by Beth Adelman

The Evacuation of Armaments

On the October evening before the eighth Anniversary of the Evacuation of Armaments, the boy stood in the doorway of his parents’ bedroom, watching his mother rearrange things in her dresser. His stepfather hummed as he unpacked a suitcase from a trip. The boy said his 12th birthday was in five days. No one answered, although he was sure they heard him. He cleared his throat loudly—neither his mother nor his stepfather looked his way. Hurt, the boy left the house to get away from them. 

The boy had seldom been out on the streets after sundown because his mother remembered the nighttime ‘shootings’ of her childhood. As soon as she let slip that banned word, she shook her head and refused to explain it. The boy couldn’t find the word anywhere. To keep the peace for the next generation, after the Evacuation, words and images of violence had been prohibited.

The boy decided to run to the avenue along the city’s central park and then all the way downtown. Hundreds of people on the tree-lined streets were preparing for the Anniversary festivities. He saw young men climbing up ladders to hang flower baskets from the lampposts and girls making wreaths or braiding each other’s hair. Traffic was banned and a violinist or an accordionist played at every intersection. 

But the boy was in a sour mood. Peace! he thought. Everybody makes such a big deal out of it. 

“Peace!” he shouted to three girls holding a ladder. He meant to sound sarcastic, but the girls smiled and waved at him.  

“So wonderful!” He tried for sarcasm again while running past white-haired women painting doves at an intersection.

“That’s right!” they looked up.  

The boy veered away from a drumming circle, and crossed the street to avoid women dancing. There were many circles of dancers in the middle of the street, for blocks and blocks. 

“Alleluya! Alleluya!” sang the women. “He can’t hurt us anymore!”

People on the sidewalks cheered the dancers, and the boy ran past all of them until he reached a desolate stretch of the avenue.

The utter silence surprised him. Here were no flowers, no happy girls. A sign taped next to the opening of a park path said, “Enter.” A sprig of rosemary was stuck into the paper. 

Wanting to know what this meant, the boy followed an overgrown path into the park until he reached the edge of a vast meadow. He stood and breathed in the scent of mown grass. A dense line of oaks and dark maples encircled the basin of the meadow. South of the park, above the skyscrapers, a fiery magenta lined the bottom of the gray clouds. But here, looking at the fantastic stillness of the meadow, the boy could not understand why his mother was afraid of streets and parks at night. 

He climbed a knobby crabapple tree, scraped his hand, steadied himself on a branch, and waited. 

In a little while there was movement in the bushes along the path. The mayor of his neighborhood came out of the path holding a branch of rosemary. After her came the thin Chinese man who owned the dry cleaners around the corner from the boy’s home. The man stepped carefully in worn black slippers and carried a poster-size photo of a gaunt face. The boy watched others follow: the burly Little League commissioner and his wife, who carried a photo of an eager young man in a captain’s uniform. The boy stood up. Holding the branch above him for balance, he watched as mayors of other neighborhoods and hundreds of men and women from all over the city walked out of the path. They filed onto the meadow in a silent procession. Some people carried a sprig of rosemary; others, photographs. Many of the photos were of young men, but some were of young women pushing hair away from their faces, and a few were of laughing children.

The procession moved across the darkening field along the eastern line of trees, down to the gray outcroppings of schist to the south. So many people came to the meadow that the newcomers had to stop under the boy’s tree to wait for the people in front to find new places.

There was his English teacher! 

She stood very still under his tree. He could see her ponytail, her smooth cheeks, her narrow shoulders, and her elbows because she was holding a photograph at waist level in both hands. 

That afternoon in English class, when he had looked up from his book while analyzing a sonnet, Miss Henriques was staring at him out of her dark eyes. Her attention thrilled him. As soon as he finished the poem, she hurried down the aisle to him. Standing by his desk, she turned to the class. “This guy gets it!” she crowed and pressed an approving hand on his shoulder.          

Later in the school locker room, the boys teased him. “This guy!” they laughed in sing-song. He hadn’t figured out how to answer them, so he said nothing, but he was hurt. It still hurt to think of it, and he grasped a branch and closed his eyes as the procession under the tree began. 

When he opened his eyes, the boy crouched down on his branch to see where she was. Miss Henriques had moved away, but he was jubilant. He had seen her out of school. 

The boy saw the meadow fill with row upon row of somber men and women. The air was cooler and the sky was getting dark when a woman called out, “I remember him!”

            “Lord, how I remember my wife!” cried another.

            A man near the boy’s tree said, “I remember him—my baby!”

The people on the meadow spoke in their different voices—some loud, others trembling and crying.

“My love, I remember you!” The boy thought that was his teacher’s voice. Frightened, he climbed down the tree and ran home.

