Featured Content Issue 1.3

Issue 1.3, Summer 2016

Featured Content

Fiction: “The Everyday Schoolbook” by Timothy DeLizza

DeLizza - Author Photo

Essay 1: The Lap Swimmer

The Lap Swimmer swam in the same pool his whole life. Every day he swam for so much time as his schedule afforded him. He was known as ‘The Lap Swimmer’ because no one knew him as anything else, or if they knew of his real name, no one used it.

 

That was supposed to be her.

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Flash: “A Lamentation of Swans” by Emmalie Dropkin

Emmalie Dropkin
A lamentation of swans.

‘What is lamentation?’ they ask her, and then, ‘What are swans?’

‘Lamentation means crying,’ she tells them. ‘Swans—swans were white and had long necks and orange beaks. No, they didn’t cry, they didn’t sing much except supposedly right when they—please just copy down the letters. Remember with cursive to go back and cross the ts.’

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Poetry: “what i mean by green” by Flint

 

F-Headshot-MinaShoot


—with heartfelt thanks to Marg Yeo,

     who thought of it first.

Nature has spilled spools of thread
to give me these spindly fur teeth.

There she is, waving her silk ribbons
—and at the unlikeliest moments—
against the voice of the wind.

It is a small game
seriously played.
This watching
and waiting for the other to slip into song.

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Fine Art and Cover: Nataša Ilinčić

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Featured fine art by Nataša Ilinčić

 

 

 


Debut publication: “The Sunstick” by Barbara Gruska

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It was still early enough that the hot sand wouldn’t blister his tender feet. Henry knelt down on the edge of the cement bike path, pulled off his yellow Velcro sandals, held one in each hand, and set out across the overcast beach to the rocks. The coarse sand compacted and crunched in sections under his feet like his father’s stress ball; as a child, he had bitten into it, popped the balloon casing, and spewed a mouthful of sand onto the Persian rug in his father’s study. Henry plowed the hundred foot stretch of sand, leaving a swath of already windswept footprints behind him. Half way to the base of the black volcanic rocks, he passed the beige lifeguard bungalow fifty feet to his left. He scraped away a crust of sand from the face of his waterproof watch with his thumbnail. It was 9:32 am. Only twenty-eight more minutes, Henry thought. He had committed the lifeguard’s shift schedule to memory by the second week of vacation.

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Featured Poetry: Flint

F-Headshot-MinaShoot

 

Flint

what i mean by green

—with heartfelt thanks to Marg Yeo,
who thought of it first.

Nature has spilled spools of thread
to give me these spindly fur teeth.

There she is, waving her silk ribbons
—and at the unlikeliest moments—
against the voice of the wind.

It is a small game
seriously played.
This watching
and waiting for the other to slip into song.

And there you are, my hand in your ponytail
my mouth on your neck and you
are eighteen again. Twice the girl, and half
the woman whose garden party I crashed.

Look at the wind smiling, the silk ribbons laughing—
our symphony of contradictions and sly coincidence.

Hush, says the grass.
What else do you want to know?

Featured Debut: Barbara Gruska

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Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal is excited to feature Barbara Gruska’s debut short story, “The Sunstick.” It was another unanimous pick. We felt it was a pleasure to read, very well executed, with clear characterization and great dramatic tension. A perfect pick for a summer featured debut.

The Sunstick

Barbara Gruska

It was still early enough that the hot sand wouldn’t blister his tender feet. Henry knelt down on the edge of the cement bike path, pulled off his yellow Velcro sandals, held one in each hand, and set out across the overcast beach to the rocks. The coarse sand compacted and crunched in sections under his feet like his father’s stress ball; as a child, he had bitten into it, popped the balloon casing, and spewed a mouthful of sand onto the Persian rug in his father’s study. Henry plowed the hundred foot stretch of sand, leaving a swath of already windswept footprints behind him. Half way to the base of the black volcanic rocks, he passed the beige lifeguard bungalow fifty feet to his left. He scraped away a crust of sand from the face of his waterproof watch with his thumbnail. It was 9:32 am. Only twenty-eight more minutes, Henry thought. He had committed the lifeguard’s shift schedule to memory by the second week of vacation.

Just before reaching the rocks, he slapped the crooked, flapping yellow flag with the sandal in his right hand, and climbed the black ridge. It jutted out twenty feet into the ocean, splitting the water like a giant chisel. As he had done every morning for the past four weeks, Henry stopped ten feet from the edge at the level rock, the single smooth refuge amidst a snarling heap of jagged neighbors. Before he sat down, he drew a slow, meticulous breath, making sure each nook of his narrow lungs filled up with salty air and held it in. It was his last Friday; he and his parents had to leave early Sunday morning to get him back home in time for the first day of 10th grade. He broke the seal at the top of his throat and let his chest deflate abruptly through his nose.

He set down his sandals, removed the Snickers bar from the back pocket of his bright yellow trunks, and sat down cross-legged, facing the lifeguard tower. The beach was lifeless. It looked sickly and pale, Henry thought, like a giant siphon had sucked away its color and then belched it back out into some black, desolate corner of the universe. He drew his knees up from their butterfly position and hugged them tightly to his chest with folded arms, clutching his elbows. He checked his watch again. 9:35.

He leaned his head on his right shoulder and centered his gaze on the lifeguard bungalow, relaxing his vision so he could focus on the periphery rather than on a single point. The lifeguard appeared out of an alley beyond the bike path, his red shorts funneling into Henry’s focus like a bull’s eye. He followed the lifeguard as he strode easily through the sand. When he reached the base of the ramp that leads up to the platform, he paused with his back toward the ocean and flicked his head up to his left, stopping on Henry, who even from the top of the rocks could see the neon pink zinc stripe that accented the lifeguard’s nose.

