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Members' Choice Nothing like peer recognition! Nominate and vote on the work of fellow members.


Members' Choice Voting - Dec - Mar

View Poll Results: Please Pick Your Favorite!
Departure - Danny 2 10.53%
The Victor - Gaines 2 10.53%
Best Laid Plans - Dan Gallo 1 5.26%
The Smell of Wet Dog - Owen 5 26.32%
An Awareness of Gravity - Danny 4 21.05%
My Father and I - Rincewind 0 0%
Cara and the Cabman - HoiLei 5 26.32%
Voters: 19. You may not vote on this poll

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  #1  
Old 03-14-2010, 01:08 AM
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Default Members' Choice Voting - Dec - Mar


Time for voting on the Members' Choice Nominations! Please vote for the piece you feel deserves recognition in WBQ as our Members' Choice Winner.

Voting will end at midnight EDT on March 23rd.

Good luck, and thank you again for your nominations!

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Last edited by Devon; 03-16-2010 at 01:23 AM..
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Old 03-14-2010, 01:09 AM
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Default Departure by Danny

DEPARTURE

Before you left,
we exchanged our goodbyes
from the opposite sides of a car window.
I saw you and my reflection
waving at me, wearing the same face.
And your body and the light of my body
became one: at once wholly
present and untouchable.
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Last edited by Devon; 03-14-2010 at 01:17 AM..
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Old 03-14-2010, 01:11 AM
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Default The Victor by Gaines

Nearly four years of war had come down to this moment. General Hanan Al Abitar waited until his personal guard had encircled the courtyard before making his grand appearance.

In his crisp, dark brown uniform, heavily decorated with medals befitting his rank, the tall, middle aged military leader strode confidently in beneath a glittering midday sun.

Tapping his short black riding crop against the side of his sharp creased pant leg he paused to survey his troops. Their eyes, as well as their rifles, were trained on the frail lone figure seated at the small round table in the center of the stone courtyard. Amir Fallah smiled at the general. He slid a hand from inside the sleeve of his white robes and gestured for the General to be seated. The general barked an order and his troops quickly shouldered their weapons.

The conquered Amir stood as the general approached. The two exchanged traditional greetings and the general accepted the Amir's offer to sit. It was the least he could for such an admirable opponent whose ill equipped military had had lasted far longer than the Hanan had anticipated. But the outcome was inevitable, and the strain of it showed on the Amir's venerable face. It was a shame that he would soon be executed.

"So it is finally over general," the Amir said, as he poured tea for his opponent. The pungent smell of rich herbs drifted up from the general's small white cup filling the afternoon with a relaxed sense of pride, and a slight twinge of remorse now that the battle was over, and the business of politics would begin.

"Yes Amir, it is done. The last of your army has fled into the hills. Even the peasants have abandoned their homes. As we speak, my flag is being raised above your palace rooftop. The capital is mine. All that is left is now under my command. You have but to surrender and put your fate in the hands of Allah."

Amir nodded and sipped his tea. Distant rumblings and the echo of sporadic gunfire told him the house cleaning had begun.

"Please, try the figs, General. They are fresh and sweet."

Hanan gently lifted one from the bowl on the glass topped table and popped it into his mouth. "They are good, Amir," he commented, as he wiped a hand over his dark beard and thick moustache.

He removed his red beret and laid it on the table next to the bowl. Leaning back in his wrought iron chair he let out a sigh as he reached into his shirt pocket and removed a short pack of cigarettes offering one to the Amir. The old man took it and leaned in as the general lit it for him with his gold lighter. A few silent puffs from the thin black cigarettes were followed by another fig and a sip of the tea.

Cordite drifted in on the desert breeze while overhead a heron winged it's way north toward the marshlands. The Amir smiled at it's effortless flight from harms way.

"Why did you not surrender years ago when the terms I offered were generous? Your son would be alive and the two of you would be safe in exile. He was a brave commander. Foolish but brave. I think perhaps he had too much of his father in him."

"Perhaps General you are right. But young men cling to ideals that old men like myself no longer cherish above all else. It is the price of diplomacy for which we barter our youth at the expense of our souls. The sands soak up our sacrifices like drops of rain. Our footprints vanish in the winds until even the memories are vague and eventually forgotten. How is your family?"

"It is kind of you to ask Amir. My wife and daughters are well and soon they will join me in the palace."

"That is good General. I am glad my wife had not lived long enough to see this war and the loss of our son. They await me, and before I join them I would hope that you grant me a simple last request."

General Abitar eyed the Amir. He lifted his beret and fit it into place on his head. Picking his cigarette pack and lighter from atop the table he slid them into his shirt pocket and straightened himself in his chair.

"What is it you wish, Amir?"

The Amir sat with his hands tucked inside his sleeves. His hawkish features stared blankly at the general. The gunfire had stopped, leaving only the echo of the wind as it rippled through the marble archways of the courtyard.

"I wish to die here in my courtyard with my tea and figs. If you will grant me this wish I will die a grateful man and take with me no grudge on my journey to the hereafter. Can it be so, general?"

"Tell me Amir, do you wish to be shot, or to be beheaded in the old custom? I will grant your wish and send you swiftly on your journey to your loved ones."

A series of loud explosions ripped the air. The ground beneath them shook unlike any explosion either of them had ever experienced before. The general quickly stood and looked around. His troops shuffled nervously, craning their necks to see what had caused such a tremor.

"What have you done Amir?" The general demanded to know as he trained his pistol on him.

The Amir was busy refilling their teacups as the roaring noise of what sounded like a train echoed across the desert toward them.

"It is the great waters of the Anwari, general. Please sit and have a final tea with me."

"Are you mad Amir? You have blown the dam. There will be nothing left of your beautiful city and your people. It will wipe all trace of you from the earth."

