Stories Page 2
Winter 2011





             

                                                                         THROWING   STONES

                                                                           by  Mitchell Waldman

                                                                                   

 

                                                                         

            I remember the feel of the stone in my hand that day, how its rough edges dug into the cradle between my thumb and forefinger before I cocked my arm and hurled it with all my might.

            My stepbrother, Sam, in a family meeting, all too infrequent these days, says he was there that day. Sam, his girlfriend, Beth, Dad, and I are standing around the center island in my parents' kitchen, drinking coffee. I always want to have a real conversation with Sam, as little as we see of each other, but somehow he's always bringing up the past. Like that day. He starts telling me about it. Funny, I don't even remember him being there.

            "Of course I was there, Martin," he says. "You don't think I'd let you take the rap alone, do you?" But in my memory, it was just me and these other guys, Bill Fineman and Pete Roth. And, when the car stopped, just me, all alone, paralyzed, watching this heavy-set, red-faced man huffing toward me, closer and closer, until he was climbing the wire fence, and then lunging toward me with his pudgy hands.

            Our 70-year old father -- my stepfather -- points out to Beth that Sam and I were both basically good kids (and thus, he, as a parent, was not to blame?), despite these stories Sam keeps dredging up. How we stole candy at the local drugstore and fishing lures at the local retail stores. And about the stone-throwing incident.

            It started as a game on the way to Hebrew School. We were both twelve years old, Sam four months older. That's why he always called me his "little brother," even back then, when I was almost twice his size -- it was a joke that never quite died. Hebrew School was not something we looked forward to, nor was the session afterward, when we'd sit in the Cantor's office singing the Haftorah portions we were to learn for our upcoming B'nai Mitzvah.

            I think it was my idea, or maybe Sam's. We were walking beside the expressway with these other guys. There were three of us (or four, if you accept Sam's version of the facts). We would wait until the cars passed and then wind up and hurl the stones to see who could throw the farthest. But, after a while, there was too much waiting, and I threw mine over before the cars went past. Then, when that became a bore, I started a new game.

            It didn't seem like there were people in them -- you couldn't even see them in the twilight -- just hunks of metal, with their mechanical eyes lit, flying down the newly paved road.

            The trick was to lead the car enough so that there was a little skip, then, crrrump, the stone would bounce right under the front of the car. There was a certain skill involved in this.         There was a boldness in it for me, too. Growing up, I never did anything on my own. It was his life I lived -- Sam was the leader and I followed. He was a popular boy in our neighborhood. All the other guys would always drop by when something was going on, or when absolutely nothing was going on.

            I never really had my own friends. While I was reading books in my room on sweltering summer days, pretending I preferred it, I waited for him to ask me to come along with him and his friends. Occasionally he did, usually not. I envied him, the way he got along with people so easily, how he did things. I got good grades, but I thought too much -- everyone said it. I thought myself out of doing things, made myself afraid that if I tried anything I'd end up making a fool of myself.

            And there was something else too: we were two families that never quite became one. Dinner was invariably a battle between my mother and Sam. My stepfather would get into it too, angrily defending his son, while I sank down into my chair, afraid to look at Sam, embarrassed that I was never the one Mom shouted at. Sinking down, trying to make myself invisible, afraid she would try to hoist me up as an example for Sam.

            Maybe he held it against me all those years. I don't know.

            These days, we don't seem to have much to say to each other. Maybe there are just too many differences, too many diverging paths, between us. He's an accountant who lays concrete on the side. I'm a freelance writer, a sometimes-poet. I express my feelings with words, he with numbers or the pouring of a smooth sidewalk. But maybe that's not it at all. Maybe we just have too much to say to each other.

            When we do talk, it's always me calling him -- I can't remember the last time he phoned me first. Our conversations are limited to him giving me tax advice or me wishing him happy holidays of one sort or the other. I sometimes wonder if he ever thinks about anything outside his own small world of big-time business dealings. When I call, a couple times a year, he invariably puts me on hold, then cuts our conversation short -- he has so much to do, he's a very busy man. But once, out of the blue, he surprised me.