When he was inside his house and about to start up the stairs to the bedrooms, he heard his mother arguing with his stepfather.

            “It’s a historical object from my museum. You don’t have to see it—” she said.

            “I certainly don’t want to,” said his stepfather.

            “So don’t. But I can’t just ‘throw it out’ like you said!”  

            His stepfather answered in a low voice. The boy took a few more steps up the stairs.  

            “Tell me where not to look. Is it under your naughties?” his stepfather said. 

            The boy caught his breath.

            “How you talk! Yes—under my naughties—if you want to use that silly word.”

The boy went into his bedroom without being seen. When he was in bed, his mother came to his doorway to remind him that he’d be last to leave the house the next morning, before the housekeeper arrived. Then she asked what he wanted for his birthday. 

He didn’t feel like talking and pretended not to hear her. Eyes closed, he saw the empty meadow as he had seen it at first. And Miss Henriques under the tree: her ponytail glossy, holding close a photograph of a fair-haired man.

*   *   *

Early the next morning, his parents’ voice woke him. The boy didn’t mind; he’d rather hear them leave than wake up to an empty house.

From his bed, the boy could see the morning light around the window shade. He heard the front door shut. He was alone.

On his way back to bed from the bathroom, the boy noticed that the top drawer of his mother’s dresser was not shut all the way. If it was open when she came home, she might accuse the housekeeper of going through her things, he thought. To close the top drawer, he had to open the second and when he saw her lacy nightgowns, he remembered last night’s argument.

His mother’s way of keeping score of other people’s rights and wrongs had given the boy a way of thinking. At school, if he did something good, such as hold a door for a kid he didn’t like, he rewarded himself by taking an extra lap around the track after they were told to stop. Since he would save the housekeeper from suspicion by closing the drawers, he decided to reward himself by looking at the historical object under her nightgowns. 

He reached under the slippery nightgowns until he found a heavy something wrapped in a thick silver polishing cloth. He lifted it out carefully: it felt broken. He pushed the top and second drawers closed with his elbow and carried the broken thing in both hands to his bedroom.

Put it back, he told himself as he put it down on the rug and sat next to it. “Put it back!”—he imagined his mother yelling.

If he was brave enough to look, he’d know something his stepfather didn’t. 

He would look. He unwrapped the heavy object carefully, so that it wouldn’t fall apart.

His window shades were still down but there was enough morning light to see by. So old and half-broken! What was this thing! Historical? He had never seen anything like this object, with a scratched wooden cylinder and a metal contraption on top. 

The writing on an index card attached to the object by a purple ribbon said it was a “flintlock pistol” made in Paris in 178… the last number of the date was stained. It was ‘used by the leaders of the Royalists to shoot Republicans…” The remaining words were also too stained to read. 

“To shoot.” Was this a thing for the shootings his mother was afraid of? Was it a bad thing? He lifted the strange, heavy object and laid it down on its other side. Screwed onto the cylinder was a polished silver engraving of three muscular figures in a style the boy recognized from his book of Greek myths. The middle figure, a robust centaur, had one leg raised as if he’d just kicked the warrior on his right. Holding a club in one hand, the frowning centaur was about to swing at the warrior on the left.

It’s art—that’s is why she has it, he thought. The action in the engraving pleased him. He liked the centaur’s boldness and the shininess of the silver, and ran his finger over the grooves of the men’s beards and the hair. 

The boy left the pistol on the floor while he took a shower. When he came back to his room, he eyed it as he dressed. 

I could show the engraving to Miss Henriques, he thought. It might cheer her up after last night. If he unscrewed the engraving, he could bring it to school and stay after class to show her. She’d ask him if he remembered his Greek myths. Yes, he did. She might pat his arm in thanks for bringing her this beautiful thing. He smiled to think of that. 

The boy tried all the screwdrivers in the box he kept under his bed, but the old screws would not come out of the engraving.

He decided to bring the entire pistol to school and keep it a secret until he talked to Miss Henriques. The boy checked his phone calendar: all his classes were cancelled for the Evacuation of Armaments assemblies and picnic, except for last period. He was relieved that he’d still have English. After wrapping the pistol in the polishing cloth and two towels (because it was historical), he fit it neatly into the bottom of his book bag and left for school. 

*   *   *

As students were leaving the room at the end of class, Miss Henriques untied the window shades and let the warm October sun shine in through the row of windows. Then she looked down at the field. The boy, who was standing in the back of the room, thought that she was more beautiful than ever in her magenta dress and glamorous make-up.

            He cleared his throat. Miss Henriques turned around.

            “You!” she said. “How are you?”

            He spent the day waiting for this moment, but now it was difficult to talk.

            “I’m ok,” he finally said.

