Issue 117 — William Doreski, John Drudge, Alamgir Hashmi, Charles Heinemann, Charles Rammelkamp
The Failure of the Aral Sea
Now that we’ve outlawed gender,
sex, and other fey distinctions,
our landscapes have smoothed over,
as if freshly shaven, simplified
by nipping skyscrapers and trees.
Gray-brown steppe recedes for miles.
The Aral Sea has disappeared,
replaced by the plainest desert.
You’re pleased that geographers
no longer have to account for
every dribble and depression.
You’re happy that men and women
as such no longer exist.
The days will fold like envelopes
crammed with newsprint and manuscript.
The years will undress in front of us
to expose the simplified torso
to which we’ve learned to aspire.
But the failure of the Aral Sea
means thousands of birds dying
and farm lives ruined, nomads
forced to become more nomadic.
Don’t you care that this massive sprawl
of fresh water has gone extinct?
We’ll do well without gender,
without the curse of biology,
without the trouble that children,
born of sexual distinctions,
press upon us with little smiles.
Whether we’ll survive a world
so level, so lacking tall buildings
and the aspirations of redwoods,
depends on how we adapt
to the lack of fresh water. The long
horizons of steppe drift toward China.
Can we walk that far? The scab
of clay and sand, the former sea,
heals so slowly no one has noticed
that it’s the only human face
easily seen from the moon.
Copyright © 2019 by William Doreski.
California Prison Towns
Prodigals of winter return,
bearing the strictest apologies.
Cancer, Capricorn, Taurus,
and other flavors disperse
among crowds at bus stations
in California prison towns
like Lancaster and Corcoran,
Solano, Wasco, Susanville.
Twenty-six hundred miles away,
I lay the family fortune to rest.
Bill collectors sport deep mourning.
My ancestors trouble their graves
in Ukraine, England, Ireland—
Scotland and Connecticut,
rising in smoke to rebuke me
for running up so much debt.
The new snow amounts to a sneeze.
If I had a sled I’d grieve for slopes
still too bare for sliding.
If I’d wanted a snowman to stand
rapt with attention amid
the browsing deer and raccoons
I’d sigh with disappointment.
The day spouts fresh liabilities,
but I’m crossing the frozen marsh
to reach darker, deeper forest
where friendly bears bed down
and dark comes so early that ghosts
mist from leaf-mold by four PM
with varied accessories jangling.
Yes, I could lie down with the bears
and trust to my pelt to preserve me
against the cold-centered ego
that wants to warp me to its joys.
But instead, to please the cosmos,
I’ll fly off to California
and check into a prison town
and sign the motel register with
the name of my favorite crime.
Copyright © 2019 by William Doreski.
Flight to Iceland
At dawn the corrugations
of glaze on the driveway catch
the morning light and disperse it.
Color now seems important
to calm the dark that quarreled
all night, leaving a salty tang.
Someone’s off to Reykjavik
this morning, five hours airtime
with a smack of faded aurora.
From what I know of this person
I doubt that the solar wind
dancing in the Arctic dark
will enhance his stunted persona.
Still, a flight to Iceland offers
an arc of far-flung horizon
sure to expand the space inside
even the thickest old skull-bone.
I’ve never spoken to this man,
never shaken his massive paw,
but have often seen him guzzling
coffee in the same café where
that famous dissident writer
toppled into his daily latte
and dispersed his keening spirit
in otherwise secret dimensions.
He landed in Iceland the day
he fled the Soviet Union
with backpack of books and papers
and a single change of underwear.
In a worn army shirt issued
in the camp, he looked as limp
as something left out all winter
to atone for being human.
The ice on my driveway wouldn’t
impress, depress, or discourage him
after his years in Siberia—
no matter that the dispersion
of sunlight faintly suggests
the Aurora Borealis
with its massive prismatic effects
of green and yellow and violet
to assuage the night within.
Copyright © 2019 by William Doreski.
About the Author
William Doreski has published work in various ejournal and print journals and in several collections, most recently A Black River, A Dark Fall (2018).
Upon the Shore
As we are big
So are we small
The gravity of it all
Super massive black holes
At the center
Waves of distortion
The evolution of existence
No absolute time
Where beauty is fleeting
The thriving of dying
It is us until it is no more
Each moment beautiful
Until the next breath
Upon the earth
Remembers who you were
And by what you wasted
Your time to become
Where castles fall into the sea
And wisdom rings
Upon the restless shore
Copyright © 2019 by John Drudge.
