it’s an old dream that eats me slowly
every night at this time it begins
and there’s nothing anyone without love can do
—Franz Douskey, REVENGE
by Bruce Brown
By 2am, the diner at exit 22 on the curve of I-77 West is a lighthouse of grease and neon. Before and after are spaces of absolute pitch, unmarked by the illumination of billboards or the peek of homeglow through the parallel blur of pine and scrub. The diner shares a strip mall with an abandoned Laundromat and a pool hall. I sit in a corner booth, because it’s the best view of the diner and the parking lot. On this morning I have raisin toast and oily coffee. As I butter my toast, I notice my waitress sitting at my table.
She is young, and I’ve never seen her before. Her skin is almost cinnamon with a streak of freckles dusting her nose that I always find disarming. Her hair is frayed and braided and her uniform new, angular and crisp, unbattered by dryer time. The last surge has passed for the graveyard shift, but the diner is more than half-filled. The empty booths are piled with the clutter of dishes and food scrap.
I pause with my toast and knife. My waitress is looking at me. Her lips move, but she isn’t speaking that I can tell. Then she collapses, slowly, head falling forward until it rests on the table with her face to the side. She is shaking softly, her left hand spread palm out, crabbing at the tabletop. She’s thin with long hands. Hands with thick veins and recessed nails. I move to speak but she’s still looking at me, and her tears stop me. They pool in her socket, rising over her open eye, waiting at the crease of her brow before disappearing into the shadow of her face.
She cries, silent. Movement in the diner continues unaware of our table. Couples eat. The cook works the grill. Another waitress works the register. Our table is a separate world, disconnected. A moment of vulnerability and its spectator pulled out of time.
Then the moment breaks. She sits up, cheek wet and pressed red, to sample my toast.
“Come on baby, it’s time to go,” she says. She says this over and over, looking at me. Then she stands up and leaves.
I watch her to the door and out into the parking lot. She watches me. Through the glass, she is repeating the same phrase. Suddenly I want to follow her. I feel an ache of concern and loneliness and a terrible pull of helplessness, of watching someone becoming lost. She moves under the sodium lights, becoming indistinct and then disappears into the morning.
you are not the sun
though your light
burns my face
looked upon for too long
you are not the sun
helping me to grow
you only mock him,
you are not the sun
that i wish to dream,
on days when i am alone
Moon’s Up/Nights Up (Part 2)
by Quin Browne
For Eloise McDaniels, the Land of Nod was a country she didn’t plan on visiting anytime soon.
Her mother, Peggy, took her to doctor after doctor, seeking out the reason for a child who wouldn’t sleep more than 3.6 hours in a 24 hour period. Eloise slept no more and no less than that exact amount. Her mother knew this because she had kept a chart for the first two years of Eloise’s life. Although she had finally ceased calling her mother in the night, Peggy was aware (thanks to the SweetDreams Baby monitor next to her bed) of the time Eloise lay there…thinking God knows what….watching the shadows on her walls, playing with her fingers, smiling to herself and finally drifting off. Peggy noticed the subtle change in quiet on quiet and she wrote: Eloise asleep,1:14 AM. Peggy learned to drop off quickly as soon as that magical sentence was written, knowing in 3.6 hours, Eloise would stir, her breathing pattern alter, a barely perceptible signal for Peggy to wake up. She’d then write: Eloise awake, 5:50 AM.
No doctor–GP or specialist–could give her an answer about this sunny child who thrived in the night. They all patted Peggy on her shoulder and told her Eloise would outgrow this odd behaviour. By the tenth doctor’s same advice, she broke down, sobbing loud enough to upset patients in the reception room. The specialist offered her Valium and a sleep aid.
Once Eloise graduated to a real bed, out of her crib, away from needing a monitor, the McDaniels family changed how they lived. They never spoke of it openly to each other; they simply re-invented how they spent their night.
