Night Picnic_Cover_v2i1 eBook.jpg

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 1  

FEBRUARY 2019

2019  •  ISBN# 9781970033038  •  288 pp  •  6" x 9" paperback

Contents: Volume 2, Issue 1
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Authors: Volume 2, Issue 1
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Authors: Volume 2, Issue 1
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Enjoy a selection of work from this issue below:

POETRY

RACHEL ANNE PARSONS

B a b a   Y a g a

For Inga

 

Your heritage is something

of old magic, waiting in the wild,

bone deep and with iron teeth,

somewhere between fact and folklore.

Let the princes and wizards

play their games at your expense.

You can smell a man’s spirit.

You are the clouds, moon, death, life.

 

Sweep away the traces of your

dalliance with the world of mortals.

Use the same silver birch broom

to travel the wind. Your soul friends

are at your command, fierce

general of bright dawn, red sun, dark

midnight. Never mind that there

is earth mixed with your poppy seeds.

 

There is more to life than fake smiles

and carefully chosen words;

putting on illusions for the comfort

of others while they mistake

your generosity for a weakness.

Who is it that foolish men

turn to for help when they open

the forbidden doors? Baba Yaga

can aid them or devour them.

Such is the energy that is within you –

Balance they call ambiguity.

B a t   S h e l l a c k e r s

 

A big, cold room.

They called it a gallery.

Tiny, winged corpses

displayed like angels,

wings spread in flight,

over bones and beetles

and leaves and flowers

preserved in resin

and hung on the walls.

 

A long table laden

with cookies and crackers.

It was the grand opening

for the gallery of those

who shellac bats and arrange

bodies like décor.

The food was all free;

the art was more expensive.

I did not partake of the fare

laid out before me.

 

There are some dimensions

we can fall into,

something like

the underworld or outer space

or the insides of our heads –

most challenging of frontiers –  

where we must be careful with rules.

Those who dine with the fairies

can never leave.

KAREN DOWNS-BARTON

T h e   S o f a   S u r f e r s *

Karen_Downs_Barton Poem.jpg

*This grid poem reads left to right, right to left, top to bottom, and in a  serpentine manner.

H y t h e   S t r e e t   L i m i n a l i t y

 

Sleeping under cardboard spires

you nestle bottled oblivion cocooned

in fustered down of Shamrock quilts. Lost

in dreams

peppered by scenes from gifted books or brittle     

coughs. Nightly, the Beggars Opera

enacts voguish scripts before disaffected

audiences rocked in top deck galleries;

pared-down parts for pregnant       

pauses depicted on a ledge

and lit by headlight spotlight.

Across a tarmac aisle, the exit sign reads

And So To Bed

in fluttering neon moths

while the city orchestrates the score

of day-night lullabies and fugues played

to your back. Musically matching

your determinedly upright gait

another morning unfurls

and the city wakes to                         

you striding from the wings, word-haunted,

swatting flying sentences and phrases stuck

in your head. Their persistent buzzing insistences,

shaken loose from your ears while erratically     

waving, step-by-step, shake-by-shake, making

your way over Castle Mill Stream,             

against the flow.

At the Bodleian, a balm of hushed

intervals backdrop your rehearsal of

Professor Fallen-on-Hard-Times

the flawed penumbra to a scholars moon; a stolen role

you made your own. Oblivious

to death by wintery receptions or understudies waiting,

flask in hand, mouthing words you wrote long

ago in quads where bells pealed hymns

to youths’ invincibility. You mark in silence

their jangling false notes.

T h e   D a r k   H a n d   of  

S a l v a t o r e   R o s a

 

After ‘Witches about their Incantations’

by Salvatore Rosa

 

More black than a coiled liquorice night

are the necromantic paintings unwound

from shrouds by Salvatore’s sorcery.

Stark and alarming are the midnight matters

his dark art conjures and loosened, haunting

baroque landscapes, paint-locked on his canvas.

 

No jet-jeweled glint lights his witches’ hearts

about their incantations, or sorcerers performing

rituals under onyx clouds, licked with curling

cauldron fumes, herb strewn, suppressing the

creeping dawn. Rossi’s black is all-pervasive,

fine etches before consuming base elements 

 

within consummate matt density. More demonic

than deeds depicted—dank hair of a hanged man, wraithy

re-animated skeletons, sweated seduction in a wanton’s

flesh all captured by his benighted hand. Grave alchemy

fixed under dark glass mullers crushing mummified hands

for viscous paints to create Salvatore’s inky aesthetic

SIMON TERTYCHNIY

m o r t g a g e

the rest of the remaining documents had finally been signed last Wednesday.

 

after

and after all, the double dealings with banks, mortgages, rates, numbers in time  far  too long to fathom. the due-by dates, a clause, two clauses, the debt, the doubt. how does the future hold him? the myriad attachments he’d attached, copies of his ID (both sides), account statements, certificates & promissory notes, contracts & transfer stubs, checklists & pay-slips. a plethora of data, formed & reformatted to fit in little boxes.

trolling the streets & zooming fuzzy snapshots, emailing to arrange or to inquire

about the variables, whether the floor, whether the torn lace cuffs atop the mountaintop, whether the balcony and pets. whether all that.

the images intended to extol paradisiacal potential of the purchase were taken by what might easily seem to have been the same old master, a decrepit artist whose every vertical looked slightly arthritically askew, babes congealed still standing still in their cribs, an indifferent  house cat extenuates the awful sofa. after examining these portraits in despair and disrepair, a wiser buyer would have well desisted, let his will flag. a kitchen he could smell, a sink

he’d have to dredge & drag, a threadbare table rag discrete & regal upon a stove that birthed

a thousand chickens, an indent on a dented tabletop, an ancient landscape feature,

a message to the stars, unread, the spot where firm pater had, for generations, set his goodly cup. the years wore on and the old man was gone. his chair, apt to become a harbor

of inaction wherein the newer one could let himself sink.

oh, and the visits, fizzled cheery real estate agents, key chains medieval with keys, quick sorties with their eyes, picking at phones, next to the elevators waiting for him, they pressed the buttons and they prepped the talk, he stood, expecting disappointment, apartments drab over the wilted car park, the full scope of hope by the budget is oft defined. the rust stained bathtubs, chitchat of windowpanes/slash/frames.  an alcove covered with a putrid shade

of romance. uneven cupboards that refuse to budge, whose swollen doors the prior resident pried before he’d finally met with some impertinent misfortune, precipitously vacating

the lot. reasonably priced. this room might fit his mattress, so the seeker thought, and this one would not be too small to enter with a book, the floor in this one slants and the pressed wood escritoire stutters, that’s where he could lull in murky silence. all walls lean in a little.

the freshly painted ones are worse, they hide the favorite scars of trudging generations treading on each other’s heels, pock-marking closets with their crayons and notching

their growing pains on doorposts. the painted ceilings of the bathrooms waiting to erupt

in boils, with drainage from the upstairs neighbor, recently arrived and grim like him

or some old bird flaneur too weak to reach the stairs. roughed up by rains, the guardrail,

and worn out by hands. his hand slips up the balcony sidewall. foot scales the railing, sets solidly its sole. he steers towards the mountains, rising, rising.

 

the cat finds none of it all that surprising. 

l a s t   n a m e s

 

***

when i was younger,

i memorized of baudelaire

two lines.

 

for all the good it did me,

my level of declared sophistication

far outstrips my salary range.

 

 

arrogant from uncertainty,

whittling a one-note duck call

from a block of wood,

 

exerting influence over verbs

that no longer flow

nor flower.

 

once, very much upon a time,

a fruitless and sublime youth

in whose heart poetry billeted,

signed all the poems ‘regretfully yours’,

asserted that lips did not stain.

 

one settles for oneself.

of that there man these then are

the sun-beaten remains

around which the house now settles.

 

a master at rest,

interleaved fingers stationed at the lap,

rare time i unfetter my glamour.

 

having learned nothing,

i suspect the best.

 

embarking on a mission of recognizance,

foray into the hall.

no beauty in the eye. not in the mood.

 

not in a human mood at all.

wading into the sunday noon

finicky nosferatu style.

 

***

like an injured shark

        lured by the mesh of blood in the wash,

not sure whose pain reels you in.

 

single spaced spells

the feeble scribbler casts

upon that delectable corpus delicti

pulsating from quite a bridgeable distance.

 

i am a landmine, primed.

this feels so real, it has to be a symptom.

 

date-night welts of excitement.

i trim my nails and brush my whiskers.

 

a tad too permeable,

raveled by lust.

 

my thumb grazes your cheekbone.

you lean in

kind of in love

with being kissed back.

 

south of the tartan hem,

a set of round knees.

 

– the present that unwraps itself –

watching the muse undress –

 

turns memory

too dim to redeem.

 

never all in.

thin walls,

unmanned ear discerns

neighbors’ concerns.

 

a jasmine petal floats in my tea,

 

or a butterfly wing.

 

a woman marooned in my arms

might soon be depleted.

 

close proximity tends to dispel charms,

turns lovers to ingrates

grown ingrown.

 

oh, ma petite chéri,

will reverie of our debaucheries

run out?

 

***

surprised,

 

finding a strand

of dried tobacco

between the pages of a book

i didn’t think i’d read.

 

irredeemably not so young anymore,

a tracer of letters astray,

by the minor key i am clothed and fed.

 

bespectacled and bemused,

hope eminently receding,

i tabulate the incidents, instances of chance

interpreted to bare meaning.

 

it’s much too easy to forgive oneself one’s faults

stringing together the first final draft

of a text to be tossed from the raft,

 

what memory fails, fancy supplies.

reciting epitaphs, i celebrate a craving

that won’t be satisfied.

 

and at the time

and now and again

i am

what i might have been.

