The Lookout by Vincent Calvarese

I was at the mouth of Balmy when I heard the two pops. The narrowed L-shape alleyway with aging Victorians gobbled up the sound and swallowed it whole.

    I had let my dark black, now greying hair grow out with months of a sorry-ass-of-an-excuse for a beard which laid against my John Doe shirt. They had given it to me 17 hours ago, after I signed my contingent release paperwork. With a pair of boosted sunglasses from CVS, I hoped I would blend.  Every time I got out, it was important to reinvent or at least look different than when I went in. Luckily, the blue in my hood have very short memories.

    When it came to street life, I was always half in or half out but this time my left foot was in the street and the other on the sidewalk. I half turned and over my shoulder I could see the colorful murals. They were like a guerilla gallery. Bright red. Iridescent green. Electric blue. One was a tribute to a slain trans woman and one was called The Culture Contains The Seed of Resistance. Street artists had been responsible for making pretty in the hood since I was 19 or 20. I usually appreciated them most when I was rollin’ or had been tweaking for a few days. Or at least their voice was heightened when I was down a nickel or dime bag of g or some tina.

    I stepped back quickly. I hoped I wasn’t seen. Fuck. The only good witness was a very dead one. I told myself, “you didn’t see a thing, not one single thing.” My only job was to delay anyone and everyone. Talking my way in was usually when I was high or needed to cop but today it was strictly shuck and jive. “Oh, that coat is absolutely divine, Gucci?” Or “Hey man, don’t we know each other from Macateer?”

   I looked around the corner, through a rusted rain pipe. There were one. No two. Nope three. Within seconds they were heading south, down Claredon and out of site. I was just about to step out when one had run back and spit on him and exclaimed, “maricon, puto.” He began laughing and then he too disappeared.

    After blood hits the streets, all those involved become ghosts. We called Benito from the old neighborhood “Casper”. That guy could disappear better than anyone, unless he got too jacked. In fact, too wired up is what got him snuffed.

    I walked two half steps into the alley toward the take and almost tripped. Wearing cowboy boots wasn’t usually my thing but when I stepped off the Quentin bus, there they were. Lazily, tops flopped, like dog ears, and size 12 in black. I quickly abandoned my orange flip-flops, I had traded for a pack of Marlboros.

    Within 10 feet I spotted them. A pair of red and white Jordan’s, mid-calf. I said, “Swaaa-eeet!”

    His body was on it’s side. One to the head and one to the chest. A Sureno special. He was still bleeding out and his oversized white t-shirt began to pattern an Atlanta Braves jersey. The upper shot had sprayed against the mural behind him, freckling Frida Kahlo.

    I tried not to look into his face but he seemed strangely familiar. I knelt down and removed the first shoe. “Nice socks too!! Nike stretch!” I removed them too.

    Once he was barefoot, I began rooting his pockets. First the front then the back. No wallet. I reached down into his waistband. “Yep,” I said. He was wearing a nut-cup.

    As I unbelted him, I again looked at his deranged, silent face. “Panchito?” Nah, it couldn’t be. He was still at Pelican Bay or maybe Chino. My thought reshuffled as my temples jerked left to right. “Let it go,” I said to myself.

    I lifted the cup up and with two fingers and shoved his junk to the side. I slipped his billfold out and three bindles innocently slid out. “Dang, he was holding,” I said. I pocketed them. Tonight, would be a good time at the Kinney SRO but I would need some clean works for sure.

    I began to hear the wails. Distant. Maybe three to four minutes away. I never liked sirens they usually made me freeze-up but when I flipped open the billfold, I stood up and as my lap disappeared. I dropped it. “Fuck! Fuck!! Fuck!!!” It was my younger brother Francisco. Furiously, I picked up the shoes with the socks stuffed in them and his wallet. I headed toward Corbin Street. The po-po would be entering from the other side. When one-way streets actually worked.

    We hadn’t seen each other in a few years. Moms said he had been throwing hammers for a living out in Benicia. He had got mixed up with a speed-freak TL girl. Her name was Gina or Jeannie or some white girl name. Moms said she didn’t understand it so it must have been really good sex. “She played him constantly and eventually reported him to his parole officer. She told him he hit her. Typical!” Moms remembered. He ended up with 120-day violation.

    As I turned onto 30th Street, I remember I had received one prison letter from him in June or maybe July. He said he was trying the AA thing and went to class every day. He said it was going to be different this time. In his two pager, he had asked for my forgiveness.

    By the time I hit the Excelsior and turned left onto Persia, Francisco’s words seeped back in, “Jesus, accept my apology. I have used your name countless times to avoid the cuffs. I knew I had warrants and you didn’t. Two years ago, I fucked your girl and gave her the drip. I am sure you were applauding soon. I am sure there are other things but I can’t remember right now. I can’t wait to see you again and hopefully we can grab some beers. Please Forgive Me.”

    I entered the walkway where I had been dragged out of so many times before. As I stood there, I took a deep breath and knocked. “Who is it?” she said. “Moms, it’s me, Jesus, your son.” I thought, your only son. “Wipe your feet,” she yelled. I looked down at her doormat. It read, “Welcome Back, Did You Forget The Booze?” I rubbed my new sneakers back and forth and lifted up each sole. I said to myself, “clean as they’re going to it.”

 

Vincent Calvarese was born in Walnut Creek, California and has worn many hats in the Bay Area–barista, salesperson, journalist, graphic designer, union representative, deputy sheriff, homeless advocate and published writer and poet. After a long educational hiatus, he returned to City College of San Francisco in August 2017. He states he had become a lazy writer. His poetic work Grief was published in Forum in December 2017.

downtown berkeley boy by Heather Burton

i thought i’d take the train and get off at ashby,

but you told me to ride one more stop

 

downtown berkeley boy

your copper and platinum hair

ignite a small fire in my belly

 

you make me swallow sand,

or maybe it’s just the kava we’re drinking

 

i laugh to myself about the clumsiness of the way

the cuffs of your soccer sweats

meet the lip of your bedraggled high tops

to you, there is no rhyme or reason

 

all i know is the tendons in my arm ache

for the brand new familiarity of your hand in mine

 

i’m riding away from you,

on the train back to my san francisco

the loud screech of bart and the pounding of my heart

in my ears

deafen me to the possibility of anyone else

 

Water Colors by Gloria Keeley

Water Colors

 

slowly up the canal

Chinese paper boats

water-write characters

 

hummingbees buzz secure

in the company of spiders

 

feather fathers move beyond

Maine rocks and

quietly watch water

slap against the stones

of a weathered inn

 

shells line the sill

alongside candle-dripped bottles

 

door slams

like ship boom lowered

 

a frame around one star

lends to the self of solitude

 

standing in the center of a cold space

the painting lacks emotion, warmth

 

petals with thin blue veins

light condensed

figures out of place

like a seaplane over the desert

 

I am a former student of CCSF. I attended City in the late 60s. My writing was included in the 1968 issue of FORUM and I was editor of the 1969 issue of FORUM. I taught for CCSF for 34 years. My poem, “Flag Poem”, is currently featured in the exhibit “History of FORUM Magazine” in the Rosenberg Library.

