David Stone

Love Lines for Your Valentine

Still need to write your Valentine? Use lines from a local poet.

Someone seeking clarification about another’s romantic intent and who enjoys the use of lowercase letters like e. e. cummings might appreciate a line from Cindy Rinne’s “Another Park Poem.” Inspired by a walk in Riverside’s Fairmont Park, Rinne wrote, “did you try to carve the bark/ leave a heart…” Rinne lives in Redlands. Her next work is titled “Quiet Lantern.”

Courageous individuals who are willing to be vulnerable might use lines from Cati Porter’s poem “Clearly.” “Look at me/ and tell me that you want me, that you want to heart/ the distance and that you cannot in the object see/ a flaw, and though I am (flawed) I am for you, and/ there is a small tight thought that is wound in me,/ that knowing that you love, a lightning, a lightning/ on the inside: so that you see; so that you know.” Porter lives in Riverside. Her latest book “My Skies of Small Horses” comes out this month.

Seasoned lovers may like to use lines from “Litany” from Claremont poet Lucia Galloway’s latest chapbook “The Garlic Peelers:” “O love, what is your wish?/ We’ve half again as much to say as we have said./ Set down the goblet, and the carmine wine/ sheets down its sides to pool in the bowl./ Let’s drink our words instead of hoarding them.”

Sweethearts who remind you of characters from the The Big Bang Theory should appreciate lines from Marsha Schuh’s “You and Me in Binary.” Appropriately published in the computer textbook Schuh co-wrote with Stanford Rowe, Schuh imagines a world based on four, considers the dominance of the decimal in our world and closes her poem with pondering the numerical effects of becoming a couple: “Then we unlearn it all /learn to speak binary,/ a better way,/ two as opposed to eight or ten,/ the most significant bit,/ the least significant bit/ one-two, on-off, you-we,/ binary.” Schuh resides in Ontario.

Lovers in a more ambiguous relationship may resonate with lines from the Palm Springs poet and writer Ruth Nolan. In her forthcoming book, “Ruby Mountain,” she writes, “shouldn’t I pretend you did it for love/ shouldn’t I believe it was a mistake/ shouldn’t I wonder why not/ shouldn’t I wonder why. . . .”

Those pained may appreciate the words of the title persona in Nikia Chaney’s “Sis Fuss.” The poem “Syllogizing Sis Fuss” closes: “we all hurt. And if we all/ hurt then we all hurt/ each other and the next.” Chaney lives in Rialto.

Jennifer and Chad Sweeney from Redlands are a couple, who are both accomplished poets. Jennifer provides profundity and striking imagery in her book “Salt Memory.” She writes, “As water poured into the heart flows out the palms, so does love return, as thirst, as satiation—the shape the lost ocean has carved onto the salt brick desert.”

With characteristic quirky humor in his book “White Martini for the Apocalypse,” Chad writes, “It was love./ She taught me to drive her bulldozer./ I taught her to forge my signature!”

In earthier lines from his poem “Effects,” first published in Caliban, Chad writes, “The best sex in the world happens during conjugal visits. I’ve gotten myself into prison twice, just to have it. That’s why I’m calling. Happy Valentine’s Day!” Chad Sweeney teaches creative writing at Cal State San Bernardino.

The longing and transformative power of love comes through in the closing lines of Judy Kronenfeld’s “Listen” from her forthcoming collection, “Bird Flying Through the Banquet,” 
“Let your eyes rest/ on my face. Arrest me/ in turn. I will burst/ from the seed/ of myself.” Kronenfeld is professor emerita from UCR.

Ontario poet Tim Hatch gives words to the desire to comfort one’s dearest when he or she is gone: “Scatter my memory where my memories are sweetest. Gulls cry, salt breeze carries me away. When you’re there you can breathe deep, take me inside and remember.”

For a wider array of classic poems to use for Valentine’s Day, search the Poetry Foundation’s website for “Poems for Valentines” or the poets.org site for “love poems.”

Inland Area Influences Poems of Hard Truths: Yossi, Yasser, & Other Soldiers by Joan Koerper

Award-winning books are often birthed in pieces, over several years in different locations. During the 10 years that poet Jon Sebba lived in Redlands and commuted to work in Riverside and San Bernardino, he confronted his ghosts of war by writing. In 2013, poems he penned in the shadows of the San Gorgonio Mountains helped earn him the title of Poet of the Year by the Utah State Poetry Society for his book, Yossi, Yasser, & Other Soldiers.

Rising from his young soldier’s soul, Sebba’s poems record, reflect, and meditate on the images, sounds, and psychological realities of war. They offer an indelible expression of the invisible scars Sebba has carried with him since he witnessed his friend, Yossi Levi, killed in the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War: “that a man you knew for weeks who died in a war of only six days / can be mourned for 45 years and counting.” And he gives voice to those caught in battle who can no longer speak for themselves.

His poems are authentic: embodying truths he refuses to couch, hide, or deny. As Dr. Rob Carney writes in the preface: “The power of these poems is that they don’t explain. They present.”

After witnessing a man severely beaten in front of his family, and learning an inquiry into the incident was to occur, Sebba writes: “Too late for that Palestinian farmer / in ripped, blood-splattered pajamas. / Too late for me, still carrying / invisible scars all these years.”

The first 25 poems in the collection focus directly on the 1967 Six-Day War. Twenty-one poems speak to “Others’ Wars”: WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. During a phone interview, Sebba explained, “I included poems about other wars, and other conflicts or situations, that I was driven to write because they were about things that bothered me.”

I met Jon Sebba when we were members of the Redlands Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). He was one of two men who broke the gender barrier, joining the group when males were allowed membership. He quickly started a play reading group for the Branch. For four years, being part of that group was my favorite monthly activity.

I also was a member of a writer’s support group he hosted, one of the multitude of writer’s groups he has either anchored, or participated in, wherever he has lived. When he moved, we lost touch. Recently, I located him in relation to a book I’m writing about a former center of intellectual, literary, and creative activity for women in Redlands where he took part in a community program I organized and produced.

