Tuesday 30 April 2019

A Bizarre Train Ride

A Bizarre Train Ride

by Michal Reibenbach

Earl grey tea 

My husband and I are on our way by train to visit Leipzig. We relax into our, shabby, thread worn, brown padded seats. The train rocks back and forth as it rattles along. It’s an old train with little separate compartments with sliding doors. There’s a smell of cigarettes in the air. For a while, I am mesmerized by the scenery, the fields and rolling hills flitting by outside my window. The sky is a soft light blue with gentle clouds. At length, I turn my attention to my husband and we discuss our plans for the coming day. Aside from us and a couple of old ladies sitting opposite, the compartment is empty. Periodically I glance at the two old ladies before me. One of the ladies looks rather haughty. She is dressed respectably in a cream-colored suit and a neck scarf with a floral pattern. Her grey hair is scooped up in a bun. She constantly stares out of the window and pretends not to notice us. Her small, scrawny companion is shrouded in a shapeless print dress, grey with small red roses. Her face is covered with web-like wrinkles. She reminds me of a little bird the way she is twitching restlessly about in her seat. She continuously watches us with her small, sharp eyes and is obviously dying to ask us a question but can’t pluck up the courage. Finally, I smile at her which prompts her to do so. 

‘Excuses me for asking, but what language are you speaking?’

‘We’re speaking Hebrew,’ I answer in my broken German.

‘Ah yes, yes, I see, I see,’ she says and I can see that she is swilling this information around in her mind.

‘And which country do you come from?’ she then asks.

‘We’re from Israel,’ I answer.

‘Ah Israel, ah Israel,’ she says and I can see that once again she is busily endeavoring to absorb this information.

‘And do you have Arabs in Israel?’ is her next question.

‘Yes we have Arabs in Israel and we also have Jews. We are Jews,’ I clarify.

‘Ah, ah, Jews, Jews!’ she cries out in animation.‘And do you have towns in Israel?’ she asks.

‘Yes, we have towns,’ I answer.

‘and do you have apartments?’ she then asks.

‘Yes, we have apartments, we live in an apartment,’ I explain patiently.

‘She obviously thinks we live in mud houses or tents?’ my husband hisses at me in Hebrew.

‘and do your apartments have doors which can be shut and opened?’ is her next question.

‘Yes our apartments have doors which we can shut and open,’ I answer and I can’t help but smile at her bizarre interrogation.

Undeterred she continues, ‘and do you have windows with window panes in them?’

‘Yes we have windows with window panes in them,’ I answer.

Throughout this strange dialogue, the other old lady continues to staunchly stare out of the window as if it is beneath her or maybe she thinks it’s ‘bad manners’ to listen in onto other people’s conversation.

‘and do you have curtains on your windows?’ she asks.

‘Yes, we have curtains on our windows,’ I answer.

This answer finally seems to satisfy her, if we have curtains on our windows we are clearly a civilized country. Contented she sits back in her seat and is silent for a while.  All of a sudden she chirps up once again, ‘May I ask you a big favor?’

‘Yes, of course,’ I reply.

‘My grandson is meeting me at the railway station. He’s never met a Jew before. May I introduce you to him?’ she inquires.

For a few moments, my husband and I sit in utter astonishment in reaction to the old lady’s request. Our eyes lock in an amused glance. There is nothing especially Jewish about our looks. We both have pale complexions, my husband has light grey eyes, mine are bright blue. Maybe our noses are sort of Jewish? But to make the old lady happy we are willing to oblige.

‘Yes, of course, we’ll be delighted to meet your grandson,’ I say congenially. 

As the train pulls into Leipzig station, the rattling of the train is drowned out by the screeching of the breaks and we tilt forward in our seats as the train shudders to a stop.

We accompany the two ladies off the train to the crowded platform, noise is everywhere. The bird-like lady spots her grandson and she shuffles quickly through the throng up to him, ‘Hans, mein Liebling,’ she exclaims loudly and raises her withered hands up to him. He wraps his arms around her shoulders. Pulling away from him she declares, ‘Look who I met on the train, this pleasant couple, they are  Jews, isn’t it exciting? I want you to meet them.’

Her grandson turns bright red with embarrassment. We shake hands and exchange pleasantries after which he says, ‘I apologize for my grandmother. She lives in a tiny village and she isn’t very worldly.’

‘No need to be upset we really enjoyed her company. She kept us amused,’ I assure him. We bid our farewells and hurry away.

