Jon Gregory worked for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram for 18 years. His poems, short stories and essays have been published in The American Dissident, The Dallas Review, Contexas, The DFW Poetry Review, the Austin International Poetry Festival's annual anthology, in Map of Austin Poetry e-zine, and elsewhere. He has a B.A. from Texas Lutheran University, where he won two short-story prizes from the English department and was associate editor of the literary magazine; and an M.A. from Corpus Christi State University (now Texas A&M-CC).
As my cool, efficient car
Cut a metal swath
Through a brisk night
Of early spring,
I saw a muscled mastiff,
A strong, joyful machine,
Dart across the road
And narrowly out of peril.
Suddenly I saw his mate,
A virtual clone,
Eyes dazed and gleaming
With the pleasure of the chase.
I dared not stop
To see the living
Complete the race alone.
Loren Webster taught English for many years in Battleground, Washington. After retiring, he moved to Tacoma. He travels throughout the west and posts his photos and commentary at LorenWebster.Net
The biggest disappointment of our Thanksgiving trip was that it was so cloudy and threatening that we decided to skip Grand Canyon this trip. On the other hand, because we had an extra half-day we decided to drive sections of Route 66 rather than staying on the much faster Interstate 40.
I’ll have to admit I was surprised that “Route 66” attracted so many tourists. A lot of the small towns we drove through would probably disappear without the tourist trade. We began our morning with a stop at the Route 66 Bakery.
Probably not surprisingly, I took a lot more landscape shots than I did shots of old buildings. The plants were quite different from the vegetation I remember in the Mojave Desert around Ft. Irwin, and the vegetation changed dramatically as we climbed the mountain range.
As we climbed even higher, what little vegetation there was gave way to rock gardens.
Route 66 to Oatman was quite the challenge. The road was narrow and the drop off so extreme that Leslie refused to look out the window until we stopped at a pullout at the summit. Looking out from the top of the pass, it was hard to believe that anyone would ever have chosen this as the main route from Los Angeles to Chicago.
Oatman seemed like a tourist trap, but the rocky cliffs provided a dramatic backdrop for the town.
I did stop at the edge of Oatman to take a shot of an original gas station that has been restored, though the pumps no longer pump gas, but I refused to pay $2.00 to park so that we could feed the burros carrots or visit the shops selling Indian crafts to tourists. Still, it was pretty clear that lots of people were more than happy to do so. I don’t know where all the people came from since we didn’t see a single car on the highway, but the town itself was bustling with tourists.
Our Thanksgiving trip covered nearly 4,000 miles. When you cover that many miles you’re grateful to have anything that detracts you, reading about and seeing landmarks from the original Route 66 certainly helped make the trip more interesting than it would have been if we had just remained on Interstate 40 the whole way.
See photos at LorenWebster.net
Nandita Banerjee has a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature. She taught English for ten years in Oxfordshire, England. She loves classical works from Milton, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Dickens as well as from contemporary writers like Deborah Harkness and Jhumpa Lahiri.
Mashi peeked in. “What is the matter, Hema? Why are you crying?”
I pointed to the open book on Hema's bed. “She sees ghosts.”
Hema’s mother hugged her. “Hema, beti, there is no such thing as ghosts. I told you.”
“Yet you believe in them yourself. I heard you tell the doctor that Baba’s spirit came for me, that my days were numbered.” Hema’s words were arrested by her dry, hacking cough.
“That was when you first told me," Mashi said. "Yes, there is a superstition that the dead return for their loved ones when it is…”
“Time for them to die.” I finished the sentence for her.
Mashi bit her lower lip so hard, it bled. “But Hema is still with us...” She wiped her mouth with her sari pallu. “Hema is safe. She won’t die.”
“I am not the same and you know it.” Hema scowled at the mirror opposite her bed. “Can’t you see? You should have seen Priya’s expression when she came in.”
Her mother looked away.
My eyes stung. If only I could disguise my feelings. “No, Hema, I was just sad that we didn’t get back sooner.” I swallowed and pulled out the dress from my basket and laid it on the bed. “Hema, I brought this for you.”
