Amsterdam Scriptum Archives
Issue 1 - Launch Issue
AMSTERDAM SCRIPTUM ISSUE 1 NOVEMBER 2004
Welcome to Amsterdam Scriptum! I’m pleased to announce our launch issue. Please browse the archives of our earlier incarnation as Treehouse Scriptum for more reading pleasure.
This edition contains six selections from talented writers. This is flash fiction at its best. Although I didn’t consciously select a theme, each of these stories revolves around a relationship. Each story goes in a different direction. I trust you’ll enjoy the diversity.
Chris Woods: TWO ROOMS
Allen McGill: CHESS PIECES
Wayne Scheer: FAMILY LIFE
Michael Bracken: SISTER MUSTANG RAIN
Miriam N. Kotzin: NIAGARA
Bobbi Lurie: CURED
We appreciate reader feedback and hope that AmsterdamScriptum becomes a popular showcase for talent. Please browse the archives of our earlier incarnation as Treehouse Scriptum for more reading pleasure. The next issue will be online in January.JS
by Christopher Woods
When she needed a smoke, she’d go outside, rainy or not. His orders. Her loose blouse willy-nilly with the wind, her tired black slacks layered unevenly with cat hair. He’d watch her in the yellow glow of the slab porch light, breathing. Always breathing. No matter she was sad, no matter she was left alone.
Except for him, her only son. Now, in the white months, it was very close in the two rooms. If their paths back and forth across chocolate shag could be traced, he knew their world would be revealed as a web. Strand by sticky strand, he could feel life coming up and around him, closing in, crushing his windpipe.
He too was alone, wasn’t he? If only his ex-wife could see him now, she’d surely leave him all over again. The same two rooms had gotten smaller then, before, and it had gotten hard to breathe.
He didn’t know what to make of it. Maybe it was the rooms, both of them, commanding fate.
Maybe the rooms waited for the people to come, pair after pair, lost souls wandering the earth, coming home to roost. Then, once the people were settled in, the rooms made sure their world collapsed.
What else could make a man hate his mother so? He blamed their every quarrel on the rooms. When the final words were hurled, they both retreated to a room, like crossing a border into neutral land.
He’d sit in the dark, fists clenched at the sides of his head, trying to drown out the sound of her voice. She would be sitting, rocking back and forth, singing songs from the Fifties to shout down his from the Nineties.
Then, at some hour of the night he would get up and close the door between them. He’d leave her like that, sad, asleep in front of the silent television, its glare continually changing, the room brighter, then darker. Electric breath.
And he would lie in bed with his face to the wall and wish for other things, oh, he wasn’t sure what.
About the author: Christopher Woods lives in Texas. Two Rooms is included in his collection, Under a Riverbed Sky, from Panther Creek Press.
His play, Moonbirds, premiered last fall in NYC at Personal Space Theatrics and is scheduled for a production in Ghent, Belgium by KATTENKWAAD (kattenkwaad.com). Christopher Woods can be reached at email@example.com
by Allen McGill
My immediate family was never close, and with relatives spread all over the map like a game board I didn't have much of a family life. Until I became acquainted with a segment of my family that I never knew existed--because no one spoke about them.
Dad was one of seven children and Mom of four, but the rare contact we had with the siblings and their offspring came in the form of birth, wedding and death announcements.
When my father died at age forty-seven, he was the last of his accounted-for siblings except for one, an older brother named Harold who lived in Florida. I'd met him when I was an infant, so had no recollection of him at all.
My Uncle Harold died many years after my father, and I learned of his death only because I was the eldest of his known, living nephews. He'd never married and presumably had no offspring. A Florida official contacted me, asking if I'd like my uncle's personal effects. There wasn't much of value, he said, but thought I might be interested in an old family photo album.
Actually, I wasn't interested, but felt that to refuse Uncle Harold's belongings would seem callous. The album arrived a few days later. A glance inside confirmed my expectations: black and white photos, mainly from the 40's and 50's, of people I didn't recognize. I found the cars, clothes and hairdos interesting, though.
