MATTHEW 8:15 HOLLYWOOD
He asked me if I'd found Jesus on the 8:15 train to Hollywood. He carried lightening in his eyes. He asked my name and found Matthew, and found Matthew wanting.
Buzzing in time with the humming fluorescent lights, the preaching man laid hands upon Matthew's head, bleeding holy oils from underneath his nails. Tongues spilled out from between the street prophet's teeth, grey as crematorium-ash, carried on breath thick with brimstone and sidewalk cigarettes. Brown stains scraped raw to the floor held tight to the artificial golden hour, lest they be carried away by the word too.
The voices compounded, wave after wave, one after another, becoming so numerous and thick that they stuck to his skin, seeping through his pores, filling him full till they ran like tears from the corners of his eyes, until Matthew could no longer feign ignorance that he heard them calling him home.
He looked inside Matthew and saw through to the bottom of the well. The lord and his preacher waded hand in hand within Matthew, with Matthew, 'till they found sin. The sin of alleys carrying the foul scent of liars love, dank with acrid sweat that poured now from Matthew like baptismal waters. The sidewalk prophet released Matthew from his grip, his mark still fresh on Matthew's forehead, the sweat running through them like rivulets.
He'd been born again an untouched canvas, and in holy oil hands, he'd been anointed in salvation at 7th and Figueroa. In his hearth lay coals long dormant, now briefly warmed.
Matthew exited the doors and rolled off my shoulders onto the tracks, carried away by cool winds.
Jayson Kleinman is a freelance writer with a background in history and technology, with a focus on contemporary fiction and, occasionally, poetry. He's previously worked as a freelance blogger for basketball blogs "Daily Knicks" and "This League!".
Fifteen-year-old Ketziah David swept her long blonde hair out of her eyes as she climbed out of the car. She had never been so nervous in her life. The village she’d entered was only kilometers from her homeland. But it felt like she had traveled into another world entirely; across an endless ocean rather than across an invisible border marred by a checkpoint.
Yet, the Palestinian area of the West Bank was not unlike her home on the edge of Tel Aviv. The same cloudless blue sky. The wind-blown dust and heated sand. The same calls of the sandpiper birds.
“Ketziah, these bags aren’t going to move themselves,” Mr. David popped open the trunk and pulled out a gift bag. “Come on, the Rasheed family is waiting.”
Why had she agreed to come here? What was she thinking? It was her father who was the famous peace advocate, who was well-liked in this village. Not her. She would be seen as an intruder.
Ketziah picked up one of the gift bags—filled with apricots, figs, and chocolates—and followed Mr. David down the tree-lined path towards the village.
“Remember;” her father reminded her for the millionth time, “do not bring up anything about politics or bombings to the Rasheeds. They’ve just lost a son.
“A son who committed a suicide bombing at an army post,” Ketziah muttered.
Mr. David stopped and narrowed his eyes. “That attitude is why we have no peace. I know what their son did. The Rasheeds don’t condone it! They should not be made to suffer for his crimes. They’re grieving.”
“I know about grief!” Ketziah snapped, filled with a rage she didn’t understand. “My best friend died two months ago! Or did you forget about her already?”
Mr. David sighed, and his normally tall stature slumped down an inch; he suddenly looked every bit his forty-eight years of age.
Ashamed, Ketziah shook her head. “Come on; let’s just get this over with.” She walked ahead of her father towards the nearest house, a small house with a steep roof and front porch. Her heart hammered. She was about to meet a Palestinian family…and she had no idea what to say.
What if they hate me? What if I say something wrong?
She hopped onto the front step and took a deep breath. Mr. David came up behind her and rapped on the door.
Taiah Rasheed heard the knock at the door and dread filled the pit of her stomach. They were here. The Israelis. What would Abdul say if he could see them now?
“Taiah, answer the door!” Mrs. Rasheed called out from the bathroom. “I’ll be there in one second.”
Gritting her teeth, Taiah opened the door. Tall, balding Mr. David stood on the stoop holding a basket filled with food; with him was a girl Taiah’s age.
“Hello, Taiah. This is my daughter, Ketziah.” Mr. David smiled in his typical warm way. The blonde girl just shifted from foot to foot.
“Hello,” Taiah replied, stepping aside. “Come in, my mother and father will be here shortly.”
As if on cue, Mr. Rasheed came in from the back door and Mrs. Rasheed stepped out of the bathroom. Taiah’s parents greeted the newcomers with smiles. “How good to see you again!” The three adults all took seats at the kitchen table, exchanging greetings, gift bags in hand.
“How was the drive here?” Mr. Rasheed asked.