Sapphire by Dominique Witman

The shop that Ren Law minded was cramped, with no windows to stream sun through, and a secret hatch door in the ceiling being the only means of entrance or exit. However, what the modest room lacked in size, it made up for in content. Reams of silk with delicate golden brocades, inlaid with dusty peach peonies, were draped over a stand with others alike in quality and each complementing the next. From the walls, illuminated by soft flickering candle light, hung shimmering satins in every hue, begging for fingers to run over their soft folds. Even itchy wools, dyed in rich maroons and sappy greens, were placed with care in neat stacks on an unfinished wood table. To the attentive eye, the spread of wares on offer here were treated with such care one might think that Ren Law thought herself to have a duty to them. Most who entered this humble cache of contraband were not attentive, in fact they were terrified. One does not enter a room of colored fabrics, in a world ruled by chroma-serum and Enforcer led raids for anything in non-approved colors, without a healthy dose of terror.

They had begun to call her the Silken Whisperer, not long after she first opened. Ren knew that the man cut in sharp blacks and with neatly combed hair who had stepped carefully down the ladder from her ceiling hatch, was looking for her. He adjusted his tie, viewing the rooms contents with glassy and mistrustful eyes. Most trembled when confronted with so many different hues and shades, after living for so long in a world filled only by the stark blacks, whites and steely greys of a Grand Chancellor ruled world. This man was not shaken. He was determined.

“Hello,” He said, careful. “My name is Agnus. Am I to assume you are the one they call the Whisperer?” Agnus’ words were clipped, like they found it difficult to make it out around his straight white teeth. His meticulous appearance was garish surrounded by the dust motes in the air, and more so beside Ren’s mangy grey hair and worn wool dress.

“I am.” Ren replied, voice even. She had been expecting this, sooner or later. She had hoped it would be later, that she would see herself past seventy, but hopes often died once they taste reality. They appraised each other, a moment spent and gone before either could acknowledge that the other was even looking.

“They say you have an ability,” Agnus did not move, did not reach out to touch anything, as he spoke. Patrons could not resist the urge once they overcame the shock and fell stumbling into wonder. Agnus was not like the others who came to visit her here. “That you can sense what a person desires upon entering.” Agnus shoved his hands into the pockets of his pants, leaning back slightly, eyes never leaving Ren.

“It is as you say.” Her answer was immediate, spoken softly into the room, words floating in the air between them, to delight and taunt in equal measure. This conversation was one she had heard before but only through the distance of dreams. Always a sapphire silk fluttering in the wind. She drew strength from the thought of it, disappearing into the sky, pulled by a gust. Gone. Freed.

Agnus smiled, a rearing back of lips that made the damask silks nearest to him shiver, “What is it then, that I desire?” His words dropped off at the end, his smile strained, eyes beginning to bulge. This pleasant charade was pulling at his seams. Whoever had sent him had emphasized the idea of her coming in peace.

“You desire none of my cottons or my velvets,” Ren sighed moving toward a table draped with cashmere. There was a small leather satchel stowed underneath, with roses and thorny vines tooled into its surface. “Not a single yard of cloth here would satisfy you.” She gathered the pouch up in her arms, facing Agnus.

“You are to accompany me to the capitol, where you will stand trial for your crimes.” He sneered now, gesturing to the ladder and the hatch. “For corruption and treason against the Republic.”

Ren did not spare him a word or a glance, climbing the ladder up and up, into the storefront that had kept her secrets for thirty odd years. Displays of jackets in standard-issue wool blends hung limp, pants and yards of fabric arranged by approved-color: White, Black, Steel Grey, Charcoal, Neutral Brown. All the fixtures had been treated with chromo-serum, making them dull and ashy. It was the picture of Chancellor mandated colorlessness. All the while hiding a haven of jewels below its polished floorboards. At the door, Ren turned and bid the shop good-bye.

~

The satchel sat in her lap, beneath Ren’s folded veiny hands. The Enforcers had not cuffed her. The trip to the Capitol had taken three days, her stay in a cell even shorter. The room was humid, rows of people packed into seats in one swelling circle around her. High arched windows let the mid-day sun in to gleam against polished obsidian walls. The Grand Chancellor sat on a raised platform opposite her, looming behind a slab of stone. He was skeletal, a shock of hair like the gaping night sky combed neatly from his face. They stared at each other from across the room, two wills of force suspended in the air.

“You stand accused of corruption and treason against the State,” he said. The room had been filled with a controlled bubbling of murmurs but hushed as he spoke. The reading of her charges was for show. The lens of the camera beside her whirred, capturing Ren’s even breaths and how the chair she sat upon dwarfed her. Her trial was being broadcast around the world, a guard had said when they’d retrieved her from the cell.

Ken nodded, the movement a spike of ice that melted upon the heated gazes of so many. She imagined citizens of the Republic, at home surrounded by their chroma-serum treated walls and furniture, clothed in rough grey wool. Some would be cheering, enamored with this display of Republic force. Others would be clutching tiny squares of cornflower blue silk, some with smooth emerald pashmina decorated with hand stitched tulips pressed to their cheeks. They’d be blinking away tears. She smiled, a small and weathered thing, in honor of them.

“You know the laws of the Republic, yes?” The Chancellor gave a lazy wave of his hand, fluttering winged fingers in the air before him. Ren did not bother answering a question that already had an answer. “There has been a ban on all non-approved colors,” The Chancellor’s expression became pained, as if the word had burned him, “For forty-five years. How long have you been in violation of this mandate?” He asked, cocking his head to one side. The light caught on the jut of his cheekbone, making his face hollowed out.

“Thirty years.” Ren replied, clearing her throat before adding, “Chancellor.” She gripped the satchel in her lap, cracked skin stretching over knuckles. A warning rang in her ears: Do not speak out of turn, do not cause a riot. Ren’s heart stuttered in her chest, traitorous, at the thought. A riot was what she had wanted all those years ago, when she had twisted the last screw into the hinges of the trapdoor. Now, she could be the catalyst to something bigger. Today she faced the greatest choice of her years.

“Such a long time to be secreting away so much contraband.” The Chancellor stated, the words stale. “How?” He followed.

Ren did not respond, hands now shaking where they remained out of sight from the humming camera beside her. I remained out of sight by sheer force of will, because I am clever and determined. I do not swear blind allegiance to a faux-Republic. There is not one whisper left of justice in your regime. Pass down your judgement and release me. The words screamed inside her, black claws at her chest and throat, trying to rip out of her. She doused them with cold water. Told them: Our time has come, you will find release.

“No matter,” The Chancellor continued when Ren’s silence planted a steadfast boulder between them. He leaned forward now, slowly, “I will ask one more question before we conclude.” The Chancellor paused here. Did he want her to protest the culmination of her life’s work being reduced to a single question? To this circus display of his authority? She would not beg.

