The Avenue, Vol. IX, 2011
The 2011 edition of the Saint Joseph's University Writing Studies program's annual graduate literary magazine, 'The Avenue'.
The Avenue 2011 NON-FI EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Lana Morelli EDITORIAL BOARD Colleen DeFruscio Kate Harron Nicole Katze Melissa Kelly Kimberly Krol Laronnda Thompson Ashley Truehart John Wilson DESIGN Melissa Kelly PHOTOGRAPHY Melissa Kelly FACULTY ADVISOR Tenaya Darlington FI P o TABLE f CONTENTS FICTION NON-FICTION What I’m Afraid Of | Kate Harron ....................................... 3 This Magid Moment | Lana Morelli ....................................... 5 Impressons From Abroad | Kimberly Krol ....................................... 8 The Hunt | Lauren Briana Schwartz ...................................... 10 Our Father | Melissa Kelly ..................................... 13 FICTION FICTION POETRY Before and After | Nicole Katze ..................................... 17 Dear Wife | Laronnda V. Thompson ..................................... 22 The Blessed Mother’s Side | Colleen DeFruscio ..................................... 27 Man Up | Michael Zodda ..................................... 31 The Security of Our Great Nation | Rob Zawatski ..................................... 34 The End | John R. Wilson ..................................... 36 Private Bumgartner | Michael Zodda ..................................... 38 Cupid’s Quiet RIot | Lana Morelli ..................................... 42 Love Letter | Colleen DeFruscio ..................................... 47 Playing God | Michael Zodda ..................................... 49 POETRY Light in his Loafers | Maggie P. Saia ..................................... 57 TV is Our Only Freedom | John R. Wilson ..................................... 58 A Guide to Preventing Time Travel Paradoxes | Oliver Withstanley ............ 59 Motherless Children | Laronnda V. Thompson ..................................... 60 Political Arguments with My Stepfather Scott Maxwell ............................... 62 NONFICTION The Avenue | 2011 What I’m Afraid Of turned again and I thought you were By: Kate Harron doing it on purpose because you were mad about my feet on the dash so I took them down and I opened my eyes and o, I’m not afraid of spiders or you stopped the car. I asked, “What snakes or creepy crawly things. is it and why did we stop?” And you Why not? Because I’m not a girly- said, “Don’t you see?” But I didn’t and girl and because I’m bigger than they are you laughed and said, keep looking. and I could crush them if I wanted to. You turned the headlights on and they But I won’t. And I wouldn’t. That’s what illuminated a dirt path that looked like it could be a driveway but I wasn’t makes me different from you. sure what it was leading to because it So what am I afraid of? You remember that place that you disappeared into the thick green-black took me that time when we had an hour trees. And you said, “Don’t you see?” to kill? The time that we drove along But I didn’t and you laughed and turned that stream and the grass was so green the car back on and pulled up the drive and so high it came up to the windows a bit and…there it was. You got out and and I could almost reach it if I stuck my sat on the bumper and stared dreamily hand out and stretched far enough. And into the quiet but I. couldn’t. move. In the lightning bugs flickered because it the dark, surrounded by the trees, there it was July and the time of day that they was – that big old house. It was far enough back off of the flicker and everything smelled green and road that no one could see it, probably it was beautiful and quiet and I was even in the dead of winter when there happy, so I kicked my shoes off and were no leaves on the trees to help hide it put my bare feet up on and definitely not now the dash. And you got I couldn’t look at that since it was the middle mad so you drove too house for another of July. There was no fast around one of the front porch but it was moment but then...I turns and we almost the kind of house that saw you there on the crashed the car into a ditch because you never bumper, staring away. looked like it should have one – the kind knew when enough was And you were happy. of house that needed enough. Remember that a rocking chair and time? You took me to a an old man with a pipe and a book or place that you told me you loved. It was a block of wood fit to whittle. But the a place that you said was very special space in front was covered with leaves and that you wanted me to see it because and dead bushes that hadn’t been cared I was special too. So we drove down that for and there was no porch. winding road further and further than The row of windows on the first floor I wanted to go because our hour was was probably full of tattered curtains almost up. There was no one in sight. and cobwebs that probably hadn’t been Not for miles. I put my feet back up touched in years. A few windows were on the dash and I stopped caring if you probably broken – the glass scattered were mad because it was beautiful and I on the dead leaves and around the dead closed my eyes and inhaled the sweetness bushes and by the spot where the old man of the twilight grass and stopped caring in his rocking chair should be and it was if we were going to be late because our probably scattered on the floor inside the hour was almost up. And then the car N 3 Kate Harron big old house, too. It was far enough back off of the road that no one could hear the screams of the person probably trapped inside, tied up by the old man in the rocking chair to the post at the end of the banister with a rope that cut into her wrists — not the kind that was white and soft, but the kind that was tan and raspy. She was probably trapped in there for weeks — and I know it was a she because hes rarely get taken to places like that — and she is probably reaching for the shards of glass that are probably all over the floor from the windows that were probably broken. If you went inside to help her like you probably should, every floorboard would probably creak under your feet and every corner would probably move with the spiders and snakes and creepy crawly things that you’re afraid of but I’m not and the old man in the rocking chair would probably creep up from behind and grab you too and tie you up next to the she that was already there. You would probably sit there and share a rope. You would probably get to talking. You would probably reach for the broken glass in the dark, dusty, creepy crawly. And maybe you would reach it. And maybe you would cut the rope with the broken glass and you and she would be free. And maybe she would be a bit prettier and a bit thinner and a bit smarter and a bit funnier than me. And maybe you and she would fall in love like people who are trapped in creepy crawly places together sometimes do. And maybe you would never think about me again. But real stories about people who get trapped in creepy crawly places never really end that way. The old man in the rocking chair who probably crept up behind you and probably tied you to the post at the end of the banister would probably take you into one of the creepy 4 crawly rooms and you would probably never come out. You would become a part of the creepy crawly. I couldn’t look at that house for another moment but then… I saw you there on the bumper, staring away. And you were happy. I said, “We should go; we’re going to be late.” The lightning bugs were gone; the air was too still. You didn’t say a word and turned the car back on, and put your arm around the back of my seat as you looked over your shoulder and pulled away from that big old house. That arm. You drove back up that winding road farther and farther until we were back to where there was someone in sight. The grass was so dark and so high that it could almost reach into the window and grab my hand if it stretched far enough. The air was hot and stale and smelled of spent gasoline. And I rolled the window up. And you drove on the winding road and you smiled. You said, “That is my dream house.” My dreams are so different. That is my nightmare. That is what I’m afraid of. This Magic Moment By: Lana Morelli M y sister just recently got married and I was her maid-of-honor. For the past two years I helped her in all of her bridal duties. For the past twenty-five years I listened to her dream about her “Big Day.” She is funny that way. She always wanted to dress up as a bride on Halloween. She dreamed about a Christmas wedding. She played with paint color pallets in an attempt to find the perfect wedding color combination. She thought about what friends would make good bridesmaids and what music would make for good dancing. She thought about every detail. It makes sense now. She was always the teacher when we played school and assumed the position of “boss” whenever she had the opportunity. I, on the other hand, was always the ornery student in the classroom or the person she had to “keep on track” when playing games. While my sister was directing, I was always bored with the planning. “Let’s just get right to it,” I would whine. I always just wanted to jump right in. “No, Lan we have to figure this out!” My sister would remind me. That is one of the main differences in our personalities, I wanted to just do it, and she wanted to prepare first. As we grew older, this translates into…She wanted to throw a huge wedding with lots of preparation, while I would much rather prefer a small beach event, so we can just get right to it. As women, it is socially expected that we posses some innate female gene that excites and encourages us to plan and prepare for our “big special day.” For me, that gene is missing. God must have been busy the day I was born and forgot to plant the “wedding-enthusiasm” seed within me. It’s okay, though. I believe that without it, I possess a clarity that is lacking within my sister, friends and other bright eyed 20somethings whose vision is skewed by the bridal glare. During the first wedding I attended, I saw the unrealistic forced magic that failed to linger in the air. I was nine years old and one of the few children privileged to be invited to my older cousins affair. Aunt someone, who smelled of old musky perfume and had orange lipstick coated on her teeth bent down and whispered… “Don’t forget to take your cake home and put it under your pillow, you’ll dream of the man you’ll marry.” Maybe it’s because this woman was old and her scratchy voice sounded like a witch revealing some secret of the universe, but I did as she said. I sacrificed my craving to inhale the sugary delight and I carried the cake home. I gingerly placed that cake bag under my pillow and feel fast asleep. With childhood innocence on my side, I expected to dream of my very own Mr. Right. The next morning, I woke without any recollection of a dream and crumbled yellow cake in my hair. Maybe the magic died for me the day I woke up with dessert matted to my New Kids on the Block pillow case. But, I have no desire to partake in the debacle that I affectionately call, “Bridal Bullshit.” This is not because fifty percent of marriages fail (I’m not talking half empty or half full) because, the flip side is that fifty percent of marriages succeed. You see, it’s not really about the relationship aspect at all. The relationship is completely separate from the dreaded occasion…“THE WEDDING.” Somewhere along the line a wedding has morphed from a party to a production; causing families to argue, bank accounts to deplete and brains to go to mush with the colossal decisions of 5 Lana Morelli vanilla pound cake versus red velvet cake. repetitively knocking their silverware There are too many things to accomplish on to the side of the champagne glasses? as per the bridal-etiquette book du jour We know that the bride and groom are that there isn’t time for little moments. in love, but do we need the PDA while Weddings are all about the big stuff; the we’re eating? It’s almost as annoying as perfect dress, the perfect hair, the prefect having to act interested and screaming venue, the perfect food, the perfect out “AWWWW” every times it happens. speech, the perfect cake and the perfect My brother had a large wedding/ send off. You don’t have time to catch production five years ago. It wasn’t until up with friends or all the picture posing, steal a moment with Magic is everywhere—you bouquet tossing and an older relative that obligatory speeches just have to be open to you haven’t seen in a were complete that seeing it. It’s not confetti a magical moment while, because you’re and balloons falling too busy making sure snuck in. It happened your “show” goes when the DJ played from the ceiling; no according to plan. fireworks, white bunnies or “Shakin” by Eddie It’s not just the disappearing acts. Instead Money. A song we Bride and Groom who grew up singing it’s the the little things. get caught up in the while buckled into show. Truth is, a show Sometimes you just need to the backseat of our isn’t really a show thrown the plans aside in parent’s car. My without an audience. brother had looked order to find them. Therefore, I think the the part of the pictureguests are partially perfect groom all to blame as well. I find it bizarre that night, but when he heard that song, people still carry-on about catching the he unraveled the white silk tie from bouquet or garter. As if having good around his neck. As the sound of the hand-eye coordination could really guitar blasted through the speakers, I secure your position to be married next. reached over and plucked the single rose Sure, people laugh about it as a silly boutineer off his vest and proceeded to tradition, “just something fun” they sing into it as if it were a microphone. say. But this cool-calm façade doesn’t My siblings and I sang into that flower fool me. I have been to my fair share like our lives depended on it. Karaoke at of weddings, when the music awkwardly its worst and finest. stops and I am dragged onto the dance It is my favorite memory of his floor with all the other single women. wedding. The photographer snapped It’s all fun and games until I find myself a picture which now sits on the coffee elbowed in the ribs by some middle table in my mother’s formal room. Of aged, chubby divorcée, leaping into mid- all the pictures that we posed for and air trying to snatch the bouquet as if her forced smiles in, the rose picture won life depended on it. Like those flowers the prime real estate of the coffee table. in flight could really change her future. It’s something we didn’t plan on doing, Maybe she was related to the orange something we weren’t supposed to be lipstick lady? Ever more annoying is the doing, something we didn’t have to be chiming flatware that signals the bride doing. It was just a small moment, one and groom to kiss. Why do the guests that evokes a personal smile every time I insist on the incessant clanging and hear that song. 6 The Avenue | 2011 Through all the hustle, bustle and forced magic that ultimately turns out to be “make believe,” the real magic is still lurking; waiting to be discovered in an old 80’s rock song and a single rose boutineer. I wouldn’t trade that moment for anything in the world. Despite the fact that the flowers wilt, the catcher of the bouquet probably won’t be the next to get married, the wedding cake doesn’t induce romantic dreams and most of the pictures snapped will never find a home nestled on the coffee table; we host and attend the traditional weddings anyway. Maybe it takes a hundred pictures, a few boring speeches and some dried out roasted chicken to get to it, but the small moments are there. I just believe that without all the fuss, without the “supposed to’s,” it would be easier for the real magic to gleam through. 7 Impressions from Abroad The poverty in the area is simply By: Kimberly Krol unavoidable. It’s pervasive. Thousands upon thousands of people live on top of each other in one-room metal huts. was being sent to Mumbai on an Placing clothes on the hot tin roof during assignment. India is a world away in rainstorms and leaving the clothes there many respects and nervous, unsure to dry when the sun comes out is the — were understatements of my true way the residents do laundry. Children feelings. Weeks of preparations included play among piles of garbage and human four vaccinations — two in each arm excrement. Aboveground sewer pipes — for diseases I never considered an neighbor homes, leaving a thick stench. actual threat, like rubella and yellow Mingling with the throngs of people fever. These illnesses only existed in on the street was a variety of livestock, stories about the Dark Ages. I filled a including chickens, cows and goats, as well as stray dogs and cats. Stalls of malaria prescription goods stretched as and bought extraI had imagined romantic far as the eye could strength bug India, standing outside see, with merchants repellent. After a 17aggressively hocking the Taj Mahal. Instead, hour flight, I was in their wares. Mumbai. The thick I experienced the reality I stood out like heat hit me as soon of the destination. I was a sore thumb, but as I departed the filled with alarm, angst, my worldview was airport. There were compassion and heartache. slowly changing, people everywhere, deepening and milling about, expanding. The middle class is virtually trying to scrounge up something to do. Rickshaws zipped by. Bugs swarmed. I non-existent in India. Inhabitants are either very wealthy or incredibly considered turning around. Early the next morning, I had the poor. Minimal attention is paid to chance to inhale my surroundings. I the crumbling facades of buildings; began the day stuck in three hours’ worth the opulent interiors are the true of traffic. The roadways are hardly able determination of a person’s wealth. With to contain the number of cars passing such vast class differences, the poverty is through on a daily basis. The public even more heart wrenching. So many transportation is not any better. Rickety children reside in unlivable squalor, trains, with no doors or windows, are while the upper class sits comfortably packed with commuters literally hanging overlooking the slums just below their off the train cars. Beggar after beggar windows. I had imagined exotic India, with banged on the car windows, soliciting elephants and tigers. I had imagined with handmade wares or pictures of their romantic India, standing outside the Taj hungry children. A loud clap startled Mahal. Instead, I experienced the reality me. I looked over at a man, mangled, of the destination. I was filled with missing one eye, burnt on one side of his alarm, angst, compassion and heartache. face. Mumbai has a problem with gangs Each day, each moment, each experience kidnapping innocent passersby and in India was a life lesson. I saw a man violently maiming them before turning sharpening knives using a bicycle-esque them back out to panhandle. Lining the roads were the slums. contraption on the streets of the city. I I 8 The Avenue | 2011 saw women washing their clothes in the backwaters of Kerala. There is no other place in the world that left me more changed. I departed for India timid and naĂŻve and returned an entirely different person. I left with a true sense of the disparities that exist in our world today. There is no denying my experience of that place changed me and left an indelible mark on my existence â€” a permanent smudge on my rose-colored glasses. 