“I will not wear that dress. Priya, take it away.” She stared at herself in the mirror. “I look like Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, much worse than I looked after number five.”
“Five?” Her mother gasped.
I opened my mouth to explain, then stopped.
“I saw other ghosts after the first, Ma, and each time a new one arrived, I felt worse than before; I didn’t want to tell you because you would be upset.” Hema broke into a terrible cough that robbed her of her breath.
“She has seen six ghosts. Look in her book.”
Mashi peered into the book. Her restless hands fingered the pictures. When she spoke, her voice was tiny. “Why would they come to her? She is all I’ve got.”
“Don’t worry, Ma, they haven’t been able to take me. I was strong, but I don’t know about number seven.”
My stomach flipped. I swung around. “The number of completion?”
Hema nodded. “The last one.”
“That one will kill her,” my tongue spoke before I could stop it. “Do you think it will be Uncle Dev?”
Hema cast a furtive glance at her mother.
“He isn’t dead.” Mashi evaded my eyes.
“But it’s got to be someone, someone who is dead and is close to Hema.”
“Nonsense!” Mashi sprang up. “How can you be so sure?”
“Seven always completes a process,” my six-year-old tongue blurted out. “Miss Wilson said, and Hema is dying. Number seven will come and finish what number one began.” I flipped through the pages of creation in Hema’s book. “When God created the world, he finished it in seven days.”
Mashi swallowed. “Seven is also a happy number. God finished the world in seven days; that was an accomplishment. The rainbow is a beautiful reminder of God’s goodness. If a seventh spirit comes at all, it should cure Hema, not—”
Hema interrupted her. “Ma, Priya is right, they come for me alright, but they are nice. Not just Baba, Dada, but also Nana, Nani, Didu, Dadu.” Hema spoke so quietly, I had to strain my ears to listen. “Since I learned about my illness, every night… all those long and lonely nights… the spirits have watched me cry myself to sleep, and when I have struggled, they have taken turns to hold me in their arms. And when the golden pink hues of dawn have streaked the dark skies, their dull and glazed eyes have brightened as if with life; only I have felt tired, so tired, completely drained.” She exploded into a fit of viscous coughing that racked her tiny body.
Mashi gave her a throat lozenge and hugged her tight. “You should have told me about this long ago; I would never have allowed them to come near you.”
“Neither would I. Nasty creatures.” I squinted at the figures in Hema’s book. “They are sucking her life spirit out of her.”
The phone rang again. Mashi picked up, then whispered, “Your mother… go.”
I scampered off, mindful of the consequences for my nonconformity: pages of Bengali spellings to learn and worksheets to practice in Bengali grammar.
Sometimes a song
Touches my heart;
Strikes a chord
In a hidden niche-
The tremors spread,
I listen addicted
I cannot let go;-
It swamps my soul,
It drenches my brain-
My feelings drown,
All my cares too.
I call it perfect bliss.
The world fades;
My mind chills,
My senses awake,
My spirit takes flight...
In that blessed state
I begin to write.
Nandita Banerjee Composed August 17, 2019
Neesy Tompkins was born in San Antonio but left for Port Aransas as soon as she graduated from High School. She and her then-husband ran a shrimp boat for several years. Later, she was employed in the restaurant and bar industries where she met many colorful characters that are reflected in the stories she writes. It wasn’t until attending college, which was possible because of a Hurricane, that she was acknowledged as a writer by her winning of a National Essay Contest with her story entitled “The Gift.” She graduated with a degree in Mass Communications and a Minor in History in May 2017, which is utilized in her current self-employment as a social media manager and advertising agency for local Port Aransas businesses. Along with writing, photography of the Island she adores is a passion.
Passed by the stores shortly after Thanksgiving Dinner, which in my family really means lunch because everyone has other places to rush to.
Got to see my little brother ten minutes as he is married now so they rush in for a cameo visit and out to spend Thanksgiving at her family’s house promising to return, which they never do.
