Category Archives: Fiction

Unscheduled Stops

Click. Click. Gear shift. Gear shift. 

Entering Seattle City Limits.

It was 2:59AM.

 

Inside a 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse, a passenger was staring out at the steel and asphalt of I-5 glimmering with the remainder of what had been torrential rain. Often, this section was snarled with traffic, but the streets were empty, and the night was growing no younger—they were not so young themselves, certainly not young enough to drive with such fearlessness, he nearly 30 and she 25, the best of friends, with few responsibilities and plenty of time, it would seem.

Gunmetal melts to red in the near distance—the shimmer of rain caught the lights of brakes, and if one could listen to each car perhaps there would be a collective “Ugh, why?? It’s 3AM!” She said it too, for they had been unlucky enough to find themselves parked on the University Bridge, which at least has a stunning view of the city from pole position in this more-boring imitation of a race track starting lineup.

 

Click. Click. Sparks, and a brief glow.

The incense of a clove cigarette drifts sweetly out the window into the night. 

It is 3:07AM.

 

“I can see the apartment from here,” said she, pointing.

“Too bad. We live on the bridge now. We’re never going to get out of traffic.” He ran a hand through his hair.

“They died the way they lived. Stuck on the bridge for no reason.” She exhaled the smoke through the window, watching the wispy grey embrace the greater charcoal of the sky.

 

Klaxon. Static. BZZZZZZT.  “MOVE IT ALONG!” 

 

A sleepy, rain-dotted police cruiser’s light bar flashed as its associated cop blared its siren to life and waved them through. She had leaned out the window to take a photograph of the night sky, but been cut short by the end of their unexpected sojourn upon the high bridge that carried I-5 south into the city center. They had begun to reopen the bridge, one car at a time, with no explanation given as to why traffic had been stopped. It did not matter, The Mitsubishi Eclipse, urged forward by its impatient driver and passenger, left the others behind, and the lurid light of brake lamps gave way to sodium streetlight and sudden darkness under the Roanoke underpass, where suddenly time stopped.

 

It was 4:01AM.

Click. Click. The track ended and eternity began.

Ink-dark rainwater, unshimmering and unlovely, lay in wait there, and by its leave were the tires sundered from the grip of asphalt. Gone was the hum of the road, and after a split second eternity, angular momentum took care of the rest—thrice it spun the surprising lightness the Eclipse across all the lanes—of traffic, had there been anyof the still-empty fore-dawn freeway. The crush of metal and concrete never broke the silence, for though the nose of the car comes into contact with the concrete retaining wall, it is with an almost comical, gentle “bonk.” No more force than a high-five or a fist bump. Astonished, they stared at each other. The track changed. Traffic approached.

 

Click. Click. He restarted the engine, and shifted.

It was 4:03AM.

And all was well.

Written by:  Kristin Wenzel

Writer, artist, Tolkien scholar, world traveler, updog enthusiast, amateur karaoke idol—your local art-weirdo and brunch-loving, fun-having extrovert.

 Art title: BART Train of Sardines

Art by: Bianca Joy Catolos

Bianca Joy Catolos is a graphic designer based in the Bay Area  with a passion for drawing and illustration. She illustrates to document memories, stories, and assets of life in a quirky, abstract and colorful way to share and commentate how she sees people and world. Bianca is a digital artist with a traditional background in painting and often mixes the two to create endless worlds and scenes to fuel the imagination.

The Prophet

When I met him, I thought Larry was my dream guy. He was intense and intellectual, and he wasn’t very tall, but I could get past that. I could get past a lot of things about Larry, from his attitude toward wait staff—impatient—to his taste in clothes—lacking—and even to his penis size—underwhelming. What I liked best about Larry was the way he talked about Heaven, like we were both going to get there, like this crappy college town we were still chained to as restless thirty-somethings wasn’t all there was out there. I hadn’t much thought about it before, but what Larry said made sense to me—I’m not a homosexual, I only drink a beer or two on weekends (and on weeknights when I really need to, which really isn’t as often as it used to be), and I even have my own Bible. See, the thing about Larry was that he believed in me, got me to think about what I could be and where I’m going instead of what I am and where I’m staying. That kind of thinking is important to a person like me. Keeps me moving through the world so I can focus on getting to the next one.

I remember Larry used to talk a lot about deserving. What he deserved, what I deserved, what humanity deserved. Larry said he deserved a lot; I don’t think I deserved much, but Larry said I deserved him, and that was good enough for me. He’d leave small tips at restaurants and say that was what poor people deserved. I didn’t really understand that, but Larry told me I’d get it someday when I got to Heaven. He also said I’d understand why he shouted at women in short skirts out the window of his van, and why ancient civilizations like the Aztecs and the Egyptians fell. It’s all about deserving, he told me, deserving and sin. The less you sin, the more you deserve. Simple as that.

Larry used to talk to Jesus a lot. I’ve talked to Jesus too, but he never talked back, not like he did to Larry. Larry told me that Jesus explained things to him in a way that opened his eyes to the whys of this world.

When I asked Larry why he told me these things, he said it was ‘cause he needed me, that I had a part in all this. I was the clay to his pottery wheel, and he needed to open my eyes before he could be sure he could open anyone else’s. He needed to be sure he could do it and do it right before he went out in the world and spread the Word as Paul reincarnated (I tried real hard to find my Bible after he said that ‘cause I couldn’t remember which one Paul was, but I realized it didn’t matter; all that mattered what that I believed Larry was Paul, and since I knew Larry, I supposed I knew Paul too).

I asked Larry how long it would take before I was “finished,” before he could go out and tell more people what Jesus was whispering in his ear.

“Soon,” he told me.

“How will you know?” I asked.

“I’ll know,” he said, “and you’ll know. It could be tomorrow, or it could be months from now, but we’ll know when we know.”

And that was good enough for me.

