Stories

Chiclets in Columbus Circle, by Mary Ellen Gambutti

#literary #memoir #new york

This day in 1955 is as clear a summer day as any I can recall. Mom and I have been staying with my grandparents, a block from Central Park, where I swing and play in the sand. Today’s adventure is a trip with Nana on the D train from Columbus Circle to Greenwich Village. She instructs me to hold her cotton-gloved hand, and we step through the tiled portal into a strange subterranean world.

Her best friend, Mrs. Toomey, lives on MacDougal Street, and Nana wants to show me off for the first time. They met in the late 1920’s, through her daughter, Katherine, and my mom, Agnes, when they all lived in the Village. Nana and Grandad moved up to West 58th Street when Agnes and her brother were ready for high school. But the women and girls have stayed friends.

Down underground, Nana pays for tokens, which is subway money, at a booth. She lifts me up, drops a brass coin into the slot, and pushes the wooden arms of the turnstile, causing a ratchet sound as we go through. Then she pushes us through a tall gate with bars, and we are near the tracks. I peer from Nana’s safety toward the tube with blinking lights. A man shines shoes at a big stand near the back wall, and I smell the polish. By the newstand–the dusky smell of newsprint.

People walk this way and that, while we wait for our train. I spy a glass jug with bubbling, swirling orange drink, and ask Nana. She gives the vendor a coin, and he presses the knob. The cool pleasure of smooth un-carbonated sips of orangeade from a conical wax paper cup stays with me.

Hand in hand we hurry to the train car as the engineer calls out the next stop, and sliding doors hiss and snap shut. Nana guides me toward a smooth, woven rattan seat, near an open-window. As we pick up speed, the breeze builds, and the cold white wall tile outside the train blurs its black writing. Inside, wall fans whir. The car isn’t full, so no-one stands at the center steel pole or at the swinging grip handles. In our seats we sway to the click-clack rhythm of track. Ceiling lights flash as we roar through the tunnels. I press against Nana’s petite frame for comfort, and her smile shows pride in me. My legs dangle below the hem of my yellow summer dress.

Amid the screech of steel brakes, we arrive at Houston Street station, and emerge into jagged light, stifling New York afternoon, traffic din, and reek of overflowing trash cans. Across the street, red brick dust arises, workmen shout, and a wrecking ball pendulum swings from a massive chain frightening me. Nana holds my hand through the fear, and leads me up the front concrete stoop of an apartment building.

Through the stale hallway by a wall of mailboxes, we climb three narrow flights past shabby plaster and the smell of cooking. Mrs. Toomey has seen us on the sidewalk from her front window and opens to us with a warm smile, and an accent I’ve heard from my father’s great aunt Kate Caffrey. In Mrs. T.’s floral parlor, the two old friends chat, drink hot tea. I kneel on the carpet at the coffee table with cold milk and crumbly powdered-sugar cake. After, I might have napped.

On the train back to 59th Street and Columbus Circle, I sit in a corner seat by myself, while Nana sits adjacent. At the station there’s a gum dispenser, and I ask.

Nana produces two pennies, pushes the first into the slot, and says, “Hold your hand under it,” and turns the crank. One white Chiclet square drops into my palm. Then another penny, another turn, another Chiclet–both instantly in my mouth–I know what to do with peppermint sugar excitement

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Haibun: Tokyo Years, by Mary Ellen Gambutti
Stories

Haibun: Tokyo Years, by Mary Ellen Gambutti

#japan #memoir #tokyo #womenauthors

June day
a child says goodbye
breeze blows on the runway

Steel stairway, wings and jet engines. Our Pan Am Boeing 707 in sun-glare. Idlewild to San Francisco, to Honolulu, then to Tokyo. Blue bows braided into my pigtails, blue plaid summer dress catches a hot breeze. Suddenly, I realize my Cinderella watch is still tucked into the seat pocket, and I’ll never see it again. Our family of four begins a three-year adventure in a new country and culture, far from my grandparents’ secure New Jersey home–our place of permanence–amid our transitory Air Force life. My father’s Far East forays are difficult for Mother, baby sister and me, but we are open to learn and enjoy this beautiful land and culture.

The Japanese expression for a sweet memory link–to a song, familiar food, place–is Natsukashii. I return to the traditional music of the stringed Koto, the popular song of“Sakura” Cherry Blossom, the colors and textures in silk fabric, in straw, bamboo, the plants; the scent of burning cone incense, sweet waxy red ink of my honko initial stamp, all of the imagery and life that was the Tokyo I knew.
A lush water garden captivates me. A chain of blue iris-filled streams and four wooden arched bridges over beads of glimmering ponds. Green iris leaves spike, and purple flower shades coalesce and merge filling each tiny brook. Dragonflies dart and hover on water lily pads. Ladies with black hair piled and fastened wear silk printed kimono. High geta shoes; gentle sound of wood on wood. Serenity.

Washington Heights–over eight-hundred housing units, office buildings, schools, movie theatre, chapel, base exchange, clubs, and swimming pools–was a sprawling middle class community built in 1946. Courts of quadplex landscaped with Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Yews, and Maples, green lawns for children, and sidewalks lined with cherry trees becomes our home the summer of 1961. A three-acre grove of black oak and pine stretched along a wide slope below our neighborhood. I roamed the mossy ground among big stones, on paths under a domed canopy in dappled light, or in bare winter chiaroscuro. We children carved hearts in bark, and peeled hardened cambium scars to renew old initials and friendships. Cicadas slipped their shells, claws gripped to rough bark. We wore papery skins on our shirts like badges. These trees, a forest fragment, spilled over a high fieldstone wall undulating at the edge of our play space. One-hundred and seventy acres of evergreens surrounding Meiji Shrine and inner garden were planted in 1926 to honor spirits of the Emperor and Empress, last rulers of Tokyo’s Edo period. The wall banked and bordered my sanctuary, my peaceful shrine.

sultry summer day
mantis in a bamboo cage
horned beetle eats jam

I attended fifth and sixth grades at an international girls school several miles from Shibuya-Ku and Washington Heights. Sisters of Notre Dame taught French, English Grammar, Arithmetic, Art and the sacred rule of Silence. We wore navy blue, but for family days, when our traditional garb, art, music and foods were relished. A cathedral-like chapel, medals bestowed for merit, giggles in refectory lunches, field sports, and myriads of smiles, all too brief.

