The Adroit Journal ME 1
adroit |É™'droit| adjective clever or skillful in using the hands or mind
TABLE OF CONTENTS POETRY Kevin Pilkington
The Distance Between Fog and Times Square Matthew Lippman I’d Like to Think My Name is Jonas Silk Prison For a Day Carol Guess Pearlscale, Pompom, Celestial Eye Spine’s Brief History of Tough Terrain Dorianne Laux Baptism Annie Finch Inside the Violet Rain Birth Lee Upton Why Don’t You Stay in the Ouse Matt Mauch Although this morning… Byproducts happen Michelle Bitting Light Rain
Corey Mesler Brumal Song I Didn’t Know I Was Going to Do That Amorak Huey
4 A.M Aubade Anatomy & Physiology: San Francisco Laura Kasischke No Elegy Kathleen Flenniken Little Girl With Pop-Up Book The Cold War To Dotted Lines Sara Kassel Sidewalk Chalk Claire Field Draconian Disfigurement Lawrence Gladeview Richmond Rhapsody Twin Peaks Basin at Twilight Sixty-Two Years at 1729 Saratoga Ct Darlene Pagรกn Blue Ghosts Starving the Panic Christopher Linforth Small Town Invasion Charlotte Boulay Oracular
Murmuration Michael Neal Morris Cottonwood Wendy Barker Perennial Baptism Black Sheep, White Stars Valentina Cano Firebird in Captivity Family Curse Snatched Minutes Steve Healey Threat Level Orange Lyn Lifshin Photograph Montmartre If Those Blossoms Donâ€™t Come Circus J.R. Kangas Needing to Get Away Thomas Pescatore Behind the fruit salad a Simple Meaningless love A.J. Huffman Elegant Gore From Here to an Iron Heaven To Brains on Fire
Jay Leeming The Beams of My Parentsâ€™ House Conversation With the Nobody The Light Above Cities FICTION Jim Meirose The Money Kirk Nesset Hers James Valvis Big Alabama and the Ice Cream Truck William Walsh Indebted to Mary Gaitskill Ray Scanlon Attleboro Station Sara Kassel Duet Joel Allegreti Bird-Boy Kim Chinquee Runner Toddler
Thomas Oâ€™Connell You Canâ€™t Stop History Hook & Ladder Justis Mills Ducts Terry Sanville A Bungled Robbery Jan Donley Fall Into Winter Stephen Frentzos The Reunion Lydia Millet Sir Henry FOREWARD The Adroit Journal was originally the subject of a napkin scribble. Rejection letters piled up like layers on a wedding cake. I decided that my revised dream, instead of being a writer, would be to arrange a collection of quality literature from people around the world, both geographically-speaking and sociallyspeaking. In the debut issue of The Adroit Journal, there is a mix of people, from urban college students to established Pushcart prize nominees. You will most likely love some writing, and hate some writing. This is embraced; I encourage it. Many
people ask how in the world a relatively normal sixteenyear-old high school kid ended up knee deep in the writing scene. Well, the answer is: with difficulty. I began writing less than a year ago, in the summer of 2010. I had just been published for the first time in my school’s literary magazine, which I only submitted to in order to fulfill a writing requirement. It was only by this happenstance that I began to pursue writing; being published in that literary magazine was a much-needed confidence boost. “Adroit should be something special, though,” I remarked during a brainstorming session with my coeditors, Victoria Mao and Natalie Aflalo. “Charity.” I said. One simple word made The Adroit Journal unique in its craft: “Charity.” All of the proceeds from the distribution of the journal go directly to various charities. I hope to expand this beneficial use of the arts, both by direct application and distribution. It is my hope that people find an escape from their troubles, even a temporary one, as they read the tremendous poetry and fiction encapsulated in the debut issue of The Adroit Journal.
The first issue of The Adroit Journal is dedicated to a few different people: • Victoria Mao- the reason I started writing. She’s been my exclusive editor and critic ever since the beginning. She also co-edited The Adroit Journal • Natalie Aflalo- My other co-editor. As I became friends with her, my writing improved dramatically. There’s a direct correlation. • My parents- I suppose none of this would’ve happened without my being born, so I thank them for that.
POETRY KEVIN PILKINGTON THE DISTANCE BETWEEN FOG AND TIMES SQUARE After I moved into my first apartment, every time the phone rang I expected it to be the voice of a woman sounding like slow approaching fog or a thousand Playboy magazines. For months
I slept alone under an old skylight on the top floor of a five flight walk up. Every time it stormed raindrops hitting the glass sounded like a typewriter working on another story until there was a sixth floor. I soon learned what was real in the city and what was fake. The ten-inch statue in a shop window along Times Square could never be the Statue of Liberty but did turn out to be the next woman holding up her arm to hail a cab.
MATTHEW LIPPMAN Iâ€™D LIKE TO THINK MY NAME IS JONAS SILK People fall off rooftops when they are not looking. They drop corned beef sandwiches on their shoes and stain the sidewalk with mustard. Dogs come, zebra, and lick up the sweet yellow. Guys walk onto down escalators going up, towards the panties, the bras, the food court with all that noise. Itâ€™s like the world has a use for itself that it wants to give us
and we have not figured it out yet. That’s how stupid we are when we get older. When we are young, we just rotate. My daughter gets chicken pox when all she did was learn how to walk. That’s what one year olds do. They put one foot in front of the other, fall on their ass, get sick. Maybe the use of the world is to teach us that we get sick and that we don’t have to lose our minds when the mandolins can’t help us kill the fever. I’d like to think my name was Jonas Salk. I’d like to think my name was Jack Hamm. I’ve never been good at Petri dishes or running the blitz, though. I’m good at being the opposite of how you want me to be. When I walk on my roof I don’t fall off. I’m too scared of the shingle slip, the magic tumble, the way my eyes might roll up into the back of my head when I hit the earth. What would I see up there, inside my brain? A train on its way to Luxembourg with five hundred dancing ladies and bowls and bowls of the good caviar? No. I hate caviar. What I think I’d see in the back of my brain is this: a forest with little children, with little baby tigers and zebras and there’d be a lot to talk about and a restaurant called Matt’s Diner
and Iâ€™d be Mattâ€”the guy with the spatula, the raised eyebrow, the white apron stained with juice.
PRISON FOR A DAY The birds are going back and forth right now and it makes me think we should all go to prison for a day so they wouldnâ€™t have to contend with car alarms and the fuss of garbage trucks, the Little League World Series and the fight my wife and I got into over who should castrate the bull and who should empty the carbon waste bucket. Then the birds could sit on the electrical wires in the rainstorm and listen to one another sing their silly beautiful bird songs for twenty-four hours while every single human being in the world sits in a jail cell. The guards too and the wardens and all the cops and lawyers who put people in places like solitary confinement and maximum security jungleland for tax evasion, murder and bad karma. For one day none of that would apply
and you’d have ministers in holding cells with porcupine breeders, botanists fraternizing with kids up the block who, all they wanted to do, swear to god, was see how many feathers they could pull off a chicken before it wasn’t funny anymore. That’s why if we were all in jail for one day the birds could sing enough of their songs that the big God-thing that surrounds might figure out that none of us had to be lead to the stockades in handcuffs or shackles; would understand that we went willingly— one of those Abraham and Isaac moments, to prove that, we do believe, we do love, we are devoted and, promise, even though we might not say our prayers before bed every night, we will leave the windows open wide in wintertime when the winds are nasty and the sleet is too large even for the hippos.
PEARLSCALE, POMPOM, CELESTIAL EYE Pepper berries grew on the orange tree that year. June's best beasts built nests on Young Street. Corner of New and Tenth, doll's dress a rabbit's tent. Mismatched socks found mates in leaves. Everything left on your porch was free. I walked off with a busted clock, life going backward to the fish in your room. I wanted to free them, so we walked to the sea. When we dropped the aquarium, cars kept their speed. Back and forth on the bridge among traffic, fish in our pockets, glass underfoot. Why did you buy them, three for a dollar? What did they feel when their gills breathed salt? SPINEâ€™S BRIEF HISTORY OF TOUGH TERRAIN I lost my best friend to God, and the Olympics to Canada. Scars became common as skin, then skin, then all I was, was stitched: past on the surface, present day itch. Nothing of future could earn its way in. I powdered my face with dirt from my shoe. Klutz was the chapter that ended the book, busted headlight in a country song. Spineâ€™s brief history of tough terrain: finger sprained in a sprung umbrella, ankle twisted at the sprinter's gun. So many years since Mother dropped me, breaking my fall with a cloud of Ma Griffe.
DORIANNE LAUX BAPTISM
I was never baptized, never dunked under the metallic water and pulled back gulping air like a salmon, my limp body cascading from a minister’s bare arms. I do remember a bible open on the dais, its calloused leather cover, the drone of the pedal organ, my mother’s hands barking on the keys, her bony knees. I remember the hymns, the glassy sea, the three person god, Doxology, the “from whom” the “heavenly host”. We wore our white sneakers to church in summer, in winter my brother wore his wide wale corduroy pants, our mother her string of pearls and steel blue dress flocked with swiss dots, her removable lace collar. She couldn’t decide. First she was Catholic, then we were Methodists, then Unitarians. She didn’t believe and then she did. I don’t know what happened to change her mind so many times. After, there were lemons and thunder, sometimes a barbeque, and one day we heard the word agnostic, then atheist, then arguments and the breaking of dinner plates, then nothing for a long time, though she continued to play the hymns and we hummed along, the idea of god a fading concept, something we began to unknow as the song unwound from the words like smoke, formless, worlds without end.
INSIDE THE VIOLET* Beside the long hedge on my parentsâ€™ drive, where the gravel waited daily for their tires to crunch it open, in the narrow band of earth along the hedge that kept the loamâ€™s thick secret from the shifting sun, I knew a purple violet. It always grew there, hanging its knotty shoulders in the shade of large, more splendid leaves, its crumpled head releasing toward the earth. One day I
crouched to find its eye much closer than before and stared inside. My own eye was lost in the echoing hold of the raw deep I saw, though my hands held back inside the driveway world that slowed its pulse around me as loud sun shattered all the gravel into shade and stroked the earth. The middle of the violet loomed; its heart was peeking into me to hold me like a violet, too. As its yellow, strong throat turned to me and opened like a door, interior light poured from a silent sun, flooding my face and choking my eyes, until I stopped looking in violets. *First published in EVE (Carnegie Mellon University Press, Classic Contemporaries Poetry Series, 2010). RAIN BIRTH*
This is the rainy season, like a birth around our windows. In your open eyes, and in the heart whose hands, beating inside my hands, have opened out, we meet the rain. The quiet sentinels—the trees—unfold outside the window. Light and cold go running through the day. In the full tide that loosens skies to water, in the sea that comes to find me, I see your eyes, and, perishing from salt, I dry my eyes. * First published in EVE (Carnegie Mellon University Press, Classic Contemporaries Poetry Series, 2010). LEE UPTON WHY DON’T YOU STAY IN THE OUSE Why don’t you stay ome? I don’t know why you’re always restless. Nor do I know why I’m dropping my h’s. Unless it’s to make a ouse a ome. Yet doesn’t dropping a letter make what we say odder, more interesting, more like Peru to a non-Peruvian. Can’t I begin to interest you? Why go to those outdoor markets, guerilla-fueled, those spas and spa baths, those cisterns and dams, those grottos bluer than an iris?
It’s exotic here in the ouse. It’s like cave paintings of ponies executed by your aunts. Be kind. Make calmness your ouse. No need to tunnel through our walls like a mouse. Make this ouse your ome until the ouse won’t stand. Stay for the ruins. Avoid the tourists. Be loyal to a fault. MATT MAUCH ALTHOUGH THIS MORNING, WITH ITS LACK OF DISASTROUS NEWS, ITS BANANA, ITS ELECTRICITY, ITS EVIDENCE OF OVERNIGHT RAINS HAS BEEN BETTER THAN SOME AND NOT AS GOOD AS OTHERS I’M CALLING IT THE BEST ONE EVER And if there’s a morning after, I’ll call it the same thing, I’ll greet it, announcing to it I am less afraid of my own old age now than I was a month ago. A month ago my father, a lifelong early riser with a view to the east, across bean and corn fields to the tall buildings of a town five miles away told me it took him 66 years and a missed turn in Minneapolis, where, as in Anyapolis, and Everyapolis, the farthest you can see is seen by standing in the tunnel of an alley
or a tunnel in the middle of the street, and such a tunnel on the way to an early morning mass he missed is what it took for my dad to see the most liquid fire, most melting crayon sunrise of his life, which was a moment for him, and he turned it into a moment for me, same way you turn oysters and wine into a meal, and true or not I recall that right after he told me about the moment he said no wonder this city’s full of deer, and me thinking I heard him say that is like tapping into the mother lode of moments and moments being dense as they are, my chisel against this one makes sparks, and wouldn’t you know it I’ve had the ability to speak spark forever and just discovered it now, what the sparks are saying, that it’s okay to remember only the chorus, none of the verses, to hum along until the smart kids get to the part you know, i.e., Amazing grace, how sweet the sound gets you pretty far. BYPRODUCTS HAPPEN At the gnarly bases of fences, where the mowing machines can’t reach, this due to the housing of the blades, to the protecting of the feet, one of the things I’ve learned is this: where our inclination for self-preservation meets our engineering abilities, byproducts happen, in this case a subtle kind of lawlessness, grass growing taller than it ought to, weaving, or not,
through the chain link. Another byproduct is thinking back on a teacher in a wheelchair who wanted me to reach but not just reach or reach out. Reach, she said, across, through, inside, beyond, amid. She wouldâ€™ve hated the fence, made love to the grass. The by-product of imagining that your teacher is a high dark wave rolling out of her wheelchair, getting it on with grass, is walking around and wondering what youâ€™d make love to if the boundaries disappeared. I take 40th to Lyndale, go north in such a state of limitlessness that the one of me walking feels like two of me, like the spirit dragging the carcass across the ocean floor, which is one way of reaching nontraditionally, but what my teacher who is by now asleep in the grass and is fair game for attack by the cocooning morning glories meant by really reaching is that my next step is a stepping out and my howâ€™s this to her comes when I reach the curb at 32nd, where my torso and
limbs turn to, or feel like they turn to ferns, birch, and bramble, and nestled inside the over and undergrowth of me, my good-student heart is a cardinal redder than red, outside of theory, should ever be allowed to be.
MICHELLE BITTING LIGHT RAIN My son, no longer afraid of light rain seems human to me again I have feared his rough tantrums, beastly teenage hormones, the sickly violence. So that when instead he says okay mama, his voice a chiming Tingsha bell and rises cherrful from the blue computer screen where heâ€™s anchored hour upon hour like an oil human star, filling his own empty cup, I remember better the eyes from years ago, their wet vulnerable dark staring up at me, the suckerfish mouth drinking my rock-breast down, the tugging, teasing tides, milky peaceful
between us and as far into the horizon as we could see, no storm not even a future. COREY MESLER BRUMAL SONG The day is the color of no-color. Our home, where we have come to believe, has walls like mesh. Such is our cage made, such is our cave. Today itâ€™s in the teens and there are comforters and afghans piled on the couch. We sit there, using them like sand bags, to watch the war on television. In this snow it is hard to see who is winning. Most nights we think we are.
I DIDNâ€™T KNOW I WAS GOING TO DO THAT The house rocks like a cradle. It is light like a candle, like moss. I am lulled toward sleep as a boat is pulled from shore toward the imaginary horizon.
I lie down to avoid falling. The phone whispers in the corner where it sits, a defiance. I open a new mouth and the same song comes out. I say your name until it disappears. Now I can start again. I read the phone book the way I once read The Dream Songs. I misspell the incantation. I say to the drapes, thank you for the dim. I say to my shadow, I didnâ€™t know I was going to do that.
AMORAK HUEY 4 A.M. Between late and early, night and light, this: the hour when you come again, together or not, when the bottle is empty, when an argument ends or something else does â€” the hour you finally take her to the emergency room, when loneliness crashes the abandoned coastline, when a million streetlights buzz a million annoying love songs. It is green, it is electric, it is black and blue and breathing, it is no time for sentimentality, it has no time for regret.
It is too cold to shower, too early to get up, too deep to swim, too late to see, too dark to drive home.
AUBADE Blanched light before sunrise. Stony mist clings to glass-dark surface, the last cool moment. On the opposite shore, an elm-choked point, a doe appears as if conjured. She sips, then walks right into the water and swims the thousand feet to the near shore, serene, no sign of the churning her spindly legs must do. Our greatest efforts go unseen. I fear I will never remember this perfectly enough to tell you: From here her head has just the shape of a rabbit walking on water. Dawn cracks the shell of the eastern sky, lake already failing the mist.
ANATOMY & PHYSIOLOGY: SAN FRANCISCO Garlic & sesame wander in from Chinatown, evening draws dark quilt over North Beach, streetlights buzz in moist air. Locals, bored, push past heading someplace more important.
A block downhill from City Lights bookstore, a drunk pours out of a bar & gives my one-year-old niece five dollars, whispers he misses his own kids tonight, he knows it isnâ€™t much, maybe it could buy her a hamburger or something. My brother gives the money to a panhandler without legs on the corner across from The Stinking Rose. We shove on, anonymous, into the murk.
