Jeff Brooks writes:
I live in Seattle with my wife, son, and daughter. I have a day job writing
junk mail. I also play string bass (folk-rock, classical, and certain points
in between). My fiction has earned me complementary copies of literary mags
that take up about eight inches of shelf space. I wrote a novel about a guy
who smuggles Tupperware into Mexico; I'm afraid NAFTA rendered it obsolete.
Jeff can be reached at email@example.com. Some of the following was originally
written for hypertext and can be viewed as such at http://www.geocities.com/
"Behold a wonder! they but now who seem'd
In bigness to surpass Earth's Giant Sons
Now less than smallest Dwarfs, in narrow room
Throng numberless, like that Pigmean Race
Beyond the Indian Mount . . ."
--Paradise Lost, Book I
Calcutta, Washington: Past
High in the tan hills, the Yakima River canyon opens out to a wide
amphitheater where pale cottonwoods lean over the river, sheltered from
the summer wind and the dessicating snows of winter.
Back to the dawn of legend, bands of Indians lived there, hunting clouds
of birds, harvesting berries and camas root, fishing for salmon and
trout. They explained the fertile place with a story: Long ago,
Mother, returning from a visit to Puget Sound, tripped over the crest of
the Cascades. Where she fell, her breasts left a deep impression in the
hills. Before she picked herself up, several drops of her milk leaked
into the soil.
The Indians are gone, pushed out long ago. Now the town sits over their
middens, founded on a false rumor of gold in the river. It has been
dying since the day someone randomly put his finger on a globe to pick a
name for the settlement, then shrugged when he saw his finger smudging
across the name Calcutta.
Calcutta, Washington: People
Remote, dying towns in central Washington have a history of becoming
tourist attractions by taking on fantasy identities: Bavaria, the Old
West, the Spanish Main.
"We can do it too," Calcuttans said.
They were pessimistic people, shaped by generations of northern winter
nights, by flights from poverty into poverty, by hard work that amounted
to nothing. But they tried to lure visitors with an old Norwegian
motif, out of a notion that the basalt walls of the canyon look like the
The idea of a Norwegian village wasn't well fixed in their minds; they
created the Old Norse atmosphere by fastening sheet-metal cones and
curved wooden horns to the roofs of several buildings: Viking helmets.
The buildings look like thuggish Vikings buried up to the eyebrows.
Calcutta, Washington: Problem
Kali, goddess of destruction, consort of Shiva, favors Calcutta,
impiously named in her honor. She hovers over the town, her thin dugs
and fiery tongue pendant. Serpents writhe around her waist and arms,
and the heads of her enemies hang by their hair from her belt; from time
to time, blood will trickle out one of the open necks and drop onto the
street, leaving a brown pancake in the dust abuzz with flies.
Should a visitor in search of Old Norse Calcutta make the long drive
through the hills as far as the valley, he would never venture down,
what with a slavering, six-armed goddess, her black skin shiny as
lacquer, riding the thermals above the town on hissing, batlike wings.
Calcutta, West Bengal
Several small black goats, their eyes the color of sand, flip like
hooked fish, tethered to a stake by their hind legs on ground spongy
with coagulated blood. Two heavy strokes of a machete, and a head
bounces and rolls toward the wide Hooghly River.
Calcutta, Ohio: People
The mechanics, highway flagmen, insurance agents of Calcutta have the
same patriarch-pale eyes and sharp cheekbones you see in the photos of
their great-grandfathers. They even have Old Testament names like Jorah
and Tabbaoth. Look closely and they seem faded a degree toward sepia.
They watch television, they expect to live without pain, they think of
the moon as a place, but the men of Calcutta are wrapped in the gossamer
threads of the past.
Calcutta, Ohio: Past
A yellowed, curling handbill that can be found in attics or pasted to
the shelves in kitchen cupboards in almost any house in Calcutta:
!The Fountain of Youth!
for which the Conquistadors sought and Mankind has dreamed
Not a Myth --
The water of this fountain can now be purchased by all in BOTTLES.
Many have drunk this Miracle Draught and all testify its healthy and
delightful effects . . .
