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PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
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11
Issue 11, July-September 2011
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 11.3


Flash Fiction

Norm Levine
Barely Was There Barley

Jacqueline Seaberg
Sparrow's Landing

Paul Pekin
Our Little Star Child

Sharing old memories with middle daughter, Lauren, we went through family albums. As in most, the last twenty pages or thereabout were blank, filled in by images we’ve carried around so long they might even be true.

I reminded her of those hard times when some people slept on the floor but we were so poor we didn’t have a floor. How the temperature reached 23 below on the Great Plains and we stayed warm by getting cabin fever. She reminded me she was born in Granada Hills where it was so hot she saw two trees fighting over a dog.

I recalled how we lived as gypsies around the campfire where she learned the fiddle at age three and was later first violinist with Leonard Bernstein conducting. She could only recount her accordion lessons with Harvey Goldstein and how she quit after two sessions.

We reminisced about our days in the circus where we performed as the Flying Levines and perfected the Triple Lutz-Half Gainer, with a twist of lemon, without a net. She had a faint memory of riding on an elephant while twirling eleven plates.

She regressed us to a past life in which I was her daughter, half Iroquois, half Mohawk and half Mohegan. I was the next to last. The two of us warned the tribe, too late, not to sell Manhattan to the Dutch but if they do, to get on Antiques Roadshow with those trinkets.

We both remembered the day I taught her that 8 plus 6 equals 14 by leaping up a flight of stairs or maybe that was 3 plus 2.   We couldn't agree whether I was reading her Three Blind Mice when she was 4 or Four and Twenty Blackbirds when she was 3.

Missing is the picture of her taking a journey inside a watermelon or the story of how she went through childhood with a white mustache after piling extra powdered sugar on her French toast.

Even if it never happened we still talk about those days crossing the prairie with nary and barely was there barley.




Norm Levine is a retired pharmacist who has taken up poetry, prose poems and short, personal essays. Since many poems seem to him like “carefully ruined prose,” he finds himself giving up the jagged right-hand margin and just writing in paragraphs.


Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: This piece was occasioned by my daughter’s (age 51) visit at which time we each had different memories. It started me thinking about a number of preposterous versions of blurry moments we’ve shared.

Barely Was There Barley
by Norm Levine
followed by Q&A

Poetry

Mary Cresswell
GLOSA: I lay the table

Anna Rosen Guercio
Quick Bright Things

Catherine Harnett
Tooth
We had to wait until the year of the drought to bring Daddy’s ashes back to the town of Sparrow’s Landing.  

My brother, Harry, and I drove as far as we could down the once-submerged highway—now caked with red dust—toward the Lake Chifley Reservoir. On the hills above us, skeletons of wooden piers jutted out over parched earth. Closer to the receding reservoir, the grass was green and lush and dotted with debris: old bicycle wheels, limbless dolls, empty soup cans, rusting refrigerators with their doors open wide as if surprised to be discarded as their owners fled for higher ground. 

Harry stopped the car where the highway disappeared into a tangle of spiky grasses and empty beer bottles. 

“Watch where you step,” he warned as we pulled on our galoshes. 

He tucked the canister from the crematorium under one arm and a jar of sweet tea under the other. I followed behind, like Dorothy on her way to Oz, carrying a picnic basket with ham sandwiches and slices of Pepsi cake wrapped in blue-and-white gingham napkins. 

Below us, the valley yawned wide. The crumbling brick façade of the church was all that remained of Sparrow’s Landing. As we got closer, I could see the half-rotted pews through the church’s missing doors. 

I was 7 and Harry 12 when we went to final vespers at the church 20 years ago. Sparrow’s Landing was almost abandoned by then. One by one, our neighbors had taken their government checks and moved up the mountainside. But Momma was already buried by the old church, and Daddy decided he didn’t believe in eminent domain. We stayed until the water nipped at our ankles. 

“Do you remember dropping firecrackers down the well?” I asked Harry as we strode across the spongy earth. He nodded. On warm summer evenings, after Daddy made his chicken-and-waffle dinners, we’d stay up long past dark to play flashlight tag amongst the boarded-up houses. 

The cracked gravestones of our ancestors stood like crooked teeth in front of a gaping hole in the church’s western wall. Past the wrought-iron fence, I could see the waters of once-mighty Lake Chifley turn dark beneath the approaching clouds. 

The jar of tea wobbled slightly as Harry plopped it down on one of the fallen bricks that lay higgledy piggledy in the churchyard. 

