My Right Leg as Target

After the first few needles into my knee, numbers become irrelevant. Easy to lose count – six, a dozen? Just lie back and pretend it is entirely normal to lie supine on an examining table, here, in your vascular specialist’s office, having some nameless saline fluid injected into my leg. Mundane procedure, ho-hum treatment aimed at reducing ungainly and unwanted expansion of the leg veins, a condition for which I can thank my mother’s family genetics, though to be truthful, I haven’t been all that thankful. Today, the knee and upper thigh of my right leg is select target area for this calm and cheerful, needle-wielding surgeon, who possesses a lightning draw and meticulous aim, firing into the chosen vein locations, one round after another, quicker than Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral. Next, with brusque dexterity and brief dispatch she attaches a small bandage to each injection site, lassos my leg with a pair of large elastic tensor wraps. In mere minutes she is done, pleased, steps back, beams like a championship roper, over the trussed calf. “You’re good to go. See you in six months.”

Glen Sorestad

The Actress

The starry air of the plaza abounded with vaguely stylish aromas: artificial jasmine, sugar syrup, cherry blossom, incense from the hippie bar that still buzzed with noise down a side street. People sat outside drinking till after midnight, and the air stayed miraculously balmy, incubated by the high tiled walls. The fountain water plashed iridescent under warm spotlights. Connie sipped her creme de menthe very carefully. There were only a handful of Euros left in her purse, Euros which weren’t to be spent on more alcohol. She hadn’t been much of a drinker until now. She picked the creme de menthe because it was the prettiest bottle on the bar. The man who served her, red braces and moustache, looked at her strangely. She supposed they only kept drinks of that colour for cocktails. But what difference was it to them what she drank?

The men here paid you more attention, that was one thing for sure.

Even now, there he was, another one. Sitting with his wife, this glamorous mare with her hair piled into what could only be described as an expensive croissant of a bun. It was golden, so sleek you’d think someone had rubbed proper butter in it. Sitting with his wife, yet the glances were in Connie’s direction. She crossed her legs, took another sip. In all honesty, creme de menthe was just sugary mouthwash. She liked that oxymoronic taste. Drinking it, you felt both cleansed and queasy. It really did go down a treat.

They would have the contract drawn up for her in the morning. Mrs V. had told her to read carefully, read every paragraph, every clause. Look for small print. She watched a line of tiny ants cross over her patent shoes, the flesh-coloured ones she’d bought only yesterday, with great extravagance. They were red ants, an anklet of minuscule rubies. It was funny to think that finally, after all these years, they finally wanted her in the movies.

With some effort, she scraped back her chair, lifted her purse, headed for the bathroom. The man’s eyes trailing her as a cat follows a trail of wool. She felt herself unravelling beneath his gaze. In the bathroom, she peeled off each set of fake eyelashes. The glue made her skin sting. She felt the tears prick in her nerves; hot bright tears that dragged the mascara down her cheeks. She used the complimentary perfume; a very old, musty Yves Saint Laurent number. It made her feel glamorous and washed-up, as if she’d hollowed out her insides with coke and was waiting for someone to carry her skeleton to Hollywood.

Connie stepped back out onto the plaza. She felt utterly luminous under the spotlights, a kind of sultry heat that reminded her of long summers in her father’s back garden. There was the golden fur of her dog, the one that got run over in the end. How lustrous it looked in the sun!

What was it the barman said to her that afternoon?

“You need a matinee.” He polished up the sparkle of a glass. “Some old Western to take your mind off things. Gunshots and dust.”

He was so young, you could’ve made miracles from his creamy skin. He had braces too, purple ones to match the colour of the vinyl booths. She imagined snapping those braces, one then the other.

A couple were sitting on the edge of the fountain, kissing. The woman had her hand in the water, making elaborate ripples with her fingers while he played with her hair. They were silent kissers, and it was funny to watch them, engaged in this apparitional motion of their mouths. Connie wanted to see them from different angles, like with just her tumbling hair in the way, then from profile (the brushing of noses), then maybe underneath (glistening chins) or from above (the Mobius strip of their heads in motion). Connie was a good screen kisser. They all said so, those who cared.

The fountain spilled over and over. She wondered what they put in it to get that jazzy shade of ersatz turquoise. The watery murmuring persisted in her ears, even as she crossed the plaza and chose a street at random, snaking off down the lanes where strangers smoked opium in the shadows and card sharks counted their illicit winnings. The embers of cigarettes lighted her way. The more she walked, the more she became the darkness itself. Her insides felt dark too, the carbonic remainder after the blaze.

She found the hotel three hours too late. What was left of her then, standing under the hot shower till the skin of her burned, was not quite beautiful. The face in the mirror, a poorly distortion, dark and viscid liquid spilled on the cover of Vogue. Crumpled, stuck. She scraped off her makeup but still she could not recover what once was radiant. She turned on all the lights and lay on the bed, shivering in the thin sheets. Her phone quivered with constant emails and texts, flashing red and blue, blue and red. She switched it off and focused on the single yellow bulb, wishing for all the chandelierial visions—all the parties with the silver glasses, the sequinned dresses and the smiling people—reflecting, refracting warmth and light.

