“Down at a Certain Season into the Pool” by John Stephens

John Stephens is a 29-year-old practicing attorney  that lives in New Orleans who attended Louisiana State University as undergraduate where he studied creative writing.  He later attended Loyola University College of Law in New Orleans.

 

This story originally appeared in West Trade Review, Spring 2017, Vol. 8 ©2017

 

Down at a Certain Season into the Pool

By John Stephens

 

The waterline on the walls came up to his neck.  Even after the two foot incline of the entryway wheelchair ramp.  He stood looking at the molded highline as particles floated in piercing sunlight, weightless and defiant.  His sister, Dana, yelled from the road outside.

“Bedan! Should I come in?”

The wall was bowed concavely and large patches of plaster had sloughed away.  Small rotted planks showed, some of them still moist.  How, he didn’t know.  The sun had been vicious since the storm, consuming, as though it meant to burn its ancient grudge with man to the root.

“Gotdamn,” he whispered.

Dana walked up the outside ramp and he looked at the tilted doorway then back at the wall, the floating particles now lost.  His sister stopped at the doorframe.

“You find it?” she asked.

“What?” he replied, his tongue dull, his eyes still at the wall.

“I said did you find it?” She crossed her arms.  Bedan turned his whole body to her.

“And I said find what?” He sharpened his eyes at her, the heat from this place seeming to leak into his forehead.

“You said you had to come inside to get somethin,” she said, and Bedan turned back to the wall.

“Don’t even remember what,” he admitted.  Dana looked at him a while.  Nearby a bulldozer cranked up, whining into gear.

“She was a baptized child of God,” Dana said eventually.  “This ain’t her home anymore.”

Bedan nodded slowly.  “This place,” he said.  “Just a house, then.  Didn’t have any choice but to sit here and go under.”  He turned to his sister.  “And it was the same for her, wasn’t it?  Her just layin here.  She couldn’t even try not to die.  Now you gonna try to talk to me bout the good that comes from splashin water on a gotdamn baby?”

“Bedan!” Dana snapped, and she took a swift step forward but suddenly stopped herself.  Her eyes sunk on him, sorrowfully, as though she could actually see the leak in his head.  “The hand of God could slap you better than I ever could,” she uttered.  “You just hurry up in here.  All’s left is trash.  And our people waitin up off the roadside.”

“I know they are,” he said.  “And let em wait, damnit.  After everything, this here’s the easy part for em.”

“Dont you keep talkin that way at me,” she said.  “You best be happy they called us at all.”

“You go on out,” he said.

She walked back down the ramp to the car and on her way past the old fence in the yard she tugged at the cast iron gate but it halted in a congestion of rust, like the jaw of some long-dead beast.

Bedan turned around, took in the old living room.  Some of his aunt Mamiere’s books were overturned on the floor, one of them opened upward with its pages mildewed and crippled.  He walked over to it and tapped it with his foot and some thin bits of gold gilt scattered from the pages.  Crippled, he thought.  Broken down.

Keeping on, the hallway dark and moist, smelling of all sorts of mishaps.  From shitmud to motor oil.  On the walls hung a dozen crooked pictures, those from his chest on down all dilapidated, smeared outlines of his people within the frames.  He stood before one of them.  He’d known the picture well and though it was washed out he remembered the image of himself as a baby being held in a rag by his Mamiere in an old wooden chair.  The frame lopsided, swollen.  Maybe the last thing in her head.

He stared and licked his thumb to wipe away mold from part of the glass.  Then he straightened the frame on the wall.

Beside him a bowl-shaped light fixture hung from wires where it had lost its holding in the ceiling.  A small remainder of leak-water sat stagnant in the bottom of the glass, delineated by old evaporation lines.  Above it, the hallway ceiling was cracked and sagged and Bedan worried that if he touched the dangling glass the whole of it would crumble down on him.

“I aint ready for that,” he said.  He walked past the hanging glass, a small staircase up on his left and a thick rank coating everything, as though the air itself was ill.

