“The Spectator Takes a Journey” by David M. Rubin

Looking back what seemed a stray puppy was actually an old little dog and coordinator of an incident that was still raw like the scrapes on his elbows and knees. He had no idea what to make of the even earlier incident with the crows but sensed all was connected.

Archer Fennis woke up that morning, reciting his mantra of “no humming”. Humming was a signal to his nervous system that there was something to be worried about, maybe everything. Then sweating. Then cold hands. Then pacing. Then anticipatory moaning. Then the full-fledged Munch-like scream. No humming, no humming, no humming.

The white living room walls were devoid of paintings or posters. The emptiness was unendurable, a continual incitement for Archer to Jackson Pollack his carefully curated red ceramic bowl of granola, almonds, blueberries, and soy milk against the wall. He had no coffee table and wondered what if one wanted to display art books, but had only one folding-table placed constitutively in front of the TV. He placed the cereal bowl gently on the blonde wood and consciously struck a pose of one intent on terraforming.

Archer laced up his Merrills, grabbed a baseball cap (orange with a Jayavarman II face), black pandemic mask, and a credit card. He would buy eight art books. Eight. He would keep them on a stack on the floor next to the folding table and each Sunday he would ritually rotate up a new one.

He raced out to the wooded path behind the always empty back porches of the huge houses and meandered down the steep hill and skirted past the New Hope Police Station. He hit Main Street where it crossed over the creek, turned left, and then ducked into the Galleria Mall, using the bottom of his shirt to grab the door handle and swing open the enormous glass and steel door. The woman from Sky Roast slid across the counter a medium-sized cold brew and a chocolate biscotti, which she assured him if tried them enough times he would come to understand why they were so popular.

Before the steps leading up to the Delaware River overlook behind the re-modeled Ghost Light Inn, Archer stopped alongside Martine’s River House where a murder of crows convened over a plastic bag filled with fresh rolls. Two birds swooped down and began tearing at the plastic while eight sat on the railing, some cawing their support, others keeping watch. Surprisingly to Archer and all of the birds the plastic held. He wondered why the crows were gingerly taking turns with their beaks vs adding a foot for leverage or just tug-of-warring open the bag. He raised his hand like a druid to calm the situation, tip-toing over with the intention of freeing the rolls. He would make sure all the crows got some, maybe pocket a half for himself as he had already written off the biscotti. But the murder flew off at full caw when Martine’s back door opened and a women emerged, “why are you feeding the birds our bread?”

“Crows. I’m not. I just got here. Now that I see you have boxes from the bakery, I know what must have happened. An adventurous crow pulled free a bag of rolls.”

The woman scrunched a “yeah sure” face.

“You should keep the deliveries in a safer place,” and added a joke, “or place a scarecrow.”

“We gonna play shudda? You shudda put the bag back in the box.”

“Many tourists feed ducks here, so at first, I figured someone left a bag of bread for the next family. I was just going to help the crows open the bag. They are very smart and sensitive.”

“Are you serious? They are boutique rolls from Factory Girl Bake Shop.”

“What would you have had me do? Place the crow-pecked rolls back in the box?”

“Yes! Then we wouldn’t wrongly blame the bakery if we were a bag short.”

Archer didn’t touch a single roll yet felt guilty like he was Longinus brutalizing Jesus on the cross. Archer bowed an apology, “I meant well.”

The roll fiasco would be relived and reimagined in thousands of future perseverations. In the here and now he failed to notice the two black and two turkey vultures, watching from across the way on the fence around the garbage bins of The Salt House. The Salt House, Martine’s River House, Logan’s Inn, Stellas. So many micro-environments carefully crafted for couples, whole societies that didn’t register Archer’s solo existence. Dazed as he never expected to have to speak to anyone from that world, let alone be chastised out on their streets, Archer jettisoned the plan to relax with his coffee by the river. He flipped the biscotti into a garbage, and with a vestigial shudder like the shake of a dog, he reset and headed off towards South Main Street and his main reason for having left home.

Farley’s Bookshop had one whole shelf plus a dedicated spinner of Taschen hardcover art books; impressive yet only a fraction of the multiple series, each with dozens of individual artist monographs and genre summations. Archer, a completist, loved collecting whole series, though that was massively cost prohibitive in this case. If there were 40 then buying 20% of them would meet his arbitrary target of eight. He didn’t like to argue with subconscious processes honed over decades, which if it said eight must have had solid reasons, but perhaps pegging to a percentage made more sense. He took three deep breaths and carefully counted 23 on the shelf and 48 in the spinner and thus 71 in total. Jesus, 20% of 71 would commit him to buying 14 books, which at $20 each, that would be $280, with a combined weight of perhaps fifteen pounds. So be it, he would buy 14; that would allow for about a monthly switch of the featured book on the folding table.

The next even higher hurdle was selecting the set of 14, a filtering with no defined parameters, based on what he preferred at that given moment. Better would be portfolio mathematics and a clear strategy to avoid fooling oneself based on trivial factors like an attractive cover or a Madeleine-like childhood association like his parents having a Berthe Morisot print and his mother copying Monets, or the random recommendation of another bookstore browser, and then he would load up too heavily on one genre or another and could wind up with 14 books of impressionists that all bleed together. Though even that was uncertain as even Morisot and Monet were worlds apart.

