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lrtreeinthegarden.jpg
"Tree in the Garden" by Linda Rzoska

 

Please, I Don't Want You To Say It

 

By Christopher Covey

 

 

 

The fact was this: Sixteen-year-old Yesenia Porter wanted to get pregnant. It wasn’t an issue of lack of resources or poor sexual education—though Yesenia certainly dealt with both of these issues; no, Yesenia knew what she was doing and knew what she wanted: She wanted a baby.

 

Yesenia’s English teacher, Gabbi Davies, thought of her while listening to a woman named Louise explain things—things like income inequality and racial profiling and the societal causes of teen pregnancy. Louise was working on her thesis for her master’s degree in social work—so she knew these kinds of things.

 

The Wayward Lighthouse was closed, and Gabbi sat at the bar. Josephine, her girlfriend with slightly kinked hair and narrow hips, tattoos on her arms and a piercing in her cheek—Josephine hunched down behind the bar, stocking the refrigerator. Louise, the waitress, sat on a stool next to Gabbi, talking and talking.

 

 

*

 

At the beginning of the previous school year, Yesenia’s white English teacher—Ms. Davies, who wore a light-brown pony tail and never wore dresses—handed out journals to each student to keep throughout the year. As assignments, they were to complete one journal entry per week and hand it in on Fridays. The journal entries could be about anything: school, sports, family—anything. Yesenia wrote once about her Latina mom and black dad—neither of whom were present in her life; she lived with her father’s mother. She often wrote about clothes and concerts. And then some of her entries were about the guilt she felt after she had an abortion: Yesenia wrote of nightmares and of waking to a phantom child screaming.

 

What surprised Ms. Davies was that instead of pages devoted to crushes and boys, like the other girls, some of whom had also had abortions, Yesenia often wrote of her desire to rectify her abortion by getting pregnant again and having a baby. Lily. She wanted to name her baby Lily. She had sex with many boys—Anthony and DeAndre and others—hoping each one would impregnate her so that she would have someone to care for; but Ms. Gabbi Davies was fairly certain that what Yesenia really wanted was for someone to love her unconditionally. That made more sense to Gabbi.

 

 

*

 

At the dim bar, Louise asked Josephine for another glass of wine—one of the new kinds, the tempranillo. Louise took a big gulp, but didn’t like it, so she placed the full glass of wine on the bar and slid it toward Josephine. She walked around to select another bottle herself. She opened one of the sealed ones—the Syrah, Grenache blend—and poured a glass for herself. Then she placed the bottle on the bar and left the cork next to it. The wine had a complex flavor—a smoky, slightly spicy taste. It was medium bodied. Gabbi liked this wine, too.

 

When Louise came back, she began to talk at Gabbi about other people: people who derived a sick pleasure from seeing pain in others. Gabbi nodded as Louise continued on about how, at her other job, a couple weeks ago, the night of the first snow, how there was this accident and how everyone at her other job just stared at the accident, unable to turn away, engrossed with the disaster. She shook her head with disgust as she sipped her wine again. Then Louise connected the accident with her master’s thesis in which she examined countries in Central and South America where dictators dumped their waste into the drinking water of the poor. In her thesis, Louise was tying it back to American culture. She was very impressed with herself.

 

“What you don’t understand is that there are people in America who didn’t have access to the same education as you and me,” said Louise. “I mean, it’s like a third world country in a lot of places in America.”

 

“Oh, I know. I teach here in—”

 

“And the income inequality is just as great in America as many places in the third world.”

 

Louise continued to talk. Gabbi looked to Josephine, busy screwing caps onto the garnish jars. She tried to find Josephine’s face to share a look. Josephine avoided looking at her, and Gabbi thought of how distant her girlfriend had been lately. But then she figured that she was just being insecure.

 

“You know Esteban?” said Louise.

 

After a moment: “Oh. I’ve met him be—”

 

“He’s our bus boy and from Mexico. And he has this other job working for a carpeting company—or flooring or something like that. And he told me one time that he couldn’t believe how disgusting some of the apartments of black people—I mean African Americans—but how those people could even live in those apartments,” she said. “And Esteban’s from Mexico; and he thinks people here are living terribly. That is not right.” She took a big sip of wine. “I mean, people need to be responsible for how they live, but there’s a lot wrong with our society—”

 

She interrupted herself with another slurp of wine. Then she stopped talking for a little while.

 

Gabbi felt a discomfort and hoped Josephine wasn’t listening to the conversation. Wanting to change the topic, Gabbi said, “What do you think you’ll do with your degree?”

