CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Diner” by Mark Sumioka

There on the coffee table was the colorful stack of lottery Scratcher tickets.  I leaned forward at the edge of the couch, the adrenaline from the gamble swirling through me.  I had coin-scraped their surfaces in jagged angles, though some Scratchers, the ones at the beginning of the session, had been scored in perfect shapes – ovals, circles, or rectangles.

That was when the fever had just begun.

Now I saw the pile of lottery tickets and their frayed bits of grey-black residue and was aching for more.  It filled me with memories and sadness.  It went beyond money and entertainment. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Moments That Matter” by James Gardner

It was just after seven.  Dianna Reynolds sat in the front seat of a faded green Mercury Sable with half a bottle of vodka held tightly between her legs.  She lit a cigarette with a pack of matches off the dashboard and blew smoke out the open window.  Randy Whitehead leaned against the hood of the car eating spaghetti and meatballs out of a can with a plastic fork.  The gentle sound of the river and a smell of fish filled the evening air.  Randy Whitehead finished the spaghetti and threw the empty can into the trees.  He licked off the plastic fork and put it in his shirt pocket.  Then he walked to the side of the car and stuck his head inside.

“Give me a beer, Dianna,” he said holding out his hand.  She reached into a red ice chest and handed him a can.

“Here,” she said indifferently.

Randy Whitehead glanced at the bottle of vodka.  “You better slow down on that shit if you want it to last you.” Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Anti-” by Shae Krispinsky

Strength of will got me to Brooklyn on a drizzling Saturday afternoon. Dreadlocked kids in torn, paint-spattered jeans lugged crates of art supplies, rolls of butcher paper and large blank canvases  through the oilslicked puddles on the sidewalks between their dorm buildings and their parents’ SUVs. Dutifully following behind, parents carried more practical items: lamps, bundles of shiny plastic hangers, extra long sheet sets and grocery sacks full of enough snack crackers and cereal to last several weeks. Traveling light, I had only a large duffel bursting with clothes, some books, my journal and my laptop. Anything to get away from home as quickly as possible.

When my mom called the following Monday, I told her I had found my people, my place, which wasn’t entirely a lie. I felt more at home amongst these tattooed, tortured artists than I ever did in the cultural wasteland of cow-country western Pennsylvania where I grew up, but still, I knew I didn’t belong here. As a writer at an art school, just like at home, I was an outcast. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “Nut Case” by Samuel Vargo

Nut Case. That’s what we call him.

It fits. He’s crazy. And dangerous.

Don’t get too close to Nut Case, you can hear him ticking – clicking down to another big explosion. And you certainly don’t want to be near him when it occurs.

Nut Case carries a handgun, some small-caliber thingamajig that he keeps in his pocket. It’s a concealed weapon; I guess that’s the “legal” name for it, but actually, its only function is to put holes through people. And even though it’s a small caliber, don’t think it can’t kill someone. It’s ready made for fatalities, alright. Yep, that gun is very well concealed on his person. I don’t know if I actually consider Nut Case a person, though, since I see him more as a monster – but that’s the legal name for the way he carries that gun – `on his person’. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Nonfiction: The Price of Ignorance by Fred Skolnik

Americans do not know very much about the world. Historically this is partly a result of distance and isolation and partly a result of arrogance. The arrogance comes into play when Americans consider the importance or relevance of what other people are doing, since it goes without saying that Americans do everything better than everyone else. Why individual Americans find it necessary to identify with the idea of America’s greatness may be sought in their need to bolster their self-esteem in the absence of personal distinction and in their feelings of insignificance in the shadow of the American Dream. The consequence of this arrogance and the ignorance it engenders may be found in the results of America’s involvement in armed conflicts around the world. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Nonfiction: “Exit Wounds” by Travis Slusser

The exit wound is always larger than the entrance. Well, not always- bullets don’t obey rules but in my case this isn’t a bullet we’re talking about. This is tens of thousands of bullets. This is tons of ordnance dropped from the sky and buried along roadsides waiting mute and blind and seething for a convoy to roll past. My wound is a tiny white crescent moon on the web of my right hand. The white crescent of Islam, a symbol more powerful and holy and frightening than anything I could wrap my homogenized and X-Boxed American head around. It was a hot shell casing from the breech of the man’s rifle next to me. A Major assigned to train the Afghan police; he emptied all 7 of his magazines within minutes of the engagement beginning. That’s how I came to be out of the truck and in the midst of the dust and chaos of my first firefight. The Major and our squad leader next to him had gotten trigger-happy and were now calling out for fresh mags. I grabbed a bandolier off the back of the seat in front of me and ducked out the armored door of the humvee, hustling the ammo one truck length ahead to them, “exposing myself repeatedly to intense small-arms fire” as the report would later word so eloquently. I joined these two and gave them some covering fire as they reloaded, popping off about 20 rounds. At this point the searing hot brass landed right in the web of my firing hand and I yelled and shook it violently, dislodging the cursed thing, then went back to shooting up the hillside across the narrow valley. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “Different Day” by Mike Bates

 Mi madre says they have expression back in Mexico, Otro día, la misma mierda.  I laugh and tell her they have the same expression here in América, “different day, same shit.”

Mi madre says it sounds better in español.  With that I have to agree.  There is something bland about the translation en inglés, as mi madre calls it, not just with the pronunciation, but in the way it reflects so well the way the Americanos live, like they have lost the ability to perceive the poignancy of their lives.