9 The Hunt “It’s the middle of the night—go back to bed and try not to wake your sister”. By: Lauren Briana Schwartz Besides, she noted, I was bigger than the spider was—albeit by, I must profess, (Author’s Note: The following events a frighteningly small margin—and no occurred exactly as described, except doubt the more intimidating presence. Still, I was hesitant to return to my for the parts that didn’t quite. Any bedroom—which in my terror I now resemblance to any persons living imagined overrun by giant spiders in or dead is entirely intentional.) the process of building their own evil robot army—so I lingered in the hallway, ateline: midnight. A too-hot verbally kneading at my mother’s heart summer night deep in the wooded and asking her if she would please come cradle of Southern New Jersey, a and make sure it was safe, Mommy, few short years ago. I lay curled in bed, please? drifting off to sleep over a dog-eared My mother, however, remained paperback within the moonlit rurality steadfast in her assertion that the spider of my childhood home. A chorus of was not, in fact, going to kill me. Nursing crickets, augmented by the rumbling bark the deep wounds of betrayal and making of a neighbor’s dog, a mental note to later provided a familiar I knelt upon the far edge of interrogate her for seasonal lullaby. the bed, shifting my weight any hidden loyalties It was only as I (“Madam, are you completed a casual between my knees to avoid any premature detection now or have you ever page turn that I felt been a member of the of my presence by the the slightest tickle Araneae Order?”), I upon my right arm. enemy. I clacked the tongs shuffled back to Spider I inclined my head, together once, twice, and Base Alpha, hoping intending to brush that the enemy had not began removing the few aside a stray hair or linens that I had failed to by now installed some errant piece of lint, kind of high-tech legonly to observe the tear off in my earlier panic. counting software to largest spider I’d ever prevent human entry. seen striding across my arm. Sucking in a deep, trembling breath, As the ever-calm and composed I edged toward the threshold of my person I am in emergencies, I offered up a bedroom and hazarded a glance inside. full-throated shriek, flailed my arm fit to Everything appeared to be in place: detach it and, after watching the spider a wrinkled magazine from 1996 and scurry beneath my pillows, ran down three empty tubes of mascara lay upon the hallway adjacent to my bedroom the scarred surface of my desk; a dust in search of my mother, all the while bunny the size of a small orange peeked screaming in the frightened soprano of a out from behind the dresser; the imposing three-year-old girl. Sock Mountain towered high above the My mother, by nature a comforting lesser dirty laundry. and sympathetic soul, set about soothing Yet I knew that something lurked my fears, promising me that everything within this untidy domain—something would be all right in her own nurturing evil. Something with legs. Something with way. evil legs. D 10 The Avenue | 2011 (You take my point, of course.) I paused for several long moments at the door, unsure as to my next move. As my eyes swept to my pillows, so deceptively innocent, a bolt of fear shot through me. It was there. Somewhere, deep within this linen jungle, legs rubbing together in maniacal glee, it was there. Watching. Waiting. “Mommy,” I whined toward the hallway, “can I sleep in your room?” Her response was short, swift, and unfit for print. Tired, frustrated, and terrified, I nudged one toe over the threshold, my eyes never leaving my bed. You’re there, I thought. I know you’re there. You have destroyed my sanctuary. You have violated my sacred space. I am tired and you are somewhere in my bed and I want to go to sleep. And so you… you must be destroyed. My overwhelming fear had begun to subside, usurped now by something lower, something baser. A deep, hungry thrill began to rise within me as I stared at the floral pillowcases, a predatory drive thrumming through my blood. This was my territory. And I would reclaim it. Narrowing my eyes and lifting my chin, in a dramatic nod to any number of pretentious film trailers, I vowed to vanquish all that stood before me. I would once more stand victorious within my home base. And I would destroy this spider, my greatest nemesis, even if the endeavor cost me my very life. I turned with great purpose back to the hallway, and, after thumping my head against the doorframe and cursing for the better part of two minutes, made my way downstairs to arm myself for the hunt. ——— First on my list of weapons: an industrial-strength flashlight, a black- steel-framed juggernaut I would grasp with a grand air of authority and vengeance, sweeping a broad shaft of brilliant light over my stunned, cowering opponent, paralyzed by the light of justice falling upon his evil flesh. We didn’t have one of those, so I improvised with a tiny pocket flashlight I found stuck to a melted Jolly Rancher at the back of our utility drawer. Next: a set of stainless-steel salad tongs that would serve as my hands in my expedition, as the beast stationed within my pillowcase would no doubt devour my own appendages given half the chance. And finally: a sixteen-ounce can of Raid® Wasp & Hornet Killer. Drastic? Heavy-handed? Perhaps. War often is. Now armed, I ascended the stairs and strode towards my bedroom, sweeping the flashlight’s narrow beam over the textured ceiling. Each step I made was careful and deliberate as I continued upon my path, imagining myself as a young Indiana Jones, or possibly Brendan Fraser in The Mummy. With breasts. I dual-wielded the Raid® and salad tongs as I crossed the threshold to my bedroom, my flashlight now secure in my pocket. I knelt upon the far edge of the bed, shifting my weight between my knees to avoid any premature detection of my presence by the enemy. I clacked the tongs together once, twice, and began removing the few linens that I had failed to tear off in my earlier panic. Soon, all that lay before me were several scattered pillows, so still and silent. I knew that somewhere, deep beneath their unassuming surfaces, my enemy lay in wait. I steadied my breathing and clacked my tongs. The first pillow appeared quite innocent and arachnidfree as I lifted it away with a deep, shuddering breath. The second pillow followed suit, as did the third pillow, 11 Lauren Briana Schwartz under which the gargantuan spider had first retreated after our brief encounter. As I extended my quavering tongs toward the fourth and final pillow, it toppled forward and landed in my lap with a soft, pillowy thud. I blinked in confusion, only to feel my heart seize as I observed the beast lying in stark repose there upon the quilted fabric. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. Now, face-to-face with my prey, I could only freeze in terror—in times of truest danger and need, one’s strength so often seems to flee. Fight it! I thought to myself, my breath coming in short, panicked gasps. Fight! I screwed my eyes tight and, grasping the Raid® in one unsteady hand, activated the nozzle. I heard the steady liquid hiss of fatal neurotoxins streaming forth as I trembled and struggled to hold fast to my mission. After a long moment, I opened my eyes a hesitant fraction. There, lying before me, the beast twitched. Once, twice. And all was once more still. I knelt in silence, letting the can drop from my hand as my trembling gaze held firm upon my enemy’s corpse. The sharp, bitter scent of chemical destruction wafted through the still summer air. Somewhere, a dog barked. Without a word, I drew myself to my full height, the image of the spider’s lifeless form burned into my mind. I had fought. And I had won. My home was once more mine, my sanctuary still and silent. The usurper was quiet now, his reign of terror brought to heel. A base, bloody glee welled up inside me. I have returned, I thought, casting my victor’s gaze over my bedroom. I have returned. I bared my teeth in a sharp, brutal grin, and, as my eyes glazed over with the sweet glory of hard-won victory, threw my head back in a loud burst of triumphant laughter. “To the victor go the spoils,” they 12 say. “They” failed to mention the fate of the victors when celebratory proceedings wake said victors’ irritated mothers. “But I won,” I insisted, averting my eyes from my mother’s petite, fuming form as she stood in my doorway. “Congratulations,” she said. “You’ll also ‘win’ a swift kick in the ass if you don’t keep it down. Got it?” “…yes’m.” She sighed in exasperation and, looking from my less-than-contrite countenance to the frenzied tangle of bedsheets and pillows behind me, shook her head and returned to her own bedroom. I waited for the telltale click of her door closing before making my way to the nearby linen closet. I collected a haul of clean sheets and pillowcases and started back toward my bedroom, attempting to tamp down the slightest kernel of doubt that had begun to germinate within the recesses of my mind. It was just a spider, I admitted as I gathered up the discarded linens and transferred them to the clothes hamper. Probably wouldn’t have hurt me, I guess. Probably ate mosquitoes or something. Served its purpose, like anything else. And I… I hunted it down, I reflected dimly, plucking my fallen enemy’s body from the battlefield. I changed the sheets, mood somber. Could it be, I wondered, that I’ve now found myself consumed by some base form of grasping pride, some desperate need for possession? That I would treat this minor trespass as a personal affront, worthy of such a vicious counter-attack? Have I become so soulless that I could hunt one of God’s creatures to its death? I paused. “Looks that way.” I turned down the plush comforter and snuggled into bed, warm and cozy. I slept like a rock. The Avenue | 2011 Our Father this way. With some help from his own By: Melissa Kelly mother, Johnny and the girls soldiered on, and Johnny did the things he thought he ought to do. Eventually he remarried, again out hen Johnny Callahan’s first of duty, to a woman who would bear wife died, he put a dent in a his first son—this they knew before the solid maple door with his fist. wedding. His second wife, Jean, with The dent is still there; you can fit your three children of her own, moved into the own clenched knuckles in the fifty-yearhouse with the dented door and bore that old grooves and think about all the boy, Johnny Jr. Johnny and Jean fought history embedded in that old house; like wildcats. Their children fought. Jean the house that Johnny built. When you rubbed her scalp raw from the anxiety. do, you wonder why, despite endless renovations, nobody ever bothered Johnny bore down on her like one of the vices in his workshop until the day she replacing that door. The disease had consumed Johnny’s was committed. Adoption was bandied wife in a time when cancer was still about again, this time for the infant boy. a whispered word, and left three But in the end, again, Johnny wouldn’t motherless daughters in Johnny’s care — have it. When Johnny told his girls that Jean the youngest, Ruthie, only a few months was leaving, Charlotte sprinted gleefully old. The neighbors told Johnny to give from the room and gathered the girls away. No man her step-siblings’ toys for It was never clear could raise three girls alone. For a time, while the if it was duty or them, happy to see them go. And so Johnny was on his grieving was carried out, love, but again, own again, this time with Johnny’s sister Pearl and Johnny married. four little children. Despite her husband—who were childless themselves, though You will recognize the help of his aging mother, the place in the and the mothering of his not by choice—took Ruthie in, and considered keeping wedding photos— eldest daughter, now 8, her. But in the end, Johnny it is the house with Johnny needed help. Rita was from central wouldn’t have it. the dented door. Pennsylvania. She was a Joyce, the oldest— coal miner’s daughter—or barely six—was already motherly, fussing over Charlotte, making granddaughter really—raised alongside sure her bows were tied tight, her her mother as a sister. She left for shoes were on the right feet. Charlotte, Philadelphia on a wing and a prayer, Johnny’s middle babe, was a left little with a job offer from the big city phone slow by a few moments deprived of company. After the phone company, she oxygen during her delivery. She was met Johnny, and came to care for his smart enough though, far from helpless. children. It was never clear if it was duty or After Johnny’s wife died, he turned love, but again, Johnny married. You his back on the church, for no God he will recognize the place in the wedding cared to worship would have stripped a photos—it is the house with the dented beautiful young mother away from his door. Though if it was duty then, girls. He turned his back on the church, eventually, maybe, it was love. And three but sent his children dutifully every years later, there was another son. Sunday. And for a while, it went on W 13 Melissa Kelly Life was finally commonplace, as commonplace as heart attacks can be. From the time that he was forty, Johnny’s weak heart had betrayed him time and time again. But beyond his health, little else was out of place. His children had a mother; this was Johnny’s charge. Each of those children will tell you a different story of that man. Ruthie will tell of a cold man, deliberate and disconnected from her, yet so warm to his first son. Charlotte misremembers or misunderstands much of the past, and so her story is her own, though that’s truly not so different from the others. And Joyce will tell of a man changed by loss and misfortune, wrong turns and heartbreak. But none tell a more different story than his two sons. Johnny Jr., eldest son, apple of his father’s eye, tells his story most reverently of all. Johnny Jr. was raised by a father who taught him to be as honorable a man as any. Johnny’s father taught him to work on cars and build houses, to work hard and provide for his family. Johnny’s father taught him the fear of a deceitful mortal coil that might turn on him in any moment. Johnny Jr.’s father was a hero. The baby, Matthew, tells it worst of all. Matthew is still resentful that his father was a man made angry by the medicine that kept his heart pumping, a man with a short fuse, a loose cannon. Matthew’s father was a man not afraid to raise his hand, to scold his wife. Matthew’s father was a tyrant. In the end, Johnny’s heart quit, as it was expected to. He woke up that morning and read the paper in bed, drifted back to sleep and never woke up. At least that’s the story they told his grandchildren. If this wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t know it. The day before Easter, while unseasonable snow dusted the ground, his family buried his ashes beside his first wife. 14 There is a photo of Johnny that hangs in the house with the dented door; in it he is the spitting image of James Dean. His hair is dark and slick and a cigarette hangs nonchalantly out of his mouth. His leather jacket is worn in all the right ways. Though you can’t see it, beneath that jacket is an army tattoo from his time in Korea, a bear that would warp with time into something indistinguishable. But in that photo it is surely fresh and clean as the day it was inked. He leans up against a (now) old muscle truck and his hands are stuffed deep into the pockets of his pants. He looks straight into the camera— dutifully, unflinching. FICTION The Avenue | 2011 Before and After later, she smiled and said “Well, I guess By: Nicole Katze we’re stuck” and sat down on the ledge about two feet away from him. They didn’t have any kind of revealing or insightful conversation that hey met in January. They were both day, but they did spend the first two in line at the supermarket when hours of the power outage sitting on that power cut out, sending all the cash window sill, talking and joking, people registers into a fit of beeps and buzzes watching. The other customers paid cash and setting off the store’s brain-breaking when they could and waded their ways security alarm. Outside, an unexpected to their cars in the lot, using windshield snowstorm had begun and was speedily wipers and rolled-down windows to try enveloping the town around the store; and see through the thickening flakes. the people inside, with no way to pay During the third hour many people put for their groceries, were told to hang their groceries back in tight, hunker down. an odd kind of rewind They would have to After the first few wait for the grid to times it happened, he of the afternoon, when the management gave come back up. Some realized he wasn’t up and decided to close customers continued to for the night. Vince and feeling fear but love, shop unperturbed by Annemarie were the last the kind that’s so their sudden entrapment, to leave, and when they some reached for phones sudden it swallows to try to call home. A few you up and refuses to did they realized that even if they dug out their started arguing with each spit you back out. cars they’d never make other in the checkout it home with the road lines, complaining about conditions. So they walked two blocks the inconvenience of such an event down to the home of Annemarie’s interrupting their days. cousin, where she introduced Vince as Vince had taken a seat on the deep her friend from the blizzard and they ledge of the panel window and was stayed through dinner, until the storm watching the snow pile up in mounds on had passed. the roofs of the cars in the parking lot T when she spoke. “It’s going to be a mess getting out of here,” she said. She was shorter than average, had dark hair and glasses, and was watching through the window just as he was. She was young, but not any younger than he; he guessed maybe twenty-nine or thirty. Her half-full cart was against a lottery ticket machine, and she left it there to stand at the other end of the glass panel. She cupped her hands against the sides of her head to create a shield from the store’s halogen lights and pressed her face against the window. When she looked back over at him a few seconds HER She liked him because he wasn’t bothered by anything at all. He left his work at work, and in the early stages of dating her he occasionally surprised her at her office at lunchtime to take her out for fast food. She worked as an administrative assistant in an architectural firm in the city, and she was constantly surrounded by men. In the past, that had been a problem for her boyfriends. Annemarie was the only girl in a family with six children, sharing the middle with her twin. When 17 Nicole Katze she moved to the city to take the job the men she worked with at Richmond & Co. became substitutes for the brothers she missed so much. They went out on weekends to sports bars and movies; she helped them pick out gifts for girlfriends and wives. But Vince met them all cordially and it never seemed to Annemarie that he cared about her masculine social group. She even thought he enjoyed having other guys around and a girlfriend that didn’t always want to go dancing or see romantic comedies. He wasn’t particularly tall, but he had broad shoulders and strong forearms, leftover, he said, from playing rugby for the city league that no longer existed. His hair was dark like hers, but his eyes were lighter and greener. Before they’d been together very long she caught herself imagining dark-haired children with strangely gray-green eyes. She was the one that suggested they move in together on their half-year anniversary because she really couldn’t imagine life with anybody else. HIM The summer after they moved in together, Annemarie was asked to go on a three-month business trip to Boulder, Colorado, with three of the guys she worked with. Richmond & Co. was opening a new office branch out there in the hopes of finding more clients, and she had proven herself their most organized of organizers. The men were all taking their women, two wives and one girlfriend. It wasn’t that he was worried about her out there with all those men, but after a year of companionship, he was afraid of coming home to no one. What if it turned out that he didn’t need her as much as he thought he did? What if he didn’t care if she came back? But every night before he went to 18 bed, she called and told him about the excitement of the day and how she loved being at the base of such a wonderful project, and every night he laid alone terribly worried that she might love it more than him. So during the day, when he wasn’t working, he painted the apartment all the colors she’d wanted and figured to hell with the security deposit. He would eat the cost if maybe those colors would keep her there. He imagined her opening the deep blue door and walking into the slate gray living room and saying Yes, this is home, let’s stay forever. He decided to surprise her and so never mentioned on the phone at night what he’d been doing with his afternoons, and he didn’t tell the men she worked with about it when they went to the bar on Friday nights. The day she came home he bought pink and yellow flowers from the grocery store and set them on the coffee table and thought how perfect it was that her favorite flowers looked so