So my daughter, Tahnee, and I get in the car and drive; drive to nowhere in particular but with the music on and the cold air coming through the windows cracked with cars whizzing by, and let the sour words always spoken inevitably at the table as the sweet rolls are passed around, roll off our backs and out the crack of the window into the fast moving air with the fast moving lanes with the others rushing to get to some sale before Christmas rushes in.
We listen the sounds of the music that calm down the surroundings as the day comes to a close and spend time together sipping on pop and grateful to escape the roar of rush together. And tomorrow I return to the sea, as she, the extension of me, continues to remain here in this fast moving City. Bittersweet.
I saw the monarchs passing through in large numbers, as they follow their ingrained path in life South for the Winter. In the sand dunes they were resting by the hundreds on dried sunflower stalks, soaking up the last rays of sun at the end of the day, as cars speed by but oblivious to their royal presence.
But who would notice with people getting paid on Fridays and the bustle of the start of weekend, but I did. And it made me feel special and sad at the same time as the awareness of golden days of life are ever present.
As I tilt my head up, I taste the fresh sea breeze with the glow of sun on my face and give thanks for this journey and for given time to be here, right now at this moment watching these beauties make their journey fearlessly to their resting place.
Feeling blessed beyond measure.
This is how I will remember you, Port Aransas. Before the oil storage tanks and before the dredging. Before the desalination plants and huge oil tankers.
I will remember the way you look at sunset, when the stars have just risen and the air hums with nightfall. Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men, even when those men are intent on destroying the beauty of this special place for the sake of the money that will line their pockets.
It is Christmas and the Harbor is filled with the sounds of Carolers from boats. Festive lights decorate masts and beams as slowly they glide through the marina, and if only for tonight peace fills the air with community. Tonight we stand together, intact, hot chocolate being served and the scent of peppermint from candies given freely by groups.
Silent night, holy night where dolphin roam freely in pristine, calm waters. I will remember this night for all that is held dear is about to change as the darkness of greed and current administration recklessly maintain the advancement of facilities destined to scar this special place and scrape away all the natural goodness.
But on this special night, people were joyous and the World was good and all was well as the boat parade Christmas lighting ceremony brought families and neighbors together to celebrate the Christmas season. Pray for Port Aransas.
Copyright Neesy Tompkins
Me and this old porch.
Last night I watched the fireworks from my old porch for the last time as FEMA retrieves their loaner at the end of this month.
I don’t own the land where this old porch sits, the land where my old cat Pepper is buried and where I have resided for over 19 years.
Many memories from this old porch.
I leave my old tomcat Pepper here in his grave but the porch will go with me. Pepper, never forgotten and always in my heart.
To freedom, fireworks, whiskey and making new memories.
Anybody have a chainsaw I can borrow?
It was like any other day, the day my father died. Oblivious to the crying and runny noses on the other end of the phone line, it seemed surreal, like the way talking sounds through the fog across a ship channel, muffled. With shaky voices, they talked of arrangements.
Voices repeated that he was really gone, as I tried to comprehend how I was supposed to act. And this huge sense of nothingness overcame me, like trying to stay adrift through a dark sea of bitterness and disappointment, blindly searching for an answer that is not there as I attempted to feel what they were feeling.
After the funeral, after the law books and business had been divided and before returning to the Island, my share of possessions resulted in a cardboard box filled with ships that my father had collected throughout his years, always on his credenza shelves in his law office collecting dust. Some metal, others bamboo, and even an oil painting in cobalt blues of a Spanish galleon tossed upon stormy seas.
The box went into the storage room of my old mobile home, in the place I stored things that I didn’t care to see. A junk room, cluttered with bird feathers and seashells, a rusty ironing board and old photographs of a life long ago known that had somehow changed so drastically to have tossed me here on this Island known as home for so long.
Home, such a strange word. How to define home? I was not born here but knew I belonged here. Here with the harsh Winters and a chill that reaches down the corridors of your heart, yet the ocean gave me comfort, like a warm blanket and a buffer between the world and me.