He thought about postponing the project to chart a safer and saner course, as they say in chess; he could click a photo and analyze it in the comfort of his bed with a notebook and colored pencils to chart it all out, maybe make an Excel spreadsheet. He took a very deep breath and decided to step outside the Bookshop to call in a dinner order from Jaffar. “Hello, Archer Fennis to place an order for take-out… Papdi chat but with no onion. Mutter paneer but please add more peas… I’ll pay extra… It’s better when not soupy and that will keep our karma solid… … well yes the karma and the dish… Yes, the number of paneer cubes is always perfect… One shrimp tandoori, one bhindi masala, one daal, two garlic naans, raita… Yes, and mixed pickles. They call it achar in Bangladesh too, right?” Like selecting art books, the food order was fraught with peril but here Archer had a few set patterns that usually worked well. Today’s order was working out perfectly, though maybe too much so as quantum physics suggested anything too certain was not possible and thus he started back in. “Something feels wrong. Maybe substitute channa masala for shrimp tandoori… No, no keep both and add an aloo gobi as will be more for the week… Yes, fine… Yes, I suppose… Please have it ready in exactly 75 minutes.” In 75 minutes, he would arrive at Jaffar holding fourteen gorgeous hardcover art books in a stack. No bags. A small parade for the citizens of New Hope to gape in awe at a traveling tower of art books.

He popped back inside Farley’s, said hello to the manager and a student working the cash register, who was some sort of genius as she claimed to have read Germinal in one sitting. He would spend exactly 30 minutes considering the Taschen collection, but likely needed only 20 as the task was almost a third complete as El Greco, Bosch, Klimt, Rothko, and Schiele were definites. Three expressionists were a lot to be sure, but the gap between them was as vast as El Greco’s heaven to Bosch’s hell. He might soothe the wild passions and nubile nipples on the cover of the Klimt book with linearity and abstract shape, maybe Johns or Mondrian. Mathematical and patterned. Pourquoi pas blatantly add the historical musings of an Ingres or David, maybe a Gericault. He fantasized about regaling guests with tales of the “Raft of the Medusa”.

A glance at his phone showed 4:23, so there were 32 minutes before the food was ready and he needed eight to walk to Jaffron. Book check out was five minutes max, leaving 19 minutes to pick out the remaining books. He lost track of the detailed plan and engaged the first of several jazz-like improvisations. He would browse biography for seven minutes and essays for another seven and then head back to choose the final Taschen books, which he now decided would definitely include Mondrian and O’Keefe, as she was absolutely unique, and maybe Malevich. Of all the genres he knew the least about futurism and vaguely remembered that Malevich was a Pole working mostly out of Ukraine and then maybe Italy. He looked but found no Berthe Morisot or Fantin-Latour, a minor tragedy.

Fourteen minutes later he was back at the art section holding four books, Mark Lanegan’s Read Backwards and Weep, Joseph Brodsky’s Less Than One, and two different versions of the Tao Te Ching. He added them to the waiting pile of El Greco, Bosch, Klimt, Rothko, and Schiele. He then very deliberately pulled from the carousel and added Mondrian, O’Keefe and Malevich, and then added six seemingly at random from the shelf. Had Archer stuck to a structured plan he would have not later have gotten distracted walking while trying to discern a pattern in the books he actually bought, and he would have been more cognizant of the stairs, the ball and the dog.

Archer checked out uneventfully though $394 seemed well more than he had planned to spend. He got the club points added to his account, stepped outside and removed his mask. He was ahead of schedule so paused to clear his mind on the grey stone bridge crossing over Aquetong Creek. He would collect his thoughts before heading four blocks to the light turn, left and head the two blocks to Jaffron.

What the bejeezus just happened? It seemed six Taschens were added in a Monet blur. He vaguely remembered seeing Velazquez and Vermeer, and he was sure Escher and Rothko made the cut, but did he make an event-nullifying mistake and add Renoir? How could he rush and ruin this? The event was fraught with uncertainty as to what happened and what ifs and should haves. No way the Imp of the Perverse added Renoir not even as a joke. He stopped and placed the pile on the stone ledge below which the creek ran to the river, heavy from last night’s rain. Klimt, Rothko, El Greco, Bosch, Schiele, Mondrian, O’Keefe, Malevich, Velazquez, Vermeer, Kahlo, Escher, Ingres, David. Fourteen. Oh yeah, then he had grabbed these two surveys, one on Cubism and one on something called The Blaue Reiter. What kind of joke was that? He gently pulled the Blaue Reiter book free from the bottom, playing a very dangerous game of Jenga. Dear Lord, something involving Kandinsky and a Blue Rider emerging from a Kuntstlervereingung.

Eight had been added in a blur! Now there were 16 total. $394 did seem expensive, but he was not one to add up a receipt under the public gaze. Before he crossed back over the bridge to Jaffron he re-sorted the books alphabetically so there would be a semblance of order till he could conceptualize something more meaningful. The Blaue Reiter, Bosch, Cubism, David, El Greco, Escher, Ingres, Kahlo, Klimt, Malevich, Mondrian, O’Keefe, Rothko, Schiele, Velazquez, Vermeer. He had two extra now and wondered what was missed. Hard to fathom a set of art books for a coffee table without an impressionist. His right hip hurt as did his left heel. He took a series of deep breaths. Got books. Get food. Get home. Get home. When one is safe at home there is always time to think.

The door opened into a dark warm space. A physical bell attached to the door alerted Jaffar’s owner to an arriving guest. Door closed. Credit card. Waited. Pleasantries and blessings all around for everyone surviving the pandemic. Signature. Grabbed two bags. Door closed. Bell dopplered into background.

