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Welcome to SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY

Vol.3. No. 4. July - September 2010

 


CONTRIBUTORS

FICTION

SECTIONS

Afam Akeh
Andy Willoughby
Claire Girvan
Christian Ward
Derek Adams
Esiaba Irobi
Hannah Lowe
Hunter Liguore
Ikechukwu Obialo Azuonye
Karunamay Sinha
Kate Horsley
Laura Solomon
Lookman Sanusi
Malcolm Bray
Mark Lewis
Moa-Aaricia Lindunger
N Quentin Woolf
Nina Romano
Nnorom Azuonye
Norbert O. Eze
Olu Oguibe
Pius Adesanmi
Robert Lee Frazier
Toyin Adepoju
Uche Nduka
Wayne Scheer
Zino Asalor
 

Edited by

Andy Willoughby

and Bob Beagrie

 

This issue of SLQ is dedicated to the memory of

ESIABA IROBI (1960 - 2010)

 

Red Barn People

A short story by Hunter Liguore


Mephias died this morning.
I knew something was amiss when I heard the screen door snap shut like a gunshot against Roland’s house next door, followed by the thundering footsteps of Jennagirl stomping the loose boards on the side porch of my mother’s house. She was dressed in a pair of wrinkled grey trousers, held up with one suspender that caused them to sag, giving the resemblance of two, thin elephant legs tromping towards me. Her breasts were unloosed beneath one of Roland’s undershirts, and her sunburned feet were bare, and wet from the dewy grass.

 
“Come quickly, Lil.” Her boyish face so resembled her older brother’s that it startled me to an upright position, causing me to drop a full cup of unused coffee grounds onto the unswept floor.


“Roland’s in a bad sort of way.” Jennagirl wasn’t one for emotion. Her cheeks were flushed and she kept wringing her hands like an old oil rag. Her blue, keen eyes looked past the spilt coffee grounds, to an uncertain place on the floor, and welled with tears. She swallowed hard, and forced out the words, as her deep voice cracked. “Mephias is gone. He’s gone, Lil. Roland can’t take much more of this losing business. I think this is the last straw so to speak.”


I picked up the grounds. Jennagirl broke from her place and knelt to help me. She touched my hand. “Say you’ll come. He hasn’t moved none since sunup, and you know I’m no good at this sort.”


We stood. I placed the cup of Maxwell coffee, now three quarters full, on the counter, and pressed a tender, sisterly hand to her shoulder. “I’ll come straightaway.”


Jennagirl gave a single nod, the same way policemen do when you apologize and say you won’t break the law again. She dashed off as quickly as she came, leaving me in a dreary silence. The clock on the wall kept beat, as if urging me to hurry. The calendar on the wall glared back at me. Another day had come and gone. May 2nd wasn’t even crossed off and May 3rd sprang in like a leaky summer-hose. I crossed yesterday off with the red pencil, the tip dull and flayed, and recalled an article I read yesterday in the Eaton Brook Times, written by a fellow who supposedly slept the entire first five months of 1938 away. He remarked that this year was the shortest one yet for him, and I believed him, noticing too that the months were sweeping by, as if I, somehow, was asleep right along with him.


My hand lifted and pulled out one of the forty-eight hairpins from my dry, brown hair. The curl came unfurled in my hand, like a morning glory opening in the dawn. What would Roland think if I came still in hairpins, an unwashed face without a lick of rouge, and wearing my ragged housedress? Would he notice?


Out of the kitchen window over the sink, I held a clear view to Roland’s house, a rustic mishmash of rooms on two floors. I say Roland’s, but it was always his Uncle Martin’s house to me, even though he and Aunt Clara met their demise in an automobile accident last winter. Ice had been the devil’s hand that December eve. The automobile sustained minor damage when it was forced into a gully, but the particulars, how Uncle Martin and Aunt Clara perished, as the other car collided with theirs, were spared from the readers of the Eaton Brook Times. It had hardly been spoken of since. Another spoiled event was Jennagirl’s words for it. The car with its broken headlight, sitting in the drive, was the only careless reminder and even that had been cleaned over, and nearly forgotten, by everyone but me.


With a basket of day-old corn bread and a jar of milk, I traversed the well-worn path between our houses, the same path I took at least two times a day, rain or sun, cold or hot, since I was fifteen and hired on by Uncle Martin to keep house for Aunt Clara when she was first with child. She had lost that one and all the subsequent faceless babes, now interred in the red soil behind the old red barn. Uncle Martin, who had come to be like a father to me, kept me on to help with Aunt Clara’s declining health all these years. The job paid well, and now at thirty, with pale palms brought on by the use of harsh cleansers, and cracked nails from scrubbing floors and porcelain, it has become a way of life. Even in their absence the rhythm of my work continues, as I take care of the house like they never perished.