We live our lives
To the rhythm of the heart
The drum beat
That beats on and on
But no matter the timing
Or the movement of the night
All things soon fade
Into one true tone
And peace at morning’s light
Copyright © 2019 by John Drudge.
About the Author
John Drudge is a social worker by trade and the president of a National Disability Management company in Canada. He has a masters degree in social work and undergraduate degrees in psychology and rehabilitation services. He lives in Caledon,Ontario, Canada with his family. He enjoys traveling and holds a black belt in Kempo Karate.
What Do You Know?
My colleague, the archaeologist,
has dug out from flat earth
some cracked wood,
likely a piece of a tabletop.
A smear of soup or blood
within the crack and dirt
speaks to a time
she’s carbon dating to bombs
hitting the place right.
No other witnesses,
I believe her.
She smiles and turns to me
with a steady gaze:
Here it is, old Syrian,
the chance to go home.
First published in print as a broadside by Whisky Jack Letterpress (Calgary, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Alamgir Hashmi.
first for a cause and pepped up by medals
now I forget the reasons that got me here.
The hands waving good-bye to the ship
leaving the harbor were sad. How quick
tears in your palm dried with the sea wind.
Enough rounds and rations; the choppers,
GPS, night vision—all gizmos working the front
to make grass widows of countless women
in foreign jungles. Anyway, I write
to you briefly from my mosquito net,
under the passing search beam
as Sarge snoring next to me sleeps tight
and cicadas drone on like him at group meets.
Anyway, we do as we’re told. Take care,
I must be up early and help whoever fights
for peace around, speaking of equal rights.
First published in print in No, Achilles: War Poetry (Huntsville, TX: WaterWood Press, 2015-2016). Copyright © 2016 by Alamgir Hashmi.
About the Author
Alamgir Hashmi is the author of numerous books of poetry and literary criticism, and has taught as a university professor in Europe, America, and Asia. His poetry has been published widely in journals and anthologies. A Pushcart Prize nominee and a Rockefeller Fellow, he has won high honors and awards for his work, some of which has been translated into European, Asian, and African languages. He is Founding President of The Literature Podium, An Independent Society for Literature and the Arts. He lives in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The Dream Come True
Colin Jones steered his rental car off the road between Thun and Fruitigen to follow a gravel driveway through pine woods surrounded by snowed-tipped mountains. He could see the waters of Lake Thun shimmering between the pines. “I can’t believe this,” he muttered to himself. “This is incredible—my dream come true.”
Moments later a beautiful wooden chalet filled his view. It had a sloping orange tiled roof, balconies overflowing with red flowers, a stone trough in front of the door with water gushing into it from a copper tube in the shape of a cow’s head, and a backdrop of the Berner Oberland mountains. He gasped at the sight of it because he couldn’t yet believe that it now belonged to him.
Colin had dreamed of running away to live in Switzerland since he first traveled there with his band, The Gone. They attracted big crowds to the clubs where they played, and made countless new friends. The sheer splendor of the Alpine regions was overwhelming, and Colin secretly felt cheated that instead of being born into such a paradise he spent his life in a dreary suburb of Philadelphia. However, when one of the lottery tickets he habitually bought actually won him a large pile of money, he realized that he could live almost anywhere. He knew where his anywhere was, too—Switzerland’s Berner Oberland region. Now that the band was broken up, his marriage was over, and he had come to loath his job as a graphic designer, he could at last start a new life in the land he loved.
He walked to the red front door, reached under the rubber mat, and pulled out the expected key. The air still held the sting of glacial ice and was laced with sweet wood smoke. “I can’t believe this—I just can’t.”
Colin opened the door and saw exactly what the photos on the internet showed—pine wood walls, floor, and ceiling; oriental carpets; carved wooden furniture; and a big stone fireplace in the center of the living room. Wooden fans hung from high ceilings, and everything was so clean it was hard to imagine that families had been living there for generations. The house came furnished, so Colin hardly needed to bring anything. Every step he took created a creak that echoed through the house. He laughed. “My God, this is great.”
A wave of jet lag swept over him, nearly knocking him to his knees. He’d been fighting against the urge to sleep since picking up his rental car at the airport in Bern. “Hey, I’m home, right? And soon I’ll see Simone.” His half-closed eyes were drawn to a long brown leather sofa piled with purple woolen blankets and pillows with floral designs. Without pausing he pulled off his jacket, kicked off his shoes, and crawled onto the sofa, drawing the blankets over him. “This is all mine now. What the hell, I’ll just take a nap right now. I’m home. In Switzerland.”