Monday 29 April 2019

Weeping for the Willows

                                                                    by Dawn DeBraal


 How she fought the electric company. The three big weeping willows in front of her house were bigger around in girth than I could stretch my arms. She told me all about how she had put the slips of those the willows in her suitcase when she came from Germany and planted them in front of the house my great grandfather built before there was electricity. They were here first. I admired her spunk when she fought with them. She would allow the Power and Light Company to trim the trees around the wires, but that was it. She would go round after round with them every year like a heavyweight boxing match. I admired my great grandmother who was a sprite of a woman. It was by her will alone that those trees survived as long as she did.  When she died the electric company came and cut those trees down without any notice. I think I cried harder than anyone. I told my mother about great-grandma bringing those willows all the way from Germany just to plant them in front of her house. My mother looked at me strangely.
“Grandma didn’t come from Germany. She came from Arkansas!”

Sunday 28 April 2019


by K.C. Bailey

 Sweet Lassi

To see him run, so much grace, so much power and beauty. He needs a name, but he’s not mine to call. It’s Autumn and his bay coat has grown thicker for protection. When he’s close enough to touch he feels teddy bear soft and warm, reminding me of a pony I used to ride many years ago. His nostrils flare out steamy clouds of horse huff as he searches for hidden treats, except my pockets are empty. No apples, no polos. He moves on.

Turning away from the field, I walk back down a tree lined avenue. Boot prints in the mud, but they’re not mine. I must have left my shoes by the gate. I thought I heard voices and a faint beeping, maybe a phone, except no-one else is here. I carry on.

I find myself on a beach where I played as a child. The demerara sand gives way beneath my feet, swelling up between my toes like dough. Waves roll into the shore - not with a splash or a clash - just gently lapping forward, each a little further than the last in a sedate race to the dunes, coming in closer until I’m up to my knees in seawater. It’s wintry here, yet I’m not cold. I didn’t bring a towel.

My arms are heavy and the beeping noise is back. Last night I think I was dreaming, I heard more voices - too dark to see and too tired to look. I went back to sleep.

Sunrise lights the land, still I can’t find the field or see the beach. There’s a church on the hillside and a scattering of people. Walking feels like wading through deep mud; the grass is long, though there is nothing holding me. I see only my bare feet. By the time I reach the church the people have gone; driven away in black cars. No-one saw me, no-one waited.

I can see fresh flowers, so many beautiful white roses. There is no head stone by the new grave, just a small wooden marker in the shape of a cross. Night falls in fast. I watch the moon rise and trace the stars. I do not sleep.

The sun is coming up, its early morning rays flooding the horizon, glowing, kissing the earth. I’m wearing my favourite dress, the one with yellow flowers that I thought I’d thrown away years ago. There’s someone else here today, by the nameless grave. She wavers in the breeze, holding something close to her chest; she has long auburn hair like my sister’s, which falls forward as she bends and places something down. I wonder who she lost. She stands up with head and shoulders bowed, then slowly walks away.

I approach the grave. A pair of ballet shoes hangs from the little cross - pale pink satin with long, delicate ribbons. My feet are getting cold now and the light is fading again. I kneel down on the damp evening grass and pick up the dainty shoes. I’ll bring them back as soon as I find my own. I get the feeling no-one will mind.

Walking with my borrowed shoes I feel lighter. I think about who she might have been, down there under the soil, was she like me - my age. We share the same size feet; her shoes fit me perfectly, like a dream. Then I wonder, were they mine?

About the author 

KC Bailey was born in Northamptonshire and is currently studying towards an MA in Creative Writing; her poems have been published in an anthology, a magazine called Monkey Kettle and online at The Ekphrastic Review. Non-fiction articles include a piece written for the BBC promoting two hometown charities.

