HOW TO MEET MARC CHAGALL by Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber

 

The house was filled with peaceful still and quiet water. She liked being in a water house, and swimming up and down the stairs, breast-stroking around. Look there! she can spin a cup over a saucer, and set a knife twirling that stays twirling, and the fish stay in their aquarium with its neon lava mountain, and she somersaults and spins among canted paintings of barns and bulls!

***

The day after the holiday, everyone is in town, and everyone in town is downtown, and everyone comes through Poor Herbie’s. She wasn’t going to go out that night; she was going to stay home and make turkey soup. Fuck it, she said. I don’t want to stay home. She decides drinks, Tanqueray & tonics at Poor Herbie’s. She walks into the saloon, and Cerberus’s smile rounds the corner of his face toward her before his head had begun to turn. Hades was already looking dead straight at her. It was intense.

***

Now that’s strange. Isn’t that Uncle Johnny? The skin at his hips peeled back, and all the ends of his bones are cut-paper artwork, the fancy Korean kind made with X-acto razors. The ends should look like brontosaurus bones, but they’re more like like nautilus shells, halved. Like that part of the ear. The cochlea?

***

Bog hopping in the swamp requires Wonder bread bags inside the socks. The game: grab a Foster’s oil can; find a sturdy vaulting stick; get from one side to the other without falling in. Bogs are tufts of grass. They look pretty sturdy. Eurydice was first to be up to the waist. Cerberus and Hades and Eurydice sat in the burned-out Chevy and then Hades took a picture. She loved that sweater, too.

***

Over there! Now she’s picking pears from the top of the tree by holding holding her breath and floating up. The pears are green, and there are ants up there, but not as many as bother at the peonies. She could hold the pear in her hand, and it was ballast enough to bring her back down, slow and nice. Toes, balls, heels, run.

***

Dom DeLoise’s pignola (say PEEN-yole) meatballs were sitting on the porch at Nana’s, with lasagna and garlic broccoli in some old cool-whip containers which were reused like Tupperware, and she said, you better take those clothes off or you’ll catch a cold. Nana’s swamp house, with the Avon room and — who ever heard of a gin brand called Reed’s — and that cockeyed cat BW dustmumping around. The tea was so hot — she wanted them to stay. They loved to stay.

***

That’s definitely Orpheus coming in the distance, because that pooch is with him. That crazy blue blood pedigreed Springer Spaniel. Oh he loved him so, with his wavy coat of fetters and ears and the snowballs in his paws. Orpheus is wearing traditional German clothing, maybe Austrian. He knows we sometimes have Oktoberfest parties. Orpheus has a lilt to his walk. He realizes today is not the Oktoberfest party. He and the dog leave. They are happy when they come, and they are happy when they go.

***

They went downtown, Manhattan, the Village, to an Art happening. There was a postage-stamp-sized ad for it in the paper that morning. They were like: assemble the squad. They dressed to the nines; they put lawn chairs in the van, they filled the van with friends and a cardboard box with Colt-40s and Champale. They tried to sit still, but cheap champagne that was so quiet in the bottle was getting loud and wild. Their team was dynamic. Whitey jumped on stage; nobody knew he wasn’t part of the act. Cerberus and his girl (remember the one who had that story about jumping off a roof, and her mom had to use the wrong end of a spoon to get the compacted mud out of her nose?) were brown-bagging it. Hades & Eurydice were in between kisses.

***

Holding out her hands in the dark, she thought the saints might touch them. She’d wait. Oh-ho! They were there, but the big Guy didn’t give them the okay. Not yet, He said. Her bedroom was a room that had fire licking all along the baseboards, a gas-lit fire, but oranger. It never made her afraid and the room was not actually burning. It wasn’t hot. It wasn’t scary. It was just fire.

***

Then they saw it in the window, that vintage clothing store not far from where Grampa Munster sold pizza and looked so crabby all the time: a faux-tiger coat. Rowr. The store was closed, but they knew the guy was in there. They rapped on the window. It was old glass and sounded brittle. The champale hadn’t pushed them to the point of breaking glass. He heard all right. Squad was making the please-please pleady faces, and everyone looked so good that he opened. Hades gave the guy $50 for a $35 coat and Eurydice put it on, and they ran hooping and hollering, her crushed velvet dress and his spit curl bravado embracing forearms like gladiators, then going underground, hair and coats whipping, Manhattan spurring, the whole city stretching over them, like somehow God or Skylab or Marc Chagall saw them in a fish-eye.

 

 

ANNE ELIZABETH WEISGERBER teaches literature and composition, and edits fiction at Indianola Review. She has work forthcoming in Tahoma Literary Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Vignette Review. She tweets @AEWeisgerber, and thanks Kathy Fish for prompting this piece.