It is mi-madre’s way of telling me it has been a difficult journey, coming to this country.  I wouldn’t know.  I was just a baby.  Hiding and staying one step ahead of the authorities is all I’ve ever known.  It doesn’t seem all that difficult to me, not when living in the shadows has become a way of life. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Waver” by David Osmundsen

“ERES UNA PUTA!” Alejandro Judaz waved the gun like a child waving a flag at a parade. Marela would’ve laughed at the melodramatics on the TV screen if Miguel hadn’t been shrieking so loudly. Why did his grandmother have to be at jury duty today?

“SHUT UP BRAGUILLAS!”

Marela slammed the front door of the two-family house behind her and marched into the frigid February air. She fastened her pink scarf around her head and across her lips. She heaved a five second breath into the cloth, which caught her warm breath and kept her lower face from freezing. Her fingers clenched in and out, in and out, keeping her blood flowing through her hands.

Marela didn’t mind cold weather. She made sure to mention this when she applied to be a waver at the Freedom Tax office three weeks before. Sharon, the woman who ran the office, responded with “It’s a good thing you don’t mind the cold, especially with this cold snap they’re saying is coming on the Weather Channel.”

When Sharon finished looking over the application, she glanced Marela up and down. “OK, so if you’ll just come over here, so you can see the screen…” Marela walked to the other side of the desk. “I’m just going to show you a little video of what a waver does.” When Sharon pressed the “Play” button, she unleashed a blaring beat proclaiming “I’m sexy and I know it” and spectacular sights of hyper people in turquoise cloths and foam Lady Liberty Crowns spinning “Get $50 Now!” signs and doing cartwheels, backflips, kick-lines, and… was that waver twerking? Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Other Side of Things” by Mark Sumioka

I’d hit it fairly hard the previous night.  My eyes were pinched, and the damn headache was piercing a tiny hole at the back of my skull.  The pain toyed with me, back and forth, disappearing a few minutes but then returning sharply.  I was exhausted.  Normally, I wouldn’t leave the apartment before noon.  At most I would sit on my front deck behind thick sunglasses, a drink in hand, watching passersby down at street level.

But today was my birthday, and my brother Teddy’s too.

My mother and brother had goaded me until I agreed to meet them for breakfast.  They were first to arrive at the diner.  They were tight as mother and son. And I was the outcast, though I didn’t mind.  They were always talking deeply to one another, prodding and interrogating, and then listening and empathizing.  They loved their white wine.  They loved emotional baggage. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “A Vision of Venus” by Iftekhar Sayeed

“Grave the vision Venus sends” – W.H.Auden

 

It was a fateful decision we took on that morning to make love. I slumped in ecstasy on her body, her chiffon magenta saree raised above for my convenience. But something wasn’t right.

“You didn’t come?”

She opened her shaded lids and smiled. “It’s all right. I’ll be late, Zafar.”

“Give me a minute.” I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Shanta unsatisfied. I slid down her gleaming white thighs, and buried my tongue deep inside. It began to fork up and down. And soon she was bucking under me and moaning. The final moment arrived. Her breasts were heaving through her brocade blouse and her mascara was tinged with tears. She smiled, contented.

Shanta looked at her watch and her eyes widened with horror.

“O my God, I’ll be late! Get off me!”

She pulled on her undies, and rearranged her chiffon saree, her black and brown hair, her smoky eyes. She blew me a kiss through her magenta lipstick, and left the flat, clattering on her heels.

I loved lying naked on the bed after making love. I loved the sunlight on my body through the damask curtains; the chatter of magpies outside the window; the odour of her perfume pervading the bedroom; the taste of her lips or vagina….

It had been a perilous quickie. Obviously, she had been tense. She was on her way to a civil service viva voce. She wanted to be a public servant and give up her job as a journalist. She wanted to make a difference to the lawlessness in her country. I had remonstrated with her at first, but then decided to let her find out for herself. I chuckled…and must have fallen asleep. Continue reading

S&R Fiction: “Genuflection” by A.J. Huffman

The obedient dancer enters, on pointe.  A sacrifice of white, she does not realize she is already a ghost of the star she should have become.

Her veil flies behind her, wing to fuel her leaps.  Her eyes, already lost to the clouds, do not notice the pews are empty as she clears them, tiny hurdles easily managed.  The altar is her final goal.

She arrives, still spinning, a human blur, a top.  She turns and turns, skirts flaring, but respectfully never rising higher than lone bent knee.  Dizzy with belief that she belongs only to the graceful embrace of heaven, she stops, holds position a moment longer.  Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

S&R Fiction: “Henry’s Suicide” by Jennifer Ryan

8:20pm London

All four of them got the summons at the same time. Annabel was working an art event in Chelsea, waiting for Sebastian to whisk her away. Elliot claimed to be at work, but no one believed him. And Izzy? She was in Sebastian’s bed.

A flurry of messages swept around London and before long a freshly-showered Sebastian picked up Annabel and made the Wickham-Holbury train. Izzy went home, changed into jeans, and canceled the date she had lined up. She missed the train, as intended—she wasn’t in the mood for Annabel’s self-satisfied wisdom. Instead she caught a fast train to Oxford, taking a cab through the drenching rain to the manor. She met Elliot on the train, who proceeded to talk manically for the whole journey about trades, his job in the city, and, inevitably, drugs.

The storm was in full pelt as she reached Henry’s manor. He’d inherited it four years ago, in his mid-twenties, when his parents were killed in a private jet crash off the Bahamas. It remained unchanged, the decaying grandeur of his forebears, Henry animating it with parties and dogs and hunts and hedonism. Tonight it looked familiar yet shadowy and distant in the churn of the wind, an owl screeching from an outhouse, the shutters battering with intent. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “Return to Me,” by Mark Sumioka

There is a capability within.  Knowing how to stop.  I know how to stop.  In fact, it’s very few and far between when I need to, because I know how to gauge my line.  I can drink a glass of water instead, and then another.  There is a span of time that wavers before it passes.  It is self-loathing.  But pride stops it in its tracks, and before it has a chance to progress it is wiped from the mind.