good in a room painted the way she imagined it. He sat on the sofa and waited an hour and when she finally arrived she opened the door and said, Well isn’t this nice, and then kissed him. The room didn’t matter at all. HER A few months later Vince’s great aunt died, a woman of almost ninety he barely knew and she had never met, but he had to fly home to Calgary because it was his grandmother’s sister and they both thought it was best. He took two weeks of vacation time from his job as a computer technician at the local high school so that he could go to the funeral and then visit a few friends in the area afterward. There was terrible December snow and his flight was delayed several times; she checked his flight status every so often and knew that he was still in The Avenue | 2011 the states, stuck at the airport reading a book. She woke up later to the phone ringing and Vince’s voice said to her, Honey, I landed safe. I’ll call you when I get there. And while he was in Canada setting out to drive another two hours to where his family lived she looked around the room he’d painted for her while she was gone in Colorado and thought, So this is what he felt. It had worried her, coming home to the newly painted apartment after that trip, because she’d thought this must be the other shoe she’d been waiting for, the second one to drop that always ruined everything. She was sure his changing the apartment meant more than just I love you, that maybe while she was gone he’d slept with someone or just met someone more interesting than her, and that the paint was some sort of weird apology. But they’d had sex and then dinner and then sex again, and when she asked him why he painted the walls he said very simply, I wanted you to like it here. Now he was in Calgary and she saw that the shadows in the room were different. Without Vince there with her they were more than a little creepy. She laid in their bed and imagined him in his suit, standing with his mother and grandmother watching his great-aunt’s coffin lowered into the earth, how he probably felt the way she did now, a little achy in the heart, maybe, but not too concerned. She wondered if he’d pay attention to the sermon or if he’d think of her instead, picture her lying on the bed like this, missing him. HIM Two days before he was set to leave Calgary, his sister told him she was secretly engaged to a man she met in Boston. They were planning a wedding in a small chapel just inside the border of Vermont because his family farmed there. She felt she couldn’t tell their parents because her fiancé was rich. Heather was afraid that their parents would expect his family to pay for the wedding, so they decided to get married first in Vermont and again in Calgary, letting each family take care of their own end of the thing. Vince wasn’t sure what to think when she asked him to meet the man first. Sean worked for his family’s farm, the business end of it, which let him live wherever he wanted instead of on the land up north. While he was packing, Heather told him she and Sean were coming to his and Annemarie’s place in two weeks. When he said he’d check with Annemarie, Heather told him they’d already booked tickets. He called Annemarie later and she said that was fine, everything was fine, but she sounded a little angry and maybe a little sad. He didn’t tell her that his little sister was engaged to a man she’d just met, or that they were having two weddings. When he told her he loved her he felt like his tongue was going to swell and fall out of his mouth onto the hard redwood floor. HER Heather came to visit shortly after he came back from Calgary. She was supposed to bring a man with her that Vince reported was her fiancé, one no one else in the family knew about. Annemarie liked the idea of that, of having a covert relationship. When she was alone, she imagined herself sneaking off in the night to rendezvous with a man steeped in shadow, but her fantasies only went so far and whenever the man stepped into the light he turned into Vince. Heather’s fiancé never showed up. He was supposed to fly in a day later than her, but the driver of the taxi they scheduled to pick him up called 19 Nicole Katze three hours after the flight should have landed to say he was moving on. It’s not worth my time to wait, he said to Annemarie, and she wondered if it was worth Heather’s. Vince and his sister sat in the living room watching a basketball game. Brother and sister sat with their knees crossed underneath their bodies in the most identical way; the only thing that made them different was the way Heather’s head bobbed occasionally in rhythm with her quiet tears. Vince’s family wasn’t much on emotion, she knew, but she wanted to shake Heather hard and say, Just cry, just cry out loud, this man’s been horrible to you. But Vince just sat next to her watching the game, looking over his shoulder at Annemarie every once in a while, maybe to see where she was, or to look for an ally. Annemarie didn’t know what to do, so she sat at the table in the kitchen writing out checks for bills. When she realized Vince and Heather were both asleep on the couch, she looked at them awkwardly crunched up on the sofa, one sibling whose time was worth more than she got and one who seemed to be outside of time altogether. HIM Around three in the morning Annemarie was asleep on her side of the bed when he moved from the couch. She was curled up tight with one foot tucked up under the other, and he knew that if he’d been in the bed those feet would be lightly pressed against his shins in a chilling but comforting way. They’d been together just over two years now, and if she slept any other way, he’d wake up thinking she was gone from the bed or, on bad nights, that she was gone for good. They’d passed through the newlove part of their relationship, the part where everything is a game and if you lose it hurts but it doesn’t matter much 20 in the long run. But now they were together and the game was over – now it was just life. He went to the kitchen and got a glass of water and when he turned to sit down at the table, Annemarie was standing in the doorway watching him. She got her own glass and they sat at the table together without saying much of anything, and every so often they heard Heather cry in her sleep. Every time his sister sobbed, Annemarie’s eyes flashed just a little in a way he wasn’t sure he’d seen before. After the first few times it happened, he realized he wasn’t feeling fear but love, the kind that’s so sudden it swallows you up and refuses to spit you back out. HER Heather stayed with them for the whole week she’d planned to be there even though Sean never bothered to show. After three nights of silence he finally called her back and mumbled inarticulately about their age difference – she was twenty-six and he was thirtyfive – and something more about how he never wanted children. The three of them sat around the cell phone speaker listening to his rambling excuses until Heather hung up on him. They then went downtown to one of the bars Annemarie and Vince frequented and met up with the men from Annemarie’s firm. By last call Heather had become very good friends with one of the younger architects, a man both Vince and Annemarie liked, so when she announced she was going home with him, they let her. His name was Cooper and he’d hit on Annemarie the first few months he’d been at Richmond & Co., shyly at first and then more blatantly when he realized she wasn’t going to flirt back. Eventually the other guys told him about Vince, and he’d apologized. She’d laughed it off and The Avenue | 2011 told him it was a game the office liked to play with the apprentices. She didn’t mention, to him or anyone, that it was her favorite time, when the apprentices were around, just like she didn’t let on that it bothered her that it was Heather he took home. In the taxi Vince found her hand in the dark and laced his fingers through hers and she thought about Cooper and Heather waking up hung over in the morning wondering how much they’d actually done with each other and how much the other had liked it. And for the first time ever, she realized she wanted nothing more than to never have to be Heather again. TOGETHER IN THE DARK Vince? Yes. Are you awake? Yes. I want to tell you something. Okay. I want you to always be here. Okay. Annie? Yes. I want to marry you. I want to marry you, too. Will you marry me? I will. Right now? Maybe in the morning. I love you. I love you, too. 21 Dear Wife By: Laronnda V. Thompson (Thesis Excerpt / Forthcoming Novel) Dear Wife, I call you wife because I married you, not because I love you. At one time I did. I’m sure love was the motivation for what we shared. When I started on this journey who knew what wonders I’d uncover—I wish I could undo them all now. You are too enigmatic, open-eyed, and powerful for what has befallen you. What I have brought on you, you must understand that like all earnest men, I did not comprehend it at the time. I’m still not sure that I do. What is righteous in all of this, what is immoral, is a debate I’m sure generations to come will not agree upon. I am only sure now that I owe you an explanation; because I am becoming increasingly uncertain of the future, and the actual part in this I played must be known. I was young when I became a doctor. I earned my undergraduate degree at NYU and studied medicine at John Hopkins, in Baltimore, Maryland. Because of my proximity to the capitol I earned fellowships on government projects where I made friends. Unluckily, these research projects did not hold my attention, and I started working with the U.N. I was in Sri Lanka, treating refugees from some civil war or another, when I meet the man now designated as “Saint Mercy.” He was known to us as Christopher Marcellinus George. He was an honestly admired page of sorts. Christopher was born in Nigeria and came to work for the U.N. after his father died of AIDS in 1993. Christopher George was a great man, not for what he gave to society; remember I knew him before any of us could imagine any of this. Christopher was a great man because he was diligent, compassionate and yet unrelenting. And I’ll admit this to you, there were times in my life, when things that I saw caused me to consider the theories of GOD. But what they’ve done to Christopher, what I was foolish enough to ignite, was surely nothing more than the modernizing of Judas Iscariot and Jesus and I, accidentally, played Judas. I never believed in GOD more than when I saw one of HIS good men killed in the name of the better good. You see, after 10-years of working together Christopher started coming to work late. He was off-task and losing weight. Tests were run. He had cancer, accurately lymphoma, very aggressive. He’d ignored the metastasis that started covering his body nearly a year earlier. He said he “thought they were age spots,” but he knew, we both knew, better. I swore to him that I would save him, or not let him die until he was ready. We tried every treatment readily available to us. We were certain they wouldn’t have worked, and they didn’t, which was a blessing because they were only a means to my end game. I cashed in all of the goodwill I had amassed in my years of service. I had been at the forefront of some very nasty matters, and it was then I was given the opportunity to use those experiences to bring about a change worth my time. I contacted an ardent cancer research team in Britain. I told them many things. And, despite all that’s said of us science men, we too are sweethearts for poetry that speaks to the imagination; so, naturally, Christopher and I were admitted into their classified trial. 22 The Avenue | 2011 Our U.N. counterparts were sad to see us go, and Christopher was sad too, but I was excited – this was the chance. Christopher would be cured, and I would be his doctor. How nice would that have been? Books would’ve kept our story alive, our discovery preserved in papers and studied in museums, by everyday people, college students and colleagues. In Britain we started on another battery of treatments reserved for the cutting edge of the first worlds. I’ll admit to you again that eight-weeks after starting treatments I momentarily lost my taste for making history. I wanted a conventional cure to work. Christopher was suffering no matter the toxic cocktail we arranged to keep him from feeling the pain of our most recent attempts at saving his life. Christopher’s life was full of action, smiles, and sharing his belief in GOD under the most unrealistic situations; he often argued, “What do I need a T.V. for? Aren’t our lives interesting enough that we don’t have to live, even for a second, in another man’s fantasy? If you aren’t working, you should be sleeping, so you can pay attention to all the things GOD has planned for you to do tomorrow.” Christopher had become like my brother, and my father, despite being as unlike me as one could be, including being eleven-years younger. Once all of their available treatments failed Chris, we began experiments with stem-cells, hypothermic therapy and sulfur therapy, in combination with nuclear, non-ionizing radiation. Christopher’s brother, Steven, visited us 19-months in. He, of course, wasn’t happy with what he found. But we had seen some minor results, and I assured him this was why we had to keep going. During Steven’s visit, Christopher had a stroke. Christopher had requested, just before we started the experimental stage of the process, that should he die— fall dependent on life-support during the treatments—he be given a week, six-days technically, to see if he’d come around. “For GOD worked six-days and took HIS rest on the seventh.” If GOD only knew how wholeheartedly Chris leaned on HIM. Christopher’s stroke didn’t kill him; though technically, for four days, he was only alive because we hadn’t turned off any of the machines. But when he awoke, he started talking again, and, more happily, tests showed the number of his cancerous cells was reducing. The cancer went into a remission we guarded with nauseous anxiety. How to explain to you about all that followed, and what will bore you as gratuitous medical language—though it was exhilarating to us—is difficult for me I would have let Chris die had I imagine you were to distinguish. So much took place in those next few months. capable of this. And he He asked for Jell-O and kept it down. would’ve thanked me, if he When we started physical therapy, though, hadn’t killed himself before there were several setbacks: broken the cancer had the chance to. phalanges—finger bones, and a broken fibula—the bone behind the shinbone, a detached deltoid and hamstring muscle, the shoulder and rear thigh muscle respectively, and other various sprains. Chris was able to walk again, only weeks after an injury; this was unprecedented. It should’ve taken months to achieve this, especially since our cancer treatments had, by this point, resumed. By December of that year it was irrefutable. He was healing faster than the normal rate. The cancer was in unequivocal remission. And though Chris should’ve rested and healed, we started biopsies to see which treatment exactly cured the 23 Laronnda V. Thompson cancer. We needed to know how to make the treatments less abrasive for the next patient. We’d been careful to try one treatment at a time. Yet, it was possible that residual from one treatment met with another, or that all the treatments in combination were needed to eradicate such a cancer. Twenty-seven months after awakening from his stroke, Christopher was, physically, a different man. He had been an average man, 6-foot 2-inches, 169lbs, not especially athletic, his hair had started thinning even before the cancer diagnosis and he was hopeless without his glasses. It seemed that after we cured the cancer, he added another 70lbs to his initial weight. He’d developed the agility of a gymnast and the stamina of a decathlon athlete; his hair re-grew quite well, and we had to lessen the prescription in his glasses periodically. Someone I saw as my equal had become sort of an imposing figure. In the stress clinic one afternoon he quadrupled his time on the treadmill, from a half-hour to two-hours. I had the crash-cart ready; but he didn’t need it. Jean, the superior on the British medical team decided the source had to be in Chris’ brain. Chris laughed at the suggestion, “Naturally it isn’t. It is my faith! How long have we known men with faith live longer than those without?” His argument that those with a spiritual belief recovered better than those without, or at least they die more peacefully, rendered us speechless. Most doctors preferred to believe it was mind over matter, not GOD, Himself. No machine yet, can actually see GOD. And, more importantly we could not promise or duplicate a miracle preformed by GOD. Chris agreed to the neuro-examinations however. We extracted small pieces of his brain. While he recovered from this procedure, he asked us to accept it was GOD who’d cured him. Which, of course we could not. The brain matter contained a Resveratrol-like fluid. Resveratrol is a plant antibody, once only found in plants and red-wine, as I am sure you are now aware. Humans don’t make it—or at least they didn’t. In our next exam we used 3D technology that originated from video games. It allowed us to walk through his brain. We got a hold of it using government contacts; the technology had been first advanced to fight terrorism. We found a sack, the size of a plum seed, under Christopher’s hypothalamus. We decided to biopsy it. It required eight surgeries. We learned this gland was wholly organic to Chris; it was as old as Chris. None of our treatments to cure his cancer had produced this life saving organ. But were there others with such glands waiting to be triggered in order to save their lives? That became our next mission. The British government, however, wasn’t interested. At the time, they didn’t believe us. How had we found a gland hundreds of years of medical scientists had missed? More importantly, we had no idea as to how to replicate the results. And that was there only objective, being the first to cure lethal cancers. They accused us of scamming them, despite our evidence, and so, they cut-off our financing. I wasn’t finished, however. Christopher was alive, so we were on the brink of history. I heard my mother from her grave, “James! Quit while you’re ahead,” with that snarling tone only fed-up mothers can muster. All the same, I called some U.S. colleagues, friends from my old government assignments, and John Hopkins. Together we formed a new research study. The U.S. Department of Defense saw soldiers with higher survival rates, faster healing time—less money used in publically funded rehabilitation hospitals. Soldiers who could be trained not only to see better, but to smell and hear enemies while they were still miles away; human soldiers who’d respond to threats with the sensitivity 24 The Avenue | 2011 computers couldn’t yet muster. Our private benefactors saw never having to face their mortality, or their age. The gland represented a renewed belief in the fountain of youth. We had enough money and pressure to put our Hippocratic Oath on a shelf. There were roughly 7,584,381,714 people in the world in 2019; the initial conclusion of the “Miracle Discovering Phase” of our research and we uncovered that less than 12,000 persons had the Resveratrol producing gland. We had caught evolution in the afternoon, and because of it you live in war and jealousy. I became a doctor for you. To better mankind, I wanted to help. Yet, with the knowledge of “St. Mercy” and the Resveratrol gland you have sanctioned the imprisonment and torture of anyone assumed to have experienced a miracle. Anyone who’s healed from a cut, run faster or gotten more correct answers than their peers, is now suspected to be a Homo-validus and worthy of detainment. I don’t know what’s worse, what I’ve done, or what has happened to you? I would have let Chris die had I imagined you were capable of this. And he would’ve thanked me, if he hadn’t killed himself before the cancer had the chance to. “GOD is unfair” was a popular slogan when I was on the outside, to that I say, “Life is unfair.” I am locked away in a cement cell, because I stopped herding and examining GOD’s work— because I accepted that I couldn’t understand it. Yes, I am unable to replicate the