A new story by Gargi Mehra
The problem with suicide, Mrs. Gupta decided, was the utter lack of a convenient time to plan and commit the act. One or other of her grandchildren always had their teeth sunk deep into the holidays, exams or illness. And even she considered it bad form to off herself in the middle of a family vacation.
On their first day in Scotland, her entire family had slipped on their walking shoes and strolled through the cobbled streets of Fort William. Mrs. Gupta ambled behind her daughter Priya and son-in-law Vijay, who pushed the pram carrying their two-year-old son, while their older daughter Myra hopped and skipped her way beside them.
The day had ended on a pleasant note, but Priya insisted they visit the zoo some time on their trip. She foisted upon her mother a series of navy brochures parading something called the Blair Drummond Safari. The glossy photos promised an abundance of peacocks, alligators, and most worryingly, a close view of lions.
Mrs. Gupta pleaded with them to let her be. She promised to stay behind and look after the baby, while the three of them enjoyed their travails.
Priya laughed away the idea.
That night Mrs. Gupta jolted awake from feverish dreams of predators tearing apart her family.
Indian tourists found Scotland achingly beautiful, but she found it miserable. The drive through the winding roads that curved between vicious mountains covered in shrubbery left her heart sinking. For the first time she missed her husband. He would have taken the entire tour off her hands. When he set his foot down, Priya listened.
The drive through the country filled with Glens and Bens did not gladden her heart. Priya kept turning back to point things out to her mother. Myra sat at the edge of her seat, her nose pressed to the glass, marveling at every feature of the landscape that crossed her line of vision.
A sea of clouds accompanied them on their journey, as they drove along the edge of the lake. The blue waters of the Loch Lomond stretched out on one side.
“It’s one of the largest lakes in the UK, Ma!”
This failed to excite Mrs. Gupta, sending her into tizzies of alarm instead. She pursed her lips, missing the roar of her husband that would have shut her daughter down and exchanged the lions in her future with warm cups of tea and a bottle of pills.
They drove for what seemed like hours. Even Vijay’s arms were drooping. Mrs. Gupta wondered if she might have prevailed upon him to turn around and head back to their resort, but the resolve writ large on her daughter’s face stilled her tongue.
A large signboard proclaiming their destination consumed the horizon. A thundering rose in Mrs. Gupta’s heart as they drove through the gate. They continued up a concrete pathway that wound through the park, a carpet of greenery flanking them on either side. The baby had woken up and was now bouncing on Priya’s lap, making war cries. Mrs. Gupta just wished she wouldn’t.
They drove deeper into the zoo, stuck behind a number of chartered buses ferrying schoolchildren and their teachers.
Vijay said, “Look! Lions, up ahead! On the right!”
Mrs. Gupta’s insides turned to ice. She couldn’t see them, but she desired nothing more than to crawl into one of those huge buses the size of a house. What else could protect her from the canines of the king of the jungle up close?
The baby jumped on his mother’s lap using it as a trampoline. Myra too was banging her hand on the glass window. “Mamma look! There’s a lion prowling around on the grass!”
Mrs. Gupta wished she would stop her banging. She wished the toddler would stop his bouncing, and she longed for Vijay to conclude his monologue on the eating habits of lions. Did he really believe that they never hunted prey when their stomachs were full?
Terror gripped her heart as she watched the lion cut across the track and press its muzzle to the window.
She covered her ears as its claws screeched down the window and the door of the car. They all let loose blood-curdling shrieks.
Only the baby’s delight shot up. Mrs. Gupta couldn’t be sure what he was saying but it sounded like “Party, party!”
She felt a sudden uncontrollable urge to laugh. But the next instant, the glass window shattered. The lion stuck his head through the window. Myra, pinned to her seat, issued a silent scream but Mrs. Gupta had no time to notice that as she watched her hand disappear into the lion’s mouth. Its blatant greed appalled her. Where would she find another gold bangle like the one he was chomping on right now?
The pain rose in her chest. The world turned black before her eyes.
Cool drops of water splashed on her face.
Mrs. Gupta blinked, and found the space before her filled with a light blue. This must be heaven, but the hard wood poking into her back was hell.
