- Robert L. Giron
Updated: Jan 15
This issue features
art work by Kathleen Frank,
fiction by Mark Jacobs,
poetry by Kenneth Kesner,
poetry by Ségolène Léchot,
poetry by Tara Menon, and
poetry by Ken Poyner
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains
Copyright © Kathleen Frank.
oil on canvas 31x25" 2022
In joyful preparation for numerous upcoming shows, much of time in 2022 was spent traveling in the Southwest and West - hiking and photographing landscapes to be painted (including a wonderful trip to Montana with a friend – we pulled a little camper behind us as we traveled and hiked) - and then I worked productively in my studio on the works to be exhibited. Upcoming exhibits slated thus far include a solo shows at Northwest Montana History Museum, Kalispell, Montana (2023); Fine Arts Gallery, University of New Mexico Valencia, Los Lunas, New Mexico (2023); Sahara West Gallery and Performing Arts Center, Las Vegas, Nevada (2023); International Art Museum of America, San Francisco, California (2024); MonDak Heritage Center | Art & History Museum, Sidney, Montana (2024); St. George Museum of Art, St. George, Utah (2024); and a dual exhibit at WaterWorks Museum, Miles City, Montana (2025).
About the Artist
Santa Fe artist Kathleen Frank travels throughout the Southwest/West, seeking landscape paintings vistas. Using vibrant hues, she captures light, pattern and a glint of logic in complex terrains.
Exhibitions include Northwest Montana History Museum; UNM Valencia;
International Art Museum of America; MonDak Heritage Center| Art & History
Museum; St. George Museum of Art; WaterWorks Museum; Sahara West Gallery; La Posada de Santa Fe; Roux & Cyr Fine Art Gallery; and Jane Hamilton Fine Art. Press includes LandEscape Art Review, MVIBE, Art Reveal, Magazine 43 and Southwest Art. Art in Embassies/U.S. State Department selected her work for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Back Where You’ve Never Been
Brendan Drake’s mobile rang. He’d tossed the phone onto the passenger seat and was distracted, reaching for it. He pulled into the intersection of Moriencia and Fragosa at the same moment a man in a black Landcruiser did. Both drivers hit the brakes hard. The window of the Landcruiser came down. The driver picked up a long-barreled pistol and aimed it at Brendan.
Brendan rolled down his own window. Speaking in careful Spanish he said, “I’m sorry, man. It was my fault.”
Vehicles quickly stacked up behind him. A couple of drivers hit their horns but stopped when they saw the pistol. On the broken sidewalk of Moriencia, a lame woman slugging a sack of oranges averted her eyes and turned the corner quickly.
“Lo siento,” Brendan called again, louder this time because the guy was screaming at him.
Brendan’s Spanish was decent, but he spoke no Guaraní. Guaraní was the Paraguayans’ private language, the one they used to say the things that mattered, such as, Get out of my way, you son of a bitch, before I shoot you in the face.
More cars stacking up produced a jam that lasted until Brendan was able to back up, threading between the bread truck behind him and a parked car, leaving room for the intersection to clear. The man with the gun swore a final oath, retracted the pistol, and drove through in a churning fury.
Brendan was shaken. He pulled to the side of the road and parked. No one had ever pointed a gun at him before. He could see fighting the good fight for a righteous cause, even taking a hit, but blown away in a road-rage confrontation? No way. He waited for his hands to stop shaking before picking up the phone. It was Belén who had called. Good. He called her back. He wanted to tell her what had just happened, but she was curt.
“Turn on the radio.”
She hung up. He switched on the radio and caught the Radio Sugar announcer mispronouncing his name. In Spanish it came out sounding like Dracula’s cousin.
Outrageous. A hundred thousand Paraguayan listeners were hearing the son of a bitch lie through his journalistic teeth. Informed sources tell Sugar that the North American lawyer Brendan Drake, now working with a radical anti-government organization in Asunción, once ran a recruiting ring for the CIA in Bolivia. Okay, the bad guys were playing dirty. He should have expected that. Still, the calumny blinded him with anger.
He drove to the Documentation Center office on Arquitecto Colombino, where Derlis Fischer met him on the walk. Derlis was a giant. Well over two meters tall and burly wide. He wore his strawberry blonde hair in a ponytail. On the biceps of his crossed arms, tattooed figures whirled lethal boleros.
“Hey there, Cuate. She’s inside.”
‘Cuate’ was a paraguayanism. It meant buddy. Derlis was fond of the expression, and Brendan had been called lots worse. He kind of liked it.
