KHURRAM

Jen Shipley

SIDDIQI
305 with

ENGLISH

2

Contents
Prose
Turnpike…………………………………………………………………………..………..3 Turnpike (revised)………………………………………………………………………....17

Poetry
Pencil…………………………………………………………………………...…………33 Pencil (revised)…………………………………………………………………....……….34 Orange Mocha…………………………………………………………………………….35 Orange Mocha (revised)…………………………………………………………………...37 Trinket and Us……………………………………………………………………………39 Trinket and Us (revised)…………………………………………………………………..43 Mellow Spring……………………...……………………………………………………..47 Fat Man…………………………………….……………………………………………..48 The Fall……………………….…………………………………………………………..50

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Turnpike

The toll way, ever since its completion, had been a great blessing for Valley Forge. It was because of such things in life, as the Pennsylvania Turnpike, that people like Stan could earn an extra buck or two, every now and then. For him, now and then were Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons. Stan was definitely a part time person. He went to auto-mechanic school part time. He went to church part time. He even did his laundry part time, and at times it showed. He also worked part time. Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, he worked at the Mobil gas station just off of Finkle. Tuesdays and Sundays, he worked the radio station. The rest of the week, he lived just about as free and productive as the yellow, fuzzy sparrows he watched pretty much all the time through the radio station window on Sundays. Tuesdays however, he couldn’t really see much out of them; he worked the night shift.

WPAP, or “The Daddy” as it was sometimes called by the grand total of six employees that worked there, cast its telegraphic spell over whatever parts of Pennsylvania fell within 5-6 miles to either side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, between about exits seventy-four through seventy-nine. Not that WPAP had a short transmission range; it was just that there really wasn’t much civilization between the stretch, hence only the handful of exits. Valley Forge was exit seventy-four, and the next exit, well, who cared about the next town; Valley Forge was sizzling and happening enough. With 2 bars, one of which had been closed for the past four months in the name of renovation, one Seven-Eleven (which was miraculously not run or owned by an Indian family) and but a single record-, not CD; record-store, Valley Forge had a nightlife bettered by perhaps only a handful of cities. Perhaps. The Mobil gas station was the only thing open past ten at night. Dr. Sawyer was the only medical practitioner around, and the only reason the men of Valley Forge ever risked going to him was to hit on Nancy, an early thirty-something spinster with

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nice teeth, blonde hair, a fine waist and a sensual way of touching patients’ chests with both fingers and cold metal of stethoscope. She was the only woman in town that came close to being an entertainer. It was in this town that Stan Reijko had grown up; the only child of immigrant parents that both met early, but dignified deaths. Bernard and Sharon Reijko once left little Stan home alone sleeping; all two and a half years’ worth of toddler still cuddled in the middle of the bed. The bar that was now closed for renovation; that was where they went. That was where they drank that night. That was where they celebrated; celebrated nothing, really. They were just happy to be alone once again; there was no baby Reijko between them. Things got steamy once the bar closed, and the two decided to drive far from town that night…the urge to make love in nature was strong. Heck, the urge to make love anywhere is always strong when you’re drunk. The weather was colder than the two found hospitable, and decided to keep the action limited to the car cabin. Attempting a maneuver that later proved too erotic to be tried on the cracking blue leather of an Oldsmobile backseat, Sharon’s wild left hand slapped the left door handle hard, throwing it open far and wide. What came in was cold February air. What came out first was her nude back, with only her lacy black bra rolled together into a thick band just below her breasts. Slipping out of the car (leather and sweat are such a poor combination for traction), Bernard was caught off guard (who wouldn’t be in the midst of such heat?) and slid out with his significant other’s legs beneath him. Falling to the gravel beneath the car, one wrong turn on Sharon’s behalf is what ended the whole game for the two. The trouble you see was the romantic location Bernard had chosen for their session: a cliff overlooking rural Pennsylvania, somewhere close to where exit eighty-something on the Turnpike would now be. Her little twist matched their twist of fate; they both rolled over the edge, then down the hill with increasing speed. They were both dead long before their bodies tumbled to a rest

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some two hundred feet below, and the only being that noticed their synchronized final performance was an owl in a tree that noticed the dust cloud they left in their dying wake.

Stan got the coffee brewing in Old Faithful. He had given the coffeemaker that name because the gurgling noises it made reminded him of a fountain the people at Yellowstone National Park called a geyser, that he visit last year, or some considerable amount of time like that ago. WPAP broadcast at 1530 kilohertz, and was responsible for keeping Turnpike motorists up to date only with weather and traffic news. For the most part, Stan new knew his listener ship consist of only himself; nobody really used AM these days. And even if they do, it’s not long before the same news repeated over and over again about traffic congestion and weather patterns bore them into changing stations. The only times more people tuned in was when he flipped the Star. The Star was a bright orange push button located beside the main transmitter. Toggling it turned on two flashing yellow lights some three miles down the Turnpike, towards Philadelphia that is, that were mounted on a large reflective-green sign that looked smaller from a car windscreen than it was in real, reading “TUNE TO AM 1530 WHEN LIGHTS FLASHING”. Yes sir, Stan and his crew knew how to grab attention when they needed it. The shifts here at the radio station were long and not surprisingly, phenomenally boring, but they paid a soothing eight dollars and thirty-five cents per hour worked. Walking over to the black fax machine, he tugged out two sheets’ worth of fax paper that had comfortably rolled into each other. The Central Turnpike Services office just outside Philadelphia faxed, at regular intervals, weather and traffic updates specific to each satellite radio station along the route. Stan began to unroll these on his desktop. Pretty soon he realized it would take both hands, so his cigarette moved into the ashtray on the desk for a while.

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Central’s weather sources spoke of nothing but wind, rain and whichever of the elements were brave enough to come out that night to take on Pennsylvania. Temperature was predicted to be around the forties the rest of the night. Stan worked eleven to six in the morning, and these days the sun came up after he got back home, which was a good thing. There was no bigger loss in his mind than the sun rising above the horizon before his pulling his quilt over his eyes. Traffic didn’t seem much of a problem at all, since the radio hadn’t quite crackled to life that night. The most he’d heard over it was stuff like “4-door white Toyota parked in service lane…engine seized. Tow truck en route.” or “red semi with flat, three hundred meters from exit seventy nine”.

