stories

flash fiction

threeSam Eisenstein


eistenAsked to provide West with a brief autobiography, the writer sends West this requisite bare bones synopsis of what is and has been a busy and fulfilling life:  “I've been in the English Dept. at LACC since 1961, 50 years! I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in comparative literature, another Master’s in Psychology from Goddard, and I am an MFT, marriage and family counselor licensed in California. My daughter Chana is a veterinarian in Willets, California; my stepson David is an ophthalmologist in West Los Angeles; my wife Bettyrae  is an interior decorator. Green Integer and Red Hen have published six of my novels with several more under consideration. I have had stories or poems in such publications as Penthouse, Seventeen, and many small magazines. My plays have been done by La Mama, Odyssey Theatre Group, KPFK and others. Reading and writing occupy my leisure time away from the classroom, where my favorite class is creative writing, Writers Roundtable, English 127.

Stories:

Other Works:



The Girls

The girls…float up from the south like frail bubbles…

The girls—they can barely be called women—float up from the south like frail bubbles, carrying paper valises coated on the inside with the few garments mothers and aunts can stitch together in dirt-mud floored huts. All of them have been adjured to remain virgins, chaste in the roiling city, stay untouched by anything but dirt and smog and the tiny metal fragments that lodge in the throat after a day tending one of the giant machines that cough invisible bits of themselves. The girls tidy themselves as best they can in their dormitories, eat half-congealed noodles or tacos perched like birds on the sides of their beds and then go out into the restless half-dusk in small throngs, timidly hoping for a likewise chastened young man to discover them and take them away from the noise and the throbbing angry pulses of the supervisors.  Instead, one by one, sometimes half a dozen, disappear as from the face of the world. Their beds are unslept in, and when several nights have passed, they are remarked on, circled by the others as if the bed could tell the tale. Sometimes, weeks later, headless corpses are found in ditches, gutters, or in the desert. It is sometimes never known which girls have been murdered, which have simply gone back to their villages without notice, or spirited away to some rich one's castle. Religious boys and men have been trained to respect virtuous girls, who are "good." Therefore, men who are cruel and sadistic see to it that good girls become bad at their hands and thereafter may be hurt, wounded, mutilated or murdered without any sense of wrong-doing on their parts. If there is also money to be made after they have tired of their sport with a terrified cowering girl, they are more than willing to earn it. Parts of the girl can be converted into currency. Rich people suffering from terminal ailments pay well for organs. As they had been anonymous replaceable parts tending machines, so the girls' internal organs become faceless donors to the bodies of the affluent. The city battens on the blood of an endless supply of fresh girls from the villages of the south. Police may be aware of organizations involved with the butchery, may even collude with them. Officials offer up scapegoats claiming to have solved the murders. Everybody knows the deadly danger of the city, yet the pipeline continues to pulse with fresh blood, as the girls cannot support themselves in their home villages.  So there is an unending supply even as the death toll rises inexorably as the temperature in the desert outside Ciudad Juarez.

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Feral

Desperation knows no friends.

The worst part is being close to pouncing and getting that itchy feeling in the back of your ear that something else is preparing to leap on you. What do you do? How much time do you have to close the deal, so to speak, to use the vocabulary of one of the feeders I least depend on every morning. There's no cooperation out here. If there were, I'd say to my pursuer, looky, we both need to make a living, but I'm scrawny, all skin and bone, hardly a decent meal, and I can lead you to some really good pickings if you don't land on me. But no, it won't fly, any more than the ducklings I had in mind. He or she doesn't have a shard of a sense of humor anyway, so there's no point in making a joke, it would just be wasted on him or her. Oh, let's say it's a her, since the female has to hunt for her meals and for her young ones, against whom I have no feelings of anger. Desperation knows no friends. I'll bet she'd pounce on and render into pieces even her own sister if she got hungry enough and the young ones pleaded with her for a morsel long enough. While this is going on, I'm edging away from the open. I don't want to leave myself a clear shot, one pounce and that's it, I'm toast. I feel a growling inside me, since I'm getting close to my heat. I Like it, because it give me a chance to jabber with the male of my species, who keeps aloof the rest of the time. When I'm in heat I'm irresistible. I like that about this time of year. Twice, as I figure it. Twice a year, I get to be more like Rita Hayworth. Oh, yes, I know about late and lamented stars of Hollywood, because I get into the dark and dusty corners of garages for shelter on bitter nights. And the stealthy predators don't like to go there, because they smell too much of people, who can leave a very lasting pungent smell, I can tell you. They like to think of themselves as clean and tidy, but we can detect even the least amount of perfume, alcohol or tobacco. Well, we don't hold it against them, because some of them actually see to it that we can stay alive. Why? Guilt, I suppose, because they didn't do it for their own parents, sent them off to a prison without bars, somewhere. Well, as for me, I am a sociable sort. Not like many of my fellow ferals. I have sympathy for even those who live inside, sleep in their beds without fear of being pounced on. Yes, sympathy. They get bad dreams. They worry about when they're going to die. How much longer they have. Well, as for me, I can sleep, when I do sleep, without worrying about whether I am going to wake up again. It's just in the genes, I guess. We ferals live for the moment, except for when we've got kids to worry about. Then we've got to put them in a place where they've got a chance to thrive and grow up to become ferals in their turn. For that is the reasonable and rational way with cats. We're feral by nature. I see the pampered pets who put their snouts up to the windows to look out at us. Are they contemptuous? Or are they envious? I prefer to think they envy our free-ranging lives, dangerous, maybe brutishly short, but free. Always free. It's what the feline fellowship is all about. Not to say we don't allow the feeders to pet and stroke us, even while we know full well it is a very small part of their lives and they don't really care very much. We are temporary. But so are their concerns, if they only knew it. They don't have the string of genetic closeness we enjoy. My children are myself. Not just a lengthening string of bubble gum that snaps when it gets thin enough. We are a living continuity. My very thoughts are transferred to my progeny. We are essentially them. You humans can't boast that. It makes up for a lot.

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The Chicken Farm

I would sink into the terrible stink still aware and alive, like the chickens.

When I was little my family traveled to the country to buy eggs from the Dado family. Usually I liked trips in the car but for this destination I pleaded to be left at home. I knew this wouldn't happen. I was always teased at the Dado house, because I hated to see chickens killed. It seemed that they reserved killing times for when I would be there. I wonder now whether there wasn't some anti-Semitism involved. Did my parents ever reveal their name? It never seemed to bother my sister, who was allowed to wait in the car, read a book or do her knitting. I was always hustled out into the dusty yard where the block for cutting off the heads of the chickens was located. I remember the wide smiles on the faces of the Dados, husband and wife, their hefty, thick bodies moving slowly with heavy steps. The wife took the axe from its place on the wall of the house and grabbed two chickens at a time from where they ran loose, pecking here and there. They squawked with a sound that hurt my ears and which seemed to go directly into the deepest parts of my brain. With one sure stroke the head of one came off and then the other. The woman all but bowed after she did this. The blood spurted from both necks held tightly in each hand. The heads writhed on the ground, eyes still open in terror, maybe even horror. Then, with a flourish, she let go of the bodies, which did not fall to the ground. No, as they fell they were running, and continued to run in circles until the blood stopped spurting and they lay down dead. I would usually need to go to the toilet after this spectacle, which was particularly horrible, as the woman took both heads and threw them down the latrine hole, the only toilet in the place. When I was sitting there I was terrified that the heads would somehow leap up and bite my privates. I was also afraid that some day my parents might make a deal with the Dados to cut off my head and throw it down the latrine. Where I would sink into the terrible stink still aware and alive, like the chickens. The Dados and my parents all seemed to have a good time with my fear. Once, I couldn't bring myself to go to the outhouse and wet my pants. For that I got a good spanking. My sister's disgust as we drove home was even worse. She was so superior. I seethed and plotted to get even with her. I couldn't think of punishment severe enough for my parents. I knew we would be going to the Dado farm again in two weeks. Forever.

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Palomino

She continued to walk toward me as though she knew I would merge into her…

OK. Let's agree right off the bat that I'm crazy. It wasn't that I exactly haunted barns, the way middle-aged pederasts do middle-school parking lots. What's this on the ground? Let's see. No. I squandered my spare time wandering around rental horses. My feeling that they were slaves and poorly treated went unspoken. I made no signs and carried no placards. The seething I felt, the tightness around the groin was reserved for some important far-off as yet unseen event. I was always waiting for my moment. I never doubted it would come. I felt my insides grow more solidified, more dense, with every passing day. Lucky I had a job as a teacher in which no emotion had to show. I was the granitic old man the younger teachers spoke about behind my back. But my back was increasingly porous, ironically, so I heard and felt everything. Like when a horse raises or flicks its tail, you just know it is sensing everything in its range. Of course, it can't spray dung the way a hippo does, but the horse's tail with its thousands of strands, each acts as a hearing agent, and it knows what is going on. That is why a horse will often turn around rather than face you. Its face is in a way its tail. The great green bubbles of dung that emerge never fail to thrill me. They are perfect, like little worlds, like globular pieces of promise. And of course, they are, this is undeniable. Think of the worlds of creatures that depend on these occasional gifts. The Egyptians knew dung's value. They made the scarab or dung beetle their national emblem. That was immortality. And it all comes from the horse. Need I go into boring detail about what every civilization has imagined about the horse? The unicorn? Pegasus? And more, lost to antiquity. All available to me, because I follow the eternal horse, even those debased of the rental stables. Oh, I pay something for the ability and right to hang around. I harm no one. I speak to no one. I don't talk to the precisely accoutered females who are hoisted into the saddle by their adoring dads. Who are not afraid of me. I look OK. I'm not disheveled, not hirsute. Just a middle-aged fellow looking mildly about. But inside! Seething with the need to mount and fly. Waiting for the appropriate horse that is possessed of the magical qualities which I can, I only can, bring out and reify. Then she came. I was standing outside the barn in brilliant sunshine, squinting at the opening in the barn when the head of one came out of slanting shadow. First the prominent nose and then sloping forehead with great shining eyes. I was taken aback. I have never been smitten by a woman before. Oh, I like them. I am a man, you know. But this woman! But then instantly she wasn't. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was a blonde palomino, flowing blonde hair and long regal Roman nose, lips dark with blood and sinewy. Oh, I had never been unfaithful to my vision of the magic horse. Here she was. She cantered right toward me. Untrammeled by keeper, no bridle on her. She knew me, without ever having seen me before. She continued to walk toward me as though she knew I would merge into her when she finally came to where I was. And I stood. I closed my eyes. Began to smell her. The marvelous reek of grass masticated in her pure mouth, the smell of the wonderful pelt with its coarse bristling. Before I even knew it myself I was astride her. How did I get up? Her magic helped. Shouting voices around that began almost immediately, they could not reach us, we were already joined, my spine to her spine. We were one. I urged her forward. The freeway that used to exist just to the south of the rental stables disappeared. There was only virgin grassland, with a pond and river trickling through it. We easily leaped over several in our mad impetuous forward rush. Where are we going? I asked her telepathically. No need to ask, she responded with a joyful neigh, I know where we're going. We will get there. Oh, I don't doubt it, my beauty, I have been waiting for you all my life. And we rode. Dust rose behind us as mechanized vehicles made their futile attempts to catch up, intercept, even stop us. And then, with a great tightening of muscle and sinews, she leaped clear, and we were free of the land, we were aloft, in the air, soaring. Oh, god, I groaned, let me cease to be at this very moment, as there can come no greater one. As though she heard, she nodded, she turned her glorious blonde head and glowing eyes to me, and the eyes grew ever greater and more glowing until they took in the whole of the horizon, and we both became one, disappearing into the sun, leaving only ash to the panting earthlings disappointed behind us.

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Mummies

"The mummies of former rulers sit in the main plaza of Cusco for a symbolic sip of chicha, or corn beer, as the current ruler offers a toast from a ritual platform. In his role as host, the ruler served as an intermediary between the present and the past--represented by his deceased ancestors." National Geographic, April 2011

 … every year we carefully uncover, dust and carry the mummies…

OK, because you're not from here and maybe over there, wherever that might be, you don't have the capacious basements all of us have dug with our own hands, being careful not to disturb the graves of less-fortunate ancestors, whose progeny have been careless enough to allow their holy remains to steam and rot in the unforgiving earth. We don't have many of that sort here because a very careful eradication campaign has rid us of their lineage. But that's straying from the subject, the holy month of August, which is when every year we carefully uncover, dust and carry the mummies from their places in our basements and put them in the middle of the rumpus room where they sit in state albeit a bit stiff from year-long interment in the basement. They don't need ventilation in general but it does take some time for them to air out a little. During that period of time, we go out, have a chicha or two in the nearby outlet, talk about them, brag a little. I for one have much to brag about, as my ancestors, the nearest ones, originated in a place where they actually burn the dear bodies of the departed, which is guaranteed to cause their spirits to flee for unknown parts. Barbaric. They emigrated, knowing what the time succeeding the end in that place would be like. They perceived in advance, long before the actual birth, my desire for a full life, surrounded by animals populated with formerly lost spirits, those I have mentioned, buried without the science deployed to keep them whole. I look into the eyes of my spaniel, seeking to connect with one I wish I could be sure is in there, my first love, whose unlovely hump precluded pride by her family in her huge spirit, and who died without experiencing my love. For that reason, I hope those large limpid eyes contain a specific love for me rather than only a general doggy love for the cosmos. As the ancestors fill the room, and there are many, many generations of them, I am rendered more and more giddy with how the passage of years has inexorably steadied and parsed any and all wayward tendencies of my genealogy, culminating in the precise example of humanity that I, humbly, am. The years have sheared away my mother's thinning hair and drooping mammaries, my father's tendency to flatulence and bad teeth. My maternal grandfather's need for spectacles, his wife's tendency toward making thin chicken soup. My paternal grand ancestor was a world thumper, whose saber sawed its way through many a neighboring fiefdom. It was his own father who discovered the means for preserving the ancestors, who was responsible for our superior culture. He also invented chicha, which comforts us in times of giddiness. Our township is honeycombed with the resting places of our ancestors, to whom we owe absolute fidelity for our continued prosperity. I understand there are those with better weapons than ours on their way determined to destroy us and our way of life. We have come to the decision that our best defense is to place the ancestors around the perimeters of our space. As they have guarded our peace during hours of sleep while engrossed in their own eternal sleep, so will they keep us safe during difficult days ahead.