“Are you ok, Ma?”
She sat up with a jerk. They were somewhere in the middle of the park. The landscape appeared free of those infernal lions.
“What happened? Did I have a heart attack?”
Priya laughed. “No, Ma! You just fainted! I don’t even know why! You missed the lion marking his territory around the cars in front of us!”
This puzzled Mrs. Gupta. “How does a lion mark his territory?”
Priya laughed even harder. “By urinating around it! Oh, Ma! The lion sprinted so far away. The buses ahead had moved, and we did too.”
The last time Mr. Gupta called his wife to his deathbed, he had said, “Don’t keep talking about suicide, Urmila. It is even a sin in some religions.”
She folded her hands in prayer, and touched them to her forehead.
A new essay by Miriam Edelson
I am normally a somewhat shy individual, not in the habit of discussing my private life with the world. But who would have thought that at age 60 I would have an orgasm that shook my world? Not me. I had experienced a drought in that department for over thirty years. And then I smoked some pot, got together with my life partner of twenty years, and Bob’s your uncle. Enhanced libido and a lovely sexual response. What a great discovery!
It happened while we were on a canoe trip in the remote and beautiful Quetico Provincial Park in northwestern Ontario. One’s senses are already piqued when canoeing and camping, the wilderness providing a delicious edge to everything. A little bit of pot thrown into the mix added a keener sensuality: the clear water felt silkier on my skin and the trees appeared greener, their canopy more majestic.
This was before pot became legal in Canada, but at that point I certainly wasn’t going to let a small legal matter stand in the way of a good orgasm. We returned home and got high from time to time, put on some sensual Latin music and went to bed. I began to enjoy sex more than I had in a long, long time.
I remember talking to my older sister at some point during the demise of my first marriage. I must have complained about the lack of romance I was feeling then after ten years at it. She pointed out to me that it was hard to feel romantic when you were busily cleaning hair from the bathtub drain and otherwise keeping everything going smoothly. I just figured sex would continue to simmer on a permanent back burner.
It didn’t help that I’d been on a variety of anti-depressants for over thirty years. They are known to dampen libido and sexual response and though I’d tried various remedies, nothing until marijuana had upped the ante for me. It was only now that I was rediscovering myself as a sexual being, with greater interest in pursuing an active sex life with my partner. It goes without saying, perhaps, that he was pleased by this surprising turn of events.
Then pot was legalized and I was able to get a prescription for CBD oil both for anxiety and one laced with a small amount of THC as a sleep aid. I tried them, very tentatively. Both seemed to help the respective issues for which they were sought. My psychiatrist suggested that I only use very small amounts of the THC product, as there isn’t full research yet on its impact on the other drugs I must take.
I heed his caution and continue to use small amounts of pot from time to time. I now enjoy sex with my partner a great deal. I’m a bit like the lyric in Bruce Cockburn’s song, “Mama just wants to barrelhouse all night long.” Well, perhaps that an exaggeration. But you get the point.
So that’s my happy story. I tell it partly to suggest to people who must take antidepressants and other psychotropic medications that marijuana may be worth discussing with your care provider. It’s no replacement for a patient and generous lover, but can certainly add some spice. I can’t believe now that I waited thirty years for another orgasm to shake my world!
New piece by Connie Woodring.
My very first memory. I was three years old, playing in the sandbox with other kids.
In a flash, a boy hit me in my face with his metal shovel (no plastic in those days.)
It was my first sight of blood, my blood.
I still have the scar on my right eyebrow.
At a very young age I was introduced to the Old Maids card game. The picture of the ugly old white lady who never married scared the bejeesus out of me. I swore I would do everything in my power to not end up like that! It wasn’t until much later in life that I asked whoever was listening, Why isn’t there a card game called “Happy Black Bachelor?”
Even though my grandmother was an atheist, she and other relatives insisted I go to Sunday School and church. I dutifully obeyed and read the Bible from cover to cover the summer of my seventh year. It meant nothing to me, and I couldn’t pronounce all the names with letters of more than eight. However, one thing stuck with me. Eve was the cause of humanity’s downfall and was responsible for making all women suffer in childbirth. Unconsciously, I, being female, determined I was a horrid being and could never redeem myself.