Though Henry had never actually spoken to the lifeguard, he felt that they were intimately connected by an ongoing exchange of subtle messages. He deeply believed- acutely aware that the rest of the world would never believe him- that everything the lifeguard did had a hidden meaning, encoded in a secret physical language, that was only meant for Henry to decipher. To Henry, the pink zinc stripe on the lifeguard’s nose was a spiritual branding: a mark of acknowledgment of their secret devotion to one another. The lifeguard slowly re-aligned his neck, and climbed the ramp before disappearing into the cabin.

Henry shook and hunched over, his eyes remaining fixed on the lifeguard structure. He expelled the hot breath he’d been holding in and heard the crashing waves for the first time that morning.

Since Henry had memorized the lifeguard’s schedule, every morning that he had the first shift, the day started out like this. He would wake up at 8am in his parent’s two bedroom beach apartment and crawl to the front of his fold-out couch bed that faced a full length, sliding closet door mirror. He’d sit on his knees and brush his thick, shoulder-length black hair while maintaining a piercing eye contact with his green saucer eyes in the mirror. He’d slip his slender limbs into his yellow trunks, a baby blue V-neck shirt, and his yellow Velcro sandals. Then he’d grab a Snickers bar from his stash under the bed and made sure to leave the apartment by 8:30 am, before his parents would awake. Interacting with them had long since become unbearable and pointless for all parties; they couldn’t understand him and he understood their incapacity all too well. The walk to the beach took about ten minutes; then he would sit on the sandy grass under a palm tree by the bike path until 9:30 am. He would then walk to the rocks and wait for the blonde lifeguard.

The sun was now directly overhead, and the beach was bustling with vacationing families and honeymooners. Henry had not moved from the level rock. A sharp discomfort, ignorable at first, like the drone of a distant highway, had elevated to the grating roar of punctured a muffler; he was hungry. He felt a mixture of annoyance and disgust that his body required basic, human maintenance. To take his focus off of the lifeguard was to sever the gravitational cord that tied him to his primary body, his sun. Without this focal point around which to orbit, he would be flung back out to the infinite vacuum of normal, empty life. He fumbled for his candy bar, ripped it open and ate half of it in two quick bites, never taking his eyes off of the lifeguard bungalow. He folded the excess wrapper over the top and laid it down, for easy access later.

Something was different about the day. A vague tension that suggested some unknown, but imminent future motion, like the slow compression of a spring, had built up inside of Henry. He rocked from side to side, trying to release the pressure. The lifeguard, who had been casually leaning over the banister, slowly oscillating his gaze from left to right over the beach, pushed himself off the rail and luxuriously arched his back and stretched his arms over his head. Henry watched each defined muscle in the lifeguard’s abdomen as they lengthened and contracted back into their rippled, robust structure. The spring compressed harder in Henry’s stomach, and he remembered the Introduction to Physics course he’d taken this past year in 9th grade. Potential Energy. That was what he was feeling. Every day this summer, one notch of a spring mechanism that lived inside him was torqued. Today it clicked, torqued to its max. He remembered Joules, the unit of measurement for energy. The day he’d learned that term in class, he imagined a giant catapult filled with rubies and emeralds. He pulled his hair back into a ponytail and wound it tightly into a bun.

A woman who looked like she was in her early twenties in a red bikini had been sunbathing on a yellow towel halfway between the ramp of the lifeguard bungalow and the water. She rolled over onto her stomach and propped her head up on her hands, facing the lifeguard. Henry noticed the lifeguard’s glance repeatedly pause on something directly in front of him. He scanned his eyes to the right and stopped on the woman, slowly waving her legs back and forth in the air behind her as she lay on her stomach. The tops of her breasts bulged out over her bikini top like two taught, overfilled water balloons. Henry dug his nails into his clenched fist.

He scrambled barefoot down the rocks and propelled himself through the hot sand toward the lifeguard, leaning so far forward that if he had stopped moving, he would have fallen flat. All he could hear was his jerky breathing, cutting in and out in unison with his agitated gait. It was amplified in his ears as if his head was encased in glass; the crashing waves, the squealing children splashing in the water, and the back and forth tapping of paddle balls all receded into a muffled rumble.     The lifeguard, who was trained to sense even the slightest erratic movement in his periphery, quickly turned his head and met Henry’s unbridled, gaping glare. Seeing the lifeguard’s eyes so close up, focused on him, knocked Henry out from the grasp of the tractor beam that seemed to have been dragging him across the sand; the sound of waves and children crashed back into his ears. He slowed his pace and straightened his posture, trying to simulate nonchalance, and turned back toward the rocks. The back of his neck tingled with the belief that it still belonged to the lifeguard’s gaze. He glanced over his shoulder to see if he was still watching him. The lifeguard was already turned away and giving the thumbs up to a group of little girls building a sand castle. The warmth at the base of Henry’s throat extinguished.

His legs trembled as he climbed back up to the level rock; his muscles felt hollow and emptied of their energy. The catapult had flung its emeralds and rubies into the sand. He stood on the rock facing the ocean and expelled a sharp, involuntary wheeze, as if from a sock in the stomach. His throat swelled, hinting at tears, but nothing happened. He heard a large wave crash at the base of the rocks and felt the cold spray that immediately followed; the spatter darkened his light blue shirt. He faced the ten foot stretch of rock that lay between him and the crashing waves and stepped forward.

