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Welcome to SENTINEL LITERARY QUARTERLY

Vol.3. No. 3. April - June 2010

 


CONTRIBUTORS

FICTION

SECTIONS

Barrie Darke
Bruce J. Berger
Chad Norman
Christian Ward
Chuma Nwokolo Jr
Claire Askew
Colin Gallant
Davide Trame
Gary Beck
Ivor W. Hartmann
Katie Metcalfe
M C Hardwick
Michael Conley
Minna Salami
Pete Court
Roger Elkin
Warren Paul Glover
George Freek
 

 

INVITATION ACCEPTED

 

Bruce J. Berger

 

            Adel awakes to a quiet apartment, still not used to being alone.  She misses her Dad’s usual clatter of teapot and cups and kitchen chairs being pulled out, sounds that usually signaled to her the start of another day.  Now, with her Dad no longer around, there is no reason to get out of bed, no Dad to hug goodbye as he leaves to catch the trolley downtown, no breakfast dishes to clean up.  She wants to pull the covers back over her head, but then starts hearing voices again.  Or hearing one voice.  It reminds her of something or someone, but she cannot put her finger on it.  A man’s voice telling her to go to her front door.  The voice is excited for some reason.  The voice says it is important that she goes to her door.

            She has not heard voices for a while.  She has religiously tried to continue with her medicine, once Nick got her started again after the funeral.  Yet, here again, a voice is bothering her.  There is no one in her room, and she is pretty sure there is no one in her apartment.  She sits up, grabs her robe off the chair and wraps it around herself as she goes to her front door.

            Adel sees with no surprise that a white envelope had been pushed under her doorway.  Her name has been printed on its front and nothing else.  Someone is sending her a note.  As she reaches down to pick up the envelope, her mind flashes back to a note she had received once in high school, from a friend.  She hasn’t thought of that note since shortly after she received it.  What was that?  Ten years before?  Now another note.  She tears open the envelope and sees a message, written in ink in careful penmanship. 

            “Dear Adel, Last time we met, you said you might talk to me again if I asked you properly and you told me to figure out how to do that.  So, I’m asking you if you will talk to me for a few minutes.  If you are ok with that, then I will come knocking on your door at 11.  If you don’t want me to do that, then just rip up this letter and throw it away and I won’t ever again walk into your life.  If you say yes, actually say “yes” out loud, I will come, and then you can throw me out any time and I won’t argue with you.  Bruce.”

            Adel sits on the sofa she used to share with her Dad, on which they would listen to the Dodgers’ radio broadcasts, and reads.  She is confused by the letter until she sees the name “Bruce,” then rereads it carefully.  She had had a scary dream once and in her dream there was an older man named “Bruce” who insisted that she wasn’t real and that he had made her up as part of a story.  In her dream, the man wanted to ask her questions and wouldn’t let her wake up until she complied.  But how could anyone else but her have known about that dream?  She had never told her Dad, the therapy group, Norm, or even Dr. Lack.  She had mentioned it once to Nick, but never told him all the details.  Or had she?  Had he hypnotized her and gotten the details like that?  She didn’t think so.  Her therapy sessions with Nick had ended almost as quickly as they had begun and she knew he had not hypnotized her.  What then?  Was someone tying to play a cruel joke on her somehow.

            She looks over at the clock and sees that it is 10:15.  She has half a mind to rip up the letter, but then thinks that she will never know the truth if she does so.  Besides, she feels lonely and wonders if company might help cheer her up.  She does not stop to consider how the note’s author would know whether she rips it up or says “yes.”

            “Yes.” 

            Adel then goes about her normal morning activities, gets dressed for work, and pours herself a bowl of Rice Krispies.  She is just sitting down to eat, when, at exactly 11, she hears knocking on her door.  The knocking startles her.  She has forgotten about the note.

            “Who is it?”

            “It’s who you were expecting.  Bruce.” 

            Adel thinks to herself that the knocking and the voice must be hallucinations.  Her heart starts to beat a bit faster.  She swallows her morning dose of Thorazine, expecting the hallucinations to end instantly.  Yet, there is more knocking, slightly louder. 

            “Adel.  You did say ‘yes,’ right?  Did you change your mind?  If so, just tell me, and I will disappear.”

