A Winter Story “The Silver Sixpence” by Victoria Leigh Bennett

photo from pixabay.com (_Alicja_)

The Silver Sixpence

A Wit: “Why is it when people blow their noses, they always take a good look into the handkerchief? What are they expecting to find there, a silver sixpence?”

          It was winter again; I had a snotty-nosed cold that came and went and kept me from fully enjoying my time out-of-doors with my brother, called “wee Bob” by my Uncle Joe, the bon vivant of the family, even among us children.  It was the chilliest winter I could remember in all my ten years, which might not have been long, but I was an outdoor girl.  Yet I had some hesitations about being in the freezing, bitterly discontented wind, the pelting, hard snow, especially the wetting sleet.  Wee Bob just stared gloomily out at the weather from the living room couch back, shoved up against the windowsill where it was, as he was only five and was not allowed to go out without me.  I was the big sister, the guardian angel, the one who beat the stuffings out of the boys down the road if they picked on him.  Not that he was not known to slap a snowball at one of them from behind one of the huge drifts we had this year–strangely early for the end of November and December’s advent—to whiz a miraculously accurate bullet of snow for a five-year-old at a foe, then duck down and grin up at me. At that point, I stood up and posed atop a white mound, daring our opponents to fire back.  And fire back they did, but only half-heartedly, just to “keep up the side” before going on about their own snowball or snow fort business.  But for now, it was off-again on-again for the two of us going outside, as the vagaries of my cold and my mother’s varying edicts about the weather and her own convenience with the household chores convinced her that it was good for us to be outside, or not.

          After a week of grousing from Bob and complaining from me, my mother decided that it was probably best to let us have our head, before we drove her round the bend and there were three of us out of sorts.  On the Saturday she decided to let us go around in the magnanimously fluffy and non-pelting (for a change!) snowflakes falling decorously and softly in their little swirling dances down the mounded white lawn, my Uncle Joe was sitting at the table beside her and my father, having his tea.

Now, my father and mother were having coffee; my mother claimed not even to know how to make a proper cup of tea, or how to buy it, temper the pot, manage the kettle, measure the leaves, any of it. But as Uncle Joe was her brother, and he appreciated the perfect cuppa, he just gleamed wisely from behind his out-of-date moustaches when she said these things, which caused my father to roll his eyes. One of those repeated little family dramas which get their replays with variations every few days or weeks as a form of togetherness.

Uncle Joe, in his general visceral communicativeness and sociability, had even caught my cold, and he was now whuffling and snuffling over the hot, steaming brew and trying not to sneeze.  We were shrugging into our clothes to go outside, and moved aside, a bit leery of the upcoming explosion, but not to much avail: when Uncle Joe sneezed, though it was into his handkerchief—a grand affair with his initials embroidered on one corner and made of some fine absorbent linen—the sneeze was an equally grand affair.  Though none of us had been covered with anything untidy or germy, we all felt that we had.

Unfazed, my Uncle Joe blew his nose into the cloth and then looked into it for a few seconds, giving it full attention.

“Oh, God, Joe, that’s gross!” my father laughed in protest.

“Besides, it’s rude and so—and—the children—Joe, do you want them to pick up coarse ways?”  My mother equally countered her brother’s frank interest in his own physiognomy and its products.

“Ah, but, it’s just a silver sixpence!” insisted Joe, upon being so attacked.

As a worldly-wise ten-year-old, I sneered.  “Oh, it is not, Uncle Joe.  You’re joking us!”

Still not up to all the rigs, wee Bob shouted, “Let me see, let me see!  I’ve never seen a silver sixpence.  Where did you get it, Uncle Joe?”

The question was, of course, whether wee Bob even knew what a silver sixpence was.  I had little idea myself, though “pence” suggested money, and “silver” meant treasure.

“And won’t you look at that, from 1942, back during the war, when so many coins in Great Britain were made of silver because it was cheaper than other metals in use!” Exclaimed Uncle Joe.

“Spare us your numismatics, Joe,” my father laughed again, “you’re teaching my children bad manners!”

“Ah, and if they’d learned to sneeze properly and clear their airways, then Margery there wouldn’t still have the tail-end of a cold with wee Bob looking like he wants to get it from her any day!”  Joe rejoined.

“I’m well, and we’re going outside.  See you later, Uncle Joe,” I responded, making signs to wee Bob to hurry up about it before any adults could change their minds about our going out.  And we deserted our favorite uncle for his adultlike near-betrayal of us.

Outside, it was just the most perfect day!  It was cold, true, and the wind was chafing our cheeks quite red by the time we’d been in the whiteness for five minutes.  But the fort from a few days ago was still standing in the backyard, proof that my power in the neighborhood hadn’t waned, due to my carefully dissembled illness, and our sleds were outside the basement just wanting to slip down the hill above the fort into our waiting “stop” zones there.  We watched for victims from behind the walls of our fort, made extra tall with the help of my father on one of his days off, and gloated over the pile of as-yet-unthrown snowballs buried in a hidden pit in the fort’s most inside space.