“Do you regret it?” He asked. Ren had never expected the ability that had been gifted to her upon her mother’s passing, the one that had given her title of Whisperer among the hopeful and distraught. Like a bowstring it had sprung into her mind with a vibrating hum and had not left yet. In this court room and surrounded by so many desires, she could not pin point any. Instead they took on a cracking trill that rose and fell scattered in unending directions. Do you regret it? Shards of glass in her soul, rending jagged bloody things through her as one Will fought through the trilling of hundreds. Empty black stared at her, waiting with crafted patience for a response. Some said the Grand Chancellor had his eyes injected with chroma-serum to remove them of all their color. Do you regret it? It was time for her to make her choice.

“No.” She said, releasing the vice grip she had on the satchel. The word was easy, sliding through the charred withered ones that swam inside her. She smiled, a small and weathered thing, as her sentence was handed down. As they escorted her to a cell to await her death, she could feel the world weep.

~

Nobody tells you waiting for your death is boring. Three weeks’ worth of meals had come and gone. The sun had risen twenty-one times and set just as many. But here Ren remained, brittle bones never seeming to warm, despite how tightly she wrapped herself up. As a child Ren had imagined what she might be like when she grew up. This is what she reflected upon, stuffed away in some dank corner cell below the city lights and blaring horns of autos. She’d exhausted herself composing letters to her loved ones. The people whose lives she’d left her colorful fingerprints all over. Her Mother had been an artist. Ren had spent much of her childhood spread out on the floor of the studio where her mother worked. With one brush in hand and another in her teeth, beads of sweat running down the backs of her arms, she’d hoist up onto ladders and great scaffolds. Fancifully, Ren had wanted to be just like that, changeable and in tune with something unnamed. Then, as a teenager, it was a mechanic. Fantasies of fixing up old motorbikes and taking cross country trips had been the fuel of that desire. When the Grand Chancellor came into power she had been getting her master’s in political philosophy. She’d immediately dropped from her program, a month before completion. You never really know what you’re going to do, until you do it. She’d thought about getting that tattooed somewhere, as a reminder. It wasn’t necessary, it lived in her heart.

She counted the ceiling tiles again. Fifteen. Dinner had already been served, her tray remained at the cell door. Nineteen. Steam no longer whispered into the air from the mug on it. She rarely found the energy to get up from her cot. Twenty-one. Her guards took her to use the bathroom twice a day. Twenty-eight. That was all the will she had left. Pick yourself up. It had become her mantra, but it didn’t seem to hold power any more. She had spent the last of it that day surrounded by cameras and burning eyes. Now, she was empty. Thir-

Someone was at her door. The on the bedside table flickered, a stub, nearing its expiration. The light it cast was dim and the shape at her door a nightmarish shadow. It stepped over the untouched tray and came into the dying light. The sepia glow did nothing to soften the knives of it’s cheekbones, colorless eyes a polished gleaming menace. The Chancellor sat on the lone chair placed at the foot of Ren’s bed. He said nothing, did not move, not even to blink. Ren’s heart was cold, just like her forgotten mug of tea. Anger had followed her after she’d dropped out of school, a constant vigil over her soul as she collected relics of a happier time. The fabrics that she would use to weave her future. Finally, it had tucked tail and ran when her cell door had clanged behind her three weeks before. Now there was nothing. Just the slicked stone walls around her and the biting winter wind of her thoughts. Ren tugged the blanket around her, tucked it into her sides with jerks.

“Why?” The Chancellor asked. Not the How? From her trial. He stared. Patient. It was hard not to have patience when you ruled over the seven continents with absolution. He clarified, “I have not had much rest over this. I thought to come and unburden you before your execution.” He drummed his fingers across the bedframe. The only sound in the vacuum that precedes the end.

“You gave me a choice,” Ren began. Words didn’t seem like the justice this deserved but she trudged on, “To turn my back on everything I believed in and live the rest of my days in a lifeless world or die.” She smiled when he scoffed.

“There is no honor in dying for this.” He said. The air around them warmed from the venom of it. Ren thought that might do well etched onto her tombstone. There is no honor in dying for this. Would the Chancellor feel the same when his day came? “You have not answered my question, all the same.” He leaned back in the chair, eyes hooded.

“I felt your desire, what you truly want- what you wanted in that moment, anyway.” Ren pushed the blanket away, her body creaking like a tree bent in the wind as she sat. “When you asked of my regrets, you desired something so fiercely it tore me.” She said. It left me empty. She would never feel another’s desire again. Their wishes had been swept away, like the silk in her dreams. Her bare feet were the soft flutter of wings on stone as she stood. They had let her keep the satchel she’d brought, a small comfort for a dying woman.

“What do I desire?” He asked. His twig fingers drummed again, pat pat. Ren pulled the leather purse from beneath the bed, running hands over the tooled roses in a long sweep. She popped the clasp and reached for its only contents. The silk stretched endlessly as she freed it, soft and warm. It rippled in the low light, shimmering sapphire and emerald, like cresting waves in an ocean that no longer existed. An heirloom of some timeless place. It was the silk that wrapped around Ren in her dreams, feather touches against her naked skin before smothering her, pulling her up and up into the eternal. The satchel fell to the floor, her arms outstretched to the Chancellor, offering up its sacred embrace.

He snatched at it, fingers twitching and spasming in its flow. Ren watched him gather it into his arms, one unending pool of glassy ocean. Like a dragging tide pulling stones and shells with its force he brought it to carved stone. Ragged short breaths fluttered silk as he pressed it to his face, stuttering there, before release. Ugly tears slid over tight cracked lips, dripping over his chin in forking streams.

Ren’s bones were beginning to stiffen where she stood when his breathing evened, and he rose. In on sweeping arc he folded the silk in half, then another half, again and again until it’s great mass had been condensed into one dense glimmering star. The Chancellor tucked it into his jacket, turning sharply on his foot. He stepped over the abandoned tray, did not shut the door behind him. Artificial light from the corridor burned holes in the stone walls of the cell. He dismissed the guard, his voice echoing in the hall before even that disappeared too. There is no honor in dying for this. Ren smiled, a small thing, in honor of it.

Ren shuffled into bed, spent. She managed to pull the blanket around her, one last time. Curling into herself like a nautilus, she waited to die.

 

 

Dominique Witman is currently a student at City College and have been attending for almost three years. They are studying Political Science but have always had a passion and interest in creative writing, fiction and poetry.

 

Sorry (Not Sorry), Wrong Number by Vincent Calvarese

 

    I laid there on the carpet. Alone. Radiating out from me were spent orange capped needles, 20oz. Coca Cola bottles half filled with unknown liquid and cigarette butts, weeks old dog shit enmeshed in the 15-year-old Berber carpet and numerous pizza boxes. My husband had gone out to cop more of what I had needed for the last 10 years.

    I was laying on my left side. My elbow was tucked underneath. My body was on top of my elbow and part of my tricep. My forearm was upward and I stared at the piece of paper clutched in my hand. My God-fearing, very “AA-sober” work friend Ginger had handed it to me as I was walking out of my last job. Again, being fired for absenteeism, tardiness, erratic behavior and poor hygiene. She said, “Call him, if you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

    The piece of paper is now dilapidated because I’ve been folding it and unfolding it to the point that it’s almost falling apart. But you can still make out the phone number on it. My body begins to shake yet again. I couldn’t feel myself  “Jonesing” because I was experiencing full-on withdrawals. I had crapped my pants hours ago. I was sweating, I had extreme dry mouth. I hadn’t showered in five days and I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten. The middle of the month was difficult. Public benefits had become tiresome.