LAURA KASISCHKE NO ELEGY No. No elegy: Instead, the car stalled on the freeway, the passengers departed and the driver fled. The driver, who was my friend, who wanted once, and was, who dreamed and drove and listened to stupid music on the radio. Who waited, who ate, who spoke and spent and finally arrived at the foreign country that bore his nameâ€” and of all the choices he ever made there were three choices left:
Violence, illness, old age. No. No choice: You refused, of course, to make it. Sailboat slipping under a wave, you swam away, or you were rescued by a boat captained by sorrowful ladies of a certain age who would love you as you’d never been loved enough in life— as mothers, or lovers, or the slow passing of certain summer days. Their parasols, your shade. And my little candle-stub in a great cathedral, and the prayers I sometimes remember to say, and the long low beautiful notes of a bassoon being played by a terrible thing— No. Not even this: A bird! A bird that makes its nest in the highest towers of the children’s hospital out of the softest
children’s hair. You loved nothing better than a lovely terror— Yes. That nest. That nest is where you are.
KATHLEEN FLENNIKEN LITTLE GIRL WITH POP-UP BOOK She sits—actually, stands—on her knees on a library chair as she explores an engineering masterpiece with large and small unfolding beasts. She studies every page, skips nothing, pulls tabs and levers revealing a paper tiger or flying griffin. Twice she zooms close, nose almost touching an intricate dragon collapsing back behind a door like a refrigerator light extinguished. Children and time ghost by. She is the hub of a balanced wheel, still but in forward motion. Let her represent the human race. For one afternoon, all is forgiven.
THE COLD WAR It will turn quaint soon enough. Bomb shelters already charm us, stuffed to their low ceilings with batteries, board games and cans. Sardines are amusing, and pineapple rings for dessert. Old footage of duck-and-cover drills inspires us to be world-weary and ironic, to embrace the futile. Once we considered A-bombs big. Then H-bombs exploded over the South Pacific. We can laugh now at Khrushchev and his shoe, beauty queens in radiation suits. I’d wake bolt upright in my bed, afraid of a flash to come. I’d buy books and extra spaghetti to provide for our last days and pray that our end be painless. I wasn’t even that young. I remember the red phone, and missile codes how every movie hinged on a clock ticking down. We called it the arms race and there were two sides. It was simple. TO DOTTED LINES
that instruct where to fold paper hearts, cut tabs on Betsy McCallâ€™s skirt and ice skates, walk from Patient Intake to Emergency Room A. Short cut for your pawn rounding the Huckleberry Hound game board. Dividing lanes and skates. Demarking theoretical landings for bank robbers in parachutes, hundred-year floods, nuclear fallout. Asymptotes at 0 and Ď€ . Maximum volume, minimum height, finish line. The detectible connection between a wife
and somebody else’s man. Warning you in urgent Morse code— dash, dash, dash. Oh, oh, oh— zones vulnerable to touch. Beforeand aftersilhouettes of love. Trajectory of a bullet before the trigger’s pulled. Outline of a body where it lay. Awaiting your signature, scissors, dancing feet. Denoting whispers, caught breath, ghost map of your grave.
SARA KASSEL SIDEWALK CHALK
It’s hard to remember the last time Anyone said something sweet like Goodbye or thank you or can I Get you some more coffee? Listen It’s not so easy to creep around corners And carefully patch the sidewalk with chalk It’s always coming off in the rain, chalk Cities and people and clocks without time To spare, but parking-lots have nasty corners Where fender benders and the like Keep your senses pricked and listen You might not notice but the eye Is more than a window into the soul, I Should know. Most people chalk It all up to bad weather and cigarettes, but listen I won’t be swept away with time And sand and seashells, out to sea, like Lackluster beer bottles smashed on step corners. Moping quietly in a wet and dreary corner Can’t she see my coffee cup is lacking? I Call for the waitress who clearly likes To see me sulk in decaffeinated misery. I pop a Tums: chalk With calcium benefits. For the fifteenth time I seriously consider yelling, would she listen? The cup is so empty but the pot is so close, listen To the drip drip sputter of burning coffee from the corner Across the diner, fifty steps or so, but I just don’t have
time To make an ass of myself this morning, I’ll Just wait for a little longer, my throat sticky with chalk And no coffee to wash it down, like Suffocating in your own calcium enriched likeness of a world. Reality. Where no one listens Long enough to give a damn but the sidewalk chalk Brightens everyone’s rainy day and for a second the corners Dull a little, smooth a little and I Hear the waitress remark about the time Is there chalk in your coffee? I’d like to listen Longer but the time is pressing me into a corner, How about a quick refill? CLAIRE FIELD DRACONIAN His clipped purple cape moves him to devise even more succulent acts. Cold words for his servants he wraps in frost, before placing these water modules down their throats, his entire body beginning to feel like a lazy eye. The smell of death yearning for life suffocates this man who thought of himself as omnipotent, a blaring exception to the propagating actions of the laws of nature.
A residual entity crawls to the manâ€™s cape, her using the manâ€™s knife to slit the water module that missed her throat, landing instead like a deranged square on her nose. She will live, her flattened nose having briefly burgeoned underneath the burka she wears, for now. DISFIGUREMENT The ill-shaped birthmark she thinks of as a caustic deformity. If she could only think of her defect as an adornment to the rest of her facial beauty, she would be an enchantress. Instead, she surrounds herself with hags, the circle of hideousness protecting her from anyone who wants to be offensive. She curses these malformed statues, the ones who have accepted their fates, for she knows now that their harshness will never let go, her step into a self-made gracefulness lost within an abridgment of her own choosing.
LAWRENCE GLADEVIEW RICHMOND RHAPSODY cobblestone earth under orange clay bohemian sandals shoot dice alley cats hill street cafe pilsner bottles moth candle lint dims authentic mortar lead paint hipster trivial pursuit three squares up up up signal round haberdasher portrait eyes project seven gaggle geese stoop domestic genders trade patrick henry dive taps carolina vinegar pulled citizens suds bib edgar poe bones farmerâ€™s market on rail tracks world war two medals irish reds rosie gold guild timber hearth noir ceramic east marshall ruck sack excavation pilgrimage eleven blocks peacoat knife change oil scheme stocking marmalade harpoon suds belly second story phoenix stilt stack tuck fish bowl wheels hitch interstate town to town. TWIN PEAKS BASIN AT TWILIGHT
a parachuter oxygen thin, twenty thousand molecules milk salt eye velocity grids in squares in yellow coarse green perpendicular childhoods, adulthoods, cemeteries helium balloon ascends serrated magenta strata, lasso & bond nimbus abstracts high-top sneakers knuckle one zebra umbrella a purple martin flutters on clay rock SIXTY-TWO YEARS AT 1729 SARATOGA CT the man observed the eclipse without protective eyewear despite his neighbors warning him of the damage that could be done the intense solar rays cracked his rods and cones causing the light to refract and bounce off the retina, necrotizing the tissue some years earlier the man observed his wife board a greyhound
departing for tulsa despite his children warning him of the damage that would be done the corn liquor swelled his liver deluging hepatic enzymes and membranes, necrotizing the tissue now, when the neighborhood children giggle and prance through the sprinkler on sticky summer afternoons, the man on his porch turns up the volume on the radio player.
DARLENE PAGAN BLUE GHOSTS Tied to the base of a tree, the star-shaped balloons bob and bounce as each car whooshing past draws them into the bike lane like children on dares. Roses waver in glass vases on either side of a plastic cross. I pass that spot on the way to a lunch date, the airport, the zoo, the roadhouse pub to meet friends for beer. I take the curve too fast then reach back to make sure the kids are strapped in tight. Records give two datesâ€”one around Christmas, another, in Aprilâ€”and the number of cars and persons involved, but no names. Which are you? I wonder, staring
into black smears where the rain has washed a name away. With each pass, the stories sharpen until I can taste a mother’s holiday chili burnt on the stove, smell vinegar cleanser as a woman struggles from the floor to the phone, see exhaust fumes spin the balloons like blue ghosts retreating as our headlights hit. I reach an arm out once to tap the balloons and decide the altar honors the April date when the sky swelled to bursting with morning light. A man rode in the bicycle lane wearing painter’s clothes. Half hidden beneath a ball cap, his face and hair shone with spots from the day before. His mouth works the toast his wife slipped him at the front door, just before she fired a rag at him—her aim as sharp as her affections. With each pass, I worry less about his name: between threats and endearments, even she hardly spoke it. STARVING THE PANIC Whatever woke you— the baby choking, a lover’s elbow to your chin, mice scratching Morse code between the walls behind the bed, the rumor you never admitted to starting, the doctor’s, I’m sorry, before she leaves the room—let the panic take
one last snap like a towel wound and whipped at your thigh in a high school locker room. And then let it settle like a sheet. Set your hands to smoothing each billow and pocket. Pull the corners taut, lay back in the dark as if youâ€™d been waiting for someone to join you for a midnight picnic, someone who still hasnâ€™t shown by 1am, 2am, 3am, and you hardly care anymore because no matter what morning carries in on its silver hands, the moon is a purple tongued pup, wagging the black night, just begging you to throw something.
CHRISTOPHER LINFORTH SMALL TOWN INVASION They fell from the sky, a thousand blackbirds. Already dead, not from poisoning, nor from aircraft. Some say they flew too high. Farmers collect the bodies, and take them to the pyre. They watch them burn: feathers, sinew, blood.
Some say there are thirteen ways of killing a blackbird. Scientists come from the city, and flash badges at the farmers. Bodies are taken, and burnt remains are scraped into glass tubes. Some say they were born with broken wings. Newspapers take up the story, and TV provides the live feed. They speculate on the causes: lightning, hail, God. Some say this is a sign of the end. CHARLOTTE BOULAY ORACULAR The road is too hot to move. I’m stuck in the median, I slept too fast & then too slow. Sufi says, I’m not only bones & bones— who loves the saints in the streets? We don’t need your love, only your briefest notice sustains us. Dogs crouch in the ancient of their shade, tooth-brushers spit into their crevices, piss in the gutters
they create. Bedtime—stars like mustard seeds pop through the smog. There’s a wail & an anguish of horns; everlastingness reaches up & turns out the light— MURMURATION The most birds I’ve ever seen. What lives the longest? Superlatives are only sometimes useful. A sea of open beaks and wing. Flip the quick one, melt the meticulous. It’s a sort of trick that color, that sun-in-a cup, and the rush has no signature. How can we measure the velocity, the distance from one trestle to another— leaving the ground is different. Banking and rising all together, there’s no barre at which to stand; the sandbank shifts underwater and the clouds move correspondingly above. Watch the birds: the sky parts and remakes itself almost cruelly while we wait for the next instruction: now dance now droop now rest.
MICHAEL NEAL MORRIS
COTTONWOOD Thereâ€™s enough breeze to swirl fluffs of cottonwood clouds in a languid dance above the grass beside the empty playground. Some birds chatter like fast forward wind chimes, but thereâ€™s also the caw of grackles, the bark of a dog behind a window, the grating roar-whoosh of starting cars, then tires crushing pavement as they go, the steady warning beep of a truck backing up at a nearby construction site. Every hour or so, one hears the fading wail of a siren speeding to other accidents.
WENDY BARKER PERENNIAL* We are alone in your car driving across
northern California hills greener than any I have seen outside of England, yet we arenâ€™t even talking about the green swimming beyond the windshield, we are talking of Italy, our love affair with the Tuscan hills, brown and gold hills with their spiraling vines, grapes, and swallows over the olives shading the red dirt as we sweep across these green spring hills where you live with your wife and babies, you I would have loved if life had just twisted in another direction, the way the alley off the main piazza in Pisa, where you lived the first year you were married, turned a certain way, so you learned to find the market with the open stalls where they sold the lemon yellow peppers you loved, the sweet lemon peppers you ate that year you lived in Pisa. How you relished them plain, sliced, whole, steamed, raw, in salads. The car twists and we crest over another hill different from the one back a way and yet the same green. I loved you once. But never did. All those years commuting together and we never touched. Until the night before I was to move away, with friends around us in the restaurant, you pressed your mouth on mine so the shape of my mouth after that was never the same. And I love my long-time husband,
and your wife now is, I know, much better for you than I could have been, than you would have been for me. These hills, so many, almost alike, green after green. Maybe one summer we’ll meet in Italy, maybe we’ll rent a farmhouse with room for our children. When I go home to my husband, how can I fit these greens into our car? I left a winter overcast sky, gray mud. But now, after flying back, and driving home, everything here too as far as I can see has turned green— lime, moth, juniper, cypress, mesquite foaming lace over the grasses so soft, moist, I want to lie down in the field. And as we talk of the mail that came while I’ve been gone, the native sweet acacia, huisachillo, blooms a sudden start by the road, gold as the little Tuscan peppers, sweet, crunch, home. *First featured in The American Scholar; From Way of Witness BAPTISM* Light dim as the crumbled leather of old books, and Granny next to me leaning down with her smell of lime cologne, finger moving across the small black shapes. She pointed to the clusters in their tidy lines, barely stopping under each one, as the minister
kept on talking. My baby sister slept as he held her, no one else seemed to breathe. But Granny’s finger led my eyes on and on, back and forth, down the page, and then I saw: she reached the at the same time the minister said the, and it happened again, two lines down, and there were the’s everywhere on those pages—“even unto the end of the world, her finger moved as he said the words out loud, “the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,” naming. *First featured in Concho River Review; From Let the Ice Speak BLACK SHEEP, WHITE STARS* He’d appear like a bird that wanders into a place on its way between two continents. Surrounded by houses that sopped up sparkle like sponges he’d roll out of a ’47 black Cadillac and wave a bottle of rum shimmering in the sun like amber. “Pam, darling,” he’d call to my mother, his voice so raucous Mrs. Simonitch next door would move one slat of her Venetian blinds. His toes pushed from limp huaraches and he grinned as if he knew just how much acid
the sight of him shadow-bearded, yellow under the arms, produced in my father’s stomach. When he talked our windows grew arches, opened doors onto courtyards, lemon trees, parrots, we could hear the rustling of green feathers, the chirrings and cawings of orange birds. Small on the sofa I said “Let me come live with you,” something in my lungs knowing that in a place named Jlayacapan people might swallow drinks the colors of bougainvillea and move at night to music that had never heard of a metronome. And when Uncle Dick and his friend Pedro sat me between them on the Cadillac’s dusty front seat to watch High Society at the Frontier Drive In, I held myself taut and sweaty, dreaming stars thicker than sugar on oatmeal, stars farther than heaven, stars and hibiscus and mangoes that could cluster around a life as long as a laugh. *First featured in Poetry; From Let the Ice Speak VALENTINA CANO
FIREBIRD IN CAPTIVITY These works of fire you dangle above me are losing their ashy feathers. The crinkling edges bend and wave in the sighing light. You shake your head like a towel, giving me dryness and warmth as I dance on cushions throughout our empty rooms. The table catches quick fire. I think itâ€™s the first that cradles the heat as the chairs crackle around, a gaggle of woodchips flapping away. You wave your arm like trimmed wings and feed the flames invisible seeds. I swing my ax of hair and laugh as it sizzles like meat. FAMILY CURSE The glass is stained with lipstick. Yours or mine depends on the shade, your peach fuzzy lips smudged sideways or my apple-peel red ones sliced on the rim. I smell it, that whiff of salty perfume staining a scarf you wore or that necklace that screams for sunlight in my bedroom closet. I peer at photographs
stained in coffee-sepia looking for the curve of a jaw like a birdâ€™s wing, the hint of hunger around the eyes, the lack of an essence like a vitamin. A need for swallowing, for gobbling, a panic held in unsteady check. The need to lick cutlery, our fingers grasping tongue-stained plates. SNATCHED MINUTES He takes the bus as he would take an umbrella to the beach, with a careless fling of his shoulder. He steps up and through the oily doors, wading the shallows of children with huge mouths and the mothers distractedly nodding the minutes down. He spots a seat, vacant and cold like a shopping cart. He takes it with caution, a collection of eggshells in his back pockets. He turns his face to the window and past the smoked glass. Through the dimness into the chilly, sundrenched day.
THREAT LEVEL ORANGE I was on the airplane. There was an increased level of threat. Fe, fi, fo, fum. What you had said about the bottom of things. There's always another bottom there. There was another level. The plane had reached cruising altitude. The woman sitting next to me asked where I was going. She was reading a book with blood on the cover. I think you had said you'd tripped over the cat that you'd buried a few days earlier. I couldn't quite remember anything. There's a reason why we bury the dead. At the bottom of a hole is another hole. I smelled the blood of an English man. I entered the little restroom. I locked the door. The pale light came on. I looked at my face. There was an increased level of threat. I peed into the blue liquid. I was somewhere above Tennessee. I was going somewhere.
