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Gekker Quarterly

Spring 2023 Issue

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Fiction

Raven Crow

Restless Crows*

Stephen Schulz

*Part of an ongoing series with

Gekker Quarterly

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Pauper's Pumpkin Patch

Eva L. Elasigue

Restless Crows

     The Vacuum

By Stephen Schulz

Birds

 

The crows were restless that day. They exhibited a behavior known officially as “cacophonous aggregation,” usually occurring in the presence of a dead conspecific; when one or more crows do gather around a fallen comrade and skold (a guttural squawk repeated in short concessions). These calls differ contextually from a simple alarm call to signal danger – the phenomenon is truly a crow funeral (of sorts), though the exact function of the behavior, and whether or not crows actually possess a complex understanding of death, is unknown. (How appropriate that a “murder of crows” can also be a funeral).

 

The crows were restless that day. They skolded and they skolded. They had circled the suburban house all morning; an incredible fluttering of wings, a great black mass, a ravenous, murderous funeral of crows. One of their species had hit a window in its flight and fallen dead into the backyard garden: a brown entanglement of weeds that nearly encapsulated a rusty, unloved trampoline. The garden, once kept in a state of resplendent beauty by its previous owners, was then in dilapidated disarray. The Bungs had no time for gardening. 

 

The rapacious vacuum cleaner sucked the remains of dinner off the living room rug beneath the coffee table like a screaming wild beast. The vacuum was wielded by Rupert Bung. His wife Margaret and two children Elsa and John did not like to eat at the dining room table of their middle-class home. Rupert was told that it was his odious desire for conversation that drove them to the couch, sheltered by the Television. 

 

The vacuum was an expensive item, newly purchased at a department store. It was state of the art and somewhat outside the Bung budget, what Margaret described later as a "splurge". Margaret had been complaining of their inadequate machine (an ancient one-speed clunker-sucker) for some time, though Rupert maintained that he was the only person in the house who did any of the vacuuming, and it suited him just fine. Then finally, that day at the store, Rupert capitulated to Margaret's incessant nagging. His one consolation was to have the esteemed privilege of picking out the new vacuum for himself, though limited to the luxurious vacuum aisle Margaret had steered them to. There, an indigo blue contraption immediately caught Rupert's eye: the "Cyclone Dragon", as it was called. His son John stared at the vacuum intently. The vacuum stood there on display in a perfect stillness John found disturbing. He envisioned an actual dragon emerging out of the vacuum with terrifying reality. The sleek curves, the sturdy switches, the pumps and levers, and all the bells and whistles began to morph into dragon scales, teeth, and claws. When Rupert moved the display in inspection, the sudden jerking motion startled the boy, as if flames from the dragon's breath would have engulfed them all. 

 

It was early that following evening when Rupert began his test run of the "Cyclone Dragon". Rupert marveled at the majesty of the modern dynamo: Popcorn disappeared instantly within a meter of Rupert's approach. Wrappers, cauliflower the children had thrown from their dinner plates, bits of corn dogs, the heads of dolls, long hairs woven into rug fibers, embedded dirt—all was consumed by the vacuum with extreme speed and efficiency. Rupert thought that the vacuum was the epitome of clean itself, as if clean had been manifested into the world via an angelic machine that purified its environs with a halo of suction. 

 

Abruptly the vacuum stopped, interrupting Rupert's elated reverie. He let out a sigh of annoyance at a moderate decibel. "What?! What's your problem?!" Margaret yelled in reaction to Rupert's modest display of irritation. Rupert simply ignored Margaret's outburst and leaned in to investigate the cause of the malfunction (Margaret scoffed loudly and rolled her eyes whilst orientating her chin to the ceiling). Rupert discovered a large black feather stuck to the mouth of the great sucker, "something the dog must have brought in" Rupert thought. Rupert was somewhat disappointed that a mere feather had obstructed the suction-flow of the machine, especially after having just experienced heftier objects being whisked away with incredible ease. Rupert soon noticed, however, that the suction strength was set to a default level of zero. Relieved, Rupert regained his confidence and gleefully advanced the strength to a level of one. But despite this new development, the black feather persisted to block all suction. Rupert then attempted a higher strength level of two, and higher, higher still, and so on without success. Eventually Rupert was faced with adjusting the strength to level 10, the very last. With nervous perspiration and trembling slightly, he set the lever to the bottom notch of 10. Heat from the machine radiated like a furnace. Gears spun wildly and pumps clanged like gongs, though still the feather was unmoved. 

 

Rupert bent to one knee, baffled though nevertheless wholly resolved in dealing with the feather "the old-fashioned way," as he told himself. This change in operations caused his teenaged daughter Elsa to become momentarily distracted from the television: "Dad, what are doing?" Rupert turned to her and smiled. Elsa raised her eyebrows in what was both an incredulous and sarcastic expression, returning her focus once more to the television. Rupert too reverted to his previous attentions and pinched the feather between his index finger and thumb. A profusion of sweat fell from his forehead to the floor and his heart pounded. He braced himself for a mighty tug; quadriceps tensed, shoulders hunched, biting his lower lip in concentration. Yet, to Rupert's surprise and amazement, the feather broke free from the jaws of the vacuum with little more effort than picking up a piece of paper. However, the extra force he had applied to the great yank tossed him onto his back with a thud, feather in hand. 

 

"Oh my god," Margaret exclaimed in obvious vexation. "I've had just about all that I can take," muttered Rupert under his breath. "Excuse me?" inquired Margaret after Rupert's whisper. Rupert's skin became flush, heat rose to his scalp and his eyes bulged in their sockets. As these internal responses to emotional stimuli occurred, the vacuum seemed to mimic Rupert's physiology as it revved, sputtered, cranked, and screeched, still set to level 10. An undone shoelace of Rupert's inched toward the suction as he lay on the floor. Margaret stared at Rupert unfazed, her upper lip curled, and eyes widened, ready for anything. Margaret was always confident in her incendiary talent for rebuttals; rebuttals that were most often imbued with sharp and unshakeable indignation. Rupert stuttered over an opening statement in the spotlight of Margaret's glare. Typically, his flustering would have been the end of it, but this time was different, this time he managed to pause, draw in a breath, and collect himself. He decided then in that moment he was ready to speak, to truly speak, perhaps for the first time in his life; he was genuinely committed, nothing was to be held back. "I said!—” 

 

Rupert's catharsis was immediately cut short. The Cyclone Dragon gave out a deafening bellow and suddenly he vanished, sucked into the mechanical void. Though his body was inhaled in a flash, it appeared to his son John to have the same plasticity as that of a used lunch sack; a wrinkled and soggy piece of paper rubbish that collapsed its compostable fibers in an almost melancholic yield to the great suck. Once Rupert was consumed, the Cyclone Dragon shook jerkingly, let out a plume of soot, and then stopped all together. The outlet it was connected to had sparked and shorted, cutting power both to the vacuum and the television. Floating to the ground where Rupert had lain but an instant earlier was the feather, drifting through the ephemeral moment in a cloud of dust. Margaret and the children passed a full second completely frozen with bewilderment over what they had just witnessed. 

 

John was the first to break the silence: "Dad?" he said in a gravelly voice, holding back frightened tears. 

 

Elsa let out a chilling shriek that provoked John to sob hysterically. 

 

Margaret, stunned and agasp, didn't make a sound, shocked beyond herself. She knew what she had seen, she knew that the children were reacting to something dreadful like what she had seen, but she just couldn't bring herself to believe it. She couldn't break her impervious sense of logic. Residing thus in a state of perfect cognitive dissonance, Margaret was absolutely immobilized. 

 

"Mom! Do something!" Elsa shouted. 

 

"Huh?" Margaret said as if roused from an accidental nap. 

 

"Do something!"

 

"Margaret?" came a faint moan unheard over the panic. 

 

"Shut up!" Elsa yelled at her crying little brother. "Just shut up!"

 

"Elsa!" said Margaret. 

 

"He always makes everything worse, and so do you!" 

 

"You can't talk to me like that!" 

 

"I hate you!" 

 

"Margaret?" again the phantom like murmur went unnoticed. 

 

"You're mean!" said John mid-sob. 

 

"I hate both of you!" 

 

"Elsa that's enough, be kind to your mother" said a familiar, though stern voice. The room silenced. "Margaret? Where am I?" 

 

At once everyone rushed to the vacuum. 

 

"Rupert! We're here, the children and I are right here. Are you, erm, I don’t know what to say, I— “ 

 

“Are you okay?" said Elsa. 

 

"I can't see or move, did I fall?" Rupert said, his voice shaking at the thought of being both blind and paralyzed. 

 

"No Rupert, well, you did fall back from fiddling with the thing, or whatever, but then... Oh I don't know, I- I just don't know—" 

 

"The vacuum sucked you up!" said Elsa. 

 

"What? Come on, that's impossible," said Rupert. 

 

"It's true! We all saw it happen!" said Elsa.

 

"Dad? Does this mean you're not going to my game?" said John. 

 

"Well, I don't know bud, I guess it all depends on my current situation here." 

 

"I knew you wouldn't go!" John began crying in a whiney sort of way and leaned his head into his mother's shoulder. 

 

"Rupert, you know how much this means to him, and you missed the last game, because you were off doing who knows what," said Margaret. 

 

"I told you, I had an important meeting that came up last minute." 

 

A thought then occurred to Margaret: "Rupert, is this some kind of joke? Or magic trick? Because if it is—" 

 

"No! Honestly, I have no idea what's going on."

 

"How can you fit in there?" said Elsa. 

 

"I'm not sure, I can't move but I can feel that my body is there, somehow." 

 

"How can you breathe?" said Elsa.

 

"I really don't know sweetheart, the air is stuffy, tastes like chalk" (Rupert took in a sample breath and coughed) "but I can breathe, just—" 

 

"You're a liar!" said John. 

 

"What's that buddy?" 

 

"You said you'd go to my game, you lied, you always lie!"

 

"Listen champ, your game's not until the weekend, right? So, I'll just call in sick the rest of the week and who knows, maybe I can sleep this off." 

 

"Whatever," said John. 

 

"Margaret, can you explain to him—"

 

"He has a point Rupert, this pattern of yours you need to fix." 

 

“You need to fix a pattern, Dad!” said John.

 

Rupert mumbled a little tisk-tisk. 

 

“What was that, Rupert? Did you have something to say to your son—who loves you and looks up to you and expects his hero to cheer him on and support him at his important game?”

 

“Chief, let’s just see how this goes, I want nothing more than to attend your game, and watch you score big-time, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that happens, okay buddy?”

 

“I guess,” said John.

 

“I think we all just need to go to bed,” said Rupert.

 

“Ugh, I thought you were going to fix the T.V.,” said Elsa.

 

“Just use the one in your room sweetie,” said Rupert.

 

“Uh, it’s broken, remember? That’s what I’m talking about.” 

 

“Watch it in your brother’s room,” said Rupert.

 

“No, she’s not allowed in my room!”

 

“Just forget it, as usual,” said Elsa. “I have my phone, it’s all I have.”

 

“Why does she get a phone and I don’t?” said John. “It’s so unfair.”

 

Margaret clapped her hands and brought attention to her well anticipated decree: “Alright kids, you heard your father, it’s time for bed—right now!” And so, the Bung children marched sulkily upstairs to their respective rooms. Rupert and Margaret’s bedroom was on the ground floor, which proved convenient as Margaret had to push Rupert’s heavy body in the Cyclone Dragon. Once in their room, Margaret (a little out of breath) began her routine. Her nightly ritual was for the Bungs a tacitly affectionate time, wherein Margaret would undress and put on her night gown and Rupert would sit on the bed and admire her. Margaret would then sit in front of her vanity, slowly remove her makeup, and search for elusive bobby-pins whilst combing her long, luscious locks. As she did this, Rupert too would change into his pajamas and they would talk. Their talk was most often soft and banal—regardless of what spats or quarrels they might have had previously in the day. On this night, however, there was a degree of tension that lingered in the air. Rupert could only imagine Margaret’s tender movements that he so looked forward to; one of the last intimate aspects of their marriage. 

 

“Oh Rupert, what are we going to do with you?”

 

“I don’t know how this happened. I thought I read the manual well enough, it didn’t mention anything like this.”

 

“Why do I feel as though I’m always bailing you out?”

 

“I didn’t mean for any of this, Margaret.”

 

“We’re just going to have to go see Dr. Mortimer in the morning. I’m not sure what else to do when you have this kind of accident. I’ll have to call in sick from work, not as though that’s really an option for me but I’ll have to. You can’t drive or take care of the kids like this.”

 

“‘Accident’? So, you don’t blame me?”

 

“Rupert, I don’t blame you, I’m worried about you. I just wish you didn’t keep making these little mistakes that have huge consequences. Like when you backed into the hardware store and broke their window. I had to sell some stuff of mine just to pay for that, or else we wouldn’t have been able to afford our vacation.”

 

“I thought you just exchanged my ticket?”

 

“Yes Rupert, and I had to sell my grandfather’s old cameras to Janice’s husband, who I guess has some sort of collection, you don’t remember? Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to afford being there. It certainly wasn’t easy traveling with two kids by myself, I couldn’t really enjoy my vacation. It was their vacation.”

 

“I missed you guys.”

 

“Yeah right, you probably had a blast here by yourself for ten days.”

 

“That’s not true... I’m sorry it was stressful; we should have just gone all together the following year.”

 

“I couldn’t disappoint our children Rupert, which seems easy for you.”

 

“Are you talking about the game?”

 

“What else?”

 

“Like I said—"

 

“Oh, I take that back, there are several ‘elses.’ You know what, let’s just forget it, I’m too tired for this.”

 

Margaret turned out the lights. Rupert did not notice the lights go out, for him it was already dark. He instead heard the familiar click of the switch and in his mind he turned out the lights. “Good night” he said. Margaret sighed and mumbled something like “good night.” Rupert did not sleep, though he experienced a peculiar form of rest, as if dozing in the delirium of a fever; without body, floating through an endless black, and sometimes a dreamlike image would appear, shimmering from a pellucid well within this limitless dark expanse.   

 

The Sun soon rose. Dappled light fluttered in through Rupert and Margaret’s open bedroom window. By then dust inside the dragon had settled just enough for Rupert to make out the smell of morning dew. With its fragrance came the memory of dawn’s luminous glow upon his face, still and tranquil. Margaret, on the other hand, awoke with a frantic gasp for air, seconds before her alarm. Hastily she prepared breakfast, called the kids’ schools to be excused for the day, informed both their jobs of a family emergency, and rang Dr. Mortimer’s clinic, begging for a same-day appointment. 

 

Margaret carted Rupert into the kitchen near the breakfast table, without a word. The children ate their breakfast mostly in silence, not talking beyond a murmur. Elsa glumly stared at her phone, into that intoxicatingly uninteresting little screen, and John watched cartoons on a small television set in the kitchen. Rupert could smell the pancakes they smacked down, could taste the aroma of maple syrup, could hear the coffeemaker percolating through the grounds, and the eggs sizzling in butter. Rupert then became aware of a profound feeling of hunger; for not only was his stomach (wherever it was) severely empty but he did not know when next he would eat, if ever again. In that moment, the possibility of starvation was real and tangible, and a true sense of panic ensued, though he did not voice it. Rupert had not attempted yet to speak to anyone that morning and he wondered if his voice had indeed disappeared, if perhaps the Dragon had swallowed that up as well. 

