a story by Thomas Sullivan

I’m standing in line at the Puget Consumer Co-op, reading a newspaper article about a woman who is suing the Marriot hotel chain. Apparently, the woman wasn’t pleased after walking into her room and finding a male employee in a Marriot shirt wearing one of her dresses and parading around in her high-heeled shoes. That right there is the problem with large corporations. Too many of their
customers have no sense of humor.

But that’s not my main concern on the corporate front. Until recently I did my food shopping at one of the major grocery chains. I just loaded up my cart and didn’t think much about what I was buying. But then the massive recall of Write County Eggs struck, sickening hundreds of people whose only crime was being in Write County at the wrong time. According to news reports, the owner has a long history of fines and settlements for repeated health and safety violations. Yet, no one has shut him down and he keeps resurfacing, like a farm version of Freddy Kreuger.

After inspecting a number of Write County farms, the FDA described one of the hen houses as “bulging with manure.” That could be an apt description of the owner as well.

I’m not a worrier by nature. I don’t think people are out to get me and I’m not fooled by the likes of Terror Mosques or WMDs. I’m a trusting person by nature, but when genuine threatening patterns develop, I act. Like yesterday, when I finally moved my money out of a Zombie Bank.

So I’ve now got another unwanted and unnecessary fear to contend with. A fear spurred by the actions of yet another indifferent mega-corporation. Hence, my visit to PCC, where I find organic free-range eggs raised on a small farm that, to my knowledge, has never been described by a federal Secretary of Labor as “simply atrocious, as dangerous as any sweatshop.”

I pay up and head for the exit, wondering how many more people will bite the dust before small farms and organics become to food what seatbelts were to cars. I enter the outside seating area, which sits below the sidewalk level and is filled with people enjoying their sunny lunch hour. I’m lowering into a chair to finish reading the paper when a guy suddenly appears at the edge of the sidewalk clutching a guitar. His buttlength whitish hair flutters in the breeze as he stares down at the crowd and flashes a grin beneath his Brawny Man mustache.
“Thank you all for coming!” the street-musician barks, before breaking into a cover of “Brown Eyed Girl”. He strums in place for a bit before crouching down low and marching Chuck Berry style back and forth along the “stage.” Most of the diners ignore him, but I know better. I smile and watch the guy, enamored by his fearless performance.

Which is exactly what that woman at the Marriott should have done.

© 2011, Thomas Sullivan

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a story by Richard Hartwell

I have several small objects buried deeply within the heart of a small, wooden box on my wire mesh nightstand that looks like a cage, including one item that is emblematic of my borrowed life. In the box are dice from my grandfather for remembrance, military medals for several nothings, children’s teeth for fairy money, and several other trinkets. However, there is one particularly that I treasure, not necessarily beyond the others, but to the extent that it is an article of unique and distinctive value.

I have in this keepsake box a bullet from Vietnam, bullet from 1967. It is merely a slug, not the entire cartridge, not a shell, and it is from a .30 caliber weapon. The spiraled scoring of rifling can barely be detected, there is a slight bend to the point of the bullet where it ricocheted off my spine, and it is rusted with blood on the blunt end that fitted the sleeve of the shell before it was fired. The slug was dug out of my right shoulder, near the blade, where it lodged after being deflected and angling up and off. The Army doctor had to be begged and cajoled to save it for me, against medical protocol.
I treasure this bullet, not just because it was taken from my flesh, but for all that it represents: the futility of a particular war; the unexpected quirks which occur to preserve a particular life; and even the fact that I killed a soldier a moment later, a particular enemy of that one moment in time, and probably the same one who had just shot me.

There is not a war story attached to this memento, but a life story. It reminds me of the frailty of my own particular life and how every day since then, forty-four years of every days, I have been granted an extra helping of life. That is the one true thing represented by this personal article buried deep within the box and deep within my mind.

© 2011, Richard Hartwell

a story by Anne Borden

Sometimes I envy those chummy exes. You know, the ones who live together for a time after they decide to split, while the one gallantly helps the other one find an apartment? Who loan each other sweaters and meet for lattes on their lunch hour? Who have a seemingly amicable separation, and a downright jolly divorce?

On some days, I envy them. On other days, I think of them as sanctimonious f**s.

