Island of Lost Boyfriends

A memoir by Claire Massey

It helps to compartmentalize. I like the word. Mentalize a compartment. Boyfriends of late teens, tender twenties, have been banished to an island in my head, an atoll of sand and coral rubble, arising from the jagged reefs, the dormant volcanoes that comprise the undersea of my neocortex. I’ve created an outcropping, like the archipelago where outcast eighteenth century Aussies were dumped, sentenced to isolation and hardscrabble living. 

Not all the boyfriends are shanghaied. Not Bernie, master of verbal repartee, gleeful when I boomeranged barbs. Not Arthur, WWII aficionado, enthralled with a steady who interviewed a WASP flygirl at the vintage air show, earned accolades from the journalism club. 

But Jack…strong-backed, marathon lover, vane of his Nordic nose, his mane of titian colored hair, he’s a different story. Always tossing his head like an ungelded thoroughbred, eyes cavorting, averting his ears from my needy recitation of Mom’s hospitalization or a pregnant cousin’s impending ruination. Always trolling the length of our favorite bar, sonar pinging off any available blond. He’s relocated to hindsight’s epicenter.

Jeff  too, a huge mistake, poster boy for steroid abuse, is consigned to my isle of the displaced. His MO was ambush at Godfather’s Pizza or Longhorn Steaks, his mantra Hey Ms. Liberated, you gotta job. I don’t. Pay up. When I summoned the nerve to ask why not ERA, he called me a Femi-Nazi. He examined my shapely legs, pert high-chested breasts, decided nice assets but not worth budding challenges to machohood.

Brad dwells on this geological uplift of mind, this topographical design of the thalamus. He rode Hondas while jonesing for Harleys, a short-fused guy out of patience with novices. Lacking the mettle to be a motorcycle mama, I leaned away from him in curves, leaned further when he urged an Ecstasy-fueled threesome. He kicked me to the curb at some country store, had to call my girlfriend for a lift home. 

My island isn’t lethal but time is relentlessly linear. These bad boys will age if not mature. I’ve left a cache of sunglasses so they won’t burn their retinas and bottles of Coppertone, albeit expired and not high numbers. I’ve thrown in books by Gertrude Stein and Virginia Wolf, tales of survival from Zora Neale Hurston. Mother Nature is by turn indifferent, or in a mood to discipline disrespectful sons. She calls forth Amazon ants from the walls of driftwood shelters, floods them with rot, blows them apart. Feast or famine is Mother Luna’s decision. Minuscule anchovies or egg-laden she-crabs. It’s all in the crest of her tides, the whim of her phases. 

Jack’s back will ache and his head will bald. He’ll stop seeking his reflection in after-storm puddles that crater quicksand. Jeff’s muscles will elongate, unbunch, as he shimmies up palms and runs the perimeter for washed up sushi. Deprived of red meat and artificial testosterone, he’ll crave coconut milk, contemplate fate like a fledgling monk. Brad has nothing to ride, no boat to drive beyond bone-crushing breakers. Still, he wants to get high, wonders if he should try a bite of lionfish or oleander. 

Prodigious talkers, these smooth operators will one up each other with conquest stories. They’ll never figure I’m the common denominator, put a name to the ex with the endless legs and overblown imagination. I was one of a legion of girls on the serpentine route to womanhood, rehearsing smiles till it hurt, swallowing uncomfortable words, questioning if Eve really did ruin the world. We combed Cosmo for conversation starters, nodded when the quarterback denied there were female pilots. Heads cocked at inquisitive angles, we longed for dialogue, settled for monologue. 

Should this trio appear in a dream I’ll forget before waking, ask for second chances, a seismic shift in my thinking, I’ll offer a test. Convince me you remember. Name the lost girlfriends who didn’t know they could stand on their own, legs gangly yet resilient as a colt’s. Name nine Greek muses, the feminine charkas, the seven sisters, Minerva’s domains, “harvest moon” in eight languages, the maternal ancestors who gave you birth. Do this seventy times seven times and maybe, I’ll revisit my seat of higher judgment, re-examine the molten heart of my own Vesuvius. 

                                      *    *    *

Claire Massey has published award winning poetry, memoir, flash fiction, and short stories in an array of literary journals including Wilderness House Literary Review, Persimmon Tree, Panoply, Snapdragon Journal of Art and Healing, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, and Flights 2020, among others. Her memoir, “In the Backyard of Childhood” placed in the National Keats Soul Making Literary Competition. She is Poet Laureate for the Pensacola, Florida branch of National Pen Women. A Selection Editor for The Emerald Coast Review in 2019, she is Prose Editor for the 2021 print edition of this publication.