 

Immediately following breakfast, Margaret received a call from the clinic informing her that Dr. Mortimer would see them that morning. Quickly she ushered the family to the garage and, with reluctant help from the children, she hoisted Rupert into their SUV, taking care to strap his seat belt around the Dragon’s clumsy shape. 

 

Once checked into the clinic, Margaret spent a painful half hour waiting to be seen, enduring awkward glances and scowls from the other patients. Elsa, though usually prone to embarrassment, remained somewhat oblivious whilst fidgeting with the unremarkable world offered up by her phone. John also kept himself occupied, but with a video game. Margaret was much too tense for any kind of distraction, she managed only to stare beyond the other patients’ silent inquisition, transfixed upon the door from which the nurse would come. Rupert, feeling hungrier still, endeavored to conserve his energy and keep his anxiety at bay. He guessed that they had arrived at the clinic, and so he told himself to simply wait and see what the doctor says. 

 

When finally the Bung name was called, the nurse showed the family to their room and proceeded to ask the usual questions, to which Rupert groaned his answers from inside the Dragon. Out of some struggle to maintain an air of composure, the nurse then ventured to take Rupert’s vitals. Fumbling and uncoordinated, however, the nurse quickly gave surrender to the words: “Okay, the doctor will see you soon,” and rushed out the door. Rupert was surprised that he still possessed the ability to speak, though his volume was weakened, and this alone produced a hint of optimism that swept over him. 

 

After a brief and sharp knock, Dr. Mortimer hastily barged in. Before he could be seen moving past the opened door, his presence was evidenced by the odor of hand sanitizer—swishing about in his palms as he vigorously rubbed them together. He greeted the family in a polite but calloused tone, offering a damp sterile handshake to Margaret and each of the two kids, but stopped at Rupert.

 

“Well looks like we’ll have to take a raincheck on that handshake Roop”

 

“It’s a date,” said Rupert. 

 

“Ah, you can still talk, that’s very reassuring,” said Dr. Mortimer. He sat down and glanced over Rupert’s chart. “Looks like the nurse skipped over your vitals there Roop, but I guess we’ll have to give him a pass on that one today,” he said, punctuated with a chuckle. 

 

“Can you please tell us what’s going on?” said Margaret. 

 

“We’ll get to that, but first I want to do my best at determining his vitals—Did you hear that Roop? We’re going to give it the old college try and get some vitals.” Dr. Mortimer then listened with his stethoscope all over the vacuum, trying his best to discover “the sweet spot,” as he called it. “Well, Roop,” he said, “your vitals, as far as I can ascertain—and of course I am limited here—are perfectly normal. I can’t hear anything to raise concern over your heart or your lungs. Now, I would like to fit you in for an Xray before you leave the clinic and get a closer look at things, but I assume what we’ll find is something like the other cases, where the body is essentially held in a vacuum of pressure—hey, no pun intended there buddy—and somehow this condenses everything, yet your body remains functional.” 

 

“Other cases?” said Margaret. John, who had just fallen asleep on Margaret’s shoulder, let out a soft snort. 

 

“Yes, so what we have here guys—"

 

“Huh?” Elsa furrowed her brow and peeked over her phone. 

 

“Hey there, glad you could join us. Yeah, so what’s happened here is very simple: Rupert, your body is contained under high pressure by a popular household appliance known as the Cyclone Serpent—no, excuse me, Dragon. Now, we don’t understand fully how it happens nor how the victim is able to remain alive, and this is still a very recent phenomenon, yet we do know of a few ways that allow the patient to cope with the circumstances.”

 

“So, this has happened before?” said Margaret. 

 

“Oh yes, since last Spring when the product was made commercially available in the U.S., there have been 219 recorded incidents. There are more worldwide, though I’m not sure how many. All European countries have already banned sale of the product, as well as China, Japan, and Namibia, if I remember correctly. The U.S. will soon follow.”

 

“Did they survive?” said Rupert.

 

“What was that Roop?”

 

“The other cases, did they survive?”

 

“Ah, yes, well, it’s perhaps too soon to tell, but 217 out of the 219 incidents are currently surviving, yes.”

 

“Why can’t you just remove him from the serpent whirlpool thing?” said Margaret.

 

“Oh, well, those two who didn’t make it... need I say more? We don’t truly understand it, and it’s still very early, but extracting the patient from the Serpent has been known to be fatal. That’s not to say we won’t figure out some way of getting you out in the future there, Roop, but it’s hard to say at this point when that will be... It may take a while.”

 

“How can I eat?” 

 

“Okay Roop, let’s get you informed as to what you need to know going forward. And, Margaret, this will include the help of family. That is crucial. If family is unable to help then, well Roop, you’ll need to be taken into convalescence. Which can be expensive. So, this information is for you guys as much as it is for Rupert.”

 

“Of course, we’re here to help,” said Margaret, her eyes bulging somewhat. John stirred in his dozing nap and moved his head to his mother’s lap. Elsa thumbed her phone’s screen and slouched in her chair. 

 

“Great, so how do you eat? Well, Roop, we’ve discovered that you can eat soft foods, of about the same consistency as apple sauce. You do this by simply placing the food at the mouth of the Serpent, which is where your family comes in, puckering your lips and slurping as hard as you can. This may take some practice as you’re in the dark there. I suggest savory soups to make sure you get enough nutrition—take care, though, to let the soups cool down first so you don’t scald yourself.”

 

“What about going to the bathroom?” said Rupert. 

 

“Ew Dad, gross,” said Elsa. 

 

“An important question to be sure. Well, Roop, we’re not sure how it works but you just go, and amazingly the waste is transported to the lint chamber on the outside, just there,” Dr. Mortimer pointed to the clear cylinder attached to the side of the Dragon. “You’ll see it fill up, and, you just have to detach it and dump it in the toilet.” 

 

“Oh my god,” said Margaret. 

 

“Yep, it’s not pretty but it’s convenient, and it keeps him alive,” said Dr. Mortimer. “Not sure how the waste gets beyond your clothes, but it’s thought that your clothing actually gets torn from your body in the split second prior to being consumed by the serpent.”

 

“What about my breathing, am I going to run out of air?” 

 

“Nope, no no no, what we’ve found—"

 

“Are we going to have to push Dad around?” said Elsa.

 

“Actually no. You’ll have to refer to your manual but there’s a feature that electronically drives the serpent. And Roop, you may be able to control it. Not all cases, but most, have been able to drive the serpent themselves.”

 

“How?” said Rupert.

 

“We honestly don’t know, but they’re able to do it. Just make sure your battery is charged and the function is switched on. But you’ll need a guide, you don’t want to drive blind across a busy street.”

 

“This is a lot to take in,” said Rupert. 

 

“You’re alive Roop, that’s what you have to remind yourself of. This is a very new phenomenon, so you just have to take things day by day, and we’re going to be here with you every step of the way. For now, I’m giving you, Margaret, a packet that reiterates what I’ve gone over with you guys today, and if you ever have any questions just give us a call here at the clinic. If, Roop, you start to experience any symptoms that concern you I want you to come into the clinic ASAP, okay? And as it is, I would like to follow up with an appointment one week from now.” 

 

“What are people doing about the company that sold the vacuums, shouldn’t they cover our costs at the very least?” said Margaret. 

 

“Well, I actually have another patient in your shoes, or should I say vacuum,” Dr. Mortimer let out a brief chuckle, “and while I can’t break any confidentiality, I know that they have been very very successful, and I mean very successful, with the advice I’m going to leave you with here—" Dr. Mortimer paused for dramatic effect.

 

“What’s that?” said Margaret. 

 

“Get a lawyer, a good one.” 

 

 

 

———

 

 

 

That night, Rupert drifted once more between sleep and waking; floating in the same feverish limbo he had experienced the evening prior, while hunger prevented any hope for deep rest. His stomach rumbled like a freight train, the sounds of which reverberated throughout his dark chamber. He had done his best to slurp up what gruel Margaret had earlier prepared for him, but he was nevertheless famished. 

 

Suddenly Margaret awoke, springing to a seated position as if catapulted out of sleep. “Rupert? Darling, are you awake?” She switched on the bedside lamp. 

 

“Sorry, did my belly wake you? It’s been gurgling so incredibly loud, or at least it’s loud in here.”

 

“I don’t think so. I didn’t hear anything—But I had the most vivid dream, like a vision.”

 

“What about?” 

 

“The Serpent— “

 

“Dragon.”

 

“What?”

 

“Dragon, everybody keeps calling it serpent but it’s ‘Dragon’”

 

“Oh, yeah, the Dragon Hurricane, or whatever, I had a dream about it.”

 

“What happened?” Rupert’s voice trembled slightly, nervous as to what Margaret might say. 

 

“You had turned into a meatball, a flying meatball that hovered above us. I knew it was you, it had your face, somehow. We were all in the living room, where it happened. And the Hurricane was there. I think it spat you out like that, but it was still connected to you, in some way...”

 

“Oh god.”

 

“Wait, I’m not done... Then the dog came into the room. He was jumping up at you, trying to eat you! But you, you flew out the door. Then Rusty chased after you. We all followed; we ran outside. It was a sort of eerie in-between day and night, I’m not sure how to describe it— “

 

“Like twilight?”

 

“Kind of, but different, and the streets had all turned into meadows and woods. We ran and ran until finally you and Rusty came to a cliff. The dog stopped but you fell, even though before you could fly. I shouted out and then, I don’t know how, I was at the bottom of the cliff. It was dark down there, but I had a flashlight and I looked for you. Then I found... oh Rupert—"

 

“What is it?” Rupert’s teeth chattered as he spoke.

 

“There was this beautiful glimmer of light, a pool of light, almost unnatural but so so beautiful. I knew what it was, it was where you had hit the bottom, it was what you had become. I got closer to it and, whew, the light shone from a magnificent mound of gold!”

 

“Gold?”

 

“Yes Rupert, gold! Oh Rupert, I have never felt more optimistic than I do now. We’re going to fix this honey, and I know this has been awful for you, oh I feel so sorry for you darling, but what I realize now is that this is truly a blessing in disguise—we’re going to be so rich!”

 

“You really think so?”

 

“You heard what the doctor said, about his other patient. We need to get ourselves a lawyer, a good one. Oh Rupert, I can hardly wait until tomorrow, I’m going to find us a lawyer!”

 

As excited as Margaret was, she found it easy to fall back to sleep. Rupert, on the other hand, was unable even to doze. He recalled his usual experience with insomnia, how ceaselessly through the night he would toss and turn from one aggravatingly uncomfortable position to another—oh how he wished he could still do that! The supreme restraint of the Dragon then became more real and tangible than ever it was before, like an unbearable straight jacket. Rupert promptly came to the verge of panic, his anxiety ready to erupt in anyway it could, to explode out of the Dragon in his intense desire to move, even if it meant dying in the process. Rupert was but a moment from letting out an extraordinary scream when softly Margaret began to snore. It was a gentle sort of snore, a soothing snore that for Rupert seemed to originate from a peaceful, almost primordial place, like water rippling onto a calm shore. The snore called to his mind the image of boats, bobbing and drifting through a luminescent radiance of midday light on water. Rupert held to this image until morning; he sailed on a calm idyllic bay and breathed the sea air. He brought with him there Margaret and the two children. They were laughing there, smiling in the bright sunlight and kissed by a kind breeze. The optimism Margaret had felt earlier filtered through like the light itself. Perhaps she was right, Rupert thought, perhaps sailing was a vision of their future, a future of leisure and the tranquil enjoyment of each other’s company, and he would give it all to them. He wasn’t sure, but in that moment he suspected tears, tears of happiness at the thought of it.

 

Breakfast was different than the day before. Margaret, though again frenetic in her movements, had nevertheless relaxed. She took extra time to prepare Rupert’s gruel. She announced each ingredient she tossed into the blender, hoping that she might provide Rupert with as normal a meal in taste as possible: waffle with butter and syrup, corn flakes, and an omelet. For drink: orange juice and cold brew coffee.

 

“Oh my god Dad! Gross!” said Elsa.

 

“I’m sorry sweetie, it must be the coffee,” said Rupert. Margaret gave no protestation and quickly took the lint chamber to the bathroom and dumped the waste.

 

“Okay Princess, let me ask you a question,” said Rupert. Elsa gave no response.

 

“Did you hear that sweetie?” said Rupert.

 

“Answer your father!” said Margaret. 

 

“Uh, what’s that Dad? Jeez,” said Elsa.

 

“If you could have anything for that big birthday coming up, what would you want?”

 

“Are you serious?’

 

“That’s right, if you could have anything what would it be?”

 

“I guess I’d want a car”

 

“Just any car?”

 

“I don’t know, a Porsche.”

 

“Okay, good to know.”

 

“Is this for real?”

 

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” said Rupert. Elsa gave an expression Margaret hadn’t seen on her in many years: her eyes glinted in the morning light like shimmering blue sapphires, and under those eyes she wore a childishly innocent smile, one that was still in love with the world. Margaret placed a hand on the Dragon and released a smile of one who was still in love with their marriage. She knew then that Rupert shared her hopes. 

 

Rupert’s optimistic euphoria carried him through the day and thus allowed him to focus on learning about his “new life”, as he told himself. Margaret had charged the battery to the Dragon since the Doctor’s visit, and so his aim was to discover the driving feature that would allow him to move freely. He inched what could have been a finger towards a number of bumps and lumps inside the Dragon, testing an applied pressure to each protrusion. After many trials, he finally felt the Dragon jolt abruptly. Their dog yelped in alarm and Rupert felt the impact of something hard against the Dragon, stopping his motion. He cried out with exalted joy at his achievement, unintelligible but nevertheless something of a “eureka”.

 

“Hey Rusty, do you want to go for a walk? Just a matter of time now buddy.”  The dog responded with a confused tilt of his ruddy head. Rupert toiled vigorously within the Dragon to find reverse, shaking the Dragon slightly with his movements. Rusty began to growl, which prompted Rupert to laugh. He didn’t quite know why he laughed but his laughter filled him with a sense of exultant glee, as if he had triumphed at last. 

 

Margaret returned from work late that afternoon, having picked up the Bung children from their extracurricular practices. They found Rupert wedged between the couch and end table, laughing hysterically, whilst Rusty barked at the Dragon in a frantic and desperate manner. There was some sharp chastising that issued immediately from Margaret, which quickly transformed into an expression of concern as she remembered the change in attitude she had recently adopted. Exhausted, though again renewed by this fresh outlook, she suggested going out to dinner. Normally such an expenditure for the Bungs would be reserved solely for a special occasion. And yet, Margaret knew that indeed it was a time to celebrate, to revel quietly with Rupert in their bright future before officially informing the children of their prospects. Moreover, she was much too tired to cook for everyone—a point she often made when preparing dinner despite her evening fatigue (used as a plea for sympathy from the Bungs, though much to her chagrin). 

 

The Bung family dined at their favorite restaurant, “Meat o’ Balls”. It was an Italian food chain with good service, moderate prices, and predictable food. The interior of the place was bedecked by a stained glass and chandelier theme, reminiscent of an old Deco train station. The prevalence of colored glass glistened like a carousal of luminescence. The cacophony of clinking dishes and cutlery, typical for a large and popular restaurant of its kind, was cushioned by the sparkling glow of it all, transmogrified into what was pleasing to the Bung ear—possessing all the charm and enchantment of wind chimes in a soft breeze. Plastic vines and roses adorned the tables and many nooks and crannies throughout the restaurant’s wide space, supplying the Bungs with a sort of still comfort; a clean and immaculate beauty that neither faded nor needed any care. 

