October, 2020 Issue
Welcome to the thirteenth issue of Penultimate Peanut Magazine. Get your tall boots and your cozy sweater ready to take a stroll and welcome in fall with LaCavo's poem "Autumn Blues". Take a look into a Williamsburg bookstore with David VanDevelder's "An Immovable Feast". But before you go, make sure to check in with Mark Hammerschick's poem "Rise On Up" where we press forward to turn grief into a hope for the future.
Table of Contents
Poetry by Elisabetta LaCavo
Flash Fiction by Katherine Stromin
Poetry by Gabrielle Peterson
Flash Fiction by Jessica Evans
Poetry by Kristen Jackson
Fiction by David VanDevelder
Our Corpses Sitting Together in the Rain
Poetry by Raisa Lees
Fiction by Michael Lund
Poetry by Mark Hammerschick
By Elisabetta LaCavo
It was yellow this morning
the color of lukewarm tea
damp like my mood
the day after the color orange
If only someone had told me
you could meet a new foe in each
passerby, and then let go an instant later
like a dog, or a cat, or even a duck, they
seem to have more wisdom today
The sprinkled leaves outside hid the
path we made just yesterday when
I had a clear direction, but now
even the deer are plotting, and I have lost
my way, unable to see beyond these woods
Why mourn those things I didn’t get?
The bottom of my cup is staring at me
asking to be covered back up.
LaCava is a double immigrant from Italy and Venezuela who became a Texan twenty-five years ago. She is a new poet and finds herself writing about all sorts of things including international community, relationships, spirituality, and food. Her work has been seen in the 2021 Texas Poetry Calendar and the Spring 2020 issue of the Rio Review.
By Katherine Stromin
Every morning I woke up to watch the birds. Every morning I saw the birds–tall, taller than me, and proud, with slender legs and soft feathers on their heads–stab their beaks into the soil. The birds were not feeding. They were hunting. Hunting the worms. Every morning the birds, the beautiful birds, stabbed the soil to pick out the worms. They'd grab them, by their necks or backs or feet, pull them out and toss them in the air before catching them in their mouths and swallowing them whole.
Every morning, I imagined the worms. The worms I would spend lazy afternoons with; the worms I so casually picked up out of the mud and placed on the end of sticks to observe and study before gently setting them down to be with their friends again. The worms I watched dance around in puddles of water, on the brick patio, trying to save their lives after a heavy rain. I watched the worms fight for their lives again.
Every morning I stood in the grass, the wet dew chilling my feet, and watched the birds from a great distance. My grandmother’s garden was full of love and all living creatures who paid no attention to the birds.
Every morning I thought of the worms. The worms who arose earlier than I, to prepare to fight, fight, fight, again. The worms who had it hard. The worm soldiers would kiss their children first and then their wives before putting on their uniforms. They'd sit in silence, waiting for the birds. For the first beak to come crashing down on them. Every morning they'd watch their friends be sucked out of the ground and killed. Every morning they fought. They fought but their efforts were useless for the birds would only leave once they were full.
Every morning I watched the worms die and every morning I did nothing.
Stromin is a graduate of The New School University with an MA in psychology. She has one other publication in Conclave Magazine.
By Gabrielle Peterson
the girl next to me on the train squishes herself flat against the wall,
and gestures for me to move over so her friend can fit in between.
they’re only in middle school, i think,
but there is no way her friend will fit; she is large --
each thigh is the size of an adult male torso.
i shift out of obligation, but it is half-hearted, and she knows this.
i feel her weight and breath as she holds the bar above
and limply allows her body to fling around in the space overhead.
this infuriates me: her feet are on the subway floor --
it’s not like she’s hanging aimlessly from a tree branch.
she is doing this on purpose; she is angry, and
jabs her kneecap into my calf
(how is her knee so sharp?)
my legs stiffen, and we begin a game of corporal thumb wrestling.
her pink iphone matches her anorak jacket, and i think,
could you be any more of a cliché pre-teen girl?
hostile. covered in pink. announcing to the world that
you are you and alive.
