Cindy Bousquet Harris

Constellations

Constellations pad

the sky paths, leave puma

prints above my head.

 

Bed Sheets and Dental Floss

Laundry crept into my head,

folded me, hid me

in corners, pressed me

to the edge

you didn’t notice

the count was off,

had to be,

could have been

much worse, sheets

dangling from the ceiling

like a sentence.

Floss from razored boxes

tripped me,

wound its minted accusations

through my brain;

all those hours of weaving

couldn’t know

if it would really hold

to lower me

outside the walls.

 


Cindy Bousquet Harris is a poet and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Her poems have appeared online and in print journals, including Indiana Voice Journal, Snapdragon, Eclectica, and Blue Heron Review. Cindy’s had the pleasure of giving poetry readings at the Claremont Library, the Dorothy Ramon Learning Center, and at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, CA. She lives in southern California’s “Inland Empire” region with her husband and children.

John Brantingham

A Kind of Social Justice

They hold Dale’s retirement breakfast in the far corner of a ballroom on a Friday morning, forty-three people huddled together in a room meant for two thousand. That’s all right, he supposes, as is the gold watch and the handshakes and sentiments, but he’s happy to get out of there. When he does, he’s surprised at the lack of sentiment he has for Continental Works, his boss, coworkers, and the profession of civil engineering.

Mostly what he thinks about as he drives through this neighborhood is how closely his life has stayed on the little path he thought it would take. His retirement party after all is in the town where he went to college. On a whim, he drives up to the old neighborhood in Claremont where he rented a backhouse, he and his three roommates, one of them the only black person he knew in the entire city.

He parks in front of the place and can see into the yard. The mother-in-law house they used to rent is gone, replaced by a giant pool. Across the street there is an open house, and Dale goes in. He’s still wearing his suit and tie from the breakfast, and the woman who’s selling it gives him a quick look and smiles broadly. “Hi, you in the market for a home?”

“No,” Dale says without bothering to think about a lie. “I was in the neighborhood, and I was remembering a time when I broke into this place as a kid. I wanted to see if it had changed.”

Once it’s out of his mouth, Dale can hear how it sounds, wonders if he’s scared the poor woman, but she cocks her head, shifts her weight to her other leg, and laughs. “Well, I’ve never heard that one before. What, are you just getting out of prison today?”

“No, it wasn’t like that.” Dale smiles. “It was a dare in college. I used to live with a black guy named Stuart. I was trying to prove to him that it wasn’t any easier being white than it was being black.”

The real estate agent laughs again. She knows how to do it so it doesn’t feel fake the way he’d expect from someone trying to sell him a house. Maybe it is real, too. She leans against a doorjamb framing herself in front of a window onto the backyard. “Did you actually believe that?”

“Sure. I was young. There was a big party going on across the street, and he said he bet I could just walk on in, and no one would stop me, but they’d probably call the cops on him.”

“And?”

“And they stopped him at the door.”

“And you?” She folds her arms.

Dale shrugs. “I walked right in. It was a wedding reception, and no one had any idea who I was. I just put on a tie, and no one thought to question me. When Stuart came in, they did everything but call the cops.”

“You’re like me.” She smiles at him. “You’ve had just one big indiscretion in life, right?”

“Yeah, but that’s not the end of the story. I got a drink at the open bar and a steak, and I knew that Stuart had been right. I sat there talking to the bride’s sister, who was feeling bad about her dress, and I realized that I could do pretty much anything I wanted in this house.”

“You mean to her?”

He shakes his head. “No, not like that.” He thinks a moment. “I guess maybe like that too. I mean if I wanted to. I realized that I walked around like I came from money, which I did, and that meant people looked at me differently.”

“So what did you do?”

Dale can feel himself blushing. He’s never admitted this part of the story to anyone in his life. “Well, I went into the bedroom where all the purses and jackets were, and I stole a couple hundred dollars out of a woman’s wallet.”

She covers her mouth with her hand. “Seriously?”

“I took Stuart on a road trip to Vegas and thought of it as a kind of social justice. The woman’s purse was made out of expensive leather, and it was on top of a fur coat.”

“So Stuart was right.”

“Yeah, he was. I could have made a career out of breaking into houses if I had wanted to. I was thinking that now that I’m old and look like I come from money, I could have an entire second career of crime.”

“Same holds true for me,” she says. “People trust women more than men, but the thing about crime is that you don’t make all that much money doing it.”

“Second careers aren’t about money really. They’re about new experiences.” He’s joking. Of course he is, but there’s something to what he’s saying. “So what was your one big indiscretion?”

She laughs and waves a hand at him and blushes, and he’s sure she’s not going to answer, but she says, “God, I slept with a married man.”

“Yeah?”

“I was nineteen, and he was a minister, and there was something really sexy about that.”

“Were you married?”

She shakes her head. “No. I never thought about the other woman.” She’s been smiling this whole time, but it weakens now, wavers. “Oh, God, I’ve been thinking about her lately.” She shakes her head and laughs a little to herself.

“And you’ve followed the rules ever since?”

“Sure,” she says. “I never break the rules anymore.”

“But you wish you had.”

She shrugs. “No. I wish everyone had. I wish that the world were full of rule followers, but that’s just not who we are. So I guess I might as well just break all the damn rules.”

“Do you want to get back at him a little maybe? Maybe with me?” Dale knows there must be a him, knows what this him must have done. Still, he can’t believe that he’s saying this, Dale Worth, retired civil engineer, coming up with lines like this.

She must be surprised too because she looks at him in a way that women haven’t in a long time. He must be exuding confidence. Maybe she has a bad boy thing. He hasn’t been a bad boy since the day he broke into that house, and come to think of it, he got laid in Vegas that weekend a couple of times.

Whatever the reason, when she leads Dale back to the bathroom, it doesn’t feel as if it’s about him, but what does that matter? It’s not about her either. It’s about that terrible breakfast commemorating the last forty-one years. It’s about what he might have been doing that whole time, what he’s missed out on in his windowless office.

They have sex on the edge of a bathroom counter quickly, roughly, ending before anyone else comes to the open house. When they’re done, they laugh together, not really because anything is funny. They just laugh. Her skirt is off but her blazer and blouse are still on, and that’s funny to him now that he notices it. He laughs once more.

The bathroom seems to be a world to itself where the rest of society doesn’t exist and rules don’t apply. Inside, they are friendly partners, and she keeps her palm resting on his chest. When they leave, she turns into the aloof saleswoman, which is almost certainly the mask she wears for the world.

“So,” she says, straightening her skirt, “I don’t suppose there’s any chance that you’re actually interested in buying a house in Claremont?”

“No.” He shakes his head.

“Well then. Maybe in the future.” She offers him a card that he takes and reads. Her name is Shirley.

This is the problem with crime, dangerous sex, theft, or whatever. The profits are never good unless someone really knows what he’s doing. Dale tosses the card on the front stoop as soon as he closes the door, and he thinks about Stuart. At some point thirty-five years ago or so, they lost touch. By then, Stuart was an accountant who had moved to downtown Los Angeles. He wonders what happened to him in the riots of 1992. He wonders if life has gotten any easier for him, and if he has a family, and if he is rich.

Maybe he’ll call him when he has time. Maybe he’ll look up Shirley too. Probably not. His wife is waiting for him with a little retirement party with his family. The kids. The grandkids.

For now, he has to get home.


John Brantingham is the author of seven books of poetry and fiction and is the editor of the LA Fiction Anthology. His work has appeared in publications such as The Best Small Fictions, Writer’s Almanac, and The Journal. He teaches composition and creative writing at Mt. San Antonio College and in a program that is free to the public in Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

JCM Eldred

Living in Heat

 

We kept rabbits as pets.  From them I learned

how to live in our flat inland stretch

skirted by those rushing somewhere past burned

skin, past the heat so hell hot it can catch

and distill memories, those confessions framed

in shame for burning acts we failed to do.

Yes, rabbits housed in hutches.  We named

them something adorable.  As I grew,

they and their names have been forgotten,

which is unfair—because rabbits can recall

in their rapid breath and bedtime cotton

human routines and rituals and all

the indignities of creatures who fall

asleep confined, who wake to creep and crawl.

 

Holding the Quick Shiver

 

I cupped the rabbit’s head and cradled its tail

as always.  That day, an Edenic snake—

just a quick shiver really—crossed our trail.

Poisonous? My father grabbed a metal stake

or perhaps a shovel. He brought it down fast,

decapitating the snake with one hit.

The rabbit scratched, drew blood until at last

my father gripped it by the scruff, raised it

by that fur on its neck until it stilled.

Then he rocked and stroked it with husbandry touch.

After that day when the snake was killed,

I walked gingerly between house and hutch,

pushing past the panic at that spot of dirt,

holding so tight that nothing could hurt.

 

Vigilance and Vigils

 

 

His porcelain angel, His china doll.  He didn’t need a papal council to vote

his daughter into sainthood, to mark a feast day on which he could pray to heal all

bruised by his iniquities.  He understood retribution.  Because of his sowed wild oats,

his porcelain angel, his china doll

 

fell to earth, lived a scant two years with the stench of milking cows and goats,

with tractors that tip, rattlers that strike, coyotes that call, with lethal

chemicals that bleach and bleed, frayed electric that smokes into throats—

 

Appalling, all on the farm that stomps, mauls or kills. How could he foresee the most

deadly was that small pet door through which she could wriggle, crawl,

waddle to pool deck? He found her adrift on reflected sunlight, her spirit afloat.

