The Era of Lanterns and Bells

The Era of Lanterns and Bells

by Ann Tinkham


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In The Era of Lanterns and Bells, a lighthouse is haunted by the memory of lighthouse keepers, a train operator is forever changed by a subway suicide, a journalist befriends a homeless virtuoso, an orca trainer believes she's a whale, an aerialist runs away from the circus, and a Golden Gate Bridge jumper saves lives with fortune cookies. An obese woman is rescued from being a shut-in, a woman discovers that her favorite childhood pond is polluted and cancer-causing, a woman falls in love with a bipolar man in Jamaica, and an arborist writes love letters from trees. These quirky and darkly comic stories entertain while posing essential questions about truth, compassion, and humanity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780999015704
Publisher: Napili Press
Publication date: 08/28/2017
Pages: 198
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.45(d)

About the Author

Ann Tinkham is a writer based in Boulder, Colorado. She is an anti-social butterfly, pop-culturalist, virtual philosopher, ecstatic dancer, political and java junkie. When she's not tinkering with words, she's seeking adventures. Ann has talked her way out of an abduction and talked her way into the halls of the United Nations. She hitchhiked up a mountain in Switzerland and worked her way down the corporate ladder. Ann has flown on a trapeze and traded on the black market in Russia. She cycles up steep canyons, hikes to glacial lakes and mountain peaks, and blazes her own ski trails. As soon as she amasses a fortune, she plans to buy an island and hopes she won't be voted off her own island.

Her fiction and essays have appeared in All Things Girl, Apt, Denver Syntax, Edifice Wrecked, Foliate Oak, Hiss Quarterly, Lily Literary Review, Short Story Library, Slow Trains, Stone Table Review, Synchronized Chaos, The Adirondack Review, The Battered Suitcase, The Citron Review, The Literary Review, Toasted Cheese, Wild Violet, Word Riot, and others. Ann's essay, "The Tree of Hearts" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her story, "Afraid of the Rain" was nominated for Sundress's Best of the Net Anthology.

Read an Excerpt


Tunnel Vision

It was the eyes that Lenny couldn't shake — the look in her eyes before she jumped that led to a daily nightcap of Xanax and Bourbon. When it wore off, Lenny awoke with a pounding heart to dark, watery eyes asking for help when it was already too late. That was the kicker — the eyes pleading for help when they knew it was all over. Lenny respected people who left without a trace. But the jumpers left a trace in the minds of drivers like Lenny.

In the subway business, they called subway jumping a PUT incident. Person under train. Lenny thought the term was too neat for what actually occurred. Person under train sounded as if a person were merely — oops — stuck under the train, like a pant leg or an overcoat, or even a briefcase or an umbrella. Excuse me, sir, can you please move your train off my foot? That's what a PUT incident sounded like to Lenny. If it were up to him, it would be called a GSOT. Guts splattered over tracks. In his sleep-deprived stupor after his PUT incident, he thought about proposing a name change during a weekly transit meeting, but he bit his tongue for fear of losing his job.

The guys talked, and everyone knew management put drivers under watch after a PUT incident. If the driver seemed to have some screws loose, the management team forced him to take temporary unpaid leave, which often led to permanent unpaid leave (aka termination). Lenny thought about the unfairness of the double whammy. First, he had to watch as some hard-luck case jumped in front of his train. Then he had to pretend that nothing happened for fear of management "expressing concern."

Lenny had heard from the guys that the late night/early morning shifts had the highest rates of PUTs. But as a newbie, he had no choice but to drive those shifts. His buddy Cal told him that early Monday morning was the worst. Folks dreaded the workweek ahead and saw no way out.

Lenny understood that feeling, but never saw jumping into an oncoming train as the solution.

After it happened, the Metro Area Transit or MAT, psychiatrist told him it was normal for PUT victims to experience an acute psycho-physiological reaction three weeks after the event, with elevated prolactin and increased sleep disturbance. He said that acute reactions were transitory and not correlated with the need for long-term sick leave, which was predicted independently by a high plasma cortisol level and a high depression score. Lenny didn't really catch what should be happening to him other than the sleep problems. The shrink told him he was suffering from PUT-related PTSD. The letters sounded too tidy for what he felt like inside. He felt like a train had run over him.

The reason he was sent to the MAT psychiatrist was that after the incident, his trains were running twenty minutes late. His boss pulled him into a closed-door meeting in a hot office smelling of stale coffee and told him it just wouldn't do. He sat on the edge of his desk with his arms crossed and said, "If you can't run on time, we'll have to reassign you."