    I truly wanted to get up and bolt for the door and run screaming down the street for what I truly wanted but I didn’t want to wake him up. He was the reason I needed to change. My beautiful baby boy. I know that I wasn’t going to be named Mother-of-the-Year anytime soon but at the age of 34 years old, I was failing at so many things and I didn’t want to lose him.

    I had been the All-American girl. I was raised by great parents. I had piano lessons, spoke French and had my entire college paid for. If my checking account ever ran low, magically the next day there’d be another $500.00 dollars added to it.

    But I came to the conclusion that the thing I needed to do with all that comfort was to destroy it. Every time, I’d come to a major faulty conclusion in my life, a man came right after to help me live it out.

    I was 24 at the time, he was 42 years old. We were smitten in love and it was beautiful until he introduced me to some of his old friends and then they eventually introduced me to “Miss China White”.

    So, curled up on my apartment floor, I decided in that moment to get clean. I was emaciated, covered in bruises, all my veins had collapsed except for the ones in my neck. All the doors in my life had closed. I was desperate. I became willing to punch the numbers into the telephone.

    I heard a man say, “Hello.” I said, “Hey, Ginger gave me this number to call if I wanted to change.”

    I could hear him shuffling around in bed. He was probably pulling some sheets around himself and sitting up. At first, I could hear the sound of a television that suddenly went silent. He became very present.

    He said, “Yes, yes, what’s going on?”

    I began to tell him how bad everything had gotten. I told him how bad my marriage was the last few years. I was being rigorously honest for the first time in many years.

    He just answered, “Um ok. Wow. That must be painful. Tell me more.”

    Before long, I admitted I probably had a drug problem. There wasn’t any judgement in his voice. He said, “Addiction is very hard to break. I am happy that you’ve made it this far.”

    I had made the call at 1:30 in the morning. And he stayed up with me the whole night. Just me talking and he listening, until the morning sun began to break.

    By then I was calm. My breathing had become normal.  Everything around me was in focus. The raw panic had passed. I was ok.

    I didn’t care if he was some “Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book thumping bleeding deacon”, I was grateful to him, and so I said, “Hey, I really, really appreciate you and what you’ve done for me tonight. Aren’t you supposed to give me something to read in the AA Big Book or tell me where the next meeting is? Because that’d be cool. I’ll do it, you know. It’s all right.”

    He chuckled and said, “Well, I’m glad this was helpful to you.”

    We talked some more and I brought it up again but this time I said, “You know you’re very good at these 12-step calls, how long have you been sober?”

    This time there’s a very long pause. I hear him shifting in bed. “Please, don’t hang up,” he says. “I’ve been trying not to bring this up.”

    “What?” I ask.

    “You won’t hang up?”

    “No.” I say.

    “I’m so afraid to tell you this. But the number you called….” He pauses again. “You’ve got the wrong number.”

    At first, I was taken back. I was embarrassed. I had just spilled my entire torrid life to a complete stranger but the wrong one. I wanted to quickly hang up the phone but something stopped me. He didn’t hang up, so neither would I.

    I would never get his name or call him back but the next day and the day after that I began to experience true joy. I truly believed that there existed true random love in the universe. And that it was unconditional. And that some of it was for me.

    If I told you I had gotten my life totally together that day, I’d be a complete liar.

    Today, I practice honesty, open-mindedness and willingness in my everyday life. Because that’s “how” it works. I will always remember that one wrong number brought me out of the depths of hell.

 

 

Vincent Calvarese was born in Walnut Creek, California and has worn many hats in the Bay Area–barista, salesperson, journalist, graphic designer, union representative, deputy sheriff, homeless advocate and published writer and poet. After a long educational hiatus, he returned to City College of San Francisco in August 2017. He states he had become a lazy writer. His poetic work Grief was published in Forum in December 2017.

Pinkie (Excerpt) by Edisol Wayne Dotson

Pinkie (Excerpt)

 

over BLACK:

Airplane wheels screech on landing.

Fade in:

Ext. san francisco international airport – DAY

Pinkie appears in the doorway of a private jet, goes down the stairs. Manny follows.

Manny crosses to one of two parked black hybrid SUVs, takes a set of keys from a MAN. The Man drives off in one of the SUVs.

Pinkie gets in the backseat of the other SUV, Manny gets behind the wheel. They drive off.

Ext. billy’s house – Berkeley – day

A small Victorian house in pristine condition.

Pinkie’s SUV is parked on the street.

He smokes on the front porch, paces. He looks beaten down: dark circles under the eyes, the ruggedness of his looks no longer good.

After a few moments, Manny comes out of the house. He wears a a pair of latex gloves.

Manny

All clear.

Pinkie looks around, trying to find something to use as an ashtray.

Manny (CONT’D)

Give it to me. I’ll take it around back to the trash.

Pinkie takes a final drag, hands the cigarette to Manny.

Pinkie

Do you mind going through the trash to see if there’s anything that might be useful?

Manny

No problem.

Pinkie

Put the containers in the garage when you’re done. Recycling too. Just in case.

Manny

Got it.

PinKIE

Thanks.

Manny pulls a fresh pair of gloves from a pocket, hands them to Pinkie.

Pinkie goes to the door. He hesitates, his body tense.

Int. billy’s House – day

Pinkie enters, only a couple steps in. His eyes are on his hands, concentrating on putting on the gloves, not completely ready to take it all in.

Once the gloves are on, he covers his face with his hands. He takes in several deep breaths.

MONTAGE:

LIVING ROOM

Minimally furnished with sleek, modern pieces; a few high-value modern-art paintings hang on the wall; all a striking contrast to the old-world elegance of the original wood floor, fireplace, crown molding and chandelier.

Pinkie walks around the room, touching pieces of furniture.

He stops at the mantle, scans the few framed photographs: a goofie selfie of he and Billy at a football game; another of he, Billy and Charlotte on a beach; and an old black and white of a sad-looking little kid sitting on a tricycle.

KITCHEN

Modernized, but not to the point of losing it’s charm. A few dirty dishes in the sink. A vase of dead flowers on the cooking island.

He opens the fridge: beer, juice; other than a bag of salad and a couple of bottles of salad dressing, not much food.

 

OFFICE/STUDY

Lots of hardcover and paperback books on floor-to-ceiling  bookshelves along three of the walls. The room has the look of a 19th century master-of-the-house library or a bookstore specializing in old and rare books.

A small desk against a wall with a large computer screen split with black and white feeds from security cameras throughout the house and outside.

Pinkie stands at an old, sturdy wooden desk in front of a window, surveys the clutter: landline, a Disneyland snow globe, ashtray with a few butts; a couple of legal pads, one with several pages flipped back, a few handwritten lines visible on the page; a few expensive pens, paperbacks and sports magazines, power cord for a laptop, charge cord for a cell phone.