In 5th grade the classroom bully regularly pushed me around into swings and seesaws.
I told me mother. She boldly ordered, “Push him back!”
I did push him, except it was into traffic, and he narrowly escaped severe injury.
However, he never bothered me again.
In 6th grade another class bully (who was always nice to me) got throttled by our teacher.
We horrified classmates listened as he was pushed into iron coat hooks in the cloak room.
He screamed and was smacked.
When he and our teacher came out of the torture chamber, we sat silently staring straight ahead.
No one ever talked about this incident, but we never saw that class bully again.
As a geometry student in high school, I was ordered to leave the room by Mr. B——. “Woodring, you can leave by the door or by the window!” The window was three stories high.
My crime: I couldn’t understand a geometry concept and asked for help. Years later, feminists bemoaned the fact that females are under-represented in math and science fields.
Like the 6th grade classroom experience, all students looked straight ahead and didn’t say anything to me after class.
When I was a psychiatric social worker at a state hospital, I was attacked by a male teenage patient.
I was in a bathroom stall.
I heard the outer door open but no sound.
When I opened the door, this patient lunged at me, putting his hands around my throat.
I always dreamt that if this were ever to happen, I wouldn’t be able to scream.
However, I found my very loud voice, and the boy ran out.
I reported this incident and made a formal complaint, indicating that in my professional opinion such a patient should not have been granted open ward privileges.
The response from the superintendent was, “Are you sure you didn’t provoke the attack?”
My ex-husband stereotypically did not like my mother.
On the last occasion that she visited us he blew a hole in the living room wall with his double-barrel shot gun.
His response, “Oh! I was just cleaning it. I thought it was unloaded.”
My mother and I never spoke of this incident, but I read the fear in her eyes.
He always threatened to kill me if I ever left him.
A year later I divorced him, considering it would be better to be shot by him than to live the rest of my life as a dumbified and mummified wife.
An American white woman friend of mine dated a black man. Her next-door Nazi neighbor who had a portion of Mein Kampf tattooed on his bald head came to her door one day and threatened, “Get rid of your n— or watch him hang from my oak tree!” She obeyed.
On 9/11 a colleague came into my office at the end of a most horrendous day.
She was smiling, and so I asked, “Didn’t you hear about what happened?”
Her answer, “Oh, yes. That’s why I’m so glad! Today is the Rapture when all the sinners will die, and I will be going to heaven—probably tonight!”
Since she wasn’t an Islamic terrorist, I realized I had just had an encounter with a born-again.
At a ripe old age, I died and went to heaven, although I have no idea how that happened. In spite of reading the Bible, I believed in God until I was 19. It was then that I took a sociology of religion course in college and never looked back.
Now I am quite bored as I listen to God’s incessant poetry: “I Blessed America,” “I Work in Mysterious Ways,” “I am a Jealous God and There are No Other gods Before Me.”
I amuse myself diagnosing God: insecure megalomaniac, misogynist, sociopath, Extreme Patriarchitis.
I long for the day when a non-gendered being of some sort will emerge to never want to rule the universe.
Only then will I be able to finally go to sleep.
As a belated tribute to all trans sisters, a poem from Anastasia Walker, appearing in S/tick Issue 2.4: OUTreach.
