Winter is here yet again. Where does the time go? Oh, there is no time? Hmmm… yes, I might agree after all. Just a tool, a construct, a metaphor, if you will, of growth and movement toward something better, smarter, faster–more peaceful and full of light. Let that be our hope, will we?
Welcome again to Beorh Quarterly.
In this issue Beth J. Whiting offers us “Cupcakes,” but be warned–they’re whimsically flavored.
Then Rebeka Singer shows us “Foreign Lands,” and lets us into her heart and memories. If you have a sense of romance and hope, this one will appeal to you.
Don’t be surprised, though, when Germaine Paris demands that you “Don’t Eat That” while taking you into the mind of a child and her view of family and world.
Brian Mateo then brings us, with “The Bethesda,” journal entries from a time which may seem long ago, if for the truths that we are all in this together, and that time is indeed an illusion.
Prayer, in a variety of specified forms, is, notwithstanding, the very lifeblood of humanity. Angela D. Sargent reminds of this most important task in “The Prayer.”
Thank you for once again sharing your time with Beorh Quarterly. Next issue? February 2015.
a story by
Beth J. Whiting
Maria didn’t have any friends. The only joy she had in her life was cupcakes. She made them with her mother every night.
When they went to the grocery store every week, it was a wonder. Her mother let her decide the frosting and the batter. Sometimes she did funky combinations like coconut frosting with butter pecan batter. You could do anything. Her mother packed four cupcakes for her every day when she went to school.
One day she was sitting alone at lunch when a skinny boy named Ian asked her for a cupcake.
This was a huge problem. How could she give up a cupcake?
Yet something told her to comply. So she gave a cupcake to him.
He asked her something strange. “Do you like bugs?”
“I think they are the most wonderful thing in the world, Maria. People dismiss them as ugly, but they are fascinating creatures.”
Ian invited Maria to his house–the first time that had ever happened to Maria. She could not say no.
She let her mother know before she went.
Ian’s house was a normal suburban home with a green lawn. It didn’t prepare her for his room which was full of bugs in cages.
“Here are my bugs. You know, I’ve surrounded myself with them so much that I now know their language.”
Yeah right, Maria thought. Then she heard Ian speak in a foreign tongue. He pointed to his ant farm.
“They’re tired all of the time. They rarely complain. Grasshoppers cry all the time. That’s what they do when they sing. They’re very romantic creatures.”
Maria didn’t know what to make of Ian. The next day at school he sat by her and asked for a cupcake again. She sighed. She was going to have to ask her mother for five cupcakes now that this boy was asking her for one.
Ian brought an encyclopedia out and talked with Maria the whole hour about bugs. She stood there eating her cupcakes, spacing out. She didn’t understand what he was saying. Not that it mattered–she had company. That was important.
Ian invited Maria over to his house again. It was creepy hearing grasshoppers and fearing any second that a bug might crawl over her.
Ian told Maria that he had a ‘friend crush’ on her once he saw she was as much of a weirdo as him.
“What do you mean?” she asked offended.
“There isn’t a second in the day that I don’t see you with a cupcake.”
“My mother and I make them every night. Cupcakes are very complex. You can do many different flavors.”
“What about cake?”
“I like cupcakes because of the wrapper, and the fact that I can hold it.”
“I like cupcakes too. Would you like to go with me to a cupcake shop tonight?”
She had heard about these cupcake shops. Ian and Maria lived in a small town. The nearest one was a thirty minute drive. Maria’s mother told her that was too far to go for a cupcake. But Ian’s mother drove them to one.
Ian talked the whole ride over about bugs.
His mother kept switching topics on purpose. It seemed like she had to deal with this all of the time.
When they got to the cupcake shop, it was a glorious surprise for Maria. She got three of them. She would save them for a snack for tomorrow night. She had one at the moment. It had filling and was delicious. If it was up to her, she would have the whole store. They tasted professional, not homemade.