Taiah and Ketziah took seats across from each other, neither speaking. Taiah had the distinct impression Ketziah had not wanted to come.
As the adults talked, Taiah’s mind zoned out. All she could think of was Abdul. That fiery look in his eyes when he talked about Israelis. He’d never agreed with his parents and their talk of peace…it was as if the love he felt for his family couldn’t breach the wall of anger he’d built.
She remembered how tightly he’d hugged her when he’d left to go on a bike ride…she hadn’t even known anything was wrong until a neighbor had come that night to tell them Abdul had died. He’d ridden his bike to an army post and had detonated the explosives, killing two young soldiers, women barely any older than Taiah.
Taiah had never even noticed the backpack he’d had that day, had never thought to wonder why he’d hugged her as if he’d never see her again. She hadn’t put the pieces together until Ali had come over, tears streaming down his face with the words, “Taiah, I need to talk to your parents. It’s about Abdul.”
How could you do this, Abdul? How could you leave us? We never wanted a martyr; we needed you. I miss you so much!
“Taiah,” Mrs. Rasheed interrupted her thoughts.
“Yes?” Taiah cleared her throat. Had they noticed she was upset?
“We would like to talk about things privately,” Mrs. Rasheed smiled at her daughter. “Why don’t you show Ketziah your CD collection?”
In other words—leave us grown-ups to our business. Any teenager knew what that meant, and Taiah and Ketziah could read between the lines.
Taiah tried to hide her annoyance, “Sure. Come on, Ketziah.” They headed into Taiah’s room.
“So, here’s my room…nothing fancy,” Taiah waved a hand to encompass the desk, bed, and chest of drawers.
“It’s nice,” Ketziah spoke with that awkward cheeriness people used when they had no clue what to say.
Taiah flopped onto the edge of her bed, not bothering to answer. She started to reach for her CD case, when she noticed Ketziah was picking up a large blue box by the foot of the bed—Taiah’s rock collection. The blue box was filled to the brim with stones and rocks and pebbles, all of differing sizes and colors. Some were bright, others dull. Some glittered; others were smooth as a pond on a still day.
“You collect rocks?” Ketziah asked, picking up a distinctive brown rock with pink flecks.
“Yes,” Taiah blushed and quickly moved to take the box. “It’s just a hobby, nothing worth…”
“Please, let me look at it.” Ketziah objected, gripping the box. For the first time, Ketziah’s eyes were lit with interest. “I collect rocks, too.”
Taiah blinked in surprise. “Really?” None of Taiah’s friends understood her rock collecting. She was always being teased about it.
“Yes,” Ketziah answered, digging through the box. “I’ve got a box of rocks at home. Actually, I make a few of them into necklaces.” She gestured to a blue-black stone that she wore around her neck. “I found this one at the Sea of Galilee.”
“See this one?” Taiah withdrew a sparkling quartz. “I got this one in Jordan when I went to visit relatives last year.”
“I’d like to get rocks from each country someday,” Taiah smiled. “Or at least exotic places like Italy, Greece, or China.”
Ketziah smiled too. “That sounds great. Me, I’d love to visit Ireland. Or Brazil; see the rainforests.” She cocked her head, contemplating something. “You know, you’re the only other person I’ve met who collect rocks. Most of my friends think it’s weird. They always say I like rocks more than boys.”
“Mine too; they don’t get it…” Taiah picked up a pebble, made smooth by a nearby river. “I know this sounds crazy, but rocks make me feel connected to the past. I could be holding a rock that someone held thousands of years ago. One time I picked up a pebble, and I could have sworn I heard kids laughing. I could picture them skipping the pebble across a pond. Like a vision from the past.” She hesitated, afraid Ketziah would laugh.
But the other girl nodded as she studied the collection. “Yeah. This rock here, the smooth one? Right now, I can almost feel the warm sea it was in. I can picture the fish, and see ancient tribes on the beach, making camp.” She grinned. “My friends say I’m too much of a day-dreamer, but if you’ve had these visions too…who knows? Maybe people can sense these things. Maybe thousands of years from now two other girls will hold these rocks, and learn about us and what kind of world we live in.”
The girls exchanged amused looks, thinking how odd it was they would both feel this way when none of their friends did. Or maybe it wasn’t odd at all.
They sifted through the collection of multicolored rocks and pebbles. Ketziah’s eyes landed on a bright green rock and her eyes suddenly filled with tears.
Taiah was startled. “What’s wrong?”
Ketziah shook her head and wiped at her eyes. “Nothing.” There was a long silence. “It’s just…this rock is–was—my friend Avital’s favorite color. She died two months ago.”