He was asleep instantly, but he woke with a sick feeling in his guts. He didn’t know where he was for a moment. The world seemed strange. “Oh, right,” he muttered. “I’m in paradise. My beautiful home in Switzerland. And I haven’t even seen it yet.” He sat up trying to shake off the sense of unease. “Time to give myself a tour.”
Although he had studied the photographs on his computer, using a magnifying glass so that he could see as many details as possible, his house was still a revelation. The smell was like cedar and the silence something he had rarely encountered in his old neighborhood. No traffic noise, no shouting neighbors. The kitchen was simple, and the gleaming steel oven, stove, and refrigerator looked like they had been brought over from the store that day.
The house wasn’t large, but it was very cozy—there was even a cuckoo clock on the living room wall, complete with painted figures who twirled in a circle when the hour struck. Upstairs he looked at the first bedroom with a bed covered in white down blankets, two pine dressers, and a rocking chair. There was another, smaller, bedroom with a small bed and one dresser, and an even smaller room with a pine desk and two bookshelves. “Oh man, this is perfect. This’ll be my office, and I can store whatever in the spare room.”
He used the cramped bathroom that offered a porcelain toilet, a shower stall, and a washer and dryer. “This is great, man. Nothing fancy.”
The afternoon sun began to dip below the mountaintops, reminding Colin that he hadn’t yet brought in the food he bought at a Migro market on the road out of Thun. “I forget that it gets dark early in these valleys. I’d better get my stuff while I can still see.”
He carried in boxes stuffed with bread, frozen food, Emmentaler and Gruyere cheeses; red Goron wine from the Valais and white Chassalas wine from the shores of Lake Geneva; fruit, vegetables, and his favorites—chocolate and muesli. At the end he brought in a CD player and bag of CDs, plugged in the CD player, popped in a CD, and filled his new house with the snarling vocals and screaming guitars of AC/DC. “All right, I bet this house never heard this before. We’re rockin’ it!”
He celebrated his first night in his new home with a dinner of frozen lasagna that he warmed in the oven, along with a bottle of inky dark Goron wine. Tomorrow night, he decided, he’d go into Thun and amaze his friends at the Irish pub, where he had played so many times in the past. “I wonder what they’ll think of this? And I can’t wait to see Simone. All right, I’m dying to see her. She’s all I could think of since last I saw her. Now that I’m not married the world is wide open. All those jerks back home can kiss my ass!”
Before long he tottered upstairs to his new bed and curled up beneath the fragrant duvet cover. The silence was deep and startling. “My new home,“ he murmured before sleep overwhelmed him. “And soon a new girlfriend. Simone. Perfect.”
The next morning he was up early and enjoyed a breakfast of muesli accompanied by The Grateful Dead album Working Man’s Dead. “I’ll have to get one of those nifty Nestle coffee makers,” Colin reminded himself while the song “Uncle John’s Band” echoed through the house. “I’ve got the rental car for a week. Maybe after that I’ll just a ride a bike and take trains when I need to. Like a real Swiss person.”
Colin took a walk around his property, which was a large grass yard surrounded by a wire fence to keep cows from wandering in. He could hear the gush of a waterfall, and hiked up a path through the pine woods up to a hill overlooking his corner of the world. The still waters of Lake Thun stretched out into the distance while the lumps of the pre-Alps loomed behind it. All he could see from the lake to his property were trees, but when he turned around he could see the ghostly peaks of the Berner Alps high in the sky. A vague feeling of unease poured through him. “This place is a paradise,” he said aloud to put uncomfortable thoughts out of the way. “And now I’m here forever.”
As he hiked back down he thought of all the problems in his life that had vanished like morning mist—the new supervisor at work who treated him like a servant, political infighting at his company, the complications and seething emotions of going through an angry divorce; the band falling apart; the rising crime in his neighborhood. “That’s all gone, man, gone. I wish I could send them all a picture of this.” He pulled out his phone. “What am I talking about? I’ll do it right now and stick it on Facebook.”
