OAK and MAPLE by Janice Pisello

I still see it. The deterioration of this old house. She has masked it with navy paint and new shutters, but it is drowning. Sinking into itself. There are snakes and raccoons in the walls, clawing at night like twigs over siding. Exterminators have been called. Redialed.
There are days I wonder if the orange rust on the gate is real, or an apple pie slice of my childhood. I cling to this. Fruit plucked from branches, skewered with brazened swords made from basement pipes. My wife removed it years ago, when our son was old enough to start running his fingers across the table top in search of sugar.
We vacationed in southern California. I’d never seen palm trees. The way they breathe in salty wind. We vacationed in Florida and Texas and upstate New York.
New cracks on each return, dragging wheeled luggage from airport rails. A baseball appeared in the living room, shards of glass our new décor. I dropped an afghan over it.
She told me we’re moving. She sold the house, ghosts of my former self dragging red and green crayons across the walls at
Christmastime. We’re moving to Seattle. It doesn’t rain there. It mists. I spray the hedges before we go.
Our new home is the same. Doors and windows and tiny cracks in the pavement where weeds poke through. Rust on the gate.
We’re going out, she tells me. She tugs footie pajamas on our son, who is struggling. He slaps her on the arm. She doesn’t flinch, but focuses on the thin fabric.
Heartbreak is not something to dwell in, she tells me during dinner. Seattle has great coffee. I have three cups and my hands are trembling.
She explains this like heartbreak is a community packed with sad eyes and torn jeans. The kind I have in the back of the closet for the Saturdays I can’t manage to leave the house. So I paint a picture. Or flip through television stations. Or water the cat. It never snows. Only a misting of rain.“ enough to feed the pot holes. The locals stand on bird legs, craning wrinkled necks to find some semblance of hope. I dwell there, real estate on the edge of town with shutters I painted in a downpour.
When we split, the cut is not jagged. We unknot the seams and go the same direction for a while, before she turns down Oak and I down Maple. My basement is flooded and there are cockroaches in the kitchen cabinets. I keep the doors closed. They like the adventure. I keep my own doors closed. I like the solidarity, my fingertips erupting
A blue stain holds my attention. They are here, too. Faded movements of my fingers smudging pudding along the chair rail. Over the light switches. Under the table where years of bubble gum accumulated like chipped china at an antique outlet.
It takes high-wire balance to get the mail. Remedies do not come in envelopes. They come in pill bottles and paint cans and paper-cuts. My eyes are stuck as I edge the gate back under splayed fingers.

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THE HAT by Karen Jones

      Ian acquired a hat in the hope of acquiring a personality. He stood in front of the mirror, posing the hat with different outfits. Would he need an entirely new wardrobe now that he had a hat, a life? Should his colours be bolder, his cut designer, his price tags pleasingly just beyond his means?
         Or maybe this hat could breathe its fabulous fashioned felt into even his saddest beige, polyester, over-washed piece of attire. Should he stop ironing creases in his trousers? Accept that car coat had seen its day--“ that its day was March 15th 1973 and it was no longer 'in’?
         He pushed the hat to a jaunty angle and became mischievous, his upward glance playful, beckoning. He tilted the brim forward, watched a shadow cover his over-sized nose and magically sculpt it into something more streamlined. He pushed it back, exposing his ears. He shuddered and jiggled it back to jaunty. Jaunty--“ that was who he had become. Definitely jaunty.
         He searched through his wardrobe for something worthy of the hat, but nothing worked. He found his suit. The hat looked uncertain, perched on his head as though it wanted to throw itself onto the bed and weep at its mismatching. The suit joined the pile of rejects on the bed.
         The poor light in the basement apartment made his appraisal more difficult. The low ceilings felt oppressive above the hat; it needed more space. He had to go out. But what to wear?
         Leaning further into the cupboard, reaching into the darkest corner where only spiders and memories survived, his hands touched leather. That one time, that one week when he was young, before she rejected him, left him shamed in front of the whole class, that one week before he chose to be the geek forever, that week he had worn leather.
         Could this be the match for the hat? He had lived with so few excesses Gandhi would probably have told him to get a life, so he knew it would still fit his incongruously youthful frame. The leather felt heavy, he had to straighten his shoulders to take the weight. He felt taller. He threw the hat up, caught it on his head, let it fall where it felt right.
         Ian turned and faced the mirror. A stranger peered back. A handsome, confident, mysterious man. The man found his keys, strode out the door and took the stairs to the street two at a time. A blue sky, higher and wider than any he had ever seen, spread above the hat. The man set the hat to its perfect jaunty angle and let it lead him to his fate.

