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Illustration by Magali Pirard

Hungry Hearts

6th annual Java Jive writing contest winners

LISTEN to the damn scientists long enough and you could start to think the human heart is pretty simple. Four chambers, a few tubes, a lot of liquid: it doesn't seem too different from the water pump in your car, though it's a bit more expensive to replace. But the poets know better. Inside that fist-sized organ, they never tire of pointing out, lies an endless capacity for emotion--usually, of course, various flavors of suffering, ranging from mild regret at unrequited love to bitter rage at betrayal to the lingering burn of true love lost.

So why does that long-suffering organ keep pumping its way through the world? Because the heart is a lot like the stomach: it always gets hungry again.

Enter Java Jive 6, the latest installment of this publication's annual coffeehouse writing contest. For this year's Jive, the Bohemian asked writers across the North Bay to write about "Hungry Hearts and Unnatural Chemistries." We wanted 500 words or less on human relationships in all their puzzling pathology and complicated glory.

We got it--in spades. Turns out there are more takes on love (and its opposite) than there are romance novels on the shelf--though most of our writers were infinitely more interesting than Danielle Steele. We actually had trouble picking five winners, so we picked six, all of which you'll find below. And don't forget to join us on Wednesday, Nov. 1, for a public reading by the winners (see "Jive Reading," p. 17).


First Place

Tête à Tattoo
By Eliot Fintushel

I ask you, what are the odds of meeting someone whose tattoos match yours? Red rose on the biceps, butterflies on the palms, yin-yang above the navel, Celtic cross on the nape of the neck, bull's eye on the lumbar, et ever-loving cetera. And our perforations: ringed nose, studded tongue--wouldn't you extrapolate? Wouldn't you want to compare less accessible regions?

She amenable to same. "Maybe we are, like, twin souls." Her eyes blazed. She touched my hand. I squeezed. Your place or--"Mine," she said. I said, let's go.

I never do this.

Italic curlicues wrap her ankle. About her calves hamadryads frolic; if she stands on tiptoe, their tunics ripple. Her knees have faces, tragedy on the left and comedy on the right. Me the same.

My trousers fall. Above tragedy, an eagle. Above comedy, a snake. She the same.

"Look." Her blouse is gone. Undergarmets boil away. "Do you have nipple rings like these?"

"Yes." Buttons spray. Tee flies. Silk flutters. "And you have Jacob climbing the ladder up your ribs to the heaven of your aureoles . . ."

"Just like you!"

We lock emblems, appendages, accessories. Our four breasts, her two celestial, mine rudimentary, clink. Our ink mingles. Our tongues knot stud to stud. The butterflies of my palms alight on the calla lilies of her nether swells. She me likewise.

Above, lids tickle. Below--our sole dissimilarity--her bearded Jove swallows the serpent uncoiling from my Hermes' caduceus, red, blue, and green.

"Lord," I sigh, "was Cliff ever right!"

"Cliff? You know my ex-boyfriend Cliff?"

Jove disgorges.

"Who?"--spelunking in the counterpane, burrowing into the percale--"No. Who?"

That's when my left nipple ring slid off. The right was removed by force. She spat on Jacob, rubbed him with one of her butterflies before I could pull away--and he vanished along with half the ladder. She flung the covers from the bed and re-examined my hamadryads: smeared. Tragedy drooped. Comedy dripped.

"All fake! I'll kill Cliff. I'll kill you." Her tears dissolved my roses.

"I wanted you all over me."

Horrified: "He showed you those photographs, didn't he?"

Adamant: "It was love at first sight."

"You cheap liar, no needle ever touched you. You just wanted to get laid. Tomorrow it'll be a different set of fake piercings and phony tattoos. Get out."

She was wrong. My only fault had been impatience.

I skulked. I guttered. Tattoos drenched my argyles. Get out. She was still sobbing when the tumblers in the door lock clicked.

Now, prick by prick, the tattoo artist lays in color, and the pain intensifies my love. My caduceus is the hardest. With every next image I think of its twin on her. As soon as my tongue heals, I'll go to her. Let her tug, spit, weep, rub now. My love will never fade.


