Weekly Featured Essay
We can never know when or how we may meet those who become cherished parts of our lives. Dennis Thompson reminds introduces us to Red in “Sugar Run Wild”.
by Dennis “Suge” Thompson
Red lies in bed at Israel Hospice. On Christmas Eve morning, he talks in semi-conscious lucidity about Keats and Emerson, Man-O-War and Secretariat, his speech affected by the intravenous pain medications. A self-educated person and my friend for twenty-five years, Red is the best horse handicapper I’ve met and will likely ever meet, which is one of the reasons I love him. A polymath, he could pick a horse by its gait, its speed breaks, and its shift in class, all the while making some obscure reference to Leda and the Swan by Yeats.
Red and I met at Fairgrounds Park in New Orleans. I was an unemployed letter carrier and a novice handicapper. He was a hot walker for the biggest trainer at the thoroughbred meet that spring in ‘89. On that day I’d paced the paddock, trying to figure the form and get a clue as to which horse would make me money. Living on a broke man’s budget, I knew I had to lay off most races and could only play the ones that would produce a payoff. I watched a large red-haired man lead the nine horse during the post parade, giving the jockey a one-leg lift into the irons before coming out onto the apron to watch the race at the fence.
by Patrick Dobson
Lucy liked bad music, had a dog everyone but she could smell, and owned her own fixer-upper in an up-and-coming neighborhood south of the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. Narcissism and/or alcoholism marked former husbands with whom she had bad marriages and no children. She’d had three different last names other than her maiden name.
Lucy had a penchant for celebrity and had spent much of her youth as a rock-n-roll band groupie. She stayed more than one night in jail for various petty crimes, not the least of which was a disturbing-the-peace charge where she’d thrown a shot glass through the street window of The Gate, a third-rate tavern in Northeast Kansas City that convicts and steelworkers from the nearby mill frequented.
By the time I met Lucy, she’d tended bar and cocktail-waitressed at numerous lounges of low repute all around Kansas City. But she’d gone on a self-improvement binge and put herself through nursing school. Along with nursing at a large hospital, she worked a succession of bar jobs, each better than the last. She’d climbed up out of smoky no-name taverns to the rooftop of the Ritz and was making $400 a night serving drinks to out-of-town corporate executives and wealthy adulterers hiding in the dark corners of the bar—after her shifts at the hospital. Her fellow employees at the hotel and the hospital admired her strong will and devil-may-care attitude work and life.
by Kirk Boys
The room is sharp with mildew, tomato sauce, melted cheese, days-old urine, and sweat. It is an all too human smell, not disguised by deodorant spray or scented soap, but one of grit with hard notes of melancholy. My wife and I have arrived here after years of conversation about doing good works. Here where our talking about wanting to do something good for someone else finally takes form.
The “here” is a church hall filled with people most of us only glimpse in the shadows of an alley, huddled under a blue tarp in a makeshift campsite, or sitting under a freeway bridge. Here at St. James Community Hall, well over a hundred homeless people stare at us. They are like ghosts, sitting on folding chairs that line the walls, their looks of distress or anger or resignation haunts me. They are intimidating. They dare us not to feel something. We have only walked through the front door, yet we are stopped, held hostage by those eyes. I do my best to disappear. The door we have entered is dwarfed by St. James’ twin spires, which reach up into a cold, endless, gray Seattle sky. The bells within those spires peal across a city whose soul is being put to the test by a fast-growing homeless population. The city appears both disgusted and seemingly helpless to deal with the problem. More and more people show up on the city’s streets and there is no escaping their impact.
The Drive Between Homes
The red Miata behind us slams on its horn, letting my dad know—in the rudest way possible—he hadn’t merged quickly enough. The speed limit on Central Expressway is only 45mph, but people always seem to treat it like a freeway. Buildings fly by the window in a blur: Fry’s electronics, where my mom took me to buy my first iPod; St. John’s Bar and Grill, where my Dad and I used to get burgers and watch Sharks games; Fair Oaks Skatepark, where I’d split my chin open and the only witness had decided to leave, rather than make sure I was all right. It all seems insignificant as we now cruise comfortably down the road. The car behind us may have been in a hurry, but somehow my dad never was, even though he knew my mom would yell at him if he dropped me late at her house again.
