Something That Was Never Ours

The man had on a collared green shirt, leaning
elbows-down upon the wooden porch
rail when you first ran into him. His son,
a balded little bean, had eyes that shone
like bottle glass, like kelp beneath the water,
like that shirt.

You didn’t know he had a son. Not then.

You knew he had a tired smile, sturdy
shoulders, soft eyes. And then you knew the feel
of his back beneath your palm as you walked past,
bestowing half a second of your hand
to rally him to join you with the others,
to depart the porch for wider plains.

Instead he stood there scrambling, quietly,
to make a record of your finger prints,
prolong their indentations in his skin,
delay their fading into songs whose notes
you can’t dredge up but which have settled in
you somewhere, you can tell, because you feel
that same old pull within your abdomen,
the spot where they once burrowed when they played.

You both made sure to walk a line.
To always thread
your needle back around the eyehole
from the distant land of Wrong,
in all its sweetness and its song,
back through to Right, or Righteousness—
whatever name they gave the ground
that itched the bottoms of your feet,
that made your bones throb
when you sat too still upon return.
You never lingered long in Wrong.

Unless to bask within each other, side-
by-side and silently, is wrong. If wrong
is measuring each day by the particulars
of one another. Aching for each other
without words.

He claimed a famous tune, recorded years

ago, was his creation, that he wrote
the words about his love for you.
You knew you’d hear it differently
from that point on.

Though looking back, you know
he couldn’t possibly have penned it years
before he knew you. Looking back, the strange,
slow warbling—like an aging man would sing
as day began to drain behind his bloodshot eyes—
could not have been a love song. But it didn’t
matter to you then. Nor did all
the other details that began to fall
in odd formations, all the little rips
in what seemed real.

When finally you’re forced apart, when all
the careful calculations that allowed
you both to have each other in a way
that couldn’t be contested but within
the confines of your heart are all contested
ultimately, by that woman he
could never love, or leave, you’re left alone
to say whatever words you think could bridge
the space of years to come.

He kisses you atop your head—
avoiding every other surface—and you reach
your hand for his, finding pouring rain
and glass separating you.
Finding your palm pressed to the glass
of the window pane above your bed.
Finding yourself awake.

We encounter sudden, unexpected deaths
in dreams much as we do in waking life:
we go about our days without a premonition,
thinking of ourselves in present tense,
as figures bloomed in oils upon a canvas
who will always sit upon that space once dried,
or beams that form the buttress of a building,
crucial to its standing, never rotting
or removed on second thought by its designer.

But when we find ourselves, or those among us,
junked or turpentined without a warning,

we then scramble, quietly, to make a record
of our mother’s laugh—like simmering
molasses, rolling slowly to a boil, a burst—
a photograph of how the cigarette hung
at exactly ninety-three degrees
from the edge of our old roommate’s mouth,
an imprint of the way Fernando’s fur felt
as it ran in orange rivulets between our fingers.

If we can pull them out and hear them,
see them, feel them as we did the day
we molded them, then we don’t have to think
or speak of them in past tense yet.
They aren’t written as addendums to
our prologues, the events that pass off-stage,
unseen, before the curtain rises on
the actors, who must now play out the scenes
to come as if they’re all that’s real. They are.

So we return to sleep.

We fool ourselves to thinking that we’d hear
our mom or roommate’s voices if we called
them (after all, the world looks just the same
today as it had always looked when this were true),

convince ourselves the cat is just beyond
our view, between the bushes and the fence
where he can leisurely dissect his kill
without the prying eyes of hawks, or humans,

hum that warbly tune as if we weren’t
forgetting how it went. As if, because
we know we’re dreaming, we can conjure something
that we haven’t let ourselves believe was never ours.

And then we wake, because we always do.

The song becomes the rain that splatters
on the outer layer of storm window,
the radio alarm that sounds at seven-thirty.
The face we held to ours so short a time
ago, the eyes, the nose, the patchy
beard, that shirt,
become a blur of imprecision,
a distorted mass of colored lines.

The pulsing that we knew meant blood
in veins, a heart that pushed and pulled
it through, and beat for us,
fades out, becomes the beating
of the heart that lies beside us,
tangled in the blue
of blankets.

* * * * *

Shenan Hahn is a poet living and working in the Washington, DC area.She has been writing poetry for over 10 years, and graduated in 2010 with her Master of Arts degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. Her work has most recently appeared in journals such as Slow Trains, PigeonBike, and Lines + Stars.  

Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

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The Smartest Girl in New York City

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y cousin Reba called me yesterday with a purpose. She only calls me with a purpose, but first we have to go through the ritual of small talk, gossip and the family death and dying manifesto, before she says, “Oh, by the way.”

“Thank God she’s alright now,” Reba tells me, “but we almost lost my mother last week. She’s still in intensive care and will be hospitalized for at least two more weeks, but she’ll be okay. Thank God.”

I tried to break through her wall of words to ask what was wrong with her mother but she was playing a strong defense and I never found out. I did hear that it was the doctor’s fault, her mother was coming up on ninety and she had asked the anesthesiologist for an egg cream, but that’s as far as we got because Reba segued into a scene from our childhood–one she remembered and I didn’t. I was finally able to elbow my way into the conversation to tell her that I had my coat on and was just ready to leave for work when she called. That’s when she said her, “Oh, by the way.”

I sat down and if I’d really been wearing a coat I’d have taken it off.

“How are the kids?” she asked.

“Great,” I said refusing to get into the “and how’re yours” game.

“Great,” Reba said. “I hear that Max is living in the City now. Does he ever talk about settling down, marrying, and having kids? He’s such a good boy, your Max.”

“I actually never talk to him about things that personal,” I lied. “I’m sure if he gets serious with someone he’ll come to grips with all that goes with it.”

Not surprising me, Reba said, “I have a cousin. You wouldn’t know her–she’s from the other side . . .”

“Europe?” I interrupted.

“No, silly,” Reba laughed, “my mother’s side. I thought that she and Max would make a great match. What do you think?”

“From what you’ve told me so far I see a short courtship, a long and happy marriage, several small insignificant bouts with infidelity–all of which will be forgiven but never truly forgotten, many children, leagues of grandchildren–all stunningly attractive and exceptional and a picture of you in a place of prominence in every one of their houses in honor of your bringing Max and Whats-Her-Name together.”

“Okay. Shall I call them? I haven’t seen Max in a few years so why don’t you jot down some info about him and e-mail me. I’ll call my cousin George and ask him about his niece.”

“Is George’s niece the one that’s the perfect match for Max?” I asked.

“Yes, why?”

“What’s her name?”

“Does that make a difference? Reba asked in her best “answer a question with a question” tradition.

