The Verdi L. Tripp Fiction Award: Cecelia Hitte
for My Palestine
Fiction Honorable Mention: Margaret Elliott for Magda’s Wren
Margaret F. Tripp Poetry Award: Stephen Bloom for Bomb
Poetry Honorable Mention: Nicole Jakubowski for I am Vinalhaven
Richard F. Snow Nonfiction Award: John Leggett for James E. Strates and Pagan Jones
Nonfiction Honorable Mention: Monica Kissane for Redemption (The Funeral)
TPL Teen Scene Award: Hannah Wilson for Daddy Issues
Teen Honorable Mention: Natalia Pinette for Yellow Bird
Just Write Maine-related Nonfiction Award: Robin Orm Hansen for Meddling with the Children of Others
Verdi L. Tripp Fiction Award
My Palestine by Cecelia Hitte
The room at the Unitarian Center was packed. The American Friends Service Committee speaker, a well-known human rights activist, had just cleared his throat, and was about to begin. The door behind the podium burst open and a short, sturdily built woman with a bulging book satchel clutched under one arm darted in front of the podium.
What nerve! She came down the aisle and settled herself onto the one empty seat. Which happened to be next to me.
Well, I think one should do whatever one can. I know the rest of the world is in a sorry state. But this woman’s fervor seemed rather overboard to me. Whenever the speaker made a particularly dramatic point, my neighbor nodded her head in agitation, turned toward me, grabbed my arm and said urgently, But what’s to be done! What’s to be done!
I studied her out of the corner of my eye. She was dressed in a long black coat that, in spite of the mild spring weather, trailed to her ankles, and her curly red hair bounced vigorously with every emphatic word. I realized I had seen her before, rapidly walking across downtown Bartonville’s Court Street, black coattails sailing behind her. She seemed to wear that garment in even the most temperate weather, as though protecting herself from a moral chill.
The speaker wound up his talk and took questions from the audience. My impetuous seatmate leaped to her feet. A stack of pamphlets slid out of the satchel, onto my lap, then the floor. Yes! she said. Yes! Yes! That’s the point! And then went on for five minutes to enlarge upon the perfectly adequate remarks of the Nobel Prize nominee. I picked up one of the pamphlets that had found its way onto my lap, and unfolded it. But I refolded it quickly. One can discuss them, but pictures of atrocities are a bit over the top. I do think one can help without total immersion in the pathos of the rest of humanity.
At the end of the talk I rose to leave, but my enthusiastic neighbor blocked my way. She was still sitting, shaking her head. There is so much to do! So much! she was saying. Finally she looked up and noticed me standing there.
Oh! Sorry! she said. It took her a minute to stuff the pamphlets back into her satchel. She stood up with an energetic heave that belied her small stature, pushing her chair back against a man still standing in the row behind us. Then she fastened her pale blue eyes upon me and reached out to clasp my hand. Lottie Cznernow, she said. Care for a coffee and a chat?
I was not entirely sure that I did, but I said yes. So off we went, around the corner to Rolando’s, where over cups of burnt coffee, we talked.
I was pleased to find someone who could speak so knowledgeably about the Middle East. I feel an obligation to help
those who are less well off than myself, and I do pride myself on keeping up with current events, especially the Middle East, what with our oil supplies endangered and all that. I certainly don’t believe in sticking one’s head in the sand. Besides, as a librarian, I have a professional duty to keep up on world events. But I soon discovered that for Lottie Czernow this went way beyond interest. And it wasn’t only the Palestinian people, it was Palestine the homeland. Lottie labored as much and suffered for Palestine as though it were her lost child.
I cannot truly say what drew me to Lottie Czernow, but I found myself looking for a way to meet up with her again. It was difficult, for Lottie seemed to spend many of her waking hours in meetings, and demonstrations in front of the federal building where she and her fellow peace enthusiasts thrust their signs at passing motorists. One day I made the mistake of driving down Henry Street, where the Monday afternoon peace vigils were held. The light turned red at the corner. Lottie yelled from across the street at me: Hey, Carla. Here, over here! On the front of her placard, “Palestine is dying” was magic-markered in big red letters. She handed her poster to another demonstrator, who was already burdened with another substantial placard featuring the idea “Support Our Troops – Bring Them Home”. Lottie took a step toward the curb.
Fortunately the light turned green. After that I made sure to take a different route home.
But Lottie away from her marches, and her meetings, I still wanted to see. I am in a constant struggle with my weight, and Lottie clearly needed to stop smoking. I recalled our talk at Rolando’s. It must embarrass you to be so overweight when so much of the world is starving, Lottie had said in what I later learned was her usual tactless manner. To which I had nodded my head, and decided not to order the apple pie after all. You need to cut out those cancer sticks, too, I had replied.
I called Lottie and asked her if she’d like to accompany me on some exercise walks. After a little hemming and hawing about how exercise walks made her feel like a rat on a treadmill, she agreed.
Lottie has a crazy woman’s laugh. She starts laughing on a high strangled note of desperation and then she laughs, gasps and sucks in another breath and laughs, then she gulps another breath before a new peal of laughter, higher and shriller and more anguished than the ones before it. When I first heard that laugh, I thought she was going off the deep end. She looks like she is. Coils of dark red hair frame her pasty white face like rusty accordion wire. Her skin is prematurely wrinkled, thanks to her nicotine habit, and her light blue eyes have a way of wandering innocently – until you find yourself trapped by her unwavering stare. She takes another drag off the menthol cigarette that’s always dangling between her fingers and I think no, she just can’t breathe any more. Some exercise would be just the thing to get her mind off cigarettes.
Lottie and I began our first walk on the track by the high school near her apartment. But Lottie’s twin addictions kept right with us. That first day, she smoked two cigarettes by the time we’d walked a mile, and her dispossessed Palestinians kept pace with us too … shot at the border going home from work … political bullshit … no water for vineyards … slaughtered in their tents … schools closed … no justice … no peace … hatred everywhere. We think we’re so safe it makes us stupid. She fumbled in her pocket for another cigarette. A breeze started up; I shivered.
I had walked a three-mile benefit – for Mothers Against Drunk Driving – on that track once. My sister Megan was the MADD organizer for the walk at her daughter Ashley’s school. I had gone to keep peace in the family. That Saturday, the track had been filled with a happily milling crowd of toddlers, teenagers, banners, balloons, strollers, dogs, parents.
On this walk with Lottie, I had the same feeling of being surrounded by fellow walkers. But there were no balloons, no music or lighthearted optimism. Today the people around me wore the ghostly faces of dispossessed and murdered Palestinians. With every razed home or terrorized family that Lottie noted between puffs on her Marlboro and gasping strides, another figure appeared. Just my imagination, I said to myself. Two silent women, their faces hidden from me by their scarves, were soon walking ahead of us. But were they really there? How could they be? I glanced at Lottie to see her reactions, but she was too busy talking and smoking. Do you see what I mean? she said, exhaling a cloud of smoke into the fresh spring air. Yes, I thought, I certainly do. I looked ahead of us again, at the women. I was surprised that they could walk so fast, their long skirts flapping around their legs, their sandaled feet skimming rapidly across the smooth black track. A tall slender man carrying a Kalashnikov slung casually over his shoulder carried on a conversation with a worried looking woman who must have been his wife. I heard part of their conversation. Don’t worry, Ibtisam, it will be all right. If something happens to me, my family will care for you and the children. But I will be back tonight, insha’allah. The children, three little girls, struggled gamely to keep up with their parents, holding each other’s hands tightly. We circled the track together, never breaking stride.
When Lottie and I finished our two miles, I told her we needed to do some exercises, and even Lottie couldn’t continue talking about oppression while she was doing stomach crunches. Before we walked back to my car, I scanned the track, but it was once again an empty oval strip, and the only sound was the late afternoon wind that rattled through the metal bleachers.
Another day, I took Lottie for a drive out of the city, thinking it would bring up her spirits. Lottie was depressed and I hoped to get her mind on pleasanter subjects than slaughtered Palestinians and bulldozed Palestinian homes. But in the car, the Palestinians were with us again. So many of the dispossessed sat on the dashboard, so many were at my ear, whispering sometimes fiercely, sometimes plaintively. How was it that Lottie wasn’t distracted by them? I asked myself. When I lost patience with Lottie’s description of the latest incident at the border, and asked her what she thought of the beautiful spring greenery, a gentleman who looked very much like Yasser Arafat leaned over my shoulder and said, Ah but you should see Jerusalem in the springtime!
Lottie herself turned to me startled, and murmured, Oh yes, lovely.
