Issue 113 — Diane Simkin Demeter, Matthew Feeney, Danielle Hanson, Michael Hettich, Tony Howarth
Diane Simkin Demeter
In Modern Dress
Every afternoon before rehearsal, Annie would frequent a neighborhood coffee shop close to the theater where she would sit near a large picture window at a sunny yellow melamine table; and every afternoon around 5, Martin Fideleo, the actor/musician playing Malvolio, would lope by, guitar in hand and wave. Each day, he’d wave differently: sometimes waggle his fingers, sometimes crouch-walk and wiggle his eyebrows à la Groucho Marx; and sometimes point with his pointer towards the theater, hips in a strut. He never broke stride.
A half hour later, she would pack up, walk to the Actors Place and climb the narrow brick stairwell——walls a peeling patchwork——to listen to him work on his scorching jazz rendition of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. He always heard her by the time she reached the landing and without skipping a beat would suddenly play——Bah ba ba ba!——the traditional “entrance of the bride.“
It started that first day of rehearsals, when she arrived forty-five minutes early and heard someone playing in a dead fury, strumming, plucking, straining to find the right key or tempo or notes. She waited on the top step, not wanting to disturb, until the Director, Sam Moresh, brushed by her with a loose-limbed swagger and she followed him into the cavernous studio. It was part of an old 1900’s warehouse, and Annie thought it had an atmosphere so stale and musty; she might be breathing in air from the turn of the century.
Click-clacking across the creaky floor, she walked by Martin, who smiled a strange, slit-eyed smile, his fingers picking out a wild melody, ending with the Wedding March refrain.
“Ah! The broody noodler,“ Sam said. “Hey, I like that riff. We can use it.“
“No, no. I love it. It’s exactly the right feel. Is it done?“
“Okay. So we can use it right after the Clown sings at the end.“
Martin played 4 bars with a sudden rapid violence, laid his guitar down and stood up to be introduced.
“Annie Karlinsky, Martin Fidelio; Maria meet Malvolio, Malvolio, Maria.“
Martin’s long-fingered, bony hand enveloped hers, she felt a damp warmth permeate her palm. Over a foot taller than her, he had a 6’4“ beanstalk of a frame, and she found herself inadvertently staring up at his protruding Adam’s apple, mumbling perfunctory pleasantries. She told a lame joke—“Hello, Malvolio, I hope you don’t end up hating me ’cause I put you in prison, hahaha.“
A friend had told her about Martin, jilted last spring by his girlfriend, cheating on him with an actor playing her lover on a soap opera.
His life, a cliché, Annie thought. So embarrassing. How did he cope?
Staring up at him, she slowly became aware that Sam standing beside Martin also seemed to be staring. Or was she imagining it? Sam’s very uptown eyes very low down on her legs, following them right up under the hem of her A-line mini-dress.
She’d been warned about Sam. From the same friend who gossiped about Martin and recommended her as her replacement for Maria; because, ten days ago she got a spot on a TV Superman spoof series, that a friend of hers had recommended her for. And so it went. Small world. One got known. Sam was known for being from a Park Avenue background (banker father, socialite mother), dedicated to the theater, model chic and incurably indiscriminate with the ladies. Annie had told her friend not to worry, because though she, too, was dedicated to the theater, she was from Astoria, Queens, nowhere near model chic, definitely not indiscriminate——well, perhaps occasionally, and certainly to her great chagrin.
As the other actors filed in, introducing themselves, Annie, thrilled to be working after over a year, felt herself veritably tremble. However, when Rory Reardon walked over to her, with his wavy, raven hair and marble-white skin; she thought she would literally expire; that is, until he leaned in, the dusting of white under his nostrils and bizarrely enlarged pupils indicating he was certainly the one in greater peril.
First checking on the post-it notes on the back of the chairs, Annie sat down beside Alan Gurwich, playing Sir Toby Belch, whose smile seemed nothing but a happy circle, with lips that curved up to meet brows that drooped down; a friendly man.
