photo by linda orlomoski
Come in, come in! Warm thy cockles! Welcome to the Spring 2015 issue!
Brilliant fantasist Alina Rios opens this volume with her creepy yet heartwarming ‘Midnight Man.’
Christine-Marie L. Dixon then shares ‘Ephemeral,’ a prose poem of depth, beauty, and sadness.
Heartfelt and intrepid writer Deirdre Fagan then offers us ‘There Once Was A Man Who Thought Too Much.’
Sue Ann Connaughton brings us a wonderful and warm story from her own hearth, ‘Wrought from a Perukemaker’s House.’
Then last, but certainly not least, Ed Nichols brings us a tale from the Deep South with ‘Last Born.’
Enjoy this issue of Beorh Quarterly, please, because, after all, these are the best stories out there!
a story by
There once lived a puppeteer.
He was not very old, nor very young. Nobody could really tell and nobody asked. His name was Bartolo.
All his life, Bartolo made little puppets for a small theater he set up outside his shop. He would make puppets all week, and as he made them, the puppets told him their stories.
Then on the weekend, he would have a show of all the puppets’ stories. The neighborhood kids knew about this and looked forward to the show, because inevitably, there was a puppet who needed rescuing, or an evil puppet who had to die. The dying was especially exciting and dramatic, because Bartolo would orchestrate a beheading for such puppet, with a giant knife.
One day, after the show, Death visited Bartolo in his shop and told him he had seven days to live.
Bartolo scratched his head. How was he to spend his last seven days? It was nice, after all, of Death to give him this warning. But Bartolo was a lonely man. He had no wife, or kids, or much in the way of friends. And while the town’s kids loved his puppet shows, they were scared of the dark man who put them on. They whispered that the man was um bruxo, a warlock, because he made the puppets talk in such different voices—it didn’t seem possible any other way.
Bartolo wished he had more time. He wished for another chance at life, for maybe a wife and a family. But alas…. Instead, he decided to make the best puppet he could, just something to be remembered by.
The puppet he was building was very tall—twice his height. It was a man. Bartolo dressed him in the finest clothing, and, since it was a week before Carnival, he dressed him in bright colors. The puppet’s tuxedo was green, with gold shiny buttons. On his head Bartolo placed a black top-hat made of the finest silk. The hat he swapped for a case of his best paints at the little store down the street that sold all manner of things. In the same store, he found two pairs of deep purple trousers, which he paid for with his mother’s wooden comb that had one broken tooth. From these, he fashioned one pair of long trousers for the puppet.
Bartolo stood back and examined his work. The purples didn’t exactly match, the darker being at the bottom, but the puppet still looked like a well-dressed man.
Now for the face. Bartolo shaved his thick, black beard and gave it to the puppet along with his gold tooth, his prized possession, which he took out with pliers and stuck in the puppet’s mouth. The blood from the tooth dripped onto the puppet’s beard and glistened in the candlelight.
All this time, as Bartolo was working, the puppet was silent. He didn’t tell him a single story. Not even a whisper escaped his painted lips. “Just as well,” thought Bartolo. “I don’t have time for another show.”
On the evening of the seventh day, Bartolo costumed himself with his puppet and walked out the door. It was the night before Carnival. The puppet’s clothes covered Bartolo completely—only his eyes showed through. People pointed at the strange puppet. Some whispered, frightened. Some laughed, thinking it was somebody’s clever Carnival idea. For the first time in his life, Bartolo felt free, because he wasn’t Bartolo anymore, he was just a puppet.
His feet in hard leather boots clicked against the cobblestones. Around him, the city was alive: bursts of laughter from groups of people for whom the celebration started earlier, embarrassed giggles of young couples who couldn’t find a dark-enough corner, kids squealing from the welcome confusion of being up past all reasonable bedtimes, and the insistent chirps of bats distraught by all the activity below.
Smells of chocolate and sweet spices, hot oil, limes, and a welcome freshness of mint drifted from open doorways. It all reminded Bartolo of the Carnivals with his mother. Him, excited and proud to be at her side. The spicy goodness of coxinha, still hot from the bubbling oil. He could almost feel the burn on his fingers, trying to hold it, too anxious for the first bite as his mother blew on it, the softness of her breath—the essence of love.
His back ached from having to keep it straight, but he didn’t mind. His heart beat faster than it had in years, as if trying to prove to him that it was not ready to stop.
