Perfect Running Attire by Steffan Postaer
I enter Graceland cemetery at Clark and Irving, same as everyone else (living or dead), only I’m pretty certain they don’t slip through the loosely chained gates like I do. It’s November so it’s cold. The sun won’t be out for at least an hour. If, indeed, it’s darkest before the dawn, nowhere is that more true than in a cemetery. The stillness is profound. I am the only thing moving. In my grey jogging suit I feel like a shadow.
Despite the crumbling driveway and dilapidated caretaker’s abode, I know I’m treading on hallowed ground. Thinking about Graceland’s glamorous history helps me get over my jitters. I imagine processions of fancy horse driven carriages holding Chicago’s wealthiest families. I can almost hear a widow’s showy weeping, the whispered bickering of her conniving children, hushed sighs from the brushed-aside mistress, and, of course, the disrespectful hubbub from the press.
On Highland Avenue, I quicken my pace toward the graveyard’s interior. I’m not sure if I’m trespassing but it always feels shameful, running over the dead. Already busses are queuing up along Clark, prepping for the morning rush. Can any of the sleepy passenger’s see me? To them I must seem a ghost.
Approaching the pond, I pass the stone phallus honoring railroad tycoon, George Pullman. Buried in 1897, I read somewhere his coffin is encased in concrete and railroad ties, for fear that angry workers would desecrate his grave!
There’s a mist on the water, which, to be honest, frightens me from taking my usual path around the reservoir. Without a breeze the fog lays there like a shroud. I can’t help but wonder if the water threatens all the surrounding graves. Wouldn’t it creep into their ancient coffins? A morbid thought, I try and shake it off.
I turn left onto Greenwood Avenue. And Good Lord! I nearly collide with an old man! How I missed him is a mystery. Panting, I stop and turn. He’s my height, maybe taller. His wardrobe seems fancy, formal even. Especially his hat. If I’m not mistaken it’s a bowler. He reminds me of that man from the Monopoly game. Something else about him puzzles me but I’m too flummoxed to sort it out.
“I’m so sorry!” I stammer. “I didn’t see you.” I want to ask him why he’s in the cemetery at this hour but don’t. For all I know, he has more right to be here than I do. Perhaps he’s visiting his wife.
Glaring at me, the gentleman says nothing. Self consciously, I follow his gaze down to my running shoes. He lifts his head, finding my eyes. I notice the white beard, neatly trimmed, his vintage eyeglasses. Oddly, I can’t see his exhale. Mine billows in the chill.
“Your outfit!” he scolds, pointing to it. “How dare you wear that… and here of all places?”
“Excuse me?” I’m wearing a tracksuit, brand new. Suddenly I feel naked.
“The garment…” this time a near whisper. “Where did you get it?”
Was I hearing him right? Why would he possibly care-
“Answer me!” So forceful, he might as well of punched me.
“Um, Macy’s. It’s downtown.”
The old man sneers. “I know where it is.” He begins shaking. “You will leave here and never return.” With a gloved hand he grabs my collar. His grip is…I can’t describe it, like a bird’s talon. Worse. He pulls at the material, shredding it across my chest.
I gasp at the intrusion, turning my head in fear. And then he’s gone. Nothing is in front of me. A crow calls out, hearkening dawn.
I want to run but feel nauseous. Despite the temperature, sweat forms on my brow. Stumbling backwards, I collapse at the base of a large and fancy tombstone. An ornate statue of a woman sits upon it. We gaze at one another. My God, I know this marker! This is the gravesite of Marshall Field.
Angels by Steffan Postaer
Very late that evening, Matthew’s mother returns home. No voices, so Matt knows she’s alone. He hears her rummaging in the kitchen, high heels over tile. The refrigerator door opening. Closing. The footsteps toward his door.
He pulls the covers up to his neck and shuts his eyes.
No knock. The door just opens.
His mother gasps, the purple light of the aquarium spilling over her face. “Matthew,” her voice rising now, “What is all this?”
At first Matt doesn’t answer, is afraid to answer. Faking sleep was always the best way to cope with his drunken mother.
“Jesus Christ!”, she says, and stumbles toward the new aquarium.
When she touches the glass, Matt is compelled to speak: “They’re angelfish. Please don’t–”
“Please don’t what?” She is looking at the two fish and not her son. They float in front of her, their huge fins folding together as if in prayer.
Matt sits up. His mother looks eerie, bent over, staring into the purple light. He can’t tell what she’s thinking, or how drunk she is if she is. “Please don’t get angry,” he says, tentatively.
She picks up the boy’s one photograph of his father and her ex-husband. It is faded and yellowing. “Why should I be angry?”, she says, after a long silence, a long look.
His mother’s face is silhouetted before the aquarium, a halo of purple light surrounding it. She looks to Matt like an angel now, an angel trapped in glass. And beneath the sound of gurgling water, he swears he hears his mother cry.
Genuine Happiness by Shweta khosla
“You know what the funny thing about life is… it gives to you what you give to it.