effects of the Resveratrol gland for the highest bidder or better good; those terms have become interchangeable in recent years. I am writing this letter to you, because you are what I’ve worked for. I owe you an explanation for this new world I’ve helped to create, and why I’ve refused to help any longer. I was young when I became a doctor. And, like those who fear death, I too saw it as an inferior opponent with an unfair win-to-loss ratio. Though admittedly, I have found a form of immortality by helping my friend. In the six-years I worked for the U.S., we learned the gland was most often switched on by the awareness of, more expressly, the chemical reactions to certain death, only in those that possess the genes for it. The Resveratrol gland cannot be transplanted, and cannot be seen until it has been triggered. We also understand there is no pattern for genetic inheritance. Resveratrol is more than plant antibodies and the longer the fluid is present, the more the entire body benefits. Now, I have told you all that I know. The government and their media have told you I have information I refuse to share or that I’ve gone insane. How they took Christopher was insane. They forced his compliance by holding his middle-aged, incompetent sister at gunpoint. These are the kind of tactics militaries around the world are resorting to. Using those without the gland, whether a loved one, or a stranger, even newborns have become sources of blackmail. How else do you detain humans than cannot naturally die? How else do you keep them from fighting for their instinctive rights? Regardless of what has been told to you, these people are not going to facilities equal to governmentally sponsored spas or white-collar prisons. A couple vials of blood are not being sampled periodically; it is much, much more than that. They are being forced, held by threat of death of a loved one, and they’re being controlled— weakened— by engineered injections of Ebola, HIV, and Rabies so that they are docile for testing. Homo-validus people, though they are different, are not innately dangerous or selfish. If my work has done nothing for me, I have learned that man doesn’t choose his path until he realizes he is on it. A way was eventually found to remove Christopher’s Resveratrol gland. He 25 Laronnda V. Thompson survived on life support for six-days before his brother saw to its removal. Steven is in a cell across from me. The government had not approved the termination of Christopher’s life…they intended to re-implant the life-preserving gland once they were through studying it. They say his had to be studied, as he was the first found with it. But you should know, there are no promises that Resveratrol will end death and disability, or make vigor and beauty ageless. You should also know, we—Homosapiens— become sick and die when even the blood of a Homo-validus is introduced to our own. Even if that problem is ever overcome, the effects of Resveratrol are known to be as fickle, as the gland is selective in who carries it. I am no longer a young doctor, so I cannot promise what will give you peace but what I can tell you is we each have our place and purpose in life, busy yourselves with making the most that. Death is not the adversary, but what you do with life. Sincerely, Dr. James Gregory Gates Dr. James Gregory Gates 03/20/2026 14:40 E.S.T. 26 The Avenue | 2011 The Blessed Mother’s Side By: Colleen DeFruscio S he was going senile. At least that’s what I heard my dad say later. My grandmother, a first generation Italian-American matriarch, whose tomato gravy recipe known to cause religious experiences, was accusing my father of stealing her salad. We were just walking in the door after having dinner at Picola’s Italian restaurant with Grandmom, my mother’s mother, and Poppa, my mother’s father. I was throwing my jacket on the back of a kitchen chair on my way into the family room, my mother calling after me, “Is that where that goes?” when the phone rang. I walked back into the kitchen, hoping it would be a classmate or a friend from dance. My mother answered it. It was Grandmom, calling to tell us that my father had taken her salad home instead of his. She had opened her Styrofoam take-out box and the salad that greeted her was simply not right. My mother’s eyebrows furrowed and she turned on the sweet, almost patronizing voice that she used with her kindergarteners, “Ma I don’t think he has it, we didn’t take any food home.” “Well, someone took it!” she insisted, “And John was the only other one with a salad. I remember. And you did take food home. I know he had a take-out box!” “Ma, John didn’t come with us to dinner.” “Yes he did, that husband of yours! He’s a liar and a thief!” Even though I was several feet away from the phone, I could hear my grandmother’s voice through the receiver. She was frazzled and huffing her words. “Ok, Ma. I think you mean Tom. My husband Tom?” Her voice softened. “Well Ma, you weren’t going to eat it now, right? I’ll bring you over a salad tomorrow if you want, I’ll make one,” my mother suggested. I could tell by my mother’s tone that Grandmom was not going to make this easy. My mother unraveled the twisted telephone cord and walked into the dining room to finish the conversation. She spoke calmly, the “Mm-hms” and “Uh-huhs” working in rhythm with my grandmother’s rants until she had worked her down to a normal conversation about things like the price of milk and whose birthdays were coming up. It amazed me how my mother could calm her mother the way she always calmed the children at school, or me. At dinner Grandmom had complained about the salad when it came to the table. She had insisted on ordering the French dressing we all knew she despised and would not listen to our suggested menu items. She had ordered “the julienne salad but with French dressing, please” and when it arrived, complained that it not what she ordered and even if it was, “that incompetent waitress who doesn’t know what type of dressing is supposed to go on a julienne salad.” She smacked her pink lips in disgust and shook her head dramatically, causing her perfectly curled and sprayed hair to sway only slightly, and gracefully at that. In her day, Grandmom had been one bella donna. In the black and white photographs that fill the yellowed wedding album from 1931, her dark curls cascade over her lace-covered shoulders and her eyes are deep and striking, even without their chocolate gleam visible. When she used to babysit me on occasion, I liked to trace my fingers over the edges of those photographs and breathe in the antiquated smell of the aged paper and imagine my own wedding day—though my dream did not include an arranged marriage, like 27 Colleen DeFruscio the one captured in the photographs. into conversation, or playing tricks on my At the age of sixteen my Grandmom, cousins and me at family parties. then Lucille De Carosa, said “I do” to Grandmom never complained of Gerald Romano the eighteen year old a physical ailment or felt the chilling son of her father’s friend from Sicily. companion of pain the way he did. Both families had immigrated to the Instead, she brushed her hair three United States before my grandparents times a day, occasionally stole from the were born, and settled in the Italian- pharmacy, lost her wedding rings every American quarter of Philadelphia. day, regularly mixed up our names, Emilia and Gerald were married at St. (sometimes forgetting who we were Nicholas of Tolentine Church in South all-together) and accused my father of Philadelphia. There were three priests stealing her salad. on the altar and my great-grandfather After my mother got off of the spent three dollars on rice to throw at phone with Grandmom, she walked the newlyweds on the way out - I had to the refrigerator and pulled out the heard the story a thousand times. In one white boxes we had just made room of the photographs, they are standing for between the orange juice and some before the tall and holy structure, the leftover meatloaf. I saw her peek at their dome’s cross pointing toward the clouds. contents, then return them to the chilled In many ways Grandmom was still shelves and shake her head. My mother’s the woman she was in those pictures: hair was thick and dark and curly like strong-willed and passionate with my my grandmother’s, but it rarely felt the grandfather by her side. He was always tightness of hairspray. She sat down at by her side. Except in his old age, he the kitchen table and my father walked walked slowly beside her easy strut in and put his hand on her shoulder. in constant pain. Then he told me to My dad would go upstairs and get My grandmother was shake his head and wearing a crimson red skirt ready for bed. say “he’s falling A little while suit with an ivory scarf tied apart” and put his later I heard the hand on my mom’s smartly around her neck. Her phone ring again, shoulder whenever lips were painted a matching and my mother say, she would get off “Christ, Ant, she red. She looked beautiful. of the phone with The sun through the stained doesn’t know what one of her sisters she was saying!” glass window seemed to who’d called for Anthony, my mom’s attach itself to her. an update. They’d younger brother, have brief, hushed who she called conversations in the kitchen about “Grandmom’s golden boy, the blonde diabetes sending Poppa to dialysis every prince that followed four dark-haired week, the melanoma he was undergoing girls,” had called to see why his mother surgery for again or the shortness of was calling him, accusing my dad of breath that the doctors attributed to stealing. I couldn’t hear much of the blood pressure. I would listen to their conversation and even when I pressed whispering with some sense of alarm, but my ear to the bedroom door all I caught mostly with disbelief. Though he moved were a few sentences that caused my slowly and sighed more often, he was mother to raise her voice like “Tom had always smiling, slipping Italian phrases nothing to do with it” and “she IS NOT 28 The Avenue | 2011 going to call the cops, dad won’t let her, that is ridiculous” and “do you know she forgot how to make macaroni the other day, I mean even that she needed to boil the water first?” and “maybe if you’d spend some time over there” and “you called Carmella?” I heard the phone slam and my dad hush what sounded like muffled sobs and then my mother dialing the phone a few more times, calling each of her sisters and hearing similar stories of how Grandmom had called them and told them the horrible things my dad must be capable of, stealing from a poor old woman like her. I thought about going downstairs but was afraid of what more I might hear, and after a while decided to stop trying to listen and started trying to shut it out. My mother was still on the phone when I fell asleep on top of my pink and purple bedspread with my newest library book, Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, open on my hardly-developing chest two hours later. The next morning was Sunday and the electric red numbers of my alarm clock burned my eyes as my father knocked on my door to wake me for mass at 7 a.m. Reluctantly, I pulled a brush through my auburn hair and slipped on my glasses, blinking the green eyes I had inherited from a German-Irish father at a reflection that didn’t look the least bit Italian and a body that looked two years short of thirteen. How I came from the same bloodline as a woman who at sixteen looked like a model in a lace wedding dress confused and annoyed me. The car ride to Our Lady of Assumption was quieter than usual. I was too tired to try to break the silence and my mother kept fidgeting with the golden crucifix that hung around her neck. My father said a few things that went unacknowledged. “Nice weather this morning,” and “I wonder who the celebrant will be today.” We pulled into the church parking lot right next to a familiar black 1970’s Cadillac with an Italian flag sticker on the bumper and a rosary hanging from the rearview mirror. The first three pews on the Blessed Mother’s side were filled with Romanos and the families of women who used to be Romanos. In the third pew sat my mom’s oldest sister Carmella and her husband John with John Jr. and his pregnant wife Valerie. Their other kids were away at college and graduate school or living somewhere else. The four of them were dressed up in ties and skirts like it was Easter Sunday mass (which is how you knew they don’t go very often). Uncle Anthony and Aunt Sophie and Olivia sat in front of them in the second pew next to Aunt Teresa, Uncle Joey and their twins Sam and Kenny. Olivia waved at me. Olivia was in the sixth grade and we were at the same middle school. I waved back and continued walking down the intimidating center aisle with my parents toward her and the rest of the family. Aunt Daniella and her new husband, Uncle Nick, must have arrived just before us and were filing in the first pew with Nick’s two children Mark and Maggie. We slid in next to them. I didn’t see Grandmom or Poppa at first. I picked up a discarded Church bulletin from the ground and checked the front page to make sure it wasn’t a holiday. “Third Sunday of Ordinary Time” it read – which CCD had taught me basically meant nothing special was going on. I was pretty sure it wasn’t Grandmom or Poppa’s birthdays or their anniversary or anything. It’s not that it was out of the ordinary for some members the family to go to church together, but all of us? I wanted to sit next to Olivia. She was always bad in church and it might take 29 Colleen DeFruscio my mind off things. I looked back at her and she stuck her tongue out at me and laughed before getting scolded by her mom. Then I saw Grandmom and Poppa across the pews, talking to an older couple from the parish. My grandmother was wearing a crimson red skirt suit with an ivory scarf tied smartly around her neck. Her lips were painted a matching red. She looked beautiful. The sun through the stained glass window seemed to attach itself to her. My Poppa took her arm and led her over to our pews. She took her place beside me in the first pew. She did not acknowledge any of us but smiled at the priest as he made his way to the pulpit for the opening prayer, her shoulders back, her hands folded and her perfect curls tickling the string of pearls that graced her neck. During the sign of peace, however, she squeezed me tightly and left a red lipstick stain on my cheek. “Isn’t it great to have the whole family here, Bella?” she cooed. Then she hugged and kissed every family member she could reach, including my father, and blew kisses to those she could not. When she kissed my dad’s cheek I heard her whisper “Tom, dinner the other night was just lovely, wasn’t it? We should go to Picola’s tonight, all of us. Ok? Peace be with you!” Then she smiled at the crucified Jesus hanging above the altar and began to sing the Agnus Dei. 30 The Avenue | 2011 Man Up By: Michael Zodda N athan breathed in slowly, mustering his confidence. He held his breath for a few heartbeats, then pushed the air out in a rush. “Alright,” he said. He picked up his phone and stared at the inert face for a moment, then slid his thumb under the lid to flip it open. Just as the spring-loaded hinge approached the point of no return, Nathan froze. His thumb slipped out and the phone snapped closed.. He dropped it on the coffee table and snatched his hand back as though burned. He wasn’t ready yet. Nathan stood up from the couch and ran his hands through his messy black hair. His heart pounded in his chest and his fingertips tingled. She said you should call. You’ll be fine! Driven by the nervous energy, Nathan strode down the hallway towards the bedrooms. He paused in front of the hall closet, clenched his fists, and commanded his body to calm down. Stop being such a coward. Nathan punched the closet door. The cheap, hollow metal was perfect for the occasion, making a resounding CLANG. Pain bloomed across his knuckles, releasing the tension. “Let’s do this!” he said to nobody. Nathan strode back to the living room and threw himself onto the couch. He snatched up the phone, flipped it open, dialed. He almost made it, but the momentum ran out with his finger poised over the final digit. Panic ensued. Nathan wavered and then slammed the phone closed and slapped it down on the table again. “Dammit!” For the love of . . . JUST CALL! What the hell do I say? I just call out of the blue and ask? It’s not out of the blue. She told you to call! Nathan squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth. At least he wasn’t talking to himself out loud. Yet. He concentrated on his racing heart, willing it to slow down. A wet, warm feeling under his arm made a liar out of his antiperspirant’s commercial. Stop acting like a child! You have a brand new college degree and everything. Man up and make the call! What does that even mean? Do women say “Woman up?” or “‘Grow some ovaries,” perhaps? Maybe softball players. Huh, that was kinda sexist. Or was it? FOCUS! Nathan shook his head to dislodge the distraction from his brain. He reached for the phone again, but his hand only made it halfway before he snatched it back. What do I say? ‘Hi, this is Nathan Crowley. I wanted to know . . .’ He grimaced. That was way too casual. He needed a good first impression here. Maybe, ‘Good morning. This is Nathan Alexander Crowley calling to inquire . . .’ Nathan let out a sharp bark of a laugh. Maybe what he needed was a script. Are you kidding? I just need to work out the beginning. Avoid awkward silence. This seemed like a good plan. Nathan went to the kitchen to find some paper. Okay. You’ve got your script. You’re dressed nice. Call! Nathan sat at the kitchen table, phone laid out in front of him, script in hand. He shifted in his seat, trying to get comfortable in his khakis. His father had told him it was easier to act classy when 31 Michael Zodda you dressed classy. Nathan needed every His hand still wouldn’t move toward bit of help he could get. the phone. He stood up. I’ve got this. Hmm, how many things I’ve just got too much energy. Some does ‘got’ mean? Possession. Readiness. Xbox will settle me down. Understanding. Acknowledgement Dude! that one has marked a member of the Half an hour. I’ll just take half an opposing team and is defending . . . hour. Dear God! CALL! Two hours later, Nathan paced The firm smack of palm to forehead through the hallway, phone in hand, feet echoed through the kitchen. Nathan dragging on the carpet. blamed his English degree for his Sure you’ll just take half an hour inability to focus. Any language oddity you idiot. This is getting preposterous. sucked him in. He hadn’t had this hard a What are you afraid of? time making a call since working up the Complete and atastrophic failure. nerve to tell his parents he’d switched It’s a phone call, not surgery. majors. I could stutter, or ramble. My voice And did they cut you off? No! Now could crack. I could trip and put my eye get going! out on the corner of the coffee table. Okay. I’ve got this. What if this is my only chance and I Nathan flipped his collar up. It made botch it and I live out my life in Mom’s him feel like a jackass and he flipped it basement serenaded by the roar of my back down. He took a deep breath. All failure until I die alone. he could do was stare at the phone. You’re a whiny little boy, you know For Christ’s sake! What are you that? Other chances will come up if this afraid of? If you managed to call up doesn’t work.. Jenny Lloyd, you can manage this. I just need to be in the right frame of That relationship ended in fire and mind. I’m not in the right place. pain! There’s nothing to be scared of! You shouldn’t have used gasoline. I just don’t like calling up strangers. The prom pictures would have burned She told you to call. Get moving! fine on their own. And that’s not the It’s been three days. How long can you point. Even if this really wait? call turns into a Stop acting like a child! Nathan stopped in midfiasco, what’s the stride. Waiting too long You have a brand worst that can would only make things new college degree happen? more awkward. He didn’t and everything. Man Humiliation. know what the time limit up and make the call! was, but calling sooner had Rejection. As compared to be better. He flicked his What does that even to the humiliation wrist to open the phone like mean? Do women of being unable Captain Kirk. say “Woman up?” or to make a simple If you do the Shatner “‘Grow some ovaries,” voice when you call, you phone call? perhaps? Maybe Nathan gritted deserve a lifetime of misery. his teeth and That’s not helping. softball players. Huh, nodded. Failure Calm washed over him, that was kinda sexist. would only preserve he knew he could do it. Or was it? the status quo. All ten digits went in. His 32 The Avenue | 2011 thumb moved toward the SEND button. He started to push. A hair away from the needed pressure, he noticed the time on the phone’s display: 11:58 a.m. His thumb shot straight up. I can’t call during lunch! Are you kidding me? Just call you coward!” No! Nobody likes the asshole who calls during lunch. Besides, I’m hungry. Ugh, fine. 1 o’clock. No excuses! Nathan watched the kitchen clock’s hour hand hit 2 from his seat at the table and sighed. Why can’t I do this? You can as soon as you decide to act like a grownup. Why do I have to call, anyway? It’s the 21st century. Why can’t we do this stuff online? And where’s my flying car? Or my ray gun? Why don’t we have robot servants? Jumping Jesus Christ on a pogo stick! Just call. Nathan pounded his fist on the table, then followed it with his head. Twenty-two years old and I can’t make a simple call. My whole life is a sick joke! Nathan laughed at the thought. The joke seemed a little dark, but ridiculously funny. As he laughed, he calmed down. See? You just need to lighten up a bit. Yeah . . . yeah, I can do this. Without thinking, he flipped the phone open. He focused in and dialed. His thumb hovered over SEND. And hovered. And froze. He couldn’t. “FUCK!” Nathan slammed the phone on the table. He squeezed his eyes, tears burning in the corners. Failure crashed in on him. He moaned and opened his eyes, glancing down at the phone’s display. His blood ran cold as he read: CALLING . . . Oh shit! I must have hit the button. Hang up! Hang up! No! Everyone has Caller ID. He’ll know it was you! Shit! Shit! Nathan’s shaking hand barely got the phone to his ear. The ringtone was cut off by a deep, businessy voice. “Staley Marketing Associates, Robert Waterman speaking.” “Good afternoon Mr. Waterman,” Nathan somehow held his voice steady. “This is Nathan Crowley calling. I’m a new college graduate looking for a job and was advised to contact you regarding a possible internship at your firm.” The words kept trying to fly away into babble, but Nathan held on, forcing them into a steady flow. The voice on the other line turned friendlier. “Ah, Nathan. Your mom told me I’d be getting this call. How’s she doing?” “She’s doing just fine. Naturally, she’s my biggest promoter.” Nathan’s heart still threatened to explode through his ribs, but he felt otherwise calm. “She’s probably sick of feeding me.” Mr. Waterman chuckled. “I’m sure she’s not. Thanks for reaching out to me. Let’s see what we can do about getting you started in the world. Naturally, I can’t promise anything, but I can at least get you some info, maybe put your resume on the green pile, so to speak. Let’s talk a bit about what you’re looking for in a career.” Nathan smiled. He could do this. Told you. 33 The Security of Our Great Nation By: Rob Zawatski Dear Senator Casey: Today, I am writing to inform you that the American way of life is under attack. I believe we are in danger of having those things we hold most dear to us, taken from under our noses. I am not referring to the global warming, Communists or Italians. I am talking about something far more sinister, something much more devious. I have never written a letter to an elected official, as it has always been my belief that such correspondence is better suited for radicals, crackpots, kooks, old cranks, nut jobs and bona fide weirdo’s. Being one who is neither eccentric nor given to lunatic notions, I have a great deal of apprehension in petitioning anyone in a position of authority because I respect our democratic system and trust that our elected officials will do their best to serve the citizens of this great nation. Although I have never written a letter to an elected official, I have always been an active participant in the electoral process. I vote in Federal, State, Township, and School Board elections. I believe that I am an informed voter, and consider the act a responsibility rather than a right. With that said, I did not vote for you in the past election. I found your views on healthcare and economic reform to be more in line with Lenin and Marx, than Jefferson and Washington. I found it questionable that you drove to campaign rallies in one of those Japanese sun powered cars, when Americans are still making good old-fashioned gas guzzling pickup trucks. So, please consider this letter an opportunity for you to prove to me that you are not some liberal dandy intent on destroying this country from the inside. For many years the United States If this letter does make it to your has warmly welcomed those unlucky enough to be born in office that means that my plan different countries. As the land of crawling out of my bathroom of opportunity we have long been window, sneaking through the the destination for those seeking back yard and climbing over Mr. a better way of life. Now, that Redfield’s fence to get to the mailbox better way of life is in jeopardy. Interlopers intent on destroying was a great success. our freedom are overrunning our borders. If we are going to maintain our liberty the borders must be secured, and we must keep a vigilant eye. As Americans we say, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Nowhere in the constitution does it say anything about the Canadian Geese. Let me be clear, my ancestors came to this country as immigrants. They traveled across the Atlantic for a better life. I am not advocating that anyone be denied that opportunity, but I do believe those entering our great nation should be forced to do so legally. For too long the geese from Canada have been sneaking across our border 34 The Avenue | 2011 and for far too long the government has sat idly by doing nothing, while these unwelcomed intruders literally poop all over our great nation. Just this week I had an unexpected run in with a pack of these geese. It was around eight in the morning on Tuesday and I had plans to visit Walter and Carol Lowenstein. They just got home from visiting the Grand Canyon and I was looking forward to seeing some of their pictures and hearing all about their trip. Apparently, a donkey bit Walter while they were on one of those tours of the Canyon and it ruined the whole vacation. Between you and me, Walter was probably the bigger jackass. So, I was standing on my front porch locking the door, with my back to the street, when I got an uneasy feeling, like someone was watching me. Quickly, I turned around and on the sidewalk in front of my house were five geese. They just stood there, eyeballing me. I told myself, “This is your house. This is your neighborhood. Do not let anyone make you feel unsafe. Not here.” So, I locked my door and made my way down the driveway toward my Ford Taurus. For every step I took toward my car, it seemed those geese took five. By the time I made it half way down the driveway the geese were standing in front of the driver side door, blocking me, taunting me. So, I politely said, “Excuse me, could you please move. I need to get into my car.” Those geese just stood there. Rudely. Arrogantly. Now, I will have you know that my father was a career military man. I was taught to never show fear in the face of danger, but when those animals started waddling towards me, honking and waving their feathers, I was honestly afraid for my life. I had no choice but to retreat to my house and pray that they would eventually go away. I am writing to tell you they did not go away. I waited and waited and they are still out there, in greater numbers than before. It has been two whole days and I have not been able to leave my house. My front yard has turned into some sort of bird sanctuary. If this letter does make it to your office that means that my plan of crawling out of my bathroom window, sneaking through the back yard and climbing over Mr. Redfield’s fence to get to the mailbox was a great success. However, the possibility does exist that this letter found you after being recovered from my dead body as a result of being savagely attacked by a gang of wild, unruly geese. I pray that it is the former, not the latter. Mr. Senator, something must be done and it must be done now. I do believe the security of our great nation rests on your shoulders. Sincerely, Frank Torkelwood 35 The End By: John R. Wilson T he old man fell backward, knocking his chair over and getting Kellogg’s and milk all over the kitchen floor. His wife, who happened to be an old lady, heard the crash and ran as fast as she could, no faster than a toddler’s crawl, to her beloved. She knew what had happened before she got there and she hoped that she was wrong. But she wasn’t. Her husband, her love, her mate of 60 years, lay on the ground dying. Her first reaction was to lie down on the floor with him to hold on to the last few moments they had together. But she didn’t and she regretted it for the rest of her short life. She first called 911 and then left a message for her son that his father had fallen. The old man didn’t know what was happening. He had not known anything that had been happening for the past few years, getting progressively worse. This morning his heart decided to do what his mind had done years ago and stop working. Though his mind was mush, his animal instinct knew that this was the end. A woman that he could somehow remember was yelling to some invisible person and then she laid down next to him and put his head to her breast. It felt good and it felt something else that he had not felt in a long time. It felt familiar. The old man had tears in his eyes, but he did not seem to be in pain. He was pale and his appearance was fading like a song that slowly gets lower until the tape ends. His wife held on to him and said, “Don’t you leave me now. Don’t you leave me now.” She was crying, but her touch felt so good that the old man smiled one last time. He looked directly in her eyes and for the first time since the Alzheimer’s 36 had taken him, he said “I love you.” She cried hysterically. “We had so much fun, you were my everything.” She sobbed. “Thank you. Thank you so much for this wonderful life. It was our adventure and you made it worth living. You made me and I...I just want to be with you.” With that he was gone and in the distance the old woman could hear the sirens of the ambulance. She did not want to let her husband go, but she was Catholic and she knew that he was no longer there. She was holding on to flesh and memory, nothing more. The old woman lived alone for the next 5 years or so. The adjustment wasn’t hard for her because her husband had been mentally absent for a long time. She still talked to him as if he was still around, the way she would when the Alzheimer’s got bad and he would just nod or ignore her completely. Her son and her grandchild were a small comfort, but they had their own lives and she wasn’t a part of them the way that she had wanted to be. They called and would visit once in a while, but it was forced and she felt it. No matter what, they were always good for a ride to a funeral. For a two-year stretch it seemed as if she was at a funeral every week. As the funeral progressions became less and less, so did her phone calls. Every time there was a funeral it was one less person who could be on the phone until the point where she no longer had to look at the caller ID. She was the only one left. She had a routine. She would wake up and make coffee, though never as good as her husband had made. She sat outside on her porch and read the paper and drank coffee until it got too hot or too cold. Even summer days could be cold for her now. She felt the cold in her bones more than on her skin. When she would go inside she would stretch and The Avenue | 2011 do what she called ‘yogee.’ She went Mother and son were in the waiting to an old folk’s center to dance once a room for a few hours. Her son became week, she went to the store once a week, agitated, but the old woman was amused and she got her hair cut once a week. For at the things that had been so important her, that was a lot of work and it tired to her in the past. If she were honest with her out. At 5 o’clock she would have her herself, she enjoyed those last few hours first drink. In the years past this would with her son in the waiting room. When be her telephone time. With less people she told the nurse that she hit her head she to call it had become TV time and she was escorted to a room and given a bed. dreaded it because she did not love TV. When she laid down the world became So she drank more. She learned some a little bit foggier. All the commotion of computer games, but even they became the waiting room made her desperately repetitive. She missed her husband. want a nap and she succumbed. When she found out she had breast When she woke up her daughtercancer she was in-law and her When she found out she secretly happy. grandson surrounded She was looking had breast cancer she was her. She tried to say forward to the something to them secretly happy. She was disruption in her and was surprised that looking forward to the schedule the way her voice no longer disruption in her schedule worked. She blinked an office worker the way an office worker looks forward to a and she tried to look vacation. She even looks forward to a vacation. directly at her family, liked sitting in the but she could not. She doctor’s office. When she had the surgery stared straight ahead and she saw the end. she got lots of flowers and sympathy, but There was no white light; there was 6 months later she found herself in the only the warmth of a fire during winter. same lonely routine. She woke up one She looked down and saw her husband Christmas morning and knew, like she dying on the floor, mouthing the words felt the cold in her bones, that this would “I love you.” She said “I love you” back be her last Christmas. to him and before she could think there In March of that year the old woman was a young man, her husband, dressed saw herself deteriorate every day. She in a tuxedo, extending his hand to her. had stopped eating very much, though “We had so much fun, you were she was never hungry. Her stool became my everything.” he said. “Thank you. discolored and that almost stopped, too. Thank you so much for this wonderful One night as she was getting ready for life. It was our adventure and you made bed she fell and hit her head. She woke it worth living. You made me and I...I up the next morning knowing that she just want to be with you.” was dying. She packed her bags and Then suddenly she was a young girl, waited for her son to take her to the seeing the young boy for the first time hospital. In the car she remarked that and they held hands and walked off this would be her last car ride. Her son together, a boy and a girl, a man and a told her she was crazy and that she had woman, an elderly couple, into whatever good years in her left. But he did not comes next. They did not know where know her anymore. He still pictured her they were going, but they were going as his Mom, not the sick old woman she together and for them that was enough. had become. 37 Private Baumgartner to the null inertia thingadigger, you’d By: Michael Zodda never know we were hurtling out of the sky faster than a sniper round. The dropship was presumably weaving ow did I get here? That’s a hell wildly, dodging missiles, triple alpha, of a story. You know it’s strange and whatever flying wildlife this planet that things ended up this way. I’d had. Tucked into the troop bay, we may pretty much always known that I wasn’t as well have been standing in ranks on meant to die in a bed. Here I am, though. the parade ground. Of course, if the thingadigger The doc says it’s a miracle I’ve lasted this stopped working for whatever reason, long. He sounded more annoyed than we’d be splattered all over the walls, impressed. I’m more work than a corpse, ceiling, and/or floor, kickass power I guess. armor notwithstanding. I don’t think He can eat me. He may have to if most of the platoon appreciated this the Fleet can’t break the blockade soon. risk. I might have been the only one who We’ve got warp drives and lasers and gravity fields and whatnot, but you knew about the thingadigger. Everyone was familiar can still take a base with with the Mark IX Advanced tactics from the First The first time I Cybernetic Infantry Combat Dark Age. Crazy. saw a man die, it Exoskeleton. There’s nothing Command has was friendly fire, quite like having a two-ton always said the Echoes struck first. I used to which isn’t, as the engine of death tied directly into your nervous system. The saying goes. believe them. Then I Mark IX had the latest Spinal doubted. Now I don’t Tap Control Matrix, finally supporting care. The war’s been around longer than tactile feedback. They said it was the I have, and it’ll last long after I’m gone. greatest advance in mind-machine If I don’t kill Echoes, they kill me. That’s interfaces since the Mark III solved the enough. problem where connecting the STCM Echo just means enemy, in case overloaded your nervous system and you never figured that out. It’s E in the killed you 17% of the time. military alphabet. We don’t even have an I’d mostly convinced myself I wasn’t ethnic slur for them, just an abbreviation. nervous. That weird tension in my Brilliant. guts was simply excitement. We were Anyway, you asked how I got here. finally going to waste some Echoes after I made it to the front during Operation almost a year in boot. We were still Certain Judgment II. Command ran out inexperienced enough to feel inspired. of cool operation names the year before Endurance, marksmanship, escape and I enlisted. The first time I saw a man evasion, tactics, interrogation resistance, die, it was friendly fire, which isn’t, as STCM terminal implantation, full the saying goes. I probably should’ve spectrum body enhancement, we’d been realized this was all bullshit then. My unit was part of Eighth Army. through it all. Now it was clobbering The mission was simple. Echo had a time. That’s what Sarge kept shouting, planet. We wanted the planet. Echo had anyway. “I see in front of me a lean, to die. mean, badass killing machine!” There An orbital combat drop is way were a few answering whoops. Sarge more boring than you’d think. Thanks H 38 The Avenue | 2011 stood facing the ranks, still as a statue. “We are here to do two things. Find the enemy! Kill the enemy! And don’t think for one second you need to do it in that order!” Anyway, there I was, trying to let Sarge’s tirade get my adrenaline flowing, but it just made me feel stiff and cramped. With my armor powered down for the drop (you never want to run out of fusion at a bad time in this business), I couldn’t move my body, let alone pound a fist in the air or otherwise demonstrate pumpedness. Sarge built to a crescendo. “Who are we?” The armor’s short-range communications worked in standby mode, fortunately for Sarge’s speech. “Bravo Company!” answered a hundred voices, including mine. “What are we?” “Dogs!” Short for Wardogs, which sounded cooler but had too many syllables. “Who are we?” “Bravo Company!” “What are we?” “Dogs!” “What do we do?” “Kill! Kill! Kill!” Sarge threw back his head in ecstasy. “What! Do! We! Do?” “Kill! Kill! Kill!” “Damn fucking straight!” Sarge growled in what I took to be bloodlust. Looking back, I think he might have thrown out his back trying to move in his armor at that point. We were five minutes from the drop zone. My foot was trying to set up a little jiggling dance inside several hundred pounds of armored boot. I knew it was just frustration at being trapped in a flying box while there were enemies to kill. I tried to focus on keeping my foot still. I didn’t need a cramp. I turned my head as far as I could to the left and was just able to see Private Baumgartner in the rank behind me. I smiled and felt my toes stop tapping. Baumgartner was the pride of the company. Nothing about the job was hard for him. He was the best shot, the best athlete, the best damn soldier. Just minutes from our first action and he looked vaguely bored. He looked the same whether he was fighting, marching, working, or undergoing an insanely painful surgical procedure without anesthetic. (How much fun did you think implanting a Spinal Tap Control Matrix was?) Everyone had expected Baumgartner to become a platoon corporal, but he’d refused the promotion. Obviously, this was back when you could still do that. “Just a grunt eh?” Sarge had said, hiding his surprise, “Well, I can respect that. You’re damn good at the dirty work, that’s for damn sure.” Everyone accepted that explanation, especially Richards, who ended up making corporal. My gaze was suddenly ripped downward by a sharp metallic clank. A particularly close flak burst had penetrated the outer hull and raised a rough patch of bumps in the floor. My heart started to pound just a bit. I was pretty sure the thingadigger wouldn’t work right if the troop bay was punctured. I looked back up. Baumgartner was still bored. I managed a soft chuckle. We were two minutes out. The whirring growl of a fusor cell spinning up filled the troop bay. “This is it boys and girls!” shouted Sarge, slowly raising his armored fist as he powered up, “Light ‘em up! Lock and load!” The noise quickly became deafening as a hundred sets of power armor came online. My helmet snapped down over my head and sealed, plunging me into total darkness for a few seconds until the viewer powered up. My hands gave a sharp jolt as the servos in the gauntlets 39 Michael Zodda activated. I slowly flexed my fingers as the diagnostics scrolled across my vision. I stomped my feet a couple times and shrugged my shoulders. The armor was alive. I switched the viewer to tactical and started the targeting calibration. The toys were always my favorite part of the job. I had a standard infantry loadout: DFX-119 Vladimir gauss cannon mounted on the right arm, F-5 Perdition flamethrower on the left. A SkyLance EVR rocket cluster on either shoulder. Wrist-mounted snap-out laser chainsaws for the close-in work. Built in bottle opener. Over the course of my career, I’ve found that the infantry is primarily a lot of yelling and a lot of strangers trying to kill you. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that you can always get your beer open and you have a huge cannon. “Weapons check!” yelled Sarge. I smiled at being ahead of the game. Sarge paced up and down the front rank, “We’re gonna make sure the second wave ain’t got nothin’ to do but clean up our mess! You’ll be useless or dead with a jammed loader!” I traversed my huge cannon from right to left. The targeting system was dead on. I had rotated almost all the way around when I noticed Baumgartner. He hadn’t powered up. He was rooted in place, power armor nothing but dead weight. He still looked bored. “Baumgartner, you spaced out?” I asked, thumping over to him. “Get your fire started.” “Shut the hell up!” bellowed Sarge. Too late, I realized that my transmitter had activated when my helmet engaged. I was broadcasting to the entire company while Sarge was trying to give orders. On the tactical map, the dot representing Sarge moved toward my position. I turned to see him closing in. “I talk, you listen! It’s a simple rule! How would you 40 like to . . .” Sarge trailed off as he noticed Baumgartner, still powered down. “What’s the goddamn holdup here?” he demanded, leaning in towards Baumgartner’s exposed face as I backed away as softly as my massive death armor allowed. “I’m gonna assume you just didn’t hear me the first time, Baumgartner!” continued Sarge. “Get your gear powered up! We got two minutes, boy! Clobberin’ time!” Baumgartner didn’t even glance at Sarge. If anything, he looked a little more bored than usual. “Look at me when I’m talkin’ to you, soldier!” shouted Sarge, going into his best parade-ground mode. “No time for napping! There’s Echoes that need killing out there! You better not be losin’ your nerve on me! Sack up!” Finally, Baumgartner looked up at Sarge, “Don’t see why I should,” he said. I’m sure he shrugged under the inert armor. Muttering filled the comm channel. The general sentiment seemed to be, “What the hell?” Sarge’s bellow cut everyone off, almost blowing out my speakers. “Shut the hell up Wardogs!” With a snap and a hiss, Sarge’s helmet unsealed and retracted. He went face to face with Baumgartner. “I beg your pardon? You should because it’s your job! You should because it’s our mission! You should because I told you to!” Baumgartner had evidently explained the situation to his satisfaction and said nothing. Corporal Richards’ voice crackled over comm, “Sir, one minute to target.” Sarge ignored him. The veins in his neck looked like they were straining to contain the pressure. “There’s a goddamn war out there! You power up and get ready to kick some ass or I will have you court martialed and shot for cowardice and desertion. Are you reading me?” The Avenue | 2011 The chatter on comm had picked up. No one knew what we were supposed to do. The dropship would touch down any second. Everyone went silent as Sarge stood straight and raised his cannon arm, pointing the weapon directly at Baumgartner’s head. “I’m done with you Baumgartner! No court-martial. You obey my orders or so help me God I will blast your brains out right fucking here!” Someone gasped. I wanted to shout at Baumgartner to power up. My mouth opened, but I couldn’t get any words out. He probably wouldn’t have heard me anyway. For his part, Baumgartner didn’t react at all to staring down the barrel of a huge cannon. There was a loud clang as Sarge’s cannon chambered a round. “This is your last chance, you fucking coward! POWER UP NOW!” We all knew this had to be a mistake. Some glitch, a technical fault. Baumgartner would power up his armor any second. He was the best of us. With him on our team we’d stomp the planet flat. Instead, he yawned. “Don’t see why I sh . . .” The crack-hiss of the shot was deafening in close quarters, even through my helmet. Sarge had set the cannon to low-velocity so as not to blast a hole in the hull. The white-hot spike had apparently cauterized everything on its way into the aft bulkhead. There wasn’t a drop of blood. Baumgartner’s power armor just stood there ludicrously, a toy soldier without a head. I heard someone retching on comm. All I could think to do was read and reread the status flash on my tactical display: “Baumgartner, R. 547-889746. NULL COMBAT FUNCTION.” I found out later that NULL COMBAT FUNCTION only referred to the armor. Someone could be slowly bleeding to death inside a disabled suit and the tactical display would never tell us. I wonder how many wounded men we left behind before we realized that. I know how many it was afterwards. Lots. Sarge seemed frozen, ready to fire but now lacking a target. “Anyone else got a problem—” His voice croaked. The red light came on as the bay doors flew open. The pilot’s voice echoed over the comm, “Go! Go! Go!” “Fuck!” shouted Sarge. “Form up!” His helmet sealed as he pushed his way to the front of the company. His growling bluster seemed restored, “Into the fire Wardogs! Let’s do this!” We were four seconds late making it out of the drop ship and landed in the middle of a goddamn minefield instead of our landing zone. Sarge went NULL COMBAT FUNCTION immediately. He must’ve landed on one. We started taking fire as soon as the last man hit the deck. Being trapped in the open in the middle of a minefield while taking fire from multiple elevated positions doesn’t help much with unit discipline. We took something like 60% casualties in the two minutes it took for an evac drop ship to get to us. The whole thing was a disaster. As it happened, the only KIA we brought back with us was Baumgartner. What was that? Oh, you meant how did I get here in the immediate sense, like how’d I get wounded. That’s not much of a story. I slipped in the goddamn shower. That must go to show something, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is. 41 Cupid’s Quiet Riot By: Lana Morelli S ometimes, I really hate my job. But don’t we all feel like that at some point?” I guess it’s only right that before I start my rant of being overworked and underappreciated that I introduce myself. If you haven’t encountered me yet, rest assured your time is coming. Some call me a symbol of love, others think of me as a cherub, but you, you can just call me Cupid. First of all, I want you to know how offended I am that I am associated with that foolish stigma of a chubby child with wings and an arrow. That visual does not at all embody my character or conjure up any feeling of whimsical romance. It’s just weird. Also, for the record, I would never carry a weapon or wear a toga. Truth be told, I have a pale complexion and white really isn’t my color. I actually prefer earth tones— browns, blues and greens. The red and pink craze is a Hallmark ploy that started in the early 1900’s. Believe you me, Saint Valentine never intended for that. But you never know which trends will stick and which will pass. What’s ironic is that you’re the ones with the red and pink. That’s the color of your flesh and blood. That’s the color of your aura and your emotions – when your heart skips a beat or butterflies engulf your stomach; when your head gets clouded and you can’t think of anything but that one person; you have a permanent grin plastered on your face and everything feels happy and warm and fuzzy. You view the world through what you call “rose colored glasses.” You see pinks and reds are all yours and that’s because you’re in love. So now that you know this, next time it happens, you will know that I’m nearby. 42 I think this will all make more sense if you think of me as a guide. My job is not to choose your mate for you; God has already done that. My job is to help you find the person God chose for you— to steer you into the direction of love and away from people who aren’t right for you. It’s a daunting task and sometimes I really hate it. What? Do you think you’re the only one who feels overwhelmed and frustrated at work? Ironic, huh? That I, the representative of love, could hate anything—let alone my job! But it’s true. It’s not helping two people find each other and fall in love that I hate. It’s when I have to repeatedly steer people away from others—over and over again—when I know that they so badly want to find love and “the one.” It’s heartbreaking really, knowing that I have to push them away from a particular person when I know they’ve been praying it would work out. You humans are resilient though—you carry hope and you try your best to change others and yourselves in order to force relationships. You just refuse to understand that this is not how love operates. Persistence at the wrong thing will not force love. If someone is not good for you, I took an oath to do my best at taking him out of your path. I hate having to hurt your feelings… but if you weren’t so damn pig-headed! If you would just stop trying to force matters of the heart you could see that love could flow much easier! You humans don’t understand that when some relationships don’t work out, you should be thanking me. I know what’s best for you in the long run. I know that by pulling you away from one person, I am making you available for someone better suited. But you don’t see it my way. Your lack of perspective causes you to be mad at love (at me). You swear off any chance of finding love The Avenue | 2011 which only leaves you jaded and cynical. So sometimes you turn your back on me, you lose faith in me, and you stop believing in me for a while. But despite even our longest stints apart, we always find our way back to one another. “Time heals all things.” Now that’s a quote that I can sink my teeth into. So even with our back-and-forth, I don’t usually hate my job or hate working with humans – that’s all in a day’s work. You see my quiet riot is against the glow of blue screens. Yuck! I hate even speaking about all of your recent technology. Cell phones, computers, TV, DVD, video games, iPod, iTouch, iPad, iPhone, text, BBM, email, facebook, tweeting and cyber chatting. Your gadgets are stomping out the last remnants of traditional courtship and the art of pursuing love; desensitizing humans from any notion of personal interaction. Speeches become sound bytes, letters become emails and notes become texts. You people produce more, do more and see more but actually communicate with one another less. I fear the days of wooing a lover are dead and gone. No longer do you have to consider “walking to the ends of the earth for your love,” because you could just get a webcam and Skype them from the comfort of your own living room. This sudden burst in technological advancements over the past two-decades has made my job more exhausting than ever before. The new distractions are truly complicating the already, highly complex issue of love. Let me explain… Maura is twenty-six years old, 5’5—average in height, above average in weight. Some call her curvy but she calls herself fat. She received a B.S. in Nursing and works in a city hospital. She makes a good living, but doesn’t feel fulfilled. She always wanted to pursue medical school but never wanted to commit to the rigorous schedule. As much as she’s always wanted to practice medicine as a doctor, she’s wanted even more to get married. The problem remains that Maura is desperately single, a lonesome party-of-one, exercising her best efforts to find love. Luckily nurses only work three twelve-hour shifts and this just so happens to be one of Maura’s nights off. So come along with me, we’ll peek in at her. The living room of her apartment feels cozy. She has a flat screen TV against one wall and a large framed print of a red-rose adorning the opposite wall. She has grey furniture and a red accent rug highlighting the off-beige carpet. Maura sits on her couch, feet up across the mahogany coffee table while the theme song of The Bachelor blares throughout the room. When the dating reality TV show (which casts an unrealistic light on dating) goes to a commercial Maura’s phone rings and the words “Private Caller” flash across her cell phone screen. Her heart starts beating faster as she clicks the “accept” button and moves the phone up toward her ear. “Hello?” She attempts to make her voice sound as breathy, perky and sexy as possible. “Maura, honey, is that you?” Maura pulls the phone a little away from her ear trying to protect her eardrum from her mother’s raspy voice bellowing through. “Yeah Ma, it’s me. You just called me didn’t you? Why are you calling from a private line?” Disappointment washes over her. “I’m at the neighbor’s house — Nancy, you know Nancy. Anyhow we’re watching ‘The Bachelor’ and I just want to see if you’re watching. We should fill out an application for you to go on this show. I was just telling Nancy that maybe if you did something like this you could finally meet a nice young man and…” 43 Lana Morelli Maura cuts her mother off right messages). She sighs, a breath laden there. with frustration. “Ma, you know I don’t watch that Maura’s attention drifts back to The stuff. How many times do I have to tell Bachelor. She watches the show with you?” She simultaneously reaches for longing and sadness in her eyes. I can the remote to turn the volume on the TV see how much she wants love; how even down before her mother can recognize watching someone else pursue love on the station. “I don’t television manages to need your help No longer do you have to momentarily fill the meeting someone, I’m longing in the depths consider “walking to the doing just fine.” She of her soul. Then, ends of the earth for your like music to her lowers her voice to love,” because you could continue, “and Ma, ears, her laptop sings please stop talking out to her…. “You’ve just get a webcam and about my personal Skype them from the comfort got mail”. She life in front of the adjusts her glasses of your own living room. damn neighbors.” and squints at the “Maura! Don’t screen to read those talk to your mother like that. You just magical words. “INBOX 1” know I hate that you live alone in that She clicks on the happy mailbox big city and…” image and discovers a message from Maura stops her again. “Well thanks “Paul.” The subject line reads “FWD: Ma, but listen, I’m on the other line and From Match.com Account message I’m doing the schedule for work so I from ‘Paul’- Yo, What’s Up!” Not the have to go. Stop worrying! I’m fine. Go quirkiest subject line, but she clicks to enjoy your show. Love you.” She hangs read the message anyway. up before her mother can go on. “Yo. Wana grab a drink 2night? So she lied when she told her Come out my way 2 Joe’s Bar in Westown mother that she didn’t watch reality @ 9. Peace.” TV. But she just couldn’t bear to hear Not exactly what Maura imagines her mother say how pathetic she was her prince charming saying but from for still being single. Maura refused to his pictures she thinks he looks cute allow her mother to make her feel more enough—hey, it’s SOMETHING. She sorry for herself than she already does. pushes out her thoughts that he seems The Bachelor cut to a commercial and immature and undereducated. This commercials commenced. During a Kay bothers her a little but Maura is willing Jewelers commercial featuring a happy to compromise in the name of love. couple who just got engaged, Maura Besides, he took the time to send her reaches for her laptop to occupy her a message. It would be foolish for her attention until the show returns. not to reciprocate. She doesn’t care She pushes the power button and that Westown is over a 40-minute drive puts on her glasses. The glare of yet away. Distance doesn’t deter her. She another blue backlight fills the room hops up from the couch and skips into — TV, cell phone and now laptop her bedroom. It was already 8 p.m. and computer. She signs onto the Internet it would take her some time to drive all and immediately checks her email (no the way there. messages), Facebook (no messages) She flicks the light switch up and and finally her Match.com account (no scans her closet for the perfect outfit 44 The Avenue | 2011 to wear on her first meeting with Paul! Tonight is the night she thinks, as she pulls on her favorite pair of jeans and slips a black sweater over her head. She couples this outfit with some very expensive Jimmy Choo high heels that she believe lengthen her frame and give her runway-model height. Maura rushes out the door so fast that she forgets to turn off the TV or notice that her email mailbox has another message from Paul. “NM (never mind) I won’t make it 2night, sum1 else confirmed plans. Next time. Peace.” I wanted to warn Maura that in about 30 minutes she would find herself alone in a bar, stood up and feeling worse than she had all night. But I can’t just do that; I can’t break the code of silence. I only have so much control. I am a guide, not her keeper or a prophet or a magician. So I had to stand by helplessly as she sets herself up for disappointment. Maura pulls up in front of Joe’s bar and notices that the neon lights that should illuminate the “O” and the “E” are burnt out so it reads “J’s” bar. Maura looks down to her GPS (another one of your gadgets) to confirm she is in the correct location. Instead of being disgusted by the low-grade venue, Maura feels eager to get inside. She parks near the door and happily hurries in. The bar was worse inside and smelled of old beer. People seated at the bar munch on complimentary peanuts and throw the shells onto the floor. The dim yellow lights that line the ceiling give the interior a dirty 70’s vibe. Maura shrugged it off and scanned the room. Crunching across the peanut shell-covered floor, she sat sits down on a green leather barstool with a worn bottom. “What can I get ya?” the bartender asks. “I’m meeting a friend,” she gushes. The bartender stands there neither impressed nor enthused with her news. “I’ll have a white wine spritzer,” she said. “Sorry lady, we only have Zinfandel… that okay?” He looks genuinely bored with her. “Yea, sure.” Maura is not bothered by the bartender; she is too excited to meet Paul to let some barkeep dampen her mood. Paul—her new prospect, her new man. As the bartender places the drink in front of her, she notices miscellaneous traces of pink lipstick on the glass. She ordinarily would have sent this glass back but she didn’t want to make a scene. What if Paul was watching? So she rubs the edge of the glass with her yellow cocktail napkin and sips from the opposite side of the rim. At that moment, I wish I could have just placed Maura’s soul mate in her path, or lead her directly to him. Instead, I would have to just sit back and watch her wither into sadness. By 10:30PM, she looks down at her watch and accepts that Paul is not coming. The bar is packed with people playing pool, dancing and talking. She sits in an establishment bursting with people but feels more alone than ever. Maura slides off her bar stool and sulks out to her car. She cries the whole way home. She cried because Paul stood her up but mostly she cried because she believed tonight was the night. Poor Maura knew that she deserved more; she shouldn’t run to the man or jump at some halfhearted request. Her desire to find love outweighed her notions of good judgment. As Maura pulls back up to her condominium community, she slams her car door with frustration and mopes up the steps toward the lobby entrance. As she waits for the elevator, she runs over the sequence of events in her mind, blaming herself for feeling hopeful. So naïve, she mumbles under her breath. 