And for several weeks, things went on like that—meaning, nothing much changed. Larry and I were still having the same conversations about Jesus and Heaven and deserving, and he was even starting to talk about moving in together—Jesus told him that would be alright, so long as we continued to keep the premarital sex to a minimum, only when he absolutely needed it. Larry gave me one of his Bibles to borrow until I found mine, and I finally figured out who Paul was. Things were like they were supposed to be.

One evening, I had been digging around really diligently in my apartment, and I finally uncovered my dusty Bible at the bottom of a box of old books and photographs in my closet. I decided to go over to Larry’s apartment and return his Bible right away, since he would probably be needing it to study up for the next time Jesus gave him one of those pop-quizzes he likes to give on the verses. So I drove over, went up the stairs, and knocked on the door. There was no answer, but I knew that the lock on Larry’s door was broken and he hadn’t had time to call the locksmith to fix it, what with all the talking to Jesus he’d been doing lately, so I just let myself in. I heard noises coming from Larry’s kitchen that sounded like he was watching pornography on his laptop while making dinner again. Jesus told him that was alright too, so long as he absolutely needed it. So I followed the sounds and walked straight into the kitchen, but when I saw Larry in there—Heaven forgive me—I dropped the Bible.

There was Larry with another woman bent over the countertop. When they heard the heavy Book hit the floor, they both stopped their noise-making and looked over their shoulders at me in shock.

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

“I’m doing Paul’s work,” he answered. “This is the only way to teach the truth.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, not expecting to understand his answer.

“It worked with you,” he replied simply, and I did understand.

“Did I deserve this, Larry?” I asked in a small voice.

He didn’t answer this time. He just looked at the woman and continued to thrust, right in front of me.

And that, friend, is why I stabbed Larry twenty-six times with a meat fork. If you ask me, he deserved it.

Written by: Kayla Wilton

 I received my English degree with a Spanish minor from CSU Stanislaus in spring, 2019, and I will complete my creative writing certificate at CCSF in spring, 2020. Writing is my passion, but I also dabble in drawing, painting, photography, and performance. My work has appeared in Penumbra Literary Magazine

Art title: Bird of Pride

Artist: Travis Yallup

Travis Yallup is a contemporary realist who lives and works in San Francisco. He has studied art at various colleges and universities over the past eleven years and has developed a preference for drawing and painting in a variety of mediums. His  focus usually comes from life, photos, and collages and he often draws an inspiration from influences such as Andrew Wyeth and Vija Celmins.

The Rules Are Simple

 “Tag,” Susie yelled. “You’re it.” And she ran off as fast as she could. Joel was surprised. One moment he had been drinking a small carton of chocolate milk at the lunch-benches with his friend Jason, the next he was “it.” To make it stick, all the kids sitting with him jumped up and ran away, laughing. Even Jason.

“Wait,” Joel yelled after her. “I wasn’t even playing. I’m not it.” 

But they were all running away and did not care, too busy screaming their lungs out – “Jo-el’s it! Jo-el’s it!”

When recess was over, no one sat near him in class. If he stood up everyone would stand and move away as he moved near. The teacher demanded that everyone stop acting foolish, but the kids just giggled and still no one came near him.

“I wasn’t even playing,” Joel kept repeating.

By the end of the day the whole school had joined the game. His friends, Chris and Pat, were not waiting for him at Mar Vista gate as they usually did, so Joel walked home alone. An older couple, seeing Joel walking, seemed to run to their car. They pulled out of the driveway so fast the screeching sound of rubber tires slipping on pavement caught the attention of a stray dog, who, noticing Joel, also ran away. 

At home, his little sister Kara was keeping the dining table between them at all times. She kept this up until Joel grabbed his baseball glove and left the house. 

Greg Po lived four houses down. His parents had come from Korea and placed their only son in a private Korean language school. Joel and Greg would often play together after school. But this day Greg refused to come out. His mother seemed confused by this too but did not invite Joel in and kept the screen door shut against him.

“Wait here,” she told Joel, as she went inside to check on her son.

From the front porch, Joel could hear Greg telling his mother not to let Joel in the house.

“I wasn’t even playing,” Joel told his friend Jason on the phone that evening. 

“The rules are simple,” Jason told him. “You’re ‘it.”

That night Joel could not sleep. He had never been very popular at school – not like Jason, who seemed to slip easily into every social group. 

Joel was a good guy, he thought, staring at the ceiling. He never fought in the yard. He didn’t pick on the little kids. He was always polite to the teachers. But now it seemed the only way to relieve his condition was to inflict it on someone else. He was going to have to hurt someone. This scared him.

Breakfast was again a game of “stay away from Joel” as Kara quietly taunted him. Mom and Dad hardly noticed as they went about preparing food and getting ready for work. 

“Will you stop,” Joel whispered, but Kara just giggled.

Joel pushed himself back from the table and in a flash was around so fast that Kara could not escape. He grabbed her. 

“Now you’re it,” He stated.

“That’s not fair,” Kara said. “Anyway, no one saw. It’s not even legal.”

She was right. Something was going on. Something big.

“Kara,” He pleaded with her. “You’re my sister. Tell me what it is.”

Whether it was love or pity he’d never really know, but she finally cracked. It had all been set up by his friend, Jason. It was he who had spread the game to everyone on the playground. He told everyone that this would be the biggest prank ever, and Joel was the perfect mark. As for Susie, the girl who had tagged him… she never really liked Joel much anyhow.  

Joel became very quiet. He left for school without another word.  

At 7:32, Joel walked through the Mar Vista gate. Somewhere on the playground his old friend Jason was about to get tagged.

Written by: Sean Karlin

Born in California, raised in Israel, served in the military, educated in film and television, documented environmental and social justice work, produced and directed commercials, Sean Karlin is a filmmaker and creative director who lives in San Francisco with his wife Orli. 

Photo title: The Young Pilot

Photo by: Josh Carter

Joshua Carter is a veteran, writer and activist. He lives in the Richmond district with his obese cat and tries really hard to be punk.