It was a perfect last day.
Close to midnight, Death joined Bartolo and walked at his side. “I like what you did with your time,” he said.
“Thanks, I do too,” said Bartolo.
At midnight, Death reached in and took Bartolo’s heart. Bartolo collapsed on the gritty cobblestones. The puppet man fell next to Bartolo, his blank eyes reflecting the dark sky.
Death was about to swallow Bartolo’s heart, but he stopped and chuckled, as an idea came to him. He bent down to the puppet man and put the heart into its hollow chest.
The puppet man sprung up to his feet. He looked down at Death.
“Thank you!” he said.
“Don’t mention it,” said Death and walked off down the hill.
The puppet man watched Death leave with some sadness. Then, he walked in the opposite direction, following the sounds of the Carnival. A group waved him over to their make-shift table and poured him a drink. A woman gave him a hug. He walked dizzily among the revelers and somebody was always near, sharing a story or a joke. No one was afraid of him. In the morning, they made him march at the front of the Carnival procession. The puppet man was joyful.
The next day, the papers told about the mysterious boneco gigante, a giant doll that walked the parade. They called him Homem da Meia Noite, Midnight Man, and the name stuck. People loved him so much that a few years later, they made him a wife, whom they called Mulher do Dia, Woman of the Day. The two were very happy and had two children, a boy and a girl, of course, whom they named A Menina de Tarde, Girl of the Afternoon and O Menino de Tarde, Boy of the Afternoon. They asked Death to be their godfather, to which he agreed, chuckling happily.
Now, every midnight before Carnival, the whole family walks the streets to the joy of all people.
And if you ask Midnight Man, as he’s the only one of the family blessed with a human heart, and so the only one who can speak, he’ll tell you he lives happily. But in the dark, away from the lights and the people, he misses Death.
Russian-born Alina Rios now breathes in the coffee-scented air of Seattle, edits technical documentation, and reads her work at local open mics. She was recently short-listed for the Gulliver Travel Grant. Her poetry has appeared in Mused and Rust & Moth and is forthcoming in Neon and Starline. www.alinarios.com
a prose poem by
Christine-Marie L. Dixon
Sometimes I look upon the setting sun and weep because I know I cannot keep it safely inside my dresser, folded neatly between linens and handkerchiefs. I cry because I know that I shall die without swallowing the moon into my soul or exchanging confidences with a marigold. Sons and Daughters, you shall grow old; your knees shall someday soon turn to creaking hinges, echoing through lonely halls of timbered prisons and clanging gongs. You will exchange fading whispers for your favorite songs, the words of which you do not know. You will look at the stars and repent that you did not try harder to scale their heavenly depths. You will cry that you have wasted countless precious breaths conforming to the rise and sink of mankind’s demands and the office which fed you for fifty years will quickly crumble, dissolved into sand.
Standing on this side of eternity my heart breaks because I know there is not enough time to love the rushing winds and roaring ache of ocean waves. My soul craves a road paved around this earth with my feet, every secret measured by my heartbeat.
Christine-Marie L. Dixon is a writer and musician from Detroit.
There Once Was a Man
Who Thought Too Much
a story by
There once was a man who thought too much thought too much thought too much. He lived on an island in the borough of wee wah wah and slept not at all. His back was strong his legs were long and he wore a moustache below his nose and fur one supposes upon his chin.
It all started when he was just a boy and was dreaming about it.
About what he was dreaming is what we do not entirely know but it had something to do with what is what and what was what and so he went and found a book and then he sat within a crook and as he turned the pages of that book he began to think and think about it. As he read and thought and read and thought he wondered what if anything others thought so he took that book and gathered some more and went from his crook to a crescent on a hill where others who also began as boys left as men and he not only thought and thought about it more than others seemed to but he somehow some way on many a day began to teach other boys and girls to think about it too.
One day when all the books were put away and he was thinking thinking about what he had done and what he would do and how to give to others all the thought he ever knew his thinking grew and grew.
This man who thought too much thought too much thought too much first saw a thinning in his hair. His eyes squinted to procure what was not there but all he saw was that part in his hair. So he thought and thought and thought about it and then he washed what was not there with little care and left the rest to bear.