I’d finally gotten used to the Palestinians accompanying us on our walks. When my attempts to distract her from the topic of Palestine failed, I accepted their presence on all our outings. When they started to show up with Lottie at my house too, I was a little apprehensive, but then I grew accustomed to their presence. Most of the time, I was so trapped in Lottie’s lectures that I didn’t pay much attention to “the others” as I came to think of them, anyway.
Occasionally one of them got in a word. A young woman in a black head scarf had been listening closely to Lottie’s description of the appalling conditions in Palestinian villages. When Lottie finally took a breath and time for a drag on her fifth Marlboro of the evening, the young woman quickly interjected, Ya Salaam, you may think she’s exaggerating, but things are even worse than she says. And the woman pulled a picture out from under her scarf. Look! My cousin Ibrahim, shot dead by the Israeli border patrol at Bir Zayt.
But before I had a chance to look at the picture the young woman was holding out to me, she had to jump back quickly as Lottie suddenly flung her arms wide, and amidst an arc of ashes and sparks, launched herself back into conversation.
Can you imagine how terrible this is for these people? And yet we hear nothing – nothing – of it in the media!
The young Palestinian woman faded into the background, carefully tucking cousin Ibrahim’s photo inside the folds of her scarf.
So Lottie’s visits featured me as an audience of one to Lottie’s emotional litanies of oppression, while Hanan, Hussein, Amet al-Lateef and the others held their own conversations on the side, occasionally nodding or raising a hand in agreement when Lottie’s speech reached a particularly impassioned note.
Usually when Lottie left my apartment, the only signs of her visit were an overflowing ashtray, and a thin trace of cigarette smoke hanging in the air. The whole gang left when Lottie was ready to go. It didn’t matter how passionate an argument Hussein was having with Ussama about Arafat’s handling of the latest border incident. Amet al-Lateef might be in the middle of ablutions for the evening prayers. Mohammed might be getting ready to deliver the punch line of his latest joke about the Syrian policeman and the Lebanese politician. But no matter, when Lottie stubbed out her last cigarette and stood up, Hussein and Ussama ceased their debate, Amet al-Lateef quickly dried her face and looked about for her children, and Mohammed forwent his punch line. They faded away with Lottie’s departing footsteps, an exclamation cut off in mid-exclamation point, a child’s hand evaporating just before it reached a mother’s skirt, a one-legged old man gone in mid-limp. So I couldn’t complain. Once she left, so did her concerns.
But then things got out of hand. A week later, when Lottie left, one of the Palestinians stayed behind. He was looking out the window when I noticed him as I was reaching for Lottie’s ashtray. He turned and looked at me. He seemed about twelve years old, and he was wearing a dirty white shirt and a pair of dusty black pants. His dark eyes had light shadows under them.
I like your apartment, he said. I’ve always wondered how it would be to live like this.
Thank you, I said. But I was also wondering how to discretely suggest that it was time for him to leave. Before I could say anything more, the boy turned again to stare out the window. Meanwhile, I busied myself with cleaning up after Lottie, taking the ashtray, the half-empty wine glass, the plates, back into the kitchen.
I returned to the living room and he was still there, still gazing out the window. He turned around again and looked at me. He had the guarded, intent look of a child who had learned about enemies at an early age. He slumped slightly as if he had been carrying a heavy burden on his shoulders for a long time.
What’s your name? I asked.
Issam – I was named after my grandfather. He was a famous fighter. We have a picture of him on the wall at home. As he said this, he straightened his shoulders.
Well, Issam, I said, taking this as a cue. Isn’t it time for you to go home with the others?
Issam’s face crumpled. He was probably closer to ten, than twelve.
But … but I don’t know how to get back, he finally said.
What do you mean, you don’t know how to get back? I asked.
I can’t find the road; I can’t find the house. But then his face brightened and he looked at me hopefully. Do you know the way to my house?
I was dumbfounded. First of all, I’m not all that good with kids. I’m not model parent or even aunt material. My own sister is reluctant to leave her children with me. But here I was, being stared at by a lost kid from god knows where. Should I call Lottie for help? She would know what to do. These were her concerns after all. I reached for the phone, saying Hold on kid. I need to call somebody.
All I saw from the kid was a short nod of the head. But now get this: A tiny stream of tears ran down the side of his cheek as he stared at me. Silently. Jesus, I’d rather have a dozen whining brats pestering me for all the toys in Wal-Mart instead of this.
Lottie’s telephone was ringing, but nobody answered. I was still hopeful though. Lottie didn’t leave very long ago. So maybe she wasn’t home yet, still driving and didn’t want to pick up her cellphone. Lottie’s phone kept ringing. Finally, I left a message. Lottie, call me when you get in. Carla. What else could I say? Lottie, come get one of your phantom dispossessed, he’s camped out in my living room?
Um, Issam, why don’t you sit down here? I patted the sofa invitingly. I ignored my inner voice that objected: look at the dirt on those pants. I could wipe it off tomorrow. And Issam walked slowly to the sofa, his large dark eyes never leaving my face. He sat down tentatively, perching lightly on the edge of the sofa. I was relieved when he finally lowered his eyes to stare at the floor. The trail left by those tears was drying, leaving a track through the dust on his cheek.
You don’t know where my home is, do you? he said.
Well, not exactly, I admitted. But I remembered that one woman and her cousin Ibrahim – where did she say they were from? Banen? Bazan? Bran Zayl? Bir Zayt?
Issam, are you from Bir Zayt?
He nodded his head, looking up again at me expectantly.
At that moment, getting Issam home and most importantly, I admit, out of my apartment, seemed a done deal. However, when it came to getting Lottie’s help in this situation, it was not as simple as you’d think. For one thing, I’d noticed that Lottie never acknowledged this crowd of phantoms that hung around her. She always brought them with her on our outings, our walks on the track, her visits to my house, but she never referred to their presence. It seemed to be a point of honor with her. The facts speak for themselves, she was fond of saying.
And without Lottie’s help, it was not clear to me exactly where Issam’s village was. Issam followed me into the kitchen. I had a map of Israel and the occupied territories, compliments of Lottie, scotch-taped to my refrigerator door. But only the large dots had names – big cities like Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem. Ramallah and Jenin. No Bir Zayt.
Issam, I asked. Can you point out where your village is on this map?
Issam raised his hand to the map. For the first time I noticed his fingernails. They were bitten down to the quick, and quite grubby. Why didn’t his mother make him wash his hands? I thought. But then I remembered one of Lottie’s remarks. There was no water. Also I did not want to ask about his mother.
He ran a finger lightly over the smaller dots scattered across the map. But then he lowered his hand, and shook his head.
I don’t know where it is; I’ve never seen my village on a map.
So it wasn’t as easy as I’d thought to get Issam home.
Lottie didn’t call back.
Issam insisted that he would sleep on the couch. When I went to bed, I left him staring out the window just as I first found him. And in the morning, I found him in the same spot, staring yet again, out the window. Toward the east. The sunrise. Palestine.
Issam was with me for several days. Every morning I found him standing by the window, staring eastward, the blanket always neatly folded just as I’d left it on the sofa. No news from Lottie yet.
One day, I came home from the University to discover that Issam had found my old shortwave radio. He was curled up on the couch, his head bent over the radio, listening intently to an Arabic language broadcast. He waved for me to come over. Listen! These are Palestinian voices. These are my people! We sat for an hour together, Issam warmed by the voices from home, me enjoying his pleasure and the rich tones, the poignant rhythms of a language I could not understand.
Another day, Issam made tea for us. The tea was wonderful – strong, and sweet, and he showed me the Middle Eastern art of pouring from the teapot held high above the teacup, the hot steaming tea descending in an amber arch into the cup below it. We sat quietly, sipping our tea and listening to the Palestinian radio station.
Issam talked about his family: his mother Um Ibrahim, he told me proudly, made the best khubz in Bir Zayt. Issam’s father Hammoud worked in Israel as a gardener. He can make anything grow, bragged Issam. But sometimes, he said, my father can’t get to work. When the roadblocks are up. And his older brother Ibrahim, when Issam spoke of him, his small, thin face grew sad. He carried the syllables of his brother’s name gently on his tongue. My brother Ibrahim, he was shot at the Israeli border. My brother Ibrahim is a martyr for Palestine.
Finally Lottie showed up. And for once she was alone. What message? she asked. No, I don’t remember any message. And before I had a chance to bring up Issam, she explained that she was here because she was organizing a protest walk – just five blocks – around the government buildings downtown. Short but effective, she said, tapping her cigarette in the ashtray. I explained that I couldn’t do it. I’m not that type. I reminded her that I belong to Amnesty International, send my checks to CARE and the International Red Cross.
Lottie carefully placed her cigarette on the edge of the ashtray. She brushed a strand of hair away from her eyes, and for the first time, I noticed a trace of gray weaving its way through her copper curls. Carla, she said, your checks are like band aids on a kid with dysentery. She stood up and looked out the eastward window in a stance so like Issam’s that I suddenly looked around for him.