The thing was, although Lenny wouldn't say this to his boss, he now had the feeling everyone on the platform was getting ready to jump. So, he kept watch over people on the platform — imagining that the punk girl, the Rastafarian, the bent-over old man, the teen in black leather were each about to jump. He pulled the brake each time he anticipated a jump. But rather than telling his boss he was busy saving lives, Lenny said, "I'll run on time, sir."

He was the last person to see her alive, and now he carried a part of her with him wherever he went. The worst part was that he lost a part of himself when she jumped and couldn't get it back. Her eyes asked for help, for him to stop the train and save her. But he couldn't.

"Go back to sleep, Lenny. Please go back to sleep," his wife would say when she looked over and saw his shining eyes in the darkness.

"I could have helped if I had known. I just didn't know."

"It's not your fault. Now close your eyes." He tried, but the jumper's eyes prevented him from closing his.

"It's not fair," Lenny said.

"No, it's not. But going over and over it will not change it. Did you ever think that perhaps she wanted to go? Who knows? Maybe you did her a favor. What if she had terminal cancer or lost everything she had in the world? Maybe she was a criminal on the run."

"She wasn't a criminal."

"How do you know? You didn't know her from Eve."

"I could tell by her eyes."

"Oh, Len, please."

The jumper's eyes locked onto his, and then she leapt. It was 3:03 a.m. when Lenny cranked the brakes and screamed into the intercom. "Woman Under! Woman Under!" Had he known she was going to jump, he could've stopped the train in time.

Later Lenny was reprimanded by his supervisor, "The code for 'Man' — not 'Woman' — 'Under' is 12-9. You don't say 'Man Under' when someone is down for the count." Lenny felt he was lucky to have produced some words — any words, let alone remember some ridiculous code meaning someone was being run over by a train.

"I'll remember next time," Lenny promised.

"She would still be alive," he said to his coworkers before the weekly meeting. Four drivers huddled at a small wobbly card table with vintage trash-heap-chic metal folding chairs, appropriate furnishings for barely-lit dank subterranean offices that smelled of fuel, earth, and mildew. Two guys had flipped the chairs so the back was in the front and the other pair with the back in the back. One duo straddled and the other slumped.

"Yeah, and then she'd find another train to finish the job," said a seasoned driver with a mouthful of jelly donut. He clearly eschewed the chewing-with-his mouth-closed lesson. "Forget about it, Lenny."

"How can you tell? I mean what are the signs that someone is about to jump? Can you tell by looking at their eyes?" asked Lenny, his bloodshot eyes pleading for an answer.

"Who knows? If people want to die, they'll find a way. You can't analyze every person on the platform at warp speed. It will drive you nuts; then you'll end up a jumper — like the driver a few years back who couldn't take it anymore and jumped. Can you imagine doing that to one of us? I mean, hell, you can OD, shoot or gas yourself, call that Keborkan dude," said a driver who looked part heavy-weight and part couch potato, devouring a glazed donut in two motions — in and down his gullet. "You know ... if you wanna do it," his words barely intelligible with the donut taking up all his linguistic real estate.

"The name's Kevorkian. He's dead," said a petite man with a fussy goatee nibbling on a sprinkled donut, sounding a bit too up on Kevorkian's comings and goings for a man who wanted to live. He wiped his closely trimmed beard with a folded napkin after every bite. Still he had sprinkles adorning his goatee.

"Whatever. I'm sure there are Kevorkian types out there who will help you if the price is right. Anyway, why people choose the subway, I'll never understand. Why make a driver do your job for you? Be a man about it. Hear what I'm sayin'?" said the glazed donut guy stuffing donut number three into his mouth and chasing it with the infamous Transit sludge. Months earlier an anonymous employee had posted a sign by the coffee machine: DRINK AT YOUR OWN RISK, which was swiftly removed by management. The brief witch-hunt for the coffee bandit left management empty-handed. They threatened to pull the coffee service, which they reminded everyone was an employee perk after all. The drivers joked about a coffee lawsuit, not from scalding coffee burning their laps but from coffee so bad it was lethal.

The guys nodded and shook their heads in disgust at cowardly jumpers making drivers do their dirty work. Lenny's head was frozen stiff, like the rest of his body — rigor without the mortis. He stared at the Driver Appreciation bulletin board affixed in the space next to the card table along with yellowing OSHA placards and Transit rules and regs. Someone had squashed a juicy spider on the bloodborne pathogens section and no one, not even the janitorial staff, had ever bothered to wipe it off. The spider illustrated the cautionary text that had gone unread.

Lenny blinked to wash away the tears forming and not cooperating with his cease and desist order to his tear ducts. His lip was anything but stiff now; it was starting to twitch and tremble.

