later pagans who converted from whatever to something called Christianity, but Christianity was really just a made-up thing…you know? What I am talking about is the original followers of Jesus…the Jewish ones…including his family… his mom and his brothers and his sisters and cousins…all of them Jews…who would never become Roman because, like, Romans hated Jews, and duh, killed them all the time. So, like, tell us Stack. Teach us, teacher. What happened to Jesus’ original Jewish followers…since you’re the super-duper Roman Empire teacher and all? What happened to ‘em Stack…huh?…come on, now…tell us. Did they all get beamed up to the Starship Enterprise with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, or what? Did the Romans have some kind of Hiroshima bomb or somethin’, and just blew ‘em all to hell…or what? …Oh…oh…or maybe they were protestors, huh?….Yeah. They were protestors. And the Romans just wiped them out on the spot like this shit I’ve been hearing about what happened at Kent State this week. But you tell me, Stack. Where’d they all go, Stack? Just…poof? Like magic? Gone? All the thousands and thousands of Jews…that followed Jesus…their children and grandchildren…what happened to them?…just gone?…like what?…like the Holocaust…huh?  What, Stack? What? WHERE’D THEY ALL GO, STACK???” bellowed Sheila with her hands clasped high on her ribcage and her cleavage all pushed out. Her black hair flipped, and her grey eyes blazed.

        Stack’s mouth did a weird rolling garble thing like it had a dead donkey dick in it, and he managed to start with “Well…uh…,”

        “YOU DON’T KNOW!!!” jumped Sheila. “YOU…DON’T…KNOW!!! SINCE YOU DON’T KNOW…I’LL TELL YOU THE ANSWER, teacher:  Jesus’s Jewish folks went over the Jordan River to a city called Pella. THAT’S where they went.”

       “And how do you know that, missy?” countered Stack.

        “Because I READ dumb ass. I actually READ when y’all send me to library period.  The Flight to Pella got written up by Eusebius and Epiphanius…and them mother fuckers were ROMAN CHRISTIAN historians. I READ, Stacky…you…you just talk out your ass. But me? My ass…is for finer things.” Sheila turned and kicked all her curvy curves out the door.

       The bell rang.

       The kids bolted. Their blather-thunder enveloped the hallway in chain-reaction explosion.

       Stack was left eviscerated on his linoleum tile battlefield. Slowly it dawned on him that he forgot to order Sheila to the Principal’s Office. Not that she would have obeyed.

       Sheila ran down the 2nd floor hallway well ahead of the crowd. She flew down a long flight of stairs, through the central lobby with its school banners and trophy cases, and down another long hallway to its very end at the farthest end of the school building.

       The art room was a refuge, especially to students of alternative spirit. Bursting in, Sheila found everyone else already there including Julia. She skip-rushed to Julia sitting at their usual worktable. And Julia immediately jumped up and took Sheila into her arms, discreetly kissing her neck. 

      “See, I told you we’d make it to 3rd period. You okay, babe?” asked Julia.

       “Yeah,” replied Sheila with a nod. A solitary tear ran down her cheek. Julia’s slender hand took it all away.

       The girls settled down to their art project which they had been working on for some time—it seemed like forever. In the middle of the table, laid out on newspaper, was a black wax sculpture of a reclining nude female couple on a stone. It was a mediate step in a process known as lost wax which would be cast into a mold, then put into a searing hot crucible, and ultimately result in a final solid brass sculpture. As to life, a fitting analogy. As for the nudity, it was art. Besides, it was Miss Ropp’s class, and she was weird anyway.