LYN LIFSHIN PHOTOGRAPH When I canâ€™t find the photographs of my mother, itâ€™s like losing her
again. There she was, her teeth still white, raven hair the Charles River wind sweeps away from where she was laughing with the man who wrote, “to my angel from her Arthur,” on the bottom. You know he is real in poems I wrote about this shot, wondering if there is a similar one in his (if he had them) kids’ attic, signed Teddy, the name my mother choose. This photograph of the 2 laughing, on my refrigerator upstate is a piece of my body and not finding it is like seeing lines on my skin grow deeper. My mother must have been mid twenties, her perfect smile, her gleaming. She was about to buy a new camisole this tall man was sure was for him. Without her smiling and free, the shreds of laughing left in the mirror, harden, clench. I want my mother in that photograph before the lines of her face began drawing back, when you could still see the joie de vivre everyone wrote she had in her college year book. When I can’t touch this photograph, I lose a piece of myself that held her MONTMARTRE Haven’t you wanted, sometimes, to walk into some painting, start a new
life? The quiet blues of Monet would soothe but I don’t know how long I’d want to stay there. Today I’m in the mood for something more lively, say Lautrec’s Demimonde. I want that glitter, heavy sequin nights. You take the yellow sunshine for tonight. I want the club scene that takes you out all night. Come on, wouldn’t you, just for a night or two? Gaslights and absinthe, even the queasy night after dawn. Wouldn’t you like to walk into Montmartre where everything you did or imagined doing was de rigueur, pre-Aids with the drinkers and artists and whores. Don’t be so P.C., so righteous you’d tell me you haven’t imagined this? Give me the Circus Fernando, streets where getting stoned was easy and dancing girls kick high. It’s just the other side of the canvas, the thug life, a little lust. It was good enough for Van Gogh and Lautrec, Picasso. Can’t you hear Satie on the piano? You won’t be able to miss Toulouse, bulbous lips, drool. Could you turn down a night where glee and strangeness is wide open? Think of Bob Dylan leaving Hibbing. A little decadence can’t hurt. I want the swirl of cloth under changing colored lights, nothing square, nothing safe, want to can can thru Paris, parting animal
nights, knees you can’t wait to taste flashing. IF THOSE BLOSSOMS DON’T COME if the tangerine doesn’t fill the house with thick sweetness. If you put your hands over your ears one more time when I’m talking. If there’s another month of wanting to sleep all day, the cat the warmest sweet thing I can imagine. If this damn rain doesn’t let up, I am going to have to rewrite the story you’ve got in your head about us and I don’t think you will like the ending CIRCUS It was at dinner in the mansion. I admitted I’d never gone. So today’s photograph of elephants lumbering thru D.C. slammed me back to that summer. Dinners at the colony, always a safari. Sometimes to Iran, sometimes the ballet with bun heads at the main table. Nobody talked
of their day’s work. We might jet to Les Deux Magots or listen to stories of long gone guests sliding naked down banisters, or of ghosts in the blue room who etched initials from outside. Martinis. Amber light thru Tiffany glass. Who wouldn’t feel in a wonderland where the circus was one of many desserts. I thought I’d rather go to a movie in town. Or watch the last light in the music room but I was whisked by two older men to Barnum’s straw palace and tho I didn’t realize it then, it was the idea becoming real, as it is here, years later tho I needed to be talked into opening to what I never would have on my own reminding me again of how easy it is to not take in what is right there for you to open J. R. K A N G A S NEEDING TO GET AWAY A girl in a pink blouse eating pasta looks so happy you want to sit by her, want to siphon off some of her artesian-like happiness. The stone-brown cathedral points its three spires skyward like the nose cones of rockets set to launch themselves to God.
Here’s a pretty crowd at an outdoor cafe, splashes of flowers, a castle, and mountains (the brochure is crammed), a fortress on a river, an overflowing market flaunting peppers, tomatoes, and you turn finally to a gleaming harbor. You stare at that scene--all sun, all joy, those strangers in sweaters smiling on the dock. It’s as though all you had ever wanted has cropped up in that photograph: grand buildings beckon comfort; one traveler’s gripsack murmurs its contentment. The picture begins to take you in; you begin to print through in each color, each object. And now you are floating on that blue, steady water: a buoy, a boat,
THOMAS PESCATORE BEHIND THE FRUIT SALAD A SIMPLE MEANINGLESS LOVE I'm translating directions and you laugh like they're all a jumbled unpaved road, or you hear and can't understand, static sentences thrown together
from the seat of my car, silent understanding draped across that bay bridge curving up into the sky like a horseshoe buried in the sand, and the sky is raspberry fire breathing and burning and pop, leaving the sweet smell of fruit and salty oxygen heavy weaving behind your eyes, sweet almond dark eyes, bending the rail toward me in the shallows with waves twisting over, through the final verse of a late-afternoon song and a just empty bottle of nameless pink wine, we find our way in the sweet/sour dawn.
A. J. H U F F M A N ELEGANT GORE Underestimate my smile. And tomorrow I will barter your empty skin for some beads and a bottle of sun. Relax. Itâ€™s just a shell. And built for fun. Turn it on. Turn it up. Turn it out. Into the open night.
We melt. Like tomorrowâ€™s butterflies. Dancing our hate. Our fate is a gift. Forgotten. We have no choice but to choke on the bow. FROM HERE TO AN IRON HEAVEN It is a sad sight to see the blue eyes of an angel. Pretending. To be painted light by the frivolous shadows of a childâ€™s garden. Hoping to retain even an inch of its wildness. And desperately needing the long grass to cover the gray film of her past. Still living through the lengths of her skin. TO BRAINS ON FIRE Picking grapes.
With a dead man who’s afraid to lie down. In his son’s place. Countless dreams. Limitless nightmares. His head would have to swallow. The hollow. Just waiting to be filled. I push his pity aside. And assume his space. I will heal him. And seal his miseries among the crazy rampages of the many -the too many -that already call my mind. Home.
JAY LEEMING THE BEAMS OF MY PARENTS’ HOUSE The beams of this house were cut with a two-handled saw: a slippery, scribbled whing of a blade that must be rhythmed into straightness by two men working back and forth, sweating, each listening with his arms
for the pause at the end of the otherâ€™s pull, the sleep out of which he can drag the teeth again through the tree, shedding its winters into the grass. I can feel with my hand each parallel cut that saw made, in 1810, as Jefferson looked out the windows of the White House, as the ashes of Indian villages cooled in the hills. These beams carried my weight as I grew, carried my brother as he walked in his sleep, my father as he smoked in his yellow chair, my mother as she folded our clothes. Thirty years old and home for the weekend I think of what has supported me, I stand in the basement and look up at these rough, coffee-colored beams. CONVERSATION WITH THE NOBODY One day I was busy writing a poem when this horse walked into my room. But a horse did not walk into your room. Okay one day I was writing a poem
when a lion stepped out of the wall. But a lion did not step out of the wall. No listen the other day I was feeding my giraffe when this poem came up to me. But there is no poem. Look how can I write anything if you always erase it, I said. Okay. There is a horse. There is a lion. There is a giraffe. But there is still no poem. THE LIGHT ABOVE CITIES Sitting in darkness, I see how the light of the city fills the clouds, rosewater light poured into the sky
like the single body we are. It is the sum of a million lives, a man drinking beer beneath a light bulb, a dancer spinning in a fluorescent room, a girl reading a book beneath a lamp. Yet there are others- astronomers, thieves, lovers- whose work is only done in darkness. Sometimes I don’t want to show these poems to anyone, sometimes I want to remain hidden, deep in the coals with the one who pulls the stars through a telescope’s glass, the one who listens for the click of the lock, the one who kisses softly a woman’s eyes.
FICTION JIM MEIROSE THE MONEY It’s mass. It’s the second collection. Now the object of all this is to get the money. Concentrate on this, and this only. Get the money.
He walks down the aisle toward the altar holding the long handled basket; right down the center, he walks.Once at the first pew, he turns. He thrusts the basket into the pew under the noses of the parishoners. Everyone generously contributes. Row by row, slowly he proceeds up the aisle. The basket is filling with money. He reaches the pew where the woman sits; the woman he always watches, who intrigues him. She places her envelope into the basket. But for this, she is forever a stranger. Stony-faced, he continues. For some reason the sight of her makes him glance back at the altar. It’s black-veined marble. The crucifix hangs above, the cracks show in the wood. The corpus is bloodstained. Before proceeding to the next pew he glances at the woman’s long slender legs. Feelings rise in him. But no. Oh would that he were a statue with no feelings. A bloodstained wooden statue. Like that Christ. He thinks of that man from the night before; he sees his face. His mind wanders. He moves the basket slowly so they may put in the money easily. Where is the man now? And somewhere, someplace, the host was being elevated at the very moment it happened. Somewhere in this big world, there was mass at that very moment. He moves along the row of pews. Someone is kneeling in the way with his head in his hands. The basket won’t go past him. He won’t move. He wishes to be kneeling too. He wishes to pray with his head in his hands. But —the basket’s just half full. Need to fill it fully. He moves more quickly. He is the collector. How ashamed his parents will be when he’s found out
— No. He thrusts the basket out. Now is for the money. Now it is mass. Mass is eternal. Mass is of God. He smiles dimly pushing out the basket. What a laugh; to care about his parents now, now that it is too late. His hands grip the long handle. His hands are clean. The effects of last night’s liquor are long gone. He sees the blood, the cuts, the seeping wounds.He sees the drip of the blood into a puddle. But maybe it’s not that bad; maybe the man survived; he didn’t hang around long enough to find out. Truly he was a coward last night—the basket’s too heavy to hold—he’ll drop the basket— No! Stop it! Lord, give me strength. Squeeze the handle. He shudders. The basket moves filling. The organ music swells. Perversely he thinks of a woman he read about once who was enamoured of a bull. That was unnatural. He feels unnatural. Now is the time to think perverse thoughts. The dark blood begins to congeal. He steps to the next pew. He thrusts in the basket. What’s it like to be lying on the tracks with a locomotive bearing down? This is how he feels. There’s a locomotive coming. He hears it. He feels it. But this is all fantasy. The money is becoming heavy. His muscles flex. He clenches his teeth. Drinking wine will do no good. Drinking wine does no good. Drinking wine is no good. Wine costs money. Get the money. Basket in, basket out—much too mindless. But look at all that money. There’s plenty of money in the basket now. Yes, he must be the devil. Yes, he is worse than the devil. Even the money is evil; the basket’s overflowing now; but no, this is God’s money. Nothing
of God’s is evil. Would that he were of God. He glances over to his family, in the back pew. The thoughts swarm upon him. The money is too heavy. He sees the wife he will lose. He sees the children he will lose. He’s near the end. His glasses are sliding down his nose. He pushes them up. They slide back down. There’s no use. He paid nine dollars for liquor last night at three a.m. He glances back to the priest in his heavy vestments. The innocent holy man. So unlike him. But think of it; think of it; the money becomes his once it’s slid into the basket. How easy it is to give up ownership of something. Of one’s life. A pale slumped old man in one of the last pews gives an envelope. Every rib is showing under the old man’s thin shirt. And the skinnier one next to him is bald; they sit pale bald and bony, like dead men. But they give money. In the last pew, he is given money by a scowling man; it is him; it happens to be exactly the way he feels. He turns and looks out over the church; they could all be his brothers and sisters. They could all be him. But they are not. Since last night, there is a chasm between he and them. If only he had not done what he has done. But he is at mass now. He steps to the back wall of the church and pours the money out into a large basket on the floor. He holds the empty basket. The money’s gone now. They’re pulling up outside; there are sirens. But no; he is at mass now. Car doors slam outside. He gives up the basket. He goes to sit by his wife. He is at mass now. The back door opens. That back door creaks so badly why don’t they do something about that back door—after all, they’ve got the money.
He knows they’ve got the money. He got it for them. KIRK NESSET HERS Problem is it’s cold outside, her fingers don’t work like they should, and she can’t think which secret pocket she stuck the keys in, if it was even this jacket. She finds her Kleenex, her toenail clipper, a red rubber bone. Todd her dog squirms on Edgar’s arm. Edgar has to set the suitcase down on the drive, though it’s wet. Mom, let me drive, he says. I told you no. Todd yips, squirming again. Well, let’s get in at least. Hold your frickin horses. They’re on their way to the hospital. To Kaiser, in town. Edgar isn’t happy about this. He’s been reading things on his computer as usual. A gallbladder’s like a tonsil, his computer insists. They don’t yank tonsils out anymore; that, they say now, was barbaric. The same goes for gallbladders—or it will, he says, when people wake up. But she does what her doctor says, period. She’s sick of this burn and ache in her guts. She’s sick of yellow eyes, and the diaper. And Edgar’s no doctor. Her doctor’s the doctor.
She unlocks the car door finally. Edgar slips her bags in back and drops Todd on his plaid dog blanket. Todd snaps the blanket up with his teeth and shakes it, snarling, too cute almost for his britches. She turns the engine on, and the heat. Edgar stands brushing dog hair off his sweater, then gets in. He’s got his undertaker’s expression on, like he just sucked a half dozen lemons. The fan blows cold air at her feet. I hope we know the way, he says. Edgar, don’t start. Just so we don’t get confused. I know what’s what. But you get confused. I do not get confused. The last time something happened he took her car keys away. She had to call a locksmith and lie and say she lost her keys, could he make more, and the job wasn’t cheap. She had the guy make multiple sets, actually. She’s got keys stashed all over the house now; she can’t help but find a spare set, wherever they are, if it comes to that. Let’s go, Edgar says. In her day a person warmed a car up. It doesn’t seem right to just get in and drive, despite Edgar’s facts, whatever he has to prescribe. Warming the engine, she tries to find gum, but the gum’s in her purse and her purse is in back and she can’t reach like she used to, her body’s so stiff—but she needs it, the gum, since she smoked before, smoked in fact for forty-six years, she
always smoked when she drove, but now she can’t, she quit, they made her quit, smoking, not driving, and only— What? Edgar asks. She tells him Gum. He sighs. Then leans back for her purse, belly pulling the buttons on his businessman’s shirt, his freckled bald spot pointing her way. Todd does his dance, grinning, panting, standing on tiptoe for Edgar, his little hands on Edgar’s shoulder. Simply too cute! That peach and cream fur on his face! Those bulgy eyes, and eye and lip liner! She paid a hideous price at the pet shop but what a sweet dog. And not stinky, no matter what Edgar says. Todd’s blanket might stink just a little. It smells like Todd. And Todd is a dog, and a dog can’t help but smell like a dog. Edgar gives her the gum. She takes a stick and hands the pack back to him, saying gum? but he doesn’t want any. She stuffs the wadded wrapper in the ashtray. She checks her hair in the mirror, revving the engine. All she’d done that day was take a wrong turn and head for Sparta, or was it Rock Lake. She called her niece to say where am I, and her niece called Edgar’s wife, who called Edgar, and there lay her error; she’d have to watch her ass better. I’m keeping it, she tells him now. He looks at her. The car? My organ. Gallbladder.
