Archive for November, 2011

Handlebar by Delaney Rebernik

Nov 25 2011 Published by under Stories

He had a handlebar mustache, but he took himself very seriously. It was in fact, perhaps, because of the mustache that he cut such a grave figure. Of average height and solid build with healthy orange coloring, his face was surprisingly gaunt, pale skin stretched taut over jutting cheekbones and skittering blue veins. On this hungry, brittle face, over the thin, cracked callous of a mouth, brushing the pulsing blue cheek hollows, spanned the most lush mustache, potentially, known to man. Two rich deep dark sloping points, arched dexterously to the nostrils, sweeping grandly back to the twitching mouth corners then up and out into ear-skimming, playful curls. Uniform color throughout, though he was nearing forty and his lineage predicted early-onset graying, and glossy as a magazine cover, the mustache hair was of quality only conjured in the daydreams of beauty school hopefuls.

Although he was not prone to appearance attentiveness, he recognized his extreme good fortune and exercised rigorous maintenance with regard to his extraordinary facial hair. Each morning, with solemnity to the very sleep crust in his eye, he balanced his tools on the sink ledge. With sterilized hands, he massaged in the volumizing shampoo followed by the corresponding conditioner, a delicate towel-pat, the remainder left to air dry as he slipped into his pin-stripped button down and pleated black slacks. Finally, the grand finale, a thumb and forefinger dipped and dainty into the wax, the deft tracing of the faintly-strawberry-smelling whiskers until they smoothed into those rich deep dark slopes at impossible angles.

The mustache was complete, and it was glorious.

He didn’t know who he was before the mustache. It wasn’t so much that he defined himself by the mustache. It was that the mustache was so much more than he would ever be. True, he was responsible for the survival of the mustache, but the mustache had, undeniably, a life of its own. A parasitic relationship. Once he began growing the mustache, his face shrank and drained to accommodate, to nourish, to act as not only a weathered canvas on which the mustache looked particularly stunning, but to act, in addition, a mobile, animated method of display.

Yet was it really parasitic?

He didn’t mind tending to the mustache, coaxing and gentle like a new mother, and he was just as reverent towards it as everyone else; it was impossible not to be.

Some women do not like, or claim not to like, mustaches– do not like the look or feel as they kiss their significant others and snag on, say, a well-waxed coil. But no woman could resist this mustache; thus, no woman could resist him, as it was– is– inappropriate to be infatuated with facial hair alone. He didn’t mind being second to the mustache; after all, he felt at least partially responsible for its profound success. As a result of the gracious recognition of his inferiority to the mustache, he met many agreeable women who often offered– insisted– on grooming the mustache for him.

So maybe it was symbiotic. He didn’t need tan fleshy face skin so long as he had the mustache, had all the ladies wrapping it around their little fingers. He was not a proud man, and, again, was not so offended to blanch in comparison to the mustache. He reasoned most people would. He took what the mustache provided and provided for it in return, like a crippled old man with only his pet dog keeping him alive. But he was barely alive. Quite literally; the mustache was sucking the very life from his body. It was plumper longer curvier, more bodacious than ever, and his neck was whitening fast.

He was left in an interesting predicament. He was an observant man, and as he stood at the mirror, clamping his chin in one hand, prying at his withering neck with the other, he pondered his ultimatum. “Either the mustache goes, or I go,” he said, to himself, in a marked Texan drawl, real.

Either way, he was going. But which death was preferable?

His innate human drive for survival of course urged him to kill the stache. But his learned, maybe, human drive for pleasure urged him to, in essence, kill himself. But the mustache was a quintessential part of his self, if not an entity greater than himself. Possibly the latter, probably. There he stood, with a razor, electric, in one hand, the other empty and not meaty orange for long, considering the value of life, what constitutes life, the point at which–if at all– primitive instinct overrides reason, morality, stooped over his perpetually dribbling sink with the rusting valves. Heavy, heavy Tuesday night.

Delaney Rebernik is an English major at Northeastern University.

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Sonata to Broadway Baby by Stephanie Johnson

Nov 18 2011 Published by under Stories

Her father’s trumpet sat in its case for several years. A glittering icon of her youth, the silver and pearl keys less important in memory than the sound. What sound: the brassy, rumbling roll of arrogance and self-importance was scared, the pinnacle of religion. The warming up—that incandescent A—still was like prayer.

Last week, she heard the noise fluttering down the street, brass notes flapping wildly, a crow in downtown Manhattan. It was that same A, that growing caw of resonance. Mid-chop, she threw her head out the kitchen window, the smell of the café escaping with her. Her eyes scanned madly for the father of her childhood, but found only taxis, a thick yellow line like a highway on a map. There was no jazz man.

That night, she called her dad. They hadn’t talked for months, a relationship befuddled with grief for their mother-wife and one-way phone tag. When he answered, she knew he was preparing for emergency.

“No,” she sighed. “Just checking in.” After a long pause, “I heard a trumpet playing on the street today and thought of you.”

“Oh.” He was quiet. He never knew what to do with her bursts of affection; prom photos punctuated the living room piano at home, struck with a Bible distance between father and daughter. “I started playing again.”

“Not at the corner of Broadway and fifth, by chance?” She tried, but his laughter was delayed, the space filled by the broken hum of a couple arguing downstairs.

“No. At church.”

“Oh? What do you play?”

“Well, I played taps for the 9/11 service recently.”

“Ah! Cool. Good for you, Dad.”

“Thanks.” Then, “I enjoy it.”

It’s quiet again. The phone crackles. Her apartment heater clicks in its metallic belly; the dishwasher fills. Outside, New York City buzzes and spirals like a ballad. She remembers how she propelled from the kitchen window, foie gras simmering voraciously behind her, how she had searched for the instrument that stole her father’s joy.

“I’d like to hear that,” she found herself muttering absently, raking a hand through pick-up-sticks hair. In sepia-shadowed memory, she remembered him saying once that her mother had been the one in charge of lullabies.

“I could…” he muttered, and he disappeared into the shuffling and fluttering of papers; noises she could only assume was sheet music kissing the stained, lilac carpet of his study, converted from her room after she’d moved to NYU and stayed through Christmas her freshman year. “Could play for you on speakerphone.”

“Okay.” She scarcely breathed.

Her father, she could imagine, struggled with the antiquated landline, glowing green buttons remembered from teenage years of whispered telephone calls to boys at two AM. It wasn’t much later that she heard the cushioned keys clicking and raising scales, and then, finally, that beautiful A. She put her own phone, a streamlined mess of touch screens and sleek logos, on speaker and let the warm, baptizing sound lap at her feet, flood the apartment and leak, drip, flow over the window sill, the New York skyline, stringing together the high rise buildings.

Stephanie Renae Johnson is a recent graduate of Flagler College and now works as a production artist at Xulon Press. Previously, Stephanie worked as an editor assistant for Jason Cook at Ampersand Books. Stephanie’s work has been published by poeticdiversity, danse macabre, writing raw, opiumpoetry, Orlando Sentinel Online, and The Flagler Review.

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