Who We Are… Orange Coast Review is an eclectic convergence of literary fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, interviews and art. It is a portable salon, a place where boundaries are broken and styles morph, a celebration of creative diversity.
The 2015 issue features a wide array of work from established and emerging writers from southern California, Canada, and the U.K. This issue features a compelling interview of Raymond Obstfeld, author of over 50 books and a dozen screenplays. It also includes a scathing satire by Andrew Tonkovich and an engrossing exploration of the complexities of racial isolation by Michael Bourne.
We want to publish poems, short stories, creative non-fiction and art that causes a thunk in the pulse and a spark in the brain, works that combine intellect and emotion without pandering to either. Yeah, we don’t know what that means either. But we do know that a piece of writing has to make us care about whatever is happening on the page. In short, we’re looking for something memorable.
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Poetry: Virginia Shank, Erki Rangno, Jill Sharp, Susan Cameron, Loretta Obstfeld, Lisa Dowling, Nick Soderberg, Carrie Etter, Wendy Klein, Nicholas Reiner, Marc Malanddra, Morgan K, Matt Bryden, Patty Seyburn, and featured poet J.G. McClure.
Fiction/Nonfiction: Erik Rangno, Kathleen MacKay, Jenna Allie, Lisa Richter, Norm Johnson, Andrew Tonkovich, Michael Bourne, and Julian Guise.
INTERVIEW: Raymond Obstfeld
Bradford J. Salamon, Michael Harnish, Tom Dowling, Peter Gelker, Julia Klemek, A.M. Rousseau, James F. Lorigan, Sheryl Seltzer, Suzanne Walsh, Lisa Bloomfield, Becca Shewmake, Claudia Morales McCain, Suzanne Petry, Hsin-Han Hsu, Carleen Carrasco, Carl R. Zaptiff, Hannah Melde, and Kitty Nguyen.
COVER ART: Pamela Diaz Martinez
by Virginia Shank
Break a glass, and then another.
Send bottles skittering into dark streets.
Sledge hammer monogrammed tumblers.
Crush mason jars and figurines beneath a boot.
Sing along to the clatter of shatter.
Call out names and curse like a crow
for you know all that croaking is cursing
and you’ve never seen a raven hypertense.
Delight in life’s roadkill, hop gaily along
in your best black coat and eyeball
smiling children like they’re funeral pyres
erupted from the earth. Delight in the shine
of glass slivers, but remember, you don’t
contain the ocean, no matter how deep,
how churning it feels, you can’t
make beach glass in your gut, can’t worry
the edges smooth or dull the fierce reflections.
So snap the necks of wine carafes and leave them
heaped and shimmering, open the wings
of your great black coat and fly, clattering, away.
by Thomas Riley
We had been in Iraq long enough for fears of death to dwindle down to little forgotten packages lost in our cargo pockets somewhere. It’s only a matter of time before a person stops throwing himself on the ground every time there is an explosion. Death cries wolf often here. My convoy security team is tasked with nightly missions escorting people and equipment from one camp to another.
A couple months ago, we had to escort a cargo truck full of sand to a base built up in a desert, full of sand. Last night, we brought a water pump to a position where a Humvee had flipped over into a ditch full of water, drowning the gunner in the turret. The poor kid came here to fight and ends up drowning in the middle of a desert. As I get my turret ready for the night‘s five-hour drive, I think of his family. What will they be told of his death? Something more heroic than the more realistic, cruel irony that seems to be so common here, I hope. I mount my machinegun and continue to arrange my turret.
This is my office, my home away from home. Everything has its proper place. The high-explosives are strapped in to the right, about a foot away at my one o’clock. I make sure to keep them away from the flares on my ten o’clock so that I don’t mix them up in the dark. The extra ammo cans are behind the flares. My grenade launcher and rifle are strapped in behind me, and my Red Bull, the most crucial weapon in my arsenal, is wedged between the searchlight and the metal turret wall. The wall isn’t enough to stop a bullet, but it does obscure my silhouette from snipers, and that’s good enough for me. As I finish loading my machinegun, I think of the high school sweetheart, Eileen, whom I named it after. She was a year older than I was and had already had a two-year-old child
at sixteen. We were crazy about each other. We saw the world from a perspective that our peers couldn‘t understand yet. We both had to grow up fast, her with her baby, and me being basically out on my own since about fifteen. When life got rough, we always had each other. I light up a smoke and watch the rest of the team as they finish radio checks and other pre-game inspections. I’m ready. I’m always ready way before I need to be. I enjoy the little time this gives me to relax and reflect a bit before we make our way to the camp exit.