In the reception room of the Documentation Center, Belén Villalba had an expression on her face Brendan had not seen before. Fatalism, if fatalism could have fight in it.
“I heard it on Sugar,” he told her.
“This could kill us, Brendan. This could blow us out of the water.”
“Aren’t you going to ask me if it’s true?”
She shook her head slowly.
There was no one else around. He followed her into her office where they drank mate. At work, Belén treated him as though they did not sleep together or want to. Taking the gourd of hot mate from her hand, he craved the brush of her touch.
Brendan had lied to his boss before coming to Paraguay. Relationship with Belén, what relationship? He had met her a year ago at a conference in Quito. At the time, both of them considered it a two-night stand. At DISC headquarters in Brattleboro, Magda Withers chose to take his disclaimer at face value. Now, whatever was happening between the American lawyer and the Paraguayan crusader, he wanted more.
Belén was better, way better, than the type of woman to whom he was usually drawn: self-absorbed individuals with complicated anxieties. Belén was different in a healthy way. Tall and athletic, she wore her dark hair long, a widow’s peak defining her forehead. Her lips were full, her dark eyes flagged her intelligence. Once, after watching her get dressed, Brendan had spent a lazy hour coming up with the word for the way she moved. Insouciantly, that was it. She had all that, plus a commitment to social justice, and real courage. Not bad for the daughter of a charter member of Asunción’s moneyed elite. She was born into luxury and could have stayed in a cocoon forever.
She tossed him a colorful tabloid. Across the front page in ninety-six point type the question blared, CIA AGENT IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING? Below the head, between two columns of a frothy exposé, was a picture of Brendan coming out of the DISC office looking disoriented. The photo was recent. He hadn’t noticed any photographers lurking.
“Guess who owns the paper?” Belén asked him.
There were lots of bad guys. More than enough to go around. Anastasio Riquelme was the one the Documentation Center happened to be taking on.
Belén poured herself a hit of mate, sucking on the silver straw to get the tea, which she’d flavored with a weed that supposedly improved the circulation of the blood.
Brendan said, “Let’s go to your place and make love.”
He did not expect her to say yes, but she got up and spoke with Derlis, who was outside having a smoke. He was her bodyguard, born in Carmen del Paraná in the rural south. His grandfather, he made sure Brendan knew, had not been a Nazi, just a German farmer who left his homeland looking for a better deal, like millions of others who traded up, fleeing the Old World for a newer version.
Derlis drove Belén to her apartment in a plain brown Toyota sedan, Brendan trailing them in his rental. She lived in a new upscale building downtown, miles beyond the reach of other people who did the kind of socially valuable work she did. Derlis parked, exited the vehicle, scoped the surroundings, then held the door for Belén as she led Brendan inside.
“I’ll call you,” she told Derlis.
He saluted and went back to his job of watching, at which he excelled.
In Belén’s apartment she and Brendan stripped and fell onto her bed. She was an open-eyed lover, but this time her eyes stayed shut. He slid down and caressed her heels. When he came back to kiss her mouth she put her breast in his, and everything he ever needed or wanted or imagined was there, sweet and abundant, in the hard nipple.
Afterward, he told her what he should have told her before.
“A long time ago, I worked in the American embassy in La Paz.”
She stiffened in his arms. “You were a diplomat?”
“Not for very long.”
“You never told me.”
“I wasn’t cut out for that sort of work. I was meant to be in the resistance. With you.”
She sat up, and he put his head between her breasts. She pushed him away, and he had no choice but to finish the story.
“When I was in La Paz, an article came out in one of the papers. They claimed I was recruiting spies from room nineteen fifty one in the Sheraton Hotel. Disinformation, they used to call it. Now it’s fake news. Anyway, the story went away after a few days, and I forgot about it.”
She allowed him to cradle her then; she believed him. He told her about the driver with the pistol.
“It’s the edge,” she said.
“The edge of what?”
“Chaos. Where we live. My mother came by last night.”
“It’s Riquelme, right? Do they know something I don’t?”
She shook her head. She couldn’t begin to tell him all the things he didn’t know. “They want me to go back to my old life.”
“You thinking about it?”
She grimaced. The expression she made was a thing of beauty. “That’s not possible.”
“Why is not possible?”
“It wasn’t really my life.”
