The 38th Annual 4th St. Festival of the Arts & Crafts

● by Colleen Wells

 

Labor Day calls for cook-outs and a long weekend to enjoy the waning summer. For Bloomington residents it means something more. Labor Day Weekend ushers in the Fourth Street Festival of the Arts and Fine Crafts, an event coordinated by local artists. With roots stemming from a discussion between two local potters, the inaugural Fourth Street Festival was held in 1977 with the goal of showcasing local talent. The event has since blossomed to accommodate a variety of both greater Bloomington area artisans and those from around the country. Nearly 120 artists from states as far as New York and Florida will participate.

Now in its 38th year, the weekend’s event attracts over 40,000 visitors. It will run from 10:00ama to 6:00pm on Saturday, August 30th, and 10:00am to 5:00pm on Sunday at Fourth & Grant Streets. Artists representing a variety of mediums including printmaking, wood, leather, photography, fiber, glass and ceramics will display and sell their work.

Wendy Newman of Moab, Utah, has participated in numerous festivals for twenty-five years with her handcrafted, contemporary jewelry and was a juror for this year’s event. She spoke of the advantages of art fairs created by artists. “In my experience the shows that artists run are juried more fairly and of a higher quality than other shows.”

Another factor in the event’s success is the willingness of the artists to promote their own work. Bloomington resident and contemporary jewelry artist, Marilyn Greenwood, has been exhibiting her work at the show since 1990. She has her work on display at By Hand gallery, but is able to show a wider variety and her newest work at the festival. Through her marketing efforts the artist stated she “draws on people from Terre Haute, Indianapolis, Columbus, Cincinnati and Louisville.”

There will be other attractions including a music stage with bands offering tunes ranging from classical to blues. The kidszone will provide hands on art opportunities for children, and there will be additional community booths. All of the ancillary events run through the course of both days.

The Spoken Word Stage presented by the Writers Guild at Bloomington begins each day at 10:30a.m. with writers reading from several genres. Each presentation lasts a half hour. Since joining the festival in 2011, this addition has been both popular and unique. Tony Brewer, Executive Director for the Spoken Word Stage and Chair of the Bloomington Writer’s Guild, said, “To my knowledge 4th Street is the only arts festival in Indiana that offers a dedicated spoken word stage. Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, and many many others around the country have for years, and I have looked to them as a model for how ours might work.”

New this year is an installation located at Fourth Street between Kirkwood and Dunn. The piece is constructed of plywood with a waffle-like structure held together by friction without any bolts or screws. It was created in a workshop with mechanical engineering students at IUPUI-Columbus. Instructor Jonathan Racek, a Bloomington architect with a focus on sustainability and digital fabrication who teaches interior design classes at Indiana University, had spoken with colleagues about building a set piece for a fashion show put on by IU students. The arch was created with 3D software and fabricated on a CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) router which Racek said is “like a robotic cutter.” The creation is approximately 8 feet wide, 8.5 feet tall, and 3 feet deep.

Of being tasked with making the piece for the fashion show, Racek said, “We really weren’t sure what that was going to be.” Soon to be exhibited at the Fourth Street Festival, the structure simply called “the arch,” will be at home alongside many other creative pieces.

Whether you are a regular visitor of the 4th street Festival, or plan to attend for the first time, you are likely to find something that resonates. It may be an intricate piece of metal jewelry, or a painting that speaks to you, but the 4th Street Festival is a place where artists and art are appreciated.

Brewer stated that the Poetry On Demand portion of the Spoken Word Stage “offers festival goers an opportunity to interact directly with artists in the act of creation.” This fits with the organizers of the festival’s vision of community involvement.

Commenting on shows where a dedicated staff works closely with the community, juror Newman stated, “These shows are a labor of love for the people who put them on and focused more on the art which is a treasure to have.”

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

The Cult Of Faux Reality

Writer-director Ti West and his film, The Sacrament, are coming to the IU Cinema as part of the Diabolique International Film Festival ● by Max Weinstein

 

[The Diabolique International Film Festival is a celebration of independent horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy film. In its eighth year, DIFF will take place from September 18-20 at the IU Cinema.

As a film festival, DIFF acts as a platform for independent genre films and filmmakers that work to explore possibilities outside of studio constraints. The DIFF Academic Symposium also aims to generate discussion about independent and alternative horror. The horror genre has circulated for years through alternative means including foreign film, art film, independent film, and tonal intersections with a variety of other genres; these are the alternatives DIFF celebrates. The scope of the DIFF symposium is broad yet specific: to discuss the possibilities and future of horror film, or films that intersect with horror, outside of those produced by major studios, exploring the complexities and potential of the genre when unrestricted by Hollywood limitations. For more on DIFF visit diaboliquefilmfestival.com

A version of this article was originally published in Diabolique magazine.]

“In a perfect world, I would have done an eight-part documentary mini-series about Jonestown,” Ti West explains when considering what could have been made in lieu of The Sacrament, his latest film that, with some struggle, he resolves to describe as a “sort of new media type thing.”

The Sacrament is a great horror film ⎯ a film whose media meshing invokes a necessary discourse on the representation of reality in a genre designed to shock and affect. West’s most complete and ambitious work to date deftly interweaves a multiplicity of techniques, aesthetics and subgenres to tell the story of the mysterious Eden Parish, a People’s Temple-esque cult that becomes the focal point of The Sacrament’s  film-within-a-film fictional investigative documentary.

Kentucker Audley co-stars as Patrick, a photo journalist who gains access to Eden Parish, intending to meet his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz), who has been a member of the commune since being taken in for drug therapy by its leader, Charles Anderson Reed (Gene Jones). In tow are two of Patrick’s colleagues from Vice Media, Sam  (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg). As Reed, the enigmatic leader of Eden Parish known to his followers simply as “Father,” Gene Jones delivers a performance whose potency is the catalyst for The Sacrament’s blurring of ethical journalism and individual moralism; Sam unnerves viewers when he tells Jake, on-screen, that while he wouldn’t choose to live a life at Eden Parish, his immersion in its daily goings-on are allowing him to actually “dig it.”

“That line is a big thesis line of the movie,” West asserts. “What I wanted to show when they got there and saw this place was that it’s weird — it’s definitely weird — but, ‘Hey, if they wanna live like this, if nothing’s wrong, who am I to say otherwise?’ People think that if you’re in a cult, 24/7, you’re just a lunatic every minute of every day. Hopefully the first half of the movie can help educate people to a certain extent, to where they see these people and go, ‘Oh. I understand why they’re here. I don’t wanna do that. But it makes sense, what they’re saying.’ [In] the big interview with Father, it’s all there. Everything he’s saying doesn’t sound so bad.”

Parallels between Father’s diatribes against America’s social, political and economic status quo and Jim Jones’ rationale for coaxing Jonestown members to commit mass “revolutionary suicide” are of primary concern to West in his efforts to school modern audiences on doomsday cults’ hive mentality. “Ideologically, everything he says should make perfect sense to everybody,” West says of Father’s delusional hijacking of serious systemic ills like imperialism, racism, or homelessness. “Like, ‘We shouldn’t have poor people!’ ‘I agree.’ ‘We shouldn’t have sick people!’ ‘I agree.’ He’s saying such basic things. Now, if you’re in a very desperate situation that you can’t improve, and a guy comes along and says, ‘Come with me and I can make your life better,’ you’d try it. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t work. But to get it to work, you stick with it. For a while it is better than the life you had before. But the bigger that group gets, as always, the megalomaniac who’s in charge starts to pervert it. The guy promises everything — great — gives you some of it, and once you’re so deep in, you realize it’s not all there and there’s nothing you can do about it, because your life has become so insular. You’re too in it now.”

The name Eden Parish in and of itself appropriates biblical connotations to slyly suggest not only the “new beginning” Father promises its members, but also the eradication of one’s sense of self that his benevolent-seeming brainwashing gradually creates, in the name of a “fresh start.” West’s voice grows agitated when explaining Father’s theft of the cult’s members’ identity, as if arguing with an imaginary person whose perspective is noxiously contrarian to that of his own: “Even when you go back to Jonestown, it’s like: ‘I wouldn’t have taken the poison!’ How? How would you have been the one person, when everyone you know — your friends, family, babies — are dying around you? You’re living in a work camp in the jungle in 1978. How do you get out of it? That takes a strong person to go ‘No thanks,’ and walk out of there and risk being killed. It wasn’t really a choice. If you’re sitting there and your whole family’s dying around you, you’re gonna walk through the jungle and hopefully find a plane with no money and no passport, get back to America and then just be homeless with no family or friends? That’s not a good option. What they don’t realize is that all that stuff was taken away from them by someone in charge, and they thought they were offering it up to him to have a better life. At first, it was that for a lot of people. But once you get so deep in, it’s not easy to get out.”

In a perverse way, the insularity to which West refers actually facilitates an unconventional home space, and he is intrigued by reading The Sacrament, if not explicitly as a Home Invasion film, at least as demonstrative of its definitive tropes. As the crew’s documentary unfolds, Father’s paranoid warnings about their posing an “outsider” threat culminate in suspicion, derangement, and later, violence, among his constructed family subjected to such propagation. “If you look at it from the Eden Parish side of things,” he says, “they’re trying to get Patrick down there because they’ve got rich parents. If his sister can convince him to stay and get more money, they can keep doing what they’re doing. They didn’t know these [film crew] guys were coming, and they’re like, ‘Oh, shit…’ They’re rolling with it. They can’t just send him away, because people will tell stories about it. So they’re trying their best to deal with, essentially, a home invasion event. It’s not like someone knocking down someone’s door with an axe, but it is these people that they don’t want in their community. They’re trying to spin it, and Father is trying to stay one step ahead of them and ‘work’ this. And they just can’t. The Sacrament isn’t really a home invasion movie, but if you think about it from the characters’ perspective, yes — these journalists came in and started this snowball rolling that unraveled everything.”

The distinctly southern drawl of Father reeks of the television evangelical huckster type who might try to convince you that masturbation distracts from “holding hands with God,” or that heavy metal music is the cause of all suicides (without a hint of self-awareness). The Sacrament’s characterization of this religious fanaticism as geographically bound to red states like Mississippi, where Father says he was born, is a lightning rod for reactionaries, and was consequential during the making of The Sacrament, when the time came for West to receive permission to shoot from local authorities. “We were gonna shoot the movie in Charleston, South Carolina and we did not. They would not give us the tax credit because of the content of the movie,” West reveals of his location scouting process. “To get the tax incentive, you had to get the content approved, and they didn’t want anything to do with it — which is a shame, because that’s a lot of money for South Carolina. It’s a lot of money for people whose army lives just ended. All those crew would have come on to our movie and they would have kept a lot of people in business. They were like, ‘We don’t like the content of your movie. You can’t shoot here.’ So we left. At one point they called us and were like, ‘We’re actually gonna overturn that,’ but it was too late. Then we moved to Georgia where it was not an issue. What’s great about Georgia is they went, ‘Come on down.’”

