November 28, 2015

The Thick of Things – by Chuck Teixeira

(c) Chuck Teixeira, 2015

The only gloves were those Mark brought to the game, equipment his older brothers had left when they moved away from the collieries, gear that usually guaranteed Mark a spot on the team of his choice and a turn at the plate no matter how choppy his swing or how often the bat sailed farther than the ball.

Easter had not yet arrived and no one expected the good weather to last; but since it had held to the weekend, amid sportscaster talk about grapefruit and cactus leagues, Mark hauled his stuff to the rough baseball diamond that neighborhood jocks had cleared in the huge field not far from the last street with wooden houses.  Beyond the diamond, the field spread a mile or two below hills of shale toward the Company Town where disabled miners lived in tarpaper shacks.

As Mark approached the diamond, excited talk arose from a game that had already started between teams already picked.  An older kid that Mark didn’t recognize was walking toward the pitcher’s mound.  He signaled for Mark to come closer, then asked him to play Super Deep Left to retrieve any balls headed toward the abandoned shaft beyond the low rubble marker for home runs.

“I’m Gerry,” he said, bright green eyes smiling from deep brown skin. “Let’s not waste one of the few remaining days in the life of your old mitts.  Give them to the infielders.  And make sure my cousin, Pearl, gets a one.”

“Why,” Mark said.

“Because you’re more likely to throw the glove at a fly ball than use it to make a catch.  That’s why.” Jerry winked and tapped Mark between the legs.

Mark blushed as he walked obediently toward Pearl.  She seemed surprised when Mark offered a glove to her, but not surprised enough to say thanks.  One of the toughest girls in the neighborhood, Pearl liked playing First Base, a real position, and batting near the top of the order. “Easy out!” she shouted over Mark’s head toward the plate, her spittle grazing his face.

In conversations Mark had overheard a few weeks earlier, Pearl dropped hints about Gerry.  He was 19 years old, almost twice Mark’s age, and a hot-shot from New York. He even attended Yankee games when his life of crime allowed.  Right now, his life of crime had him lying low. Pearl had been vague about who was after Gerry and about how long he might stay in their small town west of Wilkes-Barre.

Just overhearing Pearl talk about Gerry had excited Mark.  He was from the part of Pearl’s family that had married Caribbean.  Now, actually here, he was bigger and darker than any of the talk about him.  Super Deep Left was still boring but less so with a clear purpose for being there and a clear view of the pitcher’s mound and Gerry’s graceful delivery.  Fortunately, no balls came anywhere near Mark that inning, which saved him the embarrassment of trying to throw them back.   When Gerry had retired the side, Mark went in to take a turn with one of the bats he had carried from home.

“Put the bat down,” Gerry said.  “You have to retrieve balls for both sides.  Get back out there.”

“No fair,” Mark said, “First my gloves, now my bats.”

Gerry stooped, put his arm around Mark’s shoulder and his mouth against Mark’s ear. “So you bat worse than any girl.  Big fucking deal.  So Short Stop and shallow Center aren’t right for you.  They’re not right for any fat guy.” He put his hand firmly on Mark’s belly, held it there a moment, and said “We’ll find the perfect position for you.  Let me work on it.  And while you’re a little distance from immediate action, give some thought to how best to help me, how best we can work together.”

Mark had trouble locating his breath. He looked around as though for a piece of equipment he had carelessly dropped.  Then in rapture and trying not to waddle, he walked quickly toward the shaft — his ears ravished with the way Gerry had mouthed “fucking” — real close, real nonchalant, not like the rickety training-wheel profanities that local toughs were starting to try.  Mark’s mind began to pulse with thoughts that Gerry might be around through the rest of spring, maybe deep into summer, maybe even move into town.  And about working together, Mark could be the back-office brain behind Gerry’s business savvy and good looks.  Gerry was someone Mark could change for.  No more threatening to take his equipment home if he didn’t get picked for a team or had to skip a turn at bat.