The radio station itself was about ten minutes from the outer limits of Valley Forge, but was still a part of its municipality. Stan didn’t really have to change any of the radio settings…Kelly had already had the right ones from the last shift. The walls of WPAP were painted a shade of dirty pistachio, with cracks running up and down them like river tributaries on geographic maps you’d see in say, ninth grade as opposed to fifth. Though Stan himself could have cared less, the Turnpike authorities had chosen to install austere tube-lights in all their buildings that cast a noticeably bland shade of neon white over all the rotting wooden tables and aging electronic equipment. The toilet didn’t have a urinal, which had proved to be a constant thorn in the side of Kelly and Cindy, the female members of The Daddy’s crew. The men, basally unrefined and uncouth as could be, never showed enough courtesy to lift the seat when using the bathroom, and confidently marked their territory during their shifts. Naturally, the women couldn’t help but complain. It had been resolved in the way that Kelly and Cindy now brought in cleaning sprays and cloths to work, even though it did look very stupid. But what else could they do?

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Stan clicked his lighter shut as soon as it set fire to another cigarette. The last one had died out while he’d set papers and things in place on the sturdy but decaying wood of his desk’s top. Breathing in dense nicotine fog, he licked his lips out of dryness and pulled a microphone close. The Star was flipped to the STROBE position. “Motorists, Be aware of heavy rain pours,” he began in his deep-throated drawl, “that are poised to bring significant lack of traction on road surface between the hours of twelve midnight and three AM.” He still didn’t know what ‘poised’ meant; he wasn’t too bothered, though. It’s not like he ever heard it once he left the radio station. “Motorists are advised to maintain speeds well within the limits posted.” He was done reading the whole two pages of triple-spaced warnings and what not in one minute flat. Now that his job was essentially done, he fixed himself a cup of creamy coffee, almost emptying the plastic creamer bottle in doing so. Then he sat back and began to stare intently at nothing out the window, through the rising steam of fresh coffee and smoke of dying cigarette.

Once the coffee had cooled enough to sip, he turned his attention to a three-day old newspaper, and parked his eyesight right below the headline drawing his attention to a recent overtime US loss to Australia in a game of Olympic basketball.

As promised, the weather came in guns firing and all. Lady Rain brought Thunder with her to the party, and they danced together in perfection, and made sure everyone around them noticed. Wind came in and blew everyone away too with her performance. You should have seen it…it was quite an amazing performance by the three of them. Alas, not too many paid attention…not Stan, at least. As his eyes followed the words of the Olympic tragedy in the newspaper, what he failed to notice was this.

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Rain pelting down on the window; it came in at an odd angle to begin with. What really would have caught his attention would have been how hard the wind was blowing. Drops streaked downwards at first, as they always do. Wind blew harder, and the water drops obeyed. They shift their streaking; and angled sharply down the windowpane. The wind was insatiable, or so it seemed. It blew harder, still. The drops now streaked across perfectly horizontally in unison, the way they would along the window of a speeding car. This all went unchecked by Stan, because he was still trying to reach the end of the sports section. The drops kept angling further and further. In the end the wind had died down, but the raindrops, no, they had not had enough. They began to come harder and harder onto the glass, splat…splat SPLAT…splat. Pretty soon they began to streak slightly upwards. The water drops continued to angle upwards until they rose vertically instead of drop, their very name no longer fit them…water drops?

A light on the counter started to blare madly, but silently, in Stan’s face, but he kept sipping his off-white, sugarless coffee at the same rate. He didn’t really tend to it until he was done reading his outdated horoscope. Folding massive newspaper sheets as noisily as he could, he then tried to understand which light it was that was screaming for attention. Drats. The goddamned antenna was messing up again. It wasn’t uncommon, especially with such horrendous weather outside. Luckily, he knew just enough to get the job done. Hang on, it could wait for a little while couldn’t it? Who was watching? He certainly didn’t have any problem pretending that he wasn’t. Who could blame him; the weather outside wasn’t exactly a summer Caribbean invitation. But, BUT if Central called and he was still there with the light going off, it would be worse than bad. He’d been caught late for shift so many times, and had even been caught when he skipped duty one night for Jake’s birthday party at the Grouchy Hippo. Since whenever a light on his console went off, a light on their console went off, it was in his better interests to get up, put on the Big-Bird-yellow raincoat

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and drive to the antenna. He radioed Central and let them know how efficient he was going to be that night.

The cloth seats of the white Mazda truck were damp with moisture, and the water dripping off his raincoat onto them made things worse. He had the heat knob turned full, but the heat just wasn’t there quick enough. The antenna was about a two-minute drive from the radio station itself. It was planted into the side of a small hill that apexed into the Turnpike, and rose a good two hundred feet over it. Red beacons winked at the clouds periodically, and there were several aerials and dish antennas sticking out every face of the towering structure. What usually happened in stormy weather, Stan had once been told, was that excess ‘electric flux’ was generated between the clouds and the tip of the tower, and the clouds would let the innocent tower have a little taste of their overzealous electricity with a spark of lightning. Most of the time this didn’t upset the tower and its workings too much, but once in a blue moon the enormous amount of electricity was enough to trip a few safety fuses. Then, they had to be reset manually. Today was a blue moon night. The road between the tower and station was unfinished, and was more unsettled gravel than tarmac. His best time down it had been a minute and twenty-seven seconds, as timed by the green digital clock on the dashboard.