There.

It has disappeared, that thing, and it’s neither wonderful nor painful because it is numbness.  It is gone.  Yet while I toil thinking about trivialities like food and warmth and where I am and for how long, it silently creeps back, staying just out of sight, waiting in the closet where the door is ajar and I can feel the desperate eyes on me like those of a starving child.

I am glad it is under control.  It isn’t a matter.  It is fine. Continue reading

Scholars & Rogues Literary Journal: NonFiction

Scholars and Rogues Nonfiction: “Smile: Love Song to a Fading America,” by Malcolm Cooper

CATEGORY: LitJournalNonFictionIn terms of art and artistry, culture and the intricate moving multitudes of its respective parts, the 1960’s in America dissected almost every aspect of popular culture and reimagined it into the future. It was a revolution, in the most basic sense of the word–a rotation from the old into something novel and remarkable, the past winding the gears onward. The music of the era tended to be the best representation of this new experiment of interpreting one’s place in a cultural reality; this new imagining, this great experiment, was the philosophy of psychedelia and psychedelic music. For music to be psychedelic, it must rip apart the binding structures of the status quo and rearrange them for a better, more complex view. Many artists were taking old traditions of music and creating sounds never before heard out of their essence; Jimi Hendrix played the blues through a buzzing cloud of electricity and noise; the Grateful Dead took American folk and melted it down into abstract explorations; and bands like the Beatles looked toward the folk traditions of the east to guide rock into another abyss. But as the excitement of the new took hold, as freedom became the modus operandi, the past seemed to be buried, or at least looked upon as simple and out of fashion. Dylan, who seemed to lead the charge out of the shackles of the old world, warned those of the past to “get out of the new way if you can’t lend a hand.” The Who sang of their generation and hopes to “die before [they] got old.” Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Shirt,” by Patty Somlo

Ji-li stood in the small dark room, studying her reflection in the cloudy mirror. Barely blinking, she watched herself fold a worn shirt and slip it into her large, right pants pocket. Then she pulled the shirt out and practiced sliding it in again.

Moments later, she stepped outside and walked her bike to the front of the house. Fog blended with soot, causing flat gray clouds to swallow the sky.

A crowd of bike riders passed Ji-li, headed for the factory. Ji-li steered her bicycle onto the street and joined the throng. Unlike mornings when she passed the ride imagining the day her son Liu would make his fortune in America, she kept her thoughts focused on the steps needed to pull the plan off.

Anxious one moment, brimming with hope the next, Ji-li arrived at the factory, without realizing she had ridden that far. Continue reading

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “That Little Kick Boxer Within,” by Samuel Vargo

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction“Anything to make a buck.” That’s what Mom always says about Dad.

And there’s a lot of wisdom in her words. Mamma knows best and Mamma knows her man. That’s “man” as in my old man or more appropriately, her old man.

Anyhow, the old man — what an entrepreneur!

First, it was having us all pick strawberries on weekends. Then it was potato picking and later, baling hay. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues fiction: Slick by Alan Swyer

The first time Slick Taylor told me I’d been sent to him by God, I should have known enough to bolt.  But instead, seated with a musician who was legendary for all the wrong reasons, plus his abrasive manager, in an only-in-LA-setting, a Westside Mexican restaurant helmed by a French chef and catering to an upscale, almost entirely gringo crowd, I continued to speak — or should I say pontificate — about what could, or should, be done to rehabilitate a shattered image and thereby increase the ability to bring in revenue. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “That Night,” by Mark Sumioka

It had been a torrential night.  The drinking had gotten out of hand to where our buzzes were delightful and we talked over nonsensical matters with luster and humor.  But there was that chemistry of ours, the one that changed when we drank together.  And it spun out of control that night.

Gale found a button to push, and exploited it.  I argued over it with flaring pride.  She egged me on, needling me – even physically with her fingernail – until we burst and our fight was intense, though never loud.  And she persisted like no other woman I’d ever known; she knew how to lead me to the gaping trap where I would fall into the hole in the ground and sting with assaulted pride.  She knew me well.  Then I grabbed her forearm and held it tightly.  I could feel my fingers pressing so that the bruises would come in a days.  She grabbed my hair but it was too short, so then my ear.  Suddenly I released her, realizing my foolishness.  But she kept her hold on me until I raised my forearm like a karate block and moved away with headiness that said you are a man and dangerous now. Continue reading

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

S&R Fiction: “The Space Between,” By David Landrum

Martin Rollins thought he had performed well as the opening act for Nickel Creek, but a local journalist cut him to shreds in a review the next day. He called his music notable for technical proficiency but for nothing else. “No tone, no dynamic, no melodic qualities,” he had written, “just a lot of speedy runs and dexterous strumming, which grows dull after five minutes. Thank God Rollins was only opening the show and was not the feature performer”—that despite the fact that the audience had liked him, Nickel Creek had lavishly praised him afterwards and wanted to check their concert itinerary to see if he could open for them again. But when he got an email from Talia Metzger, it erased all the consternation from his mind. He read it over and over, unable to believe what he saw on the small screen of his iPhone.

“Martin, this in Talia. Remember me? Just kidding. I wonder if we can see each other. I’m in town for a friend’s wedding. Repost. I’d love to see you.”

Sitting at an outdoor table at Starbucks, feeling the cool breezes blow on him, he quickly replied.

“Talia! How could I forget you? Let me know where we can get together. Martin.”