“It might,” I said. “Max has an iron clad rule that he won’t date anyone whose name begins with a vowel.”

“To tell you the truth,” Reba said, “I know this cousin quite a bit less than I know Max and you know that I haven’t seen much of Max that much over the years. But the thing is I have a good feeling about the two of them.”

“Well, we’d have to get past the vowel thing.” I said.

“Why so adamant about the vowel?” Reba asked.

“I don’t know. I think he may have gotten frightened by one when he was learning to read.”

“Any permanent damage?” Reba asked, less with concern over Max and more over fixing up her cousin’s daughter with damaged goods.

“Of course not,” I tell her. “Why would you even ask?”

“Sorry,” she said. “Anyhow, I’ve got a real feeling about Max and this one. She’s nomadic like he is. She loves to travel and only goes back to Brooklyn to work long enough to build a travel nest egg and then she’s gone again.”

“If that’s not a sound basis for a relationship then I don’t know what is,” I tell her.

“See. You’re kidding but I’m not. She’s a hard worker and like Max, somewhat of a free spirit.”

“What does she do that she’s such a hard worker?”

“Here’s the good part. She makes good money–she’s a schochet.”

“Schochet, like in killer of animals, schochet?”

“Schochet like in a licensed ritual slaughterer,” Reba corrected.

“I’ll give you Max’ phone number as soon as he gets his phone in,” I tell Reba and then I begin telling her a made up boring story about my dog and a slice of pepperoni pizza that makes her tell me she has to run.

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eba has an ulcer and I believe it’s due to Caller I.D. Only I know the real reason for her ulcer. She loves to call me and unload her problems–real and anticipated. Since I get a lot of business calls at home I had few choices but to answer the phone in the morning, praying it wasn’t her, or letting my answering machine screen my calls.

It sounded too bogus to continually tell clients who were in the middle of leaving me a message that I either forgot to shut off the machine, was out of my office or was busy working and screening my calls and would only take the important ones like theirs. It made them wonder if I was avoiding them when I really wasn’t home and they had to leave a message.

Then a miracle happened. Caller I.D. became available in my neighborhood. It changed my life and my relationship with Reba. Unfortunately for her, it also prevented her from expelling her built up mischegas, her brand of craziness, and forced her to keep it pent up inside until she could get a hold of me. It ate away her stomach lining with rotting gossip juices.

She must have surmised something was amiss because she took to calling me from pay phones and her car. There were times I suspected it might be her so I’d pick up the phone but not say anything for several seconds, and just as she started to say hello I’d pretend I was my answering machine. I’d say that my message portion was full and to please call me back at another time. It was not uncommon for her to get verbally abusive and vulgar at an inanimate object she perceived was blocking her God-given right to talk to her cousin.

I did answer the call from the hospital; not knowing it was Reba, calling to let me know about her ulcer. She told me the attending doctor told her to see a therapist so she could talk out her troubles and not internalize them and after a while she might be able to get off her medicine. I don’t think she ever connected my Caller I.D. with her ulcer, but I felt a twinge of guilt. It passed.

Max came home for a weekend visit. He loves to cook and was cooking up his latest vegetarian creation for his stepmother and me. “You won’t even taste the curry,” he said as he spooned it into the mixing bowl.

“If we won’t taste it then why is it necessary to use it?” I asked. “You know we don’t like curry.” That argument was the same one I’d used as a kid with my mother when she told me to eat my lima beans and I’d tell her I didn’t like them. “How can you not like them?” she’d ask. “They have no taste.” When I asked why she made something with no taste she told me to shut up and eat the beans if I wanted dessert. The generations on both sides were in collusion.

As he cooked, he told us about an upcoming blind date. A group of his friends was pushing him to find a girlfriend and all wanted to fix him up, so he gave them an assignment. “Fix me up with the smartest girl in New York City,” he told them. “That’s my criteria,” he said. He told us they already knew the type of woman he liked from a physical standpoint, but in order to buy time he threw them a curve.

“How was I to know they were curve ball hitters? So two days later I got a call from a friend informing me that they’d found her. V (Max will only use initials with us–never real names) was the unanimous choice of a group of my close friends. I envisioned a dossier of her being passed around from one to another as her face filled a large screen in front of them. Feeling outfoxed and boxed in I offered to make dinner for her and B. and B., the couple who knew her best.”

“How’d you like a date with a schochet?” his stepmother Elaine asked him.

“How would you like a curry burger for dinner?” he asked back.

“No. I’m semi-serious,” she said and then told him about my cousin Reba’s call.

“Do you think it’s possible she’s a vegetarian?” he asked and then without waiting for an answer said, “I don’t think I’d be able to make small talk with a woman who kills things for other people’s pleasure. It’d be like dating a hit-woman or a cannibal, only not as interesting.”

“What would you suggest I tell Reba?” I asked.

“Tell her that my privates are allergic to animal blood,” he said.

After the weekend Reba called and wanted to know if I’d broached the blind date subject with Max. I told her that he had an upcoming blind date with “the smartest woman in New York City” and was in training for that. “He can handle only one major challenge at a time,” I told her. “It wouldn’t be fair to him or the killer-girl at this moment in their lives.”

“I think that if you refer to her as that “killer-girl” it might turn Max off,” she suggested.

“Knowing Max,” I said, “I think it just might turn him on. I know the idea fascinates me.”

“So who’s the “smartest woman in New York City” that he’s planning on dating?”

“All I know is that her name begins with a V,” I told Reba. “His friends are fixing him up.”

“Is she Jewish?” Reba wanted to know.

“She is the smartest woman in New York City,” I said. “What do you think?”

“Of course,” Reba says. “But what do I tell my cousin George?”

“Tell him that he has to wait his turn. He can have V when Max finishes with her, but not before.”

“No. What do I tell him about his niece?”

“Does she have a name to go with her knife yet?” I ask.

‘Miriam,” she says. “Max and Miriam–what a nice ring it has to it.”

“Like poet and killer,” I say referring to their occupations. “Is she frum?” I ask. “Max wanted to know.”

“Has Max turned religious that he now wants someone frum?” Reba asked excitedly. “If he’s looking for an Orthodox Jew then I’m definitely the right matchmaker for him. We belong to the largest Orthodox Synagogue in the area.”

“Your matchmaking?” I ask. “Is this a business? Are you planning to charge? Do I pay by the pound–is that how it works?”

“No. It’s my hobby. I’m working on getting two couples together as we speak.”

“As I recall from my single days and your matchmaking efforts then, you didn’t do so well by me.”

“You were tougher than the average,” Reba tells me.

“Oh, you mean I had standards.”