“Ah, here it is now!” spoke a loud, booming voice behind us, making us both jump, I falling into the snow on top of my sled and wee Bob shrieking loudly enough to alert our foes.  I shushed him and turned to Uncle Joe, who was now standing in the rear of our fort, holding aloft a bright silver coin in his fingers, turning it this way and that to catch the sun, which humored him as we had not, coming out from clouds previously clustered gray around the skies.

“A silver sixpence!  A silver sixpence!” shouted wee Bob, as if acquainted with the phenomenon all his life.  “Can I hold it?”

Even I, however, though proof against the fiction of its having come from Uncle Joe’s nose, was not dead set against a look at it, or even a feel of it.  Always telling myself, of course, that as it had in no wise come out of his nose, it wasn’t unclean to handle.

We inspected it, and Uncle Joe, departing, tolerated an obligatory couple of snowballs thrown at him as we watched him walk away.  Once again sneezing and blowing his nose vigorously, then turning to see us looking, he held up the handkerchief as if it contained further treasures.  Then, we entered into the day with earnest abandon, managing to harass and drive from the yard three or four fellow snowballers brave enough to venture into our territory.  By the time we were chilled through and ready for cocoa and muffins, we’d forgotten all about Uncle Joe and his cold and his handkerchief and my parents’ distaste for his joke.

“Yes, I need to talk to the cashier at the main window.  I don’t think you here at the client desk can help me.”

“But maybe I can, uncle, maybe I can.  What is it that you are needing?”

“Uncle.  No one has called me that who wasn’t really related to me for a long time.  Not since Vietnam and my travelling days, after that.  I’ll tell you, it gives me a turn.”

“Do let me apologize for it if it seems to you a discourtesy; it is a title of respect in my country. I have not been here long, and so am a bit raw around the edges, maybe.  How can I help you?”

“Oh, I didn’t mean it bothered me in a bad way; just brought back something of the past.  Well, the fact of the matter is that I’m in the way of playing a bit of a joke on my little niece and nephew.  And I need some particular silver sixpences from Great Britain, I guess they call it U.K. now.  But ones from about, well, from exactly 1942, as many, maybe, as would come in a roll of quarters, about forty.  Wait, excuse me a moment—a-haw-a-haw-a-haw! Huff—huff—huff—whachooo!”

“You must take care of that, uncle, sir, that is a dreadful cold you have!  It sounds like the flu, and a sore throat, and I hope not Covid all combined! Please forgive me for being frank. You shouldn’t be here trying to transact business with a condition like that.”  The kind voice paused.  “But in any case, unless you have much money for this joke, dear sir, it will be too expensive at a bank, especially.  I don’t even know if we could get it for you, in fact I rather think not.  Forty silver sixpences, costing probably around $22 each, no, too much.  Have you sought out any coin collectors?  Also likely to be pricey.”

The old man was nearly finished wiping his face.  His eyes were reddened and watery, and his face likewise rubicund and moist.  His forehead was pale, though, and looked sweaty.  But he faced the bank manager, determined though bleary-eyed.  “Look, my friend, I’m old.  I’m feeling on my last legs. I—”

“Don’t say that, uncle, you have only to take care of yourself!  Anyone who could consider spending so much money for a joke upon two children must surely be able to get good medical care. Do you want me to call someone for you?”

“NO! Let me talk, it’s hard enough through this…this…anyway, I need to find about forty, we’ll say, silver sixpences.  And the reason I want them from 1942 is because I want them real silver, but not as expensive as the most valuable ones.  You’re right that my resources aren’t limitless.  So, do you know of any coin collectors I could contact? Is the bank supplied with any, in touch with any?”

“Not that I am aware of, dear sir, and I think that—but you know, there is a street in the city, a town-within-a-town, I do recollect a junk dealer, not so much junk as old things, though he’s called a junk dealer.  His name, I believe, is Daniel Mattheas Willford.  My cousin once bought a dining set from his collection that seated twelve, an antique set, and was not cheated and was well content.  Just one moment, if you please, I will call my cousin at her place of business.  If she is able to answer the phone, I may be able to get the address and phone number for you.  Do you want a cell phone number or the store number?”

“Store number, please.  But likely, I’ll drop by.”

The manager went away and returned again after what seemed to the old man like only a minute, but a prolonged minute, a minute in which shadows came and went in the bank, in which he wished he could sit down across the aisle on the other side, except for not wanting the manager to think he had left precipitately.