Fiction Piece: “What the Night Brings”

What the Night Brings

 

     She had fit herself into the corner, back against the wall. Blanket stuffed into her mouth to stop any sounds that might escape her. Anything could set them off. The tiniest whimper would bring on the snarling and the snapping of their big jaws. She was so, so tired.

     It always started the same, the noises weren’t loud. There was hissing and the  swishing sounds of large bodies trying to move around in a small space. Then the noises got angrier and angrier – growling and snorting, the click-clack of clawed feet digging into the wooden floor. They only wanted one thing, and that was her.

She stared into the blackness at the space where she knew the window must be, praying for a bit of light that would let her know she had made it through, she had survived.

     Finally, when the black turned to gray, and then a lighter gray, she leaned her head against the wall and slept.

     She woke to her mother calling from downstairs and she zombie-walked into the bathroom, into her clothes and downstairs to breakfast, where her mother said, “Juliet, not again! You were up all night, weren’t you? I… I just don’t know what to do with you anymore. For the last time, there are no crocodiles under your bed.”

     But then she was always saying that. And she wouldn’t let Juliet sleep with the light on in her room.

     Daddy had talked on and on about how they lived in California and there are no crocodiles in California and shown her maps and books and just kept on talking and talking. Finally, he had given her a small teddy bear and showed her the secret pocket where he had put a flashlight, and said, “Don’t tell your mother.” 

     But that was stupid because you had to get out of the bed to shine the flashlight under the bed and the minute you stepped off the bed the crocodiles would eat you.

    So the crocodiles were still there. Not every single night. And she thought maybe they were thinking about moving to somebody else’s house. But then they started again, quietly at first, the hissing, then the snarling and growling, and they were the loudest they’d ever been, and she covered her head with the blanket.

     The next morning when she woke up the sun was shining brightly through the window.  There was a different feeling in the house. It was so quiet. She listened, and then she heard a strange noise. 

     She went downstairs and found Daddy with his head on the kitchen table, crying, huge sobs shaking his body. And she said, “Daddy?” And he said, “She’s gone. She’s gone.” He took a big swallow from the bottle on the table. 

     She went upstairs to see if it was true and found the drawers where her mother’s clothes were kept hanging open and empty. 

     She went back downstairs and her father hadn’t moved. She went into the living room and turned on the TV. She ate a banana and potato chips for dinner and at 8 o’clock she went upstairs and went to bed. She didn’t have any trouble falling asleep.  She knew the crocodiles were gone forever. They had gotten what they came for.

 

Written By: Barbara Hodder Toohey

About the Author: Barbara Hodder Toohey hates coffee. This puzzles people, and they worry…is it a subversive thing? You can find out by sharing a pot of tea. Find her scribbling away in cafes, workshops, classes. That woman in the corner with a mug of tea, a notebook and pen, that’s her.

Fiction Piece: “Dear Hearts and Gentle People”

Dear Hearts and Gentle People

     He watched his girlfriend from across the room as she laughed with her friends and nearly spilt her ridiculously expensive cocktail on the table. Her clumsiness made them laugh even louder, and the hair she had tucked behind her ear moments before found its way back to the frame of her face. They locked eyes briefly and she smiled wildly at him before turning her attention back to her friends. He watched her for a few more moments taking in the slip of her face, the fullness of her mouth, and how her hands danced along to her voice. He wrapped this image around the back of his brain, trusting that this moment would live on in his memory. It had been a while since they had gone out together like this. He was alive seeing this side to her. She was always effortlessly the life of the party and everyone was swept into her warming atmosphere. His heart swelled with all those feelings he had for her and their old meanings. He scanned the rest of the bar from his corner. It was filled with twenty-somethings starting the beginnings of their lives and a few scattered thirty-somethings chasing after that lost irresponsibility. They were a part of that group now too. She came to him and begged him to dance with her. She fell into his arms and swayed to the song that played during their first date. He clung to the lie that she was in this moment.

***

     They had gone back to their apartment before it got too late. He watched her get ready for bed from the bathroom doorway, the light bursting into the bitterness of their frigid bedroom behind him. She draped herself over the sink and slowly picked at her hair. As she removed her makeup the creases on her face were now more apparent under the bright florescent lighting. She sharply hummed along to a dated song about meanness and love, kicking off her heels to the chorus and exposing her dry cracked feet. She bent down to remove her Spanx which forced an awkwardly bent posture and made the protruding pouch even more noticeable. And as she dropped the little black dress from her shoulders the now freed folds of her stomach enveloped each other. In this brief moment of nakedness her stretch marks shone in the light, long scars shimmering across the entirety of her mounding body which had become so distorted from the flawless figure she had all those years ago. He recognized the bleak reality he had been sharing his life with and longed for the embrace of that stranger who had deceived him. He hardly wondered how he had changed in her eyes, but knew that her thoughts weren’t any more kind.

     She turned to him with her now pale, deflated lips and rapidly mouthed, “You know my cousin Sarah recently got engaged. She was showing off her ring at the party earlier. Honestly I thought the thing was hideous. At least she’s happy with it though.”

     He didn’t say anything but laughed off her remark about the ugly ring. He knew what she was hinting at and loved her as much as he could love another person, but the permanency of marriage horrified him. His stomach still flipped endlessly when he turned away to undress in the darkness of their bedroom. In his absence she froze at the sight of her reflection in the mirror, humming the song about meanness and love. The remainder of their nightly routine was painfully mechanical and constant. Over the narrow sink they flossed before brushing their teeth together. She stayed in the bathroom to remove tonsil stones with a cotton swab as he got into bed. He briefly watched shows she had no interest in while gouging at his toe to remove an ingrown nail. She brushed again to wash the rot out of her mouth but he’d still taste that metal whenever they kiss. When she brushed too far over her tongue she would loudly retch and he would recoil at her awful human failings. He rubbed his eyes to the sound of wasted running water and hoped her melatonin would take quickly for once. Otherwise she’d spend the rest of the night asking about all the reasons why he loved her. After her nightly purging ritual she came to bed with a full glass of water, which she’d loudly gulp throughout the night. He turned his show off before she came in and started skimming random articles across the internet. She read her Kindle beside him and periodically cleared out the post nasal drip from burning the back of her throat. Persistent little hm hmms inched him further into resentment and he begged to someone in the night to help him out of this nightmare. Sometimes she showed him lines that interested her from the books she read and then he would tell her every time that it sure was something because he never cared. He could never focus long enough to finish reading a page.