“No. Everyone has some standards, but at the time I was working with you most of the good ones were working with others. There’s no exclusivity anymore, thank God. Every prospect’s a free agent.”

“But from my experiences with your matchmaking–both times, I can only suggest that you weren’t very good at your hobby.”

“Well, I have a marriage and two children to my credit,” Reba said defensively.

“And?” I asked.

“And what?”

“And what else do you have to your credit for all your years of matchmaking?”

“Well, I’m working on two other couples and then there’s Max.”

“You mean to tell me that in all your years of this hobby of matchmaking all you have to show for it is one married couple with two children?”

“They’re lovely children,” Reba said.

“You’re not very good at your hobby,” I told her.

“You’re cruel,” she said.

“You need a different hobby,” I told her.

“No way,” she said.

“Reba, I have one word for you and I want you to think about it,” I told her.

“What is it?”

“Philately.”

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.
wo weeks later Reba called and pretended she hadn’t been getting my ads for stamps on consignment from the backs of comic books. I quickly begged off the conversation by telling her that Max was home and we were just going out. She pushed the Miriam/Max scenario and then told me to call her–she’d been checking into the frum situation and had some great possibilities.

Max told us that his intimate dinner for four turned into a fiasco. “A dozen of my friends invited themselves over for dinner because they wanted to check out my action with “the smartest girl in New York City”.” I expected a woman with a massive forehead, glasses and no sense of humor,” he said as he rummaged through our cupboard looking for more spices to go into the green thing he was making for lunch.

“Were you surprised when she showed up?” I asked.

“You bet,” he said. “Do you have any fresh basil or only this stuff in the jar?”

“What do you think?”

He opened the jar and told me that she was one of the bigger surprises of his life.

“How so?”

“First of all this forehead with glasses walks into my kitchen, introduces herself and shakes my hand. She was actually stunning. She hangs around the kitchen as I’m cutting up the tofu and tells me she read my book.”

“That’s a good sign.”

“Possibly. It was our last private minute together because all of the other guests piled into the kitchen and from then on it was all group for the rest of the night. It turned out okay though, because there really was no spark between us.”

“How can you tell if you weren’t alone?”

“Amongst other things, I realized during dinner that she wasn’t the smartest girl in New York City.”

“Did she flunk a spot quiz?”

“Kinda,” he said. “The group was talking about my book tour and someone asked V if she read my book and she said she’d read it twice. All heads turned towards me as if to say, ‘you hooked her, Max,’ but it turned out she read it the second time to correct the punctuation. She then pulled the book with the corrections from her bag and suggested I send it to my editor for the next printing.”

“It’s poetry,” someone told her. “Punctuation is inventive in poetry.”

“Even allowing for that,” V said, “the punctuation or lack of it takes away any brilliance the poems might have had. She then smiled at me just as you would imagine the smartest girl in New York City smiling after she proved herself smart once again.”

“What did you say?”

I said, “Thank you. Would you care for more wine? She smiled and put her palm on top of her glass in an all too cutesy way for her answer. For the next couple of days I had messages from some other guests suggesting different forms of improvement I should be working on–my cooking, décor, my writing and even my personal hygiene. It was their way of apologizing for their choice of date.”

“So who’s next?” I ask. “You want me to have Reba call the killer-girl? She’s dying to make amends for her screwups with me.”

“Is this from when you were a kid?”

“No. It was after your mother and I divorced. I needed some alone time and Reba, along with many well-meaning friends, thought I needed companionship.”

“Like any mature person would,” I said, “I got a dog.”

“Blintzes? Is that when we got Blintzes?” Max asked.

“Yep.”

“I remember going with you to different dog pounds until we found him.”

“Her,” I said.

“Blintzes is a her?”

“Female companionship,” I said.

Max laughed and reminded me that we had a neighbor who couldn’t say Blintzes, so he called her Vishinsky.”

Blintzes, close enough to hear her name, looked up for a moment to acknowledge our talking about her, and then went back to sleep. She was sixteen years old and slept a lot.

Max finally agreed to give in to Reba’s prodding but said he had to see a picture of any woman before he’d agree to date her.

“You know, Max,” Elaine said. “If a woman is really Orthodox she’ll be wearing enough clothes to cover most of her body, if not all, so what good’s a picture?”

“The more body the picture covers, the better,’ Max said. “In fact, all I need is an eye. Get me a picture with someone covered by a shawl except for one eye and that’ll do.”

When I told this to Reba she said, “The fig doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

From amongst the prospects Reba sent Max, he selected a Rabbi’s daughter. She lived in New York and was a grad student at NYU. She wasn’t all that religious and Reba’s friends considered her as leaning towards Gentile. She couldn’t make a local match with any of the orthodox bachelors, no matter how close to their mid-twenties they got, even if she was a Rabbi’s daughter.

Max and Reba spoke on the phone and Max told Reba that he wasn’t going to grow side curls or wear a black hat for this date. Reba told him that there was more to it than that and went back to talking about Lotus, the Rabbi’s daughter.

The name would have been enough. There is no way in the world Max would’ve passed up a date with a woman named Lotus, much less a Rabbi’s daughter by that name.

A month of whispered reports and shrugs had gone by when we were finally allowed to meet Lotus. She and Elaine were in the kitchen talking when I walked in. Blintzes was lying at her feet and Lotus was filling Elaine in on their relationship to date. I introduced myself and they didn’t mind that I stayed and listened in.

“I knew a little about Max from my cousin; she’d been fixed up with him once–liked him a lot, but never heard from him again.”

“Why do you suppose?” Elaine asked.

“She intimidates men,” Lotus said. “My cousin Veronica is probably one of the smartest women in New York and most men can’t handle that. Anyhow, when Max e-mailed me I decided to goof on him to see if he had a sense of humor. I wrote him back that I was thinking of taking a job as a lap dancer at a club in the diamond district. I couldn’t wait for his reaction. I told him that I was tired of working for Peanuts and a Yiddish speaking lap dancer could make big bucks. I didn’t tell him that Peanuts was the name of the kids magazine that I edited or that the Hasidic landlords would never allow that type of club in the neighborhood.”

“What was his response?”

“He asked if we could get together at Starbucks the next night. I could tell that he had thoughts of saving me from lecherous, foul-smelling Hasidim.”

“You didn’t consider that he was possibly thinking lap dance?” I intervened.

“A girl can hope,” Lotus said. “Over coffee, which eventually turned into dinner at an Indian Restaurant, we exchanged blind date stories. Max told me about his date with Veronica, only he called her V. He was very much the gentleman–never using a name or even confirming one when I tried to guess who he was talking about. It actually drove me a little crazy. Anyhow, I never told him that V was my cousin and her version was slightly different or he would have found out that one of his friends had put her up to the punctuation corrections as a joke, and that he had written her off too soon. I didn’t want him calling her again.”