As we leave the security of the camp, headlights off, into the dark, I feel a surge of unwelcome calmness take over my mind; whatever will happen, will happen. I’ve learned that there’s no use in driving myself crazy being afraid. I become detached from myself as my body goes into its well-trained autopilot, leaving my mind to get lost in the beauty of the night. The guys below me, inside their fortress on wheels, have no idea what they’ve been missing. I have the best seat in the house: on top, outside, under a sea of shimmering stars. Up here, I am part of this place, this ancient place, which absorbs my soul into its history. In the distance, tracer rounds ricochet through the sky like hundreds of drunken turbo-charged fireflies, which used to be a reminder of bullet wounds and bloody death. Now it is a spectacular light show that spreads out for miles over the grey desert. Above me, the moon, which no longer haunts me. Lately, it is embracing with its warm glow, a familiar spectator that knows where I’ve been, and knows where I‘m going. It was there when I was thirteen. It watched me catch the frog I cleverly named Kermit that Fourth of July in Montana when I went to visit my mom. It also watched me rip a car into pieces with my machinegun because it wouldn’t stop. But it doesn’t judge me. It has seen many car-bombings. It understands.
An hour down the road, my radio headset beeps and then comes to life.
“We’re coming up on a hot spot. Eyes on the road,” Slim mummers over the radio nonchalantly. I picture him down in the passenger seat, helmet off, munching on a small bag of Doritos as he usually does. “And shine light on the truck behind us; right in his eyes. He keeps getting too close to our truck.” I join my mechanical body and take back over its command. As I spin my turret around enough to do as I‘m told, I feel the uncomfortable weight of my salty helmet and gunner’s armor harassing my aching body. I grab my Red Bull with one hand, spotlight with the other, and give the Turkish truck driver behind us a quick flash. I used to think it was rude to do this, but it works, mostly because the drivers have to slow down while they regain their night vision. He is close enough that I can see his surprise as he quickly tries covering his eyes. I look back over our convoy and see a long winding trail of headlights turning on. The sight is astounding, no matter how many times I see it.
The convoy is big tonight. The headlights go back more than a mile and then disappear behind a bend. I spin my turret around and illuminate the dirt road in front of us as I pop open the Red Bull with my teeth, then down it like a beer at a frat party. This is my ritual. I have to get my heart going. I need to be nervous and jumpy. My body won’t do it on its own anymore. I’m in search of buried bombs, IEDs, and tank mines. No doubt, the snipers see me holding up a spotlight in the dark, but getting blown-up is much more likely, and much more painful. I hate this part. I am expected to spot something under the ground before we drive over it going at least thirty-five miles an hour in the dark. It’s almost impossible to do without knowing the small signs I’ve learned to look for. My eyes are supernatural. Scanning from one piece of trash to
another in a rapid criticism, I do my best to clear a secure route of travel for my comrades to follow. At the same time, I watch the dark hills to the sides.
As we come up on a ghost town, we turn off all of our lights to try to creep through without being noticed. I know anyone hiding in the destroyed buildings will hear the parade of diesel engines and squeaky brakes shuffling through the silence, so I prepare myself for a fight. I get down on Eileen and turn on the night vision scope. Through the eyepiece, I see a soft green world of destruction. Charcoaled skeletons of cars line the roads. Homes and buildings are missing walls and riddled with giant holes. I know this place well. On prior trips through here, I’ve memorized the exact position of every car, every crumbled stone, every dead mule and pile of debris. I know the faces of the handful of people that somehow remain here. I’ve made sure that if something is out of place, I would notice it at once. As we pass an alleyway, I spot two figures in robes with AK 47s. They pay us no mind and continue chatting and smoking as if they don’t notice the giant elephants passing by. I know they do. I know they know that I can’t light them up unless they point their rifles toward us.
Frustrated, I call over my headset, “Two military-aged males in dresses with small arms, portside alley, fifty meters.” Then I hear acknowledgment through a series of rogers and checks from the other gunners throughout the convoy.
“Oh come on. Just open up on them,” Slim hollers from down below. He is my Vehicle Commander. He knows every man in Iraq grows up from a little boy with an AK strapped to his side, and he knows the rules of engagement better than I do. I can’t help but give a snicker at his jokes, but sometimes I worry that he is serious. “Can you flash that driver again,” comes in on my headset. This time, it is my driver Huffy, a proud
Greek American with one extremely lazy eye. His wife sends us goodies and the best jarred olives I’ve ever had. I do sometimes have to try to stop myself from making the symbolic connection between them and his eye while popping them in my mouth, but they are amazing. He’s a great guy, a little huffy, and sometimes I like to think that eye is helping me watch the side of the road. When I flash the driver, I can see the anger in his face. He is frustrated also, and rightfully so. I hope he understands that it is the latest protocol for me to flash him when he gets too close. We notify a security detail about the two men in the alley and continue on our mission. “You should have just sent them a H.E round,” Slim says. “I would have had your back. Well, wave bye to the guys that are going out and planting the IED that is going to kill us next week.” For a moment, I consider his words and a couple scenarios start to play out like a movie in my mind.