An old carpet running up the middle of the staircase was stained blackgreen, hairy pustules growing atop the matting.  A motorized wheelchair apparatus stuck out from the wall, the connecting platform for the chair near the very bottom.  Maybe she’d made it up to the fourth or fifth step.  Breathing, crawling a short length after falling out of the seat, before the water took her and she just floated off.

He bent over and pushed on the platform where the chair had been attached.  It creaked about an inch.  Bedan shook his head and sat down onto the mess of the rug and laid his elbows into his knees and his head into his palms, his throat feeling like it had begun to unskin itself.

As he sat there a heavy flush of wind rolled through the front threshold, moaning, banging the door against the wall.  Then the moan rushed up into his ears and everything outside his head went silent as noises scraped about in every direction inside of him.  He pressed his palms against his head and the noises turned to urges, each urge a different kind of snake but each with the same hiss.  Then a charge shot up his spine as he stood abruptly and raised the heel of his boot.

When he stomped the fourth or fifth time at the wheelchair platform it broke partly out of the tracks, taking with it a heap of plaster, roaches squirming out from behind it, this whole place stormed into some infested strangeness.  And how the sky gonna send away a lady, he demanded, still kicking at the rubble.  A whole damn old lady.

—-

 

There was work to ought been done in the front yard, overgrown grass drowned into parched yellow clumps and a cement bird feeder cracked down through the base and leaning with impossible luck, the stone curtsy of it drawn so tiredly.

Bedan walked through the fallen portion of the fence and up to the car where his sister sat in the passenger seat.  The engine had been running and when he opened the driver door he felt the gushing air from the vents. Dana sat looking through the window at the front of the house, her chin on her fingertips.  When Bedan sat he could hear barely over the air conditioner that she was humming.

He looked at her.  “Give it your peace, then,” he said.  “Mine too.”  She continued to hum and she nodded slowly as Bedan grabbed at the pouch on the backside of her seat and pulled out a half drunk pint of whiskey and uncapped it and turned it into his mouth.  Feeding the snakes, or tiring them out.  It didn’t matter.  He capped the bottle and drove.

As he neared the end of the block, Bedan slowed.  A street sign on the left corner lay covered with whatever blackened residue might tire itself in the coursing of a flood.  On the right corner two vehicles were parked, a glistening black sedan beside a tired old truck with wooden makeshift cargo railings implanted into the truckbed panels.  Two white men in ties and pleated slacks stood at the rear of the sedan and behind them a black man in torn overalls leaned with his elbows atop the tailgate, his face drooped there between his arms.

Bedan drove slowly, his eyes set like hounds upon each of the men yet with a greater draw upon the black man.  He stared at him, released the gas pedal and let the car coast.

“Mamiere told me one time,” said the sister, watching Bedan stare out the window.  “If you don’t ever get the urge to take off and run from your job then you ain’t likely doin your job right.  That or you just too tired to try runnin at all.”

“Every geezer gonna say that.”  Bedan pressed the brakes, rolled the window down.  The white men turned to look into the vehicle while the black one stayed with his head down between his elbows.

“Always got trouble with the water, don’t we,” said Bedan.  The whites turned to one another.  Bedan stared beyond them.  “Always gonna have trouble with the water, ain’t we!” he yelled.

The black man lugged his head up, his sagging eyes punctured with wide pupils, bearing already whatever shame might come his way.  He stood there quiet, tired, almost broken, like a man standing by to watch his own self drown.

 

—-

 

Down the road Bedan reached behind the seat again and put in a couple more swigs.  Licked his upper lip a while then accidentally jerked at the wheel as he went to put the bottle back.  The boxes of keepsakes clinked.  His sister grabbed at the dash.

“You gonna let a ditch kill us?” she snapped.  “God all good and mighty.”

Bedan said nothing, clenched the steering wheel.  They drove on out of the neighborhood, onto the freeway and west.  There was no more humming, no giving of peace.  Just red unease hanging above the airflow.

“Our people,” Bedan mumbled.  He shook his head.

“What did you say?”