"My people are far from here general. What little resistance you encountered as you marched into my city were the remains of my army. Most of them I am sure your men have killed, and the ones that are still alive await the waters, as do I. Shoot me if you wish."

As the roar grew to an approaching thunder the general sat and picked up his cup. His men braced their backs against the courtyard walls. He placed his pistol on the table between himself and the Amir and popped another fig into his mouth.

"May Allah be with you, General."

"And with you."
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Old 03-14-2010, 01:12 AM
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Default Best Laid Plans by Dan Gallo

I have forgotten nothing.

If I could forget it I would—I’d sink down into a warm viscous pool of amnesia, and drown in it. I’d laugh and look wide-eyed at the world, sitting in a corner by the window, playing with baubles that catch the sun, throwing rainbows on the walls.

And I could love him again.

He was everything to me. My life was in his hands—I thought it was the safest place in the world. But I can’t forget. I’ll remember, and I’ll wait. And he won’t know until I’m ready.

I was an English professor at the university where he taught chemistry. Beauty had touched me lightly if at all, but I had a pleasant enough face and good friends. My father was a wealthy man, and when he died I inherited enough for my family to be comfortable for a few generations. And Harry loved me—he loved me. Imagine a man so sweet he could bring tears to your eyes with a smile; so gentle and mischievous and kind that no one he touched came away the same. That was my husband.

When we found out I was pregnant he was so happy that he ran all around the greens, shouting at the top of his lungs that he was going to be a daddy, he was going to have a baby boy. He was so happy he was almost fierce. He came home every night and told me how beautiful I was, how beautiful our baby was going to be. On the weekends he would skip off to his workshops, whistling and slapping backs.

We had a shower with all my girlfriends. Maria put it together; she’d been my best friend for a decade. We sat on the couch in the living room, surrounded by teddy bears and formula bottles and booties, tucking tiny shirts back into wrappers. I held one up, running a finger over the soft collar, amazed at how small it was.

“Do you know the sex yet?” Maria asked me.

“No, we decided to keep it a surprise. Of course, Harry’s insisting it’ll be a boy, but I’m not so sure. I think I’d rather the first one be a girl.”

“I’m sure it’ll be beautiful,” she said, but her smile seemed a little strange. “I never thought you’d end up like this, Kathy. Look at you. Beautiful house. Great job. The perfect husband. And now a baby.” She looked me in the eye, and suddenly her smile was genuine. “There’s so much in store for you, girl.” She squeezed my hand, then rose and went into the kitchen. She returned balancing a huge cake, still smiling.

I watched her perfect figure step gracefully over the discarded wrapping, watched her lovely face in the glow of the candles. Such a beauty she was, and I had always envied that, but now I was the lucky one. I couldn’t blame her for being jealous. I smiled too as I blew out every candle with one breath.

Then it was time. I woke before dawn and felt the wetness spreading under me, held my breath and slipped a hand between my legs. It was time. I woke Harry, expecting him to panic, and was surprised at how calmly he said, “Wait here. I’ll get everything together and come back for you.” He didn’t kiss me, just hurried from the room.

When he came back he was only carrying a glass of water. “Drink this, honey,” he said. “We can’t let you get dehydrated.” I drank it down, swallowing the bitter taste in my mouth. It felt wonderful in my dry throat. Harry picked me up as gently as he could and shuffled me out to the car. Ten minutes from the hospital the pain started—that’s when I started screaming.

I remember so little of what happened. Most of it was one indivisible agony. There were flashes of light and then dark, then light so bright I thought it would sear the top off my head. There was glass in my veins and nails in my throat.

Blurs in white coats were shouting at each other but I couldn’t understand what they were saying, just a word here and there. “Girl,” I heard once, and then, “Stillborn.” I couldn’t feel anything but the glass, razoring its way through my bones and blood. “We’re losing her,” I heard through the screaming. “Get the defib in here!” There was a loud buzzing like a saw blade. It was a blade, and it was cutting me in half.

“Get it in here now!” Cold hands spread over my chest and all at once the glass in my veins exploded and filled the air, refracting into a billion jagged razors of light. The screaming stopped and suddenly everything was silent.

Somehow I was on my stomach, floating through a silence so thick it supported my weight. I looked down onto a ring of white coats, bending over a bloody mess jerking on a green table. The mess had legs and they were spread apart and there was something there—something….

In a rush all the air left the room, it was a vacuum and I flooded the empty space in a sudden roar of fire and ocean waves and then it came rushing back and crushed me, compressed me, I couldn’t breathe, I was being shoved into a bottle with no opening, I was dying sweet Jesus save me I’m dying and I opened my mouth and the screaming started all over again.

“Doctor,” was all I heard. It was a woman’s voice.

“The electricity,” a man said. “It must have…” The panic had left their voices, replaced by something else. The pain was gone, only a cold wetness remaining, and I drew deep breaths and tried to look around me but I couldn’t see. I heard footsteps running and then Harry’s voice. Harry, save me, help me, please!

“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “We’ve lost her.” My God. The baby. My baby girl was dead. “We did all we could,” he went on, “but the complications were too much. But we saved your daughter.”

I must be delirious. He meant to say ‘wife.’

“She was stillborn,” the doctor was saying, “But when we tried to resuscitate your wife the current revived her. We’re not really sure…”

I passed out.

When I woke up it was dark and I was dry, but still blind. I tried to reach out my hand but it just flopped around like a dead limb. I tried to move my feet and they kicked but I couldn’t direct them. I tried to roll over and didn’t have the strength. I called out for someone to help me, and at the sound of my own voice I froze. All that came out was a garbled cry, in the voice of an infant. This is impossible. This is a nightmare. I called out again with the same result and felt my mind slip. I’m dreaming. There were complications and I’m sick. The baby is dead, and I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. I’m not…

Just then footsteps came down the corridor, and Harry stepped into the room. I knew him by the way he walked. I could smell his aftershave. A shadow fell over the bed and I waited for him to say something to me. He said nothing. And then he picked me up.