Issam was standing by the door. He looked first at me, then at her, a question in his eyes. And I realized Lottie hadn’t been around since the day he lost his way home. Lottie stayed long into the evening – she talked long and hard about the struggle for a homeland. Lottie was impressed that I had become so knowledgeable. I didn’t point out that Issam had a lot to do with this. After all, the facts speak for themselves.
Around eleven, Lottie finished the last cigarette in her pack, and stood up. Well, it’s been good to see you, she said, even if you’ll never really get involved. She picked up her bag, gave me a big hug, and walked to the door.
Call me later if you change your mind about the walk, she said.
Sure, but I don’t think so, I said. It’s just not my thing.
I watched her through the window as she walked rapidly down the street, a small figure loosely covered in a long black raincoat, coat tails flapping behind . Her red hair flamed briefly under a street light, and then she was gone.
As I got caught up in saying good-bye to Lottie, I lost track of Issam. I even forgot to say good night before I was off to bed. It had been a long evening, and Lottie could be exhausting company. In the morning I got up, went to the living room. There was still a scent of sandalwood, tar and nicotine in the air. But Issam was not at the window, his face turned toward the east. I looked around the room, then the rest of the apartment.
At last I realized he was gone.
Two days later, I was having eating dinner in front of the tv while I listened to the Channel 7 evening news. They were finishing an interview with a small red-headed woman wearing a black raincoat. Thank you, Ms Czernow, the newscaster was saying..I forgot about the spoonful of tomato soup that was halfway to my mouth. The camera shifted back then to the anchor’s station. That was Lottie Czernow, representative for the organization Peace and Justice, interviewed at the demonstration outside city hall this afternoon, explaining why the group is demonstrating about that incident outside the Palestinian town of Bir Zayt last month. Pretty grim stuff, it seems. And now, let’s turn to local sports …
I dropped the spoon into the bowl, and found myself wiping up spilled tomato soup from my lap with the napkin. I reached for my cell phone. And just as I picked it up, it rang.
Hello? I said, my voice sounding a little high and strained. But there was that slight pause and a click that signals a telemarketer is calling. I hung up.
How silly to hope it would be Lottie, wanting to know if I’d changed my mind.
I saw the old shortwave radio on the floor next to the sofa. I picked it up and turned it on. But I couldn’t find the right station. Instead of Radio Palestine, I got the BBC. I walked into the kitchen and made a cup of tea. But the tea was bitter, no matter how much sugar I dumped in. I never have learned to make tea. I looked at the map on the refrigerator, all those big dots, little dots, a celestial map of Palestine’s dark stars. Light years away, those dots. And suddenly I was back on a grade school trip to the local planetarium. The guide was saying, All that light, those millions of twinkling lights in the sky, they come from stars that may no longer even exist.
Cecelia Hitte has lived in many places, but now she lives in Harpswell and writes about what she sees, feels, and thinks.
Fiction Honorable Mention
Magda’s Wren by Margaret Elliott
Magda Lewondwo wheels herself around the small kitchen of her summer home. The tiny cabin is the second in a row of identical cottages sitting across from the Blue Wave Amusement Park. Magda is used to navigating the wheelchair in small quarters. She’s been chair bound for over twenty-five years.
She remembers life before the wheelchair, before her marriage. Back then, she and Lorenzo performed a high-wire act in the circus. Two years into their career, Magda fell from the wire, breaking her back and ending the couple’s dream of someday joining a major circus company. At the time, Magda begged Lorenzo to go on without her, but he adored the raven-haired beauty and promised to stay by her side for a lifetime.
They married in Hungary, a ceremony quickly arranged and approved by her father. Had her father surmised that Lorenzo’s proposal might be Magda’s only offer? What Roma man in his right mind would want a woman in a wheelchair, a woman who perhaps could not produce children? But, Lorenzo chose Magda and soon the young couple were off to America and a new life in show business, well, a form of show business. These days, Lorenzo mostly sold sausages from a cart and Magda read tea leaves and gazed into crystal balls.
Now, twenty-five years after their wedding, Magda has no regrets about her own fate, but she worries about her three daughters. Already, the two older girls, Sofia and Viktoria, are married and gone. Magda wanted a better life for them. She’d been in America long enough to realize that American children were educated. Every winter, she and Lorenzo hid their daughters from Florida school officials. The old ways were the best according to Lorenzo. In the beginning, Magda agreed. She believed everything her older and very handsome husband told her. Her gratitude for his steadfastness prompted her to obey his every command. She accepted her role as an uneducated, docile wife as the best of all worlds for a crippled woman without prospects.
But now, she has doubts. She worries about her youngest, Ana-Marie. She wants more for Ana than what her two older girls settled for. Magda watches the teenage girls who work at the Blue Wave during the summer season. They have lives that she cannot even imagine. Most of them are college students. Magda notices how these girls dress, their stylish clothing and hairdos. She knows these girls will have important careers. Sometimes she wishes these things for her own girls.
During her early years in America, Magda learned English, mostly from other Roma who had arrived earlier. She learned the
language to survive and work as a Fortune Teller. She needed to communicate with the Americans. In turn, Magda taught her own girls the language. She also taught them rudimentary arithmetic. Money is god in America, and her children had to survive.
The girls grew up in a bilingual environment. Even Lorenzo knew that survival depended on speaking English. Lorenzo would not allow his children to attend the public school, though. Those schools are mahrime he said. They are polluted, unclean. He will not subject his family to that sort of sacrilege.
Once they reached their teens, all three of Magda’s girls had clashed with Lorenzo’s rules. No dating non-Roma boys. That made it tough for the girls. There weren’t that many Roma boys around. A few showed up at the winter campgrounds in Florida. Lorenzo had chosen two of these boys for his older daughters.
Lately Magda notices that Ana-Marie has become a young woman. She sees her daughter watching young men when she thinks her mother is not looking. Ah, Ana, don’t you realize that your Papa will never allow such a thing? You cannot marry outside the Roma family.
Soon Lorenzo will expect Ana-Marie to marry. He will be the one to choose Ana’s husband. He will be the one to choose Ana’s future. It is their way.
Magda now sits in front of the stove, stirring a thin gruel. She shuts off the burner and her daydreaming. After she pours the cereal into a cracked bowl, she sets it on the table to cool. She wheels herself to the lumpy couch in the corner and awakens Florin, her ailing father-in-law.
As he opens his eyes, Florin swats at Magda’s hand on his shoulder. His cough, a deep-chested, phlegmy rattle, causes Magda to turn her head away. His breath is putrid. This is her duty though. Florin will be with them until his death. It is their way. They take care of their own, or Magda takes care of their own.
Is this the life she wants for Ana?
Magda grasps Florin’s wrists steadying him as he stands. With one hand in his, she leads her father-in-law to the small bathroom where she allows him to tend to himself. She is grateful that at least he is still able to do this small thing alone. When he is done, she washes him and helps him dress. She leads him to the table, and he sits. She spoons the lukewarm gruel into his waiting mouth. This is all he is able to eat now. She remembers a wren with a broken wing that she fed in a similar fashion when she was a girl. Like the injured bird, Florin stretches his sinewy neck and opens his mouth into an O. As she wipes the dripping cereal from Florin’s chin, Magda hears Ana open the door.
“It’s about time you’re here, girl. I have to get to work. You watch your grandfather for a while.”
In her booth at the amusement park, Magda places a purple turban on her head and fluffs her long hair out across her shoulders. She inspects herself in a mirror that Lorenzo has mounted low on the wall, a perfect height for one permanently confined to a chair. Magda notices, not for the first time lately, that her once coal black hair now has strands of grey. She accepts this just as she accepted every other event in her life: her broken back, her betrothal to Lorenzo, her life as an uneducated, itinerant worker.
She dusts her crystal ball, which sits in the center of a round table that is covered with a floor-length cloth. She sets her pack of Tarot cards on the table and then wheels herself over to the long, low window on the front of the booth and raises the Venetian blind. Then she opens the door to her workplace, hoping to lure in at least a few customers.
Sitting at the open door, she looks out into the early afternoon crowd. Her heart flutters when she spies Ana on the other side of the crowd. Already Ana has abandoned Florin. Her daughter is talking to that young man again, the blond one, the non-Roma. She recalls seeing Ana talking with this same person last summer. Magda whispers a prayer that Lorenzo does not see this. For an instant, she thinks that Ana has noticed Magda watching her. The girl looked straight into her eyes; Magda is sure of it. Ana, Ana, what are you doing? We will have to talk. You realize this, don’t you, my little one?
