Conglomeration No. 5
I used to think a pretty woman would look good in anything, but Lydia’s shoes proved me wrong. In her sympathy for all living things, Lydia was a jewel, but her taste in footwear was an abomination. If they were an animal, they’d be a tapeworm or one of those beetles that feasts on excrement. If her shoes were a sex act, they’d be a Czech prostitute deep-throating thirty guys in a row or a pedophile priest buggering underage altar boys. Bloody rags, cinderblocks, or even a pair of chainsaws secured with duct tape would look better on her feet. I tried to cover my embarrassment by claiming work had made me too exhausted to attend the opening, but Lydia would have none of it.
“We have to go. Everybody who’s anybody will be there.”
So, like a man on his way to the firing squad, I let Lydia lead me to the T station and ignored the smirks from the guys in New England Patriots jerseys on the red line. To paraphrase the song, “These boots aren’t made for walking.” If it had been a race, an anesthetized snail would have beaten us, but we eventually made it to the Brookline Gallery in Cambridge, which was across from Framingham Books on Worcester Street. When Lydia saw the marquee announcing Samuel Beckett’s Trousers, she picked up her pace, and we arrived breathless and sweating at the entrance. I reached for my wallet, but Lydia, thoughtful and considerate Lydia, had already bought tickets online.
Once inside, I noticed that the owners had stripped the white walls of all paintings. A man in a tuxedo jacket and pink tutu stood at a microphone saying, “Justice. Civilization. Mercy. Liberty.” The crowd, intent on cheese cubes speared with toothpicks and cheap wine in plastic glasses, ignored him. Even more fortuitously for me, they ignored the travesties on Lydia’s feet.
“That’s Roshi Jimothy, the autistic Zen master!” Lydia pointed to a robed man sitting on the hardwood floor by an extension cord that fascinated him. “Such an inspiration!”
A man in some kind of spacesuit stood talking to a woman in a fleece jacket.
“Anne Gina!” Lydia’s mouth opened in disbelief. “She’s the ex-wife of that congressman busted for soliciting sex from an undercover cop in a bathroom at the Denver airport.” She pointed to a man surrounded by women in three-piece suits. “And he’s the CEO who had himself declared dead to avoid a fraud conviction.”
“He can’t do that,” I said.
“Evidently in Connecticut, he can.”
Lydia continued her narration. “There’s the girl who was kidnapped by polygamists. That man spent thirty years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit. She’s the sex-positive preacher with HIV who moonlights as a stripper.” Lydia’s words blurred together in my mind. “… sent adopted baby back to Russia… molested by her rock star father… abducted by aliens… taken hostage by guerillas… surrogate mother who sued for custody… beaten up and dragged off an airplane… acquitted of shooting a black suspect in the line of duty.”
A topless woman on a horse ducked her head to clear the doorway as she rode inside. Her long hair covered any anatomy that would offend self-appointed guardians of public morality. As for the horse, the poor animal had a dayglow strap-on attached to its forehead to make it look like a unicorn. The only person who ignored the display was Lydia who pointed out a huge man in a football jersey.
“Poor guy. He’s the quarterback allergic to all food except breast milk.”
“He looks well fed,” I observed.
Lydia turned her back on me.
“If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you!” She stomped away.
The guy in the spacesuit approached. “Some party, huh?”
“What’s with the suit?” I asked.
“I was born without an immune system. The least, little cold virus could kill me.”
“Must be tough.”
“I’m used to it. Say, can I bum a cigarette?”
“Sorry, don’t smoke.” I patted my empty pockets as a show of sincerity.
Samuel Beckett’s trousers lay draped on a pedestal under a plexiglass dome. They were black and the zipper was broken. Someone, probably Beckett himself, had replaced a lost button with a safety pin.
Flat, Wet, Boot
Old Pennycook of the Foreign Service was eaten by a tiger. Gobbled up whole, in fact. This particular tiger had a taste, so it was said, for colonial administrators, having devoured several others in the past, though never before the entire, well, man. Though reportedly quite large, this tiger was swift and elusive. Seasoned trackers soon threw up their hands. The scentsscattering wind and inconvenient downpours were the tiger’s constant allies, and no terrain or incline seemed to slow it. Closed and even locked doors were no impediment to its movements. Guards only detected its presence when it was too late. It could for a time assume the form of a hermit or a peasant child, and so cross through crowded markets with none the wiser, save any who happened to catch the feline glint in its eyes.
Not, it perhaps ought to be added, that Pennycook was such an extraordinary loss. He was a lifelong bachelor, with only a few distant cousins as family. Though he was called “Old Pennycook,” it was an affectation serving as sentiment: He was only about fifty when the tiger found him. The brief yet repetitive obsequies at his interment yielded up the fact that he was remarkable only for his unobtrusive competence. Still, he was a British official, and it wouldn’t do for British officials to be the subject of harassment by the local fauna, so a generous reward was posted for the tiger.