 

“Well I could work for an NGO or non-profit. I’ve done that before, so I think I would be good at that.” Another gulp of wine. “But I don’t know. I may just end up working as a consultant for some company. I’m getting old, and I need to make some money.” Then she finished the glass.

 

 

*

Gabbi smiled and nodded. And as Josephine pushed through the double doors leading to the stairs, finalizing her closing, and as Louise kept talking—Yesenia sat on the toilet in her grandmother’s apartment.

 

She peed on a plastic pregnancy test, the cheapest one she could find at the drugstore down the street. Her brother banged on the door telling her to hurry up. She yelled back at him that she would be just a minute.

 

Yesenia slept with many boys—some her age, some older, one younger. The teenage boys were fine when she never suggested using a condom or pulling out. When they were close, they always hoped she wouldn’t say anything—and she never did. During, she would lay on her back and turn her head to the side, her eyes open; her body would be rocked back and forth on the bed or couch or floor—wherever they decided was best at the time. The smell of barely pubescent armpits and crotches would move into her nostrils; she would feel a sweaty stomach on hers, pushing her shirt up to her chest. She always kept her shirt on, and she always kept her eyes open. When the boy on top of her tensed and trembled and let out a gasp, Yesenia would lie there and think about Lily.

 

 

*

 

In the restaurant, Louise went to the bathroom. While on the toilet, she opened her pocketbook and reached around the tissues, the wallet, the pregnancy test, the expired condoms—she pawed through her purse and pulled out her iPhone. She opened up a dating application; it was an app that synced up with her Facebook account and had her photos on it.

 

The application was called Tinder, and it worked like this: Pictures of men in her area code would pop up on the screen. The only information available, aside from the photo, was the man’s age and a self-describing sentence. (She loved her self-description: JUST LOOKING FOR A GOOD TIME...AND THEN MAYBE A LITTLE MORE.) If she liked someone, she would swipe the picture to the right; if she didn’t, to the left. If she swiped someone’s picture to the right, and they had swiped her picture to the right, the application would display a message: CONGRATULATIONS. YOU HAVE A MATCH. Last Tuesday she had explained—over and over—to Josephine how Tinder worked while trying to talk her into downloading it.

 

She opened the application on the toilet; a picture of a man was on there. She looked at his age—twenty-four. Too young. She swiped the picture to the left. She finished peeing and swiped three more to the left and one to the right; then she wiped herself, rinsed her hands and returned to the others.

 

 

*

 

Josephine had returned from downstairs. She walked around to ensure Louise had done all of her closing duties. After corking the open bottle of wine and double checking the gate in front of the restaurant, she picked up her bag and said bye in broken Spanish to Antonio. Then they all left the restaurant.

 

“Do you guys want to grab some drinks?” said Louise. “I’m thinking of going over to Alibi.” When she said this, Josephine’s face tensed for a moment. Then she forced it to relax.

 

“I don’t think so,” said Gabbi. “I’m kind of tired. What do you think, honey?”

 

“I don’t want to go out,” said Josephine. “Sorry, Louise.”

 

“Oh, that’s okay. I guess I’ll see you—”

 

A thin man with dark skin and toned biceps, wearing a Brooklyn Nets T-shirt and jeans torn in one knee, had approached Louise. She stopped talking, and he asked for directions. Louise didn’t answer or say anything. Gabbi told him where he could find the closest B-10 bus stop.

 

Louise asked Josephine when she worked next. Josephine told her, and then they hugged. Josephine and Gabbi walked north on Duncan Street, and Louise started east on Eastern Avenue. But when she had to decide, she turned left on Collington, walked north a few blocks and entered Alibi. The first time Louise had been to this bar was the previous Tuesday with Josephine.

 

 

*

 

Louise had spent that night trying to talk Josephine into the dating application that she used. While Josephine was in the bathroom, Louise ordered a vodka-tonic and downloaded it onto Josephine’s phone.

 

It had been very busy at their restaurant, and Josephine had needed a couple of drinks and didn’t want to go home yet. She ordered a Natty Boh and spoke with the bartender. Louise left a little after midnight, around one o’clock, the bar had slowed down. A little later, Josephine received a text from Gabbi asking if everything was all right; Josephine responded a few minutes later. She then ordered another Boh.

 

The bartender’s name was Brandon, and he was a short, black man with a thick beard and a Mohawk.

 

“What’s your name?” he said.

 

“Josephine.”

 

“I’m going to take a stab and guess it’s your mom who is the black one.”

 

“Well—yes.”

 

This surprised Josephine. Not that he was correct—but that he even noticed her being mixed at all. People often made comments about her dark skin as a year-round tan, but never considered her black at all. It was a constant frustration in her life, and it was one of those things that Gabbi didn’t understand, which made everything even harder. Sometimes, Josephine felt that Gabbi didn’t even try to understand what it was like to not be white.