His porcelain angel, His china doll.

 


A California native, JCM Eldred received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and now teaches in the MFA program at the University of Kentucky. She is the author of two nonfiction books: Sentimental Attachments and Literate Zeal. Her latest book, of collection of poems entitled More Sonnets from the Portuguese, is forthcoming in Fall 2016.

Note: The poems “Living in Heat” and “Holding the Quick Shiver” are used by permission of Whitepoint Press LLC. They will be appearing in More Sonnets from the Portuguese this fall.

Michael Overa

We Live Here Now

My kid sister Phoebe stood in the doorway of the cheap motel staring into the dimness. Cubby, her stuffed bear, dangled from her five year old hand, his butt hanging a fraction of an inch above the crinkled gray paint of the outdoor hallway. It’s one of those indelible moments that will be forever painted on the inside of my eyelids.

“S’this?” She asked.

“Our home,” I said.

I channeled every possible sentiment of good nature I’d ever witnessed, but never felt. I squeezed past her and ran my hand up and down the wall until I found the switch. The warm orange glow of the table lamps didn’t seem to make her feel any better. Phoebs took a few reluctant steps into the room. She was still wearing her scuffed pink slippers. The dingy fake fur at the ankle was worn into a threadbare fold. She hugged Cubby to her chest, his button eyes regarding me suspiciously.

“See,” I said.

“It isn’t a home.”

“It sure is,” I said, “it’s our home. It’s yours and mine and Cubby and Mama’s.”

Ma was out at the van grabbing our bags. Suitcases clattered on asphalt, and I could hear her cursing into the evening humidity.

“It’s not even a ‘partment.”

“It’s just like an apartment,” I set my duffle bag on the floor, “In fact, it’s even better than a ‘partment.”

Mom thumped up the steps, the metal railing pinged as the suitcases hit it. I picked Phoebs up and half-flung her onto the far bed, where she bounced to a stop without ever letting go of Cubby. Ma appeared in the doorway suitcases dangling from each hand. I may forget the day of the week, or the name of the place, or whether the soap was in little rectangular packages or little round packages – but I will never forget that image of her.

“Great,” she said.

“Is there more?” I asked.

“Phoebs, brush teeth.”

“Want me to get anything else from the van?”
“This isn’t even a ‘partment.”

“Teeth.”

The door stood open to the late summer and the heat came through in waves, shimmering the street lights into blurred halos. The suitcases were piled on the carpet at Ma’s feet. I picked up Phoebe’s pink roller suitcase and dug out the Ziploc with her toothbrush and glittery toothpaste.

“Listen to Ma,” I said.

“I’ll be back,” Ma said.

“Where are you going now?” Phoebs whined.

“I’m going to the store.” Ma was looking at me but talking to Phoebs, “Carl can grab you a snack from the vending machine.”

“I’m ‘posed to do teeth.”

“Pick something out. Then teeth.”

Ma fished a crumpled wad of cash from her wallet and held it out. As I grabbed the bills she held them fast and pulled me close. With our faces inches apart she mouthed: I don’t have to tell you.

And she didn’t.

Down in the parking lot I heard the van start and pulled back the heavy curtains in time to watch Ma ease onto the otherwise empty street. She’d be gone a while. She wasn’t going to the store; she was going to get blind drunk.

Phoebs sat on the bed with her arms around Cubby.  I looked at the wad of cash in my hand. I’d seen a row of glass-fronted vending machines on the ground floor next to the rumbling icemaker. I hoisted Phoebs to my hip and walked down the stairs. The staticky sound of cicadas electrified the middle distance. I set Phoebs in front of the machines and she examined her options. The stink of industrial cleaners and melting tar loitered among the cars.

“S’that one?”

“Peanut Butter cups.”

She pointed to another.

“Milk Duds,” I said, “Carmel with chocolate on the outside.”

“Skittles?”

I looked. “Yeah, they have Skittles.”

I lifted her up and she fed the dollar into the machine and punched the buttons. The thunk of the package made me wince. Phoebs squatted in front of the machine and I pressed back the plastic door. She peered into that pocket of darkness and grabbed the package. Back in the room she curled under the blankets as I opened the package for her and found cartoons on TV. She looked miniature on the king sized bed; the wrapper crumpled as she fished out several Skittles at a time. Cubby sat beside her, the shadow of the two of them morphing into a glob of round bear ears and little girl ponytail. The smell of stale cigarettes and dust had been ground into the carpet. The AC chugged along behind me, prickling Goosebumps along my arms and neck. I stared down at my backpack and gently nudged it into the corner with my toe.

The room was one more unfamiliar place in a growing chain. Everything was a rental for us: apartments, falling apart houses, motel rooms. Other than a long winter we spent with Mas parents, we’d never lived anywhere long; never owned anything other than two cars and our clothes. North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee. We’d lived a dozen different places before Ma landed a job at the hospital in Virginia. That spring we lived in a brick rambler, tucked back off Grandin Road. By mid May the heat settled in, pressing humid hands down on our shoulders. Ma’s worked nights, opposite of Pops, and most days she left right after he got home. If she left before he got home it was no doubt because of the argument I’d heard through the bedroom walls the night before.

Going into the basement was verboten. Pops disappeared down there for hours at a time, often right after dinner. Thin wooden stairs that led down into the basement seemed as if they’d barely support you. It was a late weekday afternoon when, mostly to escape the heat, I ventured into the smell of mildew, spilled beer, and sweat. At the bottom of the stairs a chain dangled from a single bare bulb. Along the far wall was an old workbench. Tools and faded porno mags littered the scarred wooden surface. Behind the workbench, tacked to the wall, was a tattered Rebel Flag. Off to one side an old rag covered something bulky.

I grabbed a corner of the cloth and folded it back. Underneath was a pistol I didn’t know Pops owned. I sat down on a barstool near the workbench to examine the thing. It was heavier than I expected. The dull metal shined in the stark light as I turned it over in my hands, running my thumb along the crisp edges.

I hadn’t heard his truck pull up or the front door open. Through the opened door I could hear the TV playing. But there he was, standing at the top of the stairs with a beer in each hand.

“You piece of shit,” he said starting down the steps.

He was so focused on me he forgot to duck under a low ceiling beam. His head cracked against it and he tumbled backwards onto the steps. His beer cans skittered across the concrete as he groped for the railing, swinging one arm up to keep his balance. His hand smacked against the dangling bulb and the chain rattled as the light swung back and forth casting hideous shadows on the cement. It looked like someone turned on a red faucet above him. I never thought a person could bleed so much.

“Piece of shit,” he said.

One of his eyes was squinted closed. He looked from me to the blood on his hand, edging towards me like a drunk in a darkened room. I moved out of reach, backing up until I was against the brick wall. Pops placed one hand on the workbench and sat on the barstool. An entire galaxy of blood stretched across the floor.

“Get a towel,” he said.

I didn’t move. He was leaning forward, his hands pressed to his head as he grimaced. The tendons and muscles of his back stretched the black cursive letters of Donnelly Construction from shoulder to shoulder. Dribbles of blood curved down his cheek and neck. He leaned so far forward that the back legs of the chair hovered above the floor. I counted the rhythm as he rocked slowly forward and back. As he took deep breaths his shirt stretched and went slack. I took a step forward and hooked my toe under the crosspiece of the stool. I waited. The legs inched upwards. I kicked hard. The chair came out from under him and his chin smacked the workbench. His head ricocheted backwards. His body bounced against the concrete.

The light bulb slowed to a soft, lazy circle. The chair splintered beneath him, one of the legs snapped off and landed across the room. He laid there motionless. A bubble of spit and blood expanded and contracted on his lips. The silence of the basement settled in as I stared down at him, the gun gripped tightly in my hand. I backed up the stairs. In the kitchen I set the gun gingerly on the counter; the image the gun bent and distorted in the chrome finish of the toaster. Phoebs stood in the hallway; behind her in the living room I could hear the babble of cartoons.

“S’that,” she pointed to the gun.

“Nothing.”

“I want juice.”

My kid sister pulled back a chair and clambered up. Numbly I walked to the refrigerator and opened the door. The humming coolness of the refrigerator chilled the sweat on my forehead as I bent down. Phoebs hummed one of those kids’ songs from TV. I poured her apple juice and set it in front of her.  Grasping the cup in both hands she tilted her head back, swallowed, and finally gasped when she the cup was empty. I listened to her slippered feet scuff down the hallway to the TV.  She sat cross-legged in front of the TV with Cubby at her side. The gun sat on the counter and as I reached towards it I could see my hand shaking.

Each creaking step into the basement was louder than the last. I braced one hand on the low ceiling beam and ducked under. Pops was lying on his back in the middle of the room. The bubble of spit and blood had popped, speckling his lips with pink froth. He made a little groaning noise, but didn’t move. I took a few steps forward and crouched down, listening to his shallow breathing. I wasn’t sure if I was happy he was alive.

From the kitchen phone I called Ma at work and told her Pops had fallen down the stairs. She asked me if he was conscious, and if he was breathing. She told me to hang up and call 911. Phoebs came down the hall again as I stood there on the phone with the dispatcher. I hung up. I stood there in the thick, stale heat of the kitchen. The weight of the gun dragged me towards the ground. Without much thought I opened the freezer and set the pistol on a bag of frozen peas, pressing it down as the metal fogged over.