Saturday 27 April 2019

Unseen Eyes

by Linda Flynn

a sharp, bitter lemon drink

You always know when you are being watched. There’s that sense of a tingling in your spine, a boring into your back, or an awareness that every detail is being observed. And all without you turning around.
              Most of the time you would brush it away, forgotten, like the litter blowing across the platform. At other times you might freeze, knowing that you are almost alone, as you try to focus on the peeling posters. The train rushes in like an indrawn breath and you leap on.
              You know it’s not unusual, it happens to everyone, so why is it troubling you today?
              A quick glance around the carriage, without making any eye contact, assures you that everything is normal: faces buried in newspapers, books or phones, a pale pensive man twisting some interview notes in his lap, a ginger haired girl impatiently kicking her legs against the seat, figures stood at the poles turned away from each other. Then the deep, dark blur of the tunnel as the windows gleamed back dull reflections. So why is your heart beating a little faster?
              You rub your eyes; you hadn’t slept well last night, haunted by the shadowy outline by the bush outside your bedroom window.
The train seems to wait ages at the station. It’s hard not to drum your fingers as passengers heave on and off. An obstruction in the doors. At last it surges forward and those standing sway backwards.
              You scan the new faces, locking your hands which are now clammy with dread.
              You see a black jacket weaving through the passengers. It’s the same as a thousand other black jackets seen on the underground, but there’s something in the straightness of the back, an alertness, and the air around you feels suffocating.
              Of course neighbours meet each other all the time: chance encounters buying a pint of milk, collecting a newspaper, walking a dog. But still, not all the time, not the exact same routine.
              You should have taken a taxi. Too late to think of that now.
              The hooded mac helps. Not your usual raincoat. You don’t even like it much, but bland beige blends in.
              The train screeches to the penultimate stop before you must disembark. Your heart is hammering. You glance down at your shoes. Not ideal for walking.
              You hold your breath and in your head begin counting the three seconds it will take for the doors to fully close. Then you leap out at one, forcibly parting people as you sprint on to the platform.
              A hurried glance behind; then breathe. You flit into the gap between commuters, knowing the space will close as people jostle forward.
              Before you reach the escalator you slip off your coat, scrunch it into a ball and shove into a bag. Black clothes. Good.
              Your heart is thumping but you must take the escalator calmly, without drawing attention to yourself; so you ease in front of a bulky man and remain motionless, steadying your pulse.
              The crowd on the pavement outside has thinned out, so you slip inside a busy shop, slide past customers and out of a side door. It’s all time lost and you will be late for work, if only you had left slightly earlier today.
              There’s the reassuring rumble of traffic and once more you are swallowed up by a group of pedestrians. You keep pace with them, there’s safety in numbers. Everyday conversations flitter around you, dull and reassuring, people going about their every-day lives.
              You try to resist turning your head around, checking, watching. With an effort of will you face mainly forwards, throwing the occasional glance at reflections in shop windows. There’s nothing unusual and you are nearly there.
              As you approach the main door to your office your knees feel weak with relief and you long to sit down.
              Instinct makes you twist your head slightly towards the café window opposite. Then you see him. He gives a half smile and seems to raise his coffee cup in greeting.
              He was there before you; he already knew where you worked.
You thought you had noticed when you were being watched, but you hadn’t, not really. Another detail had been given away, another piece of the jig-saw puzzle that formed your life, another fact gleaned from following; making you easier to stalk.

National Helpline: 0808 802 0300  www.suzylamplugh.org

Friday 26 April 2019

Little Detectives

by Michal Reibenbach

homemade lemonade

I live in Dillydale, a boring little village where nothing of importance ever happens. My best friend Chloe and I spend many happy hours together, playing the various street games which little girls do. By far our most exciting game is pretending we are ‘detectives’. 

Chloe’s parents are quite well off and have bought her a beautiful bike. Thus she cycles up the road, stops beside our front gate and waits for me. My family is poor and I don’t have a bicycle, besides my fearful mother would never allow me to ride a bike. We surreptitiously sneak over to one of my neighbors. He has an old, rusty, man’s bicycle with brakes that don’t work in his garage and permits me to use it. I call out to him, ‘Mr. Smith, I’m taking your bike!’ He calls back as he always does, ‘Alright, love.’ If my anxious mother were to find out that I am riding an enormous man’s bike without breaks she’ll have a fit! 

I love cycling, the sun above is bright, the breeze on my face is welcoming, the motion and speed as my legs move up and down, it’s a feeling of freedom.  We cycle down the trail through a pine wood, there is a fresh scented tang of the pine needles. Arriving at a pond, we dismount and lean our bikes on the rough, dark trunks of tall pine trees, rasin drools from wounds in their bark. As always Chloe has come fully equipped with a hamper of food, a folding gas ring, magnifying glasses, string, and various tools. We cook sausages on the gas ring, gulp them down with bread rolls and then eagerly eat the dessert which is a delicious chocolate cake. Having appeased our hunger we set about putting up booby traps by tying pieces of string from one tree trunk to another in order to trip up ‘thieves’ or ‘murderers’ who might be lurking in the forest. We also dig a hole which we cover with branches, into which we hope ‘the criminal’ will fall!  Then taking hold of our large magnifying glasses we slowly walk around the pond carefully inspecting the ground for anything suspicious. The magnifying glass enlarges our eyes enormously, it is quite startling. ‘I’m the ghost of the large eye,’ says Chloe in a moaning tone of voice and as a result, we double up in a fit of laughter. Tiring of our game we sit down at the edge of the pond. Shimmers move across the green surface. The lily-pads are in bloom. We throw pebbles into the water, they send ripples in ever-widening circles until they disappear. A woodpecker pecks a tree trunk hunting for insects and the sound dispersing around us. At length, we rise, brush the brown pine needles from off the back of our trousers, gather up our ‘stuff’, collect our bikes and cycle off back home.