The Divine Leper

by Lorette C. Luzajic

for Jose de la Cruz Mena (Nicaragua) 1874-1907

Mena, of Managua, and Leon, the old city falling to ruins at the mouth of Momotombo. Nicaragua’s volcano still sputters a century after the music died. Viva Mena! Long live Mena! his loyal audience shouted when his piano waltz took first prize at the Teatro Municipal. José de la Cruz Mena, the composer, was stranded outside the shutters as they played his Ruinas. All lepers were barred from the theatre. One small mercy from the Blessed Virgin: he had not been sent to the Aserradores island colony with the rest of the infected.  It was a favor from the General, on behalf of his genius. All the waltzes, the masses, the folk songs, the requiems, the carols, the funeral marches, but he could no longer play El Nacatamal on his baritone horn. His limbs were already dissolving and he had been blind since turning twenty. Some of his work has been saved, but much was burned.  They meant to purify the manuscripts of mycobacterium lepromatosis. For twelve years he could not play at his own conciertos, but how he labored at those scores: writing with fingers falling from his hands like dust, then tapping out the rhythm with the stubs that remained.  He whistled the notes for a faithful friend to transcribe on his behalf. The music was tectonic. It burned him from inside: he had to find a way.

                                      *    *    *

Lorette C. Luzajic is an artist and writer from Toronto, Canada. Her flash fiction and prose poetry has been widely published, nominated for several Pushcarts and Best of the Net awards, longlisted and winner of writing contests, and translated into Urdu. She is the editor of The Ekphrastic Review, a journal devoted to writing inspired by visual art.

Bobbling on the Ocean

by Melissa Juchniewicz

Arlene looked out her kitchen window and saw her brother Will sitting on the frayed lawn chair out back, his hair sticking up everywhere and his jeans black with motor oil. He was slumped down and staring off at nothing.

“Oh,” she said, then went back to buttering the toast for Joe.  She put the plate on the table with Joe’s coffee and poured his orange juice. “Shit,” she said.

“I told you to watch your language,” Joe said as he walked into the kitchen.  “I don’t want my kids to hear it.”

“They hear worse from you,” Arlene said.  

“Don’t start with me,” Joe said and sat down with his back to her.  “What are you cursing about, anyway,” he said.

“You’ll know in a sec,” said Arlene.

Joe threw his spoon down.  “Is he here again? I told you no more.  You want me to tell him? He’ll stay away for good if I tell him.”

“I’ll tell him,” said Arlene.  She looked out the window again. Will was still sitting, not moving.  The leaves were starting to come down and some were blowing around at his feet.  

“I’ll tell him when you leave.” 

Joe shoved himself out from the table.  “I’m leaving now,” he said, and grabbed his jacket from the hook.  “The war’s over,” he said.  “It’s 1975.  Tell him to get over it.” He went out the front.  The pick-up sprayed gravel when he took off.  

Arlene knocked on the kitchen window and Will turned around.  She pointed to the back door, and Will got up and went in.  “Hi sis,” he said, his big shoulders rounded.   He sat down in the chair Joe had just been in, drained the orange juice in three gulps and started on the toast.   His hands were filthy, and Arlene smelled motor oil and cigarettes as she picked up the juice glass.

“You want me to make you something?” Arlene asked.

“No, don’t.  I’m sorry, Leeny.  I know I said I wouldn’t do this anymore.”

“You always say that.”

“I’m sorry.  I’ve almost got it licked though.  I’m never touching another drop. I’m quitting.  That was it last night, I promise. I’m done,” he said.

Tina came into the kitchen in pink flannel pajamas and almost tripped on the bottoms that were too long.  Kitty and Jimmy were right behind her.  “Hi, Uncle Will,” Tina said and went to the cupboard.  She stood on her toes to get out three bowls.

“I didn’t wake you up, did I Angel?” Will said.  He smiled, and Tina stared at his yellow teeth as she put the bowls on the table.

“Never mind,” said Tina and poured Rice Crispies into the three bowls.  “Hurry up or we’ll miss the bus,” she said to Kitty and Jimmy. They always did what Tina said even though she was the youngest. They turned to her for many of the things they needed. 

