The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Sixteen

Long November by Michael Farrell
Houses in Their Backs by Sean Ferrell
Warnings Accompanying Your Inflatable Universe by Justin Kahn
They Are Translucifying by Susan Lantz
Carolina in the Morning by M.E. McMullen
Broomsticks by Mari Ness
The Girl with Glass Skin & Combustion by Michael Obilade
At the Cafe by rovesciato
Cellular by Girija Tropp
Rose Red by Andrew Wille


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They Are Translucifying
by Susan Lantz


Then the potstickers had seen all the identification they needed and we went down to the last door on the right, leaving the Archangel Mercazad at the front desk to unwrap his manna sandwich from waxed paper. Help the lovely angels. Help the apple-cheeked cherubim, for they are practically imbeciles, smiling all the time and winging around to knock spiderwebs out of corners. A potsticker rapped on the last door with his nightstick, causing a face to appear in the window.

Specimen A: a member of the first human generation to understand that they will one day die. Very calm she seemed, the wire-threaded window sectioning her face into hexagons. The walls of her cell covered with quarter-sized clever and absurd tableaus of stick-figure death: stick figures diving into empty swimming pools falling into open manholes run over by ice-cream trucks stick arms chewed off by house cats poisoned by expired ramen noodles. Sex in interesting positions disrupted by falling heavy objects: doggy-style, grand piano; spoon, clawfoot tub; sixty-nine, refrigerator; orgy taken out by crashing formation of fighter jets. Others were struck by lightning, or got the chair, or had a hairdryer fall into their bath. Arteries spouted, Xs marked their eyes.

And her handshake was confident and firm. Her gaze was light. May I? I asked, getting out my notebook, and she nodded, shy and proud. I traced several drawings on clean pages following the chalk-rubbed Persian funereal carvings. With laughter and pause for tear-wiping I acknowledged the hilarity of the cartoons. Thus she understood about no judgment and showed her teeth and we laughed together while the one potsticker clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth.

Did she possess clear understanding and awareness? Though she said little, my instinct was that yes, she did. I noted this observation.

Specimen B certainly exhibited clear understanding and awareness. In his long cloak and top hat he wrote songs about velvet, ashes, time machines and helicopters, and the periods in European history when many people died at once. No matter what the songs said they were about, they sounded like ballads made up under the breath for a lover who is right there in the dark, rapt and cottonmouthed. I sat for a while and recorded them with my pocket tape recorder for possible archiving.

Well-mannered and polite are two words that aptly describe the specimens. Also earnest, sad within reason, beautiful, and unashamed. I noticed that they kept their cells clean, apart from the corners piled with rotting compost and popsicle-stick arts and crafts, and flies. We left their doors open. They could come and go as they pleased, according to the potstickers but not according to the Archangel Mercazad, who with his half-wit seraph brother tried different strategies to test their contentment: sleep deprivation, extremes of hot and cold, memorizing and reciting the Archangel's 99 Theses on the efficiency of institutions. But always they remained content.

"Get this cherub a broom," bellowed one of the potstickers when the buzzer took a corner too fast and almost knocked off his uniform hat. "Let it be good for something." The cherub sobbed and flew off into Specimen B's room, where it ricocheted off walls, banging over and over into the doorjamb, unable to aim for the opening that was, it must be said, the major portion of the wall. "Shoo it," the potsticker urged Specimen B, who replied quietly, "I believe it will find its way." He extended an offering of leathery fruit peels to the cherub, who lacked the navigational precision necessary to accept, but stopped crying.

"Shall I get the swatter?" the potsticker asked, reaching up above the doorframe.

"Don't," Specimen B said. "I want to give it a little present. Little present for a little angel."

We/you might need them/us/y'all some day, the Archangel Mercazad, who heard everything, called out to the potsticker, looking more transparent every minute. Next to him his brother the seraph drooled. Most of the seraphim are retarded, it turns out, and many are acephalic. It is unsettling to look at them even down a long and kaleidoscopic hall. Partly because they seem both to be fading out, blurring around the edges. Pellucid almost.

Only when we turned back to the lobby did the specimens begin to call out in their sweet voices:

Forgive me potstickers, and I forgive you.

Forgive me Archangel Mercazad, and I forgive you.

Forgive me Specimen B, as I would have forgiven you many times over, were there anything to forgive.

No, forgive me Specimen A, for I have offered you gifts unworthy of such a pure and innocent soul as yours.

Forgive me Specimen B, for I am not deserving of your generous praise.

Wait, forgive us notebook doctor woman, we have forgiven you and have set aside our many unworthy occupational therapy popsicle-stick dream catchers to give you as a token of our affection.