Until that day in August and a storm that drove in unsuspected, so only a few pair of clothing changes were taken as I loaded up for higher ground.
A week passed, holding my breath, stuck in a city with concrete and buildings that obliterated any chance of viewing a sunset. With an aching heart I returned, knowing that what was left might not be much after seeing video after video of first responders on social media, some of them close to my street but never my street exactly. Prepared for the worst, my feet trampled heavily through still wet and muddy ground, and a stench that was almost as unbearable as the mosquitos dive-bombed any flesh left uncovered.
My old mobile, what was left of it, lay on its side, white walls fallen like broken wings in the mud, weighted down by sewage and stinky mud. Everything was covered in a putrid brown color, the stench of rotting fish and seaweed halfway up the sides with wires exposed. Ironically, the kitchen shelves and dishes in the cupboards stood untouched, coffee mugs ready for a new morning and a new day. Searching through remnants for anything that might be salvaged, a few dead birds lay in awkward positions pointed the way on the saturated ground to where a book lay open. It was the only book found, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings, pages still damp, barely legible and opened to expose a line reading “Let not your heart be troubled. Neither let it be afraid”. And I started to cry. One of those long moaning cries that comes with the pain of letting go, and giving in.
Born in Taft, Texas, Patricia Alaniz is the 13th of 14 children. She graduated from Taft High School. Then graduated from Bee County College with a cosmology license. She has been married for 26 beautiful years. The couple has been blessed with 4 children and 2 grandchildren. Patricia has devoted 12 years of her life to working with children with special needs. She can frequently be found writing a new poem down. Her love of reading and writing poetry began when she was a teenager. Her current focus is on the process of putting her poetry into the form of a book to share with the world. WHISPERS OF LOVE POETRY should be available soon. Patricia's poems are inspired by the lives of those she holds dear. Patricia's poems are written to take you away into a world of passion, love and hope. They will leave you breathless! Yearning to read more!
No.. she was not your typical girl.
As a matter of fact..
She was far from being ordinary.
Born to be a rebel!
Set in her own majestic ways.
Destined to be queen of her throne!
Her fate laid recklessly..
In the hands of her own chambers!
The only alpha of her kind.
Bound to fight alone!
Refined by her own prosecution!
Perfection was not in her name.
For a true leader is not bred without flaws.
She was fierce!
Chaotically out of control!
Her life was never simple.
But she held her own!
And she wasn't afraid.
Because fear did not exist in her world.
did it run through her veins!
And when things got tough!
Well.. she got tougher.
And if war is what you seek!
Then war is what she gave!
Her life was never simple.
But she held on!
And she survived!
So next time you see her..
Do not question her behavior.
And don't be so quick to judge her!
For you know nothing of her kingdom!
Nor will you ever know..
The hell that her crown has been through!
Born and raised in California, Tara has recently moved to Colorado to begin new adventures in life and living. Colorado has great photographic opportunities, and being a photographer, Tara seeks inspiration from new landscapes. Her work may be found at http://tcphotography241.zenfolio.com/
Moving. No Matter how prepared, it’s always a slog. These 2 guys are pretty darned efficient and though I feel Like the walking dead, I will survive.
Getting discharged today! Yay! No heart damage, heart is stable and not to worry about. And the cardiologist recommended one in Denver that he says is the best in the country. Good for me! I’ll be able to leave on Friday and head off to my new life. Thank you all for your love and support.
Spending the night. No diagnostic tests at all because it’s the weekend. Hopefully tomorrow morning, but really, this was all brought in by big stress. Speaking of which, I finally got moved to a quiet room after my roomie had about 8 family in visiting all day - including crying toddlers and fighting older siblings. It was a 3 ring circus! I asked nurse to kick them out and they told all but two to leave. They spent their time loudly discussing the carnage of Dorian with the tv news blasting. When children and their mothers returned to join them I said “That’s it!”
So....here I am in a quiet (for now) double room awaiting an elderly roommate who is known to them and is said to be quiet. Fingers crossed.