Brendan Drake had been in Asunción eight months. Since 1971 DISC had been a lean force for progressive development in troubled countries. As the result of an institutional critique conducted in the nineties, their model for involvement had changed. The Paraguay project was how they worked now: a single liaison person providing money, counsel, and international cover to support indigenous efforts to achieve justice inside a precarious local system.
The Documentation Center was representing a group of squatters who had moved onto one hundred arable hectares near the Brazilian border. Ownership of the ground they began cultivating was unclear until a wealthy asunceno named Anastasio Riquelme showed up with a freshly minted title and a platoon of armed guards. In the skirmish that followed, seven squatters and one of the contract guards were killed.
The judge to whom the case was referred declined to consider charges against Riquelme and his guards, affirming his belief that the death of the squatters was the result of reasonable action taken in defense of private property. The death of Riquelme’s security guard was another matter. The magistrate deemed murder charges fully warranted against three of the squatters. The case was the lever by whose action the rest would be evicted.
Now in its third month, the case had been moving with unusual speed, driven by Riquelme’s money and pressure. But the media mattered. Judges were susceptible to public opinion, and a case tried in court could be decided on television. Belén’s deft evocation of sympathy for the “Campo Guazú Three” had slowed the march to a verdict that showed every sign of being bought and paid for. She had done as well as she had because she was telegenic, smart, and forceful. Also, it didn’t hurt that Riquelme had an image problem. A ponderous hulk of a man, he reminded people of the heavies from the bad old days. The media were on the right side, or they had been until Brendan Drake was revealed to be a spy master.
That same day Belén went on the offensive, calling a press conference at the office where she emphatically denied that the DISC lawyer had anything to do with espionage. She pointed out that Alba, the rag that broke the story, was owned by Riquelme’s son-in-law. The reporters believed her. Some of them – not all – would be allowed by their editors to print her comments. But it wasn’t enough to put an end to Riquelme’s smear campaign.
That night, Belén invited Brendan to sleep in her bed, where he burrowed against her body but could not sleep.
“I called Brattleboro,” he told her.
“They say if I left town tomorrow, it might make me look guilty.”
“I wasn’t going to ask you to leave.”
“Will you ask me to stay?”
“What’s the difference?”
“I mean permanently. With you.”
“Somehow I don’t see you as the Old Yánqui tottering down España in the sunshine, winking at the pretty young girls.”
“I love you,” he said.
It came out sounding rehearsed, not the simple true statement it was. But he stopped pushing. Pressure was counterproductive. Tomorrow. Eventually he fell asleep. Then woke at first light with a question he couldn’t answer. He shook Belén’s shoulder.
“How did Riquelme get that story about me and the CIA?”
“I don’t know. Let me sleep, Brendan.”
She turned away, and he lay in bed thinking. Later, when Belén left for the Center, he told her he’d meet her there. He drove to the American embassy at 1776 Mariscal Lopez, where the Marine on duty looked bored behind bulletproof glass; he’d rather be out fighting the long war. The public affairs officer to whom they led him artfully turned aside all matters of substance. Brendan insisted on speaking to someone in the political section and, after a half hour wait, was not disappointed.
Bill Harris was exactly the kind of reptile in burgundy braces Brendan had been hoping for. Bald, bristling and starched at forty, Harris wished he’d been assigned to Brussels, or at least Madrid. Already he lived with a sense of his career slipping away. In his own mind he was ambassador material.
“I was in the foreign service for a few years,” Brendan said when Harris sat him down with coffee in his office, where Impressionist prints disagreed with framed Department commendations. The admission was calculated.
Harris nodded. He could not resist telling Brendan what he knew. “LabAtt in La Paz, political section in Ankara. After that, you joined the other side. So, to speak.”
Brendan had what he had come for but pressed for more. “I assume you saw the story in Alba.”
“You know better than to trust the Paraguayan media.”
“What can you tell me about Anastasio Riquelme?”
Harris pushed back from his desk, upright in his chair as if he’d been asked to take a bribe. “Why in hell would I tell you anything at all?”
“The embassy have any contact with the guy?”
“What are you after, Drake?”
“Just trying to get the lay of the land.”
But by then Harris’s antennae were up. He worried about what he might have given away. From the embassy Brendan went to the Documentation Center, where a reporter and photographer were camped in the street. When they asked, he told them he wasn’t a spy, he was a lawyer. Taking a smoke break on the walk before the building, Derlis muttered, “Keep your head down, Cuate.”
Brendan nodded. The guy was growing on him.
Inside, he asked Belén, “You in court this afternoon?”