RICH GLINNEN

T h e   T o w e l   R a c k

Last week

The towel rack

Near the shower

Collapsed

Under the weight

Of a hand towel

 

I looked down

At the loose bar

Wearing the red towel—

Like a velvet robe

Draping an

Overdose

 

“Shit,” I thought,

 

And my toenails

Were long

 

This brisk morning

Ali and I

Waltzed

Into the shower

Shimmying in and out

Of the water—

 

Lathering

Rinsing

Boiling

Freezing

Until

A 500-pound

Tortoise

(Hiding under the

Bathwater apparently)

Throws my balance—

 

Eyes widened

Pierced the Monday haze

Ankles crisscrossed

Balls crushed

Against my thighs

Going out like

An old man

 

And down I go,

Wet ass

Walloping

Porcelain

 

Ali’s thin

Unsuspecting legs

Are no match

For my clumsiness

 

She plops onto me

Like wet laundry

 

But glimmering

Above

Like a midnight beacon—

The towel rack handle

Holding firm

Under my

White-nailed

Grip. 

S t r a y   S o n g

 

Its swampy song

Clambers through my window,

Rounding both of my cats

From slumber,

Inviting them

To screw

 

“They’re fixed,” I inform the

Stray, bare-bellied, barely buzzed,

“There ain’t nothin’ in them”

 

All three are undeterred

By this—what I deemed—

Useful information. Still

They stare—a standoff.

 

Perhaps the vagrant hopes

A certain melody

Will regenerate

Ovaries and testes

(Not sure how the

Stray swings)

 

Either way, it’s got

A better shot

At love

Than most.

Y a r d   G a z i n g

 

The rain’s nails

Against the window

 

Night has simplified

All to two-tone

 

A squad of quadratic

Maws glow

From mammoth black

 

Lumpy creaks above

Erupt,

Then fade.

IGOR V. ZAITSEV

Н а   с о л н е ч н о м   б е р е г у

Ты прижался ко мне –

Твоя голова покоится у меня на плече,

Как если бы мы любили друг друга всю ночь.

Знали ли мы друг друга?

 

Наши тела врезаны в песок.

В нём треть моего лица

Провалена в него, как в мягкую подушку.

Мы обмыты волнами океана.

И кажется, что мы уснули,

И снятся нам приятные сны.

Наша кожа никогда не была такой белой, как сейчас.

Мы больше никогда не встанем.

Мы окружены десятками тел,

Таких же юных, как наши.

Одно тело прижато к другому.

Одно на другом,

Как если бы здесь прошла большая оргия,

Участники которой уснули в изнеможении.

 

Все так и останутся девственниками.

 

Мы не выглядим мёртвыми,

Но никто из нас уже не дышит.

В этой картине нет естества.

Даже чайки боятся подойти близко.

Вода океана была к нам добра,

Насколько могла.

Выбросив нас на берег, она отступила.

Мы нашли покой.

Мы заплатили своей жизнью за тишину.

Страх ушёл, мы избавлены от страданий.

Исчезло всё. Исчезло навсегда.

 

Кто предал нас?

Нам уже всё равно.

 

Остатки формы на нас расскажут вам нашу историю.

Мы же замолчали навсегда.

На солнечном берегу

 

Ты прижался ко мне –

Твоя голова покоится у меня на плече,

Как если бы мы любили друг друга всю ночь.

Знали ли мы друг друга?

 

Наши тела врезаны в песок.

В нём треть моего лица

Провалена в него, как в мягкую подушку.

Мы обмыты волнами океана.

И кажется, что мы уснули,

И снятся нам приятные сны.

Наша кожа никогда не была такой белой, как сейчас.

Мы больше никогда не встанем.

Мы окружены десятками тел,

Таких же юных, как наши.

Одно тело прижато к другому.

Одно на другом,

Как если бы здесь прошла большая оргия,

Участники которой уснули в изнеможении.

 

Все так и останутся девственниками.

 

Мы не выглядим мёртвыми,

Но никто из нас уже не дышит.

В этой картине нет естества.

Даже чайки боятся подойти близко.

Вода океана была к нам добра,

Насколько могла.

Выбросив нас на берег, она отступила.

Мы нашли покой.

Мы заплатили своей жизнью за тишину.

Страх ушёл, мы избавлены от страданий.

Исчезло всё. Исчезло навсегда.

 

Кто предал нас?

Нам уже всё равно.

 

Остатки формы на нас расскажут вам нашу историю.

Мы же замолчали навсегда.

 

 

Предупреждение реки

 

Джонне де ла Роза

 

I

Помнишь, как мы плавали

В реке Делавэр?

Помнишь, как мы тонули,

Скользя друг о друга,

Жадно дыша друг в друга над водой,

Стараясь спасти друг друга?

 

Самые сильные, самые отчаянные, самые бесстрашные,

Самые любящие мы были на том коротком интервале жизни.

Самые.

В одном желании –

Спасти друг друга.

 

Я оттолкнул тебя. “Плыви!” – я закричал,

Когда силы оставили меня

И я пошёл,

Пошёл ко дну.

Я сдался.

Воронка победила.

 

Твоё белое как лист бумаги лицо,

твои яркие глаза,

 твои пушистые ресницы под водой.

Ужас моей гибели открыл в тебе новые силы

После того, как наши руки рефлекторно распростёрлись в прощальном взмахе.

 

II

Так мирно я опускался всё ниже и ниже в бездонном коридоре.

Какой покой я наконец-то испытал!

Я соблазнился им

И погрузился в мир без звука.

 

Но вдруг я вспомнил о тебе!

Я мог смириться со своею смертью,

Но я не мог смириться со смертью твоей.

Как пробка из бутылки шампанского я взлетел вверх,

Крича о помощи.

 

У берега ты стоял и смеялся надо мной

И вода была тебе поколено.

Ты обнял меня, смывая сопли с моего лица.

Два сердца бились близко, близко.

Течение реки вынесло нас обоих на мелководье.

 

Река распорядилась по-своему.

Она напомнила нам о смерти.

Мне она напомнила, что я люблю тебя больше самого себя.

Эта ли любовь спасла меня?

Не знаю я.

 

 

Резинка, которую я ненавижу

 

Кто подарил тебе такую большую стирающую резинку?

Ты что, с ней родился?

Ты используешь её лишь для того, чтобы стирать свои 

Прекрасные черты.

Выбрось её!

Из-за этой ужасной резинки

Мы встречаемся все реже и реже.

И при каждой встрече я с трудом узнаю твои черты.

Возможно, настанет день, когда я и тебя вовсе не узнаю.

Надеюсь, тебе будет все равно,

Потому что если – нет,

Мне будет больно.

А не случилось ли это уже?

 

 

Говорю же я тебе, а ты…

 

“Напейся ключевой воды!”

А ты упиваешься вином.

Ключевая вода бесплатная, а вино дорогое.

“Обмойся в лазурном озере – в нём вода бесплатная!”

А ты идёшь в баню, а за вход платить надо.

 

“Наешься яблоками и вишней!”

А ты набиваешь кишки пирожными.

Яблоки и вишни – бесплатные, а пирожные денег стоят.

“Надышись свежим деревенским воздухом!”

А ты дышишь дорогим и грязным городским.

 

“Выспись на сеновале!”

На сеновале ночи бесплатные!

А ты спишь на дорогих перинах в доме, за который надо платить.

“Насладись хотя бы женой – она бесплатная!”

А ты наслаждаешься любовницей, а за неё платить надо.

 

Да что же такое с тобой?

Почему так?

Что с тобой стряслось?

За всё тебе платить надо…

Дурак ты, что ли?..

 

 

Зимний монолог

 

Куда мы идём?

Я не знаю. Я устал от неопределённости.

Но я обязательно с нею смирюсь.

Тело,

Все было так ясно,

Когда мы были молоды.

Куда несёт нас время?

Остались ли какие-либо чувства между нами?

Я не знаю.

…мы как-то потерялись.

Как будто я в тебе больше не живу.

Звонить и писать письма – не в моём стиле.

Ты это знаешь.

 

Тело,

Ты заставляло меня делать

глупости.

Сейчас же только боль

Напоминает мне, что мы ещё с тобой не простились.

Пока мы не расстались.

 

 

Я согласен

 

Я прожил две жизни.

Будет ли у меня третья?

Хочется верить, что нет.

Достаточно было прожить две жизни.

Никаких сожалений нет.

Я боюсь третьей жизни.

Я сомневаюсь, что она может быть лучше.

Куда уж лучше двух моих жизней!

Я напуган.

Я – трус.

Я трус с надеждой – третья жизнь настанет.

Нет, нельзя себе врать –

Мне хочется прожить ещё одну жизнь.

Я согласен на третью.

Но мне страшно.

Есть причины.

Но я согласен.

Согласен я.

Зоря.

А-а?

                                            

 

 

Письмо из Нью-Йорка в Сибирь

 

Сегодня дождь сугробы заливает.

По улицам собаки в тапочках гуляют.

 

Слякоть кругом.

 

То здесь, то там на раскоряку люди –

объевшиеся.

 

Опять голова болит у меня,

Опять голова у меня кружилась вчера –

 Pinot noir обидел меня.

Опять в Нью-Йорке зима.

 

К Шинскому на встречу иду,

А вечером на ужин к соседу.

 

Зимний день на зиму не походит,

А день за днём почему-то быстро проходит.

В эти дни солнце быстро заходит.

 

Влажно кругом – дождь.

Влажно кругом – туман.

Вот так, и никому это не странно.

Конечно, не странно – утлая зима в этом году в Нью-Йорке,

И как рыба – забытая, тухлая.

 

Рождество без снега было –

Хоть меняй шило на мыло.

Но как хорошо в церкви пели!

А как волшебно, уютно свечи горели.

