Mami is not religious. Fact is, I never even heard her say the word “God” not followed by “damn.” So when she jumps out of her chair praising Jesus, tears rolling down her face, I nearly spill my beer down my blouse. There she is on her knees, praying like a Pentecostal, arms in the air, swaying, the whole deal.
Then I see it. The face of Jesus on the window shade. Our very own Shroud of Turin.
I start to pull down the shade to get a closer look, but Mami lunges forward on her knees, all two hundred pounds of her, and grabs my sweater, wailing half in Spanish, half in English, saying only the pure of heart can touch Jesus.
“Well, then, José the maintenance man must be a saint,” I say, “He fixed that shade last week.”
Mami pounds her chest, and begs God to forgive me.
“Sarita, Jesus loves you.”
Yeah. Right. If he loved me, Tonio would still be alive. We’d still be living above the pizzeria on the avenue. I would be a medical assistant, working in a doctor’s office, not cleaning up piss and spit and who knows what in a cheap motel downtown.
I put my arm around Mami, and to my surprise, she doesn’t shove me away.
“Mami, this has to be an optical illusion. A shadow. Dirt.”
Mami’s eyes never leave the window. I follow her gaze and he’s still there: the hair, the beard, the mournful eyes, the crown of thorns, in shades of gray to black on the shade with its years of nicotine and cooking grease stains. I half-expect to see his mouth start moving like some Saturday morning cartoon.
I go to the kitchen, and call my friend Lucrecia in 7D. She works for a chiropractor in Williamsburg. She’d know what to do.
“Lu, you gotta get down here. Jesus is in my window.”
I explain that Mommy Dearest has turned into Mother Theresa.
I pour my beer down the drain, and look out the kitchen window.
Pleasant View Houses. Yeah, right. The pastoral scene I see is a trashed-up, dirt lot that used to be a lawn, and beyond it, another bleak high-rise building, tattooed guys huddled in puffed-up jackets under the yellow light by the bench, passing around a joint, waiting to make a sale. It was under that light Tonio and I first kissed.
I jump when there’s pounding at my door. Lu barges in, followed by Chubby, her husband, and half the damn building.
Amelia Flores from 6E, sick with breast cancer; Mr. Wilson from 2D, the stink of whisky wafting off him; Ruby Daniels from 1G, whose son, Ty was killed in Afghanistan; Marta and her near-blind mother from 5D. Leesha from 4H sashays in, drenched in perfume, praising the Lord, swinging a bottle of wine.
They keep coming: Kia, the teenager from 3F, whose mother OD’d last year; Wayne, the high school basketball star; Buzz, one of the X-Boyz; Vinny and Joe from the candy store; Sasha from next door, rapping a prayer. Pilgrims, every one, kneeling before the shade, seeking hope, I imagined, a miracle, some kind of reassurance there’s more to life than this. The last place my neighbors are gonna find hope is in apartment 2B at Pleasant View Houses in Coney Island.
I watch Mami greet everyone, shaking their hands, praying and crying with them. Most of these people avoid her. Many are victims of her tirades.
I look at the shade and I dare Jesus to give me a sign.
Maybe it was a breeze from the open window.
Maybe someone jostled the lamp on the table.
Maybe I’m, looking for a miracle, too. But I swear I see Jesus glow, golden, warm, inviting.
Darlene Cah used to improvise on stage in New York. Now she improvises with words in North Carolina. Her stories have appeared in various journals including Smokelong Quarterly, Referential Magazine, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Red Earth Review. Among her awards is the 2018 Hub City/Emrys Writing Prize. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
M E Fuller
Surface fog radiates from the cold whisper of icy water, calm beneath a layer of hovering warm air. A loon cries its lonesome call that belies the truth. There is a nest for the pair in that cove, not far from my porch-side perch.
I watch for the boat to reappear. I know he will not survive. But I watch, and I wait, all day. My legs stretch to reach the porch rail. With ankles crossed in colorful Nordic woolen socks, the chill is kept at bay. I am distracted by my coffee mug, out of reach, ice crystals forming in the bottom. I stole that mug from the local diner last week. I liked it. I took it. They billed me.
He won’t be back. I smile, close my eyes heavy from watching the horizon—an unbroken grey slate. I can hear his insults and I recoil against the image of his mocking sneer.
She’s lovely. She’s sexy. She’s compliant. His words burn.
I feel content, well-satisfied, knowing he’ll never mock me again. His body will languish in the cold waters. Fish will sidle into his clothing to nibble on this fresh feast. He will rot with time and water wear.
I wish I’d had the courage to murder him in public, but I am not brave. She will be blamed. I will be consoled.
Life is good.
M E Fuller has always imagined other worlds of thoughts and ways of being. Her writing, drawings, and paintings reflect these worlds of place and interaction. She has published flash fiction stories Crazy Dog, Winter 2016, “Shark Reef, A Literary Magazine,” and Abel March, in “Talking Stick 26, A Minnesota Literary Journal,” September 2017. Her short essay The Last Roll Call, appears in PHOTOWRITE 2018, collaborations between photographers and writers.
