08/16/2013 - 1:23am
by Maxine Chernoff

An aversion to Viennese music, the type she heard in her youth at the great amusement park by the dying green river, where all the swallows nested nearly on top of one another under a bridge and scared her with their dense blackness. Why it was the pipes of the organ that frightened her more she was unsure; perhaps the brash and hollow sound of the low notes felt oddly like wind in a desert though she had never been to a desert– or cold touching her skin at night as she changed positions in her child’s narrow bed.

He was terrified of bees in any form, forms of honey, the names would throw him into a panic; clover honey, Tupelo honey, pine, whipped or combed.  Who whipped or combed it, he wondered. And the bees’ regurgitation of the nectar, the stickiness of the product, as if one could get oneself entangled finger by finger in its goldenness. As to seeing the bee itself, he would wait until dark to take walks to a bench under the elders where he’d read  books on Vikings and space aliens, who had nothing to say about honey.

Her fear of cloth made it very hard for her to concentrate at the shirt factory.  The bright fibers gleamed, the stripes a sin in themselves of color and pattern and roads she had forgotten to take when she’d left him.  One would have brought her to a different city where she could have worked as a maid, perhaps, but then there’d be laundry and sheets; or maybe as a baker, but the flour would get sifted and poured and rolled into a perfect rectangle of significance, nearly substantial as cloth.  Anything but the hum of the sewing machine on her table and the one next to hers, where the girl with the extra finger sewed even more slowly than she and whistled as he did, a melodic low tone like the kettle beginning to boil the morning she had left him for good.

His first memory of his mother’s arms couldn’t have been at as early an age as he imagined. Most sources say one’s true memories don’t exist before kindergarten. But he knew he had seen her look away when she gave him the bottle, her sunlit blue eyes blank as water. She wanted to be elsewhere, he realized, and thought for her of places that would have easily outdone the holding of this small bag of bones—what a skinny, unattractive baby, people had said, thus the supplemental bottles of a mixture of  pure cream and goat’s milk.  He dreamed they sailed off together in a little white boat on a vast calm sheet of blue sky, he and his mother floating out of reach of the doctors and nurses and allusions of his failure to thrive that had made her so sad and unconfident.

Together they hated any type of berry.  Summer was worst when the stores filled with the patriotic colors of the fruit, their reds and blues, their small variation from Sweden, the lingonberries of Ingmar Bergmann, the gooseberries of Chekhov, orbs and dents and pure circularity. Neither was allergic–they concluded that the first time they met at a picnic where they sat like sad leftovers next to a plate of creamed corn.  On Thanksgiving they made the usual feast, but they were so in love they barely ate —the turkey they had roasted for so long sat on the table looking as it had been buffed to brightness. While in bed in a blissful tangle of ankles and thighs and arms, what they thought most about was their delight in having excluded cranberries from their plates. By spring it was over. The stirring they’d felt that summer in the berry aisle amid the lushness flown in from three countries on two continents was now a steely indifference,  an aversion to one another, as if even a  touch might elicit a cry of pain or a reverse of joy so sharp it would  cut them.  One night she almost ate a strawberry to declare independence from him but refrained at the last second.


This piece was read as part of a production of “Action Fiction!”, sponsored by Fiction365 and Omnibucket.  

Read more stories from Action Fiction! productions.


08/01/2013 - 12:10pm
by Simon Rogghe

ARS 2 (by Dave Senecal)

I was nearly pregnant – with child by a hair’s breadth. I remember it vividly. It nearly happened in Paris. Had my boyfriend been French, he would have used the past subjunctive to describe the event: I could have been pregnant. He couldn’t. He was Spanish. I suppose he still is. In any case, it’s not altogether accurate. I should have said: “J’ai failli tomber enceinte,” meaning I should have “fallen” pregnant, as if it were the outcome of some fated flip-a-coin. Luckily, the coin didn’t drop at all. It merely levitated until completely corroded by the damp Parisian air.

The child was nearly conceived in front of a cathedral, in a dark alleyway, at midnight, behind a large fuse box. It could have been the clever turns of phrase with which my boyfriend had dazzled me all night, but it most definitely was the tequila which had turned me into a common whore. Reality changes under the influence of the magical agave elixir: my underwear became as permeable as a second-hand poncho.