            We were at my parents' condo another time. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Martin, I'm proud of you."

            "You are," I said. I didn't know what brought this on.

            "You've got a career, a beautiful family, you're a responsible man!"

            His hand was still on my shoulder. It was starting to feel like a weight. "Does that surprise you?" I said.

            He laughed in a sort of snort, like he was clearing out his nostrils. "Well, at one time you were a real mess, back in college, and afterward. But you've turned out okay. You've done good, that's all. Why? Can't a brother feel proud of his little brother?"

            Gee, thanks, I thought, smiling at him. After all, what was he doing then to be playing proud big brother to me? Making a lot of money, sure, but also on the way to wrecking his marriage of ten years, seeing another woman on the side (Beth), and in the midst of a hush hush financial scandal that could very well end up in the courts or land him in prison and was about to leave my parents, as two of the investors, out ten thousand dollars. Of course, nobody talked about it then, not in my parents' house. Dad was still acting like nothing had happened, joking with Sam, overdoing it almost, smiling at him like the good son who could do no wrong. And here Sam was, praising me for my domestic and meager career accomplishments.

            As kids, Sam overshadowed me in everything and was the first to do anything. He was the first to get jobs, the first to get drunk, the first to get laid. He was the first to buy a genuine Nikon camera, after which my stepfather built him a darkroom in the basement. I can still remember Dad laying out the squares of plywood on the sawhorse, whipping out his yellow measuring tape and, with tongue to one side, puffing out his cheek, carefully marking the saw line with his pencil.

            Sam wanted a tree house too. I remember Dad on the ladder, a nail between his teeth, his hammer pounding the nails in between the two-by-fours and the spider-like limbs of the oak tree behind our house. It didn't turn out to be much, really, just a big wooden crate with a thin slab of roofing material laid over it. But it was something Dad built for Sam.

            And after it was done, I stood on the ground, staring up at it, my arms hanging uselessly beside me, afraid to climb up, while Sam's friends taunted me from their little wooden shelter up above, calling me a chickenshit, Mama's boy, stuff like that. After a while I'd shrug, like it didn't bother me, and slink away, my hands dug deep into my pockets. But it didn't stop them. Their taunts only got louder.

            And the thing about it was, Sam didn't stop them. And I could hear him laughing along with them as I walked away. That's what burned me the most.

            I thought brothers were supposed to protect one another.

            So when he says he was there that night, how can I trust him? How can I believe him? He was not there that night, I'm sure of it.

            When he went away to college, it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I could have my own life, my own interests, my own friends.

            But that was years later, years after I stood there that evening, that stone laying in my palm.

            I must have hit three or four cars on the bounce, breathing faster with each hit, my tosses increasingly accurate, meeting the mark with a perfect lead and bounce, ending with the crrrump under the front end of the car and then the car whizzing by, not even touching the brakes.

            But then something happened. One of the cars didn't sail on past as it was supposed to. Suddenly, it wasn't a game anymore. The red brake lights of the car lit as the car swerved and pulled off onto the side of the road, some fifty yards ahead of where we stood by the fence. The driver's side door opened and the heavy man with eyeglasses was running toward us, yelling something inaudible. The other boys ran for it, shouting for me to come on, did I want to get killed? I could go, but was determined not to. I would stick to the spot, take what was coming to me, afraid, but choosing not to be weak. The large dark figure was coming closer, his features becoming clearer as he reached the fence, the puffy red face, greasy head full of black curls, the thickness of his glasses. Rage in his eyes, breathing heavily, but not saying a word. And me not daring to breathe, not daring to blink as the man hurdled the fence and grabbed me by the collar of my denim jacket and lifted me up off my feet.

            The man was cursing, spitting as he talked.

            "Where do you live, you little rat?" I pointed in the direction behind me and the man, still spitting, cursing, his face now as red as Georgia clay, hobbled in the direction of my guiding finger, me still hanging by the collar, sneakers dragging against the pavement and grass as we went. Studying his face. Up close it was pockmarked, full of tiny craters like the moon. And there were narrow streams of sweat running down his cheeks, as he huffed and huffed. I was sickened by his sour smell, turning away, watching the world I'd lived in most of my life -- the park with its swings, basketball nets and tennis courts, the old brick water fountain, the backs of neighbors' bushes -- pass by in a way that, from this angle, made everything seem alien.