 

The restaurant staff were very accommodating to Rupert, much as though they were familiar with his sort of situation, and so took no issue in blending his minestrone soup at room temperature. For the first time since his accident, he felt again the confidence of being normal. Inspired, he ventured to reassume his fatherly presence at the table, perhaps even with an air authority, despite his being on the floor below his family. 

 

“More water there guy?” Asked their server. 

 

“Yeah,” said John, pointing to his empty glass.

 

“‘Yes please’, son, say ‘yes please’,” said Rupert.

 

“Yeah please,” said John. 

 

As the server poured the water, Elsa shouted: “Look mom! Some people are actually sitting there tonight, under the Gazebo!”  

 

“What?!” said Margaret. At the center of the restaurant, elevated two meters above the floor, was a large Gazebo with a roof of plastic ivy woven into its lattice work. From its pinnacle hung an ornate candelabra, suspended above a table and floor composed entirely of stained glass—an iridescent mosaic that seemed to dance with the lights overhead, spinning like a dervish. The Gazebo had been something of a Bung family mystery. It baffled the Bungs as to why they never saw anyone seated there, nor did the host ever offer it to them. The enigma would have no doubt easily been solved had Margaret or Rupert simply asked an employee about the Gazebo, but they felt much too embarrassed to do so. They hypothesized that it was expensive and by reservation only, and that perhaps only the rich and famous ever dined there. That this night there were people seated under the Gazebo sent a shock down Margaret’s spine. She sensed it as fate, which roused a cryptic kind of apprehension in her, the likes of which she had felt before only in dreams. She internally chided herself for her irrational, vague fear and so spun around to confront the Gazebo. To her amazement, she saw a family of two children, roughly the same age as her own, and an elderly couple (presumably the grandparents) all sitting alongside a vacuum that looked very much like what had swallowed Rupert. Margaret stared intently upon them, so much so that the grandfather noticed her and they met eyes. Margaret remained still, transfixed as though compelled to look at them. The grandfather nudged his wife and they both looked at Margaret, then smiled knowingly, nodded and raised their wine glasses to her. Margaret responded with a cheers from her own glass of soda and then her focus returned to her table. A wave of positive feeling blanketed her, warming her hands that before she had thought were cold. 

 

“Well? Who is up there? A movie star?” said Rupert, chuckling a bit. 

 

“No Rupert, they’re just ordinary people, people like us... They’re people like us who just sat under the Gazebo!” said Margaret.

 

That night Margaret glided through their bedtime routine with an air of smug sophistication. Her attitude emerged from the pretense of having just ascended into a higher stratum of society, a class that Margaret would later describe as not only natural but destined for them. It was as if they had already themselves dined under the Gazebo at “Meat o’ Balls”.  Enchanting though it was, her fantastical mood was rudely interrupted once Rupert’s lint chamber filled suddenly with an exuberant burst of energy. 

 

“I’m sorry, I must be nervous about this whole lawyer business,” said Rupert. 

 

Margaret put up an invisible fence which protected her from ugly things. She did not wish to break the magic spell that hung about her like an incandescent aura. She took the lint chamber and disposed of the waste with perfect detachment. From the bathroom Margaret spoke to Rupert with a far removed yet whimsical tone, a voice imbued with noble matter-of-factness. She informed Rupert that she had talked to a coworker that day who knew of an excellent lawyer by the name of Grundle, one who had a reputation for “defending the consumer”.

 

“So don’t be nervous. Remember, this company of the... the Serpent-thing, has violated your rights, Rupert, not only as a consumer but a citizen, and now it is absolutely within your right to demand compensation, and I’m talking monetary compensation, and lots of it,” said Margaret. “You’re a victim Rupert, a victim, and now it’s time for them to be held responsible and cover your loses. And just think about it, no matter how much money they compensate it doesn’t even begin to make up for being trapped indefinitely in a vacuum, now does it?”

 

“No, I suppose not.”

 

“That’s why we need to make them pay, and I think Grundle might be our answer.”

———

The next morning after breakfast, Rupert enlisted the help of his son to walk their dog around the neighborhood. For a leash, Rupert had John tie the cord from the vacuum to Rusty’s collar. Rupert was the only person of the family who ever walked Rusty, and so it had been a few days since Rusty roamed beyond the confines of the backyard. Pent up and unfamiliar with John as a walking companion, Rusty bolted down the sidewalk the moment John opened the front door. He ran like a rocket down the street, all the while tied to the Dragon’s cord which seemed to unravel endlessly. At long last, more than a block away, the cord became in an instant taught** and Rusty jerked to a halt. The Dragon remained nearly inert, somehow weighted like an anchor in response to the cord’s canid sojourn. Rupert, becoming increasingly aware of the device’s mechanics, then realized he knew how to retract the cord, which fiercely pulled Rusty back with rapid force. With the voice of authority Rupert shouted “heel!” and Rusty at once obeyed, appearing to have finally made the connection between Rupert and the Dragon. Calmly, they walked on, with John as the “navigator.” 

 

Rupert enjoyed walking the dog. He liked to talk to Rusty on their jaunts, sometimes about important matters but most frequently he would palaver on whatever came to his mind. To his family he would say jokingly that Rusty was the only one who listened to him. Indeed, Rupert’s banal thoughts were not ever tolerated in the house. He could not share openly his opinions regarding what he had read in the newspaper (whenever he was given the chance to read it), his lists of the best or worst of something, nor any so-called “random” observation of the world. He used to try, but his family would typically roll their eyes in annoyance and ignore Rupert, usually walking out of the room even while he rattled on. Eventually Rupert learned not to bother them with his humorous ideas or idle chit chat. Because of this, the dog became the outlet for his thoughts, and he reckoned Rusty might even appreciate the sound of his voice. 

 

When the children were much younger, they in fact did show a great deal of interest in Rusty. They would dress him in various costumes and act out elaborate make-believe scenarios in the backyard. Margaret too seemed to have loved Rusty, showing John as a toddler how to throw a ball and play fetch with the dog. Over time, these affections diminished, and Rupert was unsure as to why. He felt it strange and unnatural for a child to neglect a dog, and thought it as a sign of something wrong, though exactly what was wrong he did not know. Rupert ultimately blamed himself for his children’s apathy in regard to their dog, or indeed any animal, though exactly how he was at fault he did not know. Yet as he walked Rusty with John just a few days after being swallowed whole by a vacuum, Rupert began to realize that parallel to the children’s and Margaret’s affections diminishing toward the dog, so too over the years had Rupert’s affections to his own family. Though Rupert had for a long time convinced himself otherwise, on this particular walk he mysteriously could not help but admit internally that his affections had since been mostly replaced with automatic words or gestures; a force of habit lacking genuine content. 

 

Rupert wheeled onwards, detecting only the forward force of the Dragon and the propulsion of the dog’s tug upon the vacuum cord. To his senses, their motion was through a dark void, but at each turn a perfect image came to his mind of where they were, for he had walked it a thousand times before. Rupert pictured every tree, hedge, and fence as Rusty moved through his habitual constitution. He imagined theirs was a brisk march through the neighborhood on a chilly yellow-leaved day. He wondered if the leaves had yet fallen and made his usual armchair predictions of the impending winter, guessing there’d be more snow than in the previous year. Then a memory came to him, a memory Rupert had not thought of in decades. He recalled an incident from when he was at boarding school. It was winter and the first snow had just covered the ground in the early evening. There was only a couple of hours before curfew, but Rupert and his roommate Sandy wanted to explore the alluringly white woods behind the dormitory. Rupert had recently purchased a book on animal tracking from the bookstore in town and it was Sandy’s idea that the fresh snow might provide an excellent opportunity for identifying tracks in the forest. There was an unofficial path that the students, though not allowed to walk there, had made over the years. Both Rupert and Sandy had tromped around in the woods before but always with a lingering tension that comes with the possibility of getting caught. This year they both were seniors and so didn’t care. Their only focus was the task of exploration. 

 

Not far into the woods, Rupert and Sandy spotted paw prints of some kind. They were large like a big breed of dog but square shaped and lacking the nail marks around the pads. Looking at the book with a large cheap plastic flashlight, Rupert and Sandy agreed, with much excitement, that only a mountain lion could make such a track. A heavy mist set in, obscuring their vision beyond the immediate few yards in front of them. Nevertheless, they went on, following the tracks that for the most part kept to the trail. 

 

“What would you do if the mountain lion came after us?” said Rupert. 

 

“I don’t know, consider myself lucky, I guess,” said Sandy.

 

“What do you mean? You’re supposed to stand your ground and make noise, even fight if necessary. Though I’d probably just run.”

 

“I wouldn’t fight, or even run. I would simply let it eat me” said Sandy, and he flung over his shoulder part of a long scarf so that it better warmed his neck. The scarf he had knitted all fall and was about as long as he was. He had no talent for knitting. The scarf was not uniformly shaped, it was wide in parts, slender in others, and had the appearance of undulating like waves. There were also numerous small holes. It was Sandy’s prized possession. 

 

“Why? Come on, you don’t want to die like that, being eaten by some beast at the ripe age of 18.” 

 

“I would be an ecological hero. I would fulfill some real purpose, not whatever bullshit consumer ideal they make you believe here at school. You know, I would welcome that death. I hope this thing eats us tonight and poops us out tomorrow. It’d be much worse to live some suburban fantasy and die an old fat ass. You know, they pump your corpse so full of chemicals now you don’t even decompose, or at least it takes much longer than usual. I think It’s much more noble to be cat shit.”

 

Rupert believed Sandy. As always, Sandy was very compelling, for he possessed the strength of conviction. Rupert’s own words were clumsy in comparison and lacked confidence, nor did he ever fully think through what he said. Sandy, by contrast, gave himself completely and earnestly to the words that he spoke, in a way that Rupert was quite envious of. Sandy’s speech came across as aware of itself, articulate, and heavily steeped in logic. Rupert both admired and hated him for it, for it caused Rupert to feel slightly inferior. And as is natural for anyone who feels inferior, Rupert was therefore ever-critical of Sandy. His biggest complaint was that he suspected an absence of experience to back half of what Sandy ever said. Rupert thus often found Sandy to be overly opinionated and was frequently irritated by his pontifications. Even so, Rupert liked Sandy and thought him brave. 

 

The temperature dropped and the bitter cold mysteriously commanded a silence between Rupert and Sandy. The mist began to crystalize and shine as brief sparkles in the light of their torch, like silver aspen leaves flickering in a distant summer wind. Rupert noticed his breath linger as steam clouding around him, mingling with the foggy ether. The snow had hardened and crunched beneath their steps. Rupert feared this noise might give away their presence to the animal, though there existed no stated objective as to what they were actually doing. Then the tracks stopped. 

 

“The tracks— “

 

“Shh!” said Sandy, holding up a hand and furrowing his brow.

 

Rupert listened but heard nothing. A gust blew and broke his concentration. He became mesmerized by the illumined mist that danced in the wind like ghostly hands beckoning them further into the forest. Then at once the breeze died and all became deathly still, stagnant. Rupert felt a tension, a primeval tension that inexplicably stifled his breath, as if the woods were a sweltering jungle, frigid though it was.  

 

“Maybe we should—" Rupert was immediately interrupted by a low sustained groan, gradually building in volume and intensity yet without a clear point of origin, as if issuing from another world. Once it had reached its peak, the sound came crashing down abruptly upon itself in a distorted wailing crescendo. Rupert had paused somewhere between his fear and bewilderment. With extraordinary effort he turned to look for Sandy but all that he saw was a wisp of Sandy’s scarf vanishing into the fog, and with him their light. In that second, an impetus for survival moved Rupert to run, bolting into the misty void. The heat he had felt before stayed with him, dripping down his forehead and burning his face, though he paid no mind to it. He was detached from all feeling, even panic. He knew only to run and he could not stop running, blindly retracing their steps back to the dorm with an automatic abandon, outside of time. After some untold distance, his trance was broken by the glow of a streetlamp sifting through the trees, and near it he noticed Sandy frantically lifting himself up from having slid in his flight. Rupert called to him but Sandy kept towards the orange halo. Rupert was reunited with Sandy only once he had made it back to their dorm room. It was tacitly understood between them not to talk about what had just happened. 

 

Rusty barked at a squirrel and woke Rupert from his dream of the past. Sandy was no longer consequential to Rupert. His image had returned to a photo in Rupert’s dusty high school yearbook, hidden away in the attic. Sandy’s photo would no doubt appear ridiculous now, Rupert thought. He had begun to view the things of humanity as ever-becoming inconsequential and ridiculous. Eventually everything would degrade into a state of simple refuse, Rupert mused, like a kitsch souvenir that loses not only its charm but its sentimentality, destined from the start to the landfill. Rupert’s yearbook would soon become trash. The Cyclone Dragon, even, would turn someday into a piece of garbage. Rupert found that thought oddly comforting: he liked the idea of being thrown into a landfill, to be crushed into a great sea of compacted rubbish and then dissolved slowly overtime, like spilling into a boundless abyss. There was freedom in this fantasy. Rupert could think of nothing more restricting than a fated coffin, a sealed box. Then again, Margaret would not likely want to pay for an extra wide casket to house the vacuum, though cremation would probably have no effect on the Dragon. And there Rupert dropped the subject from his mind. 

 

Rupert’s mental attentions turned instead to his son. John had been talking during most of their walk and Rupert had just become aware of his absent-mindedness in their conversation. Rupert had responded to John with an intermittent “yeah” or “uh-uh”, though he hadn’t actually been listening. He had only paid enough attention to know that John was telling what was supposed to be a funny story, and Rupert chuckled automatically whenever John laughed. Rupert felt badly about it. Perhaps he didn’t speak enough to his son, he thought. He could not recall any real talk between them that he would consider special. Rupert realized then that it had been years since he had hugged John without it being an empty and routined set of choreography, with John agitated and squirming half the time. Rupert made a plan to genuinely hug John, to withhold nothing, and experience authentic tenderness with his son. And yet, Rupert knew that he may never hug any of his children again, nor watch them grow. He wanted to tell John how he felt but no words could escape him. 

 

While Rupert and John were out, Margaret arranged to meet with Grundle. By a stroke of tremendous luck, Margaret had set up a time with the lawyer the very next day—what Grundle’s secretary called a “miracle” (an abrupt cancellation that freed an hour for Grundle in the afternoon). Margaret excitedly shared this news the instant Rupert and John returned from walking the dog. Unwittingly, it was the first moment either Margaret or Rupert had spoken of the matter in front of their children. John at once enquired, and Elsa rushed in from the next room to investigate. Margaret quickly yielded to their line of questioning, giving in softly, warmly. She thought that maybe she had subconsciously meant to bring it all out into the open, that she could not have kept her dear hopes from their children any longer. Margaret revealed everything to them. She illustrated a wondrous and propitious future, making extravagant promises about various items they were to buy. One such item that Margaret was particularly keen on was a boat for the lake they frequented during the summer, the kind of boat they used to watch as a family from the peer and fantasize about owning one day. The children smiled, their eyes became bright, their faces full of confident happiness and genuine enthusiasm. Tears of joy trickled down Margaret’s face. 

 

“Mom, can I bring Dad to school tomorrow?” said John.

 

“Of course, but what for?” said Margaret, kneeling to be eye level with John.

 

“It’s a show and tell day,” said John. “I was going to bring my Venus flytrap, but it died.”