On another day while walking down a summer lane he thought he saw a willow in the air and taking the willow as just as fair as what was departing from his hair he grasped it between thumb and forefinger and put it in the part that was there. The willow blew and blew about leaving his part without and as he chased it down the lane his legs that were too long seemed to disintegrate in thin air! With each stride his part widened and his gait spasmed and soon it was as though his legs were not there — he was gliding on air!
The man who thought and thought about the thinning in his hair was now losing his legs his only pair. This he thought was quite rare.
With himself down to his legs that were not there and with that part dividing wider his thinning hair he began to think and think and think about what had gone awry for before he had always seemed quite spry. Strong back strong legs and fur beneath his nose one had never supposed that his grasp between thumb and forefinger would no longer grip what was there but would somehow lead him to what was not. The book’s leaves which he would leaf when he was loafing in the summer breeze upon that hill that he could no longer climb had the answer that he was trying to find but as he reached for another book to see what others’ thought and determine what had somehow brought what had been brought upon him to others too his grip gave way to another waylay — his arms had grown taut.
Not for naught but first it was the thinning of his hair and then the legs that were no longer there and now the arms had grown thin and taut and about this he thought and thought.
The more he thought the more he read and the more he read the more he learned that it was not the thinning in his hair that had led to this despair but the loss of strength in his legs his only pair and his arms which now no longer felt there. Before he knew it his lips would cease moving and air that had always been without a care would be heaving — it would be entirely rare and unfair.
Those that knew not what to do made absent queries:
Had this to do with the thinning in his hair? Had his hair to do with the thinking that had been? What happened to the legs no longer there? What about that willow placed in his hair?
No no nothing is so unfair that it punishes those who think so fair yet somehow the thinking that had had such a good run caused people to start to point and stare not at the thinning in his hair but at the thinning of what was still there.
Unmoving the rest were moved as he thought and thought and thought about it. While he could not bring back the legs no longer there or the arms that were in need of repair and while his lips only gently passed air his thinking thinking thinking taught and taught and taught all about it.
Like the other boys and girls who glide on air because the body they once had is no longer there it was not because of thought that life brought too much to bear. The man who thought too much had not used up all his thinking — those fools! There are no such rules.
But if we do as the man had done and we think and think and think until our own days are done we may too go taut (or not) but not for naught because we will have taught others not only how to live but how to die and through thought we may even try and write down for others to read how to survive not only the loss of this man and other boys girls and women like him but we may devise a plan for how to undo what his thinking had not done but with some more thinking what could have been done.
If we can do this we will somehow have won.
Deirdre Fagan is Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of Composition at Quincy University. She is the author of Critical Companion to Robert Frost and has published stories, poems, and articles in various journals and magazines. Her interests include but are not limited to American poetry, memoir, and creative writing.
Wrought from the Perukemaker’s House
a story by
Sue Ann Connaughton
A brass wedding ring, clay pipe, tiny porcelain doll, poison bottle, and large bones—these are some of the artifacts that my husband unearthed while excavating under our kitchen during renovation. Our research indicates that the artifacts date from the late 19th century, although the house was built in the late 18th century. We devised a legend around the items, one that incorporates love, marriage, childbirth, and unexplained death, not necessarily in that order. Intrigued by our discoveries, I urged my husband to dig deeper. I wanted to uncover the 18th century. But alas, he declined, on the basis that it was more prudent to finish the kitchen renovation than to spend several more weeks shoveling and groveling, while taking all meals from the microwave.
The house was built in the 1790’s for John Archer, a perukemaker. The current kitchen did not exist then. Cooking took place in the keeping room, which is now our dining room. I wonder if John Archer made his wigs in the keeping room, by the cooking fireplace, the only source of heat on the first floor at that time. Or, perhaps he made them in the front room, where he could open the Indian shutters and hang a shop sign on one of the 12 over 12 windows.
Maybe John Archer chose the middle room for his workroom, labeled the “dismal room” on the electric box, by another owner, presumably because the windowless room lacks natural light, or views of the outside world—features that make it perfectly suited for my writing room.
As we move from room to room, renovating each one, we observe the imprints left by former inhabitants: the wooden stair treads, worn smoothly in the middle from decades of boots and shoes – we’ll never hide those with carpeting – and layers and layers of wallpaper and paint, with still brilliant colors that reveal different eras and fashions, peel by peel. Occasionally, we find dated initials under a beam, or on a floorboard, charming signatures of previous carpenters or handy homeowners. Regarding the floors: they all slant, causing cracks in the walls and ceilings, which recur, no matter how often they’re patched.