Smile when you’re sad, it wont come easy, but just try.
It will seem fake and unreal but just do it.
Soon you will begin not to notice the fakeness.
Then one day, you will look back at a picture of yourself. It would be a moment where you would have been giving one of those fake smiles.
And you will realize that it was a genuine one.
You will realize that you meant to smile at that point of time.
You will realize that you don’t have any reason to not smile anymore.”
Easy for little miss sunshine to say. I sniggered as I realized what utter bull-crap those words were.
I’m sure this ‘I have a rich daddy’ wasn’t dying under a mountain of debt.
Her ‘My husband is my slave’ marriage wasn’t going down the drain.
It was safe because it wasn’t coloured with that muddy emotion called love. Not from the both of them and not from a third party. She didn’t have to go back home and worry about who was going to cook the meal.
The only hardship in her life was to figure out what jewellery to wear while she doles this load of crap out to sods like me.
As I walked out of the building, I saw her walking across.
I saw him come out of the dark alley shadows.
I stood there and watched him take the pearls off her.
I stood there and watched him take the pearly shine off her.
I stood there.
It was genuine.
Shweta is a planner who wants to be a writer. This piece lives between poem and story.
“I am a planner with Grey Worldwide in New Delhi, India. My last Creative Director told me that I’m a writer who is faking it as a planner – best compliment I ever got!”
THE GARDEN by Steffan Postaer
Jackson Simon moved into the bungalow on Dickens Street only three days after he saw it and well before it was legal to do so. He hadn’t even closed yet and what little money he’d put out was still in escrow. But Jackson couldn’t wait for all the checks to clear; he wanted in now, and since the people who had lived there before were out, he moved in. After all, he thought, who would know? And for that matter, who would care?
It was a small, nothing-to-it place. No amenities and no appliances. All the walls were hopelessly cracked and the floors riddled with holes.
The home did, however, have a backyard. A tiny parcel of concrete and dirt surrounded by the back porch, two fences east and west, and a garage. All told, it was the size of a boxing ring. Where there was growth there were weeds, save for a few struggling legitimate plants like marigold and violet. But the flowers were losing this fight. They peered through the invading vines and creepers like so many frightened old women, staring from shuttered windows at a neighborhood gone to seed.
But it was precisely this little yard Jackson found so appealing about the property. Although the other yards on the block were bigger and better tended, they looked like miniature football fields. This yard, his yard, it was alive. No chemicals permeated the soil and no blades clipped at its growth. It was pure. A little piece of what the Indians must have known. Standing on it, careful to place his feet only on a stray brick or slab of shorn concrete, Jackson felt as if he was an Indian: a protector of sorts, a farmer without ambition for the soil, only admiration.
And so Jackson left the earth in his backyard to the elements and, seeing as it was mid-May, the elements were kind to the earth, first drenching it with rain and then bathing it in sunshine. Soon the tangle became a massive green thing, lush and fragrant, dotted by wild flowers and humming with insects. Too small to be a jungle, it was like a piece of the jungle. You could not see the ground anymore. Children from the neighborhood began staring at it through the fence. Dogs barked at it. But no one ventured in, not even to retrieve a ball or to chase a cat.
With each passing day, Jackson could see more and more of the yard from his perch at the breakfast table. First, it was merely a few tendrils tickling the windowpane. But soon the entire window became enveloped in a shroud of green.
Jackson could not have been happier. The fact that some of his neighbors overtly disdained the backyard was of no consequence to him. He didn’t even pretend to listen when they complained, which they now did regularly and in ever increasing numbers. Why should he? Their sterile and dismal soccer fields paled in comparison.
Caroline Pretsky, the aged widow next door, was particularly vehement in her criticism of the garden. Jackson accepted that she would “knife down” any portion of the “grotesque eyesore” if it ever made its way onto her property.
Which it did and often. And so every morning, from his seat by the window, Jackson heard the widow Pretsky (not being able to see her anymore) hacking away at his garden.
It could not have bothered him less. If anything, the widow’s perpetual cutting only triggered an even more vigorous growth from the plants. Jackson found the whole thing rather amusing, for when she attacked the garden, she also abused it verbally, sometimes in a foreign tongue, that made it seem to him, like an ornery troll was cavorting and calling out from deep inside. And sometimes when he looked into his garden the reflection was such that he saw himself looking back. A leprechaun. A little green man. Smiling.
The rains subsided dramatically in July and in order to quench what must have been a tremendous thirst, Jackson had to provide water for the garden himself. He ran a hose from the kitchen sink, through the window and into the yard. The green hose slipped into the dense foliage like it knew where it was going. And even though he often ran the water for hours at a time, it never flooded over.
The garden responded, as Jackson’s mother used to say, like gangbusters, covering the back porch, the roof, and soon the entire house. Stems the size of a man’s arm. Leaves the size of an elephant’s ear. Plants that had no business being there were thriving there.