Magda knows it will be better when they travel to Florida for the winter. Lots of Roma families settle there for the season. Ana will be free to socialize among her peers. Perhaps this year there will be boys her age. Magda wonders if it is too late as she watches the young man run his hand along Ana’s cheek. Dear Lord, if Lorenzo sees this, there will surely be trouble.
She wonders if this boy is the reason Ana has been out of the cabin so much this summer. Ana has said she is working extra hours cleaning motel rooms, but now Magda wonders. What has been going on right under her nose? And she’s the seer, the teller of fortunes, the enlightened one!
In the late afternoon, Magda bids goodbye to another tourist eager to know his future. She has given him good news. He’s on vacation; good news is what he wants to hear. As soon as the man is out the door, Ana creeps in, not meeting her mother’s eyes.
“Ana, you left your grandfather?”
“Yes, Mama, I had to go back to work.”
“It is four o’clock. Chambermaids are usually done with their work earlier. The motel must be very busy?”
“No, Mama.” Ana looks at the floor, still not meeting her mother’s gaze.
“What has kept you? I thought you’d stay with your grandfather.”
“He is fine. I looked in on him before I came here.”
“So, answer my question. Where have you been so late?”
“I think you know, Mama.”
Magda says nothing.
“It’s the boy you saw me with earlier. I love him, Mama.”
“You’re too young.”
“No. Even now, Papa is looking for men for me to marry.”
This is true. Lorenzo spends his free time meeting with other Roma, trying to make connections with available young men.
“But, that boy is not Roma.”
“I don’t care, Mama. In fact, I’m glad he’s not Roma. I don’t want to live the Roma way.”
“Your father will be angry.”
“This boy you saw me with, he goes to college. He thinks I should too.”
“But you have never gone to school.”
“Peter, that’s his name, told me about GED last year. In fact, that’s what I’ve been doing, studying for my GED. I’ve been studying for two summers.”
“Mama, I can take a test, and it will be the same as if I graduated from high school. Then I can go to college.”
“Your Papa will never agree to this. He won’t pay for you to go to school.”
“Papa isn’t going to pay. Peter is going to pay. Peter wants to marry me. His family has money to pay for me.”
“Doesn’t his family care that their son is marrying a Roma?”
“They are happy he will marry the woman he loves.”
Woman. The image hits Magda like a rock to the forehead. Yes, Ana. You are a woman now. You have a life of your own. You must live it your way, not the way I lived mine, not the way your father would like you to live yours.
“I must meet this young man. I need to know that he truly loves you, that he will take care of you.”
“Oh, Mama, of course he loves me.”
“I need to see this for myself. Bring him here tomorrow afternoon.”
At two o’clock the following day a tall, blue-eyed blond youth walks into Magda’s booth. Although he keeps his head lowered, Magda sees the blush on his cheeks.
“Yes, you must be Peter.”
“Peter Chamberlain.” When his earnest eyes meet Magda’s, she senses his sincerity. “You know why I’ve come. I love your daughter and want to marry her. We want to build a life together.”
“Do your parents know about Ana?”
“They have met her and have grown to love her.”
“All this has been going on, and I knew nothing?”
“Ana is afraid. She thinks her father will marry her off quickly if he knows about me.”
“This is true. But, how will you take care of my Ana? She says you will send her to school?”
“Yes, my father has agreed to this. He says it is their wedding gift to us.”
“If your family can afford to do this, why are you working here?”
When Peter’s laugh ripples through the small booth, a shroud of tenseness lifts from Magda’s shoulders.
“My dad believes in honest work. He says he’s not raising any spoiled rich kid.”
Now at summer’s conclusion, Magda wraps a shawl around her shoulders and wheels herself into the kitchen. Early mornings are cool at the end of August. The cottage is silent at this hour. Lorenzo is already out helping Tony, the maintenance man. They are preparing to close the park for the winter. Labor Day weekend will be the end of another year at the Blue Wave.
Florin still snores on the couch as Ana tiptoes into the room. She carries a dented suitcase that Magda has helped her pack. Ana bends down to kiss her mother. Magda runs her hand through her daughter’s silky hair.
“You be careful, Ana-Marie. Don’t let Papa catch you leaving. This is your only chance.”
“Oh, Mama, Papa will be so mad,” Ana whispers.
“Don’t you worry about Papa. He’ll settle down after a while.”
Magda turns toward the door when she hears a soft rapping.
Ana opens the door to Peter. He kisses her and then embraces Magda. His aftershave is now a familiar scent to Magda. She has met with him several times over the past few weeks. She had to be sure that Ana was making the right decision. She had to be sure that Peter was the right man for her Ana-Marie. Satisfied that he is, Magda pats him on the back.
“Thank you so much, Mrs. Lewondwo. I’ll take good care of your daughter. Don’t you worry.” He clasps Ana’s hand and kisses it.
“You two go now. Quick!”
Magda watches from the door as the young couple runs through the street, suitcase banging against Peter’s leg, Ana’s hand in his. Magda remembers the injured wren of her childhood, how she nursed it. She wanted to keep it forever, but in the end realized that it had its own life ahead, a life without her. She had to let it go, let it fly away to its own future.
She wheels herself back to the kitchen table where her crystal ball stands dark and unreadable. Magda will not attempt to see the future, hers or Ana’s.
Go my sweet bird, fly high and free. Fly away to your future.
Margaret Elliott lives in Eliot, Maine and works at the William Fogg Library. She is the author of Images of America: Eliot, published by Arcadia Publishing.
Margaret F. Tripp Poetry Award
Bomb by Stephen Bloom
A bomb, far away.
The blast rips through the marketplace,
destroying time in an instant,
freeing fear that is never far from expectation.
The crowd, in white and black and western logos, stands
frozen in the fierce, searing silence that follows.
Dissonant details emerge, like a photograph in a developer bath:
Billows of black smoke,
then fire peeking through,
then fragments of glass, stone, bricks, raining,
then blood and bloodied things.
Soon men, women, children begin to emerge
from precarious shelters in their disintegrating city:
from behind dusted and ruined vehicles,
from the corners of buildings and side streets,
from the disarray of their ruined market,
their wonder turning to horror
amid the soft shimmering sound of fire
and the sluggish crescendo of pain, whistles, and distant sirens.
Some scramble toward safety or purpose.
Some remain frozen still, staring at the elusive image before them.
Others grasp for their technology – their cell phones or cameras,
Steve Bloom is a retired librarian. He lives in Falmouth with his wife, Mary, and near both of his children, his 4 grandchildren, and his brother, all of whom live in Portland. He teaches piano to beginning students, directs a recorder ensemble, and plays tin whistle in Irish sessions on occasion. He was recognized in last year’s Joy of the Pen for a poem, and has a piece of fiction due out in this year’s Goose River Anthology.
Poetry Honorable Mention
I am Vinalhaven by Nicole Jakubowski
Hello. I am Vinalhaven, Maine.
You dream of me in February
long for me in May and
devour me in July.
You buy books to read on my beaches and
journals to fill on my mountains.
I am rock and salt and history.
I am chilly; I am stagnant.
You hate me and
I cannot stop your father from reaching for that whiskey.
I will not stop your mother from snapping at your cousin’s wife
I cannot tell your brother you hope he will not get you into trouble.
I do not have arms to comfort you when the fighting makes you cringe
I do feel your shame
I do see your tears
I do hear your prayers
So I shine my sun on your face
to dry your tears,
I lead you to hidden, mysterious quarries
to quell your shame
and call the ocean forth
to answer your prayers.
I give you collecting seashells with grammy
and history lessons with grampy
I show you patience
Hello. I am Vinalhaven, Maine.
I am diamonds in the waves,
I am rock and salt and history
I am your shame,
Nicole Jakubowski loves to read and likes to write. She has a B.A. in English from Plymouth State University. She has written two books: Shen Counter and Mustang and Cherries.
Richard F. Snow Nonfiction Award
James E. Strates and Pagan Jones by John Leggett
James E. Strates
I was sitting in a booth at Lou’s Diner, waiting for my best friend, Gravy, to show up. Gravy’s last name was McGreevy so in the natural order of kids our age, the nickname Gravy was inevitable. We met most mornings at Lou’s. We drank coffee and played our favorite songs from the miniature jukebox in the booth. It saved walking the length of the diner to the big machine. Three songs cost twenty-five cents and we had our favorites memorized―songs like J8, C7, and B14.
While I waited for Gravy to arrive, a man slid into the seat across from me. He was a bit oversized and had a familiar way about him. With no preliminaries, he launched right into a question.
“How’d you and some of your friends like to make a few bucks?”