When they arrived I led the paramedics to the top of the stairs. The lights of the ambulance lacked urgency. As the two men trundled down the stairs with their boxes, my sister hid behind my arm, pulling it around her. Her tiny weight pressed against my leg; her clammy hands twisted around mine as we stood in the kitchen. The men bent over Pops and talked to each other in casual voices.  Ma got home as they loaded him onto the gurney. She stood in the kitchen with her keys in her hand, her gray hair curled in heavy waves across her scalp. I could see the heavy lines etched into her face. She wanted to know how bad it was. She told them she was a nurse.

“He’s stable,” one of the men said as they wheeled Pops past.

Pops looked at me around the oxygen mask with nothing but shear and absolute hatred. Ma, Phoebs, and I stood on the front steps as they loaded the gurney into the back of the ambulance. We watched as they pulled away. Ma led us inside and closed the front door. The TV was still playing in the next room. She looked at the two of us there in the narrow doorway. Phoebs hadn’t let go of my hand since the paramedics arrived. Ma turned and walked down the hallway to the bedroom.

Over her shoulder she said: “Start packing,”

 

Phoebs fell asleep just after midnight. Ma wasn’t back yet, and I didn’t expect her anytime soon. I turned off the TV and tugged the edge of the covers over my sister. She hadn’t brushed her teeth, but I figured it didn’t much matter. I took off my shirt, the fabric was damp from sweat and cold from the AC. I shivered as I wrapped myself in the scratchy wool blanket. The floor was hard and the room was so dark I could barely see anything; light from the parking lot bled through the curtains. I could hear Phoebs snoring on the other side of the room. I imagined a hospital bed somewhere. Pops connected to a tangle and tubes and wires. Ma in a back road tavern with a Boiler Maker and a cigarette. A whole new chain of rentals. New states. New schools. Nothing would change.  I stared at the ceiling and listened to the drone of the AC.  Rolling over I reached out and placed a hand on my bag, feeling the contour of the pistol beneath the canvas.

 


Michael Overa was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. After completing his MFA at Hollins University he returned to Seattle where he currently works as a writing coach and is a writer in residence with Seattle’s Writers In The Schools Program. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the East Bay Review, Across the Margin, Fiction Daily, Portland Review, and Fiction Daily, among others.

An Interview with Deanne Stillman

twentynine palms coverDeanne Stillman is the author of four books, including Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West, Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit, and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History, and Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave. In 2013, Inlandia’s online literary journal published “The Lost Children of the Inland Empire”, an excerpt from Desert Reckoning. She teaches in the UC Riverside-Palm Desert MFA Low Residency Creative Writing Program.

 

 

Cati Porter: Much of your subject matter is inspired by the west — old and new, including the Inland Empire. What brought you to this region?

Deanne Stillman: I grew up in Ohio and had been wanting to escape for as long as I can remember. My father used to read the Edgar Allan Poe poem, “Eldorado,” to me when I was little. I would vanish into it, and later started to read Mary Austen, Willa Cather, Native American myths; Tony Hillerman was a professor of mine at UNM – an early trail guide. Also, I grew up around horses; my mother was an “exercise boy” at the racetrack, and that fueled my wanderlust. I was writing as a little girl as well, and knew I wanted to continue. Everything came together when I got out of Dodge, and, well, came to Dodge.

 

CP: In 2013, a year after Desert Reckoning was published, Inlandia brought you out to present for us at the Riverside Public Library, and it happened the same week the Christopher Dorner manhunt took place. What was that like?

DS: Strangely, Desert Reckoning – about a manhunt – merged with the Dorner manhunt as it was unfolding. One of the characters in my book, Rande Linville, lives in Big Bear, and had spotted Dorner’s burning truck during the search. He alerted cops, putting them on Dorner’s tail. Weirdly, Rande was planning to come to my talk that night, but his neighborhood was locked down as I was speaking! Remember the sirens? That was cops chasing Dorner. Also, the cabin where Dorner was killed was owned by some people from the Antelope Valley, where my book takes place. In the end, Dorner went out in a blaze of glory, like Donald Kueck, the hermit I wrote about. He had probably seen the coverage; I wrote about it for Rolling Stone and the manhunt became the template for other law enforcement agencies.

 

CP: Former Inlandia Literary Laureate Gayle Brandeis says of your work, “One of the greatest gifts of this book is how Deanne Stillman is able to open our hearts to people we might otherwise judge or dismiss.” How is it that you are able to paint such a complex portrait of the people you write about?

DS: Certain stories call me; they are place-based, generally, with the desert as a character. I’m sympatico with the people who live there, due to my riches-to-rags childhood which took my family from the right side of the tracks to the wrong side in about 24 hours. Suddenly we were persona non grata as far as certain relatives were concerned. I learned about America’s dirty little secret, class, at a young age. There were castaways, and I had become one.

 

CP: This is the fifteenth anniversary of the publication of  Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave, about two girls killed by a Marine in Twentynine Palms after the Gulf War. What drove you to write this particular book?

DS: I was hiking in Joshua Tree National Park and afterwards, I stopped at a bar for a drink. I heard people gossiping about two girls who had been “sliced up by a Marine.” I asked about them and was told that they were “just some trash in town.” That hit me hard and I knew I would tell their story.

 

CP: Twentynine Palms was an LA Times “best book of the year” and bestseller, and Hunter Thompson called it “A strange and brilliant story by an important American writer”.  It’s taught in many college literary nonfiction classes, yet remains controversial. Can you talk about that?

DS: The town depends on the Marines and tourism for income. In part, my book is about a Marine with a history of violence towards women, and the culture that aggravated his behavior. The murders of Mandi Scott and Rosalie Ortega happened on dollar-drink night, which was Marine payday, when violence spiked. Twentynine Palms, which I love by the way, is the portal into Joshua Tree National Park. Some town elders were concerned that my book would drive tourists away. But to this day, people tell me they have visited Twentynine Palms because they love the way I wrote about the desert.

 

CP: All of your work features heavy material — a mustang massacre, the killing of two girls, a hermit who digs his own grave and commits suicide by cop.   Does this affect your emotional well-being?

DS: Yes, it does. It’s one of the reasons my books take years to write. Sometimes I have to step away. Incidentally, people come to me with violent stories all of the time. I am generally not interested. There must be a way in for me, and most stories of crime are smaller than the sum of their parts. I simply cannot write those.

 

CP: Your book Mustang will soon be released on audio with an all-star cast: Anjelica Huston, Frances Fisher, John Densmore (the drummer in the Doors)…. What has the process been like, seeing your book move into an audio format, and, more importantly, did you get to meet Anjelica Huston?

DS: Well, the cast is an embarrassment of riches, and they sound great! Everyone is now involved in the wild horse campaign, and some were before Mustang came out, such as John Densmore. I met Anjelica Huston some time ago; she had optioned Twentynine Palms.

 

CP: You’re also an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, with credits going back to the 80s teen television show “Square Pegs” and a recent play, “Star Maps”, performed at the Ink Fest series at the Hudson Theatres in LA.   What other projects do you have on the horizon?

DS: My next book, with roots in Mustang, is Blood Brothers: The Strange Friendship Between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill, which I’m writing for Simon and Schuster.

On Dr. Clifford Trafzer’s A Chemehuevi Song: The Resilience of a Southern Paiute Tribe by Ruth Nolan

The story of Willie Boy, a love struck young Southern Paiute-Chemehuevi man who murdered for love and eluded the San Bernardino sheriff’s posse for days, is a true and timeless and living story, one that’s colored the storied inland southern California landscape where it occurred in late Sept.- early Oct, 1909.

It’s a tragic story of young, forbidden love that reaches “Romeo and Juliet” proportions and whose tellings and re-tellings in the decades since—through books, articles, theater productions, and film, told largely by Anglos—have continued to evolve across the cultural and geographic divides that comprise the Inland Empire and Mojave Desert as well as the Anglo-European worlds of the early 20th century and the ancient culture of our region’s Native Americans.

Now, a compelling and exciting new book about the Willie Boy incident, “A Chemehuevi Song: The Resilience of a Southern Paiute Tribe,” published this year by Indigenous Confluences Press, has risen on the horizon, written collaboratively by Dr. Clifford Trafzer, distinguished history professor at UCR who was appointed Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian History in 2007, along with members of the 29 Palms Band of Mission Indians in eastern Riverside county, who are descendants of the family members involved in the Willie Boy incident.

“The Willie Boy incident in 1909, which played out across the national media, was a watershed event in the history of the members of the Southern Paiute-Chemehuevi tribe who lived at Oasis of Mara (now 29 Palms Oasis) at the time,” says Trafzer, who presented a lecture at the UCR-Palm Desert campus this past October 5, to discuss his new book. “A Chemehuevi Song” is, he says, a song in itself, a song which began for him when he came to participate in tribal activities with members from the 29 Palms Band of Mission Indians in 1997, and has continued to emerge as he’s worked with tribal members to this day.

The book, while giving Native accounts of the heretofore highly disputed story of Willie Boy—especially the claim made by the San Bernardino sheriff’s posse in 1909 about Willie—also sheds light on how the incident forever and radically changed the lives of the extended family members and other Chemehuevi living at 29 Palms in 1909, as well as shaping the lives of their descendants to this day. In fact, the Oct 5 lecture was attended by many members of the 29 Palms Band of Mission Indians who worked with Trafzer to complete their book and who also spoke at the lecture, including elder Joe Mike Benitez, Dean Mike, and Jennifer Mike.