Until one picture caught my attention. It was from the late 40's, judging by the outfits, and was of a family gathering--strange in itself--at a wedding.
About 50 people stood on a lawn, all with facial expressions that could indicate post shock therapy--looking everywhere but at the happy couple. But the kicker came when I studied the couple--the bride was black! Not black-Irish, but black! Or, as the term was in those days, colored.
Under the photo, a label named the wedding guests. I checked to see who the groom was. It was Dowd, Dad's middle brother, about whom I knew virtually nothing. Whenever I’d asked about him, I received only cursory answers: "he was a queer duck," or "he was too damned sensitive," or "he's not really part of the family."
I'd assumed they meant that he was gay, but if this was his wedding picture...? The family was very much of the straight-laced, middle-class, meat-and-potatoes, graduate high school, get a job in a bank or an insurance company before you get married sort. Dull as flat beer. That they'd shun a gay family member was hardly a surprise.
But to marry outside your own race--that was as shocking as changing your religion! I'm surprised there hadn't been a lynching! Thinking back to when I was a kid, though, I remember whispers of "that so-called wedding," and "surprise invitation, indeed" and "out-of-town girl, my ass."
I whooped with laughter. The family must have gotten one hell of a shock when the groom introduced his new bride-to-be.
Fantastic! I had a relative with chutzpah! Or, at least had had. He was probably long dead, and there was no family left with whom to consult. Dad had once mentioned that Dowd moved to California, but didn't say where. Too bad. I would like to have learned what had become of the Black Sheep--pun intended.
The Internet! That was the answer. Genealogy sites, phone books, search engines--the possibilities were nearly endless. I studied the black-and-white wedding photo with renewed enthusiasm. Uncle Dowd, I thought, if you're still alive, you are going to meet a middle-aged family member you probably forgot existed.
It took time, even with the pros I'd hired, but I finally got a basic history, address and phone number for my long lost, but still living, Uncle Dowd. Trailblazer that he was, he'd opted for private business and owned a successful prop house in Hollywood. One that supplied virtually everything used on movie sets to the biggest film companies. He had retired, but his family still owned and ran the business.
I began to have doubts, but steeled myself to phone him. When he answered, I quickly blurted, "Are you originally from New Haven, Connecticut, whose father was Nathan and mother was Mary Finn?"
There was a long pause before he replied, "Who is this?"
I explained our relationship.
"Do you know why I cut ties with the rest of the family?" he asked with a deep, stern timbre.
"I'm pretty sure I do. I saw your wedding picture."
Another long pause, then, "Why are you calling me?"
"Because I'd like to meet the only man in the whole damned family that had the balls to break the traditional, boring family mold!"
Deep baritone laughter came through the phone, startling me with its volume. "Nephew," he said, finally, "you've got to get your butt on out here. I want to meet the only man in the family who has balls enough to approach me after all these years. You have lots of relatives to meet, son. We're going to add a little color to your life."
About the author: Originally from NYC, Allen lives, writes, acts and directs theatre in Mexico.
His published fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, photos, etc., have appeared in
print as well as on line: NY Times, The Writer, Newsday, Literary Potpourri,
Flashquake, Poetry Midwest, Poetic Voices, Herons Nest, Frogpond, Modern
Haiku, World Haiku Review, many others. He is haibun editor for Simply Haiku.
by Wayne Scheer
So the old ball and chain she says she can't take it no more and for the sake of her sanity she has to leave. I says, "What sanity?" and now she's madder than Bobby Knight behind by ten points. So I says, "Then leave. What do I care?" And the next thing I know she's throwing her things into a valise, like in some chick flick, and she's out the door pulling little Billy with one hand while the baby's hanging from the other.
"Don't let the door hit ya on your ass," I shout, and Billy starts crying and the baby's babbling, and I don't know what to do next. I mean, I can't call her back and say I'm sorry and all that crap because I don't even know what I done. Besides, she'll come back. I mean, where she gonna go?