There is a beautiful sunset out the window. Going to try and rest.
The wheels in the hospital turn excruciatingly slowly. Finally got my insulin (hours late) and my sugars were 300! Many pokes with needles and IV lines, ekg leads and wires every where. Consultation with Cardiologist and discussed various diagnostic tests. But so far, hours later, no tests. Thanks to Rick Poulin Steve Wiseman for bringing a 10’ phone cable.
Will be spending the night. Sigh
Thanks everyone for ckg in.
So, I’m in Elko Nevada and my sister reminds me this is where my grandpa passed away, peacefully in his sleep, On a trip with my uncle. Didn’t remember. Odd. It’s a forsaken kind of place, where jobs are few and I wonder why in the world people come here. The landscape is bleak, to say the least. Were they coming west (the original settlers) to California and just ran out of steam? Tomorrow we’re heading into Utah in our way to a night in Wyoming. Lots of road behind and ahead.
Had a good dinner across the street at Old Chicago Pizza. Sounded scary, but they actually had lots of good choices and listed calorie counts on all items so I could make some better choices.?way too many televisions and noise, but we handled it. Back in the room chilling and watching some old Twighlight Zone episodes. Tomorrow we arrive at my destination: Longmont Colorado and my buddy Laurel Lewis’ house - home sweet home.
Don’t cry for me Argentina...a lovely meal on the deck with some of my favorite peeps.
Rocky Mountain National Park. We drove up Timberline Ridge to about 11,000 ft where it was cold and windy. Much milder temps down in the meadow. A beautiful day.
Tom Murphy is the People’s Poetry Festival-Corpus Christi committee chair. Murphy’s books & CDs: American History (Slough Press, 2017), co-edited Stone Renga(Tail Feather, 2017), chapbook,Horizon to Horizon (Strike Syndicate, 2015), CDs “Live from Del Mar College” (BOW Productions, 2015), and “Slams from the Pit” (BOW Productions, 2014). Murphy has also been named the 2020 Writer-In-Residence for the Langdon Review. Tom Murphy has been teaching at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi since 2001.
si mi voz muriera en tierra if my voice dies on land
llevadla al nivel del mar take it to sea level
y dejadla en la ribera and leave it on the shore
heart-broken shark's teeth rattle with grief in the belfry
Jean Arp (translated by G P Skratz)
Gulf Sunrise — like mercury
leaving the larger glob with a waver
Blue Heron perched upon the dunes
Beak faces the spread of light
Across the warp and woof
That weaves wet sand
to dune undulations
Garbage bag and garden gloves
Kneel and squat
Root out washed up trash
plastic in any form
Like a pig snuffling for truffles
The sea expanse
ripples to roar
The beach line open
Cool salt tang on the tongue
Recognizes the rubbish
Both shoved into wind blown
— inland view
Foredunes of blown sand
under a mantle
dropseed & sea oats
the tangle of railroad vine
and gulf croton
on the ridge, forbs
purple morning glories flutter
as ragged warp or broken fill
Foot sluggish step towards the heights
Slowed to watch the unsymmetrical v —
Seventeen gliding brown pelicans — low
over the thundering surf...
In this God forsaken Bible
Rust Belt, Margaret Screws
Lived 98 years before going
To the Lord on November 19th
2016 at Mount Carmel CC.
A dedicated nurse, who
Learned her asses and lube trade
In the same hospital, she was born,
St. Paul’s in Big D
As Margaret Ann Thurmon.
Moved to Kermit with her friend Janie
To nurse that West Texas big sky
At Robinson McClure Hospital
Where she gave a shot of penicillin
To her love, George Dewey “Pete” Screws.
Humble Margaret screws
Pete’s Fitz-Willie and pops
Out eight children before
Sun Oil Company shipped them
To San Isidro Sun Oil Field.
A school nurse, then a quick in ‘n out.
The Kingsville Record’s headline
“Margaret Screws Bishop
Now Screws in Premont.”
Nurse of Brock County, humble, butt-proud.
