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Reginald Blisterkunst, Ph.D.
Among the Remembered Saints: My Life and Subsequent Death
Pluto Wars

Greg Chandler
"Bee's Tree"
"Local Folk"
"Roland's Feast"
"Pond Story "

Doug Childers
"The Baptism"

Gene Cox
The Sunset Lounge

Clarke Crutchfield
"The Break-In"
"The Canceled Party"
"The Imaginary Bullet"

Jason DeBoer
"The Execution of the Sun"

Deanna Francis Mason
"The Daguerreian Marvel"

Dennis Must

Charlie Onion
"Love Among the Jellyfish"
Pluto Wars
"Feast of the Manfestation"

Chris Orlet
"Romantic Comedy"

Daniel Rosenblum
"A Full Donkey"

Deanna Frances Mason
"The Daguerreian Marvel"

Andrew L. Wilson
"Fat Cake and Double Talk"


Roland's Feast
Greg Chandler

The driver of the Tinseltown Tour bus doled out ice cream sandwiches and bottles of strawberry soda, a Hollywood specialty, to the long line of cranky passengers waiting to enter Faye's Lion Farm in El Monte.

A pudgy towhead walked up to them. "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, I'm Roland Roberts, please have your quarters ready for the turnstile, thank you." The tourists followed the boy past the souvenir huts decorated with palm fronds and Tiki masks. "Hold your breath, folks, because you're about to meet Jackie, the world famous MGM lion!"

"You think he's that kiddy actor?" a woman whispered to her female traveling companion. "You know, the saucy one who wore the neck brace."

"Who cares. I'm hungry. I'll die soon if I don't get some meat."

Roland approached the cage. "Jackie, wake up, boy, you've got company."

The tourists circled Jackie's cage, crunching eucalyptus leaves under their clodhoppers and Mary Janes, making Roland wince.

Jackie scratched behind his ear with a lumpish flea-bitten paw, yawned, licked his balls, lapped water from a steel bowl. His once magnificent mane had matted like a thrift store wig. Clumps of fur floated in his drinking bowl. White worms poked through the scabs on his shoulders. It hurt to stand and walk across the soiled cage, but he did it anyway. A yo-yo shot toward his eyes, a signal from Roland on the other side of the bars.

"Ladies and gentlemen, get your cameras ready. Otherwise what you're about to see will brand you a leg-puller by your family and friends back home."

Roland swung the yo-yo back and forth in front of Jackie, rattling off anecdotes as he waited for the dazed lion to submit. "Did anybody see the newsreel of rough and tumble Robert Taylor when he picked up knockout Ann Sothern and put her down on Jackie's back? Bet you didn't know Van Johnson puts his life on the line, too. Sure he does, every time he comes to visit us, he shakes Jackie's paw. And word has it favorite funny man, Red Skelton, and that pair of gorgeous gams known to us all as Ann Miller, both speak to Jackie through mental telepathy."

Roland felt a collective scowl from the audience.

"Have you heard about the time Mr. Xavier Cugat fed Jackie a handful of Mexican jumping beans...ever seen dung dance?" Roland began to trip over his words. "And get a load of this, one night at a fancy studio party, hosted by none other than Mr. Mayer himself, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy sang 'Indian Love Call' to Jackie, who was all done up in black tie, of course."

Ropes of saliva dangled from the lion's wide open mouth. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'll now insert my entire arm into Jackie's meat grinder. Here I go...Okay, yes, I'm in! Snap those photos!" Roland's arm hovered inside the lion's mouth. "Don't let my courage fool you, Jackie could bite my arm off at any moment."

Roland removed his arm and wiped it on his shiny black trousers. The show was over. Jackie returned to a pile of worn blankets in the corner of his cage and went back to sleep. The tourists gave Roland the once over, then followed a gravel path to the other famous cats, Sir Ocey, Judas, Bob, Bombay, sent to die on four dusty acres at the edge of Los Angeles.

Roland leaned against the bars and played with his yo-yo. He'd heard snickers. What went wrong? Why did they look at him with hatred in their eyes?

Just then he noticed a man standing between the eucalyptus trees, a beefy suntanned guy with black wavy hair. The stranger approached, lit a cigarette. The tattoo on his forearm, a geisha girl straddling a swordfish, caught Roland's eye. When his muscles rippled, the fish humped the geisha. "You're not afraid?"