 

 

Adam and Eve, flash fiction by Marcus Speh

1

Adam couldn’t help noticing the fear in her eyes even though it was concealed by an unusual set of props, which included: thick glasses, strong makeup heavy-handedly applied, and light brown hair that was styled to appear accidentally artistic if artistic was the right word, but Adam was fairly sure it was because she had mentioned art, artists and the world artists lived in or could live in if the world outside art would only make it a little easier for them to exist on their own terms…Adam lost his thread over contemplating the varied viewpoints representing ways of living. In any case, behind that curtain of creative persona, he assumed a rather unusually large amount of fear and it made him want to run away. Instead he proceeded along the path chosen by him earlier when he had offered her an immediate appointment after she had come to the door, quite against his habit, solely based on her opening sentence, which she had given him instead of the weak, flabby greeting that he was used to. His clients, he reckoned, were keen on appearing even more normal and mediocre because of the pretext of their sessions with him. She had said: My name’s Eve, I’m forty-five years old, I’ve never had sex, can you please help me. But once she sat down she had begun to speak of nothing but her desire to create, to make art, to paint, sculpt, cut things out, combine them, perform pieces, and so on. Any attempt on Adam’s side to get her back to that extraordinary opening sentence had been met with silence and with a smirk. Still, there was that undeniable fear in her eyes and there was his equally undeniable fame as the foremost sex therapist of his generation. He asked her what she was afraid of and she said: I’m afraid to die as a number, I’m afraid to die like a reed, like a forgotten cookie at the bottom of a box. By this time, her angst, wherever it came from, had already taken posession of him and he hoped she’d let him hold her hands or even crawl on her lap later on.

2

The man is brought into a dark room. The windows are covered by heavy curtains. It could be day or night or even a lightless time of day without hours, without anybody counting hours. There is a desk in one corner. Behind the desk sits a woman in a leather suit. She has long black hair and wears a lot of make up. when the guards have closed the doors, the man goes to the desk. There is no chair for him to sit. — So, says the man, why am I here? The woman doesn’t say anything. She opens a drawer, takes out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes and lights a cigarette without offering one to the man. This room, says he, proves nothing. She exhales. He inhales, almost as if he needed her to breathe. The man sits on the floor so that the woman can only see his head. I am more comfortable down here, he says. She nods, which he cannot see and continues to smoke. The telephone rings. The woman answers, but all she says is yes, and no and no and yes again. The man says: I like your voice. Thank god that I like your voice. The woman in the last room sounded like a saw. The woman chortles. And she looked like a nun, adds the man. That is interesting says the woman. No it isn’t says the man, I’m only passing the time until you tell me why I am here so that I can move on to the next stage of the game. No game, says the woman, a test. Okay, says the man, call it what you like, it feels like a bloody game. And you’re just another pawn. And so am I. It cannot be a game because there are no rules, says the woman. She stands up. Why dont you try the chair, she says. Sure, says the man, smiling for the first time since he entered. As he gets up and walks around the desk past her, he feels some of the power that Adam felt towards Eve. He stops standing very close to her. What if I actually sat down, he says. Would this be the end of the game? It’s not a game, she says. The man shrugs. I tell you what he says, I will sit down if you kiss me on the mouth. With or without tongue she says. With, he says, or it doesn’t count. She nods, leans over and does it. Longer, much longer than he had expected. In the end it is he who pulls back. Alright he says and wipes his mouth. You wiped your mouth, she says. Yes, he says and sits down. It was just a test, I wanted to test you. At that moment, the door opens, a hand with a gun appears as if created by the black background and shoots the man in the chair. His upper body falls forward on the desk. The woman extinguishes her cigarette on the man’s head. Not a game, she says and leaves.

3

It was a most memorable moment when…why do all my sentences begin that way? It strikes me as terribly…moralistic almost, as if I was trying to tell you what to think, feel and so on. Which is not, I think not, what I want. Or perhaps I begin this way because it gives structure to my inner chaos of mementos, of remembered shards, of a time when I witnessed Eve, experience everything not just as if for the first time but actually for the first time, when every one of those memorable moments cut like glass, or burnt like fire. This was just it: fire. I lit a cigarette with a match – I loathe the smell of gas – and I habitually held the match in my right hand waiting for it to burn down until it hurt while already inhaling. I would then blow my first cloud of fresh smoke and rub the burnt match to ash. Eve stared and said “again” in her heavy German accent. Okey, I said. I somehow knew she was talking about the match. Asking her wouldn’t have helped since she was unlikely to know the word. Do it, she said, do it. Okey, just give me a second, I said. Her impatience had the innocence of fire. As always the contrast between her childlike manner and her grown-up body confused and tickled my senses. Her dress had inevitably slid half down her shoulder and it was clear she didn’t care. The first woman didn’t have to prove anything, hide anything. I lit another match. This? I asked and held it up. Ja, Ja, she cried and held out her hand. Here, she pointed with her other hand. Alright, I said but it’s hot. The match was almost over. I dropped it in her palm. She took it like a man, in a way, and yet not at all. Her hand kept perfectly still when the flame of the match flickered one last time, went out and gave way to the glowing, smouldering state of fire that is so much more terrible because it looks like nothing, like bright red sauce on a stick perhaps and yet is so much hotter. Only her eyes, and then the skin around her eyes and then her face began to show a reaction to the pain she must have felt, a being who had not known any pain before. But I cannot describe it, not with words. I’d have to paint it on your face in fiery coals, I’d have to write it under your nails with needles. It was, I said it, most memorable, mostly inhuman, but memorable. Her face holding that expression, Eve did to the burnt match what she’d seen me do, and then she said: again, but with just ever so little more hesitation.

~~~

 

Marcus Speh is a German writer and author of Thank You For Your Sperm (MadHat Press, 2013). He lives in Berlin, blogs at marcusspeh.com and is on Twitter @marcus_speh.

The Crusade, flash fiction by Marcus Speh

When the virus began to ravage the land, ripping families apart, taking brother from sister, mother from son, husband from wife, the children’s crusade began. At first, there were only the orphans who walked from village to village, but when the pestilence continued to kill, others joined who had lost a relative or a friend, and finally even children who had not lost anyone went with them. They walked by day and by night and they only rested long enough to gather strength so that they could move on. The bigger kids carried the smaller ones, who often were dozy and groggy from lack of sleep, and when those bigger kids needed to rest, their littler companions brought them drink and put palm leaves under their heads, which were still small by comparison with our heads. There was much love among the kids, as much love as necessary to hold them together and help the crusade grow, day by day, child by child, village by village and city by city. There was perhaps as much love as there was hate between those who had lost a loved one and those who hadn’t. As much as between a man who stays and a woman who leaves. Enough love for those who felt abandoned by God, by the West or the East or the North or the South: when they looked at the kids who walked tirelessly though they were exhausted, the desperate caught a whiff of courage and forgot their grief. The crusade had no leader though a few of them walked at the head of the line to find the way or give directions, but they changed all the time depending on where they went. They went everywhere, there was no place they didn’t get to, no oasis they did not touch, no settlement they did not see. And wherever they went, they lived on what the people gave them, the simplest things, bread and water, and the sweetest stuff, hugs and strokes and shy, tender looks.

The occurrence of a wandering group that sets out to heal the land always is a sort of miracle and engenders a melancholy. Now everyone begins to dream the same dream, both inside and outside of the group. Is it more sad that it doesn’t happen more often, or is it more joyous that it happens at all? And wherever the children went, where people began to dream, the disease left, not suddenly, grudgingly like someone who is owed a life or a serious debt. Like a merciless mercenary, like a lecherous merchant of death, it left scars and piles of bodies, but still the plague slowly retreated as if the edge of the children’s crusade was a sword.

As they were walking, the children prayed. They prayed hard. They prayed for clean water. They prayed for calm. They prayed for the help that comes from Angels and for the healing of the sick. They prayed even when they didn’t know what they were doing or saying. In their hearts they tightly held the patients who were shitting themselves, who were oozing pain from every pore to make it harder for them to slip away. They prayed the hardest for the dead who had not made it through. Some said they saw the souls of the departing hanging thickly around the heads of the children like glow worms. The children were not praying like men and women, they were chanting and singing and dancing and bringing down the rain that washes evil away.

The reporters had been transfixed by the dying and the failing to stop the dying from happening. By the time they began to pay attention to the childish crusade, thre were thousands of children and they had found their song and their stride. They were like a wave now, a wave of warm and well-meaning water. But waves bring memories of storm and some journalists were asking what if and wherefore: what if this cute crusade (it was already so much more than that) became a human tsunami. What if it swept through a continent already besieged by unrest and weakened by illness. Shouldn’t the children leave the serious work to the grown-ups? Catastrophes are best dealt with from above, these journalists said, with force and not with fantasy. They said, we need 100 hospitals rather than an army of stomping, singing teenagers who play. They asked, where were the parents of the children?. Had they given their permission? Were they behaving responsibly? An influential Berlin newspaper columnist, a stuffy man doing stuffy things with a stuffy nose, dug up the old German legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. With his sociological sorcery he linked the story that had laid dormant for 800 years to the children’s crusade, summoning old anxieties.

 

Finally, the movement had become a story. The need for rescue attracted the concerned, and helpers flocked to the country from everywhere. Within a short time the children were followed by a convoy of hundreds of jeeps filled with broadcasting technology. Soon they could not take a single step without someone thrusting a microphone at them, asking for interviews, picking up morsels of misunderstanding, fleshing out fears, ferreting for forebodings, filming, recording, tweeting, blogging. With the reporters came scientists, scholars and politicians. They were protected by the umbrellas of science and wealth. Their entourage included soldiers and servants, doctors and nurses, and much money. As if guided by an invisible spirit, or perhaps moved by the prayers of the crusaders, the riches channeled towards the media found their way past the pockets of thieves and into the hands of the carers and helpers of the dying sick, enough money to finish off the plague and defeat the disease. The ancient germ and the deadly virus need quiet and neglect to thrive. Where many gather in one place and pray, healing will happen. When many focus their love, fear must leave.

One morning, the reporters woke up to an unusual silence and when they left their cabins and hotels there were no more children waiting and chanting. They had moved on, gone home, and some had died. And the reporters left, too, for other crises.

~~~

Marcus Speh is a German writer and author of Thank You For Your Sperm (MadHat Press, 2013). He lives in Berlin, blogs at marcusspeh.com and is on Twitter @marcus_speh.