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S P R I N G

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EDITOR Colin Meldrum ASSISTANT EDITORS Charlene Logan Burnett Zach Buscher Amanda DiSanto Lisa McCool-Grime Hayes Moore

READERS Jeffrey Allen McKenzie Allen Michael Bagwell Edmond Caldwell Emily J. Lawrence Rachel Lieberman Micah Unice Michael James Wilson

A cappella Zoo (ISSN: 1945-7480): a magazine of magic realism and slipstream. Founded 2008. Published semiannually in spring and fall. A cappella Zoo is an independent, labor-of-love publication. Issues are available online for free and in print at cost. Readers support A cappella Zoo and its contributors by sharing their favorite works with friends and colleagues. Submissions of work for consideration are welcome April-June and October-December; guidelines available online. Copyright 漏 2012 All rights retained by authors/artists of respective works. Cover art by CODY SEEKINS: The Mad Sage, oil on panel, 2011.

APOSPECIMEN AWARD WINNERS Selected as especially noteworthy contributions to this issue: Fiction: The End of the Objects, JACK KAULFUS Poetry: Beauty School, MARY LOU BUSCHI

www.acappellazoo.com


CHUCK LIGHT, Untitled

76 ½ 10x14”, mixed media

This whole world is wild at heart and weird on top. —David Lynch


FICTION

4

POETRY

Dearest Dirty TINA HYLAND, illustrated by GAVIN FAHERTY

22

Jenna and the Coins

Observations

DANIELLE DAVIS

30

27

AMANDA WOCHELE excerpts from

Everywhere You Go, There’s a Clown

Lilith’s Extra Rib

34

ALANA I. CAPRIA

THOMAS KEARNES

excerpts from

36

Three Times Red

The Walled-Up Wife

A. A. BALASKOVITS

42

The End of the Objects

Call It What It Is

JACK KAULFUS

53

&

Beauty School 55

39

NICELLE DAVIS

The Paranormal Guide to Wedding Etiquette

54

MARY LOU BUSCHI

The Poisoner’s Haiku

PEDRO PONCE

68

&

69

Blue Madeline’s Version

Rowing, In Negative

GREGORY J. WOLOS

81 88

The Day Hunt

Hallucinations Upon Dying

OSCAR GOPAK

MARY LOU BUSCHI

Popper’s Choice

Smurf

ROBERT EDWARD SULLIVAN

91 97 109

Vasco da Gama

JOE KAPITAN

ROB COOK

La Chanson de l’Observation Vishnu Coming Through JEFFREY DAVID GREENE

121 128

138

Versions The Bathroom Rejected David Lynch Plotlines

108 118 126 134

J. DIEGO FREY

Johnny Asparagus

Tantrum

STEPHEN V. RAMEY

NATALIE YOUNG

AMANDA BLACKMON

95

ALI LANZETTA

ALICE B. FOGEL

Ghost-Baby

90

ROSE HUNTER

HEATHER FOWLER

CARL FUERST

135

You As Green Lagoon

People with Holes Jason and the Cosmonauts

87

JEFFREY H. MACLACHLAN

War Crumbs

BERNARD M. COX

79

MEGAN COWEN

The Obscene Gravity of [the] Pear JOSEPH A. W. QUINTELA

137 139


4


Dearest Dirty

5


6


7


Once upon a filthy time in a muddy world there lived a dirty girl. And she was so alone. She gazed outside her dusty window and watched the smokestacks most days. She counted the birds falling from the sky. Even the smokiest days couldn’t please her. She wrote letters to people she wanted to know, ones who didn’t exist. She wrote them letters so full of her soul and tore them into tiny scraps. Then she threw them out the window and watched the breeze carry each piece away. It was her only small joy. The dirty girl wanted so much to be in love. She wanted to take picnics on the waste and wiggle her toes in the silt. She wanted to stare up into the billowy smoke and find all the shapes and creatures inside. She wanted to count up every dead bird on the plain and steal their feathers. But this was no fun all alone. She wrote a letter to a man who never was, about times that never were. She thanked him for each wonderful moment they never had, and then she tore the letter into bits and pieces and threw them out the window.

8 · Dearest Dirty


Tina Hyland & Gavin Faherty 路 9


In the gloomy morning, there was a mound of paper scraps on the window sill. The handwriting was not her own. She carried the scraps to the floor and puzzled them together. Each bit was so tiny and so expertly torn.

Dearest Dirty Darling, I also loved counting the dead birds on the waste. The way your hair tangles in the breeze fills me with such overwhelming love. When you stand against the haze, my heart beats so loudly I’m sure you must hear it. Let it be a drum for us to dance by. With you, I am finally complete. Love Always, Companion

10 · Dearest Dirty


The dirty girl read the letter again and again. She taped it together carefully and pinned it to her wall. She paced back and forth and she wondered, What is this? When she was done wondering, she sat at her desk and wrote a letter of her own.

Dear Companion— I do not understand the meaning of this. If you are real, you make a cruel joke of me and I hate you. If you are my own mind, I fear you. Either way, I do not enjoy this at all. I couldn’t possibly. Sincerely, D—

Tina Hyland & Gavin Faherty · 11


She tore it up and threw it out the window. Then, she waited. She sat up in her bed and watched. She gripped the blankets until her knuckles were white and her fingers cramped. She stared and stared at the window until her eyes ached to close. In the morning, there was another mound of paper scraps on the sill. She wanted to throw them out the window, but she couldn’t. She pieced them together.

Dearest Dirty Darling, I do not eat. I do not sleep. You think I am cruel, and I can’t understand what has changed. If you tell me to never write you again, I will cut off my own hand to save you from offense. You do not believe I am your Companion, so I will sign with my tears.

12 · Dearest Dirty


The dirty girl taped the letter and touched her finger across the Braille of dried tears. She thought a long time about what it could mean. When she was through with that, she wrote another letter and tore it to bits.

Dear Companion— We have never been to the waste or counted birds. We have never met or spoken. You cannot possibly be real, and yet these letters arrive. Have I been alone so long that I created you from ash and tear? Sincerely, D—

Tina Hyland & Gavin Faherty · 13


14 路 Dearest Dirty


She tied twine across the room and laced it all with little bells until she had woven a jingly cobweb, impossible to pass through in her sleep. If these letters came by her own sleepwalking hand, she would soon know it. In the morning, the strings were still in place and another mound of scraps was piled neatly on the sill. She jumped over the strings and bells and hurried to piece it together.

Dearest Dirty Darling, I am as real as any man can be. Meet me under the smokestacks at sunset. Love always, Companion

Tina Hyland & Gavin Faherty 路 15


The dirty girl paced the length of her room and thought. She tried all her pretty dresses in the mirror and threw them in heaps on the floor. She dabbed lipstick on, wiped lipstick off. She put her hair up and pulled her hair down. When sunset came, she looked just as herself, and she went to meet her Companion. The brown grass crunched under her heels. The dying birds swooped and fell from the sky, and the hot coal wind pushed her on. Smoke poured from the stacks and writhed as much as her stomach and hands below.

16 路 Dearest Dirty


Tina Hyland & Gavin Faherty 路 17


When she arrived, there was no one to meet her. She looked over her shoulder and behind smokestacks. She twisted her hair and tapped her toes. She counted minutes and birds, and when she was sure she was alone, she noticed a ball of old twine propped against a stone. The stone was sharp and gray and ordinary, but the twine was crisp and yellow against the sooty ground. She used the stone to cut a length of twine and carried it home. In her room, she wrote a letter.

18 路 Dearest Dirty


Dear Companion, Those days on the waste were among the best of my life. Counting birds with you, dangling our toes in the silt, finding the hidden shapes in smoke. Do you remember when you saw a flower up there, and you reached as if to grab it for me? When you tucked that wisp of smoke behind my ear? I have pressed those moments to my heart. But they were different days, and I am a different person. We have grown, and though our stalks are tangled, our blossoms reach away to somewhere else. Please, understand, and know I love you. This is my last letter. Sincerely, D—

Tina Hyland & Gavin Faherty ¡ 19


The dirty girl tore the letter to pieces and threw them outside. She took the length of twine and wrapped it around her fingers. Then she closed her window tight.

20 路 Dearest Dirty


Tina Hyland & Gavin Faherty 路 21


Jenna and the Coins DANIELLE DAVIS

I

t was a morning like any other until a stomach-shaped leather purse, like a fanny pack, appeared at the waist of the dress Jenna put on. She could tell it was filled with coins; it jangled when she moved. The purse had a tiny tear, and a coin fell from the chamois belly onto the floor of her apartment at her touch. The tarnished silver circle was cool in her hand. This was new. But the coin looked almost ancient. Jenna made coffee carefully, walked as though on a tightrope not to disturb any more trembling coins. But another fell. And soon another. No matter what she did or didn’t do, another coin eventually spilled. She waited out the day making a stack of quarter-sized coins that grew taller, toppled more quickly. She felt like a kindergartner kept home from school with some inexplicable malady. When she unzipped her dress and shimmied it over her head that night, the purse disappeared. She searched for it, but it was now weightless and invisible, as was her relief. She threw the dress in the trash and hoped that was the end of that. But in the morning, once she was zipped and buttoned in something else, pants and yellow shirt this time, the purse appeared again, clasped at her waist in that too, and she couldn’t undo it even though her fingers went raw from trying. Jenna sewed up the tear in the purse with needle and thread, but the stitches loosened right away on their own, unraveling like fingers to let a coin through. She tried to sew it up again, stitches tighter and tighter, but they loosened just the same. The purse never felt more or less full and the coins kept coming. At a movement, or a thought. At a minute, or an hour. No matter what Jenna wore, the purse appeared at her waist. She tried a skirt; she tried shorts; she tried a romper. She tried stripes and solids and neon green. Still, as soon as her clothes were on, zippers zipped, buttons buttoned: the purse. She stopped returning friends’ calls. She quit her job by phone, calculating her life’s savings. She took baths. Slept naked. Wondered if she could live naked, how this was going to work. The coins collected in small piles all over the wooden floor until her apartment resembled the deck of a pirate ship. Throwing them out seemed wasteful, heavy, somehow wrong. Jenna wondered if she could use them as bus fare, travel far distances on the metro. But they would be obvious—no markings and real silver, not the everyday nickel and copper of quarters and dimes.

22


Jenna finally ventured out her door, a hamper of clothes in her arms. She was alone, except for a lizard on the landing, still besides its bobbing head. Her apartment complex was shaped like an open box, a mauve motel. She could look in three directions to rows of pink doors identical to hers and below to more on the first floor. On her way down the seventies’ steps with what seemed too much space between them, a coin clanked to the ground. One more as she tottered to the laundry room through the courtyard, its ficus trees, bamboo, and koi pond calling up to open sky. To Jenna’s amazement, the silver coins fit in the washer’s slot, and then the dryer’s. She imagined the machines were greedy children with slender mouths she must feed. She walked to the market two blocks away to get lavender laundry soap and groceries. A few coins slipped to the sidewalk and she left them, hoping no one would notice, but a small boy who seemed not to belong to anyone did. He followed her trail of coins, his face and pocket swelling with luck at each one he found. Jenna left the store with her paper bag, crossed to the other side of the street to avoid the boy. She watched as he made his way along the line of red vending machines outside full of gumballs and toy surprises, sidestepping down the row in a kind of waltz. First, he deposited one of the silver coins in each slot, then at the last machine, turned around to start at the beginning again, cranking the succession of knobs until all his treasure had been exchanged for something he could put to use, candy or amusement. In block letters, FREE LAUNDRY SERVICE, at the top of her sign. Next she wrote “Consider it a pay it forward kind of thing!” and then crossed that out. She ended up with, “Leave your dirty load of laundry on the washer. I’ll put it back clean. No strings attached!” Jenna felt like that was still weird, but as she considered getting more paper for a new sign, a neighbor came into the cramped room. She wore a pharmacist’s coat, her jaw working at strawberry gum. Her eyes flitted over the sign. “You’re crazy. I’ve seen enough of other people’s laundry to last a lifetime.” “Taker then?” The gum-chewing pharmacist looked Jenna up and down. “Nah,” she said. At home Jenna made herself tea and cried, a couple of coins jangling to the kitchen tile below her feet. She decided to wash her bedspread and curtains next. There was a basket on the washer when she arrived with her blankets. And a piece of notebook paper: No chemical detergents, please. No dryer sheets. Cold water fine. A taker. The basket was full of slim jeans and t-shirts with slogans she found funny. All of it smelled like cigarettes. She went slowly, sifting and sorting

Danielle Davis · 23


colors and pales. Only when she found boxer briefs did she speed up, dropping them in the machine while pretending not to look. Loads of the mystery neighbor’s laundry transformed the coins in Jenna’s apartment into smaller, more manageable piles. And they gave her something useful to do. She spritzed his t-shirts with rose water to help cover the lingering cigarette smell. She folded them perfectly, the way a store would, wondering how they might fit his shoulders and where they might hit between his imaginary waist and hip. She tried origami with towels. Attempted a swan. It looked like a two-headed snake, but she left it on his basket anyway. She fashioned a bunny with her own towel to keep as a pet. After doing a half dozen or so loads of the mystery neighbor’s laundry, Jenna waited in the parking lot to see who would pick it up. In the middle of a weekday, it took a couple of hours before she heard footsteps. She filled the time rolling silver coins on the curb, sleeves pushed up to sun her arms. When they came, the steps belonged to someone she had never seen, not in the parking lot or on the landing or at the mailboxes out front. She peeked around the corner catching only the arms of his glasses, his hair, the backs of the studs in his ears. He kept his chin down as he walked through the courtyard. She followed him to his apartment, which was on the first floor directly below hers where a girl who worked nights at a restaurant used to live. Right below her—she could’ve been folding his laundry and lowering the basket over the railing all this time. She knocked. The pink door opened a few inches and an unlit wooden match flew at her leg through the crack, then fell to the mat at her feet. She looked down at the match, blonde with a red nub, wondering if a child had thrown it. Then the door opened all the way and it was not a child but the wearer of a t-shirt and slim jeans she’d washed. She looked up at his eyes, which were glossy black coffee. The Laundry Girl, she said. Jenna. Doug, he said. Another match somersaulted toward her before hitting the floor. It came from the pocket of his jeans like a magic trick. Sorry about that, he said, embarrassed, half-shielding his pocket with his hand, but another soared out from it anyway and arced through the air, allowing him to catch it this time. He began mumbling an explanation for the matches, but as he did, a coin fell from Jenna’s purse. Doug stopped mumbling. He picked up the coin and kept it without offering it back. He shook it gently in the cup of his palm, like it was dice. She felt vulnerable with someone else handling it. Jenna felt completely surprised and not surprised at all. There was no gasping and pointing. Neither said anything about the activity at their waists. Want to come in?

24 · Jenna and the Coins


The apartment reeked, but when she brushed past him, rose and lavender faint on his clothes. Would you like a cigarette? No thanks. I never used to either. But now. He gestured to piles of matches all over the ground. He lit the one still in his hand on a candle burning on the kitchen counter, then a cigarette from a pack next to it. The used match went in an ashtray piled high with habit. He still had her coin and the matches didn’t stop soaring. For every coin that fell from Jenna’s purse, Doug probably cranked out twelve matches from his pocket. Okay, just one, she said. Another coin fell onto the couch when she sat down, which they both looked at, then let be. I’m planning on quitting someday. Soon, I hope. His dark eyes were smiling and her light ones too. Jenna thought maybe their answer could be something like rock paper scissors, coins crushing matches, matches burning coins, but that couldn’t be it. He lit her cigarette for her with another match from the confetti of sticks on the coffee table and walked it over. Jenna looked at Doug and the stuff in his apartment. She wondered if a satellite was directly above their coordinates, or a freak cosmic curse. She wondered how long he’d been living below her with his match-pockets. When did you move here? Three months ago. Don’t get out much. Again, smiles. I’m right above you. Jenna pointed to his ceiling. No way. Doug looked up as though some portal might now be revealed he hadn’t noticed before. He fiddled with his glasses and ash got in his hair. Is it loud, living down here? I know the walls are like paper-thin. One of my neighbors plays easy listening at what sounds like punk volume. Their warm mouths laughed. It’s not too bad. The smallest thing can seem like an elephant though. He tossed her coin a few times, sat down in a match-ridden chair. They smoked their cigarettes to the end, when Jenna could think of nothing else to do but go home. Doug showed her to the door where they ended up in a kind of comedy routine of simultaneous action—the coin/match drop, saying thanks at the same time, gesturing to shake hands but then withdrawing them in sync, settling on waves from too close instead. A day later Jenna opened her door and Doug’s basket was right there on her front mat. A matchstick house sat on top, the windows and doorframe red nubs. It looked like a diorama of their apartment complex— two stories and sticks jutting out from the middle like trees or bamboo.

Danielle Davis · 25


When the laundry was done and she was back at her place, the matchstick house now on her shelf, Jenna took off all her clothes so the purse disappeared. She chose one of Doug’s spritzed and folded t-shirts from her bed, the one with “Godzilla is for Lovers” across the chest. She slid her head through the neck, her arms through the too large holes. Then she pulled on his jeans, which were snug in the hips but loose everywhere else, sturdy but worn like someone had actually worked outdoors in them, stretched and kneeled. She looked at her baggy self in the mirror until a silver coin jumped out from the pocket of Doug’s jeans onto her bedroom floor. She knew what she wanted. To feel in those pockets with him in them, to feel underneath them, to travel over someone so strangely like herself. Jenna delivered the laundry straight to his door, a starfish of towels on top. When they got to the undressing part, Jenna’s purse disappeared when she stepped from her skirt; Doug’s jeans stopped leaking matches when they lay empty of him on the floor. They stayed naked as long as they could, in every room. Silver and wood clung to their backs. When they were still, they made tepees from sticks on the ground. They only put on their clothes when the delivery guy rang with dinner. They sat at the koi pond in the courtyard outside Doug’s apartment, finished takeout on rocks around them and talked of wanting to travel, maybe somewhere cold. Doug said they should go for it, hit the road. We could be a circus. Circus, said Jenna. We, said Doug. A match dropped from his pocket, a coin from her purse. Doug took the coin and tossed it into the green water, disturbing one of the koi, huge and speckled, from its rest. Jenna retrieved the match and struck it on a stone until it finally sparked, then threw that in the pond too, the flame hissing as it touched the water.

26 · Jenna and the Coins


Observations AMANDA WOCHELE

I. Artemis Corona In heavy crowd by early night, men knot ties tight to the neck and loosen bands of their belts, forgetting they have babies or have had them. Buy Baby a round, babe; see them growing sickly like stars dripping off an 8-ball, spying on waitresses. Queer, she thinks, of what brings him to his knees: the Virgin, to peer up Her robes. Virgin! She who makes love only to Moon – Strawberry, Harvest, Hunter’s: hers, a lazy bloom, but sanguine just the same. She spills sangria in chalices carried above the crown: concentrate, try again. The fruit falls, soaking down her front thigh. If Scorpion’s the season she’ll wince at the pinch when a hand slides under, four fingers straddled down the middle, the index free to flick. Straight down the middle, Lidge had done it that year. When they said it was devastating they were talking about the release. II. Canis Minor Old man sits earthbound, slowing time while bartender muddles cherry into his glass.

27


Dry summer in the north village, an exotic spirit gave him dysentery: Go home, Old Man. Sixty-one years, my father wore shirt and tie that day they lost to the Yanks, he was once handsome like you. A pat, a grin, prick o’ a pin then off to ‘Nam he bade me – (Go home, old man!) – In swampy morgue the boys wore George and laughed at my little golden lady. Jeanne D’Arc, sa petite fille – Jeanne D’Arc, son amant à Philadelphie! Old Man, go home. He wore shirt and tie that day, hell I never seen him look so sad either. III. Orion’s Belt Mayberry bats live, alive, the black of him blotting lights in HD he reaches a hand down and scratches gemstones between his legs. Don’t let me down, then tug their flies the moment he straddles the plate, berated palms wrapped tight around the bat. There he goes – Mayberry spread-legged with his right shoulder pulled up and bulging bright in the night – the men howl: don’t let me down – The edifice of his shoulders! The steeple of his jaw! Skywards towards Saints who flank the Bank. Men cry out in sluttish surrender because there’s a sort of relief when heart releases ethanol in perfect balmy breaths.

28 · Observations


IV. Betelgeuse Attaboy attaboy! shots for all, he says, walk in my bar like you’d walk in Pete’s Cathedral, he says. Never know which alchemist pisses in whiskey with lights so low. Bastard knows it’s transfers of momentum and velocity and little air resistance – then, a victory is decidedly so. He’s seen boys run all the plates, seen ones burnt after third, debased at the last forty after ninety-ninety-ninety balking blindly at the home free. He’s seen enough to hold the muddler off the palm and into the fingers but he’s never seen this. He climbs into a choke, his heavy pour fingering psalms out of voices of men. He’s got Johnny by the neck and another on the stem until they’ve sworn the trinity with the steady hand because moonlight won’t stain the glass until next morning.

Amanda Wochele · 29


Everywhere You Go, There’s a Clown THOMAS KEARNES

Y

ou first see him through your patio window. Had you not been staring into the street, watching the minivans and compact cars zip past, gazing for minute after minute, you would have missed him. He isn’t directly outside your window. No, he is across the street in the parking lot of that enormous, glittering church with its arrogant steeple. You’ve wondered what Jesus would do in such a place. Would he become as lost as the souls he sought? But you don’t think about that now. You don’t remember where you first encountered a clown. No one took you to the circus. Your childhood birthday parties were in backyards with tire swings and stagnant ponds and gap-toothed uncles. But certainly you’ve seen one before. This one has the paste-white face and round red nose. A wide mouth, also painted red, and an enormous bowtie. Lime green suspenders hold up his polka-dot pants, which are twice the width of his trim waist and roomy enough to smuggle dogs or midgets. He has floppy shoes that extend far past his toes. A stringed balloon wavers beside his pointy hat. Even from this far away, you see his expression of regret. After a moment, he extends his hand, as if he expected you to trot across the street and take the balloon yourself. You stay inside, of course. The clown lets it sail into the air. He watches it ascend, and so do you. It floats higher and higher, and finally, it’s gone. You grip your coffee mug in both your hands, let your head fall to your chest. It’s silly feeling this way, but you can’t help it. That was your balloon. It was yours, and he let it go. You see him again at IHOP. Since you’ve been single, you’ve had eggs there more and more often, now three times a week. Smoking has been banned, and this disappoints you, but you feel insulated among people who look so despondent or preoccupied. Amelia says you’re slumming, you’ll never meet a man in a place like that. But you have opinions about Amelia she wouldn’t like to hear. You spy the clown in a corner booth several tables away. He reads the newspaper. He seems captivated, he won’t look up at you. You stare at him, needing him to see you. Finally, he folds the paper and sets it aside. Your heart races. You want to apologize for not accepting his balloon. He lights a cigarette. No one, neither the customers nor the waitress, stops to complain. He blows wide, arcing rings above his head. They expand as they near the ceiling, break apart once they reach it.

30


This fills you with a longing that makes you turn away. What does he want from you? Why must he disturb your eggs, one of the few pleasures you allow yourself? You lift your head to look at him again, but he is gone. You quickly slip into your coat and leave the restaurant. Upon stepping into the parking lot, you realize you never paid, but you can’t go back. After sitting behind the steering wheel a moment, overwhelmed by the urge to call someone, you turn the key in the ignition and drive away. Amelia notices you’ve been preoccupied lately. That’s not the word she uses. She says you’re bummed out. She takes you dancing at one of those horrible clubs with two-dollar bottlenecks and men who keep smiling even after you’ve stopped. The two of you stand at the bar, surrounded by slickhaired people in tight clothes whose elbows move too quickly. They honk at each other, their heads strangely close together. You tell Amelia you want to leave, but she insists you both will have a splendid time. That’s not the word she uses. She says kick-ass, you’ll have a kick-ass time. She takes you by the hand, a habit the two of you developed early in your friendship, and leads you to a part of club she thinks has a better selection of men. You both stop shy of the dance floor, a hard-paneled enormous wooden square in the center of all the drinking and posturing. Strobe lights bounce crayon-bright orbs of color off its surface. You turn to say something to Amelia, but she is already chatting with a man in a polo shirt and white jeans. Disappointed, you watch the dancers. They shimmy and hiccup to the dull thud of a song you don’t know. You want to go home. The clown appears in glimpses. He bobs out from behind one clubgoer, then vanishes and pops up behind another. Is he dancing? This shocks you. It delights you. Forgetting Amelia, you watch him shimmy his shoulders and hop on the balls of his feet. The poor clown, he’s an awful dancer. You laugh, put your hand to your mouth, suddenly self-conscious that someone might be watching you watch him. Certain Amelia is still captivated by her new friend, you inch toward the dance floor. The clown chugs up and down. Sweat starts to run down his face, smearing his makeup. You’re going to meet him. You’re going to speak with this sweet, silly clown. Amelia yanks you back by the shoulder. She gobbles to you about that awful man and how much she hates this place and why did she come here? You listen to her because that is what Amelia expects. When you steal a moment to glance back at the dancers, the clown is gone. You don’t panic, maybe he’s still there. Amelia grabs you by the wrist and drags you from the dance floor. She’s your friend, and you must follow her. Leaving, you look back, and the clown has not returned. The sadness descends on you completely, but you feel safe inside it. The clown begins appearing more places, more often. You see him at the supermarket in the reflection of the glass doors that display the frozen food. Singing along with the oldies station in morning traffic, you notice him in a

Thomas Kearnes · 31


car adjacent to yours. You see his pointy hat. You watch his white-gloved hand beat a rhythm on the steering wheel. Are you listening to the same song? You hope this is true. You see him while standing in line at the drug store. He flips through magazines at the rack. You want to run to him, but you’ve waited too long to give up your spot. Alone at the movies, you check the rows behind you, expecting him to arrive. The theatre darkens and the previews begin. The first trailer is for a children’s film, and there’s a clown! You laugh loud and freely. That clown, he’s playing a clever joke on you! Just wait till you see him, you’ll show him what you think of naughty tricks! Amelia says you’ve become a recluse, always keeping to yourself. That’s not the word she uses. But you really aren’t listening to her. You hold the phone to your ear and answer her questions quickly. It takes all your concentration to keep watching the patio window. You think you’ve seen the clown in the church parking lot two or three times, but when you stepped closer to investigate, he was never there. You can’t let him elude you this time. Amelia says something hostile and tells you to call her when you’ve snapped out of it. You hang up, not saying goodbye. You gaze out the window. The cars fly past like doomed stars streaking the sky. Dusk glows outside your apartment. Then night arrives and you slip into darkness. You wait. Morning colors stretch past the horizon, and you finally leave for work. Tonight, you tell yourself. He will come tonight. But the clown does not come back. You wait another day, then another. You wait a week. The clown does not come back. You sink into a dull silence. Seated on your recliner in front of the coffee table, you slurp lukewarm stew straight from the cooking pot and watch reality television. Where is your clown? That’s how you think of him now: your clown. You never do return to IHOP. Instead you drink in a dim, cramped bar with too much neon and not enough air conditioning. Jack and Coke, one after another. You drain your glass and wait silently for the bartender to spot you before signaling for another. You’re trying your hardest to be quiet. You never want to say another word. Soon, you’re drunk enough so that the world has narrowed into a slim, dark crawlspace and all you must do is keep looking straight ahead. You don’t see him sit beside you. The clown says your name. It takes you a moment to realize this. You’re unnerved that someone in this dingy place knows you, but you turn your head to greet him. And there he is: the mouth, the nose, the pointy hat. But it’s his eyes that enlist you. You’re never been close enough to look deeply into them. They’re pale blue, like a baby blanket, and they’re filled with a yearning, a tenderness that you’ve longed for since you first feared you’d never find it. Dumbly, you say hello. The clown says he’s sorry he had to go away, but now he’s here. He’s come back for you. You ask him

32 · Everywhere You Go, There’s a Clown


where he wants to go. It doesn’t matter, you say, you’ll go anywhere. Just don’t leave me. Don’t leave me alone again. I won’t, the clown promises. But first you must tell me something. Anything, you say. Who am I? You open your mouth to respond. It then strikes you like a backhand that you don’t know his name. Your breath deepens, you’re terrified. What if you disappoint him? The other drinkers at the bar carry on like nothing strange is happening. You look around yourself, desperately seeking help. But no: it’s just you and the clown. I’ll help you, he says. He removes his pointy hat with a crisp gesture. You see his curly hair but still cannot think of his name. He removes a handkerchief from his pants and wipes away the white makeup. Through the streaks, you can see the flesh of his face. You still don’t know. Done wiping, he pops off his big red nose and looks at you, waiting. His face looks kind, almost plain. You stare at it like you would an image from a kaleidoscope. He waits for you but then finally asks again: who am I? You’ve never seen this man before. You wish you could invent something, some answer that would please him. But you cannot lie to the clown, not your clown. I don’t know, you say. The clown sadly shakes his head. He raises his hand as if to smack it down on the bar, but he lets it gently come to rest. He gazes into your eyes, and you shiver to see the regret on his face. I have to leave, he says. Your mouth moves but no words come out. You’re actually quivering. No! He can’t leave! He’s your clown! He takes the big red nose and gently places it on your nose. He takes your hand, squeezes it once, then bows his head and turns to leave. He strides out among the tables. He pushes open the door. You watch helplessly until it has closed. The nose still on your face, you droop back over the bar. Your shoulders sink. A great sob erupts from you. The tears spring from your eyes, but it doesn’t matter. You let them fall as you struggle to gulp down your whiskey. You stay like that for some time, crying. But at last, you begin to calm down. At least you can still drink. You’ve forgotten about the red nose on your face. You signal the bartender for another, and he sets it before you, never commenting on your new disguise. You don’t know how long he’s been staring before you notice him. No, not the clown. Your clown is gone forever. Across the bar is a man. He’s about your age. He looks handsome but not in a way you’d remember any time later. Still, he compels you. You recoil from the shamelessness of his desire, even from this distance. You’re perplexed. No, you’re angry. Who is he? Who are you? You’re just some brokenhearted fool with a stupid clown nose on your face. Why would he ever look at you? Why would anyone look at you? But he won’t stop. Then, you remember where you’ve seen that look. While watching for your clown through the patio window, you often caught a reflection of your own face. That’s what you see now, the same need and devotion. He sees you. Someone has seen you for the very first time.