Specimen B tuned up his guitar and they began to sing a song about malaria, but by the first chorus B had stopped strumming in order to present his guitar as a gift to Specimen A. Immediately she gave it back, professing that such a wondrous instrument would be better served by his adept hands.

"What do you make of it?" The potstickers asked me, which is the moment I savor, and I made a show of reading back through my collected evidence. "I believe they know they are going to die," I told them.

"They had physicals when they got here," the one potsticker said dismissively. The other looked suspiciously at my black bag, which indeed was full of syringes. "They are in perfect health and insist upon being woken up well before breakfast to perform a rigorous series of calisthenics and vinyasa yoga."

"Someday," I clarified, "They're going to die someday."

"We're all going to die, someday," the first potsticker said.

"Don't be morbid," said the other, the tongue clucker.

I noted the first potsticker's response along with my impression that he did not possess clear understanding. He used the traditional "we are all," rather than "I," and it is well known that "we are all" equates to "other people." I wagered that when he said "we are all going to die," his accompanying visual image was of himself, alive, attending the funerals of many other people, relieved and using the fact of their not-himness to prove his unconscious theory that it would never be him, there. Standing at coffins into which he tucked tokens for those not-hims to carry beyond the grave.

"A's family worries. They call to find out if she is still suicidal and before we can get to the phone the Archangel Mercazad always tells them that she is."

The Archangel chimed in indignantly, "The criteria! She often speaks of regret for the pain she has caused friends and family, she insists that life is nothing but suffering, and she put all her finances in order and gave away her possessions, after which she seemed to have experienced a sort of relief and happiness, almost euphoria. Same goes for him."

"But have we ever seen her suicidal? As in, harming herself?" asked the first potsticker. "Though admittedly she still does redistribute anything she is given. Usually she redistributes it to B. And he gives it back."

"I've been encountering a lot of this," I reassured them. Recently in my travels I had discovered similar cases around the world, all arising seemingly spontaneously. "See?" I showed them of course not the confidential notes in my notebook but just the names, so they could read for themselves an Indian name, a Paraguayan name, a Montenegrin name, and so forth.

The understanding is everywhere, and I don't know who told them, though I'm trying to figure it out. But the more I search the more I suspect it is just something about this generation. Maybe it's astrological, or maybe an avian flu struck in the season of their birth (I've made a note to investigate this further). Mainly they have channeled it into an infatuation with the more humorous aspects of gothic Victoriana — cartoons of ghastly pale children and the sea chanties in assumed British accents. But some are beginning to perform Works, which is easier when you are not kept in cells, something I hoped to suggest to the potstickers out of the Archangel's earshot.

"May I see the files now?" I asked.

They shrugged and turned to the Archangel Mercazad, who responded, "Tee hee hee heee."

"I explained to the Specimens that they are not alone," I said, "I told Specimen A and she looked greatly relieved."

Then Mercazad looked angry and hissed at me. I realized for the first time that he had chained himself to the steel desk and had his hand always on the telephone. He sat on the tall stack of case files. Cherubs tangled themselves in my hair, static electrified by the energy generated from their many passings-over. The retarded seraph had slumped to one side and also, I am afraid, pissed himself. He muttered, Help the angels, they are becoming invisible.

His eyes glowed green in his invisible face.

His green invisible face growed glowing eyes.

"I'll need to see those case files for my investigation," I urged the Archangel.

The seraph came back from invisibility and glowed brightly and we began to have to look away.

"I am the vampire of myself," said a potsticker. Then appeared surprised.

Mercazad quickly unchained himself to flee the seraph. They all fled — the winged were fastest. The specimens were not afraid. They came and stood with me. "I told you they were getting harder to see," B said to A. The case files turned out not to be about the specimens at all. The spelling was atrocious.

Angles [sic] are tough — not pussies! Angles are strong. One angle can kill 185,000 Assyrians. All children are protected by guardian angles until they reach the age of accountability. Angles DON'T want your praise, and God says don't praise them. Angles may never marry and no they may not have sex. They lack genitals and in their natural state are clothed in pure, fine, white linen because nakedness is a mark of apostasy before God. Angles got your back on the border between heaven and earth. Angles got your number. Who is almost the lowest of angles? Archangles, that's a fact. Any angles that talk to people are the lowest, which makes seraphim pretty high up on the list. Some things just seem plain wrong. But angles don't get jealous. Hey, human, angles are on your side! If people were angles, no government would be necessary, and if angles were to govern people, no controls on government would be necessary. Angles are never born and angles never die. Say it again, angles never die. Help the cherubim. Help the cherubim they are translucifying. Help the seraphim they are becoming see-through.




Susan Lantz lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Her short stories and translations have appeared in Potion and Post Road.


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