“I was supposed to be. Diego is taking the session. I need to deal with this media mess. The judge wants to be loved. Being acclaimed in editorials can help.”
“Did you ever hear any stories about Riquelme working with the Americans?”
She shrugged. “Why?”
She was wearing a dark skirt, a white blouse, sandals with ingeniously engineered straps.
She was formidable and camera-ready.
Brendan asked her, “What does Riquelme have that the embassy might want?”
She was drinking tereré, the cold form of mate, from an aluminum straw inserted in a polished cowhorn on which someone had carved the Documentation Center logo. She thought for a moment before telling him, “He’s plugged into the Arab community.”
“Well enough to know who’s not really a businessman, or who’s sympathetic to the Islamists?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. Probably.”
“It was the embassy that gave Riquelme the story about me in La Paz. There’s no other explanation that makes sense.”
“You’re saying the American government is backing Riquelme against the squatters?”
“No, only that they might not want to see his effectiveness diminished, if he’s being helpful to them.”
“It’s more than that,” Belén said thoughtfully.
“If the case goes our way, we can file new charges against Riquelme. A new judge, a different court. Riquelme knows we’ll do that. If he loses the first round, he could go down.”
Brendan was distracted for a moment by the image of Harris at a computer in a locked room at the embassy, diligently searching government databases to see what turned up on a DISC lawyer named Brendan Drake. They must have something better than Google.
“Maybe I’m being paranoid,” he said to Belén.
“Maybe you’re not.”
“It wouldn’t be that bad, you know.”
“What wouldn’t be bad?”
“Being the Old Yánqui out taking his walk in the spring sunshine. With you on my arm.”
“In this country the spring sun gets pretty hot.”
The midnight stick of dynamite tossed through a window at the Documentation Center was a propaganda bang. A wooden file cabinet was charred. A wall calendar burned up all its months, and the place stank of smoke. More troubling were the bloody words spraypainted on the wall out front: ¡CIA AFUERA!
Standing to one side, Brendan lifted the slat of a window blind and looked out at the crowd of protesters gathering on Colombino Street, down which no vehicle dared pass. In a little while, the crowd would be mob sized, and take on a mob’s ugly mood. For the moment, in a lustrous field of midmorning sun they looked like angry angels evicted from a substandard heaven.
“What does Riquelme give them for doing this?” he asked Belén.
“I guess it wouldn’t do any good to call the police.”
“They wouldn’t come.”
“Not even to stop a riot?”
“Especially not to stop a riot.”
“This is the edge, isn’t it? I mean the edge of chaos you were talking about.”
She leveled a look at him, curious whether he would crack. Belén herself was calm, sweeping up the mess from the exploded dynamite. It might be the first time she ever held a broom.
“Democracy,” she said quietly.
“What about it?”
“They always make it sound like this wonderful place we used to live, if only we could get back there.”
“But you were never there in the first place.”
“I want you to leave.”
“What changed since yesterday?”
“You and me, the personal relationship…”
“What about it?”
“It clouded my judgment. DISC is wrong. As long as you’re here, Riquelme has the perfect excuse to go on battering us, and we lose credibility.”
He knew she was right. “I’ll come back after all this is over, when it’s safe. We’ll get married.”
She thought it was a joke. “Go out the back door. Now, before they think to block the way.”
Kissing him goodbye she was cool and distant. She had already come to terms with the break.
“You’re the only country I ever want to live in,” he told her.
“Be careful on the telephone. The line will be tapped. Mobiles, too.”
Belén had suggested he leave his car at home. Going out the back door, he jogged in the heavy heat to Iturbe, where he flagged down a taxi and went again to the American embassy. This time there was no wait to see Harris. The political officer would score a point letting his supervisor know he was in contact with the lawyer in the eye of the media storm.
“I want to put in a Freedom of Information Act request,” Brendan told him.
Whitish eyebrows went north, the lips stretched south. “I’m sorry?”
“I want to see everything you have on me.”
He knew he wouldn’t get it. He didn’t really care. He wanted Harris off base, on the defensive when he asked the next question.
“Who is Riquelme’s case officer?”
“What are you talking about, Drake? This isn’t turning out to be the productive conversation I thought we both wanted.”
“Keeping tabs on the Arabs up in the tri-border is your first priority, right? And Riquelme is useful. He’s a thief, he’s a thug, he’s as corrupt as the day is long, but he gives good intel head. All I’m asking is the name of his handler.”
