FICTION: The Tiger Girl Blues – Gary Every

The Tiger Girl Blues

She moves like a tiger, all hips and tail, beautiful elusive eyes and hair that alternates between bright colors and stripes of shadow. I believe that in the years I have known her I have seen her hair all the colors of the rainbow. She is often excited, sometimes irritated but always quick to laugh. She has a loud and lusty laugh and the lust is contagious. The tiger girl has flesh that rolls sensuously across her bones and the most amazing breasts for a middle aged woman. These breasts are so round, full and firm that if you sprayed them with sperm it would ricochet back.

She claims she is the daughter of Marie Laveau, the original voodoo queen of New Orleans, a direct descendant. Or at least she lived in the voodoo queen’s apartment once. That is what she told me while she was reading my Tarot cards. Then she told me of this one wonderful, magical Big Easy evening when she had been driving a minivan all around the countryside, stocked up with thousands of hits of LSD, wailing that “She was on a mission from God.” On a full moon midnight, when everything was exactly right, street lights flickering, magic lingering, music spilling up and down the sidewalk she rode a throne of hands atop the cobblestone, passed from hand to hand, till at last, eyes full of liquid ecstasy, she was crowned queen of New Orleans. It was a perfect moment with no forward or past, a moment so perfect it could never last.

She used to fish the docks at all hours of the night or day, throwing line, bait and hooks into the Gulf of Mexico. She loved to fish. It was a way of connecting to her lost father, a career navy man – standing by the sea and talking to her father when no one was looking. When someone was looking she would sing to the pelicans. If that someone lingered very long, she would sing loudly to the pelicans. Usually people leave pretty quickly when you sing loudly to the pelicans. When she was alone on the dock of the bay, tide rolling away, she would think to herself. Between the blue of the ocean and the blue of the sky there was a lot of space to think about a lot of things. She had a lot of time while she waited for a fish to arrive. Sometimes she would think about forgiveness she had never received and other times she thought about forgiveness she had never offered. Mostly, she stood there on the edge of the water, talking to her long lost father and asked him for advice. The Tiger Girl needed lots of advice, widowed early and trying to raise two young daughters as a single mother. Sometimes the fish she caught was all they had for dinner that night and other times the bounty of the sea god’s harvest was so plentiful that she would give her catch away – often feeding the local police officers.

Perhaps it was the sea god Poseidon who decided to reward this daughter of a seafaring man or perhaps it was the voodoo queen who decided to bless this New Orleans native with what looked like a curse but was really a blessing. Whatever the reason, one day Hurricane Katrina arrived.

The fishing docks are no longer there, ripped asunder by the obliterating powers of ocean, wind, and the fearsome wrath of God. Marie Laveau’s apartment was flooded and ruined, torn down in what was optimistically called a reconstruction. The cemetery had been ravaged with wave after wave until all the crypts were flooded and her sweet dead husband’s coffin floated away to sea.

The tiger girl held her ATM card out before her as if it was a sacred magic talisman that would somehow protect her from this natural disaster. Eventually she realized how useless a bank card was without electricity. What good was money without a store to sell anything? She loaded both her daughters into the car and drove as far as one tank of gas would take her. Tiger girl camped beside a river and dropped a hook and line. Sometimes they would get a nibble here or a bite there but at least they had dinner. They were surviving, just barely, but getting a little thinner.

One night she climbed a tree, as high as she could be. The tiger girl decided that it was Katrina which had freed her and so she spread her wings and let the winds of the earth take her wherever they wanted her to be.

She toured the beaches of the world and lost one daughter who dropped off to attend college. When Tiger Girl got bored of the most beautiful beaches in the world she ended up in India. Most people come to India in a quest for spirituality but she had arrived seeking frivolity. She remembered the time she met the holy man, head guru of a large and beautiful holy temple, filled with faithful followers, and army of priests. With a long flowing white beard and a booming voice he looked just like an Old Testament god. He was revered as a living saint. Wherever he walked, devoted pilgrims followed, in the way that only India can be crowded. When he approached the tiger girl they locked eyes for just a moment and she worked up the nerve to blurt out a question.

“What does it feel like to be divine?”

The Old Testament God stopped suddenly, all the people behind him forced to halt for just a moment, the entire herd stuck on pause, and he sighed.

“I am a collared dog,” he replied.

She left the ashram that very moment and chose to wander the countryside. She walked past waterfalls and boulders, strolling through forests and more forests. At every junction she followed the Robert Frost rule and turned upon the road less traveled. She entered deeper and deeper into the forest, where the shadows grew darker and darker. She walked and walked, gradually becoming aware she was being stalked.

