Steve Slavin, 10/12/2015

Current Occupation: I write math and economics books 
Former Occupation: Professor of Economics 
Contact Information: Steve Slavin was born in Brooklyn and still lives there. His only claim to fame is having been Bernie Sanders' college room mate for one semester. 

 

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Family Connections

After graduating from high school, I worked for seven months as an “office boy” to save money for college. On the subway ride to and from work, my nose was buried in an economics book. I would be an economics major and save the world.
          One day, my mother said that it was time for me to have a talk with her Uncle Paul, who taught economics at New York University. The word in our family was that had Governor Thomas Dewey been elected president in 1948, he would have asked Uncle Paul to be his Secretary of the Treasury.
          Paul Studenski and Esther Rabinowitz had fallen in love at first sight during World War I – at least according to family lore. A pilot in the Polish Air Force, Paul woke up in a military hospital, and there was my mother’s beautiful Aunt Esther holding his hand, while speaking to him in Russian. Whether or not it was love at first sight, they did get married, and would live  very happily for the next 46 years.
          Although he had a Polish name, it turned out that Paul was actually Jewish. The name, Studenski, had been made up by his great-grandparents. During those times, Polish medical schools refused to admit Jews, so the family made this ironic name change. The Rabinowitzes all got the joke and welcomed Uncle Paul into the family.
          One evening after work, I met my mother in Washington Square Park, and we walked over to Paul and Esther’s apartment on Sixth Avenue. We had a very pleasant dinner, throughout which Uncle Paul kept trying to ply me with wine. My mother would remind him that “Steve doesn’t drink. He’s only seventeen.” 
           After dinner, Uncle Paul picked up a fresh bottle of wine and we went into his study and talked economics for the next couple of hours. He was the first economist I had ever met, and was clearly even more knowledgeable than I was.
          We had a very wide-ranging discussion and often disagreed. He was “an Eisenhower Republican,” and I was what would soon be called a “liberal Democrat.” When we left, Uncle Paul smiled and said, “Steve, don’t become an economist. It’s a very controversial field, and you may be too emotional to handle it.”
          But I thought to myself, “What does he know?” Years later I learned that he was arguably the nation’s leading expert in public finance.

After graduation from college and doing a short stint in the army, I enrolled in a couple of evening classes at NYU graduate school, where I would study for a PhD in economics. Uncle Paul had died just a few weeks before. No one knew who I was – not that it mattered. Still, I wondered how he might have felt about my ignoring his advice and then enrolling in his own department.
          My more immediate concern was finding a full time job. So, once again we turned to my mother’s family for help. Her cousin Bobby seemed like a good choice. A year or two out of law school, Bobby had gotten a job at a large cosmetics company that was in the process of going bankrupt. He made a deal: he would work for one year with no pay in exchange for part ownership. In the course of that year the company became highly profitable and Bobby was made CEO.
          One Sunday, my mother and I took a bus out to Bobby and Barbara’s home in suburban New Jersey. The last time I had seen them, they were living in a basement apartment in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn. They didn’t need to say that they had been poor and they had been rich, and that being rich was better.
          We had a nice lunch, and then sat out by the pool and reminisced. Finally, realizing that we had not said anything about why we had come, my mother mentioned that I was looking for a job.
          “Yeah,” said Bobby. “I remember when I was in your position. I had just gotten out of the army when I married Barbara.” Barbara added, “We didn’t have a pot to piss in.” We all laughed.
           My mother tried a different tack. “You know, Bobby, Steve is going to NYU to study economics.”
           “Really?” said Bobby.” I’ll bet Uncle Paul would have been proud.”
           “Well, actually he thought economics might be too controversial for me.”
           “Right! He probably said that to anyone he disagreed with. Now don’t get me wrong – I truly loved Uncle Paul, but he was pretty opinionated.”
           “And a Republican,” added Barbara.
           “Anyway,” said my mother, “Steve is looking for a job. He’ll work days and go to school at night.”
           It was getting really embarrassing. “Bobby,” she was practically saying,  “please give Steve a job.” I felt like the poor relation asking for a hand-out.
           Bobby cleared his throat, smiled, and then he said, “Steve, I’m going to help you. I’m going to do for you what I wish to hell someone had done for me when I was your age.”
          My mother looked very hopeful. We waited. I can still remember his exact words: “Steve … never work for an insurance company.”

It took many years – going to school at night and working at an assortment of day jobs – but one spring afternoon I found myself just where I had often dreamed of being. I was sitting in a room at NYU with five of my professors, and had just finished defending my doctoral dissertation.
         The way the process works is that you are then asked to leave the room. The professors discuss the dissertation and its defense, and finally your advisor comes out into the hall and addresses you as “Doctor.” Or not.
        When we went back into the examination room everyone offered their congratulations. This is perhaps the happiest moment in academia. And then I said that I wanted to tell them something. “I know that most of you remember Professor Studenski.”
          Of course they did! They looked at me expectantly. “I really didn’t know him well, but he was my mother’s uncle. He passed away just before I enrolled at NYU.”
          They sat there in stunned silence. Then, one of the professors said, “You are so lucky to have had Paul as an uncle. He was so helpful, so encouraging, when I joined the department.” The others remembered how nice he had been.
           “Just out of curiosity – and by the way, it’s too late for us to change our votes – but how come you never said anything about being related to Professor Studenski before this?”
           “That’s an excellent question. I wish I had an answer.”
            And then, one after another, they shook hands with me, and I was left in the room with my advisor.
         “I want to buy you a drink,” she said, which was another tradition. A few minutes later, as we sat at the bar, I told her how Uncle Paul had tried to discourage me from going into economics, and how we had never spoken about it again.
         “Steve, if Paul could be here, I want to tell you what he would be doing. He would be doing exactly what I’m doing.” Then she raised her glass and shouted, “Congratulations, Doctor Slavin!”
       

 

 

Dan Leicht, 10/5/2015

Current Occupation: Ordering and Receiving Clerk, Freelance Writer
Former Occupation: Dishwasher, Cook
Contact Information: Dan Leicht often writes poetry as well as fiction, both of which can be found at either one of his websites, DanLeicht.com & Deeliopunk.com. Other than writing fiction Dan also works as a freelance writer, writing consistently for both 585 Magazine and All-Comic.com. His collection of short stories titled Blissfire, as well as various ebooks, can be found on Amazon.com.

