Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Vol. II, Issue 52

The first of three guest-edited weeks gave us some great fiction and poetry, courtesy of guest editor Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke. Check out what you missed below.

 

Monday – Introduction

Wednesday – Fiction

Friday – Poetry

More from MFC this week and next, plus, today marks the beginning of Dr. H’s third year! Huzzah!

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Denmark High School Reunion

 … I know, I know, I know.  He’s had way too much to drink—and he just got his 100-day chip last week! The poor bastard, all that 12-step work just down the toilet … … You didn’t know? Yeah. I mean, he used to be pretty good at hiding it. I think he’s probably been a functional alcoholic for most of his life. He started going to AA after he got arrested for driving to work totally wasted at seven in the morning. … … No, no, just leave him alone. I’ll drive him home and let him sleep it off. We shouldn’t have come; being here just brings back tormented memories for him, and I was afraid it may be too much too soon. I can’t blame him.  … Well, you can call it PTSD or panic attacks or whatever, but the bottom line is I don’t think it’s possible for a human being to recover from something like that. He held him, you know. He watched his best friend die while cradling him in his arms.  It just looked like a scratch, he said, but then things got worse quickly.  They were like brothers, you know.  He was suicidal for weeks afterward—did I tell you that? Weeks. … … Yeah. The whole family. Murdered. Don’t believe the propaganda.  It wasn’t SARS or the flu or whatever the media says.  They never arrested anyone, but personally, I think the uncle started that whole fiasco rolling. The whole family is crazy as hell.  I never liked him hanging out with them. They just wallow in their own dysfunction, trying to pull everyone down with them. That’s when I told him he had to quit that government job. Get as far away from those politicos as possible. Then the drinking started, or rather, that’s when it became really obvious. He wasn’t abusive or anything, but he just wouldn’t stop talking about it. He became obsessed, analyzed every little detail of the tragedy like one of those CSI guys. At first I thought it was therapeutic, you know. Talk it out, write stuff down, go to therapy. But then I’d wake up in the middle of the night and find him sitting on the outside patio, staring into space, three empty wine bottles beside his chair. “I’m looking at the stars,” he’d tell me, though it was too cloudy to see any stars. He started talking to himself, saying he could see ghosts … … He’s tried all the meds – our bathroom looks like a freakin’ pharmacy. We nearly went bankrupt shuffling him from specialist to specialist. No one had any answers, or rather, they did have answers, but none of them seemed to work. … … Oh great. He’s spiking the punch bowl.  Right there, see? I thought I had checked his pockets—he’ll sneak a flask everywhere we go, even putting Jack Daniels in his coffee at breakfast.  I swear, he’s going to implode. I feel like I can’t stop him. Like he’s drenched in gasoline and trying to light a match.   I don’t know what to do… … Yeah, he was upset over that, too. You know, I think she killed herself. Don’t listen to the spin the royal family PR machine sets in motion. Those people make me want to vomit.  … That’s not a rumor, I’m afraid. It’s true: He did put pictures of the crime scene on Facebook. The whole grisly thing. I was mortified. Can you imagine what the poor relatives went through, seeing pictures of those they cherish sprawled out on the floor, cold and dead, tongues hanging open like something out of a horror movie? It was sick, I tell you. Just sick. He said it was the quickest way to get the word out. Don’t ask me what that means. Of course, people think he Photoshopped the whole thing. I just can’t understand him anymore. He used to be so earnest, so compassionate—that’s what attracted me to him in the first place— but now it’s like the world has just sucked all the goodness out of him, like a vampire feeding and leaving an empty shell. But you know what they say, for better or for worse. Anyway, it’s good to see you. I know it was a long journey for you, but I’m so glad you made it to the reunion. It feels good to talk this out with someone who has not been saturated with the news —the press has hurled it at us from every angle. Seriously, every other week there’s something bizarre in the tabloids.  …. Well, no, of course they’re not coming to the reunion. You didn’t know? … … Oh, I am so sorry to break the news to you, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.

* * * * *

Dawn DeAnna Wilson of North Carolina is the author of three novels: Saint Jude, Leaving the Comfort Cafe, and Ten Thousand New Year’s Eves. This piece is a variation of a story from her collection, Welcome to Shangri-La, North Carolina. She enjoys painting, kayaking, and drinking way too much coffee.

