“Seven Losses of Na Re”
by Rose Lemberg
This is a brooding look back on things taken, things lost, and things always remembered.
Rose Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their fiction and poetry have appeared in Lightspeed‘s Queer Destroy Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny, and many other venues. Rose’s work has been a finalist for the Nebula Crawford, and other awards. Their novella The Four Profound Weaves is forthcoming from Tachyon Press. You can find more of their work on their Patreon: patreon.com/roselemberg
My life is described by the music of mute violins. When myparents married, my great-grandfather, may the earth be as afeather, ascended the special-guests podium, cradling the oldfiddle to his chest. “And now the zeide will play the weddingmelody,” they said. “A special blessing,” they said, a sgule, aroyal blessing. But the bow fell from his fingers.
“When I had Eyes, I Didn’t See”
by Anna Yeats.
Anna Yeats is a writer, publisher, and editor living in North Carolina with a houseful of wildling children and far too many animals. Her short fiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, and Mslexia. Anna also publishes Flash Fiction Online.
Her story for us today is chilling tale about perception, murder, and an old, creaky elevator.
I had eyes once.Before the Lift-man came.Now I have knobs, smooth and black and round as pegs. I touch them with my fingertips and try to remember what it felt like, having eyes. If I push one knob in, the other one pops out like the elevator buttons used to do.
“The Sepulcher Out of Sea”
A seaman marooned in a haunted land, struggling to maintain control of his crazed crewmen and their new, dead captain.
Eric Shattuck is a freelance writer living in Charleston, South Carolina. His work has been published in The Nottingham Review, 99 Pine Street, The Molotov Cocktail, Gone Lawn, and the Kentucky Review, among others.
When the gale has finished tearing at us, and the hull has ceased its moaning, we head abovedeck to find our warship cradled in the boughs of an enormous tree. There is no sign of the fleet, no hint of sea. There is scarcely anything to be seen through the steaming fog which surrounds us.The captain is lost—swept overboard without a sound, and with him the boatswain and two of the gunnery crew. As quartermaster, command of the Lanfranco falls to me. The next morning, I resolve to throw down the rope ladders and scout our surroundings in pairs. Yet no sooner do we set out than the cry goes up; the boatswain’s body is found.
Fear not weirdos! We’re never at a loss for words! Enjoy:
Drabblecast 396 – Losses & Sacrifices Trifecta
The Sepulcher Out of Sea
by Eric Shattuck
When the gale has finished tearing at us, and the hull has ceased its
moaning, we head abovedeck to find our warship cradled in the boughs
of an enormous tree. There is no sign of the fleet, no hint of sea.
There is scarcely anything to be seen through the steaming fog which
The captain is lost—swept overboard without a sound, and with him the
boatswain and two of the gunnery crew. As quartermaster, command of
the Lanfranco falls to me. The next morning, I resolve to throw down
the rope ladders and scout our surroundings in pairs. Yet no sooner do
we set out than the cry goes up; the boatswain’s body is found.
Our carpenter devises a harness of ropes and drags him onto the deck.
We gather around him. The evening sun filters through the canopy and
drenches the body in golden light. One of the men kneels, brushes wet
leaves from his face. The boatswain’s cheeks are flushed, his lips
dark, as if untouched by death. Looking at him, I feel a kind of
magnetism, an undertow beneath the surface of my thoughts which draws
me closer. I shake my head, and the spell is broken. The men regard me
with strange expressions.
The crew installs the dead man as captain. I protest. I make the sign
of the cross and invoke the name our last captain—was it not I, after
all, that he placed his faith in? But there is no reasoning with them.
Their eyes hold no respect for my rank. They strip me of my sabre and
cartridge belt, every ornament of my authority. My wrists and ankles
are bound. They take me by the head and feet and lay me in the
berthing next to his.
The dead captain of a dead fleet. Propped upright in his cot, wrapped
in chinchilla furs. His fingernails grow longer and his grey beard has
gone black with mold, but still the taint of death eludes him. It is a
simple thing, to look at him and imagine that he is only sleeping. The
men buzz around him at all hours as if bewitched, moving belowdecks without paying attention to one another, whispering softly to themselves.
The captain speaks to them, they say. He tells them where to find
fresh water, where to lay their snares, which hollow trunks will bear
the nests of nightjars and frogmouths and poor-me-ones. They scratch a crude map into the ship’s hull with their daggers.