In the morning she’d vomit breakfast; she’d drink coffee and ice, she’d sign away her life with the glossy slick of a stranger’s ink.

Maria Sledmere

Myrtle Lee “Putty Cat” Jameson

Myrtle Lee “Putty Cat” Jameson lived in the years where many tried making a go of it, the in-betweens of lovemaking, family gatherings, breakdowns and slumber. At the tender age of eighteen, Myrtle Lee joined a long journey shipping crew to transport rail goods and collect inspiration. Assigned to the cargo ship, A4 Sunset, her form cut a proud silhouette against the sky. Broad-shouldered men, not admitting to inebriation by the mere presence of her coconut flesh, found themselves dreaming of her with their vigilant eyes open.

But it was ‘his’ mad blue ocean eyes that were deepest. Their stolen moments together when Putty Cat’s warmth flowed down his back to the soft underparts of his toes. “You are burned into the very chest of me,” he'd groan to heaven.

In the bright kitchenette, Myrtle Lee often sang with a barefoot saunter to choke out the Apocalypse. He relished Putty Cat’s pancakes flipped in the tiny space devoured by her curves. Here, syrup poured from her sweet veins. How the vision of her in his dark wide eyes, hushed him quiet when the day had been long and life rolled hard. He wanted nothing anymore, save for the treasures, to keep Putty Cat joyful.

Sometimes Myrtle Lee cried herself to sleep. Whenever his back sweat reflected a cargo ship moon, and night breathing summoned waves against the Sunset's bow, Putty Cat remembered. A shadow dream of the man with the mad blue ocean eyes. The well-boned hands of his sliding from the tips of her satin ears to her blushing thighs. The mountain of a man sleeping beside her, who loved her more than she loved herself, could never fill the sand hole. Memories spun invisible lines holding afloat her sinking heart. Her heart near an ocean bottom too deep for light.

A southern belle from the South Bronx was Myrtle Lee “Putty Cat” Jameson. She sealed her peace the first time she witnessed heaven’s orange flames spread across the Atlantic–like warm peanut butter on burnt toast. Beyond the great blue, she expected to meet all her shipmates again. And ‘him,’ her lost lover with the mad ocean eyes. The man who’d died too young holding her heart.

AM Roselli

Night Blooming Cereus

When I was young we had a neighbor who was very old. Her great age showed in her gnarly hands and in her crippled walk, but most of all in the deep cruel lines time had whipped across her face. All the children were frightened of her, especially me.

This frugal widow had one extravagance. She kept flowers. She kept them the way children keep kittens; petting, spoiling, doting as if flowers had tiny souls that might suffer neglect. She tended her garden from false dawn to deep twilight before finally retiring into a dark house with windows that never returned light.

Days warm enough and long enough for flowers to bloom, nourish children like milk and bread. We played out-of-doors past twilight, played into night. Street lights came on and stars blossomed while we begged and bargained in sing-song pleas to our mothers for just a few more minutes.

If, during this evening play, a ball escaped the street lamp's magic amber circle, and rolled downhill into the old woman's front garden, that ball stayed until daylight. We were all afraid to approach her house. We knew she was haunted.

One summer night, she suddenly appeared like an apparition standing inside our circle. "Come," she said, "see before it's too late."

An older girl, tall and very near to being a young woman stepped out. The rest of us, ashamed to remain followed like mice.

We followed deep into unknown parts of the garden. We followed the deliciously scary, creaking cadence the handle of the old woman's lantern made as the unlit antique swayed to a hobbled gait. There was no light but starlight, and no other sounds, save crickets and own graveyard laughter. Our mothers' calls could never reach so far as this.

We gathered in the gloom, and when the tittering stopped, she took a match from her apron pocket and drew it across the lantern base. The orange explosion under-lit her ruined face, and for the second it took to touch bright flame to black wick, her rheumy eyes locked with mine. She waved out the match leaving glowing incantations in the air.

"There," she said. "It blooms just once, and then at night so many miss it. Many, oh so many. I thought you should see. I thought you should see it now, because tomorrow will be ...tomorrow it will be gone."

I remember a white purity that seemed to glow, luminous in the dark. I remember a fragrance which from that moment on would always be the smell of summer night.

She stayed. She stayed alone with her brief flower in her dark garden. She did not say good-bye; she did not see us out.

Safely back inside the light, and resuming summer play, we all agreed we'd seen a tear, and that she was not a witch only a crazy old woman. Unafraid now, we played and laughed at her madness.

One by one our mothers began to call, their voices firm, and their ears deaf to further pleas. One by one, we fled. The tall resolute girl, the girl who was almost a woman, the girl who had been first, was now the last to leave.

I thought, before I turned and ran that I saw her shudder, saw her shoulders heave. I might have heard... heard something like a sob. I began to laugh at her, but when I stopped and looked back from the night, she too was gone. The circle was empty, just yellow light from a street lamp. Alone in the dark my laughter died away and I ran, ran home to my mother.

Those children are old now with children of their own - all of them, including me.

Ray Busler