In honor of Halloween, we bring you an excerpt from Maile Chapman's ghostly tale, "Bit Forgive," which was originally published in APS 2.
This morning I received a letter ostensibly from my friend Niklas Nummelin, fifteen years almost to the day since the accidental sinking of his ship and his presumed death by drowning somewhere off the Finnish coast of the Bay of Bothnia.
The letter doesn’t contradict the version of events we all heard long ago from the single crewmember who survived by reaching (if indeed he was not incarcerated in) the small punition boat towed behind the Bit Forgive; criminal or not, we believed him when he described his drowning comrades shouting and gurgling through flooding mouths, pulling at him in the endless cold water with heavy, sharp fingers. And we forgave him for what we knew he must have done—fighting off the drowning men who reached his tiny boat, who would have sunk him under their combined weight. We believed and forgave because no one else from that ship came back to our harbor, neither alive nor dead, and surely we needed him, because we needed to see the proof preserved on his back, shoulders, and cheek in the form of five-fingered scars from those who did not survive.Continue reading
When the prices of everything went up ninety-seven times in one year, M’dhara Vitalis Mukaro came out of retirement to make the coffins in which we buried our dead. In a space of only six months, he became famous twice over, as the best coffin maker in the district and as the Mupandawana Dancing Champion.
Fame is an elastic concept, especially in a place like this, where we all know the smells of one another’s armpits. Mupandawana, full name Gutu-Mupandawana Growth Point, is bigger than a village but it is not yet a town. I have become convinced that the government calls Mupandawana a growth point merely to divert us from the reality of our present squalor with optimistic predictions about our booming future. As it is not even a townlet, a townling, or half a fraction of a town, there was much rejoicing at a recent ground-breaking ceremony for a new row of Blair toilets when the district commissioner shared with us his vision for town status for Mupandawana by the year 2065. Ours is one of the biggest growth points in the country, but the only real growth is in the number of people waiting to buy coffins and the lengthening line of youngsters waiting to board the Wabuda Wanatsa buses blasting Chimbetu songs all the way to Harare.
You will not find me joining that queue out of Mupandawana.
In the ninth lunar month of Tianhan 2 (99 b.c.e.), during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, Commander of the Cavalry Li Ling led a force of five thousand foot soldiers north from the border fort of Zheluzhang. For thirty days, they threaded their way through harsh foothills where the southeastern end of the Altai mountain range starts to give way to the Gobi desert. The cold north wind cut through their uniforms, and they felt truly isolated, ten thousand li from any source of help. When they reached the foothills of Mount Xunji at the northern edge of the Gobi desert, the army at last made camp. They were already deep inside the territories of their enemy, the Xiongnu nomads, known to the West as “the Huns.” It being so far north, the clover had withered, and the elms and willows had shed all their leaves, although it was still autumn. Even the trees themselves were hard to find, apart from the area surrounding the camp, so harsh and wild was the landscape, with nothing but sand and rocks and a waterless riverbed. As far as the eye could see, there were no signs of human habitation. The only signs of life were the occasional antelope that ventured onto the plain in search of water, and formations of wild geese flying south high above the distant mountains clearly outlined against the autumn sky. Yet not a single man was moved to sweet nostalgic thoughts of home. Their situation was too perilous to permit that.Continue reading
The outer office was much the same as she remembered it. The thick neat oak desk of Mrs. Lanahan, a manageable stack of buff folders in the far right corner. A small boy in a blazer likely to be his older brother’s knocked unhappy heels against the chair leg. He’d been waiting for a while, a tear path nearly dry on his freckled cheek. Wide gray eyes skimmed Ann McCleary then let her go, no help. Someone’s grandmother dispatched to pick up a sick child, nothing positive. Nothing that could distract or cajole Sister Mary Arthur to leniency.
Ann McCleary had boys of her own, long grown, boys she’d left to stew in that very chair. Her line: If you got yourself there, you’d done something to deserve it. She’d made a single exception with Terry, age seven, when a polished oxford lace-up went skidding under the desks to catch the attention of a girl he favored. Even younger, even in nursery school, Terry had some tiny thing stilled to contemplation, to watching him. She smiled to think of him, not the handsomest of her boys, but the one, the one who lit up the room.Continue reading
Los Angeles has been called the City of Dreams; also the City of Angels; Jim Morrison called it the City of Lights, but to me it was just a city. I often say that I’m originally from New York, but that’s not true. Although I did live in New York for a number of years, I was born in California, near San Diego, and for that reason Los Angeles has never been a dream for me, just a city, a city to live in. Nathanael West called it the City of Death, and maybe it was for him, but for me, at the moment, it was something else. At the moment I was walking along Vermont Avenue, alive in a way I’d never been before, alive to my senses and the world streaming in through my senses. I’d detached who I was from the web that had organized my world, and although a sense of self is a wonderful thing, as I walked along the sidewalk that morning, listening to the sounds of the cars, and the birds, and the occasional voices, I didn’t need any mediation between me and the world.Continue reading
Lev has worried all afternoon that his niece and her husband won’t find his house. It is easy to miss the turnoff for Todd Road and get lost in a maze of half-paved, wooded roads that are part of the town’s semirural fantasy about itself. He is relieved now to see the step-van pulling into his driveway, the late sun bouncing in a streak off the vehicle’s metal siding.