He’ll see me, Henry thought. I’ll walk to the edge. He can’t let me go out this far, he repeated to himself, clenching his jaw. He had never gone further than the level rock. He winced as the unfamiliar, sharp rocks dug into the soft bottoms of his feet. He reached the last rock, looked down, and reassured himself, he sees me. He’ll come. I’m too close.

A large wave crashed and completely drenched his shirt. He kept his balance though he began to distrust his knees; they felt wild and apart from him, as though they were capable of independent decision making. He braced himself against another crashing wave. Through the spray, Henry heard a loud whistle blow. He’s coming, he silently rejoiced. He didn’t want to turn his head and look. He wanted to wait to feel the lifeguards hands on his shoulders, gently asking him to step away; but he wouldn’t budge, he would have to be picked up and carried away. He held his breath and balance, and through the crash of another wave, he heard a commotion on the shore to his left. He turned his head and saw the lifeguard running through the water, not toward him, but toward a young girl whose arms were thrashing at the surface. The lifeguard dove toward her, and in a few strokes, he had her in his arms. Henry watched as the lifeguard returned her to the sand, motioned for her to be careful, smiled, and returned to the lifeguard bungalow. Henry turned around, climbed down the rocks, and walked home barefoot across the burning sand, leaving his sandals and candy bar behind.

#

That night Henry snuck out to the lifeguard tower at 10 pm. He reached its base and scanned the beach to see if anyone else was there. About fifty feet away, every few seconds, three figures would faintly materialize in a red glow. They looked like two girls and one boy about Henry’s age. Each time the glowing orb of red light expanded, one of their faces would be brighter than the others; they must be passing around a joint, Henry thought. He had seen Tim Young pass a joint around with his senior water polo friends behind the gym last year.

Though they were best friends in elementary school, Tim had started ignoring Henry at the beginning of seventh grade. When Henry passed Tim and his group leaning against the wall and passing the joint, he tried to rush by without them noticing. The moment he quickened his pace, he knew he’d made a mistake: it reeked of fear. A senior jock’s acuteness in detecting freshmen fear and his subsequent pursuit of whoever is spilling it rivals that of a shark for even the faintest traces of blood in the water. “Hey Tim!” the senior chuckled, slapping Tim’s back. “Isn’t that your boyfriend?” They all exploded in raspy, stoned laughter, including Tim, who began grotesquely miming oral sex while staring tauntingly at Henry.

Once Henry was sure that the three figures were the only beach inhabitants, he reached his hands up, jumped up to grab the edge of the bungalow’s main platform, and let his lanky body hang, suspended in the cool night air. He did not want to risk being spotted by the smokers or beach police by using the front ramp, so he braced himself for exertion with a quick exhale, and pulled himself up with shaking muscles. Once he’d made it up, to stay discreet, he rolled his body toward the opening and crawled into the lifeguard bungalow.

Henry was grateful that the moon was low and over the ocean. It beamed a soft silver spotlight through the front opening of the structure and illuminated the interior just enough that he could make out its contents: rescue tubes, an oxygen tank, a megaphone, first aid kits, a radio, and a red backpack in the corner. Henry knelt down to the backpack and rubbed the “hang loose” keychain on the main zipper between his thumb and index finger like a rabbit foot.

He had seen the lifeguard with this bag slung over one broad bare shoulder on his way to and from work. Henry picked it up and let it hang from one shoulder. He sat back down on his knees, brushed away some sand from the knotted wood planked floor in front of him, unzipped the backpack, and gently emptied out its contents. There was a worn magazine, its pages warped and salt crusted, with two giant bare breasts on the cover: “A Tale of Two Titties.” Henry winced and tossed it aside along with an unopened condom box, a large empty tube of Coppertone tanning oil, and a Ziplock bag with crushed Saltines lining the bottom. He patted the backpack to check if there was anything else inside and felt a hard tube in the front pocket: the pink zinc sunstick that the lifeguard applied to his nose every day.

Henry quickly pocketed the sunstick, shoved everything else back into the backpack, zipped it closed, and placed it exactly as it had been in the corner. He stood up and walked through the front opening of the bungalow to the rail, right where the lifeguard stood for most of his shift. He looked over to the rocks. He couldn’t make out the level rock, either because the tide too was high, or it was too dark to see. He thought of his yellow sandals and pictured them floating in the middle of the ocean. It made his stomach hurt to think about how they would float and not sink to the bottom.

Facing the ocean, he heard the group of teenagers laugh in the distance. He dropped down to the sandpaper floor of the deck, scraping his palms and knees, and rolled to the edge, twice over the sunstick, bruising his right hip. He jumped off the ledge into the sand and walked home barefoot, clutching the sunstick in his pocket the whole way.

 #

The next morning, Henry left the apartment at 7 am, still barefoot and wearing the same clothes from the previous day. He did not take a candy bar from under his bed. He walked the ten minutes to the tree by the bike path, feeling the sunstick sway in his pocket with each step and bump against the place where it had bruised him the night before. The marine layer was almost nonexistent that morning. He already felt the sun tingle against his skin. He reached the tree, faced the ocean and lowered his body slowly into a cross-legged position. His movements were easy and automatic, as though he was somehow controlling himself from a remote location. He took the sunstick from out of his pocket, uncapped it, and applied a slow and careful pink line down his nose. He put the cap back on and held the tube firmly in his fist as he sat motionless for two and a half hours.

Just before 10 am, the blonde lifeguard and a brunette female lifeguard, who usually worked Monday through Wednesday, crossed the bike path and made their way to the bungalow. Henry sat still and watched them as they laughed and walked side by side through the warm sand. Henry remembered that on yellow flag Saturdays, because of the riptide, the beach required double lifeguard duty; the weekends were crowded not only with vacationers but with locals as well. He slipped the sunstick back into his pocket and waited another two hours for the noon crowd to roll in.