His sudden appearance and his question about making some money took me by surprise. When I didn’t answer right away, he continued. “I need a field crew to help me layout the carnival. There used to be a kid around here that gave me a hand every year, but I haven’t seen him around. He usually watches for my car and gets in touch with me here at the diner. I rent a room upstairs over Hoskins’ Grill.” As he explained, he pointed out the window toward Jack Hoskins’ place―a seedy gin mill a stone’s throw away. I never knew old Jack rented rooms.
“So, you think you can get two or three friends? If you’re interested, I can pay you, and of course, I’d make you my field boss. You’d be working strictly for me and your friends will be under your supervision.”
I searched for a response to a stranger who was renting a room from old man Hoskins. “What’s laying out the carnival mean?”
It was then he must’ve noticed his abrupt entrance and questions weren’t the best first impression. “Sorry kid. I guess I should’ve introduced myself. I’m just a little frazzled because this other kid didn’t show up.” He then became excited as he explained himself. “What I’m tryin’ to tell ya is I’m the James E. Strates Show guy who comes to town a few days before the carnival. I stake out all the spaces for the booths and the rides and the sideshows.”
The words preceding James E. Strates were mumbled a bit and it was those few words that had me wondering if he said he was with the James E. Strates Show, or he was James E. Strates. Because if he was James E. Strates and he was offering me a job as a field boss for the carnival, it was a magical moment in my life. The entire tri-state area waited all year for the two-week extravaganza.
I’d seen the advance posters advertising the carnival’s arrival and his explanation of what he wanted began to make sense.
“Sure,” I told him. “I can get a couple of guys.”
“That’s great,” he said, sounding somewhat relieved.
“So what exactly is a field crew anyway?”
“Well, a field crew is . . . you know . . . guys like you . . . who design the layout for the midway . . . so the ride operators and people with game booths know where to set up. It’s probably the most important job of the entire show. Why without the field crew, there wouldn’t even be a carnival. We’ll be setting up right here behind the diner in Beattie’s Field. You know Beattie’s Field?”
Did I know Beattie’s Field? Everyone knew Beattie’s Field. It was the enormous expanse of nothingness sandwiched between US Route 32 and the Hudson River. It was at least a half mile wide with a length three or four times that. Other than being used by the carnival every year, its only other use was when we raked away broken glass and garbage, drew bases in the dirt, and made ourselves a baseball field. None of us thought twice about the mysterious owner (presumably some guy named Mr. Beattie) and we used the field anytime we wanted.
“When do you need us?”
“First thing tomorrow morning. I’ll meet you right here at the diner… let’s say eight o’clock. Hell, we’ll probably be done by noon. But you’ve got to assure me you’ll show up, and like I said, we’ll need at least two other guys.”
When he used the word “we” I felt that Mr. Strates and I were now partners. I knew Gravy would be in, and my friend Alan was always up for making a few bucks. “Yeah, I can be here with a couple of guys. How much will we get paid?”
“Oh, it’ll be good pay. Good hard cash,” he said. “And I’ll give you and your friends some tickets for the rides and shows.”
“Okay Mr. Strates,” I said. “I’ll meet you here at eight o’clock with a couple of my friends.” I called him by name as a test. When he didn’t correct me, it confirmed I was in the company of royalty. He stood to leave. “And what’s your name kid?”
“John,” I told him.
“Okay kid,” he said, extending a hand. Welcome to the James E. Strates Show.”
Funny thing about Mr. Strates, he asked me my name, but never used it. Not that day… or any other day.
The next morning I introduced Mr. Strates to Gravy and Alan, although as we worked he addressed them by either “kid” or “you.” He differentiated my administrative position by calling me “Boss Kid,” which I assumed was to remind Gravy and Alan that I was in charge. We worked until shortly past noon in the stifling July heat. All morning it was “kid this” and “kid that.” Gravy started by holding the end of a one-hundred foot tape measure and it was “kid . . . take this end of the tape and walk down that way in a straight line until I tell you to stop.” The next command was hollered to Alan. “You… take this stake down there where he’s standing,” and he tossed him a wooden stake. “Okay now, Boss Kid, you toss that hammer there to your friend so he can pound it in. The next three stakes in that first milk crate there should have the letters e-n-t on them. Keep those handy and follow me along with the crate.”
He had four milk crates in all, each filled with lettered wooden stakes in a specific order. Letters like t-whl and sht-gal or bal-dts which he explained stood for the Tilt-a-whirl, and the shooting gallery, and the booth for shooting dart at balloons. We took turns measuring out distances and pounding stakes into the ground.
“What about those first ones that had e-n-t on them?” Alan asked.
“It’s the entrance kid… the entrance. You know… the main gate.”
It became a game as we tried to decipher the coded lettering on the stakes. Mr. Strates seemed to enjoy our guessing game and if we were stumped, he intervened with a clue.
Just past noon, he looked toward the sun. “It appears this might take longer than I expected,” he said. “Perhaps the rest of the day so I’ll tell you what. You boys go up to the diner and order yourselves a hamburger and a soda and tell the waitress to put it on my tab. Get a piece of pie or somethin’ too if you want.”
We ordered our burgers and gave the waitress Mr. Strates’ instructions.
“Lou?” she hollered into the kitchen. “These three tell me that Mr. Strates said to put their lunch bill on his tab. You good with that?”
Lou came out front and looked at our familiar faces. Like most days, he was wearing his soiled white hat shaped like the ones Boy Scouts wear. He passed over Gravy and Alan and his eyes rested on me. “Mr. Strates?” he asked.
“Yes sir, Mr. Strates said to tell you to put it on his tab.”
“Do you mean the man you were talking to in here yesterday morning? That Mr. Strates?”
“Yes sir,” I said, thankful that he’d seen the two of us talking.
Lou didn’t smile but his belly seemed to ripple from a laugh that curled up from his gut like a breaking wave. “Feed them,” he said. “If Mr. Strates said he’s good for it, we’ve got nothin’ to worry about.” As he made the statement, he gave the waitress a wink. “Enjoy your lunch boys,” he said, and he returned to the kitchen shaking his head.
We met back at the field and I suspected Mr. Strates may have had a beer with his noontime paperwork because he smelled like my Uncle Carl. We finished staking out the midway shortly after four o’clock and he called me aside as he removed three fives and two singles from his wallet.
“You’re the Field Boss,” he said. “So you pay your crew. Give ’em each one of these fives and keep one for yourself―the two extra dollars are for you, bein’ field boss and all.”
“I’ve also got free tickets for each of you. He pulled out three books of tickets and held them up. “Three books,” he said. “Twenty tickets to a book,” and then he handed them to Alan. “Three for you,” he said, giving three to Gravy, “and three for you . . . or no, here’s another,” he said. “Field Boss gets an extra. So are we good?”
We were good all right. The tickets were a gold mine. We started back to the neighborhood but had only taken a few steps when he snapped his fingers. “Wait,” he called out. “I forgot something… take these.” He held out three yellow passes. “You probably won’t use all your tickets in one visit so take these gate passes. They’re good for the whole two weeks the carnival is in town. These kinda makes you guys like regular Carnies. You’ll be able to come and go as you please.”
We headed home―our lives forever changed―we were Carnies now.
The dawn greeted waking neighbors to a cascade of colors that covered nearly two square miles. By noon, sideshow tents were erected and most ride assemblies were complete. By nightfall, the unassuming place known as Beattie’s Field, had been transformed into a mystical land of children’s fantasies.
Four of the highest Ferris wheels in the country took center stage, surrounded by powerful ground beacons that swept the sky like illuminated metronomes as their brightness dimmed the stars. The wheels and lights, visible for miles, had an irresistible beckoning―a magnetism that called to young and old. Thousands of carnival lights merged together in a blend of colors that settled over the midway and gave Beattie’s Field a warm glow that seemed to rise up from the earth before flowing up into the darkness.
The giant wheels were strategically surrounded by rides that threatened the faint-of-heart―the Rocket, the rollercoaster, the Octopus, the Round-up, and for the most daring of all―the Bullet. The Bullet was for those who could tolerate sitting in a capsule while withstanding a three-hundred and sixty degree thrust of centrifugal force. Occupants screamed from beginning to end. First-timers lost their wallets and loose change along with other items that flew from their pockets. Kids on the ground waited to grab up fallen treasures and then disappeared into laughing on-lookers.
The midway was comprised of kiddie rides, side show tents, the fun house, the motorcycle cage, the house of mirrors, and other oddities. Sprinkled throughout the rides and attractions were booths enticing patrons to partake in games of chance, luring them in with the hope of winning larger-than-life stuffed animals.
The James E. Strates Show exemplified intrigue and imagination. Indistinguishable words from sideshow barkers competed with generators whose orchestrated growls rose and fell as they sent power to the rides or illuminated thousands of lights. It all blended together and when the James E. Strates Show opened that year, Gravy and Alan and I were in it like vegetables in soup. We walked the short distance from home to the main gate and flashed our yellow passes to the woman selling tickets. She smiled, evidently recognizing us as Carnies. We walked tall. Why shouldn’t we? We were kings of the midway. By the end of the night, we had been on every ride that interested us―some more than once―and had yet to go through one book of tickets.