“Here you are.  And please, dear uncle, think a little more of yourself and a little less of selfish children.  Children have the rest of their lives. You are old, and must take care of yourself.  Come again, when you are well.”

          “But it’s out of the question, Peter, he’s got some sort of lung infection or something, and is at death’s door!  Literally, at death’s door!  We can’t take the children into his home, however many doctors he has there with him!”

          “He only has the one and the attending nurse as far as I know.  But I mean, he made it his last wish to see them, and you know how he is, it’s probably for something between them and him, just as a way of saying goodbye.  And he is their favorite uncle.  And your own brother, after all.”

          Even though I was sitting in the dining room, I could hear them arguing in the kitchen; not that they were trying to keep it down, especially not my mother.  But my father lowered his voice and spoke calmly and soothingly, and as usually happened when he did that, he won his point.  As it turned out, we went to see Uncle Joe for the last time that very night, in the middle of a blinding snowstorm that my father had real difficulty seeing to drive through, the wipers going fast as fast, but still making nearly no headway against the white splats dotting the windshield and road before us.

          When we walked into Uncle Joe’s living room, the fire wasn’t lit as it usually had been when we visited during the winter, and it was cold and damp there.  My father looked towards the various decanters on the sideboard that Uncle Joe had usually regaled him with, but after staring for just a moment, both he and my mother went to whisper quiet words to the nurse, who true to the sort of old-fashioned form so typical of Uncle Joe’s life, wore a neat hospital-style uniform of starched white, with a small cap on her head and her hair neatly pinned up in a French bun behind.

          “Sit down and don’t mess with anything, Margery, Bob, and when it’s your turn to see Uncle Joe, we’ll come and get you.  He won’t be up to much talking, and he has lots of germs, because he’s sick and is getting ready, we think, to die.  Nothing like the colds you get, you don’t have to worry about dying, we’re here to take care of you.  But just don’t get too close around the bed, don’t crowd him, okay?”  We nodded and sat nervously, not even saying much to each other while they were out of the room.  Bob did get up once or twice and stroll aimlessly around just looking, but he was not breaking the rule not to touch, either.

          Finally, my father came back alone.  His eyes were sad, his black lashes a little wet, though I hesitated to conclude that he had been crying.  “He’s able to see you both now, kids.  Don’t expect him to talk too much, though you know how he is.  Smile at him, try not to cry.  Let him know you love him.”

          So right away, of course, as soon as we went in and had a seat side by side to one side of the bed and Uncle Joe was grinning his odd grin at us, wee Bob said, “We love you, Uncle Joe.  You know it, right?”  I was partly annoyed because he’d gotten in the word first, but also because it seemed so stupid and obvious and direct.

          “And me, too, Uncle Joe.  I love you, too,” was all it left me to say.

          Uncle Joe nodded rapidly at us, tried to speak, but started coughing and my mother shook her head at him and said, “Save your voice, Joe.”

          It was sort of awkward, there didn’t seem to be much to say, just thoughts about dying and not dying, and wondering how he felt, which would have been morbid somehow, under the circumstances.

          Suddenly, Uncle Joe himself broke the ice.  He was watching us, a little sad, wanting to say something, still smiling, though not full of jokes as usual.  But his face brightened and he gesticulated to the nurse.  She handed him a small bag of something, and he pulled a clean handkerchief out of his sheets below his chin.  Then, a wondrous thing: this sick man wrapped the something up in the handkerchief and tossed it to me.   It had weight and substance and with my best summer baseball glove hand, I caught it.  It was a drawstring bag with things inside, and though my mother darted to take it away, I palmed off the handkerchief it was wrapped in on her and huddled with my brother wee Bob over the bag itself.

          While we were pulling the bag open, we heard a croak.  We looked up.  It was Uncle Joe.  Sure enough, he was speaking to us.  It was faint, and cough-riddled, but we stopped what we were doing and listened.  “I had a lot of sneezes, kids.  I collected them for you; a lot of silver sixpences!  Twenty each.”

          I knew it was a trick, but it was winter magic, all the same.  Wee Bob, though, was taken in entirely.  He became very distressed: “But Uncle Joe, please, let’s put them back up your nose, please, let’s put them back!”

          “Why?” wheezed Uncle Joe.  “Why such a dirty ol’ place?”

          “So that you can get well and be with us again, and have your tea!”

          Uncle Joe laughed then, a horrendous sound in that narrow room.  “Here you go, Bobby, you get the last one, mine, just for that!”  And he flipped it over to Bob.

          And with that, he was gone, expiring in a coughing paroxysm as my father herded us from the room. 