I lie in my berth and watch branches sway through the porthole. One
year and eleven months at sea, to end up here.
When I look at him, I feel that familiar pull. A faint sound scratches
at the back of my skull, unfamiliar words echoing from an immense
distance. And beneath it, a gurgling laughter. I am gripped by a
sudden, bilious anger, a jealous pain, to see this wretched thing in
possession of what is mine. To wake each morning and see that sunken smirk. I would like more than anything to claw his eyes out. To put out the dull gleam in them.
A week passes. The captain no longer fits in his berth. Though he
takes no meals, he has grown fat as a tick. The crew lays him out on
the mess table, and even then his boots dangle over the edge. The
corpse is almost twelve feet long.
At night, free of his watchful gaze, I chew my ropes. I work at them
for hours, until fraying slivers of hemp stab at my lips. I taste
blood, and then I feel the knot slip free. I suck the backs of my
hands, where the ropes have left my flesh raw and shining.
They did not think to take the spare storeroom key. I find it in the
dark, slip it under my pillow.
In the morning, when the crew is out foraging, I creep from my cot and make my way to the storeroom. A dry click as the tumbler falls into place. Barrels of turpentine and pine tar. I pry them open, upend
them. The heady vapors burn in my nose.
I imagine his frozen smile, the ugly nakedness of it. He will not have
the Lanfranco. This usurper. He will not. I huddle in the corner,
light a match cord, watch the end of it smolder.
The flames spread like water across the tarred floorboards. There is
enough time, as I run, to look behind me. To see him seated there,
I throw down a ladder and let myself drop the last few feet onto the
spongy earth. Black smoke roils above me, hanging like a pall above
the trees. The men will be returning soon. I can hear the captain
laughing. The sound of it ebbs and flows, until at last melts into the
jungle, into the thrum of locusts and the long, plaintive cry of the
When I Had Eyes, I Didn’t See
by Anna Yeatts
I had eyes once.
Before the Lift-man came.
Now I have knobs, smooth and black and round as pegs. I touch them with my fingertips and try to remember what it felt like, having eyes.
If I push one knob in, the other one pops out like the elevator buttons used to do.
There used to be a brass plate mounted on the wall next to the elevator’s cage with two smooth black pegs. I pushed in the top peg to go up. The bottom peg popped out. Gears ground, cables groaned, and the elevator clanked down to the lobby.
The Lift-man opened the elevator cage and smiled. He’d never been handsome but he’d always had a way about him. “Good day, Miss Albright,” he said, with his too polite voice. “Top floor?”
He winked. His eyes were like two shiny copper pennies, same color as his curly hair.
I smiled. I liked his eyes. I wasn’t trying to lead him on. He’d caught me off guard, that was all.
After he let me off on my floor, his whistled melodies trailed up the elevator shaft. The notes twisted in the cables and stuck so they sounded wrong. Crooked-like.
The man in the next apartment, Mister Harris, heard the crooked whistling too. His door was always cracked when I got home from my courses at the Ladies College. He gave me a sharp look, snapped the pages of his newspaper, and stared until I closed my door.
My body was found at the bottom of the elevator shaft. I had on the navy seersucker dress I’d worn to class that afternoon.
Two rails of the elevator cage, flattened brass long as my forearm, had been pried lose and driven through my eye sockets.
Mister Harris told the police about the Lift-man’s lewd whistling. How I invited men’s stares with my silk stockings and inappropriate ways. A young woman living alone. Going to school. He’d tried to keep an eye on me, but he’d always expected something like this.
The police took the Lift-man away. Tenants whispered how he was shady all along, a mulatto like that.
The cable rails were wedged too deep for me to see more than the pop of flash bulbs in the street. But I heard it all.
I rode the elevator alone at night. The cables’ groaning covered the sound of my cries as I fell over and over down the elevator shaft.
The rattling of the cage muffled the sound of my arms and legs as they smacked against the sides, the boneless thud as my body collided with the stone slab below.
But the sickening crack as the rails went through my eyes? Nothing could mask that.
Even I screamed when we got to that part.
Night after night, I screamed.
Mister Harris locked his door.
And still no word of the Lift-man.
I waited for Mister Harris in his apartment. I sat in his leather armchair by his newspaper, wondering if he still wanted to keep an eye on me.
I’d like an eye if he had one to spare.
I laughed until the rails shook and I had to hold them with my fists to keep them from tearing me apart.
