After the Pause Volume 4, Issue 3 Fall 2017
This is what we leave behind. The breadcrumbs from the bread bouncing about our brains. Spandan Banerjee is a college student from India who believes that, "Art is not what we see, but what we make others see." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Jeanette Beebe is a poet and journalist: her poems have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Delaware Poetry Review, Nat Brut, Rogue Agent, and Tinderbox, and her reporting is regularly broadcast on WHYY, the NPR station in Philadelphia. www.jeanettebeebe.com. Douglas Collura is the author of the book, Things I Can Fit My Whole Head Into, and was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize. Timothy Day is a pun enthusiast and MFA student at Portland State. Darren C. Demaree is out of pie. Garrett De Temple is right behind you. Nathan Elias is the author of the forthcoming novelette A Myriad of Roads that Lead to Here (August 22, 2017) and Co-Editor of Varnish: A Journal of Arts and Letters. Robert Ford is either a coward who assassinated Jesse James (according to Brad Pitt) or a poet living on the east coast of Scotland. Amanda Gaines is currently a MFA candidate at West Virginia University's creative writing and coeditor of Into The Void. Howie Good is the author of The Loser's Guide to Street Fighting, winner of the 2017 Lorien Prize from ThoughtCrime Press, and Dangerous Acts Starring Unstable Elements, winner of the 2015 Press Americana Prize for Poetry. Jack Halliday is an author, screenwriter and consulting producer based in the Midwest and can be contacted at www.jackhalliday.com. Christopher Iacono is a writer, husband, and father from Massachusetts. James Croal Jackson is mostly a poet. Elspeth Jensen is a writer, artist and dog lover. Loren Johnson is a designer and naturalist who creates images and narratives that critique and build on peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s experiences of nature, the spaces they inhabit, and social conditions around them. Website: https://www.behance.net/lorenjohnson Twitter: @LorenOJohnson J.D. Kotzman is a health policy analyst/aspiring author living in the state of disbelief Washington, D.C., area with his girlfriend and two pugs, Grendel and Ginger. Rupert Loydell is a poet, artist, publisher and the editor of Stride magazine. Nicole Mason is a writer and teacher out of South Bend, Indiana. Leah Oates has had numerous solo shows on the NYC area at venues including the MTA Lightbox Project at 42nd Street, Susan Eley Fine Art, The Central Park Arsenal Gallery,The Center for Book Arts and The Brooklyn Public Library. Chiamaka Okonkwo is an aspiring poet and a frequent contributor to her high school's literary magazine.
Jude T. Okonkwo is a pre-med English major at Harvard University who writes in hopes of better expressing his sentiments about the world around him. Douglas J. Ogurek, whose fiction appears in over forty publications, founded the controversial literary subgenre known as unsplatterpunk, which uses splatterpunk conventions (e.g., extreme violence, gore, taboo subject matter) to deliver a positive message. Website: www.douglasjogurek.weebly.com. Twitter: @unsplatter J. Ray Paradiso is a recovering academic in the process of refreshing himself as a photographer and writer. Louise Robertson is self-conscious, but cool when you get past all that. G. J. Sanford is an MFA candidate at the University of Nevada-Reno. Chloe Seim is a fiction writer and artist residing in Lawrence, KS. Luke Silver recently finished his first novel Fallacy of Composition. Follow him on Twitter @LUKEABRASSI. Rebecca Titus is paying attention. Daniel W. Thompson works as a city planner in Richmond, VA, where he lives with his wife and daughters, cleaning up diapers and dog fur. Chris Vanjonack is sure your aunt will understand if we provide her ample notice. Bill Wolak is the keeper of strangeness. Michael Prihoda is not a lock, nor is he the key.