In terms of its unique status as a movie of technological identity crisis, West himself is contradictory when breaking down how The Sacrament can, and ought, to be received. “I don’t consider it a found-footage movie,” he states. “But found-footage is sort of helpful, because it’s like ‘Oh, I’m gonna watch a movie with a camera in it.’ It’s not like we dug up this tape and this is what was ‘found’ and previously shot. The characters made a documentary. Some point of view is still in it, because the documentary being made is so shocking and so unbelievable, but it was never meant to be like, ‘Thank God we had these baby monitors and surveillance cameras in the corner of the room so we could catch this footage!’ What the main characters do for a living is make documentaries. You don’t call a Christopher Guest movie a found-footage movie, but they’ve been doing that forever; it’s basically a fake documentary. But if you call The Sacrament a mockumentary, it’s wildly insensitive. You can’t call it that. It’s in this kind of no-man’s land, which is a nightmare when you’re marketing the movie. But it also made it easier for me as a filmmaker, because found-footage movies are sloppy on purpose; they have to be for it to feel authentic. So since there’s an on-camera guy and a director of photography, they could actually shoot the movie to make it look good. For me, it was great to be able to do interesting compositions, shoot people and not have the movie be like someone’s video camera that they’re dropping on the ground every two seconds.”

No consolation prize of one spared innocent human life is delivered in an historically grounded, inevitable train-wreck such as this. Forced to bear witness the fabricated deaths of a cult of faux-reality, there is an ever-present sense that the destruction of family, identity, belief systems or basic humanity defies comprehension, even amidst the modernity of our information age.

A lacuna in a philosophy too committed to authorship when writing and directing a film that reflects Jim Jones’ murder of actual human beings, however, is that overt stylization can sensationalize its narrative’s tragic nature. “This shouldn’t be a ‘fun’ horror movie,” West asserts, expounding upon his conscious decision to nix the supernatural elements of his previous genre outings. “There shouldn’t be a ‘clapping scene’ where someone dies in this movie. It should be confrontational. It’s not just reduced to ‘Eh, drink the Kool-Aid.’”

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

DIFF 2014: When, What, Where

DIFF

The Diabolique International Film Festival, September 18-20 at the IU Cinema

 

Thursday, September 18:

9:30 pm ⎯ DIFF kicks off with a special screening of the award winning film Proxy, directed by Indiana native Zack Parker.

Friday, September 19:

● 3pm ⎯ A Conversation with Ti West with Q&A

● 6:30pm ⎯ The Sacrament  (Ti West hosts)

● 9:30 pm ⎯  Ti West’s The Innkeepers

● 11:59 pm ⎯ Ti West’s The House of the Devil

Saturday, September 20:

● 8am ⎯ Roundtable: Diabolique International Film Festival Academic Symposium 2014

The DIFF Academic Symposium will consist of three horror-centered roundtables on Saturday morning: two led by local horror scholars, and a third led by independent horror directors Ti West and Zack Parker.

Noon-1:30pm ⎯ Screening Block #1

A program of shorts including Zombies 4Kids 

● 2-4:30pm ⎯ Screening Block #2

A program of shorts including Possessed Forklift of Death  

● 4-5:30pm ⎯ Screening Block #3

A program of shorts including The Pride of Strathmoor

● 6-7:40pm ⎯ Screening Block #4

A program of shorts including The Carriage or: Dracula & My Mother 

8-9:40pm ⎯ Screening Block #5

A program of shorts including Extreme Pinocchio 

● 10-11:40pm ⎯ Screening  Block #6

A program of shorts including Franky and the Ant (Dir. Billy Hayes, USA)

● 11:30pm ⎯ After Hours VIP Party and Awards Presentation at Scholars Inn

Visiting filmmakers are invited to join us at our After Hours VIP Party and Awards Presentation at Scholars Inn, a 150-year-old historic mansion. Since our first year in 2007, its dual fireplaces and huge outdoor decks have provided the perfect backdrop for our guests and visiting filmmakers to network, have fun, and share their experiences.

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

Films: Boyhood

Cinema In the Present Tense ● by Brandon Walsh

 

The uncredited main character of Richard Linklater’s latest film Boyhood is time, and time will tell. Shot over 12 years with the same actors, the audience is invited to watch both the characters and story evolve over time. In the spirit of the longitudinal films of Antoine Doinel, the Up documentary series, and Linklater’s own Before… trilogy, Boyhood compresses time and human experience in a way previously unseen to the art form.

The film is chaptered by various markers of growing up, often without the broader narrative explanation to be expected from mainstream cinema. When we see a young Mason pour mustard on the hot dog his dad bought for him at a baseball game, we aren’t explicitly told what it means to him, but the seemingly mundane focus helps to explain the bond with his father as the film progresses. The joy of Boyhood comes with watching seeds like this grow, in a way that the story allows itself to be told by unfolding in new and interesting ways somehow avoiding most audience-pandering cause/effect conventions. In doing so Linklater places trust in the audience’s own humanity to decide which moments to attribute importance, the very same logic that goes for one’s own life. As a result, there are numerous ways to identify with the film (nostalgic/prospective as a parent/child), and all are valid.

Archibald MacLeish writes at the end of “Ars Poetica” that a poem, “should not mean/But be,” a notion meant to match the fluid subjectivity of life. The argument could be made that more films have been employing a mode of “visual poetry,” leaving more elliptical moments meant to question our relationship with time rather than a straightforward narrative payoff across scenes. Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color and Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder come to mind as two modern examples of narrative films with such moments, albeit with a stronger regard for imagery over character. A thesis of Boyhood could be that as a kid, things just sort of happen to you, and that we’re all thrown into life without much guidance of how to do it right, left to stare at the clouds. Mason’s boyhood vulnerability drifts away with his increasing willingness to flow with the inexplicable. He begins to trust others, depend on himself, love and reciprocate, consider the consequence of his actions, gaining the qualities of a well-rounded adult.

As Mason matures, so does the film itself, leaving plot-centric scenes for more focused philosophical conversations, without the traditional motive of sequential action. The film’s aspirations are lofty, but reaches them by avoiding metaphor-laden humanitarian commentary well recognized in the Oscar-winning canon of great film. Late in the film, Mason talks with a young woman who works with kids approaching their “awkward years,” and the reality hits that we’ve watched Mason live through his. Life is presented as no more or less than a series of events, but more than the sum of its seconds.

For those who have been following Linklater’s filmography, the film’s reclining structure will come as little surprise. However, the later scenes serve a deeper purpose. Whereas a film like Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are encourages the audience to interpret the events with a child character’s limited perspective, Linklater invites a broad understanding of childhood and adolescence, one that recognizes the nuanced effects of parents and environment on a growing mind, but also understands the individual can’t entirely be defined by his/her surroundings. Therein lies the onward-explorative spirit of Boyhood, a film with as much ineffable heart and consciousness as its characters.

At its very best, film packages the experience of consciousness into digestible entertainment. It’s phenomenology made tangible, a personal study that invites a deeper appreciation of the impermanence of life. Time survives in retrospect, but it only moves forward. In expressing this through Linklater’s production, we’re reminded the death of time is life in the ongoing present. Much like the end of Linklater’s Before Midnight, the film doesn’t end as much as it stops presenting itself to us on a screen. The rest is on us.

[Brandon Walsh works for Facets, whose Cinémathèque is an independent art house theater in Chicago that screens international film targeted to younger audiences.]

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

 

IU Cinema Fall Preview

● by Craig J. Clark

 

The Indiana University Cinema’s Fall 2014 program book will be out within the next few weeks, but in the meantime, The Ryder has been given a sneak peek at what’s on the docket for the next four months, courtesy of director Jon Vickers.

“We are very excited about the IU Cinema’s fall program this year,” Vickers says. “There is definitely plenty from everyone, from the casual movie-lover to the most discerning cinephile. We will be celebrating the 30th Anniversary some of the most iconic films of 1984, like Ghostbusters, Sixteen Candles, and This Is Spinal Tap, the 40th anniversary of one of the scariest movies of all time, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and the 10th anniversary of the film Kinsey.”

Vickers promises that the entire season will be online before the first of September, but visitors to the Cinema the weekend before Labor Day will witness the kickoff of three of its regular film series – Underground, City Lights, and Midnight Movies.

The Underground series gets off to a chilling start on Friday, August 29, with 1973’s Ganja & Hess, which doubles as the first of three films in a series entitled “Blaxploitation Horror of the 1970s.” A most unusual vampire film, in the sense that the v-word is never once spoken in it, Ganja & Hess was written and directed by Bill Gunn, who had previously scripted Hal Ashby’s The Landlord, and gave Duane Jones his only starring role outside of Night of the Living Dead. He plays a renowned anthropologist who takes on a neurotic assistant (played by Gunn) who stabs him with a ceremonial dagger and kills himself. Jones is far from dead, though, and he now has a taste for blood which he satiates by raiding blood banks (prefiguring Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive by four decades) and killing prostitutes. Then Gunn’s wife (Marlene Clark) comes looking for him and eventually marries Jones, who turns her and initiates her in the fine art of body disposal. Only then does he seriously contemplate what “till death do you part” means.

As envisioned by Gunn, Ganja & Hess has a very strong religious component, represented by bookend scenes at the church of a firebrand reverend (Sam Waymon) who’s also Jones’s part-time chauffeur. Faced with such an idiosyncratic film, distributors responded by cutting it to ribbons and releasing it under more exploitable titles like Black Vampire, Blood Couple and Double Possession, but the print being screened by the Cinema is a 35mm restoration of Gunn’s director’s cut, which makes it a veritable must-see. Incidentally, the two other films in the Blaxploitation Horror series, which picks back up in October, are 1976’s J.D.’s Revenge, and 1972’s Blacula, the film that set the cycle in motion and which will, appropriately enough, be shown on Halloween.

Other screenings in the Underground Film Series include the experimental documentaries The Great Flood and All Vows, which filmmaker Bill Morrison will be present for, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s controversial final film, Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom, Belgian filmmaker Harry Kümel’s Malpertius, made the same year as his cult vampire film Daughters of Darkness, and an evening of shorts by experimental filmmaker Warren Sonbert. Those looking for something a little more accessible, though, will want to keep an eye on its companion series, City Lights.

First up is the Jacques Demy musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which is being screened on Saturday, August 30. Made in 1964, it’s a frothy concoction in which every line of dialogue is sung, and the performances by Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo as two young lovers kept apart by circumstances beyond their control are totally endearing. (To go with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the Cinema is screening another Demy musical, 1967’s The Young Girls of Roquefort, along with 1961’s West Side Story as part of a two-film tribute to triple-threat George Chakiris.)

The remainder of the City Lights series includes the work of such notable director/star pairings as Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich (1930’s Morocco), Stanley Kubrick and Kirk Douglas (1957’s Paths of Glory), Alfred Hitchock and Joseph Cotten (1943’s Shadow of a Doubt), and Arthur Penn and Dustin Hoffman (1970’s Little Big Man). Then there’s the post-Halloween double feature of Mad Love and The Raven, both from 1935, featuring horror icons Peter Lorre, Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi. One of the highlights of the semester, though, is likely going to be November’s twin screenings of Buster Keaton’s 1926 silent The General, presented in collaboration with the Jacobs School of Music, with a newly commissioned score by IU alumnus Andrew Simpson and live orchestral accompaniment.

