Pantry Prose: Something Wanted by Robert P. Bishop

After crossing the bridge over the Yellowstone River south of Laurel, Montana, Paul turned off Highway 212 onto River Road. “Three miles to go.”

            “Are you sure it’s still there?” Margo said.

            “Yesterday Google said it was. Somebody could have put a match to it between then and now, of course.”

Paul pulled off River Road into a patch of weeds and turned off the engine. “It’s still here.”

            Margo leaned forward and peered through the windshield at the dilapidated house a few feet from the car. “This is what we came to see. Your boyhood home.” She spoke as if she was announcing the time of day or the ambient temperature.

            “Yes.”

            “We drove 800 miles from Seattle, so I can look at a tumble-down shack.” Her voice remained flat, distant.

            Paul looked embarrassed. “I guess so.”

            “Now are you going to tell me why we’re here?”

            When he didn’t reply, she squeezed his arm and said, “I’m so tolerant.”

            Paul grinned. “That’s why I married you.”

            “Nonsense. You married me for my pension.”

            Paul laughed. “Well, yes, I did, but you’re not supposed to know that.” He looked at Margo. She was the only person he knew who could smile with just her eyes. Her eyes were glowing with warmth and humour.

            He opened the car door. “I haven’t been here for sixty-eight years. Let’s look around.”

            They got out of the car. Paul surveyed the ruins of the house where he had spent the first thirteen years of his life. Gaping holes, like vacant eye sockets, loomed where window glass had once been, and the doors were missing, having been pulled from the hinges years ago. All the exterior clapboards on the house’s south wall had been stripped away by old-wood scavengers, exposing warped studs that looked like the ribs of a skinned animal with its thorax split open.

            They walked to the house. “Are there snakes here?” Margo asked.

            “Could be. One day the old man beat a rattlesnake to death with a hoe right around here.”

            “That’s not very reassuring,” she said, eyeing the thick growth of dead weeds scraping against her legs. “It doesn’t look safe. Don’t you dare go in there,” she said when they got near the house.

            He thought about her caution as he gazed at the ruin; don’t go in there. An acid taste flooded his mouth. “No, I’m not going in. There’s nothing inside I want.”

            He looked up. Two rusty corrugated metal sheets, what remained of the roof, clung to the rafters like brown scabs on a wound that refused to heal. He grimaced at the memory of him and Annie, his little sister, trembling with fear when torrential summer rains or hailstones hammered the metal roof with such fury they thought the house would tumble down and bury them under its wreckage.

            He put his hands on two exposed studs, leaned forward and peered into the house. The pine floorboards had long ago collapsed onto the earth below. Weeds growing between the rotting pieces of wood stretched upward, reaching for the sun pouring through the open wound that was the missing roof. “We never had rugs. Even in winter when it was so damn cold, we never had rugs on the bare floor.”

            Margo stepped beside him and peered into the house. Most of the plaster had fallen from the inside walls, exposing the underlying laths, splintered and shriveled with age. “It looks ghastly in there.”

            “It wasn’t much of a house to begin with. In the winter, frost was so thick on the windows Annie and I could scratch our names in it or leave hand prints like the 45,000-year old prints in those caves in Spain.”

            “Did you and Annie scratch your names in the walls like condemned prisoners do when they’re locked in some dark cellar cell awaiting execution?”

            Paul smiled. “No. We weren’t prisoners.”

            “But you were. Every little kid is someone’s prisoner.”

            Prisoner.The word shimmered in his mind. More thoughts flooded in; were we prisoners in this house, held like criminals, unable to escape? “I never looked at it that way.”

            “I would have frozen to death in this house,” Margo said.

            “We had a kerosene stove for heat. The area around the stove was the only warm spot in the house.” After a moment, he said, “And we had kerosene lamps for light.”

            “Was it difficult for you and Annie living here?”

            Paul shrugged. “No. We didn’t have much choice. What else could we do?” He smiled at the memory. “Like most kids, we survived, even if we had the worst jailor in the world.”

            “Your father?”

            “Yes, the old man.”

            “This is so depressing.” Margo hugged herself. “Why did you even live here?”

            He thought about her question. Was there a way to explain the failure of a parent who subjected his family to abysmal conditions when there was enough money to provide for a better life, a decent home, warmth, and enough food? Probably not, so he said, “Rent on this house was ten dollars a month. The old man was thrifty. The less he spent on us the more he had to spend drinking, gambling, chasing barflies and the town’s whores.”

            “That is so harsh. What a horrible childhood you had.”

            “It sounds like an ugly childhood now, but it wasn’t then, not to Annie and me. We didn’t know any better. It should not have happened, of course, but it did, so there it is.” The anger rumbled in his gut, ready to spill out if he let the heat of memory get too high. “It can’t be changed. I don’t dwell on it.” He pushed away from the studs. “I’ve told you all this before.”

            “Yes, you have.” She looked over the week-choked ground. “ Where was the outhouse?”

            Paul pointed. “It wasn’t too bad in the summer, except for the mosquitoes. In the winter, when it was ten below zero, nobody lingered reading a magazine, that’s for sure.”

            Margo laughed. “I’m sorry, Paul. I don’t mean to laugh, but that is something I can’t imagine.”

            She swatted at an annoying fly buzzing around her face. The fly landed on her cheek, irritating her with its delicate crawl across her skin. She brushed it away. The summer heat annoyed her as much as the fly. “Now are you going to tell me why we came here?”

            “There’s something I want.”

            “We’re not here for memories, are we?”

            “No. I’ve got enough of those. I want the pump. It’s on the north end of the house.”

            Margo followed him around the house to a cast iron pump, caked with rust and missing its handle, surrounded by a thick clump of dead weeds. Margo watched Paul push the weeds aside, put his hand on the pump’s spout and stroke it as if he was caressing a lover. “In the winter, if we forgot to drain the pump at night, it froze and we couldn’t get any water in the morning.”

            “What did you do?”

            “We melted snow and poured the warm water over the pump until the pipe thawed. But even when we drained the pump to keep it from freezing, we still had to prime it in the morning.”

            Margo shivered in the hot August sun. “You lived like it was 1850.”

            “I guess we did. The pioneers and us. All we needed were wheels on the old house and a team of oxen. We could have rolled across the prairie, going West.”

            He pushed more weeds away from the pump, dropped to his knees, looked at the pipe then stood and brushed off his pants. He walked to the car and returned carrying a hacksaw. He got on his knees and attacked the pipe with the saw. After a few minutes the pump fell to the ground.

            She followed him to the car and waited for him to stow the pump and the hacksaw in the trunk. They got in the car and stared at the old house. Neither one said anything for several minutes, then Margo said, “What are you going to do with that pump?”

            “I don’t know, but I’ve always wanted it.” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and peered at the ruined house. “I should burn it down.”

            “You’ll be arrested,” Margo said, sensing anger and grief in his voice.

            “Might be worth it.”

            “You can’t destroy memories by burning something down.”

            “No, you can’t,” Paul said.

            “Then let’s go home.”

            Paul started the car and drove away. “Maybe another time I’ll burn it down,” he said as he watched the old house recede in the rearview mirror.

            Margo put her hand on his arm. “Now will you tell me what you’re going to do with that pump?”

Robert P. Bishop, an army veteran and former teacher, lives in Tucson, Arizona. His work has appeared in Active Muse, Ariel Chart, Better Than Starbucks, Bindweed Magazine, The Blotter Magazine, Bright Flash Literary Review, Clover and White, CommuterLit, Ink Pantry, Literally Stories, Scarlet Leaf Review, Umbrella Factory Magazine and elsewhere. 