He didn’t expect an answer from Harris any more than he expected him to cough up what they had on him in their databases. He only wanted to provoke him in order to gauge the level of the man’s discomfort. Brendan watched the political officer mount his high horse of indignation and kick it into a lather, and a few minutes later he left for his apartment.
Lying to Magda Withers in Brattleboro the second time came easily. He told her about the mob threatening the Documentation Center, and Belén’s judgment that he had become a liability. It was DISC policy not to second-guess. Magda agreed; Brendan had to leave Paraguay.
She told him, “Depending on how long this story’s legs get, you might not be able to work overseas for a while.”
“I’d like to take a few days off. I haven’t seen Iguazú Falls.”
Magda didn’t question him, though it seemed impossible that she not feel his anger burning through the phone line. Not for the first time, his judgment was off. He packed a bag.
Ciudad del Este was the ugliest city Brendan had ever seen. At the ragged border where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina came together by the Paraná River, it was like a camp of transients where no one stayed long enough to care how it looked. Contraband merchandise lay in heaps on streets and sidewalks and at the mouths of cavernous warehouses like mass-produced litter: knockoff DVD movies next to Hello Kitty purses next to stacked cases of Johnny Walker. Refugees from the country looking for more of anything they could get their hands on trudged in the heat as if mesmerized by a vision: of a job, a flat-screen TV, ease, money in an empty pocket. Beauty, maybe. It had rained hard, and crumbly red mud caked everywhere, on everything. Police on patrol in Japanese SUVs knew everything, knew nothing, knew exactly where not to look in order not to see.
It took Brendan the better part of a day to discover where Anastasio Riquelme hung out when he wasn’t at his office in a high-rise of arabesqued concrete out on the Asunción road. The Star of Beirut was more than a restaurant. It offered large private rooms on the second floor where trusted patrons could relax doing whatever it was that gave them pleasure. Not that Brendan expected a case officer to show up wearing a name tag, but it was a start.
He surveilled for two days, drinking gin and bitters and watching cable TV in his hotel room when he went off his self-assigned shift. As bad as he was at it, drinking came naturally to him. His mother, two uncles, and his only sister were certified alcoholics. On the third day he emptied the bottle of Tanqueray he had just ordered from room service down the shower drain. He ate four eggs fried in bacon grease, drank a pot of strong Brazilian coffee, and went back to the Star.
Sometimes good instincts compensated for shaky judgment. It was eight o’clock, a velvet-and-gold evening, the air intimate on his skin. He watched Riquelme’s driver pull up in front of the restaurant in a metallic-green Lexus. A moment later Riquelme himself, a lumbering man of fifty in a long white shirt, dark slacks, and loafers without socks, ambled out and got into the back seat of the car. And Brendan knew. He flagged down a taxi.
The taxista spoke only Guaraní but understood he was to follow the Lexus. It was a short ride. After three quarters of a winding mile Riquelme got out of the car and went into a small bar under a sign that read Pato Donald’s. The picture on the sign was a reasonably accurate takeoff of the Disney duck in three colors.
Brendan waited across the street in shadow, his brain furred, his stomach queasy. Ten minutes after Riquelme went in, a blonde American woman with a placid face came up the block and pushed through Pato Donald’s swinging doors. I didn’t use to hate these people, Brendan thought, thinking of people he had known in embassies and considered friends. In La Paz he had dated a woman who knew more about the Delta blues than Eric Clapton did.
He waited as long as he had to. The gin pain in his brain went away. Eventually the Lexus came by to pick up Riquelme, and Belén’s enemy disappeared into the city’s night clutter. The blonde woman waited the prudent interval she had been trained to wait, then strolled up the street like any tourist in search of the next mild prospect.
Brendan trailed her to learn she was staying at a hotel a block from his. Waiting his own prudent interval before entering the lobby, he rehearsed two different stories to get her name from the desk clerk. When the time came, however, he only slipped the man twenty dollars to learn she had registered as Patricia White.
For a moment, Brendan considered what he might do on his own. The embassy was playing dirty. Bill Harris’s smug profession of ignorance gave them away. With the case against the squatters at stake, giving Patricia White’s name to the Paraguayan media, along with the Riquelme connection, was fair payback. No matter how much Riquelme offered the judge, public outrage might lead him to absolve the squatters. But DISC discipline forced him to admit that the decision was not his to make, it was Belén’s. Walking the long block to his own hotel, he wondered whether he should risk a phone call to her in Asunción.