Born and raised in South Africa, Sebba left after high school to live in Israel. He studied geology, among other subjects and held various jobs. When the Six-Day War broke out he was mobilized as a reservist and fought in Jerusalem while his wife and 3-month-old son huddled in a bomb shelter a few miles behind the front lines. Transformed by the experience of random death, he committed to the belief that war should be avoided. “We didn’t know / that every rifle bullet / manufactured for the army / is intended for some mother’s child / But, by God, we do now,” he writes.

Sebba immigrated to the United States in 1968. He studied civil engineering, became a specialist in water-resources engineering, eventually working in six states. He welcomed another son into the family, and later divorced and re-married. For five years he was also an adjunct instructor in the engineering department at Salt Lake Community College, Salt Lake City, Utah until he retired. He and his wife now balance their time between Utah and Arizona.

Writing and being able to share his poems with others has been deeply therapeutic, says Sebba. In turn, his poems are therapeutic to others.

In demand as a speaker, he relates, “I often focus on writing as a way to work through trauma. And I always offer to connect with veterans. I want to help. And because family members are sharing stories with me after [readings and] speaking engagements, I’ve grown more aware of the trauma and stress the family goes through because they’ve been left behind.”

In 2013, The Gallery Theatre in Ogden, Utah produced a play he wrote. From November to June each year he teaches poetry at a low security prison in Tucson, Arizona. He is also organizing a program to work with veterans in Arizona using writing as therapy. And Yossi, Yasser, & Other Soldiers is a text used in a Social Justice class at Salt Lake Community College.

Sebba’s current writing projects tackle another volatile subject: apartheid. He has written a second play, and is working on a novel, both based on people he knew while growing up in South Africa. And, of course, another book of poems about the effects of war is taking shape. “If I can help others through my experience, and writing, it is both satisfying and fulfilling,” he shared.

Yossi, Yasser, & Other Soldiers is available at Amazon.com.

Jon Sebba can be reached at: yossi.yasser.soldiers@gmail.com.

This column was published in the Riverside Press-Enterprise, May 24, 2015; Section: Life; Page Z2 & Z5.

Jeff Mays

Mode of Transportation

You could take the car, but then you wouldn’t notice the hawks circling
overhead, nor the current of black ants terminating inside the semi-translucent
grasshopper carcass. You wouldn’t see the sun-blanched, tailless lizards
running for safety ahead of your footfall, the lobules of dog shit trying to hide
in the grass, nor the bee belly-up, scooted by the breeze.


All I could see
as I turned to answer his question,
“Do you stay in Rialto?”
was the rage in his face
the peeled back eyes
the horse’s nostrils
the small spheres of sweat
the templemuscle clench
and that he didn’t care if I
answered yes or if I answered no.

Not daring to look over my shoulder
I frantically ran to her
the woman walking towards her car
with a single key stretching
from the pinch of her fist.
I came closer to her with blood
on my basketball, with crimson drops
that have not stopped, with a numbness
in my ear that I’m afraid to touch.
There is a question on my face,
but I can see she is forcing
thoughts of gunshots away
from her, sweeping these crumbs
off of her blue and white dress,
and in mid-step, I realized
I shouldn’t even bother to slow down.

Waiting at Walmart

for an oil change
where people pay for tires
and new car batteries
with paper money, twenties dealt out
like cards;
the grubby waiting rectanglar prism
hidden between the greycloud-smeared
garage and painted cinderblock
storage room reverberated with loud
tv reports of a gunman
on the loose in the snowy wilds
of the Big Bear Mountain; it pulled
my concentration
away from Thomas Jefferson,
The Art of Power, so I walked
through the air filters
and paint guns,
the index cards and manila
folders, past people without a
purpose shuffling through the discounted DVDs;
surrounded by the slow pushing of carts
and half empty scuffed metal shelves;
I felt a wave from far away
come slow-rolling towards me
lifting my feet from the ground
a momentary crest-rider
floating on the swell
the linoleum far below my feet
and me far away from the plastic handle
in my hands with its colorless blue
in the stale and scentless air

Jeff Mays is a native Inlander who has lived in the Empire for 47 years now.  In addition to poetry and photography, he is also an avid baseball fan and has recently published a book about the miraculous ’62 Angels called The Spectacular Case of the 1962 Los Angeles Angels.

J. Ryan Bermuda


Your mother       is all hips and song, blonde
bob brushing cheek bones     step-
father, sore wrists and elbows calloused     losing
thirty hairs every thirty days     home
smells like Sunflowers except on
Sundays when brimming with popcorn and parched
Blue Note records     cousins
hum       discovering new streets in
familiar cities through each window       Grand-
father speaks in crisp bell chimes, stories of       Grand-
mother burning
bread on the day you were born

J Ryan Bermuda lives in Redlands, California, where people panic if it rains. Bermuda has been published in local journals such as The Sand Canyon Review, PoetrIE’s Tin Cannon, Dead Snakes poetry blogzine, Stone Path Review, The Camel Saloon, and The Wilderness House Literary Review.

KIDLANDIA: Six Degrees of Separation

It always amazes me when I meet someone who I think is a stranger and it ends up we are related in some way. I’m sure this has happened to you too. Well as weird as it sounds, it keeps happening to me. But not just with people—with situations, and even with food! Let me explain. I’ve been living with the belief that everything happens for a reason—whether that reason is divine intervention, or merely the choices one has made—one thing definitely leads to another. So, with that said, for the last month or so I have been having very powerful bouts of déjà vu. This déjà vu seems to be strongest with food, but situations in which I am meeting people are also strong. I wonder: am I really experiencing this again, or am I so focused on what I want to happen that everything is just falling into place? Let me make clear that things can’t just fall into place if you haven’t already created a place for things to land—usually through hard work and preparation. I know sounds like a philosophical ramble, but bear with me–you’ll see how it all falls into place.