            This cannot be happening, she thinks.  She creeps towards the door, reaching out her hand for the doorknob, almost afraid to touch it.  Perhaps it is wired to the electricity in her apartment.  Maybe she will be shocked or even electrocuted.  She wonders if she is dreaming, pinches herself to see if she wakes up, but, no, it doesn’t feel like a dream.  She is awake, she has washed, dressed, and is about to eat her breakfast.  She is real and she isn’t asleep.

            “Who are you?”

            “Bruce, I told you.  I pushed the note under your door an hour ago.  You said ‘yes.’”

            Adel opens the door halfway and peers out at an older man standing before her.  Maybe he is about as old as her Dad had been when he died.  She recognizes him instantly as the man from her dream. 

            “May I come in?”

            He seems harmless, an inconsequential guy sporting a graying mustache, with a pleasant but worried looking face.  He needs a haircut, and he looks like he needs sleep as well.  Adel opens the door farther and motions him inside.

            “Thank you.”

            The man looks around with keen interest at Adel’s apartment, almost as if he had never entered a young woman’s apartment by himself in his entire life.

            “Do you want to sit down?”  She knows she must be polite to her guests.

            “Oh yes, thank you.  May I sit on the sofa?”

            Adel does not want him to sit where her Dad had used to sit, but she is too gracious to say so and thus just nods her head.  The man seats himself, and Adel perches on the opposite end, as if ready to run at the first sign of danger.  He continues to look around until his eyes come to rest on Adel’s vintage radio.  It had been her Dad’s, but now everything that had been her Dad’s is hers.  It is a floor model, probably built in the 1930’s, maybe as old as Adel herself, encased in dark brown mahogany, with five knobs in the front and a circular tuning dial like the face of a small clock.

            “The radio.  What kind is it?”

            It is the last question Adel imagines the man would want to ask her.  She tells herself she has to be dreaming again, doesn’t know why this is happening again with the same old guy, but does not want to run away like the time before.  So much has happened since her last dream.  Her Dad has died, of course, but there is also the new closeness with Nick, a feeling for a man she had never thought she’d have as a mental case, yes, to herself, she would always be a mental case, even if she has started to learn that she should not call herself that where others can hear, and there is her work at Norm’s Diner, and Norm and Miss Tallie who have taken such good care of her and will be there for her again, she prays, if she needs them.  In her first dream with the older man, the one in which she felt trapped in his office, she had been a very weak Adel, struggling with some of the worst of her illness.  She is now a much stronger Adel, and even without her Dad around to help her she feels she can be the master of the dream.  Maybe she can even make it end in a happy way.

            “It’s an RCA Victor Model 128.”

            “Can you turn it on, please?”

            “I thought you were going to ask me that.  Sure.  Hang on.”  She reaches down, fiddles with the knobs, and shortly finds a classical music station playing a violin and piano sonata.  It sounds happy, energetic.  Beethoven, she thinks?  Her Dad would have known and told her.  She keeps the volume low, then turns back to her visitor.  “How’s that?”

            “It’s amazing.  Being here is amazing.  I’ve been thinking about this apartment for a long time, you know.”

            “You want to ask me questions again, right?”

            “If you will allow it.  I will go as soon as you say so.”

            “I know this is a dream.  I will wake up soon.  I probably won’t remember half of what we talk about, but go ahead.  Ask away.”

            “Well, first, I want to tell you how sorry I am about the loss of your Dad.  I know you loved him very much.”

            “Thank you.  Didn’t you tell me last time that everything that happened to me was something you invented, that I was just one of your stories?”

            “Yes, I did say that.”

            “You’re going to tell me that again, aren’t you?”

            “It upset you last time.”

            “Which means you’re saying the same thing to me now.”

            “You don’t seem as upset.”

            “I’m more confident now about who I am, thank you.  You can imagine any crazy thing you want to imagine.  You can pretend you’re God if you want to.  Jesus said he was God, and maybe he was or maybe he wasn’t.  Maybe you and he are both God.  I’m cool with that.  The thing is, I don’t think you’ll hurt me.  I wouldn’t have let you in otherwise.”

            “Let’s forget all about stories and who’s writing what.  It’s not really clear to me anymore.  I just want you to be in charge of your own life.  What do you want to do next?  Where does your life go?”