So me, I go to the kitchen for a cold one, you know, to help me think. I pop the top and damn near finish half the can in one gulp. The foam drips down my mouth and down my shirt and I belch a long good one. "Good thing Betty don't see me now," I laugh, and I get some chips and sit down in front of the tube to watch the game. Hey, I think, this ain't so bad. Maybe we both need some time to recoup our sanity and stuff, you know what I mean?
Anyways, I finish the bag of chips and four beers and Bernie hits a three run homer to give the Yanks a lead in the sixth and I figure, it don't get much better than this, but then Mussina gets tired and Hammond comes in and blows the lead and now the whole thing starts falling apart. I mean the Red Sox score two to tie it and they got two more on and Karsay relieves Hammond and I can't watch. So I go take a leak, with the door open because Betty hates when I do that, but this way I can hear the game. And what do I hear? Karsay gives up a double to the first man and both runners come home, wouldn't ya know, and now the good guys are behind by two.
I look at the clock and I see it's been two hours since Betty left and I start to worry. You know, like where'd she go and is she safe and all? I know how she drives when she's mad. She don't always pay attention, and the kids can be a handful. I don't know how she does it sometimes. So I go to call Mary, you know, them being best friends and all I figure that's where she'd go. But then I think, that's what she expects. Her and Mary are probably having a good time laughing at me, taking bets on when I'll call. So I get mad and I says, "Dammit, let her call me. She's the one who left."
The Yankees musta got out of the inning because there's a commercial on. I start to pace up and back. I'm thinking, I'm not the easiest person to live with, you know. When things aren't going so good at the station I get a little nervous and I take it out on Betty and say some pretty rotten things. But she usually understands that I don't mean nothing by them and she lets me cool down. Then we all have a laugh and we take the kids to McDonald's. I mean it's normal for people to fight, ain't it? I'd be some kinda crazy person if I didn't let off steam now and then.
And then weird stuff happens. "Call, Betty. Please call," I hear myself say out loud and it scares the hell outta me when I hear my voice. The last time I started talking to myself like that was when Betty went to the hospital and had that thing removed from her breast that they thought was cancer. I mean I was as so scared I nearly wet myself but I had to act tough in front of Betty. "Ah, it's nothing." I told her, "Just a lump the size of a walnut, the doctor says. Hell, you still got more than I can hold," I said, trying to make her laugh. But I was scared. And when it turned out to be benign, me and Betty sent the kids to stay with Mary and we had one helluva good time.
My body starts shaking and I feel my right eye twitching like it does on Billy when he skins his knee or something and he knows I'm watching and he tries not to cry. Then the phone rings and I nearly trip over the damn kitchen chair trying to get to it. I hear Betty's voice and suddenly I feel like I'm going crazy. I start to blubber like a baby and she's blubbering too and I hear the baby in the background screaming like she just learned how to use her lungs. And then Billy comes on the phone and starts jabbering about a blue monster that likes rice pudding or something and I tell him to put his mom on the phone and we talk and make plans to meet at McDonald's.
And when I get off the phone, I see that Rivera has put the Sox down in Order in the ninth and the Yankees won and I feel like sanity's been restored to the whole freakin universe.
This story was originally published in LoveWords, Feb, 2002.
About the author: Wayne Scheer lives in Atlanta with his wife. Some of his stories can be found in Flashquake, Literary Potpourri, StoryOne, E2K and The Phone Book. In 2002, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
SISTER MUSTANG RAIN
by Michael Bracken
Two hundred and eighty-seven days without rain and a slow breeze from the west left the entire central Texas town under a thick layer of dust. Travis Wayne stood in his parents' driveway dressed only in a tattered pair of cut-off jeans and worn red flip-flops. With a chamois and a slow trickle of tepid water from the garden hose, he diligently worked to remove the worst of the dust from his 1968 Mustang coupe. In less than two weeks he would drive the maroon Mustang south to College Station, attending Texas A&M on a partial football scholarship.