 

Как прелестно, всё тихо и как-то жирно.

И днём с огнём не найти Серёгу Мырло.

 

В подземке так часто безлюдно,

Не как в Москве, где люди давятся мирно.

 

Вот напротив сидит человек

Он готов съесть большой бутерброд.

Я ума не приложу, как он ему влезет в рот.

Может быть, он в прошлой жизни был бегемот,

И Бог даже в этой жизни его не уберёг?

 

К Шинскому еду навстречу.

Надеюсь, не поскользнусь

И себя не покалечу.

 

Вышел из подземки.

 

Несмотря, что всё здесь сегодня мокрое –

В Нью-Йорке всегда всё невероятно доброе.

 

Шинскому сказал я: “Привет!

Тебя со спины я узрел.

Что, пойдём в галерею?

Тебя там вином я согрею!”

 

Галереи на двадцать пятой – в ряд!

Художников сытых отряд.

А сколько здесь шарлатанов!

Живут они за счёт меломанов.

 

Ходили, ходили, ходили…

Весь день в галереях убили!

Весь день вином нас поили.

Но после мы ещё две бутылки купили –

Французское, дорогущее,

Этикетками громко зовущее.

 

А вот уже стало темно,

Но не пошли мы в кино.

 

К Ванюшке пошли мы на ужин –

Никто нам больше не нужен!

Пришли. Как бутылки достали,

Очки с меня на пол упали.

Потом пили и ели,

От тёплой квартиры вспотели.

 

А сейчас

Зелёной ручкой я пишу письмо,

Чтобы со мной из жизни ушло оно.

 

 

 

Всегда ищите что-нибудь

 

Поиск в этой жизни – очень важен.

Даже если что-нибудь нашёл,

Продолжай искать – ты должен быть бесстрашен.

В муках поиска… – тогда лишь мы живём.

 

В новом поиске ты много потеряешь,

Но есть шанс, что большее найдёшь.

Хорошо живёшь? Ты многое узнаешь.

Если шею по дороге не свернёшь.

 

Продолжай искать – не смей сдаваться.

Даже если как в раю твой дом.

Над своей душой необходимо издеваться –

Только в муках мы поистине живём.

SHORT STORIES

JAIME PANIAGUA

S t o r i e s   a n d   L e t t e r s

               The window only allowed a small view of the HELOs when the wheels were up or they were about to land, but he heard them throughout the day. Inmate Ramirez looked out the caged screen to see them come in and out. Staff Sergeant, busted down to Lance Corporal, had been in the brig for some time now. Both lawyers, his wife, a few friends, and the entire command knew why he was in there. He hadn’t called anyone because all his numbers were on his cell phone. Also, there was no signal from inside the cell. All he had were pens, paper, and books. To pass the time, he threw his pencils at the hatch or window. Bored out of his mind, he decided to reach out to family. After thinking about it for a long time, he grabbed his notebook and pencil that he’d been throwing at the screen like a dart and began to write to his brother.


 

To Leo,


Usually I’d say, “hey stupid,” or call you something to make you look dumb, but guess what? I’m in jail. Get it? Like that song by Was (Not Was). Anyway, it doesn’t matter what I say - I guess I’m the stupid one. Sorry for not writing to you or anyone else, but I have a lot on my plate right now. It’s crazy in here. You’d think that it’d be like the movies, but it really isn’t. Anyway, first things first. I haven’t written to you because I needed to figure out a way to explain what’s been going on. You should be able to figure out where I’m at from the address on the envelope.


I won’t hold it against you or anyone if you don’t come to visit. In fact, I encourage you not to. I wouldn’t want you or anyone to go out of your way to sit and wait to only look at me and just to talk. I have nothing to show you. In case you’re wondering, I have been sent away for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can’t really explain to you anything because the brig’s mail department screens everything that gets sent in and out.


I don’t want to stay longer than I have to, so let’s leave it at that. I’ve been locked up since May 2015. I got eight years. Seven if I’m lucky. Anyway, the reason I’m writing to you is because I’m bored. Pretty messed up, right? I know, but all that’s here are a few TVs and a lot of books. I’m in the middle of The Night in Question by Tobias Wolff. He also made This Boy’s Life. Remember? We saw the movie.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

SIMINA LUNGU

T h e   F i n a l   L o v e   S t o r y

 

“Some say the world will end in fire/Some say in ice”

-Robert Frost

 

               We were young, love, when the end of the world came. In a country of brown autumn leaves, we were the flowers of spring. The final notes of the last song were ending, but our song had only just begun. The air smelled of death and loss, but all we could feel was the life flowing in our veins, exploding towards a new beginning.

               It was all crumbling around us—but we did not care. Like two strong trees we stood in the deserted field, confident we could withstand any storm. Everything faded around us, but we stood our ground, holding on to each other. We lost everything—except for ourselves. And that was enough for us.

               We were the last born in the twilight of our time. There would be no more after us. It was natural, my love, that we should try to find each other, that we should be drawn to one another, binding our lives so tight we would never again be apart. I remember a time before the fire and the ice, before the ground crumbled beneath our feet. I remember our last sunrise. How you said then that we would not be the world’s end but its new beginning—do you remember that?

               Those days right before the end were the best of my life. You and I, my dearest, walking through the yellowing field, hand in hand, our hair mingling in the growing wind. No one said anything to us. No one tried to stop us. Their thoughts were on the inevitable end. Our thoughts were on our own beginning.

               We were only children when we met, on the day when everyone else was weeping. They all knew then that nothing could be done to stop the end. All attempts to save the world had failed. It was a black day of mourning. To me, it was a time of rejoicing. That is how I still choose to remember it.

               I was fire and you were ice. I came from that part of the world turned into a barren desert and you lived in a land of eternal frost. You taught me about snow and I told you about flames. You knew the words to freeze my veins and I knew the language that would ignite your blood. And when we spoke together, we created a new language, fire and ice together, blended into a destructive force, eating away at everything in sight, while giving life to the two of us.

               We were wary of each other at first. I still smile when I remember. I was afraid when I caught sight of you—lanky and clumsy, pale of face with sky-blue eyes. You looked like a ghost to me. What did I look like to you, with my bright red hair and skin like the bark of a burnt tree? Did you think I was a demon? Did you find me beautiful at all? Is that why you approached me in the end?

               For days we stood on opposite ends of a field that was not yet burnt or frozen. The earth held its breath, waiting for the final blow to fall: the last calamity, burning or freezing everything in its path. We cared nothing about that. We were much more preoccupied with each other. We observed one another for a long time, fascinated yet frightened, attracted and repelled by this strange novelty. But, little by little, our feelings became clearer. Admiration won over. Gradually, I realized you were not a monster. Your face was as beautiful as mountain snows. Your eyes hid mysteries of long winter nights. There was a silence about you—a sense of peace so welcoming, I wished it was given only to me.

               I wanted to make myself just as appealing to you. I had sparks of glitter in my hair. I made my skin shine in the all-consuming sun. My movements turned deliberate and sinuous, like the dance of the newly born flames. You weren’t unmoved; I felt the beating of your heart, and mine throbbed faster, too, in answer. I took a step towards you. You hesitated and then, in turn, took a step towards me.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

JASON WALLACE

T h e   T u n d r a   K i n g

 

“The aim of life was meat. Life itself was meat.

Life lived on. There were the eaters and the eaten.” 

-Jack London

 

               “You are a fool,” Waldemar Borgoraz said to himself.

               He couldn’t feel his fingers. He couldn’t feel his face or his toes. Frozen. His blood congealing into a pink slush. It was a cold he had read about in the many books he perused in the St. Petersburg Library. It enveloped him like skin and filled every atom of his being. At the moment that Borgoraz could not discern his face and hands or toes from the frozen air around him, at the moment when death sat smiling beside him, ready to hurl his body and shivering soul into Heaven or Hell (anywhere warmer than the tundra, he hoped), memories of St. Petersburg flooded his mind. The sounds of a crowded city street, a warm roll with butter, a cup of hot coffee, the feel of his wife’s naked body pressed against his, the sound of his son’s laughter.

               Borgoraz had come to Chukotka Autonomous Okrug—the most northeasterly part of the land—to study the Chukchi people. They were his subject; they were also his salvation. He had come to finish a book. As a boy, Borgoraz was fascinated by the Chukchi after reading about them in Yuri Rytkheu’s novel A Dream in Polar Fog. The novel’s title transported him to a magical land of snow and ice and mists that hid wild beasts and gathered in folds and crevasses, a world where few had ever been. While most boys his age wanted to be soldiers or Olympic boxers, young Waldemar wanted to be a reindeer herder. He wanted to be a Chukchi living in a yaranga—a tent made of reindeer hide. 

               By the time he had completed his studies at the university, Borgoraz was an expert in Chukchi culture. He had studied and could speak not only Chukchi, but the languages of their nearest neighbors. He could say hello, goodbye, and thank you in Koryak, Alutor, and Itelmenas. He could tell the difference between a Chawchu (the reindeer people) yaranga and an Anqallyt (sea dwellers) yaranga, just by looking at a picture of each. Borgoraz could tell a stranger or a colleague alike—anyone who would listen—many such things, but he couldn’t say that he had actually met a living Chukchi, been farther than 100 kilometers east of St. Petersburg, or that he had ever paddled a walrus skin canoe over open ocean, sever the testicles of a reindeer with his own teeth, or mush a team of sled dogs across an expanse of snow and ice. All that he knew was from lectures and books.

While studying at the university he met Lyudmilla. They married within a year. She was studying linguistics and found him as charming as he was eccentric. She had never met anyone with such a singular interest and indefatigable passion for his work. While others found his devotion to the study of the Chukchi odd, she considered it his strength. 

