Storm Warnings by John Carr Walker

Storm Warnings

Weather abroad/And weather of the heart alike come on/Regardless of prediction. — Adrienne Rich

The weather machine plugged in behind the sleeper sofa in the office of our new house, set back from the country road and surrounded by vineyards, an intensely quiet place. I liked to visit the office while my father was out just to look at the weather machine, my knees sunk in the couch cushion, arms crossed over the upholstered back, chin resting on the bend of my elbow. It shared the windowsill with a snakeskin and mound of sculpturesque welding slag—this gray box, with a speaker grate, volume knob, and on-off switch, shouldn’t have been what fascinated me. But push the switch and a voice from the Bear Mountain weather station read the most recent report, and in the event of a storm warning, the weather machine’s siren blared like the house had caught fire.

Now, when information appears instantly on our personal screens, my memory of the weather machine's on-demand technology seems sentimental. In 1981, however, the year my sister was born and we moved into our new house, the Internet was still a military secret. Our phones were a mess of wires. We didn’t yet own an answering machine—few families did. Getting a television signal depended on adjusting a pair of antennae, rabbit ear and telescoping, as if the coarse and fine knobs of a radio. Folded issues of The Fresno Bee, dropped once a day at the end of our long driveway, determined the scope of the news. The weather machine asserted itself in a way most devices would not for several more decades. It only talked about the weather, but my father grew raisins. His livelihood—our lives—depended on the weather.  

*

In school, my sister read Night of the Twisters, about tornadoes that devastated a Nebraska town, and her imagination wired the disasters of that novel into her nervous system. Though we lived in California, in earthquake country, what might fall from the sky terrified her. When the weather machine's siren went off, she hid in her closet, in the box with her stuffed animals, and prayed the roof wouldn’t blow off the house. 

*

Our weatherman was called Angelo. We followed him with the kind of loyalty usually reserved for a favorite sports team. In one promotional spot, I remember, he appeared on the television screen wearing an overcoat and galoshes, kicking puddles, while "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" played in the background. Then, with an omnipotent twirl of his umbrella, Angelo stopped the rain. Surely, I’m not the only raisin grower’s son who can still see Angelo turning his palm toward the changed sky. It was a brilliant piece of advertising. Weathermen in the San Joaquin Valley were supposed to be able to do the impossible.

*

In preparation for the evening weather forecast my mother set the television trays. She closed the living room mini-blinds to keep the glare of the winter sun off the screen, while outside, the weather did its thing unobserved. My father needed to know if he should expect a freeze overnight, if he needed to run the irrigation pumps to protect the crop, and he only trusted Angelo to tell his fortune.  

From the moment Angelo appeared on screen my father demanded silence. My mother flapped her hands to hush my sister and me. For the weather forecast, everything must stop—talking, eating, breathing. I used to hold bites of half-chewed food in my mouth so not to obscure a word Angelo said. But we always made too much noise, somehow. My father hiked the volume until Angelo’s voice rattled the speaker. The rest of the forecast hollered through its parts: today’s temperatures, tomorrow’s highs and lows, Angelo’s narrative of historical patterns, all delivered at the decibels of a scream. My father kept his jaw set while he listened, baring teeth ground small from being constantly on edge. Only he could comment on the forecast. Perfect, he’d say, or Jeez, in resignation. 

After the five-day outlook, when Angelo returned to the news desk to banter with the anchors, my father turned the volume back down. My mother stormed into the kitchen. I swallowed the bite gone mushy in my mouth. My sister must have been longing for the shelter of her stuffed animal box. 

*

If the skies were gray when our mother picked her up from school my sister begged to go anywhere but home—let’s runaway, she'd plead.

*

In 2006 I moved eight-hundred miles away from our family vineyards. It must be distance that allows me to remember the weather machine as a piece of archaic, amusing technology rather than an instrument of terror.

Angelo retired from Channel 30 in May 2013. Honored as “The Dean of Central California Weathercasters,” by his colleagues, Angelo’s farewell segment lasted for more than six of a twenty-two minute broadcast. He said goodbye to his public with a tremor in his trained voice.