More than anything, according to Trafzer and Chemehuevi contributors, “A Chemehuevi Song” stands as a testament to the power of perseverance of this small, nomadic band of Native people, who have been largely marginalized by European settlers, other Native groups, and until now, their stories have been largely overlooked. The book reveals how members of this Southern Paiute band have survived the past two centuries without rights to their Mojave Desert homeland, or any self-governing rights, and in fact were largely “forgotten” until the creation of the 29 Palms Reservation in 1974. Since then, the tribe has formed its own tribal government and now a thriving gaming industry.

Trafzer worked with the Chemehuevi for more than 10 years, gathering stories from the tribe and other Chemehuevi across the Mojave that demonstrate how they’ve survived using sacred songs and other cultural practices to persevere with strength and independence, in spite of great odds, including the tragic and family-shattering Willie Boy incident.

By focusing on individual and family stories, “Chemehuevi Song” offers a new structure for how tribal histories can be presented and shared, and also, critically, offers firsthand indigenous accounts of the events surrounding the Willie Boy tragedy as well as how this crucial event has impacted tribal lives, even to this day, and strong evidence presented by the tribe as well as by other historians and other Native leaders in recent years has presented strong evidence that Willie Boy got away, escaping the posse not through suicide but on foot, and lived for many years afterwards in remote parts of the desert.

“A Chemehuevi Song: The Resilience of a Southern Paiute Tribe,” is a compelling and necessary read for all who are interested in Inland Empire/desert regional literature, as well as those with an interest in our region’s American Indian history and cultures and their emerging, strong voice in shaping the literature here. For this powerful new publication brings together a chorus of voices, present and past, to tell the story of the tribe’s persistent efforts to gain recognition, independence, and also to tell their own stories of their history and landmark cultural events.

This is more than a book. This is a song, comprised of many voices, a song that rings out powerfully as it’s sung across the land.

B. G. Kinney

Darling Eddie

He sent a letter she hadn’t opened yet. She wasn’t ready. They left on bad terms– insults, shouting.

Standing by her car, the windy rain hit her head like a million people spitting from the clouds. Charred ground confronted her with the blackened skeletons of tumbleweed, beer cans, tire shreds and dead house pets. Cars rushed by at her back, spraying her with their wake in a curt mechanical sound.

The fire burned some of the freeway lanes. A chain-link fence stood between the auto dealership and Interstate 10. Wilted bouquets lay at the foot of it with white streamers woven into the links to make a cross and a person’s name– “Eddie”… darling Eddie.

She looked over the scorched earth leading up to the makeshift shrine. His time came too fast. Eddie was invincible, impervious to death, like any headstrong, cocky boy, awkwardly overwrought with his own youth.

She wasn’t sure what bothered her more– what was gone, or what was just beginning.

The rain stopped and the sunlight broke through the clouds sending down beams of light that looked so ethereal against the darkened clouds. Some might have taken this as a sign from heaven, but to her it seemed like God was mocking her. How could the sun warm such an ugly spot of earth?

She resented the fact she could not be alone, hundreds of speeding intruders watching a lone girl with wet stringy hair and worried eyes. She only hoped nobody who knew her was going by.

She didn’t know what to do with herself. And that was before any of this happened. Ready to graduate high school with nowhere to go. Friends and family now called at all hours to offer their support and prayers. But she grew tired of their awkward platitudes.

“You must be strong, move on with life and persevere,” blah, blah, blah. Her mother set up a meeting with the priest at St. Rose’s, a stodgy old-school cleric who spoke in calm, measured tones but like others in his profession loved God, everyone, and no one.

She thought about hopping into her little red Toyota and just driving to nowhere in particular. But she had no money and the car was making strange noises.

She fought with Eddie for hours and hours about the pregnancy. He wanted an abortion, but she wasn’t so sure, especially since it would constitute a cardinal sin. Now the little embryo slowly growing inside her was all she had left of him. Her mother’s Catholic pride would be shattered.

She could see Eddie in his Ford Rambler. A car he rebuilt with his brother, Richie. It rumbled down the street like an angry steed fueled with nervous energy combusting under the cool veneer. He sat in the front seat, sunglasses on, flashing his freshly tattooed deltoids.

But she knew everything that Eddie the tough gangbanger tried to hide. The Eddie who cried when they watched West Side Story and Maria cradled the dying Tony. Eddie the romantic, who dreamed of taking her away to some quiet town as far from gangland as he could go. He saw this house he wanted in a magazine, cut out the page and put it on the wall of his bedroom. It was a two-story house with dormer windows topped by a quarter-horse weathervane behind a while picket fence in a tree-lined neighborhood. It looked like nothing in his neighborhood of stucco bungalows and dilapidated Ranch-style surrounded by rusting iron fences and snarling pitbulls.

His family moved out to the Inland Empire to get away from the bad influences, but the bad influences just seemed to follow them. Or, maybe the bad influences were already there but his parents just saw what they wanted to see. Eddie kept talking about moving to the East Coast because he couldn’t think of any place farther away than that, and it looked almost otherworldly on television, like Narnia or Middle-earth.

Poor Eddie. Speeding down the rain-drenched highway, he ended up lodged beneath a tanker truck full of fuel that spilled everywhere. The fireball could be seen as far as Fontana.

Back at home, her mother was still at work and the letter lay on a candy dish like a sealed verdict.  It was time.  She couldn’t let it sit there any longer. She could feel his energy around the envelope like a holy aura.  She could see his hands as he wrote the words that she read silently. It contained a lyric from a Bruce Springsteen song:

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
And maybe everything that dies, someday comes back
Put your make-up on
Fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.

B.G. Kinney has lived and worked in and around the Inland Empire for much of his adult life. He is a marketing and communications professional for a higher education institution in the IE.

Christian Shepherd

Red Sunset

Part One

Adam stood a precautionary three feet away from the edge of the grassy hillside. This distrust of heights had very recently snuck up on him; he used to hang his feet over the ledge without a giving a single thought to the consequences of a misplaced step. It was quite the contrary now, as he looked over the edge, he had decided that it was at least a six-story drop to the bottom, riddled with plenty of rugged weeds and stubborn shrubbery to ensure ample amounts of scrapes, gashes, and bruises if you found yourself falling down the steep incline. The thought of it intensified the usual tightness of his chest.

The sunset had already fallen below the mountain range in the distance, but that didn’t bother him. Adam had always preferred the subtle red hue of a post-sunset/pre-nightfall sky to the blinding yellow that the sun was always so eager to offer. The red sunset had fallen onto a nearby mahogany tree and highlighted small withstanding carvings that he had made with her when they were kids.

This hillside was a place where all the neighborhood kids gathered to play and fight despite numerous grim warnings from their parents to avoid the cliff. Not many of them listened. The path they used required a hiking and squeezing through terrain that adults were to unadventurous to take to ensure their children were having no misadventures of their own. The path had become even more overgrown and unnavigable since his generation had abandoned the cliff side haven.

Adam remembered the evenings that he would spend with her on the cliff side alone when all the other kids in the neighborhood had gone home. Memories he had forgotten about, jokes between the two of them, moments of weakness, anger, and sadness; countless occasions came resonating back to him and he smirked when he remembered that they spent more nights together on the hillside while they lived here than nights they didn’t. He was just a boy back then, with short black hair and light skin. He was average height for his age, but was in good shape from playing sports. Adam had always felt as if there was nothing distinctive about his appearance; no freckles, birthmarks, or other physical attributed to separate him from everyone else.

It had become their tradition, even a secret between the two of them. Adam would often leave early and come back when she was alone to avoid explaining their daily routine to their friends, who, as most kids their age would, would give them a hard time about spending so much time together.

It had started by accident one evening when Adam had climbed to the hillside alone. He had just moved into town a few months prior and this hill had become one of his favorite parts of the move. This particular evening, he was surprised to see a young girl he recognized from the neighborhood brigade of kids sitting right next to what he had become to think of as his personal tree.

Adam wasn’t sure how to react that evening. He hadn’t made any friends in his new neighborhood and lacked the courage to walk up to the kids he would see outside every day. In fact, if it hadn’t been for her hair, a deep, soft red with curls running past her shoulders, he might have turned around and left without muttering a single word.

As it was, Adam stood immobilized by the way her curls matched the faint red in the sky. Before long the young girl had turned around and noticed Adam behind her. No syllables came to mind for him to utter, let alone fully formed words or sentences. He unwillingly left any chance of conversation between the two of them up to the red-headed girl.

“Well hi there,” she said, catching Adam off-guard despite the fact that a few sizable moments had passed since they had made eye contact. “I didn’t know anyone else came here.”

Adam wasn’t sure how to respond. Her tone and body language were non-existent and he couldn’t be sure if she was upset that he might have intruded on her what could have been her spot for a lot longer than it was his.

“Yeah, I actually just started a few weeks ago,” he managed to wrench out. “I moved
here not too long ago.”

The young girl smiled, but Adam could barely recognize her expression through the shadows on her face from the sunset behind her. It was hard for Adam to look in her direction without being blinded from the last bit of the day’s sunlight.

“It’s nice isn’t it?” the young girl asked through her smile. “I have been coming here for as long as I can remember. I grew up in this town.”