The Midnight Movies series only pops up in the fall, but it tends to feature some of the most adventurous films that the Cinema screens all year. First out of the gate, on Friday, August 29, is Prince’s film debut Purple Rain. Co-written, directed and edited by Albert Magnoli, the 1984 film stars His Purpleness as Prince-like musician The Kid, who fronts a band called The Revolution and is in direct competition with Morris Day, lead singer for The Time, for supremacy in the Minneapolis music scene. They also come into conflict over aspiring singer/dancer Apollonia Kotero, who hooks up with The Kid first but is actively wooed by Day to be in his new girl group. Meanwhile, The Kid has what could charitably be called a difficult home life and a strained relationship with his abusive father, who is nevertheless a brilliant pianist/composer. How much of this correlates to Prince’s actual biography I couldn’t say, but the film’s main saving grace is, of course, the soundtrack, which opens strong with the one-two punch of “Let’s Go Crazy” and The Time’s “Jungle Love,” and closes with blistering live performances of the title song and “I Would Die 4 U.”

Also getting the midnight-screening treatment is 1976’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven, which continues the Cinema’s tradition of showing at least one X-rated film a semester. This one, a “porno chic” updating of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, is the work of director Radley Metzger, who also made 1974’s Score, which was screened in the spring as part of the “Queer Disorientations” series. Other films in the series include Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (their second giallo homage following 2009’s Amer), and Alex Cox’s Repo Man, which – like Purple Rain – is pulling double duty as part of a film series entitled “1984 Revisited.” (Look for a more in-depth article about that next month.)

“Many more filmmakers will be presenting their work in the Cinema,” Vickers says, “including Josephine Decker, Natalia Almada, and Polish master Krzysztof Zanussi, to name a few. There are also additional, very exciting guests that will be announced before September 1.” Sounds like the makings of a cinephile’s dream to me.

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

Deer Park’s Americana Music

Howlin' Bros.

Howlin’ Brothers to Kick Off Series ● by Chris Lynch

 

Deer Park Manor, the site of many Bloomington weddings, will inaugurate an Americana Music Series on August 31 with the Howlin’ Brothers, a trio from Nashville, Tennessee (pictured above). Bloomington inventor and broadcast mogul Sarkes Tarzian, who contributed to the development of FM radio and color television, built the manor in the 1950s, and it has operated as a banquet facility since 1999.

Those who have walked the beautiful grounds and gardens understand why it was a fitting place for Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon to stay on their visits to Bloomington—and now its beauty can be enjoyed while taking in great music. According to Angela Backstrom, who is promoting the series, “The venue is in the outdoor courtyard, under a tent, at the lovely manor. There will be some tables and lots of chairs available, and there is a nice slate dance floor for those so inclined.”

Backstrom says that the series defines “Americana” very broadly. “Americana is a large range of music—folk, blues, country, alt-country, singer/songwriter, old-time, bluegrass, newgrass, string band, folk rock, indie, and more.” Backstrom feels that this kind of music in this unique setting will allow the manor to carve out a niche, offering something “that is currently somewhat underrepresented in Bloomington.” Wishing to differentiate itself from the classical music and club scenes, Deer Park Manor is offering “a family oriented, high quality scenic and sonic experience unlike anything else in town,” she says.

The Howlin’ Brothers, whose music combines influences from most of the range of Americana that Backstrom describes, will start the series with a bang. Ian Craft, one of the “brothers,” describes the trio as a string band. “We love blues and great songs,” he says. “We adapt them and perform them with banjo, fiddle, guitar, and upright bass, so to some it may seem like bluegrass—which isn’t wrong—but we also incorporate several styles from Cajun to country and anything else we run into that we dig.”

The trio has come a long way from when they first started working together. The three met in central New York while studying classical music at Ithaca College. “We were all at the school of music learning about different things,” recalls Craft. “Jared and Ben were studying guitar and recording engineering, and I was a percussionist. We met in a recording session—Jared was recording my steel drum band. We became great friends and started learning a lot of folk and bluegrass tunes.”

They learned to play a lot of instruments too. Craft plays banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and kick-drum; Jared Green plays guitar, harmonica, and piano; and Ben Plasse holds it all down on the upright bass. All three contribute vocals, trading off the melody to whomever wrote the song.

For the concert at the manor, the group will perform many original tunes from their commercial albums. Howl, released in 2013, peaked at number six on the Americana Music radio chart. That year they also recorded The Sun Studio Session, the recording of which is documented in a PBS series called The Sun Studio Sessions. Their stop in Bloomington is part of a national tour promoting their third album, called Trouble, which appeared in April.

Their set list will feature lots of other songs too. “We’ll play a full range of music from the new album as well as traditional tunes and other timely classics,” says Craft.

The Howlin’ Brothers’ stop at the manor will also feature some local talent. Bloomington singer-songwriter Jacob Latham will open the evening with an hour-long set at 7pm. At just 19, Latham is already an accomplished performer who has played clubs across the country. His rich and grainy baritone voice perfectly suits his folksy guitar style, mandolin picking, and Dylan-esque harmonica riffs, and will be a wonderful introduction to an evening of Americana.

[If you’re interested in learning about upcoming acts in the Deer Park Americana Music Series, you can follow the series’ page on Facebook.]

 

The Ryder ● September 2014

Introduction To The Fiction Issue

Fiction Issue

A word about the words in this issue ◆ by Justin Chandler

It was a little over a year ago that we got the idea of putting together an issue that would showcase Bloomington fiction. I was immediately interested, not just because I write fiction myself, but because I knew that if anywhere could offer up an eclectic and brilliant collection of work, it was here.

I saw the fiction scene as existing in factions. I had been involved in the undergraduate and graduate writing scene at IU through various workshops and as an intern at Indiana Review. And I knew of other factions, like the writing group at Boxcar Books and the Writers Guild. I also envisioned some secret faction, writing in the shadows, plotting the upheaval of all we know.

I’m not so sure we’re ready to start soliciting work from that last group. But what intrigued me about a fiction issue was the chance to reach out to all these groups and see what kind of amazing kaleidoscope could be created when we put them together.

So, with way less time than we should’ve had, we set out to make that issue happen. Two weeks later, our deadline passed with zero submissions—not because no one submitted, but because our site had been hacked and our email accounts, perhaps due to protocol or maybe out of some existential dread, ceased for a period of time in the laborious struggle of being. When they came back online they were empty, and what I’m really afraid of? Is that in some alternative universe, maybe they still are….

Whatever. We pushed the fiction issue back to July 2014, to well, for you, right now. And this time around we, and the hackers, did it right.

I knew that we would get a unique mix of work. What I didn’t know is that picking such a varied set of stories would be so easy. I still find it kind of hard to believe we got this lucky. These stories are wide-ranging in their concerns, their characters and themes, and they are all really good. They deal with love, its possibility, its inevitability, and what happens in its terrifying absence. They deal with life, with the beauty of the known, and the provocative specter of the unknown. I think most of all they deal with people, trying to figure out what it all means, or for the first time realizing that they might not know.

A drawing by Ali Maidi accompanies each story. Ali is an artist and a Bloomington native who graduated from IU with a focus in Jewelry and Metalsmithing. Although he works with several different medias, he prefers drawing. Maidi currently works for the art and signage company, Moda Industria. Ali also drew the cover which presumably, you’ve already seen. Take another look. See — he’s good.

I’ve said way more than I wanted to already. Turn to page 14 and you’ll find the first of five stories by Bloomington artists. For you.

Illustrations by Ali Maidi.

The Ryder ◆ July 2014

Fiction: Ahmed’s Spring

Illustration by Ali Maidi

by Cara Prill

11:11:11 on 11/11/11 was a long time from when they first met. Sarah had been barefoot, sitting on the back of a couch, when Ahmed fell in love. Of course, he’d been in the States awhile and seen plenty of feminine toes exposed in flip flops outside or trotting naked across the dorm’s lounge. Sarah’s, though, were smoothing the couch cushions beneath her, and Sarah was laughing in a way that gave him shivers. He watched her light hair fall across her mouth and stood too long staring.

David knew Sarah already and, for some strange reason, suggested to Ahmed that she would make a great match with Steve down the hall. They spent an afternoon deciding how to set it up, which meant Ahmed got to ask David lots of questions about Sarah, all for the purpose of helping out Steve.

That evening, after David invited Sarah and Steve to Ahmed’s room, the four of them spread out. David was in the chair, Steve against the desk, Ahmed on his bed, and Sarah on the floor. No matter how often Ahmed offered a pillow, Sarah just smiled and said she was fine. Pizza was delivered, late night talk shows ended, and Steve left to finish a paper. Eventually, David got tired and took off. Then Ahmed and Sarah stayed up through the night; she was still on the floor beneath the edge of his bed, so Ahmed hung his head over the side. Her face, below him, looked angular and perfect.

Ahmed liked counting the freckles on Sarah’s nose, twenty-four, twenty-five. He planned to be an accountant. Sarah studied religion. She said she liked knowing how people answered the big questions about life and death. Lately, she had a lot of questions about Islam. Ahmed prayed five times a day, or tried to. She said she loved how Muslims touched their heads to the ground in prayer. But he couldn’t pray in front of Sarah, and the only time he misused his prayer mat was when they sat by it together.

Sarah was doing her homework on Ahmed’s back while he bent over his laptop. He studied her feet against the black and gold corner of his mat. They were like shells, those pearl shells that shone. He touched them again to feel how soft they were. She readjusted her legs around his waist and tapped her pen on his back.

“Are you bored?” he asked her.

“No. This is nice, doing homework. Like this.” He felt her arms sneak under his elbows and around his waist.

He said, “You’re like a turtle shell on my back, you know?” She wiggled her toes and fingers in front of his computer. He felt completely crazy. “Sarah, do you want to kiss?” was what he’d been thinking of asking for a month.

“Yes.” She put her head on his shoulder.

“What?”

“Yes, I want to kiss you.” He stopped breathing, and she added, “That’s what you said, right? Under your breath? Oh, I mean,” she stuttered, “I’m sorry.”

He pulled her right foot off of his crossed legs, set it to the side, leaned over, and brushed his lips against her toes.

Ahmed had never been on a date before, not exactly, and not American style, so he studied up. David said that it wasn’t much different than in the old movies that Ahmed watched in his film studies class: take her out to a movie, out for pizza or a sandwich, pay for everything, maybe get ice cream. If it gets cold, offer your jacket.

So Ahmed wore his best leather jacket. He walked Sarah across campus and bought tickets at the little theater that played “artsy flicks,” as Sarah called them. But he was afraid she didn’t like the movie much. It was more serious than he expected, and she only laughed once. He wasn’t sure if he was holding her hand right either.

At the pizza place she ordered a sandwich, so he did too, except that he ordered the beef. She’d taken three large, adorable bites and had a mouthful of ham when he couldn’t stop himself and began to laugh. She reached up to her lip as if she had some sauce on it.

“No, no. It isn’t that.” He explained that he loved how she could be herself around him and order whatever she wanted.

Her eyes opened wide. “Oh, God,” she said, setting down the sandwich. “I forgot about ham!” He asked her to please not stop eating just because of him. He wasn’t sure if kissing an American who had eaten ham counted as eating ham yourself, but he was certain, ham or no, that kissing was forbidden in the first place, and he decided to think less.

He kissed her on the mouth later anyway. She was wearing his jacket, and they were hiding in a classroom on campus to get out of the cold. She smelled like leather, ham, and shampoo.

“You missed seeing Hamid and Zaynab. They came to your cousin’s wedding.”

Ahmed switched the phone to his other hand and turned his back to the bed. He started speaking in Urdu.

“How was it?” he said, trying to change the topic.