 

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"For your writing"

Boiling three eggs
to eat them hard-boiled
the last meal of the day
at noon
the fridge now empty
the next check not due until next Friday
for the article written three weeks ago
the check will cover food for a week
but not rent
rent still needs to be paid
already a month late
Jean won't be as forgiving this next time

Spent six hours at the coffee shop
on Saturday
using the free Wi-Fi
had to order two cups of coffee
to stay in character
while using the laptop I got for free
from a friend
this is the second time I've gotten a free laptop
from a friend
they buy a new one and hand me the old
"For your writing"
and I'll tap the keys
until the day the screen shuts off
and costs two-hundred dollars to fix

Countless words have been trapped
in the screens gone black

A friend came over yesterday
left his bottle here
after we each shared a glass
"For your writing"
he said when I asked him why

She let me love her for months
then left for another
her only explanation being
"For your writing"

the last check
was twenty dollars short
the explanation
"For your writing"

 

Jennifer Lagier, 9/28/2015

Current Occupation: Part-time instructional librarian
Former Occupation: Systems Librarian after exercising retreat rights after being a Dean
Contact Information: Jennifer Lagier has published nine books of poetry as well as in a variety of literary magazines. Her latest book, Camille Vérité, was published by FutureCycle Press. She taught with California Poets in the Schools, co-edits the Homestead Review, maintains web sites for Homestead Review, Monterey Poetry Review, Ping Pong Literary Journal and misfitmagazine. She also helps coordinate monthly Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium Second Sunday readings. Web site: Poetry by Jennifer Lagier.

 

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My Brief Life as a Dean

Night One: a man beats his child in the parking lot.

I phone the police, an ambulance, child protective services, our security guards.

Night Two: across the street, gang-bangers shoot a man as he stands on his lawn.

I phone the police, lock down campus.

Night Three: a SWAT team raids the house where last night’s murder occurred.

I phone security, lock down campus.

Night Four: a bleeding victim careens into our parking lot.

His bullet-shattered windshield disintegrates. I phone the police.

Night Five: the F.B.I. and Gang Task Force arrest three men

near the student center, search my hallway for hidden guns.

December: Eight shots kill a running man outside the campus garage.

I phone the police, lock down campus, shake half the night.

February: a toxic lab sickens 26 people, including the instructor.

I phone security, order ambulances, yellow tape the classroom and hall.

March: a student is assaulted in a restroom by two men who hold a knife to his throat,

steal his wallet, threaten to kill his entire family if he calls the police.

April: I am diagnosed with PTSD, put on medical leave, prescribed Valium and Lexapro.

May: my supervisor still refuses to alter my work schedule.

June 30: I submit a letter of resignation,

box my belongings, turn in their keys.

 

Chandramohan S, 9/21/2015

Current Occupation: Organizer at PK Rosi Foundation
Former Occupation:Student
Contact Information: Chandramohan S (born 1986) is an Indian English Dalit poet. His first collection of poems were Warscape Verses (Authorspress, 2014) .His second collection "Letters to Namdeo Dhassal" is forthcoming.

 

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Grapes of Wrath

(A poem on migrant laborers in Kerala)

 

The displaced of capital have come to the capital- Anne Winters

 

Faceless migrant lads

Tread landscapes of tongues

To be greeted with a lisping embrace

At God's own country.

 

 

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Make in India

(Labour under attack) 

 

The lumpen proletariat

The sweat of his brow evaporates

To condense back to the bottles

At beverages corporation,

 

The frail frame of his wife

Is his daily punching bag.

Does he have a title to defend?

 

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Elegy for the slain bloggers

(Also P.Murugan)

You see some people are afraid of light

 -Nyctophobia.

 

 

You heard what happened to him?

So we have decided to collectively

Scream against this darkness,

Our sound waves collide.

 

If we are in sync

The through bottom up

The crests add up

We are heard loud

Enough.

 

If our screams are

Not in sync

We cancel each other out

Our shadows intersect,

The void of the Umbra.

 

We become him.

Confirm or perish.

 

 

 

Richard Orodenker, 9/14/2015

Current Occupation: Assistant Professor, Intellectual Heritage Program, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Former Occupation: Professor, English and Humanities, Peirce College, Philadelphia, PA; freelance writer and editor
Contact Information: Graduated Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, M.A. (1976). My work has appeared in North American Review, Nine, Boston Review, Studies in Short Fiction, South Carolina Review, Benzene, Aethlon, and other publications. Author of four books on sports writing as literature, including The Writers' Game: Baseball Writing in America (Twayne's American Authors Series, 1996). Resides in Elkins Park, PA.

 

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Wvécéw (1937)

 

As Wvécéw walked down the Bréstovia, he passed under a painter’s lift, from which tiny flecks of enamel (the painter was chipping at a sill with a putty knife) came raining down on him. One jig-saw piece, identical in size and shape to the province of Flvoda on a map, landed squarely on his coat jacket, just over the ridge of his hunched shoulders. Earlier that morning, on his way out of the barber shop— Wvécéw was now headed to the café for breakfast—he grazed the protective cloth of the customer seated next to him (“Damn fool,” the customer said) and collected a clump of curly gray hair, like the tail of a toy poodle, on his elbow.

Lukáš Wvécéw, a stocky character with a slightly receding chin, Franz Josef mustache, and soulful eyes, was always in the habit of collecting bits and pieces of the most extraordinary things on his person. And even more extraordinary was the fact that he remained utterly oblivious to the many things that constantly fell upon him.  This peccadillo had been true of him since his childhood days. One day during recess sycamore swirled through the air during the change of season (we children used to make a game of it, trying to catch the little balls of pollen) attacking the little Wvécéw boy in myriad clumps, covering him from his thick black hair (which he no longer has) to his little feet (which he still does) which were clad in sandals which boats brought in every summer from Mykonos.  “Look, look, a monster,” children would scream, though everyone, except the very youngest, knew it was Wvécéw. Wvécéw (the odd name was pronounced vayt-say, the extraneous w’s just another bit of debris attached to him) was sent home immediately by the headmaster, who grabbed the boy by an ear, if he could find one, and shoved him in the direction of his little house on the dirt path. Wvécéw walked blindly, his arms extended like the frightening creature we had seen in the picture show. Looking more like a walking bird, he even made cooing sounds, expectorating pieces of seed that had lodged in his throat.

“Oh, Lukáš,” his mother said when she saw the pitiful child. “The things that stick to you!” His father, a loafer and lout, who never worked a day in his life, grumbled loudly as his wife prepared a hot soap bath for Wvécéw to soak in. “If there is a cake that needs an elbow lodged into its icing, that idiot boy will oblige it!”

A day did not go by without Wvécéw attracting things like a magnet. He was discharged from the army because he could not keep his uniform in order. At his mother’s funeral the mourners sniggered when a clump of grass intended for the casket blew on top of his head like a skullcap. "Earth to earth to Wvécéw, ashes to ashes to Wvécéw, dust to dust to Wvécéw," the priest muttered.

None of this would be terribly interesting if Wvécéw had the slightest idea what everyone was laughing at. “Oh, how all kinds of shit stick to that boy,” his father bemoaned, “smelling my house like a zoo…and to him…not a thing! It was no different than farting. ‘What’s all the fuss?’ he would say. ‘What smell?’ And I would go to pinch the damn nose on his face before that wife of mine would stop me.”