            "Where now?" the man asked, as we reached the sidewalk. "And don't try to lead me wrong 'cause I'll skin your little hide."

            "That way," I said, my throat dry, neck aching.

            When we got to the house, he finally set me down. I fell to the ground and looked up at him. He was standing with his hands on his hips.

            "Ring the bell!" he said. I just stood there. He shoved me toward it. I rang.

            The door opened, and my mother appeared, a dish in one hand, a dish towel in the other. She smiled a little smile, but you could tell she didn't really mean it. Her left eye was twitching slightly, the way it does sometimes -- she has a nervous streak in her.

            "Can I help you?" she said, looking at the man.

            "This your kid?"

            "Why yes. What's the matter?" Then she looked at me, the smile gone now. "Are you hurt, Martin?"

            "Martin." The man spat my name out. "This boy, this...Martin of yours been chucking rocks at cars. Him and some other little shits. One thunked us right in the windshield. Scared the crap out of us. My wife's sitting back there on the side of the road, crying her eyes out."

            "Why I'm...I don't know what to say." She looked at me then, not with anger, but with incomprehension. I was her perfect kid, the boy who could do no wrong. "Did you do that, Martin? Did you throw a rock at this man's car?"

            I didn't answer. I avoided my mother's eyes.

            "Tell the man you're sorry."

            But I didn't move a muscle, didn't make a sound.

            And in my room that night I couldn't sleep. Staring in the dark at the ceiling, my heart was racing with the memory of how it felt -- hearing again, with satisfaction, the solid sound of the rock hitting metal: crrump. Watching the car stop and pull over, the red-faced, stumbling man, moving toward me in a rage. The fence the only thing between us. While the others before had driven right by, he had stopped. Remembering how he'd grabbed me, the pain as he'd dragged me by the collar. Feeling a curious pleasure at that.

 

            "Man, we were crazy back then," my brother says, laughing in that nasal snort of his. And I'm thinking, we? But he wasn't even there that night.

            Still, my stepfather steps around me and places a hand on Sam's shoulder. "That you were, my son, that you were."

            And I'm twelve years old again, with the stone in my hand -- the stone that, as a grown man, I cannot get rid of -- feeling the way it's sharp edges cut into my hand, drawing my clenched fist back behind me ear, waiting for the next car to come.

 

Bio: Mitchell Waldman's fiction, poetry, and essays have previously appeared in many places, most recently in  Midwest Literary Magazine,  Connotation Press, new aesthetic, Wilderness House Literary Review, Longshores Literary Magazine, Girls With Insurance, The Battered Suitcase, Worldwidehippies, Greatest Lakes Review, Five Fishes Journal, Moronic Ox Literary and Cultural Review, eclectic flash, Ink Monkey Magazine, and eFiction Magazine. His  writing has also appeared in the anthologies  Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Bearing Witness to the Holocaust (Northwestern University Press, 1998), Messages from the Universe (iUniverse, 2002), and America Remembered (Virgogray Press, 2010).

He is also the author of the novel, A Face in The Moon, with co-editor(Diana May-Waldman) of the anthology, Wounds of War: Poets for Peace, and currently serves as Fiction Editor for Blue Lake Review. For more information, see his website at:

   http://mitchwaldman.homestead.com.

 

 

                                                                               THE PROFILER

by   Henry F. Tonn

 

 

He sat on a low wall bordering the narrow stream that cut through the center of Yangchow and peered intently at the five yuan bill in his hand. He had husbanded his resources carefully on this trip, but apparently had cut things a bit thin. At the present exchange rate of eight yuan to an American dollar, this bill was worth about sixty-two cents. Fortunately, his hotel room and transportation to the airport the following morning were already paid for, but what kind of dinner could he could get for sixty-two cents?

His stomach growled.