Second Place

Northern California Teenage
By Leonore Wilson

The flag-draped coffin moved by like a slow barge. Another boy dead from the war in Vietnam. Behind it, Jackie lookalikes: dark glasses, soft cowls. Bawling bruised the air. Slow clack of heels on concrete. Rosaries hung from mourners like lassoes. Nuns crowed in Gaelic, bringing up the rear. We were told to bow our heads in prayer, stare into our blond shiny desktops as if into ponds of holy water, and recite the glorious mysteries. If we threw our eyes to the cortege, we'd see history inside those facets of glass, we'd see the entire future disappearing like snow in a paperweight.

But what made us look up, disobey? The snake of wisdom muttered to us, Stay Awake. During those moments notes were thrown or slid as Sister stood, eyes glued, her body like a candle narrowed before the window. In the late 1960s most of those notes had one message. Uptown after school. Meet at six. Without uniforms. Bring lipstick. Tease hair.

The Beatles were on the big screen. The Fab Four running through London on their way to L.A. wailing It's Been a Hard Day's Night, Once in a Life, Michelle, Eight Days a Week. Every teenage girl was owl-mouthed. Desire was sticky there in that place. Rock, the great aphrodisiac. Invisible sisters in the dark we screamed out of a blood-sense of duty. We sat in plush red velvet not hearing a word. We were heartbit, giddy for sex. Popcorn dropped like spermatozoa. Ice clattered like necklaces. Here we were in our summertime flowery shifts, our lips smeared pink as aureoles. Here we loved the tale of Red Riding Hood best, the wolfish dread. The panic of want was unstoppable. The wolf-want inside the female.

These boys were from Liverpool, from the other side of the world, the underworld. They were Samson-like knaves with identical hair, tailored suits. They motioned us with their guitars, their hands and mouths and microphones. We drowned in them. We were stoned animals clinging to each other's elbows. We were paralyzed like weights on a table. Love beaded and peace signed, we were not prepared for this contagion, this British invasion. The want, want, wannas. This claim they put on us. In the end we were transfixed, transfigured. A fire mounted in us. Thrust and ache, we saw we were naked, exposed; bride-crying to heaven like gulls.


Third Place

A Love Story
By Nancy Long

I walk into the apartment. Throw my bag down, yell to my roommate, "Come on, girl. Put on your dancing shoes. We're going out!"

"Yeah, sure. We got no money. How are we gonna get drinks?"

"Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it."

I peel off my waitress whites, let the shower spray off the grease, grime, sweat of eight-hour burger cookin'. Can't wait to get out of that shit-eatin' hole. Away from that son of a bitch boss. I need the money. Got to put up with his crap for a little while longer . . . but, for now, I'm free. Gotta go out tonight!

My roommate and I hit the road. Clubs line the boardwalk. It's Saturday night. Everybody's out. Gotta get out tonight. Gotta get out.

Two guys stop us for a match. Tell us we look good. Me in my red, my friend all decked out in black. "Hey, where are you going?"

Our heels click in the night as we walk away, laughing, leaving smoke trailing. Two guys' eyes following close behind. Gotta get out tonight.

We enter the club. . . . The smell of tobacco, light flashing, music blaring. I can hear the lines of coke being cut up on plates of glass with sharp-edged razor blades in bathrooms, on toilet lids, doors closed. Three girls in a stall, all ready for something, ready for a Saturday night.

The pool tables are packed. The smell of chalk rubbing across rubber tips on long thin sticks gets my blood flowing again. I feel alive. I'm out tonight. Feelin' hot tonight.

"I'll get us drinks tonight," I say to my friend as my eyes scan the room. I put my name down for a game of pool. I smell money ready to be taken, wallets opening and snapping shut in back pockets of men who are too stupid, too drunk, to see beyond the sweetness of my raspberry-flavored lipstick.

I watch on the sidelines. Sit on the barstool, cross my legs, look dumb. That's how you rope them in. Suckers. Every man is an asshole in my mind. Just like my boss. Tease them a little, but promise them nothin'. Get what you can, then get the hell out. He's always tryin' to get a little ass out of all of us. But I know how to play the game. Smile, act dumb, and get what you can.

"You're up!"

One guy points to me. I slowly stand. Start out easy. Get a few shots in on purpose. Miss a couple. He wins. He smirks.