And all the children said: But they never did catch it, right?
And the Director of the Bank said: Quiet! This is a meeting of the Trustees, not a kindergarten.
After a respectful moment of silence for Old Pennycook, whom most in attendance only remembered about as vividly as a sneeze of ten years before, it fell to Lawson to rise and deliver his report. Within a few minutes, hardly anybody was truly listening, but Lawson’s report was important primarily because no one had to listen, and after the dreadful news from the subcontinent, it provided a generous stretch of time in which to put all of that out of one’s mind, to get one’s bearings, to calm oneself, to recollect that one was engaged in an enterprise of immeasurable value for one’s family, one’s country, and of course oneself. In all likelihood, Lawson would have been put out to pasture long ago were it not for this special service he provided.
Lawson’s wife, on the other hand, harboured no small ambitions and was constantly egging her husband on to make a bid for the Directorship, or even the Assistant Directorship, if necessary by some form of coup d’état. Lawson’s wife, his second wife to be precise, was occasionally fond of assuming a French accent, an accent so bad that her husband misunderstood this last phrase to be cup of tea. This suggestion caused him much consternation, and even as he delivered his report on this occasion, he found it difficult to keep from his thoughts the question of whether he ought somehow to poison the Assistant Director’s tea, though not the Director’s tea, because that would be presumptuous.
Some of the words in Lawson’s report: empire, optimistic, habituated, decline, reinstate, duty, negligent, cumulative, momentous, colloquy, miniatures, credit, strudel, jesuitical, brandish, transposition, wishful, aleatory, swithered, avuncular, itch, salmon, hurdy-gurdy, discharge, svelte, subcutaneous, psithurism, flat, wet, boot. One of these words had something of a personal story behind it, because it had served as a significant touchstone in the courtship of his first wife, but if anyone were to have asked Lawson about it, he would not have been able to remember the details, since he had laboriously built a mighty psychic wall around such matters with the encouragement of his second wife.
Wait, who is that racing down the street towards—?
The next item on the agenda, with thanks given to Lawson as ever for his, was the question of Pennycook’s replacement. Of course, this was ostensibly a matter for Government, but the Bank was no disinterested party and tended to locate suitable candidates on these occasions. A certain equipoise was a highly sought quality: It often translated as an insulation against the passions potentially stirred up by warmer climes, or more simply put, some reliable species of cold fish. As for advancement, it went without saying, there was not room for it so much as a cramped and windowless waiting room, but nonetheless the possibility was inevitably underscored for those offered the post. But, the Director added with his emphasizing finger erect and level with his head, there were new considerations to bring to the equation. Though the specific history of Old Pennycook and the general one viz. tiger activity would be best kept from the candidate, ignorance would, as ever, only take one so far; what was needed was someone unappetizing; as it were, a lesser or even sicklier morsel possessing little attraction for a big game cat.
For the Trustees, roused from either torpor or stupor, the disquieting thought that, in lieu of anyone else, one of them might be chosen made it imperative that they identify a suitable alternative, so the moment the Director opened the floor for the purpose, one after another submitted names. Grigson was suggested, but it was pointed out that he was dead. Cradock was then suggested, but by coincidence he too was dead. The fellow with the wheezy voice and slow speech everyone knew but could not name, he was not dead, but near enough. Dimbleby. What about Dimbleby? Darksome shakings of the heads of both Director and Assistant Director.
Lawson’s wife, on the other hand, was at that moment in the arms of a fellow who was not Lawson but a real tiger in bed.
And one of the children said: It’s the tiger!
And all the children said: Aaaaaaaaaaaahhh!
And Lawson’s wife said: Oooooooooohhh!
And the Assistant Director said: Urrghrrglrrk!
For he had been poisoned, which was not at all on the official agenda. Only Lawson’s horror was of any magnitude, because it was mixed with several other emotions and so stronger and longer-lived. One of the newer Trustees, the grandson of somebody, actually wept, or at any rate coughed out some tears, which was if not quite noted in the minutes nevertheless noted. The Director frowned. Someone who had some manner of medical training was crouched, a circus elephant poised on a brightly coloured ball, over the man whose breathing was short and thick and then done. The Director was still frowning.
Is that then an officer of the law racing down the street towards—?