For the last year, my incredibly talented husband, Curtis Cruz, has been attending the Riverside Community College Culinary Arts Academy. He left his teaching position at Redlands High School in order to pursue his passion, first he saved a year’s worth of wages  in order to go without working. He recently graduated, with medals in Hot and Cold Food competitions, and the Outstanding Baking and Pastry Award. To say the least, I am very proud. So what is he doing now? That’s where I get that strange feeling about how I fit into the whole plan. You see, over the summer, I met a distant cousin, Mitzi, and she and I formed a fast connection. During a visit to her home and business in Redlands she introduced me to a friend, who sells olive oil at a shop in Redlands, and like I said before, things started falling into place. Energy just keeps flowing in the right direction—it’s amazing, and a little scary.

Curtis and I will be sharing her booth at the Redlands Farmers’ Market next Thursday night. Look for My Goodness, Artisan Breads together with Stone Wheel Olive Oil Co. next Thursday night. What a natural pairing of two great flavors! I hope that when you let that olive oil soaked sourdough touch your tongue that your eyes close involuntarily and you let out a little sigh of pleasure. Then, and only then, will you know that feeling that I’ve been having.

Hoping to see you all again.

Julianna M. Cruz is a teacher, an author, and an Inlandian.

David Stone


I didn’t know how slow you grow, cloning
yourself in wider rings for thousands of years.

Seeking a skewer, I must have cut off thirty
years just to roast my hot dog.

I turned my meat, squatting like Pleistocene
man, focused on crispy skin and moist beef.

Yet before the last glacier melted, wiser
cooks knew to leave you alone and search for coyote willow.

I imagined dessert roasting
marshmallows on my reused stick.

But when acrid tar chokes my breathe,
I spit your toxic bitterness.

A Rare Night Air

I’m drawn to the window
by the low-pitched hacking chop
of a copter passing parallel.

I slide the glass to listen for its direction.
Is it headed to the hospital or circling
a criminal’s car on the north side of the 10?

This February’s air is too cool like the back
of the refrigerator’s top shelf
where the misplaced lettuce freezes,

but the scent is not of too long forgotten food
or summer’s hot bitter smog.
I feel a clean, unusually chilled, moist breeze.

I close my eyes and breathe
what must be the mountain trees’
release from the just melted snow.

On this rare night I will sleep
with the windows wide open
and dream the traffic’s drone

is the constant tumbling waves
lapping California Boulevard,
Redlands’ western most shore.

David Stone enjoys cooking, linocut printing, and exploring Southern California nature with his wife and two children. A graduate of Atlantic Union College and La Sierra University, he teaches English at Loma Linda Academy.  His poetry has most recently appeared in Identity Theory, Shuf, and the 2013 Writing from Inlandia.

Lawrence Reeder

The Last Weekend in October, We Should Go Camping

We have been married for two years and
have never once gone camping:

to place those foil lumps onto breathing
coals –you would shape mine into a swan.

the arrival at night
under a leaky faucet sky

We have never sat wrapped in the blanket
your mother made, waiting for our souls’

to clamor at our tent’s pieces
while they lie lifelessly on the ground;

warming supper to sizzle and send signals
across the camp that it is ready. We have

or stuff a cooler full of essential
camping food, or carelessly add wood to

never sat tearing at those charred lumps, like
a neatly wrapped gift on Christmas morning.

an already feverous camp fire, where you
would toss cut up kielbasa, onions, peppers

& potatoes into tinfoil,
then shield your eyes


Lawrence Reeder currently attends Cal State University San Bernardino, and is working to obtain a Bachelors degree in Creative Writing. Afterwards, he plans to work towards an MFA. Lawrence lives in Redlands, CA.