 

 

*

 

Only one student in her AP English class told Ms. Gabbi that he didn’t want her to say it. DeAndre, a student she was teaching for the second year, and one that she felt she was developing a strong relationship with, told her that when she read aloud to the class from their book, To Kill a Mockingbird, he didn’t want her saying that word: Nigger.

 

Ms. Gabbi didn’t know how to approach it with her class, but she thought it best to open up a dialogue before even beginning the book. “In this book, there are parts where there is very harsh language used. Very racist language that was common at the time. Some characters—even ones that you may like—will say words, like the N-word.”

 

She told the class that if anyone had a problem with her using the language, she wouldn’t say it. She wanted to make sure they were all comfortable with moving forward. It seemed like the right thing to do—a mature approach that no matter what they said would endear her to the students and empower them.

 

“Nah,” said one of her students, Sofia, with the big hoop earrings and jet-black hair tied tightly back. “You say what you want, Ms. Davies. We know it’s just a book.”

 

“If anyone is uncomfortable with it, I won’t—”

 

“It’s fine,” said Anthony, and Ms. Gabbi wondered if that was the Anthony that Yesenia mentioned in her journal. “We all fine with it. We know you not a racist or nothing.”

 

“Okay,” she said. “If that’s how you all—”

 

She stopped talking at DeAndre’s stare from the back corner of the room. His face was tired—not tired from the night before but tired from too many years of just too much. She looked just at him and said, “If that’s how everyone feels—”

 

“I don’t want you to say it, Ms. Davies,” said DeAndre. When he said this, Gabbi was hurt, though she wasn’t sure why. She wanted to know why DeAndre said this, but she couldn’t ask.

 

As she began to nod, Sofia said, “Why you gotta be a bitch, DeAndre.”

 

“I don’t want her sayin’ nigga in class. She white.”

 

“Ms. Davies not a racist. She a dyke. She can’t be a racist.”

 

The class laughed and Ms. Gabbi said, “Sofia! Language. That’s fine DeAndre.”

 

“It’s cool, Ms. Davies. I’m a dyke, too. We can say shit like that.”

 

“Language, Sofia!”

 

 

*

 

Josephine ordered another Boh; Brandon had stopped charging her. He was pretty light-skinned, and she wondered if he ever felt like he wasn’t black enough. She didn’t ask him. She felt this way, sometimes. As she continued to drink she started to feel a little floating sensation and thought the evening was becoming very significant.

 

They mostly talked about bartending and about Brandon’s black lab, whom he was in love with. It was tough having the lab in a small apartment. The dog always kept him up, especially if Brandon hadn’t given him any exercise. Hearing this, Josephine felt sad.

 

“My kitten used to pitter-patter all around the apartment. He’d always keep me up. But he was so cute.”

 

“How long have you had him?”

 

“Well,” she said, pulling back. Brandon took her half empty beer and topped it off. “He actually just died a couple of weeks ago.”

 

“Oh, shit. I’m sorry. What happened?” he started. Then: “I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about it.”

 

After a sip of beer, she said, “It’s just that we—I—I used to have a cat. But I opened the window—the one to the fire escape. And—and I like to read out there. And William—his name was William, it’s a stupid name, I know—and William would always stick his little nose out the window and nuzzle my arm. And I didn’t think anything of it. But one day, while he was rubbing his forehead on my elbow, he looked up and saw a bird sitting on the railing. I looked at him, and he was wiggling his butt and crouched on the ledge of the window, further out than he ever had been before. I looked up to where he was staring—and—and I really tried to push him back into the apartment—or I wanted to—but he jumped so quickly—”

 

She wiped the beginnings of tears out from her eyes. She thought about how much Gabbi had cried when William fell four stories and died. William wasn’t even Gabbi’s cat. She didn’t even live there. Josephine was angry at Gabbi for her reaction.

 

But Gabbi cried about everything. Josephine was frustrated by this, too; it made her impossible sometimes.

 

When everyone else had left Alibi on that early Wednesday morning, around two o’clock, just after last call, Josephine finished her beer and went to the bathroom. The room tilted some as she guided her way through the long bar. When she left the bathroom, Brandon was at the door. He brought her hips into him and kissed her—hard, pushing her up against the door jamb. She stood passive for a moment. Then she grabbed his back and pulled her fingernails across his shirt.

 

“Couldn’t someone come in?” she said.

 

“I locked the door.”

 

Brandon lifted Josephine onto the sink, and they glowed in the red, bathroom light. She wrapped her legs around him.