At the Gates Three months ago, they just showed up. Crying babies consoled by exhausted mothers, men in business suits with the imprint of a cellphone seared into their cheeks, small boys and girls with stringy singed hair. The whole mass without a shadow. They stood at the gates while we scrambled to account for their numbers and argued over how to sort them appropriately. Gabriel suggested patience, suggested waiting to see how they behaved. He was in charge, so in the end we accepted his proposition. They lit fires. They sang songs. They set up makeshift camps and communicated in different languages. They made love at happy moments and we observed them. For a while things stayed calm. We considered the possibility that they all were deserving. We sent in a request to the Big Cheese asking for the construction of an additional thirty-million plots. Our request came back with a comment that read, Too many too soon. We waited for further instruction, and their numbers grew. They stood at the gates and mumbled to themselves with bowed heads. A haggard bunch in tattered clothing clutching hands like it was the last link left. When they’d do this, we’d feel stings in our scapula and start to weep. Just let them in, we’d say. This is torture. We can’t endure more of their pain. Gabriel shook his head. He told us the Big Cheese was concerned with still-rising numbers. With the mushroom-clouds and the flattened planet and their problematic character. We need to weed out the undeserved. Be patient. The just will get in eventually. What makes one deserved? Is it selflessness? Perseverance against an onslaught of oppression? Absolute honesty? We asked ourselves these questions, and other ones too, about an abridged life and belief, about the small differences between individualism and ego, populism and community. But still, we heard nothing, and so we did nothing, while the bivouacking swelled, while the stench of rot wafted over our cake-frosted white walls so we couldn’t properly breath. We developed migraine headaches, and were unable to sleep. Last week, the new order came in. They will soon turn desperate and angry. They will resort to crime, for they are imperfect. When they do, send the majority away.
Since then, most of us at the gates have stopped bickering. We are heavenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s defenders and we accept our responsibilities. Gabriel sends us out in shifts, and we banish those who seem most likely to commit criminal activity. When we return, we lie down in our plots exhausted. We dream of a better-off future that reminds us of a happier past, of our seraph mothers kissing our foreheads before our first unsteady flightâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the initial terror, the leveling out in the clouds, the rush of exhilaration and broadening of wings, the sense of potency that runs through us as we angle up toward the sun.
James Croal Jackson
In a Mouth / In a Pool thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s nothing but teeth and sky and sharp wind shrieking out until slapped / skin and sunbreak risen water suspended after a cannonball plunge / eyes closed we split through chlorine like weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re chemically bound / to renewal but how artificial we fill ourselves with air and float / eyes up at the clouds and a single plane descends / toward LAX and we know how it ends: a little shake / in the landing and diminished speed recalling the turbulence / that dove from glass mansions
James Croal Jackson
Your Other Lover You brought him to our sacred space where he did not yet exist [Zen plane of whispers and floating LOUD POP OF A BALLOON!] Forget it, you say? Spiked shoes! Cat fangs! Razor blades! Cactus glances! Kitchen knives! Broken bottles! Box cutters! Machetes when we leave for work! Swords in the bases of words!
J. Ray Paradiso
Not If, But
The science says no, a submerged frog gently heated will still jump out Is there a danger index inside everything alive Do dead alarms retain language Will bells tasked with warning know when? The ways we refuse to survive get hushed up A failing to turn off A failing to call out Failure to eat Failure to beg Too dark to say the bells don’t help They don’t, but it’s too dark to say
To Blend at Night1 The blender sits in front of us with the promise of lemonade and the danger of making our neighbor call the landlord again. The first time it was vacuuming, which was weird because we never vacuum. And tonight is weird because we never blend. It is these nights of overwhelming lull that drive us to fill the silence aggressively, like crippled bees overcompensating for their lack of buzz. We emit small battle cries as our fingers wrestle for space against the power switch. Allie works in a bike shop. The part she hates the most is when customers approach her with the preconception that she is a fellow cyclist. In that moment, her entire self feels invalid, as if she is just an imitation of a person, confronted with an unreachable image of what she is supposed to be. And what makes it worse, she says, is that only she knows. It’s like she is an old woman at a college party, lying about her age by sixty years. And how terrible it is to have everyone believe her, simply because they aren’t looking close enough. I tell her not to worry; that if she were an old woman I would know. That I see that space by the door where her bike doesn’t exist. We had that conversation about two months ago. I like thinking about it because it ended with her saying that it was too bad we were cousins. We drink hard lemonade on the porch out of dirty mugs that our sink was too populated to take. Earlier today I finished my latest contemporary romance novel and soon the company that pays me will publish it under their contemporary romance author name, Stephanie Sands. How’s that for being a phony? In life I am a 24-year-old man living in a shabby duplex with a cousin he’s hopelessly in love with. On bookstore shelves I am an earlyforties woman who resides with her genetically appropriate spouse in Nantucket. Our only overlapping qualities are the last things written on the back of the book jacket: Stephanie loves the rain and has a growing collection of wind chimes. I think the wind chime bit had to have been a joke made by bored publishers, but I bought a couple after I read it. When I hear them I like to imagine that people have touched hands accidentally. Allie says it is the sound of unicorns humping. 1 Originally published by WhiskeyPaper on March 14, 2015