“I’m sorry, Ketziah. What happened if you don’t mind my asking?”
“She was on a bus in Tel Aviv. A woman blew it up.”
Ketziah didn’t need to elaborate. Both girls knew the circumstances.
“I’m sorry,” Taiah said softly. “I know what it’s like to lose a loved one. No one should ever have to go through that.”
“You’re right,” Ketziah cleared her throat, swallowing back more tears. “Taiah…I’m sorry for your brother.”
Now it was Taiah who could barely speak. “I miss him so much. I hate what he did…he killed two innocent women. Somebody’s sisters. I don’t know how he could do that. How could he hug me before he…? But, I can’t…I can’t make myself hate him.”
Ketziah patted Taiah’s shoulder. “It’d be easier if we could just turn off our love. Unfortunately, we’re not robots. We still love, even when someone hurts us.” She paused. “I don’t know what to think of your brother, to be honest. But I’m sorry you and your parents have suffered.”
“I know,” Taiah sighed deeply. She wished she could convince Ketziah that Abdul hadn’t always been so angry, so vengeful. That normally he’d have never harmed anyone. Not if he hadn’t met up with those men who’d brainwashed him. “I don’t wish this pain on anyone. Haven’t we been through enough already? When will this stop?”
Neither girl had an answer. They both sat quietly a moment, remembering Avital and Abdul.
An Israeli. A Palestinian.
A best friend. An older brother.
Ketziah understands me. Taiah realized with surprise. And I understand her, too.
They spent the rest of the visit talking about rocks. And thinking about their loved ones.
A few hours later, the girls and their parents were gathered in front of the house, saying goodbye. “We’ll come back next month,” Mr. David promised.
Ketziah glanced over at Taiah. They’d started out so awkwardly, but then they’d found a middle-ground. She realized she was looking forward to returning.
Ketziah fiddled with her necklace, fingering the smooth stone. Impulsively, she took the necklace off and turned to Taiah.
At the same moment Taiah handed a brown rock with pink specks to Ketziah.
“This is for you.” They both said at once. They paused, chuckled, and exchanged rocks.
“Shukran,” Ketziah made sure to use the Arabic words.
“Todah.” Taiah replied in Hebrew.
Though neither girl said it aloud, they each planned to put their new rocks in a place of honor in their collections. As Ketziah and Mr. David strolled to their car, Ketziah remembered what she and Taiah had talked about. If rocks could tell their stories to future generations, what would they want them to say? What would they want future generations to see and remember about their time? As Ketziah looked at her new rock, she had her answer. And she felt sure Taiah would agree.
Sarah M. Prindle received an Associate’s Degree in English from Northampton Community College. She loves reading everything from historical fiction and memoirs, to poetry and mysteries. She hopes to someday publish her own novels and poetry collections and has already had some of her work published in several literary magazines and websites.
I am 22 years old and I am afraid of the dark.
When I was a child, my mother tucked me in beneath a white comforter sprinkled with blue peonies and lace. Beneath it were two more blankets, a matching sheet, and, finally, my tiny body buttoned into a flannel sausage casing.
“Did you pray?”
I squirmed and nodded.
She ruffled my bangs and kissed me on the forehead.
As soon as she was gone, I flicked off the nightlight in the corner of my room and climbed back into my cocoon of covers.
Then everything was a block of darkness and I was in the center of it. I didn’t exist in the dark. Even with my eyelids pressed against my skull, it looked as if they were shut.
I couldn’t see anything, and nothing could see me.
Not even my unsaid prayer.
God would help me if I needed it. That is what my mother told me.
She said He had helped her before—a long time ago. When I was still in her belly and my brother was a bundle of blankets that cried when my father’s temper flared, He’d helped her.
When she had asked him to do something, anything, to make my father smaller and less of an unruly temper with fists that hurled through walls and hollers that shook the foundation.
She didn’t ask for him to be good. Just less of what he was.
I pictured her praying, with her belly full and her head bent. I could imagine her in the chair beside the bed, rocking slowly back and forth with her palms pressed tightly together and my brother in her lap. The furniture shoved against the door to protect her from the tornado in her own home.
And then, she told me, He did something.
He gave my father a heart attack, leaving him with a high blood pressure that refused to tolerate his temper.
It was all because of God.
So she prayed.
And He listened.
And when I prayed, He didn’t.
Sometimes my father became a tornado again, a calmer one, my mother assured me, but a tornado all the same.
It came in flashes.
My mother in the corner of the laundry room. Sniffling and curled in on herself.