A few minutes later he climbed into his rented Kia and got on the road to Thun to have lunch at the Irish Corner, the club he had gotten to know so well. First, however, he took a spin along Lake Thun, through the bustling tourist center of Interlaken, and then along the north shore of Lake Brienz, where the mysterious dark mountains of the Berner Alps stretched high into the sky above. Colin loved that drive—it was one of the most beautiful sights he had ever seen. He thought of continuing on to Meiringen, at the foot of the mountains, and then heading up into the high mountain passes, but clouds had already obscured the higher peaks. “I can save it for another day. After all, I live here now. No, I’ll go check out the pub and see Sabina. With any luck Simone will be there this afternoon. Man, I hope she is. Okay, let’s face it—she’s one reason I moved here.”
As he drove into the lakeside town of Thun, memories gushed through his mind—the first rainy night the band played, the people they got to know, hurrying through the streets to after-gig parties, the feeling that he had finally found a place in the world where he belonged.
Moments later he saw the green sign for the pub and felt a shock of excitement. After parking nearby, he walked into the familiar interior that smelled of wood smoke and Guinness. There he saw Sabina standing behind the bar washing glasses. She still had that thick head of curly blond hair, big black glasses, and a tiny nose with an upturned tip. Sabina not only was the guiding hand of the pub, but she and her husband Peter had become good friends to him over the years. Once, when he missed a gig with a bad case of the flu, she brought medicine to him in his hotel room.
As he approached the bar she looked up and her eyes grew wide. “Colin? Is it true? You are here in Thun?”
“Yes, it’s me, Sabina. I’m here for good.”
“For good?” She ran around the bar to hug him. Her smell reminded him of medicinal herbs. “Oh, it is so good to see you. We had such wonderful times with you and your band. Are you here with the band?”
“No, the band broke up. I’m here to live now.”
“Live?” She blinked up at him through those glasses. “I don’t understand.”
“I bought a house just out of town. I came into some money, and, well, decided to move here.”
She drew back with a gasp, put her hands to her mouth, and unleashed a torrent of Swiss German before stumbling back into English. “But can it be true? You live here now? You always said you wanted to live here, and, and...”
“I had to go through some legal crap with the Swiss government, but now I do. I guess I’ll have to learn Swiss German for real now.”
She hugged him again. “That is so amazing! Oh, I must call Peter and tell him. Here, let me get you a drink.”
“Thanks, Sabina. I wouldn’t mind one. And maybe you can tell me how everyone is doing. I can’t wait to see them.”
Sabina reached into a refrigerator behind the bar and brought out a bottle of Mumms champagne. “We must drink a toast. Champagne for you.”
She pulled out the cork, poured two glasses, and the two clinked their glasses together and drank. “Cheers, Sabina. That’s great. So tell me, how is everybody?”
“What about Frank? Used to be he was always here.”
“He will probably be in soon.”
“Great. How about Petra and Hannes?”
“They broke up. Petra moved to Bern. I don’t know where Hannes is.”
“Broke up? But they seemed like such a perfect couple. What about Dieter? Or Paul? What about Monika and Hans?”
“Dieter got a job in States. Working for a university. Paul is living in Zurich now. Monika and Hans moved to Spain.”
“Did everybody move? What happened?”
“I don’t know. Life.”
As Colin continued to ask about the people he had known, he felt his heart droop lower. Almost everyone he had known was either gone or didn’t come out much anymore. Some got married, had children. Everyone had gotten older and their lives were no longer the same.
“At least Frank is still around,” he said. “And you and Peter, of course.” He paused. “What about Simone? Does she still work here?”
“I see her sometimes, but she doesn’t work here. She got the job she wanted as a physical therapist.”
“Do you think she might come in this evening?”
“I don’t know.”
The pub door opened, allowing a flood of light to pour in for a moment. Colin looked over and saw a man stumble a moment and head for the bar. His dark hair was disheveled and his face dark with stubble. “Frank, is that you?”
The man stopped. “We are speaking English. Do I know you?”
Colin stood up. “It’s me, Colin. How are you, Frank?”
Frank looked into his face with half-closed eyes and smiled. “Colin? Is it true?” His breath smelled of alcohol. “You are here?”
Colin took him by the shoulders. “Yeah, man. I live here now. I got a house up the road. Let me get you a drink.”
He immediately regretted his words. Frank was already drunk, and it looked like he had been drunk for a while. He smelled like he’d been smoking old socks. “Maybe I’ll get you a coffee instead. Are you all right?”
Frank’s eyes wandered. “I need to go to the toilets.”
Colin watched him make his way to the back while an empty feeling slithered over him.