      As the couple worked meticulously on the curves of their wax effigy, Luanna Ropp approached their table. She was a fortyish woman of generous frame and wild black medusa hair all of which swayed with a bohemian smirk and a don’t give a shit walk. There was a scent about her. Was it really perfume or what?—Something like flowers and far eastern spices and burnt up firewood. Maybe she was the original hippie goddess from whose vagina sprang all the cosmic spores of Haight-Ashbury delirium. Curiously, she always wore a drab oversized v-neck house dress, sometimes olive, sometimes khaki, with some kind of navy color small print design…paisley or some such…which on first observance one would think was aesthetically out of kilter with the typical profile of an artist. Didn’t make much sense. Until she came to your low-sitting art table…and bent way down to look at your project…and her v-neck fell way low…and you saw that her bra was even more completely on its own…and there they were…mama’s full pink elliptical hanging fruit and their stiff pencil eraser ends…ready to go. Stunning she was. Luanna was a rare art…a working-class Mrs. Robinson…Rod Stewart’s aging morning cougar who’d drain your every drop and fuck your college career to shreds…Mick Jaggaer’s after-hours Gimme Shelter siren—all leg and heels…a flesh boat Lusitania…if she took you down, you’d die with a smile because she made you part of the legend.

      “Girls, I’m impressed,” chortled Luanna.

      Julia looked at Sheila, blinked, and replied, “We are too.”

       Luanna ran her fingers along the legs of the sculpture. “Oh, I love the curves,” she sighed.

      “We do too,” replied Sheila, nodding all wide-eyed and blinking.

       Luanna gave a wry smile and a nod. “Carry on girls. Carry on. You clearly know what you’re doing.”

      As Luanna Ropp departed to another table for another encounter, Sheila hastened a breathy manic query upon Julia, “You think she was hitting on us?”

     “Maybe,” replied Julia with a small laugh and a shrug. “Or maybe she just understands about us, and she approves.”

      “You mean she agrees with both of us,” laughed Sheila as she ran a smoothing brush over the entwined feet of their sculpture.

       “Yeah,” laughed Julia.

        Sheila cast her eye over to the next table where Luanna was inspecting a project on a table full of boys and rendering her teacherly advice. They were all absolutely appreciative of her counsel and direction.

       “She doesn’t seem like the marrying kind,” mused Sheila.

       “No, I don’t think so,” lilted Julia, shaking her head as she put some of her own touch ups upon the mutually embraced arms of the sculpture.

        There was a silence.

        “Are we?” asked Sheila in a thin voice, looking straight down at the sculpture.

         Both their heads raised. Their eyes met.

       “Yeah,” said Julia as she smoothed the sculpture’s stone base with her finger. “In our own way. We have to make it to sixteen, first…get our licenses…get some wheels. But we’re artists…we’ll figure it out.”

        Sheila nodded with a short flip of her hair and a wipe of her eye. “Well, I was just thinking. We’ve probably exchanged enough lost wax and stuff to qualify as blood sisters or something.”

      “Yeah,” said Julia. “Once this thing is cast, it’ll last forever.”

Dan Yonah Johnson is from Ohio, and he’s been a schoolteacher, social worker, and antiques dealer. Ohio writers Sherwood Anderson and Dawn Powell are Dan Yonah’s literary role models. He has lived in the childhood towns of both authors—where no one remembers them. A previous novel, Date of Birth Unknown, was released in May 2021 by Adelaide Books. A novel excerpt “What Happened” was published March 2022 by The Write Launch. Dan Yonah’s author site is at www.danyonah.com.

Thora – Beatnik Fantasy

By John F. Browning

Sitting at a prime unlit back table in the Whither Goest Thou club I nonchalantly snap applause over my shoulder back to the Johnny Clawfoot Trio playing their first order high syncopation low amplitude medicated be-bop music

Thora glances over her shades and under her bangs at me, sniffs dispassionately and silently mouths, I HATE YOU. I nod Buddha-like and studiously sip my carrot juice martini. Thora is hep, occasionally drops mlauts into her drawling pronunciation

The sea creature waitress, accoutred in black ballet tights and banana plantation headscarf says you assholes want anything? and as I hold up two fingers she groans, stamps a silk slipper, and undulates away like light through dark green water

Johnny mumbles something illegible save for its rhyme of people and gazzeeple into the gleaming silver mic and the band disjoins into some inapproximate free jazz version of Marching Through Georgia in the nimbus of dim lighting and cigarette smoke

I lean over to Thora and scat sing to the bass patterns the cat is laying down. An abstract Brancusi-like marble look lies fainting on her face[SB1] 

At the break, against an outdoor brick alleyway wall we have very casual sex as Thora chews my ear lobe. When we finish she whispers I hated that and stares into the distance. You’re half a man and half a stereophonic schizophrenic she hisses, which makes me want her again as she straightens her beret

I scat-sing with a heart full of adoration Bop bomb a who bop a zip zap a robot za zee a bobcat brim a boom!

