Monday, July 30, 2012

Issue Seven, Volume Four

From the Desk of the an Editor,
Hello and welcome to another exciting issue of Larks Fiction Magazine! In this issue we explore the meaning of life after adventure, love lost, and as always the very best in up-and-coming wordsmiths!

Make sure to check out the Fox House Tumblr for updates on our beautiful new office and constant weekend diversion at:

Thank you for joining us and enjoy the works of Sy and Kevin!

Jessica Rowse
LFM Editor
Neutral Corner Voices
by Sy Roth

A blink of water boinked the sea floor.
When it arrived full-blown
a tsunami
rushed ashore sweeping them all away.

She vacuums upstairs
in that hostile place, her sanctuary,
pillaging the corners with her Oreck
messaging kickplates under the cabinets,
finding no voice for her anger
except in the angry roar of the vacuum
distaste settling in her shoulders.

He has retreated to a neutral place
where the poetry of his loss
gives him voice
in the pounding keyboard,
his metronome,
ransacking the corners of his brain,
Ben Gaying the pain away
with delicate tidbits
that force the screams in.

Storm warnings abound
wrapped helter-skelter in joyless
waters about to blossom indelicately.


About the Poet;
Sy Roth is a retired school administrator and has finally found the sounds of silence and the time to think whole thoughts. This has led him to find words and the ability to shape them.

 He has published in Visceral Uterus, Amulet, BlogNostics, Every Day Poets, Barefoot Review, Haggard and Halloo, Misfits Miscellany and The Eloquent Atheist.  Recently, he won a poetry contest sponsored by Newsday.

Welcome Home
Photo by Daniel J. Pool

Kevin P. Keating

Morgan Fay lived with her ailing mother in a terraced row house of crumbling brick and calcified limestone that teetered on the left bank of a river whose swift waters twisted through the center of town.  She commuted to the university every day, rain or shine, though often it seemed in rain, on a rattling bicycle that looked as though some madman with a blowtorch and welder had assembled the thing from dozens of antique parts.  That her people were natives of these hills and valleys--broad-shouldered laborers toiling in the steel mills, bruised and broken-boned brawlers knocking back beers in the smoky saloons, slouched and slow-witted reapers of rotten luck smiling dully at insubstantial specters on a flickering TV--came as no surprise to me, but I liked this about her, liked her small town values, her lack of pretension, her faded jeans, the holes in the sleeves of her flannel shirts, the mud caked to the soles of her heavy, black boots.  She gave the impression of knowing her way around the world, a cartographer confident of her powers, and she was wise enough to steer clear of those cynical, self-absorbed students whose idyllic, suburban upbringing had sabotaged their capacity for simple, human compassion.

I first met Morgan in French 101 when we were both freshman, but we didn’t become romantically involved until we accompanied our professor to France during the spring semester of our senior year.  I had spoken to her in class from time to time, using only the most formal française, but I lacked the courage to ask her, in timorous and tongue-tied English, if she cared to join me for lunch or go out for beer and pizza, and during my four years at the university I never ran into her at any of the wild parties along fraternity row.  On campus she was practically an outsider, scoffed at or ignored by her more fortunate peers, but in France she seemed if not like a native then at least like an expatriate, an American poet or artist eking out a humble but happy existence on foreign soil.  She navigated the bustling boulevards of Paris and the narrow lanes of Nice with great confidence, and she politely directed our group to the famous monuments and museums whenever our bumbling professor became hopelessly lost but was too stubborn to admit it.

“I’m impressed by your sense of direction,” I told her one afternoon as we finished our simple but delicious lunch of quiche poireuax at one of the ubiquitous boulangeries on the square in Avignon.  The other members of our class had already gone off to explore the town.  The plan was to meet up later at the hotel and then see an operetta by Offenbach at the local theater, but I had serious doubts they would successfully find their way back.  “You’ve been to France before, I take it.”

She laughed.  “No, I just memorized all of the maps before we got here. I’ve been looking at maps of France ever since I was a kid. Tell me what you’d like to see and I’ll lead the way.”

“Well, I wouldn’t mind checking out the old palace first.”

“S’il vous plaît, monsieur, suivez-moi.”  She was already pushing her chair away from the table when she suddenly stopped and said, “Oh, wait a minute! It would be criminal of us, wouldn’t it, to visit the palace without a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape? Come on. I know a shop that sells some good wines at a reasonable price. Saw it in my guidebook. Memorized the address. Memorized everything.”