Sam sat in the center of the semi-circle of actors, facing them, slouching, as if he owned them, perhaps the studio, too, if not New York City itself, Duke Orsino, incarnate. Elegant in horn-rimmed glasses, white shirt and wheaten pants he began his opening speech: “Ladies and Gentlemen; Last May, 12,000 people protested the expansion of the war into Cambodia and Laos and were jailed in Washington. Our production is going to reflect those protests of anti-war Yippie Amerika against a hawkish government. We are also going to incorporate a common religious interpretation of the play——that Twelfth Night is a battle between Carnival and Lent——and our conceit will be that Carnival is symbolized by the boozy, free-love hippies, embodied by Maria and Sir Toby Belch; and Lent, by the self-righteous, up-tight conservative, personified by none other than, Malvolio. We are referencing our country’s political, religious and cultural conflict.“
“Man and I thought it was about mistaken identities,“ Annie whispered to Allan Gurwich.
“We will play in Modern Dress, Ladies and Gentlemen,“ Sam concluded his speech.
Envisioning her squat, big-boobed body in a muumuu looking like nothing so much as an oil drum, she’d turned to Allan again, “Me? Hippie attire?“
“Especially you,“ Sam had said, clearly overhearing. Especially you, Maria.“
Her face flushed, as if she’d poked her head in a steam bath.
Sam nodded and an older handsome actor actually playing the lovesick Duke Orsino began, “If music be the food of love, play on . . . “ Annie glanced to her left to see Allan Gurwich pull his shirt sloppily out of his pants and sway drunkenly, as Sir Toby Belch; and, Martin, on her right, with pursed lips, stretching to sit ramrod straight, ala Malvolio.
The Duke continued, “ . . . . That strain again. It had a dying fall.“ She thought of Martin’s searing composition; it had no dying falls. He was not lovesick. Love sore, perhaps? She understood that. Wrong decisions. Wrong lovers. The consequences.
For the first week, Annie did nothing but struggle to find Maria’s voice, walk and character; and by the beginning of the second week, she felt she was moving in the right direction. Martin, who’d also been struggling with voice, walk and character seemed to be moving in the right direction, as well, for he began to twit and tweak Maria prompting her to sass and sauce him back. Though it was never mentioned, his wave at the coffee shop every afternoon, and her coming later to listen to him seemed to augment their play.
Thursday evening of the second week, however, Martin did not wave. He strode by the coffee shop, with no acknowledgment of her at all. Instead, his face flushed with rage, he was in an argument with a sleek beauty, a woman with a streaked blond mane. Like a puma, Annie thought, graceful cat, as opposed to her pug dog look. (She had to stop putting herself down!) No doubt his former girlfriend. Who else but asoap opera star looked like that? No wonder he’d been in love with her. Was still?
A half hour later when Annie went to the third floor to listen, she found Mendelssohn’s Wedding March screechy mean, notes skittering all over the strings——Bah ba ba ba badiddledeebabadebadebah. He didn’t shift into the traditional “entrance of the bride“ when she’d arrived on the landing, either, as if he didn’t even hear her. And that very evening, just as Martin seemed to lose touch with the melodic line, Annie thought he lost touch with his character, too, because, during their rehearsal, he skittered all over his lines. She couldn’t believe it. He’d pegged Malvolio the very first day. When he chastised——“Mistress Mary, if you prized my lady’s favour at anything more than contempt, you would not give means for this uncivil rule: she shall know of it . . . “ he spoke in such a supercilious voice, he all but whinnied, making it easy for her to bark back——“Go shake your ears.“ Now, he delivered his lines with regret, as if he would do anything in his power to help her avoid punishment.
Martin’s absence from his character continued into the next rehearsal. Annie wondered if he’d been rattled by his former girlfriend. Did the woman want something? Forgiveness? To be his friend? She missed him. Right. Maybe she just wanted her crockpot back. Or maybe Martin was angry at himself, because he knew he’d take her back, even if she had cheated on him. Could he not play a fool, because he worried he was one?
But whatever Martin’s problem, she thought, she had one, too. She found she couldn’t maintain Maria’s lippiness and snippiness in the face of Malvolio’s niceness. Shouldn’t she have been able to hold onto her character despite Martin’s abandonment of his? Was she not a strong enough actress? Would never be?
That night, after everyone left——knowing she was better than this; knowing complaining behind people’s backs was juvenile at best, “full fathom five“ beneath her——Annie approached Sam.
“I. . . um, I gotta question.“
“I gave you your notes, didn’t I?“ he said, busily stuffing paper into his pants’ pockets.