Michael Tesauro

Where I Want to Be

         In regards to the old house, this is the outcome: a trial. And the fighting is really just over the skeleton of what we lost in the Old Waterman Canyon Fire. In regards to Danielle, my wife, well she passed not long before our house was taken up. She’s passed and I’ve accepted it. I’ve accepted that she will not be here with me, nor with the children. This is one of things you hear about when it happens to other people. When you hear about those people, they seem to recover okay. That’s the place I want to be in.
         Even so, I need to say that I’ve been without her some seven months and two weeks. Three days too. At first, it was like she was still in the house, in the pictures, in the closet, everywhere. When the flames took the house, it was like the smoke pillars that hung around the neighborhood were even more of a reminder. But unlike the smoke, Danielle has a mother and a father. Well maybe God or whoever is the parent of the fire, but that’s something existential. I don’t know. Her parents, the Walnuts, like the nut they’re involved in my business.
         See, the property was in Danielle’s name. We put it in her name because I had some bad credit.
         The land is almost an acre, it seems bigger now though. The remains of the house were torn down by way of city ordinance. Now it just looks like a simple plot of earth and it’s spotted with glass and bricks. To me though, Danielle lives there. It’s like she’s alive in the place that was her garden, or where my stoop was. I know she isn’t, but I remember all of it when I see the bare land.
         When I tried to tell the kids how I felt, they thought it was weird. They need their distance, their own mourning time.
         The Walnut’s never did enjoy the thought of me being the sole link to their grandchildren after Danielle passed. My hands are rough and thick and the thought them being laid on her in an intimate way drove them into some dark place. I heard it once she, Mrs. Walnut or Bette as she liked to be called, was on the phone with some other blue hair and she described the level of sickness she felt knowing I was connected to her name. For Christ’s sake, me and her girl were married. We had kids and I put a ring on my wife’s finger and provided for her. I’ve always been faithful to Danielle, even now. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
         The Walnuts started sniffing around my affairs right after Danielle died. They knew the property was in her name. They knew we didn’t believe in wills. She didn’t. I don’t really care about these formal things one way or another. But they knew it wasn’t willed and they came after the property. Even the fire was an afterthought.
         So one day I wake up to this knocking at the front door. I had been at my new place for a time.
         But not long enough for someone to know where I am, minus the kids of course. They’re doing their own versions of family life in other cities and other states. I get out of bed, pop my knees, slap my belly and the like. These morning rituals make life feel worth it. After that I dress and go to the door. I see this kid on the other side. He’s just this weasel of a kid, maybe 20 and something years old. He’s fiddling around on the stoop. I can feel my chest.
         I open the door up.
         “Yeah?” I say.
         “Mr. Harkin?” says the kid. “David Harkin?”
         “Yeah,” I say. “What is it?”
         He hands me a thick envelope. The manila folder feels like a sack of stones in my arms. It’s easier heavy, or I’m just that old.
         “What is this,” I say.
         The kid looks at me strange. His mouth is open like he’s going to say something important. He doesn’t. He steps away from me then turns and walks. He’s gone.
         I push the door close and shut away the world. I open this envelope. It’s the papers, a lawsuit for the property. I don’t know what good they’re taking the land would do, but they’re making their bed with the decision.
         There are a few lawyers I know from around. Calling them seems like the course my life is going down. I met one when Danielle died. She was a friend of hers from college. Maybe I’ll call her Jan, Joan, something like that. I have her number written down somewhere. I’m going to try and fight this.
         That much is obvious to me. If I win, seeing that look on the Walnuts’ faces would be worth it enough.
         If they are going to wage some war against me, I’m going to at least fight back. Even if I spend the insurance money on a lawyer, that’s enough. Danielle would like knowing I fought back. Maybe I’ll go look at the property later. I hope I find her there in the emptiness. I always do.
         When I toss the folder on the wood table, it doesn’t make a sound. There is a heavy stillness to the room. With Danielle gone, the open space around me always seems bigger. She would deal with one of these types of crisis with a small smile, a quiet wave of her hand. Do I start to think about this as a crisis? There aren’t really big or wild things at stake like most crises. The kids are safe, which would make this an uncrisis to Danielle. She cared about them more than almost anything.
         I shuffle around for my phone. The damn thing is stuck in my pocket like it always is. I need to sit. The cool of the wood chair feels real in my hand. The cool of the flat wood table feels smooth against my forearms. Hell, if this is what my life has come to I’m going to sit with my head in my hands until some sort of sunshine comes around.
         Danielle used to come and find me like this after a sour day. She would come on the palms of her feet, not making a noise as she floated across the kitchen floor. Her hands would reach deep past the skin of my neck like she was plucking some chord inside my chest. Her touch was something mystic to me. The kids never got it when I tried to talk about it after she passed. They didn’t get the dimness of her touch. She had soft hands, Ted would say. But that’s all he could really articulate on the matter.
         I sit at the table for a time, until something settles inside of me. I’m going to call my buddy Frank. He had a pretty sharp lawyer after he was served. I don’t think calling any of these women lawyers Danielle knew would do a thing for me one way or another. I don’t want to sit through those interactions with them as they let whatever knowledge of me by way of Danielle run through their heads.
          She talked to this Jan woman when her and I lived apart for a few months. How would I go about that situation? A phone call? Email? Christ, I don’t even know how to use the computer my kids bought me. A handwritten letter maybe. I’m at something of a loss on this.