With bottle in hand we trudged up the hill to the Palais des Papes.  We wandered through its shadowy chambers and cold corridors and paused to marvel at the painted walls and ceilings in the cavernous gothic chapels.  After our tour, we sat in the courtyard under the shade of a chestnut tree and admired the view of la vieille ville and its red rooftops.  We sipped our wine from plastic cups, and Morgan told me about life in the ugly little row house that, with each passing year, seemed to sink deeper and deeper into the treacherous mudflats, how as a child she watched in alarm as the river crested its banks just below her bedroom window, and how she shut her eyes and tried to pretend it was the Seine.  France was all she ever thought about--visiting France, living in France, writing a novel about her adventures and romantic entanglements in France.  She’d been saving up for this trip for years.  Of course, she really had no business spending her money on such an extravagance, not while her mother struggled to pay the bills and earn enough extra cash to buy cigarettes.

Morgan shook her head.  “She has emphysema. I think the woman is suicidal. She’s made a mess of her life. I’m not going to end up like that.”

I took a long sip before speaking again.  “Well…now that you’re here, what do you think? Has it been a dream come true?”

With an enigmatic smile she said, “It’s still too early to tell…”

Half drunk and giggling like children, we decided it might be fun to rent two bicycles and see a bit of the countryside.  We crossed the Rhône, leaving Avignon behind, and pedaled past ancient farms and acres of mature cherry trees.  One dusty road led to another, and by late afternoon, parched and exhausted, we stopped outside the gates of a vineyard where two men rolled big oak barrels toward the double doors of a winery.  Perhaps mistaking us for a young couple honeymooning in wine country, they invited us inside.  We followed them down a steep ramp into the welcome cool of the cellar where they poured generous samples of Tavel and Lirac into clean glasses.  Before long Morgan and I were very drunk and, if I recall correctly, we actually started singing French folksongs, plaintive ditties about love and heartbreak.  Impressed more by our ability to properly enunciate each word than to stay in tune, the men refilled our glasses and joined in the chorus.

It was late in the day when we decided to head back to the hotel.  We traveled down a dozen different roads, first north for several miles and then east, but we could not see the distant lights of Avignon, and it became obvious that we had lost our way.  Soon it was dusk and getting cold fast.  Morgan leaned her bike against one of the tall plane trees that lined the road and with a shiver bundled her thin jacket around her throat.

“Just let me get my bearings,” she said.  “I studied the street maps of the cities, not these rural roads.”  She stood on tip-toes and tried to peer over the sprawling vineyards. “Oh, hell, we’re never going to find our way back.”

“Civilization can’t be far off,” I said with some irritation.  I paced back and forth, wishing for another glass of wine, and then I noticed how she turned away from to me.  “Are you crying? Look, this is world-famous Provence. Someone will come to our rescue.”

“I’m a fool. I led you all the way out here. See, I really don’t know anything at all.  This isn’t turning out the way I envisioned it.”

“Nothing ever does.”

Emboldened by the wine and using the cold night air as a pretense to hold her in my arms, I started rubbing her shoulders and then, very slowly, I let my promiscuous fingers glide ever lower along her spine until they slid snugly into the back of her pants.  Did she stiffen and try to pull away?  Did she give a little whimper of alarm?  I think so, but at that moment, in the darkest recesses of my brain where the lustful monsters lurked and waited their chance to escape the torturous confines of self-restraint, I believed, as boys of privilege so often do, that I had an absolute right to molest this small town naïf, almost an obligation to the other members of my tribe to take full advantage of this unlikely situation, and before I knew it, my mouth was brushing softly against her flushed cheeks and then, an instant later, pressing against her trembling lips.

We stood there for what seemed like an hour before a car trundled up the hill, and the amused driver, a little old lady with a yapping Bichon Frise on her lap, was kind enough to pull over and direct us back to town.       


A few months later, after we received our diplomas, Morgan and I moved into an apartment a short distance from the university, a one-bedroom unit with beige carpets and dirty white walls, a dun-colored shell that seemed intentionally designed to expunge from the minds of its broke and directionless tenants any traces of hope or dreams for the future, but unlike our neighbors, Morgan and I had a plan, a clear direction, and we were determined to stay on the right path.  We would take graduate courses together and then apply to the Ph.D. program.  In a few years time we would obtain teaching posts, write and publish books, attend academic conferences, move into a cozy colonial on a wooded hill with a big front porch that commanded a stunning view of the campus and its gothic bell tower.  We spent hours mapping out the details.

But then, only a few days before the semester started, Morgan became despondent.  Already struggling to pay back her student loans and not wanting to accrue any more debt, she decided to postpone graduate school and work for a year to save some money, but in a dying, industrial town with no practical need for idealistic French majors, her options were limited, and she ended up waiting tables at a diner near the power plant, earning just enough cash to pay her half of the rent.