suddenly, this is refreshing to me. sad. this is the last great chortle.
the unbridled announcement that comes before the defeat –
a golden overture that inevitably gives way to doom and complication.
she’ll soon be knocked down. by high school. by other girls. by boys.
by strangers who you knew never knew could carry pieces of you.
transatlantic, virtual, telepathic voo-doo doll:
whatever confidence you feel now will be crumbled and swallowed.
regurgitated. slapped onto a plate and served to you for dinner before
being taken away because you’re getting too fat. molded into a neat mound
and sliced into self-loathing. resistance. insecurity and thirst.
i feel her press into my knees, and i adore her. stay here.
stay warm. i’ll never look up at you as i write this.
i’ll never make eye contact. but stay close
as you swing your oversized puma bag and whack my forehead.
stay close as you conveniently forget to turn off the flashlight feature
on your cell phone and direct it towards my face. life will never be
as contained, as safe, as it is here. today.
Peterson is a Chicago-based writer who has work that has appeared or is forthcoming in The Huffington Post, The Literary Bohemian, Eunoia Review, Triggerfish Critical Review, Front Porch Review, Cider Press Review, Connotation Press, Sooth Swarm Journal, Digging through the Fat, Reality Break Press, and Gargoyle Magazine.
By Jessica Evans
The laughter is too full. Too alive, vibrant, living and not dead. A flock of women in nursery colored scrubs, bunched and clustered along the corridor. Marji needs something miniature, small recoveries for microscopic losses. A woman’s guffaw, ghost looped in her mind, the flash photography happiness of others who have lives that exist outside of tracking basal temperatures, consulting ovulation charts. The women have too much lightness, their levity on full display. Boisterous when they should be otherwise. A cackle from one followed by a snort. The joke must be hilarious, Marji thinks, concentrating to put one step in front of the next. She passes an exam room painted hibiscus pink. Too close to the color of blood. Let this be the last time, she prays.
Evans is a Cincinnati native establishing roots in the US after being abroad for several years. She is the flash fiction editor for Mineral Lit and serves as a mentor for Veteran's Writing Project. Work is forthcoming in Outlook Springs and elsewhere. A complete list of publications can be found on her website. Connect with her on Twitter
By Kristen Jackson
I woke up wanting
Something beautiful again.
Autumn is coming.
Jackson lives in the Piney Woods of east Texas with her husband, son, and three cats and teaches writing courses at the University of North Texas and UT-Tyler. She holds a MA in Literature from University of Texas at Tyler, and she's been writing poetry since age six; it's her first love!
By David VanDevelder
An Immovable Feast
Five men walked huddled together along the fringes of colonial Williamsburg toward the tavern the family had reserved for the reception dinner. All but one of them were relatives of the groom. They were already a half hour late, and they walked quickly and without much conversation. It was a particularly cold and blustery late-December afternoon, and the wind whipped the last of the autumn leaves down the alleyways and cobblestone lanes that framed the historic district where character actors in colonial costumes strode lamp-lit sidewalks speaking in vaguely English accents for bar money in the evenings. The five men walked quickly, their heads ducked behind coat collars raised against the wind.
“Wait a sec,” said the elder of the men. He’d stopped in front of the display window of a Borders Books store. “I’m just gonna duck in here for a sec. I wanna check something.”
Before anyone could object, he vanished into the store and then reappeared in the center of the picture window like the subject of a painting. Outside, the others stood close together along the window, watching the show: they watched him brush off a friendly store clerk; they could see his mouth form the words, “just looking;” then, another, older clerk appeared and led him to the shelf that contained some copies of his second book – an historical analysis of Native American treaty law.
“What the hell is he doing?”
“Should we go in?”
“Absolutely not. If we go in, we’ll never get him back out.”
“What’s he doing though? We’re late as it is.”
“It looks like he’s signing one of his books.”
“I think he’s actually inscribing it.”
“You’re kidding me . . .”
“Yeah, look . . yeah, that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
The men stood in the chilly twilight looking through the picture window into the warm bright shop where their elder relative, having finished writing in one book, was now in the process of writing in yet another, and then another . . .
