I Have to Lay Here

I Have to Lay Here
Richard Baldwin Cook

This is the third time tonight you or someone has come in and waked me up.

New Year’s Eve and I have to lay here. No, no, New Year’s Day now, and try to sleep on my back. That’s bad enough, but then getting waked up? If I’m already asleep, why do I need a pain pill?

Well . . . I guess I don’t mind talking about it. If you got a minute.

It’s been a ride, having a twin. Identical. Not so much the bonding thing that everybody thinks is the thing.

Ronnie and I liked to mess with people. Confuse people. Watch the expression on their face. Couple times we switched up on dates. Back in high school. Couple times we changed places on finals. All back in the day. Just goofing around. Nothing serious or mean about it. Girls figured it out pretty quick, actually, and we always told the teacher afterwards. No big deal, really, since we pretty much got the same grades anyway.

Then Ronnie signed up. Made it to Army Ranger. Joined up and blew up! Two deployments without a scratch. But not the third. That third time is the charm, they say.

Shit. Came back gimped up. Right leg just below the knee. Ron hardly even talked about it. Already had the metal leg when he got home. Pretty good on it already.

I felt good that he wanted to move in with me. Just took my stuff out the second bedroom. No problem at all. Condo was fine, not even crowded. He just seemed to fit into how I arranged everything. Not a word of complaint.

They made him a recruiter, right here in town. I guess somebody thought the metal leg was actually a plus. Lots of times, he had to roll up his pant leg and show these goofy kids.

I got him onto my gym membership. Family discount. He went two or three times a week, mostly to swim.

Once in awhile, I’d bump into him there. Doing laps. I saw his metal leg in the corner by the pool. He said it was too much trouble to put it in a locker and then how would he get over to the pool?

I couldn’t resist. I found out when he was gonna be at the gym and I slipped in. I waited til he was at the far end and I just took it. No big deal. I thought I would give it right back. Get a laugh out of it.

He was really upset when he got home. Said some bastard had stolen his leg. Never seen him that angry. Had to hop out to the parking lot, drive home using just his left leg, he said.

Afraid to tell him I took it. Still in the trunk of my car.

I told him, the gym called. They found your leg.

That did not make sense to Ronnie, he said, because they looked all around for it while he was there, he said. I said I don’t know anything about that except now they found it.

I told Ron I’d drive over an’ get it.

He said, “Bull shit! I’ll get my own goddamn leg.”

I drove anyway. Mad as he was, he could still see the point of that.

I figured since it was still in the trunk, I would drop Ronnie at the front door, go around to the side, slip in and put it somewhere.

Damned thing rattled around in the trunk. He knew what it was. He knew that sound.

He screamed at me. Went for me! Didn’t care that I was driving.

Well, Ronnie’s gone.

I won’t be giving it back. Doc says it ought to fit just fine. The twin thing worked out again.

People will confuse me’n Ronnie even more, now.

Happy New Year? Don’t know ‘bout that.

RICHARD BALDWIN COOK

Richard Baldwin Cook lives in Baltimore County and has published two volumes of poetry, “Splendid Lives and Otherwise – Sonnets of Remembrance” (2011) and “My Father Was Taken to a Lynching” (2014) and two volumes of family history, ALL OF THE ABOVE, I and II, which have been well received by the Kentucky Historical Society and elsewhere. Richard has placed a number of poems and essays in the Syndic Literary Journal.

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The Nightmare

The Nightmare
Alex Belida

I have had haunting dreams about piles of machete-hacked bodies in Rwanda and scarecrow-thin famine victims crouched in the dirt in southern Sudan. Frightening dreams too about the drug-crazed rebels wearing women’s wigs who were firing AK-47’s over my head in the Congo. Still, I have only one recurring nightmare.

It always takes place on a Sunday morning.

On the outskirts of Angola’s capital, Luanda, down a deeply rutted, garbage-strewn road, a church service is under way inside a sun-baked, mud-brick building. Men and women, perhaps two dozen in all, can be seen through glass-less window holes in the wall – swaying, clapping and sometimes wailing to the incessant beat of a drum.