Dad liked to venture outside the gate with us to Shinjuku shopping district. Vivid images, textures, toys entice me. Doll faces fascinated. A ten-year-old’s allowance of a few Yen could buy tiny glass animals, a pair of painted wood peg kokeshi dolls, lucky Daruma dolls, Hakata dolls in folk dress, or eggshell faced Ichimatsu Gofu, boy and girl baby dolls. Mom chose a kimono-clad Geisha doll in a glass case, and a delicate-looking red-flowered paper umbrella, Wagasa, waterproofed with oil, made with bamboo ribs, for spring and early summer rains. We followed mingled fragrances of street food: steamy Yakisoba noodles, tasty fried or grilled dumplings, savory grilled rice crackers, skewered chicken Yakitori.
Slated as the site of 1964 Summer Olympics, Washington Heights was set to be demolished. Dad made ready to move us summer of 1963, so we could be spared the sight of familiar buildings razed. I did my best to adjust to the move to Johnson Air Force Base, Irumagawa, north of western Tokyo, but change always came too quickly.
I missed my grove of trees, and one day I wandered on a shaded path at the rear of our quarters. I found myself at the top edge of a tea paddy, above a vast field of manicured tea bushes. Below to the right was “Ichiban Village,” airman’s housing. Ichiban means number one. I am “number one” daughter, and at twelve, would attend base junior high that fall. I squeezed through a break in the barbed wire fence and picked a handful of aromatic leaves. I breathed fresh air under a wide, blue sky. Ninety miles away, snow-capped Mt. Fujiyama, suspended from soft clouds. On rides through the city of Sayama to another airbase, I’d seen picturesque fields, farmers in peasant garb bending in rows, and Fuji San, getting closer, getting farther away.

