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FOLIO is a magazine of strange, comic, and strangely comic words and pictures published from 2006 to 2009. For back issues please contact the_folio@hotmail.com.

Issue No. 10, Chess...Live Here Instead

Issue No. 10, Chess - Diorama

Our house was little more than a shoebox for a third grade diorama, the rooms little more than scraps of cardboard glued up to represent rooms: a kitchen upon entry, its adjoining nook a living room, a set of stairs no wider than the narrowest closet climbing steeply to a bathroom, where any sudden movement would have shaken the whole box.

Reading in my room beneath the bathroom, I could hear the entire process of a shower. The swish of slippers would take me from my book and a new story would develop over of the one in my hands.

“This is a little late for Grandma,” I thought one night. The faucet ran and as cold turned to hot a towel was pulled from a rusty rack and the toilet flushed to speed things up. A heavy rush against my ceiling fanned out into a rain. A few rings shuffled down the pole.

Always miraculously, the ancient, stand-alone bathtub withheld the first step, and again I was amazed it did not crash through the ceiling and land beside my bed. There was a water stain on the ceiling, widening every day. I expected the second foot to peak through at any minute, but the porcelain took that one too, and I listened to my grandmother, Vivien, inch herself into the hot water.

I could hear the squeaks from her feet but I mainly gauged travel from the changes in the sound of falling water, massaging one part of my ceiling then slowly moving to another. Once the water kept a steady pattern, I figured my grandmother was struggling with a shampoo cap. Really, I did more reading of the upstairs sounds than of my book. Somehow that story, with all its lack of event, was more compelling than my novel. And then there was the fall, and the box shook.

Like ice cracking and sliding down the roof, the unique sound demanded full attention, and any thought I had of my grandmother slipping had to enter the brain as slowly as the sound faded. I dropped my book and swung open the bedroom door. I turned to dash up the stairs, calling “Grandma!” as I went, but I saw in the glow of our living room lamp, my grandmother, knitting.

“Grandma?” I said.


“Did you hear that crash?”

She put down her needles and looked to the ceiling. “I thought I felt something.”
The shower continued above us, though water wasn’t hitting the tub. I could hear it come out of the faucet and then absorbed in some dull silence. I left Grandma to her scarves and vibrations and ran up to our only bathroom.

The slippers I heard swish were by the sink. The towel that rolled the rack was balled up on the toilet seat. I could see the cause of my ceiling’s water stain. A trickle of water dripped over the edge of the tub, where my little brother lay bleeding from the head. His legs were taking the water and his arms were dangling over the side, like he had just enough time to try and break his fall. His lids were open, and despite the hot water, his skin looked as white as his eyes. His hair was wet and still covered in soap. His gold necklace was resting on his sternum.

Grandma postponed cleanup till the morning after my brother’s fall, telling the mortician on the telephone he should rest up and get to bed, that there would be plenty of time for all he did later. Poking around for ourselves, Grandma and I were able to gather that the cause of death was almost certainly soap. Though I never taught him to do so, apparently my brother washed his feet in the shower, maybe that was his first time.

Orphaned early, my brother and I were put into the care of our paternal grandmother, though the court did have some concern about the location of my grandmother’s house. By far the smallest my brother and I had ever seen, let alone lived in, the house Vivien still occupied was meant for turn-of-the-century steel workers and their families. When we moved in, the neighborhood was a mostly abandoned, decaying pile of bricks heaped against the river.

If we did have neighbors, we never met them. A family could have been living next door, but I doubt it, and we never questioned for a second if there was or wasn’t. The court must have wondered if my brother and I would ever go out to play. We didn’t, but not because it was unsafe. Vivien made for us the happiest, warmest community to which I have ever belonged. Our home was infinite in its comfort and love and I wonder how much we would have gone out to play even if Grandma did live in the palatial north suburbs.

It was all a matter of the right lampshade. Our diorama rooms were effaced with beautiful light, a blood orange glow on Grandma’s chamomile bedspread, a twilit incandescent on turmeric-stained wallpaper. Scarves with tiny plastic beads were draped casually over lamps and dangled at our heads as we finished homework, or board games, or the last of the tapioca.