His hands were warm on my back; his long fingers made a perfect circle around me. That was the first moment of believing, the full realization bursting through me with my husband’s hands circling my body. I was dead. My daughter was alive, and I was her, in her, I was in my baby’s body. Where was she? I felt my mind slip again, and a pathetic whimper escaped me.

He carried me at arm’s length to a lamp whose glow suffused my blindness with a reddish tint. His breathing was quick and shallow but still he said nothing, holding me out from his body, silent. A tremor passed through his hands and suddenly he was moving swiftly, laying me down. His footsteps clacked fast and loud and then I was alone.

It was a long time before my eyes opened and I could discern blurry shapes. All the faculties of my mind were intact but my body—my body was so weak and tiny, and everything around me was huge and blurry and surreal. So many times I awoke and thought, My God, what a nightmare. And then I would try to roll over to bury my face in Harry’s chest, only to find myself immobile and alone.

I spent my days trying to decide what to do. I knew that as I grew stronger it would become apparent that I had somehow become trapped in this infant body. There would be doctors and confusion and disbelief. But more importantly, Harry would have to know. My husband was my father. How could he love his daughter as a wife? The thought of it wracked me with cold fear, and yet I couldn’t imagine living in his house without his touch, without his companionship. Neither could I countenance pretending to be a child for all the years ahead, languishing without his recognition and love.

Because it seemed like he didn’t love me. He would come every day, and stand over me as I strained to focus on his face. But he seldom touched me, and when he did his hands were cold and didn’t linger. The nurses taught him to feed and change me (a humiliation I’ve tried to forget) and he never made a sound, never held me close. I thought he must be mourning my former self, and blaming my new one for his loss. I told myself that it would pass in time.

Finally the day came when I was released, and he carried me into the painfully bright winter afternoon. The cold bit my cheeks as I swung helplessly in the carrier we had picked out together. He drove in silence and I watched colored blurs whip by out the window, trying to recognize the landmarks of my former life. I had a sudden vision of myself as a two-year-old, lecturing on T.S Eliot to a room full of undergraduates, and I laughed out loud. It came out as a mindless gurgle.

Harry brought me into the house and dumped the carrier on a corner table. He didn’t take me out. He left my field of vision but I heard him around the corner, talking on the telephone.

“Hi…yes, we’re home. Can you come by? All right.” It was the first time I had heard him speak to anyone except the nurses in weeks. The weariness in his voice shocked me, and when he came to unstrap me I saw his face clearly. He looked older. He looked grey. He carried me across the room to a pen in the corner and stood holding me over it, looking at me in silence and sorrow.

My love for him welled up until I thought I would weep. Oh, Harry, I’m here! I’m right here, in your arms, and I don’t know how but it’s going to be all right, we’re still together and it’s going

The door opened. He plunked me down in the pen and stepped around the corner. I heard a woman’s voice and then he returned, Maria behind him.

Her long dark hair flowed all around her, and to my infant’s eyes she seemed like a painting viewed under water. She seemed to float; she was beautiful. She stepped up to the pen and peered at me, drawing closer until her lovely face came into focus. Her eyes narrowed. I was so glad to see her, and I strained to say something, anything, but all that came out was a gurgle and a little drool.

“I still don’t understand,” she said, looking hard at me while I smiled dumbly up at her.

“Neither do I,” said Harry, standing behind her. He ran his fingers through his hair. “Everything was going fine, just as planned, and then…” he made a hopeless gesture.

“It’s all right,” she said softly, and for a moment I thought she was talking to me. Then she stood and turned and suddenly they were in each other’s arms. He wrapped himself around her and buried his head in her shoulder. She laid a gentle hand on his head. “It’s fine, honey. Kathy’s dead, that’s the important part. This,” she pulled away from him and gestured blandly in my direction, “This will be easy enough to get rid of.”

“No,” he said. “It’d be too suspicious. I have to act like the doting father, at least for a few years. It would be too much if we—you know.”

Maria sighed. “I suppose you’re right.” She turned away from him and put a tired hand against her eyes. “And you’re such a good actor. I don’t know how you managed it, three years of being the most enthusiastic husband on the planet. I would have been tearing my hair out if I had to do it.”

“It’s over now,” he said, drawing her to him and running a tender hand through her hair. “It’s done. They didn’t stand a chance of finding the poison, it turns to potassium in the bloodstream. But they weren’t suspicious anyway. And we, my love,” he pressed her hips against his and ground himself gently on her, “are now the wealthiest secret lovers in the state.”

A slow grin spread across her face. “Lover,” she murmured, and kissed him deeply. His hands started roaming her body, seeming like they knew their way around. She pulled away a little to look him in the eye. “How long do we have to wait?” she asked softly. He sighed.

“Probably a year or eighteen months. No, don’t be angry. Think about it. She was your best friend. She was my beloved wife.” His face twisted in a grin. “Of course, we’ll be able to see each other more. We’re comforting each other, after all. And it’ll be the most natural thing in the world when we get married. In due time.”

She seemed placated, but she turned to look at me. I was suddenly afraid that they could tell I understood, that there must be a look of absolute shock and horror on my face. But Maria didn’t seem to notice, if there was. She flipped a hand in my direction. “We’ll have to make sure this doesn’t have much of an inheritance.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Harry. He stood behind her, his hands on her hips, and nuzzled her shoulder. “I’m sure she’ll be a sickly child, what with all the complications. I’d be surprised if she lives to see her tenth birthday.” He kissed Maria’s neck and she turned, pressing herself up against him, and then he led her off down the hall toward my bedroom.