Archer would take the easier climb home on the hill at the end of the creek. He turned left, head down the stairs to walk along the tow path by the creek. The tower of art books topped with four other books was impossibly balanced. His palm supported it like a pizza delivery man; one of the Jaffar bags, attached to that wrist, swung underneath. His other hand, with a much heavier allocation of food, was held away to balance out his center of gravity.

A tennis ball rested on the steps. It was certainly at rest. When he started his descent, the ball began to roll. Maybe it was attached to a string; he couldn’t be sure. The ball accelerated, bouncing down the steps towards the brackish creek. A small white puppy ran from out of the bushes on his right and snatched the ball. Archer stutter-stepped to avoid the puppy and stumbled down the steps. He landed on his knees and grabbed the edge of the tow path to prevent his plummet over the edge and into the creek. The tower of books paused in mid-air like in a cartoon and then fell four feet into the water with a complex splash. From under the bridge four or five assorted shaped and sized dogs lead by the small white one grabbed the two sacks of food and raced north up the tow path and scrambled into a break in the bramble. The crows above raced after the dogs.

Empty-handed Archer walked home slowly. He was close to home and could hum without fear. He thought of Fritz Wunderlich, plugged in his ear buds and played Das Lied von der Erde. The vultures high in the overcast tracked him back to the apartment. They may as well have been singing Wunderlich’s part. “Seht dort hinab! Im Mondschein auf den Gräbern. Hockt eine wild-gespenstische Gestalt; Ein Aff ist’s! Hört ihr, wie sein Heulen.”

Archer raised his fist without looking up, “Indeed I crouch like an ape, but you will not hear me shriek.”

David M. Rubin has a Ph.D. in biology. His stories, poems, and essays appear in After Dinner Conversations, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Café Irreal, ffraid, Last Stanza, Maudlin House, Moss Piglet, The Nabokovian, and The Smart Set. Links and connections to be found @Six18sFoundry.

“A New York State of Mind” by Jill Veader

Last summer, my boyfriend, Ian, and I visited his grandmother, Elaine, who’d been living in the same apartment on Amsterdam Avenue for forty years. Elaine let us stay in her spare bedroom, from which we spied down at the sun-soaked street from eight stories up, surrounded by her bookshelves full of coffee table books and old photos. A trip to New York City was perfect because neither Ian nor I had much money; we both still worked at the grocery store where we’d first met.  

The morning after we arrived on Amtrak, Elaine took us around the neighborhood on the Upper West Side. We got bagels and coffee at Zabar’s, met cats at bookstores, and made it as far as Roosevelt Island; we must’ve walked twenty miles that day. It was hot for June, and even in cutoff shorts and a t-shirt, I was sweating profusely—nevermind Ian, who’d opted for black jeans. Elaine, though, remained cool and dry, ready to move on while we sat on park benches, panting, and saying, “We just need a minute,” or “maybe some water.”

As we traversed block to block, Elaine stopped us every ten feet or so to tell us to look up. Squinting in the sunlight, we’d gaze past her pointed finger to be met with the stoic, Medusa-like stares of cherubs carved into limestone, or ornate seals of olive branches and shields painted onto brick above a stoop. Gilded terracotta blue and gold glinted in the sun but was almost hidden behind the trees lining the sidewalk. How many cherubs had watched over the same people for years, like Elaine; how many gazed at passersby, at couples just married with a good job and a baby on the way? They all had one thing in common; they reflected the sunlight on their faces like shining mirrors, watching you, guarding you, daring you to stare back at them. How many people had looked back into the eyes of those cherubs before me?

People on cellphones huffed and walked around us in hurry as we stood along the curb with our mouths half-open. I couldn’t blame them; I knew it wasn’t good to stop on the sidewalk, especially in a big city.

“Don’t ever look up like a tourist,” my dad told me before I left for college in Boston, “because it invites people to mug you.”

I never dared inconvenience anybody with my pace in Boston, let alone block the sidewalk while I stared up at the eaves of apartment buildings. Elaine, though, remained unaffected. She walked slowly but confidently, stopping whenever and wherever she pleased. She was eighty then; her New York was a composite, a series of remembered photographs spanning four decades on the same block, unchanged except for the influx of even more people into the city.

~

Our trip together to New York City was my first-time meeting Elaine. Nothing could have prepared me for her quirky, albeit charming nature; she was extremely generous; she brought us to the best brunch spots and encouraged me to try the mimosa flight, even though I was still digesting last night’s gin and tonics. Our first brunch together as a group, Elaine began to shine on us her true, radiant colors. Elaine’s complaints were memorable; either the soup was too hot or the ice cream too cold, or—and this happened more than once—the music was too loud. This was ironic, considering that her preference for dining “al fresco” meant sitting on the sidewalk as cars rushed by as you tried to have another bite of hummus. Her complaints were more than just the peculiar idiosyncrasies of an old New Yorker—they were personal, a vendetta chiseled into Plymouth Rock against any and all busboys who dared to cross her path or bring her entrée at the wrong time.