Roland gave the yo-yo an impressive spin. "Jackie's tame. Anyway, Mr. Faye gives him pills."

The man nodded, looked around the park, dragged on his cigarette. "Where can I get a steak sandwich around here and a can of beer?"

"I dunno, I never had a steak sandwich before."

"And some fried onions."

Roland felt strange, sort of queasy. Staring at the gravel, the leaves and candy wrappers, he thought of his mother just over the fence making dinner, and he thought of his father driving home from work. "Mister, you look like Victor Mature. Like in Million Dollar Mermaid with Esther Williams."

"Oh yeah? Sounds corny."

"You like scary movies? The Red House with Edgar G. Robinson is real scary."

"Never seen it. Movies make me snore."

"Oh...I sipped some whiskey the other night."

"Yeah, so did I."

Roland stuffed the yo-yo in his back pocket. "I liked it. Not at first but the more I drank the more—"

"That's usually how it works. So you're a pretty weird kid...you some kind of circus brat?"

"No, I live next door. My dad owns Bogue Pharmacy on Lower Azusa. I'm an actor."

"Who isn't?"

"My mom knows someone at church who used to work for Hedda Hopper. She's going to talk to her and see if she can get some people to come see my routine."

"Don't waste your time. Join the Merchant Marines, they'll take you. That's where the real action is, not prancing in front of a camera."

Roland felt a strange churning in his belly as he gawked at the man's handsome face, a scarcity in El Monte, and breathed in the man's scent, a combination of grass, eucalyptus, cigarettes, and cotton candy.

"Your old man a prick?"


"A jerk? A creep-o? Does he make you sit up straight and keep your mouth shut? Does he call you Nancy?"


"You hate him?"

"Yeah...I guess I do."

Jackie turned on his side, smacked his lips, waved his tail.

"Tough luck. Well, see you around."

The man flicked his cigarette and walked toward the trees.

For a few minutes Roland was happier than ever and charged with excitement. Then, and he didn't know why, sadness closed in on him like two elevator doors.


The Roberts family ate dinner at a picnic table in the backyard, side by side on a splintery bench. The evening was hot and windy. Mrs. Roberts, not at all hungry herself, served her husband, then her son, before wiggling in-between them. Her gaze wandered from the patchy St. Augustine lawn, to the bed of dead marigolds and beer-filled saucers set out to kill snails, to the wall of bamboo separating them from the Lion Farm.

Silence was the rule at dinner, but since they were eating outdoors Roland felt it safe to ask his mother a question. "Mom?" He paused for a moment to see if his father was going to object. "Have you talked to your friend, the one who worked for Hedda Hopper?"

"Not yet," she said, perturbed, returning her pork chop to the platter.

Roland mashed his peas with the back of his fork. "In two months they're casting the new Lassie picture, and I've got to get in the door before then." He glanced at the moon. "I read that Alan Ladd keeps horses near here."

His mother did not respond. His father, grumbling under his breath, scraped white sauce off his pork chop. His father's smell, a cross between ammonia and aspirin, was unbearable even in the wind, and far worse than the animals. A depressive, unrelenting man, Roland Sr. preferred the company of El Monte's elite over that of his wife and son. If he wasn't snapping fingers at them or swatting their faces with a rolled up newspaper, he was ignoring them. On occasion, he voiced his disgust.

Roland Sr. set his spoon at the edge of his plate and cleared his throat. "Listen up, Roland. Once again, here are the rules: you get up early every morning, you have breakfast with me and your mother, you work your little tail off in school, and you do your chores at the Lion Farm. You will not think about anything else. And, as of this second, you will never bother your mother ever again about movies. Eat! Homework! Bed! Church on Sunday! This, Christ Almighty, is what a boy does!"

Roland's tears fell into his scalloped potatoes, and the tough pork in his mouth wouldn't go down. On the verge of retching, Roland laid his palms flat on the table, then stood up.

"Sit down, now, or I'll drag you by your ears to the sanitarium!"

Roland sat. Hoping for support, a tiny smile, anything, he looked to his mother. At one time, she had been his ally. Now she could only contemplate the food on her plate, incessantly cutting her bread into smaller bites.

Mrs. Roberts hid her failed perm in a beige snood the same shade as her hair. When Mrs. Roberts was a girl, a playmate pushed her out of a tree house, leaving her with a permanently deformed shoulder. Self-conscious, Mrs. Roberts wore only loose, flowered housecoats. In the center of her forehead, barely concealed under a messy application of Just Like Flesh, were two scars, the result of a recent lobotomy.