My father leased his hundred acres to an almond grower and in the fall of 2014 the vineyards were bulldozed to make way for orchards. 

*

My sister still lives down the country road from my parents and still gets nervous during storms. Even though Angelo is retired and the vineyards are gone the squalls of our childhood remain. Somehow, a change in the weather still feels like losing everything. 

John Carr Walker’s writing has been appearing in literary journals since 2007. His critically acclaimed first book, Repairable Men (Sunnyoutside), was featured on Late Night Library. A native of the San Joaquin Valley and former high school English teacher, he now lives and writes full-time in Saint Helens, Oregon.

Beedancing and Stupidhead by Carolyn Eichhorn

Beedancing

When I was four or five years old, I stepped on a bee. I had been running around the pool at my grandparents’ house in Arizona, exactly as all kids are told not to do, and I crushed a dead bee with my chubby little bare foot. The little bastard stung me from beyond the grave, rearing up to inflict pain and psychological damage long after its last gasps of ridiculously hot desert air. It was probably bitter about the heat. Arizona is a special kind of hot.

Anyway, as my mother tried to calm my gulping sobs, treating my swelling sting with baking soda, cooing, and promises of ice cream, I remember thinking that this was profoundly unfair.  What kind of creature can hurt you after they die? Thus began my bee phobia, my apiphobia, according to Google.

Fast forward to Florida where the air teems with insects and one’s twitchiness caused by buzzing, flying things can really blossom. All those orange groves have beehives set up to pollinate the sunshine fruit, so when riding horses or minibikes, one needs to take care not to end up in a cloud of angry, armed, flying fuzzballs. Combine that with a movie about killer bees, a proliferation of wasps and “mud daubers” with their dangly legs and rampant house building skills, and my nerves were always on edge while out-of-doors.

Aside from one incident with a hornet that stung me through my leather gardening gloves (I sobbed in the fetal position on my living room floor for fifteen minutes), I had few direct interactions with the flying pests. But the buzzing, the threat, always triggered a physical response.

During a volunteering day at Give Kids the World, I was painting the side of one of the administration buildings alongside friends and colleagues, hip deep in hedges when I heard that familiar, horrifying sound. In seconds, I had leapt from the bushes, arms flailing, face contorted in terror, screaming like a sorority girl in a slasher movie. Once out of the danger zone, I looked up to see my team, my friends, doubled over in laughter.

“Did you see that dance?”

“That was a bee dance!”

“Buzz, buzz! What’s that by your shoulder?”

Unfortunately, that bee dance has been repeated many, many times while mowing the yard, hiking local trails, chilling at the pool, even walking across the parking lot to Publix. There was a particularly horrifying incident outside a Sam’s Club once when I discovered a wasp nest up in the handle of the tailgate of my Mom’s pickup truck where my fingers had been. But patio furniture, pool chairs, long wooden docks, and all those places you would expect to relax are like Disneyland for flying, stinging things. Wasps love water parks, by the way. Seriously, just look up while you wait in line for that flume ride. Wasp nest city.

When I get caught in full freakout mode, the question is always the same. Are you allergic? 

Um, no, I’m just fucking terrified. Does it diminish my panic that only pain, not anaphylactic shock, is coming at my face via airmail? Nope. Avoidance of pain seems like a completely legitimate and logical effort to me.

And, by the way, bear maulings can’t be fixed with an Epi-Pen, which is just as well since no one can afford those anymore.  Nor can they soothe the anxiety that descends like that paper dentist bib at the sight of the silvery metal torture tools next to the spit bowl. At that critical moment, when it’s just you and a flying thing that could be a brain eating wasp or merely a ladybug, we have only our own defense mechanisms, no matter how ridiculous they look to others.