Bent living room blinds. My mother’s white face on the couch and faraway eyes. What happened? Nothing. I’m fine.
Shattered plates stuffed into trash bags. Shards poking through the flimsy plastic. My shaking hands.
Dabbing makeup over purpling bruises. My mother at her vanity and me in the doorway.
Even after his tornadoes were over, I saw it all again behind my eyes. I could even see it in the darkness of my room, where I couldn’t see anything at all.
So I prayed.
Even though I didn’t know how, I prayed.
I sat at the foot of my bed, hands in a steeple and my lips against my thumbs.
I prayed he was far away and it was just us.
When it didn’t happen, I thought I had mumbled, maybe he couldn’t hear me in the darkness.
I prayed louder the next night. I imagined angels encircling my bedroom, raising their eyebrows and straining their ears before floating through my walls.
In my mind, they surrounded me, staring at me curiously to confirm that the prayer was coming from the same girl who had lied about praying.
He’d remembered my lie too. He didn’t answer me.
God didn’t hear me like He did my mother.
When I left for college, I was hours away from my father’s tornadoes. When they happened, my mother would tell me about them over the phone in a watery voice or a hurried whisper.
I felt guilty for being gone, guilty for not praying.
So I found a man to create the same tornadoes as my father, outbursts that he contained beneath a facade of calm ocean waves.
They came in snapshots that my eyes replayed.
Purple handprints encircling my arm. Me patting them with a towel after the shower, wincing.
My hands beating against the bathroom door. Heavy furniture shoved against the other side.
Overflowing sinks, creating a tsunami on our tile floor. Balled kitchen towels stuffed in drains.
My bare feet stepping on bits of broken bottles. Blood droplets on squares of white toilet paper.
Impatient knocks on our door after shouting. What’s going on? Sorry. We’re fine.
When it was over and I laid with him in the darkness, I saw it all again.
I wondered if this is how my mother felt. If this is why she prayed.
Years later, he was gone and there were no more storms. I was alone. I wanted to create a sanctuary of warmth and unbroken stillness that I had never known.
On the first night by myself, I slept in the darkness I had always known, on top of a mattress without a frame. I awoke screaming in a puddle of sweat. Somewhere in the shadows, I could see him at the foot of my bed and the snapshots of his tornadoes behind my eyes.
I vomited on the bedroom floor.
The darkness was not my sanctuary anymore. It was a brick I was cemented in the middle of, holding me hostage. It saw everything in the darkness.
The next night, I prayed.
With every light on, I sat in the middle of my mattress and bowed my head as I whispered to a God that had never listened.
In the quiet of my own apartment there was nothing to hea but my own voice. I sounded more unsure and disbelieving than I had as a child.
But I also sounded more desperate. My fingertips turned white as I pressed them against each other.
This time, I did not pray for my mother. I prayed for myself.
The next morning, I awoke to screaming that came from my own throat and this time, I ran to the bathroom before I vomited by my bedside.
The path was well-lit. I had left every light on.
After I had slowed my heart rate and rinsed my mouth, I sat on my bed, sizzling beneath the cluster of lightbulbs.
I had not expected a different outcome from my prayer. Even in a world by myself, I created storms in my own head.
I didn’t blame God or expect anything from Him. I didn’t understand Him the way my mother seemed to.
I imagined if I still lived with a tornado, if I would talk to him more, or if I would know how to.
And maybe He would listen.
Now, I am 22 and I sleep with my lights on. Nightlights are not bright enough, so I flood my room with it from every angle with overhead lights and lamps and bright pixels from the TV.
If my eyelids replay a snapshot, I’ll wake up in a room without any dark corners.
God didn’t help.
Drinking didn’t help.
Starving didn’t help.
But writing helped.
Praying did not.
Sometimes, when I wake up in a cold sweat, I think of my mother. I imagine her doing the same, but waking up in darkness beside a man with tornado tendencies.
It makes me want to pray for her, but she knows how better than I do.
God knows that I am the same girl who lied about praying and that my mother is not.
So I imagine her praying and God listening.
Alexandra Persad (she/her) explores female identity and gender in her writing. She has a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and looks forward to attending graduate school. Her writing has been featured in Barren Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Better Than Starbucks, where her essay was nominated for the Best of 2020.
THE RINGING PHONE IN THE KITCHEN
The phone rings and James isn’t certain who it is but he has a good idea. It takes two rings for the caller ID to identify who’s on the other end. By the next ring he’ll know. James is in the kitchen staring at the phone screen that’s lit up and says “Identifying.” His mom is in the basement, gathering documents and finding old junk to throw out. His dad is in a hospice bed in a place called Trillium Woods, a little over fifteen miles away. It’s his dad’s fifth day there, third in a coma.
