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ModPo South 

For those who can't make it to the mecca that is Kelly Writers House, we gather once per month, in a traveling show sort of migration around South Florida to enjoy the companionship, the intellectual stimulation and the pure exhaustion of the mental challenge of a live close read!

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THE GIFT

The closest I came to true magic were the fireflies. I loved Tinkerbell so deeply, that I wished she could hear me, wherever she lived, and come visit.  As I walked through the swarms of the blinking lights that visited each summer evening, I hoped that the wink of their light meant the possibility that Tinker had heard me and was soon to grant my desire. Fireflies are without question, fairies and fairies are filled with magic.

The new suburbs, Northeast Philly, filled with the ubiquitous manicured lawns, parents in aluminum chairs and washed steps. The sons and daughters of immigrants finally reaping their share of the American dream. A magic land for some, for me it lacked the enchantment promised in Neverland.

If I loved fairy fireflies so much, I can’t imagine what cruelty, jealousy, led me to capture as many of them as I could; imprison them in a jar as if they were mine to keep alone. Perhaps it was the disappointment that no matter how bright, they weren’t Tinkerbell.

I took no notice of the cruelty of capture. No notice of the crime of taking these soaring beings and bottling them. Guided by a strange need, I tore the light from their bodies and filled small jars with the glowing globes.  Their bright bellies were soft and fragile. The torn insects smelled like the earth; musky and strong.  I wanted to steal their magic, make it mine. Use it to fly away.

On a night when the fireflies were thick in the air, while I searched among the flickering lights for Tinkerbell, my true love, my mother and father sat, talking with my aunt and uncle on the small concrete patio in front of our house. It was an unusually peaceful night. No fighting about money. Nothing but the warm summer with its velvet air and talk about an anniversary dinner set for the weekend. I watched them for a while, listening to the soft buzz of their voices.  My father looked over to where I stood, saw me staring at him. His face changed to the one that still burned behind my eyes; the look I would never forget.

Earlier that evening he had handed her a wrapped package. We were at the dinner table, my mother, my sister and I. She took the gift and tore it open, revealing a cheap cotton nightgown, not fancy, certainly not sexy. Plain. For what seemed a very long time, she held the package, staring at the sad gift. I watched his face change, sag and like a turtle, he pulled his head back into his shoulders.   Anne looked up at him with a sadness that went deeper than the disappointment of the nightgown.

A gift is a gift to a ten year old. Perhaps it wasn’t what you wanted when you dreamed about birthdays, but it wasn’t nothing.

Then she began to cry.

“Herman,” she began. “we’ve been married for what, eleven years? And this is what you think of me?”

Her tears became sobs. Then she threw the box at him, the nightgown still in it, hitting him in the face. He sat there as the box slid to the floor. She pushed away from the table and ran out of the kitchen.  My sister, not understanding but acutely aware of my mother’s hurt, also started to cry. She ran after my mother out the door, escaping the dread.

I moved closer to my father. He stayed seated in his chair, still, silent. I looked at his eyes and saw what no child wants to see. I had no name for it then. Now, having lived much longer and know the feeling, what I saw was infinite sadness and utter defeat. It was the moment he quit living.

 

I felt nothing for my mother’s grief. The sound of the box hitting him repeated over and over in my head. I couldn’t stop watching my father, waiting for him to get mad. To yell at my mother and tell her that she had no right to refuse his gift. To tell her how much he loved her and that this nightgown was the best nightgown ever made. That when you wore this nightgown it glowed in the dark because it was woven with threads made from a million fireflies. That it was woven from fairy dust and love.

He sat silently for many minutes, I next to him, waiting. Finally he turned and focused all his grief upon me. No tears, no sound, no anger. Nothing. Overwhelming me with his lack of life. I sank deep into my seat until I could take no more. I jumped off my chair and left him alone.

When I was a little older, not old enough to stop catching fireflies, I would fill the jar with light, hold it for a few minutes watch the blinking, then slowly unscrew the lid. At first reluctantly, no longer trusting the sky, they would huddle in a group, not one insect leaving, not one flying off. Their short imprisonment made them fear freedom. Then one remembered, rose out of its capture and flew off. Others would follow, but, at the last, I had to tip over the bottle and shake most of them out onto the lawn. They would crawl about, their lights faded or fading, before the truth of freedom or some instinct of it, caused them to rise up into the hot, heavy summer air and be on with firefly business. Imprison them to give them the gift of freedom. Many, however, just sat there, died there, ruined by my touch.