Her eyes just refused to leave the ground. It didn’t even look like she was blinking, and the rain wasn’t a bother to her at all. Raindrops were pounding down on Stan’s raincoat. He’d been pleading and calling out to her for so long now that he was just about ready to get back in the truck and radio for help. But what help did she need? She clearly wasn’t hurt. Nor was she bleeding, as best he could see in the strong spotlight of his torch on her. What had Stan’s mediocre-intelligence-

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quotient-brain running haywire with fear and confusion was this. The girl wasn’t wet. Not one bit. Not one bit of her looked wet. Her perfectly done up hair was what had caught his attention, as he’d just reset the fuse box. He was climbing down back to the ground when he noticed someone perched up on one of the rungs of the tower, perched upside down. She hung absolutely upside down, the metal cross bar of a rung squeezed tightly between the backs of her flexed knees, between her lower thighs and upper calves. She had on no clothing, and her arms hung down out of proportion, as far as he could see. Did Stan really need to be there? He should have just turned the flashlight off, got in the truck and driven off. He had stayed just because he’d never, even in his wildest hallucinations on ‘shrooms, seen what was about to come to him that night. Her long black hair fell perfectly onto her shoulders; it fell assertively upwards from her head despite her absurd position. Stan only realized this was all too much when he moved the torch light upwards along her torso. Her feet were on backward. Completely backward. They pointed inwards like some creatures might have in a fable about a far away place in a far away time. It overcame Stan, ferociously, that this was all happening in the now. There was no fable here; no storybook, no television to turn off, or no bad dream to wake from. Her arms finally twitched. They began to move not unlike wings, but she stayed in place. She didn’t even swing or move in the slightest. Whatever this living, absurd phantasmagoria God had painted was, Stan felt the highest urge to not know. He quietly stopped calling out to offer her help the moment she spread her ‘wings’, and shone the torch on the truck parked two hops away. The key turned in the ignition even before the door slammed shut, and Stan put the truck in gear long before he turned the headlights on. He didn’t look back, he didn’t want to, and

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couldn’t even if he wanted to. It was too dark to see anything behind him. Tonight, it seemed he would better his best time of a minute and twenty-seven seconds for this road. The scrawny four-cylinder engine shrieked in pain as it jostled the truck and Stan back home, away from whatever the heck it was he’d just seen.

He thought at first his mind was playing tricks on him again, but the steadily dropping speedometer needle attested what he feared. The truck was losing speed. His foot was damn near strangling the gas pedal, but here he was, slowing down like a rock hitting pond water. Seconds later the truck was standing still. The engine was still screaming at several thousand revs more than he’d ever pushed it before, but he wasn’t going anywhere. He spared the gas pedal for a moment, and watch the revs drop to a piddle. The truck began to coast backwards for a few seconds then came to a rest. Stan sat benumbed. For the second time over the past couple of minutes, he didn’t want to find out what the problem was. He just wanted to run. No thinking. No pondering. Just running. Cursing his fate, he stepped bravely out of the car. The antenna tower could be seen in the distance. It was a safe distance he thought, safe from whatever he’d just seen. He looked over the back of the truck for trouble…for a sign to tell him why the hell he was standing only halfway between the antenna tower and radio station. He wanted to be home right now, beating the rising sun to his bed. The rain hadn’t quit one bit. He scurried to the back of the truck torchlight dancing on the gravel. The damp, muddy gravel glowed red under his tail lamps. He could see two slender sticks hooked onto the tailgate. Stan traced his torch along them away from the truck. This night was getting longer with every breath of cold air Stan drew from between pelting raindrops. The two sticks

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extended into the darkness he had left behind, and their length he couldn’t determine; they were long though, no doubt about that. Desperate to be driving again, he felt the inside of the tailgate to unhook them. He first felt his fingers feeling some more fingers holding the inside of the tailgate. Stan’s heart was about ready to explode with the fast tribal beat it pumped into his chest. Feeling back up, he swallowed almost his whole neck inwards as his fingers came across what definitely felt like a hand. It was hairy and narrow, and pointing light inwards proved it. There was another one beside it, holding fast to the tailgate the same way. These hands were each connected to the slender sticks stretching out into the darkness; they stretched out towards the antenna tower. With palms that were wet with rain and the sweat of fear, Stan attempted to pry the fingers loose. They refused to give up their hold, and he noticed how the fingers were pulpy towards their ends; they were all missing fingernails. There was no blood though. What there was a lot of was hair. The knuckles were almost covered with it completely, and so was the upper of each hand. The bones of each hand ridged out through the skin sharply.

Raindrops falling in nature can sound so lovely if the temperament of the listener and atmosphere of the place are both of peace and placidity. Stan’s heart however, was beating faster than the rain drops ‘splatting’ towards their ends, and now, in between these soft sounds came one that was far from soft, peaceful or placid. A sound that was so sharp, so uncannily high-pitched that it sliced through the Pennsylvania weather, and brought its own horror. It drew closer through the darkness, invisible to the torch light that swung like a lighthouse’s into the dark, pointing towards the antenna tower instead of a sea. The two sticks, they grew slightly thicker, then thicker, and thicker still. They kept getting thicker and wider until they began to resemble hairy arms with no end. It stopped all of a sudden, and Stan dared to breath. He wheezed incessantly as he turned to dash into the cabin again. But as he did, he heard a loud thud come from where he had

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stood only an instant before, and the truck jerked forward. He threw a look back over his shoulder. She was with him again, only closer: the girl from the tower. She was still as naked and dry as she’d been the first time he’d seen her. He could only see her jawbone in the meager red light of his brake lamps. There was nothing odd about her looks or torso. The feet; they must have been hiding behind the truck. She held the tailgate with her arms fully extended, but her neck was slumped at an angle. Keeping the same upper posture she took a step in Stan’s direction. * * *

Stan was grinding gears; he was shifting now without the clutch. He had not waited one split second at her step in his direction. He just got in, locked the door and stuck the gear in first, jerking the Mazda violently into motion. The gas pedal being at the floor once again kept it from stalling. Stan had run once again. This time, there was no slowing. The engine shrieked, but kept him moving along the trail. The dim and few lights of the radio station passed his window in a blur as he drove past them at eighty. They could fire him for he cared. Actually, he didn’t care now about the incomplete shift he’d clocked into. He didn’t even care about calling Central, for anything. He was going home.

Stan was definitely going to beat the sunrise this time. Definitely.