Halfway there, he noticed identically askew grins on the faces of the two men walking toward him. Before they pinioned his arms and shoved him into a narrow space between two warehouses, he wondered whether the one he heard coming up from behind might be grinning, too.
A hot breeze through the open window lifted and dropped the curtains, on which bloated blue roses made crazy garden rows. Motionless on his back in a narrow bed, Brendan felt pain in his limbs, his torso, the small of his back. He had a hunch his face was mashed. After a moment, he became aware of a figure sitting in a chair in the small room.
“Where am I?”
“You’re in Brazil. In Foz.”
Belén. He made her out with difficulty. His vision was blurred, his eyelids crusted with bloody sand.
“How long have I been out?”
“A day; a little longer.”
“What about the court case?”
“It goes on.”
“Did they trash the Documentation Center?”
Belén nodded. “I got out before they attacked. After it was all over, the police arrived.”
There was something he had to tell her, but his brain was stuck in muck. A dumb frog at the bottom of a well. When she came close and he reached to embrace her, his muscles shrieked. She sat on the side of the bed and held him, and the combination of comfort and desire that spread through him slowed the workings of his brain to a full stop. Everything will be fine, he heard the frog rumble, when we’re together, really together. Then he was asleep. That was okay. Belén was there, watching over him.
And then she wasn’t.
When he woke again, she had been replaced by Derlis.
“You’re awake, congratulations. She went back to Asunción. The court case, you know?”
“I feel like shit.”
He nodded. “Sorry I couldn’t save you the beating, Cuate. I was there, I saw it go down. Belén sent me. But those guys had guns. If I tried to stop them, both of us were winding up dead.”
It was disconcerting to hear the Guaraní-inflected Spanish coming so naturally out of a man who looked Bavarian. The conversation went on, but Brendan surrendered his half. He had always hated the airless intensity of dreams. Now he got stuck in one, racing from one sealed room to another in a house of colorful horrors looking for a door that wasn’t to be had. But when he woke, he felt stronger and drank the chicken soup the giant gave him. He ate half a box of crackers and asked for coffee.
“Derlis, I need to get back into Paraguay.”
“Forget it. Riquelme put the word out at the border. Belén left money. When you’re ready, I put you on an airplane.”
“I have something to tell her. It’s important.”
It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Derlis to pass on Patricia White’s name, it was that he needed to tell Belén he loved her, in words she would take seriously. The frog at the bottom of the well had acquired a simulacrum of speech, and he would get those words out.
Derlis did his duty, nursing Brendan another day and a half until he was strong enough to stand, and shower, and dress. He moved like an old man. All the time he waited with him Derlis tried to talk Brendan out of going back to Paraguay, but in the end, he gave way. He was not offended by Brendan’s lack of trust.
After Derlis left, Brendan waited another full day. He bought new clothes and a pair of contraband Adidas. The swelling in his face had gone down, and he shaved four days’ growth of beard. In the mirror he looked normal. It was the face of a man who knew hard things, some of them about himself, some of them true.
To save his strength he took a taxi. The driver was no talker. He was listening to news in Portuguese. Pulling into the line of vehicles waiting to cross into Paraguay, which stretched a dusty quarter mile, he turned off the air conditioning and rolled down the windows. The heat that came in after them was flat and hard, like the back of a shovel.
After forty minutes, they approached a Paraguayan border guard in first gear. He bent to the window and looked at Brendan’s face as if searching for signs of battery, then studied his passport with schooled intensity. He was young. He had a pale brown face and eyes that gave away more intelligence than the job required. For one long bad moment Brendan thought he was going to nail him, but at the end of that moment he took the passport, went into a booth, and came back with it stamped. In.
He took a bus to Asunción, then a cab to Belén’s. It was a classic mellow Asunción evening. The sky was pale purple, a virtuous shade. Traffic on the streets diminished to a lull; you hardly heard a horn. The air was sweetly fragrant, as if the day’s frenzy had kept the good smells tamped down, and now they were free to percolate. Standing at the glass double doors of Belén’s swanky building, Derlis refused to let him in.
“Can’t do it, hombre.”
“It’s not up to you,” Brendan told him.
What was he supposed to do, fight a man twice his size, twice his strength? He took out his phone to call Belén. Derlis took it away from him as though he were a child.
“Let’s go,” he said.
“I’m not going anywhere. I spent all day getting here.”
Another German-Paraguayan appeared next to them, not as big as Derlis but beefy in the same proportions.