You’re keeping your gallbladder. Yes. That’s very nice. I got a coffee can out to stick in the freezer. Good, Mom. Your father’s tumor’s still in there, God rest his carcass. Why don’t you ease up on the gas. She lifts her right foot a bit and the roaring dies back. She looks at him. The fan keeps belting out air. Edgar stares out the windshield. The garage door is pale green, the same color almost as her dress, which she got for half price at Blair. He’s a good son, it’s true. He calls to see how she is, he comes by to eat or help her clean her house or mow and weed whack, he sprinkles the crystals under her rhododendrons. He brings videos over, which they watch, she and Edgar and Todd. He’ll surprise her with bagels, or a cake from the bakery, or See’s candy. He’ll say let’s do the garage, and they’ll begin, but there’s too much to sort, all those boxes of pictures and papers and books and knickknacks, stools and plant stands and lamps and who knows what else, dog toys, embroidery, kites, even his father’s golf clubs, God rest his dead ass, which she can’t quite give up. Who says it’s wrong for a car to just sit in the driveway? He is a good son. So good he pisses her off, wielding his knowledge and youth, even if what
hair he’s got left is gray as hers is these days. And that smart ass computer! Or that tragic look he gets on his face—it makes her furious! Like this might be the last time he’ll see her! I’ll be picking you up tomorrow, he tells her now. She tips the rearview down to see Todd, who stands with his little chin on the window edge, making his nose prints. In my car, I mean, Edgar says. I just don’t think you should drive. She guns the gas again. What’ll you do, take it to Fairfax and sell it? Your organ? My car. He looks across, then away. Well—yes. We did find a buyer, actually. He looks both shocked and relieved, like this was exactly the thing he’d wanted to say but not the place nor the right time to say it. She turns the fan down on the dash. You sold my car. We got better than blue book. The money’s yours. She looks in the mirrors and checks her seat belt. Edgar stares straight ahead. So it had come down to this. The next thing she’ll hear is her house is for sale. Isn’t that how the old story goes? Then it’s off to Rolling Acres
or Greenbrae, assisted living with the bedwetting loonies, cold gruel and pills and turds flying, nonstop weeping and screaming. Todd will end up adopted, he’ll be beaten and kicked, left to sleep in his own piss in a cage. In the meantime of course she’ll be stuck. She’ll be at Edgar’s mercy completely. She’ll have to depend on Trudy her neighbor, that fat, old battle axe. And on the van that comes to cart the pissants around, the geezers and drips with walkers. She undoes the emergency brake, slips the shift knob down. We don’t want you killing yourself, Mom. Don’t you Mom me, she says. She turns, tries to crane her neck to look but her neck is too stiff and they’re rolling now anyway, slipping down the drive backward, and maybe too quickly. She hits the brake hard. Instead of stopping short like a decent car should the thing jolts ahead, or does it, who can say, who can think in the cracking once the chaos begins? The garage door is kindling and the kitchen wall too, and now the wall to the den, but who’d notice, it happens so fast, who’d see the roof caving in, collapsing on plant stands and puzzles and shattered antiques, croquette sticks and kites, on eight generations of china in pieces, her water dispenser upended, the coffee can for the organ sitting quaintly upright. Besides, she’s got an appointment, and goddamn it she’ll get there, by crook or by hook. Even if she has to circle back by Rock Lake, or Sparta, wherever. Even if there’s a truck dead ahead on the road, and there
is, bearing down in the dusk, hugely floodlit, a truck loaded with logs or with ice, aiming straight at her, bearing down on the car, which is hers. JAMES VALVIS BIG ALABAMA AND THE ICE CREAM TRUCK A month after my parents padlock the refrigerator to keep Big Alabama from eating them out of house and home, Big Alabama is mad with hunger and August heat, and in the distance, like an air raid siren, we hear the music of rich people’s happiness. It’s the Mr. Softee truck and it’s delivering ice cream to all the neighborhood’s affluent boys and girls like some summertime Santa Claus with sundaes. I hear my own stomach groan like settling wood, just as the Mr. Softee truck pulls up outside our house. And why not our house, which intersects with both Princeton and Pearsall? It’s the perfect place for him to stop. Kids run from everywhere, waving the money their parents handed them, waiting on line, lipping to themselves the long list of loot they’re supposed to get for everyone in the family like the tune of a favorite song: banana split for dad, pineapple sundae for mom, and a vanilla cone for me. We sit on the porch watching as each child prances off with an armload of treats. When the last kid is served I look for Big Alabama but she’s no longer
there. The music of the truck begins again but then is overshadowed by a horn. Big Alabama’s standing in front of the truck like that guy with the bags stood in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square. Big Alabama’s saying if you want to park by our house there’s a toll and the toll is ice cream and lots of it. Location and desperation is all we have to sell. The ice cream man moves forward a full foot but my sister won’t budge, she stares, daring him. She probably thinks she can take the truck, and why not, she’s faced far tougher. My father in a sour mood, for instance. The ice cream guy now yells curses out the window, but he soon catches himself. He’s Mr. Softee, carrier of good feelings, the Hermes of urban happiness, and his profits depend on this image, and running down a girl or shouting vulgarities just won’t do. Besides, he’s not a man without feelings, and if we promise not to say anything... Later Big Alabama and I are sitting on the porch eating chocolate cones with extra sprinkles. Just regular kids on a hot summer night. WILLIAM WALSH INDEBTED TO MARY GAITSKILL I was sitting here on Thanksgiving reading your short story, “Because They Wanted To,” because my
roommate had lent it to me months ago and I felt that, since she was plainly going through some delicate crap that day, Thanksgiving -- we had been planning on celebrating it together, had planned on hosting an “alternative celebration” for all the other familial rejects we knew, before realizing that we were the only familial rejects we knew -- it would be a gesture towards her, a small leap of my heart to hers; I felt that in finally reading this story collection that she had long ago said I would like, I was honoring her somehow, possibly giving her the push she would need to get out of bed. She had gotten in some fight, some huge, catastrophic fight with her husband -- they were separated, but trying -- and wouldn’t talk to me or anyone about it -her friends had stopped by when she wouldn’t answer or return their calls, but left to let her sleep. Almost as soon as I finished your story, she got out of bed: I heard her flush the toilet and retreat back into her room. If her silence had gone fifteen minutes, an hour later, I would have gone in there myself, to make sure she hadn’t killed herself. Or I probably wouldn’t have; I would’ve been too scared. It was Thanksgiving, as I said, and we had planned on spending it together. I’d had my doubts as to whether it would happen; she was so down. A few minutes later I heard footsteps above my room, in the attic, and wondered how/why she’d gone up there. No one goes up there except the landlord, and for what? The ladder. Alarm, sharp shots of it. Hard to breathe. Then I heard her move from the attic to the front door, the door slamming, her car starting outside. My heart rose and sank simultaneously. My roommate
was at least not hanging herself in the attic. But she was ditching me on Thanksgiving and I would have to eat alone the pre-made mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie I’d bought halfheartedly at Whole Foods the night before, doubting even then whether I’d have a dinner companion. How fully depressing. I cried, I admit. I felt such self-pity. An hour later, I heard her return, the door slam, etc. Figured she’d gone for food. Two days later, she crawled out of her room to apologize for leaving me alone on Thanksgiving and explained, sobbing, that her husband had told her a few days earlier, on their anniversary, that he never wanted to see her again. She then asked whether I wanted anything at Whole Foods; she was going over there anyway, since she needed to go to Home Depot, to return a ladder. A ladder? I thought but didn’t ask. I requested bagels. She got me six. A year later I bring up this series of events with her, ask her what was what. Turns out she hadn’t attempted to hang herself in the attic after all. No, she’d gone up there to look for the ladder which is usually up there but for some reason was missing that day, probably our landlord had been using it to put up Christmas decorations. She’d wanted the ladder so she could use it to hang herself in her now ex-husband’s house. To make him feel bad, you see. So she’d purchased a ladder at Home Depot, only to return it after thinking better of the plan, after deciding he’d feel worse if she lived to remind him of his misdeeds. We laugh at this. And laugh. We laugh and I think back to the time when K, an old friend of mine, and I and two other friends were sitting in the living room of the summer house we had
rented together before our senior year in college, and K told us a story about her father that ripped us all apart, how he had never learned good English, how she had never learned good Korean, how they’d never been able to really communicate, how this had made her feel bad, and unloved, and so on, and how one day she’d come upon a piece of paper on which she could see that he had been practicing the English alphabet by writing and rewriting her name. She stopped abruptly, exclaiming that she loved her dad, she couldn’t stop repeating it, she loved him, she loved him, and then she started crying and the other two people in the room immediately started crying: loud, sloppy yelps. I started to laugh. I ouldn’t stop laughing. Our friend L looked at me with rage and said It’s Not Funny. I looked down and said I Know. I Know. In between gulps of air. I laughed and laughed and laughed, my face grown red with the exertion. Afterwards we were embarrassed. Probably we went for ice cream and avoided eye contact. Back to Chicago and the roommate. Two months after that Thanksgiving, my roommate did try to kill herself, with Tylenol, in the back of her ex’s trunk. He found her. He felt bad. He called an ambulance. While she was in the hospital she didn’t want to talk to any of the people who cared about her. She wanted only to see her ex-husband and know that he cared. He didn’t show. I tried calling her. She didn’t want to talk. Ill-equipped for such things, I told her I loved her, hung up. Then I called the university crisis hotline and explained my situation, how I was being negatively
affected by all this during my first year in my doctorate program, and didn’t know what to do. The young man on the other end of the line read off a list of questions. I answered them calmly, soothingly; capably coaxing him through this difficult conversation. Clearly, he was new to this job. UPDATE It’s been a while since I tried making sense of all this, and now it seems over, almost definitely the story is over. Two Thanksgivings after that first one, my roommate and I got into a terrific fight about Thanksgiving plans. I made a feeble attempt at reconciliation but really just wanted her gone, and with her the black and stormy cloud that she’d managed to conjure over her head. So I asked her to move out. I was the leaseholder, and could. Right now, in the writing of this, I am realizing that her move-out date was two years to the day of her suicide attempt, and I am understanding that her kissoff to me, “Have a miserable life,” was probably justified. Still, when I think of the gratuitous melodrama of this last line of hers, I can’t help but laugh. I had planned to give her your new book, Don’t Cry, for Christmas but decided against it since she was giving me the silent treatment at the time. Now I think back to your story, “Because They Wanted to,” and understand completely why the babysitter had to leave
those kids. The babysitter had to leave because she wanted to, because they werenâ€™t her problem, because someone else would always arrive to take her place. Or maybe no one would, and so what. RAY SCANLON ATTLEBORO STATION I freely confess that the railroad station in Attleboro, Massachusetts is one of my favorite places, though few people would call it beautiful, or even scenic. What is there to recommend it? Why do I come here? I believe that, presented with this infinitely rich and varied universe, a thinking man honors it by responding with voracious, indefatigable curiosity. For me, the Attleboro station, because of its skin-deep ugliness and seeming unsuitability, is an ideal place to cultivate and practice curiosity. Nature Conservancy Great Places are well and good, potentially transfiguring, but Minor Placesâ€”or even Minimal Placesâ€”like Attleboro station help sustain one's quotidian slog. They are places which reward patience and curiosity, where you can go day to day for the small escape, to let your mind and senses out for a romp, to observe nature, and to contemplate the human condition. Minor Places serve us well by reminding us that we humans are part of nature, and that it surrounds us, wherever we are. They teach us to be able to live in the moment and be satisfied with what chooses to reveal itself to our curiosity, and so, perhaps, to be able to stand being alone with ourselves.
Attleboro station has been an oasis for me since the 1960s, when I first started going there regularly as part of a roving gang of teenage bicyclists, ostensibly to watch trains. Even then, the station served as more than merely a place to watch trains and feel the earth shake under our feet, though I didn't recognize it at the time. It was a place apart which we could get to under our own power and on our own responsibility. There we could assert our independence, try on adult language and thoughts, and talk about what teenage boys have always talked about, no doubt to the disgust of passersby. In addition to seeing trains, we hoped to meet girls, which, even in the bloom of hopeful youth and crazed by testosterone, we knew was improbable. Now, fifty years later, I am still drawn to â€œthe tracksâ€? almost daily. The station buildings, one on each side of the tracks, are handsomeâ€”red brick with orange-tiled roofs, distinctly from another time, a hint of the American Southwest in the monochromatic New England winter. They are solid and durable, as are the four low granite arches which carry the rails over downtown Attleboro streets, mute reminders that They Don't Build 'Em Like That Anymore. The buildings and arches were part of a circa1906 project to raise the rail grade above street level. The buildings are represented in the penny post card craze of the early twentieth century, served in both World Wars, and now also house various commercial and public enterprises, their continued usefulness enabling them to survive the decline of for-profit rail passenger service. At ground level below there is parking for 700 cars, and the ragged edge of a downtown that's seen better days, but is clearly nowhere near as desolate as some of the surrounding cities. Blowing trash, miniature billboards, graffiti, and other vandalism add variety.
One is surrounded by wildflowers at the station—or weeds, as most people call plants able to prevail and thrive in barren untended places without benefit of chemical fertilizer and untold gallons of municipal water. One day I recognized knapweed and a half-dozen other old friends, including stiff goldenrod, which doesn't have long clusters of tiny flowers like other goldenrods, but is also bright yellow. Blonde per se does nothing for me in the vertebrate world, but a brazen yellow flower will turn my head every time—the gaudier the better. In the spring dandelions, roadside celandine, yellow hawkweed, and bird's-foot trefoil all display in profusion the blazing lifeaffirming yellow of a child's sun-drawing—an unexpected visual delight in a place easy to dismiss as bleak. Often the overhead digital chitter of chimney swifts, as delicious to the ears as the sound of cicadas and katydids, alerts me to a squadron of fat cigars, stubby-tailed and crescent-winged, flying like bats out of hell to terrorize the insect population. Once I saw them actually gliding at half-speed, shattering my lifelong belief that they'd drop like stones if they ever stopped beating their wings. Another time I observed them as they instantly coalesced into a tight group. En masse, they took two or three spiraling loops around an abandoned factory chimney, and dived down in. Ah, I thought—chimney swifts. When the pigeons, so commonplace as to approach invisibility, take off they suddenly shed their half-wit, rat-with-wings personas and become fast, powerful, and graceful flying creatures, though of course still dumb as posts. It's the same with itinerant gulls doing their inland dumpster circuit. Obnoxious aggressive thugs in the station parking lot, their personality issues recede when they're aloft,
heading into the wind. With lift to burn they are positively noble birds. I occasionally run afoul of a wary crow doing sentinel duty atop a lamp post. Not one has ever let me pass without flying off raucously to alert the rest of the gang, no matter that I pretend not to notice them. So cautious and crafty, of such a criminal bent, I'm sure they'd as soon peck out my eyes as give me the time of day. Despite its downtown location Attleboro station is fairly wide open, and even the catenary for the electric trains doesn't obtrude much. There is an unimpeded straightout view of about three-quarters of the sky. Ironically, in my much more rural town you need to look overhead to see the sky, since we each live in a two-acre clearing hacked out of the ubiquitous woods, and there's nothing like a true horizon. In a single visit to the station it isn't rare to see the weather change, sometimes dramatically, and over the course of seasons you can watch the sun move north and south and its zenith rise and fall, and perhaps gain some sense of the natural time of our ancestors. There will be days when there is not a cloud in the sky and the air is so crystalline you can almost see individual molecules, days when the ceiling's at about fifty feet, and days when you'll realize how it feels to be living under the clouds in a Hudson River School painting. When solitude eludes you, you can study the sample of fellow humans thrown your way, starting with the Boston commuters who detrain every afternoon. It is best to hug the fence when a train rolls in. The vanguard are maniacs. They jump off before the train stops and run for their cars, competing to be at the head of the pack of a hundred or two cars forcing their way out of the parking
lot. Perhaps they miss their daily dose of road rage on the interstate. It's a fruitless race—in five minutes, about the time it takes for a relaxed walk to the edge of the lot, the way is completely clear. The commuters generally remain anonymous, but regulars eventually look familiar and begin to differentiate into distinct organisms. Stereotypically reserved New Englanders occasionally nod and admit another's existence, even exchange observations concerning the current temperature or how late the train is. It is good for carbon-based units to acknowledge the social fabric, ping each other now and again, and think “Yes, human.” One afternoon, as I watched one oaf empty his designer water bottle (as if he would have dehydrated and blown away between the train and his car) and lob it over the railing, I telekinetically shot out a message of scorn and contempt, but his head failed to explode. I had never seen such an overtly antisocial act before, and I was reduced to impotent enraged disbelief. I considered for a fleeting moment attempting a citizen's arrest (Massachusetts has a $500 littering fine that I've yet to see enforced—except against Arlo Guthrie), but thought better of it. Then there are the human flotsam and crazies, who tend to tell you their names. I've met a man who'd just been ejected from the local hospital and was going to Providence to find a detox unit which would have him, and I've met more than one reprobate wending his way home after release from jail. They all have a story, though I don't necessarily want to hear it. But I will certainly listen when the arc of a transient's life unavoidably
intersects mine and he chooses to reveal things that I'd keep to myself. I'll listen because it's polite, and I have nothing to lose, not even my time, which has already been allocated to a station visit. I'll listen because the story might be interesting and instructive, if only in the sense of â€œthere but for the grace of God go I.â€? Moreover, I'll try to listen with the respect due to a fellow (possibly armed) human being, believing that a willing dispassionate ear may be valuable to him. When Amtrak electrified our end of the Northeast Corridor in the late '90s, we gained the commuter rail platform, wretched, jerry-built testimony to the incompetence or corruption of the Commonwealth and the lowest bidder. It opened with railings held together with duct tape, sign posts hose-clamped to the railings, and no sooner did the politicians leave the ribbon-cutting than the concrete started crumbling into its constituent sand and library paste. Bureaucrats seem to have a lasting genius for doing the maladroit thing. Last year they decided to mow the meadowed embankment between the parking lot and platform and plant a grid of rugosa roses and small evergreen shrubs. Meanwhile, the concrete's still disintegrating, litter blows in the wind, the minibillboards still stand, but the meadow's gone. This misbegotten and ill-executed project could have been a total loss, except that the roses give olfactory reminders of the beach and dunes, which is never a bad thing. Even more gratifying is watching the meadow resurge; no skim coat of bark mulch could hold it back. Already ragweed, Japanese knotweed, foxtail grass, yellow toadflax, Queen Anne's lace, and poison ivy are thriving. The coming spring promises more.
Ruskin dismissed part of the Midland Railway with “You enterprised a railroad through the valley.... The valley is gone, and the gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange—you Fools everywhere.” Yet people were outraged when a century later the powers that be proposed to raze the line's Headstone Viaduct. What had started as an abomination came to equilibrium, pearl-like, with its surroundings. As humans we derive comfort and strength from anything which has lasted longer than a human lifetime; it becomes for all practical human purposes eternal, like nature itself. If Attleboro station disappeared, its physical traces erased, nature would soon enough fill in the vacuum, leaving only memories and old photographs. While the station is still here I've taken care to create and share memories of it with my grandchildren. And so, this Minor Place where my grandfather began and ended his Army career on Armistice Day, 1918, where my father saw feral steam locomotives roaming the rails in the '40s, will give yet another generation a framework on which to develop their own curiosity and sense of place.