Thomas Kearnes · 33


from Lilith’s Extra Rib ALANA I. CAPRIA

2 [I raise fruits in the kitchen cabinets.] When they ripen, they splatter me in the face. Their juice burns. It is too acidic. Then my thighs itch. I sit in the sink and Lilith washes me. She soaps my shoulders with baking soda and adds a layer of all-purpose flour. [We did not bake in the garden, she says and I drink chocolate directly from a plastic bottle. There was no chocolate, either, she says.] She has told me stories about the garden before. She mentioned the enviable fruits and all the trees that were like living skyscrapers. The branches were made of glass. When Lilith glared, the wood shattered and cut the Adam man’s upper lip. Then she smiled and all the glass grew again. [What if the trees had been mirrors, I ask and Lilith eats a pineapple, thorns and all.] [We had no need for mirrors, she says. We weren’t supposed to know we were naked.] She shows me the spot under her ribs that the extra breast came from. The breast was so small, I could barely see it. The mammary gland was more like a birth mark, a strange little mole. I poked the nipple and Lilith shivered with excitement. [You don’t understand, she says and opens every door in the house.] She lets the air in. She lets Adam in. He sits in a corner, crying. His eyes are bruised. We force the swollen lids open. There are fruit peels shoved into the gray corners.

34


3 {Perhaps it isn’t only a rib Lilith has a spare of.} There is an extra eye and teat and leg. She milks herself in the kitchen sink. I collect the droplets. [Her milk is bright yellow. It is amber. Honey colored. Rotten. It is liquid cheese.] I drink a glass and vomit. Lilith paints her face bright red. She rubs her fists against the walls and leaves furrows in the plaster. [Was this how you left Eden, I ask and Lilith shows me photographs of the forbidden tree.] It is really a shrub. A tiny bush. With branches covered with thorns. Lilith’s name is written across the roots. I take a razor blade and scrape along the outer lines of the letters. [Once upon a time, Lilith says. I knew a man who thought he was more than just mud. We were born simultaneously, sprouted from the same dirt clot. But the man said he was metal and I was leaves. So he tried to tear me apart. I threw water in his face and he ran off like liquid. And that was the end of the garden. It flooded with his organs and I flew away before the fluid could touch me.] Once upon a time, I found a hidden garden and climbed inside. The dirt was pale gray and dotted with brilliant red flowers. I plucked the petals and every bloom had a nectar head at the center. They oozed. [Now, Lilith digs the pollen out of the corners of her eyes and smears the yellow across the stove top.] She pulls spinal cords from her neck.

Alana I. Capria · 35


Three Times Red A. A. BALASKOVITS

In Bed

T

he beast told her to take off the frock and knickers, the extra human skins. But leave the cloak, such color, like cherry pie or tart flesh or a wound. Toss each piece of cotton and silk into the hearth and let it erupt. Come under cover and let me smell you, girl, let me smell your cloak, let me smell you. The girl slipped her hands across the coarse fur of the imposter’s massive and inert form. She grazed her fingers across the shallow belly and felt a familiar row of teats, like the ones that sprouted on her mother’s breasts after bathing, or in winter after the fire went out. Surely, thought the girl, monsters could not nurse, could not nurture. The beast raised its heavy torso and the girl slid underneath. Her mother had warned her before she entered the forest: be wary, little love, all things change in that darkness. Boys photosynthesize and girls erupt from the pupa, all thin wings and tongues peppered with nectar, and you can’t ever go back into a cocoon. The walls have been ripped apart, and cannot be sewn together again. The girl’s tongue flicked out and tasted the strange milk, a mother’s milk, sweet and a bit salty, like a good cry. The beast whined in a low, soft way, like the girl’s mother did at night when the window shutters shook and the bedroom was cold. It was cold every night since her father had gone into the forest and not returned. Photosynthesize, her mother said, looking out the window on those nights, her eyes reaching. It means you become a part of something greater. You can’t go back. The girl closed her eyes and drank the quick stream of sweet wetness that erupted from the beast’s teats. As she pulled on it, all the other teats began to cry, soaking the girl in thick, nourishing tears, and the beast wept as well. Where does a monster feel loss, the girl thought, in the cavities of its jaw, or in its breast? As she drank from the beast, she tasted memory in that milk, her own and not only her own: earlier that day when the sun was high and before Grannie’s house, she came across a string of pups, little more than stains, caught between a woodsman’s steel teeth. Their necks were nothing more than sinew, long wet yarn.

36


She released the teat from her lips and reached under her naked back and fingered her cloak, wondering what dye had given it such lovely color, and whether she too could be made into mere stains. In Belly I wish we were face to face, Grannie, in this fleshy compartment. Instead, the long nail of your pinky toe, the one you adamantly refused to clip, as if it contained all your magic, curls around and in the soft skin of my nostril. When I breathe, I can smell and taste all the places you have walked. You are still wearing your night clothes, Grannie, that tired old grey shirt with the frayed edges. The hem rubs against my breasts like it did when I was a little girl, and you pulled me, naked as I slept, to you in those hot summer nights when I woke, drenched in wet salt, from nightmares. The she-beast gulped me down with only my skin adorning me. Do you know she made me shave off all my hair, pluck every ingrown strand with black tweezers (I had to dig so far that I bled, Grannie), so when she swallowed me, I slid down her throat like a skinned anchovy? If you would speak to me, I imagine you would say what a funny place this is, where the walls are so warm as to burn, and the water is acid on our tongues. That’s how you were, making light of what smothered us. There is only one bit of softness in here, and that is—how you would hate it—your breast, slipped from your grey shirt, as wrinkled as your cheeks and as veined as the raised lines I used to trace on your feet as a child. And when I grew up you told me to stop, stand on my feet, not my knees, and sleep with heavy nightshirts, and a towel wrapped tightly between my legs, because all manner of wetness could pour out of me when I slept. How I loathed growing up in those summer nights around you, Grannie, when I feared all of me would seep out. I trace the lines on your breast while the walls of the beast clench and release and clench, and I feel you sliding away from me, Grannie. Don’t leave me alone in here, Grannie. And then I, too, am pulled towards that empty opening, thrust out onto the cold ground, leaves and dirt sticking to my face. Strange, only now I realize that I am covered, completely, in the inner slime of the beast’s body. Grannie, you’re melting into the earth. Your old skin is falling off, your bones are becoming water and seeping into the mud. Will I, too, go quietly into the earth, as if I had never walked on its surface? Yet the beast is tender, and before the sting of the sour from her belly makes me disappear like my poor grannie, she puts her tongue to my lips and moves up and down, cleaning me off, cooing as best a beast can coo. And when she is done, she spits, once, and looks at me in a way I have never been looked at before, like I am something new and something wonderful.

A. A. Balaskovits · 37


In Book No matter how many times a girl has her story told, she will never be fully told up. In one telling, our girl is shat out with the rabbits and dirt and the ragged flesh of her grandmother in one constipated pile. The beast buries her without turning around, simply kicking mud onto her face and shoulders, and wanders off. That one makes us ache in the spot our milk teeth fell from and were abandoned, scattered under pillow, or on the ground. In another, the woodsman gutted the she-beast for food and warmth while his fair-haired daughter peeked from behind an oak with her eyes slit, for daughters never get used to the necessary violence of their fathers. When he saw the naked, hairless girl curled up in the beast’s cavernous belly, he thought he had killed a pregnant werewolf. He grasped the smooth girl to his chest and would have torn her apart as he had her mother, but his daughter watched him and did not blink. Instead, he took the girl into his home and fed her all the things he had slaughtered, while his daughter stared at the wolf-girl, watching each hair grow back on her body like corn shooting out of the earth, and wondered, her hands grasping her thighs, when the wolf-girl would sprout thick fur over her face and the back of her hands and devour them in the night. In our favorite, the one we dare not tell, the girl rips herself out from the belly of the mother-wolf with her teeth and nails. Weeping, she shoves her grannie back into the belly and stitches it up until there is no seam. She curls into the mother-wolf and promises never, never to leave, and as she does, the mother-wolf turns into her own mother, a human mother. Together, they chase all woodsmen from their woods and howl in a language we think we might understand, if we heard it. But this is the one that was written, and so this is the one we tell to the shaking pigtails of our daughters and the fluttering eyes of our sons: A girl goes into the forest and is tricked by a man wearing a beast’s fur coat. Because of this she loses her family, loses her innocence, and is saved by a man with a bloody axe, which is another sort of innocence lost. Then we do not know what becomes of her, whether she was happy to be torn out from under the beast, or whether she wished the bloody axe cut through her neck instead. Our children will make up their own endings, whether the girl becomes a witch or opens a cupcake shop or builds a bridge the color of gold. But we hope, in one of their minds, our beast-girl will find her gutted mother wolf, and using her hair as a thread and a curved toenail as a needle, begin to sew.

38 · Three Times Red


from The Walled-Up Wife NICELLE DAVIS

First Night in the Wall It is midnight. Daughter sits at the base of the wall that is me and sings. I tell her she’s a fool to wait. I tell her, go home. Refusing to listen, her voice fills chambers that exclude me. Each note begins as a lark and swells to bark— I can’t breathe— teeth through my window— little bitch. Pitch upon pitch she infuses the whole until noise pushes itself beyond restrictions. A structure shifts as an old woman about to collapse— if she folds I will never see my son again. I claw at the bricks— can hardly keep a fainting swell from drowning me. Mama, she says, mama. And song stops with mama. Now that she isn’t swallowing all air—I scream,

leave me. And her feet echo like a team of rats from my cellar.

39


Second Night in the Wall I would deny you, if not for my son’s face— how on my third night as mother, I watched his features turn to flight—a thousand wings, motioning a love greater than my body could contain. Then, and only then, did I believe— there is a land that extends beyond what can be expressed—a place surpassing definition. A home that stands, regardless of how much weight is stacked upon it. I feel birds stream from me, gathering, not messages, but the feelings they contain. If I could take a pocket of this world with me, it would contain a handful of dirt.

40 · excerpts from The Walled-Up Wife


The Second Night Continues Again. Midnight. And my daughter’s song is upon me. I watch from my window her eyes galloping the distance between us— a happy skip— her world rising and falling with her every step. How can she be happy? Wicked wench. Dancing on her mother’s last breaths. What do you want? Mother I have brought you a gift. Quick— catch— a letter drops through the door at my breast— turns to a dove— flies about my head. I catch it and tear it with my teeth. Wet salt down my chin. It is no longer a bird but an envelope. It is not flesh but a mouth full of dirt. For your pocket, she says.

Nicelle Davis · 41


The End of the Objects JACK KAULFUS

I

t wasn’t a complicated passage, from one life to the next, unless you had difficulty making decisions. Mirelle silently gave thanks to an anonymous god (conspicuously absent at this stage in the afterlife) that her head remained level and her judgment unimpaired. Mirelle knelt over a pile of blue sweaters and picked one that looked well-stitched. It was more used than others, but sturdily made. She had no way of knowing at which point in the next life it might be needed. This was not the hereafter Mirelle had bargained for. She tossed the small sweater back onto the pile. Next to her, a blonde child laid four of them out for consideration. His bag was about half full. Mirelle wondered if he’d died young, or if he just felt like a seven year old. She’d noticed fewer gray hairs at her temples in the mirror herself, and had a feeling she’d been rewound a decade or so—before her body had begun its quiet, slow-moving rebellion. “This is taking too long,” he said, sitting back on his heels. “I just can’t decide.” His face was a child’s, but his voice was tense and old. Mirelle handed him a size 4T with a picture of a rocking horse sewn on the front. He turned it over in his hands for a few seconds, sighing, and handed it back. “She’s a girl, she’s Black, she’s not in America. These sweaters just mock her.” “Maybe if you go with a bigger one, there’s a better chance she’ll get more wear out of it. You know, statistically, we’re adult-sized a lot longer than we’re child-sized.” Mirelle decided this was how she herself would choose, and she dug back in to find a generic looking size large. They watched a man kneel before the pile for approximately three seconds, grab a sweater, stuff it in his bag, and walk away. “Careless,” the boy said. “But he can probably afford to be. Maybe he’s got a whole envelope full of possibilities. What about you?” “Oh, I think I’m going with this one—” Mirelle paused to open the envelope and slide the card out so he could see. “Female, controllable mental illness, no parents. America.” “Wow. No parents?” Mirelle shook her head proudly. She felt pretty solid about the whole thing. Enough strife, enough safety net, and a familiar setting. The choice between the two had been easy. She wouldn’t have had the first idea about how to prepare for the boy’s complicated situation with his coach and the

42

APOSPECIMEN AWARD FOR FICTION


kinds of problems it might bring him. “I made it,” Mirelle said. “She can make it.” Mirelle was originally the son of a self-loathing, speed-addled mother and philanderer of a father. Her particular gender issues, she now understood, had been chosen for her just the way she was about to choose mental illness for a future self. Her predecessor had likely found himself or herself in this same spot, forty-two years previous, with a bad hand of cards: Shit family. Wrong gender. Surprise gun barrel in an alleyway. Cancer. Tens of thousands of dollars in debt for necessary surgery to reverse the gender assigned at birth, she’d died at 55 after making a strong showing against lung cancer. She felt strangely indifferent about all the drama of life and death now. She’d been in love a few times, fostered dogs, been fired for dubious reasons, then employed as a counselor after returning to school for a license. She’d made a go of it, despite the absence of family. After she died, they assured her at the gate that she’d done well. “You didn’t kill yourself or anyone else,” said the woman in the first booth. “That puts you ahead of the game.” She looked over the files in Mirelle’s folder and presented her with an over-the-shoulder bag and a pad of paper. “Write down your worst fear and your deepest desire. Be literal. Take your time.” The woman winked at Mirelle and wrote a large number seven on the front of the folder. She put the folder in a basket full of other folders, and waved at the next person in line. Mirelle took a deep breath and followed the arrows on the floor. The absence of pain in her chest and legs was still a new feeling, and she suppressed a sudden urge to jog down the corridor. At the next booth, a man in a cap pulled her folder from the basket in front of him. He inserted an envelope and handed it to her, smiling a golden toothed smile. “You will choose your future self from the envelope: your location, your situation, race, parentage. You will then find seven gifts from the available objects. These will be presented to your future self when they become necessary.” He pointed to the window in the wall right next to her. Receding into the white space outside the booth for an eternity were piles upon piles of clothing, bins of toys, fruit, shoes, dishes. Tents. Sofas. “Put them in your bag. Remember your worst fear. Your deepest desire. Those, along with the objects, are your only legacy.” “You sound like the Wizard of Oz,” she said to the man. He scratched his head, but did not look offended. “Do you think I can fit a sofa inside this bag?” Mirelle asked, but the man motioned toward the window and invited the next person in line to step forward. On a bench under the window, Mirelle sat down and put her head into her hands. She thought there’d be rest in the afterlife. Light and dead pets and maybe a buffet. She wasn’t ready to start everything over again. Her deepest desires on earth had always involved safety or paychecks, but she

Jack Kaulfus · 43


knew she’d have to do better than that. How? She opened the flap of the envelope. Two cards. Easy choice. She chose the girl. At the pile of blue sweaters, Mirelle let the boy look through her bag: an inflatable raft, a tangle of keys, and a pair of sturdy brown walking shoes. She had three more objects to choose after the sweater: three more messages sent from beyond. She pushed away the apprehension and forced herself to think instead of the way it would feel to shave her young future legs the first time. Age eleven? Twelve? The boy looked up at her. “I’m Frank,” he said. Mirelle shook his hand and introduced herself. “Can I ask you a personal question?” “Arrested development, I think,” Frank said, not waiting for the question. “I was in a boating accident when I was eight and I got stuck with a bum body, but I grew up all right. The last time I could move freely, I was this size. That’s the only explanation I could come up with. Were you this age when you died?” He swept his hand from her head to her feet. “A bit older, I think. I was wondering.” “I don’t know how all the dying part works. But my future choices are limited.” He pulled his envelope out and showed her the only card inside. “There was a meltdown in my teens,” he explained. “Oh?” “That’s right. Hard to imagine that I was the one who picked that terrible life for myself.” Mirelle shrugged. “You hadn’t lived it yet. How many things do you get to pass on?” “Four gifts. You?” “Seven.” Frank sat back on his heels. “This sucks.” Mirelle thought it didn’t suck as much as cancer, but she didn’t say so. She couldn’t—not to an ex-quadriplegic with suicidal tendencies. She was pain free now, but the memory of sickness wore at her like the memory of someone she used to love but didn’t want to call. She’d died alone, afraid at the end, wishing for an afterlife much different than this one. Secretly, she’d always believed that people should get exactly what they want after the whole thing was over: Mormons their Celestial Kingdom, Baptists their Right Hand of God, Agnostics their Pleasant Surprises. This white room had no walls. She couldn’t even sense a source of light. They decided to go as far as they could in one direction to see if they could reach the end of the objects. Just to see what was on the other side. “The world is big outside of America,” Frank said. “And it’s not like I even saw that much of America, at least not until 2000 or so, when we got the internet.” They passed a woman weeping over a stack of high heel shoeboxes. “She looks famous,” Frank whispered.

44 · The End of the Objects


Mirelle couldn’t place her. “Is this it? Choose a card and a few items and then go back as someone different? What’s the point of a revolving door?” Frank shook his head. “There’s a point. I been here a while. You have to search for the things that will bring you the life you want. If you choose the wrong things, you can break your future self. I broke, kind of. You obviously almost broke.” “How do you know?” “Well, seven objects is more than four, but some people have, like, fifty. And they have a whole stack of possible selves with problems like ‘Too Many Boats.’ They can just about plan an entire life.” Mirelle did not believe him. “With chess boards and crock pots?” Frank fixed her with a critical eye. He directed her to a table full of watches and demanded she pick a real Rolex from a stack of knock offs. She had never even thought about Rolexes. “I was a public servant. I don’t have a clue,” she said. “That’s the difference between you and Too Many Boats,” Frank replied. Rolexes had been the least of Mirelle’s worries; once she was old enough to leave the house, she was never invited back. She recalled her father wearing expensive looking cuff links and ties, but she didn’t remember anything about a watch. Her parents weren’t around much for fashion advice, anyway, even when she’d been properly engaged in football and high school dances. Mirelle met Abraham in Syracuse while she was still uncomfortably inhabiting the body of a young adult male. Abraham was the first to suggest that perhaps she was not yet who she might be. They were in an acting class together first, then auditioned to be regulars in a gay political theater group called GAYTES OF JUSTICE. Abraham’s roommate was brewing beer in their shared dormitory suite bathroom, so he showed up without notice one evening and installed himself in the spare bunk above Mirelle’s. He brought a suitcase, stacks of CDs in cracked jewel cases, and a poster of Morrissey in his underwear. “Shit’s about to blow in that place, and I need this scholarship,” he said. Not a month had passed before Mirelle convinced herself they were in love. He was growing his usually well-kept fade into something he called a “halfro,” and one night after one too many Miller Lites, Mirelle let herself catch one of the longer curls between her thumb and forefinger as Abraham drifted off into a comfortably buzzed slumber. He didn’t push her away when she moved in to kiss him, but after a few minutes, he slid out from under her and went to the shared bathroom. He

Jack Kaulfus · 45


emerged with a small case beneath his arm and sat down on the bed across from Mirelle. “Let me try something, Mitch?” She leaned in to kiss him again, but he flipped open the case between them and extracted a tube of mascara. “Your eyes are amazing. I’ve been thinking of trying this color on you for weeks.” Mirelle looked at the tube in his hand. Abraham gently brushed Mirelle’s hair back and brought her chin forward. “Look up,” he said. She did. His breath was cool and smoky on her cheek as the mascara wetly darkened the edges of her vision. He opened a compact and showed Mirelle her eyes. “Look how beautiful you are,” he said. Mirelle took the compact from him and went to the mirror over the sink. She leaned in and swallowed hard, tears springing from nowhere. Behind her, Abraham assured her that the mascara was waterproof. Mirelle jotted down possibilities in her little notepad as she followed Frank from table to table. Maybe a trenchcoat. A radio headset. A book about divorce law. She felt the tiniest flicker of excitement inside her chest. She imagined her new self being born of nothing, alone in a white room; at thirteen, in the dining room of another strange family, praying before a meal; at thirty two, living around the corner from a handsome, clever man who claimed to love Miles Davis but only knew his music from a college music appreciation class. Above all, the clothes against her skin, the men turning their heads to watch her pass. The home within her self, finally. At least she would be a girl. That part wouldn’t be a struggle next time around. Another life. More bad food, head colds, roaches, awkward sex. Dogs, hot rain, global crises. Coffee. She let her fingertips graze the tops of several ferns, and spotted a familiar-looking lamp in the hands of a large woman two tables over. She grabbed Frank’s hand and walked over. “What?” The woman drew the lamp to her chest protectively as they approached. “That lamp just looks familiar. I’ll give it back. I don’t want to keep it.” The woman handed the lamp over, and sure enough, on the bottom of the base was a crack in the shape of Florida. It had been her mother’s. Frank watched the woman take the lamp from Mirelle. “Tasha?” He asked. Tasha tucked the lamp into her bag and raised her eyebrows at Frank. “What are you still doing here, Frank?” “I told you I’d been here a long time,” he said to Mirelle. “But I haven’t been here as long as Tasha.” “So what?” said Tasha, throwing her head back defensively. “So nothing. I just thought you’d get a handle on things by now.” Tasha’s face closed into itself, her lips disappearing into a straight line. “I can’t,” she said. She dug through her bag and retrieved a worn-looking envelope. “One card. One. I can’t go back on this card.”

46 · The End of the Objects


Mirelle took the envelope from her. Afghanistan, educated woman, mother of three girls. “I know what it’s like. I was in the military.” “You’ll be on the other side now, though,” Frank said. Mirelle could tell that this was not a comforting statement. “So, what, you’re just going to wander around here for eternity?” “I haven’t decided. I think I might.” “Is that allowed?” Mirelle asked. “I don’t know who’s in charge, actually.” Tasha sighed and looked around. “Nobody’s stopped me so far.” “Well, carrying that lamp around is not going to help you make a decision about going back,” Frank said. “So what? I like it.” Tasha snatched the card back from Mirelle and turned away abruptly. “I can’t believe it,” Mirelle said as she watched Tasha stalk off between the tables. “That was confusing,” Frank said, clearly exasperated. “Why in god’s name would you have passed that useless lamp on to yourself?” “I don’t know. I didn’t exactly use it to kill an intruder and save my family. It was just there. My mother loved it.” Mirelle shrugged. “I wonder how many people are just killing time like Tasha,” she said. “I wish I had a card to give her,” Frank said. “You can’t just trade lives with someone else.” “Who says?” “It just doesn’t seem right.” She couldn’t decide a thing about her deepest desire or her worst fear, and felt at a disadvantage because most of it seemed as distant as a dream from three nights previous. She asked Frank if he felt the same way. “I know what I know,” he said, shoving a pair of sunglasses deep into his bag. Mirelle stopped sleeping after her first makeover. She lay awake listening to Abraham breathe instead, wondering how she had neglected to notice such a crucial element of basic selfhood. For a while, gender panic eclipsed the plain fact that Abraham didn’t return her love. She leapt back and forth through her own history, piecing together clues that had always before just seemed merely pointed in the direction of effeminate—never actually feminine. By way of contribution, Abraham kept the fridge and the printer stocked. During the week, he tossed off translations for French and Spanish classes while working his way through one cheap beer after another. Mirelle struggled to keep her eyes open in class and rarely finished her assignments with any alacrity. Instead of working alongside him in the evenings, she watched Abraham study and thought about what it might feel like to wear a bra.

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On the weekends, he coaxed Mirelle out of the dorm for rehearsals, though she refused to audition for parts and insisted on writing or working backstage. “But it’s acceptable to wear makeup on stage,” he teased one day on the way home from rehearsal. “I prefer to watch my words in action,” she said, unconvincingly. “You lie,” he said. “You just don’t want a boy part.” It was maddening the way he threw those words around when she could barely utter the truth. He had no idea. She loved him every time he slept with a professor, unsuccessfully wooed a basketball player, or shopped through her clothes to prepare for a night of sneaking past bouncers. Sometimes she went with him, but it felt like death each time he trained his beautiful brown eyes on someone else. Frank said he needed to rest, so they picked a bench beside a fountain and sat down. He opened his bag and began unloading its contents. Mirelle watched the passersby. Most of them walked alone, looking bewildered. She elbowed Frank and he looked up to watch the weeping celebrity pass, pushing a wheelbarrow. “What do you think her deepest desire is?” Mirelle asked. “No idea. But I’ll tell you mine,” he said. He held up a tennis ball and a pair of green socks. “After you advise me on which is most ridiculous. Ball? Socks?” Mirelle held out her hands and Frank relinquished the items. He flipped through the pages in his notepad. “My deepest desire is to be alone in my thoughts and my actions,” he read. “It took me forever to get that much down, and it’s lame. Tasha tried to help me make it better, but she has no idea what she’s doing, either.” Mirelle stood up and threw the ball as far as she could and watched it disappear. “There are no walls?” “Focus,” Frank said. Mirelle sat down and looked at Frank. “I think we are supposed to somehow prepare our future selves to achieve that deepest desire, Frank, and I think you might be wrong about how it’s all done.” “I should keep the socks, then?” “No. You probably don’t need anything.” “That’s not what the guy with the gold teeth said.” “You made it through a shit-hole life, Frank. You didn’t hurt yourself or anyone else—” “Not that I didn’t try—” “—and you’re about to embark on another life, just as difficult. Quite possibly. A tennis ball and a pair of socks won’t make or break you. I don’t think you need anything at all.” “Speak for yourself.”

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“I might be. I mean, I think I can do this next life. In fact, after all this meaningless wandering, I’m looking forward to going back. It won’t be a walk in the park, but there are drugs that can adjust my brain chemistry, and I know I figured out how to make family out of friends last time around. I’ve got some useful things here in my bag, sure. They might help me, but I think I’ll make it regardless. In fact, I doubt you’ll be back here if you survive this next time. You ever think that you’re just about done, Frank? Just about ready to bypass the revolving door?” “On to what?” “I can’t say. But this can’t be it.” “I think you’re deluded.” Mirelle shrugged. “Maybe I am. And maybe you’re too comfortable here. Making up stories about your own victimhood.” Frank shot her a look that did not belong to a child. “You want to hang out with Tasha the rest of your days? Never grow up? It’s nice to be tall, Frank. It’s very nice,” she said. “We’ll go together.” “You don’t have to take care of me, Mirelle,” Frank said. The memory of the gun in her mouth was the only one that remained alive in all the fog. Long buried in her lifetime, it shined now. It was a sharp wet night, years and years after they’d moved out of the dorm and into a faux Victorian with vaulted ceilings and bedrooms connected by a long bathroom. There was a big autumn moon, reflected in the puddles on the sidewalks, everywhere at once. The air outside Club DeVine was a welcome surprise—a rainstorm had ushered in a cold front while they’d been inside, and the sweat beneath Mirelle’s clothes turned chill the minute the doors closed behind them. She’d been dancing most of the night with a beautiful young dyke who had a bar code tattooed at the base of her neck. Since beginning the estrogen, she’d found her tastes ventured from beautiful fey men to beautiful butch women—something about the hard line of the shoulders and the softness at the top of the thigh. She and Abraham lived together like there could never be another way. He’d been dating Justin for almost two years, long distance. She’d gone back to graduate school after losing her job for wearing a dress into the office, put her near- brain-dead mother into assisted living, and fallen out of love with Abraham three times. Abraham stuffed his feathered vest into her bag and reached for her hand on the street. They did this as much for protection as for closeness. From the back they could pass as a straight couple headed home after drinks. “So sad we’re going home alone,” he said, with mock sincerity. “Speak for yourself. I got some digits in my purse.” “Please, Mirelle, BarCode Butch was still in diapers. Do not call her unless you want to converse solely about drag king performance art and socialized medicine.”