"My wife has borne 6 children in 5 years, and we attribute this wholly
to Calcutta Water."
"I have known increased vigor and sharpness of mind since drinking
"When Distemper struck my hounds, I nursed them on Calcutta Water and
not one died."
The effervescent water bubbles from a hillside over the lovely town of
Calcutta, Ohio, its touch a pleasure to the skin. Before it mingles
with the water of ordinary springs to refresh the River Ohio, it is
gathered by the good people of the valley and sealed in pure glass
Available for purchase.
Calcutta, Ohio: Problem
Clocks run slow; cars misfire; dust hazes the air and sifts in through
sealed windows; if a mosquito bites, it will choose the end of your
nose. Floorboards warp like drying cheese; glassware bursts for no
reason. A few years back, a TV crew came and filmed a story about the
wholesome town and its historic springwater. When the segment aired,
they gave directions that would lead visitors down a different valley.
Above the town, in the woods where the leaves drift deep, you can still
find the sagging ruins of the bottling works. The spring leaks from a
slimy bank of clay that has slumped against the building, pushing it
The water, acrid and tinged green, flows over wavering tongues of algae
as pink and lurid as antique marital aids. It is so bitter that its
taste pollutes the memory: one can never again think of the forested
hillside without a recoiling sense of injury to the throat.
Calcutta, West Bengal
As a muzzein calls the morning prayer, a crow flaps overhead screaming.
Behind a high wall topped with fangs of broken glass, on a lawn as
smooth as a carpet, a sadhu pours a diamond pure stream of water over
his shaven head.
Calcutta, Oregon: Past
A plume of tropical water, scented and warm as mother-milk, rides a
Pacific current and eddies into a bay between cliffs, where a short
valley receives the attendant breeze with a forest of buttressed trees
hung with orchids. At sunset, lotus petals fill the air like snow. In
the night, the offshore flow carries them out to sea.
The pioneer families of Calcutta pushed across the continent, lost
livestock, lost babies, hardened their wills and kept going, until at
last they looked into a valley with no further west: They stood
together like a bas-relief above the forest and felt the humid breath of
the ocean. They went down without sending word where they'd gone.
The truth never got out; they became known as the Lost Wagon Train,
perhaps slaughtered by Indians or frozen in an icefield, no trace ever
found. A monument to the missing party stands by a river in Wyoming.
Calcutta, Oregon: Problem
Mermaids gather in shoals just beyond the breakers and sing, their
voices deep as caves. The touch of their mucilagenous hands can heal
leprosy: It restores sensation, rebuilds sloughed-off skin, uncurls
clawed fingers -- it does everything but regenerate lost limbs.
Lepers come to Calcutta from around the world to feel the mermaids'
touch. They congregate on the beach to wait for tides that will carry
them out to deep water. Many drown at the moment of their healing,
dragged under by riptides when joy makes them weak and incautious.
Their bodies, strangely mutilated of course, drift north and wash
ashore, where they've been cataloged as victims of a serial murderer who
haunts the dreams of everyone west of the Cascades. The mystery remains
unsolved, but clues accumulate. The authorities are closing in.
Calcutta, Oregon: People
They expected to struggle, to grow hard and bent in the wind. But life
is easy: their kitchen gardens grow sweet, heavy fruits like mango and
durian; the ocean brings the flotsam of pagodas wrecked in typhoons:
hardwood beams gilded thick and studded with jewels. Winter is nothing
more than a graying of the sky and a rising of the surf.
Sometimes they climb to the top of the headlands, walk over the spiky
grass into the wind, look out to the pewter-colored water beyond their
bay, and wonder what God has done to them.
Calcutta, West Bengal
A caste of sweeper-women patrol the floors of office buildings and
hospitals, brushing aside dirt almost as it falls with hand brooms, bent
at the waist, never showing their faces as they move from doorway to
doorway like the ghosts of children -- yet they wear saris a shade of
blue as deep as a clear sky at twilight -- three degrees from black, yet
suffused with light that strikes the eye like the smell of cinnamon. It
is a blue that washes beyond the visible, that one could eat like
pudding, that pulses like a living heart.