               The Borgoraz family lived in a small flat in a quiet neighborhood near the Neva River. Theirs was a house full of books and opera; in the kitchen something delicious was always roasting in the oven or bubbling on the stove. Lyudmilla abandoned her studies to raise their son. Waldemar left for the university each morning whistling a tune, his belly full of black tea and a roll sticky with jam. He was the happiest man alive. He continued to do research and write papers about the Chukchi, but he often found that by the afternoon his mind would turn to home. When he returned in the evening, he would place his son Ivan on his knee and tell him stories about Chukchi herdsmen driving reindeer across the frozen tundra, fighting off wolves and polar bears with nothing but their spears or an old Kalashnikov rifle that they had to trade for in a distant village. His son’s eyes would be filled with wonder as he listened to his father’s stories. “Papa, maybe one day we can go to the land of the Chukchi?” Waldemar would pat his son’s head and say, “Yes my child; we will one day go to the land of the reindeer people.”

               Borgoraz’s wife and boy died in an automobile accident long before they had a chance to visit the land of the reindeer people. Their deaths plunged him into a dark and terrible abyss.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

HARRY KIDD

M o v i n g   O n

 

               The office of Paul Kettle did not reside in a big building, it was not surrounded by plate glass windows with a view of London, and it did not suffer the foot traffic of agents, editors, and admirers coming in and out.

               The office of Paul Kettle was the toilet. Not a toilet, but the toilet. Stacks of books surrounded the porcelain structure, almost transforming it into a grotesque throne. There was a tiny alcove between two celebrity autobiographies where a roll of loo paper stood upright, white.

               It wasn't exactly the ideal environment for books. A night of too much wine or an aggressive bout of diarrhea could render a book unusable and it would have to be thrown away. A stack of manuscript pages, old articles, and drafts lay in a relatively neat pile further away from the toilet. Paul Kettle would open the door to the bathroom, bend down to fetch some paper and a pen, pull down his trousers, and sit atop the pot with his pages. This was not always the exact order of his routine.

               Paul's house, a little (really little) number in West London, near Westbourne Park Station and Notting Hill Gate, was fairly idyllic on the outside. Whitewashed stone, an adequately built roof, and a modest hedge gave the place an almost bucolic charm. Someone had been sick on the wooden gate however, and the drunkard's spew had such a strong acidity it had eaten away at the wood near the latch. A few cigarette butts appeared in the yard every so often, and once Paul awoke to see the word 'SNEEZE' spray painted on the sidewalk out front.

               Inside it was a shambles, of course. The small entrance hall had been partially painted. Paint had spilled, and so Persian rugs were brought in to cover the massive Pollock splatter that had covered the floor. It even shot up onto a few framed pictures, one of a very fat man holding a trophy over his head. The fat man in the picture was a carnivorous relative of Paul's from the turn of the twentieth-century. The rugs themselves had not escaped little specks of paint too. People used to come round, people used to talk within these walls. They laughed about the paint specks and the smells and sights and smells, but for a long time Paul had been alone in every room, unless he counted the twin crouched demons of the novel and the distant past. The kitchen and sitting room were very much the same in that both were for cooking and lounging. A pan lay on the rug in front of the small television and radio, the remnants of a scrambled egg clinging to its edges as if the albumen were a crime scene. A few open books lay on the kitchen counter, one of which had been used as a board to cut vegetables for a hearty soup, a piece of celery still lay between pages 245 and 246. A faded calendar stuck to the refrigerator, blank.

               The bedroom was the smallest room in the house. The dark recess where the bed lay (sans frame) was littered with copies of the vulgar, contemptible pieces of scribbling Paul almost never referred to: his novels. Paul Kettle was (yes, was) a moderately well selling author. Next to his works (proof copies that should have been removed long ago) were porn magazines and empty bottles of scotch. These were remnants of a gritty, rebellious phase during which he wore sunglasses and a leather jacket in the headshots printed in his books, his long, big nose protruding between two aviator lenses, a sneer across his face. That phase did not last, but he had never taken out its rubbish. He now wore cardigans and sighed at the news.

                He could not help but think about how bleak everything was. This included his writing career. The manuscripts in the bathroom, full of eviscerating notes and passive aggressive question marks, were the inanimate proof that his favorite novel, Gregory's Agony, was dead. He had battled with his much younger editor to leave most of the book alone. The whale of a manuscript was stuck with multiple harpoons. Paul attempted to carry on against the endless criticism, and hoped the book could someday be free from the pricks of this written whaler. . Well, Peter, his editor, was a prick indeed. Gregory's Agony lay floating, bloated. It bled red pen comments down its pages full of potential. He could almost not bear to look at it. Yet it was all Paul thought about.

He blinked, and was at The Anglesea, a full pint glass in his hand.

Felix peeled a banana at the bar. He ate it slowly and solemnly.

               "I'm just not sure I think I like what I'm afraid of doing," Paul said as he stared blankly at a framed painting of an old racetrack hung above the bar.

               "And what are you afraid of doing?" asked Felix as he chewed.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

MATTHEW LANE

T h e   B a c k y a r d   H o t b o x

               Willy, a beagle of omnipotent intelligence prowled the party looking for his next fix. He crept along the outskirts of the backyard, using his small frame to avoid any unnecessary petting. Willy may have felt that he had evolved past the needs to soothe himself with scratches and belly rubs, but the humans were strong and drunk and looking to love something as adorable as him.

               He didn’t have time for such things; instead he chose to stick to the dark corners of the yard. Willy scanned the expansive party, looking for an unguarded square of LSD to steal or maybe an edible. Spread out in front was the work of the meandering minds of over a dozen high-schoolers, all in various levels of intoxication. There was the requisite beer pong table next to the porch, manned by the requisite experts. Nearby a table was laid out with alcohol that had been stolen from the various fridges and liquor cabinets of the neighboring suburbs. Finally, there was the hot boxing tent setup in the corner, far away from the house. It had steadily leaked smoke for the better part of the evening. Throughout all this, the only source of light came from the bonfire in the middle of the yard, which was mostly surrounded by empty chairs.

               Willy watched everything from afar with a sense of mild distaste. He watched them all mill about with simple minds and simple motivations. If they were hungry, they found food and that was that. If they were tired, many of them would curl up in a blanket to nap and that was that. Willy saw them as reflections of his former doggedness—an old Willy he now loathed.

               The only people Willy felt he could still put up with were his old owner Blake and his group of friends. They were musicians, all members of Blake’s band “Sponge Fuck.” They seemed to be the only people who shared Willy’s respect for the power of drugs. It had been Blake who had first introduced the world of drugs to Willy. Blake had given him an edible to see what would happen to the dog. The mind-bending experience had given Willy unnaturally powerful but fleeting intelligence. Willy had been very careful then and ever since to avoid letting Blake or anyone know how the drugs had altered his mind.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

STEVE KARAMITROS

S i d e   E f f e c t s   M a y   V a r y

1

               A minivan runs the high desert highway below the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, the heat an inverted napalm that hurries the rabbits and comforts the lizards as they make their way across the asphalt. Dad lets his delusions and fantasies run wild as he avoids conversation with his wife, who now stares out the window. She waits for the gloss to coat her husband’s eyes before surreptitiously popping another Valium. Little Bobby glances over the screen of his electronic tablet to the apparently empty landscape standing beyond the film of dust on the rear passenger’s window. The boy’s paralysis is so thorough he pays no mind to the bump under the car’s right-side wheels.

               “Whoops,” says Dad, the tone of a man freshly lobotomized.

               “What was that?” asks Mom.

               He only shrugs his shoulders.

               Just past Independence, that remote hamlet where Manson was indicted, Lenny was carrying a menagerie of random clay pieces out the back door of his house. An amateur who tinkered with ceramics, he ambled over to one of his ingeniously built kilns standing in the back yard. He walked over to it carrying a small mountain of broken mugs and bowls teetering in his arms. Today would prove an exciting learning experience: Sheila was out of town and he could finally test a new glaze he’d been toying with. And then a sound registered from the highway, not a block away: car tires rolling through the flesh and bone of a stoutly built rodent, in this case a beaver.

               Lenny’s face contorted as he thought about the sound. His eyes squinted and he felt his sphincter tighten as if he expected more. But there was no splintering of bones or splashing apart of sinews as the tires ended the life of the portly animal. Just the impact and then silence. Lenny walked down the block to assess the damage knowing that the end of the world had come for the poor little creature on the highway. The life had been snuffed with a clean kill. There was total stillness now, just sunlight reflecting off the leathery tail in a dull luster under the sun. He couldn’t get over the size of the creature; it must have survived in part on human growth hormone and discarded pharmaceuticals with such foreboding mass. But aside from the obvious unsightliness of the tire tread through the fur and the explosion of entrails from the body, the animal lay on the asphalt intact, frozen in its final strut across the road.

               You know something, I wonder if… An idea formed as the pensive engineer assessed how best to dispose of the road kill. Sheila IS out of town, he thought. He could have it skinned and cleaned before evening.

               As dusk fell over the valley, Lenny walked over to his oil drum barbeque with a bowl of liquid. Frenetic tongues of heat jumped off the coals and licked at the beaver carcass that was turning gently on a rotisserie. Lenny looked pleased as he coated the meat in a viscous marinade with a worn brush of coarse bristles.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

E.W. FARNSWORTH

T h e   S e v e n t h   F i g u r e

               A shaft of light sliced through the room where the old Sioux was waiting to die.  A fat, jolly, old woman with white hair sat beside him, her hair illuminated by the sunlight.  In chairs scattered helter-skelter around the room sat the old man’s watchers, all but his seven brothers, who had all predeceased him.

The jolly, old woman knew the signs of a person’s passing.  She was not an alarmist but a fatalist.  Having just returned from Oregon where she witnessed a female nonagenarian pass, she was called to service because the Sioux would not brook having a white priest officiate.  It was better that a pagan white woman came, at least from the old man’s family’s point of view.