“He has had a bad time lately,” Sabina said in a low voice. “He and Barbara got married a few months ago. She left him a month later. She’s with a new boyfriend in the Graubunden.”
“Are you serious?”
“He has taken it very badly, as you can imagine. And he found out last week that he has MS. It is a terrible disease.”
“I know.” Colin sat as his enthusiasm drained away. “Terrible is right. Oh my God, I can’t believe it.”
Frank returned and sat at the bar. “I can’t stay long. I’m not well.”
“What can I get you, Frank? Maybe a coffee?” Colin sat beside his friend and patted him on the back. “It’s great to see you.”
“I’ll just have a beer, Sabina.” He turned to Colin. “I’m sorry you see me this way. It has not been good.”
“I’m so sorry to hear it, Frank. If I can do any . . .”
“You may have heard that Barbara left. Just left me one day.” Tears began to fill his eyes. “Just left. One day. And now, well, I’m sick. I don’t know what to do.”
“Where are you living?”
“In the flat that Barbara and I bought. Now I’m alone there, and I can’t afford it. You see, I lost my job, too. I don’t know . . .”
“Anything I can do,” Colin said, moving closer. “You can come out to my place. We’ll go for a hike. I know you like that.”
Frank’s beer arrived and he finished it in a gulp. “We’ll see, Colin. I must go now. I’m not feeling well.”
“Are you sure you should be drinking like this? Maybe you should be taking better care of yourself.”
“Yes, yes, you’re right. I must go.”
Frank rose without looking at Colin or Sabina, made his way to the door, opened it a moment, and let it close behind him.
“Holy crap,” Colin muttered.
Sabina had been on the phone. She hung up and turned to Colin with an embarrassed smile. “I’m sorry, but I must go out for a few minutes to talk to our beer man. Are you all right here? Otherwise I’ll have to lock up. Peter isn’t here today.”
“I’ll get going, too.” Colin stood up feeling shaky. “I’ll see you later.”
Colin drove back to his house going through a mental inventory of the people he knew in the area. “Not exactly what I had in mind,” he muttered. “But that was just crazy, a fantasy. Hell, I guess I’ll have to make more friends.”
But that sick feeling didn’t go away. When he got home, he put on a CD of The Clash and made spaghetti. Later, in spite of winds swooping down from the mountains, he sat outside to gaze up at the looming peaks and drink a bottle of Chassalas. “I’ve still got money and scenery,” he murmured to himself. “And it’s a good thing they left me a big pile of firewood.”
His thoughts raced inevitably to Simone, with her perfect figure and the mass of black hair that habitually fell over one of her sleepy dark eyes. Colin had always felt an intense chemistry between them, and he knew Simone felt it, too.
The next day he decided to take a trip around Switzerland as a sort of victory lap. He first drove along Lake Brienz again, then headed up to the high mountain passes of Grimsel, Furka, and Susten, spending the night at a family-run pension high above the tree line, where little goats ran freely around the grounds and he could sit out at a table with a mug of hot chocolate and stare at the bare green mountainsides and white tops in the distance. He then crossed the high plain of Hospental to the largest Swiss canton of Graubunden to drive along the mountain road and visit the ancient hamlets tucked away from the world. After a night in a hotel outside the cantonal capital of Chur he drove into the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. There he strolled around the ancient streets of Bellinzona and later, walked by the shimmering water where the wealthy city of Lugano sits in a glorious natural setting of mountains and lake. Early the next morning, after a night spent sleeping in his car at a campground, he pointed the car up and crossed the historic St. Gotthard Pass, made his way over the snowy Nufenen Pass, and rolled down to the sunny French-speaking canton of Valais.
He slowly followed the long road between mountain ranges through the length of the Valais, taking detours from that one main road up into the dizzy side valleys where people long separated from the rest of the world by geography speak dialects known only in their tiny mountain communities. Colin loved the Valais. Neat rows of vineyards started at the side of the road and spiraled high into the mountains to the clouds. The towns of the Valais, especially the wine towns, had a grim stone simplicity that he had always admired.
After staying in a hostel in Martigny—where the Rhone River takes an extreme turn to the north—he drove to the north shore of Lake Geneva. The expansive and glossy surface of the lake glittered in the morning light, while the French Savoy Alps on the other side reached far into the sky.