The sun was directly overhead, and since there was barely any fog that morning, the sand was already hot. Henry stood up and crossed the bike path. He walked calmly, bearing the burn of the sand, toward the lifeguard station. He glided through a maze of running children, whizzing Frisbees, and prostrate sunbathers as though he were on a conveyor belt. Once he reached the lifeguard station he stood underneath its base in the shade. He looked up to the right at the black rocks. For the first time in the whole month he’d been at the beach, other people were sitting on them. A young couple in their late teens were sitting side by side, lip locked with cocked heads and tangled limbs on the level rock. Henry’s right eye twitched. Usually, when he saw people engaging in physical affection, he felt as though his skin moistened and shriveled into that of a worm. Usually, he would whip his head away from the sight of lovers, but this time, for the first time, he felt and did nothing. His gaze lingered blankly on the couple for a few seconds before returning calmly back to the ocean.

The lifeguard was perched on the platform just above and to the left of Henry, who was still standing underneath the bungalow. Henry was close enough to him that he could hear his red trunks rustling in the breeze. He took a few steps forward out of the shade and looked up. The lifeguard’s head was twisted far in the opposite direction of the rocks. He waited as the lifeguard slowly turned his head back forward. Once he had just enough of his profile, he saw his tanned face, for the first time, without the pink stripe on his nose. Henry thought he looked naked and vulnerable. He must feel incomplete, he thought. He reached his hand into his pocket to touch the sunstick. It felt bigger and heavier in his hand. He held on to the tube while keeping it in his pocket, looked out to the ocean and stepped forward.

He walked slowly with his eyes fixed on the horizon. He sensed his surroundings without having to look; the woman in the red bikini was just to his left, a child would run in front of him now, and a football would whirl over his head now. The sand went from hot to warm to wet, and once he felt the chilly water rush over his ankles, he stopped. He stood there, feeling the wind mat his light blue cotton V-neck against his chest and abdomen. He removed the sunstick from his pocket and squeezed it firmly in his right hand. A medium sized wave crashed at his knees. He walked forward, past the waders and boogie boarders, and pushed through two swells until the water was above his shoulders, lapping at his chin. He stopped again and turned around to face the beach.

The lifeguard was still at his position, looking to his right toward the rocks. He turned his head slowly back to dead center. Once Henry felt his gaze, he a wave swelled against his neck. He flung up his arms and breached backward into the oncoming wave. There was no longer earth under his feet, so he fluttered his legs unevenly, trying to keep his head above water. He flipped his body around, so his stomach faced the ocean floor. He windmilled his right arm over his head and kicked spastically. He had never been able to execute a proper freestyle stroke. Tim Young had tried to teach him during the summer before seventh grade Water Polo tryouts but quit trying after a few sessions. “You just don’t have a swimmer’s build,” he would tell Henry.

He kicked and clawed at the water until his entire body burned. Salt water shot up his nose on three consecutive breaths, and he started coughing violently. On an inhale between coughs, a small wave slapped him in the face and forced him to swallow a mouthful of ocean water. He could no longer hear kids laughing; both of his ears were clogged. He stopped swimming and kept himself afloat by treading water. He knew it would be easier if he had both palms open but dropping the zinc was not an option. He turned around to see how far he’d gotten from the shore, and to his surprise, he had not covered much distance. People were still playing catch and splashing around. He could see that the lifeguard was still standing on the deck of the bungalow in his red shorts with the brunette female lifeguard standing next to him. He couldn’t make out which direction they were looking.

Henry flipped around to find the horizon again and kicked and pulled at the water, harder than before. The burning feeling in his muscles seeped into his lungs. On every breath now he coughed up salt water which caused him to inhale sharply and involuntarily with his head partly submerged. He thought of his high school gymnasium floor, lined with CPR dummies. He remembered the smell of antiseptics on the dummy’s mouth as he tilted its head back, pinched its nose, and covered its mouth with his mouth. He kicked harder. He no longer had the strength to raise his arms out of the water, so he hoofed through it like a dog with one closed fist.

The water darkened, and he heard a faint high pitch ring in his ears. The sound cut in and out at irregular intervals. Henry stopped and turned around to face the shore. He was again surprised, but this time, because he was much further away than he expected. The rip tide, he thought. He could still make out all the figures on the beach. They were all standing erect and still, pointing out toward him. The high frequency kept stopping and starting like Morse code, and he realized it was a whistle.

Between submergences, Henry made out a splashing red figure between him and the waders. It was advancing slowly toward him. Henry’s eyes, burning and blurred by salt, turned up toward the sun. Finally, he thought. He looked out toward the shore again and saw the lifeguard’s blonde hair splashing in the distance beside a red buoy. He came for me, Henry thought, the words pulsing in his head like a mantra. His muscles relaxed one by one, his right fist the last to disengage, as he slipped beneath the surface; and for the first time, drawing in a lungful of seawater, he felt apart of life. He looked up, smiling through the shimmer, and watched the outline of the floating pink sunstick, framed by the water warped yellow sun behind it, recede into darkness.

 ###

Featured Fiction: Timothy DeLizza

DeLizza - Author Photo

 

The Everyday Schoolbook

Timothy DeLizza

Essay 1: The Lap Swimmer

The Lap Swimmer swam in the same pool his whole life. Every day he swam for so much time as his schedule afforded him. He was known as ‘The Lap Swimmer’ because no one knew him as anything else, or if they knew of his real name, no one used it.

He was a man of even temperance. Despite his eccentricity and habits, he was never known to be discourteous or as particularly unpleasant. He was simple and kept to himself.