“You called them sons a bitches our people.  Back there at the house.  They ain’t any more our people than the gotdamn chinese are our people.”

“Yeah okay,” she said.  “Get mad, go on and get it.”

“They ain’t got nothin to do with us ‘cept that business back there.  Our people, our people gettin lost, gettin put out.  And for the bottom fuckin dollar.”

“I didn’t say any of this was right.  You best get your mind away from that idea. And away from that tongue while you’re at it.  Yellin at that poor man back there.  Pride doesn’t put food on the table, Bedan.”  She reached at a box in the back seat and moved a lamp post to stop its rattling.

“Everybody a crook,” he said.  “God and everybody.”

“I know it ain’t any good,” she said.  “But you keep all this up you gonna make yourself whole in hate.  And that evil’s a disease.”

 

—-

 

They went only a few miles on the freeway before Bedan slowed the car onto an exit and headed towards the river, towards the smokestack plumes of the refineries off there in the distance.

“What now?” said the sister.

“Montichella,” he said.  “Want to check on that horse of hers.”

“That thing aint dead?”

He pulled through some of the city’s longstanding neighborhoods, grass all drowned, sediment set down like decayed fur covering most of everything on the ground and three feet up anything that stood.  Sinkholes in the roads, jagged and gaping.  He hand-cranked the window down and in came the rotten smell of mud, drying out there like grief, drying up but all it takes is another touch of water.

Eventually he made his way to where the flooding hadn’t stuck, near the section of the levee that didn’t had its back broke.  The section that hadn’t had the old ladies around it swallowed up, where the sons and nephews of them ladies didn’t have to come around and knock everything down, didn’t have to confuse their salt and pepper with their pride.

A few more turns before he passed through the rusted gate of the small barnyard, the peeled-paint sign above the driveway of gravel and small white seashells that led to the stables right there where the levee and the railroad tracks came to a corner in the northwest hitch of the city.  The tires clacked against the rocks and dust kicked up as he pulled to the stablehouse and set the car in park.

“How long you gonna be?” she asked.

“Can’t tell for sure.  You can take the car, just be back around dark.”

The stablehouse smelled the same as when he’d been a boy.  Hay, dung and sweat.  He’d swept and shoveled for this place for several of his younger summers, back when his uncle pulled his way into a handful and gone and got that American Quarter halfbreed.  Mamiere liken to make the whole neighborhood’s throat sore for screaming about it so much.

“Hello?” said Bedan.  A beautiful brown stood its head out from a stall and shook.  Tall and shiny, young, saddlebred.  He went down to the stall and held his palm out to the horse, let it sniff.  The brown licked at it a few times, then shook again.  Bedan rubbed its jaw and patted down onto its neck.

“Gotdamn lucky,” he told it.

“Can I help you?”

Bedan turned.  A man had come from the door down the way.

“Come to check on my auntie’s horse,” Bedan said.  “‘Unless I just aint heard bout it dyin yet.”

“The name?”

“Jubilee,” he said.

“I mean your aunt’s name,” said the stranger.  He’d walked up to Bedan and stood there in a worn-out pair of jeans and a denim shirt to match.  Whiskered, tired.  Bedan had never seen him before.

“Her name’s Fisk.  Horse is called Fisk’s Jubilee.”

“Alright,” the man said, nodding.  He looked behind his shoulder towards the end of the hall, looked back at Bedan.  “You got an i.d. or somethin?”

“Need a license to ride a horse?”

“Just askin what I’m told to ask.”

“She’s my mother’s sister, we don’t share the name.  But I’ve been up here the last fifteen years of my life.”  He looked past the man, around and up and down the stalls.  “Where’s mister Cassidy at?”

“I imagine you’re meanin my brother,” said the man.  “He’s out down the levee trottin.  What’s your name?”

“Bedan.”

“Well, that’s right,” said the man, easing up.  “My brother mentioned you might be comin by.  Your aunt the one who passed in the storm?”

Bedan nodded slowly.