There were eyes which followed her. There were stripes and shadows which lingered, just off the edge of the trail, never anything she could be certain about but something which seemed to move only when she moved. Something that stopped when she stopped. It was something, big, graceful and silent that could melt into the shadows of the forest whenever she tried to turn her head to look at it. She was certain that it was a tiger following her. She walked steadily, without pausing for fear the tiger would pounce. She walked for miles. The tiger followed her the whole time but never let her get a glimpse. She could hear it breathe and sometimes the tiger would grumble under his breath with a sort of coughing rumble that felt like it could turn into a roar at any moment. Every time she came to another fork in the road, this time she took the path more traveled until the forest lessened and eventually she returned to the ashram. The pilgrims who welcomed her return could see the tiger and were amazed as it followed her closely. They were afraid for her life. The tiger stopped sniffed the air and returned into the wilderness.

Eventually the wind blew her all the way to the red rock desert where I reside. One daughter followed the tiger girl, trailing every footstep like a shadow, a succession of small animals following the daughter, creating a small line of vagabond souls echoing the tiger girl’s path. The tiger girl joined a community of post-apocalyptic hippies. Except they were all making plans and anticipating the apocalypse but for tiger girl the apocalypse had already come and gone. It was hurricane Katrina which had set her free.

Sometimes I invite her hiking so we might enjoy the beautiful scenery together. Sometimes she invites me to step outside during the night so she can map stars. When we hike together, I find I must take her farther and farther from the beaten path to keep her content. She is only happy when we wander lost in the wilderness. She walks off to the side, strolling through the tall grasses. Her hair blows in the breeze disappearing in tides of stripe and shadow. We are engaged in an ancient courtship ritual of predator and prey, lover and warrior, swirling together in a circle, alternating roles. I make a lame joke and she sneers, muscles tensing almost as if she is preparing to leap, unleashing a feline missile. I open my arms wide and close my eyes, anticipating the embrace of fur and fang. The wind blows through my hair while I stand in the wilderness and wait with my eyes closed, wondering if the tiger girl is fleeing or pouncing.

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FICTION: SUSHEELA MENON – HOW TO WRITE A LOVE STORY

 

How to Write a Love Story

It was the fifth time she had ended a relationship. She had walked up to him and told him she no longer wanted him. She noticed the disbelief on his face and hoped he would talk; she didn’t want to explain anything, there was nothing to say.

Tamara wanted to write. She wanted to write a love story. She had tried several times but realised that writing involved a lot more than mere grammar or technique. One had to have experienced relationships first-hand. Each one of her submissions came back saying they didn’t sound real. Perhaps the only way she could make her story sound convincing was to watch people go through the whole rigmarole of love and heartbreak. She knew it was an absurd way to write a story but if getting into real relationships could get her story accepted, then she would do it. She would live her story.

She befriended her victims and showered them with attention, and when they were head over heels in love, she left them. Some pursued her till she called the police while others wept over cups of steaming coffee. She was tempted to record their conversations so she could study their responses well; one never knew what could lead to a good story idea. She did feel guilty once when one of them sobbed before her. She had stood up when he hugged her, his hot tears falling all over her silk blouse. She had grabbed her bag and bolted out the door of the small noodle shop near one of the busiest junctions in her city. She had chosen this place for the sheer convenience of jumping into one of the rickshaws that queued up just outside the shop. It sometimes disturbed her that she could be so selfish and callous. She brushed aside such thoughts and persisted but nothing came of these silly dalliances. There was a niggling doubt in the back of her mind that she perhaps wasn’t someone who could write anything at all. She wondered if she was made for one of those desk jobs where you worked like a robot all day and went back home to fast food at night. She knew she had to get on with life.

So she began circling advertisements in several newspapers. She appeared for interviews and waited a while before she landed a job with a company that sold just about everything under the sun. Her work wasn’t very interesting but she persevered. She forgot all about her stories and didn’t find the time to read even. Books started piling up on her bedside table as she dragged her famished self into bed every night.

One evening, she met a man with big eyes and curly hair who asked her out to a coffee shop and ordered two cups of latte without once asking her what she wanted. She was confused but found his confidence irresistible. She was so used to studying the men she met that she overlooked her own instinct. She didn’t realize that she had reduced herself to being a spectator even when she didn’t intend to be; Tamara had lost touch with her heart. She wasn’t sure if he was the one for her but she moved in with him anyway. It was the happiest time of her life. As days passed, she grew to know and like him more, and enjoyed the life she shared with him. She couldn’t say no when he proposed to her with a brilliant ring on which sat a flawless red ruby. She asked him to accompany her to a family dinner at her father’s place one night and it was there that she noticed him exchange glances with her cousin sister.