It turned out that Lotus was her real name–Lotus Esther Gelb, and she was the daughter and granddaughter of rabbis. Her father, Job, however, was not a rabbi with a congregation, but he did many things rabbinical. So many things that the other rabbis called him “Odd Job.” Job Gelb was a mohel, a part-time Hebrew teacher, a fill-in Rabbi for vacationing rabbis, as well as a real estate salesman on the Lower East Side. He was also the supervising Rabbi for the Queens Kosher Slaughterhouse, where amongst other duties, he supervised the schochets, including our killer-girl Miriam. He was one of the very few Orthodox Rabbis who would perform a mixed marriage, and on top of all this, he would lecture at the local colleges and radio stations on the writings of Phillip Roth. He made a very good living and didn’t have to answer to any congregation.

Lotus’ mother, Sara Pomerantz-Gelb, had been a teacher at, and was now the principle of, Our Lady of The Perpetual Mission Catholic High School. Both Sara and Job had been raised as Orthodox Jews and still considered themselves that way. They left Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late Sixties to join the hippy movement, not realizing that it was winding down. Without renouncing their religion or families they managed to extend their options and lifestyles to accommodate both. Hence, the name Lotus. Her mother, in a rare “mother-daughter/girlfriend” moment shared with Lotus that her name came from a sexual position they believe was used on the night of her conception. Lotus told her mother that she had imagined a more spiritual reason for her name. “Be appreciative that we weren’t doing “the goat” or the “stinging bee” that night,” her mother told her. Lotus was. In keeping with the Jewish tradition of naming a newborn after a deceased family member, Lotus was named after her grandmother on her father’s side, Leah. This put her Rabbi Grandfather in an awkward position, one that he resolved by only calling her Leah.

.

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n the meanwhile Reba was getting flack for being a matchmaker for Lotus Gelb. A committee from her Synagogue visited her to discuss her matchmaking and her wasting an eligible Jewish bachelor on the likes of Lotus. Coincidentally, the six women who showed up as the committee all had marriageable daughters. “This could ruin your career, which at this stage isn’t all that great,” Tovah, the apparent leader, told Reba. “How could you put Lotus ahead of my Becka? Lotus is a shanda, a shame, and is a reflection on your matchmaking abilities,” she said.

Reba caved. Under pressure she invited Max to dinner one night when he was in town and Elaine and I were busy. Lotus was away at a conference.

“I felt like a sausage, you should pardon the expression, in a dog pound,” Max told us. Reba had seven women, all young, single, and religious sitting around the parlor when I got there. Even Miriam, the killer-girl was there.”

“So what happened?”

“It was great. The conversation was stimulating, but only after Reba left us to do the dishes. They were a nice bunch of young girls who were pushed into this by their mothers. Even Miriam turned out to be nice. One of them took out a copy of my book and asked if I’d read one of my poems. She picked the most sensual. I ended up reading three poems and then answered questions and discussed poetry in general. Most of them wrote some poetry also. All but Miriam led much too sheltered lives.”

“How old were they?”

“I’d guess from sixteen to nineteen.”

“Any sparks?”

“None for me, but they all seemed to know I was involved with Lotus and were respectful of that. I felt as if I was speaking to a group of kid sisters. They went beyond poetry and asked me about dating etiquette, current movies and books. They were thirsty for something other than religious topics for a change. By the way, they were all beautiful.”

“Even killer-girl?”

“All except killer-girl. She was attractive, with the most amazing eyes, gray with gold flecks. If they were marbles she’d have been queen of the schoolyard. But I believe that killing all those animals has taken its toll on her young life. Those beautiful eyes had a vacuous stare most of the night. Also, she’s in her twenties, older than the others and somewhat out of place. She must have felt it because even though she was polite, she fidgeted quite a bit, obviously waiting for the evening to end. She had nothing in common with the other girls except for being single.”

“Well, you did a mitzvah for Reba. She was in matchmaker hell for setting you up with Lotus and not any of these other girls.”

“Listen, it was a great ego booster and a fun evening with a sweet group of girls. I’d do it again.”

“Not likely,” Elaine said. “Reba was visited again by the committee again, only this time they told her to keep you away from their daughters.”

“You’re kidding?”

“No. They say you filled their heads with nonsense and that Reba should be on the lookout for Yeshiva buchers and no more poets.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have given them my e-mail address,” Max said.

“Bad idea.”

“That’s what Lotus said.”

“Was she angry?”

“Not at all. Lotus enjoyed hearing the story and predicted that they’d all rip up my address so they wouldn’t be tempted to write.”

“Really?”

“Really. All of them except killer-girl. Rabbi Job spoke to her when he was in Queens at the slaughterhouse.”

“Lotus told you that?”

“No. Killer-girl did. She e-mailed and told me that the Rabbi told her I was off limits. She asked if I wanted to meet for a drink.”

“Did you?”

Max laughed. “All I’ll tell you is that I called Reba and asked her to work hard to find Miriam a nice guy.”

* * * * *

Paul Beckman is a frequently published author of short stories, flash & micro fiction. He’s had two print collections published as well as a novella, several stories adapted as plays, been in several anthologies and his work has been published in England, Australia, Germany, Canada and New Zealand. He’s been a 7 time nominee for a Pushcart Prize. He earned his MFA from Bennington College. 

His other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Impression № 037: Gazok

Artist Felipe Daniel brings us this caricature of our future children. He tells us more about “Gazok”:

This character is the most special to me because it came on a night in which thoughtful came to mind: How will children be in the future? And herein lies the answer … Children with gas masks and mechanical arms or legs. The creative process: Reference, paper and pencil, and finished in Photoshop.

* * * * *

Felipe Daniel, a.k.a. Paraink, is 22 years old, was born in northern Brazil, and currently lives in São Paulo, where he has been studying digital painting, design and the future of 3D. He studied product design but does not work in that area, instead having becoming interested in illustration. His character ideas arise from daily life in São Paulo, sometimes from ​​people walking down the street or in the subway, from branches, from the remains of paint on the ground, from twisted steel and from people talking. Most of his creations start in his sketchbook. He mentally distorts people and objects and very often ends up creating an interesting character, though not always the one he imagined!

His other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Week 38

We took a short Thanksgiving break this week, but for all our un-American fans, rest assured that next week will be back to normal. For those of you who missed us this week, here is a run-down of week 38’s publishings!

Photographical

Smithsonian/Fictional

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Stay tuned for more of Dr. H’s tonics this week!

Humpty Dumpty: Saturday

.
 walk with Avery around the Charles River. After, while we are eating breakfast, you text.