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During the summer, South 85 Journal relaunched Converse College’s Julia Peterkin Awards with a flash fiction contest, and we are excited to announce the results.
Julia Peterkin Award for Flash Fiction
“What You Said” by Natalie Troy
Natalie Troy lives near a beautiful lake in the wilds of northern New Jersey where she recently completed her first novel. Her short fiction appears or is forthcoming in Firewords Magazine and Montana Mouthful. Connect with her on Twitter @_natalietroy.
(Listed by Title in Alphabetical Order)
“Dump Columbus” by Charlie Watts
Charlie Watts earned an MFA from Brown University in 1992. After a long detour through communications consulting, Charlie returned to writing in 2013 and has published in journals including Carve, Narrative, Storm Cellar, and Sequestrum. His story, “Arrangements,” won the 2015 Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. He and his wife, a chaplain, have three grown children and live in Freedom, New Hampshire.
“Eric Clapton’s Girlfriend” by John Mattson
John Mattson is a writer, screenwriter, songwriter, and teacher. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and son. His bio is incomplete.
“Fiesta” by Kathleen Wheaton
Kathleen Wheaton lived and worked as a journalist in Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Her fiction has appeared in many journals; her collection, Aliens and Other Stories, won the Washington Writers Publishing House Fiction Prize. She is at work on a novel about the dictatorship in Argentina.
“Mark 12:31” by D. Nolan Jefferson
D. Nolan Jefferson is a librarian and writer based in Washington, DC. A California native, he has earned an MFA in Film from Art Center College of Design and a MLIS from Louisiana State University. Pursuing an MFA in fiction at American University, he won the 2017 AWP Intro Journals Project Award, has been published in Tahoma Literary Review and Red Savina Review and enjoys tacos, records, and fellow introverts.
Get excited about reading these amazing stories in our Fall / Winter issue, which we will release December 15, 2018. Also, because we received so many awesome stories in our contest, we will publish a few other entries in our blog before the release of our issue. We look forward to sharing this work with you!
In the meantime, you can continue to submit longer fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and art for our upcoming issue through November 1 at https://south85.submittable.com/submit.
Thank you for your continued readership and support!Read More »
I have a confession. I majored in Russian Literature without finishing War and Peace.I read small sections of it in Russian, but was expected to read all of it in English. In the past 25-years since college, I hesitate to mention my major, because most people ask about War and Peace. Is it any good? Is it worth it? I had to look away at these questions and try to change the subject, or lie about it.
Why did I never read it? Partly because I was a Dostoevsky man at the time (Yes, there are camps among Russian lit nerds). Also because, every time I tried, it just seemed boring to me. In college, I was reading the classic translation of it by Constance Garnett, a British translator from the early twentieth century. Then a few years ago, I heard about Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation from 2007. It was supposed to be more accessible to today’s American readers, if Americans still reads tomes like War and Peace. I felt the difference immediately.
Here’s a brief comparison:
Constance Garnett: “Anna Pavlona, with the adroitness and quick tact of a courtier and a woman, felt an inclination to chastise the prince for his temerity in referring in such terms to a person recommended to the empress, and at the same time to console him.”
Pevear and Volokhonsky: “Anna Pavlova, with her courtly and feminine adroitness and ready tact, wanted both to swat the prince for daring to make such a pronouncement about a person recommended to the empress, and at the same time to comfort him.”
To me, the second is less stodgy, less like an old Victorian house you might visit in Vienna. The second version has plainer language, language we are more likely to use or hear every day as Americans, including vernacular such as “swat.” We can connect more with Anna Pavlova’s feelings, both her anger and compassion, about the prince.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying that Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation is better. I’m saying it fits better in our time. It sounds better to our ears. This often happens with translations. They peak based on their adherence to cultural norms of a given era. For instance, in the early twentieth century, Garnett’s translations were considered the gold standard. They were loved, particularly in Britain.
As readers, we often underestimate a translation’s importance. However, it shouldn’t be undervalued. After all, it’s how we are able to access the work. Our understanding of a novel, memoir, short story, or, especially, a poem is filtered through the translator’s understanding of it and his or her ability to convey the work in our language and idiom.
Here are several factors that will allow you to compare translations when multiple versions exist:
• The form of English the translator knows: It’s important to find out where the translator lives. The translation might be into British English, American English, or Canadian English. A translator naturally will use idioms from his or her country. If you are an American and your translator of a French novel is from Wales, then you will be trying to understand French humor translated into Welsh humor. You would also need to understand Welsh expressions, particularly for dialogue. You want the translation to be as close to your form of English as possible to reduce the unfamiliar filters it must pass through on its way to you.