The second night we watched the games. Carnies stood in booths wearing change aprons around their waists and hollered phrases. “A prize every time,” or “Always a winnah.” They stood with outstretched hands holding whatever it was a person needed to throw or shoot, always with a friendly smile and a beckoning wave. Players put down twenty-five or fifty cents hoping to win a ten cent trinket. Now that we were Carnies, we had no reason to play. The midway was complete with all the necessary sounds along with the overwhelming scents of sawdust, fried dough, and cotton candy.
On the third night we took in the side shows. We listened to the barkers extol the strange and wonderful things inside the great tents. The rubber man, the tattooed lady, the man who nailed a giant spike up his nose, the snake charmer, the bearded woman, and on and on he went. By the end of the night, we’d seen everything―or everything we were allowed to see.
The fourth night was different. On the fourth night we stood and listened to the barker who always drew the biggest audience―the barker who got everyone’s attention as he paraded beautiful women across his high platform. It was, of course, the burlesque show. Once we discovered the word burlesque was somewhat synonymous with striptease, Gravy and Alan and I stood as close to the stage as we could get.
The barker had a twang in his voice and was one of the best talkers on the midway. The first woman he brought out on stage was Carmella. “Ladies and gents,” he began. “I want to introduce all of you to Carmella.”
She wore a full-length sequined dress complete with gloves that went all the way up to her elbows. As she paraded herself up and down the stage, the barker continued. “Carmella is one of the sweetest little gals you’ll ever find in any show―traveling or otherwise―and I’m talking about any city, in any state, in any country.”
A second woman was brought out to meet the waiting crowd and the barker continued. “My friends,” he began, “let me introduce this next fine young lady. This beauty that stands before your very eyes is Miss Candy Barr. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, she is ‘as advertised’ on the tent flap behind me.” As he made the statement, he pointed to the large caricature of three women that had been painted on the canvas. “And, let me tell you folks, this is one Candy Barr you’ll enjoy seeing unwrapped. And, these two beautiful ladies,” he continued, motioning them to join him, “are just the appetizers.” By then, he had his arms around the waists of the two women on each side of him as they gave alluring smiles to the onlookers.
“For those lucky few who are able to purchase a ticket before the next show is completely sold out, you’ll also have the exceptional treat of seeing our show’s star performer. That’s right, there’s more, and by more, I’m talking about the six feet, two inches of blonde dynamite that’s about to appear out here on stage. I’m talking about the woman James E. Strates spared no expense to bring here to your city.” As the barker talked, the six foot, two inch woman stepped from behind the tent flap and walked to center stage. He waited while the shouts and whistles that exploded in the air subsided before continuing. “Yes sir, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about the headliner of the entire midway. Yes folks, I’m talking about the one and only woman who enjoys worldwide acclaim as not ‘one of the finest,’ but ‘The’ finest performer to grace any stage and when I say that I’m talking about the one and only woman who will capture your heart wearing nothing more than a smile―The Golden Goddess of Burlesque―Miss Pagan Jones.”
The crowd, or at least the males in the crowd, cheered again―this time with the enthusiasm of men searching their pockets to procure the price of admission. I stood staring. Miss Pagan Jones, The Golden Goddess of Burlesque, was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Her blond hair was accentuated by her fiery red gown that hugged every curve of her body and had a slit up one side from the hem to her waist.
She leaned forward and threw kisses to the spectators and all eyes shifted from the shapeliness of her exposed leg to the generous amount of intentionally displayed cleavage. The barker waited once again for the cheering of the free sample to subside before continuing his patter. “Now unfortunately,” he announced, “patrons must be at least eighteen years old to come inside,” and then he pointed right at Gravy and Alan and me, “which means you three gents will have to wait at least one more year.”
His announcement brought a laugh from the crowd but when I looked up; Pagan Jones was looking right at me . . . and smiling. It seemed to be an apologetic smile, as if she was disappointed knowing I wouldn’t be allowed into the show. I truly believe it was that particular moment―the locking of our eyes―that The Golden Goddess of Burlesque and I fell in love.
There were four shows a night for the queen of the midway and night after night I stood mesmerized by her beauty as she walked out on stage in gowns of different styles and colors. In the middle of the second week, I left Gravy and Alan at the bumper cars and was heading over to see Pagan when a voice called to me. Without turning, I knew the greeting had come from none other than Mr. Strates. “Hey Boss Kid,” he yelled. When I turned, he approached with an expression of someone seeing an old friend. He was dressed much the same as the day we had worked together―his old hat, a rumpled white shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbows, and a baggy pair of slacks.
“I was hopin’ I’d see you around here this week,” he said. “How’d you and your friends like to make a few more bucks?”
“Sure, what do you want us to do?”
“Well, we’ll be tearing down the midway on Friday… around midnight… and I got word we’re a bit short-handed. It won’t be anything dangerous or exciting . . . might be packing up the bingo tent or something like that… but it’ll put a few more bucks in your pocket. We usually use older guys, but I think you and your friends can handle it. I’ll put in a good word if you’re interested.”
“Sure. We can be here.”
“Well then you and your two friends show up Friday night around ten-thirty and go to the House of Mirrors. You got that? The House of Mirrors. Ask for Maurice. Tell him you’re there to help tear down the show. I’m leaving for Buffalo tonight to stake out the next field but I’ll let Maurice know you’re comin’ and he’ll take care of you.”
“Okay, I’ll tell Gravy and Alan. We’ll be here for sure.”
“And next year, you watch for me at the diner. I generally eat breakfast there every morning. That is if you want to work for me again.”
“Yeah . . . sure!” I told him. But then I felt I needed a bit more reassurance. “Am I a Carnie now?”
He gave me a warm smile. “Hey, all field bosses are automatically Carnies.”
“Just the field bosses? What about Gravy and Alan?”
He rubbed his chin and stared off into the night before answering. “Well, I guess I’d have to check the regulations and the carnival by-laws on that. If not, maybe I can pull some strings, but I’m guessing they’ll qualify.”
Friday night, we found Maurice and I introduced him to my crew but he seemed taken back a bit by our ages. We followed him across the midway to the burlesque tent where he talked to a giant of a man named Jake. There seemed to be a disagreement between the two men regarding our size but we only heard bits and pieces of what they were saying.
“What about the other tents?” Jake started. “Can’t they tear down the fun house or something?”
“The fun house is already packed and headed for the train station, Maurice answered. “I can’t have kids their age taking down the rides. It’s too dangerous. I figured you could send the guys you were gonna use here over to the rides and these three can pull the bleachers apart and stack chairs. I don’t know where else we can use them but we need to get this stuff packed up and outta here.”
Jake kept looking at us while he yelled at Maurice. “Are they eighteen? They have to be eighteen to work the strip show.”
“Maurice didn’t even bother to look our way when he responded. “Of course they’re eighteen. Frank vouched for them.”
I wasn’t quite sure where the name Frank had come from and it was then I realized Maurice and Jake were unaware that my friends and I reported directly to Mr. Strates.
“You better be sure because they’ve gotta be eighteen to work in here,” Jake said. He then turned and studied us again. Grasping the idea that we might have a chance to work in the burlesque tent, we scrunched our cherub-like faces into as eighteen-looking poses as we could muster. He took a few steps closer and glared at us.
“You guys are all eighteen?”
“Yes sir,” we lied in unison.
Jake looked at all of us and shook a finger. “If anybody comes around here later and asks, I need you to remember how old you are. Or at least how old you just told me you are.” He then turned the finger on Maurice. “And if anything bad comes of this, it’s gonna come down on you.” He turned back to us. “You guys come back here at eleven-thirty when the last show ends. You can give us a hand folding up the chairs and loading them onto the truck.”
We arrived early, and from outside the tent, heard the laughter and cheers coming from the show. Pagan Jones, being the headliner, was the last to perform. Shortly after we arrived, we heard her being introduced. Jake spotted us and then glanced down at his watch. He smiled a bit and shook his head and, to our surprise, he motioned us toward him.
“Find a seat somewhere inside and stay out of the way until the show’s over,” he whispered. “And don’t forget… you’re all eighteen!”
Our hearts pounded as we filed past him. We scrambled to the top row of the nearest bleachers and looked at each other, not believing we were about to witness a striptease act. Miss Jones was wearing the fiery red dress that I liked and as she walked the stage and removed a glove, there was a roar from the spectators. She twirled it high over her head before letting it fly into the applauding crowd. One of the Carnies was quick to retrieve it and set it aside. The three of us watched as she danced. Every undulating move she made was synchronized to the music. The second glove came off, followed by a slow removal of her red dress but only to reveal another skimpier costume underneath.
