Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Fiction from the Heart: I Only Have Eyes

This short story is an emblematic exploration of what we do for love and how we endeavor to search, to wait, to strive for the right—and the best—things in life. It is an ode to every romantic and every romance on this last day of February and, as we were informed by its author, it was penned on Valentine's Day last year. A number of synchronicities surrounded its acceptance, so we share with you a tender bit of fond fate in the form of a tale about what keeps us going in life. 

I Only Have Eyes

by Mark Joseph Kevlock

"You can't just stand around here waiting," Charley said.

"I can and I will," I said.

"What if she never comes by?" Charley said.

"She will."

And so I began my street corner vigil, in the heart of the city. They say perhaps a hundred thousand people pass through City Square on an average day. I say those were pretty good odds.

I had no particular type in mind. No certain hair color, education, or mannerisms. She would simply be the love of my life. I'd know her when I saw her.

The first few hours turned up nothing. Charley came by again around 10:00 a.m. to offer more encouragement.

"This is ridiculous," he said. "How long do you plan to keep this up?"

"How many hours are there in the day?" I said. "How many days in the year?"

"Incurable," Charley said. And waved his hand dismissively.

Charley was no romantic. But I was no fool. I knew it sounded crazy, looked crazy, even felt crazy. But I wasn't giving up.

She didn't show up, that first afternoon.

Ah, but the second....

She didn't show up then, either.

A stadium full of people passed me by, one face at a time. None of the faces were hers.

"How do you know?" Charley said. "If you don't even know what she looks like? Why don't you just pick a nice-looking girl, and get a courtship started? Isn't that easier?"

"This is easier," I said. "It's easier to wait and make sure. Then there can be no mistake."

Charley didn't come by the third day. Or the fourth. I began to believe I might have to hang in a while longer than I thought.

What made me execute this somewhat foolhardy plan? you ask. How did I ever concoct it in the first place?

Age 5: I remember hearing my first love song on the radio. Love seems like a good idea in the world. I come out in favor of it.

Age 8: romantic daydreams push away a lot of other stuff, like playing sports, learning how to shoot with a hunting rifle, watching game shows.

Age 12: women are out there. I've seen them. The young ones are called girls. I might just get up my nerve and speak to a few.

Age 14: still waiting for my nerve to get up.

Age 16: the pop radio songs are like a bible. I study them. Broken hearts. Hearts aflame. Look what you've done to my heart. Conclusion: romance is deadly dangerous. Actual romance.

Age 19: three years into my fantasy romances. No broken hearts yet. No flesh and blood women either. I draw them in my mind. I can love my own creations easily enough. But they don't love me back. Even if I imagine it.

Age 22: college graduate, degree in Romantic poetry. Big money in that. During the Renaissance.

Age today: I'll wait it out, as long as I have to. Intuition tells me my true love is out there. Lady Luck says she'll pass me by, on this corner. Unless she lives in Zurich. I've given it a week. Is it time to be discouraged? There are many lovely women, smiling at me. But not the right woman.

If I told you about my job, it would be boring. I worked in the evenings. Slept at night. Manned the corner all day. My legs got pretty strong, the second week. I didn't just stand there. I moved around and got exercise.

Charley came back, the third week. "I'm going to pull you out of here soon," he said. "Forcibly remove you, if I have to."

"Five minutes after I left with you—that's when she'd come by."

Charley held his mouth open as long as he could. No words came out. Charley left.

There was a stoplight on my corner of City Square. This made all the pedestrians pause, waiting for the walk signal. This gave me a good look at everyone. No one appealed to me.

Week four: she didn't come.

Month four: she didn't come.

What was I standing here for—if I didn't believe it? I had to believe it. The pop radio songs said so.

It was a rainy day in October. Then it was a rainy day in November. Rainy days seemed more likely to yield results. I don't know why.