What can’t been seen from the outside is that most of these men and women are in chains.

They are in Angola’s biggest treatment facility for the mentally ill. The man who runs it not only administers a special mixtures of herbs and roots to patients, he also tends to their spiritual needs as the leader of what amounts to his own religious cult. Clad in a green tracksuit, a broken stethoscope around his neck, the middle-aged, slightly paunchy unshaven man greets visitors while relaxing in his dingy office with a cigarette after leading the church service.

In the more than two decades the center has existed, the man says over fifty thousand people have been treated. He says that he finances the operation with donations from private sources and from Angola’s government, which appears all too happy to have given him responsibility for this particular social problem.

A former soldier himself, the man says Angola’s years of civil warfare have increased the number of mental patients in society.

Most of the current patients are former soldiers — picked up off the streets because they were said to be violent, or hurting themselves, or behaving strangely, or living in their own filth. Now they live in this walled compound — some chained to bedframes, others to scrap auto parts like truck transmissions or wheel hubs, which they pull behind them as they wander about.

The man says he is forced to restrain some of the patients because they are a danger to themselves and others.

It is not a pretty sight. Parts of the compound are unroofed, exposed to the blistering sun. Most of the beds lack mattresses. Human waste lies exposed in the courtyard.

Perhaps most disturbing is the chained figure leaning against a wall who claims in a soft voice that he was snatched off the streets and deprived of liberty against his will.

In my nightmare, I am that figure. Every New Year’s Eve, I vow to purge this memory from my head. Every year, I fail.

ALEX BELIDA

Alex Belida was a senior news executive and correspondent for Voice of America for nearly 30 years. Among his many assignments, he served as East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi and Southern Africa correspondent operating from Johannesburg. He lives in Rockville.

For the New Year

For the New Year
Kris Boyer

In the 12 months preceding
there have been flashes of greatness
5:00 a.m. jogging
5:15 a.m. panting
…inhaler…
7:00 a.m. crunches
7:15 a.m. pulled muscles
…ice…or was it heat?…

In the 12 months preceding
there have been flashes of defeat
8:00 p.m. chocolate bar
8:15 p.m. regret
…milk…mmm…
10:00 p.m. ice cream, with sprinkles
10:15 p.m. belly ache
…acid pill…no sleep…

The fireworks have flown in London
I’ve 5 hours to mutter another year’s worth of resolutions
Or maybe I’ll defy the old man and stand my ground
“Be damned the resolutions!” with a fiery fist to the sky

May my life not be determined by tick marks on a wristband
or progress and regress scaled on an LED screen
May my life be full of living
May my life be.

 

KRIS BOYER

Kris L. Boyer is a Carroll County resident. She recently completed her AA at Carroll Community College and is currently researching colleges from which to earn her BA.  As a wife and mother of two, who is also working full time as a manager, she finds time to write during the wee hours at both ends of the day.

Mist

Mist
Missy Burke

The hot Jameson’s rolls across my tongue and down my throat like a sip of heaven.

“Damn! That’s the ticket!”

Bundled against January’s chill in layers of down and my hunting gloves, a pleasant warmth spreads through my chest, in spite of the frosty January breeze slipping between the slim, bare trees. Sure, I might look crazy, at the dock’s edge, lying almost horizontal in a cold aluminum recliner, casting with a bamboo pole, but I don’t care. No one but me can hear the soft plop, repeated again and again, of my grandson’s home-made fly dropping in the water. Not a single soul can hear me whistle a leftover holiday tune.

But I am glad to be here – to be anywhere for that matter. Back in July, the ‘heart error’ as I like to call it, abruptly started a series of events that catapulted me through frightening hospital stays, self-impressed specialists and more medications than I like to admit to. Stress, they said. Too much pressure. Probably your job, they said, but for me, contracting had never been a choice, more like a legacy. My father, his father and his grandfather had all run the firm – Judson & Sons – with an iron fist – and great success. Building is in my blood and it’s certainly proven lucrative. The lake house behind me testifies to that. But the demands never stopped. All day, everyday, someone wanted a piece of me. Fixing. Planning. Painting. Building. Amazing how bricks and mortar can take so much out of a guy. When the paramedics slammed the door of the ambulance and slapped the oxygen mask on my face, I knew that if I didn’t die I definitely needed to slow down. The doctors just confirmed the message sent from my floundering heart.