If he ever happened to notice a foreign object on his clothing, usually when he was undressing for the night, he’d remark, “Now how did that get there?” He’d pick it off himself without even bothering to see what it was, and drop it into his wastebasket. Many times he would remove six or seven things from his clothes, as if he were lifting items out of a grocery bag and putting them on the shelf. But many times also Wvécéw was not aware at all of what stuck to him, and he carried things with him for weeks, whether it was on his brown suit or blue suit, for he had only two.

Wvécéw was a bachelor, and this was unfortunate because he once met a woman whose sole devotion in life was to pick the debris off strangers. Her name was Šárka, and she would follow gentlemen (only) for blocks, carrying a large handbag with an umbrella slid through the handles. “Stop, stop, young man,” she would call, and the man, whether he was young or not, would stop in his tracks, perhaps thinking he had dropped something which this kind lady was returning, and she would commence to pick a piece of lint or long thread from the gentleman’s suit. “What are you doing, madam?” or “Stop this, please, miss,” most would say to her; others grew quite embarrassed and fumbled for words but let Šárka finish what she was doing, say something like, “Uh, thank you, but, uh, that really wasn’t necessary,” and maybe give her a crown, which she graciously accepted.  

Šárka was continually after Wvécéw, but she wasn’t aware of him herself; that is, she did not discriminate among men. He could have been five different Wvécéws for all she knew.  She seemed to us a more delightfully eccentric character than Wvécéw, but a few of the women got it into their heads to try to arrange a marriage between Wvécéw and Šárka. So when Wvécéw walked under that painter’s lift, you might remember, Šárka appeared out of nowhere to remove a long strand of gray hair (her own as it turned out!), looking like the Sovsk River on that same map on Wvécéw’s back, from another gentleman’s waistcoat. Before the tiny, humble man could even say thank you, Šárka darted quickly after Wvécéw, who walked past store windows, his head bent towards the pavement, where he was engaged in digging his right toe into the spaces between the cobblestones. Immediately, as he approached the café, Wvécéw received a large splattering of mud on his topcoat from a passing automobile (the few of which, we came to believe, existed in our town for the sole purpose of covering Wvécéw with whatever their wheels could project from the street). But Šárka could not do anything about it because women were not permitted in the café until supper.

A light blue feather from a lady’s hat caught on the back of Wvécéw’s leg as he walked through the revolving doors and stayed fixed to his leg as he took a seat. Odpadky, a co-worker of Wvécéw’s, though a lesser employee, joined him at his table. Wvécéw was having black coffee and laugenstrange while Odpadky ate a sugar doughnut and tea. “You fringe employees are always stuffing yourselves with sweets. A man with a sweet tooth will never amount to anything in this world,” Wvécéw said. “A successful man, such as me, begins his day with a healthful breakfast,” he continued, crumbs spewing from his mouth like little bugs onto his long, thin (newly trimmed) sideburns. “After this, before I head to the office, I will have a bowl of stewed prunes.”

“Bah,” said Odpadky. “I like sweet things. Especially the ladies.” He spoke in a booming voice and winked as he said this. “So, Wvécéw, is there a chance you will recommend me for assistant supervisor?” This Odpadky showed no tact. He shadowed Wvécéw constantly, walking into his cubicle and asking for favors of one kind or another, such as pleading to Wvécéw to cover for him while he left the office to do god knows what. He never failed to ask about the “recommendation,” which he said Wvécéw had promised to do, though he had done no such thing. To recommend Odpadky for a better position would be unthinkable. For one thing it would put Odpadky in a position to rise higher than Wvécéw could himself in the department. Wvécéw would not even recommend Odpadky for the file clerk he already was. Odpadky was a dunderhead, fouling things up, which Wvécéw had to rectify. If Odpadky was not simply incompetent, which he certainly was, he was clearly apathetic and lazy. But no one in the department acknowledged this. In fact, Odpadky was liked by everyone; but he was not promoted and would complain to Wvécéw daily: “If I hadn’t already put years into this department, I’d asked to be moved to another, but damn them all to hell, they owe me, and I shall have it!”

Odpadky was also a pig. He ate two more jelly doughnuts and did not bother to wipe the white powdered sugar or red jelly around his mouth until he was good and finished; he might as well as eaten with a circus clown. Wvécéw left the cafe disgusted, his own food unfinished, with traces of Odpadky’s sugar powder on his own coat sleeves. “This Odpadky clings to me like a limpet on a rock. How I wish I could rid myself of him!”

On his way to work, Wvécéw received his daily delivery of bird droppings. It was as if the pigeons waited for him to arrive: “Oh, here comes Vwécwé. Time to relieve ourselves, thank goodness!” In warm weather, when Wvécéw did not wear a hat, the pigeons were no less respectful. Wvécéw had no idea what hit him. Passersby would laugh, and he would look up at the sky and say, “Now I wonder what all this is about?”

Trying to avoid Odpadky, Wvécéw decided to walk down Sromořadí Špína. Šárka must not have forgotten about him because she stopped what she was doing (brushing sawdust from a young boy’s pants) and followed Wvécéw. The way of darkness set in over that foreboding place and the air was as thick as nimbus clouds. We dared not follow them and cannot say what transpired on that quarter mile.

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We can say with some assurance that Šárka never caught up with Wvécéw because he was still covered with all the things he had accumulated that morning, as well as fur balls from the stray cats and dust from the coal bins he would have encountered in Sromořadí Špína, and that is how he looked when he arrived at work. But here’s the strange thing: we never saw Šárka again, although a few people claim that they spied her coming in and out of Sromořadí Špína, like a mouse going in and out of a mousehole.

Wvécéw went immediately to his desk and began the paperwork which he had laid out neatly the day before and which would take him the rest of the day to process. “One day we work for a good-hearted Jew named Ŝtěrk, and the next day we are civil servants, then we are working for the military, and now we are in the employment of the party under Trosky,” said a worker named Brak. “You go figure it out,” said Nosítka, the liaison official. “Well, things work out for the best,” said Lenka Nesmysl, the switchboard operator.

Pencil shavings and eraser rubbings found their way onto Wvécéw throughout the early morning, and a whole used typewriter ribbon wound itself around his ankle. Wvécéw’s coworkers kept silent, waiting to see if and when he would ever discover his little ankle bracelet. Klestí, the senior clerk, took up an office pool as to the approximate time of day when Wvécéw would utter his familiar, “Now how in the world did that get there!”