“Yeah. But . . . but, um I’ve been having a hard time. Martin’s Malvolio has become almost sorry about being annoying, you know; he’s not puffed-up anymore, so when Maria plays her trick on him and he ends up in a kind of prison, she seems mean. And she shows no remorse. None!“
“Yeah, well . . . Martin’s exploring. Searching for his character, you know? He’ll get there. And you’re coming along, too.“
Sam nodded. “Hm . . . yeah. That voice, you use.“
“Oh.“ She sucked in her breath: Ah. Okay. The voice was still there. He heard it. She’d thought it was gone. It was her mother’s voice when she said——“You want to be an actress? After all your education to be a teacher——you want to be an actress!?“
“Yeah,“ Sam said.
“Oh.“ She smiled.
“Okay, then.“ The two made their way down the three flights of stairs and Annie tossed out a quick goodbye. Though she walked quickly, Sam caught up and accompanied her, though he seemed distracted and didn’t say anything. When they reached a corner on 8th, lit by a street lamp, he suddenly turned, put his hand on her shoulder and peered intently in the vicinity of her hair. Was it mussed? Was he checking for lice? They continued on, no conversation, until 14th, where once again, he put his hand on her shoulder; however, this time he lowered his gaze to somewhere near her eyebrows.
“I live on 16th street. Wanna come up and . . . uh . . . have a drink?“
Wanna?——this from the man who “referenced our country’s conflicts?“
“Oh. Uh . . . now?“
“Yeah.“ Sam laughed. “Hey, how old are you?“
“26. Is that, uh. Well . . . you?“
“Yeah. Huh. So, wanna?“ Sam moved closer giving off a musky scent that seemed to mingle with the smell of the theater.
“Oh . . . mnnh,“ she murmured, looking up at flawless skin she thought had never had to endure the indignity of sweat.
“Mnnh,“ she murmured again, but as Sam was not privy to the meaning of “mnnh“——which meant yes; maybe; but I have to be back in my apartment in the morning to take a shower and get my clothes so I can get midtown to the Fare N’ Fowl by 10:30 for the lunch shift——which I hate, really, really hate because I want-to-be-a-working-professional-actress-and-not-a-waitress——and why would someone like you take an interest in someone like me, even if you are indiscriminate——he took “mnnh“ as he chose to take it and pulled her to him, lightly kissed her on the cheek, gripped her elbow firmly in his hand and steered her to his apartment.
At the entrance to the building, Sam took out his brass key ring and opened the outer glass door. He pulled her into the vestibule, opened the inner door, and when the elevator arrived, pulled her hard into that too, as if she might escape. She could hardly register their images in the crackled mirror as Sam’s hands were moving impulsively, rapidly and everywhere. By the time they reached the third floor, she was completely discombobulated. At his apartment, he took out one more key, and when they were inside, he shut the door, pushed her against it and yanked his pants down. Hiking up her dress, he held her high, and was soon in and she could do nothing but hold on.
Afterwards, they remained in the dark, Annie breathing heavily, Sam chuckling. Stepping out of his pants, he threw them on something——a chair?——the metal of his brass key ring chinkling.
After only a few hours’ sleep, she woke to his blond-haired arm and leg sprawled over her. Even without clothes, she thought, model chic, and twisted herself to a sitting position to look at his floor-to-ceiling bookshelves crammed with plays, collections of plays and books pertaining to plays. She thought she might have expected that but not the sparseness of the room, bearing no evidence of his Park Avenue upbringing. Perhaps, she thought that was the evidence. Sam’s desk, lamps, dining table, bed-set all looking thrown-together, as if: “Sam needed digs; Sam got digs.“ Why worry about something as mundane as an apartment, or things? In her tiny 6th floor walk-up, every item had been obsessed over. She’d been flat out irritating interrogating her friends about her Marimekko curtains, if they matched the orangey-red, shag rug she’d found in a remainder bin.
Later that morning at the Fare N’ Fowl, for the first time she put in an order for a plate of Scallops Provencal, instead of the restaurant’s signature mustard-maple roasted salmon. How did that happen? Of course, she had to pay.
After rehearsal that night, as all the other nights, the actors quickly dispersed, none taking the uptown train, and she found herself alone once again. Once again Sam caught up with her, put his arm on her shoulder, hand on her elbow and steered her back to his apartment. And, just as before, in the elevator his hands moved rapidly, precipitously, coursing over her body——keys one, two and three jingling away. This time, however, inside his flat, he first turned on the lights and carefully emptied out his pockets brimming with scraps of tissues, napkins and bits of paper on which he’d scrawled his many notes.