He picks a butt from the ashtray, puts it between his lips.

He picks up the two cords, stares at them, then lets them drop to the desk.

He picks up the legal pad.

CLOSE ON: The legal pad. His fingers run over the handwriting. His hand moves away: “A good dad. The words were plain enough, but Malcolm had never been able to say them in any way that made them stick.”

He pulls forward one of the folded back pages, reads for a few moments.

He throws the pad across the room.

He exits.

STAIRWAY

Pinkie climbs the stairs.

BEDROOM

It’s a mess: unmade bed, shoes and clothes litter the floor, a ratty Berkeley T-shirt hangs on the back of a chair, a gym bag underneath.

ADJOINING BATHROOM

He opens the medicine chest: Band-Aids, shaving cream, toothpaste, floss, deodorant. Nothing out of the ordinary.

He closes the door, sees his reflection in the mirror: the cigarette butt in his lips, the dark circles under his eyes.

He pulls the butt from his lips and drops it into a trash basket. He turns to the door, but stops and turns back, panic in his eyes.

He squats, looks into the trash basket. Not seeing the butt,  he upends the basket, dumping the contents onto the floor: used tissues and floss, a pregnancy test box and stick, and the butt. He picks up the butt, puts it back between his lips. He pick ups up the pregnancy box and stick. He relaxes, a bit.

BEDROOM

Pinkie sits on the bed.

He looks at the night stand: alarm clock, ashtray full of butts, a book-marked paperback, “The Member of the Wedding.”

He opens a drawer. Rummages through it: a pack of cigarettes, lighter, matches, condoms, bottle of lubricant. He closes the drawer.

He notices something under the covers. He lifts them, revealing a teddy bear, one that looks like it’s been around for a long while. It’s missing an eye. A sudden intake of air through his mouth sucks the butt inside. He quickly turns his head and spits out the butt. He sticks out his tongue, wipes it on a sleeve. He spits a couple of more times, trying to get rid of the awful taste.

He looks back at the teddy bear. He pokes it, as if he’s checking for life. After a moment, he picks it up, stares at it. He’s taken to another time…

Int. child’s bedroom – night

A SMALL BOY in pajamas lies in bed, on his back, his head turned to the side, eyes open. It’s the boy from the black and white photo on the mantle, YOUNG PINKIE. He doesn’t blink. He looks frozen, almost dead. His eyes are fixed on something across the room.

Man’s voice (o.s.)

(singsongy)

This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home…

Young Pinkie’s POV of ANOTHER MAN from the waist down, black dress pants and black shiny shoes. The one-eyed teddy bear rests in between his legs.

Man’s voice (o.s.) (CONT’D)

(singsongy)

… This little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none.

This little piggy cried…

A Man’s fingers tickle up Young Pinkie’s foot.

Man’s voice (o.s.) (CONT’D)

(singsongy)

… wee…

The fingers are on his shin.

Man’s voice (o.s.) (CONT’D)

(singsongy)

… wee, wee…

The fingers are on his knee.

BACK TO PRESENT – BILLY’S BEDROOM

Pinkie continues to stare at the teddy bear.

Man’s voice (v.o.)

(singsongy, big finish)

All the way home.

He squeezes the neck of the teddy bear, throttles it for a couple of moments before dropping it to the bed.

He notices the gym bag underneath the chair, crosses, picks it up and puts it in the chair. He unzips it and rummages through the contents. He pulls and drops socks, T-shirts and gym shorts. He pulls out a laptop, returns it to the bag.

He takes the T-shirt from the back of the chair, stuffs it into the bag.

He heads out, but stops. He crosses to the bed, picks up the teddy bear and shoves it into the bag.

INT. OFFICE/STUDY – DAY

Pinkie enters, crosses to the desk. He takes the laptop from the bag, plugs in the power cord. He picks up the snow globe, puts into the bag.

He heads for the doorway, stops.

He crosses, picks up the legal pad, exits.

Ext. street – day

Manny and Sam at a car parked behind Pinkie’s.

In the background, Pinkie steps out of the house.

Sam’s car

Pinkie approaches.

Pinkie

Hi, Sam. How was the drive up?

Sam

Good. Thanks.

PinKIE

I appreciate you doing this.

Sam

Sure. Anything to help.

Manny

(to Pinkie)

I’ll be right back.

He leaves them and goes to the SUV.

Pinkie

You have all the codes for the security?

Sam

I do.

Pinkie

Let us know if you find anything on the security footage.

Sam

You wanted me to go back six months, right?

Pinkie

Yeah. But, before you do that, I left Billy’s laptop on his desk. See if you can get into his email.

Sam

Got it.

Manny returns, holding a box of latex gloves.

MannY

(to Sam)

A buddy of mine is coming at three-thirty to dust for prints.

He hands to the box to Sam.

MANNY (CONT’D)

Wear these until he’s done. Starting from here to the front door, don’t fucking touch anything without gloves. Understood?

Sam

Understood.

Pinkie turns away from them, heads for the SUV. He stops after a couple of steps. He drops the gym bag, goes back to Sam.

Sam is surprised when Pinkie grabs him and gives him a tight hug.

Pinkie

(in the hug)

Thanks, again.

He pulls away, but keeps his hands clasped on Sam’s shoulders. He feigns a parental sternness.

PinkiE (CONT’D)

No wild parties. It’s not a frat house.

Sam laughs.

Sam

No problem there. I’m a computer geek. A de facto loner.

Pinkie lets go. Now, he’s the guy helping his buddy get laid.

Pinkie

There’s a big, bad city just across the Bay.

Manny

(to Sam)

Don’t charge the rubbers to the company card.

He walks off, to the SUV.

Pinkie

Call Manny if you need anything. And, do the opposite of what he just said.

He turns, heads to the SUV.

PINKIE’S CAR

The back door is open.

Manny picks up the gym bag as Pinkie approaches, holds it up.

MANNY

Front or back?

Pinkie

I’ll take it.

With the bag, he climbs into the back seat.

Manny closes the door, rounds the car to the driver’s side.

EXT. STREET – DAY

Pinkie’s car drives off, as Sam takes a pair of gloves from the box.

As Pinkie’s car travels on various streets, a black Town Car appears and follows.

Int. Pinkie’s car – tRAVELING – DAY

Manny’s reflection in the rearview mirror.

Pinkie (o.s.)

They still there?

Manny

Yep.

Ext. Downtown berkeley street – day

Pinkie’s car pulls into the parking lot of a coffee shop.

The Town Car pulls in, parks nearby.

Pinkie and Manny get out of their car, enter the coffee shop.

Int. coffee shop – day

Pinkie sits in a booth. One of his hand lies flat, palm down, on the table. He’s hiding something.

Manny approaches with two cups of coffee. He sets one in front of Pinkie, sits across from him.

TWO MEN enter. One goes to the counter. The other crosses to Pinkie and Manny.

Manny gives the guy his “don’t-fuck-with-us” glare, opens his coat to reveal his gun.

