Maybe it wasn’t true. “Come on, Junebug, it’s all right, don’t be afraid.” Grandma took my hand. Inside the house, a late afternoon shadow stretched like a long rectangular arm across the living room carpet. The Coke bottle Daddy used for an ashtray was stuffed with cigarette butts, and sat on the coffee table. Momma’s rocking chair waited for her; I pushed on the painted wooden arm to hear it squeak.
Two applejacks left over from Friday sat in a plate on the kitchen stove; this time of day the house should smell like fresh made sweet tea and supper cooking. I looked on the back porch, but nobody was there either. In the bathroom, I touched the last pencil line where Momma marked my height every year on my birthday. In their bedroom, I lay on the pillow to smell her. My head knew they were gone, but my eight-year-old heart didn’t yet.
Grandma sat beside me, tears rolling down her face; she’d cried a lot in the last two days. “Let’s go find what you want to carry home.”
In my room, I got the cigar box from my closet while Grandma packed clothes in paper bags. When her arms were loaded, she stood at the door. “Ready to go?”
“In a minute.” I went back to Momma and Daddy’s room, looked in her jewelry box and found the silver gum wrapper necklace I’d made for her in school. “Okay.” I stopped at the bottom of our steps and picked one of the red roses Momma had planted in the spring.
Of all the events that happened in the months after I met Sol, the first I remember is the day he sent me twenty-five roses. The bouquet was the first gift I received from him – in fact, the first flowers from any man. When Sol didn’t call me after the incident in the library, I worried that my angry outburst had given him second thoughts. For three days, I waited in agony for his call. I blamed myself and once again regretted how I often acted without thinking.
My mother was at home that afternoon working on a dress for a wealthy client in Westmount. Thinking back, I imagine her kneeling on the floor cutting out a pattern with her large shears, her tongue poking out to the side from between her lips. The doorbell rings. She stands and smoothes her house dress, wondering if it is Mrs. LeClerc, our next door neighbor. Opening the door, she sees a truck with a sign ‘Robichard Fleuristes de Montréal.’
“Fleurs pour Rebecca…ah,’ the delivery man examines the invoice, “Wiseman. Signer ici.”
Of course, I don’t know if the man hesitated, but in my imagination he does. My mind always enhances my memories until sometimes I can’t remember what is real and what I make up. I blame this exaggeration on my life-long habit of reading one or two books a week.
My mother tried to act as if nothing unusual had happened. I could see she was excited, but guessed she had a new commission for a dress. “Come,” she said and taking my hand, led me into the dining room. I smelled the roses before I saw them. The bouquet filled a deep blue vase in the middle of the table. The late afternoon sunlight, coming through the windows, seemed to illuminate only the roses. The red color of the delicate petals was hypnotic.
“From Dad?” Had I forgotten my parents’ anniversary?
She looked at me as if I’d asked a stupid question. “No, they’re for you. From Sol.”
My mother laughed, clasping her hands under her chin in delight. “Of course. How many Sols do you know who’d send you flowers?”
My hands trembled as I took the card from its place between two roses. I was annoyed I couldn’t be calm and sophisticated as if this gift were only to be expected.
A rose for each day of our budding friendship.
THE UNOFFICIAL STORY
By Annalisa Passarelli
Telegraph Hill. San Francisco. April 28, 1906.
It was just this morning that I finally started to convince myself I am still alive. Today, a week after the inferno burned out, a victim of its own success, the fire clap has even begun to fade from my ears and people may no longer have to shout into my charred face, nose to nose, to be heard. These welcome changes coincided with a knock on the door, the throbbing in my ears still spirited enough that I nearly missed the knocking. I shuffled through inch-deep ash, little clouds erupting with every step, and jerked open the brittle door to find an overdressed man named Mr. Appleby waiting on the puffy stoop. He cringed at the sight of me, lowered the handkerchief he had been clutching to his nose to ward off the acrid smell of burnt everything, and explained he had been sent by the California State Historian at Sacramento.
He stared into his bowler hat and began to recite the statistics, though the statistics alone, I assure you, do not sufficiently convey the horror. Three hundred miles of California coastline reconfigured, entire buildings swallowed up, whole towns reduced to rubble in a trail of destruction stretching from Point Arena to Monterey, thirty thousand buildings incinerated, a few hundred million dollars in smoke and ash. As best I heard, anyway.
He then offered an honorarium that sounded like one thousand dollars, asking me to consider a position as one of six writers chosen to report the Official Story in the events that transpired here on April 18, 1906, and in the three terrible days that followed.
After aiming one browned ear, then the other, straining for detail, I had my cracked lips parted and my swollen tongue dislodged from its sandy mooring and was about to mutter “yeth”, when he repeated the phrase “Official Story.” He looked up apologetically, braving the sight of me as chivalrously as horror permits.
He added, again quite apologetically, that all of the elements required for this Official Story would come from the office of our mayor, the ever-grinning marionette Eugene Schmitz, suggesting that the six writers would be encouraged to add “little dashes of color” and “some inspiring bits of human interest” which would then be reviewed by the charlatans anointed to the Official Information and Oversight Committee. For some reason that portion of Mr. Appleby’s tale came through quite clearly.