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Turnpike (Revised)

The toll way, ever since its completion, had been a great blessing for Valley Forge. It was because of such things in life, as the Pennsylvania Turnpike, that people like Stan could earn an extra buck or two, every now and then at service exit franchises and the like. For him, now and then were Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons at the Mobil gas station at service exit 74 off the Turnpike. Stan was definitely a part time person. He went to school part time. He went to church part time. He even did his laundry part time, and at times it showed. He also worked part time at the Mobil. The rest of the week, he attended auto-mechanic school. They were currently working on diesel engine repair, and at times Stan found even the shifts at the gas station more entertaining; at least he had cable television at the Mobil. It was in this town that Stan Reijko had grown up; the only child of immigrant parents from Hungary that both met early deaths. One ill-fated night, Bernard and Sharon Reijko had left little Stan home alone sleeping to get groceries. Their only child remained fast asleep the whole night, and word of their death came only when a police officer standing alongside a priest turned up at Zeeti’s front door at four o’clock the next morning. Aunt Zeeti had later told him how a drunk driver had “sent his parents very peacefully up to Jesus”. Stan had been too young then to comprehend fully the tragedy that fate had carved into his life, but it was for the better. Stan had never really found himself missing them terribly, since he’d never really known them. Stan spent the rest of his preadolescent years with young Aunt Zeeti, who herself had emigrated from Bucharest only a couple of months after his parents. While trying to do the best she could, Stan had, at one time while smoking a joint filled with too much ganja for his liking, come to the conclusion that she had tried too hard. He’d never really taken her daughters in as real sisters, because they themselves had always kept a distance from him at home. He felt he’d grown up in the

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company of three women, without ever coming to know any of them. After all these years, he still couldn’t hold a decent conversation with the opposite sex, and the chance to do so was in itself a rare event. Stan got the coffee brewing in Old Faithful. He had given the coffeemaker that name because the gurgling noises it made reminded him of a fountain the people at Yellowstone National Park called a geyser, that he visit last year. The shifts here at the gas station were long and not surprisingly, phenomenally boring. At least they paid a soothing eight dollars and thirty-five cents per hour, and they kept him busy. Stan picked up a scratched brown clipboard off its hook beside the bathroom door. Sunday was inventory day at the Valley Forge Mobil station, and he never bothered locking the main door when he left the main desk, except during bathroom breaks. Grey clouds had parked themselves in the surrounding skies, and it was quite gloomy weather for a spring Sunday. Stan worked behind the cash register and cigarette-pack holders inside the mini-mart of the station. For the most part, customers were people that were just passing through, on their way either to or from Philadelphia, only a few hours’ drive from Valley Forge. Inventory taking was boring, and Stan detested counting and tallying the insignificant numbers of snacks, cookies, soft drinks and other trivial items sitting on the shelves all around. He poured himself a plastic cup full of fountain Dr. Pepper and made his way up and down the three aisles of the store. Unappealing fluorescent lamps all around help brighten the store, but neither his day nor mood. A shiny red import pulled up beside pump number three as he took count of the thirteen “Fire” flavored beef jerky sticks remaining by the ice cream freezer. He paused his counting and looked up to find two slender, long legs poke out the drivers’ side door of the

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car. He waited for the rest to come, but inside the car a girl seemed to be fumbling through a bag for something. A pretty girl was an uncommon sight for Stan’s eyes, and staring at this one was definitely more entertaining than inventory taking right now. The girl wore fresh white running shoes on her feet; with socks so small they could hardly be seen. She finally stepped out with a stocky wallet in one hand and her car keys in the other. Stan saw her step towards the pump, and knew that her next move would be to come inside the mini-mart, right after she would read the sticker above the pump handle that read “Please pay inside before pumping”. Stan propped his clipboard against the candies on the shelf in the middle, and quickly ran to the counter. He managed to part his hair down the left just as he heard the door swing open, as an electronic chime sang in the back. Stan was busy counting change in the cash register as the girl walked towards it. He deemed it a successful ploy; she didn’t seem to have noticed him dashing behind the counter. He was sure he looked ‘busy as usual’. “Ten dollars on pump three please,” the girl said, looking square at her car out the large windows. “Premium.” Stan kept his eyes down and counted quarters he had counted several times before, and only pretended to acknowledge her once he had noisily slid them back into their part of the drawer. “Sorry about that,” Stan started. “Just trying to stay

on top of things today; so much work.” She didn’t say a word, and stuck a crisp ten-dollar bill under a downward opening arc in the cashier’s window. The large Plexiglas box surrounding him never really help communicating with customers. Her lack of concern for his words instantly blew the smugness off his face. Resentfully, Stan pulled the note across the plastic counter surface, punched the register, and the fuel pump beeped into action. The girl was wearing a heather gray sweatshirt with three large Greek letters emblazoned across the front, striped nylon running shorts and the white shoes he had first

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noticed. Her brown hair sat short cropped around her shoulders, and the brow above her left eye was pierced magnificently with a huge silver ring. She wasn’t exactly like those girls he’d spend hours staring at on the covers of Cosmopolitan magazine, but she definitely appeared very attractive to him. Watching the cents add up, Stan decided to break the silence before the fuel pump stopped, before she left, and before it would be too late. “So, where you headed?” he asked casually. “Umm…can I get a pack of Marlboro menthols?” The girl was looking straight above him, at the cigarette boxes. “Hundreds.” His social skills defeated once again by her lack of interest in him, Stan complied like a dog fetching a bone for a hundredth time. Standing on his tiptoes, he jerked upwards and grabbed on to a box of menthols and tugged it out of the holder. He managed to undo a clasp on the edge of the plastic cigarette holders in the process, and brought tumbling to the counter top ten or more so boxes of the same cigarettes. She fished her wallet for change, and upon finding none, handed Stan a credit card. Stan had almost swiped the card when he remembered the ‘credit card minimum’ was five dollars, and the Marlboro’s were costing her only three dollars and fifteen cents. “We have a five dollar minimum here, Ma’am,” Stan said, flipping the card over. From its mute but business-serious colors, it seemed to have been issued by a rich man’s bank, probably one of those in the tall buildings in downtown Philadelphia or even New York. “Oh alright.” Stan couldn’t tell whether the look on her face was one of indifference, or annoyance. “I’ll take two then.” He swiped the card as suavely as he thought impressive, and waited for the verification to come through. Looking over the front of the card he ran his index finger along the gold, capital letters across it. Nicole F. Jenkins, they read.