In Spring – Sakura
beloved cherry blossoms
sidewalks turning pink

~~~~~~~

Want to read more by Mary Ellen Gambutti? Read her previous story, I Must Have Wandered.

Cover photo: TWO GEISHA AND THEIR WATER-LOGGED GHOSTS IN THE HORIKIRI IRIS GARDENS of OLD TOKYO, JAPAN, by Okinawa Soba (Rob).

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The Unhealable Wound, by Michelle Lindsey

#crime #memoir #police

Cover image by Adèle d’Alleray

There are some situations that strike the soul deeply and time is the only cure.

9:00 PM
“Mom, open this goddamn door!” Laura roared in between pounding fists on her mother’s bedroom door. “Mom! I’m not kidding! Open this fucking door!” Laura’s pummels grew more insistent the longer her mother remained silent on the other side. Each forceful pound sounding more muffled by the heavy barrier between them.


Karen sat quietly on the edge of her bed, fingers absently tracing the patterns on her quilt. Her daughter’s pleading voice seemed to barely penetrate the solid wood door separating the two of them.

She pulled a notebook out of her bedside drawer. She uncapped her pen and scrawled careful letters across the paper. She began to write: My dearest Laura….


“Shitbags,” Deputy Peterson mumbled under his breath while he watched his fellow deputy take down a witness report from the tiniest old woman he had ever seen. Her frail frame seemed to fold in itself as she hugged her elbows.

Deputy Peterson turned back to his witness. The owner, the very nice old lady- small enough to fit into his pocket, claimed her neighbor saw someone take her UPS package off her porch. The other deputy didn’t need him; but, he liked to help. He listened and took notes while the man swore he saw some unsavory ‘feller’ in her yard a few days ago. “I seen him snoopin’ around here just the other day” he drawled on. Of course he saw an unsavory character, Deputy Peterson thought to himself. He cast a glance at the neighborhood and shook his head slightly. They would never find who stole her package in this neighborhood. Dilapidated houses loomed over him- one swift wind and the jenga towers would come crashing down. Game over.

Deputy Peterson glanced at his watch to write down the time. 9:00 PM. It’s only 9 and he’s already dealt with two home visits for minors on house arrest, a dumbass who thought driving down the interstate at 130 MPH was a brilliant idea, and this theft report of someone robbing this nice lady. Yeah, it’s going to be a long night, he thought to himself as he finished the interview with the ‘witness’. A term he was going to use lightly.


9:05 PM
Laura continued to bang on her mother’s door. She paused and pressed her ear to it. The door felt solid, stable. She traced the grain of the wood with her fingertips while she awaited an answer she knew she wouldn’t get. Tears blurred her vision and the pattern of the door began to drown.

“Mom, I don’t know what to do. Tell me what I can do. Please. Just open the door.” She waited a second- her ear pressed against the heavy door. Silence. She knew something wasn’t right.

Laura started thrusting her tiny frame into the solid wooden door but her size was no match. Regardless, she continued. She could feel bruises forming on her arms and shoulders as she continued to try to break down through the only stable thing within the house.


Her daughter’s pleas weren’t loud enough to sway Karen’s decision. She signed her note: I will always love you and set it down on her freshly made bed. She was sure she would find it there. She glanced at the ripped corner of the newspaper- a marriage announcement. She clutched the smiling couple in her hands until their faces folded in on themselves. She dropped it on the bed next to the note. She unfolded the old, withered towel she grabbed from the linen closet and laid it out of the floor. That won’t do, she thought. She dragged the towel away from the laminate flooring and readjusted it on the tile in her adjoining bathroom, smoothing out all the corners and wrinkles.


Deputy Peterson returned to his cruiser to type up the report. Protocol has them draft the report on paper and then upload it to their software system later. Although a little redundant, It’s pretty effective. They don’t always have time to immediately type the report and the longer they wait- the more information they may forget. He leaned back in the driver’s seat of his cruiser while he watched his colleague finish up the interview with the victim. He hated that the assurances his colleague was more than likely providing were in vain. He cranked the key. The motor in his cruiser roared to life and he began typing.


9:08 PM
“Mom?” Laura pleaded through the door. She rammed her body into it one more time. Pain spread up her arm and into her neck. How much longer could she keep doing this? She pressed her ear to the door one more time. Silence. Fear and anger continued to radiate throughout Laura’s core. That’s it, she thought to herself. She grabbed her cellphone and made the call.

“911. What is your emergency?”

Laura didn’t know what to say. How could she formulate the situation without breaking down into hysterics? She felt like she was betraying her mom.

“Hello? 911. What is your emergency?”

Laura found a voice that didn’t sound like her. The voice she discovered was that of a little girl. Not a 17 year old about to graduate. “Yes, I need help.”

“Yes, how can we help you?”

“I think,” Laura struggled to find the words, “I think my mom is going to kill herself.” There. She finally admitted it. A new reign of fear caused her limbs to convulse and her voice to shake. A new round of tears raked the sides of her cheeks and her lips quivered as she struggled to make out what the dispatcher was saying.

“Ma’am, we need your address. Where are you?”

Laura regurgitated the address she’s had memorized since she was six. She currently didn’t recognize her childhood home.

“Okay, ma’am, we’re sending help your way. Please stay on the line with me until a deputy makes it to you. Where is your mom now?”

“Um… locked in her room. I can’t hear anything. She isn’t making any noise.”

“Ma’am do you have any guns or weapons in the house?”

Oh, god. Laura’s heart momentarily faltered within her chest. Did her mother have a gun? She shouldn’t. Dad took his guns with him. She honestly didn’t know the answer, “I don’t think so. I don’t know!” Laura fought the urge to vomit.

“Ok, just stay on the line, a deputy will be to you shortly. What’s your name?”

“Laura. My name is Laura”


Karen stood on the towel in her bathroom. She placed a hand over her chest and felt the steady beats of her heart, She closed her eyes and listened to the rhythm of her fleeting life. She knew what she wanted. Her daughter would eventually understand. Everyone would understand once they read the note.

She took a deep breath and reached for the steak knife she grabbed from the kitchen. She had the knife hidden in her vanity drawer for days now. Laura didn’t notice it was missing. If she had noticed, she would have suspected.