         I wake up sometime past midnight. Or at least I think it’s around midnight. That’s a good, solid time to base my days around. Midnights and afternoons. These time markers have a definite passing to them. When I’m awake, the space between midnight and afternoon grows like a stretch of desert. I’m up hours and hours before noon. At times, the sun hasn’t woken up either. I fall asleep hours and hours after midnight.
         I see Danielle in my dream. Usually, I throw myself up in a fit of nerves because I think she will be next to me. She never is. This time though, I see her in our old house. The place burns around her and the walls slip away. She wears the silk of her blouse she had on the first time we made love.
          Something peels off her She calls out to me with her eyes. Maybe this was why I woke up. I know this image will never be.
         My knees do this noise when I slip on my robe. It’s like I’m on autopilot, already walking out to the kitchen. I’m at the table. The manila folder is slight to the touch. There is conclusiveness in its smooth coating, like I’ve already lost the case.
          The papers have my name in bold. Their name in bold.
          Danielle’s name in bold isn’t the part that gets to me. It’s the fact they call her my exwife.
          Like hell we weren’t married when she died. We weren’t even separate or fighting. Those last years together were like the first years of dating. Maybe she knew she was going to go?
         They say cancer consumes the body’s right to live. Like a fire, it eats at the cells. Attacks the cells, like the doctor said. Danielle’s was of the pancreas. I didn’t even know what it was before hers was attacked by the cancer. Consumed. She went fast, like our house did. Three months. The doctors called that a fast one. A fast one, like it’s some kind of object that can be measured by speed.
         Sometimes I want to go that fast—
          But the house went in three or so hours. That’s what the neighbor told me. He watched from his own house, which was relieved of it’s own significant portions. Somehow, I see the neighbors lasting garage and my lone chimney as a testament to our collective failures as men. We were all unprepared.
          I sign the papers, which say I will be in court on a certain day at a certain time. I’ll give those old bastards hell. If they think I’ll lay down and eat from their palms they’ve got another thing coming.
          My heart stretches inside my chest. I should get some air.
         I call Frank. We agree to meet at the cantina. He’s got his own legal things going on. Maybe he can give me insight.
          In my room, I throw on some fresh jeans, a sweater. My boots are dirty, but they were a gift from Danielle. I pull them on too. Danielle looks at me from the full size mirror. There she is, pinned up in the right corner by a strip of tape. She is in her best dress, the floral one with a green hue. I called it her Macy’s dress. She bought it after seeing it on display. I took this picture on a Wednesday. I took this picture outside the Asian fish market on Tippecanoe. This is my favorite picture of her.
          She looks at me, like she does when I see her in my dreams. Or if she comes to me when I’m driving. She can tell me I’m getting fat from her spot in the right corner of the mirror. She doesn’t have to lie. If I can see what I’m becoming, she can see it too.
          The kids say I should take the picture down. Maybe put it in a frame or some place nice.
          I’m out the door and heading to see Frank. I feel like he’s going to be depressed like he always is. I drive to see him anyway. The last conversation I had was with the kid who served me papers. It’s good to talk to people, Danielle would tell me, be social. I can’t be your everything, she would say, one day I’ll be gone.
          How did she know?
          I used to take this drive often. Before Danielle, when Frank and I drove this way every Friday night. We would park on top of Little Mountain Drive and look at the stars, chuck beer off the cliff, and yell into the emptiness. Now I just see smog and the lingering smoke that covers up everything beautiful.
          The sky looks like a empty movie screen tonight, like a bright and interesting picture will pop up soon. I imagine I’m going to see giant faces with huge white mouths as I get further away from the smog.
          I’ve been in the house too long.
          My engine is on its last feet. This parking lot is on its last feet. A drink will put this business with the Walnuts to sleep for now. Everything feels like it’s on it’s last feet.
          Inside the bar is the usual old business. Beer, sweat smell, bar hags, and Frank Allen sitting in his stool at the far right corner. He has Bob Seger going on the radio.
          “Old man,” Frank says. “You’re looking terrible.”
          “Hey asshole,” I say.
          He gives me a beer. He places his hand on my shoulder. His grip has gotten weak. I can feel each dance and calloused mark like the roadmap of his decline. But still, it’s something familiar. These hands held my drunken body above porcelain toilets. This man held up my wife’s casket at the funeral.
          “Good to see you,” he says.
          “The kids?” he says.
          “Ted lives with his girlfriend,” I say. “Shawna’s at college.”
          The kids are 19 and 21 respectively. Frank knows the boy better than he does Shawna. But then again, most of us know him better than we know Shawna.
          Shawna, my eldest, moved out when she was 17. She had the notion that she was something of a woman already. Danielle left Shawna with too many of her likenesses. I hadn’t heard from her in over a year before Danielle’s passing. I know they talked everyday, but that talk was secret a part of the female mystery.
          “Ever getting things straight with Shawna?’ Frank asks.
          “Not really,” I say. When my wife passed away, Shawna’s mother passed away, and the only thing that kept us in relations is gone.
          “Shame,” he says. “She was a dear.”
          “She’s somewhere else in life.”
Danielle was the reason Shawna and I forced ourselves to make conversation. She is my child, my first born, and I love her but it’s always been hard. Danielle knew how she worked. She did her best to get us to talk before Shawna moved out. Mostly it was Shawns and I throwing dumb words at a wall, hoping they would stick like some game show segment.           Mostly though, our conversations fell flat.
          Game over.
          I try not to indulge Frank in my issues with Shawna’s lifestyle and ‘roommate’. He pushes the subject once or twice more before letting it slip away. This is the bar life. This is what a widower is expected to do when the other things he is expected to do falls apart.
          Frank and I are at the cantina late. We’re at the end of a growing day, a day without end or finality. We drink to problems neither of us knows how to face like men. We drink to bad backs and slipped disks. A few more beers and we go outside for a piss. We move through the wooden door like it’s the last threshold to the real world. My beer runs through me. In the open, under the smoke bombed sky, San Bernardino slips from me.

         If the sun were anyone, it would be a dictator on a morning like this. Frank and I wake up in the back of his truck, laying on top of a spread out sleeping bag. Last night went to shit if my headache is correct. But hell, I can do this as a retired widower. Bette Walnut said retiring at 55 is unsavory. I’d like to see her live a little. Danielle’s life insurance plan takes care of the kids just fine. I’m sitting on a nice pot of retirement pension, savings and some money I have in the stocks. But the land will be the last I hear from Bette. Whatever the outcome, win or lose, that woman and her husband can go be of the dirt for all I care.
          “Get up,” Frank says. “We’ve got goat’s stomach to eat.”
          “Have your menudo,” I say. “I need coffee.”
          Frank pulls himself up to the side panel of the truck bed. He perches over a toolbox and lights his cigarette.
          “Honestly Dave,” Frank says. “How are you doing this?”
          “Doing what?” I say. My stomach does aerobics.
          “I just am.”
          “You haven’t cried,” Frank says. “You haven’t cracked. What’s going on?”
          “I’m dealing as it goes.”
          “She’s gone Dave,” he says. “You have to accept it.”
          “I do,” I say. ‘I accept it more than you know.”
          “You don’t say her name out loud?” he says, his voice touching around me. His face is bright.
          His mouth is open for the words to speed out.
          Frank doesn’t talk at breakfast. He laps up his tripa and hominy like it’s the food of the gods.
          These Aztec painting on the wall look real and terrifying. Him and I and our girls would come to this Mexican joint after drinking and dancing when we were young. We would meet up in the morning for breakfast the next day. I guess Frank can settle his two cents as much the kids can about Danielle’s passing. Him and his Lynn knew Danielle just as long as me.
          Frank looks at me and says, “Don’t shine me off Dave.”
          “You don’t talk,” he says.
          “What the hell am I doing now?”
          “Since it happened,” he says. “You talk less and less. Let it out man. Lynn worries about you. Your kids worry about you. Hell, I worry.”
          “I’m fine.”
          He stirs his soup around, the red flakes of chili powder float to the top. He is quiet and I am quiet. We finish our meal in silence. I decide to call this lawyer woman that Danielle knew and get legal advice. Winning the land won’t bring my losses back from the dead. It won’t be the Lazarus act, but it’s something. I could use a little something these days. That’s where I want to be.

Michael Tesauro is Masters of Fine Arts Candidate living in Redlands, CA. He calls the Inland Empire his home. This, and the heat, are his inspiration. Other works can be found in the Wilderness House Review, the Sand Canyon Review, Carnival Literary Magazine, and quarterafter journal.