Late at night, exhausted from another long shift, she rode her squeaking bicycle back to the apartment, threw her purse down on the kitchen counter, and sorted through the pitiful pile of quarters and dimes and crumpled dollar bills she managed to collect from her working class customers.  After a few months, her weariness turned to resignation then outright defeat, and it was around this time that I first noticed her coarseness on full display.  By now I had come to accept the fact that she lacked the will power to return to school and that I’d been deceiving myself all along about her character, refusing to notice just how rough around the edges she could sometimes be.

“Why in the world did I get a degree in fucking French?” she would say.

To be fair I often wondered the same thing myself, but somehow, after two years of research and revision on my thesis about the more sordid stories of the syphilitic genius Guy de Maupassant, I managed to obtain my master’s degree in French literature, graduating with high honors.

I decided then that we both needed a change.  The truth was that I had met another woman in the graduate program, someone who had already published several papers in a number of important scholarly journals and who was determined to obtain a full professorship at the university.  In many ways she was the person I always hoped Morgan would one day become.  Though she’d never been to France, not yet, she possessed a kind of Continental sophistication and style.  Instead of wool caps, flannel shirts and steel-toed boots, she wore berets and blouses and bright silk scarves.

Because I didn’t want to feel guilty any more, didn’t want to continue sneaking around like a cheating spouse, I decided to break the news to Morgan after the graduation ceremony.  I expected a great Flaubertian gesture, a slap to the face, a threat of suicide, but Morgan only turned away from me and quietly sobbed.  That evening I packed up my things and left her sitting at one end of the couch, feet tucked beneath her legs, hands clasped between her knees.

“What will you do?” I asked.

“I’ll go to France,” she said in a quiet, measured way. “I’ll go and never come back to this hell-hole. I’ll do whatever it takes. I don’t care. But I’m not staying here.”

I felt almost embarrassed for her as she spoke these words, for making such an absurd and extravagant claim, but I only nodded.  “Yes, you deserve that. You deserve to go back.”

She looked at me and as coldly as she could said, “Yes, I do. And now would you please leave me the hell alone, you pretentious, patronizing asshole.”

I refused to let this comment pass.  She had wounded my pride, and now I wanted to do a little damage of my own.  The precise words I chose to inflict the wound I cannot recall, something along the lines of “Have a nice life, you lazy, inbred hick,” but I do remember how Morgan refused to acknowledge me as I hurried out the door.  She stared out the window, her long lashes matted with tears, and watched the ugly black river slither down the dirty hills and snake its way through the sinister town of her birth.

 After two more terrible years spent poring over the lice-infested pages of forgotten tomes on French naturalism, I completed my Ph.D. coursework, but when it came time to actually write my dissertation, a magnum opus on Émile Zola I had been promising my yawning advisors, I struggled to find a way to begin (or rather, I suppose, a way to finish my education).  I was stranded, as if some redoubtable god had picked me up and deposited me in the middle of a desert waste without any hope of rescue, and in order to survive I had to teach classes as a lowly adjunct, instructing bored and listless freshman who only wanted to fulfill their foreign language requirements and who proved utterly incapable of correctly pronouncing bonjour and adieu and parlez-vous anglais.  I came each day to class, bearing life-sustaining knowledge, but these mentally emaciated refugees, slumping ever lower in their seats, refused to accept my precious gift.

I soon lost patience with them, but it wasn’t until the postcards from France started showing up in my department mailbox that I became truly irritable.  Into the quiet classroom I would storm and in my most fraudulently authoritative voice shout: “Pop quiz!”  As my grumbling students conjugated endless lists of verbs, I would march up and down the rows of desks, flipping through the glossy photos of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

So Morgan Fey had made it back to France after all and was now “living in a tiny but charming flat overlooking the Place de la Contrescarpe in Paris.”  I remembered the Place well and recalled how, as an undergraduate, I drank sangrias there one warm day in spring, a magical moment in my life, but whatever magic I once possessed had vanished.  Here at long last was the first serious crisis of my adult life.  Maybe, I thought, I had gone as far as a person of middling intellect could possibly go in the fiercely competitive world of academia; maybe I would never finish my dissertation; maybe I would never again have an opportunity to visit France.

“Maybe?” I said aloud.  “Ha! Almost certainly!

My students looked up from their papers, startled.