Her left hand stayed on her chest, pressing down on bones meant to protect her heart.

She held the knife by the handle and examined the sawed edge. Although dulled with use, it would still cut through their steaks without a problem. Pain was never an issue. Karen hadn’t felt anything is years. This was a long time coming.

Her fingers danced their way down her breastplate, feeling each climb and fall of bone and space. She placed two index fingers over the place right between her breasts. She took the knife and extended her arm out to the side of her body. In one fluid motion, she charged the knife right for her target.


“343, do you copy?”

Deputy Peterson grabbed his radio, “343 copy, over”. He released the tab on the side of his radio waiting for a response. Good. Anything to get him the hell away from this backwoods neighborhood and this sad old lady. The broken streetlights cascaded uneven light throughout the street. Even in the dark, Deputy Peterson could be the decay. The rot.

“We have a possible attempted suicide in progress, over.”

Oh shit.

“343, copy. On my way”.

He signaled to his fellow deputy that he had to go as he turned on his lights and sirens and headed to another house deeper in the neighborhood. Red and blue flashing lights lit up the houses as he barreled his way down the streets.


9:10 PM
“Laura? Are you still on the line?”

“Yes!” Laura began beating on her mother’s door again. “I can hear her screaming! You have to hurry!” Laura’s stomach rolled as she listened to her mother’s bursting screams continue.

“A deputy is on his way. Make sure you’re standing in the light and wave him down when you see him. Stay out of the road.”

“I can’t just leave her!”

“Laura, the deputy can get to your mother quicker if he knows where she is. EMS are on the way too.”

Laura hesitated while a new fit of wretchedness sounded from the crack underneath her mother’s door. Laura’s hesitation quickly gave way and she ran through the front door, the screen door flying off the hinges and left hanging in the wake of her exit.

She ran to the street light that sat in their front yard and she began to pace.

“I don’t see anyone!” She screamed into the phone.

“ I know you’re upset. But I need you to remain calm. They are on their way. A deputy should be there in approximately three minutes.” Three minutes? A lot could happen in three minutes. Laura’s mind raced with thoughts of her mother and what could happen in three minutes. She continued to pace.


The bone protecting her precious organ was proving to be a problem. Karen underestimated the power it would take to penetrate the bone and puncture her heart. Anger flourished in her as she yanked the serrated knife from her chest, blood pooling on her shirt and onto the floor. With a scream of pain, aggravation, and sheer adrenaline, she plunged the knife into her chest a second time. Hoping this time her strength could could get the job done.


“Where the fuck is this house?” Deputy Peterson breathed into the dashboard. His eyes raked both sides of the street. He turned a corner and found a homely girl with no shoes standing in the middle of her yard. Her frantic arm movements signaled for him. He slammed the cruiser into park and threw his body out of the car.


9:13 PM
“He’s here!” Laura hung up the phone and dropped it in the grass by her feet. She hoped he wasn’t too late.

“My mom! Please hurry! She locked herself in her room! I tried to get in but-”

“Are there any other exits in her room besides her door?” He barked as Laura fumbled with her words. He started heading towards the house.

“What? Yes. Wait. No. Her windows still have shutters from the st-”

“Do you have any weapons in the house?” He yelled over his shoulder as he stormed up the steps on the front porch.

“What? No! I don’t know! I-” Choking sobs cut off her words as she ran after him. She made it onto the first step of the porch before he held up a big meaty hand, halting her immediately.

“Where’s her room?” He drew his gun from his belt.

“Oh my god! Why do you have a gun? You have to go help her!”

“You wait out here. Wait for the ambulance. When you see them, flag them down, yell for me.” He turned to face her for a moment.

“Ma’am? Did you hear me?” He stared into her dirty face but her eyes were wild with fear.

“Ma’am?”

“Yes, I heard you. But-”

“Stay. Out. Here.” He commanded as he silently ushered his way through the front door. Laura was left outside by herself. Without the comfort of the dispatcher on the phone, she felt vulnerable in the dark. Her body shuddered uncontrollably as she continuously repeated her directions. “Wait for the ambulance. Flag them down. Yell for him. Wait for the ambulance. Flag them down. Yell for him.”


Karen faded back into consciousness. She was now on the floor. Blood pooled around her midsection and the knife was sticking out of her chest. Only a few inches of the blade concealed by her meaty flesh. Her strength failed her. She couldn’t break the bone.

The pounding on the door had stopped moments before she blacked out. She thought she heard a man’s voice but the ringing in her ears made it hard to tell. She must have hit her head. She couldn’t help but wonder how long she was out. Not long enough to bleed to death, she answered herself.

Realizing her method was failing, she grabbed hold of the knife once more. Her head was foggy and her vision was cloudy. The handle slippery with blood. She yanked it out of her chest, tearing flesh and shirt away with it. Karen cried out in pain but her cry was pitiful and weak. Shallow gasps of breath consumed her. She knew she had to act quickly.

The pounding on her bedroom door began again. This time harder, more forceful. Before she lost consciousness again, she thrusted the knife upward through her stomach, just below the breastbone. She hoped the upward angle would be enough. Blackness swirled around her and before she fell back into the black abyss she longed for, her bedroom door came crashing open.


Deputy Peterson gripped his gun, the barrel facing the floor. With situations like this, he could never tell how it would play out. Mentally unstable people were the most dangerous cases. Their actions unpredictable. If she had a gun, he needed to be prepared. He inched his way across the living room. The house was small, dark, dirty. His boots were sticking to the laminate floors with every step. When he got deeper into the living room, he could see the door to the master bedroom.

He rapped loudly on the bedroom door. “Ma’am? I’m Deputy Peterson with the Maycounty Sheriff’s Office. Can you hear me?” He waited for a response. He pressed his ear to the door frame and stilled his breathing. He listened. His trained ears told him it might be too late. He knocked again, this time more forcefully. He listened again. A strange gurgling sound hit his ears and that was all he needed. He backed up a few feet away from the door and used his booted foot and strength in his legs to force the solid wood door open. It took one, solid kick and the door crashed open hitting the wall with a loud thud. He surveyed the room, seeing nothing. It wasn’t until he turned to see the bathroom that he realized he may have been right about his timing.

“343, requesting backup, over.” He released the lever on the radio and cleared his mind. Training and experience started to take over.

“343, backup on the way, over.”

He hastily moved over to the lifeless body on the bathroom floor. He surveyed the scene before taking action. He had seen something like this before. A man pretended to be dead, only to try to steal his fellow officer’s gun when he reached down to check for a pulse. Deputy Peterson reached to the back of his gun belt and took out his rubber gloves. Deputies always have gloves, just in case. Once his hands were protected from the blood, he checked for any other weapons besides the knife protruding from the woman’s abdomen. When he was satisfied he didn’t see any, he checked for a pulse. Although faint, he could feel life hanging on in the arteries in her neck. Within seconds he had towels around the blade and he was applying pressure to the wound. He learned not to remove weapons until EMS arrived to ensure the weapon didn’t hit any vital organs. He didn’t need her bleeding out internally when a fair amount of blood covered the bathroom floor already. He applied pressure and he waited for backup. He thought back to the girl standing in the front yard, counting on him to save her mom. He looked down at the woman sprawled on the floor. This one was going to haunt his dreams for awhile. They always do.


9:16 PM
“They’re here! Hey! They’re here!” Laura screamed through the front door. Laura was about to run into the house but remembered she was supposed to show them the way. Wait for the ambulance. Flag them down. Yell for him. She needed them to get there quickly so they could help her mom. Despite the swirling lights of Deputy Peterson’s patrol car, she ran back to her street light and waved her arms frantically, hoping they saw her. “Flag them down” she repeated to herself.

A young man jumped out of the passenger side before the ambulance came to a complete stop. A team of men routinely gathered gear and a stretcher. Laura watched in awe as the red lights repeatedly illuminated her face, momentarily blinding her with each pass.

A man was running up the driveway and headed for the steps. She retreated into the shadows of the lawn. He was met by Deputy Peterson and they briefly exchanged words before the EMT slipped into the house followed by the others and the stretcher. The gravity of the situation caused Laura to fall to her knees. She buried her face into her hands and released heavy sobs.


Deputy Peterson could hear the wailing of the sirens as they rounded the corner and pulled closer to the house. He waited. He counted to fifty before releasing the wound and running to the front door. His job was to secure the scene and he needed to explain that the only weapon was still lodged in the victim. He needed to time it just right so the pressure wasn’t off the wound very long. After fifty seconds, he released his hold on the woman and reluctantly went out onto the porch.

After briefing them, the men ran past him and into the house. Deputy Peterson carefully took off his gloves, careful to use the innards of one to remove the other. Although his uniform was soaked in her blood, he preferred his hands to stay sanitized.

He moved his way over to Laura and stood by her, blocking her view of the house. Careful to remain in the shadows so she wouldn’t notice the state of his uniform. He needed to keep her separated from her mother.


9:20 PM
Laura peered up through her fingers to see Deputy Peterson standing by her. The pain that she had been ignoring now licked its way up her arm and throughout the top of her back. Her arm felt too thick in her shirt sleeve. The EMTs were still inside. It seemed like a long time to be in there. Too long. She cried out in pain from her arm, from her mom.

A light blinded her once more as Deputy Peterson shined his flashlight on her arm to inspect.

“We need to have your arm looked at too.” He said matter of factly.

“Where’s my mom?” She questioned. Her voice faded away as exhaustion and pain overcame her.

Her questions were soon answered as a man came out on the porch, towing the stretcher with him. Another man ushered the head of it out the door and down the steps. Deputy Peterson was holding Laura back by her good arm. She didn’t even know she had stood. She didn’t realize she was trying to run to her mother.

In less time than it took Deputy Peterson to tell her she needed to stay back, her mother was loaded in the ambulance and hauled away. Sirens blared down the road. Within moments, the only sound was Laura’s ragged breathing.


Deputy Peterson released the hold on Laura’s arm. He didn’t mean to grab her so hard but she didn’t need to see what he saw. The mangled abdomen of her mother looked like something out of a horror movie. The image of torn flesh running on a circuit in his mind.

“Laura, I’m going to take you to the hospital to have your arm looked at. I’ll be there with you so we can over your statement.”

“Is my mom…?”

“You did the right thing, Laura.” He guided her to his cruiser, careful not to touch her injured shoulder. His hand absently fingered the breast pocket of his unform. He could feel he crumpled up newspaper and letter he swiped off the bed on his way out. Protocol says this should be in evidence but he knew Laura would need this someday. He didn’t have the heart to tell her now that her mother’s note was in his pocket, or that the EMT shared a knowing glance his way when he exited the house, confirming his suspicions that he did- indeed- feel the life slip away from her right underneath his blood soaked hands. For now, she needed to focus on healing. Her wounds are ones that would take a while to heal.

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I Must Have Wandered, by Mary Ellen Gambutti

#japan #memoir #realistic #short stories #womenauthors

On a sunny late June 1962 morning Mom directed me to return to school for my cordovan oxfords. I had forgotten to change into them on the last day of school, and wore my black indoor uniform loafers home on the bus. “Go get them!” she shouted. I was ten at the finish of fifth grade, a cautious child. To leave Washington Heights, our military housing complex, alone, on foot, was a daunting prospect. But I obeyed Mom and hiked to the main gate carrying nothing, not even my dependent’s identification card. A Japanese guard waved ‘bye,’ asked no questions as I entered Tokyo streets, to feel my way to Sacred Heart campus.

Beyond the sentry at my left was Meiji Park. I gathered my recollection of the school bus route, past the commuter rail station, and into the modern business district of Shibuya. Perhaps it was a Monday–maybe I’d been out of school a week—the sidewalks filled with boys in school uniform shirts and jackets, businessmen, department store shoppers in kimonos or skirts and blouses, pedestrians young and elderly; people I had come to trust during the first year my Air Force family lived in Japan.

City bustle around me, I rested briefly against a building, my head in a whirl. I exchanged smiles and bows, then made my way across a wide, busy intersection among the throng. With vague memory of the way, I began to ascend a narrow street into Hiroo, where homes rested along the road to my destination. Relieved to see the massive tori gate on my right, I walked under it and entered Sacred Heart school grounds.

My mission urgent, I turned up the stone driveway to the main building. Free of my uniform navy jumper and white blouse, and instead wearing sneakers, summer shirt and shorts, I felt out of place. Up the marble steps and into the halls of my all-girls school, I passed a few nuns, but they didn’t seem to notice me. In the cloakroom, that place where the daily business of shoe change and outerwear hanging was conducted under the demands of silence, I pulled the culprit shoes from my cubby. Without hesitation, I returned to the hall and exited into the drive, past the silent tea house and stone lantern, then under the tori—but what next? I should have turned left to descend through Hiroo, but did I?

I must have wandered; have no recollection of how long, or how I ended up in the village of Shinjuku opposite Washington Heights, the other side of Meiji Park. But when I found myself in front of a familiar shop, face to face with my American playmate, Kathy, and her mother, Mrs. Meadow, I was relieved.

“How did you get here? Are you alone?” Mrs. Meadow looked concerned. Kathy smiled in surprised.

I was tired, and gave in to self-pity. “My mother made me walk to school for my shoes.” I clutched them in my arms.

Mrs. Meadow, always friendly when I played with Kathy in their home, didn’t smile this time, but pointed to her car. “You can ride home with us.” I gladly accepted her offer of a small icy bottle of Pepsi, and rolled into the backseat of her Chevy.

I let the front screen door slam behind me, and held the shoes out to my mother. “Mrs. Meadow brought me home,” I told her, but said nothing about the journey.

“Put them in your closet,” was all I recall she said. She must have been relieved to see me, but I’ll never know.

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Under the Yaquina Bay Bridge, by Steve Carr

#memoir #realistic

Sitting on the edge of his bed, using his middle finger Jed slowly pushed apart one by one the photographs in the shoe box on his lap. Many were yellowed with age or had the remnants of Scotch tape on their corners from when they had been in photo albums. After going through them all and not finding the one he was looking for, he put the lid on the box and bent over and shoved it under the bed. Standing, he inhaled the aromas of the ocean being blown in through the open window. He put on his favorite cardigan he had laid on the end of his bed and left his room. Going down the stairs he heard Mrs. Jessup in the living room running the vacuum. As he opened the front door, the hinges creaked.
“You going somewhere, Jed?” Mrs. Jessup called out.
“Just for a walk,” Jed said, thinking she had the ears of a bat.
“Be back in time for lunch,” she said.
“I will,” he said, then went out the door and closed it behind him.
He stood on the porch for a moment and reached into a pocket in the sweater and took out a pack of chewing gum. He pulled out a piece and put the pack back in the pocket, then removed the paper wrapping and foil from the gum then put the stick of gum in his mouth. He put the pack back in the pocket then balled up the gum wrappers and tossed it into Mrs. Jessup’s flower garden along the bottom of the porch as he went down the porch steps.
Going down the walkway from the house to the sidewalk, Nero, the next door neighbor’s Golden Retriever came up behind him and shoved its cold nose in Jed’s hand. Jed patted the dog on the top of its head.
“No one looking after you again boy?” Jed said. “Come on, I’ll take you for a walk.”
Wagging its tail, the dog fell in place beside Jed’s left leg. At the end of the walkway, Jed paused momentarily, trying to decide which way he would go, then turned right on the sidewalk headed toward the 101, the main street and part of the coastal highway that ran through Newport.
A few houses down, Lark Maybury was standing at his hedges, a pair of clippers in his hands. “Where ya headed, Jed?” Lark said. Though retired from his position as a grocery store manager, Lark still wore a white shirt and tie no matter what he was doing. The tie he was wearing was being whipped about by the breeze.
“Nowhere in particular,” Jed said. “Just taking a walk.”
“Good morning for one if it weren’t for the wind,” Lark said.
“It’ll die down soon enough,” Jed said. As he continued on he said over his shoulder, “Don’t accidentally cut off that tie.”
“Got plenty more if I do,” Lark said.
Reaching the 101 Jed turned right and walked south. In front of him the green arch of the Yaquina Bay Bridge rose into the air from the bridge’s middle.
“You up for a walk across the bridge?” Jed said to Nero.
Nero affectionately shoved its body against Jed’s leg.
Within a hundred yards of the bridge’s walkway, Marris Hofstein pulled up beside him in his pickup truck and called out through the open passenger seat window, “You need a ride across the bridge, Jed?”
“No thanks,” Jed said. “Walking it for the fun of it.”
Marris pushed his straw hat back on his head. “You going to be at the Sea Net later?”
“Probably so,” Jed said. “As long as that busybody Mrs. Jessup doesn’t raise a fuss about it beforehand.”
Marris cackled. “Just don’t tell her,” he said.
“She knows what’s on my mind even before I do,” Jed said.
“If you make it you still owe me a beer,” Marris said before pulling back onto the road and heading across the bridge.
Jed stepped onto the bridge’s walkway and looked at the dark blue water below the bridge then out to where the Yaquina River flowed into the ocean, just a short distance away. The breeze had calmed but feeling a little chilled, Jed slid his hands into the sweater’s pockets, and hugged his arms to his sides and walked to the middle of the bridge, under the arch. At the railing as Nero stood on his hind legs and put his front paws on the railing, Jed watched the seagulls soaring above the gentle ocean waves.
He pulled the pack of gum from his pocket and removed a stick. After unwrapping it he rolled the wrapping in a ball and leaned against the railing. He put the stick of gum in his mouth and began to chew.
“Don’t tell anyone I’m throwing litter in the ocean,” he said to Nero.
He flicked the wad of wrapper out into the air and watched it slowly drift toward the water. Just before it would have landed on the surface, a hand reached up and grabbed it, and pulled it under. This was followed by a large blue-green fish tail rising above the water then disappearing beneath it.
Mouth agape, Jed stared at the water for several moments.