William Cass

           It was his wife’s turn to get up with their disabled infant son, so Nick got to sleep in.  By the time he crawled out of bed that Saturday, it was almost 8:00.  His wife had fed the baby, given him the new med the neurologist was having them try, and made scones.  Nick had time to shower, dress, eat, and read the sports page before he walked over to Tom’s condo to help him move.
          Tom was just lowering the ramp on the rental truck when Nick walked up.  He’d brought a couple scones wrapped in a napkin and he handed them to Tom.
          “Molly made those,” Nick said.
           His big friend smiled.  “Great.  I haven’t had a chance to eat.  And I don’t think I have a thing in the place to offer you.  Maybe some cheese or an old carton of milk.”
          Nick shook his head.  “I ate.”  He looked inside the empty truck.  “Do we start with the beds?”
          “I guess.”  Tom had his mouth full, chewing.  “These are delicious.  I really appreciate you guys.”
          Behind Tom, the morning haze was beginning to burn off.  Nick could see the San Bernadino Mountains peeking through it.  He said, “Let’s get started, boss.”

          By the time Tom’s mother came by later, they’d moved out most of the big things and had filled half the truck.  They were both wet with sweat.
          “Don’t hug me, either of you,” she said.
          She was carrying a six-pack of bottled iced tea and some empty cardboard boxes stacked inside of one another.  Nick marveled, as he always did, at how full of life Tom’s mom seemed at sixty years old.
          She put the boxes on the kitchen floor and the iced tea in the refrigerator.  “Get one of those when you want.  So, do you care how I pack this kitchen, or will you leave me to my own devices?”  She climbed onto a stepstool and opened a small, high cupboard.  Tom kissed her elbow.  She asked, “Where’s Kelley?”
          “At the house,” Tom said.  “Setting up for the yard sale that supposed to start at noon.  To sell most of this stuff.  We’ll never make it.”
          “If you get busy you might,” she said, dropping a plastic colander into one of the boxes.