The renovation of our antique home progresses slowly and may never be completed. Future owners will make changes, stamp the house with their own touches. We hope they’ll be charmed to discover my husband’s initials carved into the kitchen shelves he built, and a copy of my first published story, hidden inside a closet in the dismal room.
Sue Ann Connaughton writes from a drafty old house in New England. Her short pieces have appeared in various journals, most recently: Counterexample Poetics; One-Sentence Story Anthology; Barnwood Poetry Magazine; The Bicycle Review; The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts; GlassFire Magazine; You are here: The Journal of Creative Geography; and Fabula Argentea.
a story by
A warm, late summer breeze passed over Mike Caudell as he sat on his back porch and stared at his pasture, and beyond to the woods and mountains in the distance. He much preferred sitting on the porch than inside the house this time of the year. He knew that this porch had also been the favorite spot for his father, and for his granddaddy. Three generations of Caudells. Across the pasture and just inside the tree line was Goshen Creek. He could not see the creek from where he was sitting—but he could visualize it. Mike thought, I need to go up there, see the creek, walk in the woods. It’s been awhile.
His wife, Laura, opened the back door. “Supper’s ready!”
Mike went inside to the bathroom. He washed his hands and face and combed the cotton lint from his hair. Laura had fixed a good supper like she always did on Friday nights. He didn’t remember why she liked to do it on Fridays, but it was okay with him. She had cooked green beans, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, fried squash, fried chicken, and cornbread. Sometimes on Friday nights, Mike felt guilty having so much good food in front of him. When they finished eating, he leaned back in his chair and said, “Dad-gum, Laura, you are a great cook.”
“Thank you,” she said. “You deserved a good meal.” He picked up his empty plate and tea glass.
Laura said, “You go in the living room and watch TV, or go to the porch if you want.”
“No thanks, I’m going to help you clean up. I’ll wash the dishes.”
Laura let him help, and soon they had the dishes and pots washed up, and everything put away. Then they went to the back porch and sat in their rocking chairs. Mike said, “I been meaning to ask you, I’ve forgotten, but why do you always cook such a big meal on Fridays?”
Laura laughed. “I got it from mama. She always cooked a big meal on Fridays. Course we had a big family, lots of mouths to feed when I was growing up.”
“She, and me too, like to have lots of leftovers for the weekend.”
Mike nodded. “I reckon you’ve taken right after her.” Then he went silent, and Laura did too. He knew that she was thinking—the same thing he was thinking. It would have been nice to have shared tonight’s meal with children. He needed to change the subject. He pointed toward the mountains in the distance, barely visible now in the twilight. “I think I’ll hike up to the creek tomorrow. You want to go with me?”
“No. I guess not,” Laura said. “I want to go into town and get a few things. I’ll go with you when the leaves start turning and we’ll have a picnic by the creek.”
“That’ll be nice. Leaves will start turning in a few weeks.”
“You go on tomorrow,” Laura said as she reached over and put her hand on his arm. “You gonna check on Grandpa Caudell’s liquor still?”
“I will,” Mike said, and he teased her, “I might just run me off a batch while I’m up there.”
“That’ll be the day! But you be careful, and look out for snakes.”
The next morning Mike took his walking stick off the hook on the back porch, and he headed out. He passed the barn, then walked across his pasture. After a little ways, he stopped and turned around. He could see Laura hanging clothes on the clothesline. She still has a fine figure, he thought. He whistled as loud as he could and she jerked around like she’d heard a shot. He waved. With her hands on her hips, Laura stared at him. Finally, she waved and blew him a kiss. He continued his walk across the pasture with her on his mind; thinking of her long hair and beautiful body. What he had a hard time living with was the knowledge that she wouldn’t ever be able to have a baby. He remembered the night of the emergency hysterectomy, and the words the doctor told him after the surgery. “Laura will never be able to conceive.” Laura had cried for days and he had consoled her as best he could. She gradually came out of her depressed state—but he knew she still thought about it. One night, a couple of weeks back, he had heard her crying in the bathroom. He didn’t say anything. He remembered one particularly bad night when she told him that he should divorce her, and marry someone who could give him children. They rarely spoke of it anymore.