That December Morgan sent me a letter, saying she would be back in town to visit her mother for the holidays and that it would be nice to see me.  I was jealous of her small victory and resisted the urge to accept her invitation, but in the end I went to the café she suggested.  Before I entered the door I saw her face framed and hanging in the frosted window.  Even from a distance I could tell that she had changed.  There was something new about her, something sly, brilliant, wicked, obscurely frightening.  Paris had given her a kind of sophistication I always wished she possessed when she lived with me.  Instantly I recognized her as the sort of woman I could bring to a faculty party and introduce to the chairman of the modern languages department, the sort of woman who would sing my praises and encourage me to persevere in my studies.

I stepped inside, and before I could say hello she kissed me on each cheek.  For an hour or so we sipped espresso and talked about the different direction our lives had taken.  I asked about her time in France: What did she do for a living?  How did one go about getting a work visa?  How did she cope with the notorious French bureaucracy? Where did she buy her breads and cheeses?  Had she made many friends? Her responses were deliberately vague, but I didn’t find anything suspicious in this.  She despised me for what I’d done to her, that was clear, and had come to the café merely to antagonize me.

“Almost finished with your Ph.D?” she asked.

“As a matter of fact, I’m putting the finishing touches on my dissertation. I’m simply awaiting final approval from my committee. It’s been a challenge, of course, but you know me. I’m pretty determined.”

“Oh, yes, I have complete faith in you,” she said, and I thought I detected a hint of sarcasm in her voice.  I also noticed how affected she sounded, how she pronounced every word with the faintest accent, and how she stared at me with vengeful concentration, how her eyes flashed with rage.  “You’ll finish your dissertation and then what? Come to Paris? Find a full-time professorship? Publish a book? These are the many ways in which a man can earn a reputation and garner respect from his peers, no?”

We said our goodbyes and agreed to meet again next year, and as I watched her turn the corner, I suddenly felt feeble, empty, alone.  The agony was exquisite, I never realized just how gratifying self-pity could be, and I wanted it to last forever.


As promised, Morgan and I continued our conversation one year later, and things went so well that we now meet every Friday before Christmas, a sort of holiday tradition that has continued for over a decade.  Our annual rendezvous has become, at least for me, a ritual, a sacred obligation, but a shameful one that must be concealed from the condemning eyes of the uninitiated, like the evil practices of those fabled cannibals who inhabited the caves of Lascaux and reputedly drank the blood and ate the flesh of their sworn enemies.  I used to look forward to these encounters because I knew that her story, like mine, was a total sham, an evil fairytale concocted by a sick mind, one that, sooner or later, would lead to her complete and total undoing, and I wanted to be there to see how she abruptly and predictably dwindled away to nothing at all.

A few months after our second meeting, while driving to class one morning and dreading the moment I would have to face my sneering students, I heard a familiar squeak and caught in the rearview mirror a glimpse of someone who looked a lot like Morgan race by on a bicycle.  Instead of turning into the faculty parking lot, I made an abrupt U-turn and shadowed her.

I’ve heard of a phenomenon where people, haunted by painful memories and succumbing to the weakness of wishful thinking, believe they see in the faces of total strangers the visage of departed friends and family members, and I must confess that for one terrible moment, maybe as a result of my spiral into depression and intellectual paralysis, I had summoned forth the ghost of an old love, but the longer I followed her the more convinced I became that this was not the warm-hearted girl I once adored, certainly not the cultivated woman who now lived so close to the Panthéon and the Sorbonne.  This was an apparition, a waxen-faced witch clad in a magnificent mess of flapping black rags, her wild wiry hair trailing behind her as she sailed through the pestilential air on a contraption dreamed up in a lunatic’s basement workshop, a rickety thing pieced together by candlelight with broken bits of discarded junk.

It wasn’t until she reached the diner on the outskirts of town that I knew for certain that it was Morgan and not some phantasm.  She threw her bike down on the ground and trudged up the worn stairs into the burning florescent lights, her face stern, her skin ravaged by cold, lashing winds.  For a moment I considered going inside and confronting her, but for reasons I can’t quite explain, I parked behind a pickup with silhouettes of naked women on the mud flaps and a massive set of truck nuts dangling proudly from the rear bumper.  Through the windows of the diner I watched as Morgan donned an apron and then for six long hours waited on customers.  At the end of her shift, I followed her back to the row house on the edge of the river and listened to her argue with her mother.  Their awful shouts erupted from the decaying brick and stonework and spilled ominously from beneath the drawn shades in crushed piles of smoldering yellow light.