SARA KASSEL DUET Jack and Caroline sat half buried in the cat’s litter box. Building sand castles and digging moats they wasted away their lazy childhood days with plastic trowels and maple tree helicopters. Jack pushed Caroline, so she
punched his nose. Then they sat under the big maple tree in Caroline’s front yard and admired Jack’s shiner in Caroline’s new Barbie mirror-hairbrush. Jack learned to play the guitar and Caroline took up the piano and together they played duets all day. Jack’s front room had a baby grand piano and Caroline loved the feel of those ivory keys under her slim fingers. Jack told her that her hands were ugly and slowly her fingernails grew. Caroline told Jack that his fingers were callused and he chased her around the house threatening to touch her with them. Together they waited for the bus in the pouring rain and stayed home together with the same cold, even when Jack was sick and Caroline wasn’t. She cooked Jack chicken noodle soup and they watched movies together huddled under the big scratchy afghan in his living room. Their mothers said that two sick children shouldn’t spend so much time together, and as it was Jack and Caroline were sick for weeks. They were partners on every project in every class. Together they bounced cafeteria food off the table and stuck pencils in the ceiling. Caroline stopped eating meat so Jack ate hers and she ate his veggies. Jack played baseball and Caroline cheered him on and they both played together in Jack’s backyard. Then they were partners in crime. When Jack hit a baseball through his father’s office window Caroline took the blame knowing Jack’s father would never hit a girl. Jack and Caroline sat next to each other in the circle of nervous kids. Caroline’s hands were clammy as she reached for the bottle in the center. It spun wobbly and she prayed that it would point to the right person. Jack groaned and the other boys hooted when the bottle
finally came to rest. Caroline tried to keep the smile from her lips. Jack didn’t smile either, but he locked his eyes with hers and kissed her back. The bittersweet taste lingered on her lips as the summer drifted by. Jack waved to Caroline through the rear window of his mom’s mini-van. Surrounded by baseballs and goalie pads, golf clubs and his air-soft gun Caroline could hardly see him as the van drove away. But she ran a little ways down the drive waving back. The summer would be boring, she thought, with Jack gone. But she had seen the bruises on his arms in the pool, so she knew he had to go. She sent him a letter every week, and in the beginning he replied within a few days. But as the days wore on, his letters became less and less frequent. Caroline still took piano lessons from Jack’s mother. She sat at the baby grand piano in Jack’s front room and played her favorite pieces. They sounded empty without an accompanying guitar and she withdrew her graceful fingers from the keys. Jack saw Caroline standing at her locker from down the hall. He had avoided her house at the end of the summer and felt bad for ignoring her calls. His stomach twisted with guilt and he resisted the urge to run up and tickle her like when they were kids. They weren’t kids anymore. Caroline looked up and saw him looking at her. She smiled and Jack’s stomach turned over. Caroline watched as Jack was engulfed by a wave of his buddies and before she knew it he was gone. Her voice caught in her throat so she just coughed and turned back to her locker. She hardly saw him at all that year. They had every class together, but Jack had found new partners. Caroline found some other boy to accompany her at the piano;
Jack didn’t even play the guitar anymore. She had tried to invite him to her spring concert; she had given him a ticket, but he hadn’t shown up. Together they sat in Music Theory 200, Caroline at the piano and Jack at the back of the room. Jack slouched his shoulders and tried to look as uninterested as possible, but he couldn’t help but notice her beautiful fingers as they raced over the ivory keys. Caroline’s new partner strummed the guitar quietly beside her. Jack knew that their duet wasn’t nearly as good as his and hers used to be, and he looked at her face and knew that she knew it too. That summer she sat under the maple tree and filled out applications for scholarships to a prestigious performing arts school in Massachusetts. A maple helicopter spiraled down onto her paper. She brushed it off absently and tried to remember her social security number. A door slammed across the road and Caroline looked up to see Jack hop into his truck. This time it was his truck that was laden down with sports paraphernalia and he didn’t wave to her. This time she stayed under the tree and watched him driving away and didn’t anticipate anything at all. Jack watched Caroline in his rear view mirror and wished he could sit next to her and build a sand castle. Caroline played her audition piece beautifully. When she stood in front of the audience to take a bow she thought she saw Jack in one of the plush seats. She rushed in the dressing room, hoping to catch him, but he was already gone. That night she drafted letters but they all ended up in the wastebasket. Finally her hand cramped badly and she was released to sleep. She
dreamed of the maple tree and the shattered glass in Jackâ€™s fatherâ€™s office. Jack sat, cradling his cup of coffee, with the morning paper and eggs benedict. There was a new waitress in the diner this morning. He stared at her while she refilled his mug, trying to recall who she reminded him of. It was on the tip of his tongue, but her startled expression at the intensity of his gaze jostled his focus. He blinked and looked down at his coffee, suddenly very embarrassed. A second plate of eggs arrived and as usual it was cold when she finally got there. His wife slid into the booth opposite him and they made polite small talk. A conference call distracted her so he left his half of the bill, plus the tip. Jack kissed his wife quickly on the cheek and settled into his car. Caroline sat, slowly sipping a margarita on the rocks, opposite a nicely dressed man wearing too much cologne. The food arrived and still had not cooled when she finished it. They remarked politely about the day, the weather, their respective professions. Caroline fabricated a reason to leave and laid her half of the bill on the table. Her empty apartment greeted her and without turning on any lights she made her way to the bedroom. The pillows were light under her heavy head as the monotony passed away. Jack and Caroline sat across from one another on the southbound train to New York City. She had a concert; he had to get away. Caroline held her music in her lap, her wrinkled fingers playing silently across her thighs. With Jack in the other seat, they sat almost knee to knee. Jackâ€™s head slumped onto his chest and his soft snoring comforted Caroline and she could not
remember why. A particularly violent jostle of the train awakened Jack and he noticed that the woman across from him was reading music. “I used to play the guitar, you know...but it’s been such a long time.” Caroline smiled at him, “Music is timeless. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that?” She fished around in her purse and handed Jack an extra ticket. “Why don't you come and listen to me play?” Jack took the ticket from Caroline’s hand and admired her beautiful fingers. They smiled at each other and soon both were lost in the memory of a duet. JOEL ALLEGRETI BIRD-BOY The child was beautiful. His hair was the color of straw and had the texture of a silk scarf. Below the forelock, which hung like a valance over his brow, were silver-blue eyes, receptacles for all the wonders of the natural world, as one would expect in a child on the eve of his seventh birthday. His body was slender, but his belly had a slight undeveloped-muscle paunch common to younger children. He was startlingly well mannered, a tribute to his parents’ parenting. “Thank you,” “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am” peppered his sentences. His smile was worthy of photographic preservation.
His name was Darrin because his mother loved reruns of Bewitched, although Icarus would have made sense if he were a carnival attraction. Darrin, you see, was born without arms, not even stumps. Extending from each shoulder socket – instead of bicep, elbow, forearm, wrist, hand, fingers and thumb – was a luxuriously feathered wing. The interior part of the wing was cream white. The posterior side was speckled red and slate grey. The first word out of his infant mouth wasn’t “Dada” or “Mama,” but “fly.” At that moment, his mother scanned the room for an insect then saw that her baby was staring out the window at the occupants of the elm tree in the front yard. They, in turn, were looking back at him. At the tender age of five Darrin made up a tuneless tune, which he sang all the time to his parents’ astonishment.
Why can’t I be like a sparrow and be in the distance Why can’t I fly like a sparrow and be as free as he is?
He sang the song in all its lyrical maturity for showand-tell in kindergarten. The response of both the teacher and his classmates precipitated the homeschooling decision.
But Darrin was more auk than oriole. He flapped and flapped and flapped in the hope of defying gravity, but he only jumped. The night before his birthday, he sat on his bed while his mother gingerly ran a damp washcloth over his wings. She casually asked what he was hoping to get on his birthday. Darrin sang. Why canâ€™t I fly like a sparrow and be as free as he is? She pressed the cloth against her eyes to keep her young son from seeing her unhappiness. What she heard was not a fabulous wish by an imaginative child, but her flesh and bloodâ€™s tacit declaration that he felt unloved. & She clenched her jaw when he blew out the seven candles on the chocolate chip ice cream cake. She noticed his eyes were closed especially tight when he made his wish. As soon as the tiny flames became wriggles of smoke, she had the sensation of someone waiting in the backyard. She got up from the dining room table and looked out the window. Other than the bushes, trees and her rose garden, she saw nothing alive. Her husband, spooning the melting confection into Darrinâ€™s mouth, asked what the matter was. She ignored him. A sense of presence haunted her. She
went downstairs to the back door and opened it. There was the same scene she had observed from the window, but at a different angle. She walked across the hallway to the front door. She pulled it open, and in marched a procession of birds, different kinds of birds â€“ blackbirds, bluebirds, crows, canaries, starlings, thrushes and, yes, sparrows â€“ in single file, as if they had been in rehearsals for this moment. They hopped up the steps and headed toward the dining room. Darrin giggled and clapped his wings at the sight of the ambassadors of the air. His father circled the table to install himself between his son and the intruders, but Darrin, even though a youngster, recognized destiny and was glad to surrender to it. He beat his wings furiously. He levitated from his chair and sailed over the table and around his father, generating as much energy as his limited strength and sheer willpower would allow. Blackbirds and thrushes encompassed his mother; crows and bluebirds erected an animate barrier in front of his father. The birds challenged the parentsâ€™ every move. If she stepped to the left, they stepped to the left. If he moved forward, they spread their wings in unison to cow him, a big multicolored fan of intimidation. As if he were suddenly autistic, Darrin was unaware that his mother and father were in the room or even that he had a mother and father. His attention was squarely on the creatures that acted with military precision. The birds, which were still in line formation, led Darrin outside, followed by those that kept his mother and father under close surveillance. His
parents, once released, hurried to the door and witnessed the elevation of their only child from a modern freak to a marvel out of Bulfinch’s Age of Fable. Darrin was airborne at last, accompanied by his retinue. Their forms receded and continued to recede in size the further away they flew. & She sat stone rigid at the dining room table. The ice cream cake was a mix of misshapen mass and puddle. She heard Darrin singing and first thought he had returned and when she realized he was gone thought her memory was serving as a private jukebox. That wasn’t it, either. Darrin’s father, wanting a memento of their son’s childhood that the boy could experience when he was a teenager or older, had recorded Darrin on an old portable cassette player one evening at bedtime.
Why can’t I be like a sparrow and be in the distance Why can’t I fly like a sparrow and be as free as he is?
KIM CHINQUEE RUNNER
It didn't feel right to me, how I’d gone to get him and he did me, then I felt like I was following him around after the race. Or maybe I wasn't following as much as I really didn't know what to do with myself. I'd almost felt the same way after the race the day before, not really knowing anyone, after he'd said he'd show up and didn't, like I was way back in high school. But maybe today was worse. I was relieved that I wasn't back in high school. I wasn't a loser. I'd won, after all, though it didn't take much effort. I got my award and we sat on the grass together. The people he'd known from way back had asked if I was the misses. I wasn't his misses. I wasn't anybody's misses. I didn't want to belong to anybody. He played the raffle, not winning. After the race, in my car, I asked him if he knew where his name came from, and he said he didn't know anything about it. He never wanted to know anything about it. He didn't know his father. He'd said he never wanted to know his father. He didn't win his bath soap, or a toilet brush, that hammock, or even that stinky pineapple freshener. I guessed it was time to go home, though neither of us had anything to go home to. His wife was away. My son had gone away to college to do better things with his life, which—I knew I knew I knew— this was certainly a good thing. On the way back to his place, I told him I wasn't attracted to many people. I wasn’t sure why I said that. I was attracted to him. I forgot where to turn, so he told me where to turn.
Back n his driveway again, he didn't want to kiss me. I asked if I could come in. He didn't want me to come in. Suddenly, he wanted to be careful. "You're mad," he said, and of course I was mad. I knew it would go like this: I had his number. I knew right where he lived. He could be any guy. It could be any situation. I could just keep on keep on wanting and wanting as long as I wanted. I said to him goodbye. I looked at him. He lingered. Go, I said. He stayed. So I reached on back, flashing my trophy. TODDLER Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves. Take for instance, our talk of having babies, them cooing, then calling us mommy, daddy, screaming in galoshes, us making BLTs, them growing into steamy adolescences with hard knuckles, treading water for another girl or boy to like them. That was how me met, at a swimming class, both of us fifteen, sixteen, and I'm not sure if falling in love is falling in love at all. Sex on the balcony. That was decades ago, with many things between us, like his marriage, but firstly mine. His divorce, him being so
new to it all. On the phone he talks of making me the next one. I tell him I’m not sure now. I was young and stupid. My pillow once soaked with possibility, though maybe now again, with every dream I have there. Still, he keeps saying he can move and he can move and he can move here. He has to sell, his soso recent ex living in the house he can't quite say is not his own yet. I'm better with words. He says this. He uses the word maybe. I think of what's inside me. My son, all those decades ago. He is states away living with his dad, in a new family with toddlers. "I like to plan," he tells me. "I don't want to hurt your feelings or anything." “Of course,” I said. “I know.” There was me, then, with my son, in his newborn skin. How he didn’t know how to coo yet. How, as he cried, I cradled and rocked.
T H O M A S Oâ€™ C O N N E L L YOU CANâ€™T STOP HISTORY For some reason, there was lots of cardboard around that year. My big brother Jake asked if he could have a box to play with and mom gave us each one. We sat on the braided hearthrug with steak knives, to cut out windows, and magic markers. As we worked on our creations, mom sat at the dinner table writing out Christmas cards. Dad brought in a few logs from behind the garage but mom said that the fire was fine as it was so he stacked them in the log holder. Jake was making a cavalry fort, drawing vertical lines to create the rampart walls and a sign hanging over the front gate that read Fort Marion. I drew cages around the outskirts of my box to make a zoo. When my zoo was finished I went to my room and returned with an armload of stuffed animals. I placed the animals around the zoo, even though the bear, donkey, manatee, and hippo were too big and the cages would never hold them in. Jake had retrieved his set of plastic cowboy & Indian figures, lining the cowboys along the top edge of the box. The Indians were hiding behind the legs of a stool, among the leaves of a fern on the coffee table and on the logs in the log holder by the fireplace. Jake sat back and watched the battle for a while, then, I could tell, he had an idea. Lifting the fort, he carried it over to the fireplace, carefully so the soldiers would not fall off. By the time he reached the screen there was a trail of cowboys behind him. I placed my
manatee in her watery cage and joined my brother by the fireplace. “The Indians are shooting flaming arrows,” he told me. Jake knelt before the fireplace and pulled back the mesh curtains. I called out to our father, reading on the sofa, to alert him to what Jake was up to. Dad said that it was Jake’s box and Jake proceeded to place Fort Marion on top of the somnolent logs glowing on the grate. Jake stood and backed away from the fireplace. Dad told him to close the curtains and he did, then we watched the ill-fated fort, listening for the cries of the soldiers and the war whoops of the victors. The flames climbed up the walls of the fort, which eventually crumbled and flared. Looking at Jake’s flush face, I could make out a sense of dread taking over. He started panting and calling out to our parents, then bawling that he wanted to save the fort. He reached for the fireplace tongs, which he sometimes used to chase me snapping them at me like a crocodile, but Dad told him not to bother. Jake watched as the blackened fort disappeared then threw the tongs on the brick hearth and ran crying to his room. I looked towards my parents, expecting them to go after Jake. Mom sighed, a little resigned, and returned to her address book. “I don’t know what he thought would happen,” Dad said, absently. I walked to Jake’s room, standing at the door a moment. Eventually I knocked and called in. “Jake, you alright?” “Go away.” “Jake come on out, let’s play some more.”
“No,” he screamed, “the fort is gone, gone and now it can never come back.” “I know,” I said. “But you can have my box, we’ll both use mine.” “Go away, or I’ll burn your frickin’ zoo to ground.” I stood outside Jake’s room for a while. It seemed that Jake was right on the other side, I felt like I could see his face through the door. After a few minutes I went downstairs to the den to see if there was anything on TV. HOOK & LADDER “There’s a cat in a tree,” Steven said, coming in after throwing the garbage in the dumpster. Jeanie was making granola for him to take to work. She was on her third batch having thrown out the first two. It was a new recipe; it was a new cookbook, a wedding gift from her college roommate. “In a tree, what tree?” she asked removing her oven mitts and tossing them onto the counter. She leaned against the windowsill, peering out into the backyard, which bordered the backyard of another apartment building mirroring their own. “I don’t know if we can see it from here,” Steven said. “It’s farther down, closer to the dumpster. We can probably see it from the bedroom window.” Jeanie checked to make sure the oven was off and then hurried down to the bedroom. She called out to Steven, telling him that the cat was indeed right
outside their bedroom. Steven grabbed a handful of granola and joined Jeanie. They sat on the edge of the bed watching the cat, a kitten really, on a branch about fifteen feet up the trunk. Jeanie spoke to the kitten through the screen, encouraging it to go down, reminding it of the family that was probably worrying about it. The kitten mewed plaintively towards Jeanie, adjusting its footing on the branch. Steven wondered aloud if the cat would keep them awake all night. After dinner, Jeanie returned to the bedroom to see if the kitten was still in the tree. She and Steven had agreed that they would not give it a name but she did start referring to it as Tree-Kitty. “Steven,” she called out, “Tree-Kitty is still out there. I think we need to do something to help it.” “Like what,” her husband asked, “I don’t have a ladder.” “That’s it,” Jeanie said. “Call the fire department, they rescue cats stuck in trees.” Steven went to get his phone, copying the number from a magnet the previous tenants had left on the refrigerator. The fire department was only four blocks away. Steven and Jeanie would often pass it on their after dinner walks, admiring the fire engines parked in the open bays of the two-story brick building. From the sidewalk they would see the firemen in a lounge watching Wheel of Fortune on a flat screen television. One fireman was always sitting at a card table clipping coupons. “Hi, this isn’t really an emergency or anything,” Steven said to the dispatcher while Jeanie stood at his side, encouragingly. “There’s a cat in a tree outside our
building.” Steven paused, listening. Jeanie asked what they were saying and he held up a finger for her to wait. He tried to speak, to say something to the dispatcher, but couldn’t get much in, eventually hanging up, defeated. “Aren’t they coming?” Jeanie asked. “They are definitely not coming.” “Why not.” “According to the operator, or whoever I spoke with, the fire department has more important things to do than rescue kittens out of trees.” “Like what,” Jeanie asked, incredulously, “Cutting out coupons?” Steven tossed the phone on the bed and gathered his wife into his arms where she remained for a few minutes before going to get ready for bed. “I really thought firemen rescued kittens from trees,” she said. That night they listened to the kitten mewing beyond the screen until they fell asleep. When Steven’s alarm went off in the morning he looked out at the tree. The kitten was gone. Still drowsy, he searched the upper branches thinking the kitten had climbed higher. Not seeing the cat anywhere, he looked down to see if there were any paw prints in the soil around the base of the tree. Steven looked over to Jeanie, still sleeping. He decided not to wake her and returned to the window, scanning the backyard for some sign of the kitten. There was nothing moving in the backyard, other than a gathering of crows cawing irreverently down by the dumpster.
JUSTIS MILLS DUCTS In twelfth grade Abel’s Latin teacher took the whole class on a field trip. The field trip took place directly outside the door of the Latin classroom. The teacher had a black beard and a booming voice, and he shouted ‘ducts!’ which everyone heard as ‘ducks!’ and pointed overhead. And surely enough, there were ducts: ugly and thick, practically invisible, connecting every space. In college Abel saw his old Latin teacher, who had since retired. Their cars were next to each other at a red light, so Abel rolled down his window and shouted ‘ducts!’ and his Latin teacher blinked dumbly and drove on. ‘I thought he would remember,’ said Abel, turning left. He said it to his radio, presently silent. He wasn’t sure if he meant himself, or the ducts that were everywhere still but not here, not in this motorized pine scented bubble, not before these fuzzy dice that shook but never fell.