I had no right to question her attention to detail though; her apartment alone was a work of art. She’d been married to an art dealer, and so—just as some invest in the stock market or collect silver coins—her collateral was displayed in gold frames, ornate in their stillness and silence, beautiful paintings of women, streets, landscapes, fruit; her life’s investments were cramped so tightly together that they practically reflected upon one another—you couldn’t turn your head without being met with a splash of color or a stroke of beauty. At night, we played cards—hearts—and drank Tanqueray gin; she drank dark rum and ginger beer. At some point one night, we decided to watch Grease on a small couch in the guest room. As we sat together, I put my head on Ian’s shoulder and tapped my finger on his arm to Olivia Newton-John singing “The One That I Want.”

I don’t think I could ever get used to New York City, but that trip did change me. Back in Boston, I now watch busy people and smile as they stream through the sidewalk like lost fish, buried in the lives of their emails or messages or news feeds. When I’m walking on a peculiarly hot day and I look up to wipe my brow, I find a face to greet me in the terracotta; I think of Elaine, the beauty she found, and I stand for a moment longer than I used to.

Jill Veader is a recent graduate of Emmanuel College in Boston where she studied writing and philosophy. When she is not writing, she is working at a wine shop north of Boston. She has work upcoming in the Evening Street Review and hopes to continue exploring the boundaries of poetry and prose in her work.  

“Empire State to World Trade” by Natasha Cobb

In South Carolina, Ester spent years wondering what big cities were like – Visiting her cousin Tessa in New York City, Ester initially found that they could be overwhelming with smells of fuel and perfume mixed with the sounds of cars honking and people speaking quickly as they searched for their loved ones. 

As Ester waited for Tessa at Kennedy Airport, she thought of how lucky Tessa was to be able to make it in N.Y.C. Ester looked forward to the week ahead because Tessa had promised her that she’d show her the best parts of the city. From the moment Ester placed her suitcase in the trunk of Tessa’s car, her cousin did not disappoint her. Tessa took Ester right into the heart of the city. They boarded a train at one of the main transportation hubs in the city, Atlantic Terminal, and then caught the three train to thirty-fourth street. 

Tessa gave Ester a crash course in train etiquette before they got on the train. 

“Don’t stare at anyone. Don’t talk to anyone, even if they say something to you. And if you accidently touch anyone in anyway apologize immediately, even if it is not your fault.” 

Tessa knew that Ester would stick out as a tourist – It was March, but Ester had brought her winter coat, hat, and gloves. N.Y.C in March was too chilly for Ester, who was used to sixty as a low temperature in South Carolina at that time of year. Also, Ester would stop without warning, take out her camera. and take pictures of the most ordinary things like buildings and streets that didn’t stand out to Tessa at all.

Tessa knew Ester would want to take a lot of pictures where they were going. Standing in line outside to get into the Empire State Building and looking up, Ester noticed that the top of the building disappeared into the clouds.  But from the top of the building looking down, the view was clear but impossible to fully take in. Tessa had hoped there would be a restaurant at the top of the building, so they could eat while keeping their bird’s eye view of the city.  

Tessa walked around the circle, pointing out landmarks when she could find them among the concrete clusters. After asking a stranger to take a picture of them together under the Empire State Building sign, they headed back down to the street to catch an Uber to The World Trade Center, which did have a restaurant at the top of the building.

Since Ester had never used Uber, she asked Tessa if she could put the app on her phone.  Tessa knew that Ester would never use it in South Carolina, with her two cars, but she humored her cousin and added the app on her phone like she asked. 

After arriving, they headed up to the restaurant at the top of the building. The elevator ride up to the restaurant was eventful and a voiceover automatically chronicled the history of the World Trade Center as the elevator moved. The World Trade Center was impressively strong and beautiful.

They arrived early for their reservation, so they took time to take in the landscape and beauty of the city again.  From different angles at the top of The World Trade Center, they could see the city’s bridges as well as the Statue of Liberty. Ester zoomed in with her camera and took pictures of everything as if she were close enough to touch them. They sat on a bench beside one of the windows. Overwhelmed by the wonderous sights around her, Ester let out a deep exhale.

“Your mom would have liked this,” Tessa said, thinking of her aunt and how she hadn’t had a chance to see her before she died. It seemed right that the city brought Ester and Tessa back together. Their life experiences could be added to the city landscape within those buildings, already filled with the hopes and losses of others. 

“I’m glad you came,” Tessa said. 

She then looked at her phone and realized it was time for them to claim their table.  They made their way to the restaurant and sat in a booth right next to a floor to ceiling window, and the way the booth was positioned they could both see the magnificent view. They ordered a bottle of wine to go with their burgers and fries because neither of them had ever had wine with burger and fries before. They had angus beef, double cheeseburgers with bacon, lettuce, tomato, a pickle, and shoestring fries with gourmet ketchup, and the red wine they ordered blended perfectly with the meal.

With a slight buzz they made their way to the train station to catch the four train back to Atlantic Terminal. Given the effect of the wine, Ester did end up making eye contact with strangers and accidentally brushing up against others, but she did remember to apologize. When they reached Tessa’s apartment without incident, Ester began to think that maybe Tessa worried too much.

Back at the apartment, Tessa slept on her couch, and Ester slept in the only bedroom. Ester checked in on Tessa, who’d fallen asleep. Ester went into the bedroom to watch When Harry Met Sally to see which of the same places she’d visited that day as the characters in the movie. 

Ester’s visit helped her see the city in a new way, and her curiosity about the city continued to grow. To Ester, New York City was a big and daunting but friendly city. She found that it was just the place to go when she longed to be anywhere except South Carolina where she’d spent all her life with her mom, who’d then died a little over a year ago. 