We were smoking against the wall of the building we had just fornicated against, when a Frenchman came up to us to show us a picture he had taken with his cell phone. He was very pleased with the aesthetic backdrop of the cathedral and the alley. He offered to email it to us. Perhaps one day I could have shown it to my daughter whose near-conception it depicted. I’d point out the plaque on the cast-iron gate with the inscription “Sainte Lucrèce,” in the hopes of alleviating the years of mockery she’d have to endure by clarifying where her unusual name originated. Paralysis, however, got the better of us and neither me nor my boyfriend were able to stammer a word. The photographer retreated into the night with what was most likely a wounded sense of artistic pride.

What should have been a delayed hangover, could also have been morning sickness. I was three days late, my head was aching and I was sore all over my body: the usual hangover symptoms, with the added anxiety of awaiting my period – no, wait, I take that back. The Spanish boyfriend César said he would keep it, no problem, and raise it by himself with the help of his family. I thought it very courageous, heroic even. But still, the thought of having hangover symptoms for a duration of nine months, without the intake of alcohol, made the possibility of a deferred hangover all the more preferable. I started counting: if one glass of tequila delivers its hangover exactly one day after its consumption, then four glasses of tequila… The numbers didn’t add up. By the fifth day, my theory collapsed. Still no period. Had I missed it? Had it gone by unnoticed or was it something I had failed to spot? I mentally, sometimes physically, retraced my bathroom visits over the past week, but nothing triggered my memory.

I was swelling. My body was retaining water more efficiently than a top-brand dish sponge. I was desperate for someone to wring me out. This time, my boyfriend was of no use. Unlike any other man I had ever known, César refused to have sex with me. He said he would rather bond, that he was afraid to cause any more damage. Apart from it being obvious that he wasn’t emotionally invested in our sex life, I was assured that he would make a fine mother for my still hypothetical child.

More symptoms of pregnancy crept in, however. I was becoming increasingly tired. While it was true that I slept very little during the week, it is also true that, besides missing a period, fatigue is the most common sign of early pregnancy. I was so tired I fell asleep once during one of my French literature classes. I was sitting in the front row. Granted, it was right after lunch and the professor’s monotonous drone had an extremely soporific effect on me, causing me to yawn in rhythmical sequences I liked to compare to Ali’s left-right combinations. This time, however, I had drifted off further than ever before. I opened my eyes and lifted my head up from the hard wooden desk it had been resting on. People around me were packing up. My gaze met the professor’s, who gave me that typical look of haughty disappointment and belittling pity. I stood up and pointed to my bloated belly, making a rocking movement with my arms as if cradling a child. I softly emitted: “bébé.” His expression of haughtiness and disappointment turned into one of fear and concern.

Finally, on the seventh day, that most holy day on which even God took a break, I was delivered from the anguish of possibly having to bid farewell to a life which, up until then, I had been on extremely good terms with. I started bleeding. Very faintly at first, like the ripple of a little brook, then it came crashing out of me with the rush of a waterfall. I didn’t wait a moment to text my boyfriend and let him in on this joyful news.

“Did you look at the texture?” he replied back to me. “Is it different than usual?”

All I mustered to text him back in my state of dampened elation was: “?”

Five seconds later I got a call. “César” it showed on the screen. He explained to me that there is such a thing as “implantation bleeding” which occurs when the fertilized egg nestles into the uterus.

“No!” I shrieked. “I am having my fucking period! I am not pregnant!”

Silence at the other end of the line. After a pause, César mournfully explained that a late implantation bleeding usually signals a natural miscarriage. He had been googling my “symptoms.”

My voice choked. “I am having my period,” I repeated, less sure of myself.

“Alright,” he said.

I went to the bathroom at the Starbucks where I was and looked at the menstrual blood on my pad, afraid of spotting a shape which could remotely look like a dead fetus. As my eyes scanned the blood-drenched pad, moisture began to build up in them. I positively started crying. I wept over the hypothetical expulsion of a nearly-conceived child – not my child, not my boyfriend’s child, but any child. I cried for starving children in Nigeria, tears rolled for kids shot to pieces in the Middle East, I sobbed for all of the pain and misery on the globe and I thought: “what a fucked-up world we live in.”

As I stood in front of the mirror, touching up the runny mascara underneath my tear-stained eyes, a handsome Frenchman by the name of Olivier walked in. He noticed me and asked me if I was okay. I told him: “J’ai failli tomber enceinte.” He bought me a latte and took me out on a date.