So, I’m cutting back. I’ll hire a couple more foremen, stop working weekends, and start saying ‘no’ to all those family and friends who just want ‘one teeny little thing’ done. Christ, those favors stress me out the most. No pay, often no thanks, and always no regard for the other, ‘real’ deadlines that keep business booming. So, no more favors. It’s a promise. Hell, given the date today, I’m calling it a resolution – a New Year’s resolution! That’s right. Haven’t made one of those in years. Now, I can just relax . . . cast out the reel and watch that ball of fog roll across the calm, glassy lake. Where’d that bottle go?

“Judson. Judson.”

A voice? Can’t be? Am I dreaming? Wait. I must be imagining it. Too much Jameson’s.

“Judson Fletcher. Is that you?”

It’s a voice, alright. Coming from that huge heap of fog in the middle of the lake. What the hell, fog? I know there’s things called micro-climates, but this is ridiculous. It’s like a single puff of smoke from a giant’s pipe and – damn – it’s coming this way. How does that massive thing move? There’s so little wind.

“Judson Fletcher. Is that you?”

Wait. Is there something inside the fog? It’s, it’s . . . a piece of dock? It’s close enough to tangle my line.

“Judson. Judson Fletcher. I need help!”

The fog, stirred up from the surface of the lake, clears just enough for me to see her face.

“You certainly, do, Mrs. Brady. What in God’s name possessed you? The lake is freezing! You could have been killed!”

Did she really think an eighty-eight year old woman could commandeer a piece of dock? “What happened?”

“Well, I just got back from my daughter’s and couldn’t believe last week’s storm had nearly pulled off a piece of my new dock. When I saw you sitting here, doing nothing, I just knew you wouldn’t mind fixing it, but I haven’t got a car – this seemed like the best way to get to you. It’s just a teeny thing. Do you have time to help?”

“Of course, Mrs. Brady. Anything for you!”

So much for New Year’s resolutions.

Don’t tell my doctors.

MISSY BURKE

Missy Burke has recently joined the ranks of creative writers after years of writing for professional publications, working as a magazine editor and creating promotional copy in the non-profit world.  She has just published her first novel, Gymrat, a middle grade adventure story about finding the strength to overcome bullies. she looks forward to growing her skills through the MWA with her fellow authors. 

Jangles

Jangles
Barbara Churchill

Five p.m. on Friday, Jangles’ Tattoo Parlor at Dupont Circle is deserted except for us. Heather, her blonde, leggy, sixteen year-old self.  Me, a mom in teacher clothes, pacing in a somber, black pinstripe. Dave arrives straight from work, looking like an undertaker (he’s not).   Around us in the closet-sized waiting room, tattoo options cover the walls: Jesus, many, many Jesuses, the Blessed Virgin, lots of her too.  Crosses. Snakes entwining crosses.  Skulls. Snakes from eyeholes of skulls, which make me jumpy. Hearts.  Flags. Tweety Bird.   I’m getting a headache from the music.

The proprietors-each a symphony of tattoos and piercings, weird ear-lobe elongating things, chat behind the counter, ignoring us and our suburban queasiness. Earlobes don’t go back to their original shape you know. Closing them back up requires surgery. What happens ten years from now when these kids go for a job interview? Then I think, leave it, Toots.  That’s the last thing on their minds; just go with it. At least Heather didn’t sneak off and get one of her friends to sign the release form; well, she did, but that was a couple years later.  Gross–the guy behind the counter has a steel bar running through the skin on the back of his neck, like a guy I saw on ER with a piece of a steering wheel piercing his abdomen which had missed major organs so he was still awake and talking.

We fill out forms. I wonder if the clipboard is sterile. We wait. I get up to find a bathroom. When I come back, Dave’s sitting upright as a statue, no Heather. I grab his arm.