Natasha Cobb is pursuing her MFA in Fiction at Queens University of Charlotte.  She is also a playwright who has had several plays go up in multiple festivals throughout New York City.  Her most recent production, Foreign Born; New Home, will premiere at the New York Theater Festival this summer.  Natasha also has a podcast, Black Bipolar Female, which is a fictionalized account of her experiences living with Type I Bipolar Disorder.

“Brooklyn Royalty” by Steve Slavin

1

As someone born and bred in the borough, I am well acquainted with Brooklyn royalty. In fact, only great modesty prevents me from even mentioning my own royal blood.

Brooklyn, of course, was once part of the British Empire, and many reminders can still be found. I grew up just a block from our neighborhood’s main shopping strip, Kings Highway. Just off the Highway is a well preserved pre-Revolutionary farmhouse, the Wycoff-Bennett mansion. In recent decades, it was owned by Annette and Stu Mont, who sometimes called their home the Wycoff-Bennett-Mont house.

Annette and I met at James Madison High School and became friendly again about twenty years ago. She invited me to monthly political meetings and occasional parties at her home. She and her husband had restored the house to look much as it did during colonial times. There were even numerous oil portraits of the home’s earlier residents, as well as furniture and farm implements dating back to the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

When new guests arrived, Annette graciously showed them around.  Sometimes I could not resist telling the more gullible among them that I too had descended from the Wycoffs or the Bennetts – or even both families.  Annette smiled when she overheard me, but she never bothered setting the record straight.

Another structure surviving from colonial times was a store on Montague Street, in historic Brooklyn Heights. If you looked in a Brooklyn phone book from the 1970s, you’d find a listing for King George Pizza. It’s still whispered that after their victory in the Battle of Brooklyn, scores of Redcoats stopped in for a celebratory slice, while Washington’s army escaped to New Jersey to fight another day.

2

Three members of the royal family lived in the neighborhood where I grew up. Two of them held court in Kelly Park – and I mean that both figuratively and literally.

When we were in elementary school, our classes lined up in the schoolyard each morning before entering the building. But in the event of rain or snow, we lined up in the cafeteria. One spring morning there was a tremendous downpour, with heavy showers predicted for the rest of the day.

A scholarly-looking kid named Marty Marks made his way around the cafeteria assuring us that the sun would come out that afternoon, and he would see us all in Kelly Park. And sure enough, he was as good as his word. And though there were still some puddles, the park was filled with kids playing stickball. Smiling benevolently, Marty made his rounds, accepting thanks and congratulations. He had accomplished the impossible! And so, to this day, Marty Marks is known as the King of Kelly Park.

I was also blessed to be acquainted with the Duchess, perhaps the best handball player that Kelly Park had ever known. We were both about sixteen at the time, and though I was very attracted to her, I never was able to get up the courage to ask her for a date.

One day, she had a bandage across the bridge of her nose. Some of the other kids asked her if she had walked into a wall. But she just smiled, and they were left to wonder what the big secret was.

It must have been a year or so later when I asked the Duchess about the bandage. She laughed. It turned out that some of the girls in our neighborhood had had expensive nose jobs and she was jealous.

“But why would you have a nose job? You have a beautiful nose!”

“Why thank you, Steve!”

“So, what was with the bandage?”

“I wore it so everyone would think I had had a nose job.”

“But why, if you didn’t need one?”

“I wanted everyone to think my parents could afford to pay for one.” I guess if you’re a duchess, you do need to keep up appearances.

3

Besides the Duchess and the King of Kelly Park, there was the Countess. A very thin, pale woman in her fifties, she lived directly above my friend, Arnie, on Homecrest Avenue, just a few blocks from Kelly Park. He told me that he would often hear her pacing the floor all night.

I guess that she was known as the Countess because of her haughty, aristocratic manner and her refusal to associate with anyone too far below her station. Her neighbors believed she was married to a European count that would one day be joining her. His castle would surely be several steps up from her furnished apartment.

And then one evening, the phone rang in Arnie’s family’s apartment. It was the Countess. She was almost breathless with excitement. She had time to utter just two sentences, “Abe is here! I made him some soup.”

Royalty is part of every Brooklynite’s DNA.  One of the stars on the Brooklyn Dodgers was their centerfielder, Duke Snider. He was known throughout the borough as “The Duke of Flatbush.”

There was a rather absurdly titled popular song back in the 1950s, “The Duke of Earl.” Huh? There are dukes and there are earls. But wasn’t calling yourself the Duke of Earl a bit excessive? Why not go for something a little more refined like Countess, or Duchess, or perhaps even King?

4

Let the record show that until now, I have held off talking about my own royal connections. But I do prefer, at least on formal occasions, to be addressed as Steve Slavin, OBE. If you’re a Britisher, you would certainly be familiar with this title. It stands for Order of the British Empire. It was granted to me when I was just thirty years old, when I was spending a summer in Barbados.

There are tens of thousands of Bajans who have migrated from the island to Brooklyn, but I had done the reverse. Actually, I was there to research my doctoral dissertation, entitled, “The Economic Cost and Effectiveness of the Barbados Family Planning Association.”

It was while doing that research that the OBE was bestowed upon me. I had gotten to rub shoulders with many of the movers and shakers of the island, some of whom were benefactors of the BFPA. Among them was the Honorable Clyde Gollup–who held three important government positions simultaneously–and appeared to know nearly everyone. As we drove around Bridgetown, the capital, he waved at hundreds of different people, and they waved back.