45 Lana Morelli Maura makes a promise to herself to not fall for this love stuff anymore. The elevator finally opens with a ding and she steps inside. Just as the doors begin closing she hears a voice down the hall. “Hold that, please.” Guilt forces her to hold in the button that keeps the door open. She wants to get back to her place and just crawl into bed but she waits anyway. A handsome man steps inside the doors. He has a strong stature, blond hair and green eyes. He is wearing gym shorts and a UPenn sweatshirt. He smiles at her. “Thanks.” He gasps for breath. “I just finished moving my stuff in and I couldn’t bear to wait for this elevator any longer.” Now you’re probably thinking…is he a prospect? Will something happen? The answer is YES, however, Maura will not notice. She will ignore my whispers of affirmation. She will not realize the importance of this chance meeting and their romance will begin much later than it should. Maura’s “meet-cute” as you humans call it could be right now but instead she misses it. It passes her by. I will have to wait to put him back in her path again all because she is feeling sorry for herself. She is distracted by the cell phone, TV, laptop, internet dating — all the fluff that fills up your time. Her attention cannot flow to the right place. Maura is making it harder on herself by occupying her time with all of this technological nonsense. If she would just stop pushing and slow down, she could see the wonderful people and opportunities right in front of her. As she steps off the elevator, she hears the volume of her TV blaring a commercial. She remembers that she left it on and she hurries off the elevator to her door. She does not look back or say anything to the man with the UPenn sweatshirt. Lucky for her, human men like a challenge and he – despite her 46 oblivion to his presence – will make the effort to look for her again. I will make sure of that. Maura climbed into bed that night, unaware of the magic that floated through the air with the man in the elevator. She laid her head on her pillow in defeat. As she closes her eyes, she sheds a few tears and promises herself to swear off love (and me) for a while. But don’t worry, my feelings weren’t hurt. Lucky for you humans, you have hope and time on your side. Like a rose that blooms each spring, your faith in me returns. Then I can do my job and make sure you end up with the love you deserve. In the meantime I wish you would all give the gadgets and technology a break, for both our sakes. The Avenue | 2011 Love Letter By: Colleen DeFruscio To My Dearest, Your words linger in my thoughts and have filled my heart with familiar warmth. You have given me all that you are and all that you’ve been—I want to express my gratitude and affection for you on this, our 25th year together. Do you remember how we met? How funny is it to think now that my mother introduced us. The moment she did, I thought we’d never work out—my mother and I usually have very different taste in these matters. But she said you were captivating, entertaining, and beautiful. Outwardly you were beautiful, tightly bound but soft, with sweeping strokes of color on your face; but I had been taught not to judge one by looks alone. I was wary of my mother’s opinion but and she wasn’t your only rave reviewer. Others had spoken highly of you, too, important people, people that I trusted. So, I put out my hand for introductions and oh my life has never been the same. I was young then and I remember holding you in my arms on the way to class; we clutched onto each other for courage and companionship, though we hardly knew each other then. I only knew that there was something about you, maybe it was your poetic grace or the suspense you created that could always excited me. It seems so long ago, the day I first learned your story. I’m still so sorry for shoving you into my locker the day I was cut from the basketball team and for treating you carelessly the first time Peggy smiled at me through pink and silver braces. I’m sorry for leaving your jacket to fade in the sun that Even when we’re in a summer I worked as a lifeguard. I’m sorry for ditching you freshman year of college when the crowded space, you make me feel like it’s just the fraternity brothers raised their eyebrows at the sight of us curled up on the couch together or two of us, living out an when I thought college could introduce me to adventure. Each chapter edgier versions of you. I was young and lost sight you have shared with me of your value and what you could teach me. is memorable and the You mean so much more to me now. I look characters we have met at you and see memories from my youth, and how you used to tell me to be brave. How you and enjoyed together will still teach me about human nature and the forever be a part of me. importance of bravery. You opened up a world of possibilities for me, pushing me to imagine, create and think. You encouraged my curiosity and introduced me to places, people, ideas and words I had never heard of before. The more I spend time with you, the more I love you and the more I want to feed that curiosity again and again. With you, I feel like I can become smarter, wittier, more aware and more contemplative. You have a quality about you that is irreplaceable—not by youth or newness or whatever high-tech things they have these days that could make you a different version of yourself. I don’t want you to change and will never leave you for the new experiences that have caused some to stray. I challenge the argument for sleekness with your substance; for easiness with the joy of your challenge; for conformity 47 Colleen DeFruscio with the genuineness of your character; for youthfulness with your timelessness; for rigidity to your softness; for bring trendy with your classic vibe. I’d much rather work at, and learn and grow through my relationship with you, than resign to a passive, cold and temporary companion. So many years have passed but I still love to trace my fingers on your delicate skin, careful not to hold on too tight and cause tears. You feel the same as you did that first day. Though your coloring has darkened, your spine grows weak and scars and lines indicate a life well-lived, you’re still my first love. I breathe in your sweet smell, a scent that has gotten more distinct over the years so that if even a wisp of it hits my nose, I recognize your presence and am drawn into you. I think of all the nights I have fallen asleep with you lying quietly and unfolded on my chest. You were my lullaby, my nightlight and I could always count on you to be there in the morning when I awoke to greet me with familiar words. Though others had known you before me, know you now, and will hopefully experience the joy of your presence for years to come; you and I had and have our own world. My understanding of you, my experience of you, my connection to you, is divinely unique. When you open up for me it’s like you had never been open before and your conversation stills my buzzing mind. I love that we can go anywhere together—on the train, in the café, at the beach, the park, or home by the fire. Even when we’re in a crowded space, you make me feel like it’s just the two of us, living out an adventure. Each chapter you have shared with me is memorable and the characters we have met and enjoyed together will forever be a part of me. You have inspired me to be a better observer, a better writer and a better person. How perfect we seem for each other now—you, being you and me, being a writer. I don’t know that I ever would have started writing, seriously writing, if it wasn’t for your influence. Besides expanding my vocabulary and challenging my imagination, you dared me to take a chance…serving as proof of creative success. You withstood my note-taking and gave me space when I needed to work. You are always so good about retiring to the library when I needed to be alone with my writer-thoughts. No one understands me like you do. When I enter your world, I am in a judgment-free zone. My worries and cares melt away in the folds of your skin. You are my serenity. There are days when I can’t seem to pull my eyes from you, wanting to spend hours in your peace. Thank you for being a loyal companion, a familiar feeling in an ever-changing world. Yours Faithfully, The Reader 48 The Avenue | 2011 Playing God his son turn out like that? He hoped not. By: Michael Zodda The kid deserved real friends. Engine noise from behind called Evan’s attention. He saw a blue SUV van stood in the middle of the racing toward him, headlights growing street waiting for an accident. fast. The glare triggered his memory: He watched the four boys sprint fogged windshield glowing from the line around and between the cars, seeking of headlights in the opposite lane, music cover. Toy guns clacked out a staccato playing on the radio, reaching down for rhythm, firing foam darts through the the rattling glass bottle in the cup holder, air. They all looked about six or seven looking up into headlights dead ahead, years old, though one was pretty big shocked gasp and squealing breaks. for that age. Their laughter and shouts Darkness. The present snapped back into echoed off the brownstone houses lining focus. Evan looked back and saw the big the street. Only Evan watched for traffic. boy miss a shot, bouncing a dart into the The evening light was perfect—bright road. A shouted order sent the small boy enough to seem safe, dim enough to be out after it. Evan’s heart raced despite dangerous. Evan wondered if he would his condition, the sensation’s oddness save someone’s life tonight. distracting him for a second. The small A direct hit left an angry red splotch boy snatched up the dart but it slipped under the smallest boy’s eye. The biggest boy, his supposed teammate, ran up and from his fingers. He reached down apologized with a loud slap on the back. again. The SUV passed through Evan Evan had seen more than one of the big from behind and he caught a glimpse of boy’s darts go astray. The teammates the driver, her eyes on her phone. He ducked behind a car as their opponents noticed the sticker in the rear window: opened fire. The small boy rubbed at his two small stick figures and two larger ones over the caption, back while the big boy “Our family.” His wife Who’s right, religionsmiled. “Cover me!” The big wise?...Everyone... had wanted one of those. Two families were boy pushed the small one Nobody...Pointless about to be ruined. Evan into the open. Alerted by question. knew he could stop this. the shout, the other boys A whisper to look up in were ready and riddled the driver’s ear, a push to get the boy their small target with darts. The big boy moving, it wouldn’t take much. He used the opportunity to score a hit of his stepped forward, but hesitated. There own on one of them, then shot the small boy again for good measure. “Sorry was only one life to save. Would it be again. Your gun doesn’t shoot straight.” worth it? The question sent a chill down Evan almost hoped the big boy would be his spine, but he could not silence it. the one to run into traffic. He winced at He had one chance. It seemed wrong; even selfish to save the boy, because he the vindictive thought. The big boy laughed. After a reminded Evan of himself. Maybe the second’s pause, the small boy joined boy would cure some disease when he in, a bit louder than sounded genuine. grew up. Or maybe he would turn into a Evan sighed. That had been him once, so school shooter. There was no way to tell. desperate for friends that even the abuse Would saving him make the world better? Evan made his decision. Without was better than being ignored. Would E 49 Michael Zodda some sort of certainty, he could not spend this chance on a single life. It was simple, brutal logic. Someday he would make up for this. The boy froze when he saw the headlights. Someone shouted a warning. Evan’s eyes went wide as the big boy sprinted into the road. Brake lights flared too late. A hard shove sent the small boy sprawling out of the way. The SUV hit with a dull thud. The big boy floated in the air for a frozen instant. Arms spread, he almost flew. Then he slammed into the bumper of a parked car and broke. His friends stared at the spot he’d vanished from, now occupied by the SUV’s pristine front end. His killer screamed. Evan felt sick with shame. The boy he had taken for a bully had died doing what Evan would not. He fled, chased by screams and children’s sobs. *** Evan had been dead for almost a month and was not enjoying it at all. He had always assumed dying was the hard part. It turned out he hadn’t felt a thing. Then he’d found himself with a last job to complete. He fought down the sour thought, and watched his son play. He wasn’t supposed to be here. That was one of the few rules he had been given. Right now he didn’t care. Rob had invented another new game. He was four and full of weird ideas. This one involved a cardboard box and the lid from a big plastic storage chest. The lid lay slanted against the box to form a ramp. Rob took a running start and jumped onto the lid, slamming it to the ground. It looked like fun. He laughed as he set the contraption back up. He jumped too far this time. His foot caught on the corner of the box and he went down in a heap, his glasses knocked off his face. Tears welled in his 50 clenched eyes. His cheeks scrunched up, mouth parting to inhale. Evan winced in the pregnant silence. The cries began. Thumping footfalls on the stairs announced Sarah’s hurried arrival. Evan’s breath caught at the sight of her. She looked tired. Her blonde hair was tied up in a simple bun instead of hanging loose to glimmer in the light. She wrapped her arms around Rob, murmuring soothing words. Moved, Evan felt only vague annoyance that his breath could still catch. Rob quieted, and then wailed again when he saw that one of the arms had snapped off his glasses. Sarah retrieved the broken piece. “Don’t worry, hon,” she said. “I can fix them.” “No!” Rob yelled. “I want Daddy to!” The words punched Evan in the gut. Hard. He had been so sick of fixing those things. “I’m here, Rob,” he said, voice cracking. They didn’t hear him. Tears welled in Sarah’s green eyes. “I do too, honey.” She hugged Rob’s head to her chest. “Why?” Rob yelled. He pushed himself away from his mother. “Why’s Daddy gone? Why won’t he come back?” Sarah pulled Rob close again so he couldn’t see her frown. She stroked Rob’s curly hair for a moment, and answered “I don’t know why.” Her voice wavered, but she kept her tone gentle. Evan fell to his knees next to them. He could hear the anger Sarah held back. Tears rolled down his cheeks and vanished before hitting the ground. “I can’t Rob,” he said. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to leave you. I made a terrible mistake.” His hug slid right through Sarah’s shoulders. He wrapped both arms around his chest and sobbed. A gentle hand fell on Evan’s shoulder. He looked up and saw a tall man with an earnest face. They had met shortly after he died. “This is why you shouldn’t The Avenue | 2011 visit your family,” John said, his voice powerful yet subdued. “Let’s go.” The hand on Evan’s shoulder tightened and his vision blurred. When focus returned, Evan found himself standing next to John in a quiet park. “This is ridiculous!” he yelled. “Why can’t I help them? A whisper, a glimpse, anything to let them know I haven’t abandoned them.” “That’s the rule at the moment,” John said. “At the moment? The rules change?” “Of course they do. They’re not written in stone.” John smiled, but it didn’t look quite right, as if he had seen it done but didn’t know how it worked. “Right now, you get one chance to bend fate for a stranger. I assume it’s a stranger so people don’t haunt their families.” “Why would that be wrong?” “Did you enjoy that experience just now? Sarah and Rob will need to move on with their lives at some point. Do you want to watch that happen?” Evan tried to say, “Of course,” but the words died in his throat. “Exactly,” John said. “Fine. And who makes these rules anyway?” John’s smile looked a little more real this time. “I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise. Besides, you have work to do.” “I thought you said I had a year and a day to do this,” Evan said. “That time limit is also ridiculous, by the way.” “Rules,” John answered. “It usually doesn’t matter. Most people finish inside a week. You’re throwing off the schedule.” “The schedule for what?” Evan answered his own question when he saw John’s almost-grin. “Right. It’s a surprise.” “Death is full of them,” John said. “Now will you please go save someone’s life?” “I’m working on it. You say I’ve got one shot. I need to make it count.” “It’s a miracle, not an investment.” Evan winced at the edge in John’s voice. “I guess you’re right. But I want to do the most good I can.” “That’s fine, but right now you’re doing no good at all.” John’s voice regained its warmth. Evan sighed. “I guess that’s true.” An odd thought came to him. “You know, you’re not who the nuns at school told me to expect.” “Sorry to disappoint,” John said. “So if that’s the case,” Evan thought for a moment about how to ask. “Who’s right, religion-wise?” “Everyone.” “That’s impossible.” John rolled his eyes. “Fine then, nobody.” “That’s a useless answer.” “It was a pointless question.” *** The girder barely hung on. Evan examined the deteriorating weld that attached it to the building’s unfinished frame. Some worker had probably been in a rush to get home, and the crew had started on a new section the next day. A strong gust of wind would snap the girder free, sending it crashing down on the people a hundred feet below. Now, what to do about it? A worker happened by. If Evan just nudged the thickset man to look down as he passed by—but no. He wasn’t sure what the stakes were. The girder could certainly threaten the workers on the ground. If its fall brought the whole building down, lots of people would die. Evan could prevent a disaster. Or would he only delay the inevitable? For all he knew, fixing this girder would just make the building larger when it fell. This construction company had a horrible safety record. Since they worked cheap, 51 Michael Zodda it was often overlooked. Evan needed more information. He floated to the ground. Close to thirty workers milled about working on the building’s foundation, the foreman barking orders. Evan could give him a bad feeling about that girder; get him to send a team to check it out. Problem solved. Or not. Evan growled and kicked through a pile of cinder blocks. Did he act now? Why could he not make a decision? This hadn’t been such a problem when he was alive. A lot of the decisions had been bad, but he’d made them. A loud metallic snap broke through Evan’s thoughts. He looked up and saw the girder plummeting toward him. Workers scattered. Evan watched the descent, rooted in place. The girder fell right through the top of his head and smashed into the ground. Evan stepped out of the girder and looked around in disbelief. Dazed-looking workers gathered around the fallen beam, many of them muttering curses. The thing had somehow missed everyone who wasn’t dead. “Well that would have been a waste,” Evan said to people who couldn’t hear him. He felt a stab of annoyance anyway. Gravity