The only thing Wvécéw did discover just before midday lunch break was that Odpadky, that nuisance, was nowhere to be found. Absenteeism was unthinkable at the department, or anywhere else, let alone for someone who wanted to become assistant clerk. Wvécéw knew Odpadky wasn’t ill, unless he’d developed a bellyache from all those lardy doughnuts. Out of curiosity and perhaps a bit of vindictiveness, Wvécéw decided to investigate. Besides keeping Odpadky from annoying him further about a recommendation, this might be a good opportunity to get in good with Trosky by reporting a malingerer. As public information disseminator, he had finished his main task that day: explaining the various changes in job requirements in the department since Trosky replaced General Šmejd. He could not remember what he had even written, but he recalled that it had been rather well put and he was quite pleased with the product.

Trosky was a tall, thin man of about thirty, clean-shaven, with yellow curly hair. He was seated at his desk, talking on the telephone, saying things like, “So, you don’t say” and “Well, really now” and “Of course, that stands to reason.” These phrases belonged to Trosky the way debris belonged to Wvécéw. When Trosky hanged up the phone, he turned to Wvécéw and said, “Well, what’s it going to be then, old man? Have you finished the product?”

“Indeed, sir,” said Wvécéw deferentially, “I was merely wondering what became of Mr. Odpadky. I wish for him to file those backdated releases you asked me about the other day, and, well…sir, I cannot find him anywhere in the office.”

“What? Have you gone mad, Wvécéw? He’s right behind you, can’t you see! Try looking over your shoulder once in awhile.”

Sure enough, when Wvécéw turned his head Odpadky was (literally) on his back, his nose buried in Wvécéw’s collar.

    “Don’t look so surprised,” said Odpadky.

“Well, now that you’ve found him,” said Trosky, perturbed, “go on then and put him to work.”

Wvécéw felt completely humiliated. He offered some obsequies towards Trosky and bowed his head, feeling Odpadky’s wet nostrils bob on the nape of his neck. “Ouch, not so hard,” said Odpadky.

Odd how he got there, thought Wvécéw as he returned to his station. When he sat in his chair, a wooden slat-back thing that wobbled on one leg, Odpadky said, “Hey, be careful, will you. I didn’t ask for this, but when I went after you in Sromořadí Špína. I came out in this position I find myself in. Well, no big deal. Things are always getting stuck to you anyway. And here I was, taking a comfortable snooze under your jacket when you had to get up to see that parasite Trosky. Oh, well, now that I’m awake let me have those papers you are so eager to have me file. Come on, come on with you. I can’t file them if you’re sitting here all day.”

“Look here, I have my own work…” Wvécéw began to say, but Odpadky was up dragging him to the file cabinets. He could not understand why Odpadky couldn’t just get up and walk to the file cabinets by himself; but, he thought, so long as he keeps busy, perhaps he will leave me be. Odpadky, however, decided to make several stops along the way: to piss, to chat with Lenka Nesmysl, to place football bets with Blbost, the handyman. And it took him what seemed like forever just to file the several papers Wvécéw wanted him to. “I can’t help it if your filing system is a shambles,” Odpadky snapped. “If I were assistant clerk I’d see the whole damn thing done rightly.”

Wvécéw did not like being treated in this manner by a mere file clerk. His coworkers showed him no sympathy for this act of insubordination or for the predicament he was in. They laughed derisively instead, and there wasn’t anything Vwécwé could do about it. Odpadky was stronger and faster on his feet than Vwécwé and very much in control of things. He took Wvécéw all over the department, explaining what had happened to him. “It was only a matter of time something like this would happen to Wvécéw. How unfortunate you had to be the one, Odpadky,” Brak said.

“Perhaps something good of it will come,” Odpadky said. “I suspect it’s only a temporary thing. But maybe now they’ll see how deserving I am to become assistant clerk.”

“I’m surprised the fool even noticed you yet,” someone said.

“Oh, Trosky had to point that out to him.”

Wvécéw was at least fortunate that Odpadky grew tired and took another nap, so Wvécéw, who’d also been deprived of lunch, could finally finish his work and sneak in a snack of raisins, even though Odpadky still had several papers which required Trosky’s signature. When Odpadky awoke well after the lunch hour, he turned to a coworker named Smetí and said, “I’m a bit hungry. Would you be so kind to stamp these papers for me so I can finally eat?”

“Indeed,” said Smetí, and in another moment he found himself next to Odpadky on Wvécéw’s back. Odpadky was eating a salami sandwich from a brown paper bag, and Smetí, in between signing signatures, was nervously biting his fingernails and spitting the remnants in Wvécéw’s face.

“I must eat also,” Wvécéw said, looking for the raisins, which Odpadky had eaten hours ago.

“Oh, you would, would you?” He heard Trosky’s voice. “Can’t you see how your colleagues are busy working? I saw Odpadky filing all afternoon while you just stood around and watched him. He’s deserving of lunch today. Here’s a message that you must attend to,” he said, and threw the slip of paper, which landed on Wvécéw’s right earlobe like an earring.

After Odpadky finished his sandwich (the garlic from the cured meat lingered on Wvécéw the rest of the day), Odpadky said to Smetí, “You can leave now, thank you.”

“But I’m comfortable,” said Smetí. “And besides, I really don’t think I’m able to leave.” The two men quarreled for awhile, during which Wvécéw felt on the verge of collapse from exhaustion. But they agreed finally to share their space, no sense being a hog about it.

“Hey, here’s a message for Wvécéw,” Odpadky said, tugging at Wvécéw’s ear. “Would you look at this? Those releases you had me file this morning require immediate revision. What a waste of a morning’s work!”

So Odpadky, this time with Smetí, again made Wvécéw tour the department. When they finally got to the file cabinets the releases could not be found. “Where did you put them?” Wvécéw pleaded. “Don’t blame me for this,” Odpadky barked. “This is your filing cabinet, not mine. Now we have to go all over the department once again to look for them.” The three men finally ended in Trosky’s office.

“I just want to say how unfair Mr. Wvécéw has been today,” Odpadky said to Trosky. “Mr. Smetí and I have been looking high and low for these releases, going on one wild goose chase after another, and where do we find them. Right here, under the vented suit coat our public information disseminator, where they have been all along!”

“Well, then,” said Trosky. “Perhaps Mr. Wvécéw will stay a few extra hours to see that these releases get completely revised.” He meant to throw a crumpled piece of paper into the waste bin, but it landed on the small tuft of black hair left on Wvécéw’s scalp, which had retained its soreness and redness from a bout of scarlet fever and shone like a radiant sun.

At his desk once more, faint and hungry, Wvécéw could hear Odpadky and Smetí playing hearts. How he’d like to join them. Odpadky undoubtedly had put those papers in Wvécéw’s coat, and now he was forced to work overtime with no pay. Hloupost, the accountant, who was also working late came up to him and asked, “Why didn’t you call me?”

“What are you talking about?” said Wvécéw.