It turns out that bee dances are really a thing. Bees communicate with each other, so beekeepers would have us believe, by using a series of “dances,” the most famous being the “waggle dance” which seems to be a butt-shaking figure-eight, not unlike what one might see at the club. Presumably, these bees can share details about the location of food, taking into consideration the distance, angle of the sun, and line of flight.  Seriously. Buzzaboutbees.net even has a video of this spectacle, though I could not bring myself to watch it, as I had no Xanax on hand. And, honestly, I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with the idea that my lifelong foe is capable of GPS targeting. Are they just messing with me? Throwing in a little fly-by on the way back to the hive for kicks? Gathering with each other for a little pollen and some bee-sized guffaws at my distress?

I’m no longer that child in bare feet, but I find that as a grown-up, I’m still watching where I step, lest something seemingly harmless might come at me with poisoned barbs. I’m listening carefully when I enter a room of chatting humans for any warning buzzes that I should avoid, especially around politics. You might not see the sting coming, but you will often hear the thrumming warning hum. I cannot seem to control my facial contortions in response to bullshit, though arm flailing is infrequent at professional events. My bee dancing is happening all the time in degrees, though not usually in a figure eight. The waggling, I’m afraid, is merely a result of a slower metabolism. I wish that I was just sharing the location of leftover meeting brownies down the hall, but it’s more likely a manifestation of other fleeting things that might hurt us, though they appear harmless.

Stupidhead

“So, we’re all good then?” Beezer asked, like he always did.

Lisa got to her feet and brushed red dust from her clothes and hair. Her limbs all appeared to work normally, but she knew she would bruise where her hip had struck the ground after her Huffy spilled her into the rutted clay road.

“You are a stupidhead,” she said back to him, her standard reply. She gulped the last part, still fighting to catch her breath and not willing to drop the attitude that clung to her thirteen–year-old self like the rust colored earth staining her Keds.

Beezer smiled his gap-toothed grin and Lisa smiled back. After all, it had been as much her fault as his. She’d agreed to sit upon the handlebars as he steered her pink beach cruiser down the steep switchbacks. Turns out, this made maneuvering difficult and the incline did the rest. Beezer had dumped them both over to prevent the bike from careening completely off the road. He’d gotten the worst of it, not from the wreck, but from the removal of the bike from the thorny blackberry bushes growing wild in the ditch. Beezer’s close-cropped blond hair and Ron Jon t-shirt were wet from the Georgia summer heat and his efforts to tug the bicycle back to the road. Lisa took a moment to straighten the barrettes that struggled to contain her insubordinate wavy brown hair. Neither of them wanted questions from the parentals.  For insurance, they picked enough blackberries for a cobbler, wrapping them carefully in Beezer’s shirt, before returning to the cabin. The diversion worked long enough to get them inside and upstairs, but five minutes later they heard Beezer’s mom call from the kitchen.

“Benjamin Zachariah Ross! Did you intentionally ruin this shirt?”

Lisa snorted with laughter.

“Goofball,” Beezer said.

“Stupidhead,” Lisa replied.

At least there wouldn’t be stitches this time. The waterbed adventure at the lake three weeks earlier had earned Lisa nine. Filling the patched-up mattress with air and jumping on it from the pier had seemed like an awesome way to pass a hot afternoon. However, seven minutes in, Lisa had been catapulted with impressive height into the closest splintery piling. When she had sputtered back to the surface, blood coursed down her face from a cut at her hairline. Beezer had fished her out of the water and pressed a wet beach towel to her face. Soon, both the towel and Lisa’s freckled face were streaked with watery red. Lisa had joked, “Good thing there are no sharks in the lake or we’d really be in trouble.” This had gotten a laugh from Beezer. He’d looked a little worried.

The parentals had gone berserk. Well, the ones who were still around had. Beezer’s mom and Lisa’s dad were sister and brother. Every summer the families gathered at Pop-Pop’s cabin. While sister and brother complained about their lives over beers and barbecue, Lisa and Beezer played in the woods around the lake, not wanting to hear anymore about illness or affairs or heartbreak or divorce. They already knew the ways parents could leave.