Not having seen the first two women, we were unaware this was customary. The stockings were next. She unhooked them from a garter belt and slowly rolled each one down before kicking it off. Piece by piece, belts and sashes and articles of clothing were removed until she danced wearing only a tiny brassiere that had once been covered by a larger brassiere. Gravy and Alan and I were at full attention as she took off what little was left. To our amazement, the tips of her breasts were enamored with long glittery tassels. It was Alan who voiced his displeasure. I can’t see her whole boobs,” he said.
“It’s against the law to show everything.” The explanation came from a man sitting near us. “Those tassels are hooked to pasties. They’re glued on, you know . . . like the first two strippers, only they didn’t have tassels.”
We continued to watch as The Golden Goddess of Burlesque removed her panties. We were surprised again to see a second, tinier pair underneath. The waistband was nothing more than a piece of string. The man near us, still wanting to be helpful, informed us it was called a G-string. Miss Jones played with it a bit before pulling it off and tossing it aside. She stood, wearing nothing but a small patch of material that I figured must’ve been glued on with the same glue she used for the pasties. Alan sidled up next to me. “That must be just a G without the string,” he whispered.
When her dance ended, The Golden Goddess of Burlesque stood before us wearing nothing but dangling tassels and a small patch of material. She leaned over and bowed inviting a final multitude of whistles and cheers.
Following her exit, the clatter of rolling bleachers and stacking chairs began. The Carnies were fast and efficient. Jake barked orders to the three of us and we spent almost an hour loading chairs and boxes onto trucks headed for the railroad yard. During my chair stacking, I was interrupted by a voice from behind me. “Did you happen to see my other glove lying around?”
I turned and found myself looking up into the face of Pagan Jones. She was wearing a white robe and leaned in toward me, smiling as she spoke. “I have one of them,” she said. “But I can’t seem to find the other one. Sometimes guys in the audience try to get away with them for a souvenir, ya know?”
She put her hands on her knees and continued to lean forward causing her robe to fall open. I stood eye to eye with her tassels, too dumbstruck to answer, but was saved by a stage hand who’d overheard her question. “I’ll check around Pagan. If I find it I’ll set it aside.”
Not only did the scent of her perfume fill my head, but she was prettier up close than on the platform. For some reason, however, her mystique had left me. I had misgivings after seeing how easily she took off her clothes in front of the entire audience. And then, the woman I loved, suddenly turned into my mother. She pulled her robe together, gave me another smile, and ruffled my hair before disappearing back stage.
The burlesque show that night was an education for all of us. In telling our friends about our adventure, we made sure to include our newly acquired vocabulary to let everyone know we were old pros at the striptease game.
“Yeah,” we said, “She stripped right down to nothin’ but her pasties and G-string.” Some of them even nodded, pretending they knew what we were talking about.
I staked out the midway one more year. But when I turned fifteen, Gravy and I had full time summer jobs raking grass at the cemetery leaving Alan to be Field Boss. Even though I didn’t work for the carnival that year, I watched for the black sedan at Hoskins’ Grill and caught up with my old employer at Lou’s. He bought me breakfast and gave me two books of tickets and a golden pass.
“Why are you giving me these? I asked. “I’m not working this year.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t go see the shows and enjoy yourself. Don’t forget, you were a Boss Kid once and being a Boss Kid makes you a Carnie . . . and us Carnies always stick together.”
John Leggett has authored numerous short stories that have been published in periodicals, literary journals, and serialized in Maine newspapers.
Nonfiction Honorable Mention
Redemption (The Funeral) by Monica Kissane
Closing the door on the noisy New York traffic, she walked slowly toward the funeral home’s sanctuary where she would keep watch over her father’s mortal remains. Alone for a few minutes, she contemplated small moments of life with her dad – memories from throughout the years, each bringing grief and solace in turn. Fixing the car together by the Harlem River, shooting pool at Murphy’s Bar, her dad teaching her how to solder, play poker, fix a radio. She remembered his call the day after 9-11. She was in bed, covers pulled up over her head. She heard his gentle voice, “Get up, go out. If you stay in bed they’ve won.”
She tried skipping over thoughts of earlier, during the summer, when she brought her dad here to ‘put his things in order,’ as he said. In spite of her efforts, part of that conversation floated back, the funeral director’s strident voice proclaiming –
“The fucking Portuguese, sure you can get a discount on the burial with them if you fork over some Benjamins. That’s all they understand you know, dead presidents.”
Without pause, he continued, “Did you know Mrs. Patterson?” As it was a long time since she had lived here in the neighborhood, Mrs. Patterson was no one to her, but she was someone to all the Patterson clan. “Mrs. Patterson didn’t want anyone to know her age. Can you believe it? Like it was some big, state secret. Wouldn’t let her family put it in the paper. Wouldn’t even show them her birth certificate. You know,” he winked at them, “the underwear they buried her in was dirty.”
Stunned, she wondered who talked like that to clients making funeral arrangements? She tried to redirect the conversation to her father’s plans, but the funeral director was implacable. She sat rigid while her dad tried his hand at moving the process along.
Finally, their business concluded, and in possession of more information than they wanted about assorted neighbors, dead and alive, they drove away from the funeral home. Idling at a stop light a few minutes later, her father interrupted her roiling thoughts, “Make sure I have clean underwear, ok?” Then he cracked up. “It takes all kinds,” he chuckled. Soon they were both in stitches, wiping their eyes and laughing hysterically. It didn’t matter what stories the funeral director told about their family in years to come, she had this memory of her dad knowing just what to say to lighten her mood and chivvy her along.
Then, two days ago, as she sat by his side, her father rasped out his last breaths. She spent a long hour writing a final tribute to her dad, celebrating all his favorite things, her mother first and foremost. Her mother, whose funeral had taken place just over a year ago. The following morning, she returned to the bleak, Victorian-themed building to schedule her dad’s burial.
When she handed the obituary to the director, he scanned it briefly, looking up to comment, “Amazing! I didn’t even know the old man was sick!” He glanced down at the paper again, saying she’d forgotten to include date of birth and mother’s maiden name for the newspaper notice. She calmly explained they were not comfortable putting all that information in the paper. Identity theft, she said.
“Oh, right,” he said, his tone mocking her concerns, “identity theft. But, this information is on the mass card. So, what you’re saying is, if the thief is willing to show up at the door, he can have what he wants? But not in the paper. Riiiight. Hey, did I tell you about the Dexter kid?” She tuned him out.
Now she was waiting quietly for the wake to begin. As her mind wandered, thinking of the five cent Cokes her dad would buy to share with her after a day at the river, her reverie was interrupted by that derisive, carrying voice that set her nerves on edge. He must be right outside the closed door for the sound to reach her so easily.
“I’m telling you, this country is going straight to hell. Straight. To. Hell. There are too many freeloaders everywhere. Everyone should have a governor like yours. There’s a guy who doesn’t take any shit from liberal do-gooders. I should move to Maine.”
Not again. She felt her temper rising. That last time, when she was here with her dad, she had held her anger in check, not wanting to upset her father. But now, as her friends would say, her Irish was up. She heard the low murmur of another voice, possibly her husband’s. How he could actively engage in this conversation – diatribe, she corrected – at a time like this she could not comprehend.
“Free health care. Who are they kidding! You want free health care, get off your ass and get a job.
She rose from her seat. This was just too much. For God’s sake, this was a wake not a political rally! Her father’s wake. A man whose beliefs ran to ‘live-and-let-live.’ The kind of man who, though too cautious to stop to give them a ride, would pull over on a desolate stretch of road in the Mojave Desert to leave bottles of water for the hitchhikers he’d passed a mile back. Beliefs so far removed from what she was hearing it was almost funny. As she strode toward the closed doors, they were flung open from the outside and in came the mourners, led by the funeral director; a man she had grown to despise. She calmed herself, becoming the gracious hostess her dad would expect her to be, and welcomed their friends and family. They crowded around, hugging her and telling stories.
The next day, warmed by a late Autumn sun, they gathered at the cemetery. As they listened to prayers of resurrection, she stood back looking on. Her daughter was close by the open grave, lightly touching the headstone. Cemetery workers carefully lowered the coffin and returned to place the heavy concrete cover over the casket.
At this point she remembered the scene a year ago as her mother’s casket was lowered, the snide voice of the funeral director ringing out over the crowd of mourners, “Are you sure you don’t want your mother’s jewelry? This is your last chance!” She held herself calm and steady now, as she had the year before.
She leaned over to speak with her son when through the quiet, reflective silence she heard that voice: harsh, belittling.