Bio: Victoria Leigh Bennett, (she/her).  Greater Boston, MA area, born WV.  Ph.D., English/Theater.  Website: creative-shadows.com.  “Come for the shadows, stay for the read.”  In-Print: “Poems from the Northeast,” 2021.  OOP but on website for free: “Scenes de la Vie Americaine (en Paris),” [CNF in English], 2022.  From Fall 2021-Spring 2023, Victoria will have published at least 31 times with: @olympiapub, @Feversof, @HooghlyReview, @TheUnconcourier, @barzakhmag, @bullshitlitmag, @AmphoraMagazine, @press_roi, @thealienbuddha, @LovesDiscretion, @themadrigalpress, @winningwriters, @cultofclio.  She is the organizer behind the poets’ collective @PoetsonThursday on Twitter along with Dave Garbutt and Alex Guenther.  Twitter:  @vicklbennett & @PoetsonThursday.  Mastodon:  @vickileigh@mstdn.social & @vickileigh@writing.exchange.  Victoria is ocularly and emotionally disabled.

The Soldier: A Poem in Three Voices by Victoria Leigh Bennett

photo from pixabay

*Author Notes: I was told that it has one strong voice at the beginning, but frankly, as it’s a three-part conversation with each character being created by dialogue alone, I think all three characters are equally srong and marked, regardless of whose “side” you’re on, a question which shouldn’t even arise. The war on my mind right now is actually the war of Russia against Ukraine, but whereas I think the Ukrainian people imaginative and creative enough to appreciate the issues, I don’t have the skills necessary to make it particular to them, so I’ve just cast it in an imaginable American war background. 