Tonight the air is still and unicorns are celibate. The warm summer air is okay with me at night and the alcohol makes other things feel okay, too. Things like silence, and wanting to have sex with your cousin. Allie drinks slowly. She zips up her hoodie and stares into nothing. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m done with my lemonade but I hold tight to my mug; I know that Allie will be the first one to go inside because I will sit with her forever, and this impending action is like a needle inching closer to my skin. When it happens she puts down her cup and says goodnight and I reach and grasp the wind chimes so they wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t make a sound upon the closing of our door.
Leah Oates Artist Statement: The Transitory Space series deals with urban and natural locations that are transforming due to the passage of time, altered natural conditions and a continual human imprint.
Transitory Space, Nova Scotia, Canada, Color Field #51
Transitory Space, Nova Scotia, Canada, McNabâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Island #193
Transitory Space, Nova Scotia, Canada, McNabâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Island #196
The atom is a recipe for belonging. It began as one, a thing defined by its unit, a secret in the shape of a container kept back in the drawer, hidden, yet safe, passed through generations: “un cuttable”, as if the world is a thing made whole. Every family is a physics. Before she died, my grandmother didn’t tell me how I was made. She baked bread. She felt for ingredients
in the cabinet, tasted each one, rubbed off the label, the name â&#x20AC;&#x201D; mixing is the shape of what rose from her bed.
Spring Cleaning Spring cleaning is not a game. Yes, you may open windows. You may sip lemonade, but do not forget the condensation which will leave a sallow ring on the counter. If you forget, it will become a part of you. You may absorb the sunlight, but only in five minute increments. You have work. Spring is so uneasily defined, clinging one day and betraying the next. When you step out tomorrow, will you burn? Will you sweat, dirtying your skin? Will you be forced to start your labor from the beginning? There are the lace tights, snags in each ankle, that Richard gave you six summers ago. There are the lipsticks of your college days, crumbling and gray. There are the blackened sneakers, from when you thought the world was bigger than it is. And then there are the items youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve forgotten you had forgotten: Richardâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s antiperspirant, lavender; his bastard socks left in singularity; the gesture of his accumulated beard trimmings, dead skin, and crinkled pubic hair. All must go. Suck on lemon slices until your lips crack. Run your tongue over the fissures. Lie, for just a moment, in the dark of the room.
Talking to My Mother
like all unpleasant things, requires planning. Multiple choice questions, spelling, baking soufflé: there are infinite ways to go wrong. Nobody likes to see red circles and nobody likes to be told that the difference between looking like a dumbass and securing that second date was an unnecessary ‘y.’ My mother is pure heat. I am, too. After just a week of walking on eggshells, the glossy surface of our forced conversations pops like a pastry left in the oven one minute too long, our pretense deflating as we sulk in different rooms like two spoiled children being told to wait our turn. There is nothing scarier than a scared woman, and that’s what we are, scared women. But when the world looks like the supermarket you got lost in as a child, nothing seems more likely a fate than getting swallowed behind a series of faces that all look like you; an old photo shoved between two pages of an album, a name on a plaque replaced by someone who beat your record. So when I talk to my mother, I only hear myself. The lines around her eyes are mine. I feel her nails bite my palms as she makes fists. When she cries, tears land on my knees. How do you argue with the mirror? In my dreams, I stomp and yell and leave with doors slamming. She follows me between rooms, wooden spoon in hand and reminds me We’re more alike than you think. Today, we’ll talk about the packaged noodles she sent me, my dead-end job, and my little sister’s soccer game;
everything but what weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re thinking. You never taught me how to love. You never loved me enough. I tug at the loose string hanging from my blue carpet, a piece of home passed down from her, and pull the phone away from my face to check the time elapsed, hoping itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been long enough to sit in silence, the both of us waiting for the other to speak, the both of us knowing what the other will say.