“Fine, Ahmed, fine,” his mother replied in Urdu, and then continued in English, “Why aren’t you calling Zaynab? She says you haven’t talked for a while.”

We haven’t talked for six months, Ahmed thought. “I think we’ve both been busy, Mom.”

“Well, I hope you’re not too busy to plan your wedding. We went to a lot of trouble, convincing her family that a Shi’a was welcome in ours after you two begged us to match you.”

Ahmed looked behind him at Sarah, who smiled before hiding her face under the sheet.

“I’m sorry, Mom.”

“You should have come home this break. If you’re not careful, Zaynab will forget what you look like and marry someone like Hamid!”

Ahmed wondered if his mother knew already. “Hamid isn’t bad looking.”

“Really, son, come home for your spring break. Don’t spend so long away. We can pay for your ticket.”

“I know. OK, I’m sorry,” Ahmed stammered, then said that he needed to eat breakfast before the sun came up. She sounded relieved that he was keeping Ramadan, and let him off the phone after that.

When Sarah said she thought he was speaking Urdu with his family, Ahmed relaxed, but then she laughed a little, telling him that eventually she realized he was just speaking English very fast. He didn’t get back into bed. He tried to remember what he’d said in English. Sarah answered that for him: “Hamid must be hard to talk about.”

After an awkward moment, they managed to discuss it, seated together on the edge of the bed. He was relieved to learn David had already told Sarah about Zaynab and his best friend. Instead of being jealous, Sarah seemed sad for him. She took his hand in hers. “Losing your sweetheart to your best friend,” she said, “is a good reason to not want to go home.”

Ahmed thought to himself that Sarah was a good reason to not go home. They hurried to the cafeteria to beat sunrise.

Not having homework over semester break and having the dormitory to themselves was bliss. It was going to be “Oh-one, Oh-one, Oh-one,” as Sarah liked to call New Year’s, 2001, and she was cooking dinner for him. He assured her that Ramadan had ended three days ago and he could eat at a normal time. Besides, he was very hungry. But she insisted they have a late night meal to stay up for the New Year. He was supposed to show up in the lounge at 9:30 p.m. sharp, with grape juice—“the kind that’s not fermented,” she said.

To pass the evening, he walked to the grocery store and back. When he went downstairs at 9:30 the lights were off, the TV—showing Times Square—was on mute, and Sarah had tall candles burning. Chicken legs and rice were on the end table, and she had arranged throw pillows on the floor. He held out the grape juice to her like a prize, for which he won a smile. He had never seen someone in blue jeans, a sweatshirt, and oversized socks look so beautiful.

After the ball dropped in Times Square, after they kissed for 01/01/01, after they cleaned up the dishes and lit more candles, Ahmed held Sarah on the couch. He lifted up on an elbow and took off her socks to count her toes.

“I have ten, same as you!” she said.

“I know, but these are special.”

She twisted around to face him. “What do you think you’ll be doing ten years from now?”

“I don’t know.” Ahmed thought about it. “Maybe I’ll be a wealthy accountant by then. Or maybe I’ll go into computers.” He wadded up her sock and threw it at the TV.

“Hey!” she said.

“It’s binary today, Oh-one, Oh-one, Oh-one,” he said, wadding up her other sock. “Maybe it’s a sign I should go into computers.”

She went to grab his hand, but he tossed the other sock across the room too. “My feet’ll be cold, computer guy!”

He smiled, “Well, I can keep them warm.”

She turned back around and spooned up against him. He maneuvered his legs around her toes like a sandwich.

“The coolest date,” she said, “is going to be all ones. Eleven, eleven, eleven.”

“That’s about ten years from now,” he said into her hair. “It’ll even have eleven-eleven, like the time, twice in that one day.”

“Ooh, you are so good with numbers,” Sarah replied.

He loved every compliment she gave him, even if he didn’t deserve it.

A ticket home showed up in the mail a couple of weeks later, and Zaynab called a week after that. It wasn’t so easy to talk with her again, not as easy as with Sarah even though Sarah and he could only speak English. Hamid had broken up with Zaynab because he wasn’t supposed to date, and Hamid, or “Chicken-Shit” as Ahmed began referring to him, still hadn’t returned his calls. No way would Ahmed want him at his wedding now, assuming he had one.

“I always thought I would have two children,” Ahmed replied to Sarah’s question. “A boy and a girl, or two girls. Because people don’t always value girls at home, but I would.”

From the chair behind him, Sarah rubbed his shoulders and kissed the top of his head.

“What about you?” he asked, as he tilted his head back to look at her.

She squeezed him with her knees. “I don’t think I’ll have kids.”

“Really?” He turned all the way around. “Why not?”

“I don’t know. I guess I never saw myself with kids, you know, as a mom.”

Ahmed shifted back into position between her legs and thought about it. “You are lucky you’re American. A Muslim woman in Pakistan would be expected to have children.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I would make a good Muslim woman.”

They sat quietly for a while, hands entwined. Then Ahmed laughed lightly after the silence. “I don’t make a very good Muslim man.”

Sarah said, “I don’t know about that! You observe holy times, and do prayer. You even pray in the stacks at the library when you have to.”

“That’s not what I mean. I always think I am too liberal, you know? Like I think Bush is wrong about abortion. I think women should be able to decide if they want to be pregnant.”

“You’re awesome,” she replied, giving his head a bear hug from behind.

Ahmed blew out his breath from underneath her forearms. Sarah released him and went back to rubbing his shoulders.

He said softly, “It’s just that I always thought I’d be too liberal to raise my children up as good Muslims, but I thought Zaynab, as a Shi’a, she would be more strict. She would make sure my children don’t end up too American.”

Sarah’s hands kept going, but she didn’t speak for some time. Then she said, “Would you raise them here? In America?”

“I’m not sure. Wherever I could get a better job. Probably here, but I’d like to be near my family too.”

Sarah slipped her thumbs under the neck of his T-shirt, caressed the hair along his spine, and pressed deeply into his shoulder blades. Someone knocked on his door, but Ahmed ignored it. Then he asked, “Why do American women hate hair on men’s backs?”

Behind him, he heard Sarah sniffle, and then say in his ear, “Because they’re stupid.”

The night he said what he had to say, Sarah made it easy for him. She didn’t cry or say he was making a mistake; she didn’t even get mad. There was one thing she did ask, though, after they stared at each other from opposite ends of the bed. She wanted to keep seeing him for one more month, up until Spring Break. Then it would be over.

And Ahmed agreed right away. He didn’t want it to end, not really, not with how he felt when he was around her, the way her face lit up. So for a few days they kept going. Eating at the cafeteria, watching some TV.

But he couldn’t stop thinking about the numbers. They were always there, counting down. He kept eyeing the leftover dates on his calendar, feeling as empty as each tiny square.

Ahmed sat at his desk with lined paper and his best pen. He had written a page already, trying to explain. If he saw her in person, he would never be able to do it. Or he wouldn’t do it right. He let his pen tell her that. He let his pen say how much he wished she could find a nice American boy to marry someday. But the whole thing seemed cold to him, like the weather outside. It was so cold and he was so lonely without her. She deserved something better. She deserved better words, better English, something that truly said how he felt about her and how he would always remember her. Because she was—had been—his life these last few months. She was warm, like spring. She was, she was….

Sarah believes in lucky days and lucky kisses, and she isn’t about to miss a New Year’s style moment on the luckiest day of the century.

“Meet me at the front of Eagan Hall. I’ll be there at 11:05. Be there, or be square!” she types, adding, “Oh, yeah, you already are square.” She hits enter, and wonders if his boss will read his Facebook. They might get caught!

She grabs her coat and house keys and heads to campus. A half hour walk from home, she is sitting on the steps outside their rendezvous point and grinning in the chilly weather.

“It’s your lucky day,” Sarah says when Josh takes her hand and lifts her off the steps. She hugs him and whispers, “Come on!”

They pretend to be nonchalant as a group of undergraduates passes in the hall.

“This one’s empty,” she says. “This was my old classroom when I took Buddhism.”

She sits Josh in the last row of the auditorium-style seating. They remove their gloves and coats, and he pulls out his cell phone which has the date spelled on its background.

“Hey! It says eleven-eleven!” Sarah beams at him. “Can you get it to say the time too?”

When that doesn’t work, they settle for watching the little time marked in the corner of the phone, but it can’t count down the seconds or rather, in this case, count up seconds. This means that to get their good luck right at 11:11:11 on 11/11/11, they have to start kissing at 11:11 and keep on kissing for at least eleven seconds. Josh kisses Sarah for longer.

Sarah kisses Josh again outside before he sneaks back to work. Then she wanders along the campus paths that connect her with the road home. Campus has changed a lot, she thinks, but this is the same brick path she took on a date with Ahmed ten years ago.

The last time she heard about him was from David the next school year. It was after 9/11, and Sarah had worried that Ahmed would have trouble flying home from his summer internship in Atlanta. But David said Ahmed called him in October, soon after the wedding.

Sarah knows that Zaynab has married well. There was a letter Ahmed wrote that Sarah keeps in her boxes from college. Before she met and married Josh, she would pull the letter out from time to time, especially whenever some dumb American boy had dumped her. Now, she doesn’t need to go looking for it, because she has read its last few lines so many times, she has them memorized. She wraps her coat tighter around her body and smiles.

You are the fresh spring breeze that breathes new life into all species. You are the rainbow after the torrential storm. You are the face that makes me smile. You are the reason someone, someday, will be glad that he came home.

Cara Prill grew up in southern Indiana, and like many others who have attended IU, she stayed put after college. Bloomington has been her home for 20 years. She leads creative writing workshops through Ivy Tech’s Center for Lifelong Learning and enjoys participating in the Bloomington Writers Guild.

Illustration by Ali Maidi.

The Ryder ◆ July 2014

Fiction: At The Edge

Illustration by Ali Maidi

by Richard H. Durisen

“When angels fell,

Some fell on the land,

Some fell on the sea.

The former are the faeries,

And the latter were often

Said to be the seals.”

Orcadian Folklore, Anonymous

The drone of approaching Heinkel bombers echoes in the fjords. A fireball erupts when the first bomb hits, flinging bodies into the sea….

Rose awoke on her lumpy mattress, startled and sweaty. Large waves boomed against the rocks, and the grief that had clotted around her heart during a night of intermittent sleep melted and flowed back into her veins. It was the dream about the bombers that had awoken her. Previous dreams had presaged discoveries on the beach, and climbing out of bed, Rose asked aloud, “Mum, do ya have a gift for me today?”

After putting on her work clothes, Rose took the hemp sack with rope shoulder straps down from its hook and, in it, put a jar containing a rag moistened with vinegar. She slung the pack on her back and walked toward the ocean. Today, the fog had drawn back from the coast after dawn, and the sky was an unusually deep blue. Far out to sea, a Vickers Vildebeest biplane flew along the coast, patrolling for U boats.

The rolling hills of scrub and verdant grass ended abruptly at the water, as if loaves of bread had been carved in a ragged line. Rose’s house topped one of the nearest hills. The closest other visible building, Old Tom O’Malley’s house, was about a third of a mile away up along the coast.

Rose stood at the top of the precipice nearest her house. It dropped straight down into Donegal Bay off the Irish Sea and was part of the Slieve League cliffs. The locals called this particular cliff “Imeall”, which in Gaelic means “Edge” or “Margin.” Many an afternoon or evening, long before the troubles began, she and her sister would sit here to ponder the mysteries common among young Irish women –their bodies, men, America.