Ian got two. “We go to this cupcake shop on a regular basis.”
“Really?” Maria asked, stunned. She wished she had a mother that took her places, but her mother went to work and was always tired.
Maria went to Ian’s house again with the secret idea in her mind that they would go to the cupcake shop again. They did.
Maria thought that Ian had the best mother in the world.
Ian’s mother told her, “I’m glad my son finally has a friend and not just a bug. I’m getting worried about him.”
That night Ian talked to the bugs in his room just as much as Maria. She couldn’t understand a word he said. She spaced out and hoped he would talk to her again.
Maria invited Ian over to her house.
Maria and her mother were making cupcakes. Her mother had the great idea to make cupcakes for their class.
Ian helped with the baking.
When the class had them the next day, a kid complained, “There’s an ant in my cupcake!”
No one finished the cupcakes.
Maria knew that that Ian must have had a mix-up, and she was mad. It was her only chance for the class to like her. She didn’t sit next to him at lunch the next day. She walked passed him the following day and saw him sitting all alone and sad.
He pleaded with her. “I didn’t mean to do it. I must have been playing with them while I was making cupcakes.”
Maria sat there wondering if the class really like her anyway? “Fine. You have to do something for me though.”
“Teach me how to talk to bugs. If I’m going to be your friend, I have to understand what you’re saying.”
So Ian spent a week teaching Maria the different languages of the bugs in his room. She listened into an ant farm one day. “They’re talking about working and how they’re tired.”
“I know. You’ll discover worlds you’ve never known.”
Maria was glad to have made friends with Ian.
a story by
We ate our Fourth of July dinner around a glass table on the outdoor patio. Dad and I sat on the back steps while Mom washed the dishes. We sat outside the sliding glass door facing the evergreens that lined the brick driveway. The bricks he had lain himself when they bought the house sixteen years before were faded now—zinfandel once gleamed startling hues of raw salmon.
The blue sky softened to gray.
“So you don’t want to not live here then?” I asked.
He looked away. “There’s a place, Death Valley. Bad Water. Furnace Creek.”
I clutched my knobby thirteen-year-old knees.
“No one can take the heat.” He sighed. “There’s dehydrated remains. One place in the valley there’s a wagon with a skeleton underneath it with a plaque that reads: ‘He got to this point, he couldn’t go no further.’”
I searched his face. His eyes drifted off and returned in another vein. “Well even if I go for a little while and then come back here to die—that’s okay.” His face was damp. “But honestly, I prefer Central America, the Caribbean Islands—” Dad trailed off as his mind wandered to foreign lands. “I’ll join the Somali pirates and sail the Gulf of Aden!”
I was dazed, struck by anger and wild admiration: he was a dreamer.
“One day I’m going to take you to the desert, Lily.” His voice was soft. “Death Valley, 135 degrees. No one can take that heat. No one will be there.” He stretched his hand out to the horizon and moved it in an arc to paint the invisible picture of the heat before my eyes. “It’s the closest you’ll come to God.” He looked mournful. It looked natural, I thought.
“Want to go set off those fireworks now?”
We stood in the driveway. The New England summer heat possessed us. Dad hunched atop unsteady legs. A homemade cigar sat loosely between his teeth. He unloaded the bundle of fireworks onto the bricks and retrieved a sparkler bearing a bubblegum-hued fuse. He handed it to me and held up a lighter.
“Now don’t burn me,” he said. “Not too close.” The fuse lit and he pulled his hand back as from an ignited stove. He smiled, folding his fingers over the opposite palm.
Smoke began to fill the driveway. I coughed. Dad tacked up a spinning firework to the telephone pole on the street. He summoned me to light it with the sparkler.
It spun rapidly, emitting different colored spears. A pink and white diamond, green sunbeams, and little blue stars twinkled then faded into empty space. Nothing was left but smoke and silence.