“Don‘t you read your messages, you maggot,” he said. He was fumbling on Wvécéw’s shoulder blades (“Hey,” said Smetí, for Hloupost had accidentally poked his eye. “Sorry,” he said). “Why here it is.” He showed it to Wvécéw, who scratched his head and wondered how in the world it had gotten there. But Hloupost was now involved in the card game with Odpadky and Smetí, and Wvécéw could hope only that Hloupost would not join them on his back.

Fortunately he did not, but Wvécéw would have no way of knowing if he did. The following weeks were a difficult period of adjustment for Wvécéw. He could not sleep because he was forced to lie on his stomach, and sometimes Odpadky brought a whore to bed, and Wvécéw would find himself wrapped in Smetí’s arms like a lover. When he finally did fall asleep, he would be awakened by Smetí’s weak bladder, and Odpadky would then keep both of them up by taking one of his long shits.    

Wvécéw could no longer enjoy his breakfasts at the café in peace. He might just as well have been Odpadky’s napkin, and Smetí could never make up his mind what to order. What’s more, Odpadky had been promoted to assistant clerk, and Trosky put Wvécéw under Odpadky’s purview. Odpadky frequently physically abused Smetí, whose constant moralizing Odpadky (and Wvécéw) could barely tolerate. Wvécéw did not know how much longer he could bear the present situation. He contacted an attorney, but was told he had no legal grounds. The lawyer suggested that the two men might be obliged to pay Wvécéw rent, but they, in turn, could argue that Wvécéw ought to pay them rent. He thought of putting in a transfer, but there were no other positions to be had and he was needed at the department.

One might think that with Odpadky and Smetí on his back, very little stuck to Wvécéw, but that was not the case; indeed, detritus and things continued to find their way on to him with even greater intensity and regularity. “I’ve developed a dust allergy because of you!” Odpadky said, using Wvécéw’s sleeve as his handkerchief. Odpadky’s new job had become a curse to Odpadky in the meantime; he cared little what either Wvécéw or Smetí had to do. Odpadky complained that Wvécéw’s work was below department standards. “Wvécéw thinks only of content and nothing of style.”

“Or perhaps it’s too much of style and nothing of content,” said Trosky. Either way he agreed and gave Wvécéw’s position to Smetí. Wvécéw was demoted to Odpadky’s old job as file clerk.

Odpadky no longer had time for office trivialities. “Send me a memo” became his signature line, and “in due time” he would get to it. The coworkers soon began making a game of “sending Odpadky a memo,” which even Trosky found amusing. The workers would scribble something down on a piece a paper, sometimes gibberish, and toss it at Wvécéw. By the end of the day Wvécéw would be covered in paper, the way kiosks are tacked with bills, advertisements, and announcements in Náměstí Nikam.

Then one day things took a turn for the worst. Although Smetí was a bother to no one and performed Wvécéw’s old job competently, Odpadky, as Wvécéw suspected, was indolent and bungled everything. He could not handle his new responsibilities. Memos, some of them important, continued to pile up all over Wvécéw. “Wvécéw, Wvécéw,” Odpadky complained. “He’s never around when you need him, and my work is suffering! Who can find anything in such a mess he’s made.” “Yes, yes,” Trosky sympathized. “We’ll have to do something about that!” “I am here!” Wvécéw said, but no one could hear him or bothered to.

It was late one evening. Wvécéw could barely see, and he was exhausted and hungry. He was having trouble breathing. He heard a flash of light and was sure he had collapsed, but it might have been Odpadky moving about (or perhaps more memos piling up) or Smetí kneeling at his evening prayers. Wvécéw felt as though he were experiencing his own burial. “How in the world could this have happened?” he muttered.

He heard several voices that he hoped were angels of god. “What shall we do with him,” a voice said. “I don’t know. We’d better get him out of here,” said someone else. “Take him to Sromořadí Špína with the others,” said a voice that sounded like Trosky’s. Wvécéw felt himself being carried away for what seemed a long time. And then all was darkness and peace.

+++++

A few writers (Lhář and Hlupák among them), who elsewhere have related this tale, like to tack on a happy ending to the story. In one version (probably Lhář’s) Šárka rescues Wvécéw by lovingly removing all that covered him, as if “she were picking the most beautiful flowers on a roadside hill.” Others (Pitomec especially) turned it into a horror story: Wvécéw resurrects into a monstrous golem that terrorizes the countryside.

The truth, as far as we can tell is this: Odpadky blew his brains out, splattering bloody matter all over poor Wvécéw, who remained as unaware as ever. “Now how did all this stuff get on me,” he whispered, the last words, in fact, we ever heard him say. Smetí seemed to have disappeared entirely (although he might have been busy working while all this was happening). We indeed took whatever you can call the thing we carted off to Sromořadí Špína (I was one of three men who carried it there). The very next day as it turned out, upon instructions of the authorities, bulldozers leveled the alley and soon built upon it a 30-meter brick water reservoir, surrounded by newly planted greenery. During the war, the tower’s basement was used by the Nazi SA for the interrogation and torture of communists and resistance fighters.

                            (Published 1949)

 

Jake Kaida, 9/7/2015

Current Occupation: Writing Instructor
Former Occupation: Nomadic Farmworker, Mentor to at-risk youth
Contact Information: Jake Kaida, author of Blue Collar Nomad, is a writer, poet, pilgrim, teacher and environmental activist who has spent time in all forty-eight continental United States and several Canadian provinces.  He has had books published by several Indie publishers, and he is a long time contributor to the alternative press world. Both Kaida's life path and literary work engage un-conventional modes of living and create a much needed dialog between marginalized citizens, itinerant workers, spiritual seekers, artists and the greater community. 

 

#

Autumn in America

(On a ranch in western Wyoming)           

 

These are the last moments of August,

but summer has already left.

Long days of sun and dust

have turned into a chill at dusk.

 

Soon the vivid green ground

will turn brown and muddy,

then frozen and packed hard

under the weight of billions

of distant white flakes.

 

The crab apple tree I transplanted in June,

is laden with small oblong red and yellow-skinned fruit.

The young maple with its autumn-pointed salmon red

and tawny-tinted leaves is bent towards the cabin,

caught within the throes of the lonely Wyoming wind,

 

as it careens and howls

through screen doors and cracked windows

searching for something or someone

to cleave onto.

 

#

 

Craft

(Eugene, Oregon, October 2014)

 

An old sepia photograph

of blue-collar laborers

hangs on the wall

of a brewery

in northern Oregon.

 

The men hold,

or lean

into their shovels,

paint and honest dirt

crafting a mural of hard work

on tatty denim overalls

and firm, spare

Northwest immigrant faces.

 

Resilient orthodox spines

hold red-striped suspenders

in place, while their

pitchforks and trowels

are encrusted

with a viscous mixture

of caked russet mud

and dried eggshell concrete

that looks like spent semen.