Those childhood memories would be treasured forever.

Sixty years later:

I’m reading the book, ‘Little Detectives’ and the whole time I have the uncanny feeling of ‘deja vu’ as if I recognize all the streets and places described in this novel. As soon as I've turned over the last page I go shuffling off to my computer and search for the author’s name in Google. Low and behold! I discover that the author used to live in Dillydale, the same little village in which I  grew up in and he and his friend, although a year younger than I, also used to play ‘detectives’ as children. Now an old man the author has used his childhood memories from Dillydale to write the novel I’ve just finished reading, ‘Little Detectives’, which is so successful it is studied by some A level students for their literature exams and has also been produced as a film. As for me, I’m no writer but I am a good storyteller. I enjoy reminiscing about my memories to my children and grandchildren and I hope that they might someday also pass down my stories to their own children and grandchildren!

Thursday 25 April 2019

Pete the Penguin, World Penguin Day April 25th


World Penguin Day April 25th 

by James Bates

Miller Beer

On his way to Larry's birthday party, Tim stopped at a Quick-Trip for a twelve pack of Miller. On his way to pay for it he passed a toy section and that's when he first heard Pete. Of course he didn't know it was Pete at the time. What he heard was a faint, "Squeak, squeak." He looked. There in a toy bin was a four inch tall, black and white soft rubber penguin with a yellow beak and yellow feet. It's dark, shinny eyes seemed to plead, "Please take me home." He picked it up and squeezed it and the little penguin squeaked. Too cute! How could Tim resist? He felt a connection right away and thought Larry would as well. So he paid for his purchases and continued on his way, happily squeezing the little penguin, squeaking it the rest of the way to St. Paul.
            The party, Larry's thirtieth, was in full swing by the time Tim arrived.
            "Hey, man," Larry slurred coming up and giving his friend a hug. "Thought you'd never get here."
            Behind him Tim saw Karen shaking her head. She looked pissed. She didn't like it when her husband drank to excess.
            Tim understood, he had a little trouble over indulging himself sometimes. But today was special, he reasoned, you were only thirty once. Plus, he and Ann were on the outs so it was a night he was especially looking forward to, unwinding with his best friend. He handed over the gas station plastic bag. "Here you go, buddy. Happy birthday."
            "Hey, pal, I'm touched," Larry joked. Then he opened the bag and took out the penguin. He  squeaked it once. Then again. Then again and again and again, "Squeak, squeak, squeak!"
            For many it was annoying but not for Larry. His eyes lit up. "I love him," he said, immediately assigning the penguin a male gender. He pulled Tim to him and hugged him tight. "Best present ever." And this was coming from a guy who'd just opened a new CD player from his brother. He turned and yelled, "Hey, everyone, look what Tim gave me." He held the penguin high in the air and started squeezing it. There was something about the little penguin's squeaky voice that was enduring to both Larry and Tim. Even Karen smiled. "His name's going to be Pete," Larry announced, squeaking the penguin some more. "Pete the penguin."
            And that's how it started.
            Nearly every Saturday night for the next couple of years Larry and Karen and Tim would get together. They'd have a few beers and talk over the their work week at their respective jobs. Tim worked at a hardware store, Larry was an assistant professor of history at the University of Minnesota and Karen was a secretary for an insurance company. Pete was always with them. "He's part of the group," Larry said early on, giving him a squeak. Pete had a stately yet easy going demeanor. He was non-judgmental and easy to care for, only requiring the occasional bit of fish for food. Most importantly, he had a calming effect and always put folks in a good mood.
            Karen grew to love Pete and made little outfits for him to wear: A cowboy hat and chaps for Cowboy Pete. A red cape and black mask for Super Hero Pete. A surf board and knee length trunks for Surfer Dude Pete. And many others. Pete came to occupy a place of honor near wherever they sat, being squeaked whenever someone was in the mood, which was a usually quite often, especially after a few beers.
            Larry created a narrative he called, The Story of Pete. "Pete was born in the Arctic and fell in love with Paula, the most beautiful penguin within a thousand miles of the Arctic Circle. During a violent storm she got lost at sea and Pete began searching the world high and low for her. His search was thwarted, however, when a huge wave smashed him upon the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior during a winter blizzard. He was airlifted to recovery at the University of Minnesota Avian Recovery Center where he was to be destined for the local zoo. But he escaped and ended up in a toy bin in a gas station in western St. Paul. That's Tim found him, rescued him, and gave him to Larry." (Which got Tim to thinking the "squeak, squeak" he heard that day might actually have been, "Please. Help me.")