“You’re poison,” Derlis explained. The need to spell it out seemed to make him sad. “Right now, with what’s going on, you’re toxic. You have to go away.”
“That’s Belén’s decision,” Brendan said, “not yours.”
A little hitch in time then, a tiny cosmic gulp, before Derlis said quietly, “You’re right. It’s her decision.”
It was a punch, and Brendan took it in the gut.
The two blonde Paraguayans frog marched the American lawyer away from the building, down half a block to a car where a third man, a gawky teenager in a loud T-shirt, waited behind the wheel.
They drove south. The evening was erased, and night fell down black. Brendan felt weak, as though he had been beaten by Riquelme’s thugs again. He felt helpless; he was helpless. He felt no curiosity about where they were taking him. The Paraguayans listened to a soccer match on the radio. They listened intently. Cerro Corá won. When it was over, the driver switched off the radio and Derlis spoke to Brendan.
“I was a hothead. When I was young, that is to say. My father’s brother died. He left me fifty hectares of nice grazing land, all fenced and ready. A man from the city, we’re talking about Encarnación now, stole it from me. I went after him.”
“Messed him up good,” said the second blonde.
“Got myself arrested. Smart, huh? No land, no freedom, nothing to lose.”
Brendan knew what was coming. “Belén got involved.”
“She was just out of law school. She was a hurricane. Got the charges against me dropped. Got my land back. Been with her ever since, watching her back, you know? My cuate Alfredo here runs cattle on those fifty hectares. We split what we make, which isn’t much.”
In different circumstances the story would be heartwarming. Now, it barely registered on Brendan. He could not remember ever feeling as passive as this, as devastated.
In a dead hour of the night, they hit Encarnación on the big Paraná River and took the bridge across into Argentina. Posadas. A town of shopkeepers was how Brendan thought of it, though the city and its inhabitants had done nothing to earn his contempt. They drove him to a bus station, and everybody got out. They stretched their stiff limbs, and Derlis handed him a wad of cash.
“Go anywhere you like, just not Paraguay.”
The sun was going to come up before too long. Before too long another day would skewer itself, a hundred thousand calamities big and small would make themselves known to their victims.
“I’ll go back,” Brendan promised Derlis. “When the time comes, I’ll go back.”
Derlis cocked his head to one side. “I got to tell you, Cuate, you were never there. Not the way you thought you were.”
Brendan watched them pile back into the car and drive away. They were talking about soccer, the next World Cup. In the predawn half-light, travelers were milling around the station, queuing in lines for buses whose diesel engines rattled quietly. A small dog with pointy ears approached the American. Its pale fur made it look like a ghost. He wanted to kick it. He didn’t. He noticed the wad of money Derlis had given him was still in his hand. He put it in his pocket. He walked with no hurry in no particular direction. One way, just then, was as no good as another.
Copyright © 2023 by Mark Jacobs.
About the Author
Mark Jacobs has published more than a 180 stories in magazines including The Atlantic, Playboy, The Hudson Review, The Iowa Review, and The Kenyon Review. Visit: markjacobsauthor.com
arrival of hues
a panorama draws wind and its mirage
only one must endure in silence
some gesture of another solstice
seconds from a tomorrow remembered
now horizon is found in rust iron lines
on cliffs far beyond the prism air
in its colors the glyphs someone carved
so long ago so late they can’t be lost
but she never tells us she’s just read
how does it feel to die alone again
nearby gods carry their temples
rooms full of everything we dream
their strides devour twice broken silt
we stand in shadow for a river to return
Copyright © 2023 by Kenneth Kesner.
About the Author
Kenneth Kesner (肯内思) has lived and worked in Asia for several years. He’s twice received a publication award from National Cheng-chi University (ROC) and accepted academic placements through the State Administration of Foreign Experts (PRC). Some recent works are featured in: JONAH Magazine, Modern Literature, Quail Bell Magazine, San Pedro River Review and Wayne Literary Review.
I already died once
unable to shout
my soul flies away
So young and already trapped
you were just a kid
he made you tongue-tied
provoked an inner tsunami
an unstoppable wave
thrown at your young face
you were just a kid
these events are silenced
because they would forever
destroy the individuals
who cross their paths
Copyright © 2023 by Ségolène Léchot.
About the Author
Ségolène Léchot was born and raised in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. She
completed a Bachelor in French and English Literature and Language at
the University of Neuchâtel in 2021. She is currently working as a
language assistant in a school in Madrid, Spain. She is inspired by the
painful and the beautiful: stories of love, of discomfort, personal
experiences and deep conversations with complete strangers.