He never left the pool, really. It fascinated him, whether he was inside it or out. For the Lap Swimmer every motion, every stroke was tiny art, and true meaning. He once remarked to a friend, or as close as a man such as he has friends, that “Every time my head goes under, it is like a little death, a small drowning.”

All the pool veterans left his lane empty, though there was no official rule. As well, that his lane was off limits would be whispered to newcomers or they would sense it, so that even at the height of the busiest day the lane would be eerily barren. It was as if the lane itself had become fitted to the Lap Swimmer. One daring new swimmer ignored the veterans. Very flamboyantly he went into the lane and swam only one lap before he came out badly shaken. The water grew thicker, he claimed.

The Lap Swimmer had memorized each of the black and white tiles on the bottom of his swimming lane. Often he wanted to touch them with his fingers. He would not let himself do so because to stop swimming from side to side would mean for a heart to stop beating. Each push from a pool-edge was, to him, a pumping of blood. Every time he placed his foot in the water, he could not remember ever having left it. It was not unnatural for swimmers to leave at night and return in the morning to find him still there.

In his twenty-seventh year, at once, he forgot who he was outside of the pool. He simply continued to swim. After a few days the pool maintenance noticed and learned to work around him, out of respect.

Days became weeks, and weeks, months. Someone may have complained as the owner of the pool, an elderly man, paid a visit. The owner shouted something down to the Lap Swimmer. The Swimmer did not visibly response. The owner, seemingly satisfied, left. It is not known what the owner’s words were, but one who heard him said the words did not sound of this world. Other than this the Swimmer was treated with a passing indifference. As much attention was paid on him as one might pay to a poolside that had faded. Years passed and the man continued to swim, not having concerned himself with those things changing around him.

The Lap Swimmer, in these later years, noticed the tiles had been weathered with the passage of time. The pool had been re-tiled during his early days. Since the time the people of the pool had forgotten him, though, they had fallen into disrepair again.

The Lap Swimmer again began wondering what it would be like to touch them. After several days of thought, he decided he would. He slowed his pace, stuck his head underwater and had the familiar sense of a tiny drowning. He allowed himself to sink down. The drifting went slowly, and it wasn’t until he had nearly reached the bottom that he realized his heart had stopped beating.

 

Essay Questions (50% of Grade):

What color was the pool? (5%)

What caused the pool to act in such manner? (15%)

Was the pool just? (20%)

Activity (10% of Grade):

Close your eyes and stick your head underwater. Think of God.

 

 

Essay 2: My Work as an Art Appraiser

Working as an art appraiser, I have often wondered if the work I do contains meaning. The nature of civilization’s evolution for the past century gives me little comfort. It has, without notice, changed so that people no longer expect to get meaning from their work. In fact, many would be surprised if they arrived at a job that had both promising pay and gave them joy. Instead people search for joy in their private lives or elsewhere and detach themselves all but physically, from their working bodies.

I have spent a long time studying the structures and techniques of the artistic craft, know my own feeble work was pale in comparison. I have been asked to decide how much particular artists will receive in return for time struggled with their form.

Oftentimes, my consultations would be checked with two or three other appraisers or, if the client was particularly cautious, as many as seven or eight. Most times in the past our numbers would come within a hair’s width of each other. If there was any discrepancy we would meet briefly and look at the painting, talk about abstract feelings within the painting that the artist did not intend, and the audience did not notice. Most times, my own numbers would come closest to the work’s sale price. This was not because of any serious deep understanding of esthetics, but because I could tell what price the painter would be willing to sell his piece for while leaving the buyer feeling as though he had received his money’s worth.

I was a small time art appraiser when I worked at the Gallery, one of my first jobs. My post was so close to utter insignificance that it was only through a mistake in bureaucracy that I received my job. The Gallery already had a full time experienced art appraiser as well as several, equally qualified assistants.

The prize exhibit at the Gallery was always full. This pleased the artist immensely. The exhibit’s title had been splashed on the cover of the Chronicle.

There were two entrances to the exhibit. Half the audience would go in through the right door and the other through the left door. While the exhibit was the same, it was a unique experience depending on the side you chose. One art critic, originally going through the right side, and giving the exhibit its first wholly negative review, was convinced to try the left side and from there changed his mind completely and even returned several times in the coming weeks.

People entered into the right or left room. At first, the room would always feel smaller than it was, as it was always so full of people. Soon you could grow comfortable. Unlike the other rooms in the Gallery the walls here were totally bare. The walls would seem naked without their assuring solid colors, blue and red. The color choices showed the mastery of the exhibit.

Next the viewers, or experiencers (as the artist like to call them), would see a sheet of glass separating the room they had entered, presumably allowing the experiencer to look at those who had entered into the other room. They would stare at each other with great interest and occasionally glance at the title of the exhibit People looking. Next the title would be the word blue or red, indicating the color of the room they had chosen. It was of great importance, claimed the artist, in understanding the piece that one room was painted blue and the other red. His first color choices, those of green and blue, had admittedly come off a disaster.

On and on each side would look at each other, both sides sometimes wondering which side was art and which side was humans looking at art. Some of the individuals in either room would secretly think themselves better than the rest. I could tell these when I was looking at them. They were aware that they were being stared at, and were studying themselves being studied. This, they seemed to think, made them appreciate the exhibit more.

One such intellectual made a comment similar to this to me after leaving the exhibit. He was wearing fine clothes, though they were worn in a shabby manner. He spoke to me because I was available.

“What’s better,” I responded. “A rock, or a rock that knows it is a rock?” He turned away to better matters and other company.

