Fiction: Imagination is Forever
1. Special Instructions For My Burial- Jerry Fagerberg
2. Free Jazz: with Call and Response Solos by The Kiss, Those Lifted above the Trails, and Killing One House Finch with Two Ancient Stones in the Vapor Cave- James Rose
3. They Called Me Nigger- Charles Clark
Special Instructions For My Burial
“he soon switches from poetically addressing his fear of death’s darkness to formulating a list of materialistic objects that he somehow believes will be of use to him after his death.”– Hayley Battaglia, Fiction Ed.
My Dearest Son –
In the last days of my life, I’ve noticed a certain mercurial, unappetizing quality of death. I am not afraid of my own death – that is a certainty – but it is the absence of light that frightens me. Tolstoy described the sensation of death as “being thrust endlessly into a black sack,” and I cannot imagine a more intolerable end. My one prevalent fear is that, as my final thought rolls over and blinks out like a meteorite plunging into the ocean, I will be thrust into the sack – that I will suffocate on the stifling vacuum of a reality where there is no light. I leave you this: my last will and testament, as a set of guidelines to protect me from the endless black sack – a way to keep the light from blinking away. Let this document speak for me, to and beyond the grave, eternally as my final wish.
Bury me in secular ground because the only God I’ve ever known sits above the fireplace in my living room where I spent my afternoons worshiping. That is to say – my seventy-two inch Samsung high definition, picture-in-picture, satellite ready, wide-screen deity. She’s the only thing that’s been loyal to me; my boxy, glossy mistress. Please bury Her with me, with my palm wrapped lovingly around my universal remote, but leave the wall mounts as a reminder of the beauty that once was. Allow me to bask in the glory of that crisper-than-real-life plasma until I can’t tell the difference between afterlife and afterglow, until I’ve memorized all the words to that Sham Wow infomercial and I can recite it with the same cock-eyed fluidity of the spokesman. As a matter of fact, bury me with a Sham Wow, just in case. You never know when you’ll need one of those things.
In the event that my satellite service provider cannot broadcast all eight hundred and fifty five channels to my little box six feet below the ground, make sure to include my Blu-Ray player and Xbox 360. Beyond the terror of the black sack, beyond the alien reality of an existence without the virtue of light, death seems so fucking boring.
Make sure my casket is equipped with digital surround sound and an iPod hook-up because there’s no way I’m spending eternity stuck in the one-dimensional mendacity of standard audio or settling for the shallow repetition of terrestrial radio. While you’re at it, get me one of those Tempur-Pedic things – you know, those foam mattresses that astronauts use. They’re supposed to be really good for your back so it should help to cradle my decomposition with little discomfort. Also, I can rest peacefully knowing that, if there’s an earthquake, the vibration of the shifting plates will be absorbed before it reaches me. I will be the wine glass; poised and undisturbed. Egyptian Satin would make a soft and impressive lining – preferably red but you can decide which makes me look best.
The tailor has prepared a grey pin-striped Gucci suit for me to be buried in. I paid the mortician an extra fifty bucks to suck some fat outta me before the wake so it should fit just fine. This way, the worms will know to keep away. It should be evident, even in death, that I am not a man to be fucked with.
I have no regrets and feel as though I’ve lived a full life – I’ve seen every episode of Boy Meets World at least twice, I beat Halo 3 on legendary mode, and there are over 8,000 songs on my iPod but I can’t bear to leave even one remix behind. Please, do not let me be thrust into the black sack – not without a copy of Animal House to keep me entertained.
Your loving father
Free Jazz: with Call and Response Solos by The Kiss, Those Lifted above the Trails, and Killing One House Finch with Two Ancient Stones in the Vapor Cave
“I like stories that pull you into a moment. It had a nice balance of dialogue, description, and narration.“- Hayley B, Fiction Ed.
“Improvisation means real time composing…
Improvisation means composing new ideas…”.
Tommie Fowler rode the Mountain Line Coach Bus through south west Colorado at four in the afternoon on his way to meet a friend for the week. Along the street there were children digging through the fresh snow banks, presumably on their way home from school. Winter break had just begun. Since there was no one behind him, he reclined the seat all the way back, pulled down the shade, lowered his cap over his eyes and selected the free jazz playlist from his i-pod. The structure-free pleasure of improvisation persuaded him that every beat of life didn’t need to be planned.