You can find more of Robert’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Pantry Prose: Faithful by Thomas Paul Smith

new year’s eve

Sometime before midnight, he walks out onto a balcony. He climbs onto the ledge and stands there — on the tails of an old year, inching precariously toward the new. He spots me below, on the other side of the street. He stops. It has been raining all night. The road holds reflections of the city skyline on the ground, like a dazzling kaleidoscopic painting on a wet canvas. Water drips into the drains, reflecting lights like electric fire. He climbs off the ledge; his eyes remain fixed on me. He smiles but looks embarrassed. Across the road from me, he is two floors up from a tree-lined boulevard. He disappears back into his apartment. I return my attention to the street again. Most of the snow has melted during the day, and now a glossy sheen covers the roads. A small group of revellers come into view, giggling and swigging drinks. They kick and throw what’s left of the snow at one another. Later on it becomes busy. People are rushing hither-thither, I guess from one party to another, before the midnight hour strikes. He has returned to the balcony, now brandishing a flute of champagne in his hand. As the clock strikes midnight, I hear cheering from the cafes and bars. He raises his glass to me and mouths “Happy New Year”. Somewhere fireworks go off. I watch their dazzling colours reflect in the apartment windows in front of me. I scan from window to window, stealing delight from celebrations never intended for me. He remains out in the cold for another hour or so before waving goodbye and returning to his apartment.

spring

Life has returned. People on the street look fresh and rested from their winter hibernation. It’s as if they too are sprouting the first shoots of optimism for what the year has in store.

        One hazy morning I am forced forward with a violent strike. I’m stripped—my clothes torn away with impatient hands. An overweight woman huffs and puffs as she picks up my scattered clothes from the floor. She leaves. I’m left naked. A few people in the street notice me, but no one cares. Later that morning a young store assistant walks over to me. With gentle hands, she slips my arms into a white crepe shirt. The two top buttons left undone. She lowers me onto the worn carpet to get a pair of tights on me. This is something she hasn’t got the knack of. It takes her a long while to get them on; she has to wiggle my feet about to get them over my heels. It gives me a chance to look around the store. The other models are poorly made, and some are downright grotesque — missing limbs and decapitated bodies. I try not to judge, but some of the clothes they wear — good heavens! None of their outfits matches. Once I am back upright, she pulls a knee-length blue pencil skirt around my waist. The look is complete with a matching blazer. A business suit! I feel power and authority hum through my plastic body. The young woman repositions my arms before leaving. I now stand with authority, arms folded across my chest—the ruthless stance of the modern business age.

        He says he wants to be my boyfriend. He tells me he loves me. Maybe he does. In the evenings I usually see him. He once told me this is his favourite moment of the day. I want to be a good girlfriend, so it is my favourite moment of the day also. When he first came into the store, he was nervous. It was only a couple of days into the new year. On a meandering journey towards my window, he stopped several times. He pretended to look at clothes on a rack or to look at his watch. When he stood by my side, he introduced himself, almost in a whisper. He often glanced around the store and touched his face when he spoke. He told me he felt the need to explain his actions from New Year’s Eve. He said it had been six months since he last spoke to Maria, his ex-girlfriend; we don’t like her or her new boyfriend, Kenny. He tells me they had been through difficult times before and assumed they would get through this one. They had a fantastic social life, both together and separately. Then one night, she left without warning. She phoned him two days later to explain that she’d met someone else. My boyfriend imagined Maria and her new boyfriend celebrating New Year’s Eve together. Maybe on some exotic beach — drinking fluorescent cocktails and giggling under a warm sun. He said that night in his apartment; he could hear their laughter echoing around his head. He said he would never have gone through with jumping. He tells me he is dependable.

summer

The endless days and humid nights can mean only one thing: summer has finally arrived. It warms the street, igniting the weeds and grasses that grow in the cracked pavement.

        Customers now fill the store daily. They rush about, caught up in the heat and frenzy of the long days. Gone is my business attire. The young assistant has given me a beautiful cotton dress and matching sandals. My legs feel the warmth of the morning sun shining through the store window. I also have a new posture! It’s the pose of someone who should be carefree and ready to embrace the world — a hand on my hips, one arm flying in the air and a twist in my waist. The dress and happy-go-lucky demeanour do have their downsides; the men on the street leer at my breasts and hips and partially exposed legs as they walk past the window. My boyfriend never leers. When he tells me he loves me, I can see happiness on his face. There is no reply. My lips do not move. My face remains static. None of this matters. For the first time, he visits me during the workday. He should be in the office, but he is ill. He suffers from hay fever and has taken two days off. He comments on my new dress; he likes my new look. My boyfriend has more confidence now. He no longer appears awkward. He stands up straight. One day he says, ‘I got you this.’ He puts a thin silver bracelet on my wrist and beams. When he leaves, I hear the women from the department store snigger. They call my boyfriend a ‘weirdo’ and an ‘oddball.’ He sometimes talks about all the little things Maria said that upset him. He has a long list. I think this is why I appeal to him. Outside, people’s responses are unpredictable, frightening or demeaning in his world. Wrong reactions seem to upset my boyfriend. I give him a predictable comfort; I have never said an unkind word to him. I cannot offend him by being aloof or giving him an upsetting look. Our relationship is sterile but clean and free from the usual strains.

autumn

The nights grow darker, with the last of the summer fruits eaten. Leaves lay glossy on the rain-washed street.

        I have a seductive bedroom look, a sensual bodysuit with a strappy open front and keyhole crisscross-lacing back. It’s made to thrill, complete with a bold red robe. My hand has been placed across the top of my chest, with the other resting by my side. It is a beautiful pose to bring out my desirability and femininity.

        My boyfriend is taken aback the first time he sees my new look. He is nervous, like the first time we met in the store. After a few more visits, he gains confidence. When no one in the store is looking, he tenderly strokes my leg. Sometimes he holds my hand as he tells me about his day. His palms are always sweaty. He is thoughtful. He always asks me questions like, ‘Are you warm enough?’ He never looks at others as he walks over. His passionate eyes are permanently fixed on mine. Does it matter if I’m not real? It doesn’t matter to my boyfriend. When a man stares at a naked woman, is it her personality he is interested in? Is a woman’s personality not something that some men wish to escape from? One time his phone rang while we were together. He pulled it out and scoffed at it. ‘Now she calls when I’m finally happy again.’ He hangs up and replaces the phone into his jacket. I heard today he might be going to Hong Kong next month for a business trip. ‘It’s up in the air right now, but if it does happen, I’ll bring you back something nice.’ His gaze goes down my body before he looks back up at me and caresses my cheek. ‘It’ll only be for a week… Absolutely not, work only. I have no intention of visiting those places.’

winter

The bitter wind outside reminds us that winter is approaching fast. I observe frost glistening on the pavement in the morning half-light. Within the apartment block across the road are every child’s Christmas dreams.

        A new store assistant dresses me. She is middle-aged and has a large face with plump lips and a thick mask of makeup. She handles me firmly but not with malice. She turns around as she removes my lingerie. I inspect the other models — they’ve not had a good year. Most have cracks in their skin, and all have scraggly hair. When the assistant is finished, I am back, staring out the window. I’m wearing a beautiful vintage-inspired mint-green winter coat, a perfect antidote to any winter blues. Made from luxurious, soft materials with a detachable hood and faux fur trim, she has even teamed my outfit with a pair of matching gloves and a cosy knitted scarf.

        Snow begins to fall. I watch as cascading flakes dance on the wind. My boyfriend is walking down the street; plumes of his breath rise into the slate-grey sky. I see him approaching behind me in the reflection of the store window. We look like a washed-out photograph. When he does turn to face me, he still has snowflakes in his hair. He tells me he likes my new coat and says I look ‘homely’. Then he explains that he turned down his business trip because he couldn’t be away from me. The way my boyfriend looks tells me I should be happy, so I am happy. He reminds me it’s been almost a year since we first met. He tells me he has a particular question to ask me tomorrow. My boyfriend looks excited.