Pinkie lifts his hand that’s on table revealing his switchblade. He puts his finger on the button, ready.

PiNKIE

(to the Man)

I’ll play nice if you will.

The Man smiles, cocks his head in agreement.

PinkiE (CONT’D)

(to Manny)

His friend may need some help understanding the difference between a cappuccino and a latte.

Manny scoots out of the booth, goes to the counter.

PinKIE (CONT’D)

It’s been a long time, Sebastian.

SEBASTIAN WILLIAMS (58) slides into the booth, opposite Pinkie. He’s the Northern California kingpin. He’s tall and thin, a face barely holding on to the last of its good looks. His expensive suit and flashy accessories try to make up for the loss.

Pinkie puts his knife on the seat, within easy reach.

Sebastian

New Year’s Eve, 1996. Remember?

Pinkie

Vaguely.

SeBASTIAN

I remember it like it was last night. Of course, I’m the one who caught my wife making out with a man who wasn’t her husband.

PINKIE

Now it’s coming back to me. She was a hell of a kisser.

SeBASTIAN

Italian babes usually are.

Pinkie

She was a beautiful woman back then. How’s she holding up?

SeBASTIAN

I wouldn’t know. We divorced in ’98. I’m married to a Russian now. Terrible kisser, but sucks cock like nobody’s business.

PINKIE

You always did prefer head over tail.

He sips his coffee.

It’s down to business now.

Pinkie (CONT’D)

Did you kill Billy?

Sebastian is not offended by the accusation.

SebASTIAN

No, I didn’t.

Pinkie

Why should I believe you?

SeBASTIAN

Because if there’s anybody I want to kill, it’s you. Your Billy doesn’t… Sorry.

He smiles.

SebaSTIAN (CONT’D)

Didn’t mean fuck-shit to me.

CLOSE ON: Pinkie taking hold of the switchblade.

He doesn’t like Sebastian’s dismissive comment about Billy. Still, he keeps his composure.

Pinkie

We’re done here.

SeBASTIAN

I never tire of quickies. And…

He looks at the counter, then back to Pinkie.

SeBASTIAN (CONT’D)

… We’re all still breathing.

Pinkie lifts the knife and pops it. As he scoots out of the booth, he slides the tip across the table, leaving a scratch in the wood.

Pinkie

For now.

Sebastian gives him a “whatever” flick of his hand.

Manny and Sebastian’s Man approach the table.

Pinkie (CONT’D)

(to Manny)

Let’s go.

Counter

PinkiE

(to GIRL behind the counter)

Excuse me.

Girl

What can I get you?

PinkiE

Nothing.

He pulls a thick fold of cash, peels off a few hundreds, lays them on the counter.

Pinkie (CONT’D)

I scratched the table. This should cover it.

He and Manny exit.

A quick thinker, she pockets the bills.

Ext. Bay area freewayS – day

Aerial shot of Pinkie’s SUV heading across the Bay Bridge toward the San Francisco skyline.

Ext. golden gate park – north windmill – day

A restored windmill with moving arms, surrounded by a garden of tulips.

It being one of San Francisco’s major attractions, tourists mill about, verbally admiring the structure and flowers, taking photographs. Lots of selfie sticks.

Pinkie and Manny enter the scene, walk past the windmill and disappear into a group of trees.

Trees

Pinkie and Manny make their way on a well-trodden dirt path, with Manny in the lead, glancing at his phone every few steps.

Pinkie

How much further?

Manny

We’re nearly there.

After a few more moments of walking, Manny stops, looks up from his phone.

Manny (CONT’D)

They should be…

He stops.

MANNY (CONT’D)

Shit.

Ahead, he sees two trees, both of which have rope tied around the trunks.

Pinkies steps to Manny’s side, sees the ropes. He takes off toward the trees. Manny bolts to follow.

They come around to the other side of the trees.

Tied to each tree is a MAN with a bullet hole in his forehead. Duck tape covers their mouths.

Stan’s Benedict and Arnold have been executed.

Pinkie

Goddammit.

Pinkie’s phone chimes. He pulls it, looks at the screen.

CLOSE ON: The screen, incoming text message ID’d as Billy. Message reads: “Remember that show with whathisname and whatshername? Trust no one.” A winking smiley face emoticon at the end.

Using the back of his hand, Manny touches the neck of one of the Men.

Manny

He’s warm.

He pulls his gun, looks around.

Pinkie

We’d be dead if that’s what they wanted.

He looks at his phone.

Pinkie (CONT’D)

Who the fuck is this with Billy’s phone?

Manny

We’ll find him. Let’s get of here.

They head back down the path.

Ext. golden gate park – north windmill – day

Away from the crowd, with the windmill in the background, Pinkie smokes, his phone to his ear.

Manny is close by.

Int. Bedroom – day

Stan in bed, covered to the waist with a sheet, his much-less-than-perfect upper body exposed.

His phone buzzes on the night stand. He picks it up, glances at the screen, takes the call.

Stan (into phone)

Hey.

Pinkie (over phone)

Listen, asshole…

Intercut:

Ext. golden gate park – north windmill – day

Pinkie (intO PHONE)

… They’re dead.

Stan (inTO PHONE)

What the fuck are you talking about?

Pinkie (into PHONE)

Tied to fucking trees with bullet holes in their heads.

Stan (into phone)

Are you sure it’s them?

Pinkie (into PHONE)

Who the fuck else would it be?

Int. Bedroom – day

PINKIE (over PHONE)

You need to get your fat fucking ass up here and figure this shit out.

Stan (inTO PHONE)

Alright. I’ll… Hello? … You there?

He tosses his phone onto the night stand.

Stan (CONT’D)

Fuuuuuuck.

Ext. golden gate park – north windmill – day

Pinkie lights a cigarette.

Manny approaches with two bottles of water.

Manny

You’ve been smoking too much.

Pinkie takes a water.

Pinkie

I know.

He opens the bottle, takes a big swig.

ManNY

My father died of lung cancer. Four packs a day. It’s not a pretty way to go.

Pinkie

It can be, depending on the father.

His phone chimes. He pulls it, looks at the screen.

Pinkie (inTO PHONE) (CONT’D)

Hi, Bradford. What have you found?

INTERCUT:

int. autopsy room – DAY

BRADFORD (40s) at an examining table where Billy’s body lies.

Bradford (into PHONE)

Whoever did the embalming knew what they were doing. There’s no sign of any physical trauma to the body, except for needle marks in his arms.

Pinkie (into PHONE)

Needle marks?

BraDFORD (into PHONE)

Yeah.

Pinkie (inTO PHONE)

That’s not possible. Billy hated drugs.

Bradford (into PHONE)

We won’t know what it was until the final tox reports come in and that’s going to be at least a week. But, the marks indicate he was injecting something.

Ext. golden gate park – north windmill – day

Pinkie (inTO PHONE)

Or somebody was injecting him. … Okay. Let me know if you find anything else. … Thanks.

He hangs up.

He takes a drag on the cigarette, leans down, crushes it out. He keeps the butt.