The four of them sat silently eating at the table, Will finishing Joe’s toast.  Arlene sat on the stool at the counter and lit a cigarette.  When the clinking of spoons and bowls slowed down, Arlene said, “Go get dressed and ready.” They picked up their bowls and drank the rest of the milk.  

“Uncle Will you stink,” Jimmy said as he walked by, and they went back down the hall to their rooms.

“Let me throw your clothes in with the wash when they leave,” Arlene said. “Where’d you sleep, in the woods again?”  

Will didn’t say anything.

“If you behaved yourself before you could still be staying here,” Arlene said.

“I know,” Will said.

“He doesn’t even want you to come around,” Arlene said.

Will stood up. “I’ll go.”

“No, sit down.” Arlene pushed him back down in the chair. “What am I gonna do with you?” she said and smoothed his hair down. He put his arms around her and hugged his face to her belly.  “You’re the only one who cares, Leeny.”

She gave him a rough push.  “Don’t start with that ‘poor me’ stuff Will,” she said. “You’ve burned through everyone else.”

He lifted his eyes to the ceiling. “Go ahead, give it to me again.”

“I don’t have to tell you again.  Two brothers and three sisters.  They all tried.  You had it good at Stevie’s, that nice little house.  And you come back there at night yelling your head off that you took the beating when he did wrong.  It was a long time ago, Will.”

“You don’t even remember,” Will said.  “Dad never took the strap out with the girls.”

Arlene picked up the bowls and put them in the sink. “He was only home a couple of times a year,” she said. 

“And he let me have it to make up for time.  Ma didn’t help.  She’d tell him all the stuff we did when he was gone.”

“She was just trying to tell him she couldn’t do it alone, that she needed him home,” Arlene said.

“Well it didn’t work out that way,” Will said.

“It was a long time ago,” Arlene said and turned back to the sink.

“Leeny, has Joe got anything to drink here?” Will asked.

“Will for Christ sake,” Arlene said.  “That was the last straw for him, you drank every drop in the house.”

“I’m sorry,” said Will.

Arlene turned the water on in the sink.  She heard a little sound and turned to see Will’s shoulders shaking, his head in his hands.  She shut off the water and sat down next to him.  “Let me get you something to eat.  I’ll wash your clothes and we’ll figure something out,” she said.

“Like what,” Will said, his face still covered by his hands.

“The V.A. can –” she started.

Will slammed the table. “I’m not going back to that place!” he shouted.  Arlene flinched, then very slowly pushed her chair away from the table, watching him.

“I’m ok, Arlene, I won’t – I’m ok. But you don’t know what that place is like, it’s worse than jail.  The way those orderlies treat you. All those old guys doing the Thorazine shuffle down the hallways.  They smell.    I’m not gonna end up like them. I’d rather sleep in the woods.”

“Winter’s coming,” said Arlene.

“If Joe won’t let me stay here, I’ll go back to the shelters,” Will said.  “Or I’ll do some little crime and go back to jail.”

“That’s your plan,” Arlene said.

They sat for a minute.  Will wiped his nose with the back of his hand and Arlene handed him a paper napkin from the holder.

“It’s not fair,” Will said.

“I know,” Arlene said.

“I picked those guys up from the ocean,” Will said.  “I was the first one to spot the capsule and I got them onto the ship. Those three guys.” He looked out the window with a little smile.  “They have a funny look on their faces when they get back from the moon. They put the Rover on the moon, Leeny, the moon! And I hauled them out.”

“I know, Will,” she said.

“I look up at the sky when I’m in the woods at night and there it is.  The moon.  And they were there.  And then I spotted the capsule first and I got them onto the ship.”

“I know, Will,” she said.

“Nobody knows,” Will said.

“Will,” Arlene said and took his two hands. “You can’t stay here.”

“I know,” he said.

Arlene faced him.  “Will, when you’re out there tonight and you look at the moon,” she said, “think of the rocket.  Think of Apollo 15.  Put your anger on it.  Send it up to the sky and up to the moon.  Leave it there.”

He looked at her.  “Give it a ride on the Rover?” 

“That’s it. Give it a ride on the Rover.  Leave it there,” she said.

They sat for a minute.  “Could you get me something to eat?” Will asked.

“Sure,” said Arlene. “I’ll fix you something.”

                                                                   *   *   *

Melissa Juchniewicz writes short fiction, flash, and poetry and has been recognized with regional awards around New Hampshire. Her work has seen publication in Orca, Light, Poet’s Touchstone, and The Offering. She is on the faculty at UMass Lowell, and lives in Chester, New Hampshire.