“Third one. That’s the third one, man . . he’s inscribing every . . single . . one.”
“Look . . I bet that clerk is talking to the manager, too. See? See the way he keeps glancing over, sort of sideways?”
“Yeah, he looks really nervous. Look how he’s pacing.”
The clerk set down the phone and approached the elder relative again and said something to him, and the elder relative smiled as he replied. He reached into his back pocket for his wallet, and he pulled out his driver’s license for the clerk to inspect. The clerk inspected the photo and looked up at his face and nodded and smiled and said something and walked back to the phone, nodding repeatedly as he spoke into it. The elder relative continued to inscribe the books, signing each one after its inscription.
“He must be writing them a whole new preface.”
“Dear reader, how incredibly fortunate, how utterly, miraculously auspicious of you to have been addressed by me, the author, in person.”
“Whoever you are!”
“He’s offering them unsolicited advice about life.”
“He’s suggesting a good cafe in Paris to read it in.”
“A mean, well-blighted place!”
“You’re all wrong. He’s telling them about the long, solitary walk of the artist, and how he may have never even attempted the journey had he understood the price of the distance or the slope of the grade.”
“Wow, man . . .”
“We have a winner!”
“Y’all must be related.”
The men all laughed. Their breath made a little vaporous cloud that rose briefly above them and vanished on the wind.
“I think it must be his way of apologizing, you know? For not being Papa.”
The men laughed again, louder this time, and another little cloud of breath formed and vanished above them. All around them now, up and down the lanes all along the shopfronts, gas-lit street lamps flickered to life atop their black iron posts, and festive strings of yuletide lights awoke one by one as the last diminishing rays of sunset cast the world about them in a deep red-orange hue; and as Olde Williamsburg lit itself once more like a Yuletide wreath against the windy midwinter darkness, the men could smell the rich, saucy foods and the mulled wine being served in the warmth of the taverns nearby, and they could smell the wood smoke from the burn barrels at the foot of Duke of Glouchester Street, where colonial larpers gathered in earnest to muster their white-wigged militias.
David VanDevelder is a freelance writer and editor who lives and works in Richmond Virginia. He holds two degrees in English, and lists the study of Southern Literature and applied Semiotics among his chief academic interests. While he writes across forms and in a number of voices, his favorite topics – as a writer and in general – are those having to do with zones of cultural interface and axes of cultural self-contradiction.
Our Corpses Sitting Together in the Rain
By Raisa Lees
I dare you to pick apart this dark life,
like gears in a broken clock you have no intention of fixing.
What terribly curious children we were,
almost innocent in our wickedness,
almost, but god knows we will never make it back to his eternal heaven.
I hope you go, to some place better,
but the rain water has sunk too deep into my bones.
Some people are made out of the finest leather and gold,
civil people who will fit right into his version of paradise.
But some of us will never let go of the ropes we cling to,
limp rotting fruit was never meant to last forever.
I hope our souls are organic,
ripening in our youth like a freshly picked peach.
Enjoy these beautifully fragile things! Enjoy!
For in may, we will sink into the river with its muddy bottom,
and decay with the grace of the mighty trees.
When they throw away my body into the forest,
an empty corpse for the fungus to breed,
perhaps my bones will become a cryptid or a legend,
silently rotting away, to become one with all things.
Lees has been writing poetry for almost five years now, mostly on the side as a way to express her feelings and emotions. Three of her poems have been published by her local college’s literary magazine in the Fall 2018, Spring 2019, and Fall 2019 issues.
By Michael Lund
Mark had learned that giving out poppies (and taking donations) for the VFW during the Memorial Day weekend would almost always produce the unexpected. There would, of course, be the usual braggadocios guys who claimed they were Marines and had escaped death in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He knew that the very few who’d had such experiences didn't talk about them.