Something glinted below her, where the waves foamed over a rocky beach within the steep sides of a cove. The path down to the cove was treacherous, but Rose was well practiced from her childhood days. When she saw up close what was caught in a rough edge of the tide pool, a mixture of horror and elation raced through her body, and she wept.

She tied the cloth dampened with vinegar over her nose to mask the stench, hefted the object into the sack, and then began the climb uphill. As she approached her house, she recognized her brother in the distance, bicycling along the coast road for one of his frequent visits. Anxiety crackled through her. She could not let Sean reach the house before she did. She ran.

Back home, she retrieved the sealed container of lye and the key that she kept near the Book under her bed and hurried to the back of the house, to the large trunk beneath the eaves. She unlocked it and swung open the lid. The pungent air made her wince and cough a little. She unloaded her sack, took off the military cap, gazed longingly at the decomposing head festooned with seaweed, and laid it gently in the box. She sprinkled some lye on top of all the trunk’s contents and closed the lid. She also scattered some lye over the fluids leaking from between the thick wooden slats and paused for a moment. “They’re back together again, Mum, like ya said.”

Once back inside the house, she hung the hat behind a curtain that partitioned off one corner of the main room. She shut the windows on the trunk side of the house, cleaned up as best she could at the basin, and put water on for tea. Moments later, Sean’s wheels clattered on the path to her house.

“Darlin’ sister, ya need to take better care a the place. It smells to High Heaven, ya know.”

“The compost needs a bit a straw.”

“Straw? A healthy dose of buryin’ it needs… Well, I brought what food I could, an’ some laundry. Ya know how bad ‘tis with the Emergency an’ all. U boats. Patrol planes. As if a fisherman’s life isn’t hard enough. We ought ta leave this damn place. Go North.”

“Never.”

“People talk, Rose. ‘Tis hard to find customers for yer washin’ anymore.”

“Oh, they talk, do they?” Rose said, with a forceful “Heeeck!” at the end, a guttural sound, like a cat choking up a hairball. Her eyes flashed, “And what is it they’re sayin’?”

“Feck, ya know. Dumb rot. Yer a witch an’ all. Or a Selkie.”

“Selkie, me arse! Ya mean Finfolk! Sami! Heeeck! Like Mum!”

“Yeah, Rose, like Mother. God Rest Her Troubled Soul.”

“’Er soul isn’t troubled, Sean. Not the way ya mean it, anyhow.”

“An’ how would ya know that? She jumped off the damn cliff, she did. She’s as lost as Father was in the Great Storm a ’38, a Godfearin’ Man, Bless his Soul.”

“Ya don’t know it. No one saw ‘er. Went back to ‘er home is all she did.”

“Aw, Rose, ya know what they said about ‘er. They’re sayin’ the same about ya now. I fear someone’ll get a notion. And where’s Mother’s home, if not here?”

“Ya know’t in yer heart, Sean. Ya just won’t admit it.”

“Rose, ya talk crazy. She’s County Donegal right through.”

“Where’s ‘er folk then, Sean? How come Mum an’ Dad never talked about’m? Ya heard the stories of him goin’ out in the boat and comin’ back with ‘er. Mum’s from Inse Catt way back, an’ ‘er Folk are Lochlann Sami, the Finnar, belongin’ to the sea.”

Sean ignored Rose’s occult version of their family history and continued, “Rose, ya wander around all day mutterin’ an’ givin’ folks the eye. Ya sit on the beach whisperin’ to the seals. An’ at night ya stand on Imeall there keenin’ like a Banshee. Just like Mother, when Father died. Folks talk, Rose. Ya know what they think? About Mary?”

“Sean, I didn’t kill Mary. Heeeck! I’m guilty a other things, but not that.”

“Aw, Rose. Ya know. It’s people that’re saying, not me.”

They sat in silence for a while. Then Sean reminisced a little about their childhood and was surprised that she smiled thinly and even chuckled once. Before today, the weight of everything had seemed to crush the joy right out of her. They fell into a reverie and stared out the window at the horizon.

When Sean spoke again, it was to update her on the news: another volunteer from the village wounded, more difficulties with the food supplies, another Luftwaffe bombing of Dublin, rumors about when the Americans might enter the war.

“Oh, an’ Joseph says he needs his wash done quick this time, for Sunday Mass. He’s still sweet on ya, ya know, no matter how daft ya be, an’ even with all that’s happened. An’ I added me own best shirt to the load. The stain is a bit a blood from a scuff at the pub. Defendin’ yer name, if ya must know.”

“Certainly nothin’ new, that. Thank ya, Sean, but I don’t need defendin’. Tell Joe I’ll get his cloths to him quick this time. Tell’m he’s a good man too.”

They lapsed into another silence filled by the surf and by the distant barking of seals. Sean sighed and stood up to leave.

“Bless ya, darlin’ sister! May God Look Over Ya!”

“I don’t know about God. Heeeck! But Mum does.” Rose held up the wood carving of the Celtic knot that her mother had given her and that she always wore around her neck on a leather strap.

“I worry about ya being alone an’ all. I think it’s makin’ ya daft.”

“I’m not alone, Sean.”

Sean creased his brow. “The way ya talk, it scares me, Rose. I swear. Ya’ll make me a drinkin’ man for sure.”

“Yer already a drinkin’ man, Sean.” Rose paused and added, “An’ bless ya too. Yer concern touches me. Ya have Dad’s soft heart, but deep in yer soul I think ya got more a Mum in ya than I do. Ya just don’t know it.”

With that, he smiled, gave her a long hug, and left. Before he rode his bike down the hill toward the road, he yelled, “May The Saints Have Mercy, Rose, it stinks like the docks out here! When next I’m back, I’ll help ya with the compost!”

“Thank ya, Sean. Yer right. I’ll need a bit a help with that.”

Rose sat back down in the kitchen after Sean left and ran her fingers across the rough tabletop. Splinters poked at her fingertips, and she toyed with the hints of pain.

It had begun two years back, in 1939, on the night of Paddy’s send-off party. After mourning the loss of their parents for a year, Rose and Mary were ready to let go for an evening. When they arrived at the pub, they seemed, even to Rose, to be an unlikely pair. Each was beautiful in her way, but Mary was tall and solidly built, robust, with red hair and a ruddy complexion like her father and brother. Rose took after her mother – dark, exotic, and elfin. Her protruding almond-shaped eyes slanted slightly downward at the edges, and she had unusually pronounced webbing between her fingers and toes, a trait she shared with her mother.

Mary spent most of her time at the gathering sitting near the bar, talking and laughing with Paddy. Rose was the more spirited and mischievous of the two, and her deep brown eyes and long shiny black hair flashed with inner fire. She let herself be carried away by the music and drink, spinning her skirt out shamelessly on the dance floor, hissing into young men’s ears, and downing all the beer and whisky she was offered.

Paddy was going to war, one of the early Irish volunteers. He was the handsomest man in the village, desired by all, and betrothed to Rose’s sister Mary. Rose had been happy for them, despite the grim reports of war coming from the Continent, but tonight her spirit was set free by the alcohol. When Paddy left Mary at the bar to join the dancers, Rose whirled over to him through the crowd. They danced a vibrant reel together and everyone cheered, including Mary. Once the music stopped, Rose and Paddy laughed at each other through their drunken fog. Later, as the whisky overcame Rose, her legs began to buckle and she could barely stand. Paddy told Mary he would take her sister home and then come right back to the pub.

Since the loss of their father at sea and the subsequent disappearance of their mother, Mary and Rose had been living alone on the hill near Imeall, well outside the village. Paddy borrowed the baker’s lorry and drove it somewhat recklessly along the coast road. The final walk up the path to the house was strenuous, but Rose was light and Paddy strong. Her warm body next to his and her arms around his shoulders stroking his broad back stirred a sweet and dangerous yearning. At the house, he laid her tenderly on her bed, and she smiled up at him with half-lidded eyes. The Celtic knot lay between her breasts. He professed in tears that it was she he truly loved, not her sister. He had courted Mary just to be near Rose, but had been too afraid to approach Rose directly because of her wildness.

As she listened, Rose knew that she had wanted this to be true. She had often lingered over elaborate daydreams that ended with the two of them entwined like vines. She had even muttered to the Book a time or two, at the page of forbidden love, but never really believed there was any harm in it. Mary was her sister, a soul mate, and Paddy seemed totally devoted to her. Despite the spinning in her head, her stupor cleared enough that she could remember giving joyful consent. Their love was fierce and deep, and quickly consummated. Paddy had to reappear at the pub. He promised to write and straighten it all out, and she gave him the Celtic knot as a token of their new commitment. Paddy went back to his sendoff party and left early the next day for the Irish Guards.

It was a few months before Paddy’s first letters reached Mary and Rose, and they ignited a firestorm. Mary left the house in a fury to live with Paddy’s mother. She took to shouting dangerous things in public about the Book, about ancient chants and spells, about their mother teaching Rose the old Sami ways. Even though Paddy’s letter asked Mary to give the betrothal ring to Rose, Mary refused, appealing to Father O’Connell to exorcise the Devil from Rose and release Paddy from her spell. Rose ridiculed the priest but knew in her heart that her defiance vented from deep levels of shame and remorse.

The conflict raged for the better part of a year. In an effort at reconciliation, Rose asked Mary to meet her at Imeall one afternoon, and, to Rose’s surprise, Mary agreed. The sisters sat at the brink of the precipice and looked out toward the seal rock, trying to let the ocean breeze blow away some of the bad feeling. The betrothal ring on Mary’s hand sparkled in the Sun.

“How could ya do it, Rose? ‘Twas the Book, it was. Mother’s damn Book. Ya should burn it.”

“Don’t speak so a Mum’s Book, Mary. ‘Tis dangerous. But in truth, about Paddy, I love’m. ‘Tis no more Magic than ‘tis a human thing, ya know. I couldn’t help it. I feel a twistin’ in me gut about hurtin’ ya, but ‘tis in the world now. The Book only helped t’show what was.” Though her words held conviction, Rose felt mostly helpless as she stared out at the sea. A lone seal barked far away.

“Nae, Rose, by all that’s holy, Paddy’s mine. Father O’Connell, he says it. The whole town says it. Ya know what’s right, Rose. Ya know what our Father woulda said.”

Rose stood up. “Father were a good man, but I spit on the feckin’ priest. Heeeck!” And Rose spat on the ground. “Look a the sea, Mary. It don’t owe a thing to the Christ a Galilee. ’Tis the heart an’ spirit in all things, Mary. ‘Tis what matters. ‘An the sea says Paddy’s mine now.”

“The sea. Priests. Books. I spit on’m all, I do. Family, Rose! Yer me sister. How could ya betray blood between us? All me life, I thought ya loved me.”

“But, Mary, I love ya true, but what I feel about Paddy, it’s real too… If Paddy loves us both, maybe we both can have’m. ‘Tis a more common thing then people like t’say. ‘Tis only priests and matrons say it can’t be.”

With this, Mary’s face flushed crimson, and she jumped to her feet. “Rose, I won’t have any more a this crazy talk. If yer thinkin’ like this, yer no sister I know. ‘An I curse yer Mother’s Book. ‘Tis Devil’s work. She should not have given it to ya. It’s made ya witchy and dark like ‘er, it has. She’s no more me Mother, too. Poor Dad, God bless his soul. I’m goin’. I won’t speak t’ya no more.”