No, no, though the police had been sent for and were on their way, led by stout unyielding Inspector Cable, known as Capable Cable, moustaches atwitch at the scent of the game. A poisoning at the Bank! went to show that nowhere was safe in this day and age, his whiskers avowed. Though taken to be celebratory, as indeed it had become, his nickname had its origins in a stutter mocked in his early days in the force, now largely overcome. He could confidently say aloud, Nowhere was safe in this day and age.
A vast underworld network, always the first to catch news in the way a spider instantly feels the slightest jerk on any strand of its web, sat up and took notice. Capable Cable dispatched with all speed to some scene and they not only had nothing to do with it but were utterly unaware of it? The vast underworld network scowled, pouted, sucked its thin underlip, pushed its elbows across the surface of a crooked desk.
And Lawson, what was he to do but tremble. He didn’t, did he, poison the Assistant Director’s tea, on purpose, no, surely not? A strange potency flowed into his thought and blood, exciting and frightening, as though so many tall and ancient doors were thrown open to him. His lips mouthed: Darling, they appointed me. But his treacherous hands would not be still.
On the other hand, nor would those of the fellow in bed with Lawson’s second wife.
But then who is that racing down the street towards—?
A telegram delivery—rush, rush!—for the Director of the Bank.
Not now, for heaven’s sake. Can’t you see we have a calamity here?
And one of the children said: What’s a telegram?
Honestly, what do they teach you in the schools these days? Telegraphy was a form of radio communication which permitted words to be sent by an ingenious but very simple code across great distances. Typically, communications of this form were direct and concise but could be used for all sorts of purposes: news reports, emergency messages, declarations of war, executive decisions, travel announcements, business exchanges, marriage proposals, expressions of regret, prognostications, insults, facts.
The young man who had waxed hysterical some moments before, somebody’s grandson, now said that the murderer must be among them, in the room. None of the Trustees seconded this motion. Though she may have had a glass eye, the lady who served the tea, been serving it for as long as anyone could remember, had a heart of gold, and there was no need to frighten her so. It was all too much for her, as indeed so were a great many things, including the serving of tea. But she could not leave, because the police would undoubtedly want to have a word with her, and she had not had a word with a policeman since she was... a long time ago.
In fact, the very first telegraphic message sent in Morse code was a question: “What hath God wrought?” One might suppose that to be a rhetorical question, not exactly a conversation-starter, but it was by way of a dramatic test, and thereafter telegraphy sustained an inherent sense of drama. The deflection of electromagnetism is the crucial element of modern telegraphy, so one might say that this medium of communication whose very watchword is concision actually depends upon distortion.
Yes, yes. All very good.
Gentlemen, said the Director. I have just received word from the interim station manager in Bombay that the very same tiger who devoured our good friend Pennington appears to have booked passage, under disguise, to London by merchant ship and probably arrived here yesterday. There is every reason to believe that the beast, now obviously with a taste for our sort, is intent on further malfeasance.
The fiend, hissed somebody.
But that could mean, gulped somebody else, that could mean that the beast is here with us even now.
Delighted to have had his theme taken up, the youngest Trustee chimed in: Yes, among us, and has already struck once.
Nobody immediately contested the suggestion that the tiger had poisoned the Assistant Director.
At that moment, the police, led by Capable Cable, arrived at the Wrong Bank and launched an exhaustive search of the premises, to the consternation of the manager. Though he was as shocked as he was eager to seem obliging, and at the back of everything also a little nettled by this disruption of business, the manager gradually sensed that the detective took a suspicious view of his manner, and every effort to correct that impression seemed merely to deepen it. The police demanded access to every office, the manager’s included. The Director of the Wrong Bank was unfortunately away on holiday and was even more unfortunately markedly unsure about whether to keep the manager on or give him the sack in favour of some younger and more aggressive fellow.
I don’t like the look of things here, Inspector Cable permitted himself to remark to his assistant. Like the look, without even a hint of... Then he added something in a whisper. Some of the words in that whisper: innocuous, substitution, persiflage, wrenched, whittle, pyramid, oblong, deciduous, flat, wet, boot. The assistant nodded knowingly. For a moment the doughty officer saw his mother’s radiant face, whose encouragement and praise he had never trusted.
Lawson and his treacherous hands trembled, observed by the tea lady with a glass eye, though by her good eye, obviously, and not the glass one. Nobody was sure whether the Assistant Director had a wife, a widow. Pacing about, the Director asked himself whether he might be, unbeknownst to himself, a tiger, a notion that should not have pleased him as it did. Someone announced that Dimbleby had arrived.
Perhaps it was not a glass eye at all. That could just be, you know, a trick of the light or something.
In he strode, Dimbleby, fiercely squinting all about him with pistol drawn.
Lawson’s wife, on the other hand, was utterly disarmed and now quite alone.
Nobody move, Dimbleby cried.