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Mirelle squeezed Abraham’s hand. “Call Justin when we get home and I’ll confirm your victory over temptation tonight. I saw that glitter boy all up in your face. I could read his mind.” “It’s seven in the morning there.” “So what?” Abraham leaned in affectionately. His head upon her shoulder was the last thing Mirelle felt before she came to with a piece of metal in her mouth and a knee in her crotch. “I wonder what would happen if I chose more than my allotted items,” Frank said. Mirelle threw the socks into the fountain, feeling guilt-free for littering. They sank beneath the surface of the water and disappeared. “Want to hear my biggest fear?” “Not right now,” said Mirelle. They couldn’t agree on which direction to go. The fountain was circular. Three people wrote feverishly at the base of it. There was only white above, white below, white ahead, white behind. It was difficult not to bite down on the barrel of the gun that had torn the inside of her cheek so deeply she was choking on blood. His knee ground bright white pain into her thighs and stomach, and she thought she might pass straight out into the static shrinking her vision. He was saying things to her, things she couldn’t hear, or things she didn’t understand. Mirelle raised an arm. He swung at it with his free hand, and someone else’s boot came down hard on her palm. Then he was up. The gun was gone. She coughed, turned her head and vomited blood. There were three or four of them, the moon like a spotlight over their heads. “You want me to take care of your little problem?” He was saying. Or one of them was saying. She heard someone mutter, almost kindly, “Get up, freak.” She tried to stand, but dropped her head into her hands when the new pain and sight of blood on her skirt threatened to knock her out again. Two of the guys stepped forward, lifted her to her feet, and pushed her against the wall. They held her up. The gun that was once in her mouth was now pointed directly at the bloodstain on her skirt between her legs. “You want me to take care of you? Say it, say yes sir, make my dreams come true. It’s what you want? Right?” Mirelle didn’t answer. One of her back molars was loose. In a sing-song voice, he continued: “Or you can say no, no sir, I want my dick. I love my dick. God made me a man, and men love their dicks. Just that, and I’ll leave you alone. Walk away.” One of the men holding her up let go to light a cigarette. He exhaled into her face and said irritably “I’m bored, man. It’s late. Just tell us what you want us to do.”

50 · The End of the Objects


Mirelle spat. The left side of her peripheral vision was gone. “Don’t shoot,” she said, quietly. “Not good enough,” said the one with the gun. The guy smoking a cigarette sighed loudly. “Where’s Abraham?” Mirelle asked. He rushed her, his face in her face, the metal now pushed against her pelvic bone. “We already killed the faggot,” he said. “Speaking of dick lovers.” Mirelle found his eyes. She told him she loved her dick. “Do you ever get hungry here?” Mirelle asked Frank. He shook his head. They approached a table of firearms. Mirelle leaned over the selection and tried to make a decision. “Know anything about guns?” “Not much, but not for lack of trying.” Frank picked up a semiautomatic rifle, and the sight of him—such a small boy and such a big machine—was strangely pleasant. “This might be the cure they’re talking about,” she said. “For the mental illness.” “That’s not morbid.” He put his eye to the sight, aiming at nothing. “You’re not supposed to kill anyone,” he added. Mirelle dropped a nine millimeter into her bag. It had a satisfying heft. A great size for a purse. Two items to go. Frank put the semi-automatic into his own bag. Mirelle smiled at him. “What?” He said. “I can always drop it later if I change my mind. I’m sure your nine millimeter will suffice, you know. I don’t have the same kind of choice.” Abraham wasn’t dead. He was unconscious, but not shot. Mirelle crawled to him and lowered her swollen face to his chest to make sure she could hear his heartbeat. Then she stood and pulled herself into a 24-hour gas station to call an ambulance. She returned to him and waited for half an hour, her fingers near his mouth, counting every breath. They let her ride with him to the emergency room, where she had difficulty explaining the situation with any clarity. The nurse called her Mitchell and sewed her back together. They threw away her skirt and found her a pair of sweat pants to wear home. She called Abraham’s parents in Puerto Rico and soothed his mother the best she could. “I laughed in that fuckwad’s face,” he told Mirelle the second morning. “That’s why he jacked me up. I was never scared, and he knew it.” “Hell of a way to prove your manhood,” she said, unfolding an ice compress from his crusted, yellowing forehead. “Yeah? Well, where were you, Mirelle?” “What do you want me to say? I was enjoying a cold beverage while they beat the shit out of you? I was unconscious, Abe.”

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“You also never fight for shit.” Mirelle turned her back. She returned to the kitchen to refill his water bottle, thinking he couldn’t mean what he said. He was only upset, hurting, scared. He’d always been able to fend off attackers with his loud mouth or his fists. This time, he hadn’t had the chance. Mirelle heard Abraham on the phone that night, speaking in angry low tones long after he’d said good night to her. Justin arrived the next day and Abraham left with him within the week. His face hadn’t even lost its patchwork bruising, and he was gone. “I fear there’s no end to this place,” Mirelle said, looking around. Frank asked to see her bag again. She handed it to him as she circled a pile of things with little screens that lit up when touched. She had no idea what they might be used for, but she chose one and began to experiment. A man next to her was speaking quietly into the screen, and he seemed to be listening to something that she couldn’t hear. She looked up to ask Frank his opinion, and didn’t see him. She called his name a couple of times, returning to the spot where she’d handed him her bag. He was gone. His bag was there, emptied of all objects, save his original blue sweater. She dug around and below the sweater, she found that he’d left her own notepad, and her own envelope minus the one card she’d chosen for her future self. Her future as a woman was gone, gone with Frank. She ran a few futile steps toward nothing and then sank onto a bench. Anger punched its way through the fog of distance that had overtaken her memories. Biggest fear: being blindsided. Complete loss of control. She opened the envelope and pulled out the remaining card. Male, Ritual Abuse at Hands of Trusted Family Friend, Divorced Parents, Southern United States. Mirelle retrieved the notebook from the bag, and then dropped the bag on the floor and kicked it underneath a chair. Beneath her worst fear, she wrote her greatest desire: retribution. Then she set out for the beginning again.

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Call It What It Is MARY LOU BUSCHI

There is dark. There is light. Nothing else, except you and the wheel you are holding and the key that you trust fits into its neat slot. Imagine it could be different. You are in Italy during the 16 th century in an impoverished theater. The color draining from the landscape. Cut stone stairs and men in long robes. You are the comic servant, Fantesca, feigning love for a clown. And you are good at it. You can feel the men believing in you. But you know that it’s not possible to love this clown. So you add to it. Titivate, curling fingers, an electric current running through you. Now you are full blossom, full flame, unassailable, a part of history. Impeccable character: slender, arms raised slightly to crest the man’s face. If only you could shoot the hearts—watch them fall into the heads of the sad people below? This isn’t much of a fantasy. Sunlight melting the dash. Air whipping dust through a road that carves mountains out of mineral—men leaving the theater, wheels pelting stones through air.

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Beauty School

First, make sure the face is clean. Start at the temple, knead the skin with your index and middle fingers in a cross skating motion. Once you have loosened the tension move to the cheekbones and press gently. This person will want her hair finger waved next. You will need finger waving solution, a flat black comb and the same two fingers to create the wave that will lie flat to the scalp and dry in a shape so perfect no wind can part it. And, yes, the wind can be fierce and destructive, igniting fires and fueling a burn intense enough to fell a forest. Focus, your next customer may want pin curls. You will need sharp clips to catch the end of each curl after you let it go. The trick is letting go. Your fingers will need a stealth grip on the curl before your fingers pull out of the center. This movement will need to be repeated every ½ inch on the scalp. Once the clips are in place, the hair must dry completely. Only then can the comb-out be magnificent. Remember to keep yourself busy during the drying—away from the dark thoughts. Your hands trembled during the facial. This salon is a lake on thin ice. While waiting, memorize the bones of the hand beginning with the carpal, scaphoid, capitates, hamate . . . Your next customer will test you by presenting her hand. You will need to recant each bone before cutting her cuticles, before cutting each strand of her hair because you will be using a scissor sharp enough to sever air.

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APOSPECIMEN AWARD FOR POETRY


The Paranormal Guide to Wedding Etiquette PEDRO PONCE

Old

I

f one were to believe the preponderance of paranormal encounter narratives, one would likely live in fear of—or hope for—the plethora of strange detours afforded by ordinary circumstance. Ghosts haunt offices and rural roadsides; aliens hunt abductees in supermarket parking lots; spouses vanish from cornfields, birthday parties, honeymoons, cars in midcommute. Enter an elevator at a certain hour of night. For the paranormalist, your chances of perishing from mechanical failure are exponentially outweighed by the likelihood that you will emerge far in space and time from your intended floor. The same cannot be said of weddings. Any number of paranormal events may surround a wedding. A proposal’s acceptance coincides with the flight of doves from nearby shrubbery. The rain expected to dampen a nuptial weekend clears brilliantly just before the ceremony. Or, as in the recent reception staple “Save a Dance for Daddy” by country musician Bo Lovell, a grizzled Gulf War veteran returns to attend his daughter’s wedding; by the last verse, we learn he has been killed in action and is attending the ceremony literally in spirit before “dancing to my Great Reward.” But the spirits hold their peace, yeti and Sasquatch admit no impediment, the fabric of the cosmos is not put asunder. Recently, I spent most of an afternoon in the stacks of the public library’s central branch, looking for stories of the unexplained at weddings or wedding receptions. Even with the latter expanded search terms, I failed to find a single documented narrative or eyewitness account. Several hours into my search, I cheered triumphantly—to the annoyance of a transient pair dozing drunkenly nearby—as the computer returned a reference to Helen Tremaine’s Wedding Disasters. I should have suspected a false lead from the title’s listing under “Customs, Etiquette & Folklore.” I was perhaps overly eager from so much time spent fruitlessly. Not until I had the volume in my hands did I read its full title: Wedding Disasters and How to Avoid Them: How to Plan (and Enjoy!) Your Special Day. I perused the table of contents on the off chance that the author included a relevant chapter, or at least an anecdote or two. Apart from dismissing the recent fashion for throwing birdseed at departing newlyweds (the deadliness of rice to birds and squirrels was pure urban myth) and encouraging the bride to put her

55


own stamp on wedding tradition (“Every bride needs something old, something new, something borrowed, and everything fabulous!”), the disasters were all hypothesis, easily thwarted by the proper application of platitude and exclamation point. The lights overhead began blinking on and off, a signal that the library was about to close. I proceeded to the exit. There are, of course, less trivial impediments to the marriage of true minds. The recent indictment of a Michigan groom for allegedly leaving his bride to drown during their Australian honeymoon; the abandonment at the altar of a New York City bride who, at the reception now held to celebrate singlehood regained, shuffled bravely to the defiant strains of Gloria Gaynor; the well-documented story of the groom who toasted his guests with compromising photographs of the bride and best man left beneath every chair in the reception hall—these and countless other nuptial misfortunes seem to justify the smug proprieties that betoken the successful exchange of vows. But the motives behind such derelictions are easily attributed. There is nothing of the supernatural in a spouse’s greed or suspicion. Nature has proven itself to be largely polygamous; we are one of the few species to practice monogamy and the only one, as far as we know, of sufficient intelligence—or lack thereof—to codify biological imperatives. The best-known—albeit fictional—paranormal wedding narrative must certainly be Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” though the wedding is more of a framing device for the Mariner’s tale of avenging spirits and monsters at sea: It is an ancient Mariner, And he stoppeth one of three “By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, Now wherefore stopp’st thou me? “The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide, And I am next of kin; The guests are met, the feast is set: May’st hear the merry din.” [The Mariner] holds him with his skinny hand, “There was a ship,” quoth he. Of more recent provenance is the tale of another wedding guest who, to lighten the onus of a long reception line, decided to share a quaint and only slightly risqué bit of wedding night wisdom with the bride and groom. Having embraced the newlyweds, he withdrew slightly, keeping one hand on each of their shoulders.

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“Well,” he began, in the deadpan manner he had practiced carefully the day before in the rental car from the airport, “hope you guys don’t wear each other out tonight.” Had he been less intent on his engaging punch line, he would have noticed the matron next in line swivel her head abruptly in his direction, her neck clacking with pearls. The groom, whose practiced smile wavered slightly, patted the guest warmly on the back, perhaps to dissemble his complete lack of recognition. “Thanks guy,” he said, cocking one hand like a pistol and winking suggestively. The guest, anxious that his remarks would lose their humorous effect if broken up by the groom’s glib riposte, began again. “Seriously. You guys should really take it easy on each other—” The bride interrupted, grinning stiffly. “We’re so glad you could make it,” she said. She indicated the matron with the slightest shake of her head. “I don’t know if you know my grandmother, who flew all the way from Albuquerque.” The guest offered the grandmother his hand; the grandmother shook it limply, her expression cool. The punch line would have to stand on its own. “Anyway—” In mid-sentence, he felt the groom begin to guide him onward. Before he was out of earshot, the guest hurriedly elaborated on the folkloric context of his perhaps off-color but nevertheless well-intentioned remarks: the superstitious belief that the first to fall asleep on the wedding bed will be the first to die. “So, you know, try not to kill each other tonight.” He chuckled to signal his humorous intent, clasping the groom’s shoulder. The grandmother stepped into the narrow space between them and silenced the guest with a discreet elbow to the ribs. She dissembled the blow with vociferous praise of the ceremony and the bride’s gown. Rather than embarrass her by reacting—the gauntness of her arm sharpened the impact considerably—the guest moved aside without protest to accommodate her ill-gotten audience. The lingering guest now dispatched, the line moved briskly. The bride and groom endured the fraught permutations of wedding portraiture with relatively little fuss (the bride’s estranged older brother hesitated briefly before posing with the wedding party; her mother-in-law demanded the same position in every shot to guarantee posterity her most flattering side). The reception was sufficiently lavish, despite the lack of a pork entrée and a minor malfunction in the third tier of the champagne fountain. Despite loving threats before the ceremony—and the goading of several drunken guests—the feeding of the cake left neither newlywed unpleasantly besmirched. The garter and bouquet toss produced a happy pairing, if not from this day forward, at least for part of the night. At eleven, the bride and groom retreated discreetly to the nearest elevator to the honeymoon suite. Despite their exhaustion, they mustered more than enough energy to consecrate their union beneath a canopy of seafoam stripes. They fed each

Pedro Ponce · 57


other strawberries and squares of chocolate from the gift basket provided compliments of the hosting franchise. They extinguished their bedside lamps and spooned beneath percale sheets, talking softly in the dark. As the light over the Pacific went from black to deep indigo, they had yet to fall asleep. The groom sat up and padded to the bathroom. The bride hit the lights on her side of the bed. Her husband squinted over a tumbler of water. He took several sips and passed the glass to his bride. “I’m still so wired,” said the groom, stretching his arms toward the ceiling. He propped up several pillows and leaned back against them. “Still coming down, I guess. From everything.” The bride said nothing as she drank. “You’d think we’d both be exhausted. We’ve been up for—” He looked at the red digits of the sleek black clock glowing against the mahogany nightstand. “Hours,” he continued. “But here we are. Both of us. Wide awake.” Still the bride said nothing. She drained the glass and set it down next to her side of the bed. She reached for the phone. The groom looked over quizzically. “I think it’s too late for room service.” The bride continued dialing. “I’m not calling room service.” Five floors down, the phone in my guest suite began ringing.

New The ancient Greeks considered balance to be divine and calculated its exact numerical proportions, replicating them in the dimensions of their temples and statuary. During the Renaissance, balance was a matter of perspective, allowing the flat canvas to assume the fullness of three dimensions. Asymmetry, by contrast, provokes and disturbs. The photographer crops unevenly to create expectation of what is outside the frame; the off center shot in film foreshadows trouble. Our predilection for balance extends as far back as the occult origins of civilization. In numerology, the number two represents unity and completion. The number one stands for independence and drive, but it is also associated with restlessness and the persistence of desire unfulfilled. To refer to one’s “better half” is thus more than affectionate flattery—it is the expression of an archetypal impulse, as old as the caveman’s mute foreboding as he stared skyward into the hemispheric husk of a waning moon. The women at my table acknowledged these remarks with polite indifference. I will not detain the reader with a catalog of possible excuses for my unsolicited disquisition, although these were certainly in abundance: the late arrival of my flight the night before after several delays; the cocktails I had consumed earlier on an empty stomach; the wine I

58 · The Paranormal Guide to Wedding Etiquette


subsequently consumed to accompany my chicken cordon bleu and mixed seasonal greens; my self-consciousness as I introduced myself to the woman sitting next to me; my disappointment on seeing her ring finger, where the snout of a diamond perched in smug reproach; my neighbor’s far less attractive friend, who asked for every detail of the impending nuptials, swooning with anticipatory relish that barely disguised her seething envy. “You’re so his better half,” she said, prompting protest from the bride-to-be. “I mean it. You’re like the person that completes him. You know? Like in that movie with—” Here is where I interrupted, less to be helpful than to relieve the beginnings of a hangover. Before continuing, I would like to make one thing clear: I am not the sort of person who resents love. Indeed, I celebrate love. I admire the serendipity that brings two people together, the persistence that keeps them together over time or distance or both, the commitment they share on occasions just like this. Yet would one choose to feast on such rich food every day? We savor holiday fowl, the sweetness of birthday cake. But their richness is enhanced because of their rarity, whereas a daily diet of them would quickly dull our palates. And so I enjoy the occasional romance matinee. I welcome calls from friends, breathless with news of their latest flirtations or more serious prospects, only screening when prior commitments prevent my focused attention. I am no less avid than the rest of my dinner companions when, between courses, a couple dissects with forensic precision the exact circumstances (the sunlit curls that stopped me in my tracks; the virile baritone that turned my knees to jelly) to which we owe their felicitous conjunction. It is to appreciate moments such as these as fully as possible that, for much of the year, I studiously avoid the least possibility of encountering them. Nevertheless, when the bride invited me, I felt obliged to go. We’ve known each other since college and, for several years after graduation, we lived in the same city. We would see each other frequently, as her office was only two blocks from Déjà Lu, the used book store where I served as cashier and was recently promoted to assistant manager. Despite regular gatherings for drinks or dinner, we lost touch, apart from the occasional card or e-mail, after she was moved to her company’s western headquarters. There, she met the groom, then a medical student, now a resident in internal medicine at one of the nation’s premier teaching hospitals. I first met the groom at the rehearsal dinner the night before; he seemed perfectly affable despite his being primarily conversant in ESPN SportsCenter. The soundtrack for dessert was Michael Bublé. I was struck by the odd coincidence as he had lately become an important addition to Déjà Lu’s growing music department. Among the assistant manager’s newly assumed responsibilities was the whiteboard above the cash register. Here, management recommended recently arrived used discs. The board was split down the middle by a red line of dry erase ink. On the left side—IF YOU ARE—the store listed a timely selection of customers’ possible moods or

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states of mind: IF YOU ARE/ OFF TO THE BEACH/ SEXLESS IN THE CITY/ AFRAID FOR YOUR DWINDLING CIVIL LIBERTIES. On the right side—YOU MIGHT ENJOY—were the store’s corresponding recommendations: VAMPIRE WEEKEND/ GOLDFRAPP/ VOTING NEXT TIME. After hearing most of the singer’s new record in line at the local deli, I was moved to add to the whiteboard after lunch: IF YOU ARE/ DEAD INSIDE/ YOU MIGHT ENJOY/ MICHAEL BUBLÉ. The chatter at my table resumed. The bride-to-be’s friend dabbed with her fork at a sliver of tiramisu. “Oh, I love this song. Don’t you love this song?” She turned to the rest of the table, mostly friends of the groom from medical school who had vacated their seats for the bar. “Do you know what your song’s gonna be?” she asked. The bride-to-be shook her head. “We haven’t decided yet. I sort of want that song I told you about. Remember? The one that goes—” Here she affected the throaty warble of Nellie McKay. “I think she’s being ironic,” I said. Her eyes narrowed to caramel slits. “Who is?” she asked. “That singer. About getting married. She’s not being serious.” Her friend leaned over a shallow pool of sugary mush. “Do you know what you’re being right now?” “I’m trying to be helpful,” I retorted. “People only hear the melody. No one ever listens to the words.” “Well right now, none of us wants to listen to you.” She raised a hand parallel to the side of her face, a fashionable gesture denoting the end of her receptivity. I felt a tap at my shoulder. I was relieved to see the bride leaning into my periphery. “Why aren’t you dancing?” she asked. I said nothing and drained my wine glass. She extended her hand resolutely. “You know it’s bad luck not to dance with the bride if she asks.” “Bad luck for who?” I asked. Her hand flattened with insistence. “C’mon,” she said. I allowed myself to be led to the floor, where several couples twirled in loose clusters to Frank Sinatra. I felt my feet drag heavily next to her heels, but after a few measures, we were swaying easily in time. “Is there anyone else here I can offend?” I asked. “I think I’m done with most of your co-workers.” She laughed over my shoulder. “I told Grammy you have Tourette’s.” “You didn’t.” She nodded. I looked down at my feet again. “Are you having a good time?” she asked. “Sure,” I said. “It beats burgers at The Tombs.” “Ugh . . . you still go there?” “Not with the rent I’m paying.” Sinatra’s voice swelled to fill a brief silence. “You shouldn’t worry about me,” I said. “I’m fine.” “So you read about—”

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“It’s The New York Times. It gets around.” The bride looked up toward the surrounding tables. “She has great timing, as always.” “It doesn’t matter.” “You didn’t have to come. I would have understood.” I looked at her. “I wanted to be here. Really.” “What’s it been?” “A few years.” Her eyes remained locked on mine. “Give or take a few more years.” “This couldn’t have been a surprise. I mean—” “Of course not. It’s biological imperative. Did you know in a recent study of bats, almost 90 percent of females preferred gainfully employed male bats with thinning hair and bad skin?” A bridesmaid approached and whispered in the bride’s ear. “I have to go,” the bride said. “Try and have a good time? Not for me—for you?” She vanished into the gathering crowd clumping in pairs to Al Green. If my single tablemate took offense at dinner, all was forgiven by the bouquet toss. She emerged from a flurry of outstretched hands bearing the prize clenched tightly to her chest. She leaped repeatedly in triumph before being gently escorted back to her table. I congratulated her as she walked past in a cloud of pungent perfume. At the front of the ballroom, the DJ leaned into his microphone. “The fun’s not over yet, ladies and gentlemen. It’s the guys’ turn now. I need all the single men in the room to report to the dance floor immediately.” The seated bride and standing groom were already there. I stared at the slick tumbler in my hand, unsure of where it had come from. The bride rose slightly from her chair and scanned the room. I shrugged, the glass now empty, and stood. I was halfway across the floor when I noticed the only other single making his way to the front. I slowed my steps, looking for the nearest exit. I stared into a solid wall of pumps, wingtips, and sandals. “C’mon fellas. Don’t be shy. There’s nothing wrong with being a loser—I mean ladies’ man.” There was scattered applause and booing. “C’mon guys. Hurry it up. The groom’s hoping to get lucky tonight.” The DJ put on a burlesque melody and proceeded to give instructions. The bride hiked her skirts while the groom kneeled. (“Looks like this one knows his way around down there!”) He reached up and pulled the garter off her leg. “Now you guys,” the DJ said, pointing at us, “take a few steps back . . . Back . . . More . . . That’s it, keep going . . . We don’t want to make it too easy.” We were at the dance floor’s midpoint by the time he told us to stop. The groom’s back was a wavering silhouette in the distance next to the blur of the bride’s dress. I felt my knees begin to buckle as the DJ counted. “On three . . . One . . . Two . . . Three!” There was a drum roll. The garter disappeared into the lights overhead. I waited, almost forgetting to raise my arms. I could only guess the garter’s trajectory as I stared into

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the glare of chandeliers. There was cheering all of a sudden; I clenched my empty fingers with relief. I began to bolt back to my seat when I noticed the loop of lace dangling from my chest. The garter had hooked itself on one corner of my tie tack. It was fixed there so firmly that removing it caused the material to tear slightly. “Easy there, cowboy,” said the DJ, winking. “Getting it off’s only half the fun.” The bride had vacated her seat; the chair was now occupied by the girl with the bouquet. A few pink petals tumbled from her lap to the floor. She had removed her shoes; her toenails looked coppery stubbed beneath her stockings. “OK,” the DJ continued, “now this next part is crucial. You paying attention? Or are you too busy trying to look up the pretty lady’s skirt? . . . Your mission, should you choose to accept it”—I will let the reader fill in the most appropriate musical accompaniment—”is to slide that garter up the lady’s leg as far as it will go. The higher you go, the better luck for the bride and groom.” I was, needless to say, rather skeptical about the provenance of this superstition—it had no precedent in the texts I could recall offhand—but the music was too loud for me to make my queries heard, much less understood. I went down on one knee. The blare of brass was soon joined by whistling and more applause. Her foot slid between my palms. Her big toe dug sharply at my wrist. I looked up and caught her wink. I proceeded to honor the bride and groom. It did not occur to me to consult with my presumptive partner about the extent of my reach. The clapping grew louder, more rhythmic as I eased the lace further up. Her mouth, rimmed with sweat, smiled tautly. Somewhere above the knee, her thighs squeezed my fingers to a stop. I sank into the warm pressure. She yielded another inch, then another. Finally, I stopped. I gave her thigh a firm pinch as I withdrew. Her yelp of surprise was masked by the music in front of us and the shrillness behind. “Let’s give these two some room,” said the DJ, introducing Marvin Gaye. We were clenched together now at the waist. I felt her mouth at my ear. “You’re bad,” she said, with a trace of admonition, but I could feel her stomach flutter through her dress. She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Did you like molesting me in public?” I nodded wordlessly. She leaned against my shoulder, facing out. Others had joined us, but swayed along at a discreet remove. Her lips grazed my ear again. “I think you’re cute,” she said. “As long as you keep your mouth shut.” She laughed and leaned back onto my shoulder. “Why is that, anyway?” “Why’s what?” “Guys are so weird. They treat you like shit in front of everybody. But get them alone and they can’t keep their hands to themselves.” “Is that what they do with you?”

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She looked away for a second before answering. “Sometimes.” She leaned in again. “I couldn’t help myself,” I said. “Really?” “Mmhmm.” She smiled. Her hands hung damply at the back of my neck. “And what made me so irresistible?” “You really want to know?” She nodded, her lips parted slightly. “Alcohol, mostly,” I said. “Alcohol and desperation.” Her mouth flattened to a pallid line. She pulled away. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Come back.” But the laughter kept rising from my throat. I laughed through Marvin Gaye and half of “Love Shack.” I laughed as I watched the back of her dress retreat between stilled dancers. I laughed until my own eyes stung, streaking the sides of my face. The singer Graham Parker once compared the hangover—specifically, the din that seems to line the skull the morning after overindulging—to canned laughter. I can personally attest to the accuracy of this description in spirit if not in exact detail. Canned laughter certainly goes a long way toward capturing its essence, but there are certain layers and nuances that escape the concision of popular song—much as I admire the latter form and Parker’s work in particular. There is, for example, the further echo of voices raised across the whole spectrum of human emotion: curiosity, disbelief, indignant seething, simmering animosity, full-blown rage. There is the sense memory of your own cloudy actions and reactions: the tightness in your throat as you raised your own voice (in defense? in song?); the clutch of objects that were not yours for the taking (another’s drink? the DJ’s microphone?). There is the impression of halting conversation with disinterested silhouettes in tuxedo jackets and pastel satins. Perhaps you have not been heard, so you talk louder into the din. The music cuts off. You are shouting into a pillow, alone under sweaty sheets. To these impressions may be added the chirp of the phone on one’s nightstand. “Hello?” I croaked into the receiver. “Get up here. Now.” The voice gave a room number before abruptly hanging up. I stared feverishly into the darkness as I placed the source of the call. The bride was summoning me. The hotel’s air conditioned corridor was a relief from the damp swaddling in which I’d woken up. Except for my blazer, which was nowhere to be found, I was still dressed—shoes and all—so after some initial confusion it only took a few moments to get to the elevators. But as soon as the doors

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closed and the car began its ascent, I felt a burning knot rising rapidly to my throat. I swallowed hard. The elevator stopped. The door to the honeymoon suite was already open. I knocked anyway. The groom answered in a dark blue terry cloth robe and led me toward a seat facing the bed. I was distracted from my nausea by the wide dimensions of the room. Before I could ask about the bride, she emerged from the bathroom carrying a glass of water. She wore a robe matching the groom’s. She didn’t look at me as she joined us. “If this is about the reception, I think I’ve apologized. Multiple times.” The bride gave me a look that instantly silenced me. “You’re not here because of that,” she said. She briefly noticed my dishevelment. “You want some water?” I swallowed again and felt my stomach settle tenuously. “I’m fine.” “I’m glad,” said the bride. “I’m glad you’re fine. We”—here she glanced at the groom—”were just talking about you.” “You were?” The bride nodded. “Among other things. Sports. Current events.” “Those are really the same thing, you know.” “Shut up,” the bride said. The groom raised one hand in a calming gesture. “We’ve been up here. Together. On our wedding night. The happiest day of our lives.” “So far,” added the groom. “So far,” acknowledged the bride. “We’ve had a beautiful day. The usual last-minute stuff with flowers and catering. But otherwise it’s gone as well as anyone would want.” She joined hands with the groom. “I—we are happy. We’ve had a beautiful wedding day. And a beautiful wedding night.” The groom grinned, mildly embarrassed, before speaking. “Only thing is—” “You can’t sleep,” I said, remembering the reception line. “You can’t—” I laughed, each chuckle sending a sharp throb to the center of my forehead. I closed my eyes and waited for the pounding to stop. When I opened them, the bride was watching me, her mouth taut in silence. “Oh, come on,” I said. “You have to admit, this is sort of funny.” The bride gestured for me to be quiet. “I know it is. But he—” The groom opened his mouth as if to interrupt. “We just thought since we were up—” “—you could tell us more,” said the groom. “Like maybe there’s something we could do to break the spell.” “Spell? What spell?” The throb resumed as I sat up. “You know what they say about superstitions.” “What?” asked the groom, eagerly. “They’re only true if you believe them.”