“Clyde, is there anyone you don’t know?”

“Well Steve, surely you noticed we have a very small country.”

During my stay, I was introduced to Lady Adams, Sir Frank Knight, and dozens of other luminaries. While they were all quite gracious, I felt that my status as an impoverished graduate student put me at quite a social disadvantage.

Once I’d received my doctorate, of course, I’d have a recognizable title. But what could I use in the meanwhile? It didn’t take long for me to come up with Order of the British Empire, an honor that the Queen had been handing out quite generously. So from that day on, I introduced myself as Steve Slavin, OBE.

Did my ruse actually work? Well, it was pretty hard to tell, because everyone was so polite. If some had their doubts, they kept them to themselves. But then one day, the manager of the Barbados Family Planning Association referred to himself as “a Britisher.”

“Lionel,” I pointed out. “You’re a Bajan, not a Britisher.”

“Oh, is that true?” he replied. “And since when does the Queen grant OBEs to people from Brooklyn?”

5

Despite having rubbed elbows with Brooklyn royalty for so many years, I had never even heard of the Queen of Brooklyn. Then, one evening, I actually met her.

I didn’t realize straight off that she was a queen because we met at a Halloween party. She happened to be dressed like a queen, so I had no way of knowing that she was one.

How can you spot a queen? And what’s the difference between a queen and a mere princess? Their years of experience ruling their subjects? Maybe it’s that old noblesse oblige, if you get my drift.

Whatever it was, this lady had it! She simply expected everyone to wait on her. Indeed, she was, by far, the laziest person I had ever met. I mean, yeah, there were energetic queens like Elizabeth I and Victoria, but then there was Queen Sheila – Queen of Brooklyn.

Pushing fifty, Sheila confided that she never worked a day in her life. She got by, it seems, on a monthly “stipend” she received from her father, whom of course, she detested.

“You do take his money,” I pointed out.

“Trust me, Steve, it’s guilt money. The man has never done a thing for me in my entire life.” I was too polite to say anything about the “stipend.”

We never actually dated, but just had a few casual get-togethers. One of those times was having dinner at my friend Barbara’s house. After dinner, when Barbara was doing the dishes, Sheila offered to help. As theatrically as possible, I fell to the floor.

They both smiled as I lay there, doing my best to maintain an expression of great shock.

Then Barbara thanked Sheila for asking, but said she was almost finished. I told Sheila that I was truly amazed by her generous – and highly uncharacteristic offer.

“Well, I knew Barbara would say ‘no.’”

Another time, Sheila asked me to escort her to a wedding in Brighton Beach where a Russian woman she knew was getting married. She was looking forward to stealing the spotlight, as that certainly was her queenly due.

She wanted me to drive her to the wedding. No problem. But she also wanted me to wear a suit. I didn’t own one. So I would have to miss the wedding – and she would need to find someone else to drive her there–and, of course, to play a supporting role when she made her grand entrance.

As things turned out, Sheila almost missed the wedding. She had made a blind date with someone she had met through a computer dating service. He was supposed to pick her up in front of her building, but he never showed up. So Queen Sheila had to call a cab and be further humiliated by having to make her grand entrance without an escort. Luckily, by the time she arrived, few of the guests were sober enough to take note of this embarrassing detail.

A few weeks later Sheila again needed me to give her a ride. She was having a medical emergency. Would I please drive her to the hospital?

“Of course,” I replied, “but wouldn’t it be better to call the EMS, since they’re trained for these occasions, and you might need medical attention on the way to the hospital?”

“No, Steve. I need you to take me. You’re the only one I trust.”

When I got to her apartment, I needed to half-support and half-carry her to my car.

“Which hospital should I take you to? The two closest are Community Hospital and Kings Highway Hospital.”

“Either one is fine.”

“OK, we’ll go to Community because their emergency entrance is more accessible.”

“Steve, I need you to change my will.”

“What?”

“I might die tonight. I need to cut my father out of my will.”

“Look, Sheila, I know you hate the man, but we can’t just stop now to change your will. First things first!”

No!”

“No? Are you nuts? I’m not going to stop the car now. I need to get you to the hospital as quickly as possible.”

I couldn’t believe we were having this argument. Then she amazed me.

“Can’t you do both?”

“No, Sheila! I can’t drive and alter your will at the same time.”

Then, to change the subject slightly, I asked her why she wanted to cut her father out of her will considering that he had given her every penny she had.

“It’s a matter of principle.”

“And what principle is that?”

“That he should have given me a lot more money. So is it fair that he ends up with still more of my money?”

Thankfully, at that very moment we pulled up at the hospital, and a couple of orderlies rushed out with a wheelchair.

I parked a few blocks away and went back to see her. A doctor had just finished examining her. She then had Sheila walk the length of the emergency room and back again.

Sheila seemed fine. The doctor told her that she could go home, and then asked, “Do you have any questions?”

“Yes, doctor. Do you know anything about wills?”

Steve Slavin

A recovering economics professor, Steve Slavin earns a living writing math
and economics books. Over the last seven years he has also published four volumes of short stories, but he expects the pace to slow somewhat over the next seven years.