Adam again found himself at a loss of words. The blinding light was doing its fair share of diverting his focus. To remedy the situation, he began walking towards the girl and took a seat next to her. When he finally found his seat on the cliff side he turned his gaze and was able to focus on reciprocating the conversation.

“I grew up in a bigger city than this one,” he began. “I never really got to see anything like this where I used to live. I doubt there was a spot like this there anyway.” She turned her head away from his direction back towards the sunset when he tried to look at her. When he realized she wasn’t planning on looking back, he matched her gaze and focused on the hills that were fading into a darker green as the sunset made its way down.

“Well you can come and see it every day now,” the girl said to him as she placed a hand on his far shoulder. It felt warm and familiar. He had never liked the old city he used to live in. It was too busy and chaotic for his taste. The slow pace and serenity of this small town was a much better fit. She looked at him intently and gave him his first chance to examine her face.

She had clusters of even spaced subtle red freckles throughout her nose and cheeks. Her teeth were straight, but like most kids their age; they were too big for her face. She wore big squared black glasses that slid down her nose regularly and her lips were the same tone as the freckles that decorated her face, chapped from playing outside in the wind. Her skin was the same tone as his: a light complexion, making the red accents throughout her face apparent. The large square glasses left plenty of room to see her hazel eyes, which were focused right at him.

“Yeah, I can,” Adam murmured under his breath as he returned a small smile. “What is your name anyways?”

“Emily,” she said as she once again turned her face away from Adam, replacing the veil of shadow across her face. “The other boys call me Em.”

“I like Emily. I think I’ll stick with that.” Adam had caught himself leaning forward to get another look at her face when he realized he was dangerous close to losing his balance on the cliff side. “My name is Adam,” he said, finding his balance as he spoke.
Emily brought her half-clenched hand to her mouth as she smiled. “Adam, I like that name too.”

“How old are you Emily?”

“Fourteen. My birthday just passed a few days ago.”

“That means you are older than me.”

“I guess so! How old are you?”

“Thirteen, my birthday is in about a month.”

“Aw, the little baby!” Emily joked as she lightly pinched Adams cheek. “Are you looking forward to your birthday party?”

“You are barely older than me,” Adam said. “I already had a party in my old neighborhood. It doubled as a going away party, so I don’t think I’ll have another one.”

“Why not? Maybe your new friends want to celebrate with you!”

“Well…I haven’t made too many new friends here yet, since school hasn’t started and I haven’t been able to meet anyone. You are actually the first person I have met from this town.”

“Why haven’t you come outside? We are out here every day.”

“I don’t know,” Adam mumbled. “I have been busy unpacking and helping set the…”

“You should come out and meet everyone else tomorrow. We usually team up and play baseball or hike through the hills.”

“That sounds like fun,” Adam said as he smiled. “You guys usually meet up at the bottom of this hill right? You sure they won’t mind?”

“Yep, right at the bottom where you first have to go through to come up here. No I’m sure they won’t. Just a fair warning though, you better get used to losing to a girl in baseball. All the boys have a hard time with it at first.”

Adam laughed and stood up to brush the grass that had collected on his jeans. “I think I will be alright, especially since I was already planning on letting you win anyways.”

The two sat and enjoyed the rich red tint of the fallen sun, occasionally glancing towards the darker, bluer side of the sky to spot a falling star, or what they would later figure out to be airplanes flying at dusk.

“Looks like the sunset is almost gone. I should probably get back home,” Emily said.

“I didn’t realize how late it had gotten. My parents are not going to be happy…”

“Mine either! I have been late a lot lately. How about we meet back up here tomorrow to watch it again? Only this time we will make sure to leave earlier,” Emily said as she headed down the path.

“Sure, as long as we aren’t grounded. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“You are going to come tomorrow right? To meet everyone else? Don’t make me go and ring your doorbell.”

Adam smirked, “Don’t worry, I’ll be there.”

“Good bye Adam, see you tomorrow.”

Adam stayed for another few minutes. “How could I not come?” he smirked to himself.

***

The morning of anticipation had arrived and Adam found himself walking towards a large group of people he did not know. He scoured the group looking for the red head of Emily to introduce him as he got closer and closer to the edge of the hill.

“Hey there,” a tall, pale boy said. “Are you the one who just moved in?”

“Yeah, just down the street. I have only been here for a little while.”

“Well, what took you so long to come out?”

“What does it matter? I’m sure he doesn’t want to answer a thousand questions,” said a petite blonde girl from the back of the group.”

“I’m not picking on him or anything Elizabeth,” the tall boy. “Anyways, what’s you r name? “

“I’m Adam.”

“Oh good, you don’t have the same name as anyone else here. That would have been annoying. I’m James,” he said as he waved to Adam.

“Nice to meet you,” Adam said, returning the wave and looking at the other fifteen people who were standing behind James.

“You are kind of shy aren’t ya?” said a black haired boy who was standing next to Elizabeth.

“What makes you say that?” Adam said, a little annoyed at the boy’s comment.

“You took longer than a month to come out and meet us. I was sure you would never come out at all.”

“Well, sorry to disappoint you. I ran into Emily and she told me to come meet up with everyone. Where is she anyways?” Adam directed the conversation back to James, who he had already decided he liked a lot more than the dark, bold person in the back.”

“She is probably coming late like always. That’s Peter by the way.”

“Have a crush on her already?” Peter asked.

“What do you mean?”

Peter walked up close to Adam and shoved his finger into Adam’s chest. “I said you have only been here a day and you are already crushing on someone?”

Adam was thrown off. “It’s a little fast to crush on someone isn’t it? Why would I have a crush on her anyways…”

“Why wouldn’t someone have a crush on me?” Emily panted as she ran in from behind the crowd. “You met everyone already? Don’t pay attention to Peter. He is an idiot.”

“Way to back your boyfriend up,” Peter said as he walked slowly back to the crowd of kids, who were now engaged in other conversations.

“I haven’t met everyone, but I have met these two.”

Emily went on to name all of the people who were waiting on her arrival. “Now that you know everyone, what are we doing today?”

“I think we decided on baseball today right?” James said.

“Or we could go ride shopping carts again…” Peter chimed in.

“That was a stupid idea last time. It hasn’t gotten any better,” Emily said.

“Let’s just head to the field. We still need to pick captains,” James said quickly, stopping what seemed to be an inevitable battle of words between Emily and Peter. They all started walking together, grouping up in twos and threes to fit on the sidewalk.

“I’m glad you came. You are going to like everyone here. We always have a lot of fun. Sorry about Peter, he can be a little dumb at times.” Elizabeth had followed Adam to the back of the group.

“It’s fine, and thanks. I’m glad I came too. It’s been a while since I’ve played baseball.”

“Have you played on a team?” James asked.

“At my old school I did. I was planning on joining the team when school started.”

“You should, a lot of the boys play for the school. You will know plenty of people there.”

They continued to talk about Adam’s old town and a few of the people Adam would come to know very well. It was only a few blocks to the field.

“Alright let’s break up,” James said.

“Make sure you aren’t on my team Adam,” winked Emily. “I have to make sure you let me when remember?”

“Yeah, I don’t think I am going to let that happen after all. Elizabeth just told me you haven’t lost a game in a couple months. How are you getting so lucky?”

“Who said anything about luck?”

Adam was the first to bat on his team. He walked up to the small hole in the sand that marked home base and Peter lined up with him at the pitcher’s mound. Adam watched the ball release and hit the ball cleanly over the fence. Emily threw up her arms as the ball passed her overhead. Adam looked at her and smiled.

“Yeah, Emily…I’m definitely not going to let you win.”

Part Two

Adam and Brendon made their way to the usual spot where everyone met up after everyone had a chance to go home and unload their backpacks and folders. It was a sunny day in the middle of May, so Brendon had opted to change into some shorts and a tank top to enjoy the weather. Brendon was taller than Adam by an inch or two, but was noticeably thinner all around. His brown hair was brushed to the side in a messy, impromptu comb-over.

Adam had decided to stick to his jeans and t-shirt, but did pick up a plain black baseball cap and threw it on backwards as he walked out. The hat had kept his grown out hair in place. He had bulked up from playing baseball in high school and from growing a “non-human” appetite, as his friends had branded it. Emily had often gotten annoyed how he could eat whatever he wanted without losing his tone.

“Where is everyone?” Adam asked.

“Probably up in the hill drinking like they have been doing for the past few months,” Brendon answered. “They are up there more often than not nowadays.”

“You would think they would get tired of it after a while.”

“It seems to be all they care about lately. You can’t even suggest doing something without one of them offering to bring alcohol.”

“It’s starting to get old to be honest. At least it isn’t everyone caught up in the mix though,” Adam said as a few of their other friends turned the corner to meet them.

There were three of them. Elizabeth, the kind blonde girl who now had a few of the same classes as Adam, was among them. They were all within a year or so from 17, Adam and Brendon’s age.

“I guess we should go up there, now that we are all here,” Brendon said.

“Do we have to go? Why don’t we just head over to the park or something instead?” one of the boys asked.

“They are still our friends, we shouldn’t just avoid them,” Adam answered.

“I’m not really in the mood to deal with it today…” the boy protested.

“Let’s just head up there. Maybe they are up there waiting for us,” Elizabeth said as she put a hand on Adam’s back. Adam took a keen note of the gesture. Elizabeth always knew how to cheer him up when there was an issue amongst the group or when he was obviously troubled. Lately, Adam had been pretty outspoken about a lot of things his old group of friends were getting into and he often found Elizabeth comforting him when Brendon wasn’t up to the task. They exchanged a subtle smile before Adam gestured for her to go on ahead before him.