After a second set, her hand in mine, we perambulate, two vertical parallel souls who straggle slowly everward into the receding gloom of our tedious square lives out in Nowheresville

leaving 2 a.m. Johnny to march on Atlanta alone

This work is from John F. Browning’s “Chicago Jazz Tonight” a work that conjures persons from Chicago in 1962 at an Old Town jazz club.  This work, inspired partly by Spoon River Anthology, visits the voices of those in and about the jazz club and attempts to capture the feel of Chicago at that time.


By Austin Ray

The whole world tells you to be successful.

As I grew up I was told I’d do great things.  

I was smart. I was funny. I was handsome.

I believed that pushing myself harder and harder

would lead me to a happy successful life.

As I grew older I looked for things that made me happy.

Spending time with friends, trying new hobbies, reading books.

I felt complete.

But time took that away.

Friends moved away.

My interests changed.

And I was forced to confront the next stage in my life.

I still look for things that make me happy.

But it feels simpler now.

The cool breeze on a warm day,

the smell of flowers,

the sun shining through my eyelids when I lay down in the grass.

Happiness was always a thing I had to go and find.

But now that I am older I realize I’ve been standing in it my whole life.

I only had to stop moving to see it.

Austin Ray is a Physics major at Indiana University-South Bend. He was born in Virginia, lived in Texas, and currently resides in Indiana. As an avid reader, he has a passion for fantasy, and mythology literature. He has studied at Second City. His involvement in the arts includes performing as an actor, musician, and vocalist.

Scene of December Vagabonds

By Sean Crawford

December vagabonds
On a blue street corner
In a winter Gary
They got here in the boxcar
Of a circus train
Slept in the piled hay
Of painted horses
Now they wait for their next express
To ferry them off to St. Louis
They lean against a big brick building
Snowflakes scattered
By the mill’s steely smog
The empty azure boulevard
Smelling rich of metallic toxins
Waiting ears poke out from
Wide-brimmed bucket hats
Their five-foot beards
Sprawled out on the sidewalk
One’s draped in a newspaper blanket
Plastered with the names and pictures
And people of Korea
Another’s picking at a tattered flier
Of Adlai Stevenson’s bulbous egghead
He’s slurping cold chicken soup
Cuts his lip on the Campbell’s can
Another sits cross-legged
Pumping his long ebony alphorn
Emits a luxurious booming resonance
Like the moo of Pluto’s cow
Up and down the icy road
Ratting far up windows
But not so loud they three couldn’t
Hear the train horn
They all rise to their feet as one
Time to go.

Sean Crawford is a university student originally from Auburn, Indiana who has been writing for many years as a hobby. He is studying history and geography with the goal of becoming a teacher in the near future. More work of his can be found at his WordPress blog: Sean Crawford Fiction.


By Peter Mladinic

The morning Tet started, the many dead

in a grated rectangular clearing at the edge

of rice paddies. The others, Danang

Security, in the open back of a truck passed

the dead stacked in rows. I want to say 500,

of course, these weren’t numbers, corpses

that only 24 hours before were soldiers.

Bodies laid out in rows like piles of laundry,

lifeless in green fatigues.  What fate

had brought those soldiers into rice paddies

the night before, if each chose to be there.

As I had chosen to stand watch

in the city, at an admiral’s quarters

the rooftop, the sky lit with flares.

The admiral in robe and slippers,

smoking a cigar.  Like his guards, of which

I was one, unaware of the firefight

in the paddies, across the river from the city.

The heard and felt thuds, the sky bursts

of flares. Eventually

he left the rooftop for his bedroom.