Roland Sr. pointed at his pork chop, a command for Mrs. Roberts to cut the meat into bite-size pieces. "Dear," she said timidly, "I don't think I'll be able to finish my bread. When you've eaten yours, I'll give you what's left of mine."

Mr. Roberts nodded, his mouth crammed with meat. Mrs. Roberts, her eyes sorrowful, her lips pursed for kissing, tried to spark a reaction in her husband. He turned away, repulsed at the sight of her.

Roland often thought about the first time his mother acted strange. It was around noon on a scorching hot day in the middle of summer vacation when he noticed her running around the yard collecting rocks and pebbles in a laundry bag. With a library book she identified every single rock, then glued all 1,122 of them to the walls of the rumpus room. When Mr. Roberts discovered what his wife had done, he punched her in the gut. Mrs. Roberts collapsed into a shivering heap on the floor. As she wailed at the top of her lungs, Mr. Roberts kicked her backside with his shiny new brogues. All night long Roland watched from the hallway, hugging a pillow to his chest. The sight of his mother standing on a ladder prying rocks off the wall with a spatula, and his father hitting her with a broom handle as he ranted about communism and Jesus, gave Roland sweaty nightmares for months.

Soon after that incident, a lynx at the Lion Farm killed a crow. When Mrs. Roberts heard about it, she became despondent and confused. One night, Roland looked out his window and saw her running around the backyard, an apron over her nightgown, uprooting flowers and grass with a hoe. Mrs. Roberts dug up the entire backyard and sifted it through a window screen suspended between two sawhorses. Night crawlers left on the screen went into a trash barrel. When the barrel was half full Mrs. Roberts poured in some cornmeal and mashed it all up with a hoe. A kerosene lantern cast her sweaty, soiled body in a phantom light. Roland, peeking through the curtain, shivered at the sight of her. In the morning, Mrs. Roberts ordered her son up on the roof to leave scoops of wet mush for the crows: "Show the crows we care, make us look good." Mrs. Roberts kept the crow food in the freezer. Three times a week, she thawed a block of the stuff in a saucepan with a little water. After it cooled, she gave it to Roland. This continued for a month until one midnight Dr. May and Mr. Roberts came tramping through the mud. Mr. Roberts took photos of his wife down in a hole she'd been digging, momentarily x-raying her head with each flash of the bulb.

"Betty, sweetheart, it's Dr. May. Please come up so we can talk."

For five long lonely weeks, Roland had only a vague idea of where his mother was. When she returned, she re-seeded the lawn and planted marigolds, her smile so severe her eyes watered and blood vessels appeared on her cheeks.

Soon enough, Mrs. Roberts had a new fixation: Roland's career. "You're talented and handsome, just right for the screen." Twice a week, they saw movies and browsed Bullocks. Roland loved the attention. "Movie stars are snowflakes from heaven," she often said. "I'll never be a movie star but you will, Roland, you'll be mother's snowflake."

Mrs. Roberts sent for Hypnotism Made EZ, a pamphlet she'd seen advertised in the back of Movie Darlings magazine. Before her new ritual of tucking Roland into bed, she tried to hypnotize him with a yo-yo, yet night after night she failed to take hold of his mind. Eventually, Roland tried it on her and discovered he had a real knack. For almost an hour, Mrs. Roberts stared at Roland's xylophone, her eyes teary and bloodshot, saliva dribbling off her chin. Roland made her promise to help him get into showbiz. It was this experience with his mother that gave him the idea to hypnotize Jackie. For a while, Mrs. Roberts believed her son's new skill would unlock all the doors in Hollywood, until Mr. Roberts threatened to send her back to the sanitarium if she didn't stop sissifying Roland


Roland set down his fork. "Mom, you're the one who told me about the lady in the first place."

Mrs. Roberts leaned against her son and whispered, "You've gone off the deep end like dad said. That gal hardly comes to church anymore. Darn you, forget it once and for all."

Dinner was over, Mr. Roberts announced. Roland went to his room and collapsed in his chair. Tilting backwards, covering his eyes, he wished he was allowed to play his xylophone. Everyone, himself included, was embarrassed when he sang "Sentimental Journey" at the Summer of '51 Lion's Club Family Picnic talent show, but it didn't stop him from winning the grand prize, a Big Band xylophone.