After midnight I drove back to my apartment and sorted through the postcards she’d sent me.  Had I examined them more closely, I would have noticed how they’d all been doctored, how the stamps and cancellation marks were fabricated, some more carefully than others.  She must have used old stamps from her first trip to France and then, with a faded black marker and template, drew elaborate lines and circles and dates.  After doctoring each postcard, she must have hand delivered them to my department mailbox, creeping quietly through the halls, holding her breath, hoping I would not catch her in the act.       

For weeks and months and years I continued to watch Morgan Fey.  I watched as she wiped down dirty tables in the diner.  I watched her in the grocery store, in the library, in the Laundromat.  I watched her in the park, in the mall, in the movie theater.  One night I watched her ride in the back of an ambulance with her mother.  I watched her visit the hospital every day.  I watched her stand beside a cheap casket in the cemetery near the river where green pools and eddies formed along the muddy banks and threatened to wash away the bones of the dead.  I watched her go to the bars with her friends until the early morning hours.  I watched in fascination as a young man in coveralls pushed her from a bowling alley and dragged her by the wrist over to his car where he tried to force himself on her.  After a violent struggle she managed to escape, but this sort of thing happened more than once.  Usually she did not struggle, especially when she was drunk and stumbling and laughing raucously, and she even seemed to surrender to the man with something like gratitude.

In short, I watched her life unfold one terrible day at a time, and I waited patiently, year after year, for our next meeting.


More than a decade has now gone by, and even though our situation has become quite monstrous and we have grown weary and indifferent toward a life that seems more and more unreal, Morgan and I continue doggedly, perhaps even dutifully, to meet every year around Christmastime.  We have both changed a great deal.  Morgan’s beauty, if it could ever have been described as such, has faded.  Rather than winsome and wise, she looks outraged and calculating as if wondering if she’ll have to pick up the check again.  Every year she offers to buy, and every year I take her up on it.  She still wears the same borrowed--dare I say stolen?--clothes that she cannot afford, haute couture, stylish, trendy.  To what lengths does she go to get her hair and nails done for this brief appointment?

As for me, well, I’ve had fearful occasion to think back on my life, and I am revolted by my unspeakably cruel, bestial, black-hearted youth and the senseless darkness I have helped to perpetuate.  It shows on my face, especially around the eyes and the downward turn of my mouth and the hint of gray at my temples.  If I know Morgan’s secret, she certainly knows mine.  My lies are just as outrageous and transparent as hers.  I tell her that I am now an associate professor, that I have written several highly regarded books of literary criticism, that I am often asked to give talks at prestigious academic conferences, but of course nothing has changed for me.  Instead of lecturing graduate students on Baudelaire and Proust and Le Clézio, I teach incoming freshman how to speak elementary French, and sometimes, when money is tight, I do a little private tutoring.  As for my girlfriend, she left me when she finally understood that I was incapable of completing my dissertation, that I was an incompetent hack, that I was in fact doomed to live out the rest of my days as an adjunct, which, aside from being a groundskeeper, is perhaps the most contemptible position in the world of academia.

Morgan and I don’t say much, and when we do speak we don’t smile, not once, not ever.  In this regard we are probably more French than the French themselves.  The Parisians in particular despise Americans because, they claim, we smile all the time, like fools, like simpletons, like drooling idiots who have been deprived of oxygen, and only stupid people are happy, or pretend to be happy, all the time.  Life, so say the clever French, is a serious and sorrowful affair, and therefore one must wear an appropriately sober expression--that of thoughtfulness, deep brooding, constant vigilance.  Morgan and I certainly concur with this insight.  Instead of coffee or espresso, we’ve switched to a proper apéritif and now brood over a cheap bottle of wine.  Sometimes we split a pack of cigarettes and sit outside in the cold night air at table covered in an intricate latticework of ice. 

And so we continue to play our charade and monitor the other’s failures, but if there is one thing we both know for certain it is this: we are equals now, townies, and we will never escape the epic boredom of our wretched routines.  Maybe one day we’ll get married, have children, make more townies.  I think we are in love.  We must be, and this idea alone, that we still care deeply for each other, is the only hope that our story might end happily.


About the Author;
Kevin P. Keating's essays and fiction have appeared in a number of literary journals, including Identity Theory, Perigee, Slow Trains, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Subtle Tea, Ascent Aspirations, The Mad Hatter’s Review, The North Coast Review, Tattoo Highway and many others.

His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize (by Thomas E. Kennedy) and the StorySouth Million Writers Award.

Keating's novel, The Natural Order of Things, is scheduled for publication in November 2012 by Aqueous Books.

He currently teach English at Baldwin-Wallace College near Cleveland, Ohio.

Thank you for reading! Come back next week for more great independent literature!

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