After crossing the pasture, Mike entered the woods. It was mostly hardwoods: oak, popular, sweetgum, dogwood, along with large clumps of mountain laurel and rhododendron. He loved the smell of the forest and the familiar feeling it gave him as he walked to Goshen Creek. It was a good-size creek, not deep but with high banks. His granddaddy had actually lowered the creek several feet in places so it would not flood the pasture during heavy rains. Mike crossed the water on the old footbridge, also built by his granddaddy. After another mile in the woods, he came to a narrow draw, bordered on each side by heavy thickets of rhododendron. He walked carefully down the draw, being aware of slippery rocks and leaves. The sun barely touched some of the ground in the draw.
Halfway down, beside a spring head, had been the perfect location for his granddaddy’s liquor still. Mike walked over to the remains of the still and sat down on a large rock. The same rock he was sure his granddaddy had sat on as he watched glass jars catching the liquor as it flowed from the tap. The still was gradually being consumed by nature. He knew that the copper would remain for thousands of years, but most of the wood was rotting away. He ate a sandwich Laura had fixed, and he reached down and drank a palm full of water from the spring.
Mike sat quietly, listening. He thought of his granddaddy and the last time he saw him in the hospital asylum. He was discharged from the army at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia and when he called home, his mother had begged him to please go by the asylum in Milledgeville and visit Granddaddy Caudell, so the family could have a report on his condition. Once in Milledgeville, Mike found the State of Georgia Mental Hospital. He parked and went in the large, white administration building and signed in the register. He was escorted by a black man, dressed all in white, to his granddaddy’s room. He barely recognized his granddaddy, asleep in bed. The black man said, “Mr. Caudell sleep ‘bout all the time, now.”
“Can he get up, you know, walk around?”
“No,” the black man said. “He tries, but we don’t let him.”
“What do you mean, we don’t let him?”
“Not let him get up and about, and fall and break his hip or arm,” the black man explained.
Mike nodded and walked closer to the bed. His granddaddy looked terribly thin—older than his age. He said to the black man, “I think he’s about eighty-five.”
“No, he’s almost ninety. He’s been a good patient, and when he first arrived we thought that someday he might get better and could go back to his home.”
“But, he’s gotten worse.”
“That’s right. Downhill all the time. Got bad dementia now.”
Mike stood, watching his granddaddy sleep. He reached over and touched the old man’s face. His granddaddy turned his head, opened his eyes, and smiled at his grandson.
“Grandpa?” Mike said.
The old man opened his mouth and said, “You…been?”
Mike didn’t know how to respond. He said, “Yes, sir, I’ve been in the army. Just got out.”
The old man nodded and smiled. He turned his head and stared at the ceiling. After a moment, he turned back and said, “Tell…yore daddy…look after…still.”
Mike nodded, unable to tell his granddaddy that his only son was buried in the American
Cemetery in Normandy, France. And that he knew as much, having been told many years ago. He watched as his granddaddy moved his head, shuddered slightly and closed his eyes. The black man turned to leave the room. Mike stood for another minute looking at his granddaddy. It dawned on him again that once his granddaddy died, he would become the only surviving male in his family.
Sitting on the big rock now at the old still, Mike tried to visualize his granddaddy lying in that bed. The last time he saw him. Then he tried to guess when the still had been built—he wished that he had asked his granddaddy more about the still. Probably the early thirties, he figured. It was never busted by law enforcement, and his granddaddy was never arrested. He had been lucky on those accounts. Mike listened to the wood’s sounds: birds, squirrels, and once he thought he heard a deer snort. He used to hunt these woods, just as his daddy had hunted them before the war. He wondered how it would feel to have someone come to your house and announce that your only son had been killed in a far-away country. He couldn’t imagine what went through his granddaddy and grandmother’s minds. It would be enough to drive some folk’s crazy, Mike figured.
That night Mike told Laura about his hike, and that he had sat for a while on the big rock and thought about his granddaddy, and his daddy, too. Later, getting in bed, he turned off the nightstand light and leaned over and kissed her. Laura said, “You don’t hate me anymore because I can’t have a baby, do you?”
“Of course not. You know better than that.”
“Well, I wouldn’t blame you. Remembering your kin, and the fact that your name will die with you, could be aggravating to lots of folks.” Then she leaned over and kissed him. Just before Mike drifted off, he heard Laura ask, “Did you see any snakes?”