Prime Number Decimals 2.5
by Susan Tepper
followed by Q&A
In the spacious mirrored café adjacent to the music hall, Kryštof operated the cake cart. Three tiers of cakes. Up top were the little cakes (called petit fours), then the larger cakes on the center shelf, and on bottom the highest triple-layer cakes. When customers signaled Kryštof, he wheeled the cart over to their table, sliced whatever cake they wanted and collected their money. Only the Czech people understood to pay him. The Europeans and Americans balked at a separate cake transaction. Why should they have to part with their korunas to pay for cake, when the rest of their meal went on the credit card?
Taught to say, “It’s the system,” Kryštof would shrug and move along with his cart, laughing to himself as they panicked over getting no cake and calling after him to come back.
And so it went for a couple of years, until his mother killed herself. But not for that incident, Kryštof may have gone on with the cart indefinitely: slicing the cakes, handing them over on a white silver-edged plate, collecting korunas, placing orders for espresso and cappuccino in the kitchen.
Shortly before the Communist takeover, his father had left them to earn money in Spain. It was as if he’d gotten some secret communist message that read Get Out Now. His wife and baby son remained behind in the countryside and he was not heard from again. Kryštof had just begun to walk. He had no memory of the man known as Otec. His mother went to work at the bone museum in Kutna Hora. She sat behind a table with another woman collecting admissions.
From the time he was very small the bone museum had fascinated Kryštof, filled as it was with the bleached bones of over 40,000 plague victims. Monks had made a shrine out of the bones from all the rotting corpses. He pictured them piled as ladders in the yellow canola fields. He could see the ancient monks clambering about heaving bones into rucksacks. Bones that decorated the chapel in every possible manner: bone chains looping across the ceiling, bone alcoves lit by flickering candles, a chandelier with its strung bones like delicate lace. He went often with his mother, when there was no one to watch him.
During the Communist regime there wasn’t much in the way of food or much money to buy food. Meat was scarce. After they finally cleared out, he could never get enough meat in his body. Capitalism had come in like a racing floodwater that threatened to drown every person, house, even the great cathedrals of Prague were at high risk—the kiosks of postcards, T-shirts, glass-beads springing up everywhere.
It was May—Prague Music Month. His girlfriend Saskie worked the ticket booths around the city moving from location to location. She got very good at knowing how much to charge each customer. When the month ended, she opened a little glass-bead kiosk on the Charles Bridge. As the temperatures rose so did her prices for the cheap colored glass necklaces and bracelets the tourists scooped up like hungry fish.
Saskie was joyous. At last she felt warm and she was making money. The winter had been bitter, the springtime damp and chilly. Saskie complained all the time about her hands and feet and nose being ice cold. She had to sleep with her head under the blankets. That wasn’t so bad. Often she reached for him during the night, stroking and making him moan. The days, however, were not so good. To warm her nose Saskie taped a menstrual pad to her face.
It nauseated Kryštof seeing her going about like this. He worried that people would think her insane, report her, and she would become incarcerated. He discussed this possibility with his friend, Čeněk, a waiter from the café. It was their break and they were smoking out back.
“A useless worry,” Čeněk had assured him. “Nobody will touch her. Nobody cares about anything these days, now that the communists have left and taken with them the country’s spirit.”
A sobering idea—the country’s spirit leaving the way the spirits of the plague victims had lifted like smoke. His friend had many opinions. Kryštof found himself listening, absorbing. Čeněk was also quite the ladies’ man. Tall and lean with his handsome blond Czech looks, the French girls in particular sought him out. While he was taking their order, they’d engage Čeněk in small talk about food and wine, where to go for fun, how to find drugs. From the cake cart, the French girls always chose the little cakes iced like miniature packages with sugared ribbon-bows.
After work, Čeněk often met with those girls. The next day he would tell Kryštof tales of his love adventures at the hands of a French or Swedish girl, sometimes two. Or that exotic tall one from Marrakesh whose dark neck was wrapped in so many thin strands of gold metal that Čeněk claimed she left on during sex.
And, slowly, Kryštof began to see Saskie in a different light. She was still pretty (without the menstrual pad covering her nose) but she wasn’t beautiful or glamorous like those foreign girls his friend took to bed. Saskie was a simple country girl infatuated by the city and what it could offer in the way of a better life. In his opinion she spent far too many hours working.