“Yes, okay, I have the address,” Sonya’s husband had told him earlier today, when Lev was giving him directions.
“The address won’t help. Just listen to me…”
“I am listening.”
It had been one of those exchanges where the other person’s sentences seemed always to begin in the middle of your own.
Three years ago, Sonya had sent him and Dina a photo of herself and Meho in a wedding chapel with vinyl records and photos of old movie stars on the walls. A year and a half later, a second picture had arrived in the mail: a professional snapshot of a dark-eyed infant girl posing on a cushion, a studio backdrop of painted clouds behind her. “Our angel has arrived,” it said beneath. When Lev attached the card to their refrigerator, Dina had wondered out loud why someone would burden their child with a name like Andjela Bliss.Continue reading
VISIONS OF BERNIE EPTON (1983)
You could slate Attila the Hun or Yuri Andropov as a Democrat and he’d win this election… —Marty Oberman, Alderman, 43rd Ward (February, 1983)
Epton Before It’s Too Late —Epton Campaign Slogan
I say to you Mr. Epton: Do you want this job so badly? Are you so singularly minded that you would try to destroy a character? —Harold Washington (March, 1983)
This town is beset by a wretched plague. —Leanita McClain, Chicago Tribune (March, 1983)
He comes to me sometimes in my awake dreams, shouting, Shut up, shut up, shut up…
Election night, 1983. Maybe it was exhaustion. Or maybe the campaign had, finally, driven him as bonkers as some Washington partisans accused him of having been all along. On paper, the man was a living miracle. He won 48.6 percent of the vote as a Republican running in Chicago. Of course it wouldn’t have happened if the Democratic nominee hadn’t been you know who. A vote for Bernie Epton was a vote for survival, plain and simple.Continue reading
Harold Washington was reelected to a second term on April 7, 1987, defeating Jane Byrne in the Democratic primary and Edward Vrdolyak in the general election. He died unexpectedly on November 25, 1987, at City Hall. You can read more about Harold Washington’s place in Chicago’s political history in Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father.
HAROLD WASHINGTON WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1998) OUT AT MIDWAY AIRPORT
No one in this city, no matter where they live or how they live is free from the fairness of my administration. We’ll find you and be fair to you wherever you are.
Politics is a craft that has many practitioners and few craftsmen. —Ralph Berkowitz
Of Harold Washington, they used to say that as long as he had politics he’d never be lonely. And that was all well and good while he was alive, but caused some problems for the mayor in heaven. First he didn’t appreciate that the gates were pearly. Is this some sort of subliminal message? Then he challenged Gabriel for Arch Angel on a reform ticket and nearly pulled it off with forty-seven percent of the vote. Disgruntled and sub-angels supported him in droves. Over the years he caused so much trouble that finally, God, just to get rid of him for a while, let him come home for a small, unannounced visit.Continue reading
I'd been sitting there in the courtroom all day, looking at the back of people's heads, mostly Andy Munson's. In that situation you couldn't help but sit and wonder what went on inside there, in Andy's head. I'd known him as long as I could remember. There were a lot of people in town I'd known as long as I could remember, and some of them I knew better than Andy but I suppose I knew Andy better than most. But there was always something about Andy you couldn't know. Maybe it was hard to figure out Andy because Andy didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure out himself.Continue reading
When they got the cabin, they unloaded only the food and drink, burgers and brats and bourbon and beer, set up the charcoal grill, and began to eat and drink. When they finished eating, they continued drinking and got out their guitars. All four of them played and they eventually became a kind of demented, drunken flamenco quartet, lips and teeth working fiercely over difficult fingerings, dripping sweat. When that was over, they turned on the radio and listened to a show called “Honky-tonk Saturday Night” being broadcast from a nearby Indian reservation. The show’s host was very old, they thought, and had an all but completely indecipherable mÃ©lange of mumbling lisping accents for a speaking voice. They fell in love with him immediately, and when he would do things like get up to go to the bathroom and forget both to put a record on before he left and forget to close the door after he flushed, they swooned with delight. It was nothing but very old country and Western songs for several hours, and then they began to play Yahtzee. Alex was wearing his cowboy hat and frequently jumped up to say, “Go fer yer Yahtzee, stranger,” which precipitated them all into hilarity every time he did so. The radio show host, whose name was Maylon, dropped most of the ys and ies at the end of names, and compensated by drawing out the last names, sometimes lisping the s, sometimes turning it into a harder d so it would be “Here’d a dong by John Ca-a-a-a-sh,” or “here’d Kit We-e-e-llth,” and he would put a 45 on at 78, scrape the needle across the record as he removed it, curse softly but audibly, apologize, and put it on at 33 and a third, scrape the needle again and say, “Oh for Pete dake.” When he got it right, he’d say, “Dis is goin’ out to the Wallinsky Thithters at Lunker La-a-a-ke.”Continue reading