Walter Bargen


Theban Timing

Hardly a whisper of light at the window. Claws slowly scratch at the glass. The long-haired black cat that sits on the sill has already heard and wants out, but isn't ready to pounce on the deafly sleeping couple in the bed.

The radio alarm begins to rattle loose news: explosions, corruptions, insurrections, floods, houses buglared and burned, the dead mounting every barricade.

Jake threads his way through five cats stretched over the blankets. He's thinking Monday after the last weekend in October and he forgot to reset the clocks to daylight savings time.

Stella wriggles her way through the same crowd of cats, but counts seven overweight purring bodies. They both  realize they are late or early for work.

He runs upstairs to change the pink digital clock in the study, abandoned by their daughter when she outgrew the color and left for college.

She runs to the kitchen to reset the stove clock, and one that hangs over the kitchen table, a childhood relic, a wooden owl, whose eyes stopped counting the seconds long ago and now stare in exaggerated directions, stomach stuffed with old gears.

Downstairs, Stella spins the clock's arms an hour ahead. Upstairs, Jake draws them back an hour. For the next thirty years they live in the same house, always two hours apart.


Theban Ruins

The lamp is dim, the night narrow. What illuminates the book is old and frayed, crumbling at the edges, the ruins of reading.

Her lap weighted with a yellow dust. Booted footnotes leave prints over her thighs. Armies on the march. Through late ashes, Stella is a fading ember.

The plot is thin, weak. Gruel spooned into stricken mouths. Conclusions to hate, greed, desperation, exhausted reasons, seasoned with the soup of bodies boiling in ditches.

A Maginot Line, a Chamberlain. Nothing to stop it from happening, nothing to stop her from falling into a deathly sleep.

Her eyes are watery from strain. Her glasses streaked, askew. Stella stares into and out of the grass she's growing into.