Forgotten Love Songs
We Made Love and Dyed Your Hair Purple
Jude T. Okonkwo
God of the Medicine Cabinets Momma told me God hid in the medicine cabinet sometimes when his heart grew weary from bearing all his people's pain Too bad I was too short to reach the cupboard and tell him how Mother had whispered an Our Father Pulling my eyes away from the beggar's deformed legs — dusty snakes curled between his famished stomach and rusting skateboard
Praise be to God she used to mutter As she slapped away the finger I had raised At the hunchback who crept up the aisle desperate for communion
I still wondered about our choir mistress who hollered Kyrie Eleison with a tremulous vibrato that swept up the congregation’s timbre Mrs. Kelly had fashioned a moon from the dust shed by a hundred voices to bend the rush of the foaming waters beneath the Titanic’s hull
Momma cried when I asked of Mrs. Kelly who had once danced on the piano How her belly had swelled with blood and spirit for nine months and then deflated with black veils and an empty crib in turn
I never understood why mother took me to the doctor’s office 15 times in one week And why she crumpled like loose leaf when she tore open my diagnosis Perhaps the webbing of silver tubes didn’t greet the others kids at their checkups Maybe, God was wincing in the cupboard when the vaccines punctured my skin
Loren Johnson and Douglas J. Ogurek
Not Glaring, but Certainly Noticeable
Soonview Now and again, eccentrics from throughout Soonview came to Humiliation House. There they watched Pempus and Bilesnox, the couple that designed the structure, humiliate each other. Built into Humiliation Houseâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s exterior were all kinds of humiliation aids: an Atomic Wedgie Cornice, a Toilet Seat Canopy, an Indignity Balcony, a Disgrace Column, a Mortification Acroterium, and even a feature called Falling Sewage. Most Soonview residents found Humiliation House and its goings-on purposeless and revolting. Though small, the audiences that did come were diverse. The well-to-do were easy to spot: they wore on their heads the glowing beak of the rare bird called the sceptern.
One day, just behind Humiliation House, a large hill suddenly formed in this otherwise very flat region of Soonview. The hill was not glaring, but it was certainly noticeable. *** Nostos City Architectural critics called Wispell Headquarters in Nostos City the architectâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s magnum opus, a triumph of grace and form. Wispell, a cosmetics company, even gave the architect his own scent. FaĂ§ade, they named it. ***
Soonview All the scepterns migrated to the top of the new hill; the birds wanted to live at the highest possible point. Some enterprising Soonview residents started sceptern farms. They bred scepterns with genetically modified enormous beaks . . . so enormous that
the birds could hardly hold up their heads. Then the farmers released the birds for the highest bidder to shoot. The curious continued their treks to Humiliation House to watch Pempus and Bilesnox humiliate each other. And the beaks extending above the audience grew in size and in number. During their free time, Pempus and Bilesnox found more and more sceptern carcasses at the base of the new hill near Humiliation House. Their beaks had been torn off before their bodies were discarded. ***
Nostos City The architect took his son to the famed Wispell Headquarters. The boy marveled at a spellbinding faĂ§ade and at convoluted corridors that twisted and turned and widened and narrowed. When the architect talked to an admirer in the building, the boy ventured out on his own. At the end of one corridor, the boy found a door that said, â&#x20AC;&#x153;TEST.â&#x20AC;? He went inside. Rabbits and dogs cowered in cages. People in lab
coats dripped perfumes and creams into the animals’ eyes, and forced them to ingest fragrant liquids.