There was no suspicion of what was to come that first night Eloise slept in her big girl bed. The house quieted, everyone in their respective rooms, sliding into soft sheets and pleasant dreams. It was in the deepest part of that time when Eloise awoke, with her usual move from slumber to full wakefulness taking place between breaths. She blinked, looking around the room that was lit by the night light, huge shadows in the corners….places where dark scary things could hide. Eloise had no fear of the dark, of those shadowy corners. She sought to explore them, leaving her bed silently, pulling the dark in with each breath.
She roamed the hallways in her Dora the Explorer pajamas, testing floorboards for creaks, walking into rooms and feeling the rugs, remembering their colours by touch. She glided from room to room, picking up, sniffing….at times licking the surface of something, taking all the components into her mind, claiming the object as part of herself.
Upon entering a bedroom, she’d drift across the floor, stand by the bed and stare at whomever was there. She’d reach out, with soft fingertips, and touch an eyelid, trace a lip, lean over to inhale the scent of hair. When the bed’s occupant snapped into wakefulness in the suddenly conscious understanding they were not alone, only the hint of her presence was left behind. The sleeper lay there, adrenaline pumping in their veins–not able to prove it was Eloise, knowing in their hearts it was, the peace of sleep altered by the knowledge.
It had started simply enough. Seven year old Maddie woke one morning to find her ceramic angel, the treasured one given to her by her grandmother, was broken. One of the small gilded wings snapped off cleanly at its base rested in the outstretched hands of the statue. A few nights later, nine year old Tyler found his battered Elmo with one ear ripped off and stuffed in the open mouth. Finally, Peggy and her husband Joel awoke to find an empty salt shaker set on the floor beside the fish tank, all the fish floating.
Each time, Peggy questioned Eloise, stooping down to be on eye level, asking her if she knew anything about the damage, the breaking, the deaths. Each time, Eloise would listen quietly, blonde curls glinting in the sun, green eyes glinting with secrets, a slight smile in place. Stare for stare, mother and daughter….Peggy always turned away first–she was never sure why.
Maddie asked for a lock on her door, an odd request from a child who seldom stopped to shut any door in the house behind her. Joel didn’t question it when she whispered in his ear after dinner. He installed the lock and never mentioned it again. Tyler added a second lock to his door, even though it took him longer to get out of his room. Peggy and Joel would have preferred locks, but, had to rely on raising their door handle. Somehow, locking a door because of a child just wasn’t….normal. A handle high enough so that a small child couldn’t reach it seemed an acceptable compromise. And, it gave Peggy and Joel breathing space.
Time slipped by, measured by Eloise’s wanderings, Peggy’s addiction to Valium and the rest of the family’s increasing wariness around the youngest member. The same Eloise who sparkled around strangers was the Eloise that tested door knobs in the night. The Eloise they knew stood outside bedroom doors–waiting. Everyone slept with a lamp lit in their room ; it was better to learn to sleep with one on than to risk reaching out in the night, feeling the air move, fearing she would be right….there. They avoided going to the bathroom at night; it was much easier to live with a full bladder than a chance encounter with Eloise.
The family turned in on itself, each coping in their own way. Maddie slept with a teddy bear. Tyler slept with a baseball bat. Peggy slept reeking of cigarettes and exhaustion. Joel started working the night shift when Eloise was three. This way, he avoided the drama of the night, and could sleep in the perceived safety of the day.
When she turned five, Eloise learned to unlock doors. No one knew how she gained the knowledge, all that was known was suddenly, she was back in their rooms; standing, staring, smiling.
No, Eloise McDaniels was not a visitor to the Land of Nod; she was its tiny Dark Queen.
Death in Summer
heat, the mangoes
think I am
—Jeffrey S. Callico
by Len Kuntz
Someone crafty has rearranged our furniture and stripped the walls but not the bedding because she’s lying like a lovely larva in the sheets and I stand there begging her to hatch, to wake, and when she does her eyes are dice, double deuces, and she tells me I’m the one, I’ve been sleepwalking again, but if that were the case why wouldn’t I have different news?
Next morning same thing, nothing’s shaken or stirred in the place that needs it most. The air there is thick and pasty, a slice of hoarfrost toast a stiff cum-dried athletic sock a loaf of molding memories, but what we have is today, unaffected by stagnation or incrimination awaiting something that feels loose like liberty or salvation.