Maybe it was my wild laughter or maybe it was his own sense of self-preservation, but Mister Harris didn’t come home that night.
Or the next.
But the Lift-man did.
The Lift-man’s whistling rose up through the elevator shaft calling for me, only this time the cables twisted it the right way around.
I stood outside the elevator gate. Gears shuddered to a halt.
“Miss Albright,” the Lift-man said, but he didn’t sound polite anymore. His voice was ragged around the edges. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.”
I smiled for him. “My sore eyes would like a sight.”
He whistled under his breath. The cage clanked open. I held out my hand. His fingers were calloused and warm. I clung tight and let him guide me inside.
“Usually am,” I said. “What’s one more trip?”
The elevator dropped, leaving my stomach behind. I swayed but his hand stayed steady on my elbow.
Hands grabbed the rails in my eyes. The force made my head shudder as if my entire skull would be turned inside out.
“This is going to hurt,” he said. “But not as much as dying.”
My nails dug into my palms. I screamed the same way I did when the rails went in, tasting blood and pain and madness in my mouth.
“Is it done?” My knees were weak.
The rails clattered to the floor. The Lift-man held me up. “Almost.”
When he shoved the pegs into my skull, the initial wash of light was more than I could bear. I tried to blink, but my eyelids were crusted open with matted blood and eye fluids. I clawed at the pegs.
He held my wrists until I calmed.
I touched the smooth, round surface of each peg.
“Thank you.” I looked up at the Lift-Man.
His neck was broken, snapped near clean off. His head rested against his right shoulder. Copper penny eyes watched me crookedly, jerking to focus.
They’d lynched him.
“But you didn’t kill anyone,” I said.
“That’s where you’re wrong.”
Mister Harris’s body was found at the bottom of the elevator shaft. He had been dead for two days.
My obituary and a pair of silk stockings were found wadded in his throat.
He’d choked to death.
I had eyes once.
Before the Lift-man came.
But I didn’t see.
Now I have round pegs, smooth and black. I have the Lift-Man.
He has a broken neck and eyes that watch me from his shoulder. We ride the elevator at night.
And together we see.
Seven Losses of na Re
by Rose Lemberg
My life is described by the music of mute violins. When my parents married, my great-grandfather, may the earth be as a feather, ascended the special-guests podium, cradling the old fiddle to his chest. “And now the zeide will play the wedding melody,” they said. “A special blessing,” they said, a sgule, a royal blessing. But the bow fell from his fingers.
When I was born, my parents couldn’t name me. They wanted a name na Re, which means “beginning with the letter R”, after my great-grandmother. She was born Rukhl, the brilliant daughter of a penniless shlimazl cobbler. As the revolution fumbled all archetypes, they called her Rakhil’ka; a kind of ironed, bronze-buttoned, bright-Soviet-future Rukhl. Later even Rakhil’ka became too bourgeois, and my great-grandmother changed her name to Roza, Roza like the beautiful Jewish communist in the propaganda film Seekers of Happiness. They banned that film long before I was born. And by the time I was born, Rakhil’ – or worse yet, Rukhl- was a name never to be uttered in polite company. Roza was reserved for aging fat Odessan fish peddlers with a mole on their upper lip.
In addition to Roza, my parents rejected Regina (pretentious), Renata (pretentious), Rimma (low-brow), Rita (uncultured), Raisa (worse than Rita), Rina (too Jewish), Roxana (too Ukrainian), Rostislava (too Russian), and Raya (“I just don’t like it”).
Na Re bypasses names – bypasses the rest of the sounds that would make me too pretentious, too low-brow, too bourgeois, too communist, too Jewish, too goyish. The letter R doesn’t have a history. The letter R does not remember Stalin.
All letters of the alphabet remember Stalin. The repressions started before 1937, and lasted long after. They took my grandfather because he was an historian.
History and memory are not the same. History must be written, made, organized. Memory is herded on trans-Siberian trains, memory disappears in labor camps, memory pines and withers from hunger, memory freezes under fallen lumber, memory thaws and erases all traces. My grandfather remembers. He was composing a dictionary of Russian synonyms in his head, and this is what kept him alive. He couldn’t compose history there. Or since.
Snow: blizzard, frost, permafrost, firn, cold shower naked on the snow (see also under punishment), snowstorm, graupel, rime, ice, névé, gale, absence, my little girl is safe elsewhere, whiteout.