     As the prolonged silence filled the boundaries of their bedroom she turned to him again and asked, “Remember when we used to talk about all the traveling we would do? I miss when we used to talk about stuff like that.” She paused. “That’s what people talk about when they’re in love and have no responsibilities.”

     He knew she wanted to be who they were before this distance had come between them. At one point he wanted this too and remembered, “I said I would just go somewhere because I was tired of being stuck in life. I would ask you to come with me if you wanted and you always said okay.”

     She closed her eyes and murmured, “It would be nice to go somewhere with you.”

     He laughed at those not-so-old memories. “But what kind of answer is okay to something like that?”

     “Because I felt that things would always be okay with you. Good or bad, it would be alright. We would be okay.” She snuggled further under the covers, blindly placing her Kindle on the nightstand. She turned over and went to sleep.

     Synthetic hormones had taken her into another dreamless night, despite the coldness of the room. His knees snapped has he moved and every joint within him groaned. He wondered when they had grown so far apart while staring at the ceiling, the shadows splashing between the corners from the quiet street traffic rolling by. The heat of their bodies slowly filling the room and drowning them together. The world outside was moving past them and they lay there dying. He felt that his very being was unraveling from the tips of his throbbing toes and when he turned over he could see that same turmoil in the back of her head. This familiar dread kept him company as the hour rolled into another. He only left the bed when he could hear her eating her own teeth between deep choking snores.

***

     He couldn’t talk on the phone in his office anymore because she had woken up one night and found him. They both knew what was happening but for some reason nothing happened because of it. He admired her commitment to failure. The empty expression she had in that moment clung to him as he walked through their apartment and out to the small balcony hanging off their living room. When he stepped outside he felt the oddly cold spring air whip his face as he checked the missed messages from the girl. He called her immediately, his heart beating to a new rhythm.

     “Hey you…,” she quietly rasped with the electrical song of her voice slipping in and out of his ears, “I didn’t think I was going to hear from you today. You’re always so busy working!”

     He apologized and she began to talk about her day, which was the highlight of his. Her wrist was wrapped again and it was difficult to take notes. The slenderness of her frame resulted in its structural defect and made her joints prone to frequent sprains. He imagined her going to her classes in the flimsy flowing clothes she wore, revealing the secrets of her unblemished body. Her distinctive smile greeting the world as her silken hair would catch warmth of the sun. She enthusiastically talked about her new academic path and joked about how she’d definitely stick with it because she was running out of fields to change her major for the fifth time. For a brief moment he was hit by that same feeling of anticipation he had felt over a decade before and he fell in love with her again.

     “Well now that I have your full attention, I lost my shirt and I have no idea where it went.” She sweetly sang. “Oh no, now I’m losing my pants too! Can you come and help me find them?”

     He gripped his phone. “I’m not going to be able to come over tonight, but you know we should go somewhere together.” His heart skipped a beat. “Just you and me.”

     Her voice caught itself in her throat.“Why would you say something like that?” She couldn’t contain her shock at his perceived insult.

     “Because that’s what people talk about when they’re in love.” And something within him broke.

     In his head he could see her rotating her jaw to click it out of relief. “I brought up wanting to be serious months ago. You told me that casual is all that you wanted, nothing more, and I accepted that. I was okay with us.”

     His heart tumbled and he remembered. “I’m sorry.”

     “All that matters is that we have fun together, right? …Why did you have to bring this up now?” The prolonged silence had found its way back again into his life, broken by the frustration in her sigh. “I should go. It’s late and I have a paper that I need to finish in the morning. We’ll talk again when it’s not so busy.”

     He wasn’t bothered by this lie. “I just want things to be okay.” He hung up the phone, the shame burning inside him for the hurt he was responsible for. He hadn’t understood what he was doing or why for a while now.

     He stood there as the air bit at his face, the breeze carrying the benign sounds of people going somewhere while he stagnated. The staining dread filling inside him as he heavily made his way through the apartment, fearful of the life he had built for himself, and into the bed he shared with his girlfriend. A newfound emptiness expanded into the center of his consciousness, slowly humming along with the eating of teeth and deep choking snores. His heart beat to the rhythm of his throbbing ingrown nail and reverberated along with the symphony of his continual discomfort. And at the chorus of it he thought to himself, dear god this can’t be it.

 

Written By: Adriana Hernandez

About the Author: Adriana Hernandez grew up in San Francisco and currently volunteers as a TA at CCSF. She had recently transferred to SF State to study creative writing.

Fiction Piece: “The Back Bedroom”

The Back Bedroom

Alyssa lay back on that crummy couch as if it were the lushest lounge in town. She lit the joint, and inhaled, as if it were some divine dope-of-the gods from a warmer, kinder climate. I loved watching her smoke, particularly when she was dressed for bed, her luscious mouth sucking in the thrill, breasts pushing, midriff tightening, eyes half-closing. It was something like a contact high for me, I myself didn’t have to smoke anything, didn’t have to say anything. 

But after that lovely moment or two, she did.  And it was unexpected.

“I think Meadow stole some of my pot,” she said. Meadow was our latest roommate, renting the rear bedroom. Arguably the cutest of the girls who’d occupied that space. But she was pretty quiet, paid her rent on time, and hadn’t had any guys overnighting, yet. 

“We know Meadow smokes,” I said, “but what makes you think it’s yours?”

“Because it smells like mine.”