I thought about sleeping that night on the living room sofa so I wouldn’t have to lie directly under my little brother in his bathtub coffin, but Grandma, not heeding her own advice, stayed on in the living room knitting. Being born two years ahead, I was born outliving my brother and, that night, I continued to outlive him. I fell asleep staring up at the usual water stain, now darker and thicker in the middle.

Grandma spared no candor at my brother’s funeral.

“How did this happen?”

“He slipped in the shower.”

She stood her ground in the receiving line, giving the end of her translucent hand to whomever asked, never quite looking in their eyes. She wore the shawl she finished knitting the night my brother died and a dress I supposed to be older than she was.
The funeral was held in a community center north of our dilapidated neighborhood. It was strictly non-denominational. A man from the center was hired to say a few words, a few candles were lit, and soon we were back in the procession headed home.

Our meager house had a hard time fitting three people and a lifetime of fabrics and nearly disintegrated under the weight and conversation of all those strangers at the reception. They were younger people, younger than my grandmother at least. I took them to be children or grandchildren of people she used to know, neighbors perhaps. The respect they gave her was the respect given to someone who had only ever been seen in a portrait.

Grandma cleared off the buffet and set out strawberries and cheeses, and yet it was the guests who took pains to provide for her, asking her if they could spread a cracker for her, dip a strawberry into sugar for her. Eventually the attention they gave her even trickled down to me. The only thing I could wear that day––because it was the only suit in the house––was my grandfather’s uniform from the war. The bright gold buttons must have caught our visitor’s eyes and after they had plied my grandmother with snacks and well wishes they directed all tea and sympathy to me. “Sorry, son. Ten really is too young.” Then they’d go up and use the very bathroom in which my brother died.

After an evening of picking up strawberry tops from the buffet and wiping down rings of champagne, Grandma, who was knitting again under the living room lamp, called me over. She patted the cushion beside hers and plopped her yarns down on her aproned lap. She smiled at me, her eyes half magnified by her glasses. “I got you a little something.”

She reached beneath the sofa, digging around amongst sandwich crusts and successful mousetraps, and finally came out with a shoebox. A shoebox, however, that was unlike any I had seen in our house before.

She flipped open the top, pulled back the tissue, and picked up the first pair of brand new athletic shoes I had ever seen up close. Grandma cooed and ran her finger along the rubber soles. “Good traction,” she said. “For the shower!”

They worked. Perhaps not what they were intended for, soaking up my antique shower instead of basketball sweat, but six of one, half a dozen of the other.

“Good morning!” I’d call into the kitchen, where Grandma would be up and dressed and squeezing oranges.

“Morning dear!” and she’d keep on humming.

My pump-up, rubber, extravaganza shoes squeaked louder than the stairs themselves as I climbed up to the bathroom, laminated book in hand. Grandma, knowing how much I loved to read, bought me a bench that fit across the tub and a laminate envelope for my books.

I’d toss my robe over the sink and – pump, pump – step into the shower. Awkward at first, yes, but I was thankful for the safety and soon got used to the extra weight. It felt a bit like what I imagine drowning in a pair of cement boots would feel like, except here, my life was being extended.

I wondered what it sounded like from below, what I would have thought, reading downstairs, of the scrapes and bruises coming down on the tub. Grandma was downstairs, and I showered with a thought in mind of performance, lending a few odd stories she could piece out from the sounds above.

Later, whilst reading, I discovered Grandma did not have her own pair of shower shoes. I could hear none of the plops I was sure they made, only the familiar patter of bare skin on bare tiles. She’d switch the radio on to the old time Big Band station, and once she was in the tub, I could only interpret her quick and heavy footfalls as dance steps.

Afterwards she’d pounce down the stairs like a slinky, a tower of towel wrapped around her brilliant, white hair. Judging from an old picture of her I found in the attic, her hair had indeed lost all life and color, but came to possess the enviable luxury of invisibility, never dirtying a carpet or clinging to a sheet, never stopping up a shower drain.

My brother’s death had me noticing my grandmother more clearly, but one night I pulled out of my bedroom and read beside her on the couch, and it was there I came the closest to never knowing her at all. The light was worse to read by in the living room, though more relaxing. I’d start just sleepily running my eyes over the tops of words till my head would fly off the page completely and rest on the afghan. I pushed my cold toes under her legs and brought my eyelids down another notch. She could knit for hours, do dishes or flip channels for hours and the slightest hint of fatigue would never show, as if in solemnly accomplishing the smallest of tasks she was already sleeping.