Tinkerbelle never showed up. I stopped believing in fairies. 

 

Allen Plone lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Carol & his dog Rufus. He draws inspiration from both. Professionally, a screenwriter, he's published several short stories, including the award-winning THE COWBOY OF MY HEART. His love for writing comes directly from his love of reading, something he's done every day of his life since 5 years old. 

PUBLIC SERVICE

  

The TV studio was chilly.  Cold air blew from overhead ventilators.  Newman shivered as he stood on the X taped to the floor.  His mark. 

“It’ll get warmer under the lights.  We have to shut off the air when we record because the fans make too much noise.”  The metallic voice coming from the speaker sounded bored and patronizing. No doubt a seasoned veteran trying to impress an intern with his practiced air of professional disdain.  Steven Spielberg forced to direct a Kotex commercial.  Newman cleared his throat, waiting.  He raised his hand to brush his hair.

“Don’t touch your hair!” the speaker boomed.  “She did a great job.  It looks good.  And don’t touch your face or you will smear your makeup.”

Newman nodded, “Sorry, I forgot.”  He twisted his neck back and forth.  Already his shoulders were knotting up.   He gazed at the taped marks that led to a red line in front of the camera.  He had practiced his lines and pacing, measuring his words and steps to hit his last sentence on the red line.

A decade ago — a lifetime ago it seemed — he loved appearing on television.  Being interviewed about a case, appearing on a local talk show, doing a promo for his law firm, taping the commercials for his Senate bid that never aired.

Never aired.  That final night of his old life played in his mind in an endless loop.  Leaving the fundraiser, his breast pocket bristling with a fan of multi-colored checks, drinks at the lobby bar, a drink with a former Congressman across the street, then celebratory shots and shooters at a strip club.  Getting into his car, pulling onto the highway heading to the freeway, hitting the gas to make the onramp, and slamming into that tan Fiesta.  Then, shaken and numbed,  leaning against his crumpled fender with a broken nose watching cops and paramedics circle two lifeless bodies on the street.

“OK, ready?”  The voice on the loudspeaker had the flat, bored tone of a subway announcer.

Newman nodded, “Yes.”

 

The hum of the air conditioner stopped.  The abrupt silence was unsettling.  The lights intensified, making Newman feel like a man in a line-up.

“OK.  Let’s go for a voice level.  As we rehearsed. . .”

“One . . . Two . . . Three. . . My name is Robert Newman.  Today is Thursday.  The Packers are playing the Vikings Sunday. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon . . . That good enough?”

 

“One moment.  Go again!”

“One . . . Two . . . Three. . . My name is Robert Newman.  Today is . . .”

 

All right! All right!,” the metallic voice barked.  “Enough!  Enough!  Now like we rehearsed. Walk toward the camera.  Watch your marks but don’t look down.  Remember, don’t look down.  Keep eye contact with the camera.  Pretend you talking to a group of people. All right?   All right!  Let’s go.  Think Before You Drink PSA One. Take One. Action!”

 

Newman walked toward the camera, carefully measuring his steps.  “My name is Robert Newman, and I was a drunk driver.  I was involved in a car accident that took the lives of two college girls. . .”

 

“Cut! . . . You’re looking at the floor again!  Look up and make sure you hit the line ‘the lives of two college girls’ a little harder.  Got it?  OK, for take two?”

 

Newman waved toward the booth and returned to his mark, taking a deep breath.

 

“OK, remember look straight ahead! . . . Ready?. . . . Think Before You Drink PSA One Take Two . . . Action!”

            

Newman walked toward the camera. “My name is Robert Newman, and I was a drunk driver.  I was involved in a car accident that took the lives two college girls.  I served eight years in prison, and now I’m on parole — asking you to think before you drink.”

 

“Cut. Good, that was good.  Just on the next one a little more pause after ‘you.’  Just a bit, like a comma.  OK. Let’s move on.”

Newman returned to his mark.

 

“OK.  Think Before You Drink PSA Two Take One.  Ready?  Action!”

Copyright  Better than Starbucks 2017, a poetry magazine    

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