He was known among the guys as the donut scarfing dude, usually polishing off four or five donuts at the weekly Transit meeting, but today the boxes of bear claws, jelly donuts, glazed donuts, cinnamon buns, and Danishes turned his stomach.

"Len," Cal said offering him a bear claw in their weekly ritual. Cal played the part of the donut-eating contest assistant.

"Not hungry," Lenny said holding up his palm in a stopping donut traffic gesture.

Cal shot him a "what the fuck" glance and jammed the entire pastry in his mouth for a cheap laugh.

Lenny pushed out an unconvincing laugh that sounded more like a moan, shook his head, and shuffled toward the clustered meeting chairs. Staff and management alike never bothered to line them up unless the Transit Authority head honcho was making a rare appearance to put a positive spin on reorganization and headcount reduction.

The regional director of the Transit Authority kicked off the meeting. "We've got a lot to cover, so I'll do Q&A at the end. You all have undoubtedly heard that we had another PUT incident on the green line at South Street. Lenny here was the operator. That's thirty-four this year and we haven't even made it through the holidays. Jesus. Usually have several that celebrate Hanukah, Christmas, and the New Year with a leap." The dozens of drivers changed positions in their stiff chairs and sighed, muttered, and cleared their throats. Lenny felt as if he might have to make a speedy exit so the other guys wouldn't see him if he broke up.

"The Commission suggests soothing music for suicide prevention. They say it works on animals. Not sure how they've tested that one. Elevator music in chicken coops? Mozart in pig pens." The meeting attendees chuckled between donut bites and coffee gulps. "The Commission is open to suggestions. If you have an idea, drop it into the anonymous suggestion box on your way out. They're also talking about putting up safety fences. It would be like a subterranean barnyard down here."

Everyone laughed but Lenny. All the other guys could take it; why couldn't he? He wondered how he could keep working there if the PUTs were such a common occurrence. Perhaps he could if he could somehow prevent this from happening again.

He supposed he should feel lucky. Some guys were cursed. One driver had twenty-three man unders; another eighteen; still another five. Eighteen told him, "You get used to it after a while. My first three were the hardest. After that, I figured I did them a favor." Twenty-three nodded and picked his teeth with a toothpick. He added, "Don't take this the wrong way, but after you've had enough of them, they're like bugs on a windshield. Nothing a little wiper fluid can't take care of." Five said under his breath so that only Lenny could hear, "I'm going to look into another line of work. One that doesn't involve enclosed spaces, speeding trains, and suicides."

Lenny pictured the subway walls closing in on him, the entrapment Five described, the platform filled with jumpers, and his mandate to run on time. He was the conductor of a high-speed murder weapon. His chest cavity compressed, as though it could no longer house his beating, bleeding heart. He had to do something, anything that would alleviate the situation. He was compelled to put a recommendation in the suggestion box so that no one would have to experience what he was going through. He jotted his idea down on a napkin, careful not to show it to anyone. Cal elbowed him to sneak a peek and played at swiping it from him, but Lenny quickly stuffed it in his pocket. On his way out, he dropped it into the tight slot of the suggestion box.

Several weeks after the meeting in which Lenny contributed to the suggestion box, he and his lunch box and thermos were cornered by members of the MAT management team who called him into the conference room. The lanky member of the team, known for his impatient surliness, held up the suggestion and asked if it was Lenny's.

Lenny leaned in to make sure.

"Yes, sir, it is." A jolt of anxiety ricocheted from Lenny's heart to his hands. He shoved them into his pockets to obscure his trembling fingers. Why were they following up with him? How did they know the suggestion was his, given that the suggestion box was anonymous? Did they decode the handwriting? Did they have someone watching him? Then it struck him that they might ask him to elaborate on his suggestion — give them ideas for making it happen. With his contribution, he was now being sought out by the management team. He might be rewarded for making the best of a bad situation.

"Lenny, we're going to have to ask you to take a leave of absence."

"What? Why?" Lenny's heart beat wildly. "I thought this was an anonymous suggestion box."

"We have no choice but to intervene for legal reasons. Plus, we don't want this or your attitude problem permeating our team and spreading to other drivers."

Shame washed over Lenny; they knew he didn't cut the mustard.

"Okay." Lenny and his lunch box started to walk out. Then he turned around and said, "Could I please have my suggestion back?"