One night he suggested she put on a black leather g-string (lent by Čeněk to improve his sex life). Saskie flatly refused, calling Kryštof sicko. When he asked where she’d gotten such a word, she said she knew a lot of words. In English and other languages. And swear words, too, she said, shouting some he’d never heard in languages he couldn’t identify. Then she pushed up the window of their small one room flat and flung the g-string into the night.
The beginning of what Kryštof saw as the beginning of something unexplainable. His mother took the poison. The bone museum superintendent inquiring by phone: was she ill all the missing days? Not that he was aware of Kryštof said hanging up quickly. Without knowing anything specific his palms had begun to sweat.
He left his job at the café and returned to Kutna Hora. Saskie didn’t mind or try and stop him. Čeněk, his only real friend in Prague, had a similar reaction. Nobody tried stopping him. By then he felt his spirit gone. The way Čeněk claimed the communists had taken it when they fled the country.
Susan Tepper is the author of Deer & Other Stories (Wilderness House Press, 2009) and the forthcoming epistolary novel What May Have Been: Letters of Jackson Pollock & Dori G (co-written with Gary Percesepe) to be released this September by Cervena Barva Press. Tepper hosts the reading series FIZZ at KGB Bar in NYC, and is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review (online journal based in Turkey). She has been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize.
Q: What was the inspiration for “Bones?”
A: Prague is a magical city. I have great respect for the resiliency and industriousness of the Czech people.
Hubris, Halcyon, Guacamole
by Cezarija Abartis
followed by Q&A
In the backseat, Andrea practiced her words for the spelling bee: “aberrant,” “bungalow,” “empress,” “gallivant.” Only the second word in that group didn’t have double letters. Her mother and father were driving her to the city-wide spelling bee at Central Catholic in their old Edsel. She had won at her school, beating out Judy, Geraldine, and Richard; and, aware of her hubris (“hu-bris”; two syllables; Greek, meaning “pride”), she hoped eventually to win the city and state awards, perhaps even the national.
Her father wore a short-sleeved shirt with tiny sailboats. Mom had told him to wear a white shirt, so he would look more dignified. But the day was hot, and he didn’t want to tuck in his shirt.
“How are we going to lend money to your brother? How? How?” Her mother’s voice became screechy.
Her father sighed. “He just needs it to get on his feet. I’m putting in overtime. It’ll work out.”
“We shouldn’t be arguing in front of Andrea.” Her mother turned around to look with soft eyes at Andrea. “Honey, we’re not really fighting. Grown-ups can get crazy. Life is full of surprises.” Her mother shook her head and sighed. “But your life will be happy. You should just ignore us.”
Andrea tried to be oblivious: o-b-l-i-v-i-o-u-s. She wanted to be a poet or an artist, someone who could paint pretty gardens in lush colors and, beyond them, sailboats hoisting angelic, fluttering sails, traveling to Samarkand.
They drove past the Orpheum theater. Last year it showed From Russia with Love, which had a condemned rating from the Legion of Decency, so she could not see it. They drove past Bach’s Flowers, Isaly’s Deli, and Hershmann’s Furniture Store with its giant, almost dangerous, sofas in the windows. A person could sink and suffocate in one of those quicksand sofas. The sidewalk was littered with newspaper and brown bags and a wine bottle. A scurfy man led a scurfy dog. Andrea was not allowed to have a pet: “Our house is too small.” She looked across the street, where the pavement in front of Mancini’s Funeral Home sparkled with embedded glass bits. Jimmy Mancini was in her seventh-grade class; he was a year older because he had polio and wore leg braces. But she thought he had a cute face.
“On our way home, let’s remember to buy some kielbasa,” her mother said. “I’ve got sauerkraut and potatoes at home.” Her mother turned and reached to pat her hand. Her mother’s forehead gleamed with perspiration. “My honey likes kielbasa.”
Andrea used to like kielbasa, but now she wanted to try chow mein and egg rolls, which Geraldine told her she had eaten at a cousin’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Judy said egg foo yung was like scrambled eggs.