The reply came instantaneously.

“How about Wealthy Bakery at 3:00? By the way, I thought that guy who did the review in The Press was a real asshole.”

He texted a reply:  “So did I. 3:00 at WB is good. I’ll see you there.”

She wrote back:  “OK.”

He sat back in the wrought iron chair. Noticing his coffee, he took a sip. He had not seen Talia Metzger in ten years. They had dated and been lovers in high school. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever known. Their physical relationship was at once the oddest and the sweetest he had ever experienced. Talia was deaf.

His thoughts went back. They had sat next to each other in chemistry class and were lab partners. Despite her disability, her parents had mainstreamed her in regular school. She did well as a student. She was beautiful and accomplished. And she had taken a fancy to him.

Her mother was Israeli, her father American. Martin had been on the tennis team with her brother. She had a grown sister who lived in Tel Aviv and worked for the Israeli government.

He finished his coffee. He had a performance scheduled tonight and had to practice. He went back to his motel room, got out his guitar, and began to play. He had a lot of trouble concentrating on the pieces he needed to work on as memories of the two years they had been together flooded his mind.

At first their communications were smiles and looks. He was uncomfortable around because he did not know how to relate to her because she could not hear him. He did not want to be condescending, wanted to treat her as he would treat anyone else, but she was not like anyone else he had met. She could speak, but her speech was imperfect because she could not hear what she was saying. She did not talk a lot to him, he noticed, even when they were working on an experiment in class as lab partners. Gesture and facial expressions conveyed what she wanted to say to him (though he noticed she talked quite a bit to the instructor and the other students). The two of them developed a whole vocabulary of non-verbal markers. Occasionally she scribbled notes, but mostly they used their bodies to talk rather than using their voices.

Sometimes he reflected on a quote he had heard—he thought it might have been Isaac Stern who said it. “It’s not the black notes on the page that are the most important thing. It’s the white space in between them.” This was usually interpreted to mean timing is everything in music performance, and this was probably what the author of the statement meant. But for Martin, the quote underscored the recognition of silence as important—in music and communication, and particularly in the way he spoke with Talia. They spoke with silence, at least with silence of words. Their sharing, like the white spaces in music, created a beauty more than the precision of sound could ever manufacture.

Her parents were not enthused about their friendship. Martin came from a religiously mixed home. His father was a non-practicing Jew. His mother was a communicant of the Orthodox Church. To eliminate the chance of religious conflict, they had kept a religiously neutral home. He smiled to remember how they celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah—his family would be festive for a whole month. He went to his mother’s church on Orthodox Easter (a week later than Protestant and Catholics celebrated it) and occasionally went to synagogue on Holy Days. Religion did not become an issue in their home until his older brother and younger sister opted for Judaism and became regular worshippers and Sabbath-keepers.

This bothered his mother, who said she did not want him going to synagogue anymore and exerted low-level pressure on him to be baptized Orthodox. He responded by refusing to attend services at either house of worship. Word of his lack of faith got back to Talia’s parents through his brother and sister, who attended their synagogue.

The first time she invited him over he sensed her parents’ iciness. He watched Talia as she and her mother and father spoke in sign language and realized they were in a heated argument over him. Her folks realized after a while that he could read their daughter’s expressions, backed off, and were cordial. At school the next day her face told him she was mortified and afraid he might close up to her. He assured her—non-verbally—that this would not be. She passed him a note. “Come to my place tonight. OK?” He nodded to tell her he would.

That was the night he first made love to her.

He turned his concentration to his guitar and used all his self-discipline to think only of his music. After a fruitful practice, he checked the time, showered, and changed clothes. He got in his car and headed for Wealthy Bakery, a bakery and coffee bar. It had not been open when the two of them were in high school.

He had come to her house that night so many years ago with a bouquet of flowers for her—and partially as a peace offering to her parents, whom he thought might apologize to him for their behavior yesterday. They were not there. She met him at the door. She had on a white long-sleeved blouse and shorts. Her eyes widened with pleasure when he gave her the flowers. She laid them on the table and threw her arms around him. He felt her strength, warmth, and softness and hazarded a kiss. She did not push him away but responded. She led him over to the sofa. They sat down and made out.

Talia Metzger won the prize of the most beautiful woman he had ever known. Tall and lithe, she combined the strength of an athlete (she ran track) and the gentle shape of a beautiful seventeen year-old. He had seen her run and had marveled at her body—the very way her body was put together and moved suggested grace. She could not hear the starting gun but could feel its vibration. Martin would marvel as she sprinted off the starting line with the grace of a gazelle and the ferocity of a jaguar. She excelled as one of the school’s top women runners. When she wore miniskirts or shorts to class he had trouble keeping his eyes off her legs. As they kissed, she touched him gently. It was then that he first realized the dynamic of silence in their relationship.

He turned into the Wealthy Bakery parking lot. He had realized back then she was not merely touching him but expressing herself—her touch told him her passion, her emotion, the outpouring of love she felt him. He also realized how much sound and speech went into passion. Talia gasped as they kissed, but no words, no sound, no groans or languid noises that expressed arousal, came from her throat. Her expressions of these things came from her fingers, her lips, her tongue, and her cheeks as she rubbed them against his.

His hands went to her breasts—too quickly, he thought. He took them away but she took his wrists and guided them back. He unbuttoned two buttons on her blouse then stopped, again thinking he was going too quickly. She reached down, unbuttoned the rest of them, and pulled her tucked-in shirt out of her shorts. He reached back and unhooked her bra. She had the loveliest breasts he had ever looked on or touched. Pear-shaped, not large but not small, delicate but full (like the rest of her body), sweet, exquisite melons with small, pale nipples, they compelled his touch. He caressed and squeezed them. The feel of her hands on him grew more intense. She did not nod but he could read her large brown eyes. They stood. She cocked her head toward the stairs.

