The Arc Magazine: Taste
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published | february ‘09


by Helm Matthews

LilacHis story started in the long-ago time. In the cosmic ether of the unknown...

Marty Jorgenson stared at his wife. His expression was blank. Empty. He was a self-absorbed man in the throes of desperate ennui. The fork to his mouth was slow and automatic. There was no taste. He saw his wife’s words, but he did not hear them.

Silent drone.

He was eating dinner with his family at a small round maple table, set in a plain and simple kitchen. They lived in a tiny white cottage house, in a sleepy community set deep among the coulees of the mighty Mississippi River. A valley forged by glaciers long past. The scenic city’s name was Winona, and it had been the Jorgenson’s domicile for six years.

The fork continued its automatic motion. His wife her crimeless drone. He his stare. Unmoving.

Behind his wife was a doorway to a small living room, its walls a pale green. The space was spartan and the furniture antique. There were no pictures on the wall. No faces of friends or family to peruse. A room without remembrance. A bird sang. The song from a canary given to Marty by his mom. The television was on, set to a news channel. The volume was up, but he did not hear it.

The fork to his mouth. His wife’s words. A television newscast. A bird’s song. Unheard. The silent drone.

His existence had come to this.

Marty Jorgenson was not happy. He was 34 years old.


The trance ended with a shout from his wife. Marty jumped a little. The sounds rushed in: the television, the bird, the forks clanging, his wife’s words.

"Sorry," he said.

"Have you been listening to a word I’ve said?"


She shook her head.

"Where were you, Daddy?" asked a voice of innocence. It was Marty’s daughter, Jessie. She was only seven years old and always sat to his right. This cherubic spitfire had curly blond hair that was in a constant state of mess. She had just started the second grade but was short for her age. A pugnacious little thing.

Marty looked down at his child and smiled. "You don’t talk like a seven-year-old," he said. "Did you know that?"

"What do you mean, Daddy?"

"You’re very smart, Jessie."

"Thanks, Daddy," she said with a big grin. There was spaghetti sauce splattered all over her face. Marty had successfully deflected his daughter’s question, but his wife pressed on.

"Why don’t you listen to me, Marty?" she said, somewhat hurtfully.

"I’m sorry, Terri." His eyes were heavy and directed down at his plate. He did not love his wife. This was obvious. Terri Jorgenson was a pleasant woman, her words never nagging or derogative. But they were just empty words to the husband, and Marty usually didn’t hear them. There were faulty connections between the two. And this made him very sad. He wished there was something that made him hate her, but there wasn’t. Bad connections, that’s all.

His wife shrugged off this silence and pushed the conversation forward, as if she hadn’t shouted at all. This time Marty tried to listen.

"How were your students today?" she said, her fork tensely stabbing at pieces of meatball. Her face was taut and her eyes blinked rapidly.

"The same," he said flatly. "Nothing new. No geniuses."

Marty was a professor of history at the local state university. He had become tenured three years ago.

"And your book? How’s that coming?"

"I haven’t touched it in three weeks."

Terri swiped her straight blond hair out of her long face and green eyes. "Doesn’t the University want that done?" she said.

"Pretty soon," he answered.

"Good," his wife said sharply. She hurried to finish her dinner.

Marty was writing a book on the antebellum period, the decades before the Civil War. He was required to publish a book for the University every three years. This publishing requirement was unusual for a state university. Dr. Langley, the chancellor, instituted this aggressive policy to generate revenue and help keep tuition down. She also felt it would raise the stature of the small public university. It was a bold strike that angered the senior faculty. But Marty loved to write and embraced the challenge.

Marty turned to Jessie. She was trying to eat a meatball too big for her mouth. He smiled and said, "How’s your new teacher this year?"

"She’s skinny," the daughter said.

"That’s all?"

"She seems nice, but she’s skinny."

Jessie’s eyes had a glow. A vibrant spark. And it filled Marty with a temporary sense of joy. His blank nature melted around her.

"What’s her name again?" he said.

"Ms. Workman."

"Oh," the father said. "And she’s skinny?"


"Sounds like she could be a Revlon girl."

"Huh?" the child said.

"Never mind," a dry voice replied.

Jessie was jumpier than normal and her energy was more boundless than usual on this night. Marty noticed this and said, "You seem to be in a real good mood today, Jessie."

"Of course!" she exclaimed. "Tomorrow is Friday, and aren’t Fridays kind of like Christmas? Who doesn’t like Fridays? It’s sort of like having Christmas once every week!"

Marty smiled warmly at his child and rubbed her head. Jessie beamed a smile at him.

A forked clanged on a plate. Terri had dropped it. It was jarring and it startled Marty and Jessie. Tears began to well in the beautiful blond’s emerald eyes. She sniffled and then cleared her throat. She excused herself. The sound of her chair as it pushed out was loud. She scurried upstairs to the bathroom, the sound of her pounding feet trailing off.

Marty watched her leave but did nothing. His eyes sank again as he absently studied his plate full of spaghetti. He knew what angered his wife. She wanted be part of the connection that her husband had with their daughter. Marty Jorgenson was supposed to chase her. He didn’t. Tears were supposed to come, but they didn’t. His existence was blank in this quaint sleepy home. Blank like the sounds he heard at dinner.

Helm Matthews
HELM MATTHEWS is a multifaceted novelist and freelance gonzo journalist. His writings span the gamut, from witty political articles to stories that explore the human condition. He makes his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Lilac is his first literary novel.


fresh fish

Author Jemiah Jefferson is at work on a new novel, but this time she’s inviting readers to participate in the plot.

Firstworld is a sci-fi web novel, a.k.a. wovel, written in short installments. Every Monday Jemiah posts a new installment, and readers have until Thursday to vote on which plot branch to follow next. Does the dart graze Sonny’s sleeve or embed in his neck? Should the heroine zoom past or slow to a stop? After we vote, we wait impatiently for it to be Monday again so we can see what happens next.

Firstworld installments are long enough to hook you into the story and engage you in the lives and personalities of the characters, but they’re short enough to be quickly devoured in your cubicle at work. The reader-selected plot twists could make for an interesting study in reader behavior: Do we always favor the bolder course of action, or do we prefer a sly, sneaky approach? Do we want a close call or a literary punch?

Regardless, the Firstworld offers a fast-moving story in an accessible format that gives us a rare opportunity to look forward to Monday.

Visit the Underland Press site to catch up on the story and cast your vote.

Jemiah Jefferson's publications include the novels VOICE OF THE BLOOD, WOUNDS, FIEND, and A DROP OF SCARLET, and the legendary erotic short-story chapbook ST*RF*CK*NG. She has also written articles for WILLAMETTE WEEK, JUST OUT, PLAZM, 2GRLZ QUARTERLY, and the culture blog Popshifter. An avid fan of great music, bad movies, sci-fi television, and comics, she lives in Portland, Oregon.

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