Morning. I still love you. We’re still us. I am off to grab brunch with a friend. How’s little rabbit?

We’re good. We finished our walk. He’s watching Avatar. And I’m watching something else. I still love you and you should know, I don’t want to wait for physical/emotional intimacy with you.

I am sure we can arrange that. I will text you later after lunch.

I love you, too. My life would suck without you.

Muah!

My mother calls, and I tell her you and I have gotten back together, or are on our way to getting back together, or are something undefined. She asks me if I’m happy. I tell her I am. She asks me how Holly feels about it, and I tell her that I haven’t told Holly yet. She cautions me against getting too involved with you without letting Holly know. Don’t make the same mistakes, she says. Protect your heart. You don’t want to end up where you were three weeks ago. I tell her I know what I’m doing. I tell her I’m done making those mistakes. He knows everything, I say, and he still loves me. I love him, mom, I say. You’ll have to meet him when you’re here. She’s coming for Avery’s birthday in a couple of weeks. She says she would like to meet you. I say I think he will like meeting you, too.

I address invitations for Avery’s third birthday party. I find a card I think you will like, and I write in it. The card is more than an invitation to Avery’s birthday; the card is my response to your 3 a.m. comments. The card is hope.

I think you will think that Avery’s third birthday is the first of his birthdays you will celebrate. I think you will spoil him, and that you’ve already started thinking about what to buy him. I think Avery’s third birthday will be when you spend any amount of time with Holly.

I think she will not be happy.

I think I don’t care that she will not be happy.

Holly comes home from work, and she asks me if I’ve thought about our divorce. She asks me if I’ve started packing. She asks me if I understand that all of this is happening.

I tell her I understand. I’ll be fine, I say.

Have you thought about custody arrangements?, she asks.

I tell her I need to think about the best days and nights for me.

You know, I say, I used to think that you would end up OK about my relationship with him and since you love being pregnant, you would have offered to carry his child. You would have thought having children who were at least half siblings made more sense than him having a child with someone else. I thought that he and I would have the same tie to you, and the children would be related, and we could keep them all on the same custody arrangement.

And she looks at me and she tilts her head and she says, maybe I would have done that, but there’s no point in talking about it since it will never happen.

Holly and I watch another movie. Avery cooperates. I am meeting Murdock and Sandro at a bar, and then we’ve talked about going dancing. Before I leave the loft, I dig out the key you had given me, and the key to the outside doors of your apartment, from the box in which I had packed them, and I string each around a chain and I put the chain around my neck. The keys feel heavy around my neck, but the heaviness feels somehow right.

I don’t tell Holly what time I will be home. I do not know what time I will be home.

You have not texted me since this morning. I do not text you. You are mine. I am yours. You said so. My thoughts race ahead to where we will be in 10 days when I am living in my own apartment. I cannot keep up with my thoughts. I feel like I need to stop, but I do not know how to stop.

I drive to where you work. I consider texting you and saying I’m outside. I consider asking you to come out and say hi. I consider asking if you can take a break. Instead, I take some pens and markers out of my car and I go to a bench and I write what I think will be the message that we’ll remember as the proposal that stuck.

I think that we’ve done the difficult. We’ve moved past what happened. The impossible, the forging of a life, will take some time. But if you ask me to move mountains, or if you ask me to walk through fire, or even if you ask me to hold up the sky, I would, gladly.

At the bar, Murdock hugs me, as does Sandro. They say I look better than I did last week. I say the gym and yoga are starting to pay off.

Have you met a new man?, Murdock asks.

No, I say, but I’ve reconnected with RODA.

He took out a restraining order against you, Murdock says. What are you doing? I don’t even know what to say to you.

I love him, I say. I don’t know what else to do but forgive him and trust that we will end up where we are meant to end up.

I order a drink, even though I had decided not to drink. I send you a picture of the drink.

Don’t drink too much.

But I want to enjoy being a single gay man as long as possible.

Murdock and Sandro say they’re going out to smoke a cigarette. I tell them I am going to the bathroom. Inside a stall, I take a picture of the keys around my neck, and I send the picture to you.

I get back to the table first. I drink more of my drink. The music seems louder, and I am starting to sweat. I unbutton the top two buttons on my shirt.

You’re taken, but flirt and have fun.

Maybe I’m taken. You have not asked me to date it out or to be in a monotonous relationship.

I am having trouble feeling my fingers. I cannot type the word monogamous. I think my not being able to type the word monogamous should be funny, but I cannot laugh. I try twice to retype the word and each time I type something different.

Over dinner tomorrow.

I do not respond.

?

Murdock orders another drink. I have only had half of mine. I say I’m fine. I say I’m not feeling well. Sandro goes outside to smoke a cigarette. I ask Murdock if we can go into the back because I want to walk around. I know I’m being passive aggressive. You do not communicate with me when you’re out with your friends. Why should I communicate with you? I am not normally like this. I have craved your words and your touch and you’re giving me your words and promising me your touch and why am I acting like this, and why can I not stop acting like this?

Are we having dinner?

Murdock and I have wandered into a different room. The room is dark, so I assume I am sexy because everyone looks good in the dark. I still wish I had stayed home, and I’m starting to think the drink was a bad idea because I have a headache and I think that I’ve become a lightweight and I wonder how that happened.

I was hoping to make out with a Welshman tonight, but they seem to be in short supply, so a Brazilian may have to do.

Loving someone shouldn’t be so hard, I think. We shouldn’t be so hard. Why are we so hard? Why do I feel like my life led me to you, and the you my life led me to doesn’t really exist?

I feel like the room is spinning. I tell Murdock I need to sit down. I hate that you work Saturday nights. I want a date night. I want Saturday nights and Saturday days and Sundays. I want it all. I want the ring, too, I want to tell you. I want the marriage. I want the moving in and the engagement and the commitment. I hold my hand carefully, so I can get these next words just right:

You know, I feel everything in my life has led me to you. And that’s not just martini talking. My friends aren’t so sure about you, but I’ve never wavered in my idea of what our life could be. I love you. It’s not something I can turn off. I’ve tried. You’re inside me and I see such a brilliant future with you. The ring is being sized but I can’t imagine anything better than being taken by you. You are my heart. You are my future. I think you should plan to kiss me tonight, but that’s just me.

I put my phone back in my pocket. Murdock is talking to me, but it sounds like he is talking through a tunnel. I shake my head a little to clear my ears. I tell him that I know you want to kiss me, but that you’re at work. After, I say. He’ll meet me after. I know he’ll meet me after.

Sorry, at work. I am taking my last 15 now.

You get off soon, though.