“A lot of dope smells like yours,” I said. “And why shouldn’t it, if it’s good shit?” 

“Why are you trying to defend her?” Uh-oh. This was some other kind of shit, the kind  I never smelled in time and often found myself stepping into. 

“I’m not trying to defend Meadow,” I said.  “I like Meadow —“ 

”I know you like Meadow —“ 

”— but I’m trying to defend you against your own paranoia.” I looked at her intent, and said, “Let me have a hit of that stuff.” If I was gonna get kicked, I wanted to deaden the impact. 

I took a hit. Alyssa took another. But this time she was quicker to the commentary:

“I noticed that my bureau drawer was open, when I got home from work..” I wasn’t about to point out that Alyssa never shut her drawers properly. She was basically a slob. The slob who loved me. And said so. I always felt guilty that I couldn’t say it. Even when I was doing it. 

“Look,” I exhaled, “I’ll just go take a look in her room, she won’t be back for another hour.” Alyssa stayed on the couch, puffing, with a sour look on her beautiful face. 

Meadow’s room looked like what you’d think a room of a girl named Meadow would look like. Little hippie nicknacks, little bitty books about Zen, some kind of shrine, everything neater and brighter than in Alyssa’s room. I did a quick examination of what was immediately visible. But my mission allowed me to peek into Meadow’s chest of drawers, where I found not what Alyssa might be looking for, but what I might have been looking for:  the mysteries of unknown female underwear, a stack of twin-cupped bras, a pile of brief pastel panties. Did she choose a different color for each day of the week? 

I ambled back to the living room. “No sign of crime,” I announced, with some kind of smile. 

“Why do you look that way?,” Alyssa interrogated. I didn’t know what I looked like, or why. Was it the pot? The panties? “And how did you know where to look in her room? You’ve been in there before, haven’t you?” 

“Well, sure, maybe, she is our roommate.” I didn’t tell Alyssa that Meadow and I had exchanged massages one weekend, when Alyssa had been showing her visiting parents around the city. But nothing else happened. Meadow was cool that way. 

“I think we should think about getting our own place,” Alyssa said. She was still toking on the joint, but It sounded like a pretty sober proclamation. “It’ll cost us more money, but we need to think about making more money, and about the future.” A future with steady jobs, no roommates, no other girlfriends, and an approaching end to Alyssa’s wedding bell blues.

I’d heard this song before. 

 

Written By: Jeff Kaliss

About the Author: Jeff Kaliss has been studying creative writing and music at City College following the completion of an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University. At City, he’s appeared in Forum in various genres, read at Lit Night, and hosted the Poetry for the People Podcast.

Fiction: “Miss Pandora”, Featuring Image: “Geary”

Miss Pandora

 

The man who identified himself as Mr. Foley, looked at me from across the table. “The only responsibility you’ll have is to take care of my mother’s pet birds.”

“That seems simple enough”, I said.

“Well, it isn’t.” Foley’s voice had taken on an edge. Then he sighed. “Look, there are some things you need to know if you’re going to work here”. He paused. It looked like he was trying to carefully pick his words. “My mother is…not well. She has a bad heart condition, and the doctors’ give her only a couple of more months, at best. I’m just trying to make sure that her last days are as comfortable as possible.”

“I’m not a professional caregiver,” I said cautiously. “You might want to consider someone else for this job.”

“She already has professional caregivers coming by regularly. You’d only have to take care of her birds.”

By the hesitancy in his voice I could sense some red flags popping up. The job seemed way too simple for what Foley was offering to pay me. “What kind of birds are we talking about?” I asked. “I don’t have any background handling exotic birds either.” I was envisioning macaws, mynahs, even hawks.

Foley grimaced impatiently. “You sure seem hell bent on finding excuses for not taking this job I’m offering you.” He leaned back in his chair and returned my gaze evenly. “The birds are standard pet shop varieties: parakeets, finches, love birds. Nothing more exotic than that.”

This was all very confusing. “Just exactly how many birds are we talking about?” I asked.

Foley cleared his throat. Okay, I thought. Here’s come the catch. “I don’t know exactly,” he answered. “Over a hundred. Maybe around hundred and fifty”. He paused to let this sink in. He saw my expression and gave a wry smile. “Don’t worry. The story gets a lot crazier.”

I didn’t say anything but just sat there, waiting.

“Do you know the Greek myth about Pandora’s box?” Foley asked.

Well, I didn’t see that question coming. Foley seemed to take some slight amusement at my startled look. “No,” I said cautiously. “I don’t know anything about myths.”

“Pandora was sent by the gods to mankind along with a giant unlocked chest,” Foley said, his voice in story-telling mode, “With firm instructions that these stories go, Pandora was consumed with curiosity about what was in the chest. Finally she couldn’t stand it any longer, and she gave in and opened it. And every conceivable horror that now plagues mankind flew out of the chest, through the window and into the world at large. Every suffering that humanity has to endure today is because of Pandora’s obsessive curiosity and disobedience .” He stopped and looked at me, gauging my reaction.

“Um, why are you telling me this, Mr. Foley?” I asked.

Foley let a good twenty seconds go by before he spoke.  “Well,” he said. “Beside her heart condition, my mother also suffers from dementia.” He sighed. “She thinks she’s Pandora’s reincarnation. And her job is to undo the harm that the first Pandora did.”  Without meaning to, I gave a startled laugh. “Yes,” Foley said sardonically. “I suppose this all does sound funny.” 

“How is she going to set things straight?” I asked. I was embarrassed that I had laughed. Foley obviously did not consider this a laughing matter.

“She buys and cages birds, and assigns a particular evil to each one. ‘Greed’, ‘Pestilence’, ‘Cruelty,’ and so on. She believes that as long as these birds are caged, she’s sparing the world from everything ugly. And she keeps on telling me to buy more birds, every time she thinks of some new nasty thing to protect humanity from. So, I buy the birds. It keeps her happy.” He gave a wry smile. “She named the last two birds I bought ‘Indigestion’ and ‘Genital Warts’”.