I find the gas can and swing it, sprits the air and the amoeba-patterned love seat, dribble and shake it off like the end of a desperate piss.
Taylor was a just a girl, no different than the others, he said, but he was a drunken drifter, a fraud and fortune liar, surfer songwriter, charmer, life thief. In his wake there’s a soup, a stew with bloody bits and clumps and bones to be picked out lest anyone choke to death. There’s a stain that can’t be cured or cleaned.
So I go sleepwalking.
“What’s that smell?” my wife asks. I hold out my hand. My fingers don’t shake, not any more. She collects them and pulls herself up, naked, skin puckering pale in the draft.
“What?” she asks. She’s a mind reader a microscope a compass and a black box holding the secrets of an airplane’s destruction.
“It’s too late for all that,” is my answer.
We walk out the front door and do not look back. The heat from the flames threatens to singe our hair. Plumes of tarry smoke curl and unfurl around our bare bodies, shrouding us in smoldering scarves. We clasp each other. We walk, don’t run, our work done here.
The garden called to me
having been neglected
these past few years
come back to me
dig into my womb and
plant the seeds
that will bring me new life
I was drawn to one corner
that was so familiar
yet felt so lonely
burrowing into the earth
still soft from spring rain
I came to a cold, silky stop
Like touching myself
garden what secrets do you hold
in your deep, dark belly
whose hand have I scratched with my nails
why it’s yours
said the garden
the last time you came
I decided to keep you
It was then the morning mist
spirited me away
tomorrow we’ll do it again
by Jodi MacArthur
Shane dragged the black bag through the forest. The trees’ arms wavered to and fro. Long strips of moss hung like golden hair, highlighted by a bit of moon glow. It was a perfect night, the same as his first with Cassie Grovers. Delicate Cassie with her suave body and golden hair, he wondered, if given the chance, she’d remember that first kiss under the stars, the tenderness that followed. He remembered. That night he knew he always would.
Up ahead, Shane could see the road. He maneuvered around a dead tree guarding the trail and welcomed the hard blacktop. It would take awhile, but he would make it home.
A 4×4 would have been more efficient, but that was not how matters such as these are done. There was a standard of respect to maintain. In every walk of life there was a standard of respect. Shane lifted the bag across his shoulders; it hung like a thick scarf only larger – a lot larger.
By the time the cat eye moon hung large and orange above the horizon, Shane was at his door.
Inside, he rushed by the bleeping red light on his phone in the living room, through the kitchen with age-old pizza and lurking roaches. He grasped the basement door, pulled the light string at the top of the stairs, and descended into darkness.
# # #
He pinned the choicest of pieces to the wall. Perfect. The paleness of the objects stood out against the blackness. Shane grabbed his favorite paintbrush, dipped it into obsidian fluid and painted.
When finished, he stood back and smiled. The wall morphed into haunting images, shadows of forgotten shapes and ragged hair. He turned to leave, then noticed a bit of white reflecting from an inner crevice. Shane dipped the paintbrush once more and dabbed the tooth.
Black was the only color that would do. There was a standard of respect to maintain. Death deserved to be painted in darkness.
E N C O R E
disenthralled is produced by Walter Conley and Paul Dutra.
All photography in this issue by Paul Dutra and Pamela Smith; featuring KEN ATKINS & THE HONKY TONK KIND. Grateful to the band for the use of their images. You’ll find a link to their website in Contributors Online.
Submissions are now open for winter 2009/2010 issues and specials. Read what has been published. Follow the guidelines. Contact Walter Conley at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any questions.
Read SPECIAL ISSUE #1: Kristen Michelle Håvet HERE.
SPECIAL ISSUE #2, a straight poetry edition, is scheduled for Dec 1, 2009.
ISSUE #3 is scheduled for Dec 15, 2009.
SPECIAL #3, featuring a story by Miss Alister, is scheduled for Jan 1, 2010.
We appreciate everyone who has supported disenthralled by contributing, spreading the word, commenting or otherwise offering feedback. There are links to our facebook group and Walter’s twitter account in Satellites at the bottom of the page.
Thank you and good night.