A week before I quit, an old lady came in to ask me how much a painting was worth. It was a simple drawing of her when she was a teenager. Her boyfriend had done the drawing. It was a line-heavy sketch, done with charcoal. The paper it was drawn on was yellowing. The drawing showed only modest potential talent and less realized talent. The eyes, though, affected me in a very dramatic manner. It told of a simple love that the suitor must have. It showed one genuine emotion, simply and beautifully.   By then I had even studied the dust mites of the paintings in the gallery, nothing else could compare to that simple drawing.

“I don’t expect that my bosses would give you more than a cup of ale’s worth,” I told the old lady.

Dejected looking, the old lady turned away from the store. Full of all the value the picture suggested, she was a work of art. If I had seen her through the glass I would have missed it. The glass did not hide anything noticeable at first glance, but those on the other side lose their humanity in the eyes of those watching. I may not even recognize my relative or wife if I saw them on the other side of that glass. People, at most, appear to be strangers with some distance semblance of those I knew.

 

Essay Question (30% of Grade):

Did the artist use a window or a mirror to separate the rooms?

 

 

Essay 3: Thrill of Your Life

S.W. Burnham, writer for The Post, had seen many attractions. The ad for this one was a simply written THRILL OF YOUR LIFE in eight font, all caps. It had run in his paper for the last six months. As he read his paper over breakfast, whenever he flipped the pages the ad persistently caught his eye. It had become an irritation.

He decided to call the phone number.

A recorded message gave a time, address and working hours. He wrote down the information on the back of his old business card. The ink from the pen smudged on his thumb slightly. During his ride to work, the smudge nagged him as a reminder of the ad. Instead of work he decided he would go to the place the phone indicated, with the intention of reporting to his readers the relative joy of the event.

It was on the poorer side of town. He watched the better aspects of the streets strip away. He lived in a small city of modern success, and the older factory district had become outdated beyond usefulness.   The address was of the old steel mill. Outside a new plaque read THRILL OF YOUR LIFE.

S.W. Burnham opened the door. An official behind a counter turned. He was dressed in fancy clothing. The light in the room hid the left side of the man’s face for a moment. The man looked Burnham up and down. While he did, Burnham realized what was so odd about the man. He was missing his left eye. A simple, smooth indent of flesh was all that replaced the spot.   There was no hole or anything to indicate it was proper for a human eye to belong in that place. It made Burnham uneasy that it looked so correct that a man had no left eye. The official was even handsome.

“Sir,” Burnham said. He had no clear idea of what he would say next.

“It’s twenty dollars,” said the man.

“But what is it?” Burnham asked.

“The thrill of your life,” mumbled the man.

“I’m a reporter, I’d at least like to know what I am reporting on before I give business funds.”

“It cannot be described in words,” said the man.

Burnham laid his money on the counter. The one eyed man stuck it away somewhere, and ushered Burnham through a nearby door. It led to a large warehouse. Burnham could barely make out the pasty, light yellow ceiling.

The center of attention was what Burnham noticed first, and that was a towering roller coaster, of sorts. It was disjointed, here and there the track ended randomly, only to begin again many feet higher and later. There was no visible pattern or order to the design. Burnham saw a roller coaster was coming, for a moment he was in disbelief that the track was even letting it run.

No one in the coaster was screaming. It was full of men and woman, children and elderly. All wore fancy suits and had their hands folded in their laps calmly.

The coaster went off the track and fell swiftly downward. From nowhere a giant steel hand swooped down and grabbed it. The hand delicately lifted the cart and placed it on the next section of track. This act was repeated at various points, until the cart finally stopped safely at a loading area. As the fourteen or so riders exited, another finely dressed group entered.

“What is it?” Burnham asked again.

“The hand,” the man said. “We don’t know much about her. Rumor tells us that her own children died long ago and this chosen profession was the only way to deal with her guilt and pain. She wishes only to save and save and save. It is a job she loves. You can tell this from the hand’s grace.”

“Is it safe?” Burnham asked.

“One in ten coasters crash,” the one-eyed man said. “Some die during a successful ride. This is why you are here. When a person sits in that seat, he thinks himself already dead, and he knows peace. He has insight. It is by the grace of a mother’s love that he is saved, and held up. For a moment that man is free. Some believe the more properly you sit the less likely you are to crash. I find that unlikely.”

The one eyed man left Burnham in the waiting area where the participants were loaded. Burnham’s mind did not accept what was happening. The lady across from him gave him a smile. Burnham barely noticed the next group was standing in an orderly manner and ready to load. The bright green color of the lady’s dress seemed not of this world. She smiled again, kneeling down to scratch her leg in a peaceful motion. He saw black specks dotting her leg. Instinctively, he looked at his own leg and saw there were fleas. It itched. His leg was swelling at spots, this indicated that he had been unconsciously scratching his leg for some time. He told himself he would leave when his turn came. He was unbearably itchy and was disgusted by what a disgrace to good morality this machine was.

The girl’s green dress looked as though it was the only thing that had real color in the room. He stared at it rudely. She began walking in a meaningful manner. He followed after the dress that seemed to flow out from her. He meant to touch it. He reached out and caught the slightest cusp of the fabric between his thumb and pointer finger.

“Squeeze it tightly,” the girl said, and smiled at him. “Things feel more real when you squeeze tightly.”

She grabbed his hand and applied just the correct amount of pressure in the middle of his palm for him to feel what she meant. He looked at her mutely. His mind began to think again, slowly. He had followed her to the front row of the waiting crowd. Looking around himself he saw that he would have to push his way out. He began to, but those behind him would not budge. The other riders became so densely packed around him that he could not even begin to get away. He realized he would be forced to take the trip.

“Let me go!” he screamed. “I want to go! You can keep the money. I’ll even pay more.”