Words are like falling rain,
whispering, caressing, soaking,
a memorable drink for the thirsty,
but, in the end, they evaporate
or do they?
Don’t they drum in your ears
and hum with the magic of that moment?
Your eyes feast on the newly washed world.
Leaves aglitter, rubies, emeralds, sapphires
encircled in petals, earth satiated.
If words can accomplish rejuvenation,
then they bathe everything in a new light.
Copyright © 2023 by Tara Menon.
About the Author
Tara Menon is an Indian-American writer based in Lexington, Massachusetts. Her most recent poems have been published or are forthcoming in “Tipton Poetry Journal,” “Global South,” “San Pedro River Review,” and “The Loch Raven Review.” Her latest fiction has appeared in “The Hong Kong Review,” “Litro,” “The Bookends Review, and "The Evening Street Review.” She is also a book reviewer and essayist whose pieces have appeared in many journals.
Agreeing to Prayer Vigil
Let me digest this.
To get you what you want
I need to ask God to give it to you.
Not that I mind, but
Given divine omniscience
I think He already knows about the need,
And has a plan for some eloquent disposition.
I don’t think
I am particularly special. Prayer
Is something I usually reserve
For instants of life-honing fear,
Final exams, or sex. Sometimes
I can go a year without prayer, and then
To Whom I am praying can be muddled.
Not that I mind, but
I’ve never understood the physics of it –
All powerful, all knowing, Lord of the Universe,
In need of my praise and worship,
Willing to intercede at my specific request
In the otherwise divinely planned schedule of events.
I never figured myself wielding that much importance.
I’ve always thought the idea
That God works in mysterious ways
Was a dodge to square inconsistency
With faith, not religion with output.
I suspect that He is not so much a magician,
That He opts instead for the ordered mind,
Supervises with some sense of applied elemental cause.
Then again, how would I know?
But you do know, don’t you?
Copyright © 2023 by Ken Poyner.
Fifty-seven with the usual
Animal needs and a mixed review
In the fulfillment of same.
As the drive of the flesh
Falls off, is this the sum total
Of what you were called here for?
Not all that dramatic, the heart
Stops midway the second quarter.
Washington is ahead by seven and driving again.
Your wife thinks you have fallen asleep,
Plans to leave football running on the downstairs set,
Watch what she wants upstairs.
You could have been a super
Hero, magical powers or not.
The real character of the super hero
Lies in the wish to do good,
The strength to resist public
Temptation, and in the cape:
The cape stretching behind you,
Full of unbowed air.
You are all these things
And none of them. You are
One thousand pieces with only
A dozen pieces showing. These are
The same one thousand pieces comprising everyone.
Your choice of the twelve is who you are.
You can make no new pieces.
No one can.
The life you inhabit may be your own.
You get a tattoo, a girlfriend
Half your age, have sex
In the park and endow a new bench.
So, this is it.
Her name is Nancy, the park
Almost deserted, and you pretend to be
Alice or David or the biggest damn
Greyhound left in the world.
This is what it comes to.
Copyright © 2023 by Ken Poyner.
I’ve been sleeping with Jane Doe.
Oh, don’t worry –
We’ve been married almost
Thirty years. Or maybe
Almost married thirty years.
There is a difference, you know.
We have been together long enough
That most nights all we do
Is sleep. But still on some spare nights
I have my way with the girl
Of medium height, medium
Complexion, medium weight,
Medium build, with hair
Not too long nor too short,
And of a sandy, nearly neutral color.
Those are the nights I am
Who I often think I am and she
Is a thousand memories collected
From the parts of my past that most
Energetically jut out. Jane, I say
Without saying it, my eyes
Fixed on a point not in the room;
And no matter what she is saying
She is saying This time,
This time. She knows
My love wishes her no harm,
Hiding its pernicious identity
In the wheezing storm of these moments;
Hiding its pure certainty of purpose
For her, for her alone,
For only my changeling love:
My Jane Doe.
Copyright © 2023 by Ken Poyner.
About the Author
Ken Poyner has ten books behind him, eight still in print that can be found on the internet. He is married to a world class female powerlifter, and lives additionally with rescue cats and betta fish. He retired as soon as he could from his government job and now enjoys the thrill of getting lost during short travel trips. Individual works have appeared in Analog, Furious Gazelle, Rune Bear, and many other elsewheres.