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by Rhian Ellis
An excerpt from the novel in progress -
Self-Portrait in a Hat


Although it is inspired by real people and events, this novel is a fantasy—a fantastical re-imagining of Gertrude's and Alice's lives as amateur sleuths. In reality they were both fans of crime fiction and spent many evenings reading paperback mysteries by the fire. Dashiell Hammett was a particular favorite.


Much of the dinner conversation concerned the Salon D'Automne, which was to happen the next evening. Each of the artists had paintings in it except for Picasso, who didn't like to show. "It's crass and uncivilized," he said. "Showing paintings as if they're cows at an auction. But worse, because the public has no idea what it's looking at."

The dark-bearded man next to me, whose name, I learned, was Jorge Arias- Mendez, laughed loudly. He was a painter from South America, Chile I think, and he specialized in portraits. He had done one of Leo and had made him look considerably more dashing than he actually was, which made him quite a popular guest at the Steins’. "Pablo," he said. "Why do you think artists are superior to farmers?"

"Of course artists are superior to farmers!"

A journalist named Andre Trout looked amused at this. He chuckled and said, "If there were no art shows, do you think there would be artists? No one would think about art at all. And someone has to show at them!" Trout wrote for L'Arte Maintenant, which was apparently a radical and influential paper, though I had never heard of it. He had a wispy beard and spectacles that slid down so far his nose it made one nervous that they would slide off his face altogether and splash into his soup. His pale eyes moved constantly around the room. His mouth was fixed in a mocking half-smile, but when he spoke he was perfectly polite. I imagined his mother was quite proud of him. She certainly did not read his paper.

This conversation went on for a bit. I didn't find it an interesting one at all. I sipped my soup which was hot and had lots of fish in it. It was among the most delicious things I had ever eaten. I had to take little breaks and delicately pat my lips with my napkin so it wouldn't appear that I was a starving person or a glutton. Several of the party-goers had been that afternoon to visit a writer named Jarry,who was ill. Now this talk intrigued me.
"He coughed just like a cat with a bone in its throat," said Picasso. "It didn't matter, he still insisted we practice shooting his gun in the street behind his house. The neighbors weren't pleased! Oh, I would love a revolver like that. Do you know that to save space, his landlord divided Jarry's apartment horizontally? The ceiling is barely five feet high! The landlord said that Jarry wasn't using all the space over his head, so why not? It's all fine for Jarry, the footstool, but it's giving his visitors a permanent stoop."


After a bit, the conversation turned to the San Francisco earthquake. I mentioned that Helen and I were there when it happened. Everyone was quite curious about it and so we were briefly the centers of attention. People wanted to know what it felt like.

An American woman, a collector named Catherine Fox, had many questions. Did the earthquake feel like being on the deck of a ship? Or was the shaking faster than that? Perhaps like being shaken in a box? Did they really blow up people's houses in order to keep other houses from burning? Did soldiers really shoot people for no reason?


Miss Fox had black hair with two gray streaks rising up from her temples. She was probably in her forties but she had the careless physicality of a school girl. Her elbows were everywhere.

Helen told the story of her house exploding and I told mine of coming across it afterwards. Neither of us mentioned Mosier because it seemed uncouth and a bit gruesome for dinner table talk.

"Oh, my!" said Miss Fox. "I think I should have quite enjoyed that. Things can be so dull in Paris. No tornadoes or earthquakes, just endless parties."

She and Gertrude had known each other since they both studied psychology under William James, the only two women to do so at that time. I envied her. Her dress was stunningly beautiful, a shimmering red silk that showed a discomforting amount of decolletage. The way the fabric draped and fell made me know, almost at first glance, that it was a Callot Soeurs frock. I had, and still do, a very good eye for clothing. It wasn't a Delphos gown, for which I was grateful. Clearly Helen and I had indeed chosen the most fashionable dressmakers.

Eventually the conversation moved on, which relieved me, because I wanted very much to continue eating. After the fish soup was a selection of charcuterie, and then came a large steaming dish of Riz Valencienne, which was a kind of Spanish rice with all sorts of interesting things in it such as artichokes and mussels. Gertrude announced that it was Fernande's recipe, but Fernande paid no attention and just stirred her rice unhappily. Was she bored sitting next to me?

Large jugs of wine were passed non-stop up and down the table. I could never take much wine without ending up standing on a table somewhere, making grand announcements, so I just sipped from my glass and noticed that Gertrude drank very little, too. That couldn't be said for most of the rest of the table. By the time the Riz Valencienne was finished, the journalist Andre Trout seemed to be having trouble keeping his head out of his plate and the beautiful young man sitting next to him was weeping openly. One of the older men, a gallery owner I believe, had turned quite red.
Helen was deep in conversation with Jorge Arias-Mendez. He certainly was a handsome devil. Too young, I would have thought, for Helen, though. He couldn't have been more than twenty-five. Yet he was leaning awfully close to her. Whatever could they be talking about?