Martin had started early with women. Sometimes he wondered if he really had got laid by a randy older cousin at age fifteen (she was eighteen). He had never lacked since then. Talia was a virgin. He remembered her shedding the shorts, dark blue panties, unbuttoning the long sleeves of her cotton blouse and throwing that and her unhooked orange bra to the floor. He marveled at how her slender thighs joined her upper body and her pubic mound rose from her opening and curved through a light tuft of hair to her flat stomach. She told him by her gaze that she was a virgin and he made sure he was gentle with her. She gasped when he pushed into her and bled a little, but he felt her quickly leave her pain and respond to him. The peculiar beauty of loving her was birthed.

As with kissing—much more than with kissing—sex was verbal. He had not thought about this much before his first time with Talia. You talked in the lead-up. The woman said yes. You commented all the way through. How many discourses had he heard in bed (or elsewhere) locked together with the different women he had loved? O my God, O that feels good, Slowly, slowly, Let it go—and the groans, squeals, the articulations of pleasure? When his lovers got their joy, they shouted and moaned. When an orgasm came, God and Jesus were frequently evoked. One girl he slept with would yell, Sweetness! A Muslim girl from India had shouted, Name of the Prophet! And women cooed, murmured and spoke softly in the afterglow.

Talia, of course, could not speak. This in itself would make loving her unique enough. What pierced him to the core, however, was the way she did the same things other women did but did it without voice.

She touched him. She rubbed her face against him and licked his neck and chin. She raised and lowered her body, not just in the way women did to maximize pleasure, but to speak, to respond, to communicate her ecstasy. It startled him that he could understand what she said without words, with the word of her body and the vocabulary of her movements.

Her orgasm came silently—at least as far as words went. She stiffened, of course, arched and shook as the spasm ran through her. No shout or declaration came, but her expression vividly enunciated the joy that tore through her. She seized two handfuls of flesh on his back and held them, then sank down when the surge of pleasure had passed through her and ended.

When this happened, it startled Martin so much he stopped for a moment but then went on, holding her tightly, thrusting deep and hard, finally coming to his own pleasure. She would not hear him shout, he thought, though she might feel the vibration of his voice. But she would feel his body. She would read and understand all that his physical frame said in a way no one else could—the language of the body, the language she primarily knew.

He locked his car and went inside. He saw her at the table, reading a book, looking lovelier in her maturity than she had looked at seventeen and eighteen, the years the two of them had dated.

She stood when she saw him. He gazed just a moment. Talia had lost the youthful, girlish lines but retained the graceful strength he remembered. Her eyes shone with love, her face radiating not just emotion but the silence that spoke to him and that he realized, with a surge of poignancy, he could still understand.

He put his arms around her. Recollection flooded his heart as he felt her strength, her softness, the communicating energy flowing out of her. Since they were in a public place neither wanted to make a show of affection. They pulled apart. She leaned forward and gave him a sisterly kiss on the lips. He sat down and took her hands. She pushed a yellow pad of paper toward him. In her even handwriting he saw, “So happy” and a heart drawn next to it.

The natural thing would be to talk, but Martin did not return her written greeting. He squeezed her hands. At least for a while, he thought, it would be like it was before. They would speak with silences and with their surfaces and motions of their bodies.

Talia understood. They went over and ordered drinks. She did talk to the barista. Martin noted how much her speech had improved since they were together. She spoke as articulately as anyone who could hear. A tiny bit of slurring punctuated a word now and then, but he doubted the clerk suspected Talia might be deaf. When the barista asked her if she wanted room for cream in her coffee, she could read his lips enough to tell him no. Back at their table, they drank and shared, though neither of them spoke.

Through his travels as a musician, he had occasionally heard about Talia. Magazines ran articles on her. She had a webpage and was on Facebook. She went to Brandeis and then earned a business degree at the London School of Economics. While there she began dating a Brit she married two years after graduating. They had two children. Talia ran a small investment firm and managed a chain of charter schools in Indiana and Ohio. She was active in organizations that provided support and education for deaf children and their families in the United States, Canada, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. More than once he had seen profiles in magazines by journalists presenting her in the incessantly attractive role of a woman who had overcome a handicap and succeeded admirably. Besides that, she was pretty (he noted how good she looked in the short blue dress she had on). He rejoiced at how well she had done. Such journalistic affirmations annoyed him because they focused on what she lacked and how she had not allowed this to hinder her. He had known what she did have—on how her lack of hearing had birthed in her an ability that, when he entered it, seemed nothing short of miraculous. It was the ability to communicate and to express herself without words. No one knew of it because they did not assume it even existed. Now he was entering it once again.

As they drank, the melding of their spirits took place once more. In high school he had tried to explain to a buddy of his how they communicated. “Oh, the Vulcan mind meld, like Mr. Spock does on Star Trek,” his friend had quipped. Martin dropped him as a friend. When he and Talia had been dating a year, her father had said one evening at their home when Talia went inside to change to a bathing suit (they had a pool), “Do you enjoying fucking my youngest child, Mr. Rollins?” Martin reacted with appropriate shock. Talia’s father laughed. “Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to beat you up or cut off your balls. In fact, I’m glad she started out with someone who is considerate and seems to be a gentleman. I do wish, though, you were a little bit more like David or like Leah.”

David and Leah were his brother and sister. Martin felt she should answer.

“If we’re being frank,” he said, “yes, sir, I do like fucking her. I like it a lot. I am a blessed man. I may become more like my sister, but David seems to be transforming to a fanatic.”