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The bride took a seat on the edge of the bed next to the groom, looking down at the plush carpet. The groom put an arm around her. “If the Soporex doesn’t work, I’ve got something stronger—” “I knew it,” she said, brushing him away. “Things were just going too well—” Her voice caught but she quickly regained her composure. She looked up. “You’re right, though. It is sort of funny. As wedding disasters go.” “No,” I said. “Don’t say that. What I said before, forget it. It’s bullshit.” The groom stood up hopefully. “You made it up?” “Not all of it . . . But that’s not important. The important thing is that you’re together. Who cares who falls asleep first? You have years with each other.” I tried to rest a consoling hand on the bride’s shoulder, but she stood and went to the suite’s wide windows. The curtains were open; the harbor outside was now visible in the graying light. “You know I used to have a thing for you,” she said. The groom and I looked at each other. “This was a long time ago. Long before I met him.” She took a seat on a nearby wing chair. She crossed her bare legs, swinging one over the other as she spoke. “Remember that summer I was living around Eastern Market?” “Yeah.” “My roommate was out of town on the Fourth. We were meeting everybody at the Mall. I wore that blue seersucker dress, with the spaghetti straps? The one you liked on me.” I looked at the groom. “I never—” “Oh, you liked it,” she said. “I didn’t really have it planned out. I would just wait until the right moment. You know, maybe during the fireworks. But that would be sort of cheesy. Maybe after, with all the smoke. So no one would see us sneak off. Just the two of us.” I could taste the return of my nausea. “I—I had no idea.” “Of course you didn’t.” She turned to her husband. “I was giving him every possible sign. Laughing hysterically at everything he said. And you know he’s not that funny.” “I’ve got the picture,” said the groom. “And all he can talk about—before, during, and after—was Denise, Denise, Denise. Denise still hasn’t returned my phone call. Denise returned my phone call but she sounded weird. Denise forgot our ten-week anniversary.” “Twelve weeks,” I said. “It was twelve—” “She was two time zones away. What did you expect? Anyway, you did me a favor. When I stopped feeling sorry for you, I stopped feeling anything at all.” She stood and rejoined her husband on the bed. “He’s right,” she told him. “We’re fine. We’re going to be fine. Because this is real.”

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“That’s not fair,” I said. “She’s still—” “Fucking someone else. Married to someone else. Having someone else’s babies. For your sake, there better be an afterlife. That’s the only future in loving a ghost.” I stood. The room was spinning now. I prepared to run to the bathroom, but all that came out was a burning belch. “You OK?” asked the groom. “Let me get you some water.” When I started wavering again, he guided me gently to the bed. The bride was at the window, steeped in the growing light from the harbor. The groom returned with a full glass. I could think of nothing to say as I drank. The bride continued her vigil. After several minutes, the groom cleared his throat. “You know, maybe we’re thinking about this all wrong. This is really just a good excuse to keep the party going.” “Honey, no.” The bride turned from the window. She seemed more relaxed, but her eyes avoided mine as she left the area of the balcony. “I’m so tired—” “Well then why don’t you go to sleep?” he said. They exchanged a brief look. He began working the dial of a portable music player. “Most of this is mood music for us, but we must have burned something you like. What’re you in the mood for?” he asked as he fixed the player into the bedside speaker dock. “Whatever,” I said. I pressed the cold glass to my forehead and closed my eyes. “Here you go. The Very Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions. You’re into that British New Wave stuff, right?” I opened my eyes. “That collection is for dilettantes. It barely scratches the surface.” I was about to go into the glaring discographic omissions when I noticed the bride’s brittle glare. “That would be perfect. Thank you,” I said. We listened to “Alison,” then “Watching the Detectives.” The opening drums on “Chelsea” felt as if they were being played against my temples. The groom refilled my glass and filled one of his own. I took a few sips, but mostly I just liked the coolness of the wet glass on my forehead. The groom stood over me. “How’re you feeling? Better?” he asked. I nodded. “Anything else I can get for you?” “No,” I said, then noticed the blurred outline of the groom through the glass. The bubbles along the sides looked soapy. And some held their shape as they sunk to the bottom in opaque shards. I set the glass somewhere on my lap. Both newlyweds were in front of me now, watching. I felt myself sink back under the nuptial canopy. Words were suddenly hard to remember, but I managed to make myself understood. “Was all that true?” I asked. “That time on the Mall?”

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“You know what they say about superstitions,” said the bride. She snatched the glass from my hand before it tipped onto the carpet. My eyes shut. Borrowed “I fear thee, ancient Mariner! I fear thy skinny hand! And thou art long, and lank, and brown, As is the ribbed sea-sand. “I fear thee and thy glittering eye, And thy skinny hand, so brown.”

Blue I heard before I could see: a humming echo that seemed to carry me upwards to breach. The surface was solid black, then lightened to blue. I could make out the ripple of currents overhead. In their approaching transparency, I could see clouds and the outlines of sea birds. I rose faster, bracing for the shock of breath. The honeymoon suite was fully lit in the overcast late morning. The music had looped back to the long fade-out of “Accidents Will Happen.” By the curtains parted over the harbor, the newlyweds dozed together upright on a chair, each tilted over an armrest, heads lolling awkwardly over the narrow space between. I left and took the elevator down to the lobby. Outside, I crossed the parking lot and the adjoining street to the rocks at the harbor’s edge. The higher rocks were sandy and dry, but the lower I went, the more fresh seaweed rose and fell with the current. In the pools along the water’s surface, black crabs gathered, alternately submerged and scrambling along the stones left glistening by the retreating tide. They scrabbled over the tips of my shoes; the leather was too smooth for their claws to find traction. The tide returned, higher this time. I watched my feet sink into a tide pool festooned with bobbing kelp. The water had an inviting warmth—only when the tide retreated did I feel the clammy heaviness of my legs. The next wave sprayed foam above my knees and pulled at the cuffs of my slacks. I waited. For sailors, the ninth wave is charmed, rising to take you to other worlds that, only in the guise of this one, could be mistaken for oblivion. But my head was clear and my feet were cold and my stomach swelled with appetite. I clambered back, in search of breakfast.

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The Poisoner’s Haiku MEG COWEN

(arsenic) Blackberry pie laced with inheritance powder: permeates tissue.

(chloroform) Fumes so sugary, like putting a child to sleep: collects in the brain.

(wood alcohol) Prohibition’s fault, odorless, Gin Fizz cocktail: a sudden blindness.

(cyanide) Egyptian peach-death, almond-scented Prussian blue: convulsions; clenched teeth.

(mercury) Quicksilver divides, a deadly, salted message: steady erosion.

(radium) Curie’s preferred drink, seltzer with a long half-life: all the bones light up.

68


Blue Madeline’s Version GREGORY J. WOLOS

E

ric pulls up short of his driveway. It’s 11AM on what had begun as a work day, and his house doesn’t look right. He’s seen it catching the mid-morning sun on weekends, but this is different. Everything else on the block of modest homes seems switched off—no cars or hum of mowers, no kids on bikes. He doesn’t see a squirrel or a sparrow—and if he had seen a bird overhead, frozen in mid-flight as in a museum diorama, it wouldn’t have surprised him. But Eric’s Cape Cod glows: the bricks seem kiln fresh, the red door and shutters blaze. The hedges swell with vibrant green. His home seems lit from within, like a poorly timed holiday display. Three hours earlier, he’d left for the office, passing his jogging neighbor, Larry Feldstein, the bachelor retiree. “DMJ,” Eric called—Dead Man Jogging. Twelve times around the block for Larry, like clockwork since his triple bypass five years ago. “DMW,” Larry responded, pointing at Eric. Dead Man Working. They share this exchange most mornings. DMW no longer, Eric hopes Larry hasn’t noticed his early return. At 9:30, Eric had been called into the third floor conference room and sacked. We recognize your contribution—the director of human resources said, smirking, as if the firing was a preliminary reading for an absurd play. Eric had never heard her voice until that moment. Kurt, his boss, didn’t lift his eyes from a document that could have been a script. But you haven’t met the agreed upon goals set at your last performance review. Performance review? Eric couldn’t recall such a meeting. At the water cooler a few months earlier Kurt had asked about Eric’s family, nodded, and encouraged him to get those numbers up. That had been a performance review? Up was a goal? He’d had thirty minutes to clean out his desk, then was paraded by security past his former colleagues. Now Eric stands on the stoop of his empty home—Celia is at a threeday button convention in Buffalo. Nothing is familiar. He fumbles for his keys before finding them in the hand grasping his briefcase. He might as well have left that behind. All he’d shoveled into it was a staple remover, a box of ball point pens, and the photograph of Celia and his children, David and Eva, taken a dozen years ago on a Lake George beach. He’s thinking of that white beach and the deep blue water behind, the green Adirondacks humped in the distance when he stumbles over a package on the welcome mat.

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Returning home to a package is a first. Celia would usually have claimed a delivery by the afternoon, and nothing ever came on weekends. Is this something from work? Recognition for his contribution. A gold watch? Or something, he can’t imagine what, acknowledging that a mistake had been made—please accept this token of apology and return to work tomorrow morning. The package is the size of half a shoebox and weighs almost nothing— no gold watch. Eric’s name isn’t on the label: “Training Facility, 232 Van Curler Road.” His address is 232 Verona. The police training facility is two blocks south. There’d been a mix up once before. On a Saturday afternoon, an officer had stepped out of his cruiser and presented Eric, who was wondering if he was about to be cited for an unmuffled lawnmower, with what turned out to be a box of copper buttons addressed to Celia. Never before, however, has something intended for the police been left at the door. The return address on this package is for Atlantic Chemicals in Union, New Jersey. Clamping the box under his arm and sweeping the street with a wary glance, Eric unlocks his front door and steps in, calling, “Hello!” out of habit. A man should accept his dismissal stoically. He wouldn’t interrupt Celia’s pleasure trip with his bad news—she’d leave her convention to offer her unnecessary support. He can afford to retire, if they’re frugal. There’ll be severance pay, then unemployment, and before long his pension and Social Security. They’re mortgage free, and the kids are responsible for their own graduate school loans. No one will expect him to complain; he’s gruff, not much of a talker. He’d run out of things to say to his children years ago, and, unlike Celia, who bemoans their absence, he can celebrate memories without a corpus delecti. Children move on; it’s the way of the world, and silence needn’t imply the washing of hands. And Celia lives blissfully in her world of antique buttons. “Imagine the hearts that beat behind these bits of bone and horn and metal,” she mused once, stirring a cookie tin filled with her favorites. Eric woodworks, a pastime both physical and practical. It looks to the future. His wish for more time to pursue his hobby has been granted. The couple has faced life placidly for years. Only once had Celia’s mask loosened: ten years past, when a beloved younger cousin died tragically of an aneurism. No father in the picture, her orphaned five year old had only her grandmother, Celia’s aunt, who, Celia fretted, was “nearly deranged, possibly an alcoholic. If we offer, she’ll let us have Madeline. We’ve got the guestroom.” Romantic fantasies about buttons were one thing. Raising a stranger probably damaged by both nature and nurture was something else entirely. Eric and Celia had the one boy and one girl of the perfect family. A new, unplanned child would have subverted the mathematics. No noble gestures, he’d declared. The fire in Celia’s eyes flickered and died. “Impulse buying has messy consequences,” he concluded. His wife whispered her final

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accusation: “You are a hollow man.” They never spoke directly of the little girl again, though somehow Eric knew the grandmother had proven unsuitable, and the child had ended up in foster care. From the folding chair beside his basement work table, Eric contemplates the mis-delivered package. If the police come looking, he’ll deny knowledge of it. He cuts the packing tape and opens the flaps. Nestled in shredded green paper is an ampoule of golden liquid. When he plucks it out and holds it up to the fluorescent light, a yellow streak runs down his wrist, as if the ampoule is leaking color. An invoice lists a single item: “Cadaver scent.” Neither the price nor directions are included, though a bold-faced statement cautions, “Simulated cadaver smells are available only to certified training facilities.” Eric grimaces—on this of all days to have the smell of death delivered to his home. Artificial, yes, but death nevertheless. He’s seen “cadaver dogs” featured on TV—German shepherds digging through the smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers or the rubble left by an earthquake in a South American city. He’s seen them bounding through marshes on taut leashes, their nasal receptors stimulated by the smell of decaying human meat. What draws a dog so powerfully to a scent, Eric wonders. Does instinct feel like an emotion? Eric sets the ampoule on his work table, where it stands like a golden bullet. There are laboratories, he’s read, that concoct artificial scents and flavors: luncheon meats, French fries, and even the essence of death. When had they known they’d perfected “cadaver”? The ampoule glows with cloudless purity. Would the essence be considered artificial if it had been distilled from a dead heart? “Uncle Irk—” Because the voice is feather light, it doesn’t shock Eric. He turns to find a young woman—a girl?—sitting midway up the open basement steps. She’s thin, her arms and legs sprawling from her black tank top and cut off shorts, every inch of her visible flesh a silvery blue. Her face is lost in the shadows, but when she pushes back dark bangs, her eyes gleam. “That’s what I would have called you, when you lectured me about, I don’t know, not doing my homework, or spending too much time on the phone, or not helping Aunt Celia with the dishes. I’d have pretended to be miffed, but it would have been playful. ‘Uncle Irk.’ It probably wouldn’t have stuck. Maybe I would have left it at ‘Eric’ and ‘Celia.’” She pauses, as if counting breaths. “Surprise! I’m Madeline!” No surprise. Given the unsettled state of his thoughts after the morning’s firing, it’s no wonder he’d forgotten to lock the front door. If not the police looking for their cadaver scent, why not this girl? He’s been thinking about her, hasn’t he? “Of course,” he says. It’s Celia who would have been shocked. She would have cried with joy to see her cousin’s child. But the idea of hosting is exhausting; he gestures toward the floors above them.

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“The guest room is the second door on your right after the kitchen. The bathroom is the room before that. Towels in the bathroom closet, and take anything you want from the refrigerator. Have a glass of milk.” “Un-huh.” Madeline’s voice tickles his ears. “What’s that you’ve got there? Is that a pee-sample? You don’t need one for work anymore, right? You would have threatened me with one, and we would have had a fight about it, but you’d have believed that I was clean, I think.” Eric picks up the ampoule. An air bubble shifts through it. “It’s scent,” he says, “for training dogs—it smells like cadavers. So they can rescue dead bodies.” Silence. Across the basement the hot water heater ticks. If he closes his eyes, he might be alone, the stairs unoccupied. A giggle: “You don’t ‘rescue’ dead bodies. I mean, it’s a little late for a rescue once you’re a body, isn’t it?” “Not ‘rescue.’ I meant ‘recover.’ Sorry—tough day.” Eric suddenly sees himself as his coworkers must have, trailing the security guard past their cubicles. Had he really held his briefcase like a lunch tray? “And what are you going to do with it?” “I don’t know. It was delivered by accident.” “Are you sure it was an accident?” “It had the wrong address. It was supposed to go to the place where they train the dogs.” “Mmm—” A thoughtful pause. “Maybe it got there. Maybe one of the dogs brought it over. He thought you needed it. Did you check the box it came in for teeth marks? Saliva?” The girl shifts on the steps, crosses her legs, and there’s a shimmer like bubbles released underwater. “Maybe.” Conversation and concentration are impossible to maintain. He feels the weight of his house on his shoulders. “So—what are you going to do with it?” “Tomorrow,” he murmurs as his eyes close. “I’ll think of something tomorrow.” “Okay if I look at it?” the blue girl might have asked. It’s morning, and Eric sits at his kitchen table with a mug of coffee he doesn’t recall brewing. “Late for work,” he mutters, then remembers, as if stepping into a cold rain, that there isn’t any work. Routines will change. Time will unfold differently. He can read the paper now instead of waiting for the evening. It had been his daily custom to pull it from the box at the end of his driveway and toss it toward the front door for Celia, giving himself a mental fist pump if it reached the stoop. If Larry was jogging by, Eric would wave: “DMJ!” “DMW!” But what if Larry passes by this morning when Eric—who still wears a sweatshirt and flannel pajama bottoms—is fetching the paper? He leaves his coffee and hurries to the front door, where he squints through the small, chin-high window. His eyes rove the street and adjacent lawns, alert for

72 · Blue Madeline’s Version


movement—if not Larry, maybe a dog, a trotting German shepherd with a lolling tongue. He remembers the package, the cadaver scent, and Madeline. How odd, he thinks. On his way back to the kitchen, he checks the guestroom. The door is shut. He peers into the hall bathroom, and there’s a rumpled towel on the rack. The faucet drips, and he tightens it. His reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror startles him: his cheeks are raw red, frosted with silver stubble; brown stains pollute the whites of his eyes. His thin hair is pasted over his crown, and his lower lip sags. There’s a new toothbrush in the holder, wet. On his way back to the kitchen, he pauses outside the guestroom door, but hears nothing. He’s about to sit back down to his coffee when he notices the blink of the answering machine. It’s a message from Celia he’s somehow missed: “Hello, Eric. Everything’s fine, the convention is fine, I’m fine. Lots of networking and trading. I’ve got a bid in for a Czech unicorn turquoise. And Eric, unless there’s a problem, I won’t be coming home Sunday. Some of us are going to Toronto. There’s an exhibition there, too. International buttons. Three more days. So carry on without me—I’ll call again soon.” Eric is in the basement, where he’s spent most of the day, forgoing lunch. He’s been measuring and sawing long white pine boards for a built-in storage bench for his work area. He doesn’t remember when he bought the wood, but the pine smell reminds him of the camping trips the family had taken in the Adirondacks. Now and then he catches a golden wink from his work table—the cadaver scent—and he listens for footsteps overhead. Taking a break from sawing, he picks up the ampoule, shakes it, and watches the froth of bubbles fizz out until the liquid is again clear and golden. It’s only half full. Is this all there was? “I’d have shared a tent with Eva when we camped.” Blue Madeline has returned to the shadowy basement steps. “David would have shoved toads and newts under the flaps, and we girls would have screamed and held each other’s hands, even though we weren’t really scared. Eva’s how much older than me, Eric?” “I don’t know—how old are you?” “Fifteen.” “Then ten. Ten years older.” Eric has been staring at the white pine so long his focus won’t adjust; the figure on the steps wavers like a blue flame. “So she would have been like I am now. We would have gotten David back, though—maybe we’d have stolen his shorts from the shower building. Swimming in the lake would have been good enough for the rest of us, but David always wanted a shower. Celia would have said he was ‘preening for the ladies.’” “He was older—” “—And used to drink beer with the boys down at the boathouse when he thought everybody was asleep. But Eva and I would have sneaked down

Gregory J. Wolos · 73


and watched from behind the trees. The boys would be swimming without their suits. I would have thought their bare bottoms were as white as the moon, and I’d giggle—and the boys would have pulled their shorts on and called us out—mostly for Eva, she was so pretty. And we’d have toasted marshmallows at a campfire while the boys drank more beer and Eva tried some. When we all got back to our campsite just before dawn, we’d hear you snoring, and it would have made you seem harmless. Oh—I took care of things for you.” Harmless? “Took care of things?” Before Madeline’s last words, Eric had retreated with her to the Adirondacks—crisp air and sunshine, campfires and boggy soil, mildew waft of camping equipment used once a year. The kids—just his boy and girl, younger than Madeline’s version, slick and wet, slipping through black inner tubes into the blue lake. And Celia, in cuffed jeans over her swimsuit, her face unavailable to his memory—as featureless as one of her copper buttons. While he’s listened, Eric has framed his bench and measured the sevenfoot planks he’ll use for its top. He’ll fix it to the wall perpendicular to his work table. The top will be hinged for storage. Why had she said ‘harmless’?” “You took care of what?” he asks again. Madeline’s voice floats like a gull in an empty sky. “You’d have said, ‘This isn’t real camping—showers and RVs and paved roads.’” When the girl imitates his voice, Eric feels the weight of each word in his throat. “What I took care of is that lady from your office—the one who had the pig-faced grin when she fired you. Did you know she just finished putting in a pool?” “I didn’t, no.” “Um-hmm. Hadn’t filled it yet. I guess they were waiting for it to set. But imagine all the work . . .” “Work?” “To dig it up. Underneath it, when they’re looking for the body.” Eric wipes sweat from his brow with his wrist. The girl shimmers like a leaping fish. She drops her hand from her smile, and her teeth shine. “You’d have gotten me braces when you saw the big space between my front teeth. I imagine the police are still at that lady’s. A little of that cadaver stuff down the pool drain, and a call to the police—not from here, don’t worry. An ‘anonymous tip.’ You know that kidnapped baby they’ve been looking for? From Pittsfield? Missing a few months? Imagine if someone told them it was buried under that pool. They’d have to dig the whole thing up, just to check it out, wouldn’t they? Especially when a cadaver dog sniffed out something down that brand new drain. It would sure make a mess for that lady. Lots of questions, and, well, she won’t be using that new pool for a while after they chop out the whole bottom. Can’t you just see it? It only took a few drops of that scent.” Eric looked over at the ampoule. It was half-empty.

74 · Blue Madeline’s Version


“That’ll be a headline story,” Madeline says. She sighs. “I’d have been so close to Eva. Would she have been in college when I had my first period? She’d have been a comfort. Maybe she would have been home on vacation. Celia would have given me ‘the talk,’ though. Is this embarrassing you, Eric? Girl talk?” He doesn’t answer. He’s envisioning a swarm of police invading the backyard of a suburban mini-mansion, scrambling over the manicured lawn and draping the coiffed shrubberies and ornamental trees with yellow tape. Shovel and pick ax wielding workers attack a swimming pool. Chunks of aquamarine concrete and fresh red dirt pile up, and police officers surround a woman who clasps her pink robe to her throat—the human resources director. All stare at a gaping hole at the bottom of the destroyed pool. A police dog strains against a leash, barking into that void, where a hip-deep officer sifts blindly with gloved hands. “Do you think I could have convinced you to get a puppy after Eva left?” Madeline asks. “A dog would have filled a pretty big gap. What’re you making there? That’s quite a box.” “It’s a storage bench,” Eric says. The next morning already? Eric, half-hidden by a drape, stands at the living room window, staring at the street. If he chances a dash to the mailbox, he’ll find the morning paper, flush with the details of the “Search for Lost Baby under Suburban Pool.” But if Larry Feldstein jogs by, Eric will have to explain about his lost job. Curiously, papers are piled under the box, as if someone thought he’d want souvenir copies. But if anybody knew, then wouldn’t the police? Madeline suggested that a cadaver dog might have brought the package to his stoop. Maybe a German shepherd would trot up his driveway right now. And here’s Larry—DMJ! His neighbor stops at the pile of papers, glances at Eric’s house, then kicks the extra copies onto the curb. He keeps jogging. The guestroom door is shut. Eric doesn’t check the bathroom. Confusing messages flood the kitchen answering machine. Eric listens twice, then a third time. First is David—it’s been two years since he’s heard his son’s voice, though Celia keeps in contact: “Dad, we should talk. I’ll try again.” Next is Eva; he doesn’t understand her message at all: “Sorry we missed you, Mom and Dad. Stephanie wants to show you where her tooth fell out. I think she’s hoping her grandpa is the Tooth Fairy. It’d be nice if she were right. Ryan says, ‘Go Yankees,’ Dad. I forgot—Mom is away, isn’t she? Okay, we’ll talk soon.” Stephanie and Ryan? Who are they? The names are familiar, but placing them is like thumbing through a book written with a foreign alphabet. There are two more messages from Celia: “Toronto was great. Buttons galore. But now the gang is heading to Ohio for Button Week, if you can believe it, and I figure I’ve only got this one chance, so off I go.