To 22 year old rapper Evon, suffocated with a plastic bag, choked with a chain, and beaten with wrenches and hammers in Milwaukee on New Year’s Day
To 20 year old Nicole in Brazil, shot to death after the boy she kissed and his companheiros discovered the secret that shouldn’t have to be secret
To 21 year old Dannie, kidnapped and decapitated by an armed gang in Monterrey
To the unnamed but not nameless 22 year old shot in Sarasota the same day
To Ale, 24 years old, in Buenos Aires, killed somehow the day after
To Fernanda, 32, of Viamo, Brazil, shot by two men in a car
To Tiffany of Guyana, sex worker, teenager, throat slit
To Nathalia, 32, stabbed in Quezon City, and her death mocked in the papers
To Cecilia, age not given, shot six times in Fortaleza
To Natalya, treinta, shot twice in Maracaibo, tierra del sol amada
And Jeckson and ?, killed in the same city,
And = =, killed by a car up the coast in Caracas, all on the 19th
To Agata, just a teen, stabbed to death in Camapua the day after my 49th birthday
To Romildo of Recife, stoned to death after 35 years of life
To Alejandra, 28, neglected to death in a Colombian hospital after a fight
To 30 year old Indian Vinod, shot
To 36 year old Karen of Zimatlán de Álvarez, found stabbed and half naked
To 27 year old La Tita of Ciudad Sandino, la Nueva Vida, stabbed in her home by her date
To 18 year old Vitória of Boa Vista, stabbed to death by her boyfriend:
It’s not the sanctioned bigotry, spanning hemispheres and centuries, which these crime scene snaps flesh out
Nor the thought of so much vibrancy so thoughtlessly snuffed out
Nor even the ferocity of your murders – call them atrocities –
That sits like nine hundred pounds of lead and ice in my heart, but the fear
That as the motherfuckers came at you
Punch-drunk and snarling for blood
You might for a second have felt
I deserve this.
This poem draws on the list of murder victims compiled annually for the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) observed across the U.S. and Canada, and in cities around the globe, in mid-November.
Well, folks, you probably haven’t heard from us in a while. So here is an absolute treat to make it up to you. The elegant yet uproarious audio stylings of one Christina Guldi are here to make your Throwback Thursday. The audio is split into 2 parts. You can also read an excerpt below, or the full text in Issue 1.1, the very first issue of S/tick!
What to Do with My Legs by Christina Guldi, Part 1:
What to Do with My Legs by Christina Guldi, Part 2:
Can’t I just be still and enjoy this for what it is? Live in the moment like a Zen Buddhist. Why is he doing this? It doesn’t seem as if he knows he wants this. Did he forget where he is? He seems anxious. He did say he was a Buddhist earlier at the bar, right? Was that around last call? So I’m SURE he’s living in the moment. Isn’t this supposed to make me feel appreciated? Feminine? Empowered? Why do I feel like I supposed to be rooting him on with bullhorns and sparklers somehow? I’m not really into feeling like having orgasm anyway right now. I feel like I’m supposed to have one though. Because if I don’t I am somehow failing him . . . in his own expectations for himself. Is there something wrong with me that this isn’t really making me feel sexy? Am I too uptight for not being able to just indulge? Why am I wishing he was kissing my shoulders or my back or the back of my knee instead? Why don’t they ever kiss the back of my knees? How would he know if I didn’t tell him? But how would they know if they never try? Ohh, why don’t they ever kiss my knees? Why am I expecting golden swirls of equality and adoration to be emanating from the skins of our bodies as they mesh together?
New short fiction by Fallon Chiasson
“Look, a rosette sp—”
“A flamingo!” Ava said as their Carolina Skiff rounded the bend in the canal.
“No, sweetheart,” her mother, Jill, said. “Grandma was trying to tell you that it’s a roseate spoonbill. They are like flamingos. It’s pink because of the shrimp it eats.”
“Oh,” Ava said, looking up from her bird watching app, “I just looked up pink birds and that’s what it said. How do you spell what you said?”
Jill looked over to see what she knew would be disappointment on her mother’s face. But then Jill thought about how much data she would get charged for this weekend. Then wondered what in the world the location services on Ava’s iPad would be thinking. Then she chuckled and laced her arm around the two women: Ava on her right and Ada on her left. The women she was between were related by blood, yes, but that was only what united them. But that didn’t matter, not right now, at least. Not to Jill. She chuckled at her existential thoughts and returned to the moment in front of her: her mother, Ada—which Jill had only heard pronounced as A-da, with a hard, Cajun A and making the flowing, disyllabic name into jagged one—had taken she and Ava out to the secret fishing spot. Jill couldn’t get them back to the camp even if she tried.
It was Jill’s weekend with Ava. Two weekends ago, the two of them had stayed inside of Jill’s three-bedroom condo in New Orleans catching up on The Bachelorette and ordering takeout from the restaurants specializing in modern Cajun fare—vegan boudin, cornmeal gnocchi, oyster toast—that lined her street. They even had snowballs delivered by Waitr.