The next morning, being that it was Saturday, Roland ate corn flakes at the picnic table. The cats were unusually noisy. His mother clipped coupons on the kitchen floor. His father was at the pharmacy. Later, getting ready for work in the bathroom, Roland dabbed a little of his mother's Eau de Tahiti behind his ears and smeared some Just Like Flesh on his greasy nose. Studying himself in the mirror, he felt disgusted by what he saw. He-men didn't wear makeup or perfume, he told himself, dunking his head under the faucet.

At the end of the day, only a handful of tourists, and no one from Hollywood, had visited the Lion Farm. As Roland swept around Jackie's cage, Mr. Faye approached, eating an ice cream sandwich. Despite Mr. Faye's unwavering respect for Mr. Roberts, Roland liked his boss. Mr. Faye was interested in movies, especially swashbucklers, and they often exchanged Hollywood gossip.

"Hiya, Roland. Slow day, huh."

"Too slow."

"Hey, I've got some news."

"Someone famous die?"

"Well...It seems MGM thinks Jackie's making them look shabby, you know, the worms. Let's face it, Roland, Jackie takes up a lot of space. MGM's sending us Jackie number two, we gotta make room. If the new cat's the unruffled type like Jackie you can still do your show."

Roland felt tears spill from his eyes.

"The Lion's Club's taking care of everything. Your dad knows how to put a lion out of his misery in a painless manner. The club got together last night and planned a very dignified ceremony in the luau-style where we roast him in the dirt with coals. You'll have a great time and get your picture in all the papers."

"You're barbecuing Jackie?"

"It's the humanitarian thing to do. Think of the publicity for the farm, not to mention the club."

"You can't do that, Mr. Faye. Jackie doesn't need to die, just take him out of the public eye, hide him in the back somewhere."

"Life ain't pretty, Roland, and when it is, it's just to hide something ugly. Learn that and your life'll go smooth sailing...don't you want smooth?"


At Rio Hondo Park the following weekend, Roland and his mother sat at the top of the bleachers while Mr. Roberts tripped over himself in right field. Mrs. Roberts pointed to a cloud of black smoke at the far side of the park. "I hope there's no funny smell coming this way."

"Dad shot Jackie between the eyes."

"And you're going to eat it just like all the fellas. I'm a little squeamish, though. But meat's meat when you think about it. Cow, chicken, lion."

"Jackie's not like a bunch of stupid chicken parts down at the butcher, Jackie's important, Jackie's famous all over the world...how could you let them do this?"

Mrs. Roberts riffled through her handbag in search of her cigarette case. "Your dad works hard for his club because he's loyal. And he says loyal men have the good conscience to mean what they say. At the meeting he said the publicity will be just what the doctor ordered."

When the softball game was over, everyone gathered around the smoldering mound. "She's ready!" Mr. Faye hollered. "Ladies, bring the carving tools."

Mr. Roberts, Mr. Faye, Dr. May and a few other distinguished members, cleared the palm fronds and oak branches off the top of the mound then shoveled away the coals and red-hot earth. Roland looked down at his former partner, charred and shrunken yet unmistakably feline. He watched them carry Jackie, impaled on a spit, to a table wrapped in aluminum foil, where men lined up to ceremoniously carve lion meat for their families.

"Can't be any worse than my wife's pot roast," Mr. Roberts said.

Mr. Faye stabbed the knife into Jackie's side and sliced downward until a steak-size piece of stringy meat fell into his hand. He sniffed then took a big greasy bite. "Delicious! Here boys, take a nibble, live forever."

Photographers from the local papers snapped pictures.

Sixteen picnic tables encircled Jackie's blistered remains. Roland, facing Jackie's hind quarters, sat to the right of Mrs. Orts, widow to the founder of the El Monte chapter. Roland's parents and Dr. May sat across from him. The air was heavy with Jackie's pungent odor, which many likened to overdone corned beef.

"Please pass me the Waldorf salad," Roland said to Mrs. Orts.

"Certainly dear," the old woman replied, handing him the bowl. "If only Mr. Orts was here for this momentous occasion, he'd be crying like a baby." Mrs. Orts was a tiny woman, though not at all frail, with champagne-colored hair and a slight harelip. "Young man, aren't you going to eat this delicious meat? You better gobble up or I might just steal it off your plate."