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“What’s the F in the middle stand for, Nicole?” he asked her, raising one eyebrow higher than the other. “My middle name. Duh.” Nicole spat back. “Can I have my card back now?” She had knocked the wind out of him, and it had taken his confidence with it on the way out. Before he could even begin to feel stupid, the cash register started chugging and spitting dots and digits onto the receipt. He ripped it out and aligned the yellow copy below the white one as best he could, and waited for her to sign. His eyes were locked on the large X beside the ‘signature required’ line, and refused to move out of embarrassment. He pushed down on the receipt with his index and middle finger, and couldn’t help but notice her perfectly shaped fingernails, painted deep red. The nails and the mood their color set clashed with the sporty look Nicole’s clothes had. “I’m sorry,” Nicole said in a tone that sounded quite genuine to Stan, or perhaps he was just thinking wishfully. “About what?” Stan’s eyes were still on the counter top. “I didn’t mean to be so rude. I guess…I guess I was just surprised by your question, considering I’ve never met you before.” There was a hint of indecision in her voice now, but the initial arrogance still lingered. “That’s okay I guess. I’m sorry; I was just trying to be friendly. Don’t see too many pretty faces around here, you know.” Silence ensued. The receipt was signed, the card returned and Stan then handed the yellow carbon copy to the girl and wished her a pleasant day. He began to play with the chain attached to the end of the pen, doodling it in circles with his finger. His eyes had grown tired of staring at the white plastic of the counter, and now wished the girl would just be on her way. “What’s your name?” she blurted out. Stan looked up for a brief moment at the girl, and then went back to his pen.

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“Stanley.” Doodle. Doodle again. “I’m on my way to Phila. I go to school there.” Stan raised his head as she said, “Listen, umm, I’m not really as rude as I just was. I guess it was just…” “Yeah well it doesn’t matter…it’s okay,” Stan said, trying his best to move his selfpity into the girl’s conscience. She took a step back and asked if she could smoke right there. Stan kept doodling for a few seconds, and then slowly pulled out a black ashtray that had Winston written on the side of it, and slid it to her from under the Plexiglas. From unwrapping the plastic off the cigarette pack to her matte black lighter clicking shut, Stan followed every move of hers closely; every twitch. She seemed to be enjoying him enjoying her. “So, what’re you studying, up in the city?” “Economics. I deal with businesses and stuff.” Stan wasn’t a college graduate, but her answer offended him. At least he knew more about economics; enough to describe it better than little Miss Nicole just had. For want of maintaining conversation, he played down his humiliation by acting calm, and buttoned his left shirt cuff. Noting the ketchup stain on it from a burger of two nights ago, he undid the button and began to roll the sleeve up instead. “Uh huh. You from the city?” “Oh no. I couldn’t imagine living there except for school. It’s too hectic and busy for me.” She stuck her credit card into her wallet, and folded it shut. “I’m actually from King of Prussia.” Stan raised his eyebrows and let out a lame attempt at a whistle. “King of Prussia! Woowee! Rich girl huh?” Nodding to her car out the window he said, “So I suppose Daddy dearest paid for that piece outside?” King of Prussia was one of the most upscale ‘burbs of Philadelphia, and Stan’s assuming Nicole to be rich wasn’t wrong in the least.

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“My parents bought me the car for my twenty-first birthday,” she said, also looking out at her car. The cloud cover was almost gone by now…gray skies were only in the distance now. Sunlight glazed beads of rain on one side of the car. “But I’m not rich!” “Yeah, yeah. I believe ya,” rebuked Stan with a slight smirk. Nicole’s lips broke into a smile. Guilty as charged, it said. At least she’d admitted defeat this time. More importantly, she was talking, sans attitude. “You smoke?” she said, pointing the soft cigarette pack at Stan’s like a reporter would a microphone. “Sure, why not?” Stan pointed to the hole in the window. Letting out a giggle of embarrassment, she slid the pack across the opening. Stan decided to unman the counter now. “What the heck,” he thought, “she’s the only customer that’s been here in the last two hours.” He stepped out of the cashier’s ‘box’ and lit his cigarette with his own matches, which were unlabelled, with a white tuck-in cover. “I usually don’t smoke. Especially menthols you know, they’re uhh…bad for the…you know…” Nicole almost rolled her eyes, but in a friendly way and pulled a crooked smile. “Hey…it’s not like one little cigarette is gonna like, totally kill your count.” Stan managed to breath out a whole puff of mentholated smoke before he murmured a simple “True”. Nicole only took a few more drags before she snubbed her cigarette out, like she had done with Stan’s confidence a few moments ago. She glanced at her watch, not long enough to actually tell the time, but to let Stan know that she wanted to be on her way. “Well, I’ve got to make it to a ceremony at college tonight, and I’d better get going.” She crumpled the credit card receipt and tossed it into trashcan next to the replacement windshield wipers. “Thanks for the cigarette, Nicole.”

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“Hey, no problem. It was nice meeting you.” With that, Nicole turned and started for the door. Stan watched her noticeably large hips wishy-wash in their owner’s wake, all the way until she got to the gas pump. Stan went back to the counter to put his cigarette out. An unfamiliar set of keys lay on the counter top. The key ring had three separate, metal letters dangling from it. They were stainless steel on one side, and bright pink, each with deep blue outlines on the other. They were the same letters that he’d seen on his lat customer’s sweatshirt. Grabbing them, he ran outside. He met Nicole at the door again, just as she was coming in. She saw the jumble of keys and small Greek letters in his hand and breathed a loud sigh of relief. “Thank you…thank you so much. I thought I’d lost them in the car. Then I’d never find them!” Stan propped the door open with his right shoe and held the keys up, just above her forehead. “What’s with the cryptography?” “Excuse me?” “I mean, what’s the deal with these fancy Greek letters?” “Oh these! Delta Gamma Delta. They represent my sorority.” “Your what?” “Sorority. It’s like a house where girls with common interests live together. It’s a lot of fun…it’s kind of like a club, but not open to everyone.” Stan knew about economics. He knew about college; and even knew the names of the bigger ones up in Phila. This sorority thing however, this was something new. “So there’s more, where you came from, huh?” Stan said with a sly grin. “Everyone as hot as you?” “Oh COME on! I’m not hot! You’re just trying to be nice”. Stan was just trying to be nice. He was surprised by the drastic change in her attitude, and wondered whether she