She caught them together that night, coiled over each other like snakes, in the bed that belonged to her dead mother. She stayed till they finished their grand business and clapped as if it were a movie. He left the next morning and never came back. She felt like a fish gasping for air on arid land and wished someone would just throw her back in the sea or gut her alive. She drew deep, long breaths and sat on her couch from dawn till dusk. She screamed alone at times and cried when it hurt too much.

And then one day, she stumbled upon a photograph she had wanted framed. He had his arms and legs wrapped around her in a boat on the sea at Bali, and they looked happy together in it. Tamara picked up a pencil and started writing on the back of the photograph.

She wrote about that evening in Bali when he had proposed to her; how lovely the ring looked on her finger. As she read and reread those lines, the big knot of grief in her heart slowly unravelled. Tearful, she stood up and tied her hair. She got her old satchel full of blank pages and sat before her desk, a pencil poised between her thumb and forefinger. She had no doubt in her mind that she would succeed this time. In fact, this would be her masterpiece. The ring glittered under the light of the table lamp as she wiped her eyes and began to write.

 

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FICTION: JAMES HARTMAN – PET

Pet

He calls me feral, sometimes another name, but feral is my favorite.  Its bi-syllabic rhythm closes my eyes, vibrates my heart and makes me curl inward in warm delight.  Sometimes he rubs his forehead across mine, drawing one light finger below my chin.  Makes me spread my legs, reveal my belly.  All his fingers stretch out over my skin, and I open my mouth in silent squeal.  When I mouth his finger he calls me feral again and instantly I roll over, blink up at him my slow, aching content and lift my rear end in total submission.

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FICTION: Chella Courington – McCarthy and Woolf

McCarthy and Woolf

 

Tom sat at the round kitchen table reading Blood Meridian for the third time. Adele placed slices of orange in front of him.

“Have you finished Mrs. Dalloway?” she asked.

He paused—a pause not there when he was teaching. Finally, he looked up, the novel still open.

“Almost.” And looked down again, turning the page.

How could he say so little, almost, and that was it, that was all. He had lived with her fifteen years, he knew she adored Woolf, especially Clarissa, and all he could say was almost, one word as if it were enough.

Wanting to scream, Adele stood nearly twenty seconds, her hands squeezing the rail of the chair before she sat across from him. He mumbled or she thought he mumbled and his carriage hardened, sensing what was coming.

“What do you think?” she asked.

He breathed in this deliberate manner that bordered on a groan.

“It’s a bit slow. The writing is lovely but Woolf doesn’t pull me in,” he said, his finger holding his place in McCarthy.

Lovely. She wanted to hit him. She wanted to talk about how the novel slips from the present to the past and back again, how everyone has a point of view even the girl selling petticoats, how the miracle of existence culminates in Clarissa at the top of the stairs.

He could see her lips tightening, her presence receding. Closing his novel, he said,

“Sorry. That was a bit glib. The language is pure as one image unfolds into another. But she reads like a performance, a spectacle.” He pushed his chair back so he could cross his legs.

“Spectacle?” she asked. “What the hell do you mean? You read about massacre and bloodshed and then call Woolf spectacle because Woolf’s not killing for her audience’s attention.”

“Woolf killed Septimus,” he said.

“Asshole.”

He knew enough not to smile.

Adele walked to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water; maybe she’d throw it at him or shatter the glass and stab him. On the walnut coffee table they bought at a garage sale in Ventura was the most recent Harper’s, which reports that a team of forensic engineers at The University of Leicester measured the amount of force used in bottle stabbings and called it effectively phenomenal. She twisted the cap off the bottle and sat down across from Tom.

“God. I want to hit you,” she said.

Closing the novel again, he looked up at her and scratched his cheek, waiting.

“Ever hit a woman?” she asked.

“Does my sister count?”

“No.”

She drank some water. The fridge started up and she turned and watched it before looking back at him. Why does he always have to be a smartass? He’s so good at so much. But his silence hurts, leaves me feeling stranded. (Long before they met, her then boyfriend and she started drinking Bloody Marys at Myrtle Beach in the early afternoon. The next morning she woke with a splitting headache, nose swollen and raccoon eyes. X-rays showed no skull fracture. Adele told everyone she fell on the pier. The boyfriend bought her roses.)

Tom pushed the novel away, still staring at her.

“I’ve never slapped a woman,” he said, “though sometimes I’ve wanted to. But I feel guilty enough.”

 

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