At sunrise the truck came and collected us.

The rice paddies like a field of tall grass.

In its foreground the grated rectangular

clearing, on normal days for helicopters

to rise and land. It took up the

southwest corner of a paved intersection

that in daylight was busy with traffic.

Across the street, on the northwest corner

             (section break)

a tower in which, on normal days

I stood watch. At the base

of the tower one day Mai, who looked

about 10;  she held the hand of her baby

sister, Huong.  With Mai I traded

a sandwich I’d bought from a vendor

for her picture, which I have in an album.

The sandwiches I thought pork

and ham were likely dog meat.

They tasted pretty good.  I bet Mai enjoyed

the one I traded her for her picture.

She didn’t eat in front of me. The sandwich

wrapped in newspapers in hand, she

walked away.  Maybe she lived close by.

She and Huong in loose blouses and slacks

light colored, rumpled like cotton pajamas,

came and went from the base of the tower.

The field, the intersection, the normal days

a Quan Chan in smart fatigues,

polished boots, a red or white scarf, and

white gloves, with a whistle directed traffic.

His dark helmet

with white letters QC on front.  Pivoting

his body, moving his hands, his ballet,

I hate to admit, entertained my eye.

Whichever QC happened to be there,

they always looked and moved

the same.  Move is the key. They moved

gracefully, precisely, whereas soldiers who

died in the paddies, whose bodies I saw

as the truck passed

didn’t look like bodies, just piles of green

                   (section break)

stacked in rows, presumably by ones

who’d shot them the night before, while

I stood on the admiral’s roof and Mai slept

or maybe huddled in a corner with Huong

in a house not far from the fighting

going on, the killing and being killed.

In Mai’s picture she’s in a studio gazebo.

If she’s still living… what became of her?

Peter Mladinic’s fourth book of poems, Knives on a Table is available from Better Than Starbucks Publications.  An animal rights advocate, he lives in Hobbs, New Mexico.

97, Coming to Terms & Goodbye

By Michael Lee Johnson

Wait until I have to say goodbye,

don’t rush; I’m a philosophical professor

facing my own death on my own time.

It takes longer to rise to kick the blankets back.

I take my pills with water and slowly lift

myself out of bed to the edge of my walker.

Living to age 97 is an experience I share

with my caretaker and so hard to accept.

It’s hard for youngsters who have not experienced

old age to know the psychology of pain

that you can’t put your socks on or pull

your own pants up without help anymore—

thank God for suspenders.

“At a certain point, there’s no reason

to be concerned about death, when you die,

no problem, there’s nothing.”

But why in my loneness, teeth stuck

in with denture glue, my daily pillbox complete,

and my wife, Leslie Josephine, gone for years,

why does it haunt me?

I can’t orchestrate, play Ph.D. anymore,

my song lyrics is running out, my personality

framed in a gentler state of mind.

I still think it necessary to figure out

the patterns of death; I just don’t know why.

“There must be something missing

from this argument; I wish I knew.

Don’t push me, please wait; soon

is enough to say goodbye.

My theater life, now shared, my last play,

coming to this final curtain, I give you

grace, “the king of swing,” the voice of

Benny Goodman is silent now,

an act of humanity passes, no applause.

Michael Lee Johnson is a poet in the greater Chicagoland metro. He is editor-in-chief of 3 poetry anthologies, all available on Amazon, and has several poetry books and chapbooks.

Secret Northwest Indiana book signings

June 18, noon to 3 p.m., Barnes & Noble, 150 Silhavy Road #120, Valparaiso. And 11 a.m. to 1 p.m June 19 at Miller Beach Farmers Market, 667 S. Lake St., Gary. Author and Times Business Writer and Columnist Joseph S. Pete will sign copies of his latest book, “Secret Northwest Indiana” from Reedy Press in St. Louis. The book explores Northwest Indiana’s hidden history, including shipwrecks, submarines in Lake Michigan, ghost towns, sand dunes that swallowed early pioneer settlements and more. He also will sign copies of his previous books, including “Lost Hammond.”