 

These men

were not entitled

to anything, except

toil, job loss,

bread lines, whiskey,

pungent sex, the release of death.

 

#

 

Rabbit Field

(Autumn Harvest, Troutdale, Oregon, October 2014)

 

Rain drops crick

down burnt yellow

and washed-out green vines

that creep up stone stairs,

wind around black gas lanterns.

 

The hop’s acrid perfume

mashes into maple, pear and grape skin gusts,

while young men in yellow oilskin overalls

wash the remnants of fermented auburn suds

from burnished aluminum barrels.

 

Tanked-up tourists

carouse along the natural walkways

or boisterously mix inside the bar.

 

The gnarled oxidized water tower

looms over the brunet, maize,  

and purple-tinted valley,

resembling an old pagan deity

who silently impregnates

the deep flushed gorge.

 

 

 

Koon Woon, 8/31/2015

Current Occupation: Koon's current occupation is mathematics and logic tutor, freelance writer, editor, literary consultant and publisher.
Previous Occupation: Koon's previous occupations include running a restaurant and as an employee of the US Postal Service.
Contact Information: Koon Woon has done many odd jobs and full-time work includes being a US Postman, factory worker, and manager of a restaurant. He has written poetry for a long time and has two full length collections from Kaya Press at the University of Southern California. He won an American Book Award in 2014. He enjoys occasional forays into mathematics and philosophy. Presently he edits an online journal Five Willows Literary Review and runs a literary press Goldfish Press in Seattle.

 

#

When Kafka Is Unhappy…

 

    When Kafka is unhappy, he paces about his room in the rooming house known as "The Castle." He shares the carpet with a little girl ghost as she runs back and forth, stepping over his slippers, humming Leonard Cohen's tune "Suzanne," and ignores the writer/lawyer altogether.

She has a mind of her own, thinks Franz. But I have to keep my windows shut so that caterpillars can't get in here and eat what's left of my bagel with cream cheese.

 

    Being a lawyer and working for the Disability Compensation Bureau, Kafka sees many people down on their luck. One mistake in the workplace can cost you your hand or an arm. And a ton of bricks can fall on you at the factory if the forklift guy isn't looking out for you. And so you join the union. Safety in numbers.

 

    The other day Max Brod came over and wanted to be literary executor of his novels. Franz is not so eager to publish his works in his lifetime. "Just think, my dear Franz, with your clean prose, elegant and Spartan, and your ideas, what ideas! How can you deprive the world of this literary feast?" Franz remains mum. He is afraid that success, if it does come, would spoil his anonymity and even misrepresent him. I wrote because of these maddening ideas, and in no way am I going to betray my little girl ghost in my room.

 

    Kafka does lament that the door of his room leads to the communal den. And when he leaves or comes he needs to see other boarders eating at the communal table where Joe leans his bicycleS . He is careful not to let the girl ghost out of the room. He always worry that she is too thin and has an eating disorder. He usually buys a loaf of bread, cheese, and liverwurst and hides it in his lawyer's bag for the girl. She never touches the food.

 

    And so Kafka ends up eating what he brought for the girl ghost, and thinks about justice in a small way. It is overly misrepresented, he thinks. We lock ghosts up and they haven't done us the least harm. He thought about a passage from Leonard Cohen's early poems, "I wonder, when I look out the window of the furnished room, how many people are looking back at me?"

 

    Kafka kept on writing throughout the night. He knows that on a cold, cold day, his manuscript can make a pale fire. The thought of that makes him feel warm. He ignores the little girl ghost as she raced up and down the carpet. Writing was his real job.

 

 

J.D. Hager, 8/24/2015

Current Occupation: Middle School Science Teacher
Former Occupations: In no particular order: bartender, technical writer, pizza artist, delivery boy, landscaper, busboy, tutor, paperboy, professional skateboarder, camp instructor, surf bum, marketing associate, room service waiter, and lizard wrangler.
Contact Information: Mister Hager spends his days working undercover as a middle school science teacher, and his sleepless nights scribbling story ideas on the backs of detention slips. He inhabits Northern California with one wife and a few other animals, where he seeks to perfect the art of combining naps and beaches. His writing has appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Hobart, Jersey Devil Press, and Cease Cows, just to name a few. Check jdhager.com for more.

 

#

Until Something Better Comes Along

Only one bad thing about traveling; the return to home, like a crash landing. Broke, burnt-out, mosquito-bitten, bad breathed, culture shocked. All things of consequence mortgaged to finance six months of vagrant bliss, which suddenly and inevitably spirals back to this. Home.

Car sold, apartment relinquished, girlfriend gone, savings account on a horrible downward trajectory. Couch surf and search for employment. Scour the wants everyday and respond to promising ads. Administrative Assistant. Busboy. Delivery. Sales Associate.

Fifty applicants per opening. Forced by desperation to accept something temporary perhaps. Like the graveyard shift at the Donut Hut. Just until something better comes along.

In the middle of the night, at the Donut Hut, there are a few quiet moments. Eyes closed, the sounds of the video games take over, shooting, pinging and dinging. Enjoy these almost quiet moments, channeling past adventures and planning future ones. Live the moment has been mantra, but living the moment in Donut Hut is difficult. Relegate the moment to a later time. Block out the distractions and the detritus. Relive past moments. That wine in Paris. That sunset in Thailand. That market in Marrakech. The warm caress of that sand in Bali. Just until something better comes along

Reverie’s chain is broken by the Jesus freak. Not Jesus freak because he is into Jesus, but because he looks like Jesus if Jesus lived under a bridge and was a schizoid alcoholic. He has long straight hair and a beard, and smells mucky like low tide. Sometimes the Jesus freak asks to use the bathroom, and sometimes he tries to barter for donuts with lottery scratchers. Tonight he just walks up to the counter and stares at the donuts, like they are the keys to his salvation.

“Can I help you?” Always ask, even if you know the answer.

“You ever eat these donuts here?”

“All the time.”

“Those ones with the chocolate and the sprinkles any good?”

“The best.”

“Better than the jellies?”

“It’s apples to oranges really.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” he says, and gives a wink and a nod like he wants people to know that he knows something they don’t. “I’ll take one of each.” He smiles and it becomes apparent he is missing most of his bottom teeth.

Grab one jelly and one chocolate with sprinkles with the donut tongs. Put them in a bag.

“So, you got money tonight. Those scratchers you traded last time didn’t work out so well.”

The Jesus freak steps to the counter and raises a hand. He waves it in front of himself a couple times like he is casting a spell. He closes his eyes and concentrates. “You will not be charging for these donuts for this evening.”

“So cash then?”

“You will not be charging for these donuts for this evening.”

“I will not be charging for these donuts for this evening?”

“You will not be charging for these donuts for this evening.”