“People have paid thousands to be in the front car,” said the girl into his ear. “Count yourself lucky.”

No one else paid any attention. Burnham looked again at the roller coaster. Its chaotic randomness now appeared carefully designed. It looked intriguing, almost aesthetically pleasing. The wiring that held the track up was hung from the ceiling in places, and in places steel supports reached up from the floor.

Burnham felt only a distant nervousness when the coaster stopped at his feet. He entered the coaster and sat calmly. He was seated in front, next to the girl with the green dress. The coaster began to ascend. The sheer soundlessness of the situation made it all the less real. He found himself looking at the ink smudge from the morning. It had spread and faded slightly. He then cupped his hands as if he were cupping water. A smile slowly crept into his lips as inevitability set in.

He closed his eyes and the ride went on.

 

Multiple Choice (20% of Grade):

Choose the words Burnham overheard while waiting in the train station on the way to the attraction:

  1. “Let me off this train it makes me feel like I’m in a cage.”
  2. “The train doors won’t open because they don’t like you.”
  3. “Don’t bother trying to leave down the stairs, the stairs lead nowhere.”
  4. “No matter how little you are eating, it is probably too much.”
  5. Burnham drove to the attraction, but thought all of the above absently even though he was a very thin man already.

 

 

Extra Credit Activity 1:

Circle as Many Anti-Social Words as You Can Find in Five Minutes

During my flight home to NYC, someone in the back of the plane pointed out something that was not remotely funny. Someone else laughed and we all realized we were part of a line-heavy sketch. The drawing we were part of hung in an airport boarding area. We stared out at all the people sitting, bored and unfocused. They were waiting and occasionally twitching. We could only pray that we would someday crash. The ink that created us showed no wish of decaying. We could not even move. We were just left to stare out of our glass pane into the disinterested eyes of the dazed multitude.

We tried as hard as we could to attract the eyes to ourselves so that they may see our plight. We hoped they would yell out what a monstrosity it was for the airport to place a picture with conscious beings in it right in their departure area. Yet whenever we did manage to catch an eye and hold it, which was about twice a week, the viewer would always shake their head and look away, convinced that it was only an advertising gimmick that they had seen a hint of life in the photo.

Soon it was the time alone at night that we most looked forward to. The room would still have people, but not nearly as many. The stench of the cleaning fluids filled our nostrils. We could occasionally get that fitful sleep, of flights, that does not rest you.   The peacefulness came from the calm that came over the city at night.

On someone’s suggestion, not my own, we began trying to shift our weight in time. Using this method we were able to get the picture frame to “Click, click, click” out a SOS signal.

 

 

Extra Credit Activity 2:

Cross Out All Lies

  • I am sitting in a classroom, trying to devote absolute attention to the teacher. Suddenly the student in the seat next to me slumps over. I see blood begin cover the parts of his shirt. He looks at me distantly. The class continues. There is no sound. Another student slumps over, the teacher must know this is happening, but does not let it interfere with her class plan. I sit back, assured, listening to the lecture as the film scene pans out further and further. The classroom can still be made out from the recorder that is outside the window. I am sitting there, with my hands folded perfectly, and all of my classmates are slumped over. Because of my doubled efforts at paying attention, she does not even complain about the lack of class participation.
  • I’m on a tiny raft with a stick to push with and I float past giant marble heads of De Galle and Stalin and Hitler and Kennedy.
  • I am walking with my father and I see this old tool shop that he had believed had been torn down years ago. He, gleeful as a young child, searches through the store for new tools for nearly an hour. It is by the Brooklyn Bridge. I am strangely sad. We leave without buying anything.
  • I am sleeping with someone I hope to become lovers with. In my dream I see a serpent coming out of the back of her head. I awake with a start that startles her. She tells me later that she dreamed of kissing me.
  • I am a man, sixty years old, who has been working my whole life shelving books. I find out today that all along all the pages have been blank. This does not at all deter me from my labors, rather I redouble my efforts with the thought that a true books meaning comes from the very grains of the paper.
  • In the future, humanity spreads across the universe. A group of rogue scientists begin to believe the universe is a conscious being. It is the protagonist’s role to find a link to communicate with the creature. The protagonist and her group are successful after a heroic struggle. The creature tells the protagonist that humanity is a parasitic disease that is killing all of existence.
  • A girl who only makes a single type of clay sculpture over and over again: A sexless figure huddled in fetal position.
  • A school with no exits or windows. A sound that slips suggestions of advertised products into dreams.
  • A world famous model who does not exist.
  • Rows of identical objects. A great idea that simply would not work in practice.
  • Talking calmly as a brutal act of violence happens nearby. A dry mouth suddenly makes speech difficult.
  • You notice, distantly, that the events on the TV happened in a place you once knew. Even the news anchor, an ageing female, looks familiar. Then you notice you are staring in the bathroom mirror.
  • Humanoid creatures that climb up the sides of buildings.

 

Featured Flash: Emmalie Dropkin

Emmalie Dropkin

A Lamentation of Swans

Emmalie Dropkin

A lamentation of swans.

‘What is lamentation?’ they ask her, and then, ‘What are swans?’

‘Lamentation means crying,’ she tells them. ‘Swans—swans were white and had long necks and orange beaks. No, they didn’t cry, they didn’t sing much except supposedly right when they—please just copy down the letters. Remember with cursive to go back and cross the ts.’

A host of sparrows.

Their bowed heads and thin brown hair remind her of sparrows. Her two oldest children started learning their letters in the winter, though sometimes Juliana wonders what good it will do as she sits them down at the kitchen table to learn this forgotten art. After Matthew was born with a shock of hair all over his body, she begged Father Alexi to let them stop having babies. He railed at her for denying her miracle. The doctors told them the children were sterile and that their various mutations were just what you’d expect drinking well water in this part of North Dakota. Didn’t she know this could happen?