Each summer meant elaborate adventures, mostly of Beezer’s invention. As the older cousin by a full year, he became the coordinator for their summer shenanigans. They improvised parachutes of bed sheets and leapt off the roof. Luckily, there were no broken bones, but both agreed it would be best not to tell the parentals. When Beezer wanted to catch a Sasquatch, they dug a hole so big it took them a week before they covered the opening with tree limbs and set up surveillance. They checked it every morning for six days. No Sasquatch. They searched for treasure and buried some of their own – just stones, an arrowhead, a metal Corvette toy, and other stuff in a cardboard shoebox, the location carefully marked with an X on a bona fide map. They built a make-shift tree house with some old two-by-fours and plywood scraps once Beezer was old enough to use Pop Pop’s drill. They played Hunger Games. Although Lisa had agreed that real bows and arrows were probably not safe, she fell while fleeing Katniss-style into the old Sasquatch trap. In the darkness of the pit, the wind knocked from her lungs, she managed to gasp, “Beezer, you stupidhead.”

Their last summer together at the cabin had been before Beezer went away to college. He played football, channeling his toughness into the game. After graduation, he became a coach at a high school in Florida. Last Christmas, Lisa had teased him in front of his boys about the trouble he’d gotten them in as kids. He’d laughed in a way that made Lisa suspect that he had pulled off a few adventures with his little guys. Lisa had punched his arm and complained that he always seemed to get away with everything.

“Not true!” He’d laughed, showing that same gapped grin.

And he was right. In the end, it was cancer that caught up with him, not his reckless spirit. Lisa ran her thumb over the raised lettering on the funeral program, while the pastor lead the congregation in prayer, blinking back hot tears before whispering, “Stupidhead.”

Carolyn Eichhorn completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Tampa where she won the Plant Hall Spooky Story contest in 2015. She's had stories published by Oscillate Wildly Press, ScrawlBrawl, and the Baltimore County Library Foundation and is currently shopping her mystery novel, Murder in the Mix. Carolyn teaches writing and writes twisty fiction in Baltimore, Maryland. You can check out her blog at: https://groundsforsuspicion.blogspot.com/.

#1 Crush of a Lovefool by Jenny Seay

#1 Crush of a Lovefool

I was seventeen years old when William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, the Baz Luhrmann film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, was released in the theaters. Away at college in downtown Milwaukee, just weeks from my eighteenth birthday, I recruited two girlfriends to see it the weekend it opened. It didn’t matter that we had to shiver our way through a city bus ride on a wintry night to reach the theater, or that while on said bus, we were seated next to a drooling homeless man who almost fell on us on more than one occasion.

What mattered was the opportunity to see Leo, whom I had already fallen madly in love with after discovering him through The Basketball Diaries, make himself even more swoon-worthy in my eyes, through a performance that embodied the zeitgeist of my mid-90’s adolescence. His brooding, impulsive Romeo, amplified by frenetic camerawork, bright, flashy visuals, and a grunge-heavy soundtrack was EVERYTHING I imagined an ideal partner to be. Passionate, devoted, romantic – you have to understand that I’d gone through high school having had only one semi-serious, very short-lived boyfriend, and felt positively starved for emotional and physical intimacy. Watching Leo on the big screen allowed me to temporarily feed my hunger, giving me a fantasy object upon which to project all my unfulfilled desires.

It also fostered an obsession that led me to revisit the film with another group of friends when I returned home to Chicago for Christmas break. And convince myself that this was the BEST. MOVIE. EVER!!!

It was a belief that lingered in the months that followed, a tumultuous period where an unexpected turn of events led me to bail on my second semester in Milwaukee. I found myself back in Chicago, exhausted and completely uncertain about the direction of my life. With things feeling so up in the air, it was only natural that I’d gravitate toward the places and things that provided comfort and familiarity. One of those was the small video store where I’d worked as a clerk immediately following my high school graduation.