For most of us, it’s messier. We leave our homes alone one day – abruptly or after years of planning – with suitcase in hand and a cat tucked under one arm. Never to return, and certainly not for Passover. We remember each other’s birthdays, sure … but alone, and decades later those milestones still make us cry. We don’t live on the same street; in fact our lives are circumscribed by avoiding a certain café or club, or a certain street, or a rather large swath of the city.

Like, a normal breakup.

In the end, shared assets are divided, shared responsibilities delegated. The me in TEAM takes over. And it is the end. New beginnings are forged as individuals, and it becomes impossible for one new individual to reach out to that other, entirely new, individual. You think about picking up the phone to call, but you don’t.

Out of fear? Maybe. But also out of a hard-won respect for that new person. The stranger you once knew too deeply.

And so I found myself alone on a Saturday morning in the front yard of my ex-home (which we now rent to tenants), waiting for the tree removal service. A storm had blown down a beautiful, 6-year-old Serviceberry tree and the tenant had called me, breathless, at 8 am. “It’s in the street!” she’d gasped. I gasped, too, when I first saw those splayed branches in the street. Dogwalkers tiptoed across the sapling trunk. A busybody neighbour tsked: “Such a shame.” Another called out: “Hey, I think you can still save that tree…”

Mr. Kumar of Urban Tree Care pulled up in his truck.

“No, we can’t save it. It’s been sick for some time now; you can tell by the roots. All it took was one strong wind to take it down.”

“I never knew it was sick. It looked good.”

“ We can take it away this afternoon some time. The cost is two hundred and fifty.”

“Can I pay you cash?”

Perhaps, in some parallel universe, my ex and I would have met up at the house with a pair of lumberjack’s axes and made quick work of that soft, green wood. A tidy pile of logs that one of us would lug to… to the summer cottage, where together with our new lovers, we would gather around the fire and raise our glasses over a toasty pyre. From loss would come an enlightened catharsis, with grief turned to ash as our Serviceberry swirled in great clouds into the starry sky! …

Instead, there was me and the tree guy. The wind rustled through sun-dappled leaves. The sweet, dusty scent of life, forever stilled, enveloped us. Mr. Kumar sighed. I shed a tear. For lost love, lost opportunities? Maybe. But also, more simply, for that beautiful, lost tree.

© 2011, Anne Borden

I haul misery in a can, pre-packed sorrow in waiting. I pack ‘em in – their wires and tubes – ship ‘em where there’s daylight in the halls, where there’s rumors of miracles. I don’t need to know beyond this: keep everything straight, no touching, no talking unless they feel to; give a smooth ride. I watch for floods and droughts, keep plasma packs upright and flowing, check what the manual calls ‘signs of distress’.

If they’re conscious, partway lucid, we might trade words on what bit ‘em, how it hurts, what they think gives with the fable of upstairs. I heard stuff they tell these bedbugs: that this procedure got an eighty chance of succeeding; that this process scores ninety-two though not everyone comes straight. They get told the risks but not so they dwell. They all signed forms, they all got loved ones who said – on zero knowledge – it’ll be okay.

Loved ones are a pain in the ass. When I secured the bed wheels, levered shut the gates, loved ones stand down toe of the shaft waving or smiling though I see their faces breaking, trying so what’s in bed thinks upstairs is fine. As I freight them floor over floor cogent ones ask is the butcher a good butcher, is the place equipped with some techno-junk they saw in a docu-drama. What can I say: I press these buttons, hum sad tunes, watch the numbers rise.

What I ship in this cage got pain so bad the morphine is sugar for toothache. If they got strength sometimes you see them crunch down the sheet, fingers tight to brace the agony. I don’t say it’ll be fine upstairs. I don’t say nothing but what’s lame with local sports teams. I don’t say a thing to the ones I bring back.

The down run don’t stop at ground level; no need: this cage ain’t for tourists. Down shift is straight in the basement, hauling whatever missed the cut in theater. There’s no conversation on the way down, the paperwork ain’t my business and I can bust these wheels more harsh across the ramps. I get along better with guys downstairs than up among the white coats. I ship up chances to fail; I bring down certainties. Upstairs is aftercare and explanations; all the basement got is throughput. Through the furnace if no other ways.