They walked up the hillside where their group had been meeting since their elementary days. They began hearing the loud and obnoxious voices of the rest of their gang. Adam was the last in the line as they joined their tipsy friends on the hillside.

“Hey! Just in time, we are about to open the next bottle!” said James, now a tall, lean young adult who many would have pinned as one of the leaders of the group a few years ago. Since half the group started partying and drinking, the usual group of twenty or so neighborhood kids had split in closeness.

None of the freshly arrived took James up on his offer. Each of them mumbling a “No thanks, I’m good,” or a “Not tonight” as they took found a comfortable boulder or trunk to sit down on.

As Adam walked into the fray, his sight was immediately shifted to a red-headed figure behind James. It was Emily, and she was chugging a can of beer from the hand of another old friend of theirs, Peter. Adam never really liked Peter; he was always getting the group to go along with his plans to cause trouble around the neighborhood. When they were younger he had convinced most of their friends to run out to different pay phones in town and hang the phone up while they were still being used. Adam looked away as Emily finished the can and as she turned around and noticed Adam she choked on the last bit of the drink in her throat.

“Careful Em,” Peter said. “Don’t go drinking like a girl now.”

“Shut up Peter, no one asked you to talk,” Emily snapped as she set the can down and found a seat directly across from Adam and Elizabeth, who were sitting next to each other on the same log. Once the noise from Emily and Peter’s scuffle settled down they started their usual routine of picking on and joking about each other as alcohol was passed around for those who chose to drink it. Emily did not take another drink, and

Adam had avoided eye contact with her throughout the length of the evening.

When the street lights came on over the hill everyone began to lift from their spots to leave for the night. This was more out of habit than necessity now that they were older. Adam stayed in his seat and said goodbye as everyone passed by him; he exchanged the customary fist bump with Brendon and Elizabeth leaned over to hug him and he noticed that the hug lingered longer than a standard farewell hug. He stayed and waited for the red sunset to come in over the mountain side.

“Hey.” Adam heard the familiar greeting. It was Emily, here for their usual meeting. “Oh you are here; you wouldn’t even look at me today.”

Adam didn’t say anything. He kept his view on the sunset with his arms in his pocket.

“You could have at least said hi.”

“Emily, you know how I feel about how the half of our group has been acting lately.”

“Then why do you still talk to them?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not the only one doing it. You still talk to everyone else who is. You are even talking to Peter, and you didn’t like Peter to begin with.”

Adam didn’t respond. It bothered him that his other friends were drinking, partying, and getting into trouble, but it tore into him deeper whenever he would see Emily involved.

“Emily, you should know I care about you more than them.”

“Well, we are best friends aren’t we?” Emily said as she wrapped her arms around him.

Adam smirked and turned his head back towards the sunset. Best friends; the brand of their relationship since a few weeks after they met.

“By your choice, not mine.”

“Well, look what a grumpy boyfriend you would be right now if you had it your way.”

“As opposed to the grumpy best friend you love dealing with?”

Emily giggled as she rested her head on his back. “You know I care about you, I told you that already.”

“Oh yeah, I remember clearly,” Adam began and he started chuckling. “I remember I told you that I cared about you about a dozen times before you finally understood that I meant in a ‘more than a best friend’ kind of way. Sometimes I worry about you Emily.”

“Well, how was I supposed to know? It was the same as any other day we come up here,” she said as she shoved his back in, her default reaction when she didn’t have a witty response for someone teasing her. “I hope you remember how I replied as well as you remember how long it took me to understand what you were saying.”

“Don’t remind me,” Adam replied as he put a dramatic hand up to his forehead and pretended to lose strength in his legs.

Emily laughed and caught his weight, “You are my best friend and I feel the same way about you, but you don’t like it when I go out to parties and drink now. You will be even more upset if we got together.” Adam grumbled and picked up his own weight again. He slung his head back to Emily’s shoulder behind him and Emily kissed his cheek, a habit she had picked up ever since Adam confessed. “Besides, Elizabeth seems to be close to you lately. You probably would prefer a girl like her anyways…”

Adam ignored her comment. He looked back to the sunset, which was now deep in its color and casting the final shadows along the hills. He grabbed her arm and pulled her in front of him, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. She put her hands on his arm tried to keep poking at the topic of Elizabeth. Each time, he would squeeze just hard enough to make extra air come out mid-sentence and continued to ignore the comments through her laughter.

***

A few weeks later, Adam walked into the graduation party at James’ house with his hand in his pocket, fiddling with the note he had written for Emily. He looked around to see his close friends gathered together as well as many other people from their year at their high school. Most of them were either holding a red plastic cup of ambiguity or tightly gripped a can or bottle of beer to show off. He had decided to have a drink himself to celebrate with his friends.

“Glad you finally made it,” James snuck up behind him as he finished pouring the contents of a cold, wet can into a plastic red cup of his own. “I was starting to think you weren’t coming.”

“I just got caught up,” Adam said. “Why would I miss one of my best friends graduation party? This is going to be one of the last chances we have to hang out together.”

“I wasn’t sure if you would be okay with the drinking part,” James replied, smacking Adam on the back. “You have been giving us a hard time about it, but it seems like you are over that now.” James pointed to the red cup in Adam’s hand.

“I’m making an exception for our graduation,” Adam said as he lifted the cup up to eye level.

“I like it,” James said. “Glad our little business woman is letting her hair down.”

Adam rolled his eyes at James’ joke. “Where is everyone anyways?”

“Well, everyone is mostly out in the backyard…”

Adam could read the discomfort in his friend’s voice. “Is Brendon out there too?”

“Yeah he is,” James said, pushing Adam towards the door. “Want to head out there?”

“Why are you shoving me out?” Adam said, wearily. “What’s going on?”

“Well…”

“Spit it out, James.”

“Emily is…upstairs.”

Adam’s stomach clenched. “Passed out?”

“No…Peter is also upstairs.”

Adam’s fingers began to tremble. He felt cold and furious. He mechanically began his ascent up the stairs into James’ bedroom.

There’s no point in going up there.”

He continued until he found himself holding the doorknob. He knew it wasn’t locked; James’ lock had been broken for at least a year when he had stayed the night at his house. His heart raced and he opened the door swiftly.

“WHAT the hell…” Peter had said. He had jumped off of the bed. His shirt was missing and his pants were unbuttoned and falling off his hips. Underneath him was Emily. Her red hair sprawled around untidily. She had no shirt on and was doing her best to cover the white bra she was wearing. Her skirt was hiked well above her waist lane as she did her best to scramble it back down. When she looked up to see who had barged in, her eyes began to tear. She threw on her white blouse over her skirt and stumbled to him as she pushed Peter aside.

“I didn’t think you were coming Adam…” is all Emily said. Adam could smell the liquor and beer on her breath, bringing him even closer to vomiting.

“What the hell are you doing Adam? Can’t you tell we are busy?” Peter wasn’t drinking heavily tonight. Adam could make out that much. He was buzzed from what he assumed was a few beers. Peter began to walk up to Adam once he had put his shirt back on; he came close enough for Adam to realize that he had put his shirt back on backwards, revealing the white tag below his neckline. The next thing Adam knew, his fist had caught Peter right on the nose. He followed Peter as he fell down and struck him once more in the mouth when he hit the ground.

“ADAM!” Emily had yelled.

James had managed to make his way to the room already and was able to keep Adam from delivering anymore blows to a lethargic Peter. Adam looked down at Peter who was bleeding from his mouth and nose and up to Emily who was sitting on the bed crying. He shoved off James and paced out of the house. Downstairs, he found himself ducking his tears away from the curious crowd of onlookers. His fist and wrist throbbed as he opened the front door and left the party.

He didn’t want to go home this upset. He made his way towards the cliff side where he always went when he was upset. He pushed through the dry shrubs that the group had yet to knock down. He finally made his way to the top and looked up at the dark sky and hills that looked violet in the moonlight. He grabbed his wrist as he fell onto a log near the cliff. He wasn’t there for long when he felt someone’s hand on his shoulder.
Adam jumped at the touch. He hadn’t noticed anyone had walked up here. “I figured I would find you here,” a soft-voice said.

Adam looked up to find Elizabeth’s face. “Were you at the party?”

“Yeah, I was.”

“I’m guessing you know what happened.”

“Well, Peter walked out bleeding all over the place and Emily couldn’t stop crying. I left pretty quickly after that, but I can guess what went down. I’m sorry you had to see that.”

She took a seat next to Adam and put her arms around him.

“Wasn’t prepared for that,” Adam replied, chuckling a little bit.

“Was there something between you and Emily?”

“There was, but there definitely isn’t anymore.”

“You deserve better than that Adam.”

Adam didn’t respond. Her hand had grabbed his and was now holding it tight. He had always felt affectionate towards Elizabeth.

“I wanted to tell you on graduation day, but I never got a chance to say it…” Elizabeth started. “I sort of…like you?”

Adam was caught off-guard and couldn’t help but chuckle at her phrasing. “You like me? Like the third grade kind of like?”

“Shut up Adam. I don’t know how else to say it.”

He noticed the soft blush of her cheeks even in the soft moon light. “Elizabeth…”

“I know. You have feelings for Emily. Everyone knows.”

“Well…that’s news for me.”

“After tonight it’s pretty much confirmed for everyone.”

