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"Quetzal"
by Peter Koronakos

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Jory Post

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Jen placed a hand against the wall behind the front door as she pulled on the second rubber boot. Mom, behind her, lifted her parka off the hall tree and slipped in her arms. A flash of light through the window. Jen cupped a palm around her ear and waited, and Mom copied. The thunderclap didn’t disappoint. Mom voted first. “6.3.” Jen fluffed the air around her ear, savored the echo of the clap, like a tongue tapping truffles to the roof of the mouth for the last bit of flavor. “7.1.”

“No way. Let’s get out of here before it gets worse.” They used the magnitude of earthquakes as their subjective scale of choice to measure the capacity, or as Jen said, the audacity of thunder waves.

Puddles were forming and water splashed up and over the galoshes onto her well-worn jeans. Inside the car, Jen started. “Tell me again about the thunder and lightning.”

“Really? That one again?”

“Okay, then. Tell the same one, but different.”

“You are such a demanding child!” Mom grinned.

Jen grinned back. “And you wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“There are at least 10 different ways I would have it.”

“Name three.” Jen held up a fist, waiting.

“One: I would have you be the doting daughter who jumps to my every demand, makes me poached eggs on smoked salmon benedict for breakfast, and puts three spoons of sugar in my tea.”

Jen’s thumb shot up.

“Two: Rather than you be the demander, I would be the commander…in chief. I would command you to mow the lawn and paint my toenails and scrub the gunky tile around the toilet bowl and do the wash.”

Up went the index finger.

“And three: I would make you be the teller of stories, and me be the listener of stories, until the end of time.”

The middle finger.

“if you won’t tell me about the thunder and the lightning in a new and different, completely demanding way, then tell me about the end of time.”

Mom turned at the corner, moving her head and eyes closer to the windshield. “There really is no such thing as time, at least not since Sage and Ori-gano came to town.”

Jen undid the fist and dropped the hand to her lap. “Is this another one of your atrociously awful herb puns?”

“Excuse me, young lady.”

Jen yelled out. “Wait! Stop.”

Mom pushed her foot against the brake pedal, but not too hard, avoiding the slide of wet pavement. “What? What’s the matter?”

“Look.” Jen pointed at a cardboard sign tacked up to a telephone pole. Mom slowed to a stop on the side of the road, headlights pointed at the makeshift sign, black letters drooping in the downpour.

Still legible. Jen read them. “Deer crossing.” She turned to her Mom. “Really?”

Mom spoke first. “What do you think it means?”

Jen stared at the sign. looking for a clue, shaking her head. She reached over and put her hand on her mom’s. “It means that this is a mythical magical place and if you don’t want to miss out on this special portal where deer pass through, you must slow down, must creep along like you would through a housing tract fully decorated in Christmas lights.”

“I see. What else?”

"First of all, it’s only magical after a 7.1 level thunder and lightning extravaganza. Which is why the sign wasn’t there earlier today. And it must be dark, like now. And when the proper level of clap and flash and darkening of the sky occurs, time stops, it doesn’t exist as we have come to know time.“

Mom had the serious playful look on—eyes narrowed, eyebrows shifted. “Is that all?”

“For now.” Jen crossed her arms, looked at the sign, pointed at the windshield. “Onward!”

Mom pushed on the gas and around the next bend they saw the official diamond-shaped yellow sign: Deer Crossing.

“See. People don’t believe that one.”

“You’re right. They don’t. I mean “we” don’t. We drivers don’t believe that this magical place with magical deer will ever appear here, so we don’t slow.”

Jen sat quietly, lost inside, placing the handmade deer sign on the right side of her brain’s screen, the yellow diamond with black letters and the leaping deer on the left side. Eyes closed, flicked back and forth. She stayed with them, fell deep, not quite a coma, but a place beyond where stories could easily be told.

It took her Mom’s “We’re here” to pull her up and out, a crane with a hook attached to a belt loop lifting, tugging, until her eyes opened and she saw the neon letter’s of the Danny’s Diner sign, red, blue, black and white, replacing her mental images with this real one that was not to be resisted.