 

After a little while, he bent her over the sink, and pulled her underwear down to her knees.

 

But then he stopped.

 

“What is it,” she said between quick gasps.

 

“Shit.”

 

“What?”

 

“I don’t have a condom.”

 

“Oh—fuck.”

 

They waited.

 

“Are you on the pill?”

 

“Yes,” she lied.

 

“Do you have AIDS?”

 

“No. Do you?”

 

“No.”

           

“Do you have anything else?”

 

“No. Do you?”

 

“No.”

 

 

 

 

*

 

He pushed her between the shoulders and held her down against the sink. Her body shook, and she felt an electric release—one that almost hurt, that was almost too much—start from inside her and shoot through her body. This happened quickly; before they finished, she came once more.

 

 

*

 

Afterward, she left Alibi hastily, feeling him slide into her underwear as she took long strides home. She entered her apartment, took off her underwear, and threw them away. Then she took a long, hot shower.

 

The next morning she went to the pharmacy.

 

 

*

 

After watching Josephine and Gabbi walk around the corner, Louise walked to Alibi and ordered a beer from the bartender she vaguely recognized from the last time she was there. She looked at the time, and seeing that it was midnight, she realized that the next night, she’d be working at Sip & Bite now. Louise ordered another beer after a little bit. And then, a little while later after swiping two to the right and seven to the left on her phone, and not receiving any matches, she ordered another beer. Then she paid and left the bar.

 

*

 

Yesenia—in her bedroom, building up courage—finally looked at her test, then to the box.

 

Two lines. Positive.

 

Yesenia squeezed the pregnancy test and began to well up. She hugged herself and crumpled to the bed. She heard her brother shout something from outside her room, and she got up and opened the door and hugged him tightly. She wept. Taken aback, he asked if everything was okay.

 

“Yes. It is.”

 

She continued to weep into his shoulder. Then she went to the living room and hugged her grandmother and cried. They sat there, holding each other without saying anything for a long time.

 

*

 

Louise sat on the toilet in her apartment and hiccupped. She swiped two to the left and then stood up to look into the mirror. Her pale face had new wrinkles around her eyes, and her stomach stuck out a little farther than it used to. She still had nice breasts, but she didn’t fit into her pants as well anymore, a stubborn role hanging over the edge, her pale skin visible when her shirt crept up. But she refused to buy a size up. She told herself: She’d lose the weight.

 

She took off her clothing and further inspected her body. She had new wrinkles on her ass and blue veins visible on her legs. She thought about going to a tanning salon; maybe that was how Josephine stayed so dark all year.

 

Louise took out her phone and took a picture of herself in the mirror, leaving out her bottom half, focusing on her face and breasts. Then she sent the photo to a man named Sean with a text:

 

WANT TO COME OVER?

 

Several minutes later: I’M KINDA TIRED.

 

One minute later: WANT ME TO COME OVER THERE? ;)

 

There was no response.

 

OK. I GUESS YOU WENT TO SLEEP. SEE YOU SOON. HOPEFULLY...

 

Louise then put on a tank top and panties and got into bed. The room spun a little. She reached into her drawer by her bed and pulled out a little vibrator. She closed her eyes and turned it on and placed it between her legs while she tried to think about nothing. After she was finished, she put her vibrator away and rolled over, a large empty space filling the other side of her bed. Feeling dizzy and lonely, she cried about both as the room spun. After a little while, she fell asleep.

 

*

 

Gabbi and Josephine went home. In Josephine’s apartment, they brushed their teeth together and flossed and changed into t-shirts and pajama pants. Gabbi moved over to spoon Josephine in bed. Then Gabbi started to rock her hips against Josephine.

 

“Don’t do that.”

 

“Why? You always think it’s funny when I do this—like I’m a boy. I’m using the boy move to seduce—”

 

“Just stop. We can have sex. I just don’t want you to do that.”

 

Gabbi rolled over and laid on her back and sniffled. Josephine apologized and kissed Gabbi. They kissed for a while, and Josephine moved down and put her head between Gabbi’s legs. Afterward, Gabbi turned Josephine gently onto her back, but Josephine said she was tired and that they could have sex the next night. Josephine rolled onto her right shoulder, and Gabbi spooned her again.

 

“I love the way you smell,” said Gabbi.

 

 

*

 

Josephine felt Gabbi’s breathing slow down and her arm a little heavier across her belly. Josephine’s eyes were open wide, and she looked at the black curtain that would not keep the light out the next morning. And that light would wake her up very early. She looked right at the dark, black curtain.

 

As she began to feel drowsiness creeping up on her, she heard a faint pitter-patter—in the hallway or maybe the kitchen.

