by Lavonne Leong

Oberammergau, Germany, is a mountain town where once a decade they stage the famous Passion Play. The rest of the time they make excellent cuckoo clocks. 

It’s 87 degrees. And 4,026 miles from the American city where I live, and from Geoff. He phones almost every day, even though I remind him that we’re racking up a bill we can’t afford. “I don’t care,” he says. “When you come back we need to get married.” I have always wanted to be loved in the way Geoff says he loves me. Every day I let the phone ring for one ring longer before I pick it up.

Next to the town, the River Ammer passes by. In late spring it receives the ice melt from the mountains nearby, cold and clear, but the river itself is a small one, maybe thirty feet from bank to bank. It’s too hot. Hotter than I expected Germany to be. The river looks good to cross.

I’m unprepared for the cold shock, like taking away my legs and replacing them with ice. I am not sure it’s pain. The water, transparent, has force, urging downstream everything it touches. The river glitters, pushes at my thighs, deepens. I know that if I stay here too long, everything will go numb. The sunlight arrows in from eight light minutes away, hits the river and scatters. A shard enters my eye. The river asks me to move in a different direction. I will keep crossing.

The delight of going the way the indifferent water is still asking you not to. Resistance.

I will not think about how I am going to get back. A boy appears at the chain link fence on the shore I’ve just left. Behind him are snow-capped mountains. “Speak Eenglish to me! I lahv you, I lahv you!” he shouts, meaninglessly, merrily. Because I’m nineteen, I laugh; it’s what I think a girl should do, look like she’s having fun.

Lavonne Leong: Futurist in training. Journalist in medias res.

Sharply rendered details that illuminate character, define choices and unfurl theme. A rich central metaphor that keeps expanding beyond three hundred and twenty seven words, beyond the margins of the page. An audacious shift from first to second person POV, then back again – a technical rule-breaking that mirrors the theme and works like a charm. And a simple line in the closing paragraph that will speak to anyone who’s ever chosen to swim against the current: “I will not think about how I am going to get back.” Excellent work.

Frank Reilly
Guest Editor

On the Bus

by Frank Reilly

Gooch and Mara collide at the ancient coin-op pony ride outside the Pico Walgreens at 1:12PM.

Mara mounts her mare, beams and screams:

“Twelve minutes late!” This sets the Walgreens’ windows wobbling. “Got a quarter?”

“Broke, yo!” Gooch booms. He pulls off his hoodie and lays it at the pony’s hooves. “And this thing ain’t worked for years.”

He pulls a package of Little Debbie Snack Cakes out of a plastic bag and spreads them out on the hoodie, sixteen in all. Mara dismounts and gambols Gooch’s way. He crushes two more cakes and throws the crumbs in the air like confetti, manifesting starving pigeons like a bizarro St. Francis.

Gooch mimics the lighting of candles on each cake and Mara laughs and blows.

“Happy You-day!” Gooch bellows and the sidewalk buckles, rocking the Walgreens’ foundation. A mist of mortar powder rises like breath from between bricks.

Mara bats her lashes and the world tilts on its axis.

Gooch bites a knuckle.

They inhale half the cakes and hoof it up Dillingham, fixing to catch the 1:26 at the cloverleaf.

Gooch offers a paw and Mara takes it as they jog. They’re clasping hands tightly at first, then connected via linked pinkies, then twining fingers elaborately in every possible combination. At the bus stop, they graduate to hands hungrily burrowing into back pockets until the M27 arrives with a hiss. They board bored, beeline for the back and sit, legs overlapping, toes seeking out irresistible ankles.

“Check it,” says Gooch on the down-low, his pointer finger below the seat back.

A nattily dressed business man with green-soled running shoes stands bug-eyed at the side door.

Mara’s next, fingering the robot-baby up near the driver, its camera-eye glued to them no matter how its “mother” cradles it.

Then Gooch again, at the mustachioed hipster two seats up. From behind, his handle bars resemble shoots of hair exploding from both ears.

Gooch and Mara turn to each other laughing. Surely these visions are part of the alchemy of their pairing. Together they have formed a key that unlocks treasures not visible to the naked eye.

Now neither can turn away from the wonder of the other.

Pink lips glossed to a polyurethane shine. A forelock dangling above an arched eyebrow. Binaca-blasted breath. Silver-studded earlobes. A moist breastbone. Mussed sideburns. Bubblegum fingernails feathering dimpled cheeks.

They’re inches apart now and moving in….