        When the store is closed at night, a middle-aged store assistant talks to some men; I hear them say I will be relocated to a new flagship store in a big city. I take a last look across at my boyfriend’s apartment. I guess I am also capable of betrayal. I wonder what he wanted to ask me tomorrow. I’m escorted to a van. As I am driven away into the winter night, I guess we’ll see how much he really does love me, as he said he does.

Thomas Paul Smith is a writer from London, England. He works as a radio show producer in Dubai. 

Pantry Prose: A Deckchair on Southport Beach by Sally Shaw

The day it began; I was me. Mabel and I had fled the wages office of Tyrers department store, to the gardens in Palmer Square. We sat on the last vacant bench, amidst giggles, mid-conversations of folk out on a mid-summer’s lunchtime. Some were courting couples, office workers, and shop assistants, others, faded mothers chasing toddlers around pushchairs. The zing of mowed grass crashed with fumes of passing vehicles. I longed for a sea breeze and deckchair on Southport beach.

Mabel chattered away about her wedding plans, while I tugged a dog hair from my meat paste sandwich. I dragged my finger against the edge of the bench to hide the fur. Meat paste clogged the ridges of my palate, and I stretched another hair from my mouth, too long to be Albert’s. I glanced at Mabel’s ponytail.

“Are you not going to finish your sandwich? After I took the time to make it for you. Oh, did I mention my wedding will be in the grounds of Charles’s parents’ stately home in Cumbria?”

Mabel had finished her sandwich and sunk her teeth into a Vanilla slice. She held out a jam tart for me. I gagged on what remained of the bread and paste, swallowed hard, before I praised Mabel for making such a tasty sandwich. I took the tart. She continued to talk and talk enlightening me to how lucky Charles was that she had agreed to marry him. How he wasn’t the best-looking man, that, that wasn’t critical as he absolutely worshiped her. I responded in what I considered to be a polite way, by asking her a simple question.

“How come your Charles hasn’t been round ours to say hello?”

She’d been going on and on about Charles and the wedding since we met, on her first day in wages. That was a month ago. Within a week we had become best friends and flat mates, although I couldn’t recall agreeing to that.

Mable spat out the answer to my enquiry, her changed tone and menaced wide-eyed glare unnerved me. I felt I was the one in the wrong. She knew I hated being called Liz.

“Liz, really, why would I bring him around to meet you of all people.”

She sniggered while dabbing the sides of her upturned lips with a pink cotton napkin. My response, squashed by a battered self-worth. I retrieved the napkin she’d tossed onto the bench next to me and folded it before putting it into my handbag along with my pride.

“Oh, best be getting back, don’t want Miss Twist picking you up on your time keeping. Oh by the way, I’ve mentioned to Miss Twist you’ll do my late this Friday. Charles is whisking me away for a romantic weekend.”

“I can’t I’m…”

“You can, I’ve told your Jimmy you’re spending the weekend with your best friend, me!”

She puckered her matt red lips, pressed her little finger to the left corner of her mouth then clicked shut her compact. She took hold of my chin and told me I’d be pretty if I smiled more, before kissing my cheek. I smiled. We walked back to work, with no more said about Friday only the sound of Mable’s voice whittering on about how special she was, and that Charles knew he was lucky. She had me carry her handbag. I walked two steps behind her, as she strutted and laughed.

“I feel like the Queen with my lady in waiting.”

I couldn’t recall why I’m her friend. Betty from our office stopped to chat, Mable placed herself at the centre of the conversation and I wasn’t acknowledged by either of them. I felt myself sink to the bottom of my stomach like I was riding the front car of the rollercoaster at Southport Pleasure Land. I never returned from the pit of my stomach. Once Betty had gone Mable grabbed my hand.

“Come on, darling, we’re going to be late. Don’t you worry I’ll let Miss Twist know it was Betty’s fault.”

For the rest of that day, I was the most important person in her life in a strange unforgiving way.

I’m sat on a deckchair, on Southport beach. Sand swirls above the damp ridges formed by the tide, like fairies and elves dancing around my bare feet. I’ve shoved my knee length tights into my sensible shoes. I curl my toes down, halos form around them, dry sand rolls over pale skin. There’s a chill to the early October day, I wished I’d come in June, even though that wasn’t possible as she was still alive. I look for the sea, far away a murky greenish line forms a break in the skyline. I turn to my left and right, I’m alone. Tiny figures move up and down the pier a mile away. A drip forms on the tip of my nose. I consider wiping it on my coat sleeve but think it’s not what a sixty-five-year-old should do. I reach down grab my handbag, balance it on my knee, I pull out what I think is my handkerchief and pinch my nose. As I scrunch it up with my spindled fingers a wave of sickness hits me. The pink cotton napkin falls into my lap, I thought I’d thrown it out with the rest of her belongings. The wind catches hold of it, and it takes flight like a kite. A quote from Lauren Bacall pops into my head ‘Imagination is the highest kite that one can fly.’ The napkin descends landing like a shroud over my feet. In that moment of flight, it hit me, I rummage in my bag searching for a mirror. I pull out her compact and remember her giving it me at the end of that mid-summers day when I found her hair in my sandwich and she made me feel guilty. How have I not thrown these items; I must be going senile. I snap open the compact, a cloud of power puffs up and is lost in the sand. I hold the mirror up to check my nose is clean. A face stares back at me, I look behind me and back to the face, it’s still there. I hear a voice shouting.

“I’ve not been myself for forty-five years.”

The words echo like the distant sound of the ocean from a shell held to my ear as a child. Whiffs of salty-seaweed seep into my nostrils with each stuttered breath; brings me to my senses like a dose of smelling salts. I close my eyes and I’m sat at her bed side. Her matt red lips, faded by time and ill health. Her laced skinned left hand lies ringless and flat, dissolving into the white sheet. Her chest clicks as it rises and falls, like a young robin calling for its mother. The click is interrupted by a chilled silence of impending demise. I count the seconds to the next bird call. I’m up to fifteen, click, nothing, click. The silence crashes into my ears, I fill this gap and mute the clicks for help with the brevity of my voice.

Mable, I stopped liking you on the day you made ‘me’ fade. You started the process a month before, but I was too moulded to notice. I was so happy to have a best friend. I was never the popular one, never chosen by the netball captain, or for a last dance at the Town Hall. You brightened the wages department and picked me as your friend. You separated me out from my family like a sheep dog. I took your guilt and you were the shining light that everyone flew to, like moths. You collected moths, to take the pleasure of being wanted and the glory of winning. Mable, I’m quiet for a moment, until I hear the click. Mable, you stole me, you continuously had an answer for why you needed me to stay, if I left, you’d, well, you hinted I would be the one to find you. Charles, you said died in a boating accident. I never mentioned I saw you walking alone from my deckchair on Southport beach, that romantic weekend. Charles was killed a week later. Miss Twist fell down the stairs that lead to the shop floor. It was you who found her. I didn’t tell you I’d left my handbag in the staff restroom that evening and seen you with Miss Twist. You cried crocodile tears at the grave side of Miss Twist. Her family comforted you. A month after the funeral you became Wages Supervisor. I forgot who I was, if anyone asked, I’d say I’m Mabel’s friend.

I hear another click, I count, to a thousand. I have my wish of a deckchair on Southport beach.

Sally has an MA Creative Writing from the University of Leicester. She writes short stories and is currently working on her novel based in 1950s Liverpool. She sometimes writes poetry. She gains inspiration from old photographs, history, her own childhood memories, and is inspired by writers Sandra Cisneros, Deborah Morgan, Liz Berry and Emily Dickinson.

She has had short stories and poetry published in various online publications, including The Ink Pantry and AnotherNorth and in a ebook anthology ‘Tales from Garden Street’ (Comma Press Short Story Course book 2019).

Sally lives in the countryside with her partner, dog, and bantam.