 

After she thought she heard it again, she rolled Gabbi off of her and moved through the hallway, by the couch, into the kitchen—the sweat of her bare feet sticking slightly to the laminated floor. Then she thought she heard the little foot steps behind her.

 

“William?” she whispered.

 

She went back into the hallway. She got down on her hands and knees and looked underneath the couch.

 

“William?”

 

She stood up and looked down the hallway, back through the apartment and found nothing, but she kept hearing a faint scurrying of steps, an incessant pitter-patter, a fervent scampering, running away as fast as it could.

 

“William?”

 

 

 

 

Christopher Covey grew up just north of Boston and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. He has been previously published in Metazen, Twenty-Something Press, and Press Board Press. He is attending Columbia University's School of the Arts.

Undercurrents

by Jenean McBrearty

 

 

Film studies students hung out at the Bradley College’s Old West Commons—a vintage post- WWII concrete behemoth that overlooked the newly constructed and newly congested I-35 Bypass. They were mostly mid-west kids, dreaming of Hollywood without its commercialism, wanting fame without the hustle it takes to get it, hungering for life experiences they were too afraid to have. Too poor to have. I mean, if the most glamorous, gritty thing you can think of to do is smoke weed while waiting for life and love and watching u-tube, you’re hardly world weary or sophisticated.  But they didn’t see themselves as chasing caviar dreams on stolen six-pack budgets. They gazed longingly out the hang-over hang-out’s environmentally unfriendly panoramic windows and pretended to be insightful while mindful of the warning: DO NOT LEAN ON WINDOWS.

Of all Bradley students, I liked Cydney because she, at least, had ambition. That and beauty was enough to give her pretentions possibilities. She was also an optimist.

I’d asked her why we came here for lunch when an Olive Garden was right up the road. We crossed the green linoleum squares to a long folding table half hidden by one of lattice partitions designed to simulate the privacy necessary for clandestine cabals and cinematic creativity, and she said, “It has noir.”

“Is that what they’re calling campus blight these days?” It needed a bar, a bar tender, and a mirror that reflected the future.  “Let’s go to the New Commons.”

“You can’t expect me to be inspired by feng-shuied glass and steel, Mitch.”

“Sanitation inspires the U.N. Take cholera, for example. Lack of potable water is the new AIDS epidemic.”

We sat at the publicly exposed end of the table. The bereted and scarf-wrapped students next to us were debating the merits of sound stages versus cinema al fresco, and I knew Cydney wanted to eaves drop. A drug-ravaged guy in baggy jeans and a Bob Marley t-shirt nodded a salutation as he caught her eye, and went to the counter to order a ready-made latte. I hoped I was wrong, but it looked like sweet Cydney had set up a Glastonbury.

He returned and slid into the chair next to Cydney, and glared at me. “You look like you’re from engineering,” he said before giving Cydney a kiss on the cheek.

“Barrett-film-studies-graduate-student meet Mitch-International-Finance-graduate-student-adjunct,” she’d said.

“And you look like one of Cydney’s soup kitchen volunteer cronies.”

“Got my MA thesis committee to approve my topic,” Barrett said, taking the change-the-subject high road. “Aren’t you going to ask me what it is?”

Her face transformed into admiration. “You won the war!”

He nodded. “The Homoeroticism and Other Undercurrents in Hitchcock’s Opus Delecti. It was the secret to his success. Let’s face it. His movies weren’t that scary. Or mysterious. But, the public acted like they’d seen something shocking. At least it was shocking for the times in Minnesota.” Barrett leaned back in his chair, a triumphant smirk peeking out from behind a well-disciplined, well-studied mask of indifference. “Consider Tony Wendice telling C.A. Swan that he’d married Margo, a.k.a. Grace Kelly, for her money. Really? A woman with Kelly’s looks? She had money, but not that much. The one bedroom apartment on Charrington Road was shabby.”  He’d crossed his legs at the knee and his shoulders were slouching. “He tells Swan he sometimes felt the man belonged to him. Even Swan thinks it’s strange. The dialogue is a blatant reference to Wendice being gay as motivation for the plot to rid himself of his straying, sex-starved but repentant wife.”

He was talking to Cydney, but looking at me, my diamond patterned sweater over a button-down Van Heusen. I did look odd to him—and the wannabe esthetes surrounding me. I wanted to shout down their contempt with an explanation: I know the art world’s a dicey proposition. Cydney is going to need a money-maker for a husband not a fellow artist if she isn’t going to wind up fat, forty, and broke. The thought of being cuckolded by a Barrett in the studio I’d build for her was intolerable. Even the poor have their standards.