Gregory J. Wolos · 75


Defrost something for yourself, there’s plenty in the freezer.” His wife’s second message, the last on the machine: “Don’t ever let anyone disparage Cleveland. We had loads of fun, although I have to admit, I haven’t much use for that rock music hall of fame. But the word’s out about a private exhibit just outside of Denver. My friend Dierdre knows somebody who knows somebody, and we think we’ll be able to get a peek. This could be the experience of a lifetime! I’ll let you know how it works out.” Certain he’s missed something, Eric is about to listen to the messages for a fourth time when the doorbell rings, and he freezes. The doorbell rings again. He isn’t dressed for company—he still wears the sweatshirt and pajama bottoms. And for how long has he been barefoot? He could step on something on the basement floor if he’s not careful. The doorbell rings a third time. Eric hunches and shuffles down the hall to the living room’s second archway, where he might be able to glimpse a visitor. There’s an elbow—yellow reflective fabric—Larry’s running suit. Both men hold still for nearly a minute. When Larry finally leaves, Eric exhales and drifts away. That evening, Eric is sanding the pine bench when Madeline arrives. “I’d have been a Girl Scout, like Eva,” she says from her usual perch on the steps. “Our projects never involved woodworking and race cars and things you made for a while when David was in the Cub Scouts. It was the Pinewood Derby car that made him hate you, wasn’t it? When he wanted to glue Eva’s Barbie to the top, and you hit him? I think it was Ballerina Barbie—she had a pink tutu.” There’s a flap of torn skin on Eric’s knuckle, oozing blood—has he sanded through his flesh while lost in thought? But when he looks closer, there’s nothing there. Then he sees himself reaching toward young David. Blood drips from the boy’s nose onto his lip; the boy flinches from his father’s hand. His eyes shine with defiant tears. “Just a slap—he moved into it—he wouldn’t stop whining about the doll. Like a broken record. A doll on a race car? We’d made such a beautiful car, and he wanted to ruin it.” “That was the end of projects, wasn’t it? Did Celia even know? But you did sell Girl Scout cookies for Eva at your office. She was afraid to go door to door. You would have done that for me, right? But if I was still selling cookies, how would you get them into your office for my customers?” Mention of doors reminds Eric of Larry at his. His neighbor will be back. “That Mr. Feldstein must have run a million miles by now,” Madeline says, dipping into Eric’s thoughts. “Do you remember how Eva and David switched rooms because Eva thought Mr. Feldstein stared into her window? ‘Like I’m supposed to wave,’ she said. It was nice the way David always tried to protect her. Wasn’t that why she stopped selling cookies in the neighborhood? Didn’t Mr. Feldstein invite her in and ‘try something’? You

76 · Blue Madeline’s Version


said she had quite an imagination. I’m glad my room doesn’t face the street. Celia said you had to go over to Mr. Feldstein’s right away and get to the bottom of it. You said you didn’t know what to say. Your solution was to sell her cookies at work. Eva cried, and David switched bedrooms with her. Hey—how do you want to use up your cadaver scent?” Eric squints at the ampoule. Not much is left. His throat is scratchy— sawdust clings to his lashes and covers his forearms. “You girls were always safe,” he croaks. “Of course,” Madeline says. “You know what we could do? We could find some real killers, and we could use your fake scent to lead the police to them. Maybe make a trail from the perp to the hidden body. There are crimes everywhere, right? And bodies. You could be like Robin Hood, and I could be your sidekick. Robin Hood had a sidekick, right?” “He had Merry Men.” “I thought he had a sidekick in a red outfit and mask that matched his green one. A kid. Both of them had bows and arrows—” “That’s The Green Arrow and Speedy. From a comic book I read when I was a boy.” “Un-huh. Well, David would have read it to me. You saved your old comic books—that’s your legacy. With Eva I would have read Archie. The paper would have been musty and flaky. Do you think I’m more like Betty or Veronica?” “Veronica,” Eric says without thinking. “Probably. She’s a little bitchy, right? Eva’s more like Betty—a girl next door. Hey, you know, wouldn’t it be something if Mr. Feldstein was ringing your doorbell before because there was something wrong with him? Didn’t he have a heart transplant or something?” “A triple bypass.” “Wow—that sounds worse than a transplant. Maybe he came over because he was having chest pains and didn’t want to keel over alone in his house where nobody would find him. What if you’d let him in, and he’d sat down at the kitchen table, and you’d brought him a glass of water, but he slumped over and died right there—at the kitchen table.” Eric pictures Larry, who’d never been in his house, lifting a glass of water toward worm-colored lips, then dropping it, the glass shattering on the table. The jogger’s eyes roll back, and he slips to the floor like shifting freight and lies spread-eagled. Does Eric dare call 911? Won’t the police find the mis-delivered scent? When Eric looks up from his fallen neighbor, he sees the blinking answering machine. He steps over Larry to play them back. David: “Dad?” Eva: “Dad?” Celia: “The Pacific Ocean is beautiful, Eric—we should have made that cross country trip with the kids. I have no idea what the time difference is

Gregory J. Wolos · 77


here in Honolulu, but I guess you’re asleep. The buttons are spectacular— coral and shell, like nothing I’ve ever seen.” “I think they’ll look for Larry at his place first, when somebody figures out he’s missing,” Madeline says. “Too bad about him. It’s a question whether he really deserved what he got.” Somehow, the girl and Eric have switched places, and he’s on the steps. Madeline scintillates under the fluorescent light, poised over his pine bench with his hammer in her hand. She’s so bright, so silvery blue, it hurts as much to look at her as it does the white boards of his project. What evening is it? “Eventually, they’ll start poking around the neighborhood, and before long, they’ll be here. A dog will catch his scent. Or maybe the dogs will catch your scent—oh, but wasn’t yours theirs in the first place? It’s hard to keep track.” Blue Madeline pauses. Eric, wincing, sees that she’s pointing his hammer at the work table. “But all of your scent is gone!” From the stairs, Eric can’t make out the ampoule. “Now how are we going to be Robin Hood and Speedy?” She slides a pine plank into place, sets a nail down, and the hammer drops. The sound echoes from the concrete walls and floor. She sets another nail. How thin she is. Translucently thin. She pounds the second nail. The lights dim, but Madeline is impossible to watch. Eric wants to tell her to hinge the bench top, not nail it. If it’s nailed, who will find whatever’s inside? But his tongue is thick, and she’s working so diligently he doesn’t dare stop her. “But your scent was artificial, right? Now we’ve got the real thing, right here in storage. We’ll figure out a way to use it sooner or later—you know, for leading police to the bodies criminals have hidden.” Her words are hard to decipher. She might be holding nails in the corner of her mouth. But it sounds like she’s slipping into a different language. She keeps pounding away, and each concussion hurts Eric’s ears. He wraps his arms around his head, but the sound grows louder. He’s smothered himself in total darkness. “You know—” the voice penetrates from above, the pounding now more like knuckles on a wooden door—only every few words are audible because of the knocking, “—it would have been . . . to have grown up . . . family . . . Spectacular!”

78 · Blue Madeline’s Version


Rowing, In Negative MEG COWEN

This boy’s feet walk out of a vegetable crisper and won’t stop following me —all the way to Canada, to a canoe waiting in Lac Saint-Jean, which looks like an indigo scarab from satellite view. I know these feet cannot remember the body. They see themselves as a knife would: as parts of a whole. Maybe if I row backwards, feed the ankles freshwater and speak softly, a tibia will sprout. It could work. I was a girl scout once. We break down our camp and I pull thick kindling from the fire, flame and fingers blending like carrot and root. These rogue toes must think stones can un-gather themselves. They’ve worn out their welcome in this place. I can inhale cedar and fish bones, breathe them over the insteps and see no shiver. No dance. I tell them it’s best to follow the current and that this may not be right, but it’s what I know. My shoulders are right for rowing as yellow perch skim the waterline.

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I wonder aloud: is this a wake or is it waking? The joke as lost on these feet as a full canteen —or an empty one for that matter.

80 · Rowing, In Negative


The Day Hunt OSCAR GOPAK

M

en from dreams must be eliminated. Maurice stands in a bright bathroom, morning sunshine reflecting off the tiles. He looks in the mirror, touches the Band-Aid above his eyebrow, combs his hair back. Respect for fugitives. He puts on his coat and walks down the dark stairwell. A door leads into a shimmering town of autumn dawn. It’s cold. See, I miss you already, he thinks. But work is work and it must be done. Black birds circle in the sky. Maurice is the youngest of twelve men in gray raincoats, the men who stalk the sidewalks at this early, hungry hour—tracking, casting nets of keen intuition over buildings and deserted crossroads. A sad, elderly man walks in a park. “Looks like the autumn’s here for good,” a janitor told him, and now he keeps repeating the words in his mind. Looks like the autumn’s here for good. His round, helpless eyes scan the peeling benches. He sees the alleys, withered leaves and overflowed trashcans. Something here is familiar. He’s seen something similar before. He casts a glance at a lake and a withered tree on the opposite bank. The tree is a beast. This is scary. When he reaches the main alley, he’s an elephant again. The heavy trunk swinging above the ground, helpless eyes shining against the gray, rough skin. “Granny, it’s an elephant,” says a skinny boy. “Not so loud!” the woman yells and pulls the boy to continue the early stroll, destined to end under the mortuarian lights of a butcher’s shop. In the park, Maurice spots another hunter, a man in a gray raincoat. They nod at each other. He’s gone. We’re too late. The other hunter walks away, swearing, while Maurice approaches the lake and looks at the leaves rotting in the water. You keep asking what time I’ll be back. I say that I don’t know. I have to hurry. You’re probably up by now, maybe in the shower, a place difficult to leave in the mornings when beyond the hot streams of water waits everyday labor. Maurice sits on a bench. He opens a can of soda he bought in a kiosk by the park’s entrance and drinks. Several mallards swim in the lake,

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looking about skeptically as if wondering whether they’ve woken up too early. On the opposite bank rises a tall, leafless tree with deformed branches. There’s something uncanny about the tree, and when he squints, he realizes that it reminds him of a furious Chinese dragon, roaring, spreading its dry, bony wings in attack. The elderly man watches his reflection in a shop window. He looks at the strange face. There’s a dumb question in the eyes, a question that doesn’t even know how to formulate itself. The man turns his gaze to the goods spread out on the other side of the glass. It’s animal fodder, but he doesn’t know that. Cat chow in caviar, oyster and salmon flavors. A priest and a girl pass by, and the elderly man quickly puts his hands over his ears. “I’ve seen it quite well, Father,” says the girl. “Even when somebody is an elephant, one should not reveal the sad truth to the person,” the priest declares, and then he greets a passing woman: “Today and for eternity, amen.” The elderly man sighs. He feels more and more tired in the flood of new, unknown emotions. After several minutes he finds himself standing in a square. A woman wearing a short skirt leans against a wall. He stands by her. The woman asks something. He doesn’t know what to do, so he just nods. Then the woman says something again, straight to the point this time, and she leads him away by the hand. They enter a gateway. There’s an abandoned warehouse in the backyard. She has the keys. In the dark room, the flame of a candle, a shining and slim dancer, catches his stare. “So? Changed your mind, Daddy?” Now she has no clothes. She hugs him and mutters something into his ear; he feels her breath, the warmth of her skin, and soft, repeated beats. The heart. He listens intently to the low beat, even though he had no mother. She takes his wallet, the strange object that crammed his pocket, and she does something with it. Then she pulls him into the sheets. When he feels her legs on his hips, the change starts again. He feels good and turns into an elephant, slowly this time. The woman moans louder at first, then begins to scream as his skin gets rougher and his weight grows, pushing the air out of her lungs. She cries for help. The elephant jumps off the woman, smelling blood, smelling death on the sheets, the round eyes looking for an escape route. He rams the wall repeatedly with his heavy body, a tinny noise vibrating from inside. The woman’s body twirls on the mattress. Finally, the wall rips open and he runs outside, under the red sky, and is on the street again, again—a man with helpless eyes.

82 · The Day Hunt


· · · Emergency meeting. The men in gray raincoats sit in a cafe and drink from hot cups. They don’t like the visionary paintings on the walls; too colorful, too vivid. The paintings probably belong to the elephant’s world. When the men turn their eyes away, the paintings seem to rotate. One of them depicts a flying, fat creature, its head transforming into a fluttering hood, as if the whole creature was made of textile blown with winds. The picture is entitled Night Flight. I keep trying, but I can’t remember a dream I had last night. And yet, somehow, the dream is still with me, like a piece of food stuck between my back teeth. “Poor strategy,” says one of the men, puffing his pipe. “We could’ve gotten him before the hooker met her fate.” Some of the men laugh. “Maurice, an idea?” He’s joking; I always have little to say, maybe because I’m too young. But thanks to the work we live a decent life, you and me. “I don’t know . . . Maybe we should try and think like an elephant?” Some of them nod. One reaches into his briefcase for a book and puts it on the table. Maurice is in a bus. He can’t concentrate, and that means the end of the chase is imminent. Nobody suspected that it would last so long. It’s late at night. The skyscrapers, multi-floored ships of light, sail behind the windows. 10 P.M. You must be home already, eating supper, drinking hot tea and looking for me through the window. You don’t like it when I go hunting. You’re wondering where I am and what I’m doing, just like I am thinking about you now. Our thoughts are flying through the night . . . like a bridge over skyscrapers, lit with hundreds of light bulbs, a bridge connecting us in this short moment. Through the window, Maurice sees a parking lot, and something in this image calls to him. He stands up and gets off the bus at the next stop. It’s the first night of strong winds before All Saints’ Eve. Maurice stands in the dark, leaning back against a tree by a fenced parking lot. He observes the bright spaces under streetlights that curl with care over the parked cars. Clouds of dry leaves fly through the livid afterglow. A dark tarpaulin undulates on the howling wind, a troubled sea. The fugitive is now a man. He walks to the fence. He looks around with dumb awe. Hundreds of signals, invisible forces, fly high above the town. The darkness calls to everything that dwells in its world. It’s strange, this far expanse over the houses, the blue depth that signifies the future, different ways of choice. It’s strange, this emotion arising from the howling, cool wind.

Oscar Gopak · 83


When the man sees Maurice coming out of the shadow, he raises his hands up to his ears, covering them instinctively. “But no, as she can’t in this way!” yells the elephant-man. He doesn’t understand what he means himself. He’s a child who lived through one night and several supplementary hours, given all the words of human vocabulary with no rules to put them together. He just rebels. Maurice grabs him and reaches for handcuffs. A small and stagnant underground chamber: cables on concrete walls, a bare light bulb on a wire. The thin men, Maurice and other hunters, now in their shirts and ties, walk back and forth in front of the elderly man under the spirals of cigarette smoke. “Get it into your head! You’re just a tiresome dream. Just think about it. You wander through the town, a man, an elephant—come on!” He sits in a chair, cuffed. He shakes his head, utters senseless words, like a man deprived of reason by some mental illness. “It can’t so anyone . . . He does not have there . . . Because it was like that then. He won’t walk. It is to be like it is now.” He argues in this way with detached words and without a trace of anger. He tries to find a compromise without knowing the rules of the game. They have tried to convince him for two hours. The oldest one, an experienced psychologist, couldn’t stand it anymore and went outside for some fresh air. Sweat above their thin lips. Their short hair, combed nervously by sinewy hands. “Humans exist. Elephants exist. But there are no elephant-men, see, somebody dreamt you up! You don’t exist!” Deep inside, the elephant man feels he can’t stand it anymore. He can’t raise his hands up to the ears. A hysterical breath arises in him, and finally tears begin to flow down his face. He goes mute. “The person who dreamt you is awake, so there is no you. Got it? You can’t exist, it’s against all laws of nature!” Yes, it’s hard. It’s difficult for dream people to accept it. They won’t listen. The only answer to all doubts: work, follow orders. This stuff is serious. The thought of you helps as well. I know I’ll be home finally. They show him animal encyclopedias. “No book says a creature can be a man and an elephant at the same time. Go on, read it!” Of course, they know that he can’t read at all. He just looks at the colorful illustrations and shakes his head. “See? An elephant and a human are two separate beings,” Maurice says. The truth is that he just doesn’t want to understand—or rather, he hides from the realization, escapes it. The truth is that he knows, but doesn’t want to believe. We scream, so we must be right. The man from a dream doesn’t understand words and can’t use them. All he has is that naïve

84 · The Day Hunt


defense, that stubborn repetition of senseless sentences. He doesn’t understand the words, but he does grasp the meaning of what is happening and what we mean. The man tries for the last time, his voice faltering: “Nothing like that was already. Oh, this, that, in a way arising although one has to. Here, me, because it has to be in no circumstances like so.” “When one’s this and something else he doesn’t exist at all!” yells a hunter from the corner. “Damn right!” Nothing may change in the waking world: this is their mission. If his existence is impossible, it means that he has never been at all. The waking world must remain untouched by his presence. The elephant-man has seen very little. He wants to walk some more, to receive the signals; it’s all he needs. But they would find him. Their screams, all the brutality is just a means to discourage him and make him surrender. “Stop being so stubborn,” they say. “Admit it, you don’t exist! Man, you’re but a dream. You don’t feel, you don’t live, you don’t think, you don’t exist! You’re just a dream!” They yell these last words in unison. They repeat them again and again, shaking his chair. He can’t take it anymore. He begins to scream. It’s an ear-splitting howl, coming out of his mouth like from the trunk of an enormous elephant, and they grow silent, because it’s a terrifying sight: an elderly man cuffed to a chair, roaring like an injured African giant. The floor shakes, the bare light bulb flickers and sways on its wire, teacups fall off the table. Breaking glass, cracking concrete. The men duck with their hands over their ears, some of them tumbling, and he keeps on howling. The howl rings with resignation, because he’s fading away. He’s accepted his own non-existence and begins to say farewell to this world, farewell to the few memories he has gathered: images of the park, the shop display, the warm woman, and the most beautiful of all—the memory of a windy night. All this turns into oblivion, the memories called back into nothingness. It’s hard to come to terms with death; it’s harder to come to terms with the fact that one never was. The elephant-man disappears, like dreams disappear the moment we look through a window. The echo of his roar vanishes. The chair is empty. After a moment of silence, somebody grunts. The men begin to stand up. They brush off their clothes and put on their raincoats. Silent, still pale, they shake each other’s hands and begin to leave the cellar. Maurice is the last to leave. Now we’re together. Outside there’s wind and future, given to living people. We’re in our bed now. You’re asleep. The darkness is warm. I didn’t tell

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you, and I don’t know if I’ll ever tell anyone—perhaps it was just a hallucination—but when the elephant-man howled and the underground cell shook and plaster fell off the walls, then instead of us, men in gray raincoats, I saw, for a fleeting moment, a gang of skinny hounds with long, evil muzzles and frightened eyes.

86 · The Day Hunt


Hallucinations Upon Dying MARY LOU BUSCHI

1. And then I was stirring spaghetti in the ocean with my mother in a small row boat telling secrets.

2. There is a hole in the ocean so large the ocean will one day swallow itself.

3. There are men around me. Did you bring them here?

4. It’s those cats. I can’t stand them. They are branches.

5. Your brother is cat. Dead like the branches.

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Popper’s Choice ROBERT EDWARD SULLIVAN

T

he trick is to clearly mark all the vits and don’t pop too close or too far away. And small caliber, of course. But it’s gotta pierce. It takes courage to get popped by a friend, more to pull the trig. True, the last thing anyone wants is to be hooked up to some machine, gargling through a tube, but it’s just as bad if you’re the one that puts a listmate in that spot. They do sell those cheapo ponchos with all the vits clearly marked—poorly rendered kidneys, cartoonish hearts, pale pink duodenums—but no one uses those. You’re finally going to pop, Ackley says. Can I keep the gun? you say. Sure, got two bullets left, only need one, syours, he says. Ackley was in charge of this mess, for the most part. Only because he’d been popped twice, and was on the giving end at least once before. And now he doesn’t want his only two listmates to be froshes. One who hasn’t been popped—Dev, and one who hasn’t done any popping—You. So now you’re holding the gun and Dev is getting his vits all marked. Clearly marked. Dev keeps tabbing between looking tough and looking scared. You have been popped before, of course, in the stump end. That’s why they call you fivethree-fiveone. Too much limp. Too much bounce, you say. But you’ve never told anyone it was an accident by your seph, who didn’t know the gun was forserious loaded. You don’t tell anyone about the look he had when he saw all that blood. Sorry this. Sorry that. He didn’t mean to, of course, but you’re forcertain he was extra scared because, moments prior, he had the gun up to your gray matter and was pretending to pop you there. And of course that ugly makes you think about that day when he Declared military, and he told you to find a way to get the fuck out. Don’t know exactly what he meant. But it’s there. In your head. In a little corner. Anyways. Use tape. Whitetape. The super stitched, cloth-like kind you can rip off with your chomps. Ackley is still taping up Dev. He’s got a chart out and everything. It’s popper’s choice. You’re going shoulder, but still want make sure everything is marked. Don’t bodge it up, Ackley says. The sun is still perching strong, trying to get through all that gray. You’re leaking, but not because it’s balls hot out. Because of other things. Things on loop.

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That big ol rumble between your rents this morning keeps refreshing. Just one more ugly. Your ma got her weeps on when your pa slugged her. Whole side of her face. They’re always going on. This, that, and all that other, but he’s never slugged her before. Now you don’t even have a memory of your ma without that thinking about this morning. That sound. Besides that, there’s your sis giving you those med eyes all the time— and you, thinking about before she got popped in a vit, when she used to meet you after school every day with a hug and some sweets. Besides that you turn twelvsies soon and have to Declare, like forserious capital D, Declare. Besides all that, what you really don’t like is the goodies are getting muddy now. No amount of meds will change that. You stopped taking them, anyway. Dev is all taped up. Ackley keeps running his hand through his hair and is all, okay pop when you’re ready, but do it today, Thirdo. Dev is waiting. You wish you weren’t in this back alley, behind this shed that smells like fuel. You wish you were outside of the city, in some field, standing in the middle, alone. So what you can do what you’re going to do. Pop yourself in your own vits, the big one. Put this gun up to your head and pull the trig solid. It’s the only reason you agreed to pop Dev, to get the gun and that last bullet. They say if you pop just right or just left, you can see all that gray matter—all those uglies, all that shit you don’t want in there, will spray out in a glorious red burst, before you fall, before you die. The little ones and the big ones. The time Judytwo laughed when you said she was cute; that day you fell in the shit ditch; the time you lost all your listmates when you moved; all those nights you went to bed so hungry your stomach barked; that monotone moan of your sister when she asks who are you; that look on your brother’s face when he shot your foot; that horrible sound of your father’s open hand connecting with all of your mother’s cheek—that sharp inhale of her breath when it did; and most of all, that sneaking suspicion that just one more thing is the last thing. And it will never get better, and maybe you do know what it means to get the fuck out. Your wish, after the bullet pierces, is for all that gray matter, those details, all those uglies, to become like dandelion seeds when they get puffy and get caught in a summer wind and float away.

Robert Edward Sullivan · 89


Smurf JEFFREY H. MACLACHLAN

Andre hasn’t removed his flat-brim baseball cap ever since his only sister disappeared in a cold binge. He likes to watch Sugar Deli meat thaw when blood resembles purple crystals. Mostly he sits Indian style in front of amber waterfalls— their constant churning aching with noise at all hours of the night. There he sounds out tricky words like red phosphorus and pseudoephedrine while playing tiddlywinks with green yaba. He lunches on citrus, sarsaparilla, and French vanilla. He accepts necklaces, birthstones, and money fastened with copal hair ties like the ones his sister would scatter while splashing herself among holohyaline rocks. She appears in the plunge pool standing on a cream sofa striking miniature shadows with a flat-brim baseball cap. The shadows were sent by the butcher, she says. They brood in the freezer when it’s closed and crave my braids and diary pages. At night they featherstitch veins beneath my lips that darken blue and quiver.

90


War Crumbs JOE KAPITAN

F

or us kids, Memorial Day weekend was all charcoal grills and parades, and it meant that we’d be packing up the minivan and heading for the shore, which also meant that Great Uncle Henry was bound to fall apart again at any moment. And by falling apart, I don’t mean becoming overly emotional, breaking down, acting “dramatic.” Great Uncle Henry wasn’t like that at all. He was a simple man and fell apart the old-fashioned way— limb from limb, and torso into segments. Most times, we didn’t even have the luggage emptied into the beach house before we’d get the panicked shout from Aunt Celia, his only daughter, who never got used to experiencing the temporary disintegration of her father. She’d pour herself another double Seagram’s and chain-smoke her menthols and pace the saltbleached deck while we young nieces and nephews mobilized and combed the beach, the leeward sides of dunes, the garden, the house, all for old Henry’s parts—sometimes a hand down in there between the rows of grapevines, perhaps a foot exposed at low tide, or a section of pale belly flesh nestled among the towels in the upstairs linen closet. It was not, as some might think, a horror. Revulsion amongst us kids was minimal, especially when compared to the thrill of the hunt. Finding Henry, even the larger pieces of him, was heroic and life-saving stuff, the makings of stories. When the parts were all accounted for and rinsed of their sand and mulch and patted dry, Aunt Celia would arrange them all in Henry’s bed, in appropriate order, and lock the door for the night. We would then be free to play Monopoly on the screen porch, or take flashlights to the beach to scare up the ghost crabs, or maybe light a bonfire on the bluff and roast marshmallows, but the One Rule was that we had to stay away from Henry’s room while he was mending. I was in charge of enforcing this rule amongst the kids, since I was the oldest. I’d shoo them all to bed by ten, and the adults would stay up another two hours drinking beer and talking about Iraq and stock markets until they couldn’t keep their eyelids open. In the morning, Henry would invariably be awake and moving before any of us, out the door at dawn to take Roscoe for his walk. This was summer’s start at the beach, year after year, until I was fifteen. That was the year that Aunt Celia had just about enough. She drove in from Virginia, all blotchy and coughing up black phlegm into handkerchiefs, and you could tell that she had nothing left as far as Henry was concerned. She coughed up a lot of euphemisms, too, dubious phrases like

91


“assisted living” and “quality care.” Great Uncle Henry listened to her logic, but he wasn’t the same after that. He didn’t come apart at all that day, probably fearing that to do so would only hasten his departure. Henry spent a lot of time in his room. He offered no opinion, and Celia didn’t ask for one; she wandered the internet on her laptop, searching for local senior facilities. She asked me what I thought of some of them, the ones with the professional photos, and I think I nodded, but I didn’t tell her that I could almost smell the piss and bleach right through the monitor. They looked like human parking garages, linoleum-lined stalls for families to store their older models. The next day, I carried a glass of lemonade up to Henry’s room and tapped my knuckles on his door. I told him it was me. He said to come in, and I found him sitting on the edge of his bed. He had a shoebox opened on the bed as well, and he reached inside it. He held up a chain, and hanging from the chain were two small metal plates. “Read them,” he said. I said, “Thomas Gaynor, Sergeant, United States Army.” I didn’t read all the numbers. “That was your brother,” I said. I had heard stories of Great Uncle Tommy from Mom, and she had heard them from her mom, Grandma Elizabeth, Henry and Tommy’s sister, before Elizabeth died in a car wreck back in 1983. Tommy was legend; he existed in sepia, trapped in photographs that ended with him in uniform, his face a portrait of a resolve that only heroes can summon. What I’d heard was that Tommy was two years older than Henry, but according to Elizabeth, anyway, they could have been twins. “Tommy died in World War Two, at Anzio,” I said. Somehow, I thought that. Maybe because I had seen a documentary once on Anzio and, at the time, I thought I’d like very much to drive my own tank some day. “It was Omaha Beach,” Henry said in a tired voice, “and no, I didn’t die there.” The ice disappeared from his glass before either of us could say anything. Henry, or I suppose Tommy, ended the silence. “My brother Henry had this recurring dream that something bad was going to happen at Normandy. He saw soldiers crying with dozens of holes in them, like they were unfinished jigsaw puzzles, boys searching for their crumbs, and he made me promise that I’d look after Annabelle and their little Celia if he didn’t make it back. He believed he was already done for. He stayed up all night, trembling, when we crossed the Channel. I tried to help him . . .” “What happened?” I asked. “I told Henry I’d be first off the landing craft,” Tommy said, “so if the German guns were on us, I’d go down instead of him. But I didn’t. Go down, I mean. All I remember is jumping, being in the surf, bullets screaming past, and then a shell’s whistle and a concussion that knocked me face-first to the sand. I looked back for Henry, but the landing craft was gone, just pieces floating. Pieces of metal. Pieces of men. I started to pick

92 · War Crumbs


them up, but the platoon leader grabbed my neck and shoved me to the sand. I left the pieces in the waves. I don’t even know if they were Henry or not,” he said, and just as he finished, his left elbow came undone and his forearm, hand and all, fell to the floor. I went to pick it up, but he pushed me away with his other arm. “Go on, get out of here,” he said. “No one should have to see this.” I ran down the stairs and over the dune path to the beach. It was high tide, so I had nowhere to stand but in the wash of the waves. There were things beneath the water that tumbled past my ankles. It made sense now, I thought, his coming apart. It was the parades, the flags, the grayed and shuffling vets with their proud lapels full of medals. When I walked back up to the house, I gathered the kids together. “Special Henry-hunt today,” I said to them. “Everyone bring your parts to me. Hurry!” When I had a full rucksack, I slung it across my back and rode my bike south, fast, toward the cliffs that guarded the entrance to Manatauk Bay. I was the only one missing when Aunt Celia ran yelling out of the house, and some one else had to tell her to relax, that the hunt was already over. She became despondent, they told me, mumbling about purgatory sidestepped, or some such nonsense, and debts not paid. Aunt Celia went to hospice herself, in 2004, due to the lung cancer, and for weeks she still wouldn’t talk to me, because I wouldn’t tell her where I put him. I never told anyone. But I don’t mind giving you a hint, because you look like you respect the inviolate guts of secrets. The place I picked is close to the shoreline, and high up, just about impossible to get to without a rope. I wrapped his parts separately, in plastic, so they would never grow back together. When Celia’s prognosis dwindled from weeks to days, I went to visit her one last time. I thought the truth, in this case, would be a gift. I told her everything Great Uncle Tommy had told me. Aunt Celia made a sound like strangled laughter and shuddered so hard the oxygen tubes pulled out of her nostrils. “What a crock of shit,” Celia rasped, grabbing my arm. “So he got you too, huh? Lying, falling-apart bastard of a father. And you, you little fool, you went and let him off the hook! Uncle Tommy died at Anzio. All the Army could find were his dog tags.” I think I shook my head no, but maybe it was just really wobbly at that point. Celia couldn’t talk any more, nothing but air came out, but she wasn’t done yet. She motioned to me for a pad and a pen. She wrote about Henry making it to the top of the cliff overlooking Omaha Beach. She wrote that they stayed there two days, nursing the wounded and rounding up German prisoners. Lots of mine fields, she wrote next. And then this: Henry’s idea to make the young German boys march in

Joe Kapitan · 93


front until there weren’t any left. That’s how he got through to Belgium, she scribbled. Stepping through their parts. Celia didn’t write or speak after that. She sipped oxygen from tanks until she died, three days later, on a Thursday. The beach house sold for seven figures to a plastic surgeon. We spent one last Memorial Day there, cleaning out the junk. Up there, in Henry’s old room, fingering those dog tags, I made my decision. I perched my body precariously on the ledge above the shoreline of Manatauk Bay. I barely had room to kneel and unwrap the pieces of his torso, arranging them in proper order. There was no room left for the leg parts. Those I took with me, back to the beach house. At night, I waded out with them and let the low tide pull them out to sea, no witnesses but the ghost crabs scrambling from my flashlight’s beam. I think about him sometimes, when I turn my thoughts to the weather. On cloudy days, I curse myself because I picked such a lonely spot, the sort of place where a soul would have nothing else to do but gnaw on its toughest remembrances. Other days, sunny ones, I know I did right, leaving Henry there with a view clear across to the sea cliffs of France.