The Soldier: A Poem in Three Voices

So, Dan, I found out what he does for us,
That kid I told you about.
--Oh, yeah?
Yeah. And you’d never guess.
--I’m not here to guess,
--I’m here for people to tell me things,
--That’s why I’m who I am.
--So, who is he?
Wait, I’ll let him tell you himself.
But get this:
He makes lists.
--Lists of what?
Whatever we need lists of.
He’s our chief list maker:
Need a list of weapons,
Call Foxy, and he’ll make a list.
Need a list of food orders,
Call Foxy, and as quick as you please,
He’ll make a list of food to get from Company.
Our whole war seems to be run on his back,
So seriously he takes his job.
--Foxy? Is that his name?
The one they all call him by, anyway.
Here, here he comes, I called for him.
Hey, Foxy, now here’s Dan, Major General Dan Wilteritz,
You can tell him anything you would tell me.
**Oh, no sir! Not at all, sir! I would never, sir!
**Against regulations, sir.
Now, Foxy.
First of all, what’s your real name, let’s go on that basis,
So you’ll know I’m not joshing with you.
What’s your name and rank, soldier?
Snap to attention, now!
**Corporal First Class Andy—Andrew Beddings, sir.
Okay, at ease.  Now Andrew, you see I’m calling you by your first name so you know,
I’m serious. Andrew, tell Dan here just how you knew
There was a security breach on campus of the compound last week.
**Are you sure, sir? I mean, you told me not to tell no one. Anyone.
Yes, as sure as I’m General Pete, Peter Brown, of Special Ops.
Tell Daniel here, my friend Dan, who needs to know,
And may even needs some lists made soon,
How you knew there was a security breach at 21:00 hours just there
At the place where you were supposed to go to make some lists the next day.
Go ahead, now, I’ll answer for it, you won’t get into any trouble.
Tell Dan.
**Well, sir, I dreamed it.
--You did what?
--You dreamed it?
--What, fell asleep on duty? Saw something that made you wake up fully? Heard a noise?
**No, sir, sir, Major General sir, I dreamed it.
**I dream like that, sometimes.
**I was just in my bed on campus.
**And I dreamed that I was in a room where when I got fully awake—
**But you see, I was only dreaming I was awake, sir—
--Yes, okay, so, Foxy—Andrew, is it?—you dreamed: when you got wide awake?
**Well, I noticed that there was the door open and only on the latch, sir.
**And sir, when I went to look at it, I knew I hadn’t, ner no one I knew had,
**left it on the latch. And then, I fell asleep again all the way in the dream, you see.
**And then, when I woke up from dreaming inside the dream, if you follow me sir,
**No, sorry, sir, I didn’t mean—to tell you what to do, sir—
--Quite all right, Andrew, so you dreamed it a second time the same night?
**Yes, sir, I dreamed a second time that when I woke up from a dream,
**the door was only on the latch, AND I KNEW that second time that I had locked it, too. So, when awake, I went to Abby Winslow, she’s the Informations Clerk,
**and I told her that there had been two security breaches on campus, 
**Something about gate not closed, and she laughed at me at first, sir, Major General, sir,
**but when my friend Klingston the night guard told her better check,
**just to be sure, she did, sir, and they found two locks just busted straight through,
**who knows how, by parties unknown. And then they found two enemy soldiers
**the next day, hiding out in one of the dugouts, just waiting with guns drawn.
**But the funny thing to Klingston, sir, I didn’t laugh, sir, but they had fallen asleep.
**So, it’s like I made touch with them in my dream, sir.
**If you’ll pardon me for having weird thoughts, sir.
--This is a war, soldier, Andrew, we all have a few weird thoughts.
--But yours have paid off. So, you dream a lot like this, do you?
**From time to time, sir, not regular, but from time to time.
--Well, you be sure and keep us informed, now, you hear?
--Tell General Peter here about anything. So he hears about it, right away.
**Yes sir, sir.
**And sir? Sirs?
Yes, Andrew, Foxy, what is it?
Don’t worry about a thing,
Just tell me when it happens, I’ll make sure you have a direct line in,
Like Dan here says. What more can I help you with
Before you go on with your important and assigned job of making lists for us?
**Well, sir, I have just heard where we can get us some apples, sir.
**Begging your pardon, sirs.
Do you mean, like the fruit? Apples?
**Yes, sirs. Well, I hate to mention it sirs,
**And I’m not complaining, sirs,
**But you know, a lot of the soldiers are getting—
**oh, sirs, I’m so sorry, but we don’t get fresh fruit regular—
Do you mean, they’re getting constipated, bound up?
**I’m so sorry, sir, for mentioning something so, so—
**but, yes, sir. And I know where we can get some apples,
**just as sure as anything. Or my name isn’t Andrew, sirs, and sirs, it is.
Okay, say we need a good supply of fresh apples, where would I find them, Foxy?
**Well, sir, now, you’d have to talk to Private Laverdi, sir,
**she’s the one who saw it.
--Ah, reconnaissance! Okay, that’s something material.
**Well, maybe you would think not, sir, but everyone who knows her relies on her.
Well? What is it that makes you hesitate, Corporal?
**Sir, she saw it in a vision when it was her turn to do the cooking.
--A vision? You mean, like—looking into the distance, and seeing a, a vision before your eyes?
**Yes, sir, as I understand it, sir. But I don’t see visions, sir.
No, we understand, Foxy, you dream dreams.
Okay, we’ll certainly look into it. But not a word of any of this to anyone else, okay?
**Okay, sir. I did already tell a couple people before I talked to you, sir,
**but I won’t no more. Anymore.
Grand! Well, you’ll be one of the first to get some apples, assuming—we find some.
**Thank you, sir. You can count on Private Laverdi, she won’t steer you wrong.
Fine, soldier. Okay, you go to chow and get something good for yourself,
Tell them my orders. Here, I’ll put it through on my phone to them. There, got it.
Not a word more about the dream, okay? And if you have more, just come on ‘round.
That’s all for now, soldier, you’ve done well. Ten-hut!
Okay, dismissed.
So, what do you think of that, Dan?
--Well, in the short run, I think you’re leaving yourself open
--to every hair-brained halfwit who has a nightmare.
Nope, I don’t know about Private Laverdi yet,
But so far as I’ve asked around, Foxy Beddings is the soul of discretion
When it comes to duty. Devoted, even.
--Well, we all know the police are widely believed to use psychics here and there.
--They don’t treat them too well, but certainly use them.
We can do better than that. I’ll look out after this one.
You know, what is it in the Bible,
That bit about, I may have it backwards, but
“Your young men shall dream dreams, and your old men shall see visions.”
--Now you’re really giving me the creeps, Peter.
--I’m going to need some apples.
Stop, now, don’t make me laugh, it was a valid concern, they do need healthy bowels, too.  Well, we’ll need a quick game of softball to get our heads 
out of this incident. Get in touch when you’ve got your team ready, I’ve got mine.
--Will do. I have to get back too now, things nearer the front. Stay well, my friend.
You too, Dan. You, too.

Bio: Victoria Leigh Bennett (she/her), greater Boston, MA area, born WV.  Ph.D., English & Theater.  Website: creative-shadows.com.  In-Print: “Poems from the Northeast,” 2021; OOP but on website: “Scenes de la Vie Americaine (en Paris)” [in English], 2022.  Between Aug. 2021-December 2022, Victoria will have published at least 28 times with: Fevers of the Mind Poetry & Art, Roi Faineant Literary Press, Barzakh Magazine, Amphora Magazine, The Unconventional Courier, The Alien Buddha Press, The Madrigal Press, Discretionary Love, Winning Writers, Cult of Clio.  She has been accepted with 4 works for Bullshit Literary Magazine, 4/21/23.  Victoria is the organizer of the poets’ collective @PoetsonThursday on Twitter with Dave Garbutt and Alex Guenther and participates in #PoetsonThursday from @vickileigh@mstdn.social & @vickileigh@writing.exchange, which is run by Dave and Alex.  Twitter: @vicklbennett.  Victoria is ocularly and emotionally disabled.

A Poetry Showcase from Victoria Leigh Bennett

From Pixabay

You’re Having Your Time of the Year, I Guess

(A Halloween Poem for an Ex) 10/6/2021

You valued me, you say, for my raven-winged remarks,
Which yet flew into the face of humor as funnier still;
And I, misunderstood to be a satirist all the time,
Instead of only now and again,
Spewed out toads and toadstools and all,
Just to keep you in a happy mood.

A bubbling witches’ brew of concocted relationships,
Of silly warts on a hedgehog’s nose,
I delved deep into the territories
Of the walking dead? No, but walking wounded,
Looking for your key,
That might fit the tune your soul was bound to screech in,
If only I could get it to sing.

Oh, you howled all right, and all night,
But never my secret name,
For how could you know what I had confided so openly,
When you were bound and determined
To find it hidden in the stump of a rotten tree,
Like a rotten tooth in a cankered mouth,
That it had to be something befouled and hidden?

You looked right through me, as if I had been a mirror,
And you casting a spell with your reflections,
Your recollections none of my business,
Not even if I were to save you from all this.
But why? You loved it, you’re a creature of darkness
By inclination, not out of an evil soul,
But from wanting so much to be
Thought fancy with fancy notions,
Carping about the cost of having naïve people around
Hurting everyone else by expecting the world to bubble rainbows.

You want me to hate things too, and I can’t do it,
So we come to the parting at the crossroads,
Where you make your deal with Ol’ Scratch,
And I, finally I, get to sit back and laugh
At one of the world’s biggest fools around.
No, my dear, the rain forest doesn’t make me happy
That there’s less of it every year,
And I don’t like it that there are refugee camps,
And I resent bad government and crowds of idiots
Who spread contagion because they’re too selfish
To be concerned.. But these aren’t the things that plague you,
You’re unhappy by trade.
I’m unhappy by conviction when I am,
And there’s the difference.
Have a happy Halloween!

The Intensest Fever of Sorrow Sings Golden to the Ocean

It is hard to decide if this day, this moment 
Is the beginning of sorrow 
Or only its latest turn, 
It seems so to have been harbored unspoken 
And hidden in the breast, 
Like a lump in the throat 
That comes on gradually into awareness, 
A fever that never really was real 
Until the moment when you elected 
To think, “Yes, I think I feel a cold coming on,” 
And then you are sick. 
And you take to your bed, 
And weather it through, 
And wonder if you had stayed up, 
And had not said “hello, old friend” 
To the pesky virus 
If it might not have left you alone this time. 

But sorrow comes, like a bell, like a ball,
Ringing in angry peals that roll
Down town streets with intensest toll,
Why so suddenly there, and loud and insistent
That previously was mute and lost, now golden and singing?
Deep in the archipelagos of your mind
Winding through the islands,
Taking its time,
Going on the bright stream of painful waters,
The current that hidden, winds and propels
Your deepest thoughts forward, toward
The piloting ocean where they can be seen,
Sensed, for what they are,
A poisoned trafficking
From the winding-through sands
Of round, dotted headlands
Where mercy has no hand.

A Modern Bean Sidhe (Banshee’s Call)

Wander now, friend, near my hearthside, 
That no hearthside truly is, 
Hurt it is, and song-repelling, 
Sad and lonely, botched and slow. 

Would it be, if there were fire there 
Better for us, warmer tuned? 
With the crackling, leaping flamings 
There for us to eye, be joy’d?

“Hearthside” is the word, acknowledged, 
Many have no such a thing, 
But we all can feel the comfort 
From the notion, any clime. 

Even in warm South Pacific, 
At the evening, fires are lit, 
And the people linger thereby, 
Eyes bright with the jumping lights.

So I say, as poet-host here,
I can offer only grief,
If you find a sorrow hearthsome,
I can give you that, at least.

Injured, upstaged by my pain, then
I can tell a sorry tale
That might make you feel more pensive,
And, though even so, be glad.

Glad we are, sometimes in grieving,
Meditations’ mournful stances
‘Round the selfsame burning brandings
Find their places, trouble’s reach.

I have no quirky, frightening tales,
No monsters, ghosts, or shadows here,
Except the mind’s own fateful chasms,
Where to fall is just expected.

Nor loves are here, nor lovers’ pinings.
All of that has been expunged quite
By the starker ice’s gleamings
That, resulting, follows next,
A sheer winter to fall’s frost.

For you know that once you’ve passed thus
All the soulful long suspirings,
All that’s left is the sheer essence
Of the suffering, fleshless bone.

So, wander close, faint traveller,
Neat and near come to my hearthside,
In the end of day’s cold gleaming,
Let me chill and sap your strength.

Limning a Line

I had not the right tools for my longing
No pen or fine lead would have completed me
The boundless was all around
What good would a stick oar have been?
And I can’t swim, I said
To myself, or no, really to no one.
But that wasn’t true for most waters,
Just this, this big thing,
This insurmountable swell of blue nothing-much
All around me.
How would I paint it, what thin-haired brush
Would have accommodated my need to draw it out?
For drawing a blue surge of longing
Would be drawing it out.
In waves drifting into more blue,
I floated now, a balloon lost in space or
A bark lost in translation
Dragged away in the undertow
For lack of a means of expression,
Equal to feeling the ocean
But not to escaping the rip tide.

*Author’s note: Limning a Line was inspired by a picture from Oormila Vijayakrishnan Pralad on social media.

Bio: Victoria Leigh Bennett, (she/her).  Greater Boston, MA area, born WV.  Ph.D., English & Theater.  Website: creative-shadows.com.  In-Print; “”Poems from the Northeast,” 2021, @olympiapub.  Out-of-Print but on website: “Scenes de la Vie Americaine (en Paris),” 2022, @thealienbuddha.  Between Aug. 2021-Sept. 2022, Victoria will have been published at least 23 times in:  Roi Faineant Literary Press, Fevers of the Mind Poetry & Art, Barzakh Magazine, The Alien Buddha Press, Amphora Magazine, The Madrigal Press, Discretionary Love, Winning Writers (requested for 2 newsletters), Cult of Clio.  Victoria writes Fiction/Flash/CNF/Poetry.  She is the organizer behind the poets’ collective @PoetsonThursday on Twitter along with Alex Guenther & Dave Garbutt.  Twitter: @vicklbennett.  Victoria is emotionally and ocularly disabled.

A Short Fiction/CNF Hybrid Story from Victoria Leigh Bennett

from pixababy

White Withers and White Fangs

          I was anxious to go out, to get away, to be off for good, but the woman behind the sign-in/sign-out window said, “Are you sure you want to sign yourself out?  You only committed yourself two days ago.  And it’s against doctor’s recommendations.”

          “I’m sure,” I said, wanting to present a united front with all of me, so as not to encourage my own second thoughts or more barriers from her.

          “Okay, then, sign here; here; and here.”  Her stubby but well-groomed nail hovered over three different spots on the form.  Ritual three, was my distracted thought.

          Without looking at the form, I signed my name three times, and turned to go.

          “If you should need to sign back in, be sure and let the person here at the window know that you signed in before.”  And she ducked her head to one side to watch me and make sure I got the message.

          But I was already nearly out the door.  “Whatever,” I answered, sullenly.  I’d tired of the jokes in the crisis unit about “hellfire” and “toasted buns” from the other clients who also hadn’t been diagnosed yet, when the lunch buns came burned the day before.  Likewise, I’d heard enough about the witchcraft they all seemed earnestly to believe in, and discussed constantly, if not knowledgeably by literary standards.  Not to say, I was freaked out.  I mean, just plain freaked out.  Why were a bunch of assorted people, who weren’t supposed to have known each other before signing in, all on the same page regarding sorcery?  All I could do to remove myself from it was to get back out again, since reporting it would only make me look crazy, too.  I’d spent enough alone time starting to wonder in my educated-but-becoming-unwound mind if lunacy did in fact have something to do with the moon and enchantment, and not the good kind of enchantment.

     What’d been my final straw was what had happened in the Sanskrit class, when the instructor, who’d started us on the Pancha Tantra, or animal tales, had sat by me in the small living-room-furnished classroom and deliberately growled at me.  He was supposed to be reading out a sentence, but as he sounded out one of the Sanskrit “r’s,” he distinctly growled, the intimate love-growl of predator to prey, and smiled oddly without looking at me, as I looked up at him—a tall man—and felt the thrill of being sought and the panic of being attacked all at once.

          It was a spell cast, and when I exited the room that day, I was still hearing it, still feeling it, still under its influence, even to the evening when I left the crisis unit.  That night when I finally made my way into my apartment, where for some reason before going to the crisis unit I hadn’t picked up groceries for about a week, but felt some kind of hunger, I heard the growl in the refrigerator’s smooth hum, in the heat coming up from the radiators, in the in-between-channels radio clock’s static.  In a desperate state, I reasoned that whether it was real or not, there was a solution:  I grabbed a bottle of garlic powder and began to sprinkle liberal amounts of it everywhere I heard the growl.  Though the radio now released choked sounds rather than full growls, the refrigerator and the heating system were unaffected.