Then and only then, did he strip; his fine linen clothing a heap on the floor.
“C’mere.“ he said, opening his arms wide. Under his observing gaze, she primly undressed, neatly folding her clothes over the back of a kitchen chair, after which they stumbled and groped their way to bed.
By the end of the week, everyone knew. The Stage Manager even asked her to give Sam a note when he had to leave early. She was Sam’s girl. Yet Sam acknowledged nothing. He hardly talked to her during rehearsals. But then, he hardly talked to her when they were alone, either.
“Sam, I have to go . . . “ She would get up in the morning, hoping he would woo her back with a kiss and want to talk; but instead he would nod, eyeing her, perhaps with one arm crooked beneath his head while she ran naked to the bathroom clutching her bundle of clothes.
“Bye!“ She’d wave jauntily on her way out, to counteract awkwardness.
As if with great effort, he would raise his arm and swing it back and forth——a sluggish metronome.
Other than the Stage Manager, no one said anything. It was not as if she thought all would bow down as if she’d been “anointed,“ but neither had she foreseen the absolute avoidance of her that she believed had taken hold. Was she now the living cliché: Annie——the girl who slept with the director? Had to sleep with the director because she had nothing else to offer? Wasn’t she Sam’s second choice; just a replacement?
Martin, also, did not say anything but, Annie thought, he still acknowledged the affaire. During rehearsal, when Malvolio was supposed to rail at Sir Toby, he seemed to look directly at her, and in his own voice rebuke: “ . . . are you mad? Or what are you? Have you no wit, manners or honesty?“
Exactly, she thought. Martin was right. No honesty. She was merely currying favor. But really? Was she really doing that? Is that who she was?
But perhaps she imagined it. Perhaps Martin was just working on Malvolio. Still searching for his character.
Ten days from opening, on a Thursday night, she pulled a metal chair from a stack and placed it quietly near the door, waiting for Sam. She listened while the Stage Manager told him that a friend of a friend knew a vet, home recently, who had a genuine Thai sword, a great prop for Rory, as Sebastian. The actor had previously been horsing around, slashing everyone with a cardboard blade; now he’d have an actual keen-edged weapon in keeping with Sam’s concept of everything real, up-to-date, mirroring war-mongering Amerika.
“Um. . . you know,“ Annie spoke up. “I’m sure you know, well. . . acting teachers all say you have greater license to wield a fake, you know, a make-believe weapon, so. . . so you don’t have to worry about actually hurting anyone——“
The Stage Manager’s head swung towards her as if snapped on a puppet string.
Ignoring him, she continued: “Besides, well, you know, uh. . . everyone knows, Rory is uh. . . you know, a cokehe. . . I mean, he uses cocai——“ She stopped mid-sentence as Sam was staring at her, blinking his eyes as if he had absolutely no idea who she was.
“Yeah. Uh. . . yeah.“ Sam finally nodded. “Well, gee, thanks for the. . . uh, info, Annie.“
“You’re welcome,“ she said, her body suddenly small, slack in the chair.
Sam continued staring until finally he tapped at his watch in a broad gesture, indicating, that unfortunately he would have to stay late tonight.
“Um. . . perhaps, you should just go, Annie. Home.“ He shrugged.
Her voice was throaty, unrecognizable. He didn’t want to talk about anything with her. Nothing. Ever? She clattered down the stairwell, the patchy brick walls looking like a harlequin’s costume. Perfect. She should wear one. She was a clown.
Saturday morning, they moved into the New Group Theater in the East Village, the humidity inside, a wet woolen coat that clung to your skin. Sam said that the theater owner would pay for air conditioning once the run began. “This coming Thursday night, ladies and gentlemen,“ he assured, “we will all be spoiled by refrigerated air.“
He and the crew had been setting up since eight am and Annie had noticed when she passed Sam on the way to the stage he smelled like tangy, pungent blue cheese. She had not thought it possible but his face was bathed in a fine layer of sweat, and he had to keep pushing his tortoise shell glasses back up on the bridge of his nose. He was clearly not doing his laundry, as his cream chinos had a blotchy coffee stain on the thigh. Was he even living in his own apartment? That he might be sleeping somewhere else, with someone else, left her reeling, feeling weird, weightless, as if she could be toppled by a powder puff. Though Sam noted her reaction, he continued talking to the light technician sitting beside him discussing placement of spotlights.