“You’re the one from Seattle, right? They just raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, right? Crazy left coast liberals!” Dear God, was he haranguing her daughter? “So, how’s that working for you with restaurant prices doubling overnight?” he sneered.
Too much. Absolutely too much. She walked swiftly toward her daughter. Perhaps a bit too swiftly. She caught the toe of her shoe on the Astroturf laid around the open edges of the gravesite. She stumbled forward, hands out to catch herself. As she regained her balance, she brushed up against him. Perhaps ‘brushed’ was not quite right. Perhaps ‘shoved’ was the mot juste.
There was a stunned silence from the mourners as the funeral director slowly toppled over into the open grave hitting the cement casket cover. She thought the resonating thud was quite satisfying. Liberating, almost.
Monica Kissane moved to Maine thirteen years ago with her husband to run a B&B in Freeport. Challenged to complete a novel during NaNoWriMo, she has been writing ever since. She regularly reads her short stories during Freeport’s FebFest.
TPL Teen Scene Award
Daddy Issues by Hannah Wilson
I am a 17 year old girl and I have daddy issues.
People laugh. Maybe there was a joke with a sexual undertone, or maybe it was just funny to watch our reactions.
Don’t. Do not laugh.
There is nothing funny about me and my lack of a father.
It is emotional, tiring; the fact there is nobody to fill the hollow space in a heart.
My heart is not full.
He loves me but I cannot love him.
I have imprinted myself on fathers who have treated me better.
There was Mark, and Jason. I placed the pieces of my heart that my father broke off into their reluctant hands.
Mark didn’t cheat on his wife.
Jason didn’t emotionally abuse his children.
Mark didn’t brush my leg with his hand; didn’t tell me to not get excited when this happened.
Jason didn’t drink.
They were the epitome of an amazing father.
But they weren’t able to glue the pieces back.
Their jobs were not to make sure I understood who a true father was.
That was my father’s.
So, yes I have daddy issues.
It’s my job to put the broken pieces of me back together.
Hannah Wilson is a Senior at Mt. Ararat High School. She likes challenging herself with her coursework, her favorite subjects being English and French. She is part of her school’s Gay, Straight, Transgender, Alliance (GSTA) Club and Teens For Change Organization. While she favors writing poetry, she will write in any literary format you ask her to.
Teen Honorable Mention
Yellow Bird by Natalia Pinette
Yellow bird, yellow bird
Why do you stare at me
With eyes so sharp and cunning
Beautiful as thee
Yellow bird, yellow bird
Tiny as can be
With the heart of a warrior
Eyes prettier than the sea
Yellow bird, yellow bird
With wings handpicked by God
Do you know I’m watching you
Full of wonder and awe
Yellow bird, yellow bird
I watched you fly away
These tiny wings so mighty
As they carry you from me.
Natalia Pinette goes to Mt Ararat. She enjoys reading, writing, and traveling. She is inspired by the places she travels to, and nature for her writing. She also enjoys horseback riding and spending time with her two dogs.
Just Write Maine-related Nonfiction Award
Meddling with the Children of Others by Robin Orm Hansen
You don’t want to be the lamb’s mother. The mothers can do that much better than you can. You should encourage the mother and help her if she needs it. You don’t want to take over her job.” —Lesson from my daughter, a real farmer.
Erik told me the news as I came in the door.
“I think Blacky’s had it. I could hardly get her to come up from the field. I think she’s going to go down tonight.”
Our little Blacky, our first lamb, now eleven years old, was dying. I grabbed a syringe of propylene glycol—her favorite narcotic—a bucket of molasses water, a blanket, and my nerve, and we headed out to the barn to be with her in her last hour.
When we came into the pen, Blacky was on her feet, standing aloof among other sheep.
A mound six feet away on the floor was….
“A lamb!” we both exclaimed, and I rushed to dry it off, ascertain its life. Erik pulled together a lambing jug—three plywood panels tied into a rectangle against the barn wall to separate her and her lamb from the flock.
When a lamb is born, the mother speaks to it in a low chuckle, a sound they make only to their lambs, and the lambs respond with a cry which becomes more and more a bleat as they grow.
The lamb gave a weak cry, but Blacky was not chuckling and didn’t approach her lamb. She seemed not to care.
Which was odd.
This was her nineteenth lamb—she had twinned every year for eight years, including the year she had triplets. She had always been the epitome of motherhood, offering a big, black, furry bag of milk for her lambs, skooching and spreading her hind legs to expose her nipples whenever they wanted to nurse. She had fed all the triplets, who began life weighing 10, 11, and 11.5 pounds—huge even for twins for a ewe her size. Last year she had her first single birth, a ewe lamb who looked exactly like her and had the same sweet temperament. We called the lamb Eula (ewe-lah) and said she was Blacky’s retirement lamb.
Last year, all the sheep went to our daughter’s farm for our June vacation, and somehow none of the ram lambs got castrated. One dominated and seemed to have bred all the adult ewes—Oedipus in action. He went to the butcher with the other ram lambs.
We fed the ewes as if they were pregnant, and they got fat, except Blacky, who seemed to go slowly downhill. She and her middle-aged daughter Sophie were in fact the only ewes pregnant. The others were just fat—and hogging the food from old Blacky, who dropped from head ewe to old and declining ewe. A big ewe named Ruby took over—a kindly mother who had been around the block a few times and knew her job.
But now Blacky had a lamb that she didn’t care about. I felt her udder. It was flat to her body. I gave her two ounces of propylene glycol in a syringe, which she chugged down.
We put her and the lamb in the jug, dried off the lamb with a towel, learned it was a ewe and trimmed its umbilical. Then I talked to Blacky, as I have often, but not in this tone of voice.
“This is probably your last lamb ever. I know you’re tired, but I want you to take care of it. It’s your lamb. I’ll help you out, but you’ve got to take care of it.”
The lamb cried out, and Blacky leaned over and licked it for the first time, as if considering my words. She licked it some more, and chuckled to it. I gave her a dish of cut-up apples and a bucket of warm molasses water. She ate. She drank, and she licked the lamb some more and talked to it.
I put the lamb on her mother’s nipple. Blacky moved a leg between them, pushing the lamb away. I milked her nipples and finally got a few drops. I put the lamb back on. The lamb had no trouble finding these tiny nipples. When a lamb finds milk, its tail wags violently, a little pinwheel. Her tail barely moved.
I warmed some frozen colostrum from the previous year and fed it to the lamb in a two-ounce syringe. She sucked eagerly, her mother’s child.
There was little milk the next day. When I arrived with a bottle, the lamb looked tucked under, cold, cramped.
For a week we fed Blacky as much grain as she could absorb, gave her vegetable cuttings, a few apples, good hay, and buckets of molasses water.
Our animal-wise daughter told us to offer the bottle at the beginning of the feeding period after the lamb had tried to nurse. The lamb would be hungry and punch the udder to stimulate milk and would end with a full tummy because of our supplement.
We fed the lamb, now named Addenda, first colostrum, then milk replacer and water, from a beer bottle with a lamb nipple six times a day, then four times a day, holding her across our laps. (Of course, we both hated holding a darling woolly baby in our lap for ten minutes at a stretch.)
She drank eagerly. But only four ounces at a time. She grew strong and was no longer hunched and chilled. Her belly was full.
Often now, when we arrived with the bottle and leaned down to offer it, Blacky walked between us and the lamb, or nudged the bottle away from the lamb.
The lamb drank less and less from the bottle, and once, then twice, refused it entirely. Blacky had taken her job to heart, her body had responded and was giving Addenda what she needed.
The next day, Blacky grabbed the nipple of the bottle in her mouth and nearly jerked it out of my hand, then walked abruptly away. That day Addenda refused to drink from the bottle.
I am intrigued that Blacky knew I was giving milk to her lamb and that she knew when she was producing enough that the lamb no longer needed a supplement. I am impressed that she could tell me quite succinctly to stop. I want to think there was some jealousy that I was crowding her time with her lamb—she has always been jealous of her relationships and won’t let me talk at length with other ewes—but I’m not sure. She didn’t object when the lamb was small and hurting.
I’ve read about, and even experienced in small degree, telepathic communication with other species. How is it that my eleven-year-long relationship with Blacky has never reached that point? I talk to her—does she understand?—and she pantomimes to me. Is it because I’m not listening?
Robin Orm Hansen is a folklorist. She loves to write (and read) speculative fiction that rings true but has a twist of magic or off-ness — mittens that magically become a compass when you’re lost, a boy who relates only to plants; a World War II Zero pilot who can’t stand killing, two modern kids flung back in time to help out the kid who invented complex language. Her writing hero, Pierre Boulle (Planet of the Apes,Bridge on the River Kwai), was also a journalist and a fan of off-ness, a writer who made novels read like short stories.