Fowler got out of his last class at noon and barely caught the two o’clock bus that stopped a half mile from campus. He was meeting Mark Hampton at a hotel four hours away for a week of skiing. They were friends from high school and went to colleges two hours apart. Hampton, a junior and one year older than Fowler, had his last class on Wednesday, two days prior, and had already spent one day on the slopes. In one way or another Fowler always looked up to Hampton, who in return, introduced him to his first beer, strip club, and stick shift automobile—what they would have referred to as the essentials of manhood, in increasing order of significance.
Fowler was summoned out of his bus nap when his cell phone rang.
“Hey are you planning on getting here before everything melts?” Mark said. Mark had just finished his last run of the day and was having his Après-ski at Last Dollar Saloon, not far from where notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank. It was one of his favorite bars because its rustic wood bar top was rustic from actual use—they also had a special on margaritas on Wednesdays.
“I should be in by six, as long as there isn’t an avalanche from all this melting snow.” Tommie looked at the weather application on his phone which read seven degrees. The bus had pulled to stop at the designated marker on the side of the road and Fowler lowered the phone from his ear to look at the group of girls who were piling their skis under the bus.
“Fowler… you there?”
“Yea sorry Mark, I must be having some bad service.”
“Like I was saying, the ride down lift four is all powder, but seven still is a little bare. You might want to get your edges sharpened up and a fresh wax on your way in tonight.”
The group of girls, that Tommie counted to be six in all, walked down the aisle. The first girl on the bus had her head turned over her shoulder and, through a fit of giggles, whispered to the second girl. When they got close enough that Tommie thought he could hear what they were saying, the girl turned her head and caught him mid stare. He immediately looked in the exact opposite direction like he was trying to balance things out by jumping on the other side of the seesaw.
“Fowler… Tommie Fowler….Tomas Andrew Fowler the Second.” Mark was still on the line.
“Yea skis waxed and sharpened got it.”
“So I guess the service isn’t that bad huh?”
“She’s just… from somewhere…” Fowler realized that the girls had only sat two rows behind him and their giggles reminded him that they could hear everything he said.
“What, who’s she?” Mark Asked
“Never mind, anyways, how’s the room? Do we have to share a bed?” Tommie used every muscle in his neck to make sure he didn’t turn around.
“Nah. Two twins, thank God. Your feet smell too much for that head-to-foot shit and there was no chance I was going wake up with you curled right up on me. There is also a pretty big outside hot tub and a couple of vending machines down the hall.”
“Alright well that all sounds good. So how was your semester?”
“Good good same old. I have this one professor who actually dressed up in Medieval garb for the last lecture of the semester. How about you? Have you been keeping up with anyone from home?”
“Yea,” Fowler said. “I actually talked to Nicky Miller the other day”
“How’s he doing?”
“Good. I haven’t seen him in a while, that ROTC has got him real busy, but he has a new girlfriend.” Fowler heard several new spurts of giggling from behind him but he was adamant about not looking back. “This new girl went to our elementary school.”
“Really? Who is she?” Mark asked.
“I forget her name but she actually used to live on the street between you and me. I creeped on her facebook and found out that she moved to a school only about an hour away. He must have gotten back in touch with her.”
“You don’t say.”
“Yea but that’s not even the kicker. This was the girl I kissed in kindergarten on the bus. Remember when her father called my father, who was not so happy? That girl was in love with me. I don’t know why she got me in trouble like that though. Dude what the hell are the chances? Nicky has no idea and I would never tell him. You know it will be pretty tough when he introduces her to us since she will probably have to be trying so hard to keep her hands off me and everything. I just wish I could remember her name. It on the tip of my tongue, Sarah…Sadie…Sandi…Stacy…”
“Stephanie, Stephanie Bennett.” The voice that said that did not come from Mark through the phone. It didn’t even come from a male or into Tommie’s right ear. Instead it came from beyond the speaker in his left ear bud, from the isle; the voice came from between two lightly glossed pink lips that were attached to a thin freckled face with long brown hair and a fit body.
“Mark, I’m going to have to call you right back,” Fowler whispered into the phone. He didn’t whisper because he was trying to keep his voice down, but because that was as loud as he could make it. Unfortunately, Tommie couldn’t hang up his other conversation.
“Hi Stephanie… I uh guess I haven’t seen you in a while.” If Tommie’s face had been red earlier from the cold weather outside it would have not compared to the shade of crimson it had turned inside the bus. He quickly brushed the crumbs off his lap from the pop-tart he was eating earlier and began fidgeting through his pockets. For an escape?