had made the decision for him before he made up his mind. He bit his lip and walked away. *** Evan felt right about watching the emergency room, but he didn’t know why. Sure, people all around him needed help. The question now was, who? Ice ran through Evan’s blood at the thought of judging strangers again. He could probably get the triage nurse to admit any of the waiting patients. Did he help the little girl with pigtails choking back sobs while her father held a blood soaked towel against her face? What about the 52 elderly woman with the hacking cough that wouldn’t stop? Helping her would mean abandoning the shivering young man with sunken eyes. Evan looked at the man more closely. His bloodshot eyes darted around the room, and he sweated heavily despite his chills. A drug addict? Evan had heard him complain of severe pain but turn fuzzy when asked about the specifics. Had he come looking for a fix? Maybe Evan could get him to leave and seek treatment. The man might not turn his life around, though. Evan could only give him a chance. He had to do better. The addict reached into his jacket. Before Evan could react, he pulled a handgun free and shouted something unintelligible, weapon shaking in his white-knuckled grip. People screamed and ducked for cover. The nurse tried to run, but the gunman caught him by the collar and threw him down. “Everyone shut up!” The yells softened, turning to whimpers and sobs as people cowered on the ground. “I just want my meds.” Adrenaline roared through Evan. He had to do something, but what? Could he get the man to give this up? That seemed too direct. He could probably only confuse the gunman for an instant, not much use. Or it could be vital. A security guard had slipped behind the gunman, muscles tensed. If Evan messed with his head right when the guard struck, it could make all the difference. He could save everyone. That assumed the guard was making the right move, though. What if the gunman didn’t want to hurt anyone? What if confrontation was the only way the situation could turn deadly? Maybe Evan needed to stop the guard. Or he could do nothing. The guard pulled out a stun gun. Maybe he could handle things. He was a professional and would take the gunman completely by surprise. He might not need Evan’s help. The Avenue | 2011 “You need to make a decision!” Evan yelled to nobody. Stop the gunman, stop the guard, do nothing. The ideas flickered through his head over and over. The guard began to move. Evan decided to do nothing. It felt safer. He still had months. No need to act rashly today. The guard’s shoe squeaked on the floor. The gunman turned toward the noise just as the guard fired. Both stun probes sank into the gunman’s side; he spasmed as the electric current hit. His finger pulled the trigger. The gun’s roar echoed around the room even as the shooter fell writhing to the ground. Silence, then a scream. “Daddy!” The little girl who was bleeding from the gash in her cheek, towel had fallen to the floor. She clutched at her father, who bled much faster from the red hole in his chest. The girl screamed again. “No!” Evan felt the ground fall out from under him. He ran toward them. The triage nurse arrived first, eyes and hands steady. He eased the father to the ground and pressed down on the wound. Evan knelt on the other side and pushed down on the nurse’s hands as if he could help. His palms sank through the father’s body and into the floor. The wounded man shivered. A doctor sprinted in from the trauma ward. She grimaced at the sight of the wound and the expanding pool of blood, but set to work without a word. Evan stood and saw the girl crying, tears mixed with the blood running down her face. Evan bowed his head and turned away. *** Evan walked down the middle of the street with the hospital at his back. A police car sped through him, sirens blaring. He only saw the little girl’s face. It kept changing to Rob’s in his mind. Now he was glad he couldn’t speak to his family. How could he explain this? Another police car sped toward him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone stumble off the curb—a homeless man in a filthy gray overcoat. A paper bag slipped from his hand. The bottle inside landed on his foot and rolled toward Evan. The homeless man stumbled after it, heading right into the car’s path. Evan kicked the bottle back toward the curb. The homeless man stopped in his tracks to pick it up. The police car’s lights flashed through Evan’s face. When his vision cleared, he saw the man uncap the bottle and raise it to his lips. “Trust me buddy. The drinking will kill you,” Evan said. The man sputtered and pulled the bottle away. He stared right where Evan stood. Evan wondered if the man could see him. Then realized what he’d done and his heart seized up. Before he could think, he found himself immersed in light. John stood beside him. “It’s about time,” he said. “But good job.” Evan struggled for words. “Was that enough? One homeless guy doesn’t get run over?” “You saved someone’s life.” “But what will that accomplish? Will that guy go on to save someone else? What if I didn’t even help him in the long run? What if he’s on his way somewhere to drink himself to death right now? ” “You’ll just have to live with it,” John replied. He cocked his head at Evan and gave a not-quite grin. Evan narrowed his eyes. “You’re not funny, you know that? Is this really all I was supposed to do?” “You saved someone’s life,” John repeated. He held out his hand to Evan. “Now it’s time to go.” “Where?” “It’s a surprise.” 53 POETRY The Avenue | 2011 Light in His Loafers By: Maggie P. Saia “Does he seem light in his loafers to you?” My dad asked this to my mom, sitting in their beach chairs, stripes faded against the brutal palm of the sun. She calls me within the hour to relay the conversation, windswept with worry “Your brother, he needs to tell your Dad.” She urges me as if it’s my secret to spill out on the kitchen table. It was a week before Thanksgiving when he told me. I realized I was crying. There was a perceptible release as if I had just recognized myself. Around us Christmas lights were already tied up on poles. “Well, what did you say to Dad?” My mom and I, my brother’s secret keepers. We volley our messages over both of them, my dad, my brother. We wait on either end of the phone till one or the other makes a move. 57 TV Is Our Only Freedom By: John R. Wilson I have a friend in jail. It’s not real jail, it’s a halfway house, So he can go to work during the day, But he has to return to the house right after work. When my other friend told me about this, I said, “Let me get this straight, He wakes up, commutes, goes to work, commutes back to the house, then watches TV the rest of the night?” My friend said, “No, he can’t watch TV. He reads.” We looked at each other suspiciously, understanding that TV was our only freedom. 58 The Avenue | 2011 A Guide to Preventing Time Travel Paradoxes By: Oliver Withstandley Should you find yourself spending money on trans-temporal travel — “Time traveling” to use the popular, if less scientific phrase — wandering through eons, epochs, eras, and other important sounding words that can continue alliterations, surely you have seen the myriad of ways it can improve your social standing, demeanor, vocabulary, hygiene, and vestments. In the unfortunate event that, in your travels to your past, seeing that girl that spurned you at 6, or your Great-Grandmother, her leathery skin smoothed by the removal of entropy and years, an old shirt pressed flat on time’s ironing board, or buying Superman’s first comic, peering lasciviously, longingly, at lottery numbers, hearing coins drop metallic wealthy rain, you have (inadvertently, we are sure) caused a paradox to occur, this manual should aid you In rectifying the problem before it destroys life as we know it, or knew it, will know it, time travel does mess with the order of things. Paradoxes – events that missed the intersection between reality and understanding, flying through time and space – cause consternation for all involved. Remember these three time travel “Don’ts” and your travel back to see your relatives shall be free of horrible entropic destruction. However much your narcissistic tendencies take hold, rejected by loves uncountable solace only found in your digits, your body, do not go back to find that solace in the you of another time, he has problems enough without the addition of incest and possible temporal statutory rape, depending. No matter how much you hated your grandfather, or if your morbid curiosity has consumed you feline-like, as in a Poe story, you must resist the urge to kill. Injuring and maiming, however, remain viable options. Consider the consequences, of course. Injured legs become lost inheritances. Some Grandfathers are savvy technologically. Do not go back to murder famous people. No matter how evil they may seem to you, they were loved by someone! Before you yell into these pages, let us explain that we have protections around Hitler to prevent his death, simple since his megalomania blinds him to our presence. Should you not heed these warnings, mild, easy-to-read, and written on soft, pillowy paper, then you must call the number below, provided your time-space has that technology, immediately after the paradox surfaces. 59 Motherless Children By: Laronnda V. Thompson Motherless children Might as well be barefoot As far as they go They long since accepted ashened fields For Christmas snow Revival was hidden from them No, no churches, synagogues, mosques—or temples Just the masses Motherless children Wander where none of mine can go For the familiarities of masonry work Porous sun-baked earth, living in chorus: Motherless children desire home For Judgment, Armageddon and Come-what-may Trite they were to long for a ghetto But we were them lifetimes ago Before the gamblers paid dealers debts And the cards re-shuffled Motherless children Know no difference betwixt the North Star and Sun But to say: “joy is promised in the morn” Though, believing they’re only a trick of words Since they awake and mourn 60 The Avenue | 2011 For they are bowed to see only before them Finding eye color frightful They have no reference Not even granted a notion for romance But to be abased to the abound They are prideful in their passions and determinations And for their efforts their faults go ‘round Motherless children Wander where the mind shouldn’t go All, for the consolations of home They challenge their souls… Motherless children Could use a wish right now What could be done with hope for a tomorrow Couldn’t they then…imagine a dream…? We were Motherless children So let’s make pretend for the time That we are not afraid of the other kind 61 Political Arguments with My Stepfather By: Scott Maxwell It always begins peacefully with a firm handshake and talk of dinner. Pan-seared North Atlantic Halibut over cannellini-scallion pan sauce paired with peach-toned Pinot Blanc. A faint twitch to my fingers as I cut the foil at the bottle’s neck, spilling as I pour amidst obligatory laughter. In summer we saunter through the garden squinting, smelling sun, saying: “rhododendron” saying: “tomato blight.” We smile for smiling’s sake, after all we are happy to see one another. My eyes cast skyward, seeing nothing say-worthy. My glass of wine quickly empty. “You who?” says my mother to my glazed eyes like an overly cheery flight attendant, her hand waving before me like intermittent wipers. I admit to daydreaming, to the oddity of my tiredness and strain to pick up a thread of the discussion to at least pretend. In winter we investigate the X-mas tree like a murder scene. My mother points to an ornament that I glued in kindergarten, tapping it with the tip of her fingernail, sending it swaying. I never know who starts it, but my mother always ends it. This last time she put her hands in the symbol of a “T.” “Time out,” she says amidst a wine induced giggle. “Time out,” she then cackles, like an invisible sitcom audience. My stepfather and I glower, not at her, but her lack of seriousness, the one thing we can always agree on. 62 CONTRIBUTORS Contributors Colleen DeFruscio Editorial Board Member Colleen received her Master’s Degree in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph’s in January 2011. Her thesis, titled As Long As They’re Reading: Literacy Revolutions in the 21st Century, was a collection of essays centered on the current shifts in reading practices and their impact on writers. Colleen works as a communications manager for an independent high school in Delaware and was a member of The Avenue’s 2010-2011 editorial board. Kate Harron Editorial Board Member Kate graduated from Saint Joseph’s University in 2005 with a BA in English. Her focus in the Writing Studies program is creative non-fiction and knows that her family is afraid of the day she writes a book about them. Nicole Katze Editorial Board Member Nicole Katze completed her M.A. in Writing Studies at Saint Joseph’s University in December and is a graduate of Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Nicole works in the Office of University Communications at SJU and is a writing assistant in the writing center at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. The Avenue | 2011 Melissa Kelly Editorial Board Member, Creative Director, Photographer Melissa Kelly has been writing since she was old enough to grip a crayon; always opinionated and mouthy, her first editorial was published at age 7 and her first short story was published at 12. Early success launched a flourishing but short-lived writing career that lost steam when it could not stand up to the awesome power of adolescence. Melissa graduated from Temple University in 2006 where she studied photography and design. She currently works full-time as an event and portrait photographer (you can see her work at www.melissakellyphotography.com). Melissa plans to complete her MA in Writing Studies this December once she figures out what the hell she is going to do about her thesis. Her new degree, coupled with her photography and design experience, will make her a triple threat and almost completely unstoppable—save her own mortality. When she’s not trying to take over the world, Melissa is drinking wine, petting a dog, running half marathons very slowly, or participating in self-deprecation in hopes of making someone laugh (and maybe also fishing for compliments, but you didn’t hear that from me). Kimberly Krol Editorial Board Member Kimberly Krol received a BS in Journalism from Syracuse University and is currently pursuing her MA in Writing Studies at St. Joseph’s University. Kim is employed at Global Traveler magazine, based in Yardley, PA, where she handles public relations, event planning, edits the magazine’s weekly electronic newsletter and is a frequent contributor to the magazine. She enjoys writing creative nonfiction. Contributors Scott Maxwell Scott graduated from Empire State College in the Summer of 2010, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Cultural Studies. He has nearly completed his first year in the Writing Studies Program at St. Joseph’s University. He lives in Wynnewood with his girlfriend Ellison and their two cats, Simon and Daffodil the Terrible. Lana Morelli Editor-in-Chief Lana Morelli received a BA in Political Science, Sociology and Pre-Law from Cabrini College in 2007. After completing one (unhappy) year of law school, Lana enrolled at SJU to pursue her true passion—writing. During her first semester in the Writing Studies Program, Lana started a blog based on the life and perspectives of a 20something called Straight Up, On the Rocks, or with a Twist. The blog is now endorsed by the Delaware County Daily Times, where Lana is coined “Delco’s 20something Blogger.” In the spring of 2010 Lana acquired her own website, www.lanamorelli.com and now averages more than 2,600 hits per month from readers around the world; Canada, UK, Italy, Germany, India, Vietnam, Russia, Denmark, Slovakia, Australia. Lana is using this blog as her thesis project and turning it into a book: Tastefully Inappropriate. Lana is the 2011 Editor-in-Chief of The Avenue. She works full-time as a reporter for a California based Legal Magazine, Courthouse News. Her freelance work has appeared in various publications, including Philadelphia Magazine, Delaware Today Magazine, The Garnet Valley Press, SJU Athletic Media Guides, Gimme This & That Magazine, Examiner.com and more. Lana will graduate from the Writing Studies M.A. program this May (2011). The Avenue | 2011 Maggie P. Saia Maggie P. Saia graduated from East Carolina University in 2007 with a BA in English and Sociology. She is now working on a novel which she hopes to complete during her time as a graduate student in the Writing Studies program at Saint Joseph’s University. Lauren Briana Schwartz Lauren Briana Schwartz recently received her BA in English from Saint Joseph’s University, where she is also currently studying for her MA in Writing Studies. A devotee of digital media, Lauren serves as the manager of the university’s newly-refurbished communications laboratory in Merion Hall. She hopes for a career in rhetorical pedagogy at the collegiate level. Laronnda V. Thompson Editorial Board Member A 2003 Central High School graduate (262), Laronnda earned her B.A. in Communications from Temple University in 2008. Quickly realizing that the characteristically one-sided realms of journalism and law school were not tailored for her, Laronnda returned to her first love—creative writing. She will graduate from the Saint Joseph’s University Writing Studies M.A. program this May (2011). Laronnda credits the work, faculty and students of the program with helping her to harness her talent and professional ambitions… to that end, Laronnda will miss you SJU! This is her second appearance in The Avenue as both an editor and contributor. Laronnda extends a genuine thank you to every classmate and professor that Contributors survived the early drafts of her science-fiction novel-to-be, The Story of The Prince: Honora’s Volume. She also thanks her parents, grandmother, siblings and closefriends for their interest, numerous questions and tolerance of her being a career student/starving artist! Laronnda asks that anyone wanting to read more of her work to peruse, PsalmsX.wordpress.com, an uncomplicated opinion/editorial religious blog. As well as HouseOfMidas.wordpress.com, which contains prequel material from her novelin-progress and related material to her thesis excerpt, “Dear Wife,” that is included here. (Keep Actual Books in Print—LT.) John R. Wilson Editorial Board Member John Wilson is a native Philadelphian. He graduated from LaSalle College High School in 2002 and Georgetown University in 2006. John began the Writing Studies program at Saint Joseph’s Univeristy in 2010. In his spare time he is a Judge of Elections and recently ran for Philadelphia’s City Council. He hopes to publish his first book of poetry in summer 2011. Oliver Withstandley Oliver spends his days teaching adult learners at ITT Technical Institute in King of Prussia. He teaches them basic composition, rhetoric, study skills, and Microsoft Office operation. In his off time, he trains in various martial arts, meditates, spends time with his fiancée, and pets cats, not necessarily in that order. The Avenue | 2011 Rob Zawatski Rob Zawatski is a graduate student at St. Joseph’s University. A native of Buffalo, New York, he currently resides in Ardmore, PA with his wife Jaci and their cat Sam. A member of the Association for Independents in Radio and The Public Radio Exchange, his work has appeared on WGDR in Vermont. Rob is currently working on a novel about the rust belt, meteorology and football Michael Zodda Mike Zodda graduated from the University of Notre Dame, where he read books while everyone else was dating. Undeterred by a degree in English, he became a content writer for a financial company, where he thinks up ideas for books during meetings. He joined the Writing Studies program to learn how to write better fiction and because he’s more creative when facing deadlines. His work has appeared on the internet and his mother’s refrigerator, where it was rarely used to jot down phone messages. He hopes to finish writing a novel one day. Then he can move on to hoping to publish a novel one day. He lives in Wayne with his wife and a psychotic cat.