“What do you think of my thesis, Fletch?”

“Mitch.”

“Short for Mitchell, or asshole?”

“That would be you.”

“Stop it the both of you! You’re acting like idiots.”

“Only one of us I acting,” I mumbled. A passable comeback but one better left un-mumbled if I wanted sex later. Cydney gave me the ‘forget it’ look. Damn. She’d heard. Barrett hadn’t said another word. Double damn. He appeared reasonable. Civilized. Still, she left us there to continue the fight or sulk in silence as leaving for us wasn’t an option. It would appear too much like retreat.

“I think you may be on to something with your thesis,” I said, staring into my latte for a long minute. “Hitchcock was a master of the Glastonbury sleight of subtext.”

Barrett raised an eyebrow at my calculated confession. “So you were liberal arts before selling out to inter-fi.”

“I spent two years abroad.”

***

 

“Are you a Ryder?” Felicity asked with that I-already-know look covering her face.

Mitch struck a pose he hoped would convey upper-class indifference, his head cocked to one side, nose turned up as though smelling manure. Convertible automobiles brought out the snob in the least of men. “I’ve never been on a horse, so if you’re thinking I’ll join the hunt, you’re mistaken.”

“Not rider. Ryder. Charles Ryder.” She was laughing at him again.

“Who?” He slowed his Mercedes to 3 KPH, and stared at the wreck—a convertible hadn’t seen the truck ahead braking and slid under the back axel, decapitating both windshield and driver. The truck chained to the rear end had dragged the Jaguar out, and someone had thrown a trench coat over the headless torso, still behind the steering wheel with his hands at the ten and two o’clock position. It looked to Mitch like the semi had shit a red turd.

“Waugh’s Ryder. The man who loved the Brideshead house. And a Catholic woman named Julia. Oh, come on, Mitch, it was assigned last term.”

A rerouted chain of cars was creeping past the accident. Two men in shirts that advertised Lonnie’s Towing were sitting on the boot eating sandwiches. It must be noon; they had to be union. “I’m resolving to pay better attention. It seems one’s life could depend upon it. I’ll read Waugh’s novel while we’re waiting lunch on the hunters’ return.” He’d barely escaped being sent down and preferred not to think about it during the summer holiday.

“It’s about time you slowed down. I can fix my face now.” Felicity was staring into her compact mirror, a lip brush in her lavender-vanilla scented hand.

He cleared his throat as they cleared the accident area and were once again on open road. “I don’t think it odd that people fall in love with houses. A man should be master of his castle even if it’s a shack. My cousin owns a time-share condo in Cabo. ”

Tidy Felicity. She wiped her lip brush with a tissue, collecting its bright redness, and disposing of vanity’s evidence in the small brown sack he’d brought with them. It was already bulging with two Pepsi Max cans and an empty potato chip bag. “Do you think your family will like me?” he said as they neared the Ducks estate. Felicity called it that since her family lost a lawsuit against the Greens who sued to have her father’s favorite fishing lake declared a wildlife refuge for the garganey.

“I’m sure they will. You’re plump and pleasant enough.”

“I’m not plump. I play Rugby.” He pounded his abdomen. “Tight as a drum skin.”

“You’re plump according to their standards. You’ll see.”

Mitch saw many things at Glastonbury. How the servants became invisible, yet magically produced whatever Lord Glastonbury wanted. A fountain pen. A clean spoon. A glass of brandy. How the house stayed immaculate although he never saw anyone dust or heard a vacuum cleaner. How the tables always displayed mounds of food, and how he never saw anyone eat. And how that food disappeared only to reappear at other places. He suspected the food was plastic until he popped a strawberry into his mouth.

Felicity’s brother, Blaine, had sidled up to him. “You are a Ryder.” They were gazing out at clipped hedges and well-behaved flowers from the east patio.

“Do I look envious?” He’d turned away from the view to light a cigarette. Blaine was watching so he moved deliberately, pulling a matchbox from his pocket, protecting the flame with his other hand. Blaine made a show of using his gold-plated lighter with his long fingers. Felicity was right. The Glastonbury’s were thin and tall, and moved like blue herons.

“Good news. Father likes the cut of your jib. Says the family could use an outsider to reinvigorate the gene pool. I suppose it doesn’t hurt once every fifty years. No more.”

“Felicity and I are just good friends.”

“Even better news. You don’t seem a sodomite.”

“No. Not at all.”

“Pity. My friend Jamison Fitzroy will be joining us. He’s filthy rich and filthy sexed and looking for someone interesting to dote on. I think he should keep to his regimental hunting ground. No chance of emotional entanglement there.”

