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September '05 -- edited by Savannah Schroll

The Unusual Emigration of Franklin Lewitt
  by Sloan Schang

  by William Painter

For the Good
  by J. L. Laughlin

The Dogwalker
  by Amy Shearn

  by Justin Bonsey

First Impressions
  by Peter Clarke

Photo Credit: (supplied by author): “Trash on 97th” by Vanda Manprasert

The bees came when the sunset stretched to 97th Street where, in the span of a few avenues, you can run your hand along the uneven bricks of the Upper East Side Berlin Wall; trace the narrow divide between two George Washington housing complexes and a luxury high-rise overlooking a mosque on one side and the East River on the other; slide through beautiful serenades of Merengue, Puerto Rican flags, and an overpriced taqueria, before reaching the final block, where tap-dancing doormen swing their ties over the lampposts lining Central Park East.

I knew virtually nothing about the bees, why they hovered restlessly outside the window of my fifth-floor apartment, but they were a welcome omen between the jacks hammering a hole five stories below big enough and loud enough to re-lay the foundation of Carnegie Hill. The constant buzz of the bees approximated the frequent bass emanating from open car doors along 100th, whose nucleus of activity spreads radially from the well-swept sidewalk in front of Moose Hot Dogs & Hamburger Place, which itself leans towards Lexington and is always dependable for 80s hits broadcast from the speaker stuck above the door. The bees might have been attracted to the smell—layers of grease accreted over years—but I preferred to think of them as consolation for my failed and painful relationship with a woman who stole my proposal behind a vendor of sweet potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil. I have my doubts whether the bees knew anything about that, but they may have arrived soon enough to witness the violent fallout of our communicative and sexual failures, bouts of frustrated wordboxing, frequent upsprings of emotional bloodshed—she punching my chest, I pinning her against the wall.

I was so shocked that our love had come to irreversible blows that, after defending myself, I went into the next room to make a sandwich. It was a good one—bologna and cheese—but she had trouble showing her appreciation for this: she called it domestic violence; I called it munchies. I don’t know what the bees were doing during all this or even where they slept (they disappear just before sunset) but I never saw them even when the sunset had reached 98th Street, and I had forgotten about all the traumatic bologna I went through while fighting angry shadows that no longer shone like diamonds. The glaring blindness was nice for a time but my youth rebelled against the gray hairs—too many and too early—sutured into my naivety.

So I moved on, a decision which the bees applauded, sounding their laudatory hum through the screen, window glass, and newly built walls of defense that insulated me from any more heartbreak. Luckily they worked. I was pleasantly unscathed for a time; I could barely remember that my luck and my life were wrested from me in a simple armed burglary attempt of my love, a love so intense that it endured having gone wrong for a year and a half after we had left Japan to pursue a more lucrative future on the top of a hill in East Harlem, where the rent is cheap and sentences are spoken with a strong Caribbean accent.

She had come with me from what seemed to be a lack of alternatives—the true formula for love—and I went with her, lost in memories of the future, books and calculator in hand, to my institution of higher learning, where I learned the life-hating difficulty of living under a system of oppression. All friends were rivals; all books were vicious competitors; all joy was sucked from me in favor of the past, vacuuming my mind of all but what might have been. But there they were! The bees safely escorted me out of the apartment and into the streets that freed me, buzzing at her, her!, if she dared try buzz me. She was outnumbered, and she knew it, deciding then and there that she would save her worst for when I, destroyed by the impracticality of academia and arriving on a stretcher of illusions, got home. Apologetically, the bees parted with me at 99th Street, not up to sharing in the challenge that faced me when the door swung open to god-shaped rain clouds of discontent firing at me from heart-shaped cylinders.

If attention was what she wanted, attention was what she would get; so I picked up my phone and called a friend to meet me at the refrigerators in the back of the bodega on 99th, where I gave her all the attention I thought she deserved from the other side of a steel reserve. We then proceeded to give her attention, of the botanical variety, from the lectern marking the presence of the sadhu of Cherry Tree Park. Here, a woman between her late, late 20s, 30s, or early, early 40s could be seen swimming laps.

The woman had long, nonchalant dreadlocks running down to her waist that unavoidably swept her seat clean before sitting. She smoked discount cigarettes given to her as a public service by the butcher across the street who himself marinated the meat with secondhand nicotine and bad breath. She, a worker bee from the fringes of the city assigned to its upkeep—probably a double D—unlocked the park gate the next morning and, finding me asleep on the slide, asked me if I had stayed overnight to save a seat for the 99th Street viewing of the sunset: the closest thing to seeing a god on fire. My eyes told her no but my mouth told her I would consider it; few other forms of evening entertainment would help me avoid going home to get cleaned up.

