Offcourse Literary Journal
ISSN 1556-4975 

Five Short Pieces by Charles Freeland.


You Are Still in Your Pajamas and They Have Butterflies on Them

Maybe next time you will know how to react. You will turn the flashlight off and jump around the corner so as to surprise anyone who might be waiting there to ambush you. To poke you in the eye with an umbrella. Our patience runs thin whenever a cold wind is involved. Whenever we suspect betrayal on the part of our superiors. But then time passes and we realize we have no superiors, that everyone was born with exactly the same number of chromosomes, give or take a few. Suppose you were to return from the hospital and everyone wanted to know what the name of the hospital was. As if that made any difference. This is the place where seams begin to appear. Where the darker river intersects the lighter and the two go off hand in hand toward the horizon. Sometimes we expect more than can be delivered. But sometimes we expect far less, and still get disappointed! Accordingly, we should invent a tradition that ensures we are eulogized before we get put into the ground. Before we have even begun to deteriorate physically, though the question of our moral or mental faculties might still be up in the air.




A Line Across the Continent

While I am scrubbing away at my elbows – which always seem to have something coating them, some substance that changes from one day to the next in texture and make up but which forever searches out that particular spot on my arms – she is busy (I imagine) on the cell phone, giving precise instructions, reminding the culprits on the other end of the line what the patterns should be and what they should say even if she’s the only one who can recognize them. It’s the sort of duplicity I’ve come to expect from her even if she has given me no good reason to expect duplicity at all. I expect it because that’s my nature, and she knew this long before we settled on this particular house in this particular neighborhood and decorated it with wire contraptions that look suspiciously like Mayan calendars. These we’ve purchased at yard sales and department stores and have hung up all over the house, inside and out. Those outside we had to spray with a special compound designed to keep the rust at bay, but this compound itself was difficult to acquire. You have to spend days and weeks combing through the back pages of magazines that are no longer even published. You find them in people’s basements when they are kind enough to let you in to scrounge around, or even when they have no knowledge of your visit. You find them in bins at the used book store where they also carry miniature lights that you can clip on the tops of your books and so read them after everyone else has gone to bed. After they have decided there is nothing further to hold their interest in this world and so they set off for that other one that exists parallel and concurrent to ours, but which is infinitely to be preferred, especially if you have difficulty fitting into this one. If your friends, for instance, refuse to answer your emails. Or when they do answer, it is with obvious ill-humor.



Photos of the Bongo Trawl

Pallbearers are usually required. This is one of those plain truths children pick up on even when they are oblivious to pretty much everything else. Except the skin tones of frogs and what chalk tastes like. They see with their fingers, borrowing images from the things they touch the way we borrow cash from relatives. With no intention of returning it. Or even acting as if we are in anyone’s debt. This is why there are mornings when the mist that rises off the plant life in the backyard reminds one of eons long past. When the oceans lapped at the places where no ocean is ever to be found again. From this distance, one is reminded of that belief of Bernini’s that there is a characteristic gesture or facial expression one makes right before speaking or immediately after, one that reveals the true thoughts hidden inside the head. And he made it his mission to capture that gesture in stone.




All Set to Obey

Legions show up, chanting slogans they have invented along the way. Some of them seemingly endless, with themes and repetition. Climaxes and those bits of wordplay you often expect of gifted children. But you are caught off guard nonetheless when they utter them. As if this is the one place where everything follows from what came before it as certainly as rivers follow the lines on the map we’ve assigned them. Oh sure, some people will claim it’s just coincidence of greater or lesser degree. But you can’t accept this and still put your shoes on in the morning. You can’t bother yourself about the need we all feel to pursue things that don’t actually belong to us and probably never will. But why examine our desires so closely the pores in the skin become visible? And the aromas swirl around us like stars on the outer bands of a galaxy? Maybe not even the one we occupy at present. But one of those said to be so far away, it takes light half a million lifetimes just to make it from there to here. And explains why I never feel like answering questions directed at me. Why I try to act as if I am hard of hearing all of a sudden and there is nothing that can be done to remedy the situation. We’ve tried everything. Mineral salts. Long massages followed by very short bursts of high-frequency sound. There’s no question the theory behind it all is sound. Ought even to be enshrined some day in an anthology that otherwise makes no room whatsoever for temporal realities. It lists in its table of contents three or four scores by people with no real affiliation with the neighborhood. People with no way of highlighting their differences from us short of writing such into the parts for tympani. And then bragging about it afterward. Shouting at anyone who happens to enter the bar unaccompanied. And promising to make them remember some part of the evening that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. The names on the silverware. The walls painted lavender for reasons even filthy people might consider completely obscene.




from Eucalyptus

Under the bulb, another bulb, only this one has been reformulated using the latest technology, the latest theories concerning genetics that I do not understand. This doesn’t mean I am not tested on them repeatedly. It just means that I am forced to cheat. And when the results arrive, I can hear the thunder in the distance even though the horizon isn’t that far away and it is clear as a piece of glass. This is what they mean by indecision, what they want you to remember as the house goes up in flames. Rescue somebody. It doesn’t have to be anyone in particular. It doesn’t even have to be someone you like or admire. The back passage is littered with chromium batteries and somebody says we need them to light the way. Too bad they have been used up, the life drained from them like the blood from the calf on Saturday. Immanuel took pictures even though he didn’t like what he was seeing through the viewfinder, which must have been a myriad of images all thrown together, re-arranged by the narcotics he was taking for inflammation. I distrust this account, though, for the simple reason that it was rendered by disinterested parties, by people who had no more interest in the outcome than they did in the Kentucky Derby, something I determined for myself by asking a few questions. And it’s not like we try to wind up on the other side of the ravine. Every slack rope, after all, has to lead somewhere. It’s just that we want to be able to claim we had no choice in the matter, that the backdrop you see before you – with its heavy allotment of pistachio trees, and its wind gusts represented by curly white brush strokes, as if the artist couldn’t find any way to depict movement using those things that are actually visible, changing the angle of the leaves, say, where they attach to the branches, or blurring the blades of the weathervane – the backdrop is not the same as we paid three hundred dollars for just a month previous. Perhaps the form has been lost in the mail. Perhaps someone stepped in and made everything conform to his own particular vision, which is a selfish thing to do, to be sure, but not altogether without precedent. Immanuel himself drew a tutu on the statue of the unidentified general that stands in the square downtown. He used magic marker and it washed off in the rain, but still, for an hour or two before that, people were screaming! They refused to be consoled when we offered them chocolate, when I explained that what they were seeing was not the same thing – by definition – as what was actually out there but which they couldn’t see. There is no way of understanding this, I said, without stepping out of yourself the way a man steps out of his own shoes without meaning to. On the sidewalk, say, when he is running after a bus. And I had some converts, I did. I had people trying to unbind themselves from the inside. But, of course, their every effort was doomed to fail.




Twice the recipient of the Individual Excellence Award in Poetry from the Ohio Arts Council, Charles Freeland lives in Dayton, Ohio. His books are "Eros & (Fill in the Blank)" (BlazeVOX Books, 2009) and "Through the Funeral Mountains on a Burro" (Otoliths, 2009). His website is "The Fossil Record" ( and his blog is "Spring Cleaning in the Labyrinth of the Continuum" (

His work has appeared in Offcourse Issue #37, Five New Stories, Issue#36, Five Not Unrelated Stories, Issue#35, Four Adventures and Three Short Pieces in Issue#33.



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