“Well then. You caught me in a good mood,” she told him. “This is my favorite holiday! But I guess the kids were a little bored.” 

To avoid admitting that everyone complained about the Anniversary, the boy said that he wanted to show her something. She sat down at her desk in front of the classroom and waved him over. 

“A poem?” she said.

He shook his head no as he laid the wrapped object on top of a poetry anthology on her desk. 

“What can it be!” She was happy. “Do you read poems at home with your parents? No? How did you learn to be so good at analyzing—”

He had folded the towels tightly around the pistol and it took several minutes to figure out how to unfold them. 

            “So mysterious!” laughed Miss Henriques. 

            Finally the boy flung the towels off the pistol. 

            She sat still and said nothing.

            He waited. Kids walked past the open classroom door on their way out of the building.

“What,” she whispered. Then she turned part of the way towards him, her face drawn, mouth open. 

“Oh! I wanted to show you the other side.” The boy turned over the pistol to show the engraving, and smiled, hoping it would please her. 

            Miss Henriques ignored the engraving. 

            “Do you know what this is for?” she said hoarsely.

             “To shoot. But I don’t know what that means.”    

            “You don’t know what that means.” 

            “It hurts people?” He wanted to know.

She stood up and kicked her chair away. The boy thought that yes, to shoot must be very bad, or Miss Henriques wouldn’t have done that. It must be something horrible. 

            “I just wanted to show you that, because—” he pointed at the engraving.

            She shook her head, no.

The boy was frightened of the situation. He couldn’t bring himself to say the word ‘beautiful’ to her—that he wanted to show her the engraving because it was beautiful. He remembered that ‘pretty’ was a synonym for beautiful, but he couldn’t say that to her either. He gestured at the engraving. “It’s nice,” he whispered. 

“How did you get it? There aren’t supposed to be any more.” She leaned against the wall behind her desk, then pulled the comb out of her bun and her hair fell onto her shoulders. 

            “My mother works in a museum. She said it’s historical. It was in her dresser.”   

            Miss Henriques covered her face with her hands.

The boy felt he was beyond his abilities and looked out the windows at the bright October sky. On the field below the classroom, boys chanted the name of their favorite football team. The engines of the school buses on the street were revving up, and there was the laughing and snickering of students let out from school.

“Take it off that book.” When Miss Henriques took her hands away from her face, the boy saw that her eye make-up was smudged onto her cheekbones.

Relieved to be told what to do, he moved the pistol with its cloths to an empty space on the desk.

Miss Henriques stepped towards the desk and snapped her comb down against the wooden desktop. Then she took the small hammer used for tacking the best essays to the bulletin board out of a desk drawer.

“Close the door and come back,” she said. He closed the classroom door and returned to her desk. 

As soon as he was standing next to her, Miss Henriques hit the engraving with the hammer. 

The boy shouted, “Wait!” but she hit it again. With her hair hanging loose against her angry, smudged face, she struck at the engraving, the barrel, the trigger, but she wasn’t strong enough to break anything.

The boy snatched the hammer from her and hit the pistol. He had never done such a thing before. He raised his arm and brought the hammer down hard. He liked smashing. He liked seeing chips fly off the pistol. 

Then, holding the hammer above the pistol, the boy glanced at the six rows of empty desks whose blond wood shone in the sunlight. He felt powerful at the front of the room with the teacher watching him, and looked down at the engraving. The boy thought that if he struck it, he’d be smashing something, like the centaur. He brought the hammer down and dented one of the warriors. Miss Henriques made an encouraging sound.              

When he raised the hammer again, the boy remembered that his real father used to hold his hand up high and wiggle his fingers before he smacked the dog. The boy reached higher too and waved the hammer once before bringing it down. With a crack he split a piece of wood off the handle. Then, he looked down at the pistol to hide his great delight from Miss Henriques.


Beth Adelman lives in New York City, where she has been a writing and ESL instructor, and an editor. She has won two awards for fiction from the Bronx Council on the Arts and is working on her first novel.


by Adam Gnuse

Love Story

I got to have custody of Lizzie for Valentine’s Day, and that afternoon we were just sitting on the couch in my apartment watching old reruns of Barbaras the Pirate, that live-action adventure show from late night ‘90s TV. Lizzie had just started middle school, and I realized it was probably too mature for her, with how people’s throats were being slit onscreen, or with all those suggestive moments, like how Barbaras licked his teeth every time he saw a woman in one of those low-cut brassieres. But it had been a pretty horrible day for Lizzie, even as middle school days go, so that when I picked her up from school she curled right into the footspace in front of her seat, so none of the kids in carpool would see her cry. Earlier, she’d had asked a boy, Frankie, to be her Valentine, and he told her sorry, he liked talking to her and borrowing her homework before class, but he couldn’t like-like someone who was fat and pimply-faced.