An hour out of the town, we stop the convoy to relieve ourselves. I pee off the side of the Humvee. Unlike everyone else, I refuse to take the chance of stepping on a mine and getting blown up just for taking a leak. I would be ashamed. Slim bursts out of the passenger door and walks quickly to the driver behind us with his pistol in hand. I can tell he is pissed by the way he’s walking. Lately, he usually keeps a loose attitude and demeanor. I watch, waiting to witness something I would later have to deny seeing. Has he finally lost it? He flings the trucker’s door open and puts the gun to his head.
“Stay the fuck away from our truck or I’ll shoot you in your nasty noggin!” he yells. I’m not surprised. I’m glad he didn’t pull the trigger though. Some of our guys have done crazier things out here. As Slim slams the truck door and heads back down the convoy somewhere, I study the Turk. Did he even understand what was said to him? I see only the whites of his eyes, but they are fixed on me, and the hatred is searing through my
face as he works on catching his breath. I wish I could go reassure him that we are here to protect him. This man is a civilian, contracted to drive cargo in a war zone, and it’s probably the best way he can support his family right now. I wonder about his children. Is one deathly ill? Is he trying to pay a son’s way to an education? What’s worth coming here to drive a cargo truck? The five minutes of break flies by, and we are quick to get on the move again. The lights come back on and I again hold out my bright, shining sniper target. I wonder if his wife is up late nights, worrying and praying for her lover to come home safe. What will she think of us when she hears how he was treated tonight? I think of my beautiful girlfriend back home in California. Does she pray for me at night also? I miss her big, soft brown eyes and her goddess smile. As soon as I get the chance to call her, I will. It’s been too long.
Suddenly there is a quick flash of light. There’s no big bang, only loud, deafening ringing in my ears. My head is thrown against the turret wall and I find myself inside the Humvee with Slim and Huff. I feel a numb wetness all over my face and chest but I dare not reach my hand up and feel for damage. Instead, I look at the guys, waiting for the reaction in their faces to let me know if I am about to die. Is it the real deal this time? Everything is unnaturally slow. It seems to take a whole minute for them to finish turning their faces back in my direction. I see no reaction, only numb faces. The world fades away into darkness. The calmness consumes me.
I wake to Huffy shaking me, screaming my name. The ringing has subsided enough for me to hear the communications radio running wild with voice traffic, squelches, and beeps.
“He’s not dead,” Slim tells the radio. Huffy has tears in his eyes.
After several failed attempts, I manage to leak a few words from my mouth. “I’m
“You’re good, just got knocked out a couple minutes. Doc is on his way to check on you. Do you think you can get back on the gun and look for a triggerman?” Slim asks. I don’t remember him ever sounding so sympathetic. Asking me to do something? Never. He only barks orders. I finally reach up and feel my face. It’s all there, swelling and aching, but it’s there. I gradually pull my shaky body back up through the turret. Behind us is a huge ball of flames on wheels. It was the Turk. He had run over a pressure plate that was hidden in a bunch of scattered water bottles on the shoulder of the road. I search the perimeter with my scope. Seeing nobody, I turn my attention back to the Turk. He must have been following too close again, and when we slowed suddenly, he must have turned toward the shoulder in order not to hit us. Slim is back to his old self.
“Who brought the marshmallows?” he jokes.
“That shit’s not funny right now, Slim,” I holler back down into the truck. I find my headset and put it back on in time to hear that we are instructed to stay and secure the site until the Explosive Ordinance crew gets here. Three hours is estimated for their arrival, but prior experience tells me three hours actually means about five. I can’t help but search for the sight of the burning corpse in the truck. Through the smoke and flames, I spot him, that brave father that was doing what he had to for his family. He is engulfed in a flaming light, a shining rock-star brighter than anything for miles. His mouth hangs open with a silent scream. He is still watching me, still hating me.
The smoke is almost suffocating, but I have to stay ready here on my gun. The stench of burning rubber and sizzling gun-powdered puss fills my nostrils and begins to
drip down the back of my throat. I choke on the ashes of a man I meant to protect. It lines my lungs as it becomes another part of me, something else I will carry for the rest of my life. But somehow, all I can think about are all the lights that have made this night so beautiful, up here on top, with Eileen, under the moon.