          They took out another two loads out to the truck before Tom’s dad showed up.  He was rearranging things in the back of the truck when they came outside.
          He glanced at them and said, “Don’t you want to set something on this couch?  Didn’t anyone ever show you how to maximize a load?”
          “Hello, Tom Sawyer,” Tom said.
          “Help me move this bureau onto the couch.”
          “I don’t think we have enough stuff for it to matter,” Tom told him.
          His dad was already struggling with the bureau.  “Are you going to help me here, or not?”
          Tom hopped up onto the truck, took an end of the bureau, and they put it on the couch.
          “There,” his dad said, slapping his palms together.  He stepped to the back of the truck and shook Nick’s hand.  “Hello, Nick.  At least Tom had sense enough to hire good help.”
          Tom rolled his eyes at Nick.  He said, “Mom’s packing the kitchen.”
          “Oh, is your mother here?  That’s good.  I need to mention something to her.  Tell her I’ll commandeer things here in the back of the truck for a while, then come in and talk to her.”
          On the way back inside, Tom shook his head and mumbled to himself.
          “Is it kind of weird for you to be together with them?” Nick asked.
          “Nah.  We’re with both of them sometimes for family birthdays and stuff like that.  Get-togethers when friends overlap.  Redlands isn’t such a big town.  Hell, they’ve been divorced almost twenty years.”
          Tom’s mother had finished in the kitchen and moved into his bedroom closet.  She’d turned classical music on his nightstand clock radio.
          “Dad’s here,” Tom told her.
          “Yippee.  That and Christmas to look forward to in the same year.  Speak of the devil.”  She took a framed black and white photograph out of box on the closet floor and blew dust off of it.  The picture was an old one of Tom’s mother and father, she in a long dress, he in his naval uniform, arm in arm on a dock.  “Your dad’s about to go off to sea here,” she said.  “You weren’t even born.”
          “I used to hang that in my room as a kid,” Tom said.
          “I remember.”
          Nick looked away from them and out the window at Tom’s old widow neighbor who was standing on her balcony studying the moving truck with disdain.  She wore a flowered housedress and was scratching the Chihuahua she held behind the ears.
          “There are two separate collages of pictures from different old girlfriends in that box, too,” Nick heard Tom’s mother say.  “Do you want them?”
          “Throw a towel or something over them, and I’ll stick them away somewhere where Kelley won’t find them.”
          “Want these old letters?”
          “Cover them, too,” Tom said.  “Come on, Nick.  Let’s try to take apart that entertainment center.”
          It took a while to disassemble, to label all the nuts and bolts and masking tape them together in groups.  Tom’s dad held the front door for them as they were carrying the boards to the truck.
          He asked, “Anything to drink in there?”
          “Mom brought some iced tea.  It’s in the fridge.”
          “No beer or anything?”
          They started down the walk and Nick heard Tom mutter, “Help yourself, jackass.”
          His dad was leaning against the bedroom windowsill talking to Tom’s mother when they came back inside.  Tom and Nick worked on filling boxes in the guest room.
          “So,” Tom’s dad said, “I think this would be a prudent time to sell.  Mortgage rates are just starting to rise, and the building has appreciated back as much as it’s going to in this market.”  He thought, “Or as close as it’s going to get.  Anyway, I want to get my money out of it.”
          “All right,” Tom’s mother said.  “I’ll talk it over with Mike.”
          “Talk it over with him promptly.  If necessary, I can meet with you both to hammer out the details.”
          The phone rang and Tom’s mother answered it.  “It’s Kelley, Tom.”
          “Hell,” Tom said, looking at his watch.  It was 12:30.  “Tell her we’re on our way.  This is the last load.  We can run the nickel and dime stuff up later in the back of the car.  I have to return the rental truck by two, anyway.”
          “Let me make sure you arrange that stuff correctly,” his dad said.
          He followed them out.  They finished packing the back of the truck, lowered the grate, and pulled in the ramp.
          “I’ve got a television on the passenger seat of the cab,” Tom told his dad.  “Can Nick ride over with you?”
          “Fine.  I’ve got to make a quick stop on the way.  We’ll see you there.”
          “All right.  I’ll go say good-bye to Mom.”
          His dad opened the doors on his white BMW.  He yelled after Tom, “Tell her to call me.”
          They got inside.  Nick looked over at Tom’s dad: an older version of Tom.  The same large limbs, the same thick bulk, the same clear blue-gray eyes, the same firm jaw, the same troubled mouth.  The interior of the car was immaculate and the exterior looked as if it had been recently detailed.  Tom’s dad started the engine and air conditioner, and they drove off.
          They drove the few streets to the 10, but after they got on the 210 going north, Tom’s dad turned off suddenly into a Mexican neighborhood just to the east.  The buildings were mostly stucco apartments and old bungalows with iron fencing over the windows.
          “I just have to run in quick and collect some rent,” Tom’s dad told him.  “It was supposed to have come this week, but it never came.”
          They stopped at a traffic light.  Across the street, a Catholic church was holding a rummage sale in the parking lot.  Even with the windows closed, Nick could smell carne asada on the barbeques under the eucalyptus trees.
          “Mexicans are generally good tenants,” Tom’s dad said.  “Generally they pay their rent regularly and keep their places clean.  But from time to time, I’ve got to come by and make a call.”
          “How often?”
          Tom’s dad shrugged.  “Maybe once a week.  Tom’s step-mom and I own five buildings over here, so that’s not bad.”
          “Have you ever had to evict someone?”
          “Only once.  And that was a white girl.  Strung out on crystal meth.  Had a little kid, maybe two.”  Tom’s dad shook his head.  “Awful.”
          They stopped near the crest of a sloping street and parked diagonally in front of a schoolyard.
          Tom’s dad said, “This will only take a minute.”
          Nick got out of the car with him, but stayed leaning against his door.  He watched Tom’s dad as he strode off across the street and into the courtyard of a green two-storied apartment complex that looked as it might have eight units in its L-shape.  A security system sign sat askew in the crushed rock between the building and the sidewalk.  Aluminum foil covered the inside of the windows on the apartment that fronted the street.
          Nick watched Tom’s dad disappear up some stairs, heard a doorbell ring, then Tom’s dad’s loud voice:  “Is your husband here?  Your esposo?”
          A woman’s voice spoke rapidly in Spanish.  A baby cried.
          Tom’s dad said, “Did he give you some money for me?  Dinero?  Rent?  From last two weeks?”
          The woman began speaking quickly again.  A man working on his car in the driveway of the bungalow next door looked up from under the hood towards the voices.  A Spanish radio station played scratchily on the boom box that sat on a trashcan lid.  He pushed a straw hat back on his head.
          Nick walked off up the street where he couldn’t hear them.  He stood and watched two tall Black teenaged boys on the playground shooting baskets at a rim without a net.  They had their T-shirts tucked into the backs of their baggy shorts, no socks, high tops, and moved unhurriedly with a combination of grace and disinterest. Watching them, Nick found himself thinking of the fifteen years that had passed since he’d graduated from college and began teaching in the migrant farmworking school in the Salinas Valley.  He thought of the time he’d spent in the Native fishing village in Alaska and at the rural project in Guatemala.  He thought about the summer he spent caretakinging the retirement home of a family friend in the town where he now lived, and how he’d met his wife that summer, and of how they’d both found jobs there teaching children of the nearly rich, and of how far his life had strayed from where he’d expected it to lead.  And then their son was born with his problems.  He guessed now he was trying to believe in new expectations.
          Then he considered the night before when Tom and he had stopped for a couple of beers after their run and Tom had confessed that he wasn’t sure about Kelley, but that he was more sure than he’d been about the others.  It was a variation on the same monologue, generally offered six or eight months into one of Tom’s relationships, when he was ready to move on.  Only this one was different.  Tom had been with Kelley for almost two years and they’d just bought a house together.  The wriggle room wasn’t the same.
          Nick pulled at his shirt in the heat and thought that life could have a fair amount to do with variations of truth that you either had to face or mitigate or manage in some manner to avoid.  A shiver passed over him and he saw that the two basketball players had stopped and were staring at him.  One held the ball against his hip; the other had his arms folded across his chest.  Nick nodded to them and walked back down the hill to the car.
          Tom’s father was just trotting across the street.  “Let’s get the hell out of here,” he told Nick.
          They backed out.  The man working on his car and the basketball players watched them as they passed.
          “Tonight, tomorrow, who the hell knows,” Tom’s dad said.  “Miercoles.”
          “That’s Wednesday,” Nick said.
          “I know what the hell it means.  It means another visit next week and the damn husband will be at his brother’s again in Tijuana and we’ll start all over again.  I’m sick of it.”
          They drove the rest of the way to Tom’s new place in silence.