“The main spotlight,“ Sam said, “has to be on the central beanbags, but we’ll play around with other areas and different colors today.“
Okay. She understood. He was busy, concerned about the play. He’d taken a chance on this flower child, psychedelic extravaganza with glow paints, beaded curtains, beanbags and actors running around in bell bottoms and muumuus. He was properly worried, Annie thought, because his production mocked the “rich and powerful“; and being of the tribe himself——after all, wasn’ the the Duke?——he well knew they were the ones who could afford tickets.
But then no one really saw themselves when presented negatively in a play. He would know that too; so he couldn’t be that worried. Yet he hadn’t asked her to go to his apartment since Wednesday night. Before that, thirteen nights in a row. Thirteen! Had that meant nothing? Or was the number thirteen a jinx?
Sunday afternoon, at the end of the fourth week, during a break, Annie sat in a coffee shop she’d found close to the New Group Theater. There was no melamine table, no large picture window, and no Martin walking by with Groucho Marx walks. She wondered if he’d stopped walking by two weeks ago because he was jealous she and Sam were having an affair. Or, more likely, because of his puma. But she didn’t know. She also didn’t know if he’d stopped going in early to work on his composition, for she’d stopped going in to listen. He stopped so she did. Like that. Mature adult behavior.
Growth in their characters stopped then, too. Though Martin teased his shaggy hair into something resembling a thatch roof; sprayed a fake beard to jut out six inches; even penciled in eyebrows so he seemed to look down in a permanent hauteur——Malvolio still eluded him, as Maria eluded her. He was not a pompous prig; and she was no pert scamp, no matter Sam thought she had the voice.
Sitting in the coffee shop, all but chanting her lines (as if that might help magically metamorphose herself into Maria), she rushed into the ladies’ Green Room late for dress rehearsal. The two girls playing Olivia and Viola were already in their costumes, applying makeup and chattering on about their agents, managers, jobs, boyfriends. Willowy beauties of perfect proportions who both knew, instinctively, that every single man in cast and crew not gay gazed at them with utter longing (with the exception of Rory, who, literally, could not hold a gaze).
She slapped on her own makeup, zipped up her multi-colored, voluminous skirt and her ridiculously revealing peasant top with its crisscrossed, rough leather laces that dug into her bosom. She knew she looked positively gnomish, if not plain ugly. Ugly and mean, she thought. Not her favorite presentation.
She tugged on her shrubby wig that instantly made rills, rivers, oceans of sweat stream down her forehead and turned her chair around to avoid looking in the mirror. Had there been a conspiracy between the costumer, Sam and Martin? Some contest to see who could undercut her most?
In a fit of pique, she opened a baggie with the garlic cloves she used to ward off a cold, and decided to eat one then and there, beautiful ladies with their agents, managers, certain jobs and multitudinous boyfriends be damned.
“Ewww!“ the actress playing Lady Olivia said. “EWWW!“ She shouted this time so loudly that Annie thought she could be heard onstage. “Annie, you’re going to stink up my costume! Put that away!“
Chastened, she put the baggie back in her purse, opened her thermos and drank some tea with honey to warm up her voice. “Ahhing“ ever higher and higher notes, she felt like “ahhing“ a blood-curdling scream.
The stage manager called Act 11, Scene 111 and she watched from the wings as the Clown sang,
“O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear! your true love’s coming,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting. . . “
Ha! She thought, when did that ever happen?
It was soon her entrance and she went onstage to join Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and the Clown. Straightaway Malvolio entered and began scolding Mistress Maria for bringing the drunken Sir Toby a stoup of wine. He would tell Mistress Olivia and she would “bid farewell“ to Sir Toby; and Maria would lose her job. And that was that. Though Martin delivered his lines, kindly, sweetly, tepidly, as usual, Annie suddenly felt an explosive rage, as if his character Malvolio was talking directly to her, as if she, Annie, would lose her job, perhaps in this very play. As he exited, she broke character and screamed Shakespeare’s invective at Martin——“Go shake your ears!“ Stunned, he, too, broke character, wheeled around and strode back onstage. Loud as a gun crack, he shot back, “Ba ba ba ba bah baba!“——that goddamn blasted Wedding March bar.
“Hey! Hey! Hey! What’s going on?“ Sam shouted from somewhere in the theater.