PinkIE (CONT’D)

Let’s go.

He and Manny head off. Pinkie drops the butt into a trash can.

 

Edisol Wayne Dotson is the author of “Behold the Man: The Hype and Selling of Male Beauty in Media and Culture.” His fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in “Art & Understanding.” He is not a student or alumnus of CCSF, but lived in San Francisco for many years.”

 

 

Ghost Dance by Matt Luedke

Ani stared out the window and past bouncing elm branches at the night sky, shifting her head quietly so she wouldn’t disturb the noisy floorboards and wake Laila beside her. She could see more of the stars than she was used to, outside the city in this drafty storage shed. She idly wished she knew anything about which star was which, and wondered if the Old Sun contributed a tiny gleam tonight.

She turned to her side, and advised her body to get some rest while it could, on a thin sleeping pad lent by a terraformer acquaintance who had not expected them. As her arm passed her face in the cold light of the Front Moon, she noticed the last fading signs of a pale blue dot from a permanent marker on the inside of her dirt-covered forearm.

“Hey, hey, I’m trying to draw here!” Laila had laughed that morning, on her knees on their hardwood floor. She stabbed her marker in the air to protect against Ani’s barrage of pecking kisses. Ani stopped, but Laila’s marker caught her on the arm anyway. Ani instinctively jerked her arm back from the cold sensation.

They froze, eyes wide with the same alarm they would’ve had if the poke had been with a knife instead of just a marker. After a moment of shared shock, they decompressed with a laugh. Ani gave one more quick peck to Laila’s cheek, but Laila brought the marker back up with a smirk and hinting eyes. “Don’t make me!”

Minutes later, Laila stood up, dusted off her knees, and surveyed their creations on the floor next to her bare feet. “There,” Laila said. “Goes with yours perfectly. Mine just looks… how do I say it… better.” Ani playfully scrunched and shook her face at Laila as she joined her to look at the two cardboard rectangles, cut from sides of a box Ani had used to move in last month.

Ani’s, with hasty, uneven lettering that got more compact on the right side of the sign as she had started to run out of room:

INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL? “WE GOT THIS”

RENT CONTROL? “TOO COMPLICATED”

Laila’s, drawn with an upside-down, purposely-misshapen Mission One flag and an arrow arcing from Old Earth to Lydia:

THAT’S ONE GIANT LEAP FOR A MAN

ONE SMALL STEP FOR MANKIND

“That’s awesome,” Ani said. “People are going to love that.”

Laila was quiet. She nudged her forehead into Ani’s shoulder, then looked at her. “Ani. I’m scared. I’m scared to go.”

Ani’s eyes met Laila’s, and moistened. Her heart trembled. She looked at the pair of bookmarked novels on the couch, the jumble of obscure indie rock records beside the turntable, the photos and array of Laila’s Swedish and Ani’s Lakota family heirlooms on the wall. Their tiny living shrine to all they adored of Old Earth culture and of each other. She gathered the whole room into an inhalation that filled her to the roots of her lungs, and twined her fingers together with Laila’s.

An hour later, they lifted their signs as part of a beautiful forest of humans that filled the square. Above the crowd’s bustle and the cold wind, they could intermittently hear a distant speaker denouncing the police violence and evictions of the regime. Ani noticed several eagle-sized drones buzzing above the crowd, and she held her sign a little higher for their benefit. Her spine felt as strong and tall as a redwood.

Suddenly, a new commotion emerged. Ani heard a deep hum from across the square, like the noise of a horrible machine being activated and left to run forever. Hollow thunks, like the sound of bricks falling into water, echoed off the sides of surrounding buildings. Eyes darted among each other in the crowd, and voices called out in confusion and disbelief. A chalk-white cloud swelled above the crowd, and a gust of wind brought the smell of campfire and the taste of ash. With their free hands, Ani and Laila mimicked those around them and lifted their shirt collars up over their noses and mouth. But their eyes were still exposed, and soon Ani could barely keep even just one of them open. Her mouth and nose felt inside-out, like they were rebelling against her and trying to leave her body. Heart pounding, Ani dropped her sign. Laila dropped hers and they held each other, stumbling as they joined the disarray of screams, coughs, and scuffling feet rushing from the square.

Back at home, they rushed into the shower, still with their clothes on, and blasted cold water. Laila insisted they only use only cold. “Hot opens the pores,” she wheezed. The sudden drop in temperature confused Ani’s heartbeat even further, and she felt lightheaded. She vomited on Laila’s pants.

After several minutes, they turned off the water, slopped off their layers, and crumpled to the tile floor, too shocked and contaminated to move anywhere else. They looked at each other, faces soaked with water, chemicals, sweat, and tears.

They had to assume the raids and evictions would continue, maybe even stronger after the protest now. Ani sighed and coughed, her throat still stinging and lined with mucus and bile. After a half hour of sitting on the floor, staring at their feet and clearing out snot, Ani groaned herself to her feet and dressed. “I need fresh air. I’ll be right back.”

When Luis at the corner store saw Ani’s face, he whispered, “¿Estuviste en la plaza hoy?” When she tentatively nodded, he grabbed a paper bag from behind the counter and shook it open. “Janet from 501 told me they had drones run facial recognition on people at the protest, and they’re going around arresting them now. The Franklins at 405 said just a few minutes ago their neighbors got picked up. Some people are staying with friends or leaving the city before it happens to them,” he said. He handed her the bag, pushing her outstretched money away and gesturing over everything in the store. “Considéralo.”

When Ani returned, the door was wide open, a way they never left it. She rushed in and didn’t see Laila where she’d been in the bathroom. “Laila!” she called. She dropped her bag of food and searched the apartment, with no success. “Laila!”

She heard heavy footsteps rumbling up the staircase behind her, and froze in terror. She grabbed the nearest solid thing within reach: her father’s čhaŋnúŋpa, the sacred ceremonial pipe bowl hung on the wall. It was not a weapon, she knew in her bones, but it was made of old red stone and she only had a moment to think. She had never fought with a police officer before.

Ready to defend herself, she tensed until the stomping culminated in Laila struggling to carry a large luggage trunk, the one she’d used on the Mission One voyage and now kept in the basement storage.

“Can you help me with this?” asked Laila, and Ani finally exhaled. She nodded, left the pipe bowl on the table, and pulled the luggage up onto their floor.

“We have to get out of here,” Laila said softly. “Adam, the terraformer we met at the market. I bet he’d help us.” Ani nodded, confronting the humiliating calculus of the size and weight of each piece of their shared life. She unzipped the front pocket of the luggage.

Now in the shed, Ani quietly unzipped the same pocket. Her fingers felt inside, past layers of wool and cotton, until they found the smooth, cold čhaŋnúŋpa bowl. She drew it out and held it to her chest.

She closed her eyes and envisioned her and Laila’s position in the shed. She saw the rusty tools on the wall, and potted saplings ready for planting soon. “You have to check the nursery-grown ones closely,” the terraformer had said in a momentary attempt at small talk. “The roots hit the side of the pot they grew in and get confused, and you have to untangle or clip them before you plant so they can relearn how to grow outward and stand more stable during storms.” He handed them the bed rolls to sleep on.