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possibly thought him good looking enough to be pleasant to. Thinking the ball was in his court, he decided to make his encounter a productive one. “Hey Nicole, what’re you gonna gimme for these keys, huh, huh?” He dangled and shimmied the keys like a butler would a bell to announce dinner. She smiled back. Stan felt himself on thin ice now; he’d pulled a stunt that would test his self-confidence more than hers. He smiled as he tingled the keys, but thought in his mind whether he was being just a bit too frank with someone he didn’t even know. Nicole swung her head down, grinning ear-to-ear as she did so, and stuck her hands on her hips. Stan felt stupid now. He felt stupid not because he had to, but in anticipation of her response, whatever it would be. He couldn’t tell right now whether she thought he was cute, a jerk, or even worse, just trying to be cute. “How about another menthol?” she said as she tucked her hair behind her ears. Stan was relieved; she was in a joking mood. He vented his relief with a loud, hollow laugh, louder than one could expect at such a petty joke. “Nuh uh.” He now flexed every bit of his brain, trying to come up with something to shoot back at her. It had to be sharp, it had to be quick and ‘off-the-bat’ and most of all, it had to be just shocking enough to catch her off guard; enough to make her do it. “I really find you attractive, Nicole. I’d like to stay in touch, and I want your phone number.” Nicole cocked her head slightly to the side and made a face that said, “Come again, PLEASE?” Stan’s pulse took a turn and head straight for the hills. Even his annoying key tingling skipped a beat. But from somewhere in the depths of his gut came strength, strength he’d just be getting to know, then forget. Strength that, had he known and used, would have saved him from the eight-grade soccer field fight with Tommy Keady, and the trip it had sent him on to Waters Hospital. It could even have saved him the embarrassment of being forced to pull

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out a Hustler magazine from under his shirt, by Counselor Hinrichs at band camp, if he had just said no. “Nicole. It’s nothing too much for an economist-to-be college girl to understand. I want your telephone number; I told you, I want to stay in touch.” Nicole couldn’t wipe the smirk off her face now, and now Stan’s confidence told him to not give a hoot why. Her hands slipped off her hips. “Or? What?” Stan’s super-confidence drive was still up and running. “Or no keys, Ma’am!” Nicole sighed, stepped into a side pose, sighed again then faced Stan again. “Stanley, please! I should have been on the road ten minutes ago! First the cigarette break, and now this!” “Ohhhh. So you offered me a cigarette because you felt sorry for me, huh?” “No, no! Uffff…I’m just getting late, that’s all, Stan!” “Well, the sooner you gimme your number Nikki, the sooner you’ll be on the road.” He’d just stepped overboard he thought, by calling her Nikki. Now was the time to feel stupid, and indeed Stan did; the red rash growing all over his face bear witness to it. He could tell he’d shot himself in the foot now, because she didn’t even look like she’d take a swing at grabbing her keys out of his now limp-with-lack-of-confidence left hand. “Stan, I don’t even KNOW you. And let me be honest, I probably will not ever see you again. Philadelphia’s a big place.” Stan felt the energy drain out of his left arm, and it came down to rest at the middle of his left thigh. The game was over. His super-confidence-drive came to a powerfully retarded stop, and he was back to square one. His mind flashed back to the ten or so minutes ago that he’d felt the exact same way behind the counter, stunned by her first words. This girl was not going to be easy to talk to.

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He stared at her shoes, and the cute white socks; he could see them from where he was now, snuggled deep inside the shoe. He noticed how she’d double-knotted her shoelaces as well. The sun was out now, but it was still a gloomy day for him. He stuck out the keys, still staring at her shoes and heard them change hands. Her fingers were soft and cold. But the sneakers stayed put. A soft breeze was beginning to blow. Stan felt her nudge the ball of his left shoulder and looked up. Her lips were pulled inwards, and a few strands of her short hair were trying their best to blow in the wind. “Hey, hey!” She angled her head. “I’m sorry Stan. But what are you gonna do with my number anyway?” Stan kicked some dust that wasn’t there and sulked. “Nothing. I was just trying…trying to be friends with a nice girl I guess.” “Now how do you know I’m nice?” “Hey. Ok, well at least I KNOW you’re nice.” He was now looking her in the eyes. “Don’t make me say things that aren’t true…I know you’re nice. Even if YOU don’t think so.” His eyes fell back to the ground and his lips twitched, starting from the left. Nicole grew back a little smile, he could see through the corner of his eye. But Stan was too embarrassed to take credit for its return. “Got a pen?” Stan raised his eyes to meet hers, and all they told him was to shut up and get a pen. Quick. He fished his pant pockets but came up empty. As he was about to run back inside his right hand came across a plastic pen cover hinged in his pocket. He drew the pen out of his pocket as if he were about to sign papers to accept lottery money he’d just won, breathlessly and without thought. He started hunting again, this time for paper. He finally handed her the pen and stuck out the palm of his right hand. In some places, Stan felt numb from the rise and fall of adrenaline he was going through. But his right palm was tingling and shaking. This, Nicole noticed and smiled at

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while drawing out large numbers. There were an awful lot of sevens and fives on his hand, and she hadn’t bothered putting the area code in parentheses. It was all over sooner than it had started. Stan walked her to the car and closed its heavy door behind her. As she turned the key in the ignition, Stan held up his hand. “So, what’s the ‘F’ in your middle name stand for?” Nicole burst out laughing. “You don’t give up, do you?! Frederick. It stands for Frederick.” She slid the car’s wooden shift lever into ‘D’. “I hope that made your day, Stanley.” He gave her a confirmatory smile and slapped the roof goodbye. He watched her car until it turned onto the exit, back on to the Turnpike, back in to her life and out of his. He walked back to the mart. Looking at the clock, he only had forty minutes left until Stacey; the next worker would come in. He quickly jot down the digits from his right palm onto the back of an unfilled inventory sheet. He did this twice, so that there would be no mistake about the number once he washed his hands. He tore the paper off the clipboard, stuck it into the small coin pocket of his jeans and went back to taking inventory along the aisles. * * *

Now in his pajamas, Stan was almost ready for bed. He scratched and exposed the card number out on the phone card he’d bought from the mart just before Stacey had come in. He was dialing long distance; he was dialing Philadelphia tonight. He carefully followed the instructions on the back of the card and entered the same numbers he’d worked so hard on getting out of Nicole. He was a bit nervous as the phone started to ring. It kept ringing, and Stan thought perhaps she wasn’t back yet from the ceremony she’d mentioned. To his dismay, he had dialed the wrong number, and wasted precious units on his calling card while doing so. He dialed the numbers again, and kept waiting. Again, the same recording began playing, something about a bookstore being closed.