My bedroom. My house. My life…. No, I can’t forget. It’s been two years now and the memories haven’t faded at all. They won’t, I know that. And Harry and Maria have just been married, to the approval of all our old friends. And Harry is quite the actor. In public he’s the proudest, most doting father, and now that I’m getting older and learning to speak, he’s kind in private too. Maria doesn’t do so well at home, but she makes a good show of it out in the world. And I—well, I’m not such a bad actress myself. I never slip. I speak in the broken high words of a toddler, and I never touch the books on the shelf. My face is a perpetual happy blank, except for when I throw the occasional tantrum. I kind of like that, actually. It lets me relieve the strain. And when Daddy tells me to come sit on his lap, or Mommy gives me a bath in the kitchen sink, I don’t shrink and I don’t hesitate.

Every day I get a little stronger. Harry says he’s never seen such an energetic little girl, calls me his little marathon runner. Always on the run, and eating like a horse.

I will be strong, and I will be ready, and some day soon—before my money has been squandered and before I’m old enough to garner suspicion—well. They’ll know, you can be sure of that. They’ll know when it’s too late.
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Last edited by Devon; 03-16-2010 at 03:56 AM..
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Old 03-14-2010, 01:12 AM
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Default The Smell of Wet Dog by Owen

The rain hammered the roof of my car. Sighing, I looked at the business card, thumbing it, folding its corners, tapping the dashboard with it. It had lingered in my wallet for weeks, quietly suggesting itself whenever I reached for money, or looked at the photograph. I should have thrown the damned card away, but Suzanne had given it to me, and I'd promised her that I'd think about it. I never break a promise to my sister.

Suzanne told me that her friend Abbey had once endured a similar depression to mine, and that this woman – this nutritional psychologist – had got her through it. I'd never met Abbey, but apparently she'd lost her child in an accident outside a supermarket. Baked beans were involved. Not the usual kind, either. The barbecued ones.

Nutritional psychologist was not a profession I'd heard of, but I doubted she could bring a chink of sunlight into my darkness, regardless of her title.

Switching the engine off, I gazed across the street. Through the raindrops, I saw an obese woman trundle past with a buggy. A small child clung to her arm, waving a teddy bear around, singing with unabashed joy. The song I recognised as the theme from Teletubbies.

“Fuck it,” I muttered. I'd never been so unenthusiastic about an appointment in my entire life – either before or after the darkness had swamped me. Yet, this nutritional psychologist was beckoning me, as if through some magic power imbibed into her card. Opening the car door, I hauled my blubbery mass from the seat, and began trudging through the downpour toward a building. It was an ordinary house, with the exception of a gold plaque next to the doorbell: Maxine Price, Phd. Nutritional Psychologist - specialist, Bereavement Counselling.

My finger hovered over the buzzer. Hesitating, I decided to turn back. It was too late. The door opened in front of me, and a gaunt man walked out, barely acknowledging me as he lit a cigarette and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. He muttered something under his breath.

A woman appeared behind him, in the hallway. I smelled her perfume before I saw her face. Estee Lauder. The same scent Annie used to wear, before she-

“Oh, you must be Mr. Bennet! Come in, come in. You'll catch your death out there.”

Maxine Price hooked a well manicured hand around my shoulder and ushered me in, before I had a chance to argue.

“Please,” she said. “Hang your coat and come through. I'll make some coffee and we'll get started.”

It ocurred to me that I had no idea what I was doing. The Teletubbies theme tune played on my mind.

Was it an office? A surgery? A clinic? Whatever it was, it contained bigger-than-average armchairs and several paintings that can only be described as “abstract”.

My backside filled the seat. In fact, it was a bit of a squeeze. Maxine, by comparison, had space for a person either side. Nearby, a coffee machine gurgled.

“Excuse the noise,” she said, flicking through some notes. “I prefer it freshly ground. The anticipation, the smell. The taste. Hmmm. It's worth living for, don't you think?”

Distinctly uncomfortable, I twiddled my thumbs and said nothing. I wasn't a coffee person.

“Ah, that rich aroma," she enthused. "It's the second best smell in the world.”

“And what's the first?”

Maxine laughed, as if I'd asked the most stupid question, with the most obvious answer in the world.

“It's the smell of wet dog, of course!”

Dumbstruck, I allowed my mouth to hang open.

“You like dogs, Mr. Bennet?”

She tossed her notes aside.

“Excuse me?”

“You know; dogs. Four legged flea bags. Woof. Bark. Grrrr. You like them?”

“Actually, I-”

“And broccoli? You like broccoli?”

“Well, I suppose-”

“You do now. You like dogs, and you like broccoli. I'm taking over that decision for you. I'm telling you: You're a dog loving, broccoli eating man. Those two things are going to make you live again.”

I'll admit, her tone shocked me. But then, what had I expected? Compassion? A shoulder to cry on?

“I suppose you expected pity. Well, I don't do pity. It serves only to confirm the hopelessness of a situation. Your situation stinks, Mr. Bennet. But it's not hopeless.”

“I don't know the first thing about dogs. I've never-”

Maxine closed her eyes, raised a finger, and hushed me. The gurgling stopped.

“You like coffee?” she got up, walked to her machine, and pulled two cups from a stack beside it.

“I prefer-”

“You do now. You're a coffee loving, dog loving, broccoli eating man.” She looked me up and down, raising an eyebrow. “And you don't take sugar. Not in your coffee, and not in your food.”

She handed me a cup, and perched on her chair.

“No milk?” I asked, not expecting an answer. And I didn't get one.