               Rumor had it that the old Indian was wealthy, and all his wealth would pass to his survivors.  The old woman did not care for rumors.  She had conferred with the doctors and with the health care providers and hospice officials.  The old Sioux’s vital signs were failing.  It would not be long.

               Motes of dust danced in the shaft of light as the clock advanced to the five o’clock changing time.  The old woman stretched and told the assemblage, “Please leave the room while I clean the patient.  Don’t worry; he will not pass just yet.”

               The thirteen watchers filed outside while the old woman ably adjusted the hospital bed so she could do her job.  As she lowered the patient flat, his eyes came alive.  He tried to sit up, but he could not summon the strength.  He understood the drill and suffered the indignity of a stranger cleaning his mess.  She was done within ten minutes.  His knees were raised and then his back through the magic of the control wand she expertly managed.

               “White woman, I see my brothers.”  The old Sioux smiled.  His eyes shone.

               “Is that so, old man?”

               “Yes, can’t you see them?  They have assumed their animal forms.  They are all here but the rabbit.”

               “Will you tell me about your brothers?”

               “Huh.  I had seven brothers, all older than me.  They all succumbed to the white man’s fire water.”

               “Do you mean whisky?”

               “Yes.  They drank all day.  Life meant nothing to them.  And they died miserable.  I’m the last survivor.”

               “What do you mean when you say the rabbit has not arrived?”

“Our next youngest brother was the fastest runner in the desert.  He could speed through the roughest terrain like a bullet.  He was as fast as a jack rabbit being chased by a hungry coyote.  We brothers were very proud of him.”

               “Tell me about your brothers.”

               “We were eight with no sisters.  We stuck together always.  No one messed with us because we protected each other.  We could prevail against all threats except whisky, which I never liked.  I guess that’s why I’m the last to go.”

               “You haven’t gone yet, old man.”

               “My time is coming.  That’s why my brothers’ spirits have come to keep me company.”

               “You have many more relatives than your siblings.  They have only just stepped out of the room while I changed you.  I’ll be calling them back soon.”

               The old man coughed and shook his head.  “They are all here for money.”  He laughed and dribbled spittle down his chin, which she dabbed with a cloth.  “There never was any money.  I used what I had to ease the pain of my brothers’ passing.  Morphine costs plenty—more than alcohol.”

               The old woman nodded.  She waddled to the door and called the old Sioux’s family back into the room.  They returned muttering about how long their aged relative was taking to die.  Two of his nieces kept chattering about how much they were going to get when he passed.

               The old man seemed to be acutely aware of their presence.  He sat upright and drank from the straw of the water container at his bedside table.  “I’ve decided I’m going to live forever.  Those who have come to see me die will have to wait until another day.”

               The relatives looked from one to another anxiously.  They had been told the old man was going to pass within a few hours.  Now they individually factored other possibilities.

               “I suppose you’re wondering why I’m disappointing you.  It’s not me, you see.  Not all my brothers have come to help me through to the spirit side.”

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

LINDA ANN LOSCHIAVO

O n   C e m e t e r y   H i l l

               The truth was I didn’t really need a book that night. My Christmas shopping was finished. Earlier I had built a cozy fire, and I could have stayed home, trimming the tree, baking gingerbread cookies, maybe phoning far-away friends or answering letters.

               A brittle box of holly trimmed notepaper had been cloistered away, pitched in with some outdoor lighting. The year Jim died, I didn’t want to decorate our front windows. So, I failed to revive our custom. Funny how one long-held tradition or belief can evaporate altogether.

               When I decided to give away the lights, old gifts I had meant to wrap resurfaced along with the stationery. I had enjoyed sending festive missives at the end of the year along with photos—but when did that urge die? When had I become a person who no longer cherished life so much?

               As if to prove something, I selected a crisp envelope and one sheet and started off with a cheerful greeting to Miranda. When did I see her last, my former schoolmate? Had it really been thirty years ago? Maybe I didn’t get far, and this is where a wandering began.

               Light snow was falling, filling the windowsill, decorating certain angles of the trees while avoiding other branches, like people who knew how to keep apart. On the mantle was a sturdy snow globe, purchased in the Alps, a snowman in the center. When I shook it, the swirl drifted up, obscuring the miniature scene.

               The weather urged me to stay put. Instead, for reasons I can’t explain, I put on my insulated boots and my cashmere muffler and headed on foot to the bookshop by Cemetery Hill.

               Though the signpost sounds ominous, there is no longer a graveyard near the hill. Only the older residents remember the graveyard. Wicked things happened during a full moon or the equinox. But there are also numerous taverns in that part of town. Loiterers might say anything after a few drinks, especially to the gullible. There are teasers who like to toy with a listener, repeating formidable yarns, crypts that opened, drawers of ash becoming whole, circular footprints in the snow, a ghostly touch, narratives of regret. Some thrive on goose bumps.

               When Jim and I were deciding on a property, the real estate agent seemed nervous when telling us about Cemetery Hill. Jim winked.
               “If it’s haunted here, Lissie, we’d better find out how it affects the zoning ordinance,” he said.

And we laughed. Anytime I overhear a whispered story, I think of that afternoon. Buying our first house, we were hopeful and happy. I never had nightmares then. 

               After navigating the icy steps, I searched to see what phase the moon was in. Heavy clouds swiftly crossed the sky, chasing the night. Luminarias dotted the way up a few driveways, coffined electric candles blessing the way out, their yellow glow challenging the gloom. An upward draft blew the snow’s secrets towards the rooftops, away from the sharp defining edges of the traffic lights.

               Foolishly, I took no umbrella and the white stuff fell on me as I trudged along, trying to spot any patches and avoid a spill. Blanched bones of streetlight made an odd geometry across the walkways, unevenly shoveled earlier today.

               Though the bookstore was deserted at this hour, music was playing. It sounded a little like that holiday CD Miranda had sent me, right after the funeral. Some Christian boy choir, with angelic voices, tried to feed emptying hearts with anemic Gregorian chants. We had less and less in common, Miranda and I, but her kindness was the glue that kept our friendship from fraying.  

               Cold flakes dusted my shoulders and hair. When I brushed them off, moisture hit the book jackets and I tried to dry them with my scarf. A paste of rock salt and dead snow that had clung to my tall boots was melting as I prowled the aisles, leaving a trail as murky as redemption denied. Red poinsettias along the cashier’s counter were insufficient to dispel the despair. What was I after, I wondered? Maybe a midnight sale table is just a distraction from the loneliness that can grip a soul at yuletide. 

               I exited as empty as I entered. The door closed behind me with effort, sighing in exasperation. Heavy clouds had thickened into a clotted substance overhead. Perhaps the residents had turned off the luminarias at bedtime. Or maybe these slight votive candles were overcome by the humid haze.
               Then I saw him.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

JAMIE LEONDARIS

M o n t a n

               The hot plate stared into Yoshi’s soul as the devil’s iris gazed at the ghost of a rapist. Yoshi held the palm of his hand against the heat, feeling the rough of his scales stiffen and the hairs along the sides of his arm stand up against the cold. The window of the kitchen looked over his shoulder like a bad conscience. He’d listen to passers-by on the street scream past him. The animals of the city sometimes peeked in through the window, peering into his world, likely with a momentary realization that came to a relief in knowing that while he was in the kitchen, serving food to the ingrates of the city, on the busiest street in Montan, they were outside joyous, causing a ruckus, knocking over bins and pulling out tiny umbrellas from their drinks, littering the streets with their foul mouths and cocktail garnishes.

               Yoshi dropped an egg yolk into the fry pan and watched the pink of the yolk sizzle then settle. After a moment, he whipped the pan about watching the other side of the yolk brown until it was ready to serve as street food. Primarily, this was Yoshi’s job. At the end of each night, he’d hang his chef garment by the exit door, lock the kitchen up tight, make his way through the steaming rubble of Montan, and go to his hellhole apartment where he’d lick his wife across her lips and make love to her once again. He grew tired of this. Insemination was difficult for lizard-folk, though Yoshi and his wife were fertile enough to keep their income afloat.

               As Yoshi would thrust into his wife, her webbed fingers curling around the back of his neck hair, their scales sticking together hot like glue as her eyes blinked twice over, he would finish his night-job and think of a better life outside of Montan. In a few short years, we’ll leave this city and we’ll find sanctuary in the Swamplands amongst our kin. This ritual would be repeated nightly until his wife had become pregnant, wherein three to four days afterwards, she’d have laid several eggs for the restaurant, fetching a modest price at best. Then at the restaurant, Yoshi would fry the pink of his young into crisp-brow and feed them to the passers-by who screamed at him from the window, which blew cold air in from beside him like a bad conscience as he looked into the devil’s iris again, though not for the last time.

               Days pass now to Yoshi as he had woken-up late, his alarm bell blaring against his ear hole. His wife had spent the night in the bathroom crying and threatening to kill herself before she let him take another basket of eggs down to the restaurant. Yoshi had lived this night before, many times before in fact, and found there was no reasoning with that woman who was once his dearly beloved. Some time ago, they had lost touch of what brought them together to begin with: love. For a long time, Yoshi blamed their circumstances on himself. Though, the reality was that there was no work in the city for lizard-folk. Instead, a pact to survive now held them together. These days, Yoshi drank himself to sleep to cope. It was easy enough. Booze was cheap or easily lifted from work.

               Yoshi raised himself up from their bare mattress and dressed himself for work. He heard his wife’s living presence in the bathroom, which was enough reassurance for him to leave her be and let her keep living. Poor girl.