“Okaaay,” I say. “And just would my job be?”

Foley’s expression grew exasperated. “Just take care of those damn birds,” he said. “Change the cage linings daily. Make sure they all have enough food and water.” He shook his head. “Her place stinks like a giant aviary. At least try to keep the odor down to a minimum.” His eyes  opened wider. “And for God’s sake, don’t ever let a bird escape from its cage. All hell will break loose if you do.” He gave me a smile with precious little amusement in it. “So, do you want the job?”

I thought about the generous pay that Foley was offering. “Okay,” I shrugged. “I think I can handle that.”

Foley nodded. “Good.” We stood up and shook hands . “You start tomorrow,” he said. As I opened the door, he called out, “She wants to be addressed as ‘Miss Pandora’, by the way.” 

Because of what Foley had said, I was prepared for the smell when I entered Miss Pandora’s house.  But not the noise. Foley and I were greeted by a cacophony of chirps and trills, which would have been cute if uttered only by two or three birds. But with this menagerie, it was harsh and deafening. Foley, speaking loudly over the noise, introduced me to his mother. Miss Pandora said nothing, but gave me a long, hard stare. To describe her as “birdlike” would just be too glib, but she did have the sharp glower and jerky head movements of some bird of prey. She carried about her the fierce aura of a warrior hell bent on saving the world, whether it wanted to be saved or not. At least her intentions are noble, I thought.

Her house was not big, and there were stacks of bird cages, several rows deep, all along the walls of her living room. I could see more cages through her open bedroom door. After Foley left, I waited for Miss Pandora to say something. She eyed me suspiciously, but was silent. “Well, I said, putting a hopefully friendly smile on my face, “I might as well get to work.” 

I spent the rest of the day going through Miss Pandora’s house, room by room, changing the bird cage liners, and refilling the water and seed containers.  There were at least three and often as many as six birds per cage, and a card was taped to each cage identifying its inhabitants. Not only the seven deadly sins were represented, but smaller and more particular evils as well: “Cavities”, “Bruises”, “Line cutting”, “Belching”, “Talking too loud”, and so forth. There was a green and yellow lovebird identified as “Rape”, a pure yellow canary called “Genocide”, and a sky blue parakeet tagged as “Running Sores”. I winced at the harsh names given to these small, pretty birds, but they seemed happy enough and well-fed. The birds fluttered around, chirping and squawking, whenever I stuck my hand in the cages, performing my tasks. “Careful!” Miss Pandora called out once, sharply, as I was struggling with one of the larger cages. That was the only thing she said to me that day.  

I did this work for several weeks. Once, Miss Pandora had me run an errand to a pet shop nearby. She had a running account there, and the sales clerk greeted me with a friendly smile when I identified Miss Pandora as my employer. Per her instructions, I bought a finch and two parakeets. When I returned, Miss Pandora pointed out the empty cage she wanted me to put them in. After that, she assigned each of them a name, which I dutifully wrote down on an index card and taped to the cage: “Allergies” and “Sullenness” for the two parakeets, and “Anal Leakage” for the poor finch. 

A little over five weeks into the job, I got a called from Foley telling me that Miss Pandora had died last night in her sleep. His voice gave nothing away, but I imagined that he was more relieved than grief-stricken. “I need you to come by this morning,” he said. “For one last chore.”

When I got to the house the door was wide open, as were all the windows. Foley was in the center of the living room, opening up the cages and shaking the birds out. They fluttered frantically around the room before finally, one by one or in pairs, finding an open window and flying out. Foley raised his head and looked at me. “Start opening cages,” he ordered gruffly, “And help me get these fucking birds out of here.” While he was talking, I watched as “War”, “Brutality”, “Athlete’s Foot” and “Farts” flew out to freedom and disappear into the distance. We spent the rest of the day releasing all the rest of mankind’s ills and sorrows onto an unsuspecting world.

 

Written By: Clint Seiter

About the Author: Clint Seiter, a longtime inhabitant of San Francisco, is now retired and loving every minute of it. He has been a prolific writer, with seven anthologies of his stories published under his former pen name Bob Vickery. He is also an avid gardener, a passionate reader and a perpetual student.

 

Geary_Visual Arts_Photography

 

Visual Art “Geary” By: Meredith Brown

Fiction: “HoH”, Featuring Image: “Haze”

HOH   

     You liked her as soon as you first heard her speak while both of you were inside the elevator on your way to the fifth floor – she with that distinct, Michelle-Pfeiffer-sultry voice that coos and mesmerizes the Fabulous Baker Boys while she sings on top of the piano. You were meant to be together, you whispered to yourself. You were surprised, and so was she, when you realized that both of you were going to the same restaurant for your first day of work. The lounge area was so quiet… and the only sound that you heard was the thuds in your rushing, beating heart. You knew right there and then that you must have her, by hook or by crook.

     Of course, several months later, you got what you wished for. You visited her place one time and after dinner, both of you listened to Roberta Flack as she ebbed her dying chorus regarding a boy who was strumming her pain with his fingers and was softly killing her with his song. You needed to close the windows as the rustling of leaves kept intruding the harmonious silence of the evening. You were listening to her sighs as she kissed your palms while you were gently caressing her cheeks. You knew how someone from her past had screeched her gramophone and left saying nary a goodbye. You heard the sound of her tears sliding down her cheeks as it tousled with her hair, and you just put up your dam to prevent it from overflowing. Shhhh… It’s going to be alright, you said. She said she wanted to eat…. But then you just sat there, feeling disoriented because you had just splurged on the first memories of your skin touching, and you were still basking in the afterglow. No, she said. I didn’t want you to sit. What I wanted was for us to eat something. Aren’t you hungry? You then laughed, sealing the chemistry between you two, grateful for the connection. But it was also the first time when you experienced how a mishearing can affect your communication. After that night, you became an item. She became the cup to your saucer, and you, her tenon to the mortise. You became inseparable. You became her god while she became your muse. 