They stopped in front of the hot train rushing past and whistling. The smell of the oil and dust enclosed them. Her spelling book lay in her lap. On the “H” page, she smiled at “halcyon”—it was her favorite word: “halcyon times of peace,” “halcyon days of youth.”
The light was glossy; the train blared as if unhappy, rolled dark and hot, speeding toward Samarkand or New York City. The words on the side did not spell the destination.
On the radio, the announcer gave news about a war in a country beyond Russia. She had shed tears about brave soldiers dying in poems.
She turned the page to “G” words: “guacamole.” She thought it was some kind of animal, a mole. She was surprised to read it was food, made from avocado. Guacamole. G-u-a-c-a-m-o-l-e.
Cezarija Abartis’s Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Grey Sparrow Review, Underground Voices, Slushpile Magazine, Manoa, Story Quarterly, and New York Tyrant. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: On Zoetrope in the Flash Factory forum, which has weekly prompts for flash fiction, we were invited to write a story using “aberrant,” “bungalow,” “empress,” “gallivant,” and ending with “guacamole.” The title was supposed to be “Back in the Argument.” I kept that title until the penultimate draft. P-E-N-U-L-T-I-M-A-T-E.
by Glenn Cassidy
followed by Q&A
The guy beside me on the bus
wages a bidding war over the phone
with his girlfriend. They try to out I love you
each other and I wonder, is this what goes on
with the phoned-in bids at Sotheby’s?
I love The Execution of St. John the Divine
a thousand infinities, a million infinities,
a million billion infinities. How many times
have this bozo and his girlfriend tried this exercise
without learning all their infinities
are equal in size, infinitely countable,
each mappable into the restricted domains
of each other’s limited awareness
of the world around them?
O innumerate bidder, I hate the both of you
with real number infinity, with uncountable infinity.
Pray we reach your stop in finite time
or my infinity will crush your infinity.
Glenn Cassidy is a consultant and educator based in Carrboro, NC. He has a Ph.D. in public policy analysis and has taught public finance at several universities including UNC Chapel Hill and Georgia Tech. In addition to his research, he has published poetry and short fiction, often drawing on math and science as well as public policy issues. He maintains a blog at www.anglesandrhymes.blogspot.com.
Q: What was your inspiration for this poem?
A: Infinity comes in different sizes, or orders. The smallest is countable infinity, such as the set of all rational numbers (numbers that can be represented by a ratio of two integers). The real number line contains all the rational and irrational numbers (e.g., pi, square root of 2). It has more elements and represents a higher order of infinity – an uncountable infinity.
The Divorce Prägnanz
by Lauren Reed
followed by Q&A
Everything is as you perceive it, even if it isn’t.
We’ll start with Law of Closure:
Your side of the bed is empty,
but I tuck the corners tight to keep
the weight of you there, keep
the sheets pulled away from me
enough that, half awake, I can pretend
we’re still at struggle.
There is always a bit of Lauren here, both
women, artists, a damaged interior
worth loving. This is the Law of Similarity:
every woman here, in this moment,
is falling asleep in an attempt
to forget what we’ve been through.
Once you’d entered you were always
on my skin, your hands
a tangled weight on me, your breath
my breath and then some. Law of Proximity knew
I’d be light-headed, intoxicated by a possibility in us.
I traced you: one side, the other;
Law of Symmetry. Each curve the other side
mimics, each freckle, crease – a comrade.
I even saw myself in you. When quiet
I could tell you knew we were the same
basic things: all atoms and wanting.
When everything has changed, we stay
the same in different moods.
We both know I’m just as broken
as you found me, again some paste and hope;
some Law of Continuity.
And now, our Law of Common Fate.
We turn from here and know we knew
from the beginning you would leave me.
Should I apologize for ever acting
as if we were moving in the same direction?
Lauren McKenzie Reed lives most of the year in Morgantown, WV, where she completed her MFA at West Virginia University as a Stephen Crocker Scholarship awardee and has been an instructor of Creative Writing and Composition & Rhetoric. She’s been to Mali, France, the U.K., and Ireland, but is currently living in Berlin, Germany.
Q: What was your inspiration for this poem?
A: Gesalt psychology is about the self-organizing tendencies of the mind, specifically spatial and visual groupings. I thought it’d be interesting to misuse the theory to better understand the ways in which we see the world in order to make sense of a relationship, or relationship ending.