“Can I tell him you said that?”

“I’ve told him as much myself.”

“I admire him for his zeal.”

That was the only time they discussed the matter. Talia returned with her mother at that moment, both of them decked out in next-to-nothing bikinis, her mother looking very good even with her forty-eight years and three children. Martin, Talia and her father and mother swam, ate by the poolside, and talked cordially until past midnight.

As Martin sat in Wealthy Bakery, he sensed the difference in her now that she was a married woman and had children. The energy she exuded felt different. It was not singular. He experienced it now as a mixture, more complex and mysterious, like blended wine, with nuances he had not known in her before. He knew, too, as they sat close and held hands, she was pleased at the progress of his career as a musician. For an hour, as people came and went, as the baristas prepared drinks and people bought coffee and talked, the two of them remembered. They understood. Finally, she stroked his wrist in a way that said she had to go. He nodded and kissed her. She pressed a small envelope in his hand. When she had gone out the door he opened the letter that looked like a thank you card you get from giving a gift at a wedding or graduation.

“I’m staying at City Flats Hotel. If you come at eleven tonight after your concert, it will be okay. We can be together again. Love, Talia.”

Martin folded the note and placed it in his pocket.

Their senior year, their relationship began to waver. It was not family pressure and not the question of Martin’s religious commitments. It was something he had never imagined, when they first met, would cause trouble and ultimately split them apart. A simple condition undid them:  Talia could not hear his music.

The realization that this was a problem came gradually. It came silently as well, as all their understandings of one another did. Martin had begun to play guitar at age eleven. He never particularly enjoyed classical style but continued taking lessons until he was in high school. His sophomore year, he discovered fingerstyle guitar:  guitar playing that used classical technique on a steel-string folk guitar. He listened to John Fahey, Chris Proctor, Pat Donahue, and a host of other artists who played that style. He began to learn it himself. In a year he had mastered open tunings and the fast techniques of the artists he admired. Martin found himself in demand at receptions and outdoor weddings. He played supper clubs and coffee bars that wanted ambiance music. He did blues and played venues that promoted music in that style. As he played and practiced, as his skill developed to a high level, he entertained thoughts of trying to make it as a professional musician.

Talia, of course, could not hear what he played.

She was puzzled at what to do about this. He knew there were ways the deaf enjoyed music—people stood and signed the lyrics to songs while colored lights represented the cadence and harmonies of a composition. Talia did not seem interested in this. Genuine to herself, she simply excluded music from her life and found beauty in areas of art she could see or touch. As the conviction that he would pursue a career as a guitarist grew stronger, he felt the strain of it on their relationship. It was, simply, an area they could not share. That they could not share it raised debate and the necessity of Talia talking to him or typing out messages as they attempted to reconcile the issue. They failed to reconcile and ended up splitting. One day they both simply understood it would not work. They agreed on this, their silent mode of understanding one another coming into play again. They made love one last time in her room when her family had gone away. She nodded good-bye to him. He kissed her on the forehead and drove away into the night.

A few days later he was sitting in the Kava House in East Town when Talia’s father burst in. Martin thought for a moment he meant to start a fight because he had seduced and then dumped his daughter, but he sat down, a worried look on his face, and said he wanted to talk. His manner and tone of voice were conciliatory. He said Talia had told them they had split. She was heartbroken.

“I hope,” he said, brushing his hair back with one hand, “it was not something I said or Tzipora said. I know I might have been a little hard on you at times, but we both like you, Martin, and we were very disappointed that you and Talia broke up.”

For the sake of their parents, he and Talia had dinner at her home with them. Martin remembered how difficult it was and how being with Talia again only confirmed it was over. She went to Brandeis; he went on the road to establish himself as a musician. He reflected upon it as one of those things in life that wrench your soul but you have to endure. Now she wanted to see him again.

He felt waves of deep emotion but had a show that night. He again summoned his discipline to get ready. Starting out as a musician had been tough and lean. Now he had a reputation as one of the top guitarists in fingerstyle, attracted good crowds for concerts, and had solid sales of his CDs and teaching tapes.

And the performance went well. The auditorium sold out. He did his standard numbers, some vocals, and some new compositions. It was hard to get Talia off his mind, but he drew on the ability he had developed over the years to blot out distractions and let the music take him. He felt the adulation of the audience and felt the creative flow that must be released for a successful performance. At the end, he did two encores, talked with fans, signed CDs, and then drove downtown to City Flats. He found a parking place on Ionia Street and walked to the hotel. She had left word for the people at the front desk to admit him. He rode the elevator up to the fourth floor and knocked. The door opened immediately. He knew she had not heard his knocking but knew the time and knew his habit of punctuality (“Musicians are always on time,” he had often quipped to her). He came inside. She closed the door and threw her arms around him. She had on a light blue robe.

He had not kissed her with a lover’s kiss in ten years. The innocent eagerness of her lips took him back. Nothing had changed—their bodies, yes, were older, but that was not a limiting factor. She kissed him with hunger and abandon. The silence (he did her faint gasping) made him exclaim his—exclaim it with speech that did not use verbal utterance.

Talia pulled him into a luxurious bedroom filled with a plush bed, the curtains closed tight. He undid the rope of her kimono-style robe, pulled it off her shoulders, and let it fall to the floor. Once more he saw her beauty of her body, still trim from athletics (he had read that she still ran and played sports). Once more he marveled at how she was put together—how her body fit, how graceful and complimentary were the proportions of her physical frame. He saw her beautiful breasts, the strong shoulders and flat stomach, powerful thighs and graceful intimate parts, the long legs. Apportioned like a statue of Artemis or Daphne, her physical frame communicated strength, elegance, and femininity. He felt her arms, her breasts against him, her hands quick and adroit to remove his clothing.

No words—like where the Bible said heaven heavens declared the glory of God but without speech or language. Once again, he heard the utterances of her body, the elocution of her touch, her nakedness the tone of what she said, her touch the sentences and phrases. After so many years, he knew the magic, the miracle of it once again.

They sank into the bed. Their lovemaking was quiet and full, enveloping them in its rapture, in the work of grace only the two of them knew. He gripped her and felt the writhing, smelled the scents, knew the little movements, the touch of fingers and of her face that spoke.

She was a married now. He was violating the seventh commandment. He knew, though—she told him—her husband loved her but did not understand her. She loved him but he could not reach one spot in her heart. It sat like an empty room, sending tiny impulses of discord into her soul. Only he could fill that empty space. Only the love he offered to her could complete and make her spirit whole. She told him this. She told him with her body.

When they were finished they lay side by side—silence, but no silence as their selves interchanged, as the sorcery of their relationship worked its spell.

Martin realized something else. She understood his music now. Though she could not hear, she knew it. Before she had not known it, and this was the thing that had split them up.

She ran her left hand over his shoulders to say “Yes” to the thought that had just passed through his mind. In their high school days, when they became lovers, when they fell in love and established their bond, he had just begun his endeavor to make it as a musician. He had only played as a performer for a year or so. The passion for music had not yet taken full root in him and he had not at that point fully committed himself to becoming an artist who lived by his music. She could feel and sense it now. It possessed him to the degree that she could know it. The thing that had pulled them apart no longer existed. They could be together again. No barriers interdicted their love.

All the same, he knew it would be a liaison, an affair. He would see her now and then. She would be able to get his performance schedule from his website. She would notify him when they could rendezvous. She could not sacrifice her marriage, her career, or her reputation for him. He could not interrupt his career for the emotional turmoil that marrying her would bring. It would be a different sort of beauty, and all the more so for its secrecy.

They lay in bed together, arms around each other, speaking with silence, their words more sure than any he had known before.

CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

S&R Fiction: “The Trouble With Kids,” by Mark Sumioka

In this heat little was possible.  I sat on my couch with all the windows and doors open so that the houseflies could do as they pleased.  They wandered here and there.  My skin was sticky, even after I went and rinsed off at the sink.  Here at the beach this heat was unfathomable, though every year in August or September it returned, that humidity, the stale hovering oven heat that told us by the beach that we weren’t special like we assumed.  It would come from God knows where, then crawl all the way to the coast, hardly a breeze, with me on the couch breathing like I’d just walked up a steep hill.

It would be better at dusk.  I looked out my screen door again to check on the level of the sun.  It worked its way down in an arrogant fashion, like a guy who had what you wanted and made you wait on purpose.  It was like that – the heat – and I wanted so badly for it to be over.  But evening would bring us happiness.  We would fill it with a good meal, with drinks, with relaxation through light conversation and laughter.  It would be a fine night.

Footsteps stomped up the stairs, and suddenly as if she’d leaped the last three steps Gale was at the warped screen door, pulling it open in a huff.

“Hank!  You’ve got to come help.”

“For what?” I said.

“A boy.  He’s passed out.”

“Where?”

“In the alley.  Over by the trash cans,” she said and thumped down the stairs.

I knew it was serious because Gale hadn’t waited for a response.  I slipped barefoot into my tennis shoes and instantly was regretful.  I could already feel the hot moistness between my toes.  I stumbled down the stairs, holding the dirty railing as I went, and it made me think of the gook on a car’s engine.  The low sun was directly in my eyes, blocking my way.  I managed down the steps without bothering my knees, and hurried to the alley.

“Hank!” she called after me.

When I got to them there was a boy, maybe twelve, lying on his side near a row of trashcans.  His face was wet with sweat, his mid-length hair stuck to his face.

“Is he breathing?” I said.

“Yes, I checked.”  Gale was kneeling at his side.  She looked up at me for guidance.  I shrugged for response.  Then she got frenzied.  “Well, c’mon Hank!  What do we do?”

She stood up and we switched positions, me kneeling so that my joints popped and it was a mixture of relief and fear of the unknown.  There were Gale’s eyes, searching, waiting.  Then I realized.  It was up to me.  Gale was a sharp person, better than most I knew, but she looked to me in times of danger.  I wasn’t sure why.  Maybe it was because I was a man.  Maybe it was because we were a team.  I’d never thought to ask.

“Give us some space,” I said warily, touching the boy’s shoulder and turning him to me.

“Careful, his neck might be injured,” she said.

I gave her an annoyed look because she shouldn’t have thrown me in the driver’s seat if she still wanted to drive.  It frazzled me and I lost my place.

“I’m being careful,” I said sternly.  I let go of the boy’s shoulder and leaned in closer.  “He’s breathing.”

“I know, I already checked.”

My hand felt his forehead.  He was hot as hell.  That was when I turned and looked up to the sky, as though in question.  We were all sweating.  My shirt was a peel on my torso, and when I turned it caught, so I twisted my body until it gave with a slither.

“Get on the phone.  Call 9-1-1,” I said instinctively.  “Wait.  His eyes are open.”

“I’ll go,” Gale said as she went.

The boy moaned.  Then from far down the alley there was the sound of youthful voices.  I looked up and there were four boys running toward us shouting, “Dane!  Dane!”

“Son, are you okay?” I said to the boy.

“Me?” he said curiously.

Now the noise of the boys’ shouting was booming, low and high voices shrieking.  Suddenly, they were upon us, the boys panting and huffing with their hands on their knees.