94 · War Crumbs


Vasco da Gama ROB COOK

At night, in the voyages of my sleep, everything in the apartment is moving: the kitchen table trying to scratch itself, soldiers setting out as small disturbances of pheromone from behind a picture frame, the floor scattering in how many directions. They have no names, the ones who make the sink shiver, the ones who invade the scone left half-eaten and vulnerable, the ones pushing a pellet of cat food like an asteroid to where the table turns to paint-chipped chasms. When the wind stops playing at the window I hear a place on the wall where one explorer pauses— afraid, hungry, or lost. The ones who’ve left him there drag and pull each new dawn with their packing tape skeletons and poison traps and the legs from which they see into every dimension at once. They excrete oxygen and dust that gathers menacingly in the corners. They take away everything I see one eye blink at a time and replace it with a deceiving moonlight. I feel them hauling parts of my face to a lower realm.

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Outside I hear the emptied leaves skipping, turning, straining to consume each other. An itch spreads from the curtain to my earlobe, the voyagers exposing the silence destroyed in their explorations. Forced without fear to this uncounted place, I try to scratch away the soft morning light.

96 路 Vasco da Gama


La Chanson de l’Observation BERNARD M. COX

Preface: With Theo asleep it was easier. With him asleep, he couldn’t ask why I came into his life only to leave. With him asleep, I could be selfless and not hold onto him. This, my twenty-eighth iteration, may be my last. Soon I would no longer be able to feel his arms around me, or the flitting of my heart when he calls out to me, or delight in his scent. Soon I’d be reduced to molecules, a new observer would take my place and it was possible that I would not even survive as a node—no longer sent on missions to observe, never a chance to see him again. With him asleep, I could leave this world and save him. Abstract: The phenomenon of entanglement, referred to by humans as “love,” caused a network failure for node AR1x40 and resulted in individuation of the node and, subsequently, in its break with The Commonality. I woke up and inside was quiet and clear. The internal, sometimes deafening, slow churning of the data stream—the calculating, compiling, tallying, and transmitting—ceased. I could hear things like the crinkling of the sheets under my head, the faraway sounds of birds in the park, the trolley coming to a stop at the corner, and the slow, measured breathing of Theo’s sleep. The world was different to the touch, so much sharper and full. I was the sole operator. I was the data stream. He woke and said to me, “Morning, Beautiful. You’re up early.” “Isn’t it just wonderful?” Introduction: Coupling is a common occurrence among species that have not developed the ability to bypass indirect perceptual filtering. We recognize these pairings as an interstitial step, substituting a physical/social pairing for a direct connection (such as conduition or telepathy) with a community of minds in an effort to eliminate the sense of isolation that indirect connection produces. Similarly, these species often develop some theological framework in an effort to comprehend direct cognitive connection.

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The following account is a participant observation study of node/observer AR1x40’s experience coupling with one human participant, “Theo Zedek.” Node/observers inhabit human biological archetypes in order to better interact with and report on true human behavior. This node/observer’s archetype is named “Javier Flores.” Theo smells of fresh bread, and his lips taste of chocolate. His hands are strong from sifting flour and working dough. At night he brings home failed cookies and cakes, which are moist on our tongue and soft in our mouth, and our cheeks sweat at their richness, and we ask how they can be failed. He says that they aren’t really failed, they’re just too good for La Chanson but not good enough for us. We disagree as we devour them. Sometimes he pretends he’s a bunny, and he hops around the house, his hands limp, shaking his tail, begging us to chase him, which we do with abandon until we catch him and fall on the bed laughing. He says “Javier, I love you.” And we say, “Je t’adore, mon chéri.” We were not to get involved. We were to stay “we” and not become “us,” not become “I.” He doesn’t know, we never tell. Aims of the study: This experiment is a longitudinal study in fifteen year increments. The original intent of the study is to report on behaviors and developments of humanity on “Earth” in order to determine when they can be welcomed to the Symposium. Review of Past Studies: Though this was not the goal of the study, a small number of experiments have resulted in a true pairing of an observer and a participant. Often pairings are just to preserve cover of the observer; seldom do they result in a connection which disrupts the network. Recollection provides us with a few examples. Node qW2-RR, infamously, was consumed by a Gammens participant in a courtship study which overloaded the network in a field of euphoria. As a result, The Commonality needed to reboot all observers on the Gammens’ system. Similarly, node LEA*2626, while observing early humanity, escaped recall and forfeited one hundred iterations of research to swim across a strait in an attempt to remain paired to a human counterpart. The subsequent event became a myth, and, as with such myths, details become inexact over the years.

98 · La Chanson de l’Observation


Sample: Archetype Flores interacts with approximately 500 participants on a daily basis through his position as a bank teller. However, he is fixated on only one participant, Theo Zedek. As such, most data retrieved from node AR1x40 in some way relates to the relationship between observer and participant. Method: Our objective is to become integrated within the society in a position where we can collect the most data. We seek a position where we are not directing other humans but rather receiving directional input so to minimize interference in their behavior. Positions such as the mentally infirm, domestics, and customer service representatives offer the most expedient and direct data. For example: our job as a teller at a bank provides us with examples of how humans treat those in positions of service. Many customers hand over checks and deposits without acknowledging our participation. They look at their shoes, talk to a companion, or fiddle with communication devices. They do not acknowledge our presence. We only operate to serve them. But for some we are an integral part of their day. Professor Holiday, age 64, comes into the bank to check her balance twice a week. She smiles and says our name. She asks us how we are doing. During our first interaction she stated: “I will try not to be too much of a bother since you are new.” We told her she was no bother. Then she asked, “Did you see that new French bakery open across the square? It’s just like a real boulangerie, but it has coffee. Excellent coffee, not French coffee. It makes Rittenhouse feel like a small part of Paris. Have you ever been to Paris?” “Yes, a long time ago.” For further details see iteration 23. “It’s just like that. I’ll bring you a croissant next time.” She did. The pastry was hot, almost burning in our palms. “You must go,” she commanded. Results: Despite the communication collapse, all transpirations of the data stream were coded by The Commonality and remained intact for analysis. This being said, most observations related only to the pairing. Notwithstanding the resulting individuation of the node/observer, AR1x40 has provided valuable data. While we are no closer to understanding how pairings cause conduition collapse, we can be certain that individuation needs to occur in order to instigate the pairing and, subsequently, the cessation of communication between the node/observer and The Commonality. This inciting action of individuation results in a

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binary commonality within the pair—each identifies as a separate entity but the individuals refer to the pairing as “we.” On Sundays La Chanson is closed, and we go to Charlie’s in the afternoon. It’s a small bar, but has a dance floor. We two-step and swing for hours on end. We float through the crowd, around and around, following the line of dance. Sometimes, when we are lucky, we are the only ones, and we become the resident Fred and Ginger. Everyone watches as he leads me across the floor. He dips me, spins me, and when the song ends, the patrons applaud and ask for more. On slow songs, his hand is firm against my back and I lean against his chest. I am filled with warmth in his embrace and “we” is no longer the network or the Common, but us, he and I. The first time he took me, I knew we were now us, and I was Javier, and he was everything. Though it must be noted, a pairing does not always result in equilibrium, such as the connection to The Commonality provides and, thusly, is not always a desirable condition. In our fifteen years together, life has not always been easy with Theo. Sometimes we argue, over money or other trivialities. Sometimes we wouldn’t see each other for stretches of time due to his work, and I would feel this immense, dreadful feeling of drowning. I’d be alone in the house but instead of feeling space, I’d feel like the house was falling in on top of me, crushing me. I remember the transmission of node DIR58*7 which stated, “While taking a partner in a society where it may be the normal modality to do so, take care to not become attached to this mate. Such attachments deliver a complex pleasure that can be more desirable than becoming a full conduit for The Commonality and create a sense of individuality that may lead to madness and result in a terminus of the operating node.” But when we are together, I no longer remember. Additionally, we are unsure if nervousness, manifesting in physical, actionable quirks, is a necessary element for human pairing. Physical displays in other species are usually grander and much clearer, allowing us to discern the motive behind them. He kept rubbing the palms of his hands against his jeans when he first asked us out. He also had difficulty looking at us. He said: “Hi, I’m Theo Zedek.”

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Theo Zedek’s face is big and welcoming, and his eyes are sapphire blue; and when he did look at us it seemed as if the twin O-class stars of the Wyn system orbited us. We grew warm, and our clothes became uncomfortable as they stuck to our skin. We responded, “Hello,” involuntarily giggled, and forgot our assigned identity. He said, “You come in a lot.” “The food is very good.” “I make it.” “Really? I’m impressed.” “What’s your favorite item?” “You’ll laugh. I’m a bit simple.” “Tell me, I won’t laugh.” “The hot chocolate with chantilly.” “Oh so yummy. I have to be careful, or I drink it all day.” “How could you? It’s so filling.” “Honey, I haven’t always had this body,” he said as he patted his belly. “Neither have I.” “What gym do you go to?” “No gym, just a nip there and tuck here every few years or so.” At that point, we knew we had a problem. We told him that we were making a humorous statement and that it was just self monitoring that kept us in a healthful condition. “Though I can see that if I continue to come here for hot chocolate, I will have to join a gym.” “Go for long walks, like the French. Speaking of which . . .” We knew our answer would be yes. Contrary to most ethnographic observations of other species, in humans, interaction with members of a partner’s family helps establish a more intimate connection through the sharing of embarrassing or relevant stories of each partner’s past. The following are two examples. Theo’s mother is a big woman, about the size of the crimson helium puffers of Ftsi. She’s only dwarfed by her personality. When she enters a room, usually carrying some wonderful concoction she has just whipped up, or the best bottle of Beaujolais we have ever tasted, or an entertaining story, she is the center of attention. “When Theo got it in his head that he was going to be the next Pelé, he’d practice in our backyard for hours and hours. Kicking the ball against the garage, flipping over on his back and spinning his legs in the air. The couple behind us would phone and ask us to call him in because the sound of the ball would boom throughout

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the neighborhood. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. You remember, Theo?” “Yes, Mom, I remember.” “You know, Javier. Our backyard wasn’t very big. About fifteen steps in any direction and you’re up against the fence or at the garage. Well, one day he’s kicking the ball around, and I hear this crash. I run to the window, and there is Theo, out cold lying in the grass. He had run through the wooden fence. I thought that’s only something you could do in a cartoon.” “Thanks, Mom.” When he blushes, his shoulders turn as red as his cheeks. “After the concussion he couldn’t play for the rest of the season, so I taught him how to cook and bake.” “And that’s how I became Julia Child.” “Bon appétit!” Mrs. Zedek chirped. Example 2: He has told me on occasion that he wishes he could have known my family. I don’t tell him I was recombined from the residuals of past nodes, that I am engineered. I tell him my parents died and, instead, I trade him stories of my childhood—compiled from records of human interviews and previous observers’ experiences—for stories from his childhood. I provide a deception out of a myriad of truths. He told me that during high school he dated Sarah Bouchard. At prom she got them a room, and after the dance they went back to it. The place was all done up with rose petals and candles. He got so nervous he went into the bathroom and threw up. When he came out, she was naked on the bed. He didn’t know what to do. He started crying and ran out of the room. He just left her there. She never spoke to him again. I told him that I grew up in a tough, poor neighborhood in Chicago. I was bullied all the time because I was so “swishy.” They used to call me “girlie,” “sissy,” and throw tampons at my head. Once I was on my school playground, and Tommy Rosario depantsed me in front of the entire school, gave me a bloody nose. He started shouting, “Look at the faggot crying. Faggoty faggot. Faggoty faggot.” When I got home, my younger sister had already told my parents. I ran upstairs, locked myself in the room, and cried. My dad came home from work early. We seldom got to see him because he worked fifteen hours a day in a factory running the boiler system. He finally convinced me to unlock the door. He sat down next to me and told me it would be alright. He told me he loved me no matter what and that those kids were just ignorant.

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Then he started rattling off all these people in history that were gay, like Michelangelo, Jane Addams, Reinaldo Arenas, k.d. lang, people like that. He told me, “Come down to eat, you’ll feel better. Things will get better.” “Your dad sounds wonderful. I wish I could have met him.” “I wish you could have, too.” Moreover, inappropriate comments from said family members informed the observer to how much they were welcomed into the family. Mrs. Zedek often says things like, “You know, if you two could have babies you’d have the most beautiful children. Like little gingerbread people. I’d just want to eat them all up.” Aside from what many may take as an alarming statement of cannibalism, she meant it to be taken as a term of endearment, much like the early society of Gammens who had to eat their partner in order to generate offspring. However, I often want to say that with our advances in genetic engineering, Theo and I could have oliveskinned or even pink-skinned children like those of the Gammens and that, unlike the Gammens, she would not have to consume them to show how much she loves them. Further analysis of this particular case study suggests that the node/observer associated food with his partner. We are still unsure as to what this purpose served. We can only surmise that the food “Theo” provided was some sort of symbolic offering that may have represented sexual consummation. The gateau à l’absinthe that Theo makes is verdant and rich with notes of licorice and citrus. It climbs into our nose and curls behind our eyes, and the hair on our arms dances and reminds us of the orange and purple sunset over the great green seas of Hemus. And if we eat too much, we stare at the ceiling watching the fan in La Chanson spin round and round. We sip hot chocolate, gaze at his arms roped in muscles as they hand off orders, and wait for him to take us home. The symbolic interchange of food and sex also permeates ordinary discussion. These dialogical interchanges are often preludes to actual consummation. “You know what they say about a happy baker?” Theo smiled. “They have happy hubbies,” I postulated. “No, they say their baguette always rises.”

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“Well then, is that a soufflé in your pants?” “It’s more impressive when it’s still hot.” I said, “Let’s dig in before it deflates.” Another peculiar development was the observer’s attachment to particular body parts of the participant. These unnatural attachments prevented higher-level decision-making, and, during the node/observer’s debriefing, resulted in alarming statements about humanity’s ability to act as a mediator in Quorum. Have you seen that man’s ass? ¡Ay, dios mio! Theo’s ass is reason enough to allow humanity into the Symposium. If there was ever a quarrel in the Quorum all you’d have to do is trot Theo out, have him show his ass, and then, just like that, the universe would be in alignment. Discussion: In looking at the case of node AR1x40/Javier Flores alongside data from other iterations from the same node and data collected from other experimenters, we have found it difficult to pinpoint why the pairing took place. He’s pretty and funny. He makes me feel like I am the only person in the world. And when I kiss him, touch him, or we have sex, I am struck with unending waves of excitement, wonder, and love. We are aware that sexual euphoria occasionally leads to breaks with The Commonality—such as the case of node qW2-RR and the Gammens, or node 5TT&2 and the Thousand Benevolent Emperors of Xandnax, or node YYY and the Ticklewisps of Ibré—but these are instances of extreme, overwhelming physical input. In the case of humans they have only so many appendages, chemical signals, ways of communication, and technologies with which to stimulate their physical selves. It wasn’t sex. It was something else. We knew when our answer would be yes. It was when he said: “Go for long walks, like the French. Speaking of which, I normally don’t do this.” “Do what?” “Well, ask a customer out.” And he blushed, this light crimson. And then he tried to smile, but it came out as a bit of a frown. “Which customer?” “You. I’m trying to ask you out. I know I am failing here.”

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“You’re doing fine. Yes, I’ll go out with you.” He made a small gesture with his right arm, closing his hand into a fist and moving it horizontally along his waist, and he whispered, “Yes.” I asked, “Where do you want to go?” “Some place with you.” With me, he wanted me. It must be noted that, while this is a typical interaction between human species—proposing an excursion to determine ultimate compatibility— other observers have been propositioned in similar manners, and these interchanges seldom result in a true pairing. Conclusion: Node AR1x40 reported the disconnection from the central Northern Hemisphere’s correspondent and did not resist recall. Additionally, humanity has not progressed past indirect perception, neither through biological evolution nor technological progress. As such, we advise the Symposium that The Commonality continue observations on Earth without interruption until such time when they have achieved this phase and direct contact can be made. Furthermore, AR1x40’s data stream has been adjusted accordingly to monitor for entanglement. No threat seems to exist from the node/observer’s pairing, and the engagement has resulted in valuable data about human/node parings. I didn’t do it out of a sense of duty to The Commonality. I reported for recall because I didn’t want anything to happen to Theo. And while The Commonality would like me to remind the reviewers that correlation does not equal causation, when node qW2-RR submitted to consumption by Ewi, Ewi was subsequently obliterated in a freak meteor storm. When node 5TT&2’s orgasm blew its network channel, the Thousand Benevolent Emperors faced summary execution at the hands of their people, and two millennia of war began on Xandnax. When node YYY hid from recall agents, a virus infected all Ticklewisps resulting in an inability to tickle and subsequently the end of their species. Finally, node LEA*2626’s resisting recall led to the death of her partner and her subsequent drowning. Eventually, the empire of Greece fell, and a legend was born of our interference. I knew all this, but I remained silent while he made dinner every night, while we danced in our kitchen, while I chased after my Bunny. Given a chance I’d chase him forever.

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I loved him, so I left him asleep in our bed and headed to recall. Archetype Javier Flores was subsequently recycled and the molecules put to use in the spawning of other observers’ archetypes. Node AR1x40 was debriefed, purified, reconstituted, and sent back to Earth. The node is currently operating archetype Helen Vapiski. This was in keeping with the protocols of the experiment in order to continue uninterrupted observation. We see no further complications. At this time we cannot recommend humanity’s assimilation into the Symposium. Postscript: The following is supplemental data pertaining to node AR1x40, after its reconstitution. We see him every day. We sit in the square with the birds and watch him open La Chanson. Sometimes, we dive into the dumpster behind the bakery looking for evidence of his mourning or his anger. We only come up with stale, broken bread. We hear that he no longer makes le gateau à l’absinthe. On one very cold day, he came running across the slush slicked road and into the square. He said, “Why don’t you come inside?” “Where you taking me?” “In there.” He pointed to La Chanson. “You’re not with them, are you?” He hesitated, and then he smiled, “No, I’m not with them. How could I be? I don’t even know your name.” “Helen.” “My name is . . .” “I know you. I’ve always known you.” “Okay, then.” There was no one in the store, and it looked like no one had been in for a while. The store was warmer than outside but colder than it should have been. He sat us down and we said, “There’s no birds today. Too cold.” “That’s right.” He brought us a cup of chocolate chaud. “It’s not right. No snow.” “Snow?” “On top.” We pointed to the cup of chocolate. He scooped chantilly into the cup, and the white cream melted down the side. “Better, huh?” Our mouth engulfed the cup. “Don’t. That’s hot.”

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We drank it down in one gulp and pushed the cup towards him. “Sunny sunshine.” “I’ll get you another.” “The birds, they tell me things.” “Really what do they tell you?” “Stuff about oranges and licorice. About broken fences.” “Is that so?” “So. You happy?” “Sure. No customers, but I guess so. How happy can you really be anyway?” “You know what they say about a happy baker?” He stopped behind the counter. “Soufflés are for rising bread,” we said. He placed the cup in front of us. “Yes, that’s what they say. You know you should find a shelter. There’s a church over on Twentieth and Walnut that has a shelter.” “Gods are cruel. No promise there.” “Well, I’m sure the city has something.” We finished our cup and placed a quarter on the counter. “No, really,” he said. “I can’t.” “Is it not enough?” “It’s plenty.” He picked up the quarter and placed it in the register. “Thanks.” Outside it began to snow. And we said, “He knows. It was hard for him. So many lives. The node just churns. It churns and churns out information. It never knows who it’s going to be next. Boy, girl. But then you came. Information wasn’t important. Just one life. It was hard. Hard for him. He had to go far away. Farther than the birds go, farther than the dust spinning off the planet. Past the rings of Saturn. Over the red cascading nebulas. Out of swirling galaxies. Far away. There’s no God, though we think we are. We just observe and record and wait. But then you were there. Every word he took. Every word. Now all to read, forever. Written in the stars. But the birds don’t come to tell you because it is too cold, and it’s snowing now. Things will get better, Bunny. It’ll be better, Bunny. I’ll be your moon on the square.” And we hugged him, and he smelled of bread and chocolate, and we wept.

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You As Green Lagoon ROSE HUNTER

And the ocean you can see it but only go there, during times of flood like dinner by the beach; why not! on Olas Altas as you danced algae and verdigris and nuclear crack-up growing a second head, green and where I’m from (remember; don’t ask) a little lean-on, depletionism like your cove with tire scraps beer bottles and drag marks— mental lakes are not even brackish still I want to know what you don’t remember as though we could pin down, for example how many memories to qualify green as you are after all this time it’s too difficult to tie my shoelaces and green you were one belonged to someone else. So, now, has this been devotion to turn everything to you? Or I cannot give it up, it’s me it’s mine. Your green my green you’re green my green.

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Vishnu Coming Through JEFFREY DAVID GREENE

V

ishnu comes through, every night, at midnight—and it’s always the same. First the fax machine turns on in Human Resources. Then a warbling transmission comes through, emitting blue, sparkly dust which settles on the floor. Then he appears with his four arms moving in a quasi-hypnotic swirl that almost looks artful. He sets his conch, discus, mace, and lotus down on some accountant’s desk and then secretes a sweet smelling oil from his palms (he says it’s for meditation, but we just use it for lube), and then he presses me up against a Xerox machine, and we have hot sex. It doesn’t mean I’m gay. I wouldn’t do this with just anyone. Afterwards we lie on the ground and smoke cigarettes, staring at the knotty, plaster ceiling. Sometimes we fuck again. Other times we talk about books or sports. Vishnu is very well read. Then, at some point, the fax machine turns back on, and the screeching transmission starts again, and the potpourri dust appears, and in a few moments, he’s gone. And I know I’ve got to wait until tomorrow. Around here some people call me Shakespeare or Dr. Berger because I’m in college. Not many Pinkerton Security guards are. I suppose that’s where the stigma comes from—the regular, yuppy employees that we work for see a bunch of foreign-sounding minorities in tight-fitting suits and assume that none of them are educated. When they see me they’re especially surprised—”A white security guard who’s not a supervisor? Weird. He must be some sort of crackhead”—they don’t know that I’m nearly done with a degree from Emerson College, and even though I’m floundering through a single class a semester, I’m still educated. When they hear my voice, they’re doubly surprised. I can speak standard English, and I don’t use Ebonics or slang or any sort of street vernacular. I’m a goddamn English major, thank you very much. “Hey, Shakespeare,” Rowley said from his station behind the fourth floor security desk. He was a short, bald Haitian guy with big eyes and a sublime grin that bore a startling resemblance to Baby Godzilla. I often found myself waiting for him to let out a diminutive battle cry and pick up a double decker bus, just to lick each occupant before eating them. I tapped my clipboard. “You being good, Rowley?”

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He nodded, yawning. He was tired. We were all tired. Night-shifts were hard. But I preferred them to working in the daytime. If you worked during the day you had to deal with the real employees judging you every second, and I absolutely hated that shit. “Morris is looking for you,” he said. “Yeah?” “Yeah,” Rowley said, grinning. “I think you’re in trouble.” “Oh, come on. Morris loves me.” He shrugged, flipping through an issue of GQ. “I don’t know. He probably thinks you’ve been sleeping or something.” I saw the secret door behind the security desk crack open and the eerie light of the CCTV monitors glowing within. Morris poked his head out. As the acting night supervisor, he was the only white guy in the building, besides me. It was rumored that Quincy Morris had taught history at a private boys’ academy in Alabama until he was quietly phased out for an unknown transgression. This, combined with his two ex-wives and estranged son, made him a lonely, bitter man. He took it out on the guards that worked under him. Especially me. “Jason,” he said. “Get in here.” Rowley nodded at me. I prepared to get chewed out. “You look a lot like my son, Berger, I ever tell you that?” “No, sir, you didn’t.” Morris sat down in a creaky office chair, the CCTVs illuminating his face, servers buzzing behind him. “Well, you do.” I shuffled my feet. “Umm, thank you, sir.” Morris snapped up from his seat, standing, getting in my face. He was a good foot taller than me. “Why’re you acting so squirrely around me, boy?” “I’m, not, acting, you know—squirrely.” “Yes, you are,” he said, keeping a bloodshot eye on me. He walked around me once in a full circle, like a man inspecting a young mare, and I strained to keep looking at him. “Have you been keeping your Nextel off?” “Sometimes,” I said. “When I go to the bathroom and stuff.” Morris grunted, raising a Styrofoam cup to his mouth, draining the rest of his coffee. “Montego says that you’ve been lingering up in HR. That true too?” “I guess.” “You ‘guess,’” Morris said, continuing his odious habit of repeating whatever the offender says. “You’re a rover, boy, don’t you know what that means?” “No sir,” I said. “What exactly does that mean?” His face went beet red, and for a second I thought he might hit me. Instead, he ran a hand through his buzz-cut and touched my shoulder. “Don’t mess with me. It means you’re supposed to be roving. Not sitting around up there, doing god-knows-what. You’ve got to keep moving or else

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you’ll fall asleep. And if we catch you asleep too many times, we’ve got to fire you, y’know?” I nodded. “Good,” Morris said. He sat back down, pulling out a tin container of Canadian Lakes chew. He stuck a big greasy wad in his cheek. Once he’d spat a black stream of juice into the empty coffee cup, he offered me some. I declined. “You don’t dip? Shit, son, when I was your age I was already big into chew. It’s good.” “That’s okay, I don’t think I need any.” “Screw that cancer baloney. You can get cancer just from breathing the filthy air outside.” I scratched my cheek. “Okay, Sir. Are we done?” Morris rolled his eyes. “Yes. We’re done.” I turned to leave, but he wasn’t finished. “Wait. One last thing. I want you to remember something. We’re of the same kind around here. You know what I mean? We’ve got to stick together. I need to be able to rely on you. Understand?” He made it sound like the entire Zulu nation might pounce on our meager fort at any moment. I nodded. When Vishnu and I first hooked up, he forced himself on me. Oh sure, I kind of enjoyed it, and he and I could laugh about it later on, but at the time it was frightening. “Remember what you did when we first met?” I said, kissing his blue chest. We were lying on the carpeted floor outside of Accounting. We’d built a makeshift teepee out of cubicle dividers. Vishnu blew smoke rings in the shape of centaurs. His many arms were all about me, plucking carpet fuzz off of my back. “What? When we first had sex, and you screamed like a woman?” “I didn’t scream like anything,” I said, tweaking a navy blue nipple. “I just got scared. I mean, how often do gods come out of fax machines?” Vishnu thought about that for a second, blowing on my face. His breathe was both warm and cool, like Ben-Gay. “More often than you’d think.” I thought about that. Maybe there were gods everywhere, right at that moment, popping out of fax machines. Odin, Thor, Zeus, Apollo, Athena, Dionysus, Aphrodite, Jesus, Mohammed, maybe they were appearing everywhere at once, sexually assaulting young, pimply security guards. A deific-softcore-porn going on in every corporation, all across America. I liked the idea and said so. “Good.” Vishnu snuffed his cigarette out on the tip of his thumb. “I’m glad.” He re-arranged his golden headdress that had somehow come astray. “So, Berger, we’re often intimate, but we don’t talk. It’s not often that I pick a human paramour. Tell me about yourself.”

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“Wait—” I said, sitting up, poking Vishnu. “Who do you usually have sex with? Legendary beasts? Hippogriffs and chimeras?” “No. Usually sleazy showgirls or dancers. You’re just a temporary diversion.” Vishnu coughed. “Seriously, I want to know about you.” “What do you want to know?” “I don’t know,” he said, a cigarette dangling from his lip like a gumshoe. “Y’got family, Berger? Start with that.” “I’ve got a mother, father, sisters.” “You guys close?” “No, not really,” I said. “They’re all back in Connecticut right now, sleeping, probably dreaming about shopping or eating lobster dinners.” “That’s sad.” Vishnu clicked his tongue and lit his cigarette with my Dukes of Hazard Zippo. Up above us a smoke detector’s red light hopped on. In a minute it’d be blaring. “Shit,” I said, waving the smoke away. “Be careful with that. All I need is for a fire alarm to go off and for Morris to come up here.” Vishnu nodded and hugged himself with three of his arms, holding the cigarette away with his spare. “It’s chilly in here. Tell me more. You got a girlfriend?” I shook my head. “Boyfriend?” “No.” I sneered. “You’re my first—y’now, that way.” Vishnu snickered. “That’s hot. So, I’m your first. I’m flattered.” He nudged my side with the head of his mace. “Funny, for a virgin, you sure seemed like a pro.” “Asshole,” I said, trying to hold a straight face. “So, you’re in school, right?” “Yeah,” I said. “A good one.” “What’re you studying?” “English,” I said. Vishnu handed me his burning cigarette and scratched all his armpits at once. “Do you love it? Are you passionate about it?” I thought about that. “Not really. No, I’m not.” “Is there anything you’re passionate about?” I thought about that too. Other than my nights with Vishnu, his touch, his breath, his body—no, there was nothing. I could care less about everything and anything. My life just seemed so over and done with, boring and totally predictable. At twenty-one I was used up and bored: ennui to the max. But I didn’t want to admit any of that to Vishnu. “Sure. I’m passionate about lots of things.” I left it like that. Vishnu raised the cigarette to his lip once again and made a face. “These Marlboros suck. Maybe you should bring us some nice cloves for next time.” I turned to him: “Yeah, well, maybe you should shave that unibrow, you know, for next time.”