“I’m sorry to hear that.  Fine old horse of hers,” said the man, motioning over his shoulder.  “I come in from Beaumont to help Doug with the mess he had dealt here.  Damn sloppy bunch of it.”  He looked down at his boots and swiped a heel against the dirt.

“The horse,” said Bedan.  “She alright?”

“She is,” said the man, looking back up.  “She’s in the back left down there, all fed and restless if you’re wantin to saddle her.”  He turned and walked down to the stall.  Bedan followed, passed some long snouts and longer eyes tucked back into the stall shadows, faces storm-struck and nagged weary by it, hay dust drifting about in the quiet air.

When they got to the far down stall the brother unclasped the latch and pulled open the swing gate and motioned Bedan into but Bedan stopped just before the opening and looked in at the horse.  Her eyes long like the others but holding captive a more fluid weariness, a black sadness in them moving slight against the bare light like marbles in a breeze.  And the hide, dark brown like a good roux, with a blackhair mane sliding down the neck.  Bedan felt a warmth in himself as he watched at her.

“I brushed her today already,” said the brother.  “I can get the pad and pull down a saddle if you want.”

Bedan walked into the stall and put his hand onto the girl’s snout, rubbed soft, felt the heat swell in his throat.  She gave a few thick breaths and rubbed back against his hand.

“How bout a walk,” he said to her.  The brother walked off behind him and Bedan put his sweaty face down onto the horse’s cheek and felt himself almost apologize to her.

After a few moments the brother came back with the pad and saddle slung over one arm and the bridle held in the other and together they tacked her up in silence as the horse stood there, still and graceful.

When they’d finished readying her the brother took a step back and looked at the horse, then at the man.

“Y’know,” he said.  “Doug and I, when we was younger, we had another brother.  He was the youngest, had some bad legs and fell out into a pond on our old farm one day and drowned.  Doctor told my mother there wasn’t any more hurt or sufferin to it than fillin a glass of water.  Or fallin asleep after a long day’s work.”  He shrugged and put his head down and let the words offer themselves up in the humidity.

Bedan nodded a short while.  Something like cool milk spread in his chest, calming, an understanding to be had here in an otherwise foreign sense of relief.  Silent thanks was given as he nodded once more and let the careful course of the calmness move him.

“I’ll take her on out,” he said.

 

—-

 

The leather reins felt like feathers in his sweaty hands as he rode the old girl, took her slow up the stretch onto the crest of the levee.  The breeze climbing along with him and the horse.  Down to his left the railroad tracks paralleled the road and to his right a crescent jut of the Mississippi jawed southward, all that wide brown water strewn about into wildness by the reflections of the sun.

“You,” he said to the water, and then he trotted on.

About a hundred yards down he spotted a manned horse clapping its way back towards the stables.  Watched the man handle the ride.  Cassidy, he thought.  He picked up the old girl’s pace and not long after he came abreast of the rider.

“Mister Cassidy,” said Bedan, nodding his head.

“Be damned,” said the man, tipping the brim of his hat.  “Been too long.”  They both pulled their horses to a quiet and Cassidy looked Bedan up and down.  “I see you got her goin alright,” he said.

“She still knows the way.”

Cassidy nodded and then leaned back and stretched his shoulders and chest out to the sun.  “Ain’t that fine,” he said, and he rubbed the neck of his own horse.  “You stayin around long?” he asked.

“No,” Bedan replied softly.  “I believe I had enough, probably since the minute we come into town.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Cassidy.  “But I admit, the storm has seemed to have a way with messin with the way time works in people’s minds.  Too much of it at once.”

Bedan turned his head, wiped a hand across his eyes and cleared his throat.

“I can keep her long as you need,” Cassidy continued, watching the man beside him.  Bedan nodded slowly.

“Mighty grateful,” he said, and the men looked out beyond the trees.

“People who say blood’s thicker than water,” said Cassidy.  “They never seen the Mississippi.  Not this leg of her anyway.”  He squinted against the down-plow of the setting sun.  “Down here folks abide to the water above all else.  It moves em, takes em.”  He turned to Bedan.  “You know it too true.”