“Is he okay?” one boy said to me.

“Is he?” another said.

“I’m not sure,” I said.  They looked at me curiously, as though I were a fraud.  Then I put some gusto into my voice, “He needs a doctor.  My gal is on the phone calling 9-1-1.  Is this your friend?”

“That’s Dane,” a third boy said.

“This happened to him once after a soccer game,” the final boy said, and his tone seemed to imply that he was desperate to be heard, not so much by me, but the other boys.  “I saw it happen.  But he was okay.  He just got exhausted because he was so hot.”  He looked at the other boys with growing confidence.  “He was overheated.”

“Makes sense,” I said.  Then I looked upstairs, listening for the sound of Gale.  I heard nothing so I shouted, “Gale!  Bring some water for the kid to drink!”

“Okay!” she answered.

Dane turned on his back and stared up at us, his eyeballs moving, though his head stayed still.  And then, strangely, as if a switch had flipped, his face changed with the slightest narrowing of his eyes.  His cheekbones rose so that his mouth became a smile.  The boys exhaled as though Dane had pulled one over on them.  They guffawed, “Dang, Dane!” and shuffled around the perimeter, returning to conversation about the game they had been playing.

“What were you kids doing outside in the heat anyhow?” I asked.

“We were playing a game.  We were chasing him,” the kid who liked to talk said.  “Dane’s out of bounds.”  And then accusingly to Dane, “You lose.”

“Forget your damn game!” I shouted, and they snickered and looked at each other.

Gale came with the water and I sat Dane up to let him drink.  He sipped tentatively at first, and then realizing it was fine, began gulping the water.  When he was finished I took the glass and handed it back to Gale.  The talkative boy stepped forward to inspect his friend’s condition.  Dane cocked his head back and scowled at the intrusion so that the boy flinched and backed away.

“You call 9-1-1?” I said to Gale.

“They should be on their way,” she said, and then with familiarity, “You know how they are.”

I nodded then looked Dane over again.

“How do you feel?” I said.

“Okay,” Dane said.

“He’s okay,” a boy said.

I jerked my face to the four of them.  I said, “This isn’t normal when a person passes out. You get that?”

They nodded silently, some shrugging.

“I wasn’t passed out,” Dane said.

“What do you mean?” I said, and then to Gale, “I thought you said he was passed out!”  And then back to Dane, “You were awake the whole time?”

“I had to stop and rest.”

“How come?”

“Because I was tired.”

I looked at the boys and they were quiet, awaiting my response.  I exhaled a heavy puff of air.

“Mister, he don’t need to go to the hospital,” a kid said.  “If you want, we can take him home.”

“C’mon, Dane,” another said, “Let’s go to your house.”

“There’s Gatorade at my house,” a third boy said, and the fourth’s eyes widened with temptation.

I looked to Gale just as she had looked to me before.  There was that silent exchange.  I thought she might cry.  What the hell was eating her?

“Stupid cops.  They’ve got no business taking their candy ass time,” I said and the boys snickered again.

I got Dane to his feet and he seemed fine.  Kids were a miracle.  I was envious at their youthfulness.  I was envious of many things that they wouldn’t understand until much later.

“Brush it off,” a kid said like they were in a baseball game.

“Yeah, Dane.  You’re all right.”

“Enough with the cheerleader crap,” I said to the lot of them.  “Give Dane room to walk.  Now you get him on one side and you get him on the other, and you boys make sure he can walk.  If he gets shaky you grab his arms and hold him up.”

I gave a last look up the alley.  Then Gale walked to the street.  We all waited for her to get there.  She looked up and down then shook her head at me.

“Okay, now be careful.  You’re sure you weren’t unconscious at all?”

“No.  I was just catching my breath,” Dane said with assurance.  He brushed himself off and led his pals toward the street.  As they walked he said suddenly, “And I’m not out of bounds!” bursting to a sprint.

They chased after him, cackling, and were gone in an instant.  Gale looked at me and shrugged.  I put up my hands and did the same.  She walked sideways with her eyes still hovering where they had turned and gone.  So I moved toward her until we met halfway.

“I thought he’d passed out,” Gale said somewhat apologetically, walking to the spot near the trashcans where she had found Dane.  She inspected it thoroughly, as though there might be some explanation waiting to be found.

“It’s kids messing around,” I said to her.  “I’m sure we were the same way.”

Gale lingered there for a spell, the worry on her face eventually calming to neutrality.  She came back to me and we stood face to face in the alley.  A long silence passed, that mute conversation flowing through us like a short wave.  And then she said, “Maybe the police are busy with the heat.”

“Hell, I’d damn near forgotten about the heat,” I said and chuckled, feeling the texture of my wilted collar.

“Such a scorcher,” Gale said and her eyes rose to the sky where an orange flame was now burning and beautiful.

I looked to the place where the kids had turned and gone out of sight.  Gale followed suit, then gave a distinct sigh.  We were quiet again, and this time the muted communication between us was awkward.  I knew she was thinking about children.

“You think it’ll be as hot tomorrow?” I said, at a loss.  Whenever we got on the subject of kids, and the fact that she couldn’t have them, I got awkward with nothing to say.

“That’s a dumb question,” she said dismissively.

When she turned to me, her eyes were listless, and I could feel her mind light years away from mine.  There would be no meshing this time, so I nodded and put my hands in my pockets.

Gale made her way toward the stairs like time was of no importance.  I stayed put, watching as she made her way up them.

I looked again to where the kids had disappeared, and then to the place in the alley where Dane had lain in exhaustion.  I was irritated.  Those kids had derailed my night.