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

Guest edited by Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke

Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Vol. II, Issue 45

We love welcoming new Snake-Oilers into the family, and this week, we had a great first fiction submission from Dawn Wilson, and some photos from Rodrigo Illarraga. And let’s not forget returning Snake-Oiler David Subacchi.

 

Monday – Fiction

Wednesday – Photography

Friday – Poetry

So that’s what you missed, Sunday friends! More to come next week.

Ancestors, Internally

Mother-dearest poured the hot chocolate with the powder into the boiling water and the water stopped boiling.  It was her trick that she wanted the children to see.  Magic, illumination, and reverence.  She intoned, “See?  Grandmother stopped the water from boiling.”  Mother-dearest had mixed Grandmother’s ashes into the hot cocoa mix, so you really couldn’t see the grays from the browns and wouldn’t want to anyway.

Grandmother wasn’t pretty when she was so far dead.  She looked like dirt.  But it was only polite to wave into the pan and say, “Grandmother, how lovely to see you again,” and blow her a kiss (better than her puffy old cheek any day).

The table, chrome edged with a yellow top, soon held six cups, like when they dyed Easter eggs.  One for each color, one for each child, one for each spirit, one for each egg, one for Jesus crying, one for Jesus kissing, one for Jesus carrying his cross, one for the blood of Jesus, one for Jesus climbing the cross of his own accord, one for Jesus behind the rock playing hide and seek with Mary, leaving his shroud.  There were six special cups.  There was no cup for praying; the praying came from Mother-dearest, standing over her brood, telling them when to be grateful and when to ask for mercy.  And when to drink.  “Drink, children, drink now, while she’s hot and properly mixed.”  If you waited too long, the cocoa would settle, with Grandmother’s ashes, into the bottom of the cup, and you’d have to scrape her out with a spoon.  It was sweet and gritty then.  That’s why they drank Grandmother’s ashes.  A pill, coated in peanut butter.

All five children reached for their cups, and Mother-dearest as well.  Papa wouldn’t drink.  It wasn’t his mother.  He didn’t much care for her.

Prudence took the pink Easter egg cup with the top-hat bunny, her long hair pulled back in a bow and her I’m a Good Helper apron over her funeral dress.  Horace took the blue cup with the squiggles and the tiny worm-like crack and his eyes kept darting at his brother and sisters, just in case.  He’d never drank anyone before.  And if he didn’t have to, he’d rather not start.  Petunia and Lucinda took their cups (orange and yellow, butterflies and flowers, and Big Foot in a forest) without questioning; they just wanted the melted chocolate and wouldn’t remember Grandmother by the end of the week.  There were thousands of imaginary fairies and talking twigs to take her place.  Littlest Nathaniel reached for the black cup and Mother-dearest took gold.

But where was the silver cup?  Papa’s special cup.  The cup that said Papa in glittering letters as if he were the most special man in this known world.

Papa would not get Grandmother’s special care, from deep inside, if he didn’t drink.  She might even hex him, from the beyond, for not sucking up his pettiness.

Of course, Grandmother (though no one would ever dare slander her aloud) was the one who poked him and said rude things.  She had quite the tongue.  It was fat and faintly purple, with thousands of bumps and one smooth ridge.  No matter what Papa did, she always went contrary.  Papa was the one who had tried.  Grandmother, dearest.  She smacked him for trying to Dearest her.  He built her house, tended her chickens, cut the heads from her turkeys, sired her grandchildren, and dug her grave.

But, you know, it’s how you act after someone has passed (like drinking their ashes) that’s most important, not how you are to their face.  Face to face, you don’t call your mother-in-law a hag; that would upset the wife.  It’s tougher, once the dead are buried, to make time to visit the grave and dig out the parasites, pull the weeds, particularly the witchweed that always sprung up from the graves of difficult women.

Witchweed, dearest, and a missing silver Easter egg cup.  It didn’t take a saint to count to seven, to see the missing bits of the rainbow, and to open a mouth.  The littlest child was always the stupidest, and this one asked, “What about Papa?”

“There’s not enough to share with Papa,” Mother-dearest said.  She said it like he was halfway to Hell and strewing his seeds along the way.

“Then I’ll share mine.”  Nathaniel hopped off his vinyl chair to force his own father to drink the bitterness of pride.

Mother-dearest panicked.  “Sit!”  It didn’t take a woman five children to see her mother’s wicked nature.  Drink the woman; do not cross her.

