Pilgrims

medjugorje-tat

Toddy hurled the dice at his sister Maggie the very instant their father Elmer opened the door to let the motel housekeeper in. Maggie screamed, boomeranging the Wa-Hoo game board at Toddy in retaliation, marbles flying in all directions. Toddy ducked and laughed.

The housekeeper peeked over Elmer, who tried his best Bosnian on the woman: “The sheets are dirty. Stains.”

The maid spoke back to him in clipped words, still distracted by the ruckus.

“Kids.” Elmer shrugged.

The housekeeper went to English. “Our rooms are clean.”

“I don’t normally complain about things like this, but please look at these sheets.”

He led her to the bed, toward the table where the children were playing. Maggie sat slumped in the chair holding her hand over her eye, howling. “Toddy hurt me, Dad.”

Toddy was on his hands and knees and picking up the marbles. He always put away his toys—one good habit his mother had taught, and one that stuck—which Elmer adored, his boy being only eight. He kept his head down, away from his father’s stare.

Elmer pulled back the green floral print bedspread and showed the housekeeper the sheets. A yellow stain—the outer edge darker and more distinct—in the shape of a small country occupied the middle of the white sheet.

“See?”

“Dad!” Maggie sat up, crying harder. She pulled her hand down and blood trickled down the canal of her nose and cheek.

The housekeeper pointed at the girl.

“Toddy, get over here.” Elmer grit his teeth.

Toddy trudged over to his father and Maggie stood up and followed him. She glanced quickly in the mirror next to the TV set and saw the blood. She screamed—she was prone to screaming, at her age, going through the first change, plus her mother’s passing didn’t help any—and fell to the floor. The housekeeper rushed toward Maggie and propped her up on her legs. The housekeeper pulled a hand towel from the pocket in her apron and dabbed the girl’s eye. Maggie shuddered and grit her teeth like her father.

Elmer took a knee and held Toddy by the shoulders. “You hurt your sister, mister. Say you’re sorry. Apologize.”

“I’m sorry.” Toddy turned his head to the maid and his sister. Maggie cried and gripped the hand of the woman.

“I AM sorry.” Elmer squeezed the boy’s shoulders.

“I AM sorry.” Toddy squirmed. “Ow.”

“You hurt me and your mother, too.” Elmer squeezed Toddy’s shoulders tighter and started to shake him, slowly. Elmer turned his eyes up at the dresser, at the black lacquer box with a green ribbon, when he said your mother.

“Dad!” Maggie turned toward him.

“You be quiet, Margaret.” Elmer shook Toddy faster, squeezed him enough to make him cry. The boy’s head rocked back and forth. “You hurt all of us. The whole family.”

“Sir,” the maid stood up. She spoke quick and breathless in Bosnian and approached him. Her sentences, strings of the crude Shtokavian dialect hit his ear. Elmer remembered Lana teaching him various words she knew; her grandmother had given her both a crash course and a language book before Elmer and Lana’s first pilgrimage to Medjugore in 1997—before the children. Elmer realized this was why the maid switched to English: his Bosnian was too advanced, straight from the book and not the Shtokavian tongue. Lana’s family didn’t speak that kind.

“Sir, stop.” The maid pulled Elmer away from Toddy. The boy bit his lower lip and he shuddered wiping his eyes. Elmer turned to the maid and collapsed at her feet. Her short wavy hair was dark with strands of gray. She was plump in the belly and hips—a grandmother maybe, with grandchildren about Maggie and Toddy’s age. Maybe they were older—the woman looked at least in her late 50’s—and maybe they worked at one of the shops on the hillsides selling candles, or the white statues of the Virgin on the way to the shrine. Or maybe they worked as house and groundskeepers at the other motels and hostels. Or maybe at the cemetery digging graves for all those who were born here and all those who wished to be buried here. She was old enough to have lived a long life, to see all her children grow up and have their own.

Elmer grabbed the woman’s thick ankles and feet, covered in worn, nurse-like shoes. He held her and gushed, letting it all go, asking for forgiveness. The children now cried with their father, reaching for him, holding each other, their little bodies pressed as close as possible to one another.

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Literary Magazines That Never Were

imagesHUYW102E

A collection of literary magazine’s I’ve invented in my head….

Curio

Algorithm

The Hidalgo Review

Yonderlandia

Stopped Clock

Medusa’s Mirror

The Local Body of Water Press

White People Problems

Mona’s Kid

Image

Helen was getting drunk. Saucy, the waiter, poured her another glass of the 2007 Cab and she watched him, first with expectant eyes, then with the slightest guilt; her brow pitched upward thinking: maybe I shouldn’t have another.

            A small legion of Saucy’s cohorts dressed in snug white coats and black pants set the plates on the table. Anders, to Helen’s left, had the sustainable fish plate—seared albacore tuna over a posole broth—and a glass of Sprite. Greg, across from Helen, both hers and Anders’s manager in from St. Louis had the rib eye. It sat in a shallow pool of half bloody au jus staining the bottom of the whipped pile of garlic mashed potatoes next to it. Henry, from Finance, looked down at his vegetarian lasagna and breathed it in. He nodded yes to another glass of the Cab. Oscar, the Compliance Officer, sat next to Henry and finished up his gin gimlet and said “Yes, please,” to another cocktail and a glass of wine. His plate was also the rib eye with the autumn rice pilaf and not the potatoes.

They were in the middle of talking about deep frying turkey for Thanksgiving, which had just past.

“It’s a lot of trouble,” Oscar said. “And pretty dangerous, too. But damn it if wasn’t the best turkey I’ve ever had.”

“We tried it once,” Greg said, “but instead of getting a real turkey fryer, we filled up a metal trash can with oil and heated it from the bottom—over a fire. That sucker got so hot it started glowing! We had to lower the bird into the oil using spears.”

“But it was good, I bet, right?” Oscar said.

“Amazing. Crispy and moist, you know,” Greg said.

Butter and garlic and tannins rose from their table and it was the moment of the early evening when all restaurant managers make the conscious decision to lower the house lights a smidge. Those perceptive to changes in atmosphere notice it immediately. Those on the border of tipsy do, too—like they’ve just been tapped on the shoulder by an unnoticeable spirit.

“See that?” Helen said. “Right when the food comes out, of course. To make it look better.”

“Bon appétit,” Greg said.

Oscar hadn’t seen Henry or Greg in two months. He started to cut into his meat and said to them: “You heard about Mona’s kid, right?”

Henry had just put his first bite into his mouth. He chewed, swallowed. “No. What?”

Greg shook his head no, about to cut into the meat.

“Flew off his dirt bike in California City.” Oscar said. “He’s in a coma.”

“My God, that’s awful.” Greg set his fork and knife down. Henry stopped eating to listen. Anders took his second bite of fish, then a drink of his Sprite.

“How old is the boy?” Greg said.

“13.”

“How’s it look?” Henry said.

Oscar shook his head. He had already put a piece of steak in his mouth and was chewing on it, working it slow, then speeding up to answer Greg. “Not good. Mona’s been off for three weeks. Boy won’t come to. They tried to take him off the respirator but everything started to shut down.”

Saucy came with the sides. Brussel sprouts with roasted garlic and pine nuts, asparagus tips in warm salted rosemary oil, and mashed sweet potatoes. “How we doing folks?” he said.

“Fine.” Anders spoke in mid-chew.

Saucy put his hands together as if in prayer and bowed slightly. “Enjoy.”

Greg stared down at his plate. “That’s horrible. I met him once. Good kid.”

“They should just let him go,” Helen said.

“There’s not much they can do.” Oscar cut another gash into his steak and bent his head down a bit to smell it. “This is a good steak.”

“Fish is great,” Anders said.

“Will you pass the asparagus, Helen?” Oscar said.

“What can we do? For Mona?” Henry said.

“Donate your PTO.” Oscar heaped the asparagus onto his plate. He handed it over to Anders and took a drink of wine. “She needs the time.”

“She used up all her long-term leave when Barry’s mother died in February. That family. I tell you.” Helen sipped her Cab, set the glass down, and patted her chest.

Henry took a drink of his wine. Anders kept his eyes on his plate. He was halfway done with his dinner. Greg shook his head and cut into the meat.

Oscar turned to Helen. “You know, I did notice that. How the lights just went dim.” He cut again, put the slice onto his fork and scooped a heap of rice with it. He chewed and looked up at the chandeliers. They glowed warm though amber-stained glass—the outline of a rose etched in each one with a mauve glaze for the petals.

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