She hadn’t. Her brother had gone off to the protests against government corruption and what was happening to the environment; Juliana had gone to the college in Billings for a while to be a poet. And so she knew the words for things, but feared she didn’t always see what they actually were.

A kettle of hawks.

That’s a good one, those are words they know. Jonas clutches his pencil between the two claw-like fingers of his hand and tries to mimic what his brother is doing. He smiles up at her. He’s a good boy. They’ll keep each other company someday, and that gives her comfort.

An exaltation of larks.

Exaltation is a church word, a word for holiness and joy. Lark would be a nice name for a baby, if she has another. Jameson has been away three weeks, down in the Bakken repairing the waste reservoirs damaged by the last quake. Probably the children are his fault, though it would be even more dangerous to say so aloud than to blame God for all this.

A parliament of owls.

‘Parliament was an old kind of government. They didn’t have one here, no. But the old Congress was a little bit like parliament, I think.’ She tries not to make up too much history, but sometimes she guesses. It’s too much power for one person, the way she governs their lives, the way Jameson governs hers. They’re on the very edge of civilization, right up against the fence that marks off no man’s land.

A charm of goldfinches.

She gets up to find their old picture dictionary, to show the children the picture of a goldfinch. Hawks they know, and vultures, a few other carrion birds that have survived the century. Her children will likely die without ever hearing a songbird. Carolina is talking in the other room as she wakes up from her nap, and she always rouses Eleanor and Joey before too long.

Matty has his lines ready when she gets back, and Juliana pauses to stroke his hair and correct him where the double r in sparrow has become an m or the f in goldfinches looks too much like a b. Her son has a fair hand for eight-years-old, and she’d send him to school if they hadn’t closed it.

A watch of nightingales.

‘Nightingales, nightingales, nightingales,’ Jonas whispers.

They are the only children for a hundred miles, and Juliana the only outsider in a land where radiation seeps into every crevice, every uterus, every cell. In a way her children are more like the other women in town than they are like her: the tilted set of Carolina’s shoulders and hips is the very mimicry of Mrs. Crawford who works in the grocery. In her worst, darkest moments when she forgets to love them, she imagines delivering each of her babies to the mothers they should have had and leaving, just leaving this wasteland behind.

A scold of jays.

‘Jay!’ Matty sings out, and earns her smile. He would have had Jameson’s name except for how odd he looked when he was born.

Oh how she loved him, back when he was breezing through Billings on his motorcycle and making her heart race. She still does, for better or worse. The only thing that keeps her sane sometimes when they’re alone here is remembering the way just his gaze can turn her body soft and welcoming the moment before he steps in the door and kisses her. All she wanted once was to have his babies and be his wife. The reality is different, but didn’t it have to be?

A murder of magpies.

‘Practice your ms carefully there,’ Juliana encourages them. Eleanor wakes with a wail and Juliana goes into the nursery, untucking her shirt as she walks. Joey is silent in his crib; something is wrong with his vocal chords but no one can tell her what. Once she’s hoisted Carolina and Eleanor to the floor she lifts him up and carries him back with her, offering him a breast as she sits again at the kitchen table. He nurses as urgently as any of them, and so she has faith he’ll be alright.

A chattering of starlings.

‘Did you ever see a starling, Mama? Does it look like a star?’

Juliana shakes her head. ‘Nope, I never did.’ She could write a poem about all the things she never saw. She never saw the last baby, after they took it out of her. The nurse said it was better not to look, and she didn’t ask why. Now Joey drinks that baby’s milk even though he’s more than a year old. He still doesn’t have teeth.

An unkindness of ravens.

Unkindness is something she won’t explain. She refuses to cry in front of her children. But she’s the master of their little universe, the mother tongue that’s all they’ll know. Let it be a kindness of ravens. Let everything be a kindness.

###

Featured Fine Art: Natasa Ilincic

nereids

Two Nereids watching fishermen sail at dawn

you're not alone

You’re Not Alone

kitsunebi

Kitsunebi

bioluminescence

Bioluminescence

Nataša Ilinčić is an artist and illustrator (among other things) with a home somewhere between Italy, Scotland and Croatia. Most of her work is focused on nature and its relationship with mythology, folklore, and the feminine. Her weapon of choice is watercolour, often mixed with acrylics, ink, pastels and a touch of digital painting.

Natasa’s works have been published in books (The Illuminated Edda by Fate of the Norns, The Heirs of Bastet by Elena Romanello, Seith and Sword by Chris Challice, Horn of the Kraken by Stephen B. Pearl, and Voci dall’Iperuranio by Angela Patrono), magazines (Circle Magazine, The Celtic Connection, Engranajes, vapor y lámparas de gas, Vølse, and the Danish Membermagazine for Asatruar); cardgames (Gulveig, Fate of the Norns, by Pendelhaven Games), as well as books for role-playing games (Ragnarok: Denizens of the North, by Fate of the Norns); and have been exhibited at various festivals (including Pandino Fantasy Books and San Giorgio di Mantova Fantasy) and on a solo exhibition in Montereale Valcellina (PN).

Natasa is also author of “Agana”, an illustrated story based on Northern Italian folklore and was the designer behind Beltane’s poster for the Edinburgh Fire Festival 2015. Her artwork can be found at natasailincic.com, and natasailincic.tumblr.com. Follow Nata at @natasailincic.

 

if you like the artwork in this issue, own it!

https://society6.com/natasailincic
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