“Make sure you bring those pants back next weekend,” my dad says.Not again. I close my eyes to the buildings outside the window. What is it about the short drive from his house to my mom’s that makes my dad think I need to hear all about how my mom’s the worst person ever?
by Devorah Uriel
A shrill whistle cuts through the warm summer air and I spin to follow the sound, my mouth suddenly dry. Fear takes up residence in the heart like a writhing thing. The mother of all worms, it grows plump and comfortable. Some people believe the heart is the place where love resides. I’m not so sure. The sharp snap of a twig, and my worm begins to thrash.
A brindle hound leaps through the tall tow-colored grass responding to the call of its owner. Releasing a gust of air, I bend to kiss the head of my own four-legged companion, who is sniffing the ground near my feet. The off-leash dog park is spacious, an open place where the breeze can flow between sounds, where internal alarms can quiet, where panic can be more easily soothed.
by Zach Reichert
“Why’s it gotta be so loud?” the patient in Room 2 groaned. “I’m going crazy in here.”
A high-pitched alarm chirped beside his head, slicing through the room with each tone. He covered his ears.
I reached to mute the noise. “How’s that?” I asked.
He paused and looked around the room. Sounds echoed from every corner of the hospital, building to a volume that was impossible to ignore. He looked back at me, his eyes half-closed against the glare of the sun in the window.
“Still sucks,” he answered. “Any idea what it’s like trying to sleep with all this noise?”
I can’t speak on sleeping in hospitals, but I know enough about the noise to sympathize. I think of the alarms and monitors, the voices of nurses and doctors, the cries and moans of the injured and sick filling hospital rooms like smoke. Many patients get lost in this cloud of noise, left to cope with their illness in loud and crowded rooms.
Unlike my patient in Room 2, Gloria was accustomed to coping.
by Tracy Youngblom
You know, he begins, an older person or someone in worse physical condition wouldn’t have survived.
Yes? I say, hesitant to pursue this line of thinking.
It’s better that it happened to me. I was strong and in good shape, so I didn’t die. Someone else would have died.
We are seated in the waiting area of his therapist in vinyl armchairs, hemmed in by a door on one side and a small water cooler and white-noise machine on the other. We have barely made it up the stairs.
You sound like you’re saying you’re glad it happened to you? This is supposed to sound neutral, but it comes out as a question.
As soon as we’d entered the building, I’d remembered clearly: no elevator. I ought to have remembered, since Dan had been my sons’ therapist for years; he’d saved at least one of their lives. Defeated, I pushed Elias in his wheelchair to the foot of the stairs.
A Memory of Smoke
by Stephen Beckwith
From the street, my neighborhood was the perfect post-war collection of starter homes. Boxy ranch houses and faux Cap Cods constructed on large lots among the old growth oaks and sassafras. All fifty-six houses were built in the six years between 1948 and 1954.
Horsebrook Creek ran along the back of our property on the west side of the street. Beyond the creek westward was a land of woods, fallow fields, abandoned orchards, meadows, swamps, ponds, railroad tracks and, farther west, the town’s airport runways. Beyond the airport the woods and farmland ran unbroken for sixty miles.
This was not Christopher Robin’s tame Hundred Acre Wood populated with sweet, befuddled English countryside creatures. In the winter this was the Yukon, in the spring a muddy battlefield in France. In summer we would dam up the creek and go swimming like Huck and Tom. And in the fall, from just after the start of school, until the first snowfall around Thanksgiving, ‘across the crick’ was a forbidden world of pheasant and deer, and red-hatted hunters.
I first began to explore these wild lands when I was six, and these fields and woods became my principal reality. Family, home, chores, these were all illusionary when compared to time spent atop old fruit trees aiming wormy apples at fat grey squirrels. My buddies and I would dig foxholes deep into the soft black peat bog and we would lob hand-grenade-shaped quinces at each other.
More Recent Work: Like what you’ve been reading? All the fine essays published throughout the history of the magazine can be accessed via the contributors/archives page.
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A full-bodied, eclectic issue featuring twenty-five essays.
Eighteen essays from Volume 7, Issue 2.
Don’t Forget to Check out Our Anthologies
Encounters features fifteen eclectic essays originally appearing in bioStories magazine, all focused on some of those chance encounters that can transform our lives.
Issue Reviewed at NewPages
Appreciation goes out to Katy Haas at NewPages for taking time to review the Winter/Spring 2016 Issue.