 

“Oh, of course you can sweetie,” Margaret ran her fingers through John’s hair as she spoke. “And then afterwards your father and I will head straight to the lawyer, that enchanter who will make all our dreams come true.” 

 

“Yes!” said John. “I’m going to be so popular!” 

 

———

 

The next morning Margaret brought Rupert to John’s class. Margaret explained to John’s teacher, Mrs. Page, the situation for his show and tell. Mrs. Page laughed with an incredulous tone, automatically assuming Margaret’s story was some kind of gag. Then, out of the Dragon, came the voice of Rupert who introduced himself. He sounded, as he always did since the Dragon had swallowed him, like someone speaking from inside a very small space, muffled yet clear. Mrs. Page was visibly shocked though she did not express fear, she instead searched in vain for an adequate response and soon fell into a state of silent bewilderment. Even as the bell rang for class to begin, Mrs. Page could not break from her seemingly catatonic state, her eyes fixed on someplace far away. 

 

Margaret smiled and took the opportunity to address the children, announcing John’s show and tell. John strutted proudly to the front of class with the Dragon by his side. 

 

“This vacuum is no ordinary vacuum,” said John. “It can suck up anything in your house, lightning-fast. Carrots—boom! Tennis balls—boom! Remote controls—boom! Cats—boom! Dogs—boom! And people—boom boom boom!”

 

“No it can’t!” said a student.

 

“Can too, it sucked up my dad—boom!” The class broke into a roaring laughter. “Dad! Talk to them!” 

 

“Hi class, I am John’s dad, Rupert. It’s so very nice to meet you.” The laughter ceased and all the class rushed to the vacuum, poking and prodding in inspection. “Watch out kids! You don’t want to hit the wrong lever, or you might just wind up in here with me.” The students who were touching the Dragon recoiled instantly. Rupert chuckled. One child burst into tears and ran out of the classroom. 

 

“Don’t scare the children Rupert!” said Margaret. 

 

“My dad is going to sue the vacuum people and make us super rich. Boom!” said John. “We’re going to live in a big mansion, bigger than any of your houses, the biggest house you’ve ever seen, because I have a vacuum dad and you don’t. Boom!” 

 

The class became a clamoring ruckus. The students swarmed around John in a frenzy that supported him. John held his head regally upwards, as if he were looking down onto the masses from far above. Margaret and Rupert then left, both swelled with an immense sense of pride as parents. 

 

Margaret adeptly hoisted Rupert into their car with the well-practiced technique of using her hip as a sort of fulcrum. She turned on the radio and drove en route to the lawyer’s office. An obnoxious commercial break caused Margaret to tune the radio to a different station (from the usual classic rock) and by accident came upon the public programming her grandmother once listened to daily. It had been years since Margaret had listened to this station, nor even thought of it. On the air was the show divas, paying tribute that day to the opera great Maria Callas, on her birthday. A phone-in requested to hear the aria “Ave Maria”. Rupert scoffed. 

 

“Oh jeez,” said Rupert.

 

“What?” said Margaret.

 

“That song is so damned religious,” said Rupert.

 

“I think it’s pretty,” said Margaret.

 

“I can’t with this song, it’s far too heavy handed with God God God. We had to listen to it at Sunday School when I was a kid, so bad memories there... Why do you like it? Aren’t we atheists?” said Rupert.

 

“I like the melody— “the aria began to play, commanding a brief pause in the conversation. “Besides, this is Maria Callas,” said Margaret. 

 

“So, Ave Myself?” Rupert let out a little smug laughter at his pun. 

 

Margaret thought of Ave Maria for the first time in twenty years. Effusive tears poured down her face, despite her greatest efforts to hold them back. She did not, however, sniffle or weep audibly—she wished to protect her feelings from Rupert’s insensitive remarks. Her grandmother had died in a car accident all those years ago and Margaret, without ever telling anyone, decided then to find out what her grandmother’s favorite station had played at the time of her death. It was Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria sung by Maria Callas—very likely the last piece of music she ever heard. Margaret pictured the crash, imagined what it most probably would have looked like for her grandmother, all in slow motion. Her mind could not help but to choreograph the images of broken metal and glass on impact to the aria as it played in her own car. 

 

 ———

 

Rupert could hardly speak. He was desperate. He didn’t want to lose his family. He didn’t want to wind up alone in the dark. Rupert sensed it the moment Ave Maria played on the radio, reminding him of Sunday school with its boredom and unanswered prayers. He knew intuitively that nothing in dreams can really come true, not for people like himself. Not for Margaret. He knew their attempts at a better life were fanciful, petty, even pathetic. 

 

It was night, Rupert and Margaret were in their bedroom. They had not spoken since their visit with the lawyer. There was a tension—not one that grows and so can break, but a tension that could remain sunk in the doldrums of an impossible rut. They could stay there forever, in this rut; unresolved and swelled with the hurt between them. Margaret would never release them from this tension, it had to be Rupert, though he struggled to push the necessary air over his vocal cords. 

 

“I had no idea, Margaret, please believe me.” The response from Margaret was a heavy silence. She felt this silence in the pit of her stomach, a peculiar nausea—she held onto this sick sensation as something that affirmed life for her; she could feel nothing else. Her emotions hibernated in a frozen torpor at the bottom of her stomach.   

 

“Margaret? Please believe me, please believe me, I didn’t realize, how was I supposed to know? I am a victim, like you said, we just have to find a lawyer who understands vacuums— “

 

“It’s hopeless.”

 

“What?”

 

“It’s hopeless Rupert, no one is going to tell us anything different. As always, we lost, we lost, and we’re going to keep on losing... I don’t know how we’re going to tell the children. John was so proud, we let him down.”

 

“No, we didn’t, we’re not going to give up, it’s just going to take a little more time. We didn’t lose. We’re not going to let John down, we’re not letting anyone down.”

 

“No Rupert, we just have to face the fact that we’re losers.”

 

“No baby, never, I won’t let that happen, I intend to keep on fighting, for everyone... I wish I could hold you right now and make you feel like everything's going to be alright.”

 

“Don’t touch me! Don’t you dare... You know what Rupert, you’re right, we’re not losers, you are! You and you alone. I should have known, I should have known you’d ruin this. You always act like such an expert, the big man around the house, when you can hardly nail a picture to the wall. Of course you’d throw away the warranty tag, the tag with big bold red letters warning never to remove it, you fucking idiot! You can’t even fucking read!”

 

“So, you do blame me? I thought you said you didn’t blame me for any of this?”

 

“I don’t blame you Rupert, I loathe you.”

 

“Please baby, it’s not fair, I’m trapped in the dark, I can’t move, I— “

 

“So that’s how you’re going to respond? It’s still all about you isn’t it? You and your damn vacuum, no one else matters. I’m tired of being neglected by you, of this whole family being neglected by you.”

 

“I want to change, I want to make everything better. I promise, I just had an accident, it’s not as if I’m an alcoholic or something— “

 

“This is worse, your neglect is worse, I’d rather you were an alcoholic. I could understand if you were an alcoholic, but your addiction is far more insidious, you’re addicted to yourself, you don’t even need a substance.”

 

“Darling, please don’t loathe me, I’m trying, I really am, I’m sorry, I’m sorry for everything.”

 

“You see? You only care about being loathed, not how your behavior affects your family... I don’t know if I can do this anymore Rupert.”

 

“Please don’t leave me, I love you, I’ll make it work, I’ll keep on fighting, I’ll find another lawyer.”

 

“How? Because I’m not going to look for another lawyer. I’m done with this game, this stupid game of yours.”

 

“I’ll find a way.”

 

“Oh, and you’re going to tell the children, not me.”

 

“Okay, but give me some time, I need some time— “

 

“I’m not giving you much of anything anymore, I’ve given everything I can, that’s it, I’m tired of always being the one who has to make accommodations for you, compromises for you, do everything on your terms. I’m through with making sacrifices—If you don’t tell them by the beginning of next week we are over.”

 

The next week was in just a couple days, the day after John’s big game. Rupert attended the game with his family. He listened to the sounds of the referee’s whistle, the screech of shoes on the gymnasium floor, the shouts from enthusiastic parents, and all the while he played in his mind the logistics of what should be his own next move, how he might save their dreams. 

 

Then a thought suddenly came to him: he realized that he could in fact preserve his family’s ambitions, though at the forfeit of his own. Margaret had made such sacrifices, he thought, and now he must repay her with his own great sacrifice. His only consolation would be to not have to tell the children about his blunder, he would not have to disappoint them, that at least he could escape, if only he dared to: he had remembered reading about a “Dragon Breath” function that could dissolve (or maybe incinerate, he wasn’t sure) the contents of the vacuum if it ever became clogged. If he were to find and engage this function it would most surely be the end of him. His death his family could easily benefit from since, unbeknownst to Margaret, Rupert had an excellent life insurance policy, one that even covered so-called “freak accidents,” and no doubt a causality of the Dragon would qualify. He told himself he’d sleep on it. 

 

The following morning Margaret spoke to Rupert for the first time since their argument (Rupert had already made a few utterances—remarks that either ignored what had transpired between them or laboriously recognized their issue—he would ramble on without any response from Margaret yet desperately act as though she was nevertheless engaged in conversation with him). Margaret on this day, however, broke her silence in order to curtly remind Rupert of his promise to tell the children. Rupert asked if he could break the news to them after dinner at Meat O’ Balls, though Margaret denied his request. Rupert begged, breaking into tears, and Margaret reluctantly conceded, though only on the condition that he stay home during dinner: “no promise, no dinner.” Rupert complained that he was being treated like a child, to which Margaret replied: “if the shoe fits” and walked off. 

 

Margaret felt a sharp inner twinge as she walked away, like a paper cut on her calloused severity towards Rupert. She knew that her attitude was harsh, and that it was painful for her because she still cared for Rupert. But it was also necessary for without it she would fall into a deep dark well, a place she had been to before and promised she’d never return to. Her anger at Rupert was the only barrier to falling once again into that debilitating despair.

 

It was following the birth of her first child, Elsa, when Margaret became familiarized with her black well. Margaret suffered then from an extreme form of a condition known as postpartum depression. Margaret could hardly recall the first few months after Elsa’s birth, they were so saturated by the well—she became absolutely listless, gave up nursing her infant, could not even bear to be in her child’s presence, and was hardly able to eat without throwing up. She looked at life like it was shimmering above the surface of the well water, ever farther above with each passing day. Margaret stopped seeing colors, she could not taste, she never heard pleasant sounds or words from others, and she could no longer stand her own scent which became overpowering to all other smells. 

 

Margaret scarcely noticed Rupert in those days and thought him to be of little help. Rupert had initially reacted to her depression with incredulity and made dismissive, almost flippant comments that sank Margaret even deeper. Only after Margaret’s mother moved in to help did Rupert begin to take the matter seriously. He then tried his best with frequent pep talks (that turned into speeches), foot rubs, house chores, and extra parenting. Rupert’s attempts seemed to Margaret's mother, however, to be “too little too late,” and so she wholly resented him, even blamed him for her daughter’s state and vowed never to forgive him, and she never did. Margaret, on the other hand, simply did not notice Rupert, nor even her mother, she was incapable of paying attention to anyone, least of all her infant child. 

 

Margaret of course eventually rose out of her well, though it took many months. Rupert attributed her triumph to his own valiant efforts to support her. Margaret’s mother assumed credit as well and chalked up Margaret’s recovery to her own exceptional skills as a mother and grandmother. Margaret had convinced herself that it was her love for Elsa that shone through and pulled her out, as well as her desire to be strong for her child. In truth, however, Margaret felt better only because of time. It simply took time. 

 

A day of shopping at the mall followed by dinner at Meat O’ Balls was meant to ease the disappointment the children would feel once Rupert told them that they were no longer going to be rich. Because Rupert had decided to delay his confession until later Margaret’s plan was back-firing—it now served only to harden the fall rather than soften the blow. Nevertheless, Margaret needed the day out more than anyone and was pleased to get some brief distance from Rupert. 

 

In the car, Margaret noticed that the children seemed to relax without the presence of their father. She guessed it was because they could monopolize their mother’s attention, though she also held some thoughts of resentment towards Rupert she chose to ignore, she’d thought of him enough lately. Elsa and John played a game in the back seat, hitting each other in the arm whenever either of them saw a “slugbug” Volkswagen Bug. They giggled after every punch. Margaret smiled while she looked at them strike each other in the mirror. She realized that she could not remember the last time the children had laughed together. 

 

Rupert forgot which room of the house he was in. He had formed the habit of imagining the room he was in at all times—he had become quite good at it, so much so that he often didn’t notice he could no longer see. Yet after he heard Margaret and the children walk out the front door, it was as if they had switched the lights off as they left. He was in darkness once more, lost in his own home and resting in a state of torpid solitude. It was just as well, he thought, now he could go through with his plan.

 

Rusty found Rupert and came to him whining. Rusty grabbed the cord to the Dragon and pulled, trotting toward the front door. Rupert followed him with his motorized wheels and realized quickly what Rusty needed. The obstacle was the front door, and Rupert could not open it. He felt sorry for the dog who whined as he looked intensely at the door. 

 

“I’ve let you down too, haven’t I?” Rupert said. He heard a loud bark from Rusty, followed by a series of frantic scratches at the door. Then, to Rupert’s great surprise, there was the sound of the door swinging open. Somehow, Rusty had done it. Still with the cord in his jaws, he bolted out onto the sidewalk with Rupert tugged close behind him. Rupert’s imaginative sight began to come back into focus: he saw the sidewalk, the trees in front of the houses, the route he and Rusty would always take. 

 

A half hour into their walk, Rusty stopped abruptly at a fork. Rupert always chose the road on the right, flanked by overgrown blackberries bushes along a fence on one side and large oak trees in front of grand old houses on the other; it was the historic neighborhood prior to the recent developments that cut into what was surrounding farmland. Rupert liked to imagine what life was like just twenty years before they had moved there, how the landscape had changed. There used to be a patch of remaining farmland that he and Rusty would walk by, where he would try and picture an entire vista of agricultural fields and woodlands. In the last few years, however, those farms too had disappeared under subdivisions. 

 

Rusty pulled Rupert inexplicably to the left. Rupert had no clear image of this road and so his vision once again started to fade. The road went down a gentle slope and Rusty kept going down it, down, down, down—the sensation of descent frightened Rupert but he was at the same time compelled and did not resist. Eventually the sidewalk leveled and almost as soon as it did Rusty stopped. There were no traffic sounds, no children playing, no distant chatter, no leaf blowers. There was only a silence that gently yielded to the rush of water. Rupert conjured in his mind the primordial crash of waves on rocks by the coast, the hush of foamy seawater passing over sand. He took this fantasy one step further and thought of a salty breeze, of seagulls, of a seemingly eternal watery horizon on fire with orange from the setting Sun. 

 

In fact, Rupert and Rusty were nowhere near the beach, they rested instead by an overflowing gutter that gushed into a ditch. Rusty sat peering motionless into the running brownish water. He dropped the cord to the Dragon from his mouth and whined with a quiet raspy voice. Rupert then heard Rusty walk away. His nails, long overdue for a clipping, scraped on the sidewalk as he trotted. Rupert wanted to call out to him but couldn’t muster the strength to do so. Rupert had only so much strength and he was going to need all of it. 

 

Rupert grappled with minute movements to find the Dragon Breath function. As he toiled, a younger sounding man who was accompanied by at least one other person, a woman as far as Rupert could tell, approached the Dragon. 