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BILLIE ON A SUNDAY by Kay Sexton

She was in my arms. Okay, on my arm, my free hand resting with my fingertips on her collarbone.
She said, “That was lovely."
I moved my hand to tuck her hair behind her ear, the only ears I’d ever seen that could truly be described as shell-like. I could have said a dozen things, that she was lovely, that I was glad.
Instead I said, “Was it?"
“Yes," she said. “Those lovely olive-green globes."
I paused, breathing her in. “Globes?"
“When I come. It’s like olive-green globes behind my eyes, rising and rushing, fizzing through my bloodstream."
Olive-green globes? My mind slid away, heard Billie Holiday, calculated the number of songs that had passed when I was lost in Leanne, shaping Leanne, carving the orgasm from her flesh. Eight songs--¿Â¿say three minutes each--¿Â¿ twenty-four minutes. Not a great amount of time. Not enough to eat a meal, sketch a picture, watch a TV soap.
But still, twenty-four minutes for olive-green globes?
“And with a man?"I asked, my eyes closing, my nose pressing against her temple so the words vibrated through the bones of her skull.
“The same but---not so often, you know?"
I don’t know.
I sensed her eyes closing, but before she slept she said, “You?"
“Me?" I replied.
“What’s it like, for you, when you come?"
“It’s not olive-green globes" I said. “It’s like trees, in winter, and the I feel the power rising through them like sap, through my sinews, through my muscles, life being pumped around me and then, just when, if I was a tree, I would burst into leaf, every atom of me plunges into a darkness, like drowning in particles of black velvet, I am disincarnate and annihilated."
I felt her face move as she smiled.
I called her Lee. I made her cut her hair so her ears showed. I made her come, again and again
on the winter Sundays, the dark Wednesday evenings, the Saturdays after shopping, the Thursdays
when she didn’t have to meet her mum.
She drowsed and woke and said, “Disincarnate? Annihilated?"
And I knew I’ d lost her. Not that day, maybe not that month, but she would want to try this power elsewhere. To be the one who did the shaping, not the one who was shaped. It had been enough for her, I had been enough, until she understood what she could do. And now she’d find somebody else, just as I’d found her, so that she could lose herself, not hear the songs, not sense the fading light outside the window, be rapt in the power of creation.
I listened to Billie Holiday breaking the world into dust and shards. Soon I would leave Leanne. Because no woman whose orgasm was like olive-green globes should be allowed to leave another, who was annihilated when she came. It was unfair. I would not endure it. Lee had become history, and Billie and I were moving on.

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Billie on Sunday first appeared in "Fractured West" (2010)

A BRIEF ENCOUNTER by Lisa Cihlar

      The wolf at my door asks to use the telephone. Seems the radio collar around his neck won’t tune in to his favorite Jazz and Blues station any more. He looks in the yellow pages for the number of a scientist. The coot he carries under his left arm just looks worried. There are no scientists listed. Naturalists either. The wolf asks if I have a Phillips screw driver because, to hell with it, he’ll fix it himself. I keep a screw driver in the garage. Upon my return, the coot looks relieved. The widgeon drake under the wolf’s right arm looks alarmed. And restless. The wolf sees me staring and comments that the American Widgeon makes excellent table fare. He asks me to hold the duck and mud hen while he stands in front of the bathroom mirror trying to figure out everything backwards. The widgeon, sensing trouble, cries out a flurry of alarm calls. The coot looks worried and tries to put his head under his wing. I hear B.B. King singing in my bath.

         The acoustics are damn fine in there. I open the front door and send the birds into the bright cerulean. Arms free, I can dance with the wolf.

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THE AUNT AND THE GRASSHOPPER by Randall Brown

After each meal at the villa, Aunt Lucille drank a large grasshopper. She said it was the drink of the French Quarter, --and who knew Oklahoma had one. While the rest of the family tried to get work done -- college papers, end-of-year reports, newsletters, and the like -- she sat at the piano playing and singing her self-composed songs.

“I think these strings are made of aluminum," She said of the piano.

No one could follow her logic. There were quotes to cite, percentages to calculate, township commissioners to dissuade.

Other times, she looked through magazines, cutting out words from headlines, articles, and ads to create collages she placed around the piano for inspiration. At some point, someone would have enough, take off the headphones, and say, “Don’t you have anything to do?"

“I am doing something," she’d say. Everyone wondered how she managed.

A few months later, everyone received one of her collages in the mail and a CD of her songs. The note attached to the collage asked, “Where are your reports now?"
And a self-addressed envelope with a slip of paper that said, “Pay what you wish."

The family thought they weren’t the only ones to receive a collage, a disk, the note and envelope. They thought there was a lesson to learn somewhere. They sent the envelopes back, empty.

The next trip, in the silent villa, they now and then imagined that grasshopper, the piano, the Aunt’s song cycle. As soon as they found themselves humming, they stopped. They turned this way and that to see if anyone had heard them, wondering what it might mean.

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Changing Colours by Sue Ann Connaughton

      We met at the beach, on a morning I postponed work due to a melancholy mood. The sky, too, had grown gloomy, so the beach was otherwise deserted.

         The man with mercury-speckled eyes read me a story that claimed a person born by the sea yearns to labor and die by the rhythm of the tides.

         He carried a scuffed volume, Celtic Legendary, with text in Gaelic Script running alongside English translations said he was teaching himself the Irish uncial alphabet. We sat on a dock, while he alternated between practicing Gaelic words and reading English versions of sea chanteys and legends, an exercise that darkened his eyes, aged his face.

         When the tide rose to our knees, he ran ashore fast as a child and sank backwards into sand, his eyes and lips scrunched shut against flying granules. He swung his long arms up and down to sculpt broad wings, a whole row of them, strung together like an unfolded set of paper angels. “Sea seraphim," he called the impressions. I tried to copy his technique, but sand stoppled my nose and ears on the first try.

         We soaked ourselves clean and giggly and blue in the icy ocean. “Meet me here, tomorrow," he said, his eyes quicksilver bullets. I lay awake that night, anticipating our rendezvous.

         The next day, sunshine illuminated differences and the tide washed away angel impressions.



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The Linnet's Wings is an Irish based Art and Literature Magazine