Both actors recovered by the next scene and Annie found herself now digging deeper than ever into her character, the trickster. Martin, too, finally seemed alert, edging back into the buffoon, exhibiting foolish pride in his preposterous cross-gartered, yellow stockings. In fact, everyone seemed to be concentrating more keenly, though speeding, as if racing through their lines to get to the first preview, two nights away.
During Act V, Scene 1, the hyper, coked-up Rory Reardon, as Sebastian, accidentally stabbed Alan Gurwich, Sir Toby, in the forearm, such that an ambulance had to rush Alan to Beth Israel to get stitched up.
It did not escape Sam’s notice that Annie looked at him as if to say, “I told you so.“ It did not escape Annie’s notice that Sam looked back as if to say, “Little Miss Know-it-all, that’s exactly why I’m not sleeping with you.“
During the previews, Annie thought, it was as if Martin’s girlfriend was at last buried under the boards of the theater. He focused solely on Malvolio; as she did on Maria; in fact, everyone had fixated on their characters, tacking down moments. The run-throughs were smooth, propulsive, Sam dominating all, with his occasional comments spurring everyone on——“oh so nice,“ “lovely,“ “beautiful!“ granting everyone approval.
Exactly what he’d never granted to her, she thought, lying awake, anxious, bleary-eyed the night before opening; Marimekko curtains failing miserably to keep the light out. But, is that what she wanted? Of course, his beautiful body; Okeedokiesmokie. But hadn’t she also been impressed by his intellect, boldness, worldliness that she’d seen during rehearsals, thinking those qualities would surely manifest in their relationship? Enrich it. But he’d shown none of those attributes with her, in his apartment. Were they just part of his theater self——his only self?
Another wrong person in her tote bag of wrong persons; a mistaken identity. Perhaps Sam knew she was prone to mistaken identities when he hired her for Twelfth Night. Perhaps her friend had gossiped about her to Sam, just as she’d gossiped about Sam to her?
Opening night Annie got off work early to go home, shower and get back to the East Village by 5:00. She needed time to prepare. As she entered the theater, cool air blasted her and she felt a shiver run through her nerves. The theater owner had kept his word. Also, the carpets were vacuumed, the seat bottoms turned up and programs neatly stacked on the table near the entrance. She checked for her name in the Playbill. They’d transposed the “l“ and “r“ in her last name, and she thought, perhaps it’d be better that no one knew who the stumpy shrew was.
A burst of music sprang from the men’s Green Room and she tip-toed to the entrance to listen.
Martin was playing a zippy, trippy version of the Wedding March: He’d clearly finished. It was a three minute blistering assault, with careering notes and vibrating strings, until the last few bars, when the tempo suddenly slowed, slowed again, the final “Ba ba bah bah bababa“ a quiet, sweet lilt, lingering in the air.
No mistaking Martin.
“Hey, that was beautiful,“ she said.
“Oh! Annie!“ Martin seemed to speak in the honeyed tones of the lilt.
She moved into the door frame and saw him cradling his guitar still in street clothes——bell bottoms and leather vest——straggly hair not yet sprayed into a roof top.
She nodded again in approval and started down the hall.
“Maria,“ she heard, this time in the overweening tones of Malvolio.
“Maria! When you go forrrth into the Ladies’ Grrreen Room (rolled r’s if you please), remember not to eat garlic anywhere near the Lady Olivia, my illustrious Mistress, or she might take grrreat exception to it. And Malvolio will not be pleased.“
“Ah, Malvolio,“ Annie said, returning to the doorway, assuming Maria’s clever pertness: “Perhaps I will not consume garlic cloves in your Lady Olivia’s presence.“
“See that you don’t, Maria,“ Martin retorted. “And don’t be surprised when Malvolio exprrrresses great vexation with you this evening, you irksome, ill-bred, mocking wench, you!“
“Mark me, Malvolio,“ Annie stood arms akimbo, improvising. “Be apprised that I will taunt you unreservedly, unrepentantly and at my will, even as you languish in prison!“
“So! The lines are drawn, chamber woman!“
“So! Steward!“ Annie said. And with no further ado, turned on her heels and walked to the Ladies’ Green Room, where she put on her multi-colored, voluminous skirt, absurd peasant blouse with its crisscrossed, leather laces and applied her makeup, lips and cheeks carnation red, transforming herself into Maria: who, to her sheer amazement appeared——saucy, foxy, spirited and seeming remarkably tall.
Copyright © 2019 by Diane Demeter.