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Dream Kiss

… she's no longer the willowy, dreamy, pale-skinned, long-tressed, soft-murmuring, sloe-eyed hatchling she was…

I should be able to figure this one out. A dream kiss: is it a kind of adultery? Especially if the kissee is a girlfriend of over sixty years ago. I actually know what she looks like now, and she's no longer the willowy, dreamy, pale-skinned, long-tressed, soft-murmuring, sloe-eyed hatchling she was when I washed up on her like a desperate failing tsunami. Coyly, by way of e-mail, twitter and even snail mail, she wonders why I didn't take advantage of the summerhouse on the grounds of her parents' home to take advantage of her? Or the innumerable times we sat hot in the front seat of a borrowed car on a bluff overlooking all of Los Angeles. I thought I was the only one who was hot, but now, after all this time, she informs me that she was too.  And the grim news that she was molested by a one-armed house painter whose gorgeous daughter was popular for all the bad reasons available at that time. My girlfriend, jealous and irate, wanted to out-do her, and actually invited the one-armed father to the summerhouse. I was angered by this "news." She could have told me. By way of apology, she explained that he wasn't able to consummate the act anyway.  It seems that paint fumes had rendered him impotent as well as very awkward. Her mother was secretary to a very prominent movie star, who was often a guest at her parents' dinner parties. I was invited once and had to watch as the actor squeezed my girlfriend's thigh under the table. I wanted to hit him. It would have been a scandal. I pondered whether to inform my girlfriend's mother, who was, of course, sleeping with him between taking his letters, that he was two-timing her with her daughter. I had my opportunity. When my girlfriend was undergoing an emergency root canal, her mother invited me in to take coffee with her, and sitting across from me opened her legs as if by accident, revealing the fact that she was naked underneath. It was unfortunate for my sexual education that I dropped my coffee cup, spilling the contents on their Yorkshire terrier, who let out a prolonged yelp. The mother's legs snapped closed like refrigerator door when she got up to comfort the poor beast. I offered to help clean up the mess but the moment had passed. As I recalled the dream, the face of the kissee kind of merged with the face of the mother.  And it went on and on. I was ready for it to end. I peeked a little to see the woman's face. She was kissing me but she looked bored. As though she was also ready for it to end. Maybe even for it having started in the first place. As though the dream had originated with her, but she was ready to be through with it. After sixty years, I can understand that. In a way, I guess our lips were joined all this time. In some alternate universe that was happening. But why is she teasing me like this after all this time? Knowing that I have seen her in all her stockiness, thick ankles with rolled-down sox, a very staunch brassiere undoubtedly holding up very heavy and pendant breasts, whose youthful breezy and undulant selves I was wild to hold, squeeze and suck. If the kiss lasts much longer the kissee will actually be the age she is now with all the problems of old age, which include forgetting intervening years enough to believe she is still the same person she was, and I am the same awkward person I was then. Now, of course, I am renewedly awkward, due to weak muscles. If she were to climb over me and force me to kiss her I would be unable to resist. How can I explain this to my wife? In the dream she is looking on in deep disapproval. I can hardly expect that she doesn't actually know about this dream, as probably she has also dreamed it. I am waiting for her to speak. I am trying to formulate a way to ask my old girlfriend of sixty years ago not to enter my dreams this way, if she has anything to say about it.

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