You can find more of Sally’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Pantry Prose: The Man Who Shot Stonewall Jackson by Gary Beck

It happened once before, when I was a young man. The newspapers clamoured for war, self-appointed know-it-alls told us why we had to fight and everyone believed them, especially the youngsters like me who got all fired up to join the army. So now, when those big headlines screamed ‘Remember The Maine,’ there wasn’t any more doubt that there would be war with Spain. And off they went to enlist, just like they were going to a picnic, as irreverent and ignorant as we were back in 1861. My eldest son told me he had to join up and I tried to discourage him. I told him how crazy it was for two groups of men to stand and blaze away at each other, but he wouldn’t listen. All he said was: “War’s not fought that way anymore, Pa .”

So I held my peace and watched him go, like my pa watched me go. When he died of yellow fever, before he even fought in a battle, it was another terrible affliction that I had to accept. But I guess he was right about it being a new kind of war, because it was over pretty quick and we got all these new places; Cuba, Puerto Rico, The Philippines and Guam. I never even heard of Guam. So I kept on farming and doing my chores but I was pretty much empty inside. I had been that way ever since the surrender at Appomattox, which ended my daily suffering, but left me a hollow man. I went through all the motions of the living and tried my best to be a good husband and father, and I never told anyone how I felt. How could anyone who hadn’t been there understand? Sometimes, when I went to town and saw the few old hands who survived the entire war, like me, there was nothing we could say. We just looked at each other for a moment, nodded in recognition that we were still alive and moved on.

Then one day, long after Spain surrendered, I saw a soldier who had just come home from the Philippines. I was buying something in Dahlgren’s general store and his pa brought him in. He had that look that I hadn’t seen since the war with the Yankees. His flesh was sagging on his bones and his uniform hung on him like a scarecrow on a hard luck farm. He walked as if it was a great effort to put one foot after the other. Old Mr. Dahlgren kept prodding him to tell us what it was like over there, but he refused to talk, until his pa urged him. Then he looked at everyone for a moment and said coldly: “You want to know what it was like? I’ll tell you. I watched my buddies die in ambushes, or of tropical diseases, or in battles with savages who just kept coming at us, even after we shot them. I watched my friends butcher women and children!” A look of absolute horror ate his face. “All I saw was death and suffering. Is that what you wanted to hear?” Then he turned and walked out. I couldn’t get him out of my mind the rest of the day.

That night I thought about the war with the Yankees, which I had shut out of my life a long time ago. I remembered how I had rushed to join up that spring of 1861. I ignored Pa when he told me not to go, just like my boy ignored me. Then Pa told me how bad it was when he fought the Mexicans in ‘46, but I didn’t believe him. Everyone I knew was hurrying to the colours and I wasn’t about to be last. We were going to whip the Yankees good, then go back home with our chests full of medals. Once I was in uniform it didn’t take long for me to wake up. Almost half the boys I joined up with got killed or wounded in our first battle at Manassas. Maybe the Yankees finally ran off as fast as they could for Washington D.C., but not before they put up a mighty good fight. We fought up and down Virginia for the next two years and got leaner, hungrier, tireder and sicker. The more we ran out of ammunition, food, or shoes, the more the Yankees kept coming. We learned everything about the horror of soldiering the hard way.

One day we were camped somewhere near Chancellorsville, after a tough battle where we whipped the Yankees good. Of course it wasn’t like when the war first started. Then we knew we were better men then the city folk and immigrants they were going to send against us. Before First Manassas, most of us talked about beating them proper, then going home. If anyone thought it would go on and on for years, they didn’t say it where I heard. Anyhow, we had been resting because it had been a long, hard fight and these Yankees weren’t like the rabbits who used to run when they were beaten. When these Yankees lost, they retreated resentfully and we knew they’d be back. Then the word raced through the camp. Stonewall was dead. Rumours, like disease, travel swiftly in an army, especially when it’s bad news. This hit me and the old hands particularly hard, because we were the 31st Virginia and we were Stonewall’s men from the beginning.

We rushed to colonel Barstow’s tent, but he didn’t know any more than we did. Messengers kept arriving, each one with different news. The only thing they all agreed on was that Stonewall had been shot. The colonel finally got tired of our pushing and shoving at the messengers and he sent us back to our bivouac area. But he promised to let our company commander, lieutenant Rambeau, know as soon as he learned anything. We thanked the colonel, who was one of only three officers left in the regiment who had been with us from the start. All the others had been killed or invalided out. Colonel Barstow had started as a young lieutenant, full of fire and noble speeches. Now he was as old and tired as the rest of us. We snickered about lieutenant Rambeau as we walked. He was a moma’s boy, a blonde-haired stringbean with a mushy face that always looked ready to cry. He had reported to the regiment a few days ago, but he disappeared somehow before the fighting started. The joke going around the camp was who would shoot him first, us or them. Soldiers deserted other regiments before a fight, but not in the 31st Virginia.

We waited for news, but didn’t relax much. A couple of the younger boys babbled about beating the Yankees again, but the old hands quickly shut them up. By now we knew we could beat them and beat them, but they would still keep coming. We were sick, tired, cold and hungry and we didn’t have much hope left. The gossip around the campfire was no longer about victory. A few diehards still kept trying to convince the rest of us that massa Robert and ole Stonewall would find a way to defeat the Yankees. Most of us didn’t buy it. Now Stonewall was dead. One of the kids asked what would happen if General Lee got killed, but an old hand kicked him a few times and the kid slunk off, leaving the rest of us to brood about things. I couldn’t help thinking how lucky that kid was to get off so lightly. We had just lost our father and that dumb kid was talking about losing our grandfather. We didn’t need any more bad luck.

Later that night we found out that Stonewall wasn’t dead, he was just badly wounded. He had been returning from the battlefield in the dark and a nervous sentry, thinking he was a Yankee goblin or something, shot him. After two years of hurry up, then wait, it wasn’t a hardship to wait for news. We lost so many men at Chancellorsville that I guess they forgot about our regiment for a while, so we loafed in our tents. Once we packed up all the dead men’s belongings, they finally remembered us. They even gave us some food, probably pilfered from the Yankees endless supply of everything. Then the word flew around camp faster than wildfire. A new recruit named Billy Rawlins had shot Stonewall. They didn’t rightly know what to do with him, so they sent him home.

After Stonewall died, the war went on and on and the Yankees kept us on the run. When it was finally over, those of us who survived went back to our homes. I was one of the lucky ones. Pa had kept the farm going somehow, despite the voracious armies trampling back and forth across poor, battered Virginia. I had only been home for a couple of months when I heard that the man who shot Stonewall Jackson, Billy Rawlins, had hanged himself. It seems his pa kept telling him that he killed the man who could have won the war for the Confederacy. I guess the damned fool kid must have believed him, because he went into the barn, threw a rope over a beam and ended his life… But that was a long time ago.

I hadn’t thought about Billy Rawlins for many years. Seeing that soldier in Dahlgren’s store reminded me about what had eaten so much of my soul away. It all came back to me from a distance, like hearing a voice on that new telephone invention: the useless waste of young men, the suffering that devastated so many lives, the ease with which we forgot the dead. All I could think of was that if I knew then what I knew now, I could have gone to see Billy. I could have told him that what he did was just one more crazy mistake in a succession of terrible events. That Stonewall couldn’t have won the war. Hell, it was lost way before that. Only fools believed that we could win after the first year or so. The Yankees had everything. We only had pride and courage. Once they wore out our pride, courage just wasn’t enough. But my understanding of things came much too late to help poor Billy. I couldn’t help that trooper who lost his soul in the jungle. And I sure couldn’t help any of the other innocents who don’t start wars, only rush to fight them.

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theatre director and worked as an art dealer when he couldn’t earn a living in the theatre. He has also been a tennis pro, a ditch digger and a salvage diver. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and his published books include 21 poetry collections, 7 novels, 3 short story collections and 1 collection of essays. Published poetry books include:  Dawn in CitiesAssault on NatureSongs of a ClerkCivilized WaysDisplaysPerceptionsFault LinesTremorsPerturbationsRude AwakeningsThe Remission of Order and Contusions (Winter Goose Publishing, forthcoming is Desperate Seeker); Blossoms of DecayExpectationsBlunt Force and Transitions (Wordcatcher Publishing, forthcoming are Temporal Dreams and Mortal Coil); and Earth Links will be published by Cyberwit Publishing. His novels include a series Stand to Arms, Marines: Call to Valor and Crumbling Ramparts (Gnome on Pigs Productions, forthcoming is the third in the series, Raise High the Walls); Acts of Defiance and Flare Up (Wordcatcher Publishing), forthcoming is its sequel, Still Defiant); and Extreme Change will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. His short story collections include: Now I Accuse and other stories (Winter Goose Publishing), Dogs Don’t Send Flowers and other stories (Wordcatcher Publishing) and The Republic of Dreams and other essays (Gnome on Pig Productions). The Big Match and other one act plays will be published by Wordcatcher Publishing. Gary lives in New York City.

You can find more of Gary’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Pantry Prose: The Meaning Of Life? Is There One? by Chitra Gopalakrishnan

It took just a few seconds and a knotty brain teaser in class five to awaken me to the potent scent of life’s absurdity. This at a ridiculously young age of ten.

A lion, a goat and a bundle of grass, said my teacher, her face like a shut gate.

A person has to ferry them across the river in a boat. As the boat is tiny, this person can only carry one other alongside.

If the person leaves the lion and the goat alone together, the lion will eat the goat. If the goat and the grass are left together, the goat will eat the grass, my teacher announced.

The glee on her face, the glint in her eyes were unmistakable.

She seemed delighted with the riddle’s cunning as much as on the torture it would inflict on us youngsters in the next hour. Oh, the secret villainies of teachers.

Why on earth would a person want to take these beings along with them, this strange assortment of creatures, in the first place? I thought perplexedly.

This even as something began to spiral within my insides in concentric waves like waves in water. Whatever it was, it was moving round and round and it smelt of sweat, a black reek. It came to me that my teacher’s puzzle was not only stupid, uselessly disturbing and an irrational poser but one that showed up life as senseless.

I lost interest in the puzzle.

Instead, within my head, a series of quick thoughts bubbled.

It came to me that we all live in a closed-looped universe. One that is utterly uncaring of people’s survival. If sitting on a boat with a lion and giving up boundaries was meant to teach us anything it was this.

What’s more, the meaning of the phrase the road to hell is paved with good intentions, something my father used repeatedly, but I never understood, exploded bright and clear at this moment. I mean, if one wants, from the goodness in their heart, to spend time, setting everything aside, in service of a bleating goat, a sabre-toothed lion and a bundle of coarse grass and risk being eaten, butted and stung by tiny insects, then what can I say other than the fact that you have self-deserting instincts.

The fact that schools teach children to think along these lines made me lose respect for this institution.

Surely, you can understand how it must have been for me. A girl who had her head in the clouds suddenly staggered with the truth of life on a normal school day.

It seemed unfair. Rather than pay heed to my age, my girlhood, and start small then tip-toe around a bit to reveal the not-so-appealing truths, these awakenings had got going altogether and gobsmacked me in the face. No warning.

My throat locked up, my stomach was in knots, my body turned sweaty and I felt nauseous. Whatever sense of promise, magic and wonder there was to childhood was shot to hell.

At least to me, at that point, it seemed like it did.

From this point on, for the next two years of my childhood, a kind of boiling high noon set in for me. That’s the best way I can describe my many subsequent stir-ups.

If I began to regularly catch on to the truth that everything in life is pointless, I also began time and again to catch on to another truth: the stupidest thing one can do is look for meaning in life.

Life, in short, I understood, is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I know you will say that at my age growth is meant to be more about gathering physical skills, coordination and muscle control rather than one with huge mental changes. That such odd rhythms are reserved for those hitting puberty, big kids or for grown-ups.

But what can I say other than wisdom happened to me really young.

That I went to bed normal one day and the next day was different.

That, at twelve, I use my glimpses of life’s absurdity as a way to be free. To be myself. To push against rules and directions. To laugh. Yes, and to enjoy life’s senselessness.

That I choose to not carry the lion, goat and a bundle of grass, this forced baggage, to not solve the absurdity of this puzzle, to not be part of this clueless, self-inflicted nonsense, these annoyingly active verbs.

That I am in a happy place, not the sad place I imagined I would be three years ago.

That I am in a place of my own where I need to just carry my flag. And grow as I see fit.

My teacher says I am a ‘young rebel’, my school labels me ‘a misfit’, some of my friends think me ‘an enormously bold girl for saying that there is no meaning to studying or to life itself’ and others ‘weird’.

I do not care much for any of their comments just for the fact that life is easier for me when I refuse to take things around me, joy and sadness, success and failure, loss and gain, personally.

Far too many things happen during a day, even during an hour, a week, a month, a year. One can fool oneself to believe they have meaning or a certain pattern but wait for something unexpected to happen then you know the opposite is true.

I have found a place of comfort between the universe and I.

It’s time for my friends get to their best living experience by setting out on their own adventures. Like nomads.

Their awakenings may be vastly different from mine yet it would have equal merit for it would be their truth.

Some might understand life to be sensible, reasonable. Full of colour, rich with promise, plump with rewards.

Others may find their awakenings to be frighteningly different.

I say it’s okay to let go of the normal, sometimes. For, after all, the definition of normal keeps changing. And really there is no one definition of it.

Chitra Gopalakrishnan, a New Delhi-based journalist and a social development communications consultant uses her ardour for writing, wing to wing, to break firewalls between nonfiction and fiction, narratology and psychoanalysis, marginalia and manuscript and tree-ism and capitalism.

Pantry Prose: The Real Homecoming of Mahua by Sunil Sharma

Dusk came rapidly, sliding over the rugged terrain in a few minutes, and settled down unobtrusive, like a curled-up cat. A cold wind, dagger-sharp, blew down the ragged hills, far-off, silhouetted against a darkened sky.

The rude camp was lit up by the open fires. Families sat around the open kitchens, awaiting a modest meal. Treetops swayed drunkenly in the wind. The camp was filled with smoke and the confused sounds of dogs and humans. Kids laughter trailed, punctuated by the crackle of the burning wood, the sound of the powerful wind that ruffled up the carpet of fallen-leaves in its wake.

Evenings are pleasantly cold in October. The gloom spreads out, blurring the edges of the hills, trees and the huts in the distance. All around trembles darkness-mellow, translucent and anonymous. Families huddle together and talk in low voices. A sad lonely night. A general depression grips the adults in the camp. The men watch the evenings and the early nights. The tarpaulin-n-sheet tents shiver in a rogue wind and a threatening gloom. They revive memories of a nightmare.

The rough shelters going up in crimson-hued flames, giant flames, hungry hissing leaping. The night sky filled up with the dancing inferno. Columns of smoke, spiraling up, stinging and choking and irritating. Within an hour, everything is burnt down, charred, beyond recognition. Angry ambers sizzling in the blackened earth, some stunted singed slender shoots moving obscenely in the air. The government trucks, 48 hours later, arriving and ferrying the wretched of the earth to a camp 12 km away, on an uneven ground, dumped as human garbage. Press, politicians, police-the same story, covering the quick “rehab” of the poor gypsies on the outskirts of Delhi, the capital of India, in an improvised camp, where these victims of the communal violence were assured of protection and meals by the state. The small tribe did not have any choice and stuck together as frightened children in the compound of the old building, watched by the cops; the outside civilization hostile towards these nomads, always on the move….

The government camp brings its own brand of solidarity among the survivors of the carnage. Folks unite and bond easily. Neighbours discover lost virtues. It becomes a large family, under a threat from an unseen force. As the evening advances stealthily, they discover the absence of Mahua, a de facto leader.

Where is he?

The men, in twos and threes, search the camp, nearly patch of forest, the far-off highway. The kids run across the camp, looking for Mahua, their uncle.

They could not find him anywhere.

Where is he?

Women got concerned. Men were anxious. Children remembered. The 80-year-old, strong as a bull, trim as a bamboo; the man was the best storyteller in the tribe and a respected senior. He would listen to their complaints and settle disputes. Play with the kids. Protect them as a grandpa. He told the ill-clad, barefoot, pot-bellied, swollen faced kids the story of the fish and the giant.

“You want a story, children?” he often asked the children.

“Y-e-e-s-sss!” they would shout happily.

“OK. Here it goes.” And he would begin in a rich voice, “Listen… Once upon a time, a giant lived in a castle. Interested?”

“Ye-ee-s!”

“The castle was near the river. The huge river flowed ceaselessly. The giant fish floated in the river. Two big trees-as big as the castle-took roots near the steep bank of the river. The trees grew and reached the topmost roof of the golden castle. The giant did not like this, he being jealous. One day he cut down the trees and burnt them in his fireplace. The smoke filled up the sky.

The big fish coughed up and said, “Selfish giant, selfish giant”.

The giant heard this and trapped the fish in his golden net.

“What did you say?” asks the one-eyed giant.

“Selfish,” says the fish.

“How?” he asks.

“You killed the trees.”

The giant smiles. “I am going to eat you up now.”

The fish smiles and says, “You kill me and you kill yourself.”

“Oh, foolish fish! Nobody can kill a giant.”

“Oh, foolish giant! You are ignorant. First you kill the innocent trees… then you kill me. You will die. I put a curse upon you!”

The giant laughed and killed the fish and ate up the hapless fish.

Then, you know, what happened, dear children?”

“No, Uncle!” the kids said in chorus, sitting under the banyan tree. “Tell us, please!”

“OK. The giant died soon.” Mahua said with a long sigh.

“How?”

“The curse wiped away the trees and dried up the river. The sands of the desert were waiting like a hungry wolf. They swallowed up his golden castle and a bald famished one-eyed giant in it.”

.

The men were moving in groups. Someone said Mahua was sitting sad and lonely throughout the last night and the full day. He remembered his grandchildren often who were the victims of an earlier violence. Above all, he remembered the place where we all had lived as a community. He had stopped speaking and grown sad and very quiet. Then somebody said, Mahua often talked of the huge banyan tree and his rude tent nearby, on the rising ground, where he had spent his last many years as a wandering worker.

His life was tough!

They all agreed. Two sons who drank themselves to death. Grandchildren charred to death. Daughters-in-law dead. Only Mahua lived on. He spent mornings fashioning iron tongs and hammers, afternoons hawking them in the small town divided by invisible borders and hatreds, evenings under the towering banyan tree, home to birds and souls of the dead. Camp life he never liked. The fenced-off area, away from his humble, makeshift hovel, put him off. He roamed the camp like a ghost, chatting up with the kids. Then he had gradually shut up within. He refused food. He did not talk. He just stared at the distant space, oblivious of the crowd near him, thinking of his home.

The poor soul! He just caved in!

How long can you suffer poverty, loneliness and soul-destroying pain?

Where is he?

Some younger women; the tea vendor at the highway; late-returning farmers confirmed seeing Mahua. He was walking like mad, striding down the highway, deaf to their greetings. He walked briskly like a guy possessed. He looked fixedly ahead, mumbling to himself, gesturing. The poor thing! The neighbours had cooked food for him but he had refused. Even kids could not coax a story out of the grey-bearded old man. He sat near the tent, under the yellowing sun and a warm wind, wrapped up in tight knots inside himself. Nobody dared disturb.

Towards afternoon, he saw a kid and said softly, “Where were you, Raj Kumar?”

The kid said, “I am Ramu, son of Itbari Lal.”

“No, you are Raj Kumar. My lost grandson. You always play pranks on me. Where have you been? I missed you awfully. Look, your grandpa has become so old, without you. Now, do not leave me. Come on, my son, come here!”

The kid, scared stiff, ran away. A young man, later in the day, saw him talking to air, calling out the names of his dead sons and his stray dog. He was talking to them softly, complaining about his falling health, recalling happy old days when they all lived together. Others said they overheard him talking about his hovel near the banyan tree, the open ground, the wind and the stars. He seemed to be trapped in the narrow, dusty, small and crowded camp. He did not like it at all. His home was beckoning him. That small patch of rough ground and that enormous banyan tree and the open sky.

Where is he now?

Ten-twelve men, young and strong, reached the vast ground where the nomads and other city migrants had lived for last many years. They carried torches and stout sticks. A large moon was shining in the sky. Stars were twinkling like heavenly lamps in the clear sky. The wind, cold and powerful, was moaning in the trees and shrubs that ran along the highway, pulsating like an overfed snake. The ground was deserted. A month or so had passed after the carnage. There was death lingering in the damp stale air coming off the river, a mile away, in the background. Smell of death, decay and burnt hovels! An eerie silence prevailed. The banyan tree stood tall and massive against a milky background. The deep silence was unsettling. The white moon had washed up the desolate wild landscape in silvery smooth light. The rising ground, the puddles formed on account of last night’s sudden heavy downpour, the wild grass and one or two surviving small Neem trees all looked deathly pale or unreal. The solitary ground was now a graveyard of mutilated, bloody memories. They negotiated the puddles, the weeds, the sharp-edge stones and other deadwood, and, reached the foot of the big banyan tree.

“He is dead!” someone said.

“Yes. He was crying before his death.”

“It seems he was praying and crying at the same time. He seems to have died some time back. We should burry him here.”

The old, wizened, bearded face showed peace and tears dried up.

The man finally had found home.

The wind howled, the moon showed a quivering and cold and desolate vast ground over run with weeds and garbage.

And then fluffy clouds suddenly eclipsed the moon, sending the whole bitter landscape into darkness.

Dr. Sunil Sharma is a Toronto-based author-academic-editor who has published 23 creative and critical books— joint and solo. He is, among others, a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award 2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

You can find more of Sunil’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Pantry Prose: A Man is the Highest Created Being in the Universe! Earth is the Jewel, Masterpiece of All the Worlds by AE Reiff

You can say of Yeshua Messiah that he was made a little lower than the angels, however he was also in the beginning and without him was not anything made that was made. A man is the highest created being in the universe. What is man that thou art mindful of him? You can say Lucifer was the highest created being, but the covering cherub surrendered his position for the sake of himself, went after his own thoughts whose end is among the shells of the qliphoth, the end of death, from which there is no rescue as there is for the highest created being. You cannot even say angels are the highest created beings, even though they are more powerful in apparent dimensions, for of which of the angels did he say, thou art my son, meaning that where ever men turn, Yeshua Messiah precedes them. Those men made in the image of Yahweh take on the nature of the son, which is not to despise angels but not to worship them.

You cannot say the highest created being in the universe is the universe. Well you can say it, but you become an idolator. You cannot say that the highest created being in the universe should be amended to the highest created being in the earth, for remember, creating heaven with a touch, his fingers, he gave to man dominion of his hands. Everywhere you turn Yeshua Messiah makes Man the highest created being in the universe, and dignifies earth as much as Yeshua taking the form of a man dignifies a man. Sarah called him lord. Earth is his home, to be remade to suit him in his true state, this both at the end of Isaiah and Revelation, and everywhere between. The man remade inhabits the earth remade. The superficial evolved states of the biome are going to be redone.

Man is the highest created being in the universe.

Earth is the jewel, the masterpiece of all the worlds.*

There is a negative proof mentioned in all the attempts to neuter a man by science. Astronomy, mythology, every agency of civilization seeks to enthrone the demonic skulls. These forces have had their day. Approaching full flow they are to be dry as the Red Sea before they are engulfed. It is important to them to prevent the man from realizing he is the highest created being in the universe. A man’s enemies reveal a lot about him. Natively, it sounds wrong to say man is created highest because that title should be reserved for Jesus. But Jesus, blessed, is not created. Jesus, blessed, was the same in the beginning with Yahweh.  Putting him in the place of man promotes the man. According to his enemy, not the man but the universe is the highest creation and is creation itself.  More negation from the demonic skulls and their surrogates.

Man is a sculpture event. He is being fashioned as a man as we live. And what does that say about woman? How do you think he gets here! These sayings require a hearer. The first was said to Aeyrie after his two week tour of mid country, yesterday. When I heard it I was shocked. The corollary was said to Eden this morning in bed.

AE, Andrew Edwin Reiff works at Forms of the Formless Ceramic. He ran a Pharmacy garden for the U of Texas, taught at Fayetteville State University and again at Bishop College-Dallas, studied acoustic phonetics and took a doctorate in literature of the renaissance.

You can find more of AE’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Pantry Prose: It Was Over Now by David Greygoose

It was over now. The moon had gone, back into the shadows where it hid.

The girl walked down from the top of the hill. She had been dancing all night with the hares and the ravens and all who came.

The low stone walls were dusty silver as she threaded her way along the lane and back to the silence of her cottage. She lit a candle and watched the thin line of its smoke rise slowly up the chimney and away to join the darkening clouds which rolled along the valley. They would bring rain soon enough and the rain would bring tears for the girl who had not cried since the last moon came.

She climbed the stairs to her bed and there she dreamed. She dreamed of the dancers out on the hill – how she’d seen them all coming, slipping out of their houses – and how they’d joined hands in a ring as the moon rose above them and seemed to shine, brighter than sorrow, out through their eyes.

But one boy did not come. He never came. He stayed in his cottage, locked behind the door, while thistles choked his garden and dull grey pigeons pecked at the thatch of his roof.

The girl set off down the lane to find him. Owls swooped low through the trees and dark water ran in the ditch.

She knocked on his door. She could see him sitting there in his room, the moonlight spilling through the window. He was weaving shadows between his fingers as if he was a spider.

She called out to him. She rapped on the glass with her knuckles. But he did not hear. He did not stir, just kept on weaving, twisting the shadows.

She climbed down the chimney. He did not turn his head.

“What are you making?” she said.

He looked up then and tried to smile, but his lips could not move. He had stared so long at his weaving, his face it seemed to be frozen.

A sea of shadows flowed from his fingers. The girl reached out to touch, but he waved her away. His lips moved slowly then and a sound came out, like the voice of a raven.

“The moon is full,” she explained. “You should come with us. Come to the top of the hill.”

The boy stood up. He let go of the shadows and the cloak he had woven slipped to the floor. The girl picked it up. This time he let her. She smiled and admired his handiwork. As the boy turned away, she gathered up the cloak and draped it around his shoulders.

He opened his mouth again and let out a great cry. Then he flung the cloak to cover them both, so that they were folded together.

And then they rose. Out of the cottage and along the lanes. Along the lanes and up to the hill. Up the hill till they stood at the top with all the dancers gathered around.

The dancers fell silent as the girl and the boy stepped from the cloak which slipped to the ground and blew away on the wind which parted the clouds – and there was the moon, staring down at them all.

And then it was gone. It was over now. The boy went back down the lanes to the darkness where he hid.

The girl walked back to her cottage and lit a candle. As she watched the thin line of smoke rise slowly up the chimney, she smiled – for she knew that next time the full moon shone, the boy would come again.

David Greygoose‘s published works include Brunt Boggart (Pushkin) and Mandrake Petals and Scattered Feathers (Hawkwood).

Pantry Prose: Shelter by Ian C Smith

We moved into a house within the grounds of a psychiatric hospital where the fine Australian poet, Francis Webb, was incarcerated many years earlier in rural NSW, its streets bordered by majestic European trees. My wife had accepted a key managerial position in the health service. I buzzed with a fervour to write, so preferred privacy, no next-door neighbours, while I looked after our toddlers, the terms ‘biological clock’, and ‘house-husband’ neologisms to me then.

Using a backpack and pusher, I took our boys for walks around and across the central golf course, balls sometimes cracking over our fence into the backyard, or under elms, past wards where a middle-aged man sat outside waving a grubby teddy bear, addressing us, voice guttural, unintelligible, his large pale penis erect as I increased the pusher’s pace.

Ominous resentment seemed to surround the hospital, miasmic despite the English village postcard effect. Motorised groundsmen stared from a distance. When I approached them about something they shared sly glances, monosyllabic, ignorantly difficult. I thought at first these sullen men meeting my politeness with antagonism were patients allowed to work, and I felt the presence of our laughing children exacerbated their pique.

Needing to understand the reason I became a bit paranoid in my sheltered world of the imagination. Was it my wife’s managerial position? Did they know I wrote, so the vanity of this? Was it about a man caring for infants, or the time we asked them not to spray weedkiller around the edges of our yard where the boys romped? I wondered if all these reasons became enlarged in their collective psyche. I also remembered tough times when their pleasant work would have been a godsend. My wife simply said it was because they had to go out to work and I didn’t.

When I passed professionals, easily identifiable by their smart appearance, they avoided eye contact. I dressed roughly, cut my own hair, knew they saw me as a trusted patient. I like being left alone, even ignored, so this guise both suited and amused me.

Passing the wards, 1930s brick softened by those trees austerely impressive, some closed due to asbestos, I heard eldritch screams, tantrums, saw damp bedding dropped from a high window, but mostly the loneliness of its eerie quiet chilled as every turn, every building, made me feel trapped in misery, even the neat collections of beer bottles and tops around bases of tree trunks. The more I walked, the more I sorrowed. The more I sorrowed, the less I wrote.

Not understanding future’s nostalgic gusts I searched for echoes of Webb, possibly Australia’s most spiritual poet, but felt only an absence of happiness, believing his melancholia would have become entrenched in wretchedness there. When the time came to leave, although glad, I also experienced a sense of loss accompanying the end of this, one of many periods in my strange life. Always finding endings difficult, I wondered if Webb, stubbornly writing, recalled hopes, wishes, happier days, ended.

Ian C Smith’s work has been published in Antipodes, BBC Radio 4 Sounds,The Dalhousie Review, Griffith Review, San Pedro River Review, Southword, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two Thirds North. His seventh book, wonder sadness madness joy, is published by Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island.

You can find more of Ian’s work here on Ink Pantry.

Pantry Prose: Postscript by AE Reiff

The Voyage

What’s there to transmit? I was dropped off by ship by St Branden exploring islands in the sea of fire. His  curragh was smoking. The leather boat hides stretched over the  frame of the boat smoked in the heat. The monk dips his blade in the sea. What does he say? “I am pleased with the smooth gentle motion of my curragh over the waves.”

Another image of the man alone, eternal before creation, made to feel the motion of the curragh. He floats before earth is made, in companies, ranks of fifty, the way the Lord sat them down on the hill to feed the loaves and fishes. Christopher Smart says, “the Lord Jesus made him a nosegay and blessed it and he blessed the inhabitants of flowers.” He called them herbs. As an herb on the hill the eternal waits birth, distilling with sun, blind for the Sun, rest surveying space, time and none, until he hears his name. So down into flesh.

You cannot prepare ahead for life. With no memory he goes in faith past the deities and sinks to a womb to enter the world where surfaces rule with no certainty what you are guessing. Everybody knows the nature of this voyage. To read about it you are on it. Not to tell, the thing is forgetfulness, waking up, falling asleep, thin on the ground. Just thinking about the sea causes air to disappear. The monk thinks that thinking about the flesh inundates spirit.