“Sounds like prudent advice.” The sun had skipped away and a sprinkle had turned to droplets. He glanced towards the tables and saw they’d disappeared again.

“He’ll want to know if he should make a play for you. You could string him along for a few thousand pounds before he’d ask for sex. If you’re short on funds...”

Mitch crushed out his cigarette in a Tuscan gold flower pot. “Not that short.”

“How unfortunate. Felicity’s brought us a saintly exchange student.” Blaine took a few steps towards the door, then turned back. “Does Felicity know you’re just friends?”

“Perhaps this week-end will change things,” Mitch said and lifted his face towards the sky to show he was unafraid of a little rain.

“I see. A romantic get-away to test the waters of equality. How novel. But Ducks is hardly the pace for that, Old Boy. Too much history mucking about. Too much pressure.”

“I’m up for it.”

“Felicity said you play rugby, so maybe you are.” Another tall, tweed-coated man appeared in the doorway. Standing next to him was a woman in a white linen suit. “There’s Jamison and his wife, Carolyn. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”

Tucked away in a guest room reserved for the foreign visitor, the one above the assembly area for the hunt, Mitch awoke to the sound of horse hooves on cobblestone, yipping dogs, and the lively though undecipherable chatter of the crop n’ crash cap class. They all seemed sober and cheerful—a circumstance that befuddled him given how much they’d all drunk at dinner. From the aerie three stories up, he doubted they could see him peeking out from behind a bridal veil curtain, spying on them like a hungry hawk. Yes, there was Felicity, wearing tan jodhpurs and a black coat. Waving. Smiling. Beaming even after swearing for thirty miles she had no intentions of participating in a sacred ritual corrupted by profane politics. And Jamison’s wife. What was her name? Cartagena. Colonoscopy. Carolyn. His head hurt. She was standing next to Felicity, and waved too. It seemed everyone was watching him watching them and he let the veil slide back into place.

“It seems pointless to chase an animal that you have to set free if you catch it. Like fishing and throwing back the catch,” he’d said when Felicity explained the rules of modern foxhunting.

“Exactly. I’d rather sleep late and play back gammon. At least we can keep score and celebrate a victory.” She’d given him an approving nod. He thought their relationship had reached a new level of solidarity. Backgammon. Rugby. Competition was the same whatever the game.

He laid back in bed, trying to erase the image of Felicity in her riding habit by imagining her wearing a dress made of the chintz upholstery the chairs wore. He hadn’t noticed them last night when he draped his pants over one’s arm. Alcohol hid a multitude of flaws. He heard a horn blast, and the troupe moved out, its clop-clops, yip-yips, and chatter-clatter finally fading out as visions of chintz-uniformed soldiers marching to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance swam through his brain. Why did Jamison marry Carolyn when he could legally marry a man now? Oh hell, there was another unanswerable question posed by a perverse philosophic universe.

It’s not like he couldn’t get the answer from the horse’s mouth. Jamison was breakfasting on the east patio when Mitch managed to finally find his way there from the nose-bleed guest room. Was that a smile he saw on the maid’s face when he met her in the hall for the third time? “I’ll take you there, Sir, if you’ll follow me.” She was actually wearing black net hose with straight seams.

“Touch of vertigo,” Jamison said when Mitch asked why he wasn’t out hunting. Without looking up from his newspaper, Jamison stretched out his hand, instinctively knowing where his coffee cup sat, and it disappeared behind the printed wall. “Are you concerned or just nosy?”

Mitch wished he had a newspaper to hide behind. “American.”

“That explains it.” It sounded more like Jamison had said none of your business scum-bag.

“I’ve never been to one of these shindigs,” Mitch said.

“Obviously. Felicity says you’re English Lit major. Studying us for a reason?”

“I thought it would be an easy discipline”

“You have no pretensions at understanding, then.” He closed and folded the newspaper, and retired it to the table. “No wonder Felicity finds you amusing.”

“And it’s a way to travel on someone else’s dime.”

“Refreshing honesty.”

“Americans believe in the importance of being earnest. Speaking of, how much is a touch of vertigo?

“My own creation, similar to PMS. It relieves me of all sorts of inconvenient commitments. Like sitting astride an animal and bumping my rear window against hard leather for several hours. Or serving in Afghanistan.”

“You should write a book.”

“I did. Thirty-nine Steps to Seduction. Under a pseudonym, of course.”

“What’s step one?”