Roland ignored Mrs. Orts. What an idiot she was to think he'd eat Jackie. He noticed his mother and Dr. May watching him.

"I hear they're building an underwater drive-in movie at Long Beach," Mrs. Orts mumbled, her mouth full of food.

"Oh yeah?" Roland spooned his serving of dark stringy lion meat onto Mrs. Orts's plate. "Pretty soon they'll be showing my movies down there." Orange grease from the meat had made the Waldorf and macaroni salads on his plate impossible to eat. Roland set his fork on the table. Even the pineapple soda tasted funny.

"You say you're going to the movies?"

"No, I'm going to be in the movies."

Dr. May and Mr. Roberts gave each other a conspiratorial glance.

Roland and Mrs. Orts were soon engaged in a conversation about Betty Grable, whom neither of them thought had an ounce of talent.

"You're right," Dr. May whispered, "he lives in a delusional world."

Roland heard the comment and reacted by speaking louder. "She can't act worth a hill of beans, that's why no one hires her these days. Not like me, I'm a great actor...Say, do you like that song 'Long Ago (and Far Away)'? I heard it on the radio last night. I love it more than any other song."

Mr. Roberts shook his head in shame. "That's what I've been telling you."

"Listen to him talk to Harriet, I mean, she's senile, she's supposed to speak nonsense, but he's just a boy," Dr. May said, smacking lion meat in his mouth. "I foresee sexual problems in the very near future."

"Last week I met a guy who looks like Victor Mature. He had big muscles and tattoos and the most handsome face I've ever seen."

"If you want my professional opinion," Dr. May said, "your kid's already something of a pervert."

"Roland," Mr. Roberts yelled across the table, "for gosh darn shut the hell up, you're making us sick!"

Something snapped in Roland. He went to Jackie, broke off one of his hind legs, and gripped it like a baseball bat. One hundred faces glared at him. He lunged at his father and clubbed him over the head. Before he could see the outcome, he was sprinting across the field toward the orange grove.

Mr. Roberts fell backwards into the dirt, his face covered with blood and lion meat.

Roland spent the night in the upper bows of an orange tree, wide awake. At times, he was afraid, but for the most part he was excited. In the morning, surveying the grove from his high perch, he decided it was safe to descend. Groggy, Roland peed into a man's shoe, a brand new black wing tip abandoned near the base of the tree. Zipping up his trousers, he laughed, realizing what he had just done.

Sitting in the dirt, surrounded by rotting oranges, he wondered how to get to Hollywood twelve miles west. In the far reaches of the grove, he saw two men duck behind a tree. Cops? Dr. May and his father? He hoisted himself into the tree. The longer he watched, the more apparent it became the men weren't looking for him. One took off his shirt, then the other. Roland soon realized one of them was the wavy-haired guy from the Lion Farm. With his heart ready to explode, Roland jumped out of the tree and ran to him.

The men dashed in opposite directions. "Hey! Hey! Victor Mature, wait up, it's me, it's me!" Finally the man stopped, and Roland caught up to him. "Remember me?"

"What the hell's wrong with you?"

"I beat up my dad last night."

"No kidding?"

"Please," Roland begged, "let me come with you."

Figuring he had nothing better to do, the man took Roland home to Hollywood.


Over the next few months, the man, Dean Humberstone was his name, grew very fond of Roland, and Roland very fond of Dean. Dean knew a few studio carpenters willing to help Roland get a screen-test. Finally, after seven months in a tiny apartment listening to the radio and reading movie magazines all day, Roland landed his first role. It was a small part, the son in The Werewolf Family, yet he couldn't have been happier. After the picture came out, Roland was in demand at the smaller studios. The horror and sci-fi directors all agreed, "The kid's a natural." They slathered his face with scary makeup, wrote him weekly checks for seven-hundred dollars, enrolled him in a school for showbiz kids, and hired Mr. Lionel Hampton to teach him how to play the xylophone. And, just in case anyone from El Monte ever saw one of his pictures, he changed his name to Jack Lyon and never thought of Roland Roberts again.



About the Author

Greg Chandler recently completed his first novel, Bee's Tree, born from a short story that appeared in WAG. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California and holds an MFA from Columbia University. His stories have been published in WAG, The Barcelona Review, Christopher Street and Southern Ocean Review, among others. He also wrote Soda Pop, a short film that's been screened at over fifty film festivals on five continents. He lives in Pasadena, California.


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