“I won’t?”

He opens his eyes. “Nope.”

“Whatever. No cash, no donuts.” Make sure to hold the bag out of reach in case he lunges for it.

“That’s cold. I thought we had an agreement.”

“My only agreement is cash for donuts. That’s how this works.”

The Jesus freak puckers up his face. He squints in a threatening manner. “You know that there are places in the world that have no donuts. And here we have so many goddamned donuts but not everyone that wants donuts can get them. It’s is a distribution problem. It makes no sense.”

Stare back at him. Match his ominous squint.

“You know there are places in the world where people would kill for donuts like these. KILL,” he repeats, bringing his finger to his throat.

Hope this is not one of those places. Realize how stupid it would be to kill or be killed for a fried blob of dough and sugar. Realize how stupid so many things in the world are. Try not to be overwhelmed by the absurdity of it all. Hand the bag across to the Jesus freak. Tell him to take the donuts and get out. “Don’t come back.”

The Jesus freak doesn’t say anything, not even thanks. He does smile again, revealing more missing teeth than seems possible.

Channel the past to soften the now. That reef in Australia. Those ruins in Cambodia. The balloon ride in Turkey.

Just until something better comes along.

Danny P. Barbare, 8/17/2015

Current Occupation: Custodian
Former Occupation: Mail Delivery at a Company
Contact Information: Danny P. Barbare works as a custodian at a Y in Simpsonville, SC. He has been writing poetry for almost 34 years. His poetry has been nominated for Best of Net and has won The Jim Gitting's Award. He has a new book of poetry "Christmas Poems" available through amazon.com. His poetry has recently appeared in Rhubarb, Lost Coast Review, Santa Clara Review, Friends Journal, Huizache, DoveTales, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel Contemporary Appalachian Writing, and many other online and print journals, including Work Literary Magazine in 2014.& 2012.

 

#

The Janitor at Work
 
Like a window in a frame
It is easy to daydream
Especially when it is sunny outside
So clean it
Look into the reflection
And imagine
The greenest of trees and fields
A rose garden
A mockingbird
And tiny finches in the grass
That were thought to be leaves.
And hopefully,
That makes work a little easier.

Caroline Taylor, 8/10/2015

Current occupation: writer and editor
Former occupation: publications director, speechwriter, and magazine editor
Contact Information: Caroline Taylor's short stories have appeared several times in Work Literary Magazine (2012, 2013, 2015) and in other online and print magazines. She is the author of two mystery novels and one nonfiction book. Visit her at www.carolinestories.com

 

#

THE DAY BEFORE TIME BEGAN



 

Once upon a time, Winston Atherton IV had been relatively happy—as happy as one can be, that is, after a long marriage with its predictable ups and downs. But then Moira had died, and, no longer aware of the passage of hours or even days, he found himself wondering if it was possible to get stuck in some kind of time warp where grief held infinite, unrelenting sway.

“This, too, shall pass,” he kept telling himself. But it didn’t. In fact, the sense of time suspended seemed to spill over into all but one precious corner of his life, affecting even Winston’s job. He’d always liked it. Now he dreaded having to get up in the morning and go through the ritual of transforming ordinary Winston into the person of substance that people expected to see in a diplomat. What did it matter with Moira gone? Who cared anyway?

    Where once Winston relished the intrigue and the chance to match wits with colleagues only slightly less brilliant than he, lately he’d noticed in himself a tendency to avoid conflict, to compromise when it wasn’t absolutely necessary, and, worse, at times to surrender a chip or two in the Department’s endless bureaucratic struggles for the sake of a transitory, illusory peace.

    The future looked dismal, even for one as prescient as Winston. He knew he wouldn’t be promoted this year. He knew further—with a tiny tinge of relief—that he would never make ambassador. Beyond that, he knew he could not resign from the Foreign Service without losing a big hunk of the pension that awaited if he could just hang on for another five years.

    What tricks time plays! To be perfectly honest, Winston was ready to retire now—had been ready for years—but the wretched rules that intervened to protect those his age who wanted to plow ahead till they dropped in their traces offered him no choice.

Not that he had another career lined up. No, just a vaguely formed notion of lying on a beach somewhere, never again having to wear a suit and tie, and perhaps seeing Antarctica, thereby managing finally to set foot on every continent. Of course, he’d have to actually pay for the Antarctica trip, but the upside was no corresponding expectation that he smile and charm disagreeable foreigners, who, more often than not, gave Winston a crick in the neck and sometimes pains in a more strategic location.

    Unable to change the events of the present and no longer willing to influence the course of the future, Winston, for the first time in ages, felt powerless and passive—adrift, not on the tides of change, but in a pool of stagnant status quo. An inner voice commanded: You will go to work every day. You will accept another overseas assignment. You will try to do a good job.

    But he seemed to have no will.

    Winston labored under the burden of a past a bit too “colorful” to suit the stuffed-shirt senior officials who culled ambassadors from among the great unwashed beneath them. Not that he regretted a moment of it. In fact, every time he had held fast in his convictions that certain policy decisions were, well, just plain nuts, he’d been proved right in the end. Of course, some colleagues didn’t understand or appreciate that. And a smaller number of them went so far as to suggest that Winston’s actions showed that he couldn’t be relied upon to Do The Right Thing.

    So, yes, he had enemies. But he also had friends, one of whom was Porter Beekman, a classmate who kept him up to date on all the scurrilous rumors and bureaucratic in-fighting that pervaded the halls of State. Rumors or not, Beekman would surely have the answers that Winston needes to reassure himself that time hadn’t altogether stopped.

    Over lunch one day, after describing in great detail the latest machinations of a human resources system gone awry, Beekman concluded that he had no choice but to extend another year in his present position as assistant to the director general.

Winston was filled with gloom. Not that he wanted Beekman’s job, but a job in the DG’s office used to carry with it a virtual guarantee of ongoing assignment to a post of one’s choice. How had things become so complicated? If the system was now impervious to the manipulations of a wizard like Beekman, what could Winston accomplish? Surely they wouldn’t think of sending him to Dhaka or Harare. Hadn’t he already paid his dues at hardship posts in the ’Stans and South Asia? The idea of acquiescing meekly to the first suggestion spit out by a computer that had been fed the wrong information made his stomach churn. Having some pimply-faced junior officer determine his future made his head ache. His only alternative, it seemed, was to marshal what support remained for him at the higher levels of the Service and once more wage war with the system. His heart sank.

 

    “How do you know time travels in a circle?” Winston demanded of his eight-year-old daughter as they headed up the stairs to her bedroom that evening.

    “Because it’s infinite, father. If something is infinite, it travels in a circle. Otherwise, there’d be a beginning and an end and then it wouldn’t be infinite.”