I felt alone amid the remains and urged Dad to light another. We went through three spinners and six sparklers. Smoke swirled down the street, filling the driveway and rising up through the branches of a weathered beech. The leaves of the tall oaks along the sidewalk whispered in the uncanny stillness.
“Very few people have been to the Moon,” he said as he looked off into the dim skies. “When we come back from the desert, Lily, you can say you’ve been to the Moon.”
I tried to follow his gaze, tried to find the faint ivory Moon buried in the twilight sky. It seemed to flicker in and out of sight.
Don’t Eat That
a story by
Mwuah. Mwuah. Mwuah. My mom makes that noise whenever she’s putting on her red lipstick. She smacks her lips together and makes this fishy face, and goes, mwuah, mwuah, mwuah. Sorta makes me wonder that if fish had red lipstick to put on, would they make human noises? You would think so, right? Like we borrowed their underwater noises, so they can borrow our land noises? They do have lips too, you know, skinny ones. I guessed so because sometimes we ate fish for dinner, and I’ve noticed its lips before, on that grilled up, flaky head. Have you ever looked at a fish’s head? You know, if you thought with your head instead of your stomach for a second, just a second, you can imagine the fish’s last glubs of water, like it said, “That worm tricked me!” or “I’m dead!” All of the fish I ate had its mouth all open, and their eyes are all fried up, so I imagined them to say those sort of things. Maybe thats why I never ate the head. My dad did though. He would munch on the fish eyeballs and the fish brains, cracking the skull in his teeth, eating the bones too. I don’t know, I never looked, but I suppose it would make you smarter if you did eat it because my dad always said smart things. “Sacrifices. Sometimes in life, we have to make sacrifices in order to reach our goals,” is what he would say after every dinner. I remember it word for word too, even in the way he pronounced them. Kinda have to, especially with how my dad looked at me. He would stare at me. Not that there’s anything wrong with me or that there’s a fish scale stuck in my tooth, but he’s just the seeing-not-talking sort of type. We’d be standing right across from each other, and he’d have his steaming cup of tea in hand, and he’d be staring at me. It was like we had staring contests all the time, except I’m pretty sure my dad doesn’t know about that game because when I blink, the game isn’t over. He continues to just stare, and I know he doesn’t zone out or anything because he wiggles his eyebrows at me to let me know that he’s looking at me. I always laugh when he does that because he has these furry thick eyebrows. Or sometimes he doesn’t do that at all, and says something smart again. Like this one time, I had this homework assignment I got from school. I was supposed to read some books and record them on this caterpillar worksheet. This caterpillar had circles for its body, and for every book I read, I was supposed to color in one of its circles. I remember I got done coloring in the sucker and so I decided to hang it up on our fridge. I used the bright magnets too. I remember I stood there, waiting for my dad’s response. He stared at me, and didn’t wriggle his eyebrows like I expected him to. Instead he said, “Why don’t you make the body longer?” Longer! Can you believe that? After all that hard work, my dad wants the caterpillar longer! Well, I did it, I tell you. I turned that millipede in and you know what my teacher said? “A gold star for you!” Yep! My dad doesn’t say much, but when he does, it’s important to listen. You can laugh at him, I know his eyebrows aren’t too normal looking, but you should hear what he has to say sometimes. Just don’t eat the fish heads, he eats those.
a story by
“Father said the sea was for noble fishermen. Bethesda is my own to decide what to do with. I am choosing the helm, picaroon or not.”
The Journal of Bartholomew Winsock,
Captain of the Bethesda
6 June 1897
As we plunged through the sea, the storm conducted our first duet. The waves grab hold of you as if it is leading us through this dance. Maybe people will ridicule me for being a blockhead. Maybe I’ll get a really nice obituary as ‘The Man Who Tried.’ Regardless, I am doing this for myself.
While you sway us back and forth, my heart is in the back of my throat, but my faith is anchored to you, now more than ever. Putting on my raincoat this morning was probably the hardest step to take. Now it’s time to reach our goal.