               Sitting in their apartment, on the kitchen table, was the same mattered picnic basket they always used to carry their younglings, and beside it was a note that Yoshi peeled open…

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

SAMUEL J. ALLEN

D o n’ t   L e t   t h e   W i t c h   O u t

1

               The last thing I remember clearly from that day is eating the water-melon as the snow began to fall more heavily in the evening gloom. December sunset was around 4p.m. in Oskuy, and I’d made it home from school as the first flurries of white floated lazily down from a darkening grey sky. The house was empty when I arrived home, as it always was on week nights then. And while it might seem odd in the here and now that a ten-year-old girl would walk back from school alone at the start of what was always a harsh and unforgiving winter, wild and rural northern Russia in the late 1990s was a time and place unto itself.

               My family didn’t struggle in the same way those living out in the more remote areas of the district did; there was always food on the table, plenty of fresh water, and we were lucky enough to have indoor plumbing. But what we had was never in abundance. This meant that only a month after the birth of my baby brother Georgiy, who I affectionately called Gosha, my father, out of necessity more than choice, had boarded the run-down airport bus with a handful of other men from the town. That was the beginning of a 9,000 km journey to the east, where he was working at the Mirny diamond mine in Yakutsk, Siberia.

               His job, while far from prestigious, was quite specialized and paid much more than any of the work available on the smattering of farms close to our hometown. It also afforded our family the slight luxuries of the time not available to many of our neighbors, luxuries such as a color TV, which I switched on as soon as I came through the door to drown out the creaks and groans of a deserted house as the growing wind whipped outside, or the gas fire that warmed me as I sat waiting for my mother to bring six-month-old Gosha back from the cramped store stocked with local produce, some expensive brands from St. Petersburg, and even imports from across the border into Europe. With another mouth to feed she had recently begun to spend the afternoons as a cashier and sometimes child-minder for families who had taken on manual outdoor work, even as winter approached. Custom was sparse at this time of year, allowing her to care for Gosha and run the store, despite often being the only member of staff.

               It was from this cramped and crumbling local shop, the only one in town, that my mother had brought home the watermelon the night before, yet another minor luxury afforded to us. I'd asked to try it as soon as I spied her struggling through the door with it, eager for my first sampling of something new. But she was tired from an unusually hectic day at the store and Gosha needed changing.  She promised that the next day she would slice it up and we'd eat it together for supper.

               With the TV on and the wood stove warming the house, my thoughts turned to the giant, exotic colored fruit, so different from the small, dull berries I was used to eating. It would be at least a few hours before she made it home, longer if the snow continued. I couldn't wait.

               The rickety chair scraped along the concrete floor as I pushed it towards the kitchen counter. I spied the watermelon, clambered for it while perching on the chair, and rolled it into my arms before shakily stepping down, the weight of the fruit almost too heavy for me. Once safely on the ground I sank my teeth into it, with no joy. I had no idea the rind was far too tough to bite through.

               I stepped up towards the counter again, grasping for one of the knives by the sink. I reached for a thick wooden handle with a blade dulled by years of use on frozen carrots and potatoes from the garden. I carefully made my way down from the chair, the knife held at arm’s length, pointing away from my body. I crouched beside the fruit and held it firmly against the ground, yet in my haste to cut it the knife slipped and jerked forward towards my stationary hand, clipping the tops of my fingers. 

               I clenched my fist, lips trembling, and fought back the tears welling in my eyes. Ignoring both the pain and the tiny rivulets of blood trickling down my finger, I continued to saw at the melon until I finally separated a large piece. I devoured it eagerly, forgetting all about my minor injury for the moment.

               Once I was satisfied, I headed to the bathroom to rinse my hands, sticky from a mix of both blood and watermelon juice. I winced as the freezing water met the small cuts I’d made in my hurry.

               After rushing through my homework, I began to feel a little drowsy and made my way to the sofa, to doze in front of my favorite cartoon, Nu, Pogodi! I felt a dull ache rise in the back of my head, and my vision blurred slightly as I watched that crafty wolf chasing the little hare through fields and forests.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

DAVEY MALONEY

T i l l   D e a t h   D o   U s

               From a young age, Fintan McQuaid knew death would be painful. It was obvious. It was only when he grew older, more verbose and cynical—as often happens with age—that he was able to explain his well-founded theory. By thirty he held a master’s in philosophy and a doctorate in behavioral psychology, was the author and co-author of many academic papers, and he had even penned a book, which viewed death as a scourge to rally against. This latter accomplishment had brought him insurmountable critical retaliation and unwanted fame from countless shamans, mystics and self-proclaimed magicians. In the book he purported the mantra his child-self knew: Death will be painful because it is our nature to stray away from pain and towards pleasure, and there is no death without bodily injury—broken bones hurt, myocardial infractions hurt, subarachnoid hemorrhages definitely hurt—thus death, if these were to be the prelude and death the finale, was infinitely painful. 

               But it wasn't this that staggered academics and enthused the esoteric community, it was that he claimed that we only die because during our final moments because we do not have the correct dialogue with death. During his formative years of fearing death, decades of scholarly pursuit and research for his book he never once doubted the personification of death. The book claimed, citing numerous historical texts from Vedic scrolls to Biblical interpretations via pre-Socratic tablets, that there was a one-to-one interview with death near the end and if you could best it—somehow—you were either granted immortality or freedom from death: Samskara in Sanskrit. From here, though, the book was tediously vague. Fintan  McQuaid, or “Quaides” as since the publication of his book he had been dubbed (to his great vexation), had no intention of writing a philosophic or religious manual and, as such, had no real idea what happened to a person once they chose either option or, having failed, died. The book just claimed that they died and it hurt.

               Over the next ten years, after being lampooned by critics, laughed at by former colleagues, ridiculed and even threatened, he decided to abandon any attempt to write another book and instead turned his attention to his new focus: immortality. For the majority of his adult life he had adhered to a strict diet and exercise plan, but after the disappointing blunder that was his book, this became even more stringent. He researched correlations between gum disease and heart disease, waist size and cancer, genetic predispositions and everything else. He was determined to survive. 

               He married but for sake, not want or love. Research had told him married men live longer. It actually told him women live longer than men, but after seriously pondering the benefits and risks of a sex change he decided it would be too hazardous a procedure to endure. Plus, he was rather fond of his testicles now; although he didn't totally object to the name Fiona McQuaid.

               Alice was a suitable wife. That was his word choice. He had even worked it into their vows. When they met, she had told him she wanted to be a doctor one day but at present was only a nurse practitioner. He liked her immediately because of that as it meant she was skilled enough to be aware of any serious medical issues but not smart enough to challenge his intelligence. He liked that she was chaste, mousy, small-bodied and tight-lipped, and when he sent back both of their meals—which he did as a test—he liked that she was unobjectionable. Little did he know—though he should have, being a behavioral psychologist—Alice told all the men—and there were a lot of them—that she wanted to be a doctor. She knew it stirred something competitive in them but would always drive them to crush that ambition in her rather than nurture it, and that is exactly what she wanted: to live easy, to coast through life with money and comfort. She wasn't manipulative per se, at least not any more so than her future husband; Alice was ambitious, just in a furtive way. 

               They bore no children but did talk about it at length. Alice made him think she was open to the idea but really it repulsed her. Children meant time, meant effort, meant noise and responsibility she didn't want. She was willing to miscarry every attempt if Finny's research concluded parents lived longer; then she would be the poor barren wife, quit her work, and retreat into herself a husk of a woman unable to give her good husband the son he so deserved. She would then spend her days alone in the garden with wine, or reading with gin, or sleeping until noon lamenting her faulty uterus. But it never came to that. Finny decided children would bore him so she shared her afternoon wine with him. From their first dalliance to late into their life together they had regular intercourse. Her husband believed it was a crucial component to a long life, and though he never demanded sex he always expected it on his terms. Finny was a skilled and deft lover, and more than once during their first years together Alice had to stop herself from surrendering to la petite mort. Only she would control her orgasms, which she did shuddering in the shower after they slid off one another.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

ROBERT CIESLA

S a t o r i

For Kayla Elizabeth

 

1

                I wake up to a feeling of numb contentment after the familiar nightmares. Every morning is a transition from a rock-solid reality into a world of illusion, where everything may lose its value between nine-thirty in the morning and four in the afternoon. All is well, apart from some unnerving flashes from my mobile phone. The coffee is damnation cold but there's no time for a new brew. We will test you with evil and with good, as Nicole would say. The spirit gives life, the flesh is of no avail.

                There's just a couple steps to the top. Those few hurdles are for the very few. I was chosen to make it for a reason and I always intended to honor that reason. They overlook my anti-social tendencies because I bend time. I keep to myself and I do my best work at night. I see trends before they happen. Unlike most, I do zero personal phone calls at work. At the top the hacks cross you off promotions for emailing with your girlfriends anyway. Five years in the firm and I was not asked once about an MBA. From Fox School of Business to street firm internship at age twenty-three. That's being priceless. That's being Mothman.

               Mothman not only knows future trends, but he can read his own future. Falcon, the predatory tapeworm, was about to offer the Feds some moth soup. I'm to be the sole sacrificial ingredient, but there are four more in the gang. There's Koala, a migrated Aussie in law. MBA from Melbourne. Raven, a butch ghetto princess turned arbitrage. MBA from Drucker. Eminence, an eerily quiet slash-and-burner who's dodged the FCC most of his working days. MBA from Chapman. And finally there's Rambo, the only under-performer of Wall Street, who's in it because Falcon needs his drugs. Someone's tipped them all off. And they'll make me the man in charge. Embezzlement is such a dirty, nasty word. That's why you never hear it on Wall Street. Never, ever throw that curse around. Don't even think it. For fanatic left-brainers, these guys are a most superstitious bunch. We build fine cathedrals of glass, but we don't deal with mortar or consequence.