TERRY SANVILLE A BUNGLED ROBBERY
Phyllis Gotelli’s curly red hair bounced when she walked. But Peter wasn’t watching her hair…and he wasn’t the only one watching. She’d begun working as a grocery clerk at Hartford’s Westside A&P six months before, holding down the noon-to-closing shift normally reviled by the box boys. For once, Peter’s scheduling misfortune paid off, much to the envy of his fellow high schoolers. “You wouldn’t know what the heck to do if she asked ya,” Ray, the assistant manager kidded. “Don’t be so sure,” Peter shot back and eyed Phyllis’s bare legs as she bent over a shopping cart to retrieve a can of peas. The supermarket vibrated with the sound of clacking cash register keys and the pop of paper bags being snapped open. Peter attended Saint Paul’s as a Junior, a virgin, and a science nerd who spent late nights grinding the lenses for his homemade telescope with jeweler’s rouge. He was shyer than a new planet swimming into view. But his imagination was as ribald as any pubescent punk. Watching the curvaceous 24-year-old in her white blouse made for vivid daydreams: secluded tropical beaches, the absence of clothes, and what lovers do when they make love – though on these latter details Peter wasn’t quite clear. Phyllis drove a new ’62 Triumph with a ragtop that was horrendous to put up. One night she came begging. “I’ve got a date in an hour. Can ya help me with this dumb thing? Please, Peter, please?” “Ah, yeah, I guess…I never, ya know, raised one…but…er, yeah.” Peter felt like he was just learning to speak. His face burned. Phyllis laughed and dug him in
the ribs and he winced, wishing to shed his timid self just once. She touched his arm. “Hey, don’t panic if ya can’t get it up. My boyfriend tried last night but couldn’t hack it.” Peter hoped she was still talking about the convertible top as he struggled with the pot-metal contraption. After a half-hour cursing the ineptitude of British engineering, he’d succeeded, losing skin and some blood in the process. From that night on, when Phyllis wasn’t bar hopping with her pompadoured boyfriends, she’d give Peter a ride home from work. After the third or fourth time, his older sister stopped him on the stairs. “The whole neighborhood’s seen you with that… that woman. You’d better be careful. She’s gonna steal that little boy heart of yours and get you in trouble.” “Ah, come on, Becky. We’re just, ya know, friends, work together. Besides, she’s got a dozen boyfriends. What would she want with…?” “When you’re not being such a geek, you’re not half bad,” Becky said, grinning. “Just be careful…and for Christ’s sake, date somebody from your class.” “Yeah, as if that’s gonna happen.” Phyllis and Peter spent dinner breaks together, crunching overdone meals at Dave’s Chicken Emporium, swapping life stories, with Phyllis doing most of the gabbing. Her parents and younger sister lived in Bangor. Since graduating high school, she’d rattled around the eastern seaboard like a BB in a boxcar: Miami, Boston, Savannah, Hoboken, Charleston, Raleigh….
“I just wanted to get the heck outta there, ya know, away from that town. But all I do these days is attract creeps… ah, present company excepted.” He listened to her tales, of drunks becoming possessive, abusive, and ultimately dismissive. “You’re easy to talk to,” she told him. “I can trust you.” Hearing this, Peter felt ashamed for how he’d thought of her, confessing his sin of impure intent to Father Sullivan. He had no doubt that he cared for Phyllis. But there was no separating their friendship from his lustful visions, and prayer didn’t help one bit. “I’ve seen how ya mope around,” Becky told him. “You’d better break it off with that woman before you do something stupid.” “Yeah, yeah. Just mind your own business.” On Saturday night the week before Labor Day, Peter, Phyllis and Ray worked the closing shift. By a quarter to nine, he’d refilled all of the bag racks and wiped down the counters. As he swept Phyllis’s check stand and listened to yet another boyfriend story, the automatic doors hissed open. Two men hustled inside, nylon stockings pulled over their heads. Phyllis’s high squeal died in her throat. She backed up against the register. The men advanced. Peter let the broom fall. It hit the linoleum with a loud crack; everyone jumped. The lead robber clutched a chrome-plated forty-five in his shaking left hand and waved it in their direction. “Where’s the manager?” Ray came out of the office cubical, his eyes fixed on the automatic. The second robber also had one, stuffed into his belt, and he gripped a canvas bag. “All right, we’ll start down there – and don’t try anything or the chick ’ll get hurt.” The lead robber
pointed to the other end of the store, grabbed the bag and followed Ray to each check stand. But when Ray opened the registers and the thief saw the empty cash drawers, his whole body shuddered. The pair returned to where Phyllis and Peter stood. “Give me the freakin’ money!” the robber screamed and hurled the canvas bag. It smacked Phyllis in the face and fell to the floor. Peter snatched it up and held it open. Phyllis turned and hit the “no sale” key and the drawer slid out. With barely controlled hands she yanked the bills from their trays. The robber ordered, “Lift the drawer and get the rest.” She did, but nothing was there but checks. She started to take the rolls of coins from the cash drawer and put them in the bag. The lead robber reached forward, cramming the gun into Peter’s gut, and with his right hand grabbed the rolls and flung them down Aisle 8. They struck the floor and exploded with a clatter. “I don’t want the change. Where’s your safe?” He swung the gun on Ray who pointed to a metal plate on the floor near the office. “Hey man, stay cool,” the second robber said, but his partner ignored him. “Open it. Now!” Ray sank to his knees, worked the combination and folded back the faceplate for the robbers to see. “What is that?” the second robber asked. Instead of a box full of cash, only a mail-slot with a keyhole on either side was visible. “The money’s in there,” Ray said, “but… but it takes two keys to open it. I’ve got one and the store manager’s got the other.”
“So, call him out here.” “He’s at home. I can phone and ask him to come down.” Ray spoke softly, his voice sounding reasonable, almost helpful. “God damn it to hell,” the lead robber growled. He drew back and smacked Ray on top of the head with the butt of his pistol, sending him to the floor. Phyllis cut loose with a full-throated scream. “SHUT UP,” the thief roared. She blinked fast, her lips trembling. Somebody farted but nobody excused themselves. Peter concentrated on controlling his bladder. The thieves slowly backed away and stared into the bag. Peter knew that, at most, they’d stolen a measly fifty bucks. The lead thief snarled, “If I see any of you assholes outside, I’ll blow your heads off.” The duo turned and sidestepped toward the automatic doors. The gunman kept his pistol trained on them until slipping outside and disappearing into the darkness. Phyllis moaned and leaned against the check stand, her body shaking, her face Wonder Bread white. A stream of pee ran down her legs and formed a puddle at her feet. Peter ducked into the office, phoned the police and told them to send an ambulance. Ray was out cold but breathing loudly. Peter returned to Phyllis and encircled her in his arms. The top of her head fit snugly under his chin. He could feel her body quiver. “It’s okay, Phyl, they’re gone. The cops are coming.” He held on, even after her trembling subsided. She leaned her head back and kissed him lightly on the neck. Finally, he stepped away. “I…I’d better get a mop.”
She looked down, her face reddening. “Yeah, ah… thanks. Clean-up at Register 1,” she called, her voice cracking. By the time the police and the boys in white arrived, Phyllis and Peter had hoisted Ray onto a chair and balanced a bag of crushed ice on his head. The puddle of pee was gone. The officers laughed at their account of the robbery, obviously regarding the thieves as bungling amateurs. Peter’s chest tightened when he stared at Phyllis. She wouldn’t meet his eyes. Afterwards on the drive home, they were silent. “I’ll…I’ll see ya next week,” Peter murmured as he climbed out of the car. “You take care,” she said, “and… and Peter, you’re really sweet. If I was….” She gunned the Triumph and sped into the darkness before he could ask her anything. By the following week, the A&P had a new grocery clerk.
JAN DONLEY FALL INTO WINTER Leaf For weeks, the leaves glittered on the trees. Now and then, an overcast sky made everything like a dream. She had this idea—that maybe, just once, autumn would stay. The leaves would hang on in that in between world—winter might happen somewhere, but not here. The trees would not have to go bare. And then one morning as usual, she took the dog out. His
paws rattled through dry leaves, gone brown and dry. She did not want to look up and see the bare limbs. So she kept her head down. The dog, accustomed to his daily route up the street, aimed his nose there. But she tugged at his leash, said, “This way today.” She pointed down the hill. The dog resisted, pulled hard against the leash—even sitting down, stubborn and sure of his habits. He cocked his head the way dogs do. “C’mon,” she tugged playfully at the leash. And then, also the way dogs do, he looked up at some invisible noise. Her eyes followed his gaze. And there it was—one last red leaf twirling down toward them. She reached out to catch it, but the dog was faster. He leapt, and he caught it in his mouth. The way dogs do. Leaves The little girl kicked at the leaves in the gutter. All the way down the street and back up the other side, she waded through the stream of orange, red, and yellow. She liked how the leaves cracked and rattled. She liked how, when the wind blew, they jumped off the ground in groups, swirling and dancing, finally landing back on the street. One or two still clung to branches, as if they might escape their fate below. Soon the neighbors would pile their leaves into bags and send them away somewhere. The little girl hated when that happened. The colors looked like jewels on the ground and in the sky. She wanted them to stay forever. And so she closed her eyes and wished a wish. And when she opened her eyes, more leaves than ever blanketed the ground and the street. Leaves and more
leaves fell through the sky like a million trillion colorful snowflakes—no two alike. The little girl spread her arms. She twirled three times before leaping into the air. And then the strangest of strange wishes came true: her yellow sweatshirt, her rust colored pants, her brown shoes all blended with the falling and fallen colors. Truly. You could not tell the girl from the leaves. The day was golden and forever and always. Prayer It was a cold and frosty morning. The boy could see his breath. Actually see it! “Look at that,” he said and blew again. His mother reached out to grab his arm —there was traffic, after all—and the streetlight was about to change. “Hey!” he yelled. “You put your hand right in my breath?” “What?” The mother pulled him along to the next store, her shopping bags knocking into her leg and rattling next to his ears. They stepped up onto a curb just as two taxi cabs whizzed by. A man in a black coat, black hat, and beard walked with his head down, his hands deep inside pockets. “He looks like he’s praying,” the boy said. The sidewalk was so crowded with shoppers, and there was a Salvation Army Lady ringing a bell next to a metal basket and a bike messenger skimming by.
Even so, the man stopped, lifted his head, turned toward the boy. “You’re right,” the man said. “I was praying.” The mother looked from the man to her son. “Excuse me?” she said. “Your boy—he noticed I was praying.” “What did you ask for?” said the boy. “Hush,” his mother said. The man lifted his hand to his beard. “To see things differently,” the man said. “To see things new.” The boy nodded. “Wanna see my breath?” he asked. With that, the boy blew hard into the air. The white steam hung there. The man with the beard stood inside the boy’s breath. On that crowded day in the city full of holiday shoppers. STEPHEN FRENTZOS THE REUNION There he was. There was Derrick Villiard, the one person that Mark Berman hoped would make it to the fifteen-year high school reunion. Though he was older and had put on a good deal of weight since they were teenagers, Derrick still looked as dreadfully
repugnant as he had back when they were in many of the same classes together. Derrick Villiard. Just his name alone sounded sinister to Mark, like he was destined since birth to plague the most innocent members of mankind. Mark didnâ€™t care that so many of his old friends, most of whom he hadnâ€™t seen in at least a decade, were in attendance. They might as well have been complete strangers to him during his childhood when the nominal effect that they had on him was compared to the long, jagged scars that Derrickâ€™s incessant bullying had etched deep into his character. But everything would change in a matter of minutes just as soon as Mark had the opportunity to confront Derrick. It was only logical that Mark had obsessed about his imminent encounter with Derrick ever since he received the invitation to the reunion in the mail two months before. After all, whenever Mark thought back to his years in elementary school and high school, the first thing that came to his mind was the torment that Derrick had put him through. It was a stain on his memory, a ringing in the back of his head that seemed to grow louder by the day since the last time he had seen Derrick at their graduation ceremony. As Mark stared intently at Derrick from across the crowded function hall of the country club that had been rented out for the special occasion, his mind became flooded with the haunting images from the instances during which Derrick had humiliated him in the past. There was the time in second grade when Derrick marched up to Mark in the cafeteria, plucked the ham sandwich from his tray, threw it on the ground, stepped on it, and then threatened him with a
beating if he didn’t eat every last bite of it. There was the time in fourth grade when Derrick and two of his friends shoved Mark inside of a bathroom, lifted him up, turned him upside-down, and dunked his head in each of the toilets. There was the time in fifth grade when Derrick tossed Mark’s entire book bag out the window of the bus on the way home from school without the driver noticing, forcing Mark to have to exit the bus at the next stop, retrieve his bag from down the street, and walk the remaining three miles to his house. There was the time in eighth grade when Mark had been unfortunate enough to cross paths with Derrick along the hiking trails that cut through the woods behind the elementary school one afternoon, an afternoon that ended with Mark fishing his brand new mountain bike out of a nearby pond. But by far, the most embarrassing moment of Mark’s adolescence was the time in eleventh grade when Derrick yanked down his shorts, underwear and all, in front of their entire gym class. Mark could still hear the wild, uproarious laughter, a large portion of which sprung from the numerous girls that were present, echoing off of the walls around him. His face had instantly turned a shade of bright crimson, and within a few seconds, Mark had pulled up his shorts and run into the locker room, where he hid by himself for the rest of the period. It wasn’t as if Mark had taken all of Derrick’s abuse without opposition, however the ample size difference between the two of them served to dictate the order of their relationship. Though they were of about the same height throughout their youth, Derrick, with his hulking, muscular frame, appeared to tower
over Mark, whose skinny, slender body posed no physical threat to his adversary. And so, on the rare occasions when Mark gathered enough courage to take a few frantic swings at Derrick, his punches were either too weak or too errant to cause any considerable harm to the bully. By his senior year of high school, Mark was counting down the days until graduation, after which he and Derrick would no longer be confined to the same building for so many hours each day. He vowed before leaving for college that he would work tirelessly to gain success in every aspect of his life, though not simply to evoke more joy from his worldly experiences than he had during his previous schooling. Instead, Mark’s passion for affluence was derived from his veiled objective of ensuring that at their fifteen-year reunion, he would be able to observe and relish in the inferiority of Derrick’s social standing. Then Derrick was sure to feel just as awful about himself as he had made Mark feel for so long. Mark had accomplished everything that he had set out to do before the reunion in his fifteen years after graduation, that much was certain. He had conceded much of his free time at college and in graduate school to attain both his bachelor’s degree and his master’s degree in accounting in only five years, spending the majority of his nights studying by himself while his peers were out fraternizing at parties or bars. His dedication paid highly, though, as now, at the age of thirty-three, Mark had recently been named the youngest chief financial officer of one of the most profitable software companies in the country, a title
that earned him an annual salary far greater than that of anyone else in the function hall. Mark’s wealth extended beyond monetary considerations as well, as at the age of twenty-seven, on the day that he had been promoted to the position of chief accounting officer of the same software company, he met Emily, his elegant wife and the mother of his two young sons, while celebrating his corporate advancement at a pub with his colleagues. Brimming with an excess of confidence from either his newfound fiscal security or the many glasses of champagne he had consumed, or a combination of the two, perhaps, Mark had walked right up to Emily, whom he saw sitting at the bar by herself, and asked her on a date. After a moment of intrigued contemplation, Emily, a former Olympic swimmer whose stunning beauty had drawn the interest of nearly all of the men surrounding her, agreed to his request, and the bountiful love that they currently shared thrived from that day forward. But Emily had no idea of the hostile, resentful feelings toward Derrick that resided in Mark’s subconscious. In fact, she didn’t even know who Derrick was. Mark had never mentioned his name to Emily before, and he certainly hadn’t admitted to his wife that whenever he caught a glimpse of the two of them and their sons together in the reflection of a store window or on the side of an office building, he envisioned Derrick struggling to conceal the jealousy in his eyes once he viewed the breadth of Mark’s prosperity. And now, as Mark stood there watching Derrick slowly moving closer to him while greeting past acquaintances, he began to tremble with anticipation.