"How about another. This time some $?"

"Sure," he shrugs.

This time, I win. Good. Got some bucks for drinks. He gets pissed, wants another game. It's always the same. Their big heads dig out their own graves. Dumb suckers. His buddies are watchin'. I say double or nothin'. He says, yes. Figures. I am out tonight, feeling hot tonight.

The slap of balls in holes rings in my head. Sticks fly high from one end of the table to the other. The game gets faster. We're dancin'. He and I, but I'm not in it for the romance.

We get toward the end. The score is tied. He is good. Better than most. I like the way his fingers move. His eyes never leave the cue ball. I'm gonna win this game. Get my $ and get the hell out. There are white lines waiting for me. Maybe we'll try the next joint down the block. I am hot tonight.

The ball just glides in, like a hand fitted in a perfect glove. His friends cheer. I pick up the $ and walk away.

"Hey, want a drink? Another game?" He smiles.

I turn around. Hesitate. This one seems different . . . smarter . . . sweeter. . . Maybe there's something to this guy, something I could like.

"Sure."

As I walk to the bar with him, I shake off those dumb feelings. Don't be gettin' in any trouble tonight, girl. Next thing you know you let yourself get roped in . . . then get shitted on. I smile my sweet raspberry smile, cock my head to the side, pretend like I love every word he's saying . . . and think, what can I get out of this one tonight?


Honorable Mention

Velvet Crush
By Ariane S. Conrad

Dear Like One,

When I first saw you in the shop, my lips began burning. I fingered crushed velvet and asked about business out loud while I thought about your lips in quiet. The shop's walls were lined with yielding, feminine clothes, and we were alone.

I asked whether you'd ever played underneath the clothes racks in stores when you were little, the jackets and skirts swinging in your wake like ghosts at a party. Of course you had. You remembered the prim salesladies who dowdily interfered with the fun. I'd had the same thing happen. Of course. We giggled, mirthful girls. You commented on the setting of my wedding ring. Do you remember me now?

I turned back to the clothes, fingers on weaves and fabrics, eyes spying to see if you were watching me. You were. Don't we all want to be pored over? I imagine you stalking me, glimpsing: how I stretch catlike, mornings; how I lick off spoonfuls of yogurt; how I sway before the stereo.

You asked whether there was anything in particular that I was looking for. I wondered what you were asking. Dresses, I said, as a question. Dresses? you repeated. To tell the truth, I was looking for something like me. With velvety skin, small hands, and a giggle. Something girly, with endless patience for girl things: hair clips, blouses, touches . . .

I tried on a blue wool dress. In the fitting room, my every inhalation was expectation, out was relief. Fervently I hoped the motions in the curtain would reveal your hands, then your eyes, and that you'd walk in, pulling the curtain closed behind you.

Breathing hard, I hoped it, I hoped against it.

As I left the fitting room, you were reaching to hang the unwanted dress. I gazed at your breasts, arms, curves, against linens, mohair, silks. You turned and smiled. I had let you see me watching. I smiled back. Now you knew that I knew that you knew that I admired you.

You returned to your seat behind the counter. I mused over jewelry and couldn't think of anything to say. Your hands worked at a piece of magenta paper, folding and turning. I said I guessed I should be going. You handed me the origami flower, said it was something to remember you by. I took your hand and kissed it. To remember me by.

Since that day, the world has been relentless in reminding me of you: onions, turquoise, cowboy boots do. Relentless also in reminding me that it is wrong to want you. I do have a husband, my Loved One.

You are my Like One. Can't it be enough, the likeness, and that I like you? Our connection is prehistoric, instinctive. The judgment and ostracism the world would inflict upon each of us three is barbaric, chauvinistic.

If I told you we could be correspondents, with my husband's sanction, to our passion's content, able to make any world of our letters' paper, would you write back?


Honorable Mention

Love Shorn: A Fringe Fairy Tale
By Jordan Rosenfeld

Rapunzel now calls herself Pansy. The name has a quirky, seductive edge; it's a wild flower, and since the sickness, she feels a bit wild herself. Oh, she can remember the girl she used to be. The pride. The glory. How men from around the world came in search of her, how ubiquitous their show of affection once was. Love words. Imported foreign candies filled with special liqueurs and potions to make a girl crazy with desire. But what girl doesn't grow tired of awkward hands treading on her tresses? Oh they all knew how to get up. They all knew the Witch went unconscious from too much brandy after 9.