“The Eagle and Mrs. B.” by Linda Romanowski

Many a Philadelphia area college student spent those post-Thanksgiving/Pre-Christmas days working at one of the “Big Three” department stores in Center City: Strawbridge & Clothier, Lit Brothers, or John Wanamaker’s. Due to my mother’s influence, I thought working at Wanamaker’s was the best of all worlds. After all, who could resist the classy interior and exterior window displays, the jagged mountain range stroke of the owner’s signature on the side of the building, and the transportation proximity?

Two other striking figures claimed the store’s signature distinction: the Wanamaker eagle and the annual Christmas fountain and light show. The serene and imposing gilded bronze aviary statue was the focal point for gathering, for claiming  “lost parents,” and for bon voyages until next time.

Lifting one’s eyes to the sights, sounds, and waving fountain streams of the hourly Christmas performance stopped shoppers in their tracks and delighted the minds of wide-eyed youngsters who rarely cried during those few minutes of awe. My first recollection of seeing the aqua wonder made me fearful, thinking at any moment, the fountains would fall from their upper stage perch and drown the audience below, extinguishing the prancing lights in the process.

Not every pair of eyes welcomed this holiday diversion. My first Christmas working season in the children’s department in 1972 provided a novel view of the saleswomen employed at the makeup counters. The daily music grinding of “Frosty the Snowman” did nothing for their business. No cash registers rung in harmony with “O, Christmas Tree.” Gazers leaned on their pristine cosmetic display cases; their backs turned away from the porcelain faces of Estee Lauderettes, who resorted to makeup remover to erase the handprints and elbow marks on their precious encasements of promised beauty and glamour. No allure of scented bottled blossoms could overpower the lofty sounds and scenery above the audience. It must have been the bane of their existence, their dreams of pocket money ruined by lit-up distraction. One year, I counted viewing thirty-six performances of Rudolph’s very shiny unpowdered nose glowing across the ceiling.

*****

Every college student on Wanamaker’s holiday payroll hoped to work for the main floor supervisor, Mrs. B., known for her kindness. She was a smartly dressed, middle-aged Jewish lady, brownish-black hair coiffed to perfection, with no-nonsense eyeglasses attached to a pearl chain that hung elegantly around her neck. Her high-heeled pumps that coordinated with every outfit gave her an acceptable height, appearing taller than she was. Her trim figure clicked in tandem with her stride. Mrs. B. took the time to acquaint herself with several of us. One afternoon, during the height of the Christmas rush, she announced that she would retain us for the week after Christmas. We were delighted, as it meant money for next semester’s textbooks would be less of an issue. All we needed to do was follow her instructions without variation.

When we punched in on the time clock on December 26th, Mrs. B. led us to an unfamiliar store area, one at a time. We were placed separately in obscure areas of dressing rooms and stock areas, out of the view of the “suits” who might sniff through the aisles looking for post-holiday imperfections. There were close calls, but none of us were spotted. Had we been “caught,” we would say we were Christmas shopping to maintain our ruse. During that week, Mrs. B. was ubiquitous, her eagle eyes surpassing that stony sculpture’s glance on the first floor. We functioned seamlessly as the suits paraded the aisles, praising Mrs. B. for her diligence and attention to detail. I’ll always wonder if the Wanamaker eagle suspected her and kept the secret, among all the others, under its ornate-clad feathers.

Linda M. Romanowski is a graduate of Rosemont College, in 1975 with a BA in Psychology and Elementary Education, and this past May as an MFA graduate in Creative Non-fiction. She was assistant editor of Non-fiction for Rathalla magazine, Rosemont’s literary publication. Her Italian heritage-based thesis, “Final Touchstones”, earned with distinction, is scheduled for publication by Sunbury Press within the coming months. Several of the essays from her pending book were published on City Key, Ovunque Siamo and the Mario Lanza Institute Facebook page. She recently reviewed Ellen Stone’s poetry book “What is in the Blood” for the online Philadelphia Stories 2021 Fall issue. Her poem, “Seen In Translation” was selected for inclusion in the Moonstone Arts Center Protest 2021-100 Thousand Poets for Change.

“Notre Dame” by Patrick Vitullo

Was its best face seen from
the Quai de la Tournelle,
Pont de L’Archeveche,
or Square Jean XXIII?
Whether the proboscis of facade
or the gothic grey body worded
and etched from the bookseller’s stalls
on the Quai de Montebello,
every look was different.
 
An arch of neck brought one up
its twin towers and shunned down 
the spouting gaff of gargoyles.
Its rose window bloomed before the Seine
while pigeons peripatetic gathered
en masse before a statue of Charlemagne.
 
A man bedecked in the
beauty of his language
asked for francs, a baguette,
and then, when none were offered, 
simply said, bonjour.
 
Like the countenance of its people,
that lean church beveled 
its spire to the sky.
As Emmanuel tolled
solemnly the moment when
Christ died, the Elysian arms of 
Our Lady buttressed 
the man’s tired hands.
And all Paris
foamed in the wake of a bateau-mouche.
 
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Patrick Vitullo is a writer, poet, essayist, and world traveler who lives in Havertown, PA. He was awarded the 1979 John T. Fredericks Prize in Literary Criticism by the University of Notre Dame where he graduated with a B.A. in liberal arts. He also has a law degree from Villanova University and limits his law practice to representation of injured workers. Patrick has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Antigonish Review. 

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Two Poems by Danny P. Barbare

The City of Charleston, SC

I like the old city. It fills me full
   of ghost.
How the horses still clop on the
   cobblestone.
A clipper ship floats in the harbor
   as if it has cross and bones
when the only lantern seems to
   be
   the moon
as steps draw nearer, between the
the shadows and the Spanish moss.