I am not using full words. I am typing in letters. I do not want to be typing. I want to be home. I do not feel like I can drive. I never can not drive. I’m the best drunk driver ever. I’m just drinking with my friend.

So I don’t know these friends, right? I have plans tonight with my best friend. He’s got my TV from our other friend and is going to help me set up the living room and my Wii.

He’s getting high tonight, I say to Murdock and Sandro. His best friend is coming over to set up his Wii. He’s not picking me.

How did this happen again? How did I get here? I tell them that you need to set up your Wii. I can’t keep doing this, I say. And I put the phone on the table, and by the light of a fake candle, I type the only thing I can think to type.

That’s fine. Have fun. Bye.

Something isn’t right. I need you tonight. I can’t feel my hands. I can’t feel my heart. The room continues to spin and I am sweating.

I thought you had asked me to go out to dinner with you when we were out and about with Ave? OK. I guess we’re done talking. I still have 10 minutes of my 15 and I took it so I could answer you. I just can’t text when I’m sitting at the front desk because there’s a camera on me recording at all times.

I show the text to Murdock and Sandro. He’s not picking you, Murdock says. He will never pick you, Sandro says. I feel like they’re a fucking Greek chorus. You have your own Greek chorus. Your best friend. Your roommate. I know both will stop at nothing to make sure our relationship ends. They will say whatever they need to say. They’re jealous of me. They’re jealous of us. You know that. You told me so. Why would you listen to them? How could you let them talk about me the way they did the night you snorted pills? How could you have talked about me the way you did the night you snorted pills? How could you have lied to me about snorting pills? How could you tell me last night that you want to marry me and tonight tell me that setting up your Wii is more important?

I know I’m the guy who has to decide if he’s going to look back or not. If I look back, I know I will turn into a pillar of salt. Or is that some other story. It’s not a myth. It’s from the Bible. Lot and his wife. What myth am I thinking about? Persephone. Hades. She has to live six months out of the year in Hell. Icarus. His melted wings. He falls and his father is helpless. Falling. I couldn’t even fall right. I should have fallen. I am falling. I have fallen in love with a man who will never love me the way I want him to love me. I have fallen in love with a man who will never love me the way I deserve to be loved. Or maybe I have fallen in love with a man who will never love himself the way he should. But who am I to decide how anyone should be loved? I am no one. I am dizzy. I do not want to be sitting, but I don’t feel I can stand. What the fuck is happening to me? I ask Murdock how much I’ve had to drink. He points to my one drink and says I haven’t even finished it. I say I’m not feeling well. I say I can’t do this. I say I love you but I can’t keep doing this. It’s insanity, I say, and they don’t know what I mean, but I know they can understand.

It’s fine. Have a good night, D. I’m done. I think my children and I are going to pass on a relationship with you. But I wish you nothing but the best. It’s a Wii. I’m a person. As much as I love you and as much as I think it, I deserve more. And I will find it.

You respond 15 minutes later.

I wish you wonder. Goodbye.

I read your text message. The letters of your first name are buried inside of the word wonder. Why didn’t we see this before?

* * * * *

William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association. Currently, he is a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at wil329@yahoo.com and through his blog, Henderson House of Cards.

His other Snake-Oil contributions are here.

Exposure № 051: Encima de la soledad flota la luna

Photographer Naama Sarid tells us that this photo was made in Oropesa castle, Toledo, Spain:

I went there with my husband to celebrate my birthday. This photo looks a little bit gothic for a birthday photo, because I always feel ambivalent about this day – I like it but am also afraid of it.

Medium: digital camera + texture.

* * * * *

Naama Sarid is an architect. She began an intense career as a documentary and conceptual photographer in Madrid (2008), and has contributed to numerous magazines and publications in Europe and Israel. She has participated in numerous exhibitions in Ukraine, Spain and Israel. Her sustained challenge as an artist is the desire to “build dreams” in visual codes. Her publications at Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Owney Dies

Owney


he young boy quivered like a loose railborne down by overflowing coal truck, afraid to look up from beneath his cap for fear his grin would split his face wide open.C. Rudolph Brand was not looking at the boy.  He spun the strip of telegraph paper around his thick, dusty fingers as if he could rub off the black ink buried in the deep furrows.

Owney due on next packet from St. Louis.

The comical cur was coming to Toledo, Brand thought.  The live package with no address.

The boy couldn’t contain himself any longer.

“I’ll tell everyone else Owney’s coming, right Postmaster?  It’s a right fine honor for the Toledo Postal Service.”

Postmaster Brand held up his hand.

“Is the packet train coming in on time?”

“Running a couple of minutes early, sir.”

“We’ve got a full load to lay up when it’s here.  We don’t want too many distractions.”

The boy tore open the door and ran out into the vast anteroom of Toldo Postal Routing Station #1.  The sounds of the mail, muted by the heavy oak frame, the thick, smoky glass, the stolid marble walls, came coursing in like a river roiled from early spring rains:  worn-down cast iron wheels catching on the loose seams of the shiny new floors; the insect-like whisper of envelopes sliding one against another as postmen poured thousands into huge sorting bins; the echo of voices calling out across the anteroom, signaling a load ready to get routed, the mail sorted and directed, some pieces set for their final mile, wrapped together in square packets and stuffed into a waxed canvas post bag, other pieces strewn among hundreds of other pieces, sealed loosely in a canvas bin, ready for loading onto the packet train heading east, or west, or the south, hopscotching across the country, to Chicago, or Lexington, Minneapolis, Cheyenne, Harrisburg, Denver, Albany, Salt Lake, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, New York.

The noise from the anteroom was like the roar of a waterfall to the thin, serious man who sat straight in his chair and tapped thick schedule book on his desk.  The country was growing.  The mail was growing.  The number of cars on the packet train was going.  The army of postmen was growing.  There was no end.  This was an infinite campaign.

The mail held siege and there was no escape.

The packet from St. Louis pulled in at 3:43 in the morning, 15 minutes early.  The platform was uncommonly crowded.  Word had gotten out that the travelling dog, Owney, was coming to town.  Clerk, runners, sweepers, shift leaders, sorters, carriers, boxers, pushers, postmen — all of the graveyard shift at Routing Station #1 ran along the gravel railbed beside the squealing train as it eased into the station.  The men pounded on the wooden side planks, yelled out high-pitched barks, cried out “Owney” like they were serenading a two-bit street lady, laughed and snorted and pranced with infantile glee.

They fell still when the train settled on its axles, the steam clouds shrouding the undergear.  Four men swung from the front and back cars and worked their way to the middle of the train, stopping at each car, yanking each iron latch free and pulling the doors open wide.

“Got a special load for you today, boys,” one of the men said.