Oh, Saint Teresa of the Infant Flower Catholic church of
How do we know Margaret Screws?
The eight kids’ 19 grandchildren
Their 39 great grandchildren
and their 3 great great grandchildren.
Her boys weren’t all that proud or humble.
After childhood torment, teasing and torture
Two of the sons changed their name to Crews.
The five girls all married, thus taking their husbands’ name.
Except for David Screws in Stephenville.
Remember, when you’re pressing the button
While you’re lying in that hospital bed,
mainlining meds and saline solution,
plus, filling up that colostomy bag,
remember, “Oh nurse?” Margaret Screws.
copyright Tom Murphy
Dr. Bill Chriss is a trial and appellate lawyer who is also a historian, political scientist, religious scholar, and published author. He was nominated for the Rhodes Scholarship and holds graduate degrees in law, theology, history and politics, including a J.D. from Harvard and a Ph.D. in history from The University of Texas. Dr. Chriss has taught Political Philosophy, History, and Constitutional Law and has written several articles for scholarly journals. His first book, The Noble Lawyer, was published by Texas Bar Books in 2011, while his second book, Six Constitutions over Texas, is currently being edited for publication.
I can’t sleep. Sirens whine and pulses of light flash red on the walls of this dingy hotel. There are only ten channels on the television and no wifi, and I’m stuck another night. All the flights home had departed by the time those New York lawyers finished interrogating the witness. Their hourly rates are higher than mine; certainly their cost of living is, so I understand. It’s a long time since our firm, too, had more than enough work, a long time since the days when practicing law was an adventure and billings were mere bookkeepers’ annoyances. I remember trying ten or fifteen cases a year with files only two inches thick – comp cases, fender benders, divorces, DWIs, and occasionally the more complex civil case or white-collar crime.
But maybe more than the law practice has been transformed. Maybe I was different then, too. Maybe I’m just growing old, inexorable change befuddling my calcifying brain. Maybe everything was wrong. Maybe I just took the wrong path. Maybe I’ll never rest, never feel that I can go up to my house justified, never, like the prodigal son, come to myself and return where I belong. Maybe that place where I belonged is gone.
This kind of racing inner monologue keeps me awake more and more these days. The last in a long string of failed relationships ended two years ago when Jennifer stopped taking my calls or acknowledging my texts. We started out well enough, but like several before her, she eventually came to pity my failure to conquer the world. I used to be afraid to die alone. Now living, and even dying, alone is the only liberation I know of or hope for. I have grown used to the idea. I pronounce it good. What choice do I have? I’m tired of being hurt.
I must finally have dozed off. Awakening to find a grey dawn peeking through the curtains, I figure my partners won’t begrudge me a long trip back. And maybe the client won’t flyspeck the travel time charged for this deposition on the next invoice. I should be able to drop by the museum before heading to the airport and still get back to North Padre by dark. I’m not crazy about museums, but Michael told me of a painting here. In my current state of mind, any suggestion might bring an epiphany, so I shower, shave, and set out into the icy morning.
The museum down the street is small and old. Most of the art is uninteresting. “Where is the painting of Odysseus?” I ask an usher in a silly red coat.
“In the next gallery to the left.”
And there indeed it is, surrounded by a heavy wood frame with a small brass plaque reading: “Odysseus and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper, 1909.” I am struck by the image of Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship, straining against the ropes, head thrust forward in anguished longing for the evanescent female beings flitting along the rails of the boat. They are singing, chanting, moaning, songs of home.
“It speaks to one, does it not?” The accented voice startles me from behind. French? Austrian? I turn to see its owner, a bearded man in oddly formal attire.
“I guess,” I mutter.
“Yes, well, I would judge that you are old enough to have been taught such stories in school before they were deemed irrelevant. It must have been quite a test for poor Odysseus, don’t you think? Ten years of war at Troy; ten years of wandering after; cursed by the gods; far from home; captured by the Cyclops; seduced and enchanted by Circe and Calypso; drugged by the lotus eaters; and yet somehow never losing the desire to return home… home to his long suffering wife Penelope. And so when he entered the waters inhabited by these lovely nude creatures, as Draper depicts them, isn’t it strange that he did what he did?”