     Soon you became one in marriage and not long after, three children followed. You both were devoted in bringing them up. You both knew the intimate times were somehow getting few and far between. But it didn’t matter. You both were caught up with your own respective affairs – you as the boulder of the family, and she as the light. You barely noticed the seasons passing by in a frenzied hush, sashaying you to be quiet. Their moods were mostly mad, desperate for speed, squashing what was left of the day before when all were just figments of borrowed memories. Soon you both found yourselves missing the silent rifts and skirmishes amongst your children. You heard the last fledgling leave, and you were left with the empty nest. What to do now?    

      You loved watching films at home. During Blockbuster’s heydays, you always made sure that Friday and Saturday evenings were spent watching whatever films you both fancied; it was also the sacred time for homemade pizzas or pastas, which she so lovingly cooked. You adored her for her culinary expertise – wasn’t that the primary reason why she caught your attention and fell in love with her in the first place? But the food you always guzzled down on those nights was just secondary to the passion you both have for the movies. You loved to be scared out of your wits and preferred whodunits or psycho thrillers. You got a knack out of watching Ted Bundy’s horrid tales and Hannibal Lecter’s eating fava beans for a side dish, while she adored romantic comedies which featured all the ingenues from the Golden Age up to the present. You saw how she got starstruck and imitated her favorites in Tinseltown – Claudette Colbert, Audrey Hepburn, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Lawrence. You laughed whenever she would mouth Bette Davis’ famous line, ”Fasten your seat belts – it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

     Whenever you both went to the cinema house on rare occasions, you always turned to her and asked her to repeat what had just happened or what the character had just said. You said you were lost. You were kind of upset when she ignored you.  You know that whenever she watched a movie, she wanted to focus on it and not get distracted in any way. You wanted to hear every single word that was uttered even by the minor characters. You wanted to be there. You wanted to be in the moment. All around you, you heard the shhhs and the tsks tsks – coming from random people in the dark. You hated it when home movies didn’t have subtitles.

     You were fine, you mentioned. This quirky ear would act normal soon. You always  convinced yourself that you are far from being deaf. The hospital visit could wait.

     You were not there when Mr. Paredes mentioned to your wife that your land title was being revoked due to a technicality. Your wife wished to tell you sooner, but she was preoccupied with finding the resources to hire a good lawyer. She hid all the details not just from you but to all of your children… thinking in her mind that you wanted to get rid of the property and just look for a smaller place for the both of you. So she decided to just be quiet in the meantime. She would let you know at the opportune time… as soon as she got a better deal for the sale.   

      It was 3:00 in the morning, and you complained about why she needed to wake you up just to check if your dog Tubby was safely tucked in her bed. Hmmm… hmmmm…. Then eerie silence. You said, “do you really need to check?”

     You remembered earlier you had just watched “A Quiet Place” in the cinema. Alone. You had done that because you had to wait for her while she was having her me-time with her two friends at the salon. Aarrghhh… Emily Blunt mouthed. You abhorred the alien who would like to pry on her and perhaps hurt her unborn son. You knew how painful their silence was. Tap. Tap. Tap. Water was overflowing in the bathtub… Shhhh…. You knew you enjoyed the movie, like the way you enjoyed foreign films because you didn’t need to hear the lines, you just need to read the subtitles, especially now that you could watch movies on your tablet.

     It was dead of night. You were there, beside her. For some reason, you just wanted to hug her, feel the warmth of her embrace and touch the glistening strands of her wavy, graying hair. You pushed your chest against her breasts and soon you two were stuck together, glued by unseen forces, your two hearts beating as one. You let her feel the tears running down your cheeks, a river that wouldn’t let up. You touched her face like she was the only star left in an evening on which all of the universe’s galaxies had hidden themselves for the night. You were hugging her so tightly, both of your loose naked skin screeching like a printing machine, which always jammed because the oils hadn’t been used and calibrated for so long; enmeshed and oohing, a mosquito buzzing in your ears to let you know it wanted to suck your blood.

     “I’m sorry,” you said. “How can you forgive me?”

     Shhh. The window pane was knocking like a soft tumbleweed, all the snowflakes summoning Jack Frost to come and make amends for not coming sooner, just when you needed him the most.  

     You just sold the most important deed in your lives – the land title you had so long kept and cherished. When she told you to just “seal it” and wait for her to look for a better deal, you thought you had heard her say “sell it” and with that mishearing, Mr. Paredes smiled the widest smile of his life not realizing that the next day, you, and your wife’s lives would never be the same again.

     You tried to rectify your mistake. You tried to contest the misunderstanding, the mishearing. You told them it was your condition that caused the blunder. Trying as you had to recover all lost ground, the enemy didn’t budge. You signed it. Your wife endorsed it. Somehow you wished this was one of your silent movies that you were used to watching on Friday or Saturday nights, when even if you couldn’t hear what Robert de Niro was saying in Raging Bull, or Scott Campbell’s gibberish to Julia Roberts in Dying Young, you could always depend on the subtitles. If you were given the chance, life should be a series of tapes where even if you forgot to hear the words, you could always pause and rewind them to hear the misheard lines again. Hush. The night is still. It’s just money.

     You decided to leave that night, convinced that it wasn’t too late to get the land title back. All you needed was a good lawyer. This lawyer lived next to a railroad station and you were determined to get a hold of him. You hailed a cab on your way there and soon found yourself walking on a railroad track, praying somehow that you would be back early morning the next day, just in time so you could make her some brewed coffee, for a change. You didn’t hear the muffled sounds of an approaching train. All you heard in your mind were answers that would bring a smile back to her lips. You loved her. It would break your heart to see her cry. Back home, she was awoken from her sleep when she missed hearing your rugged snoring. Downstairs, Tubby was groaning, like a cat trying to kill a rat. Back in the bedroom, she tried pulling herself from the bed but decided against it. You just couldn’t interrupt her smile for obviously, she was enjoying her dream. She was hugging the pillow like it was you. You were there.