In the booth she dipped a French fry into ketchup and rested it lengthwise on her tongue, compressing it, not chewing or swallowing, but holding it there, bringing the tomatoes and salt up and into her palette, letting it seep in, before sliding the fry up and back, into her teeth, grinding, swallowing.

“Are you thinking about the deer?”

Jen nodded.

Mom set her milkshake down and cocked her head. “What about them?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay.” Mom slipped the straw into her mouth and brought in the liquid butterscotch ice cream.

Jen played with another fry, dabbing it in the ketchup, pushing the tip into the napkin, red pocks on white. “I’m wondering who wrote the sign.”

“Who do you think wrote the sign?”

Jen shook her head.

“Mrs. Pinkham, maybe?” Mom drank more butterscotch.

Again with the head shake, Jen opened her mouth to speak, stopped then blurted. “No. Letters are way too big. She writes small and dainty, like her voice, barely heard, always hiding.”

Mom nodded. Jen picked up a second fry and put blood on both tips before the sword fight began.

“Are you going to play with that food, or eat it.”

Jen looked at her, eyes squinting. “Now you sound like a real mom.”

“I am a real mom.”

“Only sometimes.”

“Yes. And this happens to be one of those times.”

“I think…” Jen shoved both fries in her mouth and spoke as she chewed. “I think the person who wrote this sign lives in the vortex of the magical place, right across from where the deer pass from our world to theirs. One of those five houses between the two yellow-diamond signs. I think that one night, no, one stormy night, when time had nearly stopped, someone from one of those five houses…”

Mom interrupted. “Someone?”

Jen rocked her head on her neck, trying to loosen the specificity she knew her mother wanted. “Some child, under 14, a girl, with curly black hair, and a fake tattoo on the back of her left hand..”

Mom took the lid off the shake and removed the straw, pouring it straight into her mouth. “Good.”

Jen pushed the fries out of her way and interlaced the fingers from her hands. “So this girl is sitting on the front porch, watching the storm, probably Saturday night when it was so strong the river was running down the middle of the street.”

Mom opened her eyes wider. “That was a bad night.”

“The girl wasn’t out their for the storm or to watch the river rush by, but because she knew the portal was about to open, that magic was about to occur, that she had to wait and stay there on the porch to capture a small piece on the screen inside her head, for later.”

Mom nodded. “For how much later?”

Jen leaned across the table closer to her. “This kind of magic, is forever. It merges with your blood, your skin, the way you walk and talk.”

Mom leaned in until their foreheads nearly touched. “I see.”

“But instead of the portal opening and the doe and her two fawns popping off the bank and into the river and through to the other side, a thing the girl has captured before, instead of this magical moment, the headlights slice through the sheet of rain splashing into the river.”

Mom was quiet. Listening. Listening to her daughter the storyteller. Her magical daughter.

“And the deer freeze. You know, the old saying. And now the girl knows it’s true, that saying. Because the deer won’t move. They stare at those lights, not even attempting to stop, no brakes, no skid, just the thunk, thunk, thunk, the magic gone, lost.”

Eyes down, they looked at the red and white checks of the table. They were quiet for what seemed to both of them like hours.

Mom looked up, then Jen. “What did the girl do next?”

Jen sat up and leaned back. “She found a piece of cardboard and a black marker.”

 

Jory Post wakes up on Wednesday mornings with anticipation of the evening wtiting salon at Clifford and Dixie's house where he has the opportunity to work on his writing with an extremely talented teacher and group of improvisational writers.

Salon Fiction
Kit Anderton
Jo-Ann Birch
Paola Bruni
Dixie Cox
Diane Craddock
Pat Charlotte Grayson
Clifford Henderson
Duke Houston
Helene Simkin Jara
Nancy Krusoe
Jory Post
D. L. Sansone
Jeanne Rosen Sofen

Morton Marcus Poetry Contest:
First Prize
Danusha Lameris

Morton Marcus Poetry Contest:
Runner-Up
Dane Cervine

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