“Your brother,” replied Bedan.  “Told me bout yall’s younger brother.  Bout him out on the farm.”

Cassidy cocked his head.

“Did he now?” he asked.

“Yessir,” Bedan replied softly.

Cassidy turned and eyed down the old stablehouse, then looked back out to the river.

“I dont know why,” he said.  “That man in there’s the only brother I’ve ever had.”  The words were spoken truly and he lifted the rein in his hand and the horse underneath answered with a turn and a slow push back towards the stables.  “You stayin out a while?” he asked.

“Nothin bout a pond on a farm?” Bedan asked, the heat of snakebite in his throat.  “Nothin bout fillin a glass of water?”

“I honestly don’t follow you,” said Cassidy.

Bedan closed his eyes, tightened his grip on the reins.  His horse’s ears laid flat.

“I’ll see you shortly,” Cassidy offered.  As he moved off Bedan said nothing.  Opened his eyes and stared out at the brown passing weight before him, the watery slug of this earthly world that must always move, must always go.  Must flow on out to the ocean, take whatever it has the strength to pull along with it, all the energy involved made into one drowned madness by the tug of this place.

Bedan turned onto the sun and held out his face.  Felt the stinging of his eyes and he thought about how the river would take him if he galloped in.  Just the curiosity of it, how long he could stay up, and how he would have to eventually sink.

He held his face out still, tried to keep his eyes open but the sharp sun pressed them down like hot thumbs against open wounds.  Forced to look away but ordered somehow to stay put, his vision upward refused, the true heart of that fiery thing impossible to know, to understand, but always there, to live with and without at once.

Eventually the white blur faded enough from Bedan’s eyes, his sockets sore and worn.  He turned to the stables, over there in the shade of the levee and standing upright despite all the push and pull.  The forces allowing, accepting of it.  Bedan whispered and nudged the horse, and with his hand on her neck and her tired heartbeat in his palm he led her back to the stables, to the quiet and dark and unforgotten.

 

 

 

“Be damned,” said the man, tipping the brim of his hat.  “Been too long.”  They both pulled their horses to a quiet and Cassidy looked Bedan up and down.  “I see you got her goin alright,” he said.

“She still knows the way.”

Cassidy nodded and then leaned back and stretched his shoulders and chest out to the sun.  “Ain’t that fine,” he said, and he rubbed the next of his own horse.  “You stayin around long?” he asked.

“No,” Bedan replied softly.  “I believe I had enough, probably since the minute we pulled into town.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Cassidy.  “But I admit, the storm has seemed to have a way with messin with the way time works in people’s minds.  Too much of it at once.”

Bedan lowered his head, wiped a hand across his eyes.

“I can keep her long as you need,” Cassidy continued, watching the man beside him.  Bedan nodded.

 

Advertisements

Excerpt of Interview with Artist Carlos Estevez

from Spring 2017, Vol. 8 ©2017 West Trade Review

for full interview see Vol. 8, 2017 West Trade Review   http://www.westtradereview.com/subscription.html

Biography

Carlos Estévez’s work, which spans more than 30 years, explores the complex relationship between man and the universe, and reflects his lifelong passion for creating art with a philosophical profile. Estévez masterfully weaves themes of the human experience, history, culture and anatomy, resulting in work that is both mythical and surrealist in nature. His recent installation, Bottles to the Sea, is an intricate, complex project exploring communication in the form of a message from the artist to an unknown person in an unpredictable place and time.

Carlos Estévez (1969) was born in Havana, Cuba and currently lives and works in Miami. His education began at the Escuela Elemental de Artes Plásticas, continued at the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts, and was completed at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana in 1992, where he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts. His work in painting, drawing, sculpture and installations has received international praise, notably the Grand Prize in the First Salon of Contemporary Cuban Art in 1995. He has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions at prestigious institutions such as the Fine Art Museum in Havana, Cuba, The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, and the Center of Contemporary Art in New Orleans, Louisiana. His works may also be found in public and private collections worldwide, including the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, The Ludwig Forum in Aachen, Germany, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Perez Art Museum in Miami, Florida.