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The message ended with details of its working hours. Stan tried again and again before he admitted defeat to the recording. The number he’d copied down; there was no way it could have been copied wrong. He checked several times, and could still make out the same digits, though they were faded now, on his palm. Nicole, could she have intentionally given him the wrong number? She seemed awfully nice towards the end though, even if she had lied, he thought, as he pitied himself, lying under his quilt. He clicked the lamp switch off, and wondered whether her middle name really was Frederick as he coast off to sleep.

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Pencil With this why am I asked to write? Why are such slender sticks distributed so often at commencement?

To make marks upon paper is easy; Man has many markers with which He can marr beautiful, virgin white descendants of Papyrus. Why then, are we intent on utilizing these commonly yellow shafts for such reasons? These strategic instruments of Literary warfare might well be in unaccommodated eyes Pokers for small fires, or buoys for very, very small boys, or even Delicacies for those with the grittiest of teeth. Time now, to suffocate my daydream And transfer diligently but wisely carbon to ‘scantron’ from the dark inners Of my number two pencil.

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Pencil (Revised) With this why am I asked to write? Why are such slender sticks distributed so often at commencement? To make marks upon paper is easy; Man has many markers with which He can marr beautiful, innocent white descendants of Papyrus. Why then, are we intent on utilizing these commonly yellow shafts for such reasons? These strategic instruments of the literary warfare endured throughout ‘higher education’ might well be in imaginative eyes Pokers for small fires, or buoys for very, very small boys, or even delicacies for those with the grittiest of teeth. Time now, to suffocate my daydream And transfer diligently but wisely carbon to ‘scantron’ from the dark inners Of my number two pencil.

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Orange Mocha Snow has turned by now to ice. Ice that is no doubt strong-willed; It rests sparsely everywhere; unperturbed by the welcome, glimmering sun. It holds fast to the concrete of sidewalk Like the last flesh to bone; Only clearer. There are lies in here: So many! Bliss could never be of such poor character. It always promised me so much more In the films I had watched, the books I had read and the lovers I had seen. Our hands drifted apart; Her satin palm first. This Montreal wind, so cold, but warmer still than her fleeting glances this way. Confounded I am. I built this house myself; yet a foundation Seems absent. What had become of all her emotions? The ones she admit I had stirred once, with letters that smelt of musk and tulips as red as Hawthorne’s famous Letter itself. On her tongue she can still taste The deserted orange mocha coffee still cooling back at

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Second Cup. There are such nice places to wine and dine here in Montreal but none hold the slightest appeal now. I lack, behind her, as redundant as laces on a moccasin. Further and further I lack till only meeting the smell of her perfume upon turning a corner reminds me how lost I am. The unfamiliar streets remind me then, How lost I will be for the time to come.

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Orange Mocha (Revised) Snow has turned by now to ice. Ice that is so strong-willed that it rests sparsely everywhere; unperturbed by the welcome, glimmering sun. It holds fast to the concrete of sidewalk Like the last flesh to bone; Only clearer. There are lies, here in my mind; So many! Bliss could never be of such poor character. Romance always promised me so much more, in films I have watched, books I have read and lovers I have seen. Our hands drifted apart; Her satin palm first. This Montreal wind, so cold, but warmer still than her fleeting glances my way. This false love affair is going nowhere; like the circles ice skating children carve into the rink. Even the softest of her words feel sharper than their skates do to the ice. I built this house myself; yet a foundation is nowhere in its plans now. What had become of all her emotions? The ones she admit I had stirred once, with letters having

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“just the right dash of eloquence, and the right pinch of innocence” On her tongue she can still taste the deserted orange mocha of her coffee, still cooling back at the lively, jazzy Second Cup. “Montreal,” I was once told, “The city of love.” I trail behind her, as redundant as laces on a moccasin. Further and further I lag till only meeting the smell of her perfume upon turning a corner reminds me how lost I am.

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Trinket and Us
Note: Due to unforeseeable conversion problems, this original copy of the poem will appear poorly formatted . All attempts made to rectify the errors with formatting were unsuccessful.

Metallic sounds my father makes every day till Maghreb1. The chisel engraves each pound into the stone lining my mind. I tell him “We can sell these too, Abbu2”, pointing at the gems we have left over. “No beta3”, he replies, “Blacksmith I was born, Blacksmith I shall die. You too.” That romantic smile. Mine replies, today pulling my lips a little lighter than before. They have come so far, from America in fact. Branded, expensive, yet monotonous. Here, only to speak the language of flicker and sparkle. Slender hips, daring and divest breasts do the foreign strobes bite at, hungry and adulterous. Her ankles glisten back, as glamorous as Regina’s Royal Jewels. Her bosom bearing more attitude than she herself, this belle is untouchable in the heat of this Lahore night. Hash smoke for air. Vodka for blood. Ill-gotten rupees in their pockets, thousands wrinkled together like old, unwanted receipts; This is our nation’s elite.

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Educated at only the finest of schools, Here and abroad, but what have they to show of it all? “Smoother still”, Abbu says. “Do your best, quickly. Mém Sahib4 will be here soon” The rubies are in place now, lustered and reborn. They grace her trinket like A lone son a Punjabi5 family. My shirt is scabrous from chafe and buff. A tear is born, again In Her honour. Ammi6 stitched me this handsome shalwar qameez for Eid7. Two days, Three and a half nights before her lungs met pneumonia for the last time. I should have used another cloth. No. It is alright. Even Ammi’s darling shirt is worth our favorite Mém Sahib’s patronage. Surely this will beautify her ankles as she wanted. The tear is gone now ; it has taken with it some of the grime on my face. Some of the trinket, too. Late evening she comes in her shiny Honda Civic. It looks just like it did yesterday, in the newspaper advertisement that wrapped our roti8. Abbu, all smiles. Humility could be his first name. Mém Sahib seems in a rush. Clasps close sweet and flush. Her pretty ankles are officially prized now. The gems glisten in the lal’tain’s9 ochre breath. So do my teeth, peeking from