His younger sister waddled onto the back porch, wringing a wet dishtowel. The bottom third of her dress had been soaked through and she'd tried to dry it with the towel. Her distended breasts rested on her swollen belly, and she stared at Travis Wayne through bloodshot eyes. "My water just broke."
Travis Wayne dropped the chamois and hurried to the porch to take her arm. Barely a year apart, they had done everything together. He'd taught her to walk and to talk, had removed her bicycle's training wheels without their parents' permission, and had taught her to drive his Mustang on deserted back roads. When he played Varsity football his Senior year, she had marched with the band at halftime. Now, he guided his sister to the car, nearly carrying her. He pulled open the passenger door, pushed aside the CD cases littering the front seat, and eased her into the Mustang.
A contraction assaulted Cathy's body. Through clenched teeth, she said, "Hurry."
Travis Wayne slammed the door, hurried around to the driver's side, and slipped behind the wheel. He fired up the 289, regretting the glaspacks that made the car rumble, and slipped the car into gear.
Less than two miles from home, at the crest of the town's only hill, he stopped at the hospital's emergency room entrance and helped his sister into a wheelchair provided by an orderly.
The hospital staff didn't allow Travis Wayne in the delivery room and he paced for two hours before his sister's obstetrician announced the birth. Their parents arrived later, having driven straight through from a family reunion in San Antonio. They cooed over the baby, and again demanded that Cathy reveal the father's name.
Travis Wayne stood beside his sister's bed when their parents walked to the nursery to see their granddaughter. He held his sister's hand and she looked up at him.
"I didn't tell them," she said. "I couldn't tell them."
Travis Wayne left the hospital a few minutes later. While he'd been inside, clouds had drifted over the town, the first clouds he had seen in months.
He drove home in silence and pulled his half-washed Mustang into the drive. A thin line of water snaked from the end of the garden hose, down the drive, and into the gutter, trickling nearly two blocks from the house until it disappeared down a storm drain. Travis Wayne turned the water off, then picked up his chamois and used it to clean his Mustang's passenger seat. When he finished, he returned the chamois and bucket to the garage.
Later, he sat on the front lawn, listening to the leaves rustling in the breeze and watching the storm gather over the town.
He and Cathy had been alone that night, the last time it had rained. Their parents had been away for the weekend, visiting relatives in Odessa, and a storm had swept through the county, flooding streets, overturning mobile homes, and blacking out parts of the town. The National Weather Service had issued tornado watches and warnings for the surrounding counties. In the dark, after the lights had flickered out for the last time, Travis Wayne had held his sister in his powerful arms, feeling the warmth of her body as her breasts pressed against him. In the dark, in the quiet, they had shared a lesson neither had sought to learn.
Travis Wayne lay back on the dry grass, the razor-sharp blades slicing at his exposed skin. Two hundred and eighty-seven days of drought ended as the sky broke water and the first fat drops of rain struck his forehead.
Michael Bracken is the author of ten books, including ALL WHITE GIRLS, and nearly 900 shorter works. http://www.CrimeFictionWriter.com
Author: ALL WHITE GIRLS; DEADLY CAMPAIGN; TEQUILA SUNRISE
Editor: FEDORA; FEDORA II; HARDBROILED; SMALL CRIMES
by Miriam N. Kotzin
It would be Goldilocks weather all weekend, and Dan suggested driving on over to Niagara Falls. They could get a room on the Canadian side, he was sure.
They were nearly there when he said he wanted to fuck her. No surprise. After all he’d suggested they go to one of the honeymoon capitols of the world, and they weren’t even married. Holly didn’t expect that they were going to spend the night watching reruns of Andy of Mayberry on Classic TV.