Rapunzel is bald, suffering after chemotherapy, trying to find a way to attain a lover, now that the crowds of admirers have gone. What would draw him to her now, up in that lonely tower, without the socially glamorous locks of hair she once had? Not to mention eyelashes, batting them now a thing of the past. Would he have to be drawn by the music of her voice, scent the private human pheromones she gave off like small white moths into the balmy nights, learn to levitate himself to reach her?

Chestnut ripples of hair is what she first notices about him. After all, who isn't envious of what they don't have? Then it is the contours of his body, so male, so everything she is not herself that keeps her watching. He is a nighttime sweet talker, a teller of fantastic tales, and near-sighted from years of straining in the distance for gorgeous females. Outside her window he comes in her dreams, makes her wild with passion at night, makes the skin of her body itch with static for his hands to soothe.

She'll get him there all right.

He is noticeably distraught at first, after his poorly constructed catapult allows him entry, bruised and scraped, into Pansy's portal. He isn't prepared for the remaining spikes of hair, frail and tender like sea urchins being born, the leftover dark circles of near-death in her eyes. He's uncertain about touching the frail peach-colored skin of her face. What will happen when he presses his princely intentions against her frail bones? Where is the golden hair of rumor?

Where are her voluptuous curves?

That's when she shows him a thing or two about love. With complicated maneuvers and techniques surely honed from years spent practicing on imaginary lovers.

But lovers never prepare for the storm, the windy nauseating road of chaos that surely comes to mix with trysting. As Pansy and her Prince didn't think about the Witch. Surely not, that badgering, bad-breath harbinger of all things spoiled.


Honorable Mention

Silk Kimono
By Leslie Cole

You enter the bedroom dressed in my silk kimono, chestnut hair pulled up into a floppy topknot, your hairy legs placed wide apart, your face solemn and whitened with flour from the kitchen. "Samurai mama!" you declare. You thrust a book-shaped brown paper bag at me through the driver's side window of your still moving car.

It is Valentine's Day, and I happen to be walking alone down the eucalyptus-lined road where you hardly ever come. You wag the package at me. "Here. I got you something."

You sit leaned back in your chair, the bar not that dark and just a little noisy. We talk. You peel the label off of your beer bottle. Very cleanly, in the same way someone might pull down a blanket from a bed. I peel off my label as well. Secretly, and then I try to fix it back onto the sweaty bottle. You hug me because I hug you first. You are solid but nervous, your hand patting my back as if I were an elderly relative. Your hips are in Cleveland. Mine are in Santa Rosa.

You have now woken up after we have finished.

You walk by me, smiling just slightly, your robe swirls around you, open to your waist, as if you are walking in a faint summer breeze, although all the windows are closed and it is well past sunset. Your golden body is unbearable to look at. You meet me on the causeway at 5 o'clock. Without a word, you peddled around me and tucked in just ahead, taking the headwind that was wearing me out. You woke me up in the early morning to have sex. It was fast and not great, kind of like a drive-through. Then you said you have to remember to call your mother. You stripped off your clothes, starting with your jeans, and pulled my bike up close to the bed and let me watch you fix it naked.

You told Lake Michigan it was over between us while I stood by in surprise. I pissed in the lake after you'd gone, you thinking I'd stayed behind to cry. You covered my pillows with purple iris. Later you chopped my bed in half with an ax. You sat still as a mountain in your lifeguard chair, hood pulled over, golden eyes too beautiful to bear, and you said you could hear me growling underwater. You were almost right--I was singing, though. You told me it was over while making a bologna sandwich on white bread.

You left me a valentine on my car, in the mailbox, strangely stuffed into my baked potato, and then written in magic marker across your sweet white ass.

You pulled in hard and just dropped in on the same blue wave as me.

The water is beyond blue and stretched tight and moving.

Our eyes meet, and we are both ridiculously delighted.


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From the October 26-November 1, 2000 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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