 

“Woah, nice vacuum, but it obviously belongs in the ditch,” said the young man, who grabbed a hold of the Dragon’s handle to lift it. 

 

“What’s in this?” said the young man, struggling with all his might to lift the vacuum.

 

“Let go of me, leave me alone,” said Rupert. The young man dropped Rupert from the twenty or so centimeters he was able to lift and screamed. Rupert heard frantic running footsteps and he was soon by himself again. 

 

By luck, being dropped jostled Rupert just enough to land a finger, or perhaps a toe, on a lever that he didn’t know was there, and by process of elimination deduced it must be the Dragon Breath function. He switched it on unceremoniously without hesitation. He felt a warm liquid pass over him and guessed that it was his last moment without intense pain. His first thought to fill this moment was about Elsa, about how beautiful she was as a baby and how adorable she was as a small child. He remembered one summer: Margaret was six months pregnant with John and they had just bought a new bed for her back. Rupert placed the old mattress in the backyard and left it there for about a month before taking it to the transfer station. During those weeks, Rupert and Elsa would lay on the old mattress and look at the stars together. Sometimes he would also read bedtime stories to her by flashlight on the mattress. 

 

Rupert realized that this memory was lasting a long time. The warm liquid had cooled and he had become uncomfortable but was in no real pain. He tried pushing the lever further to one side, and then switched it off and on again. Still, nothing. It then struck Rupert that he had made an error. The Dragon Breath function required a special fluid that did not come with the vacuum, it had to be ordered separately. The warm liquid he did feel must have been his own urine—the lint chamber was backed up, no doubt.

 

Rupert wheeled the Dragon back up the slope, retracing his steps. He would have to face his family; he would have to give them nothing. Halfway up the incline he heard the waning sounds of the motor function that eventually silenced.

Pauper's Pumpkin Patch

By Eva L. Elasigue

 

 

 



In another place, in another time, Cindy Pauper had a small bio-organic no-till permaculture produce garden and orchard, in a corner of the Halcyon Realm. She ran a neighborhood pumpkin and gourd patch in the fall - not the biggest, but many claimed the most beautiful. She used the same fancy-lettering sign each year that read, “Pauper’s Pumpkin Patch.”

 

A single woman business owner, she relied on good community connection to keep her business thriving. She helped her widowed stepmother raise her two younger daughters, in the house she grew up in with her father. Cindy lived in her own earthen cottage, closer to the garden. She had designed and built it herself with the help of friends.

 

It was a custom in the Halcyon Realm to bring champion produce to the castle, to present to the royal family for pride of honor. The custom in turn was that the royal family lived on this first and foremost. Cindy had an amazing pumpkin yield this year - not only were they gigantic and blemish-free, they radiated vitality and robust perfection; they were delicious and would keep well, from hardy land-race stock, bearing many seeds. Everyone agreed that one of these simply had to go to the castle. So, Cindy put her name on the list for the next agricultural audience.

 

Prince Benedict of the Halcyon Realm was starting to think about family. He’d earned his reputation in beneficial politics around the world and in the Realm, feeling that he’d taken proper action for his people and for the future. He might even soon be ready for fatherhood - but he knew that it would be asking something mighty of anyone to take his partner’s seat, have family, and rule the realm well together. He looked at potential partners differently now, from attractive dignitaries to various distinguished leaders, wondering who the people and his heart might accept. Just the other night he’d held a social event where he strengthened friendships and allegiances, but hadn’t felt any kind of spark. Not that it happens for trying, but that special someone could be anywhere.

 

On the day of the farmer’s audience, Cindy’s neighbor came over with the flatbed cart to transport her and the prize pumpkin. It sat upon a special rolling pallet that Cindy made. As she was hurrying to meet the cart’s arrival, one of her wooden clogs - her only pair of outdoor shoes - suddenly broke in half on a regular stone in the ground. She met her neighbor at the pumpkin, holding her broken shoe.

 

Cindy’s stepmother came to help them load up the pumpkin. She offered her own shoes for use, but they were too big for Cindy, who was likely to trip in them. They had to go, so Cindy just grabbed her fuzzy fur house slippers. These were made from rabbit skins her father had hunted and tanned. She had lovingly maintained and resized them over the years, adorning the mends with scrap ribbons and colored thread. They might look foolish in the castle, but no less foolish than in her stepmother’s shoes. Her neighbor had an important appointment afterward, so they would have to leave right after Cindy presented the pumpkin.

 

The Prince sat with his parents, the King and Queen. Farmers entered the sunny hall with their most remarkable specimens. Last but not late, the doorman opened the other side of the double door to assist the pumpkin farmer and her friend. This farmer was young, and very pretty, wearing cutoff overalls and some sort of fur booties. Something about those fuzzy slippers struck Prince Benedict to his core, and the Prince raised a hand to his heart as she raised a hand to her brown hair still done up in braids. He snuck the list out of his father’s hand and took over the calling portion of the ceremony, stating that audiences would be called in order of door entry.

 

The farmers were already arranged accordingly, Cindy Pauper and her pumpkin staying right where they were.  It was a really amazing pumpkin, practically shining there. When Prince Benedict looked at her, he decided it was safest if he gazed on her shoes. They looked so soft. She was patient and pleasant. The farmer next in line to her already knew her, and they traded comments on some of the produce and as it was presented. Was it his imagination, or did her eyes shine a little when she looked at him? His father was shrewdly observing his behavior, harrumphing a reminder when the Prince’s eyes rested too long on that particular small farm entrepreneur. She looked like his kingdom - his country! She made him feel at home in an entirely new way. Before he called her up, the Prince announced that he would be holding a meet-and-greet afterward in his salon, next to the garden.

 

Cindy Pauper deeply wished she could attend the garden greet, as much for professional reasons as anything else. She had not known that the Prince would be this handsome. He was well-spoken-of… politically, which was why she’d been of a mood to bring them her best. That was one thing to hear, and another thing to see. People had really encouraged her into this.

 

When he called her name, Cindy stepped up to introduce herself, her small garden CSA and pumpkin patch, and then the pumpkin itself, which she named Splendour. She handed a small booklet of recipes and preservation preparations to the Queen, who was well known for this hobby. She recommended the plentiful seeds to their farms and vaults, also handing them a care instructional. The King and Queen smiled and nodded often. The Prince was on the edge of his seat. He watched Cindy escape the moment her audience was concluded, which is when the general audience was concluded as well.

 

The cart zipped off with its passenger, unburdened of its treasure. Cindy sighed and mentioned, “Prince Benedict is holding a greeting session next to their garden, and if we have any time available, I would love to go even for just a little.”

 

“Oh Cindy, I would like to grant you that but we’ve been waiting on a cow for so long, and we finally have everything ready and they’re holding onto this one for us. It’s going to make a huge difference for our family, I just cannot imagine missing out this time.”

 

“Oh, you’re right. I’m happy for you and the kids, and so grateful that you could even spare the cart for this today.” That was when she looked down and saw one slipper missing off her feet, which must have happened when she hopped in. No going back for that, either, with the daylight they had left.

 

The Prince strategically milled people through the same exit Cindy Pauper had used. Outside, he immediately glimpsed Cindy’s furry slipper on the edge of the road, though there was no trace of the woman or any vehicle. He could see that all the ribbons and colors of thread were different, and that the very soft fur was aged but clean. He went over, picked it up, and thought three things:

 

1. I am the Prince.

2. She brought me her best pumpkin.

3. I’m going to return her slipper to her.

 

After this meet-and-greet I just promised, he thought as he tucked the fuzzy bootie into one of his large coat pockets. Tomorrow, when he would have the day to find her. It was due time for some country visiting. He turned and gave his attention to the people around him, not explaining the moment and taking them onward. As he socialized, he made sure to talk to anyone who talked or nodded to Cindy, and they would magically find a way to drop a generous word about her and her farm. Her pumpkin was a top point of discussion.

 

Cindy Pauper lived one county over. Prince Benedict took his chariot to the county office first, but there was no ownership registry for the name Pauper. As the Prince went to exit without finding what he was looking for, the entry clerk said, “I remember that cloth.” He was pointing to a ribbon on the fur slipper sticking out of the Prince’s coat pocket. “Those were wedding favor kerchiefs, at the Pauper place.” Oh, was she married? Maybe the property was registered to her partner. “Nearly thirty years ago, but I still have mine. Sidney Pauper and Sharon Cherry. That was a golden time. Some party.”

 

“Does a Cindy Pauper live there?”

 

“Cindy… that would be their daughter. I think she moved out on her own.”

 

“She brought a magnificent pumpkin to the castle. I wish to personally return this slipper to her, which I believe she left in haste. It looks like an irreplaceable item.”

 

The clerk smiled. “Perhaps you can find word or whereabout at our Farm Hall. Mr. Pauper was a farmer, Cindy might be too. They lived at the end of the longest lane,” he said pointing vaguely. “Though the roads are different now. Better, your highness. Now most of the roads are longer than they were and connect to other places. I haven’t actually been to that part in a while, not since the roads were named. Many thanks to your family for the trade routes, and keeping them nice.” The Prince returned a gracious gesture as he departed.

 

He arrived at the Farm Hall with the furry, beribboned slipper sticking further out of his coat pocket. When he walked inside, a young boy ran up to him, pointing. “That’s Cindy’s slipper,” he said, “it’s not supposed to go outside the house!”

 

“Well, she herself actually left it at the castle. I’d like to return this to her.”

 

The boy’s mother came over, saw his dress ranking, and recognized him. “Goodness, it’s the Prince! You’ve come looking for dear Cindy?”

 

“I go to her house sometimes,” the boy exclaimed, “and I help dig!”

 

His mother nodded. “She gets along very well with young Neil. Your highness, I would like to thank you for your libraries initiative. We get so excited when new books arrive. In fact, Cindy helped install the shelves. There’s one right over there,” she said, pointing to a sign that said Farm Hall Library.

 

“Cindy read us the Munchy Munchy Caterpillar,” young Neil exclaimed.

 

The Prince was feeling a little lightheaded. “So, where do I go to bring this to her home?”

 

“She still lives on the old property on Lovers Lane, past the creek. Though, you’ll have to walk out back unless she’s in the house with her sisters.” The Prince turned to exit, remembering to sketch a bow at the door, which they returned but he barely saw.

 

The tree at the corner of Lovers Lane had grown so well that it was obscuring the signage, so the Prince went three roads too far before growing suspicious. At that moment, he saw a produce stand and stopped there to talk.

 

“Ah, you’re looking for Cindy’s place? We’ve got some of her apples here, very sweet Pink Ladies!” The Prince bought a dozen for the chariot’s sack. “It must be because of the huge black walnut tree at the corner. Might be time to build some furniture out of that. Her pa planted it, Ol’ Sid. He was like my big brother, and she’s like a lil’ sis. She painted my sign, too.” The sign was pleasingly exuberant, with happy-faced fruits and vegetables. Prince Benedict smiled back at them. “I can cover this up for a moment and guide you back to Lovers Lane.”

 

The grocer took his pony, and the Prince followed in his country chariot. The grocer pointed past the black walnut where the Prince could see the sign from the other side. As he waved the Prince onward, he yelled out, “Thank you! Fair Prices For Farmer’s Wages!” He was referring to the market stabilization the Prince had helped with a few years back. Prince Benedict smiled and waved as they parted.

 

Lovers Lane was incredibly beautiful, brimming with flowers and trees. There were homeful houses and well-designed food environments including orchards, fields, and gardens. The Prince sighed, and heard a tinkling trickle of water. A rill crossed the road here, and he wondered if this is what passed for a creek. It had a housing to run under the road.

 

He went to the next gate on the right. Inside, a blacksmith was at his foundry with an apprentice. When he saw the Prince, he handed the bellows to the apprentice, a muscled and powerful-looking girl of young teenage years. “Wow,” he said, “Are you the Prince or something?”

 

“I am the Prince,” he replied.

 

The blacksmith let out a jolly whoop. “What an honor! How can I help you?”

 

“Is this where Cindy Pauper lives?”

 

“Oh.” The smith picked up a bell and rang it at the foundry. The girl set aside the bellows and dusted herself off on her apron, coming toward them. “This is Cindy’s sister, Rena.” Her hair was darker than Cindy’s, her build very square, face differently shaped. They could be assumed of more distant relation. She smiled wide and stuck out her hand, then appeared unsure if she’d done the right thing. The Prince accepted the handshake.

 

“Rena Mendez. Stepsister. My mom was her late dad’s second wife. He was really cool, and so is she.” Everywhere a good word in support of her, even from her little sister. “We don’t live here, though. I come here for my apprenticeship. We’re out past the creek, further down.” That was when Rena noticed Cindy’s slipper in his pocket and pointed. “Hey, you found that? She was really missing that.”

 

Prince Benedict touched it lightly and smiled. “So, that wasn’t the creek I just crossed?”

 

“Goodness, no,” replied the smith, “but Cindy and Rena did help me lay that pipe into the road.”

 

Prince Benedict extended a hand to the girl. “Would you kindly ride with me in my chariot and show me the way to your home, so that I may personally deliver her slipper with my highest regards?”

 

She turned to her teacher. “Can I go?”

 

“You can go.”

 

“Sure! Your highness.”

 

They soon arrived at the creek, which was framed by a well-aged and well-maintained stone bridge, with lovers’ initials painted onto the rocks. Another mature black walnut grew majestically to the right of the bridge on the other bank. “Take the lane past the tree there,” Rena said. “You’ll have to park this at the house first before you can go any further in.”

 

As the chariot slowed into the clearing, Rena’s mother came out of their house, an old fashioned medium sized log cabin. Wonderingly, she said, “Rena, to what do we owe this honor? Excellent fortune, I hope?” She was nervously polishing a glass.

 

“No,” said Rena, hopping off the chariot, “or yes. He’s here to see Cindy.”

 

Through the open door an even younger girl came out, barely of reading age. She had some of Cindy’s features, and was also clearly her mother’s child as she leaned on her. “Cindy’s my sister,” she murmured.

 

“This is Zena,” said their mother, “and I’m Avena.” Behind her, the chimney puffed smoke warmly. The woodpile near the house was well stacked. The sun was dipping closer to the horizon. The Prince took Cindy’s slipper out of his pocket slowly, wanting to explain yet now reluctant to part with it. Avena looked at it, and him, nodding with understanding. “She’ll be glad to have that back,” she said with a soft smile, “We’ll show you the way to her place further in.”

 

“I hope you like dogs,” said Rena. “Trumpet might be a little loud, but he’s actually really nice.”

 

“I love dogs,” said the Prince truthfully. He went with them around the back toward a pasture fence.

 

“How about horses? Roamer is usually somewhere around the cottage,” asked Avena cautiously.

 

“I tend to agree well with them,” he replied. As they neared the gate, dog and horse appeared, both looking old but loved. The dog Trumpet, a hound, bayed exuberantly, sniffed toward the slipper, and licked the Prince’s coat once. The old stallion whickered, “Hm-hm-hm-hm-hm,” bringing his nose toward the Prince’s hand. Prince Benedict stroked his muzzle, and Roamer blinked and sighed. “That’s a good introduction.”

 

“You can go in through here. Take the path through the alders to her cottage on the other side. She might be in her garden just beyond.”

 

Bird chirped overhead as he passed through the alders. Trumpet and Roamer followed him. The earthen cottage on the other side was a stunning work of art with colored windows, delicious curves, and natural details. He had just practiced knocking on the door when he heard singing, presumably from the garden. It was an enchanting melody in a voice that made him ache.