As a screenwriter, Frank Reilly received an Austin Film Festival “Best Screenplay” award and he has optioned three original features and written two scripts-for-hire. As a novelist, he’s currently busy wallpapering his bathroom with rejection letters from some of the finest literary agencies in Manhattan.

A sensual promise comes with the names Gooch and Mara, followed by visuals of confetti, lighting candles, and a mist of mortar powder—to infer smoke, and inspire both magic and heat! Taste, touch, smell, sound, and proprioception also come to the party. The narration flirts and teases. This story is the perfect celebration, well delivered. 

Gay Turville
Guest Editor

Pear Blossoms, Roses, and Tiger Lilies

by Gay Turville

My mother used to tell me I could be anything I wanted to be. Or was it do anything I wanted to do? I twirled under a storm of pear blossoms and understood she meant “anything” in a limited context.

Probably she meant within the context of pleasing other members of my family. ‘Pretty is as pretty does’ fits here, like a perfect rose in a vase.

When I broached why marijuana should be legal, she ran out of the room. That’s also what she did when I asked at age 8 if you have to fuck to have a baby.

I caught up with her in the bathroom where I think she was hyperventilating.

“That is a vulgar word,” she said. “Don’t ever, ever say that again.” The overhead light blinked and buzzed.

“Yes,” I spoke over it, “but do you?” She ran out of the room again.

I found her in the closet. It was mostly dark, and she fumbled behind dresses in the back. “Mom, is it true?”

A hat with silk flowers rolled out. “Never, never say that word again!” She bustled out of the closet and pushed a skinny book at me. “This book is important,” she told me. “It’s about the facts of life.”

I leafed through the book and saw drawings of flowers. The last page said, “Like the birds and the bees, people also make babies.” Tiger lilies nodded outside and tapped the window. Thinking I missed it, I leafed back to look closer, but there was nothing helpful in the book.

I glared at the tiger lilies and withdrew for sleep to reconcile the one thought on my mind: It must be true.

Gay Turville raised two daughters and practiced as a CPA in a life full of busyness and hard work. In her forties, she found she lived alone for the first time and took up the vocation of writing with emphasis on screenplays for Hollywood. This change was like turning on a light in life for the first time with more sensation, nuance, and gradation of meaning.

This story opens innocently enough with the child narrator twirling under pear blossoms. But the story quickly shifts. Thereʻs a great sense of movement throughout—the daughter chasing the mother, first, to the bathroom, then to a closet. Plus, thereʻs the movement of a hat with silk flowers rolling around, and tiger lilies nodding and tapping at a window. Itʻs a tight, complete, satisfying story that lingers with a sense of beauty and humor. I loved it.

Kim Steutermann Rogers
Guest Editor


A Definition

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary
Main Entry: rigorous 
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Medieval Latin rigorosus, from Latin rigor + –osus –ous

 a : manifesting, exercising, or favoring rigor : allowing no abatement or mitigation : inflexibly strict : INEXORABLE [liquor smuggling…has been another problem…to vex governments seeking to maintain a rigorous policy of liquor control, D.W.McConnell] b : extremely or excessively strict : HARSH, STERN [a rigorous academy where the girls wore uniforms, were forbidden to correspond with male contemporaries…and were not given diplomas until they passed college entrance examinations, Robert Rice] [juries are now rigorous, now indulgent, F.A.Ogg & Harold Zink]

2 : marked by extremes of temperature or climate, barrenness of comforts or necessities, or other strenuous challenging obstacles [ life was rigorous, conditions primitive, American Guide Series: Texas] [a combination of high altitudes, rigorous climate, poor drainage and thin soils giving rise to poor land, G.P.Wibberley]

3 : scrupulously accurate : EXACT, PRECISE [the reader, missing…poets whom he expected to find, may complain that my criterion of significance is too rigorous, F.R.Leavis]

The Backstory

In the tradition of literary journals and salons everywhere, Kauaʻi Backstory supports good writing and healthy discussions. We value the expression of all voices and delight in words (and images) that shift thinking and open minds threading us ever closer together in this calabash of a world in which we live.

Kauaʻi Backstory wishes to honor the circle of fearless writers from the 2006 Hanalei Writers Retreat for spinning the thoughts and stringing the images that wove into shape. Great gratitude goes to the brave Terry Tempest Williams who also reveres language and landscape and who introduced us to rigor and inspired us with these words, “To be a powerful writer is to be a human being engaged in the world.”

And, so, this is how we engage.

Kauaʻi Backstory 1.0 can be found here.