She told me from behind a great cloud of smoke that things had not been going too well for her either, that horrible things, things with black shells and veined wings nested among her Salvation Army-issued clothing, but that the sol brought her solace and hopefully an end to the infestation, and the greenhouse weather had given these horrible winged things cause for confusion. I asked her if neighborhood children were really that bad, but by this point, she had burned through most of her breakfast—green herbs and ham on a roll—and perhaps misunderstood my question. She went on to emphasize just how bad things had been, and I could not disagree, seeing as I was in her park and liable to be swept away with the late spring leaves. Further, we were now partners in commiseration, two people who found ourselves in the center of the lollipop, having taken our licks from head to foot and everywhere in between, except in the ass, which has exhibited a preference for being kicked by insane women given to ignoring, in fact spiteful towards the needs, hopes, wants, and desires of the crazy men who love them.

But this, bees willing, was a mistake I vowed never to repeat. I would never love again, I told myself, I wrote in my journal, I imparted to my friends. I made a voice recording confirming such and set it as the tone of my alarm clock to remind me every morning why I was no longer crazy. The bees scoffed, snickered, guffawed at my loveless ambitions, reminding me that even though the sun was now setting on 99th, in just over a week, it would be setting on 101st, where things would take a turn for the brighter, especially with the multicolored facades, brownstones, and the Presbeteriana del Este and Hispana Pentecostal churches that attracted flocks of pigeons in transition, so much like myself.

On the day of the final sounding of my apocalyptic alarm, with its Draculan-red eyes gleaming at me through the early evening sunlight, I made the acquaintance of a large set of breasts, another set of breasts from a foreign land mounted by peach-colored soldiers saluting victory for the people. We had won! I had now forgotten about the ex-vise grip clamping my shadow to the sunset on 97th, had proven that ultimata—ideological notes to self—do not hold in the face of a 36C or thereabouts, that I was the most complete product of nature.

With my hands full and living with the symptoms but not the substance of my viral past, I almost fell in love. I fell deeply into the idea of drowning, even considered joining the bees on the fire escape, before biological timelines of grief issued from the sweaty fjord of my passionate replacement (which lasted longer than it should have), guard being stood, of course, by the peach-gone-blood-red warriors reflecting in her deadlined eyes. Alas, this too was just another fleeting moment, she was merely a moment within the hour to be followed by days weeks months years lifetimes. How could I, I!, possibly be ready for children, I asked her. In their stead, I suggested we first try a plant and then maybe a cat if that works out—we can use the same spray bottle!—but she liked her toast a little on the burnt side, and I was planning on spending my toaster money in the back of the bodega, rapping in my broken Spanish about bioluminescent bays outside San Juan and the hidden allure of the rocky Santo Domingo coastline. No answers are to be found in the North, and this taught me not to look for conclusions. Conclusions are not what life is about, I thought, as one of the bees alighted on my window sill.

And there were no answers in the North, because the sun was setting in the West, I lived in the East, and my love apparently begins and ends in the South—south of but not excluding the liver. We laughed, huddling up to the condensation collected on the refrigerator doors in the back of the bodega, where all my memories are stored in silver bullets. Hasta hoy, I joked on the way out, placing two grubby quarters on the scratched plastic counter and taking my brown-bagged misery across the street to the Acacia of Carnegie Hill, which jacket the westward fence of the basketball court. Bouncing balls and jocular derision muffled the seconds weighing heavily, pushing the sun down into the Jersey brown, between the gray-cast scrapers marking the end of the hour and the beginning of the horizon.

Justin Bonsey is a freelance writer and translator without the originality to write an interesting bio. Having recently dreamt of being the best man at Camus' wedding, he spends his days dreaming of mowing down pedestrians in Times Square in his shiny red, white & blue Hummer and escaping on horseback from the police. After 4 years in each Japan and New York, he has recently purchased a one-way ticket to Thailand for 115-degree autumn afternoons and 180 degrees of detoxification from the American way (God bless the troops). His stories and essays have appeared in Thieves Jargon,VerbSap, City Writers Review, and the Eastern Literary Journal. Justin can be reached at