Then Mark caught sight of his surroundings, and all hope fled from his future.  Apart from his own desire and Gerry’s encouragement, most things in the neighborhood worked against their partnership.  Even the trees were ugly.  Many were covered with caterpillar tents, huge nests like the white fur muffs girls had worn to church that winter.

This wasn’t the first year Mark had seen moth infestations.  But Gerry was from the Big City and must have found them weird.  So far the plague had not reached the maple that rimmed the field where they were playing or the birch and elm clustered on the hills beyond the mine shaft.  But in the line of choke cherry and crab apple on the path to the Company Town, where Gerry must have been staying with Pearl’s family, armies of mummies stirred to life.

They frightened Mark.  Once, he’d been teased into close contact with them.  Then suddenly and clearly, it occurred to him. These were the thickets where he would hide Gerry if anyone tried hunting him down. Sure you could suffocate and die if the larvae swarmed into your nose and mouth; but he would protect Gerry as best he could and hope the pursuers would be too scared to enter.



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More stories from Chuck Teixeira

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November 15, 2015

The Kinsevej Fire (Burning in Love)  – by Chuck Teixeira

(c) Chuck Teixeira, 2015

Mom woke Sis and me in the middle of the night.  I’d heard the sirens in my dream; and, when Mom called, I could see the fire engines on our street.   They were trying to save the Kinsevej place, the ground floor already engulfed in flame.  Now and then, they hosed the side of our house closest to the blaze.  Neighbors gathered in small groups across the street.  Many wore heavy coats over their pajamas. Some had rosaries and looks that accompany prayer.

The fire captain was downstairs talking with Mom. He unbuttoned his jacket and pushed a hand through salt-and-pepper hair. He suggested the family evacuate in case the fire jumped to our home.  Looking over Mom’s shoulder, he smiled at Sis and me.

Earlier in the day, Mom had made a cake. “It’s for your brother who’s returning from Korea,” she said and left it on the kitchen table, like a talisman to protect our future.

I took the rosary I’d just received for first communion.  I considered celebrating a miniature mass – the way Sis had made a small but real cake with the baking set Santa had just brought.  But there wasn’t enough spare attention to make the effort count.  I was just a liaison with universal forces that grew angry if ignored after being summoned.  Anyway, when confronted by the burning house, I sensed that failure to subdue demons that threatened our block, might lead neighbors to doubt my utility in future crises.  I entrusted our survival to the fire captain.  I hoped he would appreciate my desire for world safety. When the fire was out, I would entertain his crew with my Elvis Presley imitation.

I had developed that occult power over music at community picnics, where I made my way to the dance floor and gyrated like the King – though too short and fat to fool anyone for long.  People cheered me; some fell on the floor laughing.  Sis said that people were only making fun of me.  She didn’t understand that laughter was part of the universe I was learning to release.

I walked toward the fire captain to tell him how I planned to demonstrate my gratitude; but he pushed me away and shouted to get back.  From a dark artery in the cosmos, bad thoughts began to bleed into my brain, doubts about the captain’s appreciating my contribution to the general welfare and the precious bond I was willing to create.

I settled into a group of rosary-wielding neighbors.  Katarina was in that group but wasn’t praying.  She was one of the few teenagers left in town.  She boasted about sneaking into movies and committing other mid-century American sins.  She smiled at me; but her being nice wasn’t going to save her from hell, unless my own transcendence could trickle down.  Her Aunt Clare was leading the rosary, in a Third Order of Saint Francis habit, instead of a top coat.

Katarina kept abreast of trends and helped with the cool parts of my life that complemented the holy ones.  Her interests, however, lay in stand-alone country music without motion picture offshoots that had real community impact.  She had just learned the lyric to “Wolverton Mountain” and offered to teach me it for a quarter or, for a little more money, a raunchy substitute. When she gave me a sample for free, Aunt Clare scolded that we should pray instead, so God could hear us above the hoses and the engines.  I didn’t like the way Aunt Clare was leading the rosary, with too much emotion.  If anyone should Elvis-up prayers, it was me.