 

He followed the footpath around the side to where a kitchen garden lay next to the resplendent pumpkin patch, in a field over a dell awash in sunset. Prince Benedict focused on the voice and he saw her there, barefoot, tending seedlings in a cloche with a watering can. He brought forth the slipper and suddenly fell to one knee when Trumpet announced him with a blaring bark.

 

Cindy turned from the last of her watering to see the Prince kneeling at the edge of her garden, her fuzzy slipper held out before him. Thrilled about the slipper and flustered by the Prince, Cindy wiped her hands on her overalls and went straight to him.

 

Before she said anything, he spoke from where he knelt. “I thank you so much for your gracious gift, of the pumpkin, Ms. Cindy Pauper. You left your slipper at the castle, and so I have come to return it to you. All the people I’ve met along the way have sung your praises - you’re kind, giving, hard working, ingenious, joyful, knowledgeable, and your family name is as good as gold. I am humbled in the paradise you’ve created with your own hands, here in my realm. Will you date me?” Prince Benedict remained kneeling throughout, his intent gaze upon her face.

 

Cindy lifted a hand to her heart and a wrist to her forehead. Feeling faint, she sank to a seat on the ground in front of him. With both hands, she relieved him of the fuzzy slipper, cradling it against her. He sat on the ground facing her, and this time she spoke first.

 

“My family, my business, my community, and this realm are safe and thriving because of the work you’ve done. I brought you my prize pumpkin because I’m already a great admirer of what you do and how you’ve done it. And, you’re gorgeous. Yes, I’ll date you.”

 

Their initials soon joined the others on the stone bridge across the creek. When, miracle of miracles, they celebrated their union, folk from every neighborhood cheered the pair. Cindy kept her house and farm at the Pauper place, where the Prince made his refuge; and there was a seat for Cindy everywhere in the castle, where she also made a home, bringing her fair, honest, and gentle sensibilities to the throne room. There, her name was given a dignifier, and she became known far and wide as Cinderella.

Pumpkins

Poetry

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Inhaling Kibwezi

David Asia

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Femme in Unity

Kama

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Fin de Siècle

Cory Eberhart

The Gothic Manifesto

By Marco Undersong

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From the Abyss of Centuries

Prostrate on the Edge of Doomed Rebellion

We declare Mutiny!

Above the Tempests of Cacophony

And  Tasteless Vulgarity

We announce Androgyny!

Today to you Vagabonds, Whores,

Gamblers, and Thieves

To you Insurgents to whom Art is Mystery

Join us in proclaiming our Revulsion!

Enveloped in the Fields of

Intoxicating Melancholy

Tethered before the Gates of the

Unknown Future

We will celebrate the Classical

And seek Sanctuary in the Archaic

Let us revel in Our Pagan Past

Cloak ourselves in Darkness

And wear as a Badge of honor

The title Gothic!

In the beleaguered 

          Hills of Wales

We bore

          And we buried

                 The seeds of discontent

We locked away

         The Fading Day

         In stone cold gray slate

         And carved our names

         Over

                   Caernarvon

Roman boulevards

        Neolithic causeways

        And

                The promise of salvation

        Turned us south

        To the smokey December

                Coalfields

                              of countless invasions

Light a candle

         And say a prayer

                  For those

                             buried alive

By earth or by sky

Oh bitter black bruise

          The true Daemon Flowers

Lie sleeping

           In ten thousand holes

Upon the gray green arms of Wales

Wales

By Marco Undersong

Death Penalty

By Jampa Dorje

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The Needle
        first, you’re prepped with an anesthetic
        so you should sleep through
        the phosphate chloride hit in your blood
        however, and this is important,
                        if you are not fully sedated
                        you are conscious
                        but unable to move
Hope your executioner is friendly
 
What is humane? What is torture?


Ronald Reagan said he had experience putting down a horse
believed the needle was humane—those that favor punishment
will choose to err on the side of cruel and unusual

Essay

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The Refuge of Being at Walden Pond

Jampa Dorje

The Filth of it All*

    Or a short treatise on harmony


By Rock Swannioff

*if in mobile view, the text has been formatted to accommodate for the author's tables, stretch the screen for easier reading

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Ah, a reader!  Such a rarity.  Welcome, welcome, welcome to my thoughts.  Please sit, or stand, I don’t really care.  It’s just—it’s so rare to find someone who READS nowadays.  Truly the mark of a gentle-person, no?  Good.  Now the niceties are over I want to make a few things clear.  I am not here to entertain you.  I am not here to persuade you, nor am I here to teach you anything in particular.  No, in fact, I have no business with you, and no need of your appreciation or even understanding.  That is because this treatise which you are about to read—it is not a public offering, nor is it a “lesson” you must learn.  No, I’m afraid it’s something much darker.  This is a private work—the work of a private mind, a manifestation of an inner secret that I am merely writing down because as I am but a vessel for the the secrets that came before me, and I have a duty to pass on the secrets that I have acquired—I must decant myself, you see, before I am tossed like so many shards on history’s great midden heap of broken crockery.

But before I lay before you my shiny rhinestones, my cailloux fourbis on the tattered cushions of a bijoutier-en-faillite,  I must make a brief apology for the…well, you know….the filth.  The stink.  The stench of sour coffee, the saucers and teacups brimming with nicotinic frass.  The piles of black dog fur, pink fibreglass and yellow wool that dance to and fro across the floorboards, like little clouds of Neapolitan ice-cream.  The pairs of deer flies that wake me at night committing brief, violent acts of coitus upon the most delicate parts of my person.  These manifestations—infestations, to borrow a word from those who deal with such phenomena—are, of course, simply outward symbols of a corruption within, a distemper of the blood that has left me now for a season;  But, as a mouse might gnaw at a piece of cake, and be shooed away, that same mouse will return in the dark of night and finish the job;  I too have been tasted but not yet devoured.  And so, reader, though I will not take you, yet, to the depths of my degradation, know that it is from such indescribable filth that I speak to you now:

Have you ever felt haunted by ghosts of the past?  Not just bumps in the night, tree branches at the window, nor vortices of dust that block your path or whisk you away.  No, I mean have you ever felt the push and tug, the strings of a marionette, the burning bit in your mouth, the feeling of being ridden, like a horse, the whip, the spurs, the gusts of wind between your bones?  No?  Well, it’s not for everybody.  It happened to me at the piano once when I was playing Brahms.  Sight-reading, as was my custom, a piano concerto, (the first in the volume), somewhere in the second movement, I became aware of a certain pressure on my fingers—firm, insistent, irresistible, that was pushing me ever so faster than I could read onto the notes of its choosing.  I heard a melody emerge, and, in my trance I heard it as though played by another, and in that melody was contained the essence of a man.  I did not know much of Johannes Brahms.  I had never played him much before, nor would I ever again, for I suddenly realised with almost Lovecraftian horror that every written piece of music I had ever seen was, in a sense, a set of arcane instructions cast into the future, by a pianist in the past.  That the score contained within it precise instructions to reproduce a sequence of physical movements that would recreate a sonic experience that had been perfected within the mind of another;  And that just as I might play a song to effect a mood within myself, or others, a long-dead pianist might play me, and effect me in the same way as if he were sitting there beside me, here playing the left hand, there playing the right, now both, wrapped all around me and within me, his soul upon my soul, invisible and yet present in all of his fullness of being.  And so, as a holograph contains the entire image in every fragment, every bar of this Brahms Concerto contained within it Brahms himself.  And yet, Brahms was dead, and I had only been reading his notation, but what was this force that I now felt guiding my hands?  How long had it been there?  Was I only noticing it now because I felt it quickening?  Indeed, the force itself was most keenly felt as a result of my resistance to it—I suppose I could have, with much effort, played a wrong note and broken the spell—but if I made no effort at all, the force pulled against my inert fingers and drove them floridly to the end of the page.  I sat in silence for many minutes after this, and then a snare drum fell off a shelf, splashing a high-hat and landing squarely on the pedal of a bass drum.  Why, oh why, were there so many drums in this room?  I ran, reader, wouldn’t you?—I ran from that windowless room through a maze of unventilated spaces, gasping, into the candy-corn coloured streets of San Francisco, where I was chased by whirling leaves and rolling trashcans all the way down to the mad-house I called home, by that time resolved to eternal occult silence.

 

“Eternal occult silence”—what is this, Bohemian Grove?  I break that sacred vow today for purpose, and that purpose is to define a destiny, a destination; an Icarian vision of phenomenological immortality.  And, if you wish to join me, then join, but understand:  I want to be that ghost.  I want to haunt the page.  I want to hide in the player piano roll, I want to live forever in the demo banks of a million Yamahas.  I want to keep men up at night and away from their wives, tinkering away in quiet obsession, until they make glockenspiels and hurdy-gurdies in my honour, they shalt build me a dozen Carousels, and a fleet of Ice Cream trucks, a modest Chapel to my greatness, with a tower, that I might enchant all passers-by, my choros playing on the Carillon, ever-changing every hour, and an endless progression of quarter bells, algorithmically derived.  Listen carefully: 

 

I want to pluck you softly in the background

while NPR begs you “please save the arts!”

 

Look, the birds of the floresta flock to my bordellos,

where pimps will whistle softly in the Paraguayan night. 

 

I  want to march with Papa Legba. 

Be a saint in Candomblé. 

Plan grand processions for my glory

Prance behind them like a knave

No Carnaval I’d waft amongst them,

as a loló-scented plume,

changing faces, crowding closer,

in what form I may assume. 

See me cloaked in diamond glimmers,

or a strobe flash at the rave. 

Not just music but an idol, to that idol, thou, my slave! 

So maybe then some fine young faggot

(as I once was scribed to be)

feels the force of its persuasion,

as it long persuaded me—

He’ll be flying on my dragon,

now a bachelor to the beat,

’till all be carnivals and car’llons,

quivering flesh, and dancing feet. 

 

You see, I am a musical totalitarian.   I am playing the long game.  When you fully understand the depths of my ambition, you will have but one choice:  Join me, learn, and fight me on my own terms, or surrender now and become a block on someone else’s xylophone.  Plick-plock, my friend, plick-plock.

There!  Was that refreshing?  Are you intrigued?  A little discombobulated?  Good!  That’s what a good introduction should be.  We’re going to write one now, you and me, and the only tools you’ll need are a pen and paper, and a source of random numbers.  We will “roll” a number between 1 and 12, and plug it into the algorithm below.  The numbers stand for musical notes, e.g. 1=C, 2=C#, 3=D, …, 12=B.  You can think of these numbers as wrapping around, so that 12 is below 1, as B is just below C on as piano.  These numbers are note suggestions.  It is highly recommended that you follow the note suggestions, rather than re-rolling.  You should be able to use just about every roll until the very end.

We are going to be rolling for triads, which is a fancy way of saying we will be looking for three numbers that go together, one triad in every bar.  We will write them down as we roll them, and we will always try to place them in the first box they fit in.  This Introduction is going to be 8 bars of, let’s say 2/4.  We are not going to bother to define a tonality, yet, but maybe one will emerge.  (Do not worry about inversions, voice-leading, suspensions, etc.  Do not consider the melodic quality of the choices.  Do not think of the lowest note as a bass-line.)  At the end of this exercise, you will have 8 stacks of 3 numbers/notes, which will define a sequence of chords.  Do not put 4 notes in a bar!

 

Here are the rules;

   1.  Roll the die.  The first number is a good number.  Write it down in the first box

 

   2.  Roll again.  Compare this number to the first one.  Is it the same?

               a.  It is the same:  write it in the next (the 2nd) box

 

               b.  It is different:  find the difference ((3,6) = difference of 3, (1,11) = difference of 10)

                           1. If the difference is 1,2, 10 or 11, then the notes are too close together. 

                               Put the second note in the next box

 

                           2.  Otherwise, put the first number in the box along with the second one.

 

   3.  Roll a third time.  Apply the number to the first box, compare it to both numbers (It must not be too close to either number), and if it passes, let it be.  If it fails, apply it to the second box, and failing that, the third, etc.

 

   4.  Keep rolling, fill your boxes in from the left.

 

   5.  If you can’t place a number, (remember you can repeat numbers from box to box), and it fails the 8th box, then drop the number, and roll again.

 

I’ll walk you through a few rolls, we’ll see where we get.  12=B.  Great. In the box it goes. 8=G.  4 away from 12, so it fits in the first box.  10=A.  Uh-oh.  10 is 2 from 8 and 2 from twelve.  It goes into the second box.  12=B.  Ouch.  We already have a 12 in the first box, so let’s try the second box.  12 is 2 from 10 so it’s too close.  Into the third box it goes.  Let’s see what we have so far:

 

   (12, 8), (10), (12) —See how it works?

 

Let’s try a few more.  2 = C#.  2 is too close to 12  (think about twelve being just below one).  It’s not too close to 10.  Second box.  5=E.  5 is 3 from 8 and 7 from 12, so it fits in the first box.  We have our first chord:

 

   (12, 8, 5=B, G, E = E minor), (10, 2), (12)

 

I’ll keep rolling, maybe something will surprise us. 

 

   11        => Fourth box 

   10        => Fifth box 

   1          => Fifth box. 

   2          => Fourth box. 

   4          => Third box 

   5          => Second box. 

 

We have our next chord:

 

   (12, 8, 5), (10, 2, 5 = A major), (12, 4), (11, 2), (10, 1)

 

I’m going to fill in on my own until I have 8 chords.  Feel free to do the same.  This is what I get:

 

   (12, 8, 5), (10, 2, 5), (12, 4, 9), (11, 2, 5), (10, 1, 5), (3, 9, 12), (4, 9, 12), (9, 5, 12)

 

Rearranged so the numbers are from lowest to highest:

 

   (5, 8, 12), (2, 5, 10), (4, 9, 12), (2, 5, 11), (1, 5, 10), (3, 9, 12), (4, 9, 12), (5, 9, 12)

 

And now with the numbers replaced with note names:

 

   (E, G, B), (C#, E, A), (D#, G#, B), (C#, E A#), (C, E, A), (D, G#, B), (D# G# B) (E, G#, B)

 

And now, I’m going to go ahead and give them all nasty names.  I’ll explain what they mean once you see them:

   (Em),   (A),      (G#m),            (A#dim),          (Am)    (G#dim)          (G#m),            (E)

 

What have I done here?  Well, I’ve taken each chord and moved the notes around so that it fits most compactly on the keyboard.  If a note is all by itself on the top, I dropped it down an octave.  If it is too far on the bottom, I raised it up.  We call this root position.  In this position, we will have a root, on the bottom, some sort of fifth on the top, and a third in-between.

 

Chords with Major Thirds and Perfect Fifths are Major.  We write just the name of the root: “E” or “A”.  Minor Thirds with Perfect fifths are minor chords.  “Dm”, “F#m”.  Minor Thirds and Diminished Fifths are simply diminished.  “Adim”, “G#dim”.  And if the chord has Major Thirds and Augmented Fifths, we call it augmented.  “Caug”, “C#aug”.

Major and Minor chords are simple, bread-and-butter chords.  Nothing wrong with them.  Some say the major sounds happy, and the minor sounds sad, but I think of them both as perfectly consonant expressions of the underlying tonality, which we identify with the root note.  So whether we play and E major, or an E minor, the note that should grab our attention is the “E”.  The Perfect Fifth lets us know that there’s nothing funny going on.  The third can be either Major or Minor, but it isn’t both. 