Because the Hampden-Roads areas was so much a military community, there were also civilians angry at the VA, at military pensions, at wasteful governmental bureaucracies. And there were the men—and a few women—who talked about the unfair circumstances that kept them from serving. But the young woman who almost ran over him with her Toyota Corolla confirmed his long-held, sad belief that there are two kinds of people: those who feel it’s all about them; and those who help.
Before he was in danger of being hit by this thoughtless driver, Mark had been admiring the senior citizen he characterized as “the cane-do lady.” He had no idea whether or not the older woman had a connection to the military, but she represented to him a model of the good citizen on this day recognizing service and sacrifice.
“Where do you think she’s going?” Mark asked his partner, gesturing toward the woman navigating her older car ever so slowly into a parking slot.
Diane, a recently retired Army veteran and new member of the VFW, was working with Mark on the Friday afternoon shift at the ABC store. That time and the place were always good for contributions to their local veterans assistance program. All classes and types had trouble going in at the end of the workweek to buy liquor without digging into purse or pocket for small bills or coins.
"Like the rest,” Diane answered with a snort and jerk of her head to her right. “She’s headed for the ABC store.” He concluded that she put the woman in the “all about me” category.
He’d noticed Diane was rolling two steel marbles with the fingers of her left hand. The repetitive motion was probably unconscious, a nervous habit that revealed some inner tension.
The object of Mark’s interest had finally settled her car into the space across the traffic lane that ran around the edge of the mall’s parking area. She was now slowly extracting herself from the vehicle. Through the open door a leg appeared. A hand holding onto the front doorjamb pulled a body sideways in the seat. A second leg was swung into view. A second hand reached around the back jam, pulling to get the body off the seat and push it upright. After a pause, a cane came out in the first hand and planted itself on the pavement.
“Wherever she’s going, it’s going to take a while,” admitted Mark. Looking to the right, he saw the handicapped spaces were all full. She must have seen that, too, and driven to where there were empty spots.
From their left a mother came toward them, guiding her two small children. When they reached the table, she instructed the boy and girl, “Go on.” Their closed little fists dropped some coins in their basket.
“Thank you,” smiled Mark.
The mother looked directly at him. “My dad’s brother died in Vietnam. I always remember him this weekend. Thank you for what you do.” Mark thought, it’s not all about you, lady.
When the three had gone, not to the ABC store, but to the Food Lion in the other direction, Diane confessed, “Have to admit, it brightens the day, doesn’t it?” For a moment her fingers had stopped their restless tumbling of the marbles.
“I think she might, too,” said Mark, nodding his head at his small old lady. With her four-pronged cane, she was inching across the parking lot.
Mark knew there was a take-out Chinese restaurant in the direction the lady with a cane was heading; and he bet that some cars parked in front did not have handicapped stickers. For the short time they would be there to pick up an order, customers probably reasoned, it was okay for them to take a space.
He scanned the row of shops behind those cars to try to guess where other than The Flying Dragon his lady was headed. Her choices included a state lottery office (“a tax on stupid,” Mark always called it); a payday loan service (similar operation); and a discount clothing store (bargains, but inferior quality), each reflecting Americans’ current attitude: get what you can however you can while you can.
Diane adjusted the small flags sticking up in a coffee cup on their stand, straightened the row of brochures about the VFW and its programs, tightened the stack of applications for joining their dwindling membership. A post banner hung behind them, and they had a donation basket and apron pockets full of poppies.
“So, where were you deployed?“ Mark asked Diane.
“Transportation. I wanted to work on trucks; mostly I got to drive them.”
Mark noted that she didn’t say where she did this. He volunteered, “I was mostly on a hospital ship, safe but sometimes I missed being able to stand on stable ground.”
Diane chuckled. “Look at her,” pointing to the small woman. “It’s like her cane is walking her!”
Their distant friend would put the cane two feet in front of her; its pronged base would seem to take root; and then, as if she were being pulled, she came up beside it. The cane would advance again; and then she was drawn forward.
“Now, what’s her destination?” Mark surveyed again the row of shops in the direction she was heading. “Ah, it’s a . . . “ he was squinting to read a small sign beside a pair of double doors. “ . . . ‘SCH’?”