 

Written By: Fernando Rosal Gonzalez

About the Author: Fernando Rosal Gonzalez has published novellas, children’s storybooks and written TV scripts both for mainstream and independent producers in Manila. He created the children’s TV show, “Oyayi,” which was jointly produced by CBN-Asia, the NCCT (National Council for Children’s Television), and ABS-CBN. He is currently taking up filmmaking and creative writing courses at CCSF.

Haze_Visual Arts_Photography

 

Visual Art “Haze” By: Eunbin Lee

About the Artist: I am a student studying photography from Korea. Living in a new culture and environment of the United States, I try to express through pictures what I felt based on various daily experiences. I feel a sense of freedom by expressing it through my photographs rather than words. I hope people can feel the feelings that I want to convey through my photos.

 

Fiction: “How to Time Travel”, Featuring Image: “Hedy Lamar”

 “How to Time Travel”

 

Google “YouTube.” Revisit clips of shows from ABC’s TGIF lineup, along with Nickelodeon cartoons if there’s time. Make time. Do this periodically, every weekend, for a span of five years. Mourn when you’ve found out your favorite clips have been taken down for violating copyright infringement laws. 

You dry your eyes and decide that the ‘90s were the superior decade. Become an elitist. Google “elitist”. State this supremacy on the Internet to make it fact. Reddit just gets you. Brew a mean, tall glass of Tang while typing furioUSLY IN CAPS. Become bothered that TV, music, and movies aren’t as good as they used to be when you were a kid. Become so distressed that you lose sleep over it. Take a good look at those eyebags. There’s nothing St. Ives can’t fix. 

 

“Shit was so much better when I was a kid,” you tell your younger cousins. They do their best to tune your bitterness out, faces illuminated by bright flashes and flickers of their iPhone screens. They respond: “I almost got banned from TikTok”, like you’re supposed to know what that means. Roll your eyes once. Then do it again. Scoff if you have it in you. You’re still convinced kids born in 2000 are 8 years old. But, you never could count too well. Break out a calculator, the one on your phone. Begin to rant about “kids today”. Choose to tweet your frustration on Twitter instead. Remember the 280 character limit. Block anyone who doesn’t agree. Follow those who do. Twitter reminds you of your trusty old diary. The one with the pseudo secure lock and faux pink fur, covered in Lisa Frank stickers and sixth grade secrets. 

Stalk all 9 of your grade school crushes on Instagram. 

He’s bald. 

He’s married. 

He’s sunburned. 

They’re all bald. 

Think, You’re old. You’re old. 

Scavenge for useless ‘90s memorabilia on eBay. Order Spice Girls lollipops, issues of Tiger Beat, and metallic colored Tamagotchis with peeling paint and scratched screens. Another woman’s treasure. Wear blue ripped Calvins, an oversized green plaid flannel, and yellowing white Chucks for four days in a row while you await your goods. Your Mom tells you you begin to smell, but Kurt Cobain would be proud. 

Rejoice because you can now stream your favorite ‘90s sitcoms on Netflix. All the ones you’ve seen more times than a normal person should. Think, They still hold up really well! Commit the corniest lines to memory. Studio applause and laughter are your new favorite sounds. Howl with laughter into the night, until your sister, born in ‘98, slams the door shut to show her dismay. “Shut the door, you dumb bitch!” Laugh again. “You got it, dude!”

 

Your package arrives. The buttons on the Tamagotchi smell weird and the Tiger Beat issues are dusty. Eat one of those Spice Girls lollipops. Take a lick. Regret the lick. Take another lick to make sure. They used to taste better. Finish the lollipop because you paid for it. Consider the taste of chalk in your mouth. On your tongue. It stays there a while. Compost the jar of 30, now a jar of 29; try to forget that you paid for it. You’re fairly certain no one “composted” in the ‘90s. Repent and help yourself to two glasses of Tang. Add ice.

Complain to eBay. Harass the seller. Leave a scathing, one-star review: “Like these lollipops, your mediocrity should have stayed in the ‘90s. Total dweeb.” Share your unsavory experience on Facebook. Wait for the likes to pour in.

 

Written By: Loretta Bonifacio

About the Author: Loretta Bonifacio is a Filipino-American writer interested in exploring nostalgia and family dynamics. She dedicates How to Time Travel to her grandmother and muse, Milagros Tan Bonifacio, who celebrates her 90th birthday on December 13, 2019.

Hedy Lamarr_Visual Arts_Relief Print

Visual Art “Hedy Lamar” By: Ana Lazaro

About the Artist: Ana Lazaro is a San Francisco based artist. She considers herself a world citizen and has, since childhood, had a passion for capturing moods and emotions through her portraiture. Ana’s current work is inspired by her desire to celebrate empowered women making a difference across the globe.

Fiction: “All the Way to New York”, Featuring Image: “Through Rose-Colored Glasses”

All the Way To New York

She was too young to go to New York with dad, her mom had told her. Besides this was a business trip. It would be boring for little girls. But she could come to the airport and kiss him goodbye. On the ride home she stretched out in the back. She watched a plane take off out the window. Probably his plane, she thought. Dad was just settling into the large reclining seat as a tall stewardess poured him a large glass of ‘cocktail’ with two big ice cubes, just like they do in the old movies. Dad would turn to a very attractive woman in the seat next to his – she was much more attractive than mom – and they would talk and talk. He would make her laugh. And they would have an affair all the way to New York.

 

Written By: Sean Karlin

About the Author: Born in California, raised in Israel, served in the military, educated in film and television, documented environmental and social justice work, produced and directed commercials, Sean Karlin is a filmmaker and creative director who lives in San Francisco with his wife Orli.

Through Rose-Colored Glasses_Visual Arts_Photography

Visual Art “Through Rose-Colored Glasses” By: Nadine Peralta