“I don’t know,” I answer, “And I’m not sure there ever was a Penelope, then or now.”
“Yes, but think on this part of the story. Odysseus knew the siren song was irresistible, that …ah…it had lured all the ships before him onto the rocks, and so he tells his men to fill their ears with wax and to row for their lives no matter what they see. But here is the interesting part: he needs to hear the song himself; ah…he accords to himself the privilege of hearing the song, and so he does not plug his own ears. Instead he has the men tie him to the mast so he can do nothing to stop the progress of the ship. He is the hero, the adventurer, but he is also the wise man. He thinks ahead to protect the crew…and himself...from his need for mystical experience. Without the wisdom, the experience will ruin him; he will never get home.”
“Whatever that might mean.”
“Yes,” the old man says, “whatever that might mean, and I suppose it acquires a more difficult meaning when one gets to be Odysseus’s age, about the same age as Hemingway when he died, and, I would think, perhaps about the same age as you.”
I turn my attention back to the painting. Odysseus’ eyes are agape, almost crazy. The sirens appear pale, ghostlike, mesmerizing. They hover close to Odysseus’s oarsmen, who are looking directly at them without expression, apparently oblivious. Is the crew blind as well as deaf? Or are the sirens somehow personal to Odysseus? When I turn back to ask the old art critic, he is gone.
The ride home is uneventful: the TSA lines, the usual change of planes in Houston. My little Lexus waits where I parked it at the Corpus Christi airport, and the drive over the causeway is, as always, an exercise in decompression. My little first floor condo is undisturbed and I toss my stuff onto the bed, change into my shorts, and throw a woven Mexican “drug rug” hoodie over my shirt. I slip into my “aloha slap” sandals and step out toward the beach for a walk, locking the door behind me. It’s chilly, but not frigid like it was in New York.
I like winter at home: no surfers; no Spring Breakers; few humans – mostly old snowbirds from Illinois or Minnesota who claim to be fishing, but who are, in reality, worrying over their various ailments and wishing they had the money to be in Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale. And hardly anyone walks the beach at dusk this time of year. Most of the tourists have gone inside to warm up by now.
I leave my slaps at the edge of the pavement, my bare feet hitting the cold sand. Waves roll in like muffled thunder. The falling sun streaks orange trails to the west, and a yellow moon rises over the ocean as I trudge on. I like to walk in the wet no-man’s land between the ebbing and waxing waves. Here the starfish and sand dollars live and die and the tiny subterranean bivalve crustaceans filter their food from water they suck down the little chimneys they blow in the sand.
The beach feels almost deserted; just a few oldsters with ice chests or chairs ready to be packed up. I wave as I pass.
The next stranger is farther distant. The sun is almost gone and reveals only the outline of a lawn chair occupied by a figure with one knee crossed over the other: male or female? The top leg kicks in the air, a burnished silhouette of arched foot, pointed toe, slender ankle, and long calf. The form and the motion betray the truth even at this distance. I’ll probably keep my head down. No point in making conversation. But at fifty paces the woman waves a greeting, and for reasons that are still unclear to me I veer up the sloping sand toward her. Maybe it just made sense to approach any sign of welcome.
I open with, “Do you like watching the sunset?”
“Yes it’s beautiful.”
“But you’re facing the water. The sun’s behind you.”
“Doesn’t matter; it’s still beautiful,” she says. “How about a beer?”
I haven’t had an invitation like this in a while and I’m leery, but “sure,” I say, even though I’m not crazy about beer. And when she hands me the bottle I tell her the half-truth that I am a writer. “I collect stories,” I claim. “Tell me yours.”
She introduces herself and shakes my hand, then invites me to sit in front of the shallow pit she has dug where a few small logs burn. The sand is cold, but soon the fire envelops us in warm pungent smoke.
“Where did you get the wood?” I ask.
“I bought it down the road. I try to think ahead.”