“Your life is dark,” she said. “Almost pitch black. But there are lights all around you. You need only to reach out and switch one on.”

A lump formed in my throat. It was obvious she'd done her homework. Read all about me. Spared me the effort of recounting the whole sorry affair. Hell, she'd probably checked my medical history, knew that I used to fit inside size 34 jeans and played football for the pub team. Most likely, Suzanne had filled her in on the rest: The day Annie left me, the moment she glared at me from the passenger seat of His BMW, our daughter strapped into the back seat. A jaded promise of a custody agreement, a smug wink from Him, a roar of wheels on gravel. And then, hours later, a telephone call from the hospital. Him, telling me the catastrophic news from a payphone outside A&E.

“Two years,” Maxine said. Her face softened, her shoulders relaxed, and she finally conceeded an air of sympathy. “You've put on eight and a half stone, in just two years. Tell me, did any of that food soften the blow? Make it easier to cope with your loss?”

“What can I say? Doughnuts. They just won't leave me alone.”

“Sugar. Colestorol. Carbohydrate. Hygrogenated fats. These things are not your saviours, Mr. Bennet. They are The Devil himself, giving you false hope, making you happy one minute, but destroying you the next. They taste good. God knows, they taste good. But the aftertaste isn't on your tongue. It's in your mind. The sharper the burst of serotonin, the more sour the aftertaste of cortisol. The higher the high, the lower the low. You think your life is over now. You've given up. You're padding your body with soft gooey fat, hoping it will ease the impact when you finally fall over the edge.”

Damn this woman. Damn her. My pitiful existence summed up in a few lousy sentences. Her words struck home, twanged my heartstrings, teased tears from my tired eyes. I sat in the oversized chair, in my oversized body, and I cried like a baby.

It felt right that she would hand me a tissue, rub my shoulders, and comfort me. But instead, she handed me a card.

“Here,” she said. “This lady is a friend of mine. Her name is Linda. She works for the southern district RSPCA. I've already told her you're coming. Linda is expecting you in half an hour. She can help you out. You don't have to fall, Mr. Bennet. You don't need the extra padding. In fact, you are the extra padding.”

None the wiser, I pushed the card into my wallet.

“Half an hour?” I wiped my eyes. “But, I don't even-”

“It's just down the road from here. You can pop into Tesco's on the way. They have a special offer on broccoli this week. I suggest you take advantage. They don't usually discount their fresh vegetables.”

Blinking, I waited for Maxine to say more. But the nutritional psychologist sipped her coffee in silence.

“Is that it?” I asked. “That's your expert advice? Eat more broccoli and go see a woman about a dog?”

She looked at her watch.

“I'm sorry, but I have another appointment. Would you mind?”

With some difficulty, I pulled myself up. An imprint of my buttocks remained on the cushion. Unsure of what had taken place, I moved to shake Maxine's hand. Politeness, I thought, was all I could offer. She took my hand and shook it firmly.

“You should know, nutrition isn't about what you eat. It's about what you think. The rest is a mere symptom. Poor health usually starts in your head, and works its way down.”

My response was going to be a grudging query about the cost of our little conversation. Maxine read my mind.

“Oh, your sister has already paid. Please, come back and see me at the same time next week. I will need an update about the dog, and about the broccoli.”

She showed me out of her house without another word.

What was I feeling? Confusion? Anger? Frustration? It certainly wasn't resolution, or anything close. Perhaps it was the bitter-sweet taste of reality, hitting my taste buds for the first time in two years.

It was still raining. I thought of barbecued beans and teddy bears as I drove to the southern district RSPCA facility.

Having met and talked briefly with Linda, I filled in some forms and emerged with a six-year-old mongrel. I couldn't possibly know what mixed breeds he had descended from, but he was a humble beast with pathetic eyes and a tail that wagged non-stop. Linda told me that my new companion had no official name, but I could call it anything I wanted.

My suggestion was Dave, for no other reason than it started with a D. Dave the Dog. It seemed logical. Linda supported my idea, and requested that Dave be visited once a month by their inspectors until he had settled in. She gave me instructions to take Dave for walkies at least twice a day.

Yet again, I had no idea what I was doing, but found myself doing it anyway.

In Tesco, I purchsed some stalks of broccoli, six tins of dog food, and an overpriced squeaky toy.

Feeling a tad embarassed, I didn't wish to be seen in public with Dave. It seemed that experienced dog owners would look at me with disdain, see me for the incompetent fool that I really was. What gives Mr. Fat the right to look after a dog, they'd say. He can't even look after himself, they'd say. He couldn't look after his wife, or his daughter. They're dead because of him, and that poor dog is doomed, they'd say.

I considered what Maxine Price had said about the best smell in the world.

Dave travelled in the back seat, peering over my shoulder as I drove. We went twenty miles out of town, toward the coast. Here, the rain was harder and colder, driven by a North Sea breeze and supplemented by spray from the crashing waves. It was a fair assumption that the beach would be deserted on a day like this; there would be no critical eyes, judging me.

Putting Dave on a leash, I set about an endless walk, alongside the waves. With blind obedience, Dave kept up with my pace, tail wagging, tongue lolling. Now and then, he'd look up at me, expectantly.

My rolls of fat did nothing to keep me warm. But I don't think I wanted heat. I wanted to be cold. I wished for my bones to freeze. I yearned for ice to run loose in my blood. The bite of frozen rain would awaken me, punish me, and numb my other pains.

The walkies lasted an hour or so before my weight got the better of me. Wheezing, coughing, crying with every step, I marched on, in defiance. Eventually, my aching thighs demanded I take a break. So I stopped. Turning to face the sea, I gazed into it, transfixed. Beside me, Dave sat, joining my search for answers. None came.