“Where is she?” I hiss.
I had every intention of accompanying her, checking the autoclave.Do they use disposable gloves? What do the  artist’s fingernails look like? Clean hair? Is the chair sterilized between customers? Why didn’t Dave check?

Now, I don’t even know which door she’s behind. I give up on my useless mute of a husband.

From somewhere in the back comes a high-pitched whirr like a dentist’s drill only louder, unceasing. Do I smell burning flesh? The volume of the music, not my favorite heavy metal, cranks up. Have I imagined it, or has the volume been creeping up every since we got here? I need air. Outside on the sidewalk in front of the neon signs advertising Jangles, a pale teacher lady doesn’t warrant much attention.

“Never mind me.  I’m just taking a break from ‘Tattoo Island.’”

I might throw up. I take deep breaths and wish Dave would come down to check on me.  But, I want him up there for when they carry her out so we can get her to the ER before a blood infection sets in.  I should’ve given her prophylactic antibiotics before we came  I wonder where he’s parked.

What’s taking so long? Dave comes down, looking a little sick himself. I realize it’s worse for him; I’m around teenagers all day long, and I know they’re crazy. He only has two samples to judge from and, until today, they seemed pretty sane. I have to go back up—I can’t stand it out here with all these normal looking people who aren’t letting their youngest daughter mutilate her body  Who haven’t signed away her future health and beauty to some hacks in a shop above a television store. If Dave throws up, we’re toast.

Eventually, Heather comes out, self-satisfied looking, betrayed only by red eyes and a nose looking raw and sore, albeit with a new, tasteful jewel gleaming from a little hole in one nostril. She stops by the display case and coolly selects a few more ornaments and rings for when this one can be swapped out. We hand Tattoo Man our MasterCard, sign, pick up the receipt and leave.

No one has thrown up. I have not made a single joke about Nez Perce, and Heather looks enormously pleased with her freedom.

BARBARA CHURCHILL

Barbara Churchill lives and works in Bethesda. She taught high school and college for many years but is now focused on her own writing as she shapes a new life in retirement.  In addition to writing, Barbara does volunteer work, travels and marvels at the adult lives her children are crafting.  She has a Creative Nonfiction piece coming out in the January issue of Soundings Review.

Under My Breathe

Under My Breathe
Tony Daly

It’s been a love-hate relationship
I love the taste, smell, high, and image
But hate the taste, the smell, and myself
It’s been 10 years of giving and taking
Me, giving you my youth, health, and money
You, taking it all, and leaving me bitter…withered
I take the last long drag, relishing the joy, and
Snuff you out as the bells toll a new year

This year, I will run instead of point and laugh
Allowing myself to feel the high of oxygenated air
I will smell the morning dew, untainted by smoke
I will relish the fresh air, instead of wheezing
I will taste the life you have denied me
Looking back at you, smoldering on the ground,
Taunting me, beckoning me, testing me,
I swear, “Never again,” under my breathe

 

TONY DALY

Tony Daly is a writer and editor for a federal agency and a Veteran of the Ready Reserves. He lives in Maryland with his wife, two children, and their black lab.

 

Words

Words
Jo Donaldson

Words flow through my brain

            Like drops of water,

                        Some smoothly like a gentle spring brook,

                                    Others swirl,

                                       Careening wildly through

                                           The gullies of my mind,

                                                Bouncing off images or

                                                    Catching in small pools

                                                            And stagnating.

Large

   or small,

       no two alike,

they freeze

    they melt

       they tickle

          they burn.

Some join together

            demanding release

                        and flow

                                    onto the smooth white paper.

JO DONALDSON

Jo Donaldson began writing poems as a child. She later wrote for the Carroll County Times, Carroll Evening Sun and “Pilot’s Preflight.” A staff writer for the Cumberland Times-News,  she won several awards from the MDDC Press Association and two first place awards from Associated Press. She has published in One Left Shoe, Christmas Carroll and Ginseng, and her poetry book, Mountain Musings. She recently completed a middle grade novel.