It was about this time, when Raphael, a young terrier belonging to the Rippon family, disappeared. Raphael was one of many dogs living in the neighborhood, but he was by far the children’s favorite. And a lot of them were upset by his loss. After school, the first day the dog was missing, the kids all banded together to search for poor Ralphy. On the second day they helped put up a bunch of posters.
And on the third day, Snowball vanished. Even catnip and round-the-clock saucers of milk could not lure anything to Mrs. Frazier’s back porch but a stray tom and some flies. She was beside herself. And for several days Jackson heard the sad lady crying out her cat’s name, even late into the night.
Arthur Miller, one of the few executives living on the block, joked to his wife that Mrs. Frazier’s cat had a “snowballs chance in Hell of being found.”
The Rippons were already looking at other terriers as well as at a pedigree beagle.
Jackson believed he heard the lost animals rummaging around in his yard. But he remained quiet. It was only the summer wind blowing those big, fleshy leaves across the eaves of his house.
The two police officers still hadn’t come over to his side of the street, but Jackson knew it was only a matter of time. They were ringing doorbells and asking questions about David and Samuel Cohn, namely where were they? The Cohn brothers were the hide portions in a neighborhood game of hide-and-go-seek that the seekers never found. It was now after eleven p.m. and their parents were very worried.
Caroline Pretsky didn’t give a damn about the missing children. As far as she was concerned, the Cohn brothers got what was coming to them, what with playing in the street and meddling around on other people’s property. She’d caught them stealing her tomatoes last year and trampling all over everything else. No, she had nothing to say to the police about any missing children. She had a bigger fish to fry: Mr. Simon’s cantankerous yard and all its hideous weeds. She just couldn’t keep it back anymore. Tubers the size of sea serpents were pushing up through her lawn and her aluminum fence was bent to the breaking point. Surely, she thought, there were laws against such things. City ordinances. The police would know what to do. Maybe they could even evict the wiseacre. Mrs. Pretsky fetched herself another glass of lemonade, this time more vodka, and thought about how nice it would be to get rid of Mr. Simon, garden and all. And the sooner the better. Damned, if that yard wasn’t growing by the minute.
The police did not call on Jackson or Mrs. Pretsky that evening. It had gotten too late for routine questioning. There was no sign of foul play. And it wasn’t like they were the first kids to stay out past their bedtime. Tomorrow the police would return and they’d find the Cohn children safe and sound, well spanked, and grounded ’till winter. That was their theory, and the police were seldom wrong about these things.
Jackson watched the officers finish off their cigarettes, get in their car, and head out into the warm, breezy night. They would be back. The two brothers, he wasn’t so sure. Jackson methodically wrapped and unwrapped the silver and gold chain around his two biggest fingers, back and forth; hand over hand, until the collar that once belonged to Snowball became wet with his sweat.
Maybe Jackson should’ve stopped the two boys from entering his yard, or tried to, anyway. He could have gone out the front door, around to the back, and pulled those two off his fence by the seat of their pants. Instead, he had only watched. Watched as David Cohn grabbed a rope-like vine and pulled himself up to the garage. Watched as he turned around to help his brother. Watched as they both disappeared into the rich, green tangle of his garden. He knew what they must have been thinking: What a great hiding place! No one will ever find us here!
But it would have been wrong to interfere. Jackson could no sooner stop his garden from entering the neighbor’s lawn as stop a neighbor from entering it. It was only natural, unbridled nature. And nothing was more important to Jackson than that, even if, as it turned out, the bottom of the food chain happened to be taking sustenance off the top. Raphael, Snowball, and now the Cohn brothers were only carbon and nitrogen and water. Part of a process. One that was more fantastic than any mere lawn could ever know.
Maybe it was inevitable that something like this would happen. The shape of things to come. If green things had any hope of surviving in this world of people, they were going to have to adapt. And not over a millennium. Overnight. A tree couldn’t just stand in the sun and provide shade. Its value grew faster than its girth. Now man wanted even the ground it was growing on.
If this amazing parcel of land was breaking the pattern and adapting, who was he or anyone to stop it? Jackson supposed the Cohn family had a reason or two. Mrs. Pretsky had hers, and all the others. But what were they and their losses in the grand scheme of things? No more than an insect. No less than a rain forest. Jackson believed everyone could be cut down to a common denominator. Ashes to ashes, right? Dust to dust.
Jackson wrapped Snowball’s collar in newspaper and shoved it in the garbage. A cockroach bolted out from under the can into darkness. His parents had hated roaches with a passion. Jackson remembered clearly how they dutifully set and cleaned all the yellow and red traps every week. Yet, the insects always came back, every night, like stars. He’d read somewhere that they were going to inherit the earth. He no longer doubted it. Didn’t even want to.
Jackson stared at his garden through the window. The massive leaves were moving this way and that in the pre-dawn wind, like they were waving, saying thank you. Beckoning, perhaps. From under the sink, Jackson found a garbage bag and a pair of large shears. Outside, the garden opened up for him, letting him deep inside. After the bag was full of cuttings, it began to rain; a soft, humid drizzle. Perfect weather for planting. The city park was locked up, he knew, but far from impenetrable.