Upstairs call me handling; basement call me traffic man. I like to traffic. I seen too much hope make that slow crawl to shades of disappointment. I wouldn’t risk hope if it bit me. I’m carrying: I pack a little certainty to help folks out of thinking that eighty percent’s a pro-bet. I carry for me: people fall sick too easy. I don’t wanna be a bug in this cage with the night shift guy giving me a smooth ride up where the white coats got revenge for redemption. I want done before the gates close: one way, certainty bound.

© 2011, Mark Wagstaff

It’s your aunt’s birthday, and despite the fact that you soon are 18, it’s no question that you accompany your parents.

Someone placed you next to an old grand-aunt you hardly know. You try to make small talk, but end up spilling all the things you soon will be able to do.

“Just 3 more weeks, then I finally can drive a car,” you say, all thrilled by the fact.

“When I was your age, I counted days to the big dance,” your grand-aunt tells you. “We sewed our dresses ourselves. Mine was red. It was the most beautiful dress.”

You try to imagine her, a young girl your age. It’s almost impossible.

She sees your look, laughs, points at her feet. “They were perfect, once. And my hair, all shiny and long.”

Then she picks up at the story again, and you still think she is talking about a dance that happened long ago.

“I counted the days. Couldn’t wait for the day of the dance. Up to then, it was the best summer, ever.” She stops at that point, looks at you, at the others, at the decoration hanging from the ceiling: balloons in all colours and shapes. She still smiles when she continues. “Then war broke,” she says. “The one I would go with the dance with had to go to the army instead. We had one last day together. He borrowed his brother’s motorbike, and we drove to the lake. On the way back, we thought of fleeing, or of surrendering together. We even looked for a fitting tree.”

She laughs again, her bright, timeless laugh.

Again, you can’t imagine any of this. You don’t know what to say, and at the same time, want her to continue. “And then?” you ask.

Her eyes shine. Tears, you think. And wonder about all the days these eyes saw. She blinks them away. “Then I learned to survive,” she says.

© 2011 Dorothee Lang

Our first attempt at FREIGHT proofs arrived today via UPS. I shot this video so I could share the moment with Mel. Now you can share it too:

Didn’t get a long enough look? Here’s a shot of the cover taken with my mobile phone. My hands were shaking in all the excitement, so I’ll post more pictures tomorrow. I’ll even take them with my DSLR:-)

holding the first Advance Readers Copy

Cheers for now,
J.S. (FREIGHT’s editor)

a story by Eric Kenron

The bridge-boards are red under her feet. Hems of kimonos brush the surface of the wood. She is wearing a gown colored like forest pool, lily-covered at dusk. She is the demure center of attention. Her mouth is hidden: she is the archetype of discrete equipoise. She is silent; awaiting understanding. In that way, too, she is ideal. She is reflected in the river below as rippled blobs of color. I whisper a wish for her silent strength.

Paul’s arm slides around my waist and startles me, even though I know it’s him.

Today is our fifth anniversary. The gallery was my idea, so the restaurant is his choice. As we are being seated, I see how tired he is. I try to tamp down my ebullience to reduce the discrepancy between our moods. Instead I am daydreaming through dinner, laughing inside.

My imagination-laugh is elegant and feral, not anything like my real laugh. I will have a cat’s laugh. I will say: “When I met you, your words were honey and light. You were fascinating and beautiful and I loved your voice and face and the way you looked out to infinity. I even adored your vagueness, mistaking it for thoughtfulness. But since then you have recycled your words many times, and your face does not show your feelings. I have discovered firsthand how far away infinity is from me.”

He won’t have been listening, but I will make him pay attention the same way he has compelled me to silence so many times: with more words.
“You are shedding onto me the pieces of you that you despise, and those pieces have grown within me. I have allowed myself to incubate the poison that has come between us, believing first that it was mine, and then that it was something we shared. It is neither: it is yours, and I am going to give it back to you. Hold out your hands.”

I will press my fingernails into my abdomen, cutting the skin. I can push my
fingers, then my whole hand, through my skin and into the pit of my stomach, where I can feel the weight that has accumulated there. I grasp hold of it and pull it out. This is bloodless, but not without pain.

The lump which I pull out of myself I will drop into his open hands. He will sag under its weight. I will reach into my purse and pull out a small, golden bow—like they put on gift boxes in department stores—and affix it to the top.

“This is you. This is the reflection of yourself that you tried to create in me. This is how I will remember you.” Then I will turn away, and before he can muster an equivocation I will hail a cab. The driver will squeal the tires at my instruction.

© 2011; Eric Kenron