This is the first time James has been home since his dad was admitted into Trillium Woods. He’s spent the last four days watching his dad’s body shrivel, watching new tumors sprout through his dad’s skin, listening to his dad’s rusty snores, listening to his dad’s paranoid mumblings when his veins run extra heavy with Dilaudid and Fentanyl and Oxycodone at night. James has read more hospice literature and watched more daytime TV in the last four days than he has in his previous eighteen years.
Another ring is coming.
James remembers when his family first got a phone with caller ID, how futuristic it seemed, how implausible it was to know who was calling before you even answered. Of course, there were times before caller ID where he had known, too. Like how his dad called from work every weekday at exactly 3:51 p.m. because his dad knew he got off the school bus at 3:45. They talked a little about their days, said they would see each other around dinner time. And they always did.
The last thing his dad consciously did was stand up late at night, breaking free from the coma but still mired in a pharmaceutical haze, and turn to James, sitting by his dad’s bedside in a sofa chair. His dad struggled to hold his expiring body up. James sat in the chair in confusion, in catalepsy. His dad started to say something but it was just sounds, no coherent words came out. His dad struggled for a couple seconds, then the words came to him. First it was “I,” a simple word that came out clearly. The next one gave him some trouble, couldn’t get the first sound off his teeth right. “Love” finally came out on the third or fourth try. The final word, “you,” burned between his dad’s lips like a fiery briquette.
James stared at his dad with swollen eyes, unsure if he should guide him back to bed or give him a hug and hold up his frail, bone-defined body, let his dad know he’s safe here with him. Instead, James whispered the words back, so deeply entombed under his breath he wasn’t even sure if he said the words at all. A nurse came in and guided his dad back into bed. His dad closed his eyes and he slept.
The next morning a nurse told James sometimes patients hold on to something that keeps them alive, sometimes they won’t die if someone in particular is in the room with them. It’s not good, he was told. It prolongs the suffering, he was told.
It’s 2:29 p.m. and James is in the kitchen for the first time in days. The caller ID on the phone says “Trillium Woods Hos...” It’s said that for the last four rings. He clicks the answer button—defaced and oily from years of use—and he says, “Hello.”
Riley Winchester is a writer from Grand Rapids, Michigan. His work has appeared in Sheepshead Review, Writing Disorder, Waymark, Ellipsis Zine, The Daily Drunk, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and other publications.
The morning’s opaque appearance and the hint of cold in the air, the scent of fall leaves
unfallen fill the late autumn air. Watercolor sunshine as a stain behind clouds, the aroma of
coffee drifts in the tantalizing traces out the kitchen window.
Could this be the first kiss of winter, frigid tendrils of ephemeral steam reach to the south
and vanish, the promise of warmer night unspoken. Listening for ghostly moans and creaks as
aged metal steam conduits expand and contract.
A breeze drifts through the leaves thin and cold, the smell of laundry soap and vomit
waft and swirl from the parking lot below. No birds are heard, barely a whisper of anything
heard. No children nor bikes litter the streets in gay abandon, as if the west breeze washes all life
away in the morning cold.
No incremental rise of life, no swelling gathering of souls to populate the roads, no
welcoming odor of foods, the faint scents of orange p.m. 2.5 greet the eyes and olfactory sense is
no surprise. A quixotic lipid morning, devoid of realism or substance, a further glance out the
kitchen window provides no solace or promise to this day, all the butterfly have died.
Fugitive speculation to be sure, to lust for meaning when none exist in a world in which
chases insubstantial shadows and dreams of golden rewards, little urgency to greet the specter of
this morning, the room is cold, the coffee warm, whatever conflicts or interactions in the remains
of this day no doubt will disappoint.
The kitchen window closed. And yet the reality is as quiet as the day, perhaps the steam
pipe symphony, the ghostly bringer of winter warmth will entertain the melancholy moments of
pale interaction in a morning reality in which only the aroma of decay gathers as the leaves of
trees yield to the autumn cold and the west winds small insidious breath.
My coffee is cold, thus we find that the malefactor and thief that is this morning silently
stealing small comforts away from any unwary souls that ponders the gathering winter clues
from the kitchen window in no more than a blink of the eye.
Donald Guadagni was a foreign expert teaching in Taizhou University and Ningbo City College of vocational technology as one of the first foreigner experts involved in the Sino-US projects class programs beginning in 2011. Prior to teaching in China and Taiwan he taught in the Arizona public school system. Former iterations, military, law enforcement, prisons, engineering, and wayward son.