“But if Papa’s already going to Hell when he dies, I don’t want him to go there while he’s alive, too, and you know what Grandmama will do to him.”

Mother-dearest raised her face to the cross nailed over the kitchen door: Protect My Family.  “There’s nothing to be done for him.”

Again with the stupid child who believed good about everyone, including his own father, the man who could split logs with one chop and wore a belt with a vicious buckle.  “Then I’ll lay down my life for him.”

“Nathaniel—”

“Someone’s gotta do it, Mama.”

What do you tell a kid who’s being sweetness itself?  Nothing.  Not when you’d want him to lay down his life for you, too.

Nathaniel ran off with his little black cup to find Papa out by the barn killing something for dinner and licking the splattered blood off his lips.  The screen door slammed definitively.  The separation of good and evil.

“Stupid Wart,” Horace muttered after his brother, and Prudence took it upon her young maternal instincts to smack him.

Mother-dearest got out the spoons and handed them around to the children who had waited until the drink was cool and the silt had settled.  “Stir.  Stir and stir, and if that’s not enough, you’ll have to scoop her out.  Don’t waste her.  You know what will happen if you pour even one iota of your grandmother down the drain.”

“Yes, ma’am.”  Children in chorus.  They knew all too well.  Grandmother wasn’t easy to please, but she was easy to annoy, be it spinning tops, the clack of marbles, or the mud left over from a water fight—a fight that always started off so clean.  Too bad nothing ever stayed that way.

In the barn, Papa wept, as if he had something in his eye, and Nathaniel felt a peace that came only when the wicked had been swept off the game board and all was right in the world.

 *

It only took two weeks for peace to break.  Nathaniel, known as Wart when the parents weren’t there to eavesdrop manners, clutched his stomach and fell off the bed he shared with his brother.  “She’s got me!” he screamed.  He rolled around on the floor.  “She’s eating me from the inside!”

“No, she’s not, stupid!” Horace yelled, throwing things off the bed.

The three girls ran over from the room they shared across the hall.  Petunia started to scream, her chore as youngest girl.  Prudence went to fetch a garbage can, just in case, and middle Lucinda hopped from foot to foot.

Horace backed away from the bed into the deepest part of the corner.  He pressed himself back against the rough wood of the paneled closet door, almost like he could see his grandmother, returned to them, swirling around.  She’d been the type to laugh when people died and say she’d been praying for it for years.

Nathaniel kicked around on the floor and finally Prudence threw her head back and let out a long howl.

Mother-dearest and Papa stopped by to say, “What’s with the noise?” and to offer their two cents.  Horace ducked.  The air went hot and cold.  With seven people yelling, whimpering, sniffling, and vomiting in the small attic bedroom, there would have been no room for any other except a ghost.

“Don’t touch the bed.”

“Get some rags.”

“Fetch the ice.”

You just didn’t say things, in that family, like: Don’t worry, darling, it’ll be all right.  You hopped to, you got stuff done, and when the youngest child died in your arms, you did not cry.  After all, you were blessed with four others.

But that was how they all found out that Papa, his head bowed against the low slant of the ceiling, was going straight to Hell, and that there was nothing anyone could do about it.  Grandmother would make sure it was so, no matter what.

 *

They kept Nathaniel’s ashes until what would have been his sixth birthday.  He’d been too young to drink at five, and there was only enough of him to share between his parents.  The weeds grew extra strong that summer, higher than a mule and with a kick twice as hard.  Mother-dearest poured the instant coffee into the little black mug her youngest had favored and she mixed his ashes into it.  It was harder to hide the ashes in coffee, so smooth they floated around in a whirl and got caught in the teeth on the way down.  But it was pleasant to drink on the back porch with the setting sun, hot enough to bring out a second sweat while the first still dripped into the collar.

Papa came up the back porch stairs, kicking mud and weeds from his boots, shaking it through the slats in the porch floor.  “Make me a cup, will you?”  It was only the second time he’d agreed to drink someone’s essence, and his son gave him heartburn.  He sat on the porch swing with Mother-dearest and took the silver mug.  A cup of coffee with a sprinkle of Wart, witchweed clinging to Papa’s socks, they would do what they could, as a family, to protect each other, the living, the dead, and the ashes of the in between.

