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November '05 -- guest edited by Claudia Smith

Learning to Ride a Bicycle
  by Amanda Deutch

  by Dorothee Lang

  by Terri Brown-Davidson

Kisses on the Forehead
  by Liliana V. Blum
   translated by Toshiya Kamei

Margaret and Beak Discuss Jazz for the Last Time
  by Kathy Fish

Lawrence Welk's Last Erection
  by Linda Boroff

The Star
  by Bob Arter

  by Kim Chinquee

mailing list?

In your mind the song of that skinny Spaniard lingers insistently. In a voice hoarsened by the cigarette and excesses, he sings a story of an ugly girl who is “condemned to be chaste” and only receives “kisses on her forehead.” Worse, you think, if she carries a few more pounds and a few more years. “It won’t be me. Today it’ll be different,” you repeat silently again and again, as if chanting a mantra to exorcise the demons conjured up by Joaquín Sabina’s song.

'Suck in your belly. Raise your chin. Breathe deeply. Feel confident about yourself. Keep calm,' you tell yourself while darting your eyes around the plaza. He could be one of those men walking elegantly, at a steady pace, or one of those walking quietly, swiftly, pensively... But no. No one has a red carnation in his lapel, as he agreed in the last letter. His approval of your slight eccentricity ended up winning your heart. Anyone else would have laughed at the idea, would have called you corny and old-fashioned. But not him. Because he's special, unique. That's why you won't end up like the girl from the song. Everything will be different.

You fidget anxiously on the bench, adjusting your enormous derriere and straightening your “amply proportioned” back, as you wrote in the classified ad in the magazine for women of the world: “A mature, intelligent woman, amply proportioned, wishes to meet a gentleman aged between 30 and 60, with serious intentions, to share long walks under the moonlight, interesting conversations, glasses of wine at the candle light, and maybe the rest of our lives. Write at the following address...” Only God knows how long you hesitated before you decided to place the ad. Only the pigeons in the plaza, deprived of their daily ration of bread and hard tortillas for a few days, have an idea on how many crumpled drafts went to the trash basket. It wasn’t easy to write a description of yourself. You couldn’t exaggerate or lie, but you had to spin the odds in your favor and catch the attention of a gentleman, like you, in search for eternal love. You managed to cover up the trap with ambiguous romanticism. The final version seemed sincere and convincing. The stamps on the white envelope carried saliva and longings of a lifetime.

A lifetime... the hands of your watch, this small, beautiful golden watch, an inheritance from your grandmother, seem to have got stuck in the cobweb of time. It’s true, you have arrived early so that you could watch him coming. But waiting is an annoying snail that doesn’t go anywhere. The bench next to the kiosk, in front of La Casa of Naná -- this is the meeting point you suggested. You chose the place out of habit -- you sit there every evening for many years. The place was the bait that would let you know whether he knew about this brothel -- it would prove that he has visited there. Or you would be assured of his innocence if he asks you for the exact direction of the place -- it would be a sign of his chastity. The sun begins to be less insistent and the bells toll intensely -- with disgust? -- calling for six o’clock mass. Your watch, punctual and exact, marks the time at this moment. The time. A current of cold anxiety fills your body, a sensation similar to the one you had that day, when you were five years old...when your mom left you in school...

Until then, everything was peace and quiet. The earth rotated on its normal course. But your mother left you at the door of the school and only told you she would pick you up at two in the afternoon. With your lunch in a lunchbox and a backpack on your back, you stood still in the same place until a nun touched your shoulder with her thin, cold hand to take you to your classroom. At that moment an infinite uncertainty, an eternal abandonment like the universe, seized your small body. Time froze, a longing without an end, like the rest of that day. The certainty of facing the unknown. Total fear. You could never forget that sensation, though you did a good job hiding it in the remote drawers of your memory for many years. Until now.

A hand, this time big and warm, touches your shoulder. He looks down at you, with his lion-like mane -- a lion who has traveled with the circus for many years. You can’t measure his expression behind the filth on his face. It’s impossible to know the tone of his skin. White, brown, olive-skinned? Nor can you place a bet on his clothing. It’s with an indefinable reddish tint, maybe a black faded by the sun, probably an extremely dirty white. While your eyes travel over him, you’re dumbfounded: the pigeons have petrified in front of a sunflower seed on the ground; the devout women clasp their hands in an eternal prayer; the working girls of the brothel freeze while finishing up fast sex. It’s some kind of misunderstanding... your hope melts away in the heat of the evening when you spot a withered carnation in what seems to be a frayed jacket. Then you notice the intense stench of sweat and years of shabbiness emanating from your date.

“Lovely Ludivina. I knew you would arrive on time for our date. You’re more beautiful than I imagined. Now my days as a Don Juan looking for a Doña Ines are over. A renowned poet said the woman is the same book everywhere, but there are luxurious editions: like you.”

Under the spell of his words, you don’t know how you both have arrived at the motel whose walls are stained with urine and lewdness. Nor how you’re the one who picks up the bill for renting the room for one hour. He takes your arm solemnly and you both make your way to the stairs. While you go up, you wonder at each step--why are you going with this man you loathe with all your senses? Because you’re afraid of dying without experiencing this thing they told you as something despicable? If sex was something dirty, then those voices claiming the absolute truth--your parents, the nuns, everybody--were right. And now you lie down on a filthy bed with a scarecrow of a man who surely spends his days begging for change in some cruise ship while he delouses himself. But something urges you to abandon yourself under his skinny body and let him touch you with his long black nails. Today, after a little more than five decades of purity, you’re living through you first love affair. You can’t, however, hold back a tear when the man kisses you, chastely as an upright priest, on your forehead...

Liliana V. Blum lives in Ciudad Madero, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Her stories have appeared in various literary journals and anthologies, including El Cuento and El Aleph. Liliana is the author of the story collection La maldición de Eva (Voces de Barlovento, 2002).

Toshiya A. Kamei is an MFA student in translation at the University of Arkansas. Toshiya's translations of Mexican short prose and poetry have appeared in Bonfire, Amarillo Bay, Metamorphoses, Riot Angel, SmokeLong Quarterly, Literal, Eclectica, Mslexia, The Foliate Oak, among others.