The darkness beyond the screened-door transported me to a long lost Sunday ten years ago when I had first met Roland. He was fifteen and I twenty. I could recall hearing the terrible, exasperated weeping coming from inside, and believed Aunt Clara had lost another child. I learned she’d lost her only sister instead, Roland’s mother. Never having a sibling, I tried to know her pain and grief. I attempted to compare it to the cast-iron-weight I felt when I lost both my father and grandfather to the Great War. But Aunt Clara said nothing could replace a sister. I assumed my own mother would’ve agreed, having lost her sister to the fever before I was born, if she could talk to me from inside the ghostly place her mind now dwells.
 

The day Roland and Jennagirl came to live at Uncle Martin’s had started out as a typical summer day, one with the smell of ripe peaches in the air from the trees lining the farm. At the time, I had kept my hair curled and stylish, and I wore pretty dresses to do housework. Crossing the lawn between our houses was an occasion for me. Especially, since I have always been bound to care for mother, and rarely left the premises.
 

Ten years ago, when I stepped inside the house in the early morning, I found a handsome boy with a natural swath of curls piled on top of his head like a haystack, but trimmed short at the collar, sitting beside the empty fireplace. His blue eyes, like the summer sky that broke through the white, ocean-freight clouds, looked up at me for the first time through glass tears. He was holding Mephias, just a toddling pup then; his black and white coat still silky from his city living. Sitting beside Roland was a boyish girl of thirteen. Her arms were sunburned, as if she had been living on Uncle Martin’s farm her entire life. Her hair was short, tangled and pushed back from her dirt and tear stained face. She held nothing in her arms—not a childhood doll, or dog like Roland, or even the hand of her aunt or uncle — no, Jennagirl, as she had been introduced to me that day, needed no one in her grief. And she would grow up in front of my eyes never needing anyone. Maybe when she stood at the base of her parents’ gravestones, through the storm, three days prior, a bitter specter appeared to her, telling her, now that had Death exacted its toll, she’d never have another soul to depend on.
 

By the time Uncle Martin had finished explaining the horrid circumstance by which both Roland and Jennagirl had come to live permanently with he and Aunt Clara, the standup clock in the corner rung eleven. And while they had come to live there with a deep sense of joylessness, a newfound color and lightness had awoken in mine. Those early days return to me as my happiest memories. The silent exchanges with Roland when I would hand him his pressed laundry, or the subtle way Jennagirl would invite me over for cards in the evening to pass the lonesome hours away. Each day I would perform my chores, cater to their meals, their necessities, perfecting each motion I made, every act with delight. But time and despair have a way of swallowing up the light, and so as the years rolled by, like the scenes from a window on a fast moving train, we’ve grown complacent to each other’s rhythms, the newness having run out ages ago.

The screen door swung shut behind me, as I entered their kitchen, old and faded like the dress I was wearing. The smell of musty cherry tobacco was still present in the air, locked away in the halls and rooms, despite the fact Uncle Martin’s pipe laid dormant nearly six months. My nose caught the distinct scent of cigarette smoke, and after I placed my basket on the cluttered table, I followed its trail to the front door, where Jennagirl lingered, smoking a hand rolled ciggie, always superstitious she might burn the house down to come inside.


“He’s upstairs.”

 

“Does he know I’m here?”
 

She shook her head. “Go on up. He’s decent.”
 

“He’s got a farm to tend to, and chickens to feed.”

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JULY-SEPTEMBER INDEX
COMPETITIONS
DRAMA
ESSAYS & REVIEWS
FICTION
IROBI IN SENTINEL
IROBI, TRIBUTES
POETRY

 

Hunter Liguore holds a BA in History and is finishing her MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in diverse publications, including, "Katie Ireland," forthcoming in Lacuna Historical Fiction Journal, and "The Lair of King Crow," which was serialized in February at Yesteryear Fiction.

 

SPQ #2

 

 

JULY-SEPTEMBER INDEX | COMPETITIONS | DRAMA | ESSAYS & REVIEWS | FICTION | IROBI IN SENTINEL | IROBI, TRIBUTES | POETRY

 

Sentinel Literary Quarterly is Published by Sentinel Poetry Movement | Editor: Nnorom Azuonye

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