Her mind then wandered outside the shed, into the unnaturally straight rows of trees behind the house, and on and on until the farthest frontier of the earthplants gradually gave way to red Lydian landscape. She sought a specific tree, and she would know it once she’d found it by its warmth, sound, and smell. She tried to summon its essence from her stew of memories. The sculpted earthwood furniture inhabiting her family’s home back on Old Earth came to her, but she wanted something even deeper.

Then she smelled it, behind her. Earthy, autumnal. Needles and bark gently toasting in the sun– the Old Sun. Berries and cones, and cool, dry air. Her bare toes felt the pound of elkskin drums and the shifting of dirt with each resonant beat, and the backs of her arms felt the warmth of her home planet. She turned to see a ring of dancers around a tall red cedar tree. They held hands and stepped to their left, releasing a swirling song of vocables and Lakota lyrics above the crackle of earthfire. Some of the dancers wrapped themselves in flags of the old United States of America, held upside-down. Drawings of eagles, the Old Sun, and the Earthmoon adorned their clothing.

She saw one woman asleep inside the circle, with another standing right above her. The two women looked identical to each other, even with identical clothing. Just as Ani was processing the resemblance, the standing one looked at Ani, and their eyes met. Somehow, this woman had Ani’s face too. Only their hair, jewelry, and clothes differed.

The other dancers approached the woman on the ground, and carried her limp body to the side. They ignored the standing woman, as if they didn’t see her there at all.

Ani gently approached the standing woman, who walked towards her in mirroring steps. “Dyani,” Ani said, pointing to herself. “Brave Deer,” the other woman finished. “How does she know my name?” Ani wondered. “And what is hers?”

The woman looked at the čhaŋnúŋpa bowl Ani still held. Ani once again admired its strong red pipestone form. “It is not a weapon,” her father murmured in a memory that briefly surfaced, “but it brings you into the power. Spiritual power.” The woman smiled and nodded in recognition. She then reached out her hand, and Ani took it with hers. “Star flesh,” the woman said, her eyes focused on their fingers together. Ani wondered, “is she referring to herself, or to me?”

They turned back to the music, just as a sudden stream of hail crashed down onto the ceremony. In horror, Ani also saw the cloud of tear gas from the protest that day rise toward the dancers. She heard the terrible sound of gunshots, and closed her eyes. She reopened them when the woman squeezed her hand tighter, from which Ani understood that she was meant to witness the scene. A glowing, translucent protective power flowed from the red cedar tree’s roots, up its trunk and doming out above the dancers, guarding them against the outside chaos and pushing it ever backward until the barrage of noise and violence vanished.

The woman who had been asleep inside the dance ring started to stir. Her eyes weakly flickered open, showing only whites, then closed again. The woman holding Ani’s hand let go, and smiled at Ani before leaving her. She calmly walked back to the other woman, who began to mumble. The standing woman knelt, and before Ani could tell what was happening, the two women’s skin merged into one person. She woke up and looked in Ani’s direction, but seemed to look through her.

Ani felt a loss, and a realization that her unique conversation with this woman was over. She looked back at the rows of trees through which she’d come. When she turned back to the dancers one last time, they were gone entirely. The red cedar and earthfire smells lingered for a few more moments, but then they too faded. Ani didn’t consciously walk back to where she had left Laila asleep, but soon she found herself curled up in the same spot on the shed floor.

Ani turned her eyes out the window once again. The stars would eventually lose the battle for visibility against the governing sky’s regime when the sun rose. But there they would remain all day, even if she couldn’t see them. Each star suggested with a calm, unwavering strength that there were still worlds that all the science and all the history ever told to her could never touch; could never even name.

Ani’s eyes moistened. Her heart trembled. She gathered the whole galaxy– its past, present, and future– together into an inhalation that filled her to the roots of her lungs. In the moonlight, she found Laila’s hand, and she twined her fingers together with Laila’s.

 

 

Matt lives in San Francisco. You can often find Matt either hiking through the inspiring nature of the Bay Area, biking on his beloved sticker-covered hybrid up a steep SF hill in the easiest gear, or bundled up at one of SF’s cold beaches with a notebook and pen.

Francoise by Doug Johnson

 

 Francoise

Let her in slowly,

Light a series of

Candles to help her

See, keep one inside

The door, one just

Outside, white wax,

Flame of yellow-

Beacons aglow

Spread a few more

Across the room in

Two circles touching

Each other lightly-

The way she used

To kiss you at night

Before she slipped

Out the door silently

 

Pieces by Donna Scarlett

My earliest memory of you

May 1, 1976

 

We plant potatoes in the back garden

Any larger than an egg, you proclaim—

those are the ones to go.

I cringe as you carve them into neat squarish patterns

and cry as you amputate their unified whole.

Each potato piece should have at least two eyes.

To see underground? I sniffle inquisitively.

Smiling wistfully, you say,

To grow whole.

 

My next memory of you

September 25, 1976

 

The week before my fourth birthday

Mom takes my older sister and brother to see Bambi,

the only just us afternoon of my childhood.

They’re ready, you say,

now we dig.

Kneading the cool black earth, my fingers explore

beneath the surface, abruptly colliding with an unyielding potato.

We uproot them from the safeguard

of their earthen blanket,

as I breathe a tiny juxtaposition the size of my toddler finger.

September sun caressing my face,

potato chilling my diminutive hand,

dirt encrusted underneath my fingernails,

I laugh as we unearth an oblong potato—

an imperfect magical whole.

 

My final memory of you

March 4, 2012

 

We careen out into the Florida evening.

Somber moonlight illuminates your red pontoon boat,

the earthy grit on our shoes.

With grieving hands, I gently release you into the water.

Earlier, you cut out a piece of me

in a neat squarish pattern.

In that carving out of separation,

your voice reverberates across our empty silence.

Use your eyes, you say.

In time, covered with enough dirt—

they will grow you whole again.

 

Then you nestle into the water that is now your earth.

 

 

Donna Scarlett is a San Francisco-based writer, consultant, and teacher educator who recently returned to California after five years in the Netherlands. Her work has appeared most recently in English Teaching Professional. She is an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco and a CCSF student of Italian.

Tenderloin by Lara Lingenbrink

Tenderloin

 

They say-
     Do not
     walk in 
     the fillet 
     of this city,

 

atrocity,

 

     possibly.


I say-
     Do not
     cut the
     cow if you
     can’t stomach blood

 

in floods.


Your luck has kept your teeth white, 
you could’ve been born 
     another;
     no mother.

 

Gentrified 
worn hyde
hope dried.

 

 

He lets out a string of 
                                        jumbled words 
and sounds and 
            coughs and 
                                        hums

 

silence never comes

 

to the Tenderloin.

 

 

 

Lara Lingenbrink, a recent University of San Francisco graduate, grew up in San Diego, and will therefore never acclimate to the Bay Area’s constant fog and wind. Always finding words in the simplest of places, she hopes to pursue her passion for creative writing and eventually publish a collection of her work.