On cable news, protestors are talking to reporters, complaining about how much money the rich have stashed away in their stock portfolios. “I work at Walmart,” says a young man from Kentucky. “I make $10.75 an hour.” A woman is holding a sign that reads, “Where is Robin Hood when we need him?” Others are milling around, making faces at the camera. I thought back to when I was growing up in Fresno and Cinque and his gang were shot by police in L. A. Patty Hearst had been kidnapped and brainwashed, the man on TV said. They showed a picture of Patty in a bank holding an automatic rifle. “Very cool,” my brother Seth said, and cocked his finger at me. Patty’s dad was named Randolph, my brother told me, and he had a ton of money. “He gave truckloads of chickens to the poor,” Seth said, flapping his arms like a bird. The siege lasted several hours. Cinque went out shooting like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. “The bad guys have all the money,” my brother said. “They live on Wall Street and send their goons to kill people.” He was smiling. “Some day, they’ll get theirs.” I wasn’t so sure. Our mom and dad kept their money in a bank. “Suckers,” my brother said. Today Seth works at Costco, makes $15.50 an hour. He raises chickens and watches Fox News. “It’s a living,” he says. “Work you develop a taste for.” When he hugs me, I feel his muscles tighten. “Let’s wrestle, sport,” he would have said thirty years ago. Today, a hug is all he wants.
A Week Off
Cars cruise past the Dairy Queen, kids making funny faces out the back windows of minivans. Every action has a reaction, Luis believes. He has his own private thoughts and, at the same time, thoughts about other people. Tonight he is thinking about a boy who jumped off a moving train into a cornfield as though it were a lake, and the chill that followed that long winter into April and May. Now he fears for the lives of others and worries about irrational world leaders. Nothing is the same now as it was when we were children and the sky cannot be pulled down like a curtain. He recalls the lovely sunny mornings on his way to work at the train station and the future as far as he could see was made of slow time. His dog Bilbo is back by his side after running crazy through the streets. Later that night he hears engines through his bedroom window, motorcycles, a whole convoy headed north toward Sturgis. A week without work and la vida celestial is disappearing from his memory.
In May, Jenny drove into town and applied for a common-law marriage license at the county courthouse. After she filled out the form, she and her brother Jim and his wife Dorothy posed for a picture in front of the general store. Jenny felt OK, not great, but at least something had been done. That night she watched stars plunge through artificial constellations at a Grange Hall meeting. There is always something more to be learned about astronomy, she thought when she saw Mars through a telescope. Days passed and she and Henry came to feel closer after the marriage even though his mind was growing wings and she was thinking about the darkness gathering around her vision of heaven. On the last Sunday in June, she and her sister Rose made tonics, remedies, and cures, and sat in church thinking about refugees in other countries. War seemed far away, like a distant drumbeat. Outside the church, blue glass crystals reflected rainbows across the green Wyoming hills.
Adrienne is walking in Central Park, past the Bethesda Fountain, feeling elated, happy for the first time since her dog died. She is thinking about a man she met while on holiday in the Caribbean. As they sat in lounge chairs beside a heart-shaped pool, he told her he was living with one woman, but loving another. Eventually some mystical experience will awaken him to the realities of life, she thinks as the New York sky grows dark, shadows fall on the fountain and splash up into the arms of the angel. She studies each of the four cherubs, repeating their names to herself. Temperance: Change is more accessible than transformation. We will fuse time and space into one thing and call it afterlife. Purity: Form, beauty, harmony, grace. Each moment hovering, calling attention to itself, speaking to the wind, the weather. Health: How time unravels, then spools together, then bends and twists back on itself or forward into another day, another year, another time. Peace: Remember me. I will always be there for you. In paradise. In your memory. In every white sun and blue pool.
Michael Malan is editor of Cloudbank (cloudbankbooks.com), a literary journal in Corvallis, Oregon. He is the author of three books from Blue Light Press: Overland Park (2017, poetry and flash fiction), Tarzan’s Jungle Plane (2019, prose poems), and Deep Territory (2021, poetry). His work has appeared recently in Washington Square Review, New American Writing, Tampa Review, Cincinnati Review, and Poetry East.