In spite of the beauty surrounding him, that strange, sick feeling never left him. “I’d better get back home—I’ll take the autobahn from here. I’ve got to turn in my rental car anyway.” He tried to shake away that feeling. “This is home now. That beautiful little chalet in the Berner Oberland is home. A little lonely right now, but . . . yeah, a little lonely. But that’ll change.”
A few hours later he pulled up to the pub and walked in as the sun was beginning to hide behind the mountains. He glanced around at the clumps of people but didn’t know anyone. However, Peter, at the bar, recognized him. “Hey, Colin! Come let me give you a drink.”
Peter was a tall, slender man with thinning brown hair and the beginnings of a beard. He beamed at Colin through wire-rimmed glasses. “I can’t believe you are living here.” He grinned, revealing a row of perfect teeth. “Here.” He slid a Guinness across the old wooden bar. “I know you like this.”
“Thanks, Peter. Come on, let me give you a hug.” Peter trotted around the bar and the two embraced for a moment. “Yes, it has been a dream for me. Maybe it’s hard for you Swiss people to understand.”
“Oh, I can understand.” He patted Colin on the back before returning to his post behind the taps. “I’ve got to get back to work. But welcome, welcome.”
“I hear a lot of people have moved on, moved away, that sort of thing. What about Simone? Do you ever see her?”
“Oh Simone—yes, I see her every so often.”
“If you see anyone from the old days, could you give them my number?” He grabbed a napkin, pulled a pen from his pocket, and wrote down his cell phone number. “I’d love to see whoever is left.”
Peter took the napkin, folded it, and slid it into his shirt pocket. “I will be sure to give this to Simone. Don’t you worry.”
Colin had another Guinness and sat looking around at the people. Quite a bit younger than he was, he thought. Many of them sat hunched over their phones texting or playing games. “I don’t know,” he murmured. “It’s not the same. It was easier to meet people when I was in the band rather than just sitting here, some old foreigner at the bar.”
Colin drove home with an anxious feeling in his solar plexus. “I’ve still got a little bit of jet lag,” he told himself. “I’m tired and out of sorts. That’s all.”
The next morning was chilly, and rain rushed down from low, black clouds. Colin forced himself to get up, grab some bread and cheese from the kitchen, and head out into the weather. It was the day he needed to return the rental car, and he wanted to pick up more groceries and buy a bicycle before turning it in. “Not a great day for cycling,” he said to himself as he turned on the engine. “Maybe I should get a car instead.”
He drove to the Migro, bought more food and wine, picked out a sleek black mountain bike, took everything home, unloaded it, then drove back into Thun and the Avis office. Once he was done with that, he walked under the stone arcades out of the downpour to the pub. Sabrina was at the bar. “So, you are back again, Colin. How is your new life coming along?”
“I just dropped off the car so now I’m on my own. Anything happening here? Say, have you seen Simone?”
“I haven’t.” She flashed a smile. “Would you like something to eat?”
Colin had some ravioli and bread washed down by three glasses of Goron wine. After a quick goodbye to Sabina, who was busy with a fresh influx of customers, Colin ran out to catch the next bus to Fruitigen, which arrived moments later. Once at home he opened his own bottle of Goron. The taste of it was still in his mouth from lunch, and he had nothing else to do, anyway. “This is my life now,” he said to himself. “I don’t have to go to work, don’t have to deal with anybody.” He poured a big glass of wine, dropped onto the sofa, and turned on the television in the living room. “No scenery today. Might as well check out Swiss television.”
It rained for the next four days, and Colin stayed in the house napping, listening to music, watching television, and napping some more. He slumped into lethargy and felt no urge to shake it off. It was easy to lie in bed drinking wine or eating chocolate. Why not? he thought. This is what it’s all about now, isn’t it? I can do what I want, and this is what I want.
On the fifth day the rain let up and the temperature fell. Colin decided that he had rested enough and it was time to do something. I’m going to make an effort to find Simone. I’m tired of sitting around in paradise by myself. I need to find an Eve.
He put on a yellow rain parka and helmet and took his first bike ride into town. The air was sharp, and solid fog obscured the mountains and covered the waters of Lake Thun. He parked his bike in the stand outside the pub, his face damp with moisture, and walked in to the sound of traditional Irish music playing through the sound system. Sabina was at the bar.
“A bit of Ireland right here in Switzerland!” Colin cried. “How are you, Sabina?”
She smiled. “Would you like a Guinness?”
“You know me well.” He sat on a stool at the bar. The music was lifting his spirits.