About the Author
Diane Simkin Demeter is a playright and fiction writer. Her play Frankie and Annie was produced at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York City, and her three one-act plays, Potter—s Field, The Vacuum, and Ms. Gomb, were produced at the Wooden O in Los Angeles. Under a commission from the American Musical Theater, she wrote the libretto for a children“s opera, Moonchildren, performed at the Brevard Music Festival in North Carolina. Her short stories have appeared in Crack the Spine, Serving House Journal, Storyscape Journal, The Tower Journal and three print collections——Dark Monsters, The Tulip Tree Review and Reading Between the Lines. Ms. Marmelstein was featured in Narrative Magazine‘s “Story of the Week.” She has attended the Breadloaf, San Diego and San Francisco Writers“ Conferences and was educated at Columbia University and the University of Rochester.
Nominated for a 2021 Pushcart Prize
Somewhere Over the Barbwire
(with apologies to Judy Garland)
Somewhere, over the Barbwire
Way up high
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the Barbwire
Skies are blue
There the dreams you dare to dream
Really do come true.
Someday I wish upon a star
And wake up where the guards
Are far behind me.
Where handcuffs melt like lemon-drops
Way above the tower tops
That's where you'll find me.
Somewhere over the Barbwire
Bluebirds fly over the Barbwire
Why the, o why, can’t I?
Copyright © 2019 by Matthew Feeney.
About the Author
Matthew Feeney is a former actor, currently incarcerated in Minnesota. He won 2nd place in the 2017 PEN America prison writing contest for fiction, and has more recently been published in The Analog Sea Review and Spotlight on Recovery.
The Owl Feather
When he picked up the feather
From the forest, when
He realized it held
The heartbeat of the owl,
When he saw how it moved
With the small wind, or
the tremble from hand,
No—the tremble travels the
Other direction, to hand,
When he realized the feather was
The living part of the hollow
structure we call owl,
He freed it a second time.
Copyright © 2019 by Danielle Hanson.
Earth and Water
There are two ways to get to God: earth and water.
OK, then, let’s start with earth.
Since it’s human nature, let’s stand
In the middle of it, a mountain.
Every mountain can become a volcano,
Every breeze a tornado, all rain
Contains a flood, which leads to
The second path to God, the sea,
Which no one can stand in the middle of.
Is God the mountain danger or the impossible sea,
Or the extreme without tension, the wail?
Copyright © 2019 by Danielle Hanson.
Invisible was insane and he knew it.
He tried several times to check into an asylum
but they could never see him at the desk.
He tried to go beyond the doors
but the cameras never showed anyone there
when he knocked and rang.
He snuck in one day behind someone,
found a doctor and started talk therapy.
The doctor only muttered of hearing voices,
left on leave.
Invisible gave up,
became the wind outside our windows.
Copyright © 2019 by Danielle Hanson.
About the Author
Danielle Hanson is the author of Fraying Edge of Sky (Codhill Press Poetry Prize, 2018) and Ambushing Water (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2017). Her work won the Vi Gale Award from Hubbub, was Finalist for 2018 Georgia Author of the Year Award and was nominated for several Pushcarts and Best of the Nets. She is Poetry Editor for Doubleback Books, and is on the staff of the Atlanta Review. More about her at daniellejhanson.com.
Driving through the desert, we think of the children
deciding to lie down for a rest, holding hands.
We wonder at their parents. We are driving to the river,
cool and relaxed, squinting in the early sun
despite our dark glasses. We want to touch the river,
maybe wade there, lie down in the cool water
and let ourselves be carried down river. We want to
echo our voices against the canyon walls.
We think of the children, and their parents, setting out
across the wide desert, still cool and dripping
from crossing the river. Sheep graze on the other side
as we sit in the shade of the canyon, cool
from the river though the day’s already burning
and somewhere the children are walking, holding hands,
thinking of the river, their parents and home
as they look across the desert and seem to see a river
quivering the air like a dream. We are driving,
cool and refreshed and talking of our plans
for when we get home from the desert; we are listening
to music or news of what’s happened far away
but we’re thinking of the river and the canyon, and of
the children walking slowly, holding each other
across the wide desert, alone.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael Hettich.