I turned to Fernande and asked her if it was true she gave French lessons.

"Why, yes," she said. She turned and looked at me with her large gray eyes. "Are you the person who wishes lessons?"

"I am. My French tutor used to tell me that my vocabulary was very good but that my accent was atrocious."

"That is true, it is, it is terrible," said Fernande. "I charge 10 francs for a lesson." "Goodness," I said. "That is quite a lot."

"Is it? Well, how about 1 franc?"

Later I would discover that Fernande's need for money was an annoyance and distraction to Picasso, or at least Gertrude thought so. Giving Fernande a job would let Picasso have more time to work.

"I am forever pawning earrings," said Fernande sadly.

Was it at that moment that people began looking upward? I remember hearing a sound, a scratching as if an animal were scampering across the roof of the atelier. A few people stopped talking to listen, but started again in the following silence. Then, across from me, I saw Gertrude's white throat as she looked upward toward the skylights, and then I heard the thumps as well.

"Who is up there?" asked Leo, dropping his napkin and standing up.

What happened next had all the power of a bomb discharging. First sharp crack or bang, like a gunshot, and then a magnificent shattering of glass exploded into the room from above. Brilliant shards few through the air. And then something – someone – plummeted downward directly onto the dining table, right into the empty dishes of rice and the crocks of flowers and the wine jugs. The noise of smashing and screaming and people falling over their own chairs was terrific.

I was certain it was an earthquake.

And I still remember seeing the person fall through the air as if in a film running slowly, the arms reaching up, the coat catching air and billowing outward.

Then the body was there on the floor amid the wreckage of the table – one could see now that the table had been improvised from boards laid across wooden trestles or sawhorses, then covered beautifully with the tablecloths – and now splashed with wine and speckled with rice. It was a man, an ordinary-looking man with brown hair and a mustache but no beard and a rather large nose. His blue eyes were wide open but he appeared quite dead. His face was dark and bluish and his arms and legs were spread wide, like a starfish.

People were shrieking and not only the ladies, I wish to point out.

Gertrude was the first to move. She stepped over the wreckage, lifting her skirt out of the pool of wine and food, and knelt down next to the man. She put her fingers on his neck, then put her ear close to his mouth.

"Miss Stein has been to medical school," I heard someone say, although that was only somewhat true.

Everyone watched as she shut the man's eyes with a quick movement and stood up again. "Yes, I'm afraid he's dead. I suppose he was a cat burglar. Very unfortunate." There was an uncomfortable chuckle. Of course! A cat burglar! Who else would be up on the roof so late in the evening? But then Helen started screaming.

"Oh, my God! My God!"

She put her hands over her mouth as if to stop herself from screaming, her eyes wide and horrified.
"It's Mosier!" she cried. "It's Mosier!"

Her screaming went on and on.

Writing by Rhian Ellis and by other
authors previously published in the
Metaphysical Times can be found in the
Stories, Essays and Poems section of:
(Visit Rhian Ellis' Article Archive)





Gluttony and Food Issues

(Guest editor) All You Need

• PETE WETHERBEE Introduction to and translation of: The Pardoner On Gluttony
by Geoffrey Chaucer

Possum Food

Desert Island Dining

The Half Pound Piece of Toast

The Life and Diet of Jim Worms

My Father the Clamcake

Blood on the Dining Room Floor

Little Round Things

Dull Ny Thinger

Eating With the Ancestors
– Curds and Whey



Where Food Goes

Helium Dogs


by Annie Campbell

I’d always had a sweet tooth, but about twenty-six years ago I suddenly developed absolutely insane cravings for desserts. I’d mix double batches of chocolate-chip cookie dough and eat half the batter raw. Then, I’d eat a bunch of mouth-singeing cookies minutes after taking them out of the oven. Harley was lucky if there were a few cookies left for him.

When I went grocery shopping in Wegmans, I’d fill a small bag with cookies and chocolates from the bulk food section, pay for my groceries and devour everything in the bag before I got home. Sometimes I managed to resist and didn’t buy any crap in Wegmans. But then, on the way home my cravings would overtake me and I’d stop at the little store where I usually bought gas. I’d buy myself horrible things like stale cookies, or cup cakes with gross icing on top and goopy-crap inside them, and eat all of it before I pulled into our driveway.