He gazed up the narrow road running along the stream and spied a small, brightly-colored café with three outdoor tables under a low-hanging yellow roof. A rectangular sign in front advertised its special of the day in a rough scrawl, but the man could not make out the letters at this distance. Even in a modest city like Yangchow he doubted he could get a decent meal for sixty-two cents.

Two young males, probably American judging from their brightly engraved tee shirts, sat at one of the tables sipping beers and chatting in earnest. Neither noticed a thin Chinaman standing nearby in the warm sun staring intently in their direction while cutting on a piece of red paper with a small pair of scissors. The Chinaman was quite scraggly in appearance, with a soiled green shirt and torn gray pants. A young girl with Down’s Syndrome stood next to him, her hand in his pocket. She, too, was observing the Americans with interest.

The man on the wall shifted his seat slightly to scrutinize this new scene. After about thirty seconds the Chinaman approached the two males and handed one of them his red paper cutting. He lifted an index finger and said something. The young man, with a short crew cut, casually regarded the cutting and then handed it to his partner. The Chinaman again raised a single finger and said something. The second male, bedecked in a bright red tee shirt with the large letters “China” on it, smiled and shook his head and handed the cutting back. Once more the Chinaman held up one finger, but now both males shook their heads firmly and motioned him to move away. Reluctantly he did so, leaving the red paper cutting on the table.

The man on the wall now shifted his attention to a diminutive barber across the road shaving a man in the open air under a canvas canopy. Nearby, three elderly Chinese men played a card game on a square plywood board. They maintained a continuous banter as they threw cards on the table, occasionally addressing either the barber or his customer in strident voices. Next to them a tailor with an ancient sewing machine powered by a foot pedal was mending a young woman’s blue jeans. A middle-aged mother and her young daughter waited in line for their turn.

Suddenly, the man on the wall found the paper cutter standing next to him with arm extended. The Mongoloid girl stood beside him, her hand still in his pocket, staring. She had a round face and was rather obese, but her smile had a glorious innocence about it. The man realized a red paper cutting was being offered to him. He took it and ran his eyes over the form for a moment before realizing it was an exact profile of himself. Here in the middle of Yangchow, a capital of the Sui dynasty in the sixth century, he had discovered a bona fide paper-cutting genius. Matisse, who had developed this talent to a fine art, calling it “gouaches découpes,” would be impressed.

“One yuan,” the Chinaman said, holding up his index finger. “One yuan.”

The man raised to his feet and thought for a moment. He finally shook his head and said, “Two yuan.”

The paper cutter shook his head firmly. “One yuan,” he repeated, holding up his finger. “One yuan.”

“No, two yuan,” the man said, grinning, holding up two fingers. “Two yuan.”

The paper cutter’s eyes brightened as he realized what was happening. He nodded, showing yellow teeth. “Two yuan,” he agreed. “Two yuan.”

The man reached into his pocket and extracted the five yuan bill and held it up. “I need change,” he said, even while knowing the paper cutter could not possibly understand him.

The paper cutter quickly pulled out a small roll of one yuan bills from his left pocket and began counting out change. Suddenly the Mongoloid girl let out a piercing scream and reached for the wad of bills. He pushed her hand impatiently away and finished counting the bills. He extended three crinkled one yuan bills to the man and took the five yuan note. He carefully wrapped the note around his small wad of bills and placed everything back into his left pocket. The little girl screamed again and jumped up and down.

Now the paper cutter reached into his shirt and pulled out a small plastic holder. He slid the red paper cutting carefully into the holder and presented it to the man with a slight bow.

The man returned the bow and said, “xie xie” He had learned four important Chinese phrases during his travels, and “thank you” was one of them.

“Bu yong xie,” the paper cutter said, bowing again. “Xie xie.”

“Zai jian,” the man said, waving. “Goodbye.”

“Zai jian,” the paper cutter said, standing in his place, smiling.

As the man turned he heard a strident scream from the little girl. He turned back to see her smiling brightly and waving to him, her other hand still buried deeply in the paper cutter’s pocket.