Sean P. Mahoney
Captain Dinny’s Horn
Could there be a grander place in all the world? When the sun is splittin’ the stones across the whole west of Ireland, and yer lolling atop a cask of the black stuff set on the bow of a barge floating softly into the heart of Limerick, with near the whole of the city going mad for yer arrival?
If one’s better, I’d trade it for there. For it was in that very spot I first saw the lads, the two of them basking in the youthful glories of a summer adventure.
I’d say the faint melody from the distance that delivered them there was nearly all they’d talked of since that poor mucky horse had her swim in the winter. Every day after, whether in the hot murk of the forge or off on the high meadow, the two kept a keen ear out for the deckmen’s shrill horns sounding their warning for the lock-keeper: hold her open or get her that way. They learned well enough which calls belonged to which boats, but they knew only one could trumpet a song just for them. Just one that carried the promise-maker. It was that boat they waited on.
They both swore to Christ they heard their clarion call on a late April morning, even over the rain lashing the roof of the small McCabe forge. Even over the unfortunate fullering of an axehead.
Only but twelve, Rory was already strong enough to hoist the smaller sledgehammers and deliver a blow bang on, at least on the more simple jobs they took in. He was a ginger bull of a boy, the spit of Liam at the same age, but a real messer as well, all bold energy and cheek. Nevertheless, and much to his father’s gratification, he was indeed showing a precocious feel for the subtle rhythms and tempo crucial to becoming an adept striker. Liam held his hopes for his son right alongside his patience.
Also twelve his own self, and the chalk to Rory’s cheese in nearly every way, Conor had a dextrous and steady hand for the iron, with a faculty for the finer bends and subtle twists that might someday produce true artwork, if there was any call for such niceties. There was not. Most needed horseshoes or hoes. Nails and bolts and the routine repairs of the bent axle or the bockety wheel. But Conor’s crafty promise was unique to Liam’s experience. The lads had their days in the forge since they were walking, but certainly Liam had never taught them anything of finesse … and he couldn’t credit his own good stock as the source of it. Conor O’Neill was only his son in every other way but birth.
Liam McCabe shaped his iron better than any smithy in the parish. You wouldn’t get a debate on that. At near fifteen stone, he wielded the hammer and tongs on the heavy metal without a bother and deftly worked the more intricate settings with equal prowess. He’d shown a knack for innovation in his younger days, some had even accused him of a wanton flourish, but he rarely conceded due cause anymore and by all accounts had managed to stifle it well down into naught. Deliberation was his first rule – one of few, all steadfast. If the lads were to glean anything from him, whether off his gruff instructions or through daily observations alone, that would be his wish. Never a blind alley.
Friday night and my workweek is over. A long awaited “night out with the girls” was my plan for the evening. Rummaging through my jewelry box, I search for my diamond stud earrings, and a childhood treasure catches my eye–a blue marble. Does it seem strange to find a marble in an adult woman’s jewelry box? Not to me.
I collapse on my favorite soft velveteen chair exhausted from my busy workweek. Without hesitation, I am back there, at our old rock and adobe homestead house known as “The Philly Place,” named after my Papa, Philadelphia Gonzales. The house is located a few miles east of Branson in southeastern Colorado. Many years ago when Papa
Lawrence G. Taylor
A Day in the Life of Mr Charlie Cheddar
London. Summer, in the late ’60s
TODAY IS GOING to be an important day, so important that I wouldn’t be turning up for work, which is quite unusual for me. For I seldom stay away from my monotonous assignments, due quite frankly to the financial burden of having chosen to reside in this highly expensive city. My tasks are that of a low-ranking clerk, at one of Her Majesty’s North London Post Offices. And surely I will be missed, for I’m a good white-collar worker. At least that’s what my boss, Mr Armstrong, once or twice implied. It will be quite a busy day, for today is Saturday.
Before Big Ben strikes nine, I’ll have to summon up the courage to inform Mr Armstrong from my landlady’s telephone that I will not be coming in today. The pretext will be an ‘acute stomach ache’. About my absence, Mr Armstrong may not be happy, but I should be able to stand my ground, for I believe he holds me in high esteem: reliable, hardworking and trustworthy.
Mind you, Mr Armstrong isn’t someone easily fooled. It requires a well-performed act of insincerity to mislead him. Mr Armstrong is very rigid in his demeanours and is feared by us who work under his command. He’s a retired sergeant in Her Majesty’s Army, fought in the World War II, and is quite proud of his war effort against ‘them Jerries’. Soon his pension days will be upon him, and much to the delight of most of my colleagues.
This early morning of July already shows promising signs of bright weather. And with some hope, the day will be a turning point in my life. A certain event, planned to take place later on this supposedly blessed day, is expected to transform my lonely and unhappy life into one that will be cheerful and friendly.
Trustingly, it will no longer be an isolated existence, consisting of my mother’s letters of spiritual support, supportive of my ups but mostly downs in this vast, cold (in every sense) metropolis,