The City at Christmas (Greenville, SC)

These buildings are a little
   smaller
the sidewalks no longer run
nor the lights so many and
   magical
but I know they are there
somewhere in the
moonlight’s little coat.

Danny P. Barbare resides in the upstate of the Carolinas. His poems have recently appeared in Blue Unicorn and Ethel. And his poetry has been nominated for Best of Net by Assisi Online Journal. He has been published locally, nationally, and abroad.

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“Fourteen” by Joshua Ginsberg

Saw New York again last night
reflected, distorted
just like it never was as a kid,
inverted through a droplet
on the edge of an icicle
hanging off her balcony.
Suspended there for a frozen breath
before falling, shattering like a snow globe
spilling out its magic
into the slush and dirty tire tracks
over uneven cement three stories down.
On that day of crisp red brick against
a sky-blue no earthly painter can mix,
when she snapped a perfect picture
of our shared inexperience,
diffuse light gentle over smooth alabaster
and her lips an uber-clever citykid smile
that concealed everything I didn’t understand;
didn’t need to yet.

The world has kept busy
these thirty years since,
wrinkling and rending flags and flesh
planting planes in the side of buildings,
clawing endless pits – future home
of all tomorrow’s monuments.
Still through its stained fingers slip
one photo
of me and that girl
with the heart-shaped face.

Joshua Ginsberg is a writer, entrepreneur, and curiosity seeker who relocated from Chicago to Tampa Bay in 2016. He is the author of “Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure,” (Reedy Press, 2020), and his poetry, fiction, and non-fiction has appeared in various print and digital publications. He maintains a blog, Terra Incognita Americanus and has been a business proposal and resume writer for over 10 years. He currently resides in Tampa’s Town and Country neighborhood with his wife, Jen, and their Shih Tzu, Tinker Bell.

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“Downtown, California” by Matthew J. Andrews

On streets placed as precisely as floor tiles
in the shadow of soaring office towers,

the zombies roam,

shuffling their feet in stunted, uneven steps,
staring blankly, eyes fixed firmly in the past,

muttering unintelligibly.

With reclaimed treasures stacked in shopping carts
and claims staked under stone doorway arches,

they live as ghosts

while the wind-whipping flag animates the
extinct bear and blood-red stripe

serpentines.

Matthew Andrews

Matthew J. Andrews is a private investigator and writer who lives in Modesto, California. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Orange Blossom Review, Funicular MagazineRed Rock ReviewSojournersAmethyst ReviewKissing Dynamite, and Deep Wild Journal, among others. He can be contacted at matthewjandrews.com.

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“Empty Venue/Full House” by Linda Romanowski

Performance played to an empty hall
live audience deprived they played on,
our lives depended on it.

The question begged of Orchestral performance,
who would hear their sound in an empty venue?
Their Facebook page unleashed a virus of its own
virtual seating unlimited, Livestream untethered.
The Fifth and Sixth symphonies of Beethoven,
the Fifth called “Fate,” four notes that changed the world.
They say those prime first notes came from bird’s singing
while Ludwig van inhabited Deaf’s door.

No time to lose, musicians dispatched mastery,
bound to inject perfection to its core
their bodies concentrated, driven, focused
to bring that bastard, Covid, to its knees.
At the Fifth, 4th movement, Livestream comments
exploded upward, hidden keyboards volleyed.

Multitudes heard the silver lining of sound.

The rushing notes as cells divided fast
beat that sucker to its knees,
bowed heads to Beethoven’s 5:4,
they played that most beloved, breathing gem,
played like penicillin bows, strings, elbows gliding,
brass kicked ass, feet stomped, pedals struck timpani,
racing, throbbing veins pounding an enemy.
Fingers smiled, pulled the trigger, rushing notes pulsing
thunder through the bloodstream, headed for each
tip of Covid’s crown.

Relentless notes, the antigen, music antibody gone viral-
Beethoven vaccine, set to vanquish the Invader.

Thousands of Yannicks conducted, fencing cell demons
to their jugulars, punched air in time to thwart destruction
chapped washed hands listened,
slammed favorite air instruments
pounded surfaces in kitchens, dens, cars.

Upraised thumbs, floating fireworks, streamed up screen,
signs of relief, healing, momentary pause
encores of hearts and bravos soared.

The most moving of all movements
no movements at all,
when the Philadelphia orchestra stood and faced
their empty venue hall.

Linda Romanowski, a resident of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, traces her roots to South and Northwest Philadelphia. Linda obtained her BA from Rosemont in Psychology and Elementary Education. She is currently enrolled in Rosemont’s MFA Creative Non-Fiction Program. Her primary focus is portraying her Italian heritage experience.

Since 2017, Linda has served as a reviewer for “Rathalla” magazine. Her essay, “Pot It’s Not,” was published in City Key in 2018. This year, she is a poetry reviewer for “Philadelphia Stories” for the Sandy Crimmins National Poetry Prize.

In 2019, Linda and her husband, Ken, participated in the Rosemont College Global Studies Program at the Sant’ Anna Institute in Sorrento, Italy. Her blog appeared on Rosemont’s Facebook page and was published in RoCo, Rosemont’s online publication.

In 2015, Linda received the Bonnie Hilferty Freney ’64 Memorial Award for volunteer service to Rosemont and currently serves as president of the college’s alumni board.

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