(go to story)

EatingWith the Ancestors

by Nancy Vieira Couto

            Those milk bottles, with a generous amount of cream at the top, reminded me of the milk of my childhood, but I should say right from the start that milk and I have always had a difficult relationship.  I remember that we had three kinds of milk in our tenement: chocolate milk, coffee milk, and plain milk.  Chocolate milk had some sort of cocoa powder stirred into it, while coffee milk was made with Silmo Coffee Syrup, a long-gone product that was once a staple in the New Bedford area.  Of the three, plain milk was the one I liked the least, although it was the simplest to prepare.  My mother would remove the orange cellophane from the top of the milk bottle, rinse the top of the cardboard cap, and give the bottle a vigorous shake.  Then she would remove the cap, pour some milk into a saucepan, and start warming it up.  Of course when my mother poured the warm plain milk over my breakfast Cheerioats, they immediately turned to mush. Truth is, I didn't like Cheerioats much either, and changing the name to Cheerios didn't make them any less mushy.  I didn't know then, and didn't learn until I was in college, that other people enjoyed their cereal with cold milk.

(go to rest of the story)


Where Food Goes
by David S. Warren

So we bought a fruit crusher and new, larger press to use on our pears when they ripened last summer: a mixture of sweet and tart, mostly Asian pears. Some of the cider was consumed when still fresh and sweet, and most is now in the later stages of fermentation.

Meanwhile we had realized that a cider press is about the same thing as a cheese press. Being big cheese eaters,we ordered the basic tools, the coagulants and the fermentation cultures to make most any cheese.

Of course cheese making doesn’t always require a press, or need to be a lot more complicated than letting raw milk go sour. I heard on the radio that in prison, where improvisation is necessary, determined cheese-addicts use Real Lemon concentrated juice to coagulate non-dairy creamer. And there it is: easy cheesy.

We have now read so many recipes for cheese making that we are dazed and confused or maybe confused and dazed. The biggest cheesiest site on the internet has hundreds a recipes - new ones all the time, including some for mozzarella, one of which claims to be an easy thirty minute mozzarella, perfect for kids.

Don’t be fooled. The thirty minute mozzarella took a day and a half; we nearly scalded our hands in the process and never got the stuff to be stretchy as pizza dough, like it is supposed to be. So we don’t suggest you make it your first cheese.

You might want to begin with the prison cheese version, or better than that: try making the simple Portuguese kitchen cheese that Nancy Vieira Couto writes about in this issue of the magazine.

(read the beginning of this article)


Dull Ny Thinger

by Gabreal Orgrease

“Hey, sonny doy, dull ny thinger.”
 “Granpa, no.”
 “I’m not yer Granda ya little tord. Now dull ny thinger.”

 Aubergine Bawcutt, the talking eggplant, is the infamous Catskill ventriloquist Lorne Surlingham’s most famous dummy. Which is not saying a whole lot for dummies or back alley ventriloquists. A fat purple eggplant poked onto the top end of a broomstick, fastened with brass thumbtacks -- white eyes of radish slices with red peel rings, a petite carrot nose and a thin white-green slice for a mouth. The Chef’s Dummy they used to call her in the good old days on the underground circuit. A sort of Ubu Roi take-off in the vegetable and janitorial kingdom that never translated well to television but was a backstage hit at a thousand and twenty-three catered birthday parties.

 “Oh man, grandpa, do you really have to do that? It isn’t funny any more.”

(read this story in its entirety)



Possum Food

by Sue-Ryn Burns

One Saturday shortly after July 4th, when it was fairly quiet and we had released most of the first-litter squirrels and had most of the waterfowl in outside pens, the phone rang. In what can only be considered a moment of temporary insanity, I agreed to take 11 baby Opossums, rescued from a very busy roadside after their mother was killed by a car.
I was of course immediately charmed by the cute little babies. They look like they're wearing opera gloves and their tails are like a fifth hand. Their big pink scalloped ears have black stripes. They each had a widow's peak! They seem to be always in some kind of physical contact with each other – piled up to sleep, sitting on each other, holding paws, or keeping their tails entwined.

(read this entire story here)

by Don Brennan

Sharing food with family and friends, while appreciating life’s blessings, can be a form of mindfulness that allows us to receive more energy from our food.

While enjoying food with Reiki practitioners, it’s not unusual to see people holding their hands above their food to fill it with Reiki before they eat. Most people seem to have the right attitude that this is a blessing and an enhancement of the food. But it’s clear that some are worried that the food might have negative energy within it.

When we experience fear, worry or anger, we cannot practice mindfulness. These feelings disconnect us and take us out of the Now. We feel unloved and unsupported. “Be Grateful,” the third Reiki Principle taught by Usui Sensei, serves as advice to help us become centered. Being grateful means nourishing gratitude in your heart, for no specific reason. It means being grateful for the gift of existence. Gratitude brings you here, into the present moment. When you are present, you are connected with all of life, with all of creation. And all is well.
All is as it should be.
(read this entire article here)


Helium Dogs (go to)

(You may view the complete print version here)
(Click to Purchase as a print magazine



The focus of our next Metaphysical Times will be
"Significant Dreatures"

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