            Adel sits quietly for a while, contemplating.  The man doesn’t bother her at all now.  She kind of likes him, in fact.  He reminds her a bit of her Dad.  Seems to like classical music, like her Dad.  She remembers the ballplayer photographs in his office and knows that he is a big Dodgers fan, too.  Too bad the guy is nuts, but then she is nuts and thinks that the nuts of the world can help each other out when they need help. 

            “Well, I want to work at Norm’s Diner for the rest of my life.  I want to cook everything on the menu.  I want to understand the money, you know, how to order supplies, how much to pay, what to charge.  Norm is teaching me.”

            “Has he called you Grace again, by mistake?”

            “Say!  How did you know about that?”

            “Never mind.  Go on.”

            “He hasn’t.”

            “What?”

            “Called me Grace again.  He thinks about her, I’m sure, he wonders about what his daughter did with her life, where she is, even if she is.  But he now always calls me the right name.  He’s very good to me.”

            “That’s great.  OK, go on, please.”

            “Go on what?”

            “Your life, your plans.”

            “You’re not going to tell anyone, are you?  I mean, some things a girl thinks are just for her heart, you know.  You’re not going to share?”

            “I’ll be honest with you.  Everything you say is on the record.  You know what that means, right?”

            “You’re a reporter?”

            “No, I’m a lawyer, trying to become a writer.  But nothing you say will be going into the newspaper, if that’s what you’re worried about.  And, I promise not to tell anyone you know about our conversation, whatever you say to me.”

            “Not even Nick?”

            “Particularly not Nick.”

            “OK, then.  I’m in love with him.”

            “Aha!  I thought so!  That’s great!”

            “Well, I’m not sure how he feels about me exactly.”

            “Have you asked him?”

            “Of course not!  Girls don’t do that.  I listen to all the radio shows.  Girls wait until they’re romanced.  The guy has to make the move.”

            “OK, well, this is 1960, I see your point, but how has Nick acted towards you?”

            A dreamy look comes over Adel, a smile brightens her face involuntarily.  “He is awfully nice to me.  He’s taken me out to dinner.  He’s taken me to a show!  We saw The Fantastiks!  It just started, you know.  I hope to see it again some day, it was so good.  ‘Try to remember, the kind of September, when life was slow and oh so mellow.’”  Adel sings, and her voice is really good.  She has a very unique, appealing voice, especially when she sings.

            “So things look like they’re going well with Nick, then?”

            “I don’t know what to expect.  I’m scared that he thinks I’m just a patient.”

            “He made it pretty clear that he was not your doctor, though, didn’t he?”

            “You seem to know an awful lot about my private life.”

            “Adel, I didn’t know anything about the dinners, the shows, The Fantastiks, or in fact that you were in love with Nick until you just told me.  I had no idea that you sang so well.  Thank you so much for letting me know what’s going on and for singing.”

            “You’re welcome.”

            “So, has Nick, you know, ever tried to … to …”

            “Has he kissed me?  Well, yes.”

            “And?”

            “And what?

            “Your reaction?  Did you think he was being too pushy?”

            “Of course not.  I told you I’m in love.  I kissed him back.  We held each other.  We’re going to see each other again tomorrow night.”

            “He’ll treat you well.”

            “Are you asking me or telling me?”

            “Let’s just say I’m making a prediction, and I have a strong feeling I’m right.”

            “You seem pretty confident.  That’s good.  I hope you’re right … Bruce.”

            “I’m right, trust me.”

            “You know, you do remind me of my Dad.”

            “Maybe because we’re both lawyers and both loved the Brooklyn Dodgers.” 

            “No, I think it’s more than that, just I’m not sure what.”

            “Maybe because he cared about you deeply and so do I.”

            “That could be it.”

 

 

CURRENT COMPETITIONS

Click on a link below to choose a Sentinel Literary Quarterly competition to enter

 

Short Story Competition (July 2010)

 

Poetry Competition (July 2010)

 

Sentinel Literature Festival Poetry Competition 2010

 

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April-June Index
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FICTION
POETRY

Bruce J Berger's stories have appeared recently or are forthcoming in a variety of literary journals, including Raphael's Village, Black Lantern, Seven Letter Words, Eastown Fiction, Prole, and Jersey Devil Press Anthology.  When not writing fiction, he practices law in Washington, DC. 

April-June Index / COMPETITIONS / DRAMA / FICTION / POETRY

 

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