Story Excerpts

Mahadevi_Laurie-Harden
Art by Laurie Harden

Mahadevi

by Jane Haddam

If there was one thing Katha Morton was proud of, it was that she had proved her father wrong. Not that it mattered much, these days. Her father had been dead for sixteen years, and not even her brother could remember the sound of his voice. If anybody was going to remember anything about their father, it would definitely be Katha’s brother, David, who had always been their father’s absolute avatar of satisfaction. For a while in her earliest days at Vassar, Katha had taken up with consciousness raising and the meta-analysis of structural misogyny. She had found herself a mentor, Dr. Arlington, who had given her big piles of books to read about all the ways in which women were defined by men and what they could do to get free of them. Katha had thought these things explained the universe. She could see that her father had never wanted a daughter, and would never be satisfied with anything a daughter did. It didn’t matter that she had been admitted to one of the most selective colleges in the entire country. It didn’t matter that she had been elected to Phi Beta Kappa her junior year. David had been admitted to Yale by the skin of his teeth, and only managed to stay there by racking up one academic probation after another.

“They’d probably have taken you at a real school if you’d tried,” her father had said. He was sitting where he always sat, in the big chair placed squarely in front of the television in the family room. With the chair placed the way it was, anybody else in the room had a hard time seeing the screen. He kept a little folding table next to him at all times. He always had a bottle of Dasani water and a paper plate of Cape Cod kettle chips sitting on it.

Katha couldn’t remember when she began to realize that meta-analysis wasn’t working for her. It had been a slow slide rather than an abrupt break. She would look at her relationships with everybody—her father, yes, and her brother, but also her professors and the women who lived in her dorm and the boys she sometimes dated because she couldn’t think of anything else to do. Every once in a while there were “mixers” when cadets came down from West Point, in full dress uniform, to stand against the wall in the gymnasium and stare straight ahead of themselves as if there was nobody else in the room. Every once in a while, one of the cadets would come away from the wall and cross the room to ask a girl to dance. If that went well, the cadet and the girl would go outside for a walk. If that went very, very well, the cadet would take his sword out of its sheath and cut a button off his uniform. Katha had never been sure what the buttons were actually supposed to mean. She had collected three of them by the time she was ready to graduate.

“A cadet couldn’t marry somebody like you,” her father had said, when he found out about the buttons. “It would ruin his career.”

During the summer between her junior and senior years, Katha bought a book about Gandhi, and then a book by Gandhi. What she was looking for was right there. Marx talked about alienation and meta-analysis talked about the ways in which alienation was gendered. Gandhi talked about the ways in which everything in the universe was connected. It was all one huge ocean. READ MORE

 

 

Lightness_Ron-BucaloArt by Ron Bucalo

The Lightness of Man

by Thomas K. Carpenter 

The Pharos of Alexandria reached like a pale fist into the thickening sky, defiant and unyielding, as the wine-dark sea crashed into the lighthouse’s bulwark, sending salty spray into Magistrate Ovid’s squinting face. The wind tugged at his robes, snapped the red and gold flags along the earthen mole.

Ovid leaned back—as much as his girth would allow—cupped his hand to shield his face against the weather, and tried to reconcile himself with the lighthouse, which had defied the elements for over three hundred years. The three-tiered structure had been built with millions of limestone blocks, reinforced with lead mortar, and adorned with the likeness of both Zeus and Poseidon, so as not to offend the gods. It was everything he did not want to be: grand, unyielding—and, most importantly—noticed.

He did not normally carry animosity towards inanimate objects, but the magistrate had always avoided this section of the city because of the lighthouse. Though he was sure the builders had meticulously planned and executed the building of the structure, he was convinced that it could fall at any moment, and that it was his unfortunate destiny to be crushed beneath.

The wind hid the approaching horse, so Magistrate Ovid was startled when the booming voice of his superior, Praetor Juneus Atticus, assaulted him.

“A marvel of human invention. Don’t you think?”

“It is—” Ovid searched for a suitable word “—overwhelming.”

The praetor, tall and clear-eyed, drove his horse towards Ovid, forcing him to stumble backwards.

“That—is overwhelming,” said the praetor, yanking on the reins. “The lighthouse is a stationary object, not to be feared. It is a tool of man. Overwhelmed? Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would never have believed you fought in the Legion.”

Magistrate Ovid mustered his voice. “Praetor Atticus, you sent for me, and I have come. What is it you require, so that I may return to my villa. There is a wicked storm upon the horizon and I do not wish to be caught in it.”

“Do not concern yourself with the storm, and, I daresay, you could use the bath, there are stains on your garment!”

Without further comment, the praetor rode towards the space between the garrison buildings and the lighthouse. In calmer weather, food stalls covered the area, but they’d been abandoned, shutters hammered into place against the storm.

Behind a row of wooden huts, which still carried the faint scents of roasted meats, a misshapen body lay. Blood had spilt from the man’s head, forming a pool swirled with dust. His eyes held the shock of impact, a disturbing gaze that made Ovid feel as if the man still experienced the collision. Normally, Ovid might look away, but for the presence of the praetor, he endured.

“He was a tender of the flame,” said Praetor Atticus, nodding towards the final cylinder at the top of the lighthouse, from which a flickering light reflected upon the darkened clouds. “The third one in the past few months. READ MORE