               The Monday morning looks they gave each other were the only clue I needed to get my antennas up: the dreaded sideways glance. For the first time since I started working with these guys I felt left out of the body language pantomime. The next clues came in Falcon's private communications with a guy who's friendly with some investigators. I've been keylogging them for weeks.

               I pulled out the algorithms, but Falcon gave the contacts. Without his leadership the other animals would've kept their trunks clean. Falcon should be the one looking at five to ten years in the slammer. But this is not how it goes. A predator always floats. The only advantages I have are my time travelling skills.

               Falcon posed with the hippies during the occupy days. He had the polymer smile, the Champagne, and the two unkempt girls. But he didn't understand them. When you're soaring high you won't know what the maggots are feasting on. Falcon could've and should've bagged Koala for this. The Aussie wouldn't have seen anything coming. All I need is one mistake by the opposing force. In a court of jesters, you don't frame the wizard.

               What we do with our gang is harmless. Every homeless man out on the street can afford this. There's no reason for the government to step in. Three point four billion dollars go to the feds. Who misses their thirty million dollars? But these things are sexy. By feeding some of us to the wolves every now and then the great American public is put at ease for a while. It’s the only reason they pull us down. The financial aspects are laughable at best.

               Old man Garner was my street grandfather. Prior to my internship I was told he needed less than five seconds to know if he didn't like you. Twenty minutes in I was still nervous during the interview. Another four minutes later I knew I'd got the job. I didn't need the call next morning. He took a five second look at my resume and after that it was all eye-contact. He wanted my take on Black Monday and the future of the American middle-class. With the old man you needed your own take on the past, the present, and the future of the world. You're not worth anything to me unless you can predict the future with a seventy-five percent accuracy, he'd tell me one day. Sometime he'd change the figure, but people got the idea. Garner changed the way I interpreted the world. The guy had no kids, but he made himself immortal.

               I never understood what made me unique. With some patience and focused intent, most guys here could pull it off. I think they couldn't live with the trade-off: the solitude. Your own thoughts, not the firm's. That's where hell begins for most of us. The five-hundred dollar tie is the only thing keeping our heads together.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

PAUL LUIKART

C r i m e   S c e n e

               After I got out of prison, I got a job cleaning up crime scenes. Ironic. Murders and suicides and the like. I had to wear an a haz-mat suit with rubber gloves taped to my wrists and these floppy shit-kickers that made me look like I was brand new to walking. Sometimes I had to put on a respirator to cover my whole face. In total, I looked like a bug-eyed ghost from World War I. Boo! The Yanks are coming.

               The first job was a home suicide. I went with my supervisor, Matt. He guessed that some guy got himself in trouble with the IRS. He said suicides are always about money. Murders, he said, are about love. Anyway, a guy kicked back in his La-Z-Boy and blew his head off with a 12 gauge. Bam! Splat!

               “Last chance,” Matt said, “You’re okay with blood and brains and all that? You sure?”

               “I’ve been to prison. I’ve seen some shit.” Actually, most of prison was pretty banal. I saw a few guys fight in the yard but the guards broke all that up quickly. The worst thing I saw was when a guy crammed a pencil into another guy’s cheek. I think he meant to hit him in the neck, but the guy saw and turned his head just in time. The pencil got stuck half inside his mouth and half out. He kept shouting, but nobody could tell what he was saying because he didn’t pull the pencil out.

               “Like what kind of shit?”

I told him some stories about beat-downs and shower rapes and shankings.

“In prison we say shank,” I said. “Nobody says shiv. Everybody thinks we say shiv. ‘I shivved this punk, I shivved that punk.’ No. It’s shank. ‘I shanked this punk, I shanked that punk.’”

“Shank,” Matt said, like it was a piece of food in his mouth that just wouldn’t go down.

               We rode awhile in silence after that, just the rattle of the van’s engine, the clicking of the turn signal now and then, the equipment banging and jangling around in the back. When we got to the house and went inside, I had to cover up a gasp with a fake cough. Matt said, “I don’t think he made it,” and laughed and walked over to inspect the mess.

               Of course, the coroner had taken the actual body, but I guessed most of the guy’s head was stuck to the wall behind the La-Z-Boy. Bigger pieces of brains had slipped down the wall to the baseboards, leaving thick orangey-brown trails behind. They reminded me of the little slime paths slugs leave when they creep along.

               The big chair had a dark brown blotch on the headrest, almost black—a wide stain shaped like a starfish. Matt said sometimes the furniture can be cleaned and salvaged and given back to the family but why would a family want suicide furniture? This La-Z-Boy was done for. One human victim: suicide. One easy chair victim: collateral damage.

               Matt said, “Get the chemicals out, get suited up, don’t sweat your mask. I have to make a phone call and then I’ll be in. We can knock this whole thing out today. Six hours if we hustle.”

               I went back to the truck and pulled out the gear, really taking my time. I lined it all up like Matt showed me—the chemicals and disinfectant, brushes, scrapers, sponges, buckets, the fat, red biohazard bucket. Matt told me the key to this business is organization.

               “Keep your shit squared away at all times and you’ll do fine.” I think Matt was a marine.

After I got the gear organized and double-checked and the suit on, I went back inside and sucked up a big lungful of air. It hit me: there was no ungodly stink of death. I thought all these places—where the sad sacks do themselves in or where the vaunted crimes of passion occur—would be filled to the ceilings with reek. But in this place? A whiff of something musty and then a barely detectable food smell. Cooked meat maybe, hamburgers, casserole. Fleeting evidence that people used to live here. You sure as hell wouldn’t know it now, but I bet there was a time when the wall simply held up the roof and the La-Z-Boy was just a spot for catnaps.

Matt smoked a square in the front yard while he talked on the phone. Through the picture window, I watched him pace back and forth on the lawn and cut the air with his free hand like he was demonstrating karate. He’s got an ex-wife and some kids. I think.

               I got to work. The brown dried blood turned into streaky red blood when the chemicals hit it. It took a sponge and a swimming pool’s worth of cleaner just to get a third of the way through. I chipped at the brain chunks with my scraper—scratch, scratch, hack—and while brains might normally be slimy, they turn into hard little knobs after they’ve been up on the wall a couple days. Like chunks of concrete. Matt said that when I’m scraping, I should not worry about the paint or wallpaper.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

SYBIL WILEN

V a m p e d

               Her name was Lily. She was fifteen and she had a high voice that squeaked when she was nervous, and she seemed to be nervous always. She spent a lot of time taking selfies of herself with her beloved iPhone, trying out new expressions on a whim, but mainly pursing her lips and pulling her chin towards her chest. This caused her to angle her body to the side and gave her a fish-like pout. At least that was what her Mother said. Her Mother who was getting old and was jealous of Lily’s youth and resentful of what she had taken away from her. Lily imagined her Mother must have been pretty once too, but the creases around her eyes and lines at her mouth gave her face an unhappy look, and it seemed that she carried the weight of her ill-conceived choices on her back so that she was weighed down. At least she seemed heavy with her sagging breasts and wide hips. According to the pile of photo albums hidden in a box under her Mother’s bed, her Mother had once embraced the “Gothic” look packaged and sold by Hot Topic stores. She had dyed her hair oil black and straightened it so that it fell down the sides of her head and cascaded to her hips. She was thin then and wore postage stamp fitted black skirts and torso baring tops. Her pale white skin was enhanced with black lipstick and heavy eyeliner. Of course everything was different now. Now she stood in front of Lily, one hand on her denim encased waist, the other cradling a cigarette that she used as a pointer.

               “Why do you wear these wigs—they’re synthetic and give off an awful stench!” she said. “And do you really need so many! You’ve got the whole rainbow lining your bookshelf, don’t you? You don’t see your Sister wearing wigs and pretending to be something that she’s not. Winter isn’t afraid of being herself. She knows.”

               Winter was two years older than Lily. She was preparing to take on the world by storm and had been planning for her escape from their Mother’s apartment since she could walk, talk, and carry a thought. She had tried to run away when she was Lily’s age and moved in with a friend. It had been a wild couple of weeks without her around. Her Mother had spent most of the time on the phone with the police, with their Father (a man that they had not seen in almost a decade) and the friend’s mother. Lily knew that this woman had accused her Mother of child abuse and had gone so far as to report her to Child Protective Services who came out to inspect their home. After an afternoon of answering questions and showing the worker each room in their small apartment, Lily’s Mother had been given the clear, but Winter had not returned. It wasn’t until Winter tired of her friend that she returned to the arms of her Mother who fawned over her prodigal daughter as if she were an only child. No one seemed to notice that Lily had been there all along putting up with the constant rebuke of her Mother who was clearly wishing that it had been herself that ran away. She probably wouldn’t have even searched for her, Lily believed. She would have let her rot on the streets before she would have given her a thought.

               Lily was keenly aware of Winter’s beauty. She had naturally black hair much to her Mother’s delight, and pale white skin, azure eyes. She was tall and thin and outspoken. She spent much of her time riding in the passenger seat of slick cars belonging to a variety of boys that she went with. Winter didn’t necessarily date anyone, but she was quite popular and quite familiar with the back seat of many of these cars. Everyone at the school knew of Winter’s reputation, but that didn’t cause her to be shunned by anyone because she knew how to own it. Lily wasn’t adept at owning any aspect of her personality. And that was what really bothered her Mother.

               She was a product of her time. Technology had stripped her of any practice with real life socialization. She had her friends and that was the good thing—the only good thing in her life— but they didn’t meet outside of the house unless they were at school or headed to a convention. The rest of their time was spent on their various devices where they texted or commented on each other’s uploaded pictures and fan fiction. Sometimes they Skyped or Face timed to show off new cosplay outfits they had carefully sewn or wigs that had arrived in the mail, neatly wrapped and sent from China.

               They each harbored crushes on fictional characters, either from the films they watched or books they read. They could spend hours crafting romances with words and then send these up for the Internet world to review, fawn over, and add too. Sometimes Lily’s efforts caught the attention of a cyber-suitor who would send pictures to her of themselves stylized like some character that she fancied. When this happened, Lily would moon over her newfound love and social media would burn with their love flying through the Wi-Fi.

 

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

VINCENT OPPEDISANO

T h e   D a r k   W o o d   o f   t h e   G o l d e n   B o u g h

 

               I was happily on my way in my blue Mercury Topaz, clinking and clanking down a country road at twilight. My friends were waiting, always waiting, in a cottage far north of the city. A weekend of card playing, drinking and camaraderie, maybe some fishing, (although I hated fishing), was on the agenda. I felt good, listening to my radio loud, bopping down that country road at twilight; pushing that old blue Topaz to the limit of its talents. 

               The road smooth and sleepy, long and silky, and freshly tarred. The sky was gray and low, meeting the straight road on the horizon. My open window, for my cigarette ashes to the wind, brought a crisp, cool air into the car. The heater, low, but full on red for hot.

               The radio static slowly ate the music for gluttonous stretches until words and notes melded and all became unintelligible in the cover of tall trees and unimaginable dark things moving in the forest. The forest sliced, like a gutted fish, by this slinky stretch of asphalt.

               I slid in a CD and waited in the silence, but for the clinking and clanking of the Topaz. The warrior, churning gears and pumping pistons, in the great void of humanity, fighting valiantly to live and get me to my destination. She toiled in the wilderness of John baptizing, she wheezed in the Buddha darkness.

               The intro to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” failed to drown out the louder grumbling of the engine.  I turned down the volume, and a hammer was beating time beneath the hood.  I heard wheezing and coughing and great gobs of phlegm spit forth into the silent country tar; smoke, thick and gray, climbed out of its chambers, rolled along the time worn hood and danced a somber waltz outside my windshield.  My hands strangled the steering wheel, my palms wet, and beads trickled from my forehead in the cool wind through my window.

               “Please don’t die, please don’t die,” was my mantra to the dashboard.  Smoke poured out from under the hood in billows.  The hammer went mad and loud. 

               The old, sad lady crawled another mile before her clock stopped.  Time, the cruel mover, and years of wear and tear, had finally joined forces to murder the once shiny beauty in blue.

               I stepped out into the greatness of Oaks and Maples lining the road.  I reached the hood in time to hear her choke on her smoke and give one final gasp.  Like a cry in the wilderness, she squealed and stopped, defeated.  I went under the hood, knowing that I had no clue.  A knee jerk of masculinity, thinking I might find some miracle in the pumps and hoses.  No miracle of the great blue Topaz; no setting up shrines and having the pilgrimage once a year on the sacred day that I discovered divinity in the manifold.  I swore at the Virgin Mary and closed the hood.  Now it was night.

               There was no sign of humanity anywhere in the foreseeable future.  I walked, for I had no phone to call a savior.  The night was just born but cold, and the leaden sky was almost on top of me now.  Every noise was a harbinger of a lonely death on a sparsely traveled country road.

               It had been more than an hour of walking since the car broke down.  The fear slowly welled up inside me like billows of smoke from beneath a goddamn dying hood.  I cursed that old bitch Topaz and no longer remembered her fondly.  There was no sign of civilization anywhere in the wood.  I found no friendly farm with buxom daughters and hearty stew in copper pots, cooking on gas stoves, no hovel of a hermit to share stale bread and vinegary wine with.  No human form for hours now as night grew older.  Just a long road, getting longer, getting darker and eyes in the forest watching.

               The journey took a turn as I came to the proverbial fork in the road.  I contemplated thoughts, swearing a blue streak at all the Saints in Heaven, cursing Heaven itself.  One road seemed paved and tire worn, the other rustic and not very inviting.  I cursed Robert Frost and took the road more traveled.  It led me on a loop and connected with the other less traveled path after two minutes of walking.  I found it strange, this loop apropos of the straight road, but I took it and stepped further into the darkness in front of me.  The sky, black, was on my head.

               My fear matured into terror, touched with fascination and a warped sense of adventure.  I romanticized my situation, in a mindset to delirium from the nothingness but trees and eyes in the forest, always the eyes in the forest.  I heard voices in the now darkness, and thought myself a gallant Knight in King Arthur’s court.  Lancelot sent to find the Holy Grail, through the green, green forests of Camelot.  I was a modern Don Quixote, the tall Pines and stoic Oaks, my windmills.

               Within minutes of my walking in shining armor and noble thought, the road was gone.  The road was obliterated from under foot and now I walked on Pine needles and forest earth, among the trees, on the graves of fallen leaves.  The eyes were all around me but hidden, the noises became louder, stranger.  I found a fallen branch and carried it as if it were Excalibur.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

SUSIE LITTLE

Н о в о г о д н и й   э к с п р е с с

               За окном на подоконник мягко ложился искристый новогод-ний снег...

               Лизонька прижалась лбом к холодному стеклу кухонного окна, пытаясь рассмотреть парадное с высоты третьего этажа. Она ждала. Ждала, что любимый Саша вот-вот появится из-за угла с большим букетом и красиво завёрнутым свёртком в руках, зайдёт в её парадное. Но он всё не шёл, всё опаздывал. Часа на полтора.

               А за окном кружились крупные хлопья снега и бесшумно падали на гладкие сугробы. Город украшен праздничной иллюминацией, шарами и гирляндами. В соседских окнах мелькала серебристыми отблесками мишура и весело подмигивали разноцветьем нарядные ёлки. То и дело пробегали запоздавшие прохожие, которые спешили по домам, чтобы завершить последние приготовления к Новому году. Со всех сторон слышны хлопки разрывающихся петард и салютов. Это беснующаяся ребятня радуется тому, что занятые оформлением праз-дничного стола матери не загоняют домой, позволяя шкодить в вол-шебный вечер на улице. Санкт-Петербург замер в ожидании встречи новогодней ночи.

               И только Сашенька всё не торопился идти. Обещал заехать за Лизой в пять вечера и увезти встречать Новый год вдвоём в загород-ном родительском коттедже. Огромные, обшарпанные, потрёпанные временем напольные часы в бабушкиной гостиной пробили ровно семь, а его всё не было.

Они познакомились в институте. Он учился на четвёртом, выпус-кном курсе, она – на втором. Симпатия возникла довольно быстро и переросла во взаимность. Уже через пару недель Александр впервые увёз Лизу в родительский загородный коттедж, где они провели все выходные со всеми вытекающими последствиями. Их роман длился уже три месяца. И с недавних пор Лизонька стала замечать, как одна девица из параллельного потока строит Саше глазки. Неужели он отправится встречать Новый год с ней? От таких мыслей защемило в груди, подкатил к горлу ком. Большая крупная слеза скатилась по щеке.

– Лиза, где ты там? Неужели ты не слышишь, как чайник на плите пищит? Да что с тобой, деточка? – кричала из гостиной бабушка Аля.

               Лизонька очнулась от забытья, быстро смахнула непрошенную слезу, последний раз взглянула в окно и пошла выключать чайник. Похоже, этот Новый год ей придётся встречать на пару с бабушкой. Родители Лизаветы отправились на каникулы в жаркий Египет, оставив двадцатилетнюю внучку на попечение бабушки. Они звали дочь с собой, но та, предвкушая особенную ночь с молодым челове-ком, отказалась и осталась в Санкт-Петербурге. И в данную минуту все её ожидания таяли, как песочный замок во время прилива. Судорожно вздохнув, отгоняя плохие мысли прочь, Лиза выключила кричащий во всю мощь чайник, достала из буфета две чайные пары из тонкого фарфора, разрисованные характерными синими завитушками под Гжель и потянулась за аналогично раскрашенным заварочным чайником. Да, бабушка Алевтина Леонидовна очень любила искусство. Об этом можно было сразу догадаться по кухне, оформленной в прованском стиле с лавандовым оттенком. Она и сама безраздельно принадлежала ему. Окончив художественную академию тогда ещё в Ленинграде, она объездила полмира и написала три сотни картин. Сейчас, на склоне лет, перестала. Руки уже не слушались, лёгкий тремор не давал держать кисть и выводить на полотнах ровные тонкие линии. Поэтому бабуля наслаждалась своим вольным пенсионным временем, регулярно посещая художественные выставки в Эрмитаже, оперу, балет, поэтические вечера и всевозможные концерты. Вообще, бабуля любила всё красивое.

               Лизонька разлила по чашкам свежезаваренный ароматный чай, поставила вместе с сахарницей и конфетницей на серебряный поднос и понесла в гостиную. Комната, в которой ждала свой чай Алевтина Леонидовна, была большой и светлой. Стены, окрашенные в белый цвет, сплошь увешаны картинами. Часть из них принадлежала кисти хозяйки. Посередине гостиной стоял большой, круглый, белый, глянцевый стол, вокруг которого стояли такого же цвета шесть больших мягких стульев. У окна на белой тумбе под технику стоял плазменный телевизор с огромным экраном – подарок Лизиных роди-телей. У противоположной стены уютно расположился белёсый диван, который с обеих сторон окружали драцены и привезённая с юга когда-то в девяностые, выкорчеванная прямо в дендрарии одним из воздыхателей, пальма. Чуть поодаль разместилась банкетка, на кото-рую Алевтина Леонидовна частенько складывала уставшие, одереве-невшие от ходьбы ноги. У самой двери в гостиную стояли те самые с громогласным боем часы и резной сервант с зеркальной внутренней стенкой, внутри которого художественно были расставлены дорогой фарфор и советский хрусталь.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Night Picnic.

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