For nearly a year he’d been sending mixed signals. Now he told her that he’d wanted her for a long time, that in he could hardly keep his hands off her, that he wanted to wrap his fingers in her hair and pull her face to him. All the time he spoke, he kept his hands on the wheel and his eyes on the road. He was, she said to herself, a safe driver.
“You mean a lot to me, Holly,” he said, “That’s why I have to tell you that I won’t be making love. This would be a no-strings-attached fuck.”
Holly considered grabbing the wheel and turning it sharply. Maybe then he would look at her. On either side of them, the dirty silver sides of semis loomed. They were in a moving tunnel.
“So, what about it?” He turned to glance at her.
“Let me think about it, Dan.” Now that it was her turn she studied the highway stretching ahead of them. She’d worn a black velvet pullover and the perfume she’d worn when he’d kissed her all those times. If she hadn’t wanted to sleep with him, she wouldn’t have said yes to the trip, but this wasn’t what she’d had in mind. She wasn’t traveling to Niagara Falls to just be made in the mist. But then she said, trying to keep the panic out of her voice, “You brought condoms, right?”
And was it because he’d not wanted to seem cocksure that he hadn’t brought condoms? Or was he just all out of them and hadn’t had time to swing by the drugstore at home? Holly hadn’t committed herself to anything, but said he should buy condoms anyway. “They don’t go bad soon,” she said, adding in a flat voice, “If we don’t need them, I’m sure you’ll find a use for them.”
So they drove around and discovered which drugstores in Niagara Falls, Canadian side closed at nine. Most of them. Finally they found one just a few minutes before closing time. And while Dan went into the store, Holly stayed in the car.
Holly opened her pocketbook and dug out her cell phone. She clutched it and peered through the windshield of the car and then through the plate glass window of the store waiting for a glimpse of him in line. She wondered how much a call to her therapist in Great Neck would cost. She knew that the therapy bill to fix the fallout from her decision—whatever happened—was sure to dwarf the cost of the call. Holly imagined Dan’s return, and explaining, “Oh, just having a little chat with my therapist trying to decide whether or not to fuck you tonight.” She put the phone back in her purse.
Still, she told herself, this is better than the love-you-love-you-not that she’d been getting. This time the message was clear: a simple fuck. Niagara Falls, but no hearts and flowers.
As he appeared at the drugstore door, the lights of the store went out behind him. Dan held a small brown bag in his fist. He was beaming, and in his other hand he carried aloft a long-stemmed rose.
by Bobbi Lurie
For three months my mother was happy.
The frightening face of Alzheimer's Disease revealed its other side and eased my mother into a peaceful oblivion. She forgot her name. She said she was 21, that she had a job and finally lived on her own. And, for the first time ever in my life, she told me she was happy. She called me "Ma”, hugging me and kissing me in a way she never did before. Always impatient and sometimes resentful of having children, she started lighting up at the sight of my baby son, Noah. She sat for hours in his room, watching him put on his chaotic two-year- old puppet shows, listening to him bang on his father's drums. Loud as it was, she was happy to just sit there.
Then I, dutiful daughter, ever-searching out ways to heal her, found a pill for her memory, a potion to return her from oblivion. Every day since taking it, she grew more and more aware until last night she sat in my living room crying, lamenting the ways she did not live her life, mourning the years which passed too quickly.
When Noah took her hand and urged her to play with him she started screaming, then flew into a tantrum, "Leave me alone! Leave me alone!"
I was shocked to hear the same words she screamed at me when I was a child. Her raised arms brought back a visceral memory seated deep within me. I had forgotten the look of those raised arms, about to strike. Things were back to normal. My mother would have to come back and live with me again because the Alzheimer's home would no longer suit her. Nothing would suit her. One might say she has been cured.
About the author: Bobbi Lurie's poems, essays and flash fiction have been published widely in numerous print journals and over the internet. Her first book of poems, The Book I Never Read, was published by CustomWords in 2003 and can be purchased via Amazon.com. Bobbi can be reached at Bobbilurie@aol.com