In this sequence, I rolled 2 diminished chords.  Diminished means that the outer notes are closer together than a Perfect 5th.  We call this a Diminished Fifth.  You’ll find that any diminished chords you have will have the middle note exactly 3 steps from both its neighbours.  Oddly symmetrical.  These chords will sound like a choo-choo train.  I’m going to let you in on a secret.  Most musicians don’t know the first thing about diminished chords.  They have no idea how to use them.  So they don’t.  Congratulations, if you have diminished chords in your sequence, you are already more advanced than 50% of the jam bands you’ll ever hear in a bar.

I didn’t roll any augmented chords, but you might have one in your sequence.  They look like diminished chords, but every note is 4 steps away from its neighbors.  (1,5,9) for instance.  You can make any note the root.  I’d just pick the lowest note and write aug after it, e.g. Caug, D#aug.  These chords sound mysterious, and, just like diminished chords, they are largely unused by most musicians!  But we’re not going to be like other musicians!  Embrace the mystery!

I encourage you now to take your notes to a piano or your instrument of choice, and play them out, box by box.  Get a feel for each chord before you move on.  You can move the notes up or down an octave to make them comfortable for your fingers.  Try a stride bass in the left hand and tickle the chords notes above.  Play it over and over again, wrapping around at the end of the sequence, until you get a feeling for the progression.  It may sound strange at first, but eventually it will settle and you may even begin to imagine a melody or a bass-line that would play along.  Some of you might find that these 8 chords is all you need to write an entire song, and if you feel so inclined, do not let me stop you.  Maybe you just like 4 of them, maybe just one.  You can always come back for more.  All of my techniques are based upon the idea that you either don’t know what to write next, or don’t want write it yourself, in which case we will let the Spirit of Randomness write it for us.

Let me just point out a few things about the sequence above.  There are many repeating root notes:  2 E’s, 2 A’s, 3 G#’s.  This is going to suggest a tonality, probably A (major or minor, it doesn’t really matter).  There are 2 chords exactly the same:  G#m.  Also:  there are no F’s or F#’s.  But why?  We threw 8 sets of 3 numbers, that makes 24, shouldn’t there be one of every number in the set?  Not necessarily.  Let’s say we were to consider the chance of NOT throwing a six.  That’s 11 in 12 on the first roll, 131 in 144 on the second roll, and (11^24 / 12^24) on the last roll, or about a 12% chance of never rolling a 6.  How about never rolling a six or a seven?  That becomes 10 out of 12 numbers, 24 times, so 10^24/12^24, for a 1.2% chance, which is pretty rare, right?  Well, not necessarily.  You see, every roll plays out across a different set of boxes, and as the boxes fill up, some numbers block other numbers.  At first, the numbers just get bumped along, but after a while, they can start falling off the edge.  It’s possible that you could roll so many 5’s and 7’s that a 6 won’t fit anywhere.  There’s another phenomenon at play here:  Did you notice that every time a number got bumped, you ended up placing it in the first box available?  This actually encourages repeated notes, or notes that move only slightly up or down, right next to each other.  Since you have a 1 in 6 chance of rolling a repeating note on a box of 2, at least 1 in 6 notes will be shared between chords.  This favours a sort of motion that we might describe as Neo-Riemannian, that is to say, only one or two notes change.  Since there are many chords that don’t share any notes, the fact that we are favouring Neo-Riemannian motion over pure randomness tends to steer us towards a tonality.  It’s not impossible to roll a C major chord, and then a C# major, it just doesn’t happen quite as often as pure randomness would suggest, and these repeated notes will give our harmony a stability it would otherwise lack.  If you want true randomness, you can roll 12 root notes, and then roll for major, minor, diminished, or augmented.  And if you wish to hear a sequence without Neo-Riemannian motion, simply exclude it by disallowing any repeated notes.  Might sound wacky!  That’s okay.  The Introduction can be wacky.  Think of these 8 bars as the Original Sin that you will spend the rest of your piece apologising for.  Like a drunk in-law at a wedding, you are breaking The Silence.  It’s okay to be rude.

 

The last thing I will show you is how to stitch this introduction onto any piece of music you have, or may write.  You may have to transpose the introduction so that it lands correctly.  Think of the last bar of the introduction, “i-(8)”, as leading into the first bar of the next section, let’s call it “a-(1)”.  Although, thus far, we have not said that any one chord must follow another, when we end a section we should be looking for a cadence.  A cadence is a pair of chords that helps establish a tonality.  I already hear the grumbling from the Schoenbergians in the audience—(these are kind of people that never, ever cadence in public)—To you I  say that cadences are common, they happen, they happen whether you want them to or not, I have given you 8 bars of effortless atonality, but I am not going to drown 500 years of Western Civilisation in a Serialist bathtub just to avoid cadencing.  Remember, a Schoenbergian doesn’t roll dice to spell his 12-tone row, no, because more often than not, the die would spell a chord, or a scale, or a sequence, or a Frank Sinatra melody, or any number of other NICE THINGS which Schoenberg said we aren’t allowed to have.  No, a Schoenbergian must carefully craft his row of 12 non-repeating notes, to make it more random than mere chance, and then he flips it, shifts it, raises and lowers it, and then splatters it out on the page, and even here he must always check for unintended consonances, or even a full-blown cadence, heaven forbid.  The result is a kind of tortured atonalism that expresses nothing more than contempt for the ears of the common man.  We are here to tickle those rustic ears with enchanting, unexpected harmonies, but we are going to do it NICELY, and part of being nice, to your listener, is punctuate your music properly.  And in this case, that means that after 8 bars of madness, we are going to make one sensible decision, which will be enough to buy us at least 8 bars of free expression afterwards.

Cadences, cadences, so many different kinds of cadences, Perfect Cadences, Imperfect Cadences, Plagal, Deceptive, Half Cadences…what does it all mean?  Well, in normal tonal harmony, we would have already decided what key our piece is in.  The key of C, for instance.  And in the key of C, C is the tonic, the tonal center.  And every chord is defined in its relation ship to the tonic.  The Supertonic, D, the Mediant, E, the Subdominant F, the Dominant G, Submediant A, and Leading Tone B.  The most important chords are the Tonic, C, the Subdominant F, and the Dominant G, because these 3 chords define harmonic functions, and we can think of all of the other chords as functioning “like” a tonic, a subdominant, or a dominant.  We say a chord has tonic function, dominant function, etc. 

 

A cadence is any chord progression that goes from a dominant function to a tonic function.  See the table below for how the chords tend to function in the key of C:

 

Tonic                                       Subdominant                                    Dominant

   C                                               F                                                          G

   Am                                           Dm                                                      Bdim

   Em                                                                                                     

 

These are the traditional categories, and you wouldn’t be wrong to use chords this way, but the truth is that tonic-subdominant-dominant function is pretty loose, especially when you realise that your listener never knows what your tonic is until you cadence!  Cadences, therefore, are backwards-looking musical phenomena, and we can only sensibly construct a cadence based on the tonic it cadences to!  This means that, rather than trapping us in a key, cadences are actually open doors that we walk through, into a new key, or sometimes into the same key.  Only by looking back do we realise that we were in a key at all.  So let’s say we want to land in a tonic on a-(1).  That means we need to have a dominant on i-(8).  And any chord that came before, funnily enough, we can just call “Predominant”.  Any chord!  That’s because, when we cadence, the listener will recognise the key, and then, he’ll just assume that we were always in this key, and he’ll just kind of accept all the wacky stuff that came before it.  So all we have to look for is a chord from the dominant column, and a chord from the tonic.

   G-C                 Bdim-C

   G-Am              Bdim-Am

   G-Em              Bdim-Em

So:  If our last chord is a major chord, we can follow with the major one Perfect Fifth above it, or to the minor a Major Second(2 steps) up, or the minor chord a Minor Third (3 steps) down.

And if our last chord is diminished, we can go up a Minor Second (1 step) to a major chord, down a Major Second to a minor chord, or up a Perfect Fourth to a minor chord.

  

   G-C                 Bdim-C

   G-Am             Bdim-Am

   G-Em             Bdim-Em

 

I’m going to throw a spanner in the works.  Remember when I said that major and minor chords are kind of like two flavours of the same ice-cream?  It’s true.  There’s a lot of times when you can substitute a major for a minor, or a minor for a major.  It’s called mixed modalism, and it’s most common found in the tonic.  That means that, when we go from G (dominant) to C (tonic), we’re going to a C chord, major or minor.  So we let’s change the first more row on our list, to express the possibility of a major or minor resolution:

   G- C(m)                       Bdim- C(m)

And, actually, we can have mixed modalism in the Dominant, too, so let’s change G to G(m)

 

   G(m)-C(m)      Bdim-C(m)

   G(m)-Am         Bdim-Am

   G(m)-Em         Bdim-Em

 

This gives us a set of cadences from a minor chord in I-(8):  Up a fifth to a major, up a fifth to a minor, up a whole step to a minor, down a minor third to a minor.  But here it gets wonky.  Remember when I said that major and minor were like to two faggots in one sleeping bag?  Well, That applies to Tonics, Subdominants, and Dominants alike.  So when I say I’m in the key of “C”, I mean that I’m in a key that contains C major and C minor, F major and F minor, and G Major and G minor.  Just, never both at the same time.  This means that I’m actually in one of 6 modes.

Tonic (C)           Subdominant (F)        Dominant(G)   altered notes                name:

Major                  Major                             Major               none                            Major (Ionian)

Major                  Major                             minor              b7th                             (Myxolydian)  

Major                  minor                            Major               b6th                             Harmonic Major

Major                  minor                             minor              b6th, b7th

minor                 Major                             Major               b3rd                              Asc. Mel. Minor

minor                 Major                              minor              b3rd, b7th                    (Dorian)

minor                 minor                             Major               b3rd, b6th                    Harmonic Minor

minor                 minor                              minor              b3rd, 6th, b7th            Natural Minor

 

We call these Schenckerian Modes, and they are totally valid!  But what does this do to our table thus far?  Well, it f*cks things up.  See, if we’re in Cmajor-minor, then our E is sometimes an Eb.  And if we have an F-major-minor, then our A is sometimes Ab.  Likewise for the B.  So wherever we have written Am, we can also write Ab, Abaug, and Adim.  Em becomes Eb, Ebaug, and Edim.  Bdim becomes Bb.  Let’s chuck out those augmented and diminished chords because, tecchnically you can’t really call it a cadence if it doesn’t land in a key.  Okay.  I’m going to write it for you:

   G(m)-C(m)                              Bdim, Bb-C(m)                      

   G(m)-Ab, Am                          Bdim, Bb-Ab, Am

   G(m)-Eb, Em                          Bdim, Bb-Eb, Em

Seems fairly simple, right?  Any major or minor chord can cadence to a chord a perfect fifth above it, or to any modal chord tonic to that chord’s key.  Additionally, any major chord can be thought of as the Subtonic of the key a major second above it, as Bb major is the subtonic of C, but we can treat it the same way as we would any Leading Tone chord, that is, Bb major and B diminished can both resolve to C, or any related tonic in any mode built on a C scale.  Oof.

But wait, there’s more!  Did you know that, technically, you can “cadence” to a tonic from the Subdominant?  I mean, it’s not quite a cadence to me, but some find the dominant-tonic relationship to be too coercive, too forceful, and they point out (with reason) that any chord diatonic to the key can always go right back to the tonic, as an expression of free will, or, I’d say, an expression of pure loyalty, in the case of a nice IV-I, also known as a Plagal cadence.  So let’s throw that in there:

 

   F(m)-C(m), Ab, Am, Eb, or Em

 

So let’s say you ended on a D minor.  Okay, you could say, this is a Dominant chord in the key of G, so I’ll cadence to G.  Or Gm.  Or any chord with a G in the middle.  Or, you could say this is the Subdominant chord in the key of A.  Or Am.  Or any chord with an A in the middle.

What if you had D major?  Well, D major is either the Dominant of G, the Subdominant of A, or the Subtonic (that is, the flat Leading Tone) of E, so you can cadence into any of those keys, or to any major or minor chord a third above or below it that has a modal relationship to that chord.  You follow?

What about a D diminished?  Well, the obvious resolution is up by step to your implied tonic, Eb, or any unaltered tonic substitute, Cm or Gm, or a modal variation thereof, that is to say Cb major (B major), or Gb major (F# major).

Got yourself an augmented chord?  Traditionally augmented chords are thought of as altered dominant major chords, and any note in your augmented chord can be the root, so you can choose any of the three notes in your chord, call that your dominant, and cadence from there.  In practice, this means that you can cadence to any key that is a perfect fifth from any of your roots, or any relative/modal tonic substitute. 

Alright, one more quaalude in the punch.  Did you know that every note has an evil twin?  That’s right, every note has a note that’s perfectly opposite to them in every way, being 6 steps above and 6 steps below them, El Diabolo en Musica, the Tritone.  C-F#, C#-G, D-G#, D#-A, E-A#, F-B.  6 pairs of Tritones, 6 more wacky ways to f*ck your sh*t up.  So, it’s not very important, it probably doesn’t matter, but look:  you can pretty much slip any chord out and replace it with its tritone substitute, any time, any place, but especially when you cadence.  So let’s just add one more rule:  you can always substitute a tritone.  That means transposing the entire chord up or down 6 steps.  Just, you know, flip a coin if you do.

So here’s our algorithm:

 

   I.          Is it Major or Minor?

               A. Either (Roll a die)

                           1.  Count up seven steps, take the major—(V)-I

               or

                           2.  Count up seven steps, take the minor—(V)-i

               or

                           3.  Count up two steps, take the minor—(V)-vi

               or

                           4.  Count up one step, take the major—(V)-VIb

               or

                           5.  Count down three steps, take the minor—(V)-iii

               or

                           6.  Count down 4 steps, take the major—(V)-IIIb

               B.  This is your new key

II.  Is it diminished?

               A. Either

                           1.  Count up 1 step, take the major or minor—vii*-(I)

               or

                           2.  Count up 1 step, take the minor—vii*-I

               or

                           3.  Count up 5 steps, take the minor—vii*-iii

               or

                           4.  Count up 4 steps, take the major—vii*-IIIb

               or

                           5.  Count down 2 steps, take the minor—vii*-vi

               or

                           6.  Count down 3 steps, take the major—vii*-VIb

               B.  This is your new key

III.  Is it augmented?

               A.        Choose a root,

               B.        Apply that root to step (I)-(A) above, as if it were a major chord

IV.   Transpose by a tritone (6 steps up or down)?  (Yes/no, Flip a coin) 

 

That’s it, that simple.  You see, cadences are chord progressions, but not every chord progression is a cadence.  I’m using the word cadence here in a very broad sense.  You can always restrict yourself to just normal V-I root motion, or to a relative tonic from the mode you think you’re in.  Sometimes a cadence is completed in the last bar of the first section.  In which case, you can cadence again, or simply proceed in the key that you established.  Sometimes—sometimes!—the cadence is delayed, because the new section starts on the dominant, or stays on the dominant, sometimes for a very long time.  We call this “Standing on the dominant”, and it is considered good fun, just, when you are done, please cadence.  Sometimes, a cadence leads to a cadence, which leads to a cadence, usually in a pattern that follows a series of Fifths, or some other sequence.  But even this pattern will end eventually with…a cadence.