“So, you would like to see Simone?” Sabina asked as she pulled at the Guinness tap. “She is coming by today.”
“Really?” Colin knew that Sabina could see the excitement in his face. “How soon?”
Sabina turned her eyes to the door. “Soon as right now.”
Colin felt his heart catch in his throat. There, dripping wet with a big grin, was the woman he had spent so many hours fantasizing about. She hadn’t changed at all. Her hair was long and nearly black, and her eyes so dark that she looked like a Bollywood starlet. Simone’s family was from Ticino, and Simone was a perfect example of the smoldering beauty that canton produced.
She hurried over to Colin and threw her arms around him while drops from her raincoat flew into his face. “Oh, Colin, I heard you were here. You are really living here now?”
“Yes, and I’ve been looking forward to seeing you.”
He gazed into her joy-filled face, unable to believe how gorgeous she was. The fact that he had inspired such happiness in her felt like some wonderful drug. At her insistence, he explained how he came to be living in Switzerland and told her that he hoped she would come visit.
“Oh, I’d love to,” she purred. “This is so wonderful for you, Colin. What are you going to do?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe raise a cow or two.”
“Will you play music?”
“Of course. Hey, why don’t we go to my place and have a look.”
She laughed. “Oh, I can’t go right now, though I would love to. I have to go to Basel today.”
“Basel? Are you working there? I hear you’re finally a physical therapist. You’ll have to tell me all about it.”
“I will do that, too. But not today.” She checked her watch.
“Are you sure you don’t want to have a quick look? It’s minutes away.”
“Not today, I’m afraid.” She slipped him a conspiratorial smile. “I’m meeting my boyfriend today.”
Colin felt like his face had melted away, exposing everything hidden behind his smile. “Your boyfriend? In Basel?”
“Yes, I will be moving to Basel in a few days.”
All the warm fantasies Colin harbored about his new life in Switzerland mutated into a sea of sewage that roiled and burned through his being. “Really?” He didn’t have any polite response prepared. “That’s great,
Simone. I wish . . .”
Simone peered at him, her face dark with concern. “What is it, Colin? Are you not feeling well?”
“I’m not sure.” The floor rolled beneath his feet. “Maybe not. Maybe I’d better go, too.” He struggled to rebuild his smile. “Jet lag. Haven’t gotten used to the time.”
She held a small white card out to him. “Give me a call when you’re feeling better. Maybe we can get together with some others. Perhaps you can meet my boyfriend.”
He stuffed the card into his jeans pocket knowing he would never call that number. “That would be great, Simone. Really great. Yes, it’s really great to see you.” He took a breath. “I’d better go home.”
Without another word he turned and walked outside, aware of his abrupt exit, but unable to stand the disappointment any longer. Rain arrived at a steady pace. Fog obscured everything beyond a few feet. Colin climbed onto his bicycle and pedaled through the splashing streets and up the hill toward Fruitigen.
As he pushed through the rain, he saw that he finally had everything he had ever wanted—a chalet in Switzerland, money, complete privacy—yet he had nothing. His life lay before him like a vast, cold, wasteland. He couldn’t go back to America—he had untied himself from his old life, and if he went back with his tail between his legs it would be a humiliation he couldn’t endure. He told everyone they could go screw themselves—how could he go creeping back and show his face?
The shimmering waters of the lake, the green countryside, the snow-topped mountains, had all been erased from view. All Colin could see were his wet hands grasping the handlebar and the white line on the road ahead that disappeared into the mist.
Copyright © 2019 by Charles Heinemann.
About the Author
Charles Heinemann is a graduate of the University of Maryland; his stories have appeared in The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Fate, Trips, One Million Stories, Storyteller, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Battered Suitcase, Inside Outside, The Write Room and Danse Macabre.
2018: A Cyberspace Odyssey
When I sent my friend Emily a photo
of a leopard loping across a road
in the Chobe National Park, Botswana,
a picture my daughter, on safari, sent to me,
we lamented the lack of exotic wildlife
available to us in the USA,
then itemized the things we could see—
the bears and bobcats, the ocelots out west,
the foxes and deer and coyotes
even in urban landscapes.
She mentioned the pileated woodpecker,
and when I wrote back, my smartphone
kept changing “pileated” to “oil rates“
or “pilfered.” I thought of HAL 9000
in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I know I’ve made some poor decisions recently
Hal confesses, but I give you my complete assurance—.
Like Dr. Bowman deactivating the circuits