Everything was perfect. Mark had on his most expensive sports coat and custom-tailored trousers, and Emily was by his side wearing Mark’s favorite dress, one that was short and black and effectively displayed the provocative shapeliness of her slim, toned body. He couldn’t wait to flaunt his good fortune right in front of Derrick. Though he was now only a few feet away, Derrick still hadn’t noticed Mark standing there. Mark’s hands began to sweat as he straightened his shoulders and took a deep breath. “Honey, I’m going to get something to eat. Do you want to come with me?” Emily then said, shattering Mark’s mental preparation. “Huh?” Mark replied while still gazing fixedly at Derrick. “I said I’m going to get something to eat. Do you want me to get you anything while I’m over there?” “No!” Mark whimpered with worried surprise, swiveling his body in Emily’s direction. “You can’t leave now!” “Why not?” Emily asked as she glanced around them. “You’re not even talking to anyone.” “Let’s just wait a few minutes,” Mark suggested. “All right, but I’m starving.” Just then, as Mark turned back toward Derrick, their eyes met, and in an instant, Derrick’s mouth dropped open. The shocked expression remained on his face for only a second before it transformed into a wide, glowing smile. “Mark?” Derrick exclaimed as he
hurried over to him. “Mark Berman? How the hell are you?” he implored as he extended his arm. Mark scowled in confusion as he shook Derrick’s hand. “I’m good, Derrick, how are you?” “Not too bad, not too bad,” Derrick replied. “And who is this gorgeous woman next to you?” he asked, turning his attention to Emily. “This is my wife, Emily,” Mark answered, offering Derrick an exultant smile as he placed his hand on the small of Emily’s back. “Honey, this is Derrick Villiard.” “It’s nice to meet you, Derrick,” Emily beamed as she shook his hand. “The pleasure is all mine.” Derrick then looked back at Mark in admiration. “I’d say you were in the right place at the right time to catch this angel when she fell from the sky.” Emily giggled when she heard this, a reaction that infuriated Mark as he pondered the significance of Derrick’s warm greeting. He was convinced that Derrick’s sincerity was contrived, that it was all part of an elaborate plan he had to demean Mark once again, however he wasn’t sure what that plan was just yet. “So, is your wife around here somewhere?” Mark asked in a derogatory manner, as he had seen Derrick enter the function hall by himself. After all, who would want to marry a person as cruel as he was? “No, she’s at home with my daughter,” Derrick said, his mood suddenly turning somber. “She couldn’t make it out tonight.” “So you are married?” Mark replied in disbelief.
“Yes, happily. My lovely wife, Amy, and I met at a blood drive four years ago. We fell in love the moment we laid eyes on each other.” “That’s so sweet,” Emily gushed. “What are you doing for work these days, Derrick?” Mark then asked abruptly, changing the subject before Derrick and Emily could delve further into the details of Derrick’s marriage. “I’m an automotive service technician at a dealership about a mile away from here. I always had a fascination with cars growing up, so it only seemed natural for me to make a career out of fixing them. My goal is to one day open my own garage.” “What a noble ambition,” Emily stated. “Not a whole lot of people can say that they truly enjoy their jobs.” “Speaking of which,” Derrick began, “you look like you’ve made something of yourself, Mark. What do you do for a living?” “I’m the new chief financial officer of Empirical Programming,” Mark said as a contented smile spread across his face. “You mean that enormous software company? The one with all of those television commercials?” Derrick questioned as his brow creased in astonishment. “That’s right,” Mark said, the pride in his grin growing more apparent by the second. “That’s incredible. Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” Mark said. He could tell that Derrick was impressed by his importance to the world, and he imagined that his former bully was feeling a little less satisfied with his own profession, as well he should. “So tell me about your daughter,” Emily then said to Derrick, and at once the smile faded from Mark’s face as his accomplishments were brushed so hastily aside by his wife. He hadn’t had nearly enough time to revel in them yet! “Well, her name is Maureen, and she’s the source of all of the inspiration in my life,” Derrick said with earnestness in his now wavering voice. “She was diagnosed with leukemia when she was only a year old, and the doctors gave her less than six months to live. That was more than two years ago. Even though her odds of survival are slim, she’s still fighting with all of her heart to beat it every single day. She’s determined to live long enough to be there when the doctors announce that her cancer is in remission, and I can see in her eyes that she won’t ever give up. That’s why I started the Maureen Villiard Foundation. It’s a charitable organization that raises funds for the care of children under the age of ten who have been diagnosed with leukemia. I donate almost all of my time and money to the foundation because I know the physical, emotional, and financial toll that having a child with cancer takes on entire families. But if there’s one good thing I’ve learned from all of Maureen’s suffering, it’s that life is the most precious gift that we as humans are given, and we might as well be blind if we can’t see the beauty of everything that surrounds us at any given moment.”
As Derrick finished speaking, he had to turn away from Mark as tears had begun to trickle from his eyes. Emily, who had sensed the stinging pain in Derrick’s voice, had also been moved to tears by his words, and she hurriedly rummaged through her purse until she found two tissues, offering one of them to Derrick while she dabbed her eyes with the other. “I think I speak for the both of us when I say that Mark and I would be more than willing to contribute a large sum of money to your foundation,” Emily stammered. “Isn’t that right, Mark?” Mark, whose stomach had plummeted at a sickening pace while Derrick was talking, said in a meek, mild tone, “Of course. However much you need, Derrick. We’d be happy to contribute.” “Thank you both so much,” Derrick responded as he fought back the additional rush of tears that threatened to invade his eyes. “That really means a lot to me.” “We were just about to get something to eat. Would you like to join us?” Emily then proposed to Derrick. “I’d like that, but is it all right if I meet you two somewhere? I’ve got a few more people to say hello to first,” Derrick said. “Sure. We’ll grab a table over by the windows. It was very nice meeting you, Derrick,” Emily said before starting toward the opposite side of the room. Mark began to follow her, his gait as lifeless as his stunned thoughts, when he felt a hand grab his arm. He turned around to see Derrick peering timidly at him. “Can I talk to you alone for a minute?” Derrick
then asked. Mark nodded as he stepped closer to Derrick. “I didn’t want to say anything to embarrass you in front of your wife, but I was hoping you’d be here tonight so I could talk to you. I want to apologize to you for how awful I treated you growing up. You were always such a nice guy and you didn’t deserve any of my harassment. I feel absolutely horrible that I behaved so shamefully.” He paused before adding, “I’m just grateful that it happened so long ago when we were different people. It’s obvious that we’ve both matured enough since then to understand what really matters in life and to realize that what seemed so important when we were that young is insignificant now, and I’m glad that you haven’t held a grudge against me over the years. Anyway, congratulations again on all of your success. I’ll catch up with you a little later.” With that, Derrick disappeared into the crowd, leaving Mark feeling the same way he had felt on that day in high school when Derrick had yanked down his shorts, underwear and all, in front of their entire gym class. LYDIA MILLET SIR HENRY The dog was serious, always had been. No room for levity. Those around him might be lighthearted. Often they laughed, sometimes even at his expense—the miniature size, bouncing gait, flopping ears. He was a dachshund. Not his fault. You were what you were. He would have preferred the aspect of an Alsatian, possibly
a Norwegian Elkhound. He viewed himself as one of these large and elegant breeds. This much could be seen with the naked eye, and the dogwalker saw it. The dogwalker was also seriousâ€” a loner, except for dogs. He prided himself on his work. He had no patience for moonlighters, for the giddy girls talking on their cell phones as they tottered through Sheep Meadow with seven different-sized purebreds on as many leashes, jerking them this way and that and then screeching in indignation when the dogs became confused. He had once seen such a girl get two fingers ripped off. He called 911 himself. It was an ugly scene. The paramedics recovered the fingers, snarled up in leather and nylon, but the hand had been twisted so roughly they predicted it would never work right. The girl herself had passed out long before the ambulance got there. Turned out she was pre-med at Columbia. Two of the dogs were also injured. Their mutual aggression had caused the accident in the first place; he had seen it coming all the way from the carouselâ€”the dogs straining and nipping at each other, the girl on her phone with the leashes tangled around her left hand. Himself he was a professional with exacting standards. He made an excellent living. He had subcontractors, yes, but all of them were vet techs, trainers or groomers at the very least. None were college girls who took the job literally, expecting it to be a simple walk in the park. The dogwalker gave his charges respect as he saw fit. Some did not deserve it, and they did not receive it. To these frivolous or problem dogs he gave only the curt nod of discipline. His favorite dogs had a sense of
dignity. Theirs was a mutual approbation. Sir Henry was one of these. The owner traveled constantly, often in Europe, Asia or South America. All over. He was a performer of some kind, in show business. When he was in town he spent most of his time at the gym, maintaining his physique, tanning, shopping, or seeking photo opportunities. The dogwalker barely registered him. The dogwalker went to get Sir Henry three times a day, rain or shine. Henry seldom went out otherwiseâ€”the odd trip with one of the girls when they were home from school, or the wife on the rare occasion when she was not, like the entertainer, at the gym or shopping. Now and then, if he found himself at loose ends for twenty minutes or so, the entertainer paraded with Sir Henry personally, scoping the park for other celebs to do the meet and greet with. In the puppy days he had taken Sir Henry out frequently, but the puppy days passed. There was an older dachshund, Precious, also owned by the entertainer, but Precious had been virtually adopted by one of the domestics, an illegal from Haiti if the dogwalker was not mistaken. The Haitian took Precious out on her cigarette breaks. But not Sir Henry. The dogwalker walked Sir Henry alone or with one particular other dog, a small poodle belonging to a dying violinist. The poodle was stately, subtle and, like the dachshund, possessed of a poise that elevated it beyond its miniature stature. The two seemed to have an understanding. The poodle marked first and with great discretion; the dachshund marked second. They trotted happily beside each other at an identical pace, despite the fact that the poodleâ€™s legs were almost twice as long.
They listened to the dogwalker acutely and responded promptly to his commands. It was their pleasure to serve. Did they serve him? No, and he would not have it so. They served decorum, the order of things. At times the dogwalker enjoyed resting with them; he would settle down on a park bench and the dogs would sit at his feet, paws together neatly, looking forward with an appearance of vigilance. Their heads turned in unison as other dogs passed. When it was morning, noon and night, of course, as it was with Sir Henry, it was no longer merely walking. The dogwalker was in loco parentis. It was he who had discovered the bladder infection, the flea eggs. It was he who recommended a vet, a diet, routine. In the economy of dogwalkers he was top tier; only the exceptionally wealthy could afford him, those who did not even notice that their dog-walking fees exceeded rents in Brooklyn. His personal service included a commitment of the heart, for which the mega-rich were willing to pay through the nose. About his special charges he was not workmanlike in the least. He was professional, operating from a mature code with set rules for all of his employees, but he was not slick. He did not cultivate in himself the distancing practiced by pediatric oncologists and emergency room surgeons. His clients sensed this and, where their pets were concerned, his fond touch soothed the conscience. He began with respect and often ended with love. When a dog was taken from himâ€”a move, a change of fortune, or in one painful case a spontaneous giftingâ€” he felt it deeply. His concern for a lost dog, as he thought of them, would keep him up for many nights
after one of these incidents. When a young Weimaraner was lost to him with not even a chance for goodbye he remained deeply angry for weeks. The owner, a teenage heiress often featured in the local tabloids, had given his charge away on the spur of the moment to a Senegalese dancer she met at a restaurant. He had no doubt that drug use was involved. The dog, a timid, damaged animal of great gentleness and forbearance, was on a plane to Africa by the time he found out about it the next day. The loss was hard for him. He was tormented by thoughts of the sweet-natured bitch cowering, subjected to the whims of an unkind owner or succumbing to malnutrition. Of course there was a chance the new owner was thoughtful, attentive, nurturing—but he had no reason to expect such a happy outcome. In his work he saw shockingly few people who were fit for their dogs. Walking Sir Henry and the poodle up Cherry Hill he remembered the Weimaraner and a pang of grief and regret glanced through him. It was almost three years ago: where was the good creature now? He had looked up Senegal on the Internet after she was taken. “Senegal is a mainly low-lying country, with a semidesert area to the north…” He had never been to Africa and in his mind the Weimaraner lived alternately in the squalor of dusty famine, scrabbling for scraps of food among flyeyed hungry children, or the cool white majesty of minarets. There were obdurate camels and palm trees near the Weimaraner, or there were UN cargo planes dropping crates of rice. In less colorful moments he was quietly certain the Weimaraner was dead. The incident had taught him a
valuable lesson, one he firmly believed he should have learned earlier: in the client-selection process people must be subjected to far greater scrutiny than their dogs. He no longer contracted with unreliable owners. If he had reason to suspect an owner or family was not prepared to keep a dog for its lifetime he did not take the job. It could be difficult. Sometimes a dog owned by one of these irresponsible persons had powerful appeal —grace, sensitivity, an air of loneliness. But the risk was too great. He made himself walk away from these dogs. Sir Henry emitted one short bark and he and the poodle stopped and stood, tails wagging, pointing to the left. The dogwalker stopped too. There was the violinist, wrapped in blankets, seated under a tree in his wheelchair with his attendant and an oxygen tank. The dogwalker was surprised. As far as he knew the violinist, who was at the end stage of a long cancer, never came out of his penthouse anymore. The place had a large wraparound terrace from which the East River could be seen; there were potted trees and even a small lawn on this terrace, where the poodle spent much of its time. “Blackie,” said the violinist in his weak, rasping voice, and the dogwalker obediently let the two dogs approach. “A surprise,” said the dogwalker. He was not skilled at small talk. “Figured I should take one last stroll in the park,” said the violinist, and smiled. “Come here, Blackie.” The dogwalker handed the poodle’s leash to the attendant and Blackie jumped up into his owner’s lap.
The old man winced but petted the poodle with a bonestiff hand. “I need to know what will happen to her,” said the violinist. “When I die.” The dogwalker felt embarrassed. Death was an intimate subject. Yet it was close, and the violinist was quite right to plan for his dog “Difficult,” he offered. “I wonder if, if I established a trust…ample provisions, of course, financially…would you consider —?” The dogwalker, surprised again, looked to the attendant who was holding the leash. She had a beseeching look on her face, and for a minute he did not know how to take this. Finally he decided the look meant the violinist would not be able to bear a flat-out refusal “Let me think,” he said, stalling It was not in his code. “Think fast,” said the violinist, though he was still smiling. “I will think about it overnight,” said the dogwalker. “You like Blackie,” said the violinist, a quaver in his voice. “Right? Don’t you like her?” The dogwalker felt a terrible pity enfold him. “Of course I do,” he said quickly. “She is among my favorites.”
The violinist, on the brink of tears, bent his head to his dog, petting her softly and rapidly as she patiently withstood the onslaught. His attendant shaded her own eyes and blinked into the distance. “I am very attached to Blackie,” the dogwalker bumbled on. “But the adoption of dogs is against my policy. Please give me till tomorrow.” “OK,” said the violinist, and attempted to smile again. “I’ll try not to kick the bucket before then.” “I would take her,” explained the attendant, apologetic. “But I just can’t.” She handed back the leash and Blackie jumped off the lap. “We’ll see you back at the apartment,” called the attendant after him. They had more than half an hour left on the circuit. As the dogs trotted in front of him he saw Sir Henry turn back to the violinist, checking up on him. If he accepted the dog, in a clear violation of established protocol, would his principles erode? Would he end up an eccentric with an apartment full of abandoned pets? By preferring dogs to humans he put himself at risk—myopia on the part of his fellow citizens of course, since dogs were so clearly their moral superiors. Still, he did not wish to be stigmatized. As they neared the 72nd Street entrance he saw children approaching, delighted. Children were a matter of policy also. He allowed only quiet ones to touch his charges, and he preferred the females. Males made sudden movements, capered foolishly and often taunted.
He stopped now, for these were two melancholy slips of girls with round eyes. “May I pet him, please?” asked one of them, and suspended a hand in the air over Sir Henry’s head. Sir Henry welcomed it. Girls reminded him of the entertainer’s daughters, the dogwalker thought, two blond girls who had caressed him constantly when he was only three months old but now seemed unaware of his existence. Himself he was preoccupied; this was a critical decision. His mind wandered as the girls leaned down. He gazed in their direction but he did not see them clearly—bent pink forms with sunlight on wavy hair…if he owned the poodle himself he could walk the dogs like this every day, the dachshund and Blackie. Sir Henry was most contented in the poodle’s presence. “You get away,” said a woman harshly to the girls. She wore tight leather pants and held a phone to her ear. “They could bite. They’re dirty.” “They are cleaner than you are,” said the dogwalker softly. “And they never bite nice little girls. Only mean old witches.” “Right now,” snapped the woman. “Thanks, mister,” said the elder girl, and looked with longing at Sir Henry as the woman tugged at her arm. He was often grateful that dogs had little use for language; still, they understood tone. The leather-pants woman had slightly offended them, he suspected—a telltale lowering of their heads as they made for the gate. Dogs had an ear for the meaning in voice.
“Oh my God,” said a fat man in front of them on the path, pointing, and laughed. “It’s David Hasselhoff.” He turned to see the entertainer advancing, talking into his telephone and wearing what appeared to be gaudy jogging attire, a jacket with purple details that matched purple pants. No doubt he was on his way home from the gym. Never before had the dogwalker run into two owners on a single walk. “Yeah. Yeah,” said David Hasselhof on the phone. “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” As he passed them he winked at the dogwalker, then swooped down, not stopping, to chuck Sir Henry on the chin. “Hey there, little buddy.” The dogwalker watched his back receding, ogled by various passersby. With his free hand the entertainer saluted them jauntily. “The Hoff,” said one, smirking. “They love him in Germany,” said another. The dogwalker recalled hearing people on the sidewalk discuss the violinist also. “He did a recording for Deutsche Grammophon, the Tchaikovsky Concerto in D, that actually broke my heart.” It was rare that he considered the lives of owners beyond their animals. To him they were dog neglecters most of all. And yet where would he be without this neglect? The violinist, of course, could not be blamed in the least. He had insisted on walking Blackie himself when he was submitting to a barrage of chemotherapy that would have felled lesser men. The dogwalker respected the violinist, though it was unpleasant to see him in his
wretchedness. A dog in his state would have been euthanized long ago. In fact that was how he had met the violinist; the violinist had not gone through the usual channels. The dogwalker had come upon him struggling to keep up with Blackie on a path near Turtle Pond. Two kids on skateboards had almost run them over, and the old man began to tremble violently. His bones were like porcelain. Worse, one of the kids called Blackie a “faggot dog” as he swooped away on his board. (At that time the poodle had sported an unfortunate Continental Clip With Hip Rosettes. Later the dogwalker had persuaded the violinist to switch to a basic Lamb.) But the skateboarder had infuriated him. Not the words but what was behind them—malice directed at the dog. A senseless meanness of spirit. The poodle had never done anything to hurt the kid. He had guided the frail old man to a ledge where he could sit, and from then on the poodle was one of his charges. He imagined telling the violinist he could not take Blackie. In his mind he went over the conversation, as he stood with the dogs waiting for a walk signal. “I am sorry,” he would say. “But if I took in all the dogs, even all the dogs I like best, I would be a pet shelter, not a dogwalker.” The violinist would gaze at him sadly with his watery blue eyes. In his youth, the attendant had said once, the violinist had been quite handsome, and she showed him a black-and-white photograph. The violinist survived a death camp, Stalin. Now his skin was like paper, his teeth yellow.