The man waved back while backing up the road. Finally he wheeled around and began his trek back to the hotel. He wondered what he could eat now for thirty-seven cents

 

Bio:Henry F. Tonn is a semi-retired psychologist whose fiction, nonfiction, poetry, book and literary reviews have appeared in such print journals as the Gettysburg Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and Connecticut Review, and online journals such as Front Porch Journal, Summerset Review, and NewPages.com. He is a regular reviewer for NewPages.com. He has just completed a memoir of his first twenty years as a psychologist and hypnotherapist in the state of North Carolina and is in search of a publisher.
 
 
 
 
Road Prejudice
 
   by Richard Hartwell
 
A reminder of incipient political prejudice I encountered yesterday, written in decals on the rear window of an oversized male-organ pickup truck:  "Don't be a Hippie - Support Our Troops."  Hard to express my initial reaction to such an admonition!  I guess I am a Hippie, dyed and true (as opposed to died and blue) and if not bred in the bone, at least bled to the bone.  I won't change; can't!  But does that mean that I have no humanity, or too much politics hanging out of my left pocket, or just that my hair is longer than someone's regulations?  I've chewed on this ungenerous gristle for twenty-four hours; a day wasted by my concern over a flippant piece of grammatically correct graffiti advertised by some macho moron in Moreno Valley.  Although years too late, should I retaliate in kind and plaster my own pickup (a somewhat underdeveloped poquito Ranger) with my own admonition, "Don't be a Pussy -- Bag a Bush and Give Him the Sack"?  Sort of a game of intellectual one-ups-man-ship, don't you think?
 
 
Bio: Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school (i.e. the hormonally-challenged) teacher who lives in Moreno Valley, California, with his wife of almost thirty-five years (poor soul, her, not him), their disabled daughter, one of their sons and his ex-wife (?) and two children, Rick and Sally’s grandchildren, and ten cats!  Yes, ten. Don’t ask.  
 
 
 
 

 

Under the Moonlight, Beyond the Pain

 

        by Julia Hones

 

 

Gone were the days when her marriage was a safe Eden of inspiration, an island she craved for after a busy day at work, the oasis for her thoughts. Gretchen felt she was now married to a stranger.  “Stupid telephone!” Her husband screamed as he hurled the telephone against the wall. “I’m sick of these companies!”

 

“Oh, be careful. What’s the matter, honey?”

 

“Shut up! What the hell do you know?”

     

Gretchen was exhausted. She had hardly had any sleep the previous night because of her husband’s snoring. Now she wanted to answer back and let him know what a bad example he was to their daughter by shrieking like a beast. She knew, however, that her words would enrage him even more, so she took a deep breath. A knot gripped her throat and tears strived to pour out of her eyes. She gazed out the window and her eyes met the setting sun falling over the snowy fields, dyeing the air with a pink glow.

     

She followed the impulse to get out of her house. Soon, she was in the driveway, contemplating the immensity of the landscape around her. She could hear the wind blowing with rage among the trees. She felt free there, breathing in the chilly air, away from her husband’s yelling, going back to the music she had been struggling to create the day before. But what was freedom anyway? She had always felt free by being able to stay at home with her precious baby girl, Dana, instead of letting a stranger care for her. That would have made no sense to her. Oh, Dana had changed her world. She was six years old now, where did time go?

 

It had been her inner voice of motherhood, drawing her to her baby daughter, that made her quit her job as a music teacher six years ago. But her fire for creating music had never fallen into eclipse. Her fascination for it carried her to a different world.

       

Gretchen got into the car, her mind still playing the same melody.  Now where was she going on a Sunday evening on a cold winter day? She didn’t know. A pang of guilt for being away from home took hold of her. Her daughter’s image cut her breath. She missed her. After all, it was time for dinner. She wondered what her husband would say-or think- about her leaving the house without saying a word.

     

She meandered along roads sided by thick woods; darkness began to enwrap the landscape and her sensation of nostalgia was soon overtaken by one of freedom once again. She drove faster until she arrived at downtown. She passed by all the closed shops and imagined the joyous families who owned them, relishing their free time together, seizing every single minute of the weekend to celebrate life. Among the dark stores, she caught sight of a place teeming with light and music, and parked her vehicle within a few feet of it.