“Watch your head,” he said, pointing up at the wall. “The mortar’s not quite right.”

I took a step back, peering over Harry’s shoulder as he slowly opened the canister and poured the gray-white ash, mixed with brittle bone fragments, over the thicket of Creeping Charlie that grew beneath Momma’s headstone. 

The first drops of rain were light. We stood there silently, a measured distance from the deteriorating brickwork, watching the rain wash the ashes off the little purple flowers, until water pooled at our feet. Forks of lightning chased us back to the car, forcing us to leave behind the cake and sandwiches and sweet tea as an offering to the reservoir’s dead. 



"Sparrow's Landing" is Jacqueline Seaberg's first published short story. Her poetry has appeared in Light Quarterly, The Formalist, and Prune Juice. Three of her poems are forthcoming in bottle rockets. Jacqueline is engaged to be married and lives in Chicago.

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: I was intrigued by an article I read about a town that had been flooded by the Army Corps of Engineers to create a reservoir and reemerged several years later during a long summer drought. I tried to imagine what it would be like for former residents to return to what was left of the town.

Sparrow's Landing
by Jacqueline Seaberg
followed by Q&A

Tooth
Catherine Harnett
followed by Q&A
Her lower baby tooth
waits for the right time
to leap into the night.
Beneath her pillow
it will hide. The fairy hovers,
fist filled with coins. 

Does she know which
brave girl wiggles her white
tooth in anticipation?

The new one inches
its way towards day, ragged
and hopeful in its cave.

Patience, my daughter, once
the little pearls have gone
come the teeth of wolves.




Catherine Harnett is a poet and fiction writer from Fairfax, Virginia, and has authored two books of poetry published through the Washington Writers Publishing House. (Still Life and Evidence). Her work has recently appeared in upstreet 5, sakura, right hand pointing, the Roanoke Review and alimentium. Catherine’s fiction appears in an anthology of coming of age stories, Writes of Passage, published by the Hudson Review. She received her BA from Marymount College of Fordham University, and her MA from Georgetown. Catherine worked for the federal government for over thirty years, and retired in 2007 to devote herself to writing full time. 

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: Losing teeth is a complicated experience. Losing baby teeth is exciting—the Tooth Fairy will leave something under your pillow in return for your little tooth. As we grow up, it’s not so much fun to lose teeth—we are getting old, bad habits catch up with us. Watching my daughter lose her first tooth was sweet, but I knew that wolves with their fangs are never far behind. Alas, there is no tooth fairy—when my parents died, I found all of my baby teeth wrapped in napkins. How tiny they were; how could they be mine? 

GLOSA: I lay the table
Mary Cresswell
Followed by Q&A

not that the dead will visit—they are dead.
But while we living bathe in such mild air,
neither will I rinse them from my mind,
beloved bones dismantled into sand.
Rachel Hadas, Shells

I lay the table as I always did:
blue and white dishes, crystal glasses.
The linen cloth is new. Never mind,
when he comes, he will recognise
if not me, at least the meal I serve,
the candles, the wine, the braided bread.
The words come more slowly.
I am out of practice and unused
to visitors. Greeting them is hard—
not that the dead will visit—they are dead.

I display my dead on the mantelpiece,
arrange them in rows like smoky quartz
picked up on mountain trails
or bivalves washed up on beaches.
Unlike the loud and living, they don’t answer back.
They stand mute and dusty. Always, the dead are 
accommodating, part of rituals past
and rituals yet to come. Either way,
it’s OK to leave them there.
But while we living bathe them in such mild air,

storms roll in from every compass point;
unrecognisable flotsam and jetsam 
pile up in heaps. When high tide relaxes
we are left with an expanse of debris
otherwise known as thoughts.
The dead are more kind.
They rest outside our tumbling chaos
waiting for us to pick through them.
I pause my sorting, grubby and begrimed, 
to swear I’ll never rinse them from my mind

so I decide it’s time to build
a place to hold us all, perhaps
a temple—a tumulus—a bower
to safely store the memories 
I need to keep with me. Call it what
you like. The dead have all the words to hand.
I mine them all to pick through
and extract my dearest shards. Then I 
use them to construct my promised land:
beloved bones dismantled into sand.




Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast. She has published in a variety of journals in New Zealand and the United States. Her third book, Trace Fossils, was published in early 2011 by Steele Roberts of Wellington (www.steeleroberts.co.nz).


Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: I read Rachel Hadas’s  “Shells” at a time when I was realizing that I have reached an age at which, in the normal course of events, my losses begin to rub against each other and lose their individual shape, as rocks and shells do when they become sand on the beach. While Hadas keeps the integrity of individual shells, I seem to have gone for the blur, as everything disintegrates … and indeed, checking my notes, I see that I have misquoted Hadas’s third line when carrying it over to my own poem—and for this blur I deeply apologize!

Quick Bright Things
Anna Rosen Guercio
followed by Q&A

Always the same time in a subway car.
The rhythm of the repeated object.
But then there’s when my baby lived.
Stroked my head.
Picked my pocket.

What comes out in woods
fears description, its fearful retribution.
I love, and imagine I do,
coaxed, quick, I hold stillest for you,
in opposition to better angels.




Anna Rosen Guercio is a translator and poet living in Los Angeles. Her work has recently appeared in or is forthcoming from The Kenyon Review, Pool, Painted Bride Quarterly, Inter|rupture, Eleven Eleven, and Words Without Borders, with a chapbook published by Toad Press. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Irvine.

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration this poem?
A: “Quick Bright Things” plays on Shakespeare's “So quick bright things come to confusion” (A Midsummer Night's Dream, I.i.149).  The implied comma after “quick” allows us to read the phrase on the more obvious level, but this poem imagines what a “quick bright thing” might be, how it might come to confusion, and what comes before and after.

Our Little Star Child
by Paul Pekin
followed by Q&A
She fell out of the sky, our little Star Child. One morning we awoke and she was there. We are older people, I must tell you that. We have lived on this earth, my wife and I, longer than God intended.

I went into the bedroom where my wife sleeps, breathing gently through her toothless mouth. She is very frail, her skin white and translucent, her bones as brittle as ice. When I touched her she opened her eyes, the same eyes I loved when we were children ourselves.

"We have a visitor," I whispered.

"Who?"

"Come into the kitchen and see."

When my wife saw our little Star Child, she almost fell to her knees. "She must have come from very far," she said.

"Very far," I said. "From the very stars themselves."

There are no words I know of that would describe our little Star Child. She is like no other child; she is like every other child. She is very attentive. She sat for hours, listening to my wife talk. It had been many years since my wife talked to a child.

"Oh," my wife said. "When I was your age, I rode a bicycle. I rode it down the Gregory Street hill as fast as the wind. There was a boy who lived on the bottom of that hill and I knew he would see me with my hair flying. I was never as soft and pink as a nursery. I wore patches on my knees and danced to Sammy Kaye on the radio. I rode trains and saw the Grand Canyon, and while I crossed the continent I played cards with three sailors. When I was a young woman I wore a hat with a feather in it, oh, such a feather, it must have come from a very rare bird for I have never seen one like it since. I could dance when I was a girl, I could dance all night, I would dance with young men and old men; they would lift me up and I would soar, there were times when I thought I would never return to earth. I knew secrets when I was young. I kissed another girl on the mouth and tasted her tongue. I knew how to roller skate backwards. After the prom I sneaked into the playground and rode the swings in my long strapless dress. I took my parents to the theater on their anniversary and sang right along with the cast, Oh What a Beautiful Morning. Shall I teach you the words?"

I stood in the doorway and watched my wife talk to our little Star Child. I watched her eyes grow bright and her skin turn warm. I watched her hands turn young.

I left them alone and walked up the street. I walked into the grocery and admired the pretty girl behind the checkout counter. I browsed through the hardware store and examined the garden tools and packets of flower seeds. I stopped at the cafeteria and slowly drank a cup of dark coffee while listening to other old men discuss politics. I roamed by the playground and watched the Spanish children playing soccer. I breathed in the harsh city air and I was alive. How astonished I was to remember that.

When I got home my wife was alone. She was sitting in the living room with her hands in her lap and she was smiling. "I showed her our photo album," she said. "I showed her the pictures we took on our trip. I taught her how to pay rummy. I gave her my old ballet slippers."

I took my wife in my arms and we held each other tight. She was warm all the way through and her flesh felt young. For a moment we forgot we were old and it was as it once had been. I remembered us together with smiles on our faces and a whole lifetime waiting to happen.




Paul Pekin is a retired police officer who lives in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood. He published his first short story in 1965 and his most recent one last year. His work has appeared in newspapers, literary magazines, and anthologies, and has won a few prizes. In another life, he taught fiction writing at Columbia College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a few other schools.


Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: I don’t know where this story came from, but the woman in it seems to resemble someone I lived with for forty-five years. As to the man, I won’t say.