* * * * *

Dawn Wilson dabbles inside the (relatively) dark forest of kitsch, surrealism, and espieglerie while wearing various pieces of the kitchen silverware. A recent graduate of the Bath Spa University MA in Creative Writing in Bath, England, she is at work on a madcap novel.  Her work is forthcoming in Rabbit Catastrophe Review and Liquid Imagination, and has already appeared in Shoots and Some of Its Parts. Her contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Corstorphine Sycamore

.

he Lord of Corstorphine, a drunken philanderer
neglected the family estates,
flew into a rage and attacked his love
with a sword that she wrested from him.
She killed him and fled
but was caught and hung
dressed in a hood of white.

White Lady wailing, haunted Corstorphine’s sycamore,
blood on the blade of the sword
with which she had slain her lord.
She wailed with the wind on Boxing Day Night,
the night of the terrible storm.
Four hundred years of tree and ghost
brought to a splintering end.

There was no treasure at the roots of the tree
but the wood was dried and preserved.
In the hands of a craftsman, the legend restored
took the shape of a violin.
On moonlit nights, when the fiddler plays
the white lady wails once more
and the sycamore lives again.

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This post is part of a series on trees. Submit your tree features to snakeoilcure[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Juliet Wilson is an Edinburgh-based writer, conservation volunteer, and adult education tutor, teaching creative writing and birdwatching. She blogs at Crafty Green Poet (http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com), tweets @craftygreenpoet and edits the online poetry journal Bolts of Silk (http://boltsofsilk.blogspot.com.) Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

The Family Tree

.

y parents’ living room is perfectly clean,
blinds drawn against the strengthening light of Spring.
My mother and I are discussing
my sister and whether she will
start a family now she is married.
I am never going to have children, still
I startle as my mother says
‘its not worth it, I wouldn’t do it again.’

Later when my parents are out shopping,
I wander round the garden, stopping
to admire the flowers, listen to the birds,
mourn the chopped down apple tree.

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This post is part of a series on trees. Submit your tree features to snakeoilcure[at]gmail[dot]com.

* * * * *

Juliet Wilson is an Edinburgh-based writer, conservation volunteer, and adult education tutor, teaching creative writing and birdwatching. She blogs at Crafty Green Poet (http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com), tweets @craftygreenpoet and edits the online poetry journal Bolts of Silk (http://boltsofsilk.blogspot.com.) This is her first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.

Cures for a Crush

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he first one doesn’t count, because you’re only four or five, and you don’t even realize it’s a crush. You just think it’s funny when he eats glue or makes fart sounds or imitates the teacher when her back is turned. You’re too young to know any better, so we’ll let this one slide.

Cure: Don’t need one. Eventually he’ll do something ridiculous and mess everything up—like pull your skirt over your head in front of the class, steal your Barbie doll, break your crayons, or tattle on you. You’ll lose interest. Either way, it takes care of itself.

The first one you actually realize is a crush is a different matter. You’re old enough to realize there’s competition, and girls who have better boobs, better butts, better blonde highlights, better everything, are the ones who are going to get his attention. What could he possibly see in you? He doesn’t know you exist.

Cure: Fortunately, adolescent hormones make you so ragingly stupid that you’d probably ruin it if given half a chance, so it’s probably best that he doesn’t know you exist. Need comfort? Picture him at the 20-year class reunion bald and fat. Tell yourself that better fish are out there.

You decide to go to a college near a large city—maybe getting out of your hometown will make you forget your stupid crushes. But then you’re in Psychology 101 and your professor has a wild mane of curly blonde hair and hypnotically green eyes. You sit in front—you tell yourself—to see better because there’s a horrible glare from the afternoon sun that comes through the windows and dances on the chalkboard. He talks of Freud and sex and Pavlov’s damn dog experiments and what it must be like to go absolutely, completely crazy. You Google him. Read every paper he has published, including “The Transcendental State of the Ego as Opposed to Degeneration of the Id in South American Men During 1976 to 1978.” You’ve never been more turned on.

The biggest weakness is not for their kind eyes or salt and pepper hair. It is always the curve of their hands—the gentle tender area between the thumb and forefinger, cleft there, so vulnerable, yet so hidden, it makes you think the whole world would allow you this one indiscretion if you could just get a little closer.