Adam laughed again. “I guess that’s true.”

“Have you ever had feelings for me?”

“If I am being honest,” Adam started after a few moments, “I have. I just have only seen Emily in that way for a long time.”

Elizabeth smiled and looked away. He looked at the blonde girl who had just confessed to him. He had always been comforted by Elizabeth and they had always had a good time when they were together. They got along well, and Adam couldn’t help but notice how pretty she had grown over the years.

“What if we tried giving us a shot?” Elizabeth asked.

“After everything that happened today? You know about Emily and everything is going to be awkward in the group after today as it is.”

“I don’t really care about that. If they want to make it a big deal let them. It’s completely up to you. I have feelings for you and if you said you have felt something for me…maybe it could work.”

“I don’t want to do that to you. What if it ends up bad for you?” Adam had to fight the urge to just say yes. He wasn’t sure why he wasn’t more against the idea. “I can’t just get together with Elizabeth. I might get hurt in the long run…I’m not even sure what those feelings for her mean,” he thought to himself.

“At least we tried right?”

Adam stood up from the log and walked away from the edge of the cliff. He couldn’t stop smiling at the idea. “Elizabeth, will you be my girlfriend?”

She turned around and smiled. “Will I be your girlfriend? Is this the same guy who made fun of me for saying ‘I like you’ ten minutes ago?”

“Cut me some slack, I’ve never asked this before…” he said putting his arm up behind his head. Before he had a chance to lower it, Elizabeth had made his way to him and leaned her face into his. She left a less than an inch for Adam to travel. He leaned in and coupled his lips to hers. She softly grabbed his swollen hand in hers as they spent the rest of the night at the cliff side, finally leaving when the bright yellow sun had risen.

Part Three

Adam woke up to his phone alarm’s obnoxious disaster siren. The sun was had risen enough to seep through cracks in the curtain right into his eyes. It was a daily reminder of how he much preferred the soft red it emitted in the evening, but in did help him wake up faster. As he turned off his alarm he looked over to his left and was once again blinded by the reflecting sunlight from her blonde hair. He looked away and rolled out of bed.

“Up already?” Elizabeth mumbled. “You were up late last night. It’s only 7:00 in the morning. Come back to bed.”

Adams eyes had finally adjusted to the light enough to look over at her on his way to the closet. “I have a group presentation before lecture today. We are meeting up to put some final touches on it.” Elizabeth rolled back over as Adam finished tucking his shirt into his slacks.

“What time are you done today?”

“I have to go to work afterwards. The hospital has a lot of procedures planned today, so I won’t be home ‘til around six.” Elizabeth tucked her head deeper into her pillow and curled up tighter in the blanket she was now in sole possession of.

“Don’t pout at me,” Adam said as he walked up to her side of the bed. “I don’t want to go any more than you want me to. Besides don’t you work today?”

“Eleven to five. So I’m going to be here all alone for the most of the morning.”

“Ellie, we both know you are just going to sleep it away,” Adam chuckled. “I have to go. Do you want to go out to dinner when I get back from work today?”

“You aren’t getting off that easy. You’ve been gone this entire week. One dinner together on Friday night isn’t going to cut it. You aren’t allowed to do anything work or school related this whole weekend.”

“Oh I’m not allowed?” Adam laughed, catching her playful humor. “Alright, fine. No work or school stuff this weekend.” Adam knew he couldn’t get away with what he was promising. He would just have to stay up after Elizabeth fell asleep and sneak some work in.

“This isn’t going to be like the last time you made this promise. Where you were answering emails throughout the day and staying up late to finish work. You need a break.”

Adam got a little annoyed. Finishing up a Master’s Degree and working nearly full time at the hospital wasn’t exactly a care-free task. He just couldn’t unplug himself the way she was asking. “I’ll try and finish as much as I can today. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish it all and have the entire weekend to spend,” he said as he reached over and kissed her. “I’ll see you tonight alright?”

“You haven’t told me where we are having dinner.”

“I’ll text it to you during the day,” Adam said, tying his tie as he ran out of the door.

***

Adam had yet to fill out the last round of patient updates before he was able to leave for the day. He might have been able to finish everything properly if he would have been able to get to work on time, but he ended up being the last of ten groups to present for a class that went forty-five minutes over-schedule.

“I’m running behind at work. Finishing as fast as I can…be there soon,” he texted Elizabeth, the time stamp read 6:53. He glanced over at the last message he wrote to her: “Let’s meet up at Little Italy at 6:30.” Little Italy was 20 minutes away from him. He hated himself for picking such a distant location, even if it was her favorite restaurant.
His phone immediately buzzed back, “Okay.” she responded. It took ten long minutes for Adam to finish and he wasted no time racing to Little Italy to meet Elizabeth. When he arrived, her water cup was empty and her usual soft smile was nowhere to be found.

“Hey Ellie. Sorry I’m so late,” he said as he found his seat in the crowded restaurant. The low grumble of conversation and small tinks from the silverware filled the air as he took off his coat and checked his watch, now reading 7:27. Almost an hour late. “Have you ordered yet?”

“Adam what took you so long? I have been sitting here for an hour.”

“I couldn’t leave work without updating patients’ files. I was late as it was since my class ran forty-five minutes after it was supposed to.”

“Same old thing then, huh?”

“I’m afraid so,” Adam said, noticing an above average irritability level. “Are you okay?”
She waited a few moments before responding. “No Adam. You seem to be too busy for anything other than school and work lately, not that it’s your fault. I understand what you are trying to do and how much strain it is putting on you. It’s been an issue for a long time now, and it isn’t going to stop any time soon, is it?

“No, it’s not. It isn’t going to slow down or get any easier any time soon,” he said solemnly. “It isn’t fair to you. I know that. I can’t blow off school or work, the only place I can pull time from is from home.”

“Maybe you should be focusing on those then, without distraction. You don’t have the time to be close to anyone right now. I am going to school too, remember? I also work a job. It may not be as demanding as yours, but I make sure to have time whenever you make your own.”

“Elizabeth…” he muttered. The cold tinks of the silverware and grumble of conversation quieted as he listened. They weren’t spending any time together and weren’t as close as they used to be. He had silently come to terms with this long ago. “You are right. I don’t want to drag you along. It’s been tense between us for a while now and I figured this was inevitable. If you aren’t happy where you are, I understand completely if you want to be somewhere else. It’s going to be hard if you do leave, but you do deserve to be happy.” Adam saw the tears trickling down her face. “Don’t think I don’t care about you Adam. We have been together since we graduated high school. Six years now right?”

“I know,” Adam said, feeling a throb in his own throat. “I hope you know I care about you too.”

They managed to leave the restaurant before they lost a hold on their emotions. On the way home they talked more than they had in the last few months. Adam told Elizabeth about new colleagues he had been hanging out around at the hospital and Elizabeth had updated Adam on the newest developments on her co-workers and their complicated and intricate relationships. Elizabeth packed her stuff that night while Adam had left to take a walk around their city. She left early the following morning.

***

“Adam, can you cover the patients on East Wing? No one is over there to check on them,” Dr. Freeman, the Resident Doctor of Adam’s group of interns asked.

Adam had just set down a large stack of files he needed to organize before he took his lunch. Normally, he would have asked if there was someone else to cover it, but since it was Dr. Freeman, he figured he could earn a few points and keep his paid internship safe with a little extra work. “Yeah, no problem. I’ll get right over to it.”

“I appreciate it Adam. You have been doing good work around here.”

“Thanks Doctor,” Adam replied, hiding the disappointment of his lost lunch from his face. The rounds took him around an hour to finish. It was around 1’oclock when he was finally able to take his half hour lunch.

Adam went through his email and responded to a few messages as he walked past the hospital’s parking lots and onto the crosswalk. He was headed to an Indian restaurant he frequented during his lunch hour. As he looked up as he was about to cross the street, a streak of long red hair caught his peripherals. He straightened his gaze toward the red and found himself staring at Emily.

She was dressed in short heels and a black office skirt paired with a white, tucked in blouse. She wore a black cardigan and a lanyard was roped across her neck. A small bag with what looked to be an SLR camera was hung from her left shoulder and her right hand was gripping a small notepad.

Emily didn’t notice Adam, who hadn’t moved from the sidewalk until she was halfway across the street. When she across the sidewalk she ran up to him and hugged him, making sure to not stab him with the long lens of the camera. “Adam!”

“Emily? Wow, it’s been such a long time. I thought you were out of town?”

“I was for a couple years. I was in New York. I finished my degree and went over there to do an internship. I just finished and decided to come back here a couple weeks ago.”

“I don’t even know what you do! Are you a hot shot photographer now or something?” he asked pointing to the large SLR camera.

“I’m actually a Journalist. I’m here covering an event at the hospital in the children’s wing.”

“A Journalist? When did you decide to go into that field?”

“Around halfway through college. I just sort of stumbled into the field and fell in love with it. So what are you doing? You seem to be pretty important yourself,” Emily said as she gave him a nudge across the chest, looking down to his button up shirt, tie, and slacks. “I never took you for a suit and tie kind of guy.”

Adam laughed. “I didn’t expect to be either. I am actually doing a paid internship here while I work on my Master’s Degree. My Undergraduate Degree was in Microbiology so it was a good fit. I am looking to eventually be a medical researcher and writer. I have to look the part.”

“Wow, pretty ambitious career choice you got there.”