 

 

WTR: One noticeable feature of your work is what appears to be energy centers within human anatomy that resemble chakras.  Was that your intention or was there another motive for their use?

CE:  For me the human body is like a map. But a map is the representation of a place and also is a place itself. I think maps are a very accurate metaphor of the human soul. We have a body; but what we are as individuals is inside us: invisible, unreachable. The chakras are points of energy. I use them in my work as important points of the body in a symbolic way.

WTR:  There appears to be a tension in your work between the organic and the non-organic (i.e., the machine), what do you hope to accomplish through such tension?

CE: My intention is to create a metaphor between the relationship of nature with that of the machine. The universe has a structure as everything else has inside the universe. Humans make inventions based on the observation of nature. We reproduce the mechanisms and create planes, ships, cars, telephones, etc. From my point of view, there is not tension, it is an attempt of integration, to create harmony.

WTR: Each of your works is amazingly detailed, whether it is the geometric shapes within a work, the use of interconnecting lines, texture, and hue.  In general, could you describe your creative process and your intention behind it?

CE: My process is similar to the process of the alchemists. They were looking for the formula to make gold, and what they found instead was knowledge. My goal is to find the knowledge. I want to translate my experiences in life into images and share them with other people. The work I do reflexes my inner world, and it has to be done with all the complexity that this process requires. That is why it need to be very detailed. Everything single element is important: the background images, colors, textures, lines and the title.

WTR:  A critic once remarked that you have been influenced by Kant and Nietzsche.  Would you say their philosophical leanings have influenced your creativity in some way?  How do you take their concept of morality and transfer it into art?

CE:  Of course, my work is influenced by my readings, including philosophy. However, I don’t transfer any concept to my art intentionally. It doesn’t work that way. I read a book and I use it as fuel for my brain.  For instance, the philosophy of Kant is very complex. He creates his own concepts and his own system of ideas. What I got from reading his work could be far from his original intentions. I do my own interpretation and this becomes the inspiration for my work. I never know exactly what, how, and when it is going to happen, but one day an image appears that is connected with something I’ve read.

WTR:  You have noted before that your art explores man’s mission or purpose in the universe.  Are you suggesting that art is man’s best tool for understanding existential questions?

CE:  My obsession is to discover the meaning of life. Why are we here in this universe? This transcendental answer can perhaps never be answered, or perhaps it has so many different answers. One thing is for sure, neither science nor history can contain the human knowledge that art so deeply achieves.

“Sunlight Has Blistered the Clear-Coating on My Car’s Hood” by Jesse DeLong

from Spring 2017 Issue, Vol. 8
for other poems, see http://www.westtradereview.com/subscription.html
Jessed DeLong teaches composition and literature at Southern University. His work has appeared in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, American Letters and Commentary, Indiana Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Typo, as well as the anthologies Best New Poets 2011 and Feast: Poetry and Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner. His chapbooks, Tearings, and Other Poems and Earthwards, were released by Curly Head Press.
Sunlight has Blistered the Clear-Coating on My Car’s Hood
Piloting the lawnmower,
the neighbor maws grass
clippings, which the
egrets, white as a snow rarely
to fall in Louisiana, buoy over, circling,
swelling downward, scouring
for feed: grasshoppers, lizards,
ripe insects,
a feast.
The heat holds it at a distance, this beauty.
The mind, too, holds it in—this thrashing
of the mower, this scattering of the terrified,
this hunger & preying
of the birds. No symbol, here, this is natural. The order
(The mind makes
a distinction—four rainbow-
flared, transparent wings, a straw-like
blue body, ah, a dragonfly—& moves on.)
of nature & human culture are zero sum. See,
(Civilization makes a distinction—if we let fall
these seeds in this dirt, here, ah, wheat—
& moves on.)
sugarcanes bristle the road. & so on
the sky, blue because its humanity’s
most bearable spectrum—
of what the light looks like,
a tower of smoke
turns,
unholy. Oh, no. Oh, yes, brown & grey
& alive.