They all were silent.  The doors opened onto the black bowels filled with the mail stock.  When the four men came to the center car, one pulled a long wooden plank from the side rail, while another clambered up the side and unlatched the door.  The other two stood facing the Toledo Routing Station crew squarely, arms crossed over their chests, feet shoulder’s length apart.

The man at the door yelled out, “Presenting Owney.”  He opened the door.

A thick, ragged dog with matted grey, black and brown hair sat stolidly in the center of the opening.  His muzzle was fell like the lips of a dispirited old man.  His haunches sagged to the side under his own weight.  His eyes were dull.

The men let out a cheer.  “Owney!” they cried.

When the ramp was laid down, the dog stood up.  A makeshift harness of dun canvas was wrapped around his forward haunches and the small of his back.  Tin stamps, metal tags and leather labels pinned to the harness jangled and clanked when the dog walked.

He looked old and heavy.

When he got to ground, he held his nose up and sniffed.  He turned toward the station house and began to trot.  He ignored the men altogether.

“What’s he doing?” one asked.

“That’s Owney, got a mind of his own.  Let him be and it will be all right,” one of the railmen said.

The men fell into line behind him.

Postmaster Brand stood at the center of the platform.  The dog was almost invisible up against the grey muster of men.  The serpentine train seethed behind them.  The rail crew was setting out the ramps on the cars to unload, readying their gear at the front of the platform to take on the new load.  They were heading northeast, to Buffalo, where the Canadian post would be laid off and intermingled.  A tall man in a crisp blue uniform stepped to the balcony of the second car and called out impatiently, “We’re ready now.  Don’t make us late over that fool dog,” and Brand cast his glance around for his loading foreman, a young man named Chevrall who was mature beyond his years, only to see him trotting in a crouch alongside the mangy dog that was moving up the platform.

Brand held his voice.  Yelling out was beneath his position, would undermine the dignity and authority that he believed was the responsibility of a Postmaster.  The order of the Postmaster was rule; without it the torrential plunge of the mail would crush the Station, and unleash a sequence of mistimings, disruptions and failures that could bring the entire Postal System, a vast, faceless network, to a halt.

Brand turned to the young clerk who stood on his tiptoes beside him and said, “Please fetch Mr. Cheverall to my office, son.” The boy’s grin was uncontrollable now. He raced down the platform.  Brand returned to his desk, where he mused on the odd quality of this dog that travelled from post station to post station, unfettered, on his own whim, disrupting and enlivening.  They were fortunate that the train was early, he thought.  They would survive the distraction, though it would take all the extra time they had picked up.  He’d heard other Postmasters curse the travelling dog, and had wondered at their virulence, but now he could feel the urgency that the distraction of the dog instilled, the grabbing, cleaving worry that the work would not be done and the train not leave on time.

Chevrall burst into the room with his hat in his hand.

“Can you believe it, sir?  That Owney picked us to come visit?  He’s been all over the world and he comes to the Toledo Routing Station!  It’s a premonition of good things, Sir. Fortune’s going to shine on you, Mr. Brand, you can be sure of that now.”

“I’m concerned more about the misfortune that we’ll experience if we don’t get the post off the train and the packet out in time,” Brand said.  “I’m expecting you to fulfill your responsibilities with your customary competence, Mr. Chevrall.  That means getting the teams busy and at work, not following a mongrel around the station.  If they can’t manage that we’re going to set that dog out, that’s what you need to make sure they know.”

“Sir, we can’t tell them that!” the young man blurted.

Brand looked at him in silence.

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Brand.  I’m just meaning that it’s a great honor to have Owney visit us, and the men should feel good about it.  We’re on top of the job, sir.  I’m off to keep it moving.”

Brand looked away out the window.  Carts were trundled off the train, lost in the shadows beyond the platform.  The door closed behind him.  He shook his head.  A dog, just an old dog.

Chevrall found his men clustered around the dog in the middle of the anteroom.  Owney had stopped and was looking around.

“I don’t reckon he can see,” said one of the men.

“What do you think he wants?” asked the young clerk. “He’s looking for something.”

“He’s probably half blind, you figure?”

“We’ve got to get a tin to hang off him so people know that he was here.”

“What do you think made him come here?”

“He must have got word that we had a new Routing station.  State of the art.”

“He doesn’t get word, you know.  He’s a dog.”

The little clerk threw back his shoulders and faced the men.

“He’s something more than a dog.  He’s been all the way to Katmandu with the post.  I’ve heard about.  He’s a postal dog to his core, just like us, so don’t be smart about him.”

The old dog pushed his nose against the young boy’s hand.

“See,” the boy said.  “He likes me.”

Chevrall pulled a few of the men aside.

“Come on now, we’ve got work to do.  The dog can take care of himself.”

The men slunk away as if they were just waking up, reluctant to start their shift.  The boy stood by the dog.

“What do you plan on doing, Eddy?” Chevrall asked.  “Stand with him all night?”

“This is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen, Mister,” the boy said.  “I’m famous now.  I don’t know what to do.”

“Why don’t you call over the paper and get someone here to take a picture?  We should let all of Toledo know that the famous world travelling dog Owney paid us a visit.  It’s better than royalty.”

Postmaster Brand had realized well before the incidents began that the transfer was going to turn ugly.  His crew was hurrying because they’d got a late start.  A hamper of loose mail tipped and spilled along the tracks.  Another hamper careened down the ramp and struck one of his loaders.  A big Swede who worked as a sweeper pushed a railmen down on the fresh gravel.  The weather turned and a light rain began to fall.  Brand looked at the clock.  They were falling behind schedule.

He stood at the big glass window and looked for Chevrall.  Yelling erupted from dark end of the train and a loud crash sounded.  Brand stepped through his private door to the platform.  The noise became louder.  He heard the sharp crack of a gun shot.  The train foreman ran out from the second car and sprinted down the platform.  Brand followed briskly behind him.

As he came closer to the rear, an unfamiliar voice stood out from the rest.

“Stand back, I say.  Stand back or get what’s coming to you.  Just stand back.”

The foreman waded into the group of men and pulled a small, grimy man aside by the scruff of his neck.

“Timmy Mahon, up to the front with you, you little wretch, now and don’t move an inch.”

“What’s going on here?” Brand cried out as he got to the group.  “My men, get back to work here.  Hurry it up.  Nothing to do here.”

“Just a minute,” said the loud voice.  Brand saw a stout man with a florid face standing at the back of the rail car.  He pointed a pistol diffidently toward the men.  He wore a Toledo Police uniform.

“What’s your business here, man” Brand said.  “This is Federal tracks here.”