“I didn’t see what I think I did, did I Nero?” he said. “I must be losing my marbles.”
He hooked his hand into Nero’s leather collar and pulled him away from the railing, then turned toward home. He walked all the way back as rapidly as he could.
# # #
At the table, Jed peeled and tore apart the crust from the bread of his tuna salad sandwich. He had built a small mound of it and placed it on the table next to his plate without taking a bite of the sandwich.
“I thought you liked tuna salad,” Mrs. Jessup seated across from him asked.
“Can’t be,” Jed mumbled.
“It’s tuna salad alright,” Mrs. Jessup said. “I should know I opened the can of tuna and mixed in the mayonnaise, celery and onion myself, didn’t I?”
Jed looked up from his plate and saw her gazing at him with her usual expression of annoyance mixed with bewilderment. “Did you say something?” he said.
“Is there something wrong with your sandwich?” she said.
He picked it up and took a bite, chewed and swallowed. “Nah, tastes just like a tuna salad sandwich should.”
She took a sip of tea from a cup and staring at him, said, “Is there something bothering you? You’ve been acting strange ever since you got back from taking that walk.”
“I’m fine,” he said. “I was going to ask you, though, did you get into the shoebox with my photos? I can’t find the picture of Louise that I like so much.”
“Now, why should I get into your photographs?” she said defensively. “I have better things to do than get into your things.”
“I know,” he said. “I apologize for asking, but I can’t think for the life of me what I might have done with that picture. It was taken right before we found out she was pregnant with our son.”
“Oh, speaking of Randy, he called while you were out. He said he won’t be able to make it this weekend as he planned,” she said.
Jed took another bite of his sandwich. “I’m almost forgetting what he looks like.”
# # #
Getting up from the overstuffed chair, Jed stretched and held back from yawning, not wanting to wake up Mrs. Jessup who had fallen asleep in her rocking chair. He tiptoed across the room and up the stairs to his room. While putting on the cardigan he glanced around the room, thinking he had placed the photograph of Louise somewhere just to look at it and had forgotten. Not seeing it, he grabbed his wallet from the top of the dresser and got his shoes out of the closet and carried them down the steps. As he opened the front door, the hinges squeaked.
“You going somewhere, Jed?” Mrs. Jessup called out.
“Damn that woman’s ears,” he mumbled. “Just going for a walk,” he said.
“Another walk and at this time of night?” she said.
“As far as I know I can go out whenever I’d like to,” he said as he went out the door.
On the top step of the porch he put on his shoes. While lacing them, Nero bounded into the yard and ran up to Jed.
Jed rubbed the top of the dog’s head. “Sorry, boy. Not now.” He looked over at the neighbor’s yard and thought again that it was a shame that they weren’t spending more time with Nero. As he walked out of the yard he smiled as Nero peed on Mrs. Jessup’s flowers.
It was the first night of a full moon and it shone brightly in the middle of the black, starless sky. He pulled the collar of the sweater up around his neck and stuck a stick of gum in his mouth. He put the gum wrapper in his pants pocket and strolled to the 101. Before turning north, he looked at the bridge’s arch illuminated by the moonlight and let out an involuntary sigh. The moment made him miss Louise even more than usual.
A few blocks up, he entered the Sea Net Saloon. Sailing ships’ wheels, anchors, fishing nets, oars, life preservers, glass buoys, and a variety of fishing spears lined the walls. Old whale oil barrels topped with round sheets of plywood served as the six tables with wood casks as chairs. The floor was littered with peanut shells. Met with the aromas of beer and whiskey, Jed went straight to the bar where Marris was seated.
“Looks crowded in here tonight,” Jed said looking around at the two dozen people seated around the tables or in the rear of the saloon playing pool.
“I didn’t think Mrs. Jessup would let you out of the house,” Marris said.
“Me neither,” Jed said with a laugh. “She forgets I’m just a boarder and not her prisoner.”
Don, the bartender, was busy filling glasses of beer from the tap. Jed raised two fingers and shook them so that Don would notice. Don nodded.
“Where did you get the dog I saw you with today?” Marris said.
“He’s not mine. He belongs to the neighbors. He’s a great dog, but I think no one pays any attention to him but me,” Jed said.
“He looks a lot like my dog Rascal,” Marris said. “I sure do miss that dog.”
Jed took a peanut from the bowl on the bar and broke it open. “You ever see things that you know can’t be real?”
“Happened all the time when I was working on the boats,” Marris said. “The light on the water and things swimming around out there plays tricks on your eyes. You must of experienced that during all the years you were on the fishing boats.”
“This seemed a little different, but yeah I guess that’s what happened when I was on the bridge this morning,” Jed said.
Don placed two glasses of beer on the bar in front of Marris and Jed. “Who’s paying tonight?” he said.
“That’d be me,” Jed said as he took his wallet out of his back pocket and pulled out a twenty dollar bill and handed it to Don. “Keep ’em coming,” he said.
# # #
Jed had his hands in his pants pockets and tried to steady his gait. He wasn’t drunk, but he definitely felt tipsy. He stopped momentarily at the end of the street he lived on, then continued on toward the bridge. With the street lights and bright moonlight it was nearly as bright as dusk. The air was calm and filled with the scents of saltwater and fish. Sea lions were barking in the distance. As he stepped onto the bridge walkway he put his hand on the bridge railing and slid it along the rail as he walked to under the middle of the arch.
Looking down at the glassy surface of the water he took the package of gum from his cardigan pocket and took out a stick and unwrapped it. He put the gum in his mouth then rolled the wrapping into a ball and reached his hand out over the railing and let the ball drop. Just before the ball would have hit the water, a hand reached up and grabbed it, and pulled it under the water. This was followed by the loud splash of a tail fin; the same tail fin he had seen earlier.
Jed shook his head in disbelief. “Who’s down there?” he called out.
Getting no response, he leaned on the railing and looked out toward the ocean. It shimmered in the moonlight.
He took another piece of gum from the package and this time dropped the stick of gum. Out of the water rose a mermaid with long golden hair and with seaweed draped across her breasts. While in mid-air she grabbed the falling gum and put it in her mouth, then did a flip and dove head first into the water, pulling her long slender scale covered lower body and fins into the water with her.
“I’m not imagining this,” Jed said aloud gleefully. “My name is Jed,” he yelled down toward the water.