• The translator’s intended audience: Good translators think about their audience just like authors do. Is the translator a professor and envisions a translation that will awe his or her colleagues with esoteric details in footnotes? Or, is the translator intending the translation for a more general consumption?
• Time period: Even if nationality isn’t a concern, the language can still be confusing if it was translated several generations ago. Expressions will be different, but also the translation might have been reviewed by censors and required to meet certain cultural requirements to be published. For instance, expletives in the original might have been omitted or altered. Prejudices might be smoothed over or exaggerated from the original to fit the translator’s time.
• Cultures and Languages: Translation involves both the culture and language of the work. You should look at the translator’s credentials. Does he or she have advanced degrees in the original language? If so, they have studied it fairly extensively. Other signs of expertise can be lengthy periods of time living in both countries.
• Translator’s own writing: Is the translator a writer also? If so, the translator will likely have an understanding of writing craft. This understanding of craft will help the translator properly interpret the original author’s ideas. Vladimir Nabokov, for instance, was an outstanding translator for Americans because he lived in both Russia and America and wrote in both languages. It is also helpful if the translator has written in the same genre as the author’s work. Poets often translate poetry better than fiction writers, for instance.
• Dedication to the author:Has this translator published translations of other works by this same author? It conveys a deeper understanding of that particular writer and also experience with the writer’s style.
In short, translations matter. With the right one, War and Peace has become much more engaging for me. With a contemporary translation, I made it all the way through this great work of literature, despite Tolstoy’s soap box soliloquies about Napoleon and history. In fact, maybe finishing it is why I’m in Chekhov’s camp now.
Russell Carr is a physician living in Maryland. He will complete an MFA at Converse College in fiction with a minor in nonfiction by the end of 2018.Read More »
Penny Zang Wilcox
5 a.m. Morning shocks itself into focus, the sky coffee-dark and thick with silence. The hopeful kind.
I am a 5 a.m. writer. Judging from others’ faces when I tell them how early I wake up each morning, on purpose, I must be a masochist. The question of “why” floats over their head like a cartoon dialogue bubble. Why sacrifice sleep? But also, perhaps: why bother writing at all?
My reasons are easy to explain. To write, I need the luxuries of both time and quiet, spread out before me, clean and unbroken. With a full-time job and a family, stretches of uninterrupted quiet time only exist in my house before sunrise. The other answer to “why” is one I rarely say out loud, but one I am always thinking. For me, writing is worth the sleep deprivation, worth the early bedtime on a Friday night. I’ve written whole novels (at least the messy first drafts of novels) in that sliver of morning before anyone else on my block is awake. I brew the coffee, feed the cat, and get to work.
I started waking early to write when my son was a baby. For the first year of his life, D woke every two hours (and didn’t sleep through the night until he was four years old). I would cradle him to back to sleep and then lie awake, lamenting my sleep deprivation and my inability to write. During these bleary-eyed mornings I started to revise old work, piecing sentences together and deleting scenes without mercy. Since I was already awake, why not use the quiet time for something besides laundry and Facebook scrolling? Many of my memories of my son’s first year are blurry, but I do remember returning to writing after a long hiatus, and how miraculous it felt.
On Twitter, the 5amwritersclub hashtag brims with donut and dance party gifs, unbridled encouragement, and sometimes more enthusiasm than even I can handle so early in the morning. I check in and cheer on the other writers, motivated by all of the early morning writers who are also sacrificing sleep in pursuit of getting a few words on the page. 5 a.m. is our time. We work past the exhaustion. We drink all the coffee.
Here’s the thing: 5 a.m. writing isn’t for everyone just like daily writing isn’t always necessary (or feasible), no matter how many craft books tell you otherwise.
As a creative writing teacher, I am the first to tell my students that they need to find their own process. Some writers prefer silence and some need a carefully curated playlist. I know many writers who work through the night. Good for them. Not so much for me. What is most important has been developing healthy writing habits, creating a realistic type of discipline in the midst of work and family and the thousands of ways a day can fold in on itself without warning. On the hardest days, the days filled with self-doubt and rejection, I remind my students there isn’t one path to being a writer. Give yourself time to figure it out. For the most part, I think they believe me.
I have woken up at 5 a.m. to write through illness, family deaths, holidays, vacations, and weekend mornings when all I want to do is sleep in. There have also been plenty of days (and years) when I have not written at all. The difference is that now I no longer feel guilt over non-writing days because I know I will make up the time. If it isn’t my body’s internal clock waking me up the next morning, it will surely be my son, his eyes wide and eager to start the day. He’s been an early riser since he was born. What can I say? I’m pretty sure he gets it from me.
Penny Zang Wilcox is from Baltimore and now lives in Greenville, SC, where she teaches English at Greenville Technical College. She graduated from West Virginia University with her MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) and her work has appeared in publications such as the Potomac Review, Pank, Iron Horse Literary Review, Baltimore City Paper, and New Ohio Review. She is currently working on her first novel.
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