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A few nights later Vishnu and I were sitting on a radiator, looking out at the Boston skyline. Vishnu said that the Prudential sort of looked like my erection. I thanked him. The Pru is pretty big. We made out, and I squeezed his four biceps. “You’re muscular,” I said. “Thanks,” he said. “I don’t even work out.” I’d promised Vishnu that we’d smoke up at work sometime, and so I made good on my promise by rolling up a blunt on the floor. He watched, nodding his head, bells jingling from his wrists. Once I was done I put the spliff to his lips and lit it for him. He inhaled deep and hard. “You know I could get fired for this,” I said. “I appreciate your risk,” he said, exhaling classy o-rings and smoky hook shapes. Once he was done, a glassy smile lingered across his face. “I like this stuff.” “Why do you come here?” I said. He quirked a brow at the question. “What do you mean?” “Why do you come to this building? Why do you come out of that fax machine? What are you doing here?” “That’s a stupid question,” he said, offering me the remains of the crumbling blunt. I put it to my lips and smoked, trying to blow the same rings that Vishnu was capable of. No go. My smoke came out like miniature, mangled clouds. “It’s not a stupid question.” “Yes it is,” he said. “Why do you come here? Why do you always come through the door?” “I don’t know,” I said. The had pot started to take effect. I felt lightheaded and shady, like every movement I made was illegal. “Because I just do.” “Exactly.” Vishnu grinned widely, and his teeth were overly white. I told him so. “I use Crest whitening strips,” he said. The next day, Morris cornered me in the break-room as I did my tie. He stood in back of me as I worked in front of the mirror. He clearly wasn’t happy. For a second I saw something strange in his watery eyes—a flash of something broken or odd—but that faded. A moment later he shook his head and snarled. “Where the hell did you go last night? You turned off your Nextel again.” “What do you mean?” “Don’t play dumb with me,” he said. “Turn around.” I didn’t comply. He grabbed me by the shirt, whirled me around, squeezing my lapels, and pushed me up against a locker. “Now you listen here, boy,” he said, “I want some fucking answers. You keep disappearing

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like that, and I’m going to have to report you. Do you want that? You want to get reported and fired? Do you?” He was an inch from my face. Spittle rolled down my lip and onto my chin. He shook me once again, as if trying to rattle the answers out of me like a broken vending machine that’s stolen your quarter. I said no. “Right,” he said, easing a little. “No, Berger, you don’t want to get fired. You need this job, right?” “Yes.” It was true. I needed the job. My father had cut me off months ago because of a stupid fight over my refusal to take up golf. “I need this job.” Morris let me go. I sniffled and felt warm tears welling in my eyes. Before I’d come to work, I’d had a few drops of Schnapps with some guys in the dorm, and I was feeling emotional. I wiped my eyes, and Morris started to smooth my shirt and do my tie for me. “Berger, I know you’re a good boy. I know that. Just don’t let me down, okay?” “Yes, Sir.” The tie he made for me was something elaborate, something more refined than the Windsor—the only tie I knew how to make. “Do you know who I think is the greatest president in the history of the United States?” he said, abruptly, as if just thinking of it. “No, Sir.” Morris finished my tie and smiled. “All better now. The president I liked—no, loved, actually, was Jimmy Carter. He was compassionate—a peace president. That’s what I think was so great about him. I try to be that way, you know, to lead like him, especially around here. That may be part of the problem. I’m a big softie.” I nodded. “Yes, Sir.” “Okay, kiddo. Get out there, and keep that damn Nextel on.” Morris looked me square in the face and sighed. “You and me, kid, we gotta stick together.” “I did a little research on you yesterday,” I said to Vishnu, who was sitting on a desk in front of me. He pushed the hair out of my eyes. “Yeah? What did you find out?” “That you’re the god of preservation and maintenance.” Vishnu leaned over, pecked my cheek, loosened my tie, and ran a hand over my chest. “Yeah?” “Yeah.” I shivered from his touch. “Which is why I’ve got a theory as to why you keep showing up here.” His lips lit my neck. I strangled a moan. “You’re here to preserve and maintain the fax machine.” Vishnu laughed so suddenly that our heads collided, and I got a bloody nose. Then we laughed all the way to the water cooler, toasting with triangular cups.

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“Back in Haiti,” Rowley said, “I never thought I’d end up like this.” “Like what?” I said, leaning against the reception counter. “A security guard?” Rowley smiled and nodded, and for a second he looked less like baby Godzilla and more like a wistful poet. There was a camera above us in a black dome, mostly for recording if either of us tried to use the reception phones or sit on the nice couches. “I never thought I’d be working here, wasting my life away.” “You’re not wasting your life,” I said. “You’re waiting for something bigger to come along.” Rowley shook his head, pulling out a large, cheaply printed issue of Computer Shopper. “I was supposed to be doing something meaningful. Be a doctor or a professor. Living in a big house and driving a nice car. Thought I’d have lots and lots of girls. Instead I’m thirty-two, working here, driving an ‘83 Nissan, and living with my mother. And only the big-piggirls at church will even talk to me.” I didn’t ask for specifics as to what these girls looked like, but they sounded suitably horrible. “And I’m never going to get out of here. They pay me just enough that I’ll never be truly happy, but I’ll also never, ever leave.” I opened my mouth to say something but then didn’t. “You, Shakespeare—you’re in college. You’ve got a chance,” he said, holding up a finger as fat as a sausage link. “Don’t waste it.” The next night Vishnu and I had rough sex on one of the couches near the elevators and once he’d shot off all over my chest, he manipulated me to climax with all four of his soft hands. The orgasm was so strong that it made me convulse and want to curl up into a ball—like a spider with a cocktail pick through its thorax. “Y’ever want something more than this, Vishnu? Something real? Like a relationship?” “Something more than this?” he said. “More than our dalliances? No. No, I don’t want. Here I feel free. Why would I want anything else?” I sighed. “Because.” “Shit,” Vishnu said, and I’d never heard him swear before. “Not again.” He got up, his four arms working frantically, pulling his loincloth, headdress, and bracers on. “Hey,” I said, “where are you going?” “Why do things always have to get so sordid and serious, especially when I’m having fun? I pick a mortal lover, and it always ends up like this.” Vishnu swaggered through the offices, gliding past cubicles and printers, network hubs and blue pencil holders, broken monitors and PCMCIA cards. He stood in front of the fax machine like Captain Kirk, waiting to be beamed up. “You’re leaving?” “Yeah,” Vishnu said. “I’m leaving. It’s about that time.”

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My pants were still around my ankles. The fax started to cough out strangled beeps and blips. The pixy dust coughed out. I grabbed one of Vishnu’s arms, but he yanked it away. “How come I feel like this is the last time I’m ever going to see you?” He sighed and chewed his lip but then ruffled my hair. “Hey, kid, you’re going to see me again. Don’t worry about that.” But I knew he was lying, and he knew that I knew. “Things always have an end, Jason. If it wasn’t now, when would it be?” And he was right. There wasn’t any future in it. Vishnu couldn’t come home with me. He couldn’t sleep in my bed, and I couldn’t introduce him to roommates, my friends, my country-club parents, and my yappy sisters. It’d never work. Vishnu touched my face again and his fingers glided across my cheeks and left a trail of goo that smelled like ginger. “There-there. Buck up, kid. I’ll be back, someday, maybe.” Before I could say anything, he disappeared. I sighed and clicked my Nextel back on. A loud series of beeps came through and Rowley’s voice screamed, “Jesus, Shakespeare! Answer your goddamn Nextel! Morris is coming up there, and he’s going to bust your ass if he catches you sleeping—” I turned around, and there he was: Morris, standing by the water cooler, his eyes wide and a hand covering his mouth. His Nextel hit the ground, beeping. I didn’t know what to say or what he’d seen. Instead I pulled my pants up, zipping them. I wiped some of Vishnu’s stuff off my cheek and tasted it. It was incredibly sweet. We were quiet a long time. “How long were you standing there?” I said. Morris didn’t make a sound. “Does this mean I’m fired?” Morris and I never spoke again. For the next few weeks we avoided each other, except for strange glances in the cafeteria and a moment in the break room where I thought he wanted to ask me something, but instead he just quivered and looked like he might cry. Rowley and the guys tried to pump the story out of me about what happened up there in Human Resources. I didn’t tell him anything. They made up a rumor that I’d fought him, wrestled him to the ground, and dominated him completely and thoroughly. They said that I’d somehow broken Morris’s spirit and that he would never be the same. I knew otherwise. A few months later Morris was fired for stealing that very same fax machine from HR—the one that Vishnu used to come out of. After work one night, Rowley caught Morris stuffing the fax machine into the back of his Chevy. Rowley ratted to the top, and they made him supervisor.

116 · Vishnu Coming Through


Although they shit-canned Morris, the fax machine was never returned. I’m not sure exactly what he was trying to pull. It’s not like the fax machine was a magic genie lamp or anything. I didn’t get any of my wishes answered. But Morris probably just wants all the same things we all want: Love. Success. Sex. Acceptance. Companionship. Like everybody he’s just trying to get it wherever he can. It’s my last semester at school now, and I’m happy. I still work security part-time at Landmark Center, and it’s great. Rowley lets me study during the overnight shifts. Every once in a while I go back to Human Resources during my rounds. There’s a yellow spot on the plastic table that outlines where the fax machine used to be. I sniff the counter. Sometimes it smells like persimmon, or I think I see some of that sparkling dust. But then I come to my senses. It’s all gone.

Jeffrey David Greene · 117


versions ALI LANZETTA

then we lay like that, tribal, warm-blooded, having hooked our limbs like celtic knots, in our frenzy where our breathing is bellows, where we smell like animals. composure unravels like a bandage, a kite string. we unfurl like flowers. i uncrumple a newsprint flower, peeling the inky text away like the skin of an orange. “if i was an animal, what kind of animal would i be?” it says. the ink smudges my fingertips like ash, oily, inside the crumple it’s warm to the touch. you look out at me, glint where i tilt you to the nightlight. dust to dust. a whole hidden mythology, spilt across the eyes. “your smell,” he says. “i do?” i say. “i missed it.” he says. “oh,” i say, “that’s not what i thought you said.” “i make love two times,” says the guy behind me on the bus. to time? to hide? what did he say? someone must have squeezed his voice from his throat and stretched it like a caramel, scraped it over the asphalt, pockmarking it with little rocks, slivered by a crack in a downtown sidewalk. you know him. midmorning Banter-Listening, Bus-Riding Alone. we all are. or, please don’t open me near the sink. i don’t know how to swim. “you’re good at that,” he says, unspooling the space between us down his chest, his belly, between our skins, our eyes. mine are like teacups, a tea-party, pocket roses. saucers ladled with milk. his are towering pine shadow, rain on the forest floor, dark pools darting secret minnows. i tell him everything i know.

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these: bone against skin, knuckled, calloused from digging dirt under winter rainweight, lifting stones pocked with muscovite or moss, hard under supple, naturally occurring weaponry that swells up from the ground. i feel a little sick, my mouth and my mind mismatched, i lick my lip, backwatering him, tasting oranges. i’m a tired-of talker with sleepy-eyes. dayafter. my mysterious dream affairs with water: i seem to be the cat and the goldfish, lonesome fighterfish, scrappy tabby, tailed, striped, circling the bowl. on the bus a man gets on and says, “i think she’s been talking to me in her sleep.” a girl is left on the corner, is wearing hair in her eyes, like glasses. winter fountain spray of white, a spray of baby’s breath. pressure and air makes the same amount of water more. thirsty for its plural form. i’m so sleepy, my head nods about, eyes flying half-mast. my conductor of dreamwater, fruit parts, a greenhouse, i think and think and look and grow a spare heart. a man cradles a clementine, his hand the color of cardamom. another has breadcrumbs, is the center of a sundial of pigeons. thirsty to be at the center of something, i balance an orange pencil on my lip and make up things for our eyes to be. a man on the bus falls into another. men being softer than they think, they both bruise. a soft spot in the skin to sneak a worm, or a tooth, or a secret. words rub up against me: it’s not enough. i bite my lip to keep from wincing my voice out from my trappy throat. “a bird throat,” he says, smoothing the feathers down. i’m writing a play where he’s the only character, playing himself. a different animal plays him in every act. in one version of you, your fingers always smell like oranges. you unwrap it delicately, tap a fracture in the peel, crack it open like an egg. there’s something alive inside.

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warm-blooded. freckle-back down. he sleeps. i inspect his profile with my dream vision. i’m wearing my dream glasses. the morning is color-scented. he has tiny, sun-colored hairs coming out of his ear. what kind of animal are you? i’m looking at him like a farmer. the room goes apricot and i go kernelled, hourglass, above-water, i’m belly-up watching his jugular inflate and deflate. i guess his heart does that. “do you float?” it asks me. “i do,” i say quietly, holding a flower in my teeth, not knowing how it got there. suddenly i’m a little lost, somewhere between one edge and another. it’s too much, it kind of hurts. a pulsing knot, arms and legs sticking out. if only i could slide out of the mirror of skin i’m wearing, leave my exoskeleton in our tincan rosebush, rusting along with history. i could rocket myself to the moon. “fuck—” i say, instead, like it’s the only word i know.

120 · versions


People with Holes HEATHER FOWLER

I

found you wearing a hole one day. I didn’t think it sexy, didn’t even know when it appeared. It was right near where your elbow use to be, so I couldn’t imagine how your arm could keep bending. I saw right through it, your hole. I suppose I could have tried to visualize some little gears there to normalize the thing, some kind of spokes and wheel, but instead there was a nothingness. Your abilities as a partner were not impaired. I felt the weight and pull of your arms around me afterward, the strength of how it felt when you drew me close. If you had no elbow, you couldn’t have done that; I was thorough in consideration. I’d checked, in particular, for the feel of the holey arm’s closure. It worked! The thing still worked! I thought I knew everything before that, everything about you, but the hole made me doubt. You were different. I knew it then, said, “So, this hole came from where?” “I don’t know,” you replied. “But you do know,” I insisted. “I don’t,” you said. “Give me a break, Alice.” “Can’t you give it back?” You looked at me like I’d asked you to return a child to an orphanage, said, “It’s my hole, damn it.” You were eating orange chicken with your fingers. I passed you the chopsticks because your fingers looked nasty, said, “Okay, no need to get testy,” but you hated the word “testy.” It reminded you of test and test reminded you of failure and failure reminded you of, well, failure. Not that you and I and failure were strangers. We both knew that imposter very well. “If you had a hole,” you said, “I wouldn’t harass you about it. I would accept it. Mildly accept it, I might add. Were it somewhere erotic, it’s possible I might even use it, kind of, where applicable.” “My whole body is erotic,” I said. “You use my holes all the time.” “I know,” you agreed. “That’s what I meant.” Not long after, we visited the liquor store. No one could see your hole. You had on this faded purple button-up shirt and some Lucky jeans. I wanted to get lucky. I could almost see you as normal, imagined you doing a great unveiling dance for me, showcasing the hole like a sex organ. We watched these two kids in the aisle, stealing candy, both lithe-limbed sixth

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graders stuffing their pockets with chocolate and sour stuff and laughing. The store owner saw them too, grabbed them by the scruff of their necks and said, “I think you have some things that belong to me.” They were both boys. They weren’t laughing then. “Look,” one of them started. “Our friends dared us. Here. We’ll give it all back. Let us down.” But then when the guy released them, one said to the other, “Run for it,” and they did. I think they were homeless. The store owner looked from the kids to us, you and me, and then back to the kids. He might have chased them were we not there, but perhaps we looked guilty. We could have stolen liquor. “Did you feel guilty, too, when those kids were taking candy?” I asked you. “Oh, yeah. Like we did it from a baby,” you agreed. “Why did we feel guilty?” I asked. You shrugged. “Because they aren’t old and they don’t have holes?” “Not yet,” I said. “Let’s try to get rid of your hole.” At my urging, you went to a support group for people with holes. Each night as you prepared to go, you looked at me like: I hate this, but I do it—I do it all for you. You wouldn’t reply to my questions about your involvement or how you processed the experience. You did say, “There are holes everywhere, Alice,” when asked a really intrusive question. “One guy has his in his thigh. Another girl has one in her neck. A neck hole.” “Can she talk?” I asked. “Can I hold you?” you replied. “Sure, but does it look weird while she’s talking? How big is the hole?” You didn’t reply. The support group had Family Night one night. We had no children or local parents. We were not married, but you thought I could come, common law intimates and all. “You’re the closest I’ve got,” you said. “You might as well go.” This was the best, most exciting night ever! I was thrilled. “I get to meet all your friends!” I enthused. “I get to see the other holes. The other people’s holes!” “The other holes might be covered,” you said. “It’s not that big a deal.” But it was; I smiled. I put on a pink and silver dress and extra high fuchsia heels. I spent more time doing my make-up than normal, which meant five and a half minutes. I worried about too much blush. “You look just like family,” you said. “Or somebody going to a wedding. Kill the red lips. You look like you might eat me.” “It’s not our wedding, so what are you worried about?” I asked. You kissed me to buy some quiet. We rode to the group in my Honda, keeping the fitting silence for your nerves. You drove, actually. I tried to dampen my excitement, but found I kept tapping my foot, also singing, “Georgia, Geo-or-gia, just that old sweet song . . .” You were from Georgia,

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which made this extra horrid, but neither did you like my rendition of “New York, New York.” Sometimes, I botched the lyrics on purpose. The event was held in a high school gym. I don’t know what I thought I’d see there. The people looked pretty normal. They were seated in a circle, a la standard therapy group. The circle had been widened to include family. I sat beside you, and it turns out, the therapist announced, that the people with holes were going to tell us, the attending family and significant others, what they thought we had done wrong in their lives, or what we had done that, in their views, had occasioned the existing holes. Did we know we were to blame? Were we willing to keep an open mind, to help, to listen quietly, without judgment? Oh fuck, I thought. Some people with holes had no family, and one lady said, “I hate the idea of this whole night. Where’s my therapy? I gotta be the pa-fuckingthetic one who tells about my hole with nobody to help me? We all get a turn, right? Well, if I could get the fucker who gave me this hole to come down here, don’t you think I’d already have a smaller sized hole? All holemakers and hole-wearers can’t repair damage together. I shoulda skipped tonight and watched a show about people who can’t sing. Stop looking at me.” She had a hole the size of a coffee cup in her groin. I couldn’t see it, but I saw the way the fabric fell in where her pussy would have been. I couldn’t help it, but I kept staring there, like her holey organ might show up if I just glanced hard enough, but people started sharing then. First we heard from a black guy with three brothers present. His hole was on his shoulder. “And this came when you didn’t tell me I’d be okay,” he said. “When I had cancer and none of you came to see me, because I am gay. Because my lover was there. But I’m still your brother.” Damn, I thought. This was better than a soap. Pretty soon the brothers were all crying and hitting each other in the arm. I just kept quiet. I was learning: So the holes weren’t random. I looked at your elbow, where your hole was invisible under your clothes. You looked uncomfortable, never liked me to get the full extent of the joke or know too much. “Did I make your hole?” I whispered. “Would I have asked you here if you hadn’t?” you replied. The bad vibe went on from there. “And you only bother to tell me now?” I hissed again. “We could have done home therapy. Talked about this!” I was kind of mad, but watched the parade of others, thinking: Who knew people had so many holes? The therapist had her own hole on her left thigh—but it looked patchy. She was in recovery, she’d said. Her hole was opaque, so you couldn’t quite see through it, but you could see the colors behind her. A therapist must evidence progress, I thought. She does. That’s a good sign.

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As your turn got closer, I could see you watching her. She kept giving you a little nod, like, it’s okay, it’s okay. You sat very still. The guy next to us had a hole in his wrist. His mother was there, the poor guilty thing. He moaned, “And you kept saying I couldn’t do art like Timmy! And you made me feel like a slob. And he didn’t do shit with his life. How dare you damage me that way? You didn’t help me! You—” “Keep working with the statements that start with ‘I feel’ for now, Nathaniel,” the therapist admonished. He looked first to her and then at his mother before he said, “I feel hurt, momma. I feel upset. I feel like I was the child you loved the least. I feel subhuman and never deserving. I am angry about that.” “I’m sorry,” his mother said. Everybody clapped. The man cried. The mother grabbed his hand. “I’m really sorry,” she repeated, caressing his open hole. “Really, really sorry.” Her touch didn’t solve his hole. We all knew it was just a drop in the hole-healing bucket, but he smiled. The two hugged. As soon as everybody clapped again and it was your turn, you turned to me. You opened your mouth to speak and then shut it, like you didn’t want to talk. You sat up tall. “Go ahead,” your therapist said. “Tell her.” “I—” you began. “I feel—” And then you stood up, slowly, and walked away from the whole group. On the basketball court that reeked of sweat socks and wax, you skulked outside. I kept thinking you’d just gone out for air, that you’d be back. But I was alone with the holey people for several moments as the circle went on. Your seat stayed empty. I didn’t know whether to stay or go. I went to the parking lot where you’d left our car. It was gone. This high school was in the middle of nowhere. I had no phone because we usually used yours, so I had no way to get home. I came back in and sat in the bleachers outside the circle. The confessions were in high-gear. I figured that after everybody was done, I could possibly make an announcement to publicize that I had been left. I could ask for someone’s phone to call a cab or see if anyone would take me home in the L district—I would pay them gas, I would say. After another lady confessed her dead dog had caused her hole with his death, which is why her left foot was holey, because that’s where he’d slept at night, the therapist noticed me there in the bleachers, crying. She told everybody, “Just a second.” She came and grabbed my hand with her soft hand. I didn’t want to let it go. “Come on,” she said. “Come on.” Soon, I was seated in the circle. People stared, but not unkindly. They kept staring. “What are you looking at?” I wanted to ask. After a while, I got nervous. So many people sneaking glances toward my face, I figured my eyeliner had smeared, or that my eyes were puffy and swollen. I also figured I was going to kill you if I saw you again, for causing this

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embarrassment. I felt confused. Why had you gone? Where? What could you never bring yourself to tell me? I opened a small silver mirror to look at my eyes. My make-up was fine. My eyes were fine. But there was a big hole in my forehead so I could see the bleachers behind me, the banners, the posters made with green paint that read, “GO! TEAM!”—right through my head. “Bad hole,” my neighbor said to me. “Hard to hide.” “Yeah,” I said. “Pretty much.” After the meeting there were refreshments, cookies and punch. Coffee if you gave fifty cents. I did. The holey people were so kind to me then, talking about hats, wigs, and all. “His was just in his elbow,” they whispered to me. “Get a sponsor. Go to meetings. That will help.” “You’ll like this group,” they said. “We meet every Saturday at eight and Wednesdays at noon.” They put their fingers in my hole. I let them poke the empty space that was now mine. It didn’t hurt. After that, I fingered their holes right back, like in companionship. They were kind about everything. So kind. They took off their clothes, here and there, to let me see what they were missing. They all were rather sad about witnessing my sudden arrival to the holed community. They patted my back with affection. “Oh, who cares what you did to him?” they said. They offered to drive me home and help look for my car. They offered all the possible support that holey people can, which is a lot when your holes are in different places. One was a locksmith. They didn’t keep secrets, which was, they informed me, a part of recovery. They were flexible, bending where necessary. Honest! They told me, in hushed admissions, “Your boyfriend, he wasn’t really working on his practice, wasn’t getting any better. No, we don’t think he’s coming back. Good riddance, sweetie baby. Tell him and his issues arrivederci!” Then there was a group hug—spontaneous, not even advised by the therapist. I loved these people like I loved a Bob Dylan album! Maybe more. With no big fanfare and no jacked sermon, they pulled on my arms to bring me closer. They swallowed me into their varied folds like I was the hole at their center, the daisy stem of the group, all of them the petals.

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The Bathroom from A Doubtful House ALICE B. FOGEL

For one amazonian moment in the house’s rainy season you peel off your clothes sigh to be free and then naked and exposed there is a rustling behind the shower curtain some swung monkey coiled to the vine and peeking around the pulled plastic freshly splashed with tiny tears caught in the lashes of a tribe indignant at your mission of a single moment of privacy must be mocked monkey by monkey with little fists clutching the towel hooks your futile dream of solitude to a fevered desire to mimic a desert ambiance with the tiles’ hard reds the room’s dry ochres out in the open spaces one spies under the clouds of condensation another hungry one drumming up and down on the washing machine two under the overturned basket of soiled laundry more rolling across the linoleum toilet paper ribbons root in the ceiling fans whoop at their good fortune to be here now in your bathroom you steam and whirl and listen through the singing stream from the shower head for the baby oil slicks the floor more sticky clinging fingers flinging a coconut cream rinse crying across the canopy three more sliding the mango soap just beyond sight unblinking barking your skin crawling in the tropical humidity of jungle leaves traces large as washcloths and deep

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as the woven mulch of bath mats your hair tangled with their rubbery clamping handlike paws screech wiping clear the mirror to find your face your breasts seen or not only seen but needed and judged by a jury of your peering monkeys scratching and picking everywhere they can with their long curling arms reach your body at last a tree to be climbed to all that is ripened good fruit to be mouthed and chewed

Alice B. Fogel 路 127


Jason and the Cosmonauts CARL FUERST

I

t had been years since Phil had traveled so far from home. So he lingered on, even though it was very late, and even though the only reason he’d traveled in the first place was to attend an important meeting early the next morning; he wanted to explore before checking into the hotel and going to bed. He wandered past shelves of bread, past frozen bunkers of packaged meat, and into the aisle with plastic handled gardening tools and envelopes of seeds. He swung his empty cart into the pharmacy aisle and read a box of allergy medicine, trying several pronunciations of each ingredient in his head. Phenylephrine. Phenylephrine. Phenylephrine. Each version brought more pleasure than the one before it. He watched lobsters sulk in a tank. He found an aisle where jars of gefilte fish reminded him of biology class. Jars of pigs’ feet. Cans of smoked cod liver and cans of baby conch. He watched a woman compare brands of paper towels. She was tall and she wore jeans and a sweatshirt with an Eeyore iron-on ironed on to the front. A small child sat in the front of her shopping cart. She reminded him of a woman he’d seen at the mall when he was thirteen years old. He had been in the food court, and she had been at the table next to him, breastfeeding an infant. Thirteen-year-old Phil inched closer to better gape at her breasts, and when she locked her eyes with his, he was terrified that she’d notice his jutting tongue or that she would notice his hands drifting toward his lap, and he was scared that she would alert the security guards who would then discover all the dressing-room peeping and bathroom-stall masturbation he’d done that afternoon. When she returned her attention back to the baby, thirteen-year-old Phil was not only relieved, but understood it as flirting on her part, and the memory of it was so pleasing that, in the grocery store where this story began, Phil followed the woman with the kid in her cart from the paper towel aisle where she was to the coffee aisle where she went. She poked tins of Nescafé. She shook a can of Strawberry Quik. Phil needed to look like he belonged there, so he brought a bag of coffee to his nose. The intensity of the smell was more than he was used to; so much so, in fact, that it made his tongue jut from his mouth and it made his knees and elbows shake. The intense coffee smell mingled with the chalky-white light

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that bounced off the narrow stripe of chalky-white skin where the woman’s sweatshirt had separated from the elastic waistband of her jeans. Phil felt like his bones were glowing. The woman sneezed. Phil said, “God bless you,” and accidentally locked eyes with her child. The child looked back and Phil was sure that, if anyone could see his glowing bones, it would be that kid. He mumbled, “God bless you,” again and again as the mother retreated, leaving him in that aisle staggering and alone, mumbled blessings dripping from his lips. Meanwhile, this story’s other character, Henry, drove the interstate, his hatchback straining under each of the 65 miles per hour it was forced to achieve. He listened to the sounds his tires made against the road. He sniffed the air for evidence of burning rubber, fraying wires, smoking oil. He was, at one point, alarmed by a violent shaking in the steering wheel, only to find that the shaking was in his hands. Like Phil, it had been many years since Henry had been so far from home, and the only thing that scared him more than a breakdown followed by a long lonely night followed by a tow truck and repairs that he could not afford—the only thing that scared him more than that predicament was the meeting he had very early the next morning, where his mind would need to be sharp. The road was gaudy with billboards for tourist traps. A sign for “The Wonder Spot” featured a moving mesmerist’s wheel. There were signs for lumberjack breakfast buffets and clown museums and something named “Gargantua!” The billboard for the life-sized replica of the MIR space station caught Henry’s attention more than the others, though, mostly because its picture of the MIR looked like the foil-wrapped antennas he spent so many hours of his youth adjusting, trying in vain to finesse the fuzz out of Happy Days and Gilligan’s Island and C.H.I.P.S. Henry imagined visiting that replica of the MIR. He imagined a lobby with space race displays and a cardboard Sputnik ringed by velvet rope. He imagined mannequins dressed like cosmonauts, hunched over equipment labeled in cryptic Russian script. He’d browse room after room until, finally, he’d find the zero gravity installment: mannequins and tools would hang from the ceiling by awkwardly visible fishing line, everything swaying in the air-conditioning’s breeze. Henry knew that, if he could reach that place, he could trick himself into believing it was real, and gravity would really be gone, and he’d be gone, too. He guided his car along an off-ramp, and, when he saw the gas station’s metal canopy angled over the pumps and its brightly lit windows and the satellite dish bolted to its roof, the gas station didn’t look much different than the billboard’s picture of the MIR.