The Hat

Wind, water. So in transmission there is nothing at all. You’re here, then you’re gone. You might be remembered great or small. The people I speak of are small. Peasants, still talking. A mashed potato baby, burlesque of the eternal. That’s the danger of the voyage, the details are everything. The red wheelbarrow in the rain. Do your word. When the eternal subsumes in the working and immolates pleasure for the satisfaction of creation, the details are everything. The eternal is a hat in a closet. We think of it when the plane takes off, but it is in the closet.

Some feel they have lost the hat. Where did it go? Who took it? The youngest says he can argue either way that the man who fell relived his life in the moments of descent or at the exact moment of impact. But put the hat on before the event. Be there before arrival, greet the eternal again. With that same blindness return as when you came. Know nothing at all. Knowing is equivocation here. Faith is the only knowledge. Sense details mean nothing before and after earth. What matters is what you do with the spirit. It is no gnostic trip. No matter what Branden finds on the isles. It fills the time. You have your cake and eat it too. You can go to earth and remember the hat but not see it till after.

The Lady

So who do I write for but my subject to celebrate, pure and simple. It’s about the memory of innocence. I remember being innocent. I say, I remember. I do not remember being eternal. Memory and faith must have relation. Philosophy in her blue night dress, her fragrance, her touch, her bed, I remember feeling it compounded over years, but always I start with that first moment of peace or love. It’s better than that. It doesn’t stop. So it is like the hat. I carry that hat made of a thousand touches, more. I talk of eternal, but you are bored, to quote again my youngest in the car: “Carry your sorrow, bear your grief to one pierced breast of love, the Lord’s, and there we lie.” So I guess in addition to writing this for her I write it for him. That’s a good audience. He reads everything! What more can you ask? I want to make him smile. Whether this submission… no, he’s not an editor, nor a librarian, but a grandfather. Whatever I sent to my father during his life he kept. He didn’t always get it but he kept it. I think he was mostly amazed. The Lord I praise is smarter. Can you imagine actually being understood! Unalloyed tongue. Impossible. So I write to praise God.


The World

What do we see of the spiritual world? The foreordained! Moments of predestination. Not to speak it, but you can’t avoid it. That’s the way it seems later. Before, we knew nothing. Just like the voyage out and back. Afterward, compare notes. Before?  Forgetfulness. What voyage? Moments of ordination are like this. They present choice. Choice conditioned with grace. Good thing the mind prepared unknowing. Does the field know it will bear wheat? The mind prepared, the body is along for the ride. So float emotion out of stone. Sparks shower no matter what we do, but when remembered, fireworks begin. Creating heaven with a touch, his fingers, the moment is ordained. The hearts of the sons turn to the fathers. The sparks don’t stop.

I don’t know where that leaves those odd moments of Google search. Irrelevancies are possible. Snippets get picked up. Somebody’s search excerpted the St. Branden website for sure. What about the nieces and nephews? Before light dawned and I realized it went to all the world, inflicting one copy each would be enough to hide in the closet near the hat, in case somebody got bored. JAS III wanted it online. Aey will look someday at 40 and say…. I only care in the doing. A month, a year, a decade. It relives if someone discovers Homer again or meditates the past. For a guy on shore the moment lasts, then is gone. He puts out to sea. There are more isles.

The improbability of an unwritten ten generations capable of surviving, that someone could find evidence of with all that suggests of serendipity, we have to accept. We don’t ask why, only what. What is the case.? I set it out here, but not transmit. I set it out because it’s a puzzle unearthed driving blindly. Unearthed is a good word. It is a miracle not to understand the earth, incarnation, expression, image and all details. I consume with lightning and the sunlight falling, mystified with earth. That’s why we have wives, right?

Getting to ground, the endless conversations of my aunts and grandmother, remembered. Lib says I would come into the kitchen and say, “let’s talk.” The child is good, but the man is real. After I found all that out they told me, “oh, I knew that.” They knew but didn’t say. That resistance was a motivation to find out, just because it seemed, as coming in a Journey, all fresh. It is ineffable to me that all those linens exist after hearing all my life nobody knew anything of their maker because she and her sister were orphan girls. Little ones lost have been found ere this, now again. All the while the deeds, the artifacts, the linens were in that trunk.

I like to sail these seas but arrival is everything.

Arrival

I arrived that day after Christmas with Aey at 6 AM to snow covered streets and cold, went to the diner and had oatmeal before going to pack the remains of two hundred years. The greatest treasures were in the meanest places, signed German books in a case against the eaves of one window. I might have left them, but Aey insisted they go. Later I find all those signatures! Unbelievable. Talk about hiding the past, still feel like much was missed, but don’t know what. Sure the watercolour of Jesse was snatched and lost.

The day before we left I contracted a serious cold, the airport there was said to be closed. Temptation was great not to go. Overcoming by a hair we went. Entropies were strong, determination strengthened by knowing what happens to estates after decease, what happened to my grandfather’s  furniture made with his hand, copper kettles, carvings, hand forged fireplace tools. That auction was held over that Christmas before in his house on a rainy night. Few came. What a steal. I was poor then, no transport, no storage, no nothing would be reserved. You can try to save the body. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. If the body is rejected, what of the manuscript? After every proper noun and name is searched strangers will come in the night and read, amazing from every country of the world. In the end it is like the beginning, the disposition of events, the purpose that preceded them before. Before life, after life, in between. The doing is in the doing. What is the being? Keep moving. Believe everything and nothing. The bards are going in that direction. 

Attic and Basement

The attic is like the hat, temporal to eternal. What I assume you shall. All visits to that attic are nothing to the time I stayed there as a boy, cot at one end, my brother’s at the other near the books. I was over by the paintings. The impressions layer each other into one large experience to enter whenever I want. The attic has many pretensions, leads onward, oils stacked, surrounded like providence created by the generations before and passed down to inhabit. They were not then revealed. This is not just metaphor. The linens and blankets, the doll clothes and the dresses. I wish I had the dress she put on at moments at the end. It is only a metaphor now.

The body, the body. Things mean the most on earth. I go in and stroke the walnut chest. These many days I take out the pewter coffee pot used on the wood stove in old Philadelphia, turn of the century, brought along in 1944. Some cookware remained, stored in the attic. The stove itself was in the basement, but we have not got there yet. A large pot of boiling water with a swivel top and wood handle, this coffee pot with a mesh insert holds coffee. Its lines get me, the black painted handles. I don’t know what it means, it’s just there as a habitation, the hundred details together mix on top of every surface, pots of the present and past, statues and sculptures, bowls and plates, for all three of my mates are potters, but in the case rests the old pot from early on, too beautiful to behold. So the attic was filled and the boy drank from that well.

Should we have spent more time in the basement, not counting the floors between? I like the basement, but never lived there, thought about saving the old claw foot table, but didn’t. The rush was too great. Really the basement is an exile from the attic. It just works like Jake’s old wood cabinet that he made “just to prove he could,” now on my porch housing pots. Household cleansers were down there, washing machines, prose stuff, except for Marvin’s rocks and jars and fossils. He got nothing into the attic, but of course Aey and Andrew spent their visitations down there with him and the rocks for hours. He had his tools there too, the old wood handled planes and clamps. The basement? I don’t figure to spend much time when all is said and done. There is more dancing to be done. Planets are waiting. Earth reviving. Who shall deliver me? Start looking in worlds without eyes, houses, hills, flame. I build a name out of none of this, but wear it and put it over them, without which I am none. With it, well you see what it brings. It is as said, believe in the name of the son of God and believing have life in his name.

Works Cited

Christopher Smart. Jubilate Agno.

AE Reiff has written The True Light That Lights (Parousia, 2020).  He has a debt to the living, to the dying, and to the dead, all with whom we have to do and which enter this writing, poetry dressed as prose to encourage the living to catch, to lodge, to give a breath, a healing, a peace. So see further, Unconscious Origins and Archives,  The Library of Elisabeth Bechtel 1852-1885, and Images of Paradise.

You can read more of AE’s work here on Ink Pantry.