So we watched TV together, sharing the big bowl of last night’s popcorn I hadn’t been able to finish on my own. At one point, Lizzie looked over to me and told me she thought she was in love with Barbaras the pirate, and I would have laughed except she said it with this look of, I don’t know, empty longing, with her eyes no longer watery from before, but her little pimply face that I loved still puffy from the tears. I realized laughing at her would have been like rubbing her face into the rug, and if I did in that moment she might not ever like me, or want to come see me again. So I let her have that, and we went back to watching the show in silence, our hands ruffling through the bowl of popcorn next to one another, with me paying more attention than ever to the pit-stains on Barbaras’ little purple vest, and his greasy red beard, and the way he giggled when he wrapped some old admiral’s waist with rope, then tossed the man overboard to keel-haul him along the ocean floor.

“Do you still love Mom?” Lizzie asked.

And, oh jeez, here we were on a question I wished I never had to answer, or at least had more time to think of a good lie for. But I felt like we were having a good moment there, me and Lizzie, and I wanted to be straight with her in a way I wished others had been straight with me. So I said, “No.”

But that didn’t feel like enough, so I said, “It’s hard to keep going on loving someone who doesn’t love you anymore. And you can still love them for a long time, but eventually, with nothing coming back, it goes away for you, too.”

“Oh,” said Lizzie. We went back to watching the show, where Barbaras somehow had dragged an alligator into the governor’s bedroom. The pirate was clutching his belly, laughing, as the gator bit into the elderly man’s leg. Then Lizzie asked me if I ever loved Tiffany.

And, well, I thought it was important to be honest with her, really honest, so I said, “Yeah, I think so. Anyway, there was a week or so when I was saying that, right?”

Lizzie said yeah, she remembered that, and she looked deep into the popcorn bowl and picked around the hard, unpopped kernels. “Poor Tiffany,” she said.

Onscreen, Barbaras leaned in so far for his close-up that his tongue left a wet streak along the glass, and I started wondering where she was then, Tiffany, and if she had found someone who was good to her.

Lizzie stared at the television and let out a little sigh. “Does Grandma love Grandpa?” she asked.

And, well, shit, this would have been a very nice time to lie to Lizzie, if I wasn’t sure she didn’t already know. I knew how, on those visits, Grandma enjoyed talking with Lizzie, keeping her granddaughter at the kitchen table long past bedtime with milkshake after milkshake, and with those tall, tall glasses of Port for herself. Across the room, Barbaras squinted out at us, and the way he tugged on his beard, he might have been sizing me up and gauging how I’d answer.

“No, your Grandma doesn’t love him,” I said. “Your Grandpa didn’t believe that anyone could ever only love just one other person. It was really important for him, um, to love a lot of people.”

Lizzie was taking all this pretty hard. She sat there so hunched over on the couch that I could imagine her sinking right down into the crack along the back of the cushions. There’s something to this fucking Valentine’s Day holiday that stomps on the throat of people when they’re hurting, and it’s easy to forget how it starts even when we’re kids. I wanted to sort things out for her, kind of in the way I had sorted things out for myself.

So I did my best to explain why so many people divorce, or why people who say they love each other hurt one another, sometimes really badly, or how sometimes your love just runs out, or else the person who loves you might find someone who is nicer. I tried to say how, as best I could, even old married couples don’t love each other sometimes—but that’s okay—or how young couples don’t realize how happy they are, how lucky they are, because only the people who don’t have anyone can really know, can really see how even those young people’s worst days are made better—buoyed—you know, when they’re greeted at home by that little smile of the other person sitting on their couch, watching TV. How even if you don’t get that, it can be all okay, how someone doesn’t need another person to live.

And this was very hard for both of us to hear, and through the window there was snow falling, with great big flakes sticking to the glass, and Lizzie and I hugged one another on the couch. We knocked over that big bowl between us, the popcorn kernels spilling into our laps, and I kissed her on her forehead again and again, on the oily spot right below her hairline. And I felt so hopeless for her, and for myself, but so much more for her, and I held her, and held her until finally with a crash Barbaras pushed loose the glass of the TV onto the floor, and he writhed himself out, leering, and rose to his full, imperial height.  

Standing there with the feather of his hat curled against the ceiling, with his thick chest covered in hair—he reached across the room, cradling Lizzie out from my arms, and took her from me. My Lizzie, laughing and crying and sprawled over his shoulder, he carried her back, down into the bowels of his ship, and he took her away.



Adam Gnuse is a native of New Orleans, and he is currently an MFA fiction candidate at UNC Wilmington. His writing has appeared in New South, Guernica, decomP, and other journals.