          I made myself pull open the door of the refrigerator finally; there was only a bowl of cranberry jelly left over from Canadian Thanksgiving, which had been on October 10th.  Good!  I thought when I saw the redness lurking right on a center shelf.  Its heart!  Reaching into the growling monster, I pulled its heart out and consumed the whole bowl, standing up in front of it, with the prongs of a fork spearing the red corpuscles up.  Now, I’d eaten the werewolf’s heart.  We’d have no more of that growling!

          But the radiators…what about them?  The refrigerator had magically ceased its steady hunt when the door was opened, so I left it open, its heart gone now, and faced the garlic-covered radiators.  After a few panicked moments, during which I was fearful of losing the advantage of the gains I’d already made with the clock radio and the refrigerator, those avatars of evil that had before been so innocent, it was clear that the radiators were far more ancient in evil still and weren’t going to quiet down.  They not only growled, they laughed evilly in wheezy gasps, and their breath was dry and forbidding, in spite of the hiss and spit of the floor gauge.  The only thing to do was to get out of there until the apartment was cleansed, until maybe the garlic I’d spread around had had more time to work in the absence of the curse I’d brought along in with me.  It was following me, so I had to take it out and be rid of it so that my apartment could be cleansed.  Leaving the door ajar for the spirit to be gone when I got back, I went back out the door, carefully taking my keys with me so that the front door of the building would still be accessible to me later.  If there was a later; I shivered.

          As I walked swiftly in the moonlight through street after street, trying to shake my panic, I knew that I was like a white mare, my footsteps making a hollow sound on the cobblestone then concrete then cobblestone sidewalks as I clopped along, fast then slow then fast again in my urge to get away from what pursued me.  I thought about a notion of Jung’s with the part of my mind that was still consciously human and not animal, logical and not instinctive:  Jung had said that to dream of a white horse was a sign of approaching death…but I wasn’t dreaming, I was awake, and I was the nightmare I was having, myself.  And I was being hunted.  Too late I thought of the safety of the building I’d left.  But it was too late, I was outside in the chilled October air now, breathing in the cold.  I thought of him again, and of what he would do when he caught me.

He would jump up on my white haunches and tear at them, he would snatch at my hooves to bring me down, he would slobber and foam over my wounds as he drove sharp fangs into my being!

          In my haste to be away from what was pursuing me, I dashed through street after street, intersection after intersection, most of them seemingly deserted and yet still lit brightly, as if by torches and firelight and flames.  I passed away from the streets I knew, but in the part of me that was still fleetingly human, I had the tiny thought that Toronto was a geometrically laid-out city in the downtown part, and I might be able to find my way back, if I could escape.

Just as I crossed the next intersection, I happened to look up the hill.  Last night’s gibbous moon was now full, bright, and shining, making deep shadows down even between the streetlights’ shadows of the tall buildings.  And in the next parallel intersection up the hill, there he was, crossing as I crossed, in his human incarnation!  He was crossing parallel to me, obviously stalking, the jacket he always wore clear in the light—but it was a darker blue, now, more nightlike.  I had no doubt that it was he.

I slowed, shaking my head, feeling my mane against my withers, which danced with apprehension.  He turned left at the intersection, down my way, coming down the street towards where I was crossing.

In final desperation, I turned and headed towards him, right at him, as he turned the corner and made towards me.  But when I reached where he should have been, he wasn’t visible.  He was incorporeal, somehow!  My heart whinnied, and I screamed, and the beast was upon me, and in my being, I shivered and whinnied again—my withers shuddered and stiffened without my volition, my mane stood on end where it hung from my head, and I was deathly alive, and attacked.  I couldn’t see him, but I could smell him, the aftershave, then the sudden smell of his animal self, his shaggy pelt, his teeth stained with rich, fresh blood.  I turned my head towards him, my own teeth flashing and trying to fight back, suddenly becoming sharp and pointed in my mind.  And then, I growled in return.  I reared back on my back legs and aimed at him, and fought, and flashed my fangs again.  A shiver travelled through me.  Was he?  Was I?  Could I be?  I was untrammeled and free now!  And I was like him, and unafraid.

Bio: Victoria Leigh Bennett, (she/her).  Greater Boston, MA area, born WV.  Ph.D., English & Theater. In-print books: “Poems from the Northeast,” “Scenes de la Vie Americaine (en Paris)” [in English], both from Amazon.  Website: creative-shadows.com. “Come for the shadows, stay for the read.”  Between Aug. 2021-Sept. 2022, Victoria will have published at least 22 times with: Roi Faineant Literary Press, The Alien Buddha Press, Barzakh Magazine, Amphora Magazine, The Madrigal Press, and others.  She writes Fiction/Flash/CNF/Poetry.  Victoria is the organizer behind @PoetsonThursday on Twitter, along with Alex Guenther (@guentheralex) and Dave Garbutt (@DavGar51).  Twitter: @vicklbennett.  Victoria is emotionally and ocularly disabled.