The thunder rumbles as if Poseidon strikes the Earth itself with his trident. I hold your helm as tight as I can while the rain wipes the salty residue from my face. My faith is a child ahold of your skirt.
“The final number of our stroll is about to commence and I see a strip of land along the horizon. What was a 27-league journey felt like a decade. The docks of this Island shall be your home.”
The Journal of Bartholomew Winsock,
Captain of the Bethesda
8 June 1897
The shillings do not fill the void in my soul. Rainy days remind me of you. The day we had the courage to escape from the mundane to encounter the unknown. The day the storm almost took us with it. I am who I am because of you.
Now I must find refuge in an unfamiliar island, with the value I placed on you weighing my thoughts. The memories of boarding you with father and his fishing crew haunt me at night. We sailed to feed the family and earn the respect from the town. I miss seeing dad’s smile as he came home from a good day’s work. I miss boarding you.
After dad’s passing when the men dismissed my efforts, I cried on your side while wiping away the brine from the sea. It was then when I longed to understand the conundrum beyond the horizon.
I have braved the storm, now I must bid adieu to the child inside. The nostalgia is the price I must pay for the comfort of wealth you have given me. My quest for adventure has plagued me to depart from you. And you, well, you were born to travel. Born to see the world.
“But that is not me. Or maybe it is? I long to have you by my side. The mysterious sea keeps me restless in the moon light.”
The Journal of Bartholomew Winsock,
Captain of the Bethesda
11 August 1897
The carnival will assist in deceiving my thoughts today. Clowns and pantomimes hide their faces away to bring entertainment onto the island. Balloons are floating as if they are trying to seek new refuge. Something I must do when my shillings deplete.
The steadiness of land makes me sick as I long for the surging waves. Memories of you inundate my mind as the sand prickles my callous feet. I lust for the silky deck that only the bravest of men have been able to walk on. I crave the saline kiss of the sea.
The allure of a fortuneteller compels me. Hesitantly, I give in. With a look of pity, she waives her fee and begins her quest. Setting the stage for my vision, she flips over an hourglass as I inhale the scents of wisdom from her left palm.
Suddenly I feel myself swimming through the stream of my subconscious. Then a voice starts to creep in:
“You are hungry, anxious for more. You left for the mere fact that you needed to live your life. But what is life? Is it grounding your roots and blossoming future generations to carry your name? You are a wanderer, someone who needs to seek the unknown. Not many are comfortable being transient, but you were born to do it. You will be remembered. Not by a few but by many. You know what you have to do. It’s been in your heart all along.”
The sudden snap of her fingers jerks my head from the table. I thank the fortuneteller and begin to seek out what I have been yearning for. At the pier, Bethesda’s new owner dresses her up for another voyage.
The nostalgia creeps in, but I am lucky you waited, my love. As an act of penance, I give him the rest of my shillings begging to be his companion. He grants me access to join his quest and we set sail to new horizons. You belong to him, but my heart belongs to you.
“In memory of Bartholomew Winsock: The man who traveled the sea, although by his terms, and never letting go of the helm as it sailed into Poseidon’s possession.”
The Journal of Norman Hucsby,
last Captain of the Bethesda
29 November 1914
Brian Mateo is an aspiring writer who works with historical fiction, fantasy, sci-fi and adventure. He currently resides in New York and works for Bard College. You can follow him on twitter: @brianmateo
Angela D. Sargent
Penitent, enveloped in need, the prayer reaches above the prayer-maker, stretches up and up, tries to touch the Father’s hand. Color distinctions now made indistinct–age, status, experience all become insignificant. There is only Omniscience and thick hope in a candle-scented room. Trouble and worry, illness and pain struggle to sever themselves from salty, moistened lips. The prayer-maker weaves coil after coil until the rope is too heavy to carry. In flush and perspiration she hurls her prayer up to Heaven, hoping God will have mercy and send His healing balm.