    Winston’s heart swelled at the realization that, at least in terms of brainpower, Nancy was, indeed, her father’s daughter. “I happen to know that time does not travel in a circle,” he said.

    “Oh, Father.”

    “No. Really. Remember, I’m from the planet Exeter. But, because I love you, I’ll try to enlighten you in the hope that this primitive culture might advance a little and thereby become more comfortable for intergalactic immigrants like me.”

    With delighted giggles, Nancy fell onto the bed, propping her chin up on two round elbows. “Okay. Enlighten me.”

    “That’s better. Now, as I was saying, time is not infinite. You Earthlings are wrong about that, as you are about many things. But you’ll discover the truth soon—in another million years or so, I would guess.”

    More giggles. “Proceed.”

    “Time has a beginning and an end.”

    “How do you know, Father? Have you been around since time began?”

    A look of exaggerated exasperation crossed Winston’s face. “I know. That’s how. But let me put it into words that you, a primitive Earthling—”

    “I must be at least half Exeterian, Father!”

    “Of course,” he smiled. “But even that is moronic by Exeterian standards.” He paused for a moment to pull the covers up to Nancy’s chin. “Where was I? Oh yes. So that you, a mere Earthling can understand, I will explain it this way: Time travels in a straight line. If you took all the time that ever existed and fed it into a giant computer and searched back through the past, beyond when the Earth was created, beyond the birth of the solar system, before the galaxies resolved themselves from energy into matter—way, way back, eventually the computer would print out the last digit of the moment time began.”

    “But if that’s the moment time started, father, what was before then?”

    “The day before time began.”

    “The day? Why not the minute? The hour? The week?”

    “Because I’m telling you. What existed before is the day before time began.”

    “You’re silly,” she said as Winston bent down to kiss first one rosy cheek and then the other.

    “That’s a typical Earthling response.” He crossed the room to shut off the lights.

    “Wait!” Nancy pleaded. “If there was a beginning to time, there must be an end. So, what comes after time ends?”

    “That’s for tomorrow—and only if you go to sleep now.”

 

Wouldn’t it be great to go back to the day before time began? At that point, by definition, you’d be both omnipotent and omniscient, which meant you could tinker with the future. Like a motion picture run backwards, the car that struck Moira could be slowed down and stopped just in the nick of time. And, of course, while you were at it, you could make sure that Nancy remained smart and pretty and healthy and happy throughout a long and interesting life.

    Had he only imagined happy times with his wife and daughter, that smug satisfaction with his work? Or had he once merely enjoyed his life because time does not reveal its alternatives? Winston wondered if he had become bitter as the passing years gradually revealed how cruel fate can be in snatching away a loved one in the prime of her life. Even after time became meaningless, he’d held on to the lifeline of his career, only just recently beginning to realize that it, too, was finite.

    On the question of Moira, Winston wavered. Face it, there had been a smidgen of wife avoidance in the Saturdays devoted to “busy work” or just being there in case someone higher up wanted to talk to him. Certainly, the endless receptions and after-hour “debriefings” with higher ups had spared him many a stultifying session home with his wife where the topic had seemed inevitably to start out with Nancy’s latest doings but would eventually degenerate into meaningless chatter, requiring only the occasional grunt or nod on his part. Then Moira had died, and time stopped.

    Before that, though, Winston had reveled in his work, feeling a sense of power and control as he poured suggestions into the ears of ambassadors and assistant secretaries and watched the words tumble out later in their public utterances like so much candy from a vending machine. It was heady stuff, a power trip, to be sure. And he had paid for it through long, grinding hours in the office and midnight telephone calls dragging him from his bed and down to the Department or to the embassy to craft an artful blend of truth and diplomacy in answering an urgent telegram or to discuss with the ambassador how best to handle the latest emergency. Beyond the personal satisfaction of seeing his work prevail came the knowledge that what he had said was good for the nation and compatible with its long-range interests.

    So where—or, more precisely, when—had cynicism crept into the room?

    Things were certainly different from the days when even lowly junior officers had exercised a certain influence, not only on policy decisions, but also on the nature and character of their expression. Well, some of them—mostly the political and economic officers—did, anyway. One had to discount, to a certain extent, the influence of consular and administrative officers although, oddly enough, it did seem that the administrative types these days were the glue holding together embassies under constant threat, like in Kabul and Tripoli. And it did seem that concerns about terrorists infiltrating the so-called Homeland had given consular officers the real power in today’s scary new world. But, still. One had to have standards.

    These days, nothing seemed to matter but public opinion polls, so-called pundits, and a dying press on the verge of ceding real clout to an amorphous and totally unaccountable Internet. When Winston examined his purpose as a political officer, he could no longer see any real reason why he should exist in the world of modern diplomacy. He was extinct—a dinosaur. He found himself sympathizing with oxcart drivers, Pony Express riders, chimney sweeps, switchboard operators—all those people who suddenly found themselves forced into oblivion by the march of time. They had all done valuable work, hadn’t they? Who needed them now?

    He looked at his watch as the minute hand crept down toward two-thirty a.m. If time traveled in a circle, then eventually it would double back on itself. At that point, the world might conceivably have need once again for such prehistoric time travelers as he. The thought gave bitter comfort.

    “I’m getting old,” he said, absently running his hand over the spot on top of his head where his hair was thinning out. “Old and unable to sleep. Useless and refusing to admit it. And too damn young to retire.”

    With soft steps, he crossed the hall into his daughter’s room and stood in the darkness at the foot of her bed. As much as he might long to return to the day before time began, the idea was silly, to borrow his daughter’s favorite word. Time passed even when it stood still. Why, Nancy had already grown another inch since Moira’s passing. It seemed there was much to learn from his precious daughter, who was already being swept up in the currents that would carry her inexorably forward—far too slowly for her, he would bet—into a future full of wonder and surprise.

 

 

 

 

Melanie Griffin, 8/3/2015

Current Occupation: Human Resources
Former Occupation: Journalist
Contact Information: When Melanie Griffin is not working in HR at her favorite public library, she is running, singing karaoke, or helping coworkers nerd out about Doctor Who. Her poetry has been published in several local anthologies and on several national websites.

#

"The Keeper of Death and Taxes"

She toils along the spectrum

from maternity ward to funeral home –

never quite touching cradle or grave –

without leaving her desk,

hidden by her piles of organized humanity.

She knows all

but lets people tell her

lets their confessions meet her paperwork prophesies

at a silent point of convergence

disguised as mere speedy work.

She leads with pencil

to double back in pen

once everything is as permanent as

the callus in the web of her thumb

approved, signed, stamped and smelling of ink

from the management shoes that only have a minute

to stop by.

She keeps her tears

and her laughs and her worries and her judgments

in separate jars hidden behind her tea mug

next to the brick of tax code, faithfully changed

and only when she runs out, does she count

her job as done.