They let my grandfather go in 1965. Stalin was dead, and so was Beria. My grandmother, Roza’s daughter, had prostituted herself, so grandfather believed, because he no longer remembered their little girl. And after the shouting was done, my grandmother became opaque to him, thawing like absence over timber, buried under Siberia, gone. History is events and processes, history is rustling archives, it’s oral interviews conducted inside the safety of the future, protected by course assignments and gleaming recording hardware. Memory compacts the permafrost under skin. When skin thaws, we are left with nothing.
My grandfather is leaving – forever leaving, taken away by people who come at night. They say only four words. Always the same. S vesh’ami na vykhod. Roughly, it means, “get your things and get out.” One small bag. They always come for you at night. In 1937, they came for me, and missed by some seventy years. I keep a small bag with basics under my bed at all times, just in case. Cigarettes – although I’ve never smoked – the labor camp currency to trade for food or paper.
My grandfather is leaving – forever leaving. In 1965 he is taken away by people in ghost overcoats, so familiar they have become his family. He has no family. He is an orphan of snow in which to bury himself, to find a way back to the packed bag under the bed and the sleepless fear and my grandmother’s breathing warmth by his side.
History is not like this.
My mother left when I was five. She is an architect of permafrost. They dig deep – to bury the foundations, she says, so strong under the snow they will persist even when the earth sheds all water, that great thaw that will make past pain run in rivulets and be absorbed into the newly pliant earth.
She is digging for her father.
She doesn’t want us to mention his name. I have a letter at least. He has nothing, only the concrete foundations hammered into permafrost, the night people who forever come for you.
When the Germans came, my grandmother sewed all her jewelry into the underside of a white comforter cover. She had a dozen of those, embroidered white on white with snowflakes, flowers, little stars. She packed her bag – before the evacuation. She left with the bag, clutching her treasures – her mother’s, aunt’s, grandmother’s – baubles bought by sweethearts, husbands, mothers who starved to save for a sliver of a diamond, a scrap of a golden watch. Back then I love you meant a little piece of herring to last all week, it meant enduring cold and staying up all night to sew an extra pair of pants for sale. My grandmother stitched the family I love you’s into the comforter cover.
She didn’t want to talk about how it got lost.
Sometimes I imagine her running after the ghost guards in her nightgown at night, crying take it! take it! for that’s how the story takes shape, that you must exchange your treasures for life – and if they bypass your treasures they will take your life, perhaps to return it later, mangled, memory-less; and it will leave again then, leave for good, that life-shaped emptiness that gnaws and cusses at its tormentors: the wife, the child. The should-have-never-beens.
Or perhaps my grandmother exchanged the comforter for bread on the long flight away from the war, from where the sirens wailed; or perhaps she simply took the wrong comforter, her I-love-you’s trampled into the earth under the growing heap of bodies.
When my grandmother died, she left me her wedding ring, the only thing that didn’t go into the comforter. She left a little paper scrap attached to it. “For my na Re,” it said.
I do not want to talk about it.
My grandmother wanted to protect me. She spoke Russian to me – purer than permafrost, rigid like her husband’s dictionary of salvation. But her father the fiddler taught Yiddish to me in secret. Gedenk! he would say. Remember! He had his heart packed in the violin case and ready to go, but they never did come for him.
Grandmother found us one day, huddled in the corner of the sofa, whispering forbidden warmth, stitching each other to life with thin threads of memory.
The next day my grandmother took me to the speech pathologist. A woman named Rimma, another neverbe-Rukhl like me. “Open your mouth,” she said kindly. With anonymous instruments gleaming silver and frost, she scraped my language out.
After loss, everything goes. Rings and languages. Grandparents and bedding. Parents and selves. Names. Even the memory of loss is lost at last. Even snow. Even skin.
We are careless and fumbling. We slide through life – bypassing history, curling memory into smoke from the cigarettes packed for emergency visits from ghosts in the night. S vesh’ami na vyhod. Get your things and get out. When the guards came, they could not find me on the list. Na Re is not a name. So they took my little bag, carried my I-love-you’s away to starve, to freeze, to lose their minds, their speech, to work away the years. And only the ancient fiddler stays behind, a patriarch of loss, fingers numb and weeping in the cold.
Everything thaws. Even my mother’s earth-deep construction.
Only that which isn’t remembered can never be lost.