It was that time of year in South Louisiana that the only mildly comfortable place to be outside was on the water. Not by the water on the Riverwalk or in Jean Lafitte Park, but actually on top of the body of water that had been like a second home to Jill ages ago. Last weekend, the maternal guilt had set in. She wasn’t making the memories with Ava that she had grown up with; rather, she was inoculating Ava into the right-now culture Jill herself had grown so accustomed to—no waiting for the fish to fry, much less waiting for the fish to bite in the first place. After the Bachelorette weekend, Jill called her aging mother, who still lived in Jill’s childhood home down the bayou, to ask if they could take out the boat to go fishing, like old times.
“Does Ava know her iPad can’t get wet?” Ada had responded. Ada pronounced Ava’s name—a homage to Jill’s mother—with the same inflection that her name was pronounced: A-va. Jill cringed every time.
“Maybe,” Jill kept her voice calm. She knew her mother didn’t approve of Ava’s inert lifestyle. “But Saturdays are tech-free when Ava is with me—trying to detox her from when she’s with her dad—so the iPad wouldn’t come on the boat.”
Ada was silent. It was better than her usual comment: “throw her outside, lock the door, and don’t let her come inside until dark. Get her to make some friends in the neighborhood.” Jill never corrected her mother that the majority of her neighbors were middle aged lawyers, bankers, and doctors. Or that she never let Ava be alone outside.
“Oh Mom, don’t you remember when we’d go out on the boat and live off the land? Shrimp and crab and redfish? Then boil and fry and eat outside? I want Ava to have memories of our heritage. Like I do.”
Jill heard Ada put the phone down. Ada still had a house phone and the cord didn’t reach her stove, where a pot of red beans—soaked, boiled, simmered; not from a can like assimilated Cajuns do, like Jill does—was due for a stir.
“Fine.” Ada said. “Pick me up at 4:30 Saturday mornin’. We can have the boat in the water by 5:30, fish until it gets hot, and be home for lunch.”
“But momma, can’t we spend the night? Do some fishing off the dock in the evening? Make drip coffee in the morning?”
“We couldn’t plug in the iPad and run the window units on the generator at the same time,” Ada said.
“But Saturdays are tech—”
“C’est bon” Ada said as she sampled her red beans from the wooden spoon. “You want me to freeze some for y’all to have later?”
“No ma’am,” Jill said. She wouldn’t dare tell her mother that Ava didn’t eat onions, even the soft, clear minced onions in red beans. “We’ll see you Saturday.”
Willing it into existence, Jill set a reminder on her iPhone to pack an overnight bag for she and Ava anyway.
Jill wasn’t so great at waking up while it was still dark outside, even if she set three or seven alarms. By the time she managed to get up, feed the hamster, tried to wake Ava up, successfully woke Ava up, tried to get Ava to eat a bowl of Chobani but picked up chicken minis for both of them instead, and drove down the bayou to her mother’s house, it was 6:15 a.m. Her mother was sitting on her porch. Jill was certain Ada had been sitting on her porch since 5 a.m.
“Where have you been? I tried calling your house.” She sounded mad, not disappointed. Her mother probably expected this.
Jill didn’t respond. She never answered her home phone anymore.
“We’re gonna smother if we go fishin right now,” Ada said. “I put the crab traps in the boat and we can go set them then check them when we go fishing late this afternoon.”
The smallest of smiles appeared on Jill’s face.
“C’mon,” Ada said to the two younger women. “Get in my truck.”
When Jill got in the truck, she noticed a bag with a change of clothes for her mother, and a toothbrush.
No one remembers how long the fishing camp has been standing. It was built by some great uncle or grandparent and the generations to follow had renovated it as needed—new wood for the dock, cleaning out the cistern, mending the roof after a storm. There were no electric poles—or neighbors—in sight, and the family hoped to keep it that way.
The camp had different rules than at home—a little more roughhousing was acceptable, staying up a little later was allowed, and the only baths that could be taken were with a bar of Ivory soap in the canal. But really, there was no roughhousing or staying up late: Jill and her brother’s days had been filled with fishing, crabbing, oystering, and swimming. When Jill got to high school, though, she stopped going to the fishing camp so much. When she got to college, she quit going altogether.