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behind my timid smile. Abbu bows his head, as brisk and confident thousand rupee notes change homes. From Italian leather to eroded, tired yet grateful hands. Her calves now bare, have a new voice. A voice that shouts. It screams, silently. It calls Lucifer’s faithful to prayer. “What paltry contest to me Are You, Oh Muaz’zin10?” it taunts deep into the blanket of humidity everyone is forced to wear here. Mém Sahib slips back into her cooled sea of plush. Rustle of gravel to tire, and she is returning to her life, to her times. My mind, almost numb from her short presence asks itself, where one could wear a trinket to. Like the one we had just brought into this world, my father and I. A short huff. Lights out. Moths: go elsewhere. Leave us. Time to go in and pray before bed. Time to thank Allah for what we have; our skills, our tools and customers like Mém Sahib. Time to pray for Ammi. Notes 1. Maghreb: In this case refers to the Muslim prayer offered at sunset. 2. Abbu: Commonly used to address a father in Urdu 3. Beta: Commonly used to address a child in Urdu 4. Mém Sahib: Madam 5. Punjabi: A resident of Punjab, one of the four provinces of Pakistan. 6. Ammi: Commonly used to address a mother in Urdu 7. Eid: In Islam, there are two ‘holy holidays’, comparable in festivity to Christmas. 8. roti: ‘chapatti’/ local pita bread

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9. Laal’tain: lantern, commonly used in poorer areas in Pakistan. 10. Muaz’zin: The person that gives the Muslim call to prayer at a Mosque.

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Trinket and Us (Revised, w/proper formatting) Metallic sounds My father makes every day till Maghreb1. The chisel engraves each pound into the stone lining my mind. I tell him “We can sell these too, Abbu2”, pointing at the gems we have left over. “No beta3”, he replies, “Blacksmith I was born, Blacksmith I shall die. You too.” A romantic smile punctuates his soft words. I smile back, today pulling my lips a little lighter than before. * * *

They have come so far, from America in fact. Branded, expensive, yet monotonous. Here, only to speak the language of flicker and sparkle. A set of slender hips, and a set of daring and divest breasts these foreign strobes bite at, nonstop, like the music, like the blood rush. The jewels on her ankles wink back at every light around her. Her bosom bears more attitude than she herself, this girl is untouchable in the heat of this Lahore night. Theirs is hash smoke for air, and Vodka for blood.

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Ill-gotten rupees in their pockets, the fruit reaped by corrupt fathers Thousands are wrinkled together like old, unwanted receipts; This is our nation’s elite. Educated at only the finest of schools, here and abroad, but what have they to show of it all? * * *

“Smoother still”, Abbu says. “Do your best, quickly. Mém Sahib4 will be here soon” The rubies are in place now, lustered and reborn. They grace Mém Sahib’s trinket like A lone son a Punjabi5 family. My shirt is scabrous from chafe and buff. A tear is born now, again, in Ammi6’s honour. She stitched me this handsome shalwar qameez for Eid7, two days, three and a half nights before her lungs met pneumonia for the last time. Regret grips me by the shoulders now; I should have used another cloth. My shoulders shrug: No. It is alright. Even Ammi’s darling shirt is worth our favorite Mém Sahib’s patronage. Surely this will beautify Mém Sahib’s ankles as she wanted. The tear is gone now ; it has taken with it some of

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the grime on my face. Some of the trinket, too. Late evening she comes in her shiny Honda Civic. It looks just like it did yesterday, in the newspaper advertisement that wrapped our roti8. Abbu is as usual, all smiles. Humble should be his middle name. Mém Sahib seems in a rush, She tells us she has a ‘paarty’ to be at. Clasps close sweet and flush. Her pretty ankles are officially prized now. The gems glisten in the lal’tain’s9 ochre breath. So do my teeth, peeking from behind my timid smile. Abbu bows his head, as brisk and confident thousand rupee notes change homes. From Italian leather to eroded, tired yet grateful hands. Mém Sahib slips back into her cooled sea of plush. Rustle of gravel to tire, and she returns to her life, to her times.

I wish I could go with her just once, and breathe the air she does every day. A short huff. Lights out. Moths: go elsewhere. Leave us. Time to go in and pray before bed. * * *

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Notes 1. Maghreb: In this case refers to the Muslim prayer offered at sunset. 2. Abbu: Commonly used to address a father in Urdu 3. Beta: Commonly used to address a child in Urdu 4. Mém Sahib: Madam 5. Punjabi: A resident of Punjab, one of the four provinces of Pakistan. 6. Ammi: Commonly used to address a mother in Urdu 7. Eid: In Islam, there are two ‘holy holidays’, comparable in festivity to Christmas. 8. roti: ‘chapatti’/ local pita bread 9. Laal’tain: lantern, commonly used in poorer areas in Pakistan.

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Mellow Spring Grass shards, the wind tries to sway your faith in your roots; hold fast! My strong aunt, eight years she and cancer argued, fought, sometimes wrestled.

Starry, striped flag, you may be lower than usual today, but crisp as ever. My quiet aunt, she prayed and worshipped to the last whisper

Prairie wind, you are pretty on my face but please spare the grass. My aunt dined well at the eatery of life, but had now asked for the cheque.

Barn door, why is your wood so splintered? My aunt, she never misloved anyone.

Rusted fence, there is a small hole in you today; don’t worry it shall be fixed. My aunt wore maroon the day our Lord whisked her away.

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Fat Man1 It is such an elegant night for dinner here in old Frankfurt. Cobblestones are the additive in their romance couples walking beside me do not know about. A petite blonde waitress pours in my wine glass some of the cellar’s oldest, smoothest, most sparkling wine. Bubbles rise as once again they meet air and find at last the peace green glass bottles and dark wine cells have denied them for much too long. Through a glass door I can see a fat man eating quickly, as if he is afraid of losing weight by the second. There is no time to even breathe. I close my eyes and picture his blood pressure soar. I think of all the hunger in the world; his could some day offer competition. I want to get

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up and stitch his mouth closed right now. I watch, appalled, a spaghetti strand dangle from the side of his mouth. I must ask for the cheque now. So much for the refined dinner I had promised myself all week.

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The Fall My hairline is as bold and sharp as a late night talk show host. My lips, naturally full, are the kind that push many people to inject collagen into their own. My left eyebrow lives sheared. The missing hair there quietly makes its statement. A statement about the time I ran as a child from another, then slipped, flew and landed eyebrow first into the corner of a corner stone. Sometimes I think about the scene back then; my anger of such a stupid, candid hurt showing itself in red blood that confidently eased itself in between concrete, crack and wild grass. Salt from my tears stained the concrete sidewalk, and the knees of my jeans had been killed by rip.

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