The Milky Way
If we could imagine that every word we speak
were an animal or insect, the last of a species
ever to be born, that the very act of speaking
brought extinction even before our words
had been heard and replied to, we might get a feeling
for the vanishings we witness but don’t see. And if every
conversation were understood as a kind
of holocaust denuding whole landscapes, some people
would simply fall silent—as far as they could—
while most others would keep chattering on. Just imagine
the vast forests of lives, the near-infinity of forms
brought to a halt with a simple conversation.
And I would be one of the talkers, despite
the fact that I knew what my talking destroyed.
And so I would mourn every word I said,
even while I argued passionately for silence
and for learning to honor the sacred diversity
of life. Just imagine watching the stars
go out on a dark night in the far north, a clear night,
one after the other until the sky was black.
Once, when I was taking out the garbage, just walking
dully across my back yard, a huge bird—
as big as a vulture but glittering and sleek—
rose from the grass and flew into my body,
knocked the breath out of me, then flew up and away
with a powerful pull of its wings. I could hardly
see it in the darkness. And then it was just gone.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael Hettich.
About the Author
Michael Hettich has published over a dozen books and chapbooks of poetry, most recently Bluer and More Vast: Prose Poems (2018), and The Frozen Harbor (2017). A new book, To Start and Orchard is forthcoming from Press 53. He has published his work in many journals and in a few anthologies as well.
Vibrant Black Ink
I love the songs of the waterfall
at the top of our garden
on quiet days when the song becomes
a sweet soprano whisper
muted in winter when the ice builds crystal webs
I even love it when it roars
one night we sat in darkness as a hurricane
sent a flood crashing over the dam
I can never hate it
its awesome destructive bass
all these moments are memory—
my ears no longer listen
in a studio where artists are at work
a slop of newspapers and tarpaulins on the floor
blackened pots underfoot
a bucket of coated walnut windfalls
ready to be crushed into vibrant black ink
conversations, explanations—words that never land
learning to treasure what I can see—
every wall papered with shapes and scenes
boats wrapped around each other
as if mashed together by a storm
delicate water lace that pirouettes in the bay
a boat riding a wave caught
in the single second
when it captures the artist’s eye
Copyright © 2019 by Tony Howarth.
On the Cog-Wheel Railway
I look out at a slanted landscape
cluttered with granite boulders
watch hikers crouch behind them
take shelter from the wind
then up again rested
stumble and slog from cairn to cairn
I want to roll back the clock
regain the body I’ve lost
supple like them, quick and leaping
nowadays my knees freeze
even when I walk on flat grass too long
the wind will blow me away like a twig
no choice but to take the train
which clatters to the top
a panorama of peaks
blending into the sky
embraced by a weeping mist
a hint of the enchantment I felt
climbing a ridge in the Rockies
to look down on a turquoise lake
Copyright © 2019 by Tony Howarth.
And When I Wake Up
my ferryman squats on his misty raft
next to him, sticks, tethered to the edges
he holds them tight
poles forward, slow and crooked
I can see what looks like the other bank
sealed in shadow, fields and trees
no rooftops, no cell towers
is there no-one living on the other side?
he’s stingy with his words: old ones
my blood shivers at the uncertainty
of a place I’ve never been
who are these old ones?
he swings a stick, shoves it hard
into the bed of the river
stirs the fumes of stagnant mud
I need to know, what to look for
the raft bangs into the bank
he holds it steady while I disembark
how do I fit in if I don't know?
back among the ripples
he shouts over his shoulder
walk among them, that will tell you
Copyright © 2019 by Tony Howarth.
after Edward Hopper
I want to buy that house
coat of paint if it needs it, patch the roof
let it linger wild and unaffected
serenity, a sanctuary
for an old man with arthritic fingers
best of all grass growing the way it wants
no neighbor with a neatly-squared sod lawn
knocking on the door
when you going to civilize that hayfield?
step outside with grapes, a cup of tea
sit on a stump hidden in the grass
listen to birds celebrate another day
they tell each other I’m listening
serenade me, scold me, welcome me
dusty road passing by bending out of sight
no traffic lights, no one-way arrows
only occasional cars willing to journey
nowhere, down a dead-end road
Copyright © 2019 by Tony Howarth.
About the Author
Tony Howarth, a playwright, director, former journalist, retired in 1991 after 28 years as a high school teacher of English and theatre at Woodlands High School in Westchester, NY. He began writing poetry in 2009 after a visit to William Wordworth’s Dove Cottage in England’s Lake District.. Much of his poetry focuses on the pleasures and perplexities of growing old.