Diane said, “Oh, I read about that. Senior Care at Home. It’s new, an outpatient clinic and drug dispensary. Just opened up last month.”
“Better for your health than the ABC store, then.”
Diane asked, “You’re a doctor?”
“No,” he said, used to the question. “Nurse. I’d been a medic in the Army. Got out planning to go to medical school, but . . . things intervened. In the end, it was a lot cheaper to get the nursing degree with the Navy. They were desperate to get men in the corpsman program, and I was good at filling out reports.”
She laughed, “Well, we both went against expectations. Hey, she made it!”
The little old lady had patiently waited for cars to pass between her and the sidewalk before crossing the traffic lane and coming up to the SCH building. So, she might not be an unwary consumer.
“Good for her.” Because he thought the cane equally responsible for her reaching her destination, he confirmed his nickname for her, ‘the cane-do lady.’ “Of course,” he acknowledged to Diane, “she’s got to make it back again, right?”
“I think so. I wonder why she’s here, though?”
Mark saw a man and what looked like his teenage daughter get out of truck just past the cane-do lady’s car and come purposely toward them. Examining his billfold, the man shook his head. “Have to get you on the way out,” he apologized, a hand adjusting a large key ring that swung from his belt as he walked. Sometimes the wallet search was a ploy; other times someone did just need cash back or change from larger bills.
After they’d gone in, Diane nodded in the direction of the truck. It’s side panel read “Freeman and Sons, Locksmiths. Since 1976.” She noted, “That’s an established business, over 40 years. But I’d say that guy looked too young to be the original Freeman. I wonder if the daughter—assuming that’s his daughter—can be a third generation?”
“Could be: ‘Sons and Granddaughters.’ But tell me about that truck. Looks . . . um . . . distinctive.”
Diane chuckled. “I am, of course, a truck expert. It’s been beautifully restored: 1949 Willys panel delivery model.”
Mark liked the glossy black finish, the modest signage, the classic design. “Anything like what you drove . . . where was that?”
“Mine were bigger—fuel trucks.’
“Hmm. A major target for IEDs in some places.”
Diane didn’t answer, rolling her marbles. She pointed to the double doors of the health care facility. “Now, the journey back to the car,” she observed.
Mark could see a man in a blue medical outfit holding open one of the doors to let the lady pass through. “Looks like she’s got a bag—medicine, I guess, for a family member at home.” He concluded, perhaps unreasonably, that it was not about her or someone would be picking up for her.
The locksmith and his daughter exited the ABC store and paused while she shyly dropped a $20.00 bill in their basket. “Thanks for being here,” the father said. And they went on to their truck. Mark noted that he fingered his large key chain again.
“Well,” admitted Diane. “Another happy surprise.”
Mark tried to bring the talk back to where she’d served. “Many surprises where you drove trucks?”
She turned her head to the side, her face showing she knew he knew damn well there were surprises. “Fewer when I was in the service. Back then, we ran our own security. But when I went back as a civilian, they were hiring private firms: more money, less protection.”
Mark knew that a lot of veterans went back to the countries where they’d served, wanting to see some phases of an operation through to completion. More often they were military advisors, officers, who got out in the community and came to know individuals; but enlisted personnel could feel the call as well.
Some female veterans went back to both Afghanistan and Iraq, where the local women faced brutal cultural restrictions. Association with Americans, of course, often put those people at risk of retribution from insurgents and in regime change.
“I have to admire you for going back,” he offered.
Supply caravans in America’s recent wars, especially tankers, were major targets for guerilla soldiers. A rocket-propelled grenade igniting the gas could lay waste neighboring vehicles and buildings, civilians and soldiers.
Diane shrugged. “I’m here now, rooting for our friend.”
The cane-do lady had crossed the traffic lane and was making her way through the handicapped spaces. Her cane led the way again: advancing two feet out in front of her, planting itself firmly on its pronged base, then pulling its owner slowly up beside it.
“I feel like we should at least offer to help her,” Mark said.
Diane laughed, “She would tell you she’s fine. Didn’t you see her wave off the man at the door?”