The cloth over the lampshade cast a bell of light just wide enough to cup my grandmother’s body. The shadows bowed around her hips, never getting to the ten fingers and ten toes that after eighty-some years were still in tact. Her mother, I’m sure, counted those fingers and toes after she was born and delighted in the addition, but how much more delighted would she be that they were all still there? The shadows followed the bell of light around my grandmother, till the bulb above her head quelled them completely. The lamp lit up her hair, both brilliant and invisible, into a source that was greater than itself.

Issue No. 10, Chess - Allé des Cygnes

Issue No. 10, Chess - The Creation

after He, the great crafter,
had made many His worlds
and spattered palettes of color
across the un-canvassed voids,

He stepped back, to better his view...
and suddenly knew thereafter
how to make laughter.

Issue No. 10, Chess - Chess Night at Your Local Barnes and Noble

"You know, there is such a thing as humorous chess."
-Isaac Bashevis Singer, A Friend of Kafka

Issue No. 10, Chess - Romantic and Square is Hip and Aware, More Fiction than Non Dept.

Bobby Fischer, the Corduroy Killer, died last month. He was exceedingly stylish. After the heights of his chess genius have cancelled out the depths of his anti-semitism, what remains in history will be only the well-groomed mysterioso. The Britannica entry for ‘Fischer, Bobby’ will feature multiple pages cataloguing the uniform corduroy jacket, the skinny tie, and the wave of sandy bangs.

Fischer is not the most photogenic of men––that mantle is still held by Truman Capote––but like Capote, Fischer’s visual allure comes in part from the very unalluring context in which he is placed. The Chess Club that meets every Wednesday night at your local Barnes and Noble will not keep your eyes up off your magazines. The prodigy eight-year-olds that stun the old men might give you a chuckle as you settle in, but none of them will keep you as entertained as your hot chocolate. For a bookstore café, they dress eccentrically: black flood pants and white socks, ropes for belts and bulging guts. But eccentricity is an expectation they conform to well, which makes them, in the end, anything but eccentric.

Bobby Fischer was eccentric, the early Bobby Fischer. A wildly bearded bigot does little to stand out, since a man with a computer’s mind is expected to hold a few unhuman beliefs. But the Fischer of yesteryear, the young man who made even a set of black and white squares look debonair, was as eccentric as a vintage photograph of J.D. Salinger (for a photograph of the recluse now only speaks to the pains at which it was taken, whereas an image of the young Salinger speaks to a time when he didn’t mind being photographed, a concept that, compared to his current view, seems unbelievably eccentric). And eccentric is attractive.

Legend has it that Fischer’s standout looks were noticed the second he walked into his Brooklyn Barnes and Noble café. Soon every man, woman, and child came out of their books and circled round his first game. They stared at the young man’s clear skin, not his board, and after a victory they applauded his fashion sense, not his win. What did they know about chess strategy? Everyone, deep down, can recognize good taste, even if they have none themselves. Perhaps at the time they imagined they were admiring his chess and not his chest, congratulating themselves for showing interest in something they were never interested in before. But on the drive home, the husband remembered the striking lad at the checkers board, and the wife reminisced over the strapping young man and his Candy Land talent.

The same neglect applies to history. The context in which Fischer was placed, the one that by juxtaposition made him look so good, will fade away, leaving only the good looks. Should a celebrity obituary expound on why a man was famous or why a man will be famous? We should speed history up and jump a few chapters ahead.

Encyclopedia Britannica supplemental volume The Freshly Shorn and the Cleaned-Up Nice, page 185, ‘Fischer, Bobby’: “He entered every room in slow motion. Haunting choral music was piped in from unseen vents as Mr. Fischer carelessly cut through a crowd. Carey Grant quaked in his shoes and James Bond ran to the bathroom. Utterly effortless, his collar starched itself and his cufflinks clinked themselves against the bar like the ice in his scotch. He will be forever carved into celluloid as those four unknown men are carved into the South Dakota mountains.”

Issue No. 10, Chess - Credits

Photo and Drawing: Alexa Garvoille
Fiction: Jonathan Tuttle
Poetry: J Willie Garvoille
Backpage Photo: Kihra Sorensen

This issue of FOLIO made possible in part by KNOCK MAGAZINE, http://knockmag.wordpress.com