“Heeeck! Mary! Ya don’t know what yer sayin’!” Rose turned to the sea, “Mum, she don’t mean it!”

Mary started to leave. Rose, in desperation, grabbed Mary’s wrist and begged her to stay. Mary screamed and yanked her hand back. The cliff shifted beneath them after a particularly large wave. The rocks under Mary’s feet suddenly gave way. At the same moment, Rose lost her grip on Mary’s arm, and Mary toppled into the void beyond Imeall.

“Oh, Mary! Oh nae, Mum! Nae!”

The seals on the rock began to bark loudly, then jumped into the sea and swam toward the cliff. Rose collapsed, sobbing.

After heating a piece of toast over a burner of her stove, Rose began to work on the laundry that Sean had left. Being occupied with this mundane task kept her calm in the face of what she intended to do.

As she cranked the clean clothes through the wringer, a gull came looking for a snack in her compost pile and called out as if in answer to the squeaky rollers. Tears formed at the corners of Rose’s eyes. For someone with so much life squeezed out of her, Rose was amazed at how much and how often she was able to cry. She made a quick and thorough job of the washing before she lost the afternoon sunlight for drying. The clothesline was well away from the house, and a strong wind was blowing out towards the ocean. One by one she fought to attach the clothes to the line. It was as if all of them were trying to reach the sea.

Old Tom O’Malley had claimed that he saw the whole argument from his house and that Rose had bodily thrown Mary to her death. This seemed preposterous to some, because Rose was so much smaller than Mary, but it confirmed the worst thoughts of those who believed that Rose could summon unnatural powers. Rose pleaded for people to believe that Mary slipped on loose stones, and, in her grief, she swore it on her father’s honor. Although disconsolate at the growing losses in his family, Sean defended Rose, with his fists if he had to. He, with other fishermen, searched for Mary’s body by day, and by night he drowned his sorrow – for Mary, for Rose, for his parents – in generous amounts of Guinness and whiskey, to the point where Avril, his wife, left him and moved back to her family in Letterkenny.

Rose wrote to Paddy as clearly as she could about what had happened. She trusted in her pleadings with the Book and in Paddy’s love that he would believe her, but Paddy’s feelings became twisted by his own guilt, and in the end he accepted the version of the story written to him by his mother. In his last letter to Rose, a few months after Mary’s death, he condemned Rose for a witch, renounced his vow, and returned the Celtic necklace. A monstrous anger ignited within Rose, and she said fiery and explosive words, by candlelight, over the darkest pages of the Book.

Soon after, in June 1940, official news of a calamitous event cast the deepest shadows over the village and blackened Rose’s soul. As reported in The Donegal News & Derry People:

“Shortly after midnight on May 15, while carrying the 1st Battalion Irish Guards of the 24th Brigade, the H.M.T. Chrobry was attacked and set ablaze by German bombers near Skaanland, Norway. Paddy Maquire of the Slieve League region, originally of County Fermanagh, is officially missing at sea, presumed dead. All other volunteers in the 24th from County Donegal survived, but the following were injured…”

Paddy’s body was never recovered, but an eyewitness from the village said in a letter home that he had seen him blown clean off the vessel.

When she heard about Paddy’s fate, Rose detached herself completely from the world of ordinary folk. She wore the Celtic knot always, even when swimming in the sea, and she spent much of her time wandering alone on the beaches and cliffs, talking to the seals in the water, sometimes with the Book in her hands.  After the first time she had the dream about the bombers, a gift for her arrived on the beach in the cove near her house. A voice coming from the water told her then what she had to do to put everything right.

The clothes dried quickly in the strong breeze. Before sunset, Rose ironed them, wrapped them tidily in brown paper, and penciled Joe’s name on the bundle. She put Sean’s shirt on top and left it all on the shelf by the door. Then, with heavy heart, she turned to the task ahead.

“Mum, give me strength.”

Before the sunlight faded, a Waxing Moon, almost Full, rose over the hills and shone into the East windows. Rose gathered cleaning liquid and a candle for extra light, retrieved the army cap from behind the curtain, and sat at the table. She carefully removed the tarnished cap star of the Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick from the hat and cleaned the wool and the metal star as best she could. She rubbed some grease on the visor to bring out a shine. Rose walked, with the hat, back to the corner of the room and pulled the curtain back entirely.

Hanging there in the corner was an essentially complete battledress uniform of the 1st Irish Guards. It had rips, holes, burns, and stains that Rose did not have the material or skills to fix entirely, but she had done well enough to honor who and what it represented. She even had the boots and the Sam Browne belt with cross strap. She put the hat with the uniform and left the curtain drawn so she could see it all hanging there. Then she reached in the jacket pocket and pulled out Mary’s betrothal ring.

Rose went into her bedroom and brought out a sheet of paper, an envelope, her mother’s Book, and the key to the trunk. She set the cap star and Mary’s ring next to the Book in front of her. She paused a long time, not sure what to say. Sean would have a difficult time no matter what she wrote. By force of habit, beat into her by the Sisters of Mercy, she put her best Catholic schoolgirl English into the letter.

Dearest Brother,

I’m sorry to burden you, Sean. If the sea doesn’t keep me, bury me here, near Imeall. I’m leaving Paddy’s St. Patrick’s star and Mary’s ring. These were gifts. I didn’t steal them. Some night soon, nail them to the trunk out back, weight it with stones, and throw it over the cliff. I am not strong enough, but it must be done. I won’t rest in peace unless you do it. Please don’t look inside. You don’t need to know what’s in there. Bury Mum’s Book with me, so it causes no more harm.

Sean, you’re a blameless soul, like Father. Pray for us all in your own way. I hope Mum helps you like she helped me. If all goes as I’ve been told, there will be signs of healing, and you’ll know I’m happy.

Love,

Rose

When she was done, Rose put the letter, the star, and the ring in the envelope and sealed it. She picked up the Book. It glowed in her hands as she opened it for the last time and turned to the last few pages, the ones that dealt with the hardest things. She read the old runes in a whispery chant and invoked the names of her mother, Mary, and Paddy. She paused for a minute, added a few whispers for her father, and then surprised herself by reciting the Lord’s Prayer for him dutifully, like a good daughter.

The Moon was approaching the meridian in the Southern sky. It would soon be midnight. Rose got up from the table and went to the basin, in which there was still grey rinse water from the laundry. Leaving the Celtic knot around her neck, she undressed, got a washcloth, and fit herself into the tub. She cleaned herself slowly and thoroughly and brushed her hair clear of tangles.

When she stood up, with bubbles of foam slipping down her back and thighs, her skin shone like varnished wood in the combined light of the candle and the Moon. She dried herself and walked to the corner where the uniform hung. After gazing for a while at the marvel of it, she began to put it on. The wool felt scratchy as a hair shirt on her bare skin, and she relished the faint odors that clung to it, odors of death and the sea.

The uniform was oversized for her, but she cinched it up with cords. She grabbed the trunk key from the table and put it in the jacket pocket, hoping to make it more difficult for Sean to look in the trunk by taking the key with her. She wore several pairs of socks to make the boots fit tight, and, even with her hair folded up into the hat, she had to stuff in wads of paper to set it firmly on her head. When she judged by the location of the Moon that it was midnight, she went outside and walked to Imeall.

Lingering above the roaring surf, Rose poured out one long howl. As the echoes died away, she felt finally at peace again with the cliffs, the stars, the Moon, and the sea. Rose murmured the Sami words for Moon, Sea, and Mother. “Mannu… Mearra… Eadni.” As she leaned over Imeall and surrendered her balance, she called out: “I’m only half Finfolk, Mum, but let me be near ya always!”

At about noon the next day, Sean found and opened the envelope. When Mary’s ring dropped out, he felt a chill run down his spine. After reading the letter he started shouting his sister’s name and ran to the cliff. He scanned the coast until he saw Rose’s body wallowing in a tide pool in the cove. As he scrambled down to the beach, his adrenaline rush turned to dark bewilderment when it became clear to him that his dead sister was wearing an Irish Guard uniform. Although he knew that she had probably been dead for many hours, Sean dragged Rose from the pool and tried to revive her. Then he rocked her in his lap and let the tears stream out.

A plan solidified in his mind. He knew that if any of the villagers saw her dressed like this they would believe it to be a truly horrible form of devilment, confirming the worst that they had always thought about Rose and his mother. Although he was now thinking the same dire thoughts, he could not allow others to dishonor them.

Fortunately, Rose was relatively light, even wearing a wet woolen uniform. He slung her over his shoulder and held her there with one hand while guiding himself up the treacherous path with the other. When he got to the house, he laid out some rags and towels and put Rose’s body on the floor. He then gathered some of her work clothes, which he found lying next to the half full washbasin, and hurried back to the cliff and down the steep path to the beach. He drenched her clothes in the surf and returned to the house.

Changing Rose’s clothes was a challenge to his modesty, but he treated it as a funeral rite and tried not to dwell on her body. He did notice, however, that she had remarkably few bruises and contusions for someone who had jumped from a cliff. It also surprised him that she was not wearing the Celtic knot he had always seen around her neck for the past year.

The military hat came off easily in his hands. It was hard for Sean to believe it could it have stayed on her when she hit the water or when the violent surf tossed her about on the rocks. He found the key in the jacket pocket as he was folding the uniform, and he laid it on the table, with a passing hint of curiosity.

When Sean was done, he gathered up anything others might find suspicious – the uniform, the Book, Rose’s letter, the star, and the ring – hid them next to the trunk out of sight, and then pedaled into town. Sean knew that Rose wanted to be buried near the ocean and not in the Catholic cemetery, but he could not show anyone her strange letter to confirm her suicidal intent. Fortunately, although he had no concrete proof that he could share, it turned out to be an easy thing for the villagers to accept.

Rose was buried the next day, during a light drizzle, on a flat area down away from her house in the direction of Imeall. About a dozen people attended, mostly men showing their support for Sean. Several of them, like Joseph, had also been sweet on Rose, attracted by her exotic darkness and flirtatious nature. Three of the swarthy fishermen who had helped dig the grave, including Joseph, offered to shovel it in, but Sean declined. He told them he wanted to finish the job by himself, and he promised he would meet his mates later that evening in the pub for a proper grieving.

Once everyone was out of sight, Sean took the pile from next to the trunk and sat with it at the kitchen table. He put the letter, the star, and the ring aside, next to the key. The Book was bound in brown sharkskin leather, now splotchy with age. Celtic patterns lavishly embossed on the cover were interwoven with other symbology, embellishments that had a more eldritch look and seemed disquietingly familiar, as if from memories of childhood dreams. The pages inside were richly illuminated to suggest what the ancient runes on them might be about. What had seemed at first to be pages drab with age began to sparkle in extraordinary colors that shone from inside with their own radiance.

Sean’s trance did not snap until some time later, when he turned the last page and closed the Book. Although he could not read the runes in a conscious way, somehow the Book had made sense to him. “Mother a God, protect me,” he murmured. Then he heard the patter of a hard rain on the roof and remembered the uncovered grave. “God in Heaven. Feck! The time!”

Sean jumped from his seat and wrapped the uniform, the letter, and the Book in a dry cloth. Outside, he eased himself down into the muddy grave and laid the package gently on top of the coffin over where he judged Rose’s heart to be. He paused and surprised himself by whispering some sounds that came to him in a language he did not know. He got out and started filling the grave.