Cure: Do the math. If you’re 20 and he’s 50, by the time you’re 30, he’ll be dragging—everything will be dragging—and he’ll be popping little blue pills while your other friends are married to young bucks who are still in their 30s.

If that doesn’t work, just remember that it could get him fired.

If that doesn’t work, eat raw eggs until you throw up. Repeat if necessary.

You’re so messed up over the professor that you head to a shrink. He talks about how you never felt unconditionally loved by your Daddy and this has caused a fixation on authority figures. All that transference (a term you ironically learned from the professor) causes you transfer your crush to the shrink. At first you tell yourself that any man that good-looking and still single just has to be gay. It gets you off the hook for a few sessions, then one week he shows up with a Caribbean tan and a wedding ring. Now when you think of him, it’s almost like adultery. But maybe he’s miserable, you tell yourself. Maybe he got her pregnant.

Maybe he found the woman of his dreams.

Cure: You go to confession and unfold all your lusty desires before the priest. Then he points out that you haven’t really done anything, just thought about it. Then you realize how your confession pales in comparison to the tales of lust and wild abandon he must have heard all week. He gives you some half-hearted penance, but then you remind him that Jesus said if we look at someone with lust, we have committed adultery with them in our hearts. He adds a few more Hail Marys. You think—or maybe imagine—that he whispers “give it a rest, already” as you slink from the confessional booth.

If you’re Protestant, see the raw egg comments above.

You notice the guy in the cubicle across from you. He’s Asian, and all of a sudden you’re thinking of the sheer exoticness of it all, some ancient Chinese sexual wisdom—even though he was born in upstate New York. He’s an associate supervisor. It’s all so taboo and that makes you want him even more. You’re sure the shrink would have something to say about this one.

Cure: You’re lucky this one took care of itself. They found him downloading porn and instead of firing him, they quietly transferred him to Sacramento, where he is scheduled to undergo some kind of porn counseling session.

You wonder if your shrink offers porn counseling.

Lest you be tempted to go back to the shrink, take a look at your checkbook balance and remember how much you shelled out because you exceeded your insurance company’s allotted 20 visits per year.

You want to meet someone who shares your interests. So you take a lit class at the local college. You’re relieved that your professor is a woman. Until she’s out for maternity leave. Then you get this beatnik grad assistant working on his PhD on Nabokov. He has black hair in a ponytail and some kind of tattoo on his back. You can tell because you see edges of it creeping around his upper shoulder when he wears a loose-fitting shirt. You imagine going to his place for wine and cheese and finding that he has 100 copies of Lolita. Everywhere. Lo- li- ta.

Cure: This one’s probably okay because he’s just a substitute. At least that’s what you tell yourself. You wait until after the semester. Then you go to his place for wine and cheese and see that he really does have 100 copies of Lolita everywhere. Okay, maybe only seven—10 if you count the ones in French, Spanish and Italian. But it feels like 100. It feels like a million.

You’re feeling nauseated. He takes you home. Probably all those raw eggs.

Then one day, when you least expect it, there’s a crush who responds.

He may be the professor, the boss, the shrink, the substitute. You linger after class asking questions until he gets the message. You schedule appointments even though you’ve reached your insurance max. You know exactly how he takes his coffee. You know his favorite novel. Then one day, he asks you for some help on a project. You type, file, whatever, for hours. You take a walk for a study break, ergonomic break—just fill in the blank here. You walk down a
wooded trail. You feel perfectly safe with him. You halfway expect squirrels and birds to hop out of the bushes and sing to you like some kind of sappy Disney cartoon. He touches your shoulder. Then rubs it. He leans down for what you think is a peck on the cheek, and the next thing you know, he’s kissing you full on the lips, and suddenly you’re back in the middle of your tenth grade fantasy—the crush has noticed you.

Of course, as soon as he does, he ruins it. Because he’s your professor, boss, shrink or substitute.

That’s the ultimate cure. You realize you can’t ever win.

And he can’t, either.

* * * * *

Dawn DeAnna Wilson is an award-winning North Carolina writer and the author of three novels, the most recent of which is Ten Thousand New Year’s Eves. This short story is from her collection Welcome to Shangri-La, North Carolina. Information on her publications can be found on her website http://www.dawndeannawilson.com. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina and her master’s degree in English/Creative Writing from East Carolina University. She currently resides near Raleigh, North Carolina.

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This week is being guest edited by Australian poet Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke.