The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Twenty-Two

Chess and A Fairy Tale by Andrzej Bursa
from Dreams of the 1990s by Michael Ruby
Flights by Phil Richardson
Hole in the Ground by Laurence Klavan
Maternal Aorta by Girija Tropp
Good Neighbors by Bruce Holland Rogers
A Word From Our Sponsors by Andrew S. Taylor


irreal (re)views


from Dreams of the 1990s
by Michael Ruby

the morning of Monday, September 22, 1991

My wife Louisa and I were riding home in Brooklyn on a baby elephant.  We reached a section of Flatbush Ave. that was under construction.  One lane was closed off.  We had to jump down from the elephant.  It ran away, disappeared.  Louisa was sure the elephant would be fine.  We continued home on foot.  During a particularly drab stretch of 4th Ave., we stopped to look inside an industrial hangar.  Back outside, I noticed the elephant heading toward us.  Something was wrong.  The elephant turned around.  Its left hind leg had been bashed in by a car.  I was distraught.  I wondered if the elephant had to be shot like a horse, or if the leg could heal.

the morning of Saturday, March 14, 1992

We were staying at a primitive house in the woods.  Standing at an upstairs window, I noticed three animals below in the clearing, two small ones and a large one.  I pulled out a rifle and gathered it would be alright to shoot them through the glass.  Later, on the front steps, we talked with a boy who was holding two dead furry animals.  He pointed to a bullet wound in his chest.  Had he been the large animal?  I couldn't believe it.  I hadn't shot a boy.  I'd shot a bear.  My father-in-law Bill Wood told him to have his lawyer contact Michael Ruby, spelling out my name for him.

the morning of Tuesday, April 7, 1992

I was driving somewhere and missed my turn, which didn't overly concern me.  After passing a raised reservoir, I reached a dead end and parked.  I walked down a long flight of stairs to a small city with more Catholic churches than I have ever seen.  It was such a beautiful place, such a beautiful day.  It had rained earlier, and now the sun was breaking through.  Steam was rising on the empty playgrounds.  Eventually, I reached a hotel set into the hillside.  Maybe I could get back to my car by going through the hotel?  Inside, I tried to be unobtrusive, but a woman noticed me and came on to me.  Then a man buttonholed me.  He wanted to know how expensive something was that cost two or three million lire.  After slowly calculating, I said, "It's about $2,000."

the morning of Monday, April 20, 1992

I was waiting outside the office of a black teacher at my old high school.  When I finally got to talk to him, the bell rang, ending the period.  Accompanying him in the hall, I asked something stupid like “Why do so few eligible black students go to law school?” He seemed to realize that I wasn't the average student, that I could be a teacher.  After we split up, I walked through the halls on my own, trying to decide which class I wanted to attend.  I looked in Mr. Stickel's classroom. There he was, with only three or four math students in the room, all seated near his desk, which didn't surprise me.  I passed Mr. Palma's physics class.  I assumed the next room would be chemistry.  It was.  I couldn't remember the name of my chemistry teacher, which I've repressed, for sexual reasons.  'Chemistry's definitely something I need to learn,' I thought to myself.  'What else do I need to learn?  That's what I need to figure out.  Pick four or five subjects and take those.'  At the end of the hall, I was surprised to see a coffee bar.  I decided to stop there.  At the counter, as I was about to order, a burly guy pushed up.  "Three to go," he said. "Wait a minute," I said meekly.  The counter woman heeded me.  "One coffee," I said. "Well, if it isn't Michael Ruby," she said.  "Do you know who I am?"  Her face enlarged in front of my eyes.  "Cheryl Dunsker," I said.  I wondered how my vivacious 10th grade girlfriend had ended up there.

the morning of Wednesday, September 30, 1992, in Antwerpen

In the hallway of a law office, I was looking for my great-uncle Milton Handler.  I found him uncharacteristically asleep in his chair.  Backing away, I bumped into his secretary, Eileen, but I wasn't sure what message to leave.  Later, Uncle Milton was sitting on a bench, talking to someone.  "Well, actually," he said, "I've just been learning some important things from my dead father in a dream."  My ears pricked up.  "My father was a fine man and a patriot," he said as a little prologue, then told how his father believed the secret government of this country started with the murder of William Henry Harrison.

the morning of Wednesday, November 4, 1992 in Wien

Once again, I was walking around a city looking for the Jewish section.  My dead father joined me at a restaurant.  When he opened the menu, he said, "I won't eat pizza."  "Don't worry, there's salad, too," I said.  Later, alone, I noticed a group of blond women in frilly pink skirts walking around an overweight man seated in a chair writing.  I heard they were "facilitators for the Queen," and he was a novelist who followed the Queen from place to place.  I wondered how he managed to write so much in such conditions.  Continuing with my tourist's day, I walked uphill to the church with the statue of the infant Jesus that cries real tears.  Crude wooden bleachers had been erected around the shrine.  I started to take a seat in the middle, but then noticed one in front on the right, near a large group of seven-year-olds.  One of their teachers said something rude to me.  Later, I was riding in a crowded car through a flat, gray landscape. A woman in the backseat said she couldn't believe that people kept living here among 40-year-old ruins without fixing them up.  I said there were places in Sicily, such as Siracusa, where people had been living for thousands of years among ruins.  Later, I was standing by a side door of an unattractive palace, much like Praha's.  I noticed this slob with a bestial face, then the facilitators.  "It must be the Queen's novelist," I thought.  At that moment, two women in conservative suits hurried by, one of whom was Queen Elizabeth herself.  They quickly disappeared into the palace.  Later, I was with the group of people from the car again, this time in a health-food store.  The owner of the store, who was peeling garlic cloves, mentioned that the biographical movie I wanted to see started later than I thought.  "In that case," Louisa said, "I wouldn't mind sailing to Nova Scotia with these people tonight."  "That's fine with me," I said, "because I still have to find the Jewish section.  But you have to come back tomorrow."  I stepped outside and started walking uphill.  The road curved into a 1950s district, where the buildings were covered with green stone facing, not gray as in Warszawa.  I wondered if this was the Jewish section.

the morning of Saturday, November 7, 1992, in Wien

Back from a trip to Vermont, I went over to my high-school friend Steve Riegel's house.  I asked Riegs how old his father was.  "He's 68."  "He grows flowers, right?"  "Yeah."  "I spend half my time thinking about flowers, too," I said.  "You know, everything you say about yourself surprises me," he said.  I liked the idea, but it was worrisome, too.  We walked into the small living room and there was his father, right where I expected him to be.  The Riegels were having a dinner party.  Mrs. Riegel brought me funny, tiny shoes to put over my socks.  Mr. Riegel showed a film about his Jewish ancestors.  It featured battles in Eastern Europe in 1848, as Romantic as a "Three Musketeers" movie.  Steve started pulling out photos at this point—one of a guy, one of a blonde, my former girlfriend Mylene Hodgson.  "Remember her?" he asked me.  He sang a bar of "New York, New York."  Then he pulled out a photo of my dead brother David's car missing another car, and two of me skinny, which amazed Louisa.  In one, I was walking through a glass door, like my estranged brother Johnny did in high school.  Finally, he pulled out a round sepia photo of me from prom night, which neither of us actually attended.  "God, you have the best pictures of me ever taken," I said.  "Do you have one of yourself like this from the prom?"  "No," he said sadly.  "I think I have one," I said.  Leaving, we went underground into the subway.  I was afraid we would come up in Bosnia, but no one was too worried about it.

the morning of Wednesday, August 10, 1994

At Dad's apartment after his death, I was trying to decide which paintings to take.  The phone rang.  It was this annoying guy Hal.  I tried to fix the broken lock on the door, only making it worse.  Then an alien appeared in the apartment.  It was peanut-shaped—purple velvet on top and tan velvet below.  When I realized it was demonic, I ran like crazy.  Outside, naked, I wondered if I should go back to get some things.  Like the black day pack with my notebooks.  No, this is the time when you forsake everything, I said to myself.  The alien followed me outside.

the morning of Tuesday, November 8, 1995

I was walking eastward in far uptown Manhattan, passing through construction everywhere.  I hope they finish it all before the Republican balanced-budget amendment, I thought.  Inside a gloomy building, I went up to what was supposedly the apartment of the poet Bruce Andrews.  I sat in silence a while, then posed some question.  "Did I send you my questionnaire about writers?" he asked.  “Joan Retallack's the only one I liked,” I said.  He pointed toward his bookcase, mostly French books.  I stepped out with him and his friends, passed a McDonald's.  I was surprised to learn he likes eating there.