It took Sean a couple of days to sober up enough to honor Rose’s peculiar request concerning the trunk. He had already assessed that, in addition to stinking, it was extremely heavy and in some danger of falling apart due to a dampness that saturated the wood and oozed through the planking. So he showed up mid-afternoon one day in old clothes with a dilapidated wooden cart, material from old sails, lengths of rope, and pieces of netting. He went into the house to take care of a few things and noticed the key from the pocket of the uniform still sitting on the table. He stared at it for a while before realizing that it must be the key to the trunk. Up to that moment, curious though he was about the trunk, Sean had never dreamed of violating Rose’s wishes by looking inside. He had not forgotten about the uniform, and had ominous thoughts about the trunk’s contents, but had not wanted to know. Now, seeing the key before him, he decided maybe he was meant to.

Sean brooded over the trunk for several minutes, then finally inserted the key and turned. With a little jiggling, the rusty lock popped open. When he lifted the trunk’s lid, appalling sights and smells assaulted him. He stepped back and turned away, shouting “Jesus, Mary, an’ Joseph! The Fecking Devil, Rose!”

As best Sean could tell, the trunk contained the disjointed pieces of one or more human bodies, badly decomposed and partially liquefied by the lye. Sean grew dizzy from the gory bizarreness of what he saw. His lightheadedness was aggravated by the smell, which reminded him of the stench wafting from heaps of dead fish after a Red Tide.

As he stared, what he saw seemed to rearrange itself, with scintillating outlines tracing the shapes of the pieces as they once were. He could sense, without knowing exactly how, that there were two bodies, one male and one female, intimately commingled. A horror gripped him, even through his preternatural trance, as the skulls assumed the contours of Mary and Paddy’s faces.

Sean needed several hours over a quart of whisky, which he had providently brought with him, before he could act again. By the time he stirred, it had grown darker. The Sun had dipped down and the Moon, waning now, had not yet quite risen. Conventional morality and his unequivocal devotion to family, especially to his sister Rose, were at war within him. As he was about to take the last swig of whisky, a vision of Rose holding the Book appeared suddenly before his eyes. “Mother of God!” He put the bottle down. The vision faded, but a single compelling idea crystallized and pushed all others aside: his obligation of blood loyalty to carry out his sister’s last wishes.

Sean went outside, locked the trunk without looking inside again, and nailed the eight-fold St. Patrick’s star and Mary’s ring securely to the lid. He swaddled the trunk in the old sails and tied it tightly with ropes in the hope that it would not fall apart when it hit the water or was tossed by the waves onto the rocks at the cliff’s base. It was difficult, but he leveraged the whole thing onto the small cart. He pulled the ropes attached to the front of the cart like a horse. The Moon was now just clear of the hills in the East. Sean stopped the cart several meters from the brink, and he gathered up big rocks, put them in the netting, and secured them to the trunk to ensure that it would sink. He walked up to Imeall and looked over. The cliff shadowed the water from the moonlight. He could only sense the tumult below from its sound and from the saltiness wafting upward as seawater battered into tiny droplets. He walked back behind the cart and gave it a running start. There was no sound until the final splash.

Over the next few days, pieces of the cart appeared as driftwood on the neighboring beaches, but nothing of the trunk or its contents washed ashore. Sean eventually moved himself into Rose and Mary’s house. Rose’s grave was still unadorned, and he felt an urge to make the marker himself. He got a rectangular board of kiln-dried ash heartwood. It had a dark olive-brown color that made it look like leather. Sean borrowed some woodworking tools from a friend and began carving elaborate decorations around the name “Rose,” which itself was fashioned out of curving branches that sprouted leaves and braided vines to join the bordering patterns. Except for Rose’s name, it resembled what he had seen on the Book’s cover.

He had never done carving like this before, but he could somehow discern the pattern lurking just beneath the surface of the wood. All he had to do was trace it carefully with a newfound deftness in his fingers. As he worked, he couldn’t help noticing—with not a small amount of unease—that the webbing between his fingers looked more pronounced than it used to. “Feck! For sure, I’m goin’ daft, I am.”

The Third Quarter Moon rose up from behind the hills as Sean worked on the plaque well past midnight. Glancing out the window at the newly illuminated view, Sean was startled to see five figures standing over Rose’s grave, one at the head and the other four around the foot. Two of them had a smaller stature than the other three, with the shortest standing at the head of the grave. He watched, mesmerized, while each figure in turn bent down and seemed to touch the grave.

It occurred to him, through the amber haze of his drunkenness, that they might be some local hooligans bent on desecrating the “witch’s” grave. He jumped up and grabbed the oil lamp from the table, but by the time he got to the door, they were gone. He cursed aloud, “Bloody Wounds a Christ, what’s this now?” As he approached the grave at a brisk pace, Sean swung the oil lamp back and forth every way the visitors could have gone or might be hiding. When he reached the grave and shined the light on it to see whether any mischief had been done, he was brought to his knees.

There, on the otherwise undisturbed earthen mound, were five things: Mary’s ring, the cap star of the Irish Guards, Rose’s Celtic knot necklace, the rosary beads their father carried when he went to sea, and, at the very head of the grave, the Book. Despite all he had seen and experienced so far, Sean had managed to keep his inner keel fairly even. Now, he was pulled from his moorings by a tidal wave of new feelings.

The Book radiated brightly as if touched by St. Elmo’s fire, and it drew him in until he could see little creatures dancing in the flames. His senses heightened a hundredfold. He could discern every rock and blade of grass on the distant hills, feel the slight breeze lifting each hair on his head and arms, hear Old Tom O’Malley walking in his socks on the squeaky floorboards of his house.

Sean felt his capsized spirit right itself within these powerful new currents. He was at home in the world for the first time. The many arcane things his mother had told him as a child returned with a new significance. She had warned that if he let himself enter the Real World, he would never be able to leave it. Now the voices of his ancestors, going back to the dawn of time, whispered on the wind and filled his soul.

Seals barked in the distance. Sean got off his knees and walked to the top of Imeall. The rumble of the waves vibrated up through his feet and into his chest as if his pulse were just an extension of the churning sea.

With acuity he would not have believed possible before, he could see a small pod of seals in the water out beyond the edge of the cliff’s long shadow. They were all looking directly at him. He could even see the tiny images of the Moon glinting in their eyes.

They continued to bark. Sean smiled and called out to them, with a hearty laugh, “All right, all right, on with ya then.” As they swam away, Sean sat down at the edge of the cliff. Letting his legs dangle over, he watched the moonlight play on the waves until the first soft glow of dawn.

Richard H. Durisen has lived in Bloomington since 1976 when he joined Indiana University’s Department of Astronomy as a theoretical astrophysicist. He retired in the summer of 2010 after 34 years on the faculty, with over a hundred refereed scientific publications. Since retirement, after family, friends, and travel, he has devoted his time mostly to creative writing, including poetry and short stories. His work has appeared in 713 Flash (Kazka Press), Disturbed Digest, Illumen, and The Sentinel, the newsletter of the Monroe County Civil War Roundtable).

Illustration by Ali Maidi.

The Ryder ◆ July 2014

Fiction: Animals Begin On The Porch In Days And Nights Of Dark War

Illustration by Ali Maidi

by Willis Barnstone

For Bruno Shulz (1892-1942)

Animals begin on the porch. My daughter sees them first and she says they come in all sizes and they are goats, but my son says no they are deer, perfectly-formed deer who have come in from the forests and their coats are immaculately clean pelts of Irish setters but they are certainly not dogs, and I wonder what is happening to my son’s and daughter’s eyes, because I can see they are horses, and possibly Egyptian animal deities of revenge and resurrection, and I wonder why these live statues have settled here on our porch in days and nights of dark war in far continents, live gods in our house in 1942 when our people are also contending; and while we are descending the porch the animals we’ve just spotted vanish yet we are all now in the sloping fields, family and many more animals or maybe deities, and we are walking slowly up these meadows of grass and wildflowers, and I am frightened, not of the still horses who are certainly figures of grace but of my own body, because suddenly they take all the juice out of me, and I am thinner than usual and can barely stand and ask my daughter if I can hang onto her, and my son comes to my other side and we move a bit higher when we notice a car, an old-fashioned car for the year 1942, since it is a rich man’s car from the Packard or Hudson or Pierce Arrow days of fancifully named mechanical masterpieces, and outside the vehicle stands a veiled attractive lady, very dark because of her black triangular dress and her triangular hat, and she and her husband, surely a ruddy Irishman with panther eyes, are huddling around their Packard with its red leather interior, trying to coax sunrays against the black enamel of the doors to make them sparkle with purple haze like princess trees in the afternoon.

Under the couple’s feet the fields are violets as on an English king’s speckled overcoat, but they glance forlornly at us, and they are bored and we are penniless, which alarms me because we have come from a house, our big chic house, yet those horses, the perfectly tiny ones and the huge ones who look at us, seem to sap all my energy and wealth, though not my hunger to be alive, and I suppose that, being bored, the curious couple wants our company, and Tony tells me they have asked him if perhaps we would possibly like to eat with them, and my son says yes we would be delighted, and I am pleased because the horses leave me emaciated even though they are creations of grace and beauty, without cruelty or malice, with no desire to see us murdered by famine and poverty or so wasted that we can’t move.

So we all begin to walk, still with pleasure, up the hill while the horses remain in place, but there are always more good beasts ahead of us, greeting us with pleasant silence. I’ve turned as skinny as a child but am happy that they bring adventure and wonder into our existence until I recognize that we are rambling in another continent since right ahead of us are young Gestapo officers blocking our way, and they do not appear horrible as in the films and they have no intention to burn us alive or have us dig death pits and pop us off, one bullet per body, in our open graves, but it is not as if they want to speak to us about art and poets, which, after all, many Germans like to do when they remember good old days and the celestial imaginations of their syphilitic lyrical creators Hölderlin, Heine, Schubert, and Nietzsche.

Most prominent about the officers are their glimmering jackboots, not in strict goosestep, since wildflowers are stuffed just below the knee in their combat boots and petals are flittering in the wind and the knife-eyed SS can’t see these meadow wildflowers, nor the Tibetan vultures and Mongolian ponies nibbling funeral carnations also stuffed in their boots. Humming black hymns, the surrounding animals are busy burying bundles of boots together with funeral carnations in the sky and also right under the soldiers’ romping feet. In a flash the captains and lieutenants are naked, hairy all over fat bodies, their jockstraps stuffed in their mouths, and from their tiny brown penises hang bags of creamy foreskins and white scorpions. The sun turns into black sackcloth and the full moon into blood and the SS vanish like a scroll rolling up and disappearing beneath the Black Sea. But then in a flash everything is normal. The Tibetan vultures and the Mongolian ponies around the Nazi warriors disappear instead, the afternoon is its weird self, and the reclothed officers go on doing nothing in their regular shit-brown uniforms and glimmering jackboots.