     

Tickled by curiosity, she leapt out of the car and staggered towards it in the snow. The cold air made her shiver for she had no coat on, only her maroon cotton dress dancing to the rhythm of the freezing wind. The voices of people were inviting; the Irish music resonated in the empty streets. She peered into the pub-or it could have been a private party- and a painting on the wall grabbed her attention. It had a powerful magnetism with its shapes in red and yellow colors, even though she could not comprehend why the abstract patterns appealed to her so much. She stepped into the place to take a closer look at it.

      

“Strong painting. One of my favorites,” a man’s voice interrupted her reverie. She turned round to see a man in his early forties, staring at the picture.

 

“It’s Kandinski’s. It’s called Center with Green,” he added. . His gaze was lost on the piece of artwork. His dark eyes sparkled, his hands were resting in his pockets and his clothes were casual.

  

“I never really understood why he chose that title for it. It’s not the green color that makes it powerful. It’s the red hue and the yellow,” he said with enthusiasm. “the green is at the center, yes, but it goes almost unnoticed…” Gretchen tried to fathom why those colors connected with her, trying to decipher what kind of mystery was hidden behind them. Then she blurted out, “There is a powerful energy radiating from it… something.”

   

 “Yes. Those red shadows are powerful... My name is Bob Hansen, by the way.” He looked at her closely now and his face lit up. “Would you dance with me?” the man said as he smiled at her, but, before she could make up her mind, one of his hands clasped her waist while the other one was holding one of hers gently. She couldn’t resist it. Her legs capered to the Celtic music that was flooding the place. 

    

Gretchen’s body rolled in and out of his arms with grace, matching the rhythm with a perfection that astonished everybody. The nimbleness of her steps connected well with Bob’s movements. They swayed and drew circles with an ecstasy that made two other couples follow their dancing frenzy. The people at the tables cheered and clapped with exhilaration.

       

Gretchen’s worries faded into the winter darkness, while her maroon dress billowed to the music, outlining her curves, bringing a new joviality to the expression of her eyes. When the music finally came to an end, she realized that she was out of breath. Yet her eyes glittered, and a vivid color suffused her prominent cheeks.

        

“This dance was delicious,” said Bob, “I just wished it had gone on forever.” His lips quivered with his last words. He scrutinized Gretchen, who swiftly scanned the room for familiar faces. She spotted none. Then she gave a sigh of relief and said, “It’s getting late. I have to go home now.”

         

“It was a pleasure meeting you,” Bob hurried to say as he held his hand out to her.

         

“Gretchen, my name is Gretchen. I also enjoyed the dance.”  They smiled at each other for a moment.

         

 “Here’s my card. I have a blog where I discuss artwork. I think you’ll find it interesting.” He handed her a card from his pocket and added, “I look forward to your comments.”

           

The flame of elation inside Gretchen burst into another smile when she got into the car. Once again, her mind went back to the music she had been trying to create for the last few days, but now there was something that made her release the monotony that had stuck her. A new rhythm opened up to her. She began to make progress with the piece of music she had battled with for so many days. As the car glided along the empty roads, she felt that her past numbness had found a new path, as if she were overcoming an obstacle. The car advanced, and so did her thoughts about her own music.

            

Dana’s image flashed into her mind. She missed her. She remembered  her  husband’s fleeting displays of affection towards her; she missed those too, and was relieved to be heading back home now. She noticed that the clouds had drifted away, giving way to a full moon. Her eyes were rapt in the sheen of the landscape surrounding her. The moonlight gleamed over the woods, creating a beautiful scenery of silhouettes against the starred sky. It’s astounding how the moonlight can change an image of darkness, she thought as she made her way along the wavy roads.

            

             

Bio: Julia Hones lives in Wisconsin with her daughter and her husband. She has lived and worked as a doctor in three different countries (Argentina, New Zealand and USA). She is an avid reader and has written all her life, but she started submitting just recently. You can visit her blog.

http://juliahoneswritinglife.blogspot.com/