"Certainly." The manager handed Lenny his slip of paper. As he walked out, he reread his words: We need to provide free bags on the platforms to cover jumpers' eyes


Two Strings Short

It was one of those days. Ominous signs of the future were springing up at every print journal outlet, including mine, the Los Angeles Times. The most striking example was The New York Times trying every tactic to stay afloat — even running controversial, poorly researched Enquirer-type stories. I was a shipmate on a grand fleet of ships that was sinking slowly. Bit by bit, the newspaper business was being dismantled. All the things we had taken for granted for decades were being undone in a matter of years by the new kid on the block — Internet news and blogs. Otherwise known as blah-ughs by yours truly. We were approaching a new era — the era of the rant-as-publishable piece. Journalism's reality TV equivalent. And the kicker was, I had to keep my disgruntledness to myself.

First, you had the carbon footprint Nazis — mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings — who were giddy about the demise of the newspaper. Their vision — to eliminate all printed news by 2020 — would allegedly save the Brazilian rainforest. I didn't want to rain on their tropical parade by telling them the extinction of the printed newspaper might save a Toucan or two, but the spread of beef farms for fast-food burgers would not. However, if one displayed any indication of carbon footprint opposition, the green brigade moved in for a stamp-out-global-warming preach-a-thon.

Second, you had management trolling for disgruntled curmudgeonly types (that would be me, but I'm a stealth guy) who weren't "embracing change" or being "virtual thought leaders." The top dogs ambushed the resisters in the cubicle labyrinth with the dreaded pink slip. After participating in a perky three-day webinar, "Championing Change," during which we all gained the title "Change Champions," with T-shirts and baseball caps to match, I wanted to tell management to put change where the sun don't shine.

That afternoon, I took the long way home from the Los Angeles Times to work on my beer gut and pasty complexion but mostly to spare my wife and girls my black mood du jour. It emerged so often, my wife called me the "Monster That Doesn't Mean It" to help Sadie, five, and Chelsea, eight, deal with me. Chelsea was old enough to counter with, "Mom, it's not a monster; it's just Dad needing a time-out."

Time out, not necessarily. Time travel, definitely. Back to the days when newspaper journalists mattered.

As a crew member of a failing enterprise, I was so cranky and incorrigible at home, I'm surprised my wife stuck around. With my edgy, irritable ways, I half-expected to come home one night to an empty house and a note — Dear Ben: Took the girls, the dog, but left the parrot. Figured you could use some company — even if it's only squawking. What a pair you'll be — the squawker and the kvetcher.

My wife had tried everything including countless flavors of religion to bring back the Ben she married. She talked so incessantly and with longing about the Ben she married, it felt like she was having an affair with the guy. I wanted to clock him one, and had to constantly remind myself the guy was me. In another time. When I still mattered. In my bereft state, I boldly declared there was no proof of the divine, not in man-made artifacts, natural wonders, especially not in everyday life.


Excerpted from "The Era of Lanterns and Bells"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Ann Tinkham.
Excerpted by permission of Napili Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Tunnel Vision

A New York train operator is forever changed by a subway suicide. He makes a suggestion to the Transit Authority he believes will restore normalcy to his and the other drivers' lives.

Two Strings Short

A burned out journalist in a dying industry befriends a homeless musician in Los Angeles. An act of kindness enriches the journalist's life.

A Heart Never Broken

A man waiting for a heart transplant breaks up with his true love. He believes his heart isn't strong enough to withstand a possible heartbreak. Once he gets a transplant, he's not sure he can live with the heart he receives.

Cookies of Fortune

A man with a secret patrols the Golden Gate Bridge with fortune cookies and urges jumpers teetering on the edge to tell their stories.

The Era of Lanterns and Bells

A lighthouse grows to despise the sea. Its relentless nature drives lighthouse keepers away, leaving the lighthouse untended, despondent, and haunted.

Hole in the Wall

An obese woman is a shut-in until a little girl asks an unexpected question that prompts her to make a dreaded call and invite humanity's shaming glare into her life.

Touched by Fire

A woman on vacation in Jamaica runs into a man whose song she has always heard. She can't let go of his song until it becomes one she doesn't recognize.

Swimming in Colors

A woman discovers that her childhood swimming hole is teeming with toxins. Once a source of imaginative play, the pond has become a cold-blooded killer.

Fickle Grapes

A Jewish woman is nervous about introducing her African American boyfriend to her parents, who want her to marry a nice Jewish boy. Their first dinner together promises to be tense and awkward when something unexpected occurs.

Defying Gravity

An aerialist runs away from the circus when she discovers a dirty secret about the circus she can't live with.

Orcinus Pas de Deux

An orca trainer believes she is a whale until a meddling animal rights activist upends and breaks open her self-serving narrative.


An arborist who is no good at humans is forced to work with them. Her ingenious plan to keep people at arm's length backfires in a way she could have never imagined.

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