Amid a few stone horses, Heinrich Himmler’s racially elite SS are in our way but they ignore us. The paramilitary death squads can’t see us. We walk through them as if through a wall. Perhaps our protector equines intimidated them, grabbed some of their powers and made us invisible too. The Einsatzkommandos in Poland are known for on-sight shooting of musicians holding their instruments and of painters holding their brushes yes in the middle of performance or creation or house-building, but for now one might suppose they are innocently confining their curiosity to looting famous paintings from museums and enjoying the sun. The off duty SS are horsing around on the meadows, letting go in slow motion, drowning in lager, unaware that invisible equine beasts are observing them and that in the future—in five years—the horses will perform their own withering nightmare attack on Einsatzgruppen executioners on the run from the law, in safehouses, in Berlin, Buenos Aires and Assunción, Paraguay, and that with Jehovah’s anger these equine demiurgic foes of the humorless brownshirts will spit out fire and abominations on the skulking boots, and inflict on them a trial, a cell, and a noose in Warsaw.

The casual loafing around outside a town, a major town in southeast Poland with a large Jewish population, does not seem to match the hidden snapshot of German command officers, and I hardly imagine that being cool and nonchalant can be the perfect uniform for SS (Gestapo) and SA (Storm Troopers), whose mission is execution. More, they keep good records, proving how commonplace they are when they are doing their job. Take SS captain Felix Landau, who will be of special interest. He writes in his diary about daily routine three months before our gang of five happen into his command terrain:

12 July 1941. At 6:00 in the morning I was suddenly awoken from a deep sleep. Report for an execution. Fine, so I’ll just play executioner and then gravedigger, why not?… Twenty-three had to be shot, amongst them … two women … We had to find a suitable spot to shoot and bury them. After a few minutes we found a place. The death candidates assembled with shovels to dig their own graves. Two of them were weeping. The others certainly have incredible courage… Strange, I am completely unmoved. No pity, nothing. That’s the way it is and then it’s all over… Valuables, watches and money are put into a pile… The two women are lined up at one end of the grave ready to be shot first… As the women walked to the grave they were completely composed. They turned around. Six of us had to shoot them. The job was assigned thus: three at the heart, three at the head. I took the heart. The shots were fired and the brains whizzed through the air. Two in the head is too much. They almost tear it off.

Who are those equine ghosts who drop us into the demon’s jaws? I don’t know. Are they salvific friends? I suspect them of fable. Somehow they come at a time of stupid slaughter by the brain-damaged Goths. I bought a book of short stories by a nameless Polish writer, who caused uproar in my blood and a primal walk into hell. Call him Bruno or Bronislaw or Bron. A child of passion from a mother who dies at his birth, Bruno Schulz possesses genius, he is a natural, but at the peak of his brief literary career, the Luftwaffe is air-bombing Poland brutally and Storm Troopers are black cobras spreading over the countryside, including Bruno’s birth town. Bruno writes and paints until his art vanishes on a whim.

But to be fair, the actors playing Gestapo in these scenes don’t invent terror. All religious scriptures are soaked in the blood of death squads upholding the faith. Death squads are the noble protectors, the enforcers for a sojourn of torture in hell, on the Buddhist walls of the Potala in Lhasa and in Dante’s cold chambers of the Inferno. In Rome, the Italian astronomer and mathematician Giordano Bruno dares to write that the earth circles the sun. Declared a heretic, Bruno is gagged and bound to a stake and he tastes papal fire in the Campo dei Fiori in Rome in 1600. In keeping with his noble precursors, my companion Bruno is a target of Gestapo fury; he is guilty of being a Jew.

My Bruno is real yet I see him as a birdman, a mythic condor with immaculate feathers made of lace clouds, who passes his years as the overhead watch eagle, an ancient dirigible below the clouds, who is the benevolent and beautiful master of all rosewood-colored horse deities in Poland, Belorussia, and Ukraine. But that is Bruno speaking, not me. The author is a temporal mortal born in 1892 in Drohobych, by the Ukrainian border, a town in the Austro-Hungarian Pale whose inhabitants are forty percent Jews, the remainder Poles and Ukrainians. Of the eighteen thousand prewar Jews, four hundred survive the multiple massacres. After the war they immigrate. The town is clean. In his youth Bruno studies architecture in Vienna, and thereafter remains in this Galician city that keeps changing name, nationality, border, and language.

Bruno comes from a family of assimilated Jews and, unlike the Hasids who stick to Yiddish, which is medieval Alsacian German, he composes in Polish, his household language. Modest Bruno—or is he Bron or Bronnislav?—evasive Bruno is black light and illumination. This high school art teacher is solitary and shows his stories to no one near him, but does write to a faraway secret reader, to a poet medical doctor in Lvov, Deborah Vogel, the bird. It doesn’t make him nervous to write secretly to a songbird he doesn’t know (he never tells his high school colleagues he is an author) and he composes, each mythic letter about his town and its orphans and its grandfathers, and his father, a fantastic scientist, who sits each night on the broad cobbled bricks at the bottom of the chimney and discovers and tracks threatening wild cosmic comets hurtling toward the earth. He warns people to stay at home until the sky dinosaur hits devastatingly on the planet or hops off into the infinite pleroma.

His pen pal Lily Vogel pieces his epistolary masterpieces together, encouraging him for more. She nourishes him with manna. Eventually, he gives his wisdom tales to a leading novelist who gives them to a publisher, and thereby his mythopoetic letters of unknown eccentric loners in a demiurgic world are published and to grand success. Critics say he is the best between-the-wars author. The Polish Academy of Literature awards him its highest prize and he is no longer alone but acclaimed by a coterie who threaten his solitude, yet he remains the hermit, the great heresiarch of central Europe. Even when the German troops enter and Polish writer friends give him false papers and money to escape, he does not escape from the ghetto where he is imprisoned with the other Jews, and his writing frees him from self-captivity. The same SS officer Felix Landau likes his drawings and paintings and protects him for a season.

Ich persönlich werde Ihnen eine Genehmigung zum Verlassen des Gebiets, sagte Laundau. 

I personally will give you a permit to leave your area, said Laundau.

Ja, Bruno antwortete.

Yes, Bruno answered.

And Landau gives the teacher a permit to leave the ghetto and comes to his house and paints a grand mural for his children’s room.

By now Bruno is fifty, one year older than my father in 1942, and there is terror in the air and Bruno has no tiny or behemoth horses to take the energy or jackboots away from the ordinary SS soldiers who are slaughtering Jews in the streets, any Jew face they can find. That strange appearance and disappearance of the horses is ominous and comic like the high octave of Bruno’s tales and when the planet is collapsing the octave drops with tragic hilarity as when before a shower you kill a stray ant on the tub. As we walk I see that Bruno is my father, but I grow up in other continents, yet he is my father, and I am lucky to have him as a father, unlike Bruno who has a faraway fiancée and no children. But why feel sorry for Bruno the mythic visionary, who is not alone since no one is alone, and the recluse Bruno reads Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, and knows what it is to be a kidnapped brother. The Pole adds many stories about quadrupeds, reptiles and birds to his collection and they crawl out of his collection into the meadows and bellow a secret music that deafens ears of even the friends he creates and the animals in the field fall asleep, yet in the end he weakens nobody who lives in his stories.

Bruno has written a novel called Messiah, which is of a man who is always a child, a youth on the earth whom we should emulate by maturing into childhood, but the boy is himself, not the heavenly messiah and therefore he is the earthly messiah, and Bruno entrusts all his papers to a friend, including his novel, just in case something happens to him.

My daughter and son and I keep walking, and we are glad that now we are a comforting group of five and there are all these tiny and big horses near us, though I wonder if they can truly protect us, and after all we aren’t Poles or Russians or from Ukraine and why would we need protection? But suddenly the horses start to disappear, the elephantine ones and the delicate ones, and their color remains in my eyes, and I regain my physical strength again, yet I realize that there is at last no hope for us, for any of us to tell this story, because all our rising meadow leads into a street and the street into a town, Bruno’s provincial town of Drohobych in southeast Poland, now Ukraine, and I remember with fierce intensity that my grandfather Michal was born in 1860 in Drohobych, finishes the yeshiva there before he floated over the Atlantic to Boston, and yes unlike sixteenth-century Bruno, who never is released from his dungeon, Bruno the art teacher has a protector and can leave the ghetto and paints and he isn’t burned alive. Nor is Bruno burned alive like all the Jews herded into huts and temples in the Ukraine, since my hero falls when he ventures outside his SS officer’s house to buy a loaf of bread, when a rival SS Kommandant jealous of his protection fells the philosopher Bruno in the street with two bullets to the head, and on this “Black Thursday,” 19th of November, 1942, there are another one hundred forty-nine Jews shot in the streets, and when I see the bodies I discover with disbelief and displeasure that my son and my daughter and even our rich hosts, who are to buy us a fine meal for sharing our company since they are bored and we are talking art and poetry, they are all lying on the street with me shot dead in my grandfather’s town, but fortunately one of Bruno’s good friends has seen the writer’s body and at night when no one is there takes the body and buries it in the Jewish cemetery, though the cemetery disappears along with the Messiah and all the other writings given to a writer friend because she too disappears like the rest, and the animals on the porch and the meadows and in the city streets begin to howl night and day, and, behold, later a museum is built by the Poles to house Bruno’s celebrated letters and whatever saved stories are found in magazines and his drawings and even remnants of the mural he painted for his protector the SS Einsatzkommando, and the Poles are good and honor the Polish violoncellist of the word Bruno as a visionary, their grand mythic fabulist in the decades between the wars, and hearing the animals still howling I am sad to be dead near him and sad that he cannot fulfill his myth of the novel, and infinitely more than sad it breaks my heart, I am heartbroken that Bruno can’t live a long life and waken us to the hermitage of a comic mind that is more cosmic than an orphanage on clouds, and if he had lived he would have unraveled the knot of the soul and informed us of the image, but Bruno knows that art must never assume a knowledge of revelation, only an ignorance that keeps us moving, that makes us go further inside and color the darkness, and isn’t that salvation enough? And so I am not that terrified or sad because I hardly know him when I start seeing the horses which my children think are goats or deer and that lead us to discovery, and we don’t seem now to be truly dead because I am telling you of a new voice, which is always wondrous to discover, and I am thrilled and hopeful, but know I am dead because we are also shot and we are lying very still with our beautiful hermit Bruno, the secret and solitary Bruno, whom I envy for his purity.

Willis Barnstone, born in Lewiston, Maine, and educated at Bowdoin, the Sorbonne, Columbia and Yale, taught in Greece at end of civil war (1949-51), in Buenos Aires during the Dirty War, and in China during Cultural Revolution, where he was later a Fulbright Professor in Beijing(1984-85) Former O’Connor Professor of Greek at Colgate University, he is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Indiana University. A Guggenheim fellow, he has received the NEA, NEH, Emily Dickinson Award of the PSA, Auden Award of NY Council on the Arts, Midland Authors Award, four Book of the Month selections, four Pulitzer nominations. His work has appeared in APR, Harper’s, NYRB, Paris Review, Poetry, New Yorker, TLS. Author of seventy books, recent volumes are Poetics of Translation (Yale, 1995), The Gnostic Bible (Shambhala, 2003), Life Watch (BOA, 2003), Border of a Dream: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado (2004), Restored New Testament (Norton, 2009), Stickball on 88th Street (Red Hen Press, 2011), Dawn Café in Paris (Sheep Meadow, 2011), The Poems of Jesus Christ (Norton, 2012), ABC of Translation (Black Widow Press, 2013), Borges at Eighty (New Directions Press, 2013).

Illustration by Ali Maidi.

The Ryder ◆ July 2014

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