“I guess I didn’t.”
“We all have canes, you know,” Diane mused. “Supports to keep going without having to call on others. Crutches, walkers, wheelchairs. And other less tangible things used by our predecessors and passed on to us.”
From their right, a sleek Toyota Corolla swept across the traffic lane to stop at a thirty degree angle against the curb in front of them. Both Mark and Diane stiffened: its trajectory had made them targets; its speed was excessive.
Leaving the motor running, the driver, a well-dressed woman in her 30s, swung open the door and hopped out onto the curb. Her look didn’t acknowledge the VFW table and the two veterans directly in front of her vehicle. She yanked open the door to the ABC.
“She’s left her car in the wrong lane, “ said Mark. “And parked as if any place was for her.”
Diane continued, “That’s certainly not a parking place."
“The motor’s running, and the car’s aimed right at us.”
“I do so appreciate safe driving.”
In the parking lot past the idling Corolla, a FedEx truck pulled into an extra wide parking space. Mark could see two orange dice swinging from the rear view mirror. The driver jumped out carrying two boxes. He moved quickly but looked before crossing the traffic lane. He strode in front of their table and on to a beauty shop between them and the Food Lion.
The young woman came out of the ABC store with two bottles in long brown paper bags, each holding more than a pint. She opened the back passenger door, laid her packages flat on the seat, slipped smoothly behind the wheel, and, without checking any mirror, turned across the oncoming lane and drove off a bit more speedily than might have been safe.
The FedEx driver emerged from the beauty shop on Mark and Diane’s left, recording the delivery on his electronic record keeper as he walked. Passing Mark and Diane’s table, he said, “I hate it when they do that!” and dropped a bill in their basket.
After a pause Diane said, “Shit. So do I.”
Mark made a mental note “Not marbles; ball bearings.”
Lund, a native of Rolla, Missouri, lives and writes in Virginia. He is author of At Home and Away, a Route 66 novel series that chronicles an American family during times of peace and war from 1915 to 2015 and has published a number of short stories related to military experience.
Rise On Up
By Mark Hammerschick
I’m looking at George Floyd
on the cover
of The New Yorker
and he seems sad
into lands lost on the Delta
where cotton in the seam
covers the dreams of those
lost in dreams deferred
where hope is not allowed
and tears can see
the pure brilliance of invisible men
in the humid chill of mourning
down in the callous hollow
where the women come and go
chatting about their hydrangeas
where did the summer go
and how does it measure
a life lived in the cross hairs
of subliminal annihilation
step out of the vehicle
license and registration please
arms up like Ezekiel holding the wheel
holding up against all hope
against the wall
that divides us all
and in that holding
a life is defined
a life is lived large
go down Moses
go down to the river
where the waters of redemption flow
and in that flow
we hug the lost raisins
so they don’t explode
and we know
that the flow
is rising on up
Mark writes poetry and fiction. He holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and a BS and MBA. He is a lifelong resident of the Chicago area and currently lives on the north shore, most of his professional career has been focused on digital strategy and online consulting as a solution architect and digital transformation strategist. His current work will be published in The Metaworker, Vext Magazine, Breadcrumbs Magazine, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Lucky Jefferson, The Fictional Café, Wingless Dreamer, HP 2020 Poetry Challenge, Trolley Magazine, Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine, The Write Launch, Scarlet Leaf Review, North Dakota Quarterly, The Showbear Family Circus, Carcinogenic Poetry, The Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Change Seven, Panoplyzine and Borrowed Solace.
This issue has been a difficult one for the editors of PPM. Not only have deadlines exploded into irreparable pieces, but outside forces have been conspiring to keep us down. And yet, we persevered. In trying times, it's our prerogative to seek out creative words from some amazing writers and poets that we know others will benefit from reading. A huge thank you to all our writers and poets who have patiently waited for this issue, and for trusting us with your work. Also, thanks to all our readers near and far. We wish you all well and we hope that you are doing your best to stay safe and stay healthy.
The Editors of Penultimate Peanut Magazine