Suddenly, Aunt Clare called out to Serge, her retarded son, to stop interfering with the firefighters.  Serge had worked his way into the periphery of the crew.  With a determined grimace and arms waving wildly, he was directing operations.  The captain had let Serge join the force but had pushed me away.  Serge was just showing off.  I was a real ally in the struggle. I knew eventually truth would out – perhaps when live embers ignited Serge’s trousers – leaving me the frontrunner for commendation:  maybe big hugs back at the station, maybe leading a parade in the captain’s own hat amid the throng that attended Serge’s funeral.

The Kinsevejes themselves were a little way off — far enough from the crowd to mark their special status — Mrs. Kinsevej in a quilted housecoat, the pockets stuffed with tissues that had absorbed her tears.  Mr. Kinsevej, his back bent from a mining injury, hovered near his wife.  He sensed his neighbor’s scrutiny, their wondering how someone would handle catastrophe after being unemployed so long.  When he tried to put his arm around his wife’s shoulder, she shrieked and pushed him away.  He had started the fire when he fell asleep, while smoking cigarettes bought with money from her purse.

The next morning, Serge grunted his version of events to anyone who would listen.  Pacing in front of our open doorway, he held his nose conspicuously as Sis and I scrubbed the place with vinegar to remove the scent of disaster. That afternoon, when our brother arrived from Korea and saw the ruins of the Kinsevej house, he said he was glad no one got hurt.  Later, Katarina stopped by to join the family for a sliver of the cake Mom had made and to show off the fire captain’s hat she had casually acquired.  Right in front of her, our brother said I had to do a better job of keeping order around the place.  I knew the fire captain would have said something sweeter had he recognized his debt of gratitude toward me.  And when I started to cry about never having another chance to win the captain’s trust, our brother told me to stop being a pansy because Sis, wrapped in his arms and smiling, is the only princess this family needs.

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More stories from Chuck Teixeira

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November 1, 2015

THE HOOK   – by Kenneth Pobo

                        (c) Kenneth Pobo, 2015



Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?!”

Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte!”

Jeff and Jerry fight often.  They never throw things or break glassware.  An eruption, steps up the stairs, and two hours of sulky silence.  The storm clears and they watch a Dick Van Dyke Show rerun.  For twenty-three years now.

They’re in love.  Not in love.  A protractor kiss-jousting with a compass.

The worst fight happened on July 4th, 1999.  Jeff said he needed more independence on Independence Day.  He laughed and slapped his knee.  Jerry said, “You can have all the Independence you want.  I’ll pack for you.”

The corn on the cob never got shucked.  The steaks never made it to the grill.

At 8:15pm bats started flying in a dance with sunset.  They looked good together, a Rogers and Astaire perfection just over the treetops.  A picoted moon bounced on the tips of tall red monardas, enjoying gold-slippered fireflies walking along edges of buddleia leaves.

It could have ended that night.  A seven-year relationship caught on a hook and wriggling to get free.  It didn’t.  Sometimes you wait it out, if you can.  The hook weakens.  The impossible “I’m sorry” darts out unexpectedly.

They didn’t make love that night.  They missed the fireworks and ate leftover pizza, the hair on the arms tickling as they sat close together. Jerry’s grandmother’s clock, the one that looked like it was stolen from a Thin Man movie, ticked its steady heartbeat.

July 5.  The neighbors’ chickens clucking and the percolator blubbing.  Grandfather Ott morning glories twirling up the flagpole, open until the afternoon, when Jerry shucks and Jeff hunts in the garage for a half-opened bag of charcoal.

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Check out Kenneth Pobo’s poems in The Queer South (Sibling Rivalry Press).


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