Charley almost got hit by a car, because he was busy yelling at me. "One of these people must be a shrink," he said. "I'll start asking." Then he turned toward an oncoming group. "Excuse me, sir, are you a psychiatrist? My friend here needs one, A.S.A.P."

The next day a patrolman walking his beat asked me what I was doing there.

"Waiting," I said. "Just waiting."

"Gimme some details on that," he said.

"I have to wait here to meet someone," I said.

"Maybe your wife," he said, "Mrs. Vague."

I started getting afraid he was going to boot me out of there. Then my life would be over.

"I'm not causing any trouble," I said.

"So far," he said. Then walked away.

At least if I had a few close calls to keep me going.... A woman here or there who I thought, for just an instant, might be the one....

But no one ever came close. It would be all, or nothing at all. Pop radio lyrics.

So now a year went past. I worked the holidays. I came in on weekends. I got older.

Charley took a job in Vermont. No one visited after that.

How could I be sure I wasn't going crazy? A lethal dose of lovey dovey intentions.

It came to be my existence. I found my life in the details. The precise number of seconds it took the light to change. The monthly changing of the billboards overhead. Who overdressed for the weather. Who underdressed.

It was a sad day in mid-February.

It wasn't the first year on the corner.

It wasn't the second, or the third.

I was like a lamppost that could think. A fire hydrant with a beating heart. A City Square fixture.

Then she came.

I saw her from all the way down the block, approaching. She had an aura that matched mine. No BS. She had hair and legs and all the rest of what she needed.

What made her special? you ask. What made her the one? Look to your own romance for that impossible answer.

She walked right up to me with everything she had. "Hey," she said. "Hey," I said.

"I've been walking past every corner in every city, for years," she said.

"I've been studying every face walking past this corner," I said, "for years."

"What have you been waiting for?" she said.

"You," I said.

"What have you been searching for?" I said.

"You," she said.

"I almost gave up," we both said, at the same time. "I'm glad I didn't."

The patrolman from years ago came by.

"See?" I said. "She's here at last. My wait is over."

"Jesus, kid," he said. "I've seen statues with less patience than you got. Glad it worked out for ya'."

"Me too," I said.

The day was still a sad one. I was leaving my corner. I left a note for Charley, in case he ever came looking:

You were right, my friend, about just what I needed. Turns out she's a shrink. And now I'm her lifelong patient.

Bio: Mark Joseph Kevlock (used to spell it: Kiewlak) has been a published author for more than two decades. His work has appeared numerous times in The Bitter Oleander, Wild Violet, The Oracular Tree, Cezanne's Carrot, and A Twist of Noir. He has also written for DC Comics.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Writing Prompt: The Sounds of Headlines

The YouTube video shared below (scroll to bottom of this post) blends music and lyrics from two talented, powerful contemporary female artists. The song you are about to listen to features the tune of "Gasoline" by Halsey and the words of "Savages" by Marina and the Diamonds. When listening to one of the artists, this video came up as a suggestion. It seems that YouTube users can create what are referred to as musical "mashups" of various artists, blending their work to mix sounds and phrases. This mashup, compiled by user Gingergreen, is one of the most dynamic we've come across in how it stresses the message of "Savages" with the melodic force of "Gasoline." The song "Savages" depicts the dark aspect of man and refers to much of what is seen in the headlines. It asks provocative questions of human nature and attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible.

For this writing prompt, click on the video below and develop written responses in the forms of poetry and flash fiction (under 1,000 words). Do not post your responses in the comment section of this blog post. If you'd like to share them with us, please use the Feedback form on our magazine website feedback page (as we may choose to feature a few of the responses, please also glance at our submission guidelines page).

We are also featuring links to the song lyrics as well as the original, separate songs of both artists for further perusal.

Mashup link (if shared video doesn't play):

Original songs and lyrics to "Savages":

"Gasoline" by Halsey (audio):
"Savages" by Marina and the Diamonds (audio):
Google search on "Savages" lyrics by Marina Lambrini Diamandis: