Blog Categories
  • Visit our Indiegogo campaign!

  • Support the IAF!

    The Interstitial Arts Foundation needs your support. Click here to donate and become a Friend of the IAF!

  • @InterstitialArt

  • About the IAF

    The Interstitial Arts Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the study, support, and promotion of interstitial art: literature, music, visual and performance art found in between categories and genres – art that crosses borders. Find out more!

  • Latest IAF News

    IAF INTERFICTIONS ONLINE INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN ends above target goal

    Thanks to 277 generous backers for our Interfictions Indiegogo Campaign, we raised $10,318 by the time our campaign ended at midnight, July 14th, 2014.  When we launched on June 3rd, we were staggered to find donations doubling almost daily, until after about 3 weeks we had reached our original target goal of $8,500, and were able to move on to our Stretch Goal of $10,000.

    Which means we not only get to publish Interfictions Online for another year, but we can pay our contributors at higher rates now, rates more in line with the effort and talent that innovation requires. Thank you, each and every one of the 277 generous donors who stepped forward to say that interstitial art is valued and valuable. The number of people is as important as the number of dollars raised. We are awed by your generosity.
    Now [...]

    INTERFICTIONS issue #3 is up online!

    The editors of Interfictions Online are happy to announce the birth of the journal’s latest issue, on May 22, 2014!

    The Spring 2014 issue’s non-fiction offerings include Mark Craddock’s poignant collage in Aerial Acrobatics and Gender Reassignment Surgery – A How-To Guide, while Inda Lauryn’s Parallels and Transitions splices analysis of contemporary female vocalists into a graduate school memoir. Isabel Yap’s Life Is Not a Shoujo Manga speaks for itself. And in an interview with Jeff VanderMeer and Jeremy Zerfoss, the two creators discuss their illustrated guide to writing, Wonderbook.

    The fiction offerings remix tropes from ghosts to automata, with new work by Richard Butner, Su-Yee Lin, Kat Howard, Tade Thompson and S. Craig Renfroe Jr.

    Several of the poems in this issue reimagine older narratives: Sridala Swami’s AI Winter draws on the Mahabharata, Sonya Taaffe’s Double Business on Hamlet, and Mary Alexandra Agner’s Hypothesis Between Your Ribs on the brief life of Charles Darwin’s daughter.

    [...]

  • Featured IAF News

  • Events

    Nothing has been posted in the selected categories.

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Meta

  • ≡ Stonefield

    Mark Rich

    “Maybe we should come back another day,” he said, standing next to the truck. “It’s already late. It can’t be open all that much longer.”

    “Long enough we can take a look around,” she said. “Come on. We keep talking about stopping here. And then we don’t.”

    “Who’s paying admission?”

    She mock-frowned. “I’ll pay.”

    “All right, then. You pay. I did the driving.”

    “Tough guy.”

    line

    Strong man: James, that wiry friend of his brother-in-law, called Michael the Strong Man of the group, there in Jacob and Sandra’s new living room. Strong man. The shape of the sleeper couch had defied entry through the front door. Its weight had defied Jacob, owner of the new house, and his amassed slender friends. Then when Michael pitched in, they prevailed – Michael, with Dad on the same end straining to keep it raised. It barely cleared the poorly-placed staircase newel just inside the front door.

    top
     
    Days at the drafting table had provided such neat mental constructions – perfect lines and angles within which he could situate himself, to feel measured and squared… he must have slipped away from sensing the roundness and fullness of the world.
     
    bottom

    After lowering the sofa into place against an off-white wall, Michael collapsed onto the cushions. He was suddenly as heavy as the steel-reinforced behemoth itself. Some part of the world pressed down upon him he had thought himself done with: it rode upon his hands, his arms, his shoulders. The front and back of his shirt darkened with sweat. How could he even raise a hand to gesture to Jessica, his wife, to come to his aid, let alone raise himself from the sinking cushions to go to the sink to splash his face?

    Yet she saw, all the same, and brought a towel, then a glass of water. He recovered. He emerged from beneath that soul-flattening weight to meet the eyes of the others and speak again, to act like a fellow wanderer on this world.

    What had he taken on, that it should sit upon him so? Nothing new, maybe. It had been there while he moved through his days oblivious – only to be made aware of it when his muscles awakened to wrestle with oversized furniture.

    Days at the drafting table had provided such neat mental constructions – perfect lines and angles within which he could situate himself, to feel measured and squared… he must have slipped away from sensing the roundness and fullness of the world.

    Round and full: good words, even so, for what he had made of his upper body, with his high-school days of athletic ease nearly two decades behind him. Anything of the physical sort came easily, in those years. Now he barely trusted the ladders and platforms of the tree-blinds where he did his hunting.

    A passing thing, all of this, Michael told himself. Look how many times Jacob has moved, apartment to apartment, house to house. Look how many times the rest of us have helped him.

    Passing, all of it.

    line

    In the air-conditioned Ranger, leaving Jacob’s new house earlier that afternoon, Michael felt the world had been restored to normalcy, the Iowa land rising and falling in slow waves, the corn tasseling with leaves drooping thickly – a million-strong squadron of green feed-the-pork soldiers to be taken in by the eye, with every glance – but with all of it held away by the cleanness of the truck interior and the clearness of the glass: showing it perfectly, holding it away. The recently-mown strip along the highway looked like roughly kept lawn. Blackbirds appeared a few at a time and well-spaced along the fenceline. Maybe Jacob was doing well in living here. Orderly and contained, with people neat and well-pressed. Sunshine and heat good for summer agriculture. Curative cold winters. Michael’s Wisconsin had such erratic disorder. Life there had a fringe of wildness, despite all the flattening efforts of the over-powered trucks and sports-utilities hauling private tourist boats north out of Chicago.

    Jessica had asked to stop to see the limestone kilns by the road they had spotted on the way south toward Jacob’s the morning before. The kilns made a castle-like structure, rising ponderously from among roadside trees – like a useless buttress against nonexistent enemies. When he and Jessica walked up and around the rear of the structure, he thought the path was like a nature trail, moving between trees and ferny-leafed wildflowers, the air shadowy and cool. Then the two of them ended up on the top, with a view of nothing in particular except the upper flues of the lime-making kilns, where sidecars once dumped loads of crushed stone.

    Then he and Jessica continued on to the other side, and came to the small, inadequate stairs that would take them down to the parking lot. Michael thought of turning around and retracing his steps along the nature trail, to take that more gentle gradient downward.

    He staggered, top-heavy and unbalanced, onto the first step, his feet seeming too small for his body, yet too large for these small slabs set in the hillside to bear the diminutive but surer heels of those long-gone nineteenth-century workmen.

    line

    A long way to drive, just to move furniture.

    Dad had been planning to show up, though. So Michael had to, too.

    Dad and he had a companionable talk in the cab of Dad’s big Chevy pickup, while hauling one load. Deer stands, rifle cleaning, finding time off for hunting. Being together away from the old Suskind homestead made a change. None of that memorabilia hung around them on the walls. None of those books sat lurking on the shelves. Pete Suskind had served in the Air Force and seen some action, and he had received a hero’s welcome when he returned to his postwar-booming home town, Clandon, with the welcome-home party including the girl who had made up her mind about him. Marriage. Kids… One being Michael, who did well in school and was doing pretty well in life, although he never rose high enough, he felt, to meet Dad’s expectations.

    The sermon always seemed about the same: “This nation’s built on a moral code… and we have a way of doing things that shows we have brains in our heads – practical brains. And we’ve got all Western culture holding us up. We can see what to do next, just by sitting so high up there the way we are.”

    Dad’s spiel kept going even after the decline of Clandon’s businesses. A few small factories and machine-shops closed, while the downtown suffered the usual gutting prompted by the Walmart twenty miles away, with its fall-apart what’s-good-for-America shoddiness. Dad kept to his spiel even after the old Suskind homestead water was poisoned by Atrazine and other effluents from the factory farms near Clandon; kept it up even now, although in a toned-down way – as though he knew that his hopes for the country for which he had fought would never amount to much more than a few good moments already witnessed and consigned to newsprint and memory back in the 1940s, maybe the ’50s and ’60s.

    Pete Suskind had never been a gambler, to hear him talk about it. He had gambled everything he had, all the same, on the world he was born into, on the town he was born into, and on the family he helped create.

    Suskind lost on the first two counts, he sometimes seemed to admit, now and then: what was worth talking about now were hunting rifles and blinds. More deer than ever before: as though the deer population might save us. And here was his son, an architect designing utilitarian buildings. While someone else had executed the sketchy designs for the factory-farm pole barns nearest the homestead, Michael Suskind had drawn the blueprints for others very much like them, for acreages not too far away. As Pete Suskind knew.

    Michael felt proud of Dad even while knowing that he himself, in Dad’s eyes, was just another sports-utility driver, just another buyer into the chem-dust feedcorn system, just another shopper at Walmart, just another who kept shoving money into the wrong pockets – those of the fat cats who had little to do with the dream Dad saw once in green-streaked clouds, while cradled within a flying fleck of metal roaring into German skies.

    line

    Jessica paid admission. Then they walked the direction all visitors had to go, through the museum and toward doors leading out to the historic village. With its coke machine just inside the entrance, the museum seemed a harmless, well-regulated place, comforting and normal. Yet the discontent Michael had noticed when his feet hit the gravelly parking lot, out by the split-rail fence, still held on and was with him yet as they walked out the back door.

    He could control it even so: a trifling weight he would shrug off, somewhere, if only he could find the right place.

    Jessica moved toward the small, plank-sided buildings around the reconstructed village square, walking tentatively at first and then quickly, as though on a treasure hunt.

    Broom-maker, druggist, barber, carpenter. Through a window: old tools brown with patina. Dusty-green bottles. Faded lace.

    “How they got by I don’t know,” said Jessica, meaning the people who would have lived in a place of this sort.

    “Simpler times.”

    “But we’d have done OK, I bet,” she said. She had that look of self-sufficiency she took on sometimes. A calm in her eyes. “It’s like those medicines back there. Kind of creepy. I mean, it was all guesswork.”

    “Insane,” he said.

    “But probably harmless, most of it. They survived.”

    “You saw the surgery knives?”

    Another view through a window: sharpened slicing blades, the steel still silvery, sitting alongside surgery manuals in green cloth bindings. Scalpels, and bone-saws.

    “People survived even that.”

    “It’s not what I’d call survival.” He laughed, to make it a joke. Yet it had been survival; and people lost out to the surgical knife even now. Maybe more often now, what with doctors in congested, confusing hospitals, cutting off the wrong limb or removing the wrong organ. The mistakes were far more antiseptic now, was all.

    “The tavern,” she said. “We have to go in there.”

    “The livery stables, first.”

    Something welcomed him into that musty silence. Huge old horse-drawn cabs and sedans, stilled now in this horseless time, whispered his name. Black paint, coffin-somber. Sun streaking through a small window high on the wall. Bat droppings along one side. Dust and old floor boards. The plaque describing the place amused him. Here, lowlife would gather and meet. Card games and gambling would mark the quiet hours. Proper women of the town disapproved of stud stallions being kept here, too.

    How primly ridiculous, he thought. That was reality. Just the facts of life. How could it be upsetting for a woman to know an animal stood here in a stall, ready for the mare?

    He bristled: he imagined himself a black-hearted soul happy with himself, soothed by the smooth leaf of a cigar, a half-sneer ready at his lips – just a way of asserting himself, really – as he dealt cards onto the nail-barrel table: only a half-sneer… for something about the quality of life of his betters – even he, dealing out cards, called those other villagefolk his betters – called out to him; it appealed to the inner man, so that he wanted to press his shirt, some mornings – wanted to nod in greeting to others – to not be a complete wastrel like some of the others here breathing in the straw dust and horse-stall smells. He slicked his hair, cautiously sought the eye of an attractive woman when he could, played fair most of the time. Yet those ruinous stodgy-hearts from Front Street with too much primping and perfume and starch in their lives: how they did insist on setting their sense of propriety askew to the calm willingness of the everyday and natural world to go its normal, ambling way – the stallions and the mares, the beer and the smoke, the hard rolls and salted cabbages… the breathing and sweating of the everyday? Elevating their own self-elevation, somehow, in their own minds? Fools, oh, fools! Removing themselves: like putting expensive window-glass there, tinted and prettily etched, to stare through all the time. Damned fussed-over house and polished toes unscuffed on the boardwalk!

    “Oh, there you are,” said Jessica. “I lost you for a moment.”

    “I was right here.”

    “No, you weren’t. Or maybe I thought there was someone else standing here.”

    He said nothing to that, tempted to drift back into those thoughts, those feelings – while thinking, too, how he had walked into the livery stables alongside her, and had not moved from this place where he was standing. She must have walked out. She had lost herself, not him. Yet had she walked out? He could only remember her looking around herself as though he were not standing right there next to her.

    The tavern, after the stables, had a desolate and unfulfilled air about it. They moved on. Outside, at least, while they moved along the boardwalk, the sun shone without burning too hard on their heads, while the air moved a little around their faces.

    At the bank, up the street from the tavern, he felt heavy again – like the well-starched man sitting substantial and portentous at the desk set eight feet back behind the teller’s window in the oak cage that took up half the room.

    One of the few who would be large in the way I am, Michael realized, would be that one. The banker. Huge in midriff and upper body. Maybe, too, Michael could have been the doctor – but no, not someone busy at calls through the day. Slim and spry, most likely, that man would have been.

    No, in his day, in the old village, he was the banker.

    In this town, too plainly, Michael Suskind was enormous. Seeing the small seats in the carriages and buggies had made him laugh, first, to think of the people small as children who must have fit there comfortably: thin, willowy, dressed in dark colors. Thin ties, messed hair, greased hair, tidily placed hats, bonnets… feathers, beaver skin, silk, felt. The wide range of appearances they had – then, as now. Yet small. He would have been a giant. Two of those seats would hardly hold him. Would the horses have taken him on their slender backs? Of course the horses would have: they were horses, and did what horses do – carrying a man down the street under the open sky, be he a big man or a small.

    The banker… and how strange, though, Michael thought, how he walked into the livery stables and saw himself so strongly sitting on a crate beside a short barrel, playing cards. Cigar smoke: no, only wood smoke. Murmur of men in the next corner louder than the chitter of rafter bats. Wind whispering outside, then dying: and the laughter of children. Or women. Yet now he regarded himself in his mind’s eye and saw his huge form in one place only, in the big oak chair locked behind the cage in the bank. Not the teller’s chair. The banker’s. The running of coins through fingers, the feathery lightness of ruffled bill edges. The smile of a man familiar with all the signs of wealth: that would have been his badge of office, his calling-card. Would he have had Jessica even then? Jessica could fit on those small seats. Though not willowy, her build was slight enough. He glanced toward her, hoping for the shared look of understanding. They would have been wealthy, in those times.

    Instead she seemed distracted, her eyes moving around toward window and door, her head tilted, as though she expected to catch sight of someone outside. What had she said back in the stables?

    She thought he had been someone else. Or somewhere else.

    “Like I saw a ghost,” she said now, after meeting his eyes suddenly again, with nearly a tremor in her voice. “Like looking into this place as it must have been.”

    “What do you mean?” he meant to ask. She had spoken without prompting. But his lips failed to open, to speak back.

    He walked out after her. He was sweating, although the sun had grown no hotter and a breeze still played between the buildings. Only a few other tourists wandered among the restored buildings – none visible at the moment, though, leaving it like a ghost town. There, that word again. Ghost. He walked on the crushed stone and matted patches of grass and knotweed, knowing Jessica had seen no banker standing beside her, back there.

    All this richness of flesh, this sign of worldly success: here it shrank down, was made meager, was shuffled off to the margins of even this marginal small village, his corpulence reduced to the subject of idle murmurs and appraising glances from unsettled, unrespected men.

    And now – here was that thought, coming back to him from when he had sat sweating on the green couch, earlier at Jacob’s. Had he been a day laborer, he might not have been hired again. That was the thought. Had he been a day laborer.

    Done in by a mere piece of furniture, he would have been pounding the sidewalks again, next morning.

    line

    A few years after helping Jacob move, having suffering setbacks, Michael gave up his truck. Monthly four hundred dollar payments had once seemed not too much to handle: then a few bets on a few jobs went sour, and he retreated to driving a used sedan, the sort of small import car he thought he had outgrown. Dad at least had bet on something solid, driving that huge, old, paid-for Chevy. Still held up fine on the road, said the elder Suskind, even when the country was going to hell and it cost forty cents to drive a mile.

    Jessica took to the changes agreeably enough, although he overheard her talking on the phone to her sister once, saying, “And he lost it, and in a way it felt like we took on too much and then we were losing just everything. Michael was a risk-taker, you know, in another life and I don’t suppose this is the first time.”

    He would ask her how she knew, someday, he thought.

    He never did. She never said.

    About the Author

    Mark Rich is the author of a major biographical and critical study, C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary, being published this fall by McFarland. Two collections of his fiction are already in print — Edge of Our Lives (RedJack) and Across the Sky (Fairwood) — as well as chapbooks from presses including Gothic and Small Beer. With partner-in-life Martha and Scottie-in-life Lorna, he lives in the Coulee region of Wisconsin where an early-1900s house, a collection of dilapidated antique furniture, and a large garden preoccupy him with their needs.

    Author’s Note

    On my desk I have an old tourist-curio bell with a decal that reads, “Stonefield.” The place is an actual one, down along the Mississippi River. Well worth a visit. Yet the story arose not just from the place but from a person I met, and spent some brief time with… and at some point after meeting him I was seeing out his eyes, or at least trying to. It was not quite a ghostly experience, although the expression of it took a necessary turn in that direction.

    I tend to think that this is a story entirely of this world. And, also, that it is not entirely of this world.