Plunging my frozen hands into my pockets, I felt something soft. It squeaked.

Dave whimpered, and looked at me.

Pulling out the toy, I examined it, felt its plastic cheapness. When I squeezed it again, Dave got to his feet, running excited circles around me. The wind seemed to pick up, but the rain eased a bit.

Dave looked into my eyes, and I looked into his. There, I saw a darkness, perhaps not unlike mine. And a desperate yearning to chase that squeaky plastic bastard into those waves.

I threw it as hard as I could. Dave barked excitedly before fleeing his leash and running after it. He swam without thinking, as if by primal instinct, fighting through the maelstrom of white foam and noise, doing all in his power to retrieve this object, this cheap plastic thing.

The rain stopped. Dave momentarily lost sight of the toy. A few yards into the water, he turned his head and barked at me. Without even realising it, I laughed. Yes, I actually laughed. Dave barked again, catching sight of the toy bobbing up and down nearby. He went for it.

Doggie protocol states that you must wait for the animal to retrieve a thrown object and return it to you. But I was new at this, and rules did not concern me.

Still laughing, I threw off my jacket and braved the stormy waters with him.
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  #6  
Old 03-14-2010, 01:13 AM
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Default An Awareness of Gravity by Danny

i.

Perched on this building-top,
the cityscape stretched before me
labored on top of the dark
, swollen bay,
I can only think of falling

how the smoke billows
makes its own tower
tragedy as forced silence
my chapped lips, cracked

the quiet basin of water gleaming
with the moon’s own cratered
 grief

in this light a young couple
on the shore 
carves their names
in damp sand

how in these situations
there is always the tide

rising


ii.

When I was younger I found
my little sister,
 joyful so
 young,
she stumbled

upon a nestling
fallen from its nest, wings
splayed across the grass

its intention of flying
silenced like a burning city

but my sister
she called the bird 
her pet,

gave the poor thing

a name


iii.

I don’t believe in the apocalypse,
our sudden collective destruction

the second coming

Every day worlds are created,
small holy unions:

first kisses,
names carved in sand,

the advent of life—a granddaughter’s
name stitched on to a baby pillow
by a Grandmother, despite
the arthritis mounting at the wrist.

Every moment there is creation
and so, every moment too

small brutal ends,
personal Armageddons

a young girl learns the words
death and god and heaven
in a single sentence muttered
by her mother

the word cancer greets a family
like a long lost friend,
staying over for supper

and I
look at the city,
the tall towers, steel as sturdy
as our ambitions…

No, I think the world will end
like autumn does,
slowly,
as each leaf descends
from its earthly pedestal

there will be no ash
no plumes of dust clouds

when our shoulders fail
we will make a damning spectacle
of crimson yellow & gold

like a phoenix rising
without an omen

a form of flight
without even
the necessity

of wings
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  #7  
Old 03-14-2010, 01:14 AM
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Default My Father and I by Rincewind

Was this really so bad it merited zero responses? Or were people just put off by the opening paragraph? Don't worry, it has very little to do with soccer.

An England International soccer player once described pressure as: Preparing to take a spot kick during a World Cup penalty shoot-out, knowing that the hopes and expectations of an entire footballing nation were resting heavily on his shoulders. Score, and he would become a hero, worshipped throughout the land. Miss, and the most he had to look forward to was advertising pizza - and hearing chants of how his Wife likes to take it up the shitter at every away stadium up and down the country.
Well without wishing to sound too flippant, if that player had been into my family he would have realised he was talking out of his backside.

As far as I‘m concerned, real pressure is preparing to take a penalty during the final minute of the under 14s Derbyshire schools` knockout competition. Real pressure is standing in a muddy field during the coldest winters on record while suffering from the chickenpox, with the wind and rain lashing against my spot covered face. Knowing that the hopes and expectations of my Manchester United loving Father who was cheering me on from the touchline were rested heavily on my shoulders.

Score and I would become a hero, and I could look forward to fish and chips and being allowed to stop up late to play on my Nintendo. Miss, and all I had to look forward to was being dragged back home by the earlobe. To face 4 hours of penalty practise in the garden. With my dad shuffling backwards and forwards, wearing an oven glove, as he pretended to be Peter Schmeichel.
I think it was at that moment, as I stood alone in the penalty area with my knees knocking together, wiping the rain and snot from my face, and listening to my Father shout encouraging phrases like “GO ON SON, KICK THE BASTARD!” as he jumped up and down excitedly behind the goal, that I first began to realise I really didn’t like playing football very much at all.

The day of my birth had been a momentous occasion for my parents. My Mother, because after 5 successive daughters in 5 years, my arrival meant she could finally treat herself to the twin beds she had been begging my Father to buy since the first night of her honeymoon. My Father, because - well - he was mental! And at last he had himself a Son who he would be able to mould into his own image. A son who would be able to live the life he had always wanted for himself but, due to a deformed foot and an irresistible urge to head butt both referee‘s and linesmen, he had never quite been able to achieve.
A Son who would one day grow up to become a Manchester United footballer.

It was a brilliant idea of my father’s with only one slight drawback. I was shit!….and I couldn’t play football to save my life. Not that he would ever admit that. If you were to listen to him waxing lyrical to neighbours and friends about how talented I was, you would have assumed I was going to be the next David Beckham, or Christiano Ronaldo, or a combination of both. When the truth was that I couldn’t tackle, I couldn’t kick straight and I couldn’t score, and when I tried to run with the ball I would invariably trip over my own feet and finish face down on the pitch screaming for a free kick - even during the warm up. Yes, the truth was I was awful, and my father was about to discover just how awful I really was.

I placed the ball on the spot, and backed slowly away from it, desperately trying not to catch the eye of my father who was standing behind the goal throwing handfuls of mud at the back of the goalkeepers head in an effort to distract him. As soon as the penalty was awarded, and the rest of my team mates volunteered me to take it by running to the other side of the pitch. I decided that the best way to deal with the situation was to just close my eyes and kick the ball as hard as I possibly could.

I took a deep breath and pulled the sleeves of my now saturated jersey down over my hands in a vain effort to protect myself from the cold. launched myself at the ball - missed it completely - flew arse over tit - and finished face down in the mud screaming for a free kick, while the crowd began jeering me from the touchline.

“BOOOOOOO!”

“YOU‘RE SHIT, DAVID!”

“GET OFF THE PITCH YOU LANKY STREAK OF PISS!”

And that was just my Dad.

45 minutes later and I had showered and changed, and my Father and I were making our way home through the dark streets of Glossop. With me forced to walk twenty paces behind in case my dad bumped into anybody he knew.

Knowing I had disappointed my father was something I ought to have gotten used to over the years. Especially when you consider how often it happened. The first incident I can recall was when I was only 10 years old, and my dad arrived home early from work and discovered me playing doctors and nurses with my best friend, Timothy. I‘m still not sure who was the most surprised that day. Me, for suddenly having a home made thermometer inserted into my bottom, or my father, for finding me spread-eagled over the kitchen table with my underpants around my ankles while dressed as a nurse. I tried to reassure him it was nothing to worry about. But it can be difficult forming an argument on the merits of cross dressing, while you are bent over your fathers knee, as he inadvertently hammers home your best friends lollipop stick with his size 12 slipper.

Once out of casualty, and much to my buttocks consternation. I continued to disappoint my Father on an almost habitual basis. Such as the day of my 11th birthday when he noticed I had been applying my Mothers lipstick to my brand new action man. Or the time just one month later when, during one of his now regular toy inspections, my Father found that very same action man naked in the back of his army truck, holding hands with G.I Joe.

But on this particular day my Dad was different somehow. When we eventually reached home and I had finished watching the rest of my Family eating their fish and chip suppers from the garden with my face pressed hungrily against the dining room window. I suspected that there would be no penalty practice for me that night. And neither would my bottom be thrashed to within an inch of its worthless life by the slipper that my Father had affectionately named “The Tenderiser.”

Whereas normally he would be ranting and raving, telling me that I was an accident and that he would have been better off just having a wank, my father was worryingly quiet during that long walk home. Almost as if he had entirely given up hope. Knowing I was an embarrassment to my Father was one thing. Suspecting that he just didn’t care anymore was something different altogether.

It was then that I made a decision. I decided to ask him the question that I knew he had been asking himself ever since I hit puberty, and he walked into my bedroom and discovered Timothy and I, plaiting each others pubic hair while listening to Kylie Minogue. I decided to ask him whether he thought I was a bottom burglar. One way or another, I just had to find out the truth.

My opportunity arose a few hundred yards down the street, when he suddenly pulled me into a shop doorway after spotting one of his friends staggering out of the local pub. Once we had finished dodging his friends urine after he stopped to relieve himself in our hiding place, we finally set off for home again. Only this time, and much to my Fathers bewilderment, I started walking beside him.

During the next few miles my Dad tried a variety of techniques to shake me off my attentions. Such as quickening his pace until I we had both broken into a jog. Or dodging in and out of parked cars when he thought I wasn’t looking. But on this occasion I refused to give up. Until eventually, as we nearing the road we had to cross to reach the fish and chip shop, my Father who was almost breathless by now slowed to an almost leisurely crawl.
My Father and I walked silently side by side for the next few minutes. Until I finally plucked up enough courage to speak to him.

“I’m not very good at football am I, dad.”


My father sighed the deepest of sighs. “Not really, son. No!”

“Do you think It’s because I’m a puff, dad?”

My Father stopped and looked about to see if anybody was within earshot before slowly turning to face me. The fingers of his slipper hand twitching against his thigh. Like a gunslinger flexing his muscles before meting out justice to someone who was about to wrong him. And if there was one thing you could be sure about with my Father, it’s that he was always quick on the draw. “I don’t know, son,“ he said, as he leant in towards me until his face was almost touching mine. “Are you a puff?”

“I don’t think so.” I said, with complete and utter honesty, and it was true I really didn‘t. “I know I like looking at the girls knickers when they’re swinging on the monkey bars.”

My father put his hand on my shoulder and smiled the faintest of smiles. “Yes, well, you probably get that from your Uncle Gary.”

Uncle Gary was my Uncle on my Mothers side who came to live with us when I was 9 years old. He was a nice enough man who could never do enough for us kids. Especially my older sisters, who he was forever volunteering to pick up from netball practise if they had to stay late after school. I remember thinking how keen he was because he always arrived just as practise was starting and stood waiting patiently at the side of the court until they were finished. Then one day my Father announced that Uncle Gary was going on holiday. He certainly must have been a popular man because two of the local police arrived and offered to run him to the train station. One of them even came back to the house a few hours later to look for his camera, because apparently my Uncle had forgotten it. Although what Uncle Gary had to do with me looking at girls knickers I had absolutely no idea.

My father and I never spoke during the rest of our journey, and I began to wonder whether our conversation had been entirely worthwhile. That was until my Father did something that shocked and amazed me, and changed the course of our relationship forever.

As we were nearing the road we had to cross to reach “The Battered Fish.” my dad stopped and turned towards me again, and said the words I never thought I would hear him say after shaming him on the football pitch. “Fish and chips is it, son? He asked, as though it were something he said every day.

Now it was my turn to smile. “Yes please, dad.” I said. “Do you want me hide in the bushes again while you‘re ordering?”

“Not tonight, son.” He said, taking hold of my hand and leading me across the road. ”Tonight you can wait in the warm.”