But her memories of the fishing camp were etched in her mind like a setting in a snow globe. Stronger than the visual memories, though, was the feelings that came when Jill thought about the fishing camp: her heart had always been so full. They didn’t have much back then, but there was so much quality time, so much love. What she thinks, when her maternal guilt kicks in, is that that was the cost of giving Ava iPads, trips to Disney World, and an Uptown private school education.
As soon as they arrived at the fishing camp, Ada opened the unlocked door, threw her bag of clothes on the ground, and turned on the generator. She threw a few beers and some sandwiches in the mini fridge. Jill came in behind her with her and Ava’s Vera Bradly duffels. She turned to look for Ava, but she was still in the boat.
“I’m scared to get out. Is that dock safe? Will I fall through? I see bugs.” She was repeating this mantra until someone heard her.
“C’mon, honey, come inside! We can snack until Grandma is ready to set the traps!”
But her mother was already heading back to the boat, a Miller Lite in hand. “Ready!” she said with more enthusiasm than Jill was accustomed to.
Jill placed the bags and ice chest on the ground, grabbed she and Ava each an Arizona tea, and headed to the boat.
Jill’s favorite part about going fishing was getting there. After they got out of the canal and into open water, Ada sped up the boat, taking it out of the wakeless idle and into nearly full gear. The small mud boat reared, and Jill saw Ava tense. Jill thought to reach out to Ava—all she would have to do is lean over—but stopped herself. She stayed standing beside her mother, but not too close.
The ride was Jill’s favorite part of the trip because of the solitude of the passengers, yet the togetherness. She was with her mother and daughter, mere feet and inches away, but they couldn’t speak to one another even if they tried. It was too loud. They were together physically, but far apart.
This distance closeness, Jill thought, is a paradox. The two women she stood between: the old, the young, inhabiting the same planet, worlds apart. She thought about how Ava will leave South Louisiana in a few years. She’ll go to some liberal arts college in the Northeast and sign petitions and join protests to support healthcare for all, no-questions-asked abortions, and weed. All these things that she, and many others, will need in the now. But Ada, in the town she grew up in and never left except for appointments in the city, will stand on the dock of her fishing camp in the Mississippi delta, charting how the land seems to dissipate by with each changing season while the oil rigs pop up like springtime flowers. She’ll think of those rigs, raping the earth, while praying that someone will put a stop to it. Because all she’ll be able to do is pray.
With so much time left, Ava will care about now; with so little time left, Ada will think of the future—the children she will never meet, and the lost land they will never see. And Jill, Jill will not know what to do, really, either—like how none of us really knows what to do—other than be the bridge that unites the two of them, and try to lessen the distance.
In an unjust world, there’s a fine line between anger and madness. S/tick Magazine invites you to channel rage into righteous art and writing for its next issue, “Angry/Mad.” Tired of the grotesque facades of rich men in power? White politicians cavorting in blackface? Sexual predators who insist their violations were consensual? Rhetoric on reconciliation without genuine action? People who look at wildfires, rising water, disastrous storms, melting ice caps and deny there’s anything amiss? Submit, but do not be submissive!
Deadline: March 31, 2020
This Throwback Thursday brought to you by Freesia McKee
S/tick, Issue 1.4
this guy brought a poem
to our workshop
about being a man.
at the table
after the workshop,
one guy told me
to write a poem
that included the word
he knows i write
poems about women.
what else is there
do you get asked
what it feels like
to be a symbol
because to me,
you have become
i know how included i can feel
if i quote you.
is that my chair
to their table–
that is a poem
that will never be
This excerpt by Katherine Davis will appear in S/tick’s upcoming Issue 4.3!
Against other women, I was made to stand naked as an
Anatomical model, while doctors lectured bunches of aspiring
Residents, all generalizations based on the study of the patriarchal.
Told repeatedly my feelings were impossible, I burrowed under
My skin, bathed in oxygenated blood, vital energy, constructed
An interior palace until I was old and learned and far away