She is plain and fortyish but not unattractive, visiting from Wisconsin, half German and half Japanese by ancestry she say, with short dark hair and almond shaped eyes. Two hours later, I feel I know her. Both her parents died young and she cries about that. She says she is happily married with three sons. By then we are lying face-up in the sand on opposite sides of the fire, gazing at stars in the indigo dark, and she has come to know me, too.
“Can’t you relax?” she asks after I have finished both the beer and my complaints about life.
Am I shaking from the chill or my anxiety, or both? She downs her third glass of wine and moves closer. “Why are you so jittery? It’s a beautiful night, and I’m not coming on to you,” she promises, even as she reaches out and touches my shoulder ambiguously.
“I’m sorry; I’m afraid of everyone,” I admit. “I don’t trust anyone anymore.”
“You aren’t afraid of me, are you? We’ll never see each other again.”
“Yes,” I say, “I am.”
The full moon, now silver, hangs directly above us, encircled by a halo of cloud that expands outward in a spiral. My heartbeat and breathing begin to slow.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” I whisper. “It’s incredible…dome-like…makes me feel like I’m in a church.”
“Hey,” she responds, “pick a star, any star. Pick a star and make a wish.”
I do, and we talk about it, and about our respective wishes and dreams, as the fire slowly burns out.
At some point the smoke begins to dissipate and I realize we have been here for hours, alone in the dark. Fear, an old friend, rises again within me. What if she has some scheme to entrap me or accuse me of something? How can I explain what we are doing here, even though it’s totally innocent? What would I say if cross-examined by her husband? What would I advise a client in this situation?
I stand. “It’s time for me to go.”
She rises in response and I reach out to shake her hand again, this time in parting.
“Let’s do one of these instead,” she suggests, laying her arms around my neck and leaning her torso into me. I glimpse an inquiry or invitation in her eyes, one I ignore. Instead I hug her closer to hide my face behind her shoulder, but she pulls back and kisses my temple chastely. “I hope you find what you are looking for,” she says.
“Goodbye,” I reply, already walking away toward my empty room. As the building’s outline grows in the moonlight and I near the sidewalk, I can just hear music coming from the bar down the beach, Steely Dan:
Well, the danger on the rocks is surely past.
Still I remain tied to the mast.
Could it be that I have found my home at last?
Home at last?
Read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology. BUY NOW.
Zoe Elise Ramos was born and raised in Corpus Christi. She studies chemistry and creative writing at Texas A&M-CC. She has been a poetry editor for the Windward Review since 2016. Her work has been featured in the Switchgrass Review, Sink Hollow, and the Sagebrush Review. She was also awarded a 1st place prize in the 2018 Scissortail undergraduate creative writing contest. Her latest work (in progress) is a multimedia zine which pays homage to social media culture and its impact on communication styles.
We are under the trellis of Nueva Vita, a garden that murmurs with heaves of impatiens. From somewhere, the scream of autos tears at the plum of gingersnaps. They coil and fold their leaves into boats. I hold your hand while leaning, watching passerines blowing kisses to one another. This is just as you like though we are not llamas gemelas; we are the stems of an allium shooting off in diverging directions, never to touch but always close, borne from the same fruits. We swell from the heat of that glowing suspension and the sun is singing. It singes your skin into milky champurrado. Liberated winds hold their shining ends as if a vessel. And hummingbirds bait and stick us as we turn to sap all over the tree scenery. An SUV bares its teeth across the way to remind us that we are machinery. You cup your hands into buds and hold them over these ears. Your words are soil to me with my ligaments of buzzing bees and veins rippling with honey. “Suelo bueno, tomar este corazón y comerlo.” The cherub fountains of flushed marble cry themselves onto the floor. Brown translucence melts into creases between planets, with our shoes dripping into softness, wasted pollen stolen on fingertips. Now, we no longer stand but float atop the white and scarred swing, still creaking back and forth like the hands on a clock. Usted toma estas flores picante como el suyo en su boca. I give you my roots and you give me your flowers.
copyright Zoe Ramos