“I’m patrolling over in the yard and saw this big man swinging a board at that small one, so I’m stopping this from being an all out brawl, don’t you know that, so don’t tell me what to do.”

The big Swede hung his head down and stood at the side of the car.  The rail foreman looked at Brand.

“I’ll take the resonsibility.  It’s this one here, he’s no good.  My sister’s son, and I’m giving him a chance, but he’s picking fights at every stop we got.  No fault of your man.  We’ve got to pick it up so we can get on schedule.”

The constable was bright red in the face.  Brand could see that he was young, that he wanted to do what he thought was the right thing, and that he’d waded into something bigger than he could fathom.

“Come on then, son, let’s go up to my office and call a report in to your station head.  These men can get to work and we can get them out of here.”

The constable looked around and let his gun drop to his side.

“That’s a good idea, sir.  May I ask your name?”

“I’m Postmaster C. Rudolph Brand.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir.  I’m Constable Fred Free.  Where should we make that call?”

As Brand led the constable down the platform, the men fell back to work, their rhythmn shocked by on track by the discharge of the gun.  He checked his pocket watch.  They would finish the transfer only 10 minutes late, he calculated, at this rate.

For a moment, he did not register the scream, it was so sharp and high-pitched that he mistook it for the squeal of iron brake pads against rail wheels, or the death cry of a game bird cornered by a hunting dog that’s smelled blood, or the haunting cries of the nocturnal spirits that travelers said haunted the jungles of the Amazon.

Constable Free recognized the sound in an instant.  In the newspaper story that followed, the first of many, a story that Postmaster Brand poured over as he sat alone in his rooms, trying to understand what had happened and why, Constable Free described the cry as the same sound his grandfather had made to invoke the cry of the Confederate wounded at the Battle of Vicksburg, men who were destined to die in a moment, who were crying out in sorrow and depair.  The Constable raised his gun and sprinted down the platform to the open arch of the anteroom.  Brand was forced to run after him.  He entered the anteroom moments after the Constable and skidded to stop.

The Constable had dropped into a crouch and slipped across the marble floor like a fencer.  His pistol wavered at the end of his rigid arm.

In the center of the floor, the dog Owney was straining at a thick rope that had been looped around his neck and fastened to a metal stanchion.  His tongue was slick with white slather and thrust from his mouth he time he lunged.  Except for the jangling of the the tins and iron plates and medals, the dog was silent.

Beyond his reach the young clerk sat on his hindquarers clasping his forearm.  Blood spilled between his fingers.  He was moaning.  His eyes were squeezed tight, as if he could make everything go away.

“Hold still, boy, he can’t get you,” the Constable whispered, advancing on the dog.

“What have you done to Owney?” a loud voice behind Brand demanded.

“The dog’s mad,” one of the loaders yelled.  “He’s attacked Eddy.  See!”

The foreman from the train pushed past Brand.

“You can’t tie Owney up.  He goes where he wants.”

The constable had arrived behind the old dog.  He lowered the gun slightly and pulled the trigger.  The blast was deafening.  The dog dropped to the floor.

The report of the pistol caromed off the high ceiling, repeated itself over and over, a faint murmur of prayer.  Brand felt his shoulders fall, but could not help himself. Constable Free fell back in dismay as the foreman threw his fists out, striking at the florid man.  The gun fell to the floor with a sharp crack.  Brand watched it spin.  Young Eddy cried out, “Owney,” as his fellows came to his aid.

“He needs a doctor,” Brand said.  Chevrall stood framed in the archway to the platform, stunned.  “Get the boy a doctor,” Brand repeated calmly.

The foreman beat at the constable.  No one intefered.  The florid man was senseless.

Brand walked across the marble to the dead dog.  He had fallen to his side in a final repose.  Brand crouched next to him.  The animal was foul smelling, the essence of oil, smoke, mold and the enervating rot of age lifting from his body.

There was a dull brass tag on his collar.  Brand fingered it.

“Owney Albany Post Office.”

He grimaced.  A small typographical error — a ’y’ in the place of an ’r’ — had given the animal the freedom to wander around the world, rail packet by rail packet, station by station.  Brand could see his future clearly.  He was the man who had killed Owney the Dog.

He lifted the body and clasped it against his chest.  He carried the dog into his private room, where he sat in his chair and watched the engine steaming beyond the platform.  He stroked Owney’s foul, matted hair and waited until he could decide what to do.

Owney was a stray dog who wandered into the Albany, New York, post office in 1888. The clerks let him stay the night, and he fell asleep on a pile of empty mailbags. Owney was attracted to the texture or scent of the mailbags and began to follow them, first onto mail wagons and then onto mail trains. Owney began to ride with the bags on Railway Post Office (RPO) train cars across the state, and then the country. The RPO clerks adopted Owney as their unofficial mascot, marking his travels by placing medals and tags from his stops on his collar.

* * * * *

This story is part of a series of works inspired by the Smithsonian Institution’s photo archive, made publicly available on Flickr. If you would like to, choose an image from their collection and create something – be it prose, poetry, audio, or visual art – inspired by it, and send it to snakeoilcure [at] gmail [dot] com.

JW Rogers lives in New York with his wife, three children, three dogs and four manual typewriters. His other contributions to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Impression № 036: Torch Lake

Torch Lake: A bottomless lake in Antrim County, Michigan.More on Todd Michael Freeman‘s inspiration:

I’ve also started including more landscape-like images, where small scale scenes are the dominant subjects. They depict phenomena and geological processes that are otherwise too large or slow to see, and map the movement of continents, bodies of water and other unseen events below our feet. With this new work the options for my pictorial index really opened up, and I truly don’t ever see myself running out of stories to tell.

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Todd Michael Freeman’s other contributions to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Dr. Hurley’s Sonnet Contest: the Results are In!

After fighting long and hard in iambic pentameter, we are happy to announce both the popular choices and the editors’ choices for winners of Dr. Hurley’s first-ever poetry contest. Our vote has already made the first decision, and we doff our caps to our popular choice winner:

[Drumroll]

“On Young Marriage” by Laura Hallman

Our editors thought long and hard, read and re-read, and then had a brief but well-edited sword fight before settling on our choice, which is:

[Drumroll followed by cymbal]

“Soon After We Had Shoved Off from the Dock” by Joe Heidenreich
Congratulations to our winners, and stay tuned for news of prizes and of our next competition!

 

 

Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Week 37

Our second guest-edited week, courtesy of JA Mortram, brought us fiction from John McIntyre, photography from Mortram and many of his photographic friends, and the next in Will Henderson’s Humpty Dumpty series.

Photographical

Fictional

Non-fictional

And the results of our sonnet contest will be coming up this afternoon. We promise! Stay tuned to find out if you won!