“Finding someone worthy of your trouble. Suppose you meet an attractive stranger on a train, for instance, from London Victoria to Brighton. You have half an hour to engage your stranger and discover if you want to proceed to step two, and another half hour to arrange a meeting in Brighton—which is step two. Sounds elementary, but you’d be amazed at how much time people waste pursuing people they actually have little interest in when, if they streamline their attack, they get more of what they want more efficiently. Like Carolyn coaxing me to come to Ducks for a past-time I detest, knowing my highly efficient nature will find a suitable substitution.”

Jamison’s body hadn’t moved. His right elbow rested on the arm of wrought-iron patio chair and his hand fell open making a pool of his palm. Ultimately relaxed and confident. If his desire was to affect graceful elegance, it was effective. Spellbound, Mitch had to remind himself to blink so he wouldn’t appear fascinated—or deliberating as to whether they were having a conversation or he was being made sport of. “You don’t like to hunt?” The question didn’t seem too much like changing the subject just in case the subject was leading to asking for sex without spending the thousand pounds, but it seemed to ignite Jamison’s patriotism.

He sat up straight so he could look down on Mitchell before pronouncing, “Every true Englishman loves to hunt and gather. Hence horsemanship and colonialism. We leave the farming to our inferiors.”

***

 

 

It was Mitch’s turn to appreciate refreshing honesty. Without relaxing his stalwart stance, Jamison continued, “There are many ways to hunt because there are so many kinds of prey. Shall we have a game of tennis? Or is it warm enough to swim, do you think? We could pop over to Brighton.”

Barrett had been listening attentively, so the question was inevitable. “Did you go to Brighton with Jamison?”

“Tennis and hangovers being mutually exclusive events. I told Jamison I had to get my swim suit, and trail-blazed my way back to the guest room. I googled Thirty-nine Steps to Seduction, but there was no such book. There’s Hitchcock’s Thirty-Nine Steps, however, and it’s about sedition. I’d deciphered the Rosetta Stone. At least I could understand these people if not speak their language.”

“Yes, yes, but did you go to Brighton?”

“What else could I do now that I hated Felicity and her companions for so easily marking me as a Ryder? Living down to the expectations of the upper classes is just as easy for someone like me. Anyway, it’d been all planned out and there’s nothing more ill-mannered than wrecking other peoples’ plans when they’ve done it for your benefit. I did make a thousand pounds that summer.”

“Did Jamison get around to asking you for sex?”

“Alright. I made two thousand pounds before I switched my future plans to include making filthy lucre through banking. It seemed prudent now that I’d had a taste of the better things in life.”

And learned a lot about horses and foxes too, I might have added.

I saw in Barrett’s face what Felicity had, no doubt, seen in mine. Unmistakable want born of dissatisfaction. Barrett’s Old West Commons days were numbered. He walked away a Ryder, albeit not yet a hunter. Learning that art would take the cold humiliation of selling one’s self to cynicism. It was, after all, Hitchcock’s central theme, so unfamiliar to the masses of the early twentieth century, but the real source of his horror. My film essay had been so much better than Barrett’s was going to be.

The Old West Commons emptied precisely ten minutes before the next class, and I was alone with serve-yourself machines and bold-printed warning signs to bus my own table, recycle, and refrain from smoking. I put out my cigarette and strolled up to the windows, pressing my finger against the aged glass that distorted the shape of things. The trees, the hillside, the 1/4 mile drop, the cars speeding below. The 10 X 10 ft. pane seemed to bow.  Before you can seize an opportunity, you have to see it, then see it through.

***

 

“Was it dreadful?” they had wanted to know. Carolyn and Felicity had clung to one another as they’d done every night while Mitch and Jamison were off exploring Aberdeen’s Granite Mile—one of their many three day jaunts. And there was Blaine lounging in the patio chaise, admiring his solid gold lighter every time he pulled it out of his pocket. A week-end visit had turned into a summer one, and the summer was over. All of them were packed. The food tables retired to closets. The funeral festivities concluded.

“He was on his way back to our compartment from the club car when overtaken by a touch of vertigo,” Mitch said sadly.

Between railcars there’s so little to hang on to, to steady one’s self. He fell, the wheels sucking him under. His haughty blue eyes disbelieving. Imploring me for an explanation. His hands—those lovely, long, thin hands—clutching mine, clutching the grips, the rubber, then the metal, so tightly that his torso was found two kilometers from what was left of his legs. To understand Mitchcock, you have to understand the nature of creativity.

 

Jenean McBrearty is a graduate of San Diego State University, and former community college instructor who taught Political Science and Sociology. She received the EKU English Department's Award for Graduate Non-fiction (2011), and her fiction, photographs and poetry have been published in many journals and anthologies including, Dew on the Kudzu, Hawaii Review, and Van Gogh’s Ear. Her YA novel, Raphael Redcloak, was serialized by Jukepop.

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