And that was that. Here I was a 13 year old boy walking hand in hand with his homophobic Father across a busy main road, in front of anybody who might actually know us, and I can honestly say I have never felt more proud to be his son.
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Old 03-14-2010, 01:15 AM
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Default Cara and the Cabman by HoiLei

I hear the click of a cane and know Cara is here. Not even 50 yet, she's too young to have this much trouble walking. But there's no such thing as "too young" in this world. Several years post-stroke, Cara also has trouble talking. She comes into our aphasia clinic to help us in a research study we're doing. I work with her several times a week, showing her dozens of pictures, one after another, and recording her answers. Then we try different therapy methods to see which works best. It's hard work for her.

I show her a cat and she looks at it while working her throat to say something. "S-- ssssss-- Oh, my god."

"It's okay," I answer and go to the next picture. An apple.

She lights up: "I know that one. Oh, my God, I love them. It's a--" A minute later, she shakes her head and I go on. Sometimes she gets a word, and this delights her, but most of the time she can't say anything and she droops lower with each trial. I try to encourage her, bolster her spirits. We may talk a bit about an item, but I can never say the name, since that would skew our research data. Seeing a knife, she names her son, and I say "Yeah, boys always want those, don't they?" She can't say "knife". We move on.

Cara has good days and bad days. On the good days, she keeps her spirits up and sweetens my day with her humor. On her bad days, she despairs, greeting each new picture like an old friend turned traitor. She's dignified about it. Sometimes I don't even notice that she's at the breaking point until she digs in her bag for a tissue. I pause the tape recorder and wait while she folds it neatly and dabs her eyes and nose. I feel like an intruder watching her cry. When she's ready again, she nods, shaky-breathed, and faces the computer resolutely. God, the courage it must take her just to live.

A picture of a bathroom. "I need to use the-- I need to use the-- Oh, my God."

A picture of a shovel. "I know it! I know it but I can't... say it."

A picture of a seal. "Seal. Oh, my God! Seal!" A small victory. Afterward, she gives "seal" for the next five pictures, shaking her head in irritation. "No, not seal. Seal. No!"

I record her voice on tape, her responses on paper. When she whispers prayers, I hesitate, holding my pen an inch from making a mark. A brief battle in my head. . . if my respect for her privacy wins, I don't write them down. If my respect for her struggle wins, I copy the words precisely, thinking that someone will read them on my notes and know that here was not just aphasia; here was a person, struggling and blinking back tears, and "Oh God, please. Jesus, help me." It seems the least I can do, when my own words are so feeble. How many times can I say "It's okay" when it's clearly not or "We're almost done" when the length of the session isn't what hurts her? How much comfort can "You're doing fine" give to someone who once spoke fluently?

Since Cara can't drive, she takes a cab in. Her usual cab driver is often late, causing annoyance to both of us. Perhaps if he had a good excuse, it would be different, but he has too many excuses, and many implausible. Ten minutes after he is supposed to pick her up, he calls my cell. "I'm just turning on Main Street now," he says over the roar of traffic, "I'll be there in five." Ten minutes later, he calls again. "I'm on Main Street now, traffic's terrible. Don't worry, though, I'm five minutes away." I just sigh. I could ask for a different driver, but Cara likes this one. The others, she gives me to understand, have dirty cabs or drive like lunatics. I would just deal with those inconveniences, but then I'm too sweet by half, or so I'm told. Cara is sweet, too, but she doesn't take things sitting down.

One day the driver, Tim, is late again. I wait with Cara in the lobby, watching the snow outside. The lobby is full of patients waiting for para-transit; they listen with sympathy to my many phone calls with Tim. "What time will you be here?" I ask. An elderly black woman shakes her head at me. "Five minutes?" I say, "Okay, we're in the lobby." Five minutes come and go, and I see a familiar tension in Cara's body as she stares out the window. I wonder if she can say "cab" or "driver" or "road". I know she can't.

"Honey, that's just awful," the black woman from before says, shaking her head. "You've been waiting here forty-five minutes."

Cara jerks her head, hearing from someone else the words she wants to say. "I know," she says. "It's bad." Much head-shaking goes around the little circle of patients. Some have casts or wheelchairs. Others, like Cara, must have less visible difficulties. The conversation turns to rides and people's longest waits. Finally, we see the cab outside. I stand up in relief.

"He's here," I say to Cara.

"I see him," she says, unmoving. She's stiff, staring straight ahead. Outside, Tim waits in the cab, sure that we see him, but Cara acts like she has not.

"You ready to go?" I am uncertain, poised to walk out, but tethered by her stolid frame in the lobby chair.

"He sees," she says, and points down at the floor. Outside, Tim gets on his cell and calls mine. It rings in my pocket and I reach for it, but Cara stops me with a gesture. "Is cold, for you," she says. She sits.

Our elderly friend from before comes to my aid. "She's right," she tells me. "The cab drivers are supposed to come in for you. You don't go out to him."

I take a seat next to Cara, then, and stare straight ahead, like I don't see Tim outside. Finally he comes in, looking less sure of himself than usual.

"Hey, you ready?" he ventures. Everyone in the lobby stares at him.

"We've been ready, "I say, handing him the payment voucher our research grant supplies. He signs it and makes for the door, stopping when he sees Cara still in her seat. He comes back. "How are you, Miss Cara? You ready?"

She deigns to look at him, then. I can imagine her thoughts and wonder if they're wordless, or if she can speak inside her head. He made her wait, so she made him wait. She didn't let him get away with it. She has a little control back. "Yes," she answers. She stands up and sails out, dignity intact. Tim straggles after her, a chagrined little tugboat in the wake of the Queen Mary.

I can't stop smiling all day.
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