Carl Fuerst · 129


He filled his gas tank and went inside, where he was surprised to find baskets of fresh vegetables and fruit and floors scrubbed as smooth as bones washed up on the beach. A man hunched inside an open freezer door, jerking five pound bags of ice from a cart and into their place on the shelf. He wasn’t quite five feet tall, with old fashioned suspenders that lifted the waistband of his pants to his armpits. He had glasses and his dentures were too big for his mouth. He straightened as Henry approached. “Hi!” he said, smiling. “Hi,” said Henry. “I’d like to pay for my gas.” “Ice,” he said. “You were stocking the ice?” “Yes!” Another man came from the stock room. He wore a chocolate-colored sweatshirt that zipped down the front. He wore work boots and he walked with a limp. “Evening,” he said. “Hi,” said Henry. “I just put some gas in my car. I’d like to pay for it.” “Of course,” he said, limping to the counter and taking his place behind the register. The other man followed, not noticing or not acknowledging that one of his shoes had slipped from his foot. “This is Jason,” said the taller of the two. “He mostly stocks the ice.” “Ice,” Jason confirmed. “Looks like he does a great job.” “It takes him all night, but, yes, he is by far the best ice stocker that has ever worked in this gas station.” Henry paid for his gas. “Where you headed tonight?” Henry told him. Henry said he was glad there wasn’t much farther to go, because he had an important meeting early the next morning. “I hate to break it to you,” said the cashier, “but that’s not very close at all. A few hours, at least.” “Compared to how long I’ve come, a few hours seems short.” “I guess it all depends on your point of view.” “Yes it does. Like most things. I do believe that.” The cashier leaned forward, putting his weight on the counter. “It’s like what I saw on TV last night. I watched a program, it was a science program, and it dealt with different theories about how the Earth and moon were formed. You’ve got theory A against theory B, and they’re both probably a little bit true, it all just sort of depends. And that’s the ground we’re walking on!” “And we’ve been walking on it all our lives.” “The show presented this piece of information that was not a theory, but a known fact. It’s this: the moon, which seems to be circling our planet endlessly . . . you might even say aimlessly . . . the moon is actually spiraling farther away from us each year. One-half of an inch each year. That

130 · Jason and the Cosmonauts


means that Jesus looked at a moon that was one thousand inches closer than it is now! How many feet is that?” “No idea,” said Henry. “One thousand divided by twelve.” “So almost a hundred feet.” “About that.” “And your whole life, everyone is thinking, ‘Well . . . Sun . . . Earth . . . Moon . . . three basic things with basic relationships to each other.’ But they’re flying apart from each other and the only thing that keeps us from realizing that is that we don’t live long enough to see it.” Jason took a penny from the leave-one-take-one tray. The cashier paused, looked at Jason, and Jason put it back. “I don’t mind him taking a penny, per se,” whispered the clerk. “I just don’t want him to choke.” “This seems like a great place for him to work,” said Henry. “I can’t afford to lose him. He’s the best ice stocker in the world!” “Ice!” said Jason. Henry said goodbye and left, and the payphone just outside the door was ringing. Henry didn’t even pause before he answered. “Hello?” he said. He didn’t even wipe the receiver on his shirt. “What?” said the voice on the line. “This is a gas station,” he said. “What else would it be?” said the voice. Henry stammered and hung up. He got in his car. As he turned onto the street, he swerved to avoid a sedan speeding into the lot. They almost crashed, and the other car’s driver didn’t seem to notice, and Henry would have honked, but his car’s horn didn’t work. The sedan was Phil’s car. He’d been driving in circles since the supermarket’s loss prevention staff escorted him from the store. Phil went inside. The store smelled like rotten bait. “Prepay after 8,” said a clerk whose beard drooped like it had been hastily taped to his face. He was skeleton thin, in stained corduroys and a tshirt with a picture on the front of a donkey getting punched in the back of the head. “Just gas?” “Only gas.” “Jason!” Jason came from the back room; he was four feet tall, with scabby lips and a streak of sticky fluid laced across his cheek. His diapers needed changing. “This gentleman needs some gas.” “Regular,” said Phil. “Did you hear that, Jason? He said regular. Like you ain’t.” “Cuntsucker!” yelled Jason. He stumbled out the door. “Isn’t he the funniest fucking thing you ever seen?” asked the clerk. “He’s got his charm.”

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“Charm?” He shook his head. “I said he was funny. I didn’t say I wanted to fuck him.” Phil pretended to look for something in his pockets. “I’m going to check out your magazines.” “You go check ‘em out all you want. Just don’t fucking read ‘em.” The magazines were mostly about cars or guns. Phil blindly grabbed one and went back to the counter. The clerk slapped the magazine with his palm.”Into pumping iron?” Phil realized that he’d picked out an issue of Competitive Weightlifter. On the cover, two oil-drenched men, one black and one white, flexed strangely inflated arms and legs, their veins forming a mesh over shimmering, hump-backed surfaces that looked more like extraterrestrial topography than human skin. They wore tiny underpants that, in no uncertain way, revealed the shapes of their penises, which featured vein work that was similar to the rest of their forms. “It’s for my nephew,” said Phil. The clerked winked. “I bet he’s huge.” Jason came back. “Fuckin’ regular like I ain’t!” Phil paid for his gas and left. Just as he walked through the door, the outside payphone began to ring. Phil picked it up. “What,” he said. He waited. “What else would it be?” he asked. Then he hung up, got in his car, and headed to the hotel. Meanwhile, inside that very same hotel, Henry waited by the front desk, listening to music playing from speakers hidden in the walls. He walked a slow lap around the lobby, pausing by a rack of information about attractions in the area. There was a man-made diamond mine where, for an hourly rate, you could sift through the dirt and keep any gems you found. There were bumper boats and indoor black-light mini golf courses. There was a local brewery with tastings and tours, and there was a deer park, whose brochure featured thirty-year-old photos of shaggy-haired kids in bell-bottomed overalls feeding alarmingly overweight deer. As he thumbed through the literature for a laser-powered mirror maze, a wet-haired teenager appeared behind the desk and asked him if he’d been helped. He said that he needed a room for the night; he explained that he was attending an important meeting the next day, and was hoping that he could get plenty of rest and a wake-up call, too. He was afraid that anxiety would keep him from falling asleep until it was very late and then the wakeup call might be necessary. She said no problem; she said they had plenty of rooms. He gave his name and a credit card but she handed it back after typing something into her computer. “No need to pay, Mr. Streater,” she said. “Your employer has already arranged for the room.” “But I’m not employed,” Henry said.

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She giggled and handed him a coded keycard. Henry thanked her and told her what time he wanted his wake-up call. She said she’d make sure to write it down. He found the elevator. He found his room. He dipped his keycard into the lock and opened the door. He stepped into the room, where a naked man stood at the foot of the bed, masturbating furiously to pictures torn from a weightlifting magazine and spread all over the room. When he noticed Henry’s arrival, he grinned. And then, as if suddenly realizing something, he reeled backwards and accidentally sat on the dresser, his hand still violently churning back and forth. “Sorry,” said Henry. “Gargh . . . argh . . . kack,” said the man. Henry went back to the front desk. He explained. “I wish I could say that this had never happened here before,” said the girl. She typed very rapidly. “The only other room available is the Honeymooner. Big bed. Hot tub.” “Sounds nice,” said Henry. “That depends on your point of view,” she said. “Yup,” Henry agreed. “That’s very true!” But the second he walked into that honeymoon suite, with a mile-wide bed and a TV bigger than the doors on his car, with real paintings on the walls and carpet that blew kisses at his feet as he walked and sheets that smelled like the girls he had crushes on in school, he suspected that “point of view” had nothing to do with it at all. He sat on the edge of that bed, kicked off his shoes, and unbuttoned his shirt. He planned on taking a shower, slipping into bed, and watching TV until he fell asleep; it would be wonderfully new and wonderfully familiar at the same time. He was naked by the time the door swung open and Phil stumbled in, holding a heavy suitcase whose weight forced him to lean to one side, holding a trembling keycard in his hand. “Excuse me,” he muttered, but Henry had already bounded into the bathroom and locked himself inside, where he sat on the edge of the tub, buried his face in his hands, and listened to Phil sling his heavy baggage onto the bed, undo its giant grin of a zipper, and start to unpack his things.

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Rejected David Lynch Plotlines J. DIEGO FREY

Bob Dylan falls into fishtank. Must be saved from anenome. Romantic moment in restaurant altered by dying waiters. Devil arrives home. Can’t find housekeys. Door transforms into vagina. You know what’s funny? Big wet dog, sudsy bath. Name the pooch “Mozart.” Cut to pile of fish. 2 men climb out from under, embrace weepily. People start shrinking but act like nothing’s wrong as objects get bigger. 12 chimps dressed as nuns enter red room. There are chairs, but not enough chairs.

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Johnny Asparagus STEPHEN V. RAMEY

J

ohnny Asparagus stood behind the plastic sheet window of the clapboard house waving his leafy hands. He wanted our attention. He wanted to roll the bones. We knew better than to let that happen. Last time Johnny Asparagus rolled the bones, blood was spilled. He was hard to resist. It didn’t help that Billy and I had to walk past his house every day after school. The bus let off right in front of it. And there he’d be, rain or shine, waving his floppy arms. It didn’t matter if I wore a dress or pants, if I walked beside Billy or behind him. Johnny beckoned. I shook my head. Billy did too. We couldn’t look away. Once he had your attention you were pretty much lost. Such round eyes, Johnny. The better to drink you, Clarabelle. Such gaunt cheeks, Johnny. The better to suck you, Billy Kid. Such a foul mouth! Come inside and I’ll let you smell. “Roll the bones!” His lips formed the words so precisely I could almost hear him even with the breeze stirring up. His arms gyrated like a conductor leading the school orchestra. A gust lifted my skirt. Air kissed my inner thigh. I pushed the gingham material down with all my might. “Roll the bones!” vibrated through me. “Roll the bones, Clarabelle! Roll the bones, Billy Kid!” He was punching the window now, fists striking the plastic like hailstones. Pock-pock-pock. His wrists bowed and sprang, plucked strings beneath the pounding of his fists. And suddenly I was inside Johnny’s house, remembering. Inside Johnny’s room, me and Billy and Johnny rolling dice for bubblegum. “The point is eight,” Johnny yelled at the top of his lungs. “Eight!” Billy tossed the dice against Johnny’s wall. The paint was speckled white from dice striking so frequently. “Seven!” Johnny said. “You lose.” He swiped Billy’s bubble gum into his own pile and smiled. Something green was caught in his braces. I wanted to tell him about it, but I never knew what Johnny would do. “My turn,” he said, cupping the dice in his sticky palm. He rolled his fist back and forth. He threw the dice hard against his wall. A two and a one. “Craps,” Billy said. He smiled, and his green eyes shone. I smiled back. Most of the reason I was there was to be close to Billy. “Roll over,” Johnny said. “They slipped outta my hand. You saw.” “It’s your house,” Billy said. He caught my attention and winked. Johnny must’ve seen because he suddenly got sullen.

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“I’m tired of this,” he said, throwing the dice past Billy’s ear. The clatter-echo seemed to hang in the air. He looked at me, eyes vibrating like pit bulls trapped inside his skull. “You think he loves you? It’s not you he loves.” Billy frowned. His lips pulled tight. “Want to see my sword?” Johnny said. “We’re leaving,” Billy said. He took my hand and I thought I would melt right there on Johnny’s rug, the tingling was so intense. I hoped he felt it too. “I hide it in my toy box,” Johnny said, “on account of my mom snooping.” “Yeah,” Billy said. “Like you have a real sword.” “You calling me a liar, Billy Kid?” “I’m calling you out,” Billy said, and he gave my hand a quick squeeze. I wanted to kiss him. I wanted to run my fingers down his arm. Johnny threw open the red box at the foot of his bed and started pulling stuff out: decapitated Barbies, bent train track, a rubber snake. “Ha!” he said, brandishing a steak knife. Half the wooden handle had come off, exposing the blade inset within. “You’re crazy,” Billy said. “That’s no sword.” “Fuck if it isn’t,” Johnny said. “Watch.” In one quick swipe, he drew the blade across his wrist. Blood spurted into my face. Blood cascaded from his hand. With great deliberation, he passed the knife from his good fist to his bloody one and repeated the stroke on his opposite wrist. More blood. He looked up at Billy. A smile split his face. “Told you.” He glanced at me. “She wouldn’t do that.” For the longest time, I couldn’t move. It was like being a statue, an ice sculpture. The world seemed to go on outside me, but inside I was frozen. Thump, my heart went. Thump. And then someone was screaming and Billy was sitting beside me with his knees drawn up to his chin and someone was carrying Johnny out on a silver gurney. Blood seeped toward us, soaking closer and closer to Billy’s shoes, my bare foot. And I thought, it’s going to get us, Johnny’s going to get us, roll our bones. I blinked. There he was, waving his floppy asparagus arms through the plastic window. Johnny Asparagus wanting to roll the bones. And there we were, Billy and me on the sidewalk, afraid to hold hands, afraid to walk too close together, afraid of so many things.

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Tantrum NATALIE YOUNG

An orange chucked against the house drips down the brick. Pebbles sprayed with aftermath wipe their eyes, whisper impertinence (!) careless (!!) Branches catch one thought over and over, cradle, let it drop, and won’t repeat (. . .) The trees, the stones, the brick— misinterpret. Mostly the thought is periwinkle and hurts. The orange broken, but still tastes like citrus. I would lick the brick but should be going (.) I was leaving when the sound of the catching was destination enough, and I can’t pretend to care about intent, only effect (or affect?). I sample the brick, fake good taste. Pebbles pretend offense (!) (!) again (!) insanity. No matter. The branches will never notice. It’s hard to say what shouldn’t have been said.

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Ghost-Baby AMANDA BLACKMON

S

he is seven months pregnant with a ghost-baby. A translucent bulge appeared over her stomach, only slightly obscuring the view of her feet. He showed up for the first time about a month after he died. She was frightened the first time she heard his voice, whispering to her from somewhere in her dark room. He didn’t look like he had at the funeral or at the scene of the accident. He wasn’t wearing the cheap suit and there was no blood. He wore his favorite jeans and the shirt she bought him last Christmas. His eyes were as green as they had ever been. He smiled at her. She could see through him, but she could also see him so it didn’t bother her too much. He visited her every night. She would cry. He scared her and she missed him. He missed her too but only smiled. It took a few days for her to get comfortable enough to touch him. He felt like him but softer. His non-flesh yielded slightly, like the particles making him up weren’t close enough together. She let him sleep in her bed (something she hadn’t done when he was alive). He held her with his slightly invisible arms. Two weeks after his first visit she let him make love to her for the first time. He had trouble taking off her night gown. She looked away, not wanting to see his ghost-penis. She knew it would be there, but not, just like the rest of him. His motions melted into her and she didn’t feel like crying. When he stopped coming to see her at night, she got worried. The bulge was getting noticeable. She went to his grave because it was the only place she could think to find him. He wasn’t there. She spoke out loud in the cemetery, though she knew no one would hear. She can feel the ghost-baby inside her. It moves in her womb with the same softness of its father. Now, when she is drifting off to sleep, she thinks she hears his voice, soft and subtle, coming from inside her. She can hear the faint crying of a child, like a telephone ringing deep in her belly.

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The Obscene Gravity of [the] Pear JOSEPH A. W. QUINTELA

Photography is taken as “evidence” in a way I don’t think is extended or expected of poetry. —Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Connotation Press Interview I have a habit that a lot of my heroes are dead. —Paulie Lipman

When I tell where the blood is, my too-often, bull-mouth, word-fracturing, hissing, breeze-through-the-girl, barbed teeth coil. Part his lips, thick as autumn vines, to grin flint at me like a spike. Keep light out. And I must take my own hand, all willow wispy, as if it were a stave, but nowhere as strong, brokenly bleating, Let the light through. A thousand throated neighbors call beneath me (nobody listen), call me to say, The men have left, except for the reporters, the women like it here, piled like a beige heap of trees, to be ironed & mended. Cold shadow of 3 fathers, all mothers have left, but in their shadow let me be the chandelier. Family: where your body, in its cradle, shared a name with me. And there is far more blood between us, if I’m answering you. He was soil and light in my lungs where screams fired me back to nothing. Truly, I wear golden lamps, after midnight raised me; 139


shaped us into lips of light opening for his divine imagination (& we would plague again). The things I have lived hold me now. I am no more. Life, a fragment. And wish. His sense of purpose. The clouds behind me. The last body expands, indifferent as the first luminous stain. All I wanted was to tell him, You, the others, Mr. President, you, and the rest of your kind: be near me. Us: where the blood tipped on the brink learned beauty. I was blood at their feet. Stir the leaves & tell me where the blood is going. Ancient, bull-bellied clouds. Slow death. Our hips bleed into surrender. Girl & woman: so barbed. Coil at the very root. Thick as autumn vines, the barest glimpse of my—(keep the light out!)— own hand. I am 60 years old. The forest, as if it were a stave of notes grown crooked, brokenly bleating in the shadow of a thousand-throated third. A preserved hummingbird. Listen to us: The tourist weakened branches say to whither and return to dirt. The men have left, the women (I am not a murderer!) have been piled. I’ve only ever loved. I am a parolee, to be ironed and mended. I have left you. I am no one’s daughter. Blood (Our) drips from the chandelier

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The poet would like to thank Rachel Eliza Griffiths and Paulie Lipman for allowing the use of “The Two Elizas” and “Squeaky” as source texts for the composition of this poem.


CONTRIBUTORS

A. A. Balaskovits (“Three Times Red”) is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri and received her MFA from Bowling Green State University. She writes with the help of her two rats, Turing and Fermi. Her work can be found or is upcoming in Gargoyle, Monkeybicycle, Shimmer, Vestal Review, kill author, and others. She is currently at work finishing a collection of old and new fairy tales and writing a novel. Amanda Blackmon (“Ghost-Baby”) is a 22-year-old originally from a town of less than 300 people. She recently completed studies at Hendrix College in creative writing and English and is currently working to expand what began as her senior thesis, a collection of short stories entitled Marble, AR. Mary Lou Buschi’s (“Call It What It Is,” “Beauty School,” & “Hallucinations Upon Dying”) poems have appeared in The Laurel Review, Indiana Review, The Collagist, PANK, Swink, Dark Sky, and are forthcoming in Willow Springs, Cream City Review, Gargoyle, and RHINO. Mary Lou’s chapbook, The Book of Coming (or Going), was selected as the winner of the Patasola Press 2012 Chapbook Contest and will be published in the NYC Siren Series this spring. Alana I. Capria (“Lilith’s Extra Rib”), born in 1985, has an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She resides in Northern New Jersey with her fiancé and rabbit. Her writing and links to other publications can be found at http://alanaicapria.com. Rob Cook’s (“Vasco da Gama”) book-length poem Blueprints for a Genocide is either forth-coming or not. His work has appeared in Aufgabe, Bateau, Caketrain, Caliban, Fence, The Bitter Oleander, Minnesota Review, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, Osiris, Versal, RHINO, and others. Megan Cowen (“The Poisoner’s Haiku” & “Rowing, In Negative”) is currently completing her MFA and first poetry manuscript. She is the 2012 recipient of the Elizabeth Curry Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the Joy Harjo Award. Her most recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Louisiana Literature, The Medulla Review, Barely South Review, and Weave. Bernard M. Cox (“La Chanson de l’Observation”) lives in beautiful Berwyn, IL. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University. He is also Assistant Artistic Director at The Tamale Hut Café Reading Series in North Riverside, IL. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blood and Lullabies, Collective Fallout, Red Lightbulbs, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. When he is not writing, he is wandering the remnant prairies of Illinois looking for insects and dreaming about Philadelphia. Danielle Davis (“Jenna and the Coins”) lives in Los Angeles. Her short stories have appeared places like Carve Magazine, Night Train, and > kill author, and she is currently at work on some books for children. More about her at www.DanielleDavisReadsandWrites.com.

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CONTRIBUTORS

Nicelle Davis (“The Walled-Up Wife) lives in California with her son J.J. She has taught poetry at Youth for Positive Change and with Volunteers of America in their Homeless Youth Center; she currently teaches at Antelope Valley College. Her books are Circe (Lowbrow Press, 2011), Becoming Judas (Red Hen Press, 2013) and In the Circus of You (Rose Metal Press, 2014). She runs a free poetry workshop at The Bees’ Knees Blog and is assistant poetry editor for Connotation Press. Alice B. Fogel’s (“The Bathroom”) most recent book of poems, Be That Empty, was a national poetry bestseller in 2008, and another, Strange Terrain (how not to “get” poetry), was released in 2009. She has recent or upcoming work in Spillway, Hotel Amerika, Crazyhorse, No Tell Motel, and Ozone Park. Alice teaches writing and other arts, is a proofreader and copy editor, loves backpacking, and is an awardwinning designer and creator of custom clothing, particularly from upcycled materials (www.lyriccouture.com). Gavin Faherty (“Dearest Dirty,” illustrations) is an illustrator living in South Korea. His work can be viewed at www.gavinfaherty.com, with regular updates on Twitter @gavinfaherty. Heather Fowler (“People with Holes”) is the author of the story collections Suspended Heart (Aqueous Books, Dec. 2010), People with Holes (Pink Narcissus Press, forthcoming, summer 2012), and This Time, While We’re Awake (Aqueous Books, forthcoming, spring 2013). Her work has been published online and in print in the US, England, Australia, and India, in such venues as Feminist Studies, PANK, Night Train, and storyglossia. Her website: www.heatherfowlerwrites.com. J Diego Frey (“Rejected David Lynch Plotlines”) is a poet and poetry instructor with Lighthouse Writers Workshops in Denver, Colorado. Links to his book of poems, Umbrellas or Else (Ghost Road Press, 2008), and to JD’s other writings, including a bucket-load of haikus, can be found at www.UmbrellasorElse.info. Carl Fuerst (“Jason and the Cosmonauts”) is a writing teacher in Madison, WI. His stories have appeared in print and online journals including Annalemma, Jersey Devil Press, The Ante Review, and many more. Oscar Gopak (“The Day Hunt”) lives by the dark river. Jeffrey David Greene (“Vishnu Coming Through”) writes his fiction at a small desk covered in action figures. Sometimes he discusses his story ideas with a chorus of noisy and opinionated Chihuahuas. He lives in Marietta, Georgia with his wife and many pets. Currently, he is at work on a YA urban fantasy novel. Links to Rose Hunter’s (“You As Green Lagoon”) writing can be found at “Whoever Brought Me Here Will Have To Take Me Home” (roseh400.wordpress.com). Her book of poetry, to the river, was published by Artistically Declined Press (2010). Poems of hers have appeared or are forthcoming in Diagram, PANK, NAP, > kill author, The Nervous Breakdown, anderbo, Juked, Bluestem, and others. She edits the poetry journal YB (ybpoetry.wordpress.com) and lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

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CONTRIBUTORS Tina Hyland (“Dearest Dirty,” story) lives in South Korea. Her writing has appeared or is upcoming in issues of > kill author, decomP, Fix It Broken, Anemone Sidecar, Sein und Werden, and other journals. She tweets @AnnaNimh. Joe Kapitan (“War Crumbs”) works as an architect, writes fiction, and chops wood in northern Ohio. His work has recently appeared or will appear in SmokeLong Quarterly, Matter Press, Fractured West, Midwestern Gothic, and Bluestem. He’s currently cobbling together a short story collection. Jack Kaulfus (“The End of the Objects”) lives and works in Austin, Texas. Her stories have appeared in Barrelhouse Online, Off the Rocks, FAWLT Magazine, and others. She recently finished up a short-story cycle (of which this story is a part), and is hard at work on a novel. Thomas Kearnes (“Everywhere You Go, There’s a Clown”) is a 35-year-old author from East Texas. He is an atheist and an Eagle Scout. His fiction has appeared in Ampersand, PANK, Storyglossia, Night Train, SmokeLong Quarterly, Word Riot, Eclectica, wigleaf, JMWW Journal, Verbicide, 3 AM Magazine, LITnIMAGE, KneeJerk, and numerous gay publications. He is a columnist for Flash Fiction Chronicles and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee. ali lanzetta (“versions”) is a woolgatherer, artist, musician, and educator who lives in the forest and sleeps under a blanket of books. Her work has appeared in Transfer, Hunger Mountain, Verse, Switchback, Eleven Eleven, and The Invisible Cites Audio Tours. ali is enamored with giraffes, whose hearts are over two feet long. Chuck Light (“Untitled 76 ½,” artwork p. 2) is a freelance illustrator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His work is often an expressed reflection of all his life experiences, thoughts, feelings, opinions, and inspirations. “I try to make works of art that make people stop and think,” says Chuck, “art that makes people wonder and revel in the mystery of the whole piece.” He considers himself an artist of no classification, transcending all categorization. Post-Genre. Jeffrey H. MacLachlan (“Smurf”) has recent or forthcoming work in Southern California Review, Anobium, Thin Air, and Stone Canoe, among others. Follow on Twitter @jeffmack. Pedro Ponce (“The Paranormal Guide to Wedding Etiquette”) is a 2012 NEA fellow in creative writing. He is the author of Homeland: A Panorama in 50 States, Superstitions of Apartment Life, and the story collection Alien Autopsy. He lives in Canton, NY, and teaches fiction writing and literary theory at St. Lawrence University. Joseph A. W. Quintela (“The Obscene Gravity of [the] Pear”) writes. Poems. Stories. On Post-its. Walls. Envelopes. Cocktail napkins. Twitter. Anything he gets his hands on, really. His last chapbook, This is not Poetry. #poetry, was published by The Red Ceilings Press. As the senior editor at Deadly Chaps Press, he publishes both an annual series of chapbooks and the weekly e-review, Short, Fast, and

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CONTRIBUTORS

Deadly. Besides a few letters, he has two Chihuahuas, or they have him. His website: www.josephquintela.com. Stephen V. Ramey’s (“Johnny Asparagus”) work has appeared in various places, including Strange Horizons, Bartleby Snopes, and Daily Science Fiction, and is upcoming at Weird Tales. He lives in New Castle, Pennsylvania and edits the annual Triangulation anthology from Parsec Ink. Cody Seekins’ (“The Mad Sage,” cover art) earliest artistic impressions originated from a strong attraction to chimeric mythology while living in Naples, Italy. His classical introduction to oil painting occurred by way of his mother, who studied with a Neapolitan painter at the time. Cody sees painting as illuminating a visual cosmology inclusive of both objective and unconscious forms and their relationships. He is currently working on his MFA in Figurative Painting at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Robert Edward Sullivan (“Popper’s Choice”) is from the Midwest but now lives in the Pacific Northwest. He is okay with the rain. Natalie Young (“Tantrum”) is an editor and graphic designer for the poetry magazine Sugar House Review, based out of Salt Lake City. Recent and forthcoming publications include Tar River Poetry, Terrain.org, Chiron Review, The Dos Passos Review, Redactions: Poetry & Poetics, and specs, among others. She is a fan of peanut butter and Bill Murray. Amanda Wochele (“Observations”) is a junior at Philadelphia’s Temple University, where she studies English and literature. Her short story “On Myth and Mortality” was published in The Wordstock Ten. This is her first published poem. Gregory J. Wolos’s (“Blue Madeline’s Version”) fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Baltimore Review, The Los Angeles Review, PANK, Jersey Devil Press, Waccamaw Journal, FRiGG, Storyglossia, elimae, Apple Valley Review, Underground Voices, the anthology Surreal South, and many other journals. In the last year his stories have earned recognition in several competitions, including a 2012 Pushcart Prize nomination. He lives and writes on the northern bank of the Mohawk River in upstate New York. His website: www.gregorywolos.com.

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A cappella Zoo | Spring 2012  

(ISSN: 1945-7480) a web & print magazine of magic realism & slipstream.

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