“Hi Tommie.” Her voice did not go through the vibrato that Tommie’s had but instead it was focused and direct, like she was talking right through him, the way they teach you to play a brass instrument, tight and focused, like you are trying to blow the wall in front of you over. She was facing him with her left arm hung over the row of seats in front of them and her right arm was held up by her hip.
“I thought you looked familiar, getting on the bus, if you knew it was me this whole time, why didn’t you say hi? I haven’t seen you in so long?” he asked.
“Well I wasn’t sure it was you until I heard your voice talking on the phone. I know, what has it been, 10 years?”
“Oh, right, you heard that. I was talking to Mark Hampton. Do remember him too?”
“Yes I did hear that. So I guess you actually have seen me lately.”
“Well I mean, I guess, technically, if facebook counts.” Tommie began to shrivel up into the seat. Like he was folding himself up to slip inside the crack wear the back of the seat met the bottom.
“It is O.K. I’m, not judging you, I guess we all look people up on the internet sometimes.” Stephanie’s eyes were locked on Tommie even though he refused to make any sort of eye contact. She was now leaning forward slightly more and was to the point that she was almost sitting in the seat next to him.
“Ha-ha, yea I guess,” Tommie said. “Have a seat?”
“Oh why thank-you.”
Tommie had seen girls acting like this before and if he would have be able to see it from another perspective he would have been able to realize what was going on, but at that moment he was only trying to put together coherent sentences. He didn’t have enough time.
“So are you saying that you were also stalking me?” I guess that one was his best attempt.
“No. I was just trying to make you feel better, but I guess you also know that Nicholas and I have been dating.” She slid slightly away from Tommie and for a moment he thought she was giving him some space, but it was only so she could turn and face him.
“Yep.” Tommie could hear the train wreck that was his heart, grinding completely off its rail. If only there was a track on his i-pod that did improvisational social skills instead of music, he could have made some sort of recovery.
“Well you know. At the time I thought I would never be able to find you so I had to move on,” she said and made sure to give her best pout-face.
“I’m sure.” That was witty he thought to himself. Half of him realized that this was all some sort of a game, but it wasn’t the half that controlled his speech, much less his coordination.
“Tommie, I never did forget that kiss on the bus.” She started to lean forward and gazed at Tommie through her batting lashes.
Tommie didn’t reply instead he rubbed his hands against his jeans, which were new, so he got his hands covered in dark blue denim stain. If only he had the opportunity to freeze-frame her gazing at him for a moment and sort through the recent series of events.
“Do you think you could do that one more time for me?” she asked and leaned forward a little more and touched Tommie on the shoulder.
“No. No. You are dating Nick.” He said this but his body had no apparent reaction. He was completely still and now staring at her, mouth slightly open. In shock?
“Ohh silly just one kiss won’t hurt anyone.” She leaned forward and pursed her lips. Tommie didn’t move at all, he couldn’t even if he wanted to. She leaned a little closer, and leveled her face with his. She then opened her eyes as wide as his were and gave him a big smile and then hit him in the forehead with the palm of her hand.
“That’s for talking shit on the phone! I hope you grow up in the next ten years.”
They Called Me Nigger
“The narrative of this piece has a nice, smooth flow. I like the way the protagonist’s race is left ambiguous until the middle. This ambiguity helps emphasize the issues regarding racial preconceptions and segregation.” – Hayley Battaglia, Fiction Ed.
I remember looking out the window of my mom’s car on the way to school at miles of trees and farm land. The South was so different from New York City. I wouldn’t find a crowded subway anywhere near here. After twenty minutes, we arrived at St. James Prep, a private all-male Catholic school. My mom always preferred private schools to public: better education and morals, she said. I left the car without saying goodbye, my mind too focused on the day before me.
The brick porch leading to the entrance was bare; we must have misjudged the starting time. Late for my first day of high school, what a way to start the school year, I thought. Entering the building, I searched my pockets for my class schedule. I walked through the empty halls until I found my homeroom, cracking open the door and poking my head in.
“Ah, you must be Mr. Williams,” the teacher motioned towards me. “Please, have a seat.”
As I took my seat in the front, the only seat left, I looked at my fellow classmates. There were only three other kids the same color as me. My middle school had been much more diverse. I wondered if this was how the population of the entire school broke down. I snapped out of my thoughts as the teacher introduced herself and told us that high school would be much harder than middle school. We were let out at the bell’s ring. I didn’t bother looking for my locker just yet since I had nothing to put in it. Besides, I felt stares from other students while walking in the hall. Was it that obvious that I was a city boy?