“Yeah it eats my time pretty dramatically. It’ll be worth it in the end though I hope.”

“I’m sure it will be. It was for me. I went practically two years without having a weekend to myself. I loved all the experience I got from it though. This new job is almost as demanding.”

“Well hopefully you will have some more time to yourself now that you are back.” Adam lost track of what he was saying. “Are you free this weekend at any time? We should go have dinner.”

His stomach dropped as he realized what he had just suggested. He had almost started to rectify his mistake by suggesting lunch instead when she replied. “Sure, I actually have Friday night free. How about then?”

Adam pulled out his phone to look at his calendar: Friday night 5-10, Meeting with Dr. Freeman and other interns. “Sure, how about at six?”

“Sounds good to me. Here take my number so we can decide where at later on. I actually have to get going though. Make sure you call me and let me know where at!”

She scratched her number on a piece of the notepad, ripped it off, and handed it to Adam. “It was really good to see you!”

“You too,” he said as she ran off towards the hospital. He looked at his watch, 15 minutes left for his lunch. “Worth it,” he smiled to himself.

***

“Wake up Adam. You are going to be late.”

“How is it possible for anyone to wake up earlier than I do,” Adam mumbled as he wrapped a pillow around his head.”

“It’s 6:45, barely earlier than your usual time, plus I have been waking you up at this time for like a month now. Don’t you have to be at your school early?”

“Yeah, but they can wait the fifteen minutes…” An accelerated pillow found its way to Adam head.

“Wake up,” Emily said through squinted eyes, weaponized pillow at the ready.

“Last time we did this you lost.”

“A fluke.”

“Put the pillow down.”

“Then get up. Let’s have coffee before we have to leave.”

“You are leaving early too?”

“I have an early morning event to cover. News doesn’t sleep in.”

Adam propped himself up out of bed and out of the beam of sunlight that was managing to find his eye. “I have to find better curtains,” he thought to himself.

“French Vanilla or Hazelnut?” Emily asked as she sat on top of Adam. Adam grabbed her waist and threw her back into bed. He kept his arms around her so she couldn’t leave. He looked up to Emily’s hair, which was reflecting the sunlight that broke into Adam’s apartment. It wasn’t the obnoxious yellow he couldn’t stand, but a subtle red.

“French Vanilla,” he said as he got up to get dressed. It took him ten minutes to get to the kitchen.

“No World War 2 siren alarm today?”

“I turn it off when you stay over. Your pillows are alarming enough.”

She nudged him on the shoulder as she handed him his coffee. “What time will you be home today?”

“I should be done early today around five. Want to go out to dinner tonight?”

“I have an event to cover this evening at five. It’s sort of an upper class wine party. I have to go to make contacts.”

“So you will be there all night?”

“Probably. You should come with me to it. I could use a date.”

“I don’t know, it sounds like a stiff crowd.”

“You are a trying to be a medical researcher. This is right up your alley.”

Adam laughed at her sarcasm. “Sure, I’ll go. Where at?”

“I’ll text you the address. Finish your coffee so you aren’t late.”

Adam arrived to the address Emily had messaged him at 5:30.

“Hey there cutie,” Emily greeted him as they met up outside. “I’ve already been inside talking to some people.”

“Yeah, sorry about running late. I was stuck dealing with a stubborn patient. Are these people hard to talk to or…?”

“Compared to the other people who will be here you are early so don’t worry about it. Thank you for coming though.”

They walked inside to the party where the first thing that welcomed Adam was the sound of a string quartet. A gentleman took Adam’s coat and a few steps later a glass of wine was offered to the pair of them.

“Thank you,” Adam said as he took the large glass of wine.

“No thanks, I actually don’t drink.” Adam looked over to Emily. It was the first time they had brought up the topic and Emily smiled at Adam’s surprise. Nevertheless, Adam went on to sip his glass of wine throughout the night.

They only stayed for about an hour, long enough for Emily to meet everyone and introduce herself as a new reporter for the newspaper. Luckily, no one at the party was in the medical field, so he was saved from having to actually communicate with anyone for too long. Adam managed to finish his glass right on time and placed the empty glass down as they walked to Adam’s car.

“Did you drive?” Adam asked.

“I took a cab; I figured I could just go to your place again tonight.”

“Yeah, of course. Wait right here, I’ll pull the car up.”

Adam jumped in the car and drove to the sidewalk to pick up Emily.

“You sure you want to drive after the wine?”

“I don’t really feel anything. I should be fine.” Emily didn’t protest it any further.

“I’m happy you are back, Emily.” “I’m glad to be back.”

“You know, your apartment is kind of expensive. You could save money if you found a roommate.”

Emily looked over to him curiously. “Are you suggesting something?” she asked through squinting eyes.

“I think I could use a roommate too. Any ideas?”

“Are you asking me to move in?” Emily grinned.

“I’m saying you could if you wanted too, you don’t have to feel pressured-“

Emily took off her seatbelt, leaned over, and kissed him. “I’d love too.” Adam let out a sigh of relief and looked down to Emily. He hadn’t felt anywhere near this excited when Elizabeth had moved in.

“So you don’t drink anymore?” Adam asked.

“I haven’t since my first year of college.”

“What made you want to stop?”

“I just got focused on other things. There wasn’t really any time to drink with how busy I was keeping myself. I definitely don’t miss it though. When did you pick it up?”

“My last year of undergraduate studies. It’s only ever been wine and champagne.”

“Wine and champagne? Seventeen year old you would cringe!” Emily joked.

Adam smiled. “Seventeen year old me didn’t know the meaning of stress.” Adam looked at Emily who kept a subtle smile on her face. In the next moment, her smile turned to panic.

“Adam!” she screamed as she pointed out of the windshield.

He had let the car swerve into the opposite lane while looking at Emily. They were now staring a diesel head on, just yards away from each other. Adam slammed on the brakes and tried to swerve out of the way.

When Adam woke up the airbags were deployed and every window on the car except for the backside window was shattered. His head was bleeding and his chest throbbed. He looked to his right and Emily was not in her seat. He shoved his door open and ran in front of the car. Emily was lying on the ground to the left of the scene.

She had a large gash along her forehead and was lying on a blanket of shattered glass. Her arm was wrapped unnaturally behind her, motionless. The diesel driver had not suffered any injury and was already checking her neck for a pulse. The look he gave Adam could only mean there wasn’t one. The driver called 911 in a panic as Adam stood unable to move.

He looked down at Emily and watched the blood as it ran across the ground. It was a deep red. The sunset had just begun to go down. The light shadowed across the wreckage and across Emily. The blood, her red hair, and the sunset blended together as the tears started welling up in his eyes. He went down, wrapped his arms around her, screamed, and then cried.

He did not let go of Emily until a police officer pulled him away. He was forced to recall what had happened for the report, and was asked to blow into a breathalyzer. He was halfway to passing the legal driving limit.

A few weeks after the crash he decided to go visit the place him and Emily met. He took her small notepad with quotes and scribbles that were never used, and a picture of them as kids that she had put up in Adam’s apartment. When he finally made it up the hill he walked to the tree they had carved their names into. He put the picture and the notepad there at the bottom of the same tree and walked within a few feet of the edge of the cliff. He looked on as the red sunset cast its final light over the hillside.

Christian Shepherd is a student, writer and journalist working out of the Inland Empire. “The Red Sunset” is his first published fiction short story. He is currently working on a fiction novel that he hopes to see finished by the end of this year. At the completion of his degree, Christian wants to document the unique stories of the residents of the Inland Empire. He has been published in traditional and online newspaper outlets and online e-sports blogs.

Lana Bella

Universal Carving

The midnight train departed from Hampton Court
station. He went on murmuring through the signaled
horns. Held between a light-struck hooves of the air
and shadowed carriage. And half-devoured under an
English blasting rain. “It’s quite docile actually for this
time of year, darling”, he said. I’d always known he
liked the soggy cold, for his eyes were stained deep
of teal-slate orbs. I snuck a glance towards the beyond
sky. An infinite dark, peppered with hurrying trees and
spray. At the sheer edge of horizon, the armored jaw of
the wind was lopping off the moon about its neck with a
fine cutlass, draining nearly the ashy gold. While the torrent
swept wide its watery bone, plunging down the metal roof
then gutting through the graveled earth. A liquid violence.
Yet, nothing more than a mutual universal carving. Where
the depths of chaos pillaged outside and soaring notes of
passion caressed within. And never was there a more curious
state than being caved inside an intimate skin of a lover and
that of the cleaving pulses of the rain.

Lana Bella has a diverse work of poetry and flash fiction anthologized, published and forthcoming with more than seventy journals, including Aurorean Poetry, Chiron Review, Eunoia Review, New Plains Review, The Criterion Journal, The Ignatian Review, The Offbeat Literary, Whirlwind Press and Featured Artist with Quail Bell Magazine, among others. She resides in the coastal town of Nha Trang, Vietnam with her novelist husband and two frolicsome imps.

 


Lavina Blossom – Featured Artist

Lavina Blossom is a writer and visual artist. She has an MFA in Poetry from the University of California, Irvine, but is largely self-taught as a visual artist. She has an art blog about her process, which can be found at http://lavinablossom.com/blog. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, The Literary Review, and Kansas Quarterly, as well as the online journal Poemeleon. Her short story, “Blue Dog,” appeared in the online journal Women Writers. She is an Associate Editor of Poetry for Inlandia: A Literary Journey.