Cadences are the stitches that splice music together, you can add any material to the front or back of anything else if you use a cadence.  Cadences are so powerful, that you don’t even need to prepare for them—you can simply insert the Dominant of the key you are going to.  Thinking of the key you want to land in, and count up a Perfect Fifth, and cadence from there.  But Note:  If you use a chord of an unambiguously Dominant character, that is, any chord that contains a tritone, you really should cadence.  The only reason you wouldn’t is because you’re going to introduce another tritone-flavoured chord, either an elaboration/alteration of the Dominant you already have, or a chromatic sequence of unresolved tritones, or something even more messed up, like a French Sixth, an extended augmented chord, a Slonimsky-esque non sequiter, a gong or a kettledrum, basically, anything goes, but at a certain point you really, really, should cadence. 

There you have it, an algorithm for producing endless atonality, and a little kit of cadences to stitch it all together.  This should be enough to get you started, or push you through any ruts you may have in your own compositions.  The next step, of course, would be to apply a theory of voice-leading, which is too much for me to explain here, but I can recommend Johann Joseph Fux’s Gradum ad Parnassum as the system you should learn, before you learn to break it.  Until the next time, dear reader, and may the spirit of Ambduscias be ever in your dreams!

Nietzsche in a Nutshell

By Jampa Dorje

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In this poorly minted coin, this brockage, of an essay, I will discuss Friedrich Nietzsche’s use of aphorism and other rhetorical devices in his writing style, how he takes the traditional philosophers and their philosophical projects to task, and give a glimpse of how he has affected me personally. This essay will include a faux diary by his femme fatal, Lou Andreas-Solomé. 

 

By searching “Nietzsche writing style” I found this quote: “Nietzsche created, so to speak, a new style in philosophical writing, which up until then was couched in academic tones or in effusive poetry: he created a personalized style; Nietzsche not only mastered language but also transcended its inadequacies” (Papova, 2020). His personalized style included the use of aphorisms, short pithy phrases, intended to blow your mind.   

   

Writing aphorisms is one thing; having something to say is another. As poet Robert Creeley exhorts: "If you have a song, sing it; if you have a bell, ring it." Nietzsche had a plan, much like Socrates, to deconstruct ideas and show what a rhetorical sham the conventional system of thinking is, and to refocus on morality, because whatever we are doing as a civilization is not working. He had a bell, and he rang the hell out of that bell.   

 

Nietzsche questioned everything, especially himself. He writes from many perspectives and is very much an archaeologist of ideas. A contemporary of Nietzsche’s, Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, said philosophers have their arses sewn shut. Nietzsche would agree and understand why they would not be receptive to his ideas.  

   

The writing is not only aphoristic. Nietzsche jams on a lot of levels. In respect to his intelligibility, he writes, “One does not want only to be understood when one writes but just as surely not to be understood” (Reader, p.18). Nietzsche wants to be read, but he does not want to be read as a curiosity by the philosophers or to be the chitchat of the literati. He wants someone who “reads” him, in the sense of taking on the vector of his ontological condition, his View.   

  

The writing is dense. Poetry proceeds by hyperbole. Nietzsche mixes in maxims with his aphorisms and, when the need arises, adds an allegory or fable (e.g., spirit-camel-lion-child metamorphosis, Ibid. p. 37). A terse flow of narrative, reaching for fundamental principles, interspersed with concise statements that cut to the heart of the matter. So, with Nietzsche, you get wisdom transmissions coming and going. It is not always easy to tell where the aphorisms leave off and the maxims begin. 

  

Nietzsche As a Tonic for Our Times 

 

If his medicine is to work on you, take him neat, no mixer, no ice, no chaser.  This madman laughs cosmic laughter.  Here is a quote from a 14th c. Dzogchen sage, Longchenpa: “Since everything is but an apparition, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may well burst out in laughter” (Treasury of Natural Perfection). This kind of laughter can occur when you find something you lost, like your cell phone in your pocket or your glasses on top of your head, in the most obvious place; or it can be big stuff, like the “Rwandan genocide” or “environmental degradation” or “prevalence of disease.” These are terms with strong rhetorical content to laugh at, when the pandemic numbers in the headlines are suffering human beings,—but riding on the tail of the Comet Neowise, looking at Earth in the distance—the tragedy fades, and the divine comedy comes into focus. Between tragedy and comedy, I feel comedy is the most tragic, while being comic, in the sense that no one is let off the hook.  Easy to blame the Hutus. Easy to blame Trump. Keeps us from taking responsibility. Like Socrates, look at the terms. Like Nietzsche, cut through the rhetoric you tell yourself. Best to make it a clean cut.  

 

Nietzsche reminds me of the Roman god, Janus, depicted as a double-faced god, looking in opposite directions, towards the beginning and end of things, to the end of dualities and the reformation of new riddles. For the Romans, Janus presided over the ending of war and the beginning of peace. The face facing towards peace (in Rome and as it has been for the U.S.) was/is hardly seen. Janus/Nietzsche is at war in one dialectic with philosophy and philosophers, and with himself and us, his audience, in another. Nietzsche stands in the doorway and screams his head off. The tenor of his philosophy is like using capital letters in an email. He is John Coltrane laying down his licks.  

 

Looking back at philosophy, Nietzsche realizes the whole project was misconstrued and poorly executed. He points out the egocentric nature of each philosopher’s take on philosophical structures; that the metaphysics of everyone since Heraclitus is skewered; that humans change mentally and physically over time, and that the ape of today might not have the opposing thumb of superiority it had during other eras—or, it could have, if it got its face (with a mask, preferably) turned around and out of its arsehole.   

  

Nietzsche knew his news would remain new, but what of the philosopher of the future? With a sense of qualified optimism, he sees us as wanting to remain an aporia: “As I divine them, as they let themselves to be divined—for it pertains to their nature to remain a riddle in some respects…”,—he went on to label us “attempters” in the hopes that we will not get hung up in our self-importance and our susceptibility to dogmatic utterances (Ibid., p.39). He would have us have a new spirit of exploration, a spirit that would require some rigorous purifications to take place before the strange phenomenon he calls intellectual conscience matures. Then, we can take pride in being as authentic as our ideas, once they have been truly analyzed and substantiated (Ibid., p.32). He wants us to be rigorous thinkers of thoughts and to look at these thoughts and sort them out, species, genre, and kind, and shake them good, and see what falls out. Try Averroes (Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rušd), a 12thc. Islamic polymath, who has this to say in his treatise, Tahafut Al-Tahafut : 

 

“If a lover of truth finds a theory reprehensible and does not find plausible premises which remove its reprehensible character, he must not at once believe that the theory is false, but must inquire how he who has put it forward had arrived at it, must employ much time in learning this, and follow the systematic order corresponding to the nature of the topic.” 

 

Any logical positivist, language analyst, mathematician, or scientist worth his salt would concur.  As would genius artists and poets.   

  

  

The Notebooks of Lou Andreas-Salomé, circa 1882 

 

A decade after the death of Sigmund Freud (d. 1938), a fragment of a notebook was found in his London residence by his daughter, Anna Freud. The lower half of the notebook is charred, as though the book was retrieved from the fire before it was totally consumed or that the fire was not sufficiently hot enough to burn books. The notebook contains a few pages of diary. The dates correspond to the time Nietzsche, Reés, and Andreas-Salomé spent together in Switzerland, in 1882. These fragments were a part of Roberta Soultea’s 2007 installation in the Freud Museum. Her monograph from that exhibit, Nietzsche and His Orphic Influences, was published by Fishburn and Hughes, London. 

  

FROM THE NOTEBOOKS OF LOU ANDREAS-SALOMÉ 

  

13 May, Lucerne 

Friedrich and I were alone on the veranda of our hotel, and he earnestly proposed marriage.  His words were like fire and ice mixed in the magic cauldron of his soul. Again, I rejected him. To mollify his anxiety, he said he would be happy to continue with our project, Winterplan. [Their plan is to create an academic commune.]  I heard him mutter: “There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness” (www.goodreads.com/authorquotes/1938.Friedrich_Nietzsche)…[[as]…] yes, but..  

  

14 May, Lucerne 

Friedrich told me that he would love his Fate:—and that he would be a “Yes” sayer (youTube, amor fati). Elisabeth [Nietzsche’s sister], is determined to get him away from me because I am, in her eyes, an “immoral woman.” Elisabeth has about as much chance to understand our aspirations, as a cow without teeth has of chewing grass. While we traveled with my mother through Italy, we decided to set up our commune in an abandoned monastery. So far, no suitable location has been found. Maybe we need to consult an oracle. Ther[…[…leap]…]..ould[.]…[his libations and purifications]…   

            

15 May, Lucerne 

We are in the lap of the Alps. Friedrich and Paul want to leap from mountain top to mountain top (Reader, p.16). They will need ten league boots to slug through the muck to get there. Paul believes that altruistic feelings are a foundation for morality.  He suggests that human sensations may take precedence over the rational mind. There is Darwin in the air, when Paul claims altruism is an innate human drive that over the course of centuries has been strengthened by natural selection. I have a li]…..]uggy whip. I wil].[ spank these bad boys…]…[…]been made with total[……[ang pf conscience[…..hitherto thes]…]rros[… 

  

16 May, Lucerne 

I have a Eurydice Complex. Eurydice is a figure in Greek mythology. Friedrich helped me with the philology: Eurydice or Eurydike (/jʊəˈrɪdɪsiː/; Greek: Εὐρυδίκη, Eurydikē “wide justice”, derived from ευρυς eurys “wide” and δικη dike “justice”—Lady Justice) was the wife of Orpheus, who tried to bring her back from the dead with his enchanting music. I feel our ménage à trois has been doomed from the start. The three of us, Paul, Fredrick, and I all want a Platonic Love, a philadelphos, a love of ideas shared among friends, but undercurrents of Dionysian magnetism remain. I am open to exploring new arrangements, on the condition that a certain mustachio does not drink milk only. After he imbibes, he looks like Tiresias with a mouth full of seafoam—Tiresias is not a bad comparison; he also used language made of succinct phrases, and he, too, is a liminal …r]…[...between the worlds of man and[…].[.]…[..] 

  

19 May, Lucerne 

A day or two has passed without an entry (Oh! so many levels). Who is my Orpheus? A wiki elf whispered:  I was your wife for years because you were the first reality, where man and body are indistinguishable from each other, an indisputable fact of life itself. I could have said literally what you told me when you confessed your love to me: Only you are real. That is how we became husband and wife even before we became friends... 

  

  

EURYDICE AWAITS ORPHEUS 

  

I wait for Orpheus in hell 

knowing his lyre is on fire 

  

The distance he must go is 

further than a raindrop, further 

than a poem 

drips 

  

In either 

World 

 

 

He will think ahead 

and bring three coins and  

extra honey cakes ]…. 

]… 

 

]...yet, there is triumph  

and tenderness in his last look 

]…[when]…[t] 

in]…[hideous grin torn open 

by]…[maenads  

]..[sight, but bad 

hindsight,—as now, our love 

stains the carrion stair...]..[ 

]…[Cerebus licks...] 

 

 

No fanfare, No Trumpet, No Salute, Just Raising Bodhicitta 

 

I am carrying A Nietzsche Reader in my back pocket. I feel like I am 20, again. Revolution is at hand! And how often does one feel the heartbeat of history in one’s chest? Nietzsche is present in our post-structuralist world. See the truth bubbles float out the window! In this essay I have ruffled the surface of the lake beyond the cypress tree. The Übermensch (and it will likely be a black woman) is at hand! 

 

If I plan to make any progress on an inner-transhumanist Path towards the Truth of there not being absolute truths (and how not to be terrified by the relativity of truth values), I need to get a grip on myself and continually set new coordinates for the arch of my Meditation (including my artistic endeavors and my daily life) and let these interdependent currents carry me in a spiral of compassion. Looking towards the East, bodhicitta (enlightened mind resonating with compassion) is on full display, in the episode with Nietzsche and the horse.   

  

It is reported: “On January 3, 1889, in the throes of a manic episode, Friedrich Nietzsche left his lodgings in Turin, walked a short distance across a nearby square, and then halted. Seeing a horse being flogged by its owner, he threw himself towards the animal and embraced it. Breaking into tears, he slumped to the floor.” (https://blog.lareviewofbooks.oressays/nietzsches-horse/)  I have heard that he spoke these words to the horse: “I understand your suffering!”  I tell friends that you must learn to raise bodhicitta with one hand and grapple with power with the other—and do this without doing. 

 

  

References 

 

Creeley, Robert. On Earth: Last Poems and an Essay, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2006, “Old Story,” p. 49. 

Longchenpa.  Old Man Basking in the Sun: Longchen Rabjampa’s Treasury of Natural Perfection, translated by Keith Dowman, Vajra Publishers, Jlyath, Thamel, Nepal, 2007. 

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick (1851), Norton Critical Edition, ed. Harrison Hayford & Hershel Parker, New York, 2017, letter in the appendix. 

 

Nietzsche, Friedrich. A Nietzsche Reader, translated by R.J. Hollingdale, Penguin Books,

New York, 1977. 

 

Popova, M. (2020). Nietzsche's 10 rules for writers, penned in a letter to his lover and muse. Retrieved from https://www.themarginalian.org/2014/08/08/nietzsches-10-rules-for-writers/

This & That

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The Life and Times of Jampa Dorje

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Artist in Spotlight

Phoebe Gonzales Rohrbacher

Stand-up Puppet Show

-Rachel Kotkin

Welcome to the Joke Dispensary...

"For the past 25 years I've been doing pro-bono IT work at the local historical society."

-Bob RAM DOS

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"I've been in the restaurant business a long time, and I've seen humanity at its most depraved."

-Sloppy Joe

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"So I want to tell you about 'Muffin Top,' a binge worthy reality competition fashion show."

-Poppy Toppins

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"As a feminist, I love going to salsa dancing classes and seeing men apologize for their poor leadership skills."

-Maxine

"They say love finds you when you least expect it. That's how I met Salt Lamp Guy."

-Mindy Pepkowitz

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"So I took my weinermer to the vet about a bump and came to find out it was his belly button."

-Manfred von Trails

"If I hear one more person tell me they love imperfect produce, I'm gonna lose it."

-Gayle D'Juicy

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Uncultivated

a sculpture series and concept

by Renee Addams

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“My work investigates the complex relationship we have cultivated with the natural world. By sculpting realistic facsimiles of plant specimens, my work draws parallels between human behaviors and those intrinsic to all species’ survival.”
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"The inherent beauty of plants and their seeming singularities make them perfect stand-ins for the human form. Like us, they set roots, claim territory and struggle for resources. Though my processes are multi-faceted, my objective remains constant; I aim to forge a connection between the viewer and the natural world and offer a platform in which viewers might see themselves reflected."
"My most recent body of work, Uncultivated, is a series of both large-scale and miniature sculptures of weeds that continue my exploration of plant-inspired imagery. For these works, my focus has turned to the lesser-appreciated species that crop up in our lawns, colonize empty lots, and sprout where most other plants cannot gain a foothold. Weeds are the most resilient and adaptable plants on our planet, though their ability to thrive and cross borders has vilified them. Many parallels can be drawn between human perceptions of these scrappy flora and the so-called 'undesirable' humans that crop up in today's polarizing debates. This series aims to shed light on these contemporary, social issues through a botanical lens."
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-Renee Addams

Cintia Garai

An artist in profile
Balangala: Story of an Orphan
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Using her art for change

Cintia Garai started out as an academic scientist, whose doctoral research into the personality traits of wild-living bonobos took her far from her native Hungary, to the lush forests of the Congo.