But the children, all the children, had at last faded off into sleep.
More Trains in My Life
I need a lot of trains in my mouth,
running down into my gullet
after a wonderful, weird swallow,
the grease and oil and hot liquid smoke
sticking on the bumpy surface of my tongue.
The trains I’ve read about in literature leave me dripping
in bed, the sheets spotted with emissions that no one
wants to talk about, or hear about, or read about since
it happened to me and not some hooligan conductor
like Casey Jones, who, in my opinion, did nothing
but shit on his family when he collided with another train
going 100 miles per hour. At least my train let me make
love with it, let me screw its caboose, let me up into its coal bin
to get dirty like a filthy, horny orphan who just needed for his daddy
to take off that dress and fuck him deep in his sweet, tight hole.
I need more trains in my life,
more fast-moving box cars and a conductor who wears a red Walgreens nose
and a wig like a common clown. I need closure with a train, as it whooshes
past the patio 30 feet from where we drink beers and cold gin & tonics,
where we stand and salute like British royalty, hoping that it never jumps the tracks
and crushes us to death under the English walnut tree that I have come to love
like a brother.
Paintings by Anders Tvergaard
Anders Tvergaard is a Danish painter. He is an autodidact artist who has been painting for the past 16 years. For Anders, art is all that doesn’t make sense but which nevertheless takes place—and therefore must be of the utmost importance. His paintings have a dreamy expression with a strong contrast between black and colors. He runs his own gallery, Bloody Milk, in Aalborg. You can find his art at https://www.facebook.com/maren.f.malerier/
Story by Jon Wesick, Beckett's Trousers
Jon Wesick has published hundreds of poems and stories in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Metal Scratches, Pearl, Slipstream, Space and Time, Tales of the Talisman, and Zahir. He is the author of the short-story collection Arugula. http://jonwesick.com
Video by Mark Blickley, Zoe Anastassiou, & Joe Battista, Meconium Aspirations
Mark Blickley is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and PEN American Center, as well as the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Scholarship Award for Drama. He is the author of Sacred Misfits (Red Hen Press), Weathered Reports: Trump Surrogate Quotes from the Underground (Moira Books) and the forthcoming text-based art chapbook, Dream Streams (Clare Songbirds Publishing). His video, Speaking in Bootongue, was selected for the London Experimental Film Festival. He is a 2018 Audie Award Finalist for his contribution to the original audio book, Nevertheless We Persisted.
Zoe Anastassiou is a Greek-Aussie-British actress. She was last seen on stage in Carolyn Gage’s new play, Easter Sunday, at The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival where she won the Eva Gore-Booth Award for Best Female Performance, and she can next be seen in the festival circuit short film, The Betrothed, starring Gale Howard. Zoe can currently be heard as podcast regular Maddie the eight-year-old CEO on How We Manage Stuff, and daily, she can be seen in her 365 Blog videos. See more at www.zoeanastassiou.com
Joe Battista is the Artistic Director of New York City's historic 13th Street Repertory Theater and founder/artistic director of Screaming Mime Theater Productions LLC.
Three-line poem by M. A. Istvan Jr.
M. A. Istvan Jr., PhD, who prefers to pair his pretzels with psilocybin, is known to warp the subjective tapestries of those in his vicinity. Almost everyone who comes into his ever-emanating distortion field will inadvertently take on his reality (his values and goals), finding within themselves a heightened sense of potential where old excuses for not going for the brass ring slip away. Not wanting to feel the spur to evolve, most avoid him out of the same gut instinct that has them avoid meditating yogis and sustained eye-contact even with family. Those who do enter his field run the risk of becoming addicted to being at his side.
Story by Tim Conley, Flat, Wet, Boot
Tim Conley's latest collection of short fiction is Collapsible (New Star Books, 2018). He teaches at Brock University in Canada.
Photography by Kyle Hemmings, The Goldberg Chronicles
Kyle Hemmings has visual art featured in The Rush, Cargo Lit, Tower Journal, Sonic Boom, and elsewhere. He loves obscure 60s garage bands.
Poetry by John Dorroh, More Trains in My Life
Whether or not John Dorroh taught high school science is still being considered. However, he did manage to show up every morning at 6:45 with at least two lesson plans. He shared with his colleagues how he used reading and writing strategies to help his students understand scientific principles and concepts. He liked it when his students reminded him that he was "...s'posed to be a science teacher, not an English teacher..." His poetry has appeared in Dime Show Review, Blue Moon Literary Review, Indigent Press, Red Fez, Eunoia Review, Suisun Valley Review, Poetry Breakfast, Soft Cartel, and others. J.D. also writes short fiction and the occasional rant. He loves to travel, cook, and annoy the pets.