the morning of Wednesday, December 28, 1995

Louisa and I were in Newark, making out.  She had to leave.  She was going to walk to the station.  Across the street, there was a huge ruin with dangerous-looking guys milling around.  I gave her $5 for a cab, accompanied her to Penn Station Newark, which was deserted. I told her that in a sense, the station contained my whole life, which she didn't particularly appreciate. After the train ride, we parted in front of the World Trade Center, near my office.  I kissed her goodbye on the street.  "What's the matter?" I asked.  "It wasn't special."  "Look around," I said, waving at the buildings, "we live in a mediocre world, everything about us is caught up in it."

the morning of Monday, April 14, 1997

I was walking down a street and suddenly had to go to the bathroom.  I rang a gilt-edged glass door.  A little girl appeared, followed by her mother.  I didn't think she would open it, but she did.  The first floor was a large tropical garden.  Upstairs, inside, a party was in swing, made up of arms dealers and international businessmen.  For some reason, after a little while, I had to sneak out.  On the street, I met my companion in crime, a Mexican teenager.

the morning of Friday, May 23, 1997

I was riding a bike at night through a suburban neighborhood far outside Boston, basically lost.  Another rider and I had taken a bus there.  It let us off much farther away from our starting point than we thought it would.  It left us at an isolated diner at one of those big intersections in the middle of nowhere in the suburbs, like Wyoming Ave. and South Orange Ave.  We failed to reach someone on the pay phone.  Then we started riding through the streets.  They were such obscure, meandering suburban streets—the type it's hard to believe will lead anywhere.  I couldn't see how we would ever reach the big avenues that would lead us back home through the night.

the morning of Wednesday, June 18, 1997

I was in a German concentration camp.  I walked to where people sat around campfires, some singing.  Then the Ukrainian guards started killing people.  I looked for a place to sleep.  I found the Russian girl whom I had slept with recently.  She said that was impossible now.  I found someone else, an Indian guy, but he was sleeping standing up.  I would have to sleep standing up, too, and they were probably going to come and kill me during the night.  I walked outside, which was dangerous, but I knew the end had come and I should at least try to get away.  The next thing I knew, I was walking down a road with a fancy couple who were surprisingly calm.  Everything was in black and white.  There were these small Gothic houses on each side of the road.  Maybe we should hide in them, I thought, but then I realized with a shudder that they were mausoleums in a German cemetery.  I wanted to get out of there.  The young man said he had been hiding from the Germans for months. Maybe we could hide in the cemetery after all, I thought, though there could be a problem getting food.  The young man said the Luftwaffe picked up the presence of people on their radar and fired on them.  I said you could hide deep in a cave.  There must be a lot of caves here. He said the radar still picked you up, though you could get deep in some crevices, and there were interesting things hidden down there.  The road came out to a huge chateau surrounded by tall trees and hedges, with many cars parked along each side of the long driveway leading up to the chateau, and  the circular drive on the right side of chateau, but no people outside in the night.  I was worried some Germans might appear at any time.  I noticed the date, January 1, 1945.  By this time, I had turned into the fancy young man.  A silvery woman, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, met us at the top of the front steps.  Suddenly, I felt like I was in an old movie, something on AMC, or Fassbinder's "Veronica Voss."  She only talked to the fancy young woman, socialite talk.  She asked what my companion had been doing in New York lately.  At the end, she added to my companion's account, "And a little modeling, I bet."  "I never modeled," my companion insisted.  As for me, the silvery lady said, it would be hard to find a place for me here.  It was full of people like me.  The Germans carefully checked out who was here.  But she had an idea.  I was to work in PB.  I thought about the initials, decided they meant Postal Business.  That's a good, necessary place to work, I thought.  I won't attract much attention.  At the end of our interview, as we were walking past, the silvery lady whispered to my companion, "He's proposed, I hope. ...  Good."    Inside, things were back in color.  My job required me to deliver papers and pick up papers in an endless warren of windowless offices, primitive places with things stored in wire baskets on the walls.  They were staffed by sloppy men, some of whom were sympathetic to my plight.  There was a good camaraderie overall.

the morning of Monday, March 2, 1998

I was taking a bus home, but not in Brooklyn.  The place had the feeling of a Long Island suburb.  Also an Italian feel.  The bus reached the intersection of many roads.  I should have gotten off there.  Then it angled to the right through the huge intersection.  I thought it was going to stop at an island partway across.  That would be fine, because the island basically flowed into the street I was going to walk on.  But the bus didn't stop there, it continued all the way across the intersection and then pulled into the parking lot of a mall.  I was far away from where I wanted to go.  I got off.  The bus driver yelled at me for getting off too soon.  We had a brief exchange and I said in Italian, "It's better to do what you say you're going to do."  He liked that, he liked that a lot.  Others started getting off.  Suddenly, a group of policeman with drawn guns ran into the big department store.  There was a shoot out with robbers.  I hit the deck.  In a lull, I tried to dash out of the parking lot and regain my course home.  The shooting started up again.  I crouched between cars.  The robbers headed in my direction.  "If they see me,” I thought, “they'll shoot me.”

the morning of Friday, March 6, 1998

I murdered two women, maybe more.  I strangled one woman after she ran screaming out of a storefront.  Earlier in the day, I had killed another woman in a less noticeable encounter.  I also stalked and shot at several woman downstairs in my house, but somehow that didn't count on my roster of crimes.  After the murders, I went into an empty warehouse where some black gangsters were being arrested.  It didn't seem to bother them much.  Apparently, I knew them.  I helped myself to a bowl of chocolate soft ice cream from an open vat.  As I was leaving, some people started shouting that I should be in jail, too.  Walking home, I had the most peculiar feeling: “Right now, I'm free, but I'm going to be imprisoned for the rest of my life, I'll never get out.”  The thought pained me so much.  I knew the earlier killing might not be pinned on me, but there was so much evidence against me in the strangling.  It was amazing I hadn't been charged yet.  I wondered if it ever happens that there's a killing and no one looks into it very closely.  No, not here.

the morning of Thursday, April 30, 1998

Reading a poem by Louis Zukofsky, I saw the words literally come to life.  As my eyes passed over them, the words moved like ants or flaming embers.  Then they died down, to an ashy white, and the next clump of words came to life.  My eyes were like a fire or water.


I walked up a path from the ocean to some people's house, where we had left our four-year-old daughter, Charlotte.  Then I took a walk across a field.  Men on horseback were riding through.  They tangled with a bull.  The bull caught sight of me.  It was definitely going to attack.  I called out to the horsemen.  They wouldn't help.  My legs went rubbery, but I was able to hide behind a bony, leafless bush.  Afterward, I walked around the land, looking at the amazing number of houses being put in.  The land was filling up with houses overnight.  Then, Louisa and I drove on a long straight road—I'm tempted to say a Belgian road—to her dead father's house, though it was nothing like “the farm.”  Inside a dusty cobwebbed hall with lots of furniture, I said, "Let's see what this stuff is."  "It's all junk," Louisa said.  I tried my cigarette lighter.  She flicked on a switch.  More lit up than should have.  Everything looked nice at first glance, but deteriorated instantly under scrutiny.  Even the bookcases.  There was a basket of old dolls, dolls from before my time.  "Take some," I said.  "OK," Louisa said, taking one.  There were model ships, but made from some cheap material, a precursor of modern plastics.  Then we went into her parents' room.  Horror:  There were two monstrous twin babies on a bed, hydrocephalic, totally unlike EmmyNatty.   Nearby, there was another huge baby.  "Let's get out of here," I said.  "They're our babies," she said.  "No, they're not."  Louisa walked toward them.  "Don't!" I yelled.  Then they turned into kids from a wholesome old movie.  "When are those clothes from?" Louisa asked.  "Sometime earlier in the 20th century."  Suddenly, the babies vanished, leaving us with the cobwebbed room and the bed.  Then we visited one of her relatives’ estates, which had been turned into a museum.  I picked up some old-fashioned consumer item, a cracker tin or the like.  A guard asked me if it was mine.  Owen was around.  Louisa went off walking around the grounds with her sister Maude.  What about Charlotte?  Where was Charlotte?  We hadn't accounted for her after her play date.  She was on her own somewhere.  I found out that she had entered a gay bar. 

Michael Ruby's first book of poetry, At an Intersection, was published in 2002 by Alef Books in New York.  A second collection, Window on the City, was published as a book and e-book by BlazeVOX Books in Buffalo last year; and a prose work, Fleeting Memories, is being published as an e-book this year by Ugly Duckling Presse in Brooklyn.  He is also the editor of Washtenaw County Jail and Other Writings by David Herfort, a 1970s prison memoir published by Xlibris in 2005. He lives in Brooklyn and works as a journalist.

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