          The truck was already backed into the driveway.  Tom and Kelley had begun to unload it.  They’d put some things along one side of the garage and others out on the front lawn.  Nick looked up at the house.  Tom and Kelley had spent two weeks painting it taupe with white trim, another two weeks putting in a rose trellis and scattering potted plants everywhere, and it still looked like the one-story, 60’s, suburban track home it was.  The items on the lawn were spread on sheets: two twin beds and mattresses, some boxes of plates and dishes, a few small knick-knacks of onyx and terracota.
          Kelley walked up to him as he got out of the car with her arms outstretched.  She was from Boston where her parents owned an Italian restaurant and had somehow found her way west.  She and Tom taught in the same elementary school near the community hospital.  Nick hugged her and said, “The place looks great.”
          “Thanks for helping,” she said.  She patted him on the shoulder.  Her eyes looked as if she might have been crying.  “I bought some hamburgers and fries.  They’re in the microwave.  There’s beer and pop, too.”
          “Okay,” Nick told her.
          He hopped up into the back of the truck and helped Tom with the dining room table, which was low, black, and designed along Oriental lines.
          “We better put this in the garage for now,” he said.  “My dad gave it to me.  He and my mom used to have it.  After he leaves, we’ll move it outside and sell it.”
          “Whatever you say,” Nick told him.
          Tom’s dad came into the garage from the house carrying a can of beer.  “Careful with that,” he said.  “I got that in Guam.”
           They finished unloading in less than an hour.  They moved most of the things from Tom’s old bedroom into a small room Kelley had painted light brown and decorated as his “den”.  A few things were already in there: his chair, a small TV, and mounted photographs of Tom accepting his water polo All-American plaque, Kelley smiling from a lounge chair at the beach, Tom and Kelley at his father’s retirement dinner as a pilot.  She’d covered his duck-taped green recliner with a Mexican throw.
          Nick brought the last box into that room as Kelley was plugging in a floor lamp.  “Close as I come to this is my workbench stool in our garage,” he told her smiling.
          “I love him,” Kelley said.
          “I know you do.”  Nick thought of the party they’d been at a week earlier when Kelley and he had been doing the dishes together.  She’d been near tears as told him that her mother had been calling her daily, saying Tom had the best of all worlds: a partner, a house, and no commitment.
          When he got back outside, Tom’s dad had already started his car.  “I’ve got a deal at the country club this afternoon,” he said out his window.  “An installation deal I can’t miss.”
          Tom gave Nick one of his big hugs.  Kelley waved from the front lawn where an overweight couple was looking over two black statues of leopards’ heads.
          They drove down the hill towards the freeway.  After he’d merged onto it, Tom’s dad said, “When do you think they’ll get engaged?”
          “I don’t know,” Nick said.  He looked out his window.
          “I predict July 4th,” Tom’s dad said.  “I think he doesn’t want to deflect attention from his sister having the baby this spring.  A couple of months from now, it’ll be his turn.  It better be.  He owes her that.  Hell, he owes me that, what I loaned them to get into this place.”
          They drove for a while through the white light towards the 10.  Nick looked over the wide, flat neighborhoods towards the mountains.
          Tom’s dad said, “He better do her right.  Do you think he will?”
          “Sure,” Nick said.  He was drumming his fingertips on his knees.
          Tom’s dad began to talk about Tom’s sisters.  One of them had married, divorced, and remarried a marine who was stationed on the East coast.  They had one daughter and were expecting another.  Another sister had overcome a long illness and was back home after breaking up with the boyfriend she’d moved with to San Francisco.  The youngest sister was living with a reservist and his daughter over whom he had sole custody down near March Air Base; they’d met at an A.A. meeting.
          “My view about him and Kelley,” Tom’s dad said, “is that he’s a grown man.  He borrowed from me to buy that condo, now he’s borrowed from me again.  That’s all right.  But, he’s thirty-three years old.  Christ sake, he can make a decision.”
          Nick said, “I think he will.”
           They were crossing back onto the 10.  Cars weaved in all directions.
          “Truth is, I’m tired of hearing from my supposedly grown-up children,” Tom’s dad said suddenly.  “Truth is, I’m done raising them, and I’d like to hear from them occasionally, but not every goddamn week like they talk with their mother.  They’re adults, goddamn it!  How long do I have to hear them whine?”
          They left the freeway and drove through the quiet streets towards Tom’s condo.  When they pulled up in front of it, Nick thought his dad must have assumed he’d driven over, but didn’t say anything to correct him.  He just wanted to get out of the car.  Tom’s dad shifted the car still.
          “Truth is, I’m tired of hearing from them,” he continued.  He was looking through the windshield, gesturing with his hands.  “Is that crass?  Then call me crass.  I’d like to hear from them for baptisms or barbeques, maybe one of them rents a houseboat on a river and wants my wife and me to visit for a day.  Not goddamn problem after problem.  Not, ‘Damn, Dad, can you bail me out?’  How long does that last?  I know their mother disagrees with me, but when do you cut them loose?  Let’s let them grow up.  So, don’t call me, all right?  I’ve had enough of your calls!”
          Nick was nodding because he didn’t know what else to do.  He looked over at Tom’s dad and nodded some more.  He thought, “My little boy will never leave home.  If we’re lucky enough to still have him around at that age.”
          Then he opened the door and stepped out into the close heat of the afternoon.
          “Thanks,” he said.  “Thanks for the ride.”
          Tom’s dad lowered his head so Nick could see him.  “I’m sorry I got carried away.”
          “No worries.”  Nick waved and started down the sidewalk.
          Tom’s dad throttled the engine, swung around, and drove off in the other direction.  He felt an exhilaration that he had not experienced for a long time, and he knew it had to do with what he’d told Nick.  It had been the truth.  He flipped off the air conditioner and rolled down his window.  The small breeze refreshed him further.  He thought, “Now if I can keep the lid on the cocktails, it will have been a good day.”
          Nick turned right at the corner.  The sound of the BMW died away as he walked past the tennis courts, past the football field, past the elementary school towards home.  The late afternoon light had begun to fall, and he could see the brown haze that always hung above the tree line to the west.
          He stopped behind the hedges that hid the watering system controls at the elementary school and looked across the street at his wife and son.  They were sitting on the glider under the big melaleuca tree swinging back and forth.  His son’s head was on his wife’s lap and Nick could hear her singing to him as they moved in and out of the tree’s shadow.
          Nick thought of walking across the street, sitting on the glider, and embracing them both.  He thought about putting his son in the wheelchair and pushing him up to town with his wife for dinner and ice cream; they could walk back along the beach.  When they got home, he’d do his son’s physical therapy before placing him gently in between the bed supports.  Afterwards, he’d water the flowerpots on the back porch, lock up, then kiss his son goodnight and tuck him in.  He might wait a bit and watch his son sleep.
          Eventually, he’d come into their bedroom and his wife would be lying in bed reading a magazine.  He and his wife would read for a while next to one another.  Perhaps a siren would wind off across town, or if it was still enough, they’d hear the faint clack of a train to the north.  At any rate, at some point one of them would turn the light off and they’d lightly embrace in the darkness.   He’d put his arms around her; they’d both face the closet door.  They wouldn’t need to speak.  Maybe, they’d make love, although it didn’t really matter.  They were together, touching.  What more could they want?

William Cass has had forty-nine short stories accepted for publication in mostly smaller literary magazines and anthologies. Although he now lives and works as an educator in San Diego, he spent a significant portion of his younger years in the greater Los Angeles area.