            Tim loved listening to The Story of Pete, and over that first year Pete's life became real to them all, right down to Pete developing a craving for Swenson's Gourmet canned sardines. By the time Larry's thirty-first birthday rolled around he had adopted the little penguin, becoming his father. Karen became his mother and Tim, of course, became Pete's uncle.
            For seven years all was well with the four of them until Life intervened. Larry was offered a teaching job at the University of Madison. Karen's mother was in poor health and lived nearby in the town of Pardyville, so after very little deliberation the couple decided to move to Wisconsin.
            "We'll stay in touch, buddy," Larry told Tim, giving him a farewell hug just after his thirty-seventh birthday, "That's what email and Facebook is for."
            "Sounds good," Tim said. He and Larry had been friends since grade school and he was confident their friendship would survive.
            So was Pete."Squeak, squeak!" said the little penguin.
            But, over time, they drifted apart. Larry became head of the history department and he and Karen adopted a child from Korea. Then another one. Karen's mom moved in with them, and their lives become increasingly busy and complex. Tim's wife divorced him. They shared custody of  their two kids and Tim devoted his time to being a better father. He quit drinking and became manager of the hardware store. A few more years went by and eventually the friends lost touch.
            So imagine Tim 's surprise when out of the blue he got a friend request on Facebook. It was from Pete the penguin. Tim had to laugh because it was accompanied by a picture of Pete wearing a tie-dye tee shirt and red headband. "Hippy-Dippy Pete wants to become your friend," the caption read.
            In an instant, all the memories of his friendship with Larry and Karen came flooding back; warm memories of nights spent together hanging out and talking; times of companionship and good will with Pete calmly standing nearby keeping them company. It'd been too long. Tim immediately confirmed the request. Within minutes Pete sent a message: "My mom is giving a fiftieth birthday party next month for my dad. It's going to be a surprise and she would very much like it if you would attend. It would mean the world to all of us."
            Tim didn't have to think. He replied right back, "I'll be there."
            And that's what put him on the road that day, driving to Madison to see his friends, friends he hadn't seen for over ten years. What would their reunion be like? He didn't party anymore. He'd never met their kids. Larry and Karen and he were different people from what they'd been when they were thirty and Pete the penguin had first entered their lives. It could be a disaster.
            Or could it?
            The more he thought about it, the more he thought, naw, no way. As friends went the three of them had something special, and Tim's overwhelming feeling was that their friendship could withstand the test of time. It had to. They had Pete the penguin as their glue. And if that sounded like a weird thing to say, and if other people didn't get it, well, too bad. As far as Nate was concerned it only meant those people had never met a penguin quite like Pete, because if they had he was convinced they'd be singing a different tune. Or squeaking one, for that matter.
            Speaking of Pete, Nate almost forgot. Outside of Madison he pulled into a grocery store and roamed the isles until he found what he was looking for: a can of sardines, Swenson's Gourmet, of course. They were a gift for Pete. It was the least he could do for the little guy for bringing the friends back together. Then he remembered to pick up another can. He'd almost forgot. He'd heard a rumor that Pete had found his old girlfriend, Paula, and she might be at the party. It wouldn't hurt to have some extra food on hand for the happy couple, just to be on the safe side. When it came to penguins Nate knew one thing for sure, you could never have too many sardines.
            He paid his bill, got in his car and continued on to Larry and Karen's home. He couldn't wait to get there. He could already hear Pete's enthusiastic voice, greeting him, "Squeak, squeak, squeak!"
            And that's all it took to make him smile.

About the author 

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is an avid bird watcher and penguins are among his favorite bird species. His stories have appeared in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed and Paragraph Planet. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.