The same was true for my following three classes. In Algebra, there were two the same race as me; in U.S. History, there were four of us; in English, I was on my own. It wasn’t until lunch that I saw more than ten of us at a time. My people were all sitting together at a table in the corner. I was tempted to join them, but I refused to segregate myself. As I expected, the other tables were completely made up of the majority. I tried to put my anxiety aside as I walked over to a table in the middle of the cafeteria.
“Hi,” I said as I placed my tray down. “My name is Taylor.”
I was greeted warmly by a boy directly across from me. “Nigga, why don’t you just sit with da rest of da crackas in da corner? You know you want to.”
I froze upon hearing “the word.” I had never heard it much at my old school. Maybe once or twice while walking around the city but never in school. I couldn’t believe he had called me one. I thought that was something black people reserved for themselves. “You’re talking to me?” I asked.
“Yeah you, nigga. You see anyone else without pigment in their skin at dis table?”
“Then get ya ass to da table in da corner, then!”
I walked in shame to the table in the corner. I wasn’t aware that integration was a crime in the South. I took my place at the White table in silence.
“Don’t let him get to you. I hear it’s like this with every freshman class. They’ll warm up to us as the school year goes on,” a red-haired kid explained. “My name is Rufus, but you can just call me Ruff.”
“…Are you trying to make your name sound less white?”
“If you want to put it so bluntly, yes. I’m attempting not to get picked on for my name. Do you know how corny and white Rufus sounds?”
“I’m Lenny,” the kid next to me interjected. “You know, I heard that once we get to be seniors, we’ll gain enough respect from the black kids to actually start using the word ourselves.”
“You must have heard a lie,” I told him. “No self-respecting black person would let you call him the N-Word.”
“No, it’s true.” Ruff agreed. “My older brother graduated from here last year. He said it starts with us making fun of the black stereotypes anytime they joke about a white stereotype. Then we begin to call ourselves the word, first while no blacks are around so we can get use to hearing and saying it without cringing. Finally, our senior year, one of us has to be brave enough to try it out on one of them. Someone in the middle, no one too popular or unpopular. Once that’s done, we can come together as a whole class and use the word as a term of endearment.”
“Oh, so the kid at the table called me the word as a term of endearment?”
“No, he was disrespecting you,” Lenny clarified. “Blacks use it both ways. We can only use it in its positive sense.”
“Right, using it negatively like they do will only end in a fight,” added Ruff.
“God, I thought remembering math equations would be hard.”
“Well, it’s kinda like math,” Lenny said. “The things you learn one day will be implemented for the entirety of your stay here at St. James. “
“Oh, that reminds me,” Ruff leaned in close and stared right into my eyes. “Don’t use big words around some of them. They’ll think you’re trying to embarrass them.”
As Ruff and Lenny continued to explain the social rules of the school to me, I wondered how I would be able to deal with such a drastically new environment. I doubted I would be able to focus on lectures in class with racial tensions looming over me. Then a thought popped into my mind. It quickly formed into an action. I stood up suddenly and walked back to the original table. I could hear my new friends call after me. Warning me not to do whatever I had planned.
I sat down at the table and peered directly into the eyes of the kid who told me to leave the table prior. “What do you want now?”
“I want to be accepted for who I am, not the color of my skin.” I paused for dramatic effect, realizing how lame and cliché I must have sounded. Then I finished, “nigger.” They called me the word, so why couldn’t I call them the same? It took every fiber in my body to keep me from running out of the cafeteria.
I should have run, because just as the word left my mouth, the two kids sitting next to me grabbed my arms as the other lunged across the table. I don’t think I had ever been beaten so badly in my life. It was two minutes before anyone tried to break it up. The black teacher supervising the lunch wanted me to learn my lesson.
Apparently, I had stopped listening to Ruff and Lenny just as they were explaining the difference between the “–a” and “–er” forms of the word. It made a world of a difference, I realized now. Damn my proper grammar. As I laid in the nurse’s room waiting for my mother to come in, ice on my right eye, I doubted that even if I had used the “–a” version of the word I would have broke down the racial barrier in the school. I would have to approach the issue with more subtlety next time. Maybe I could joke how the black kids had made me black and blue, that I was one of them now. I think I’ll wait until this how mess blows over though. No need to add more injury to injury.