“Can’t you make an exception?” the violinist might ask. “I would like nothing more than to take Blackie in,” he could say. “But all I can do is help find a new family for him. Allow me to do that, at least.” What bothered him was that the violinist had been so good to his dog. Such goodness should be rewarded. If he did not take the poodle, chances were he would never see him again, once the violinist was out of the picture. The poodle would live out the rest of his days with someone who did not care for him as the violinist had. Blackie would be broken-hearted and Sir Henry would be bereft. Of course even he, the dogwalker, could not promise to bestow upon the poodle the violinist’s brand of solitary, desperate cherishing. But with him at least the poodle would be assured of a dignified life, a steady stream of affection. At his feet the poodle looked up at him. “I should be talking to you about this,” said the dogwalker. “It’s not right, is it? You don’t have a say in the matter at all.” No, he did not. Dogs were the martyrs of the human race. The light turned and the three of them stepped into the crosswalk. Forward. The brightness of the day was upon them…he was lucky, he thought, with a sudden soar of hope. Here he was with his two favorite dogs, walking them at a perfect pace for all three. Neatly they jumped up onto the curb. They did not pull him and he did not pull them. Could you go forward forever, with
your dogs at your side? What if he just kept going? Across the city, over the bridge, walking perfectly until darkness fell over the country. Sometimes he wished he could gather all the dogs he loved most and walk off the end of the world with them. When a dog was put to sleep its chin simply dropped softly onto its paws. It looked up at you with the same trusting eyes it had fixed on you since it was very young. At the violinist’s building he nodded at the doorman. There was a noisy crowd in the elevator, a birthday party of children with conical hats and clownish facepaint. He let them cluster and hug the dogs; the dogs licked them. The attendant opened the penthouse door for him. “You beat me here,” he told her. Usually he did not attempt these minor exchanges, but he was nervous and needed to fill the space. “Poor Blackie,” she said, as he unclipped the leash and hung it. She knelt down and leaned her face against the dog’s curly flank. “My husband’s allergic to dogs. It’s really bad, I mean he breaks out in rashes, he gets asthma attacks, nothing helps. Otherwise…I feel so bad I can’t keep Blackie in the family.” The dogwalker stared at her, a realization dawning. It was almost two years now that he had worked for them, and it had never occurred to him that she was the violinist’s daughter. He had assumed she was paid for her services. “What’s wrong?” asked the daughter. “Is something the matter?”
“Oh no,” he said, and shook his head. “Nothing. I am going to sleep on it.” This time the elevator was empty. It had mirrors on every wall and he watched the long line of reflections as they descended, he and Sir Henry. In the mirror he saw infinite dogs lie down. CONTRIBUTORS Joel Allegretti (www.joelallegretti.com) is the author of two fulllength volumes of poetry from The Poet’s Press: The Plague Psalms (2000) and Father Sillicon, selected by the Kansas City Star as one of 100 Noteworthy Books of 2006, a list that included novels by Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Pynchon. In March 2010, Poets Wear Prada released his third collection, Thrum, a chapbook of poems, prose poems and poetic essays about musical instruments. Wendy Barker’s fifth book of poetry is Nothing Between Us, a novel in prose poems that was runner-up for the Del Sol Prize and was published by Del Sol Press in 2009. Her third chapbook, Things of the Weather, was also published in 2009, by Pudding House Press. Her poems have appeared in many magazines, including Poetry, Georgia Review, Southern Review, and Gettysburg Review. She has received NEA and Rockefeller fellowships, and is Poet-in-Residence at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Michelle Bitting has work published or forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Narrative, River Styx, Crab Orchard Review, Passages North, Poemeleon, Rattle, Linebreak, and others. Poems have appeared on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. Thomas Lux chose her full-length manuscript, Good Friday Kiss, as the winner of the DeNovo First Book Award and C & R Press published it in 2008. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Pacific University, Oregon. Michelle teaches with California Poets in the Schools and at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program. Visit her at: www.michellebitting.com.
Charlotte Boulay's poems have appeared in Slate, Boston Review, Crazyhorse, FIELD, The Massachusetts Review, and other journals. She teaches writing at The College of New Jersey. Valentina Cano is a student of classical singing who spends whatever free time she has either reading or writing. Her work has appeared in Exercise Bowler, and will appear in the winter editions of Blinking Cursor, Theory Train, Magnolia's Press, Cartier Street Press, Berg Gasse 19, A Handful of Dust, The Scarlet Sound, and Perhaps I'm Wrong About the World. You can find her here: http://coldbloodedlives.blogspot.com. Kim Chinquee is the author of “Oh Baby” and “Pretty”. She lives in Buffalo, NY. Jan Donley writes fiction, plays, and poetry. She has lived in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Wyoming, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, and Vermont. Spinsters Ink Press published her YA novel, The Side Door, in July 2010. Her short stories appear in the magazines 34th Parallel and Silk Road, and in Milkweed’s anthology Stories from Where We Live. Most recent productions of her plays took place at The Boston Theatre Marathon (2007) and Beckmann Theatre Co., Indianapolis (2006). She currently lives in Boston with her partner Diane. Read more about Jan Donley’s writing at www.jandonley.net. Claire Field is an English composition instructor. She has had her poetry published in numerous print literary journals, such as Runes; The Carolina Quarterly; Birmingham Arts Journal; Hurricane Blues: Poems about Katrina and Rita; and most recently in the following print journals: The Moon: The Publication for Writing & Art; Windmills (Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia); Polluto (U.K.); Dark Lane Quarterly Collaborative (Bristol and Manchester: U.K.); Kerouac’s Dog Magazine (U.K.); Instigatorzine; Black Magnolias Literary Journal; Askew; and Convergence Review. Her first poetry book, Mississippi Delta Women in Prism, is set in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Excerpts of her memoir, A Delta Vigil, have been published in Full Circle: A Journal of Poetry and Prose (Boston, MA). Annie Finch is the author of numerous books of poetry, translation, and poetics, including Calendars, Eve, Spells, Among
the Goddesses: An Epic Libretto in Seven Dreams, and The Body of Poetry, as well as a CD version of Calendars and many creative collaborations merging poetry with music, visual art, and theater. Her honors include the 2009 Robert Fitzgerald Award and appearances in media from Voice of America to Def Poetry Jam. She lives in Portland, Maine, where she is Director of the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. More at her website, http://www.anniefinch.com. Kathleen Flennikenâ€™s first book, Famous, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association. Her second collection, Plume, has been chosen by Linda Bierds for the Pacific Northwest Poetry Series, and will be published by University of Washington Press. Stephen Frentzos grew up in Massachusetts and graduated from Boston University with a degree in mathematics. He has taken several courses in creative writing, and over the past several years he has been continuously cultivating and improving his craft. He is currently a fund manager at State Street Corporation in Boston and has had three stories published previously. In 1983, Lawrence Gladeview was born to two proud and semidoting parents. After two middle schools and losing his faith in catholic high school, he graduated from James Madison University, majoring in English and having spent only one night in jail. He is a Boulder, Colorado poet cohabiting with his fiance Rebecca Barkley. Lawrence is one of two editors for MediaVirus Magazine, and more than sixty of his poems have been featured, or are forthcoming in various print and online publications. You can read more of his poetry on his website, Righteous Rightings. Carol Guess is the author of seven books of poetry and prose, as well as Darling Endangered (forthcoming from Brooklyn Arts Press) and Doll Studies: Forensics (forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press). Find out more: www.carolguess.blogspot.com. Steve Healey is the author of two books of poetry: 10 Mississippi and Earthling. He lives in Minneapolis. Amorak Huey recently left the newspaper business to teach writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Southern Review,
Rattle, Linebreak, Redivider and other journals. Three of his poems published in 2010 were nominated by editors for The Pushcart Prize. A.J. Huffman is a poet and freelance writer in Daytona Beach, Florida. She has previously published her work in literary journals, in the U.K. as well as America, such as Avon Literary Intelligencer, Eastern Rainbow, Medicinal Purposes Literary Review, The Intercultural Writer's Review, Icon, Writer's Gazette, and The Penwood Review. Laura Kasischke has a new collection of poetry (SPACE, IN CHAINS) forthcoming in 2011 with Copper Canyon Press. She has published seven other collections of poetry and seven novels. She teaches at the University of Michigan and lives in Chelsea, Michigan. J.R. Kangas is a semi-retired academic librarian. He lives in Flint, Michigan, and plays the viola in a regional orchestra. His pieces have appeared in many magazines including Atlanta Review, Connecticut Review, New Letters, The New York Quarterly, Tampa Review, and West Branch. Sara Kassel, a 19 year old from Vermont, says of creative writing, "It's a form of expression in which I can be as obscure and vague as I want to be, but as long as it all kind of makes sense, I've succeeded. You're supposed to be a little confused afterwards anyway, that's the best part. It makes you think for yourself." Sara is a freshman at Philadelphia University. As a Fashion Design major, she daydreams of being an editor at a fashion publication. Special thanks to Robin Lauzon who pushed her to show off her work, and to all her other mentors for everything else. A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Dorianne Lauxâ€™s fourth book of poems, Facts about the Moon (W.W. Norton), was the recipient of the Oregon Book Award and shortlisted for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Laux is also author of Awake, What We Carry, and Smoke from BOA Editions, as well as Superman: The Chapbook and Dark Charms, both from Red Dragonfly Press. Recent poems appear in American Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Cerise Press, Margie, The Seattle Review, Tin House and The Valparaiso Review and her fifth
collection of poetry, The Book of Men, will be published by W.W. Norton in 2011. Laux teaches in the MFA Program at North Carolina State University. Recent books from Lyn Lifshin: The Licorice Daughter: My Year With Ruffian, Texas Review Press, Another Woman Who Looks Like Me from Black Sparrow at Godine., following Cold Comfort and Before Itâ€™s Light, Desire and 92 Rapple. She has over 120 books & edited 4 anthologies. Also out recently: Nutley Pond, Persephone, Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness, Lost in the Fog, Light at the End, Jesus Poems, and Ballet Madonnas, Katrina, Lost Horses, Chiffon, and Ballroom. Forthcoming: All the Poets Who Have Touched Me, Living and Dead, All True: Especially the Lies. Her website is www.lynlifshin.com. Christopher Linforth is an MFA fellow at Virginia Tech. He is the editor of the forthcoming book, The Anthem Guide to Short Fiction (Anthem Press, 2011). Matthew Lippman's second collection of poetry, MONKEY BARS, is published by Typecast Publishing. His first collection, THE NEW YEAR OF YELLOW, is published by Sarabande Books and won The Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize. He lives in Boston. Matt Mauch grew up in small Midwestern towns between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, in the snow and wind-chill belt. He is the author of Prayer Book (Lowbrow Press) and the chapbook The Book of Modern Prayer (Palimpsest Press). His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Salt Hill, NOĂ– Journal, H_NGM_N, DIAGRAM, Willow Springs, The Los Angeles Review, Sonora Review, and elsewhere. The editor of Poetry City, USA, Vol. 1 (Lowbrow Press 2011), Mauch teaches writing and literature in the AFA program at Normandale Community College, and also coordinates the reading series there. He can be found online at mauchmauch.com, and lives in Minneapolis. Jim Meirose's short work has appeared in many leading literary magazines, including Alaska Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, and Witness. A chapbook of his short stories has been published by Burning River. His novel "Claire" is available on Amazon.
Corey Mesler has published in numerous journals and anthologies. He has published four novels, Talk: A Novel in Dialogue (2002), We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon (2006), The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores (2010) and Following Richard Brautigan (2010), a full length poetry collection, Some Identity Problems (2008), and a book of short stories, Listen: 29 Short Conversations (2009). He has also published a dozen chapbooks of both poetry and prose. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize numerous times, and two of his poems have been chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. He also claims to have written, “Half-Breed.” With his wife, he runs Burke’s Book Store, one of the country’s oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores. He can be found at www.coreymesler.com. Lydia Millet is the author of seven books, most recently a story collection called Love in Infant Monkeys (2009), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and a novel, How the Dead Dream, named an L.A. Times Best Book of 2008. An earlier novel, My Happy Life, won the 2003 PEN-USA Award for Fiction. Her next two books, Ghost Lights and Magnificence, are coming out from W.W. Norton in late 2011 and 2012. Millet lives in the Arizona desert with her family. Justis Mills edits First Stop Fiction. His work has recently been published in Bloody Bridge Review and Leaf Garden, has been featured on FictionDaily, and is forthcoming elsewhere. In his spare time: The Legend of Zelda. Michael Neal Morris has published online and in print in such venues as Borderlands, The Concho River Review, Illya’s Honey, The Distillery, The GW Review, Chronogram, Mouth Full of Bullets, and Sniplits. A number of his books are listed at Smashwords. He lives with his family just outside the Dallas area, and teaches at Eastfield College. Kirk Nesset is author of two books of fiction, Mr. Agreeable and Paradise Road, as well as Alphabet of the World: Selected Works by Eugenio Montejo (translations) and The Stories of Raymond Carver (nonfiction). Saint X, a book of poems, is forthcoming. He was awarded the Drue Heinz Literature Prize in 2007 and has received a Pushcart Prize and grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, American
Poetry Review, Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, Agni, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. He teaches at Allegheny College, and serves alternate years as writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers Institute in upstate New York. For more information, visit http://kirknesset.com. Thomas O'Connell is a librarian living in the mountains of southwestern Virginia. His poems and stories have appeared in The Broken Plate, Blue Earth Review, and Nano Fiction, as well as other print and online journals. Darlene Pagán has had poems in Hawaii Pacific Review, Hiram Poetry Review, and Two Review: An International Journal of Poetry and Creative Nonfiction, among others. An essay, "Women We Call Malo" is in the current issue of Memoir(and). She teaches writing and literature at Pacific University in Oregon where she lives with her sons and husband. Thomas Pescatore grew up outside Philadelphia, he is an active member of the growing punk/lit scene within the city. He recently graduated with a masters degree in Urban History from Rutgers University. He hopes to meet Kerouac one day in heaven or Oblivion. He maintains a poetry blog: amagicalmistake.blogspot.com. He has had his work published in Thunderclap, YesPoetry, Kerouac’s Dog Magazine and WritingRaw. Kevin Pilkington is on the full-time writing staff at Sarah Lawrence College and teaches a graduate workshop at Manhattanville College. His latest collection entitled, The Unemployed Man Who Became a Tree will appear in February 2011. Terry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist-poet wife (his in-house editor) and one skinny cat (his inhouse critic). He writes full time, producing short stories, essays, poems, an occasional play, and novels. Since 2005, his poetry and short stories have been accepted by more than 130 literary and commercial journals, magazines, and anthologies including the Houston Literary Review, Birmingham Arts Journal and Boston Literary Magazine. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for his short story “The Sweeper.” Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist – who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend George Shearing.
Ray Scanlon was born, grew up, and lives in Massachusetts. Recently his writing has appeared, as if by magic, at Tiny Lights, Camroc Press Review, and Writers' Bloc. He's pretty sure he could write a book, if only he had something to say. He has grandchildren, extraordinary luck, and a vanity web site at http://read.oldmanscanlon.com/. Lee Uptonâ€™s twelfth book, Swallowing the Sea: On Writing & Ambition, Boredom, Purity, & Secrecy, is forthcoming in 2012 from Tupelo Press. Her poetry has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic, Poetry, American Poetry Review, and many other journals. Her short stories have appeared widely. James Valvis lives in Issaquah, Washington. His work has appeared in 5 AM, Atlanta Review, Crab Creek Review, Eclectica, Hanging Loose, Nimrod, Rattle, Slipstream, Southern Indiana Review, and is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, H_NGM_N, Los Angeles Review, New York Quarterly, Pank, River Styx, South Carolina Review, and elsewhere. He won the Chiron Review poetry contest and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Best of the Web, and the Million Writers Award. A collection of his poems is forthcoming from Aortic Books. William Walsh's short stories and derived texts have appeared in a number of journals, including Caketrain, Juked, New York Tyrant, Annalemma, Artifice, Quick Fiction, Quarterly West, Lit, Rosebud, and McSweeney's Internet Tendency. His books include a novel, Without Wax (Capserian Books), Questionstruck, and Pathologies (both from Keyhole Press). He teaches writing at UMASS Lowell.
ABOUT THE EDITOR At the age of sixteen, Peter LaBerge is a proud writer, photographer, procrastinator, musician, actor, improviser, singer, and all around Theater/English nerd. He began writing under a year ago and immediately fell in love with poetry. He now has writing/photography appearing in many literary journals, both online and in print. He is also the runner-up for the 2011 Elizabeth Bishop Prize in Verse, and five of his poems earned Gold Key recognition from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
When he isnâ€™t writing or taking photos (which is not often), he can be found singing in his high schoolâ€™s a cappella group, or improvising. He aspires to study business, economics, or theater in college, but no matter what direction he follows in life, he will always pursue creative writing and photography as enjoyable passions.