A fountain of water sprung up as high as the railing. Balanced on the top of it were the two balled gum wrappers.
# # #
Mrs. Jessup was standing at the bottom of the stairs when Jed walked through the front door. “I was about to call the police to go looking for you,” she said.
Jed grinned sheepishly. “I’m not allowed to go out?” he said.
“You’ve been drinking. I can smell it from here,” she said.
“And enjoyed every drop,” he said.
“I’m going to call your son and complain. He signed your lease to stay here and I made it very clear that I wouldn’t put up with drinking,” she said.
“Let me know what my son says since he never talks to me,” Jed said.
He walked past Mrs. Jessup and climbed the stairs and went into his room and turned on the light. He removed his cardigan and hung it on a hook on the closet door, then took off his shoes and placed them next to the bed. Sitting on the edge of his bed he pulled out the shoebox and removed the lid and placed it on the bed. Going through the photographs he pulled out the ones he had taken while on the fishing boat. He looked very closely at the ones taken of the ocean. The last one showed what he vaguely recalled seeing, a fin exactly like the mermaid’s jutting up from the water.
He put the lid on the box and put the box under the bed. He laid back on the bed and stared at the photograph. “I wish you were still here to talk to about this, Louise,” he said. He drifted off to sleep as the breeze through the open window carried in the aroma of the sea.
# # #
“Keep an eye out for you know who,” Jed said to Nero who was sitting at the bottom of the porch steps. Jed clipped the last of the carnations in Mrs. Jessup’s garden and tied the stem to the rest of the flowers.
“That should do it,” he said, turning the bouquet around admiringly. “C’mon boy.”
Walking at a fast pace with Nero at his side, Jed quickly reached the middle of the bridge. Leaning on the railing he looked at the calm waters under the bridge. “You down there?” he yelled.
The mermaid rose head first from under the water, then brought her entire body up and lay on the water slowly waving her arms and fin, creating concentric currents around her. He hair spread out on the surface and glistened in the sunlight. She smiled broadly and let out a small squeak of delight.
“We’ve been seeing each other for a couple weeks now,” Jed said. “I don’t think my dear departed Louise would mind if I gave you her name. Do you like the name Louise?”
The mermaid splashed the water with her fin.
“I brought you something Louise and it’s not gum this time,” he said.
The mermaid rolled over in the water, then dived under and sent up a spray of water.
Jed laid the bouquet on the top of the spray and watched it slowly descend. As the bouquet touched the water the mermaid surfaced and took hold of the bouquet and put it to her nose. She spun around in the water several times then did a flip and went under. A moment later a spray of water shot up with a multicolored shell in its center.
Jed reached out and grabbed it. “Thank you Louise,” he said.
The mermaid surfaced and squeaked several times, pointed at Jed, then pointed toward the ocean.
“You want me to go with you out there, Lousie?” he said.
The mermaid squeaked several times and splashed the water with her fin.
“If only I could,” Jed said. “If only I could.”
# # #
Jed sat on the edge of his bed with the shoebox in his lap. He looked at the pictures of him when he was a young boy flying a kite with his father, those of him when he played baseball in high school, the ones of him aboard the fishing boat, his wedding pictures, and pictures of his son. He put the lid on the box and sat the box in the middle of his bed. He turned out the light and left the room and went down the stairs and into the living room.
Mrs. Jessup looked up from the magazine she had in her hands. “So, have you come to finally apologize for cutting down my flowers?”
“I’m going out,” he said.
“If you go drinking don’t bother coming back,” she said.
“Have a good night, Mrs. Jessup,” he said.
He left the house and went to the neighbor’s house and knocked on their front door. The man who opened the door was dressed in a terrycloth robe and white sports socks.
“You got the money?” he said.
Jed pulled two one hundred dollar bills from his sweater pocket and handed it to him.
The man went into the house and came back a few minutes later with Nero on a leash. He handed the leash to Jed.
“He’s all yours,” the man said, then closed the door.
As Jed walked toward the 101, he saw Lark Maybury was in his front yard and looking up at the starry sky with a telescope. He had on a white shirt and was wearing a tie.
“Fine night for star gazing,” Lark said upon seeing Jed.
Jed looked up at the sky. “Sure is Lark,” he said.
“Where you headed with the dog?” Lark asked.
“To see a friend,” Jed said. “Before I go can I borrow your hedge clippers for a minute?”
“Oh, sure, they’re in the shed. Hold on a minute and I’ll go get them for you,” Lark said handing the telescope to Jed.
Jed looked at the constellations while Lark walked to the back of his house then returned a few minutes later.
He handed the clippers to Jed. “Kinda late to be clipping hedges.”
“But not too late to do this,” Jed said as he clipped Lark’s tie in half. He handed the clippers back to a speechless Lark and walked away.
On the 101 he turned north. In the parking lot of the Sea Net he met Marris who was standing by his truck.
“This is for you, my friend,” Jed said as he handed Nero’s leash to Marris.
“You giving me this dog?” Marris said, rubbing Nero’s head.
Nero’s entire body was in movement as he wagged his tail.
“He needs someone who will appreciate him,” Jed said.
“Thanks, Jed. This is quite a gift,” Marris said. “How about a beer?”
“Not tonight. I have to be somewhere,” he said.
“You want a ride?” Marris asked.
“No thanks,” Jed said. “I feel like walking.”
As he left the parking lot he looked back. Using a work glove, Marris was playing tug of war with Nero. His friend was laughing and Nero’s tail was wagging.
Walking onto the bridge walkway he looked up first at the night sky then at the bridge’s arch. At the railing he leaned over and called out. “You down there Louise?”
The mermaid broke through the black glassy surface of the water and did a spin and squeaked several times. She laid on her back on the water and doing back strokes circled about sending out small waves.
Jed took off his shoes and socks and placed them on the railing. Before taking off his cardigan he reached into the pockets and in one found the photo of Louise he thought was lost. In it she was sitting on a rock looking out at the sea, her long hair being blown by the wind. Jed kissed the picture and placed it by his shoes. He placed his cardigan on the railing then climbed over. Just before he leaped the mermaid send up a spray of water that caught him in mid-air and gently lowered him to the water.
Together, Jed and Louise swam out to sea.

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