My old boss welcomed me back with open arms, and began training me to take on tasks that were a bit above my retail associate pay grade, such as ordering product from our distributor. In doing so, she educated me on the source of recorded videos at a time when they weren’t widely available for mass market purchase. Back then, rental retailers paid top dollar for the right to obtain a limited number of copies of popular new releases, which they would then turn around and rent for a few dollars a night. By controlling the supply, store owners could quickly make back the cost of their investment and then some – taking advantage of a film’s demand until the buzz died down. Even then, it would still generate steady rental income until our corporate overlords changed its status from “New Release” to general rental. At which point it would either be moved to its appropriate genre shelf or converted into a previously viewed tape available for re-sale.

With all of this in mind, you can imagine how eager I was to review our invoices that spring, when my beloved Leo masterpiece was finally released for home viewing. My plan was to increase the size of our order by one, and simply pay out of pocket for that extra tape, so I could take it home and feel privileged to have my own personal copy.

You can also imagine my colossal disappointment after learning that it retailed for $80.

I tried being sensible – telling myself to wait until the price dropped. I’d even entered into my first real relationship by then, so there was less urgency around having 24/7 access to my fantasy boyfriend.

At yet ... the BEST. MOVIE. EVER. obsession remained. And one of my greater faults is that I get super impatient when it comes to my obsessions. The thought of knowing this brilliant piece of cinema was in reach, that I was only a very expensive purchase away from being able to hold it close to my chest and watch breathlessly on an endless loop from the comfort of my bedroom ... it was simply too much to bear.

So it went that I found myself at the front counter of Zap Video, a large distributor warehouse that also allowed visits from the public. And despite merciless teasing from my new boyfriend, I said fuck it, and plunked down the full retail cost for that goddamn tape. I could justify it – most of my income at that time was disposable. And it seemed like a well-earned reward to make up for the turmoil of the previous few months.

I can’t tell you how many times I watched my new prize before a new edition, this one priced to appeal to Best Buy and Target customers, hit the shelves. But I feel like it was only a few months. I felt a little sheepish, knowing how much I could have saved if only I’d cooled my heels. But still, I felt satisfied knowing that I’d taken control, and used my own resources to get exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, despite feeling utterly lost within my world at large. To commemorate this, I bought the cheaper version as my viewing copy, and preserved the original with the help of my video store employer’s shrink wrap gun.

Twenty years have gone by and I still have that tape in my possession. It has traveled with me through three moves, and sits prominently displayed atop of one of the cube storage bookcases that flank my bed. Because life and its various troubling circumstances are temporary. But the poetry of Shakespeare uttered by Leonardo DiCaprio? Man, that’s forever.

Jenny Seay was a life-long Chicagoan until the siren song of the Bay Area stole her away in 2015. She has her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago, and has published stories, reviews, and feature articles in publications such as Punk Planet, TimeOut Chicago, Swink, and Gimmick Press's own Working Stiff: The Anthology of Professional Wresting Literature and Art.  She doesn't write as often as she should, but she's been working on a young adult novel about independent pro wrestling that she's ready to approach with more focus and discipline.

Discarded Buttons by Rona Fitzgerald

Discarded Buttons

In a small translucent box they wait

colour coded          full of memories.

 

My Mam sewed all our clothes.

Gathering buttons like sweet treats

to make blouses and dresses our own.

 

I see her bent over vogue patterns still.

 

Let’s make the sleeves silk                           

cover the buttons with the same shade.

 

When chucking out or recycling

I cut off buttons, add them to the box.

          

Smile.

 

Me who was thrown out of sewing

blotches on my run and fell seam.

 

Greens and blues remind me of Dollymount beach

sea stretching to infinity.

 

Yellow and orange shimmer

sunshine on a Glasgow day.

 

My favourite      a heart shaped button

in bruised purple.

Rona Fitzgerald was born in Dublin and now lives in Glasgow. Her most recent publications are Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry, Three Drops from a Cauldron Midwinter Special, Obsessed with Pipework No. 78, Oxford Poetry XVI.iii Winter 2016-17, and ten poems in Resurrection of a Sunflower: Pski’s Porch, 2017.