Soonview The sceptern carcasses continued to accumulate outside Humiliation House. And during performances, more and even larger beaks appeared among the audiences. One night, just before he dumped the Lipolanche over Pempus, Bilesnox put on a beak. It was larger and more beautiful than any of those within the audience. And just before Pempus stripped Bilesnox, then tossed him into the Rejecting Pool, she put on a similarly superior beak. After the show, an audience member with a much smaller beak asked Pempus and Bilesnox about the distinguished beaks they wore. They told him they were not sceptern beaks, but rather a “rarefied” material. ***
Nostos City That night, the boy took his fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s bottle of FaĂ§ade. The boy brought the bottle back to his bedroom, where he placed it under a rug. It made a bump. The bump was not glaring, but it was certainly noticeable.
Why We Burned the Things We Burned The first time we burned something we were juniors, and Anderson had just been rejected to the homecoming dance by the de-facto love of his life. Laughing, weird and starved, he misattributed a quote about destruction being a form of creation to Arthur Miller and told us all to stand back. Then he dropped the single rose he’d used to profess his love to Kayla Parker onto the grill in his mother’s backyard, doused it in lighter fluid, shook up a can of mosquito repellent and sprayed the nervous flame of a gas station lighter until the flower lit up like Christmas. A few months prior, Anderson had gotten really into Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis and announced that everything was bullshit and also that he was going to major in English. “This,” he said, standing over the disintegrating signifier of his love, “is a symbol.” We believed him. Huddled around the fire, we watched until he said, “Fuck it; it’s over.” --Over the next several years, we burned everything we could find reason to: report cards, textbooks, termination notices, love letters, letters of rejection, letters from Anderson’s father, checks from Anderson’s father, wedding invitations from Anderson’s father, a pair of disembodied mannequin hands, the 6th season of LOST, a pack of unopened condoms and a moleskine journal with a handwritten note inscribed on the back page that Anderson would never clue us in on. “Fuck it; fuck it; fuck it,” he kept saying. --The semesters turned to years turned to decades. We left town, left our parents, left Anderson for contracts and families and once in a lifetime opportunities to live in Spain or to work with heavily tattooed creative types whose names we’d soon forget. When Luis got married and moved to Texas, Anderson burned the sock puppets they’d put together for a World Civ project sophomore year; when
Katrina announced that she was not returning from her semester abroad, he burned the Russian Nesting Doll she’d sent him for his birthday; and when Sean finally turned in his pair of drumsticks for a necktie—effectively ending the 13 year run of their punk-rock garage band—he burned the cheapo-tape recorder that had captured their first set of songs way back before they even hit puberty. He burned and burned and burned until all he had left was the lighter, which, on one particularly cold December morning just a few days before Christmas, he placed carefully atop the familiar grate of his mother’s grill and lit with a pair of matches. He thought it might explode, but instead the plastic turned to purple goo and dripped like hot lava underneath the BIC logo, which remained visible, until, like the rest, the flame consumed it. I mumbled an apology, and Anderson said, “Fuck it,” wiped his hands and watched as the plastic burned, melted into slop, turned to ash and then into smoke that clouded over his backyard, over our hometown and over everything.
lost dogs and city lights
slapping currents and trying times and bottlenecks are waiting for you in the river running through swim it. they whispered to me. swim it don’t you drown out there out there- it’s too deep. they murmured. too deep wade where it’s shallow. they hissed again to me. dip your hand and just grab it already! find it quickly they closed their eyes, their mouths followed. a piercing silence they delivered to quietly surrender me at night- the darkest one of the year- that’s how it seemed to me from under the mask of rushing water where i was shivering down deep where they spit and shook their heads and where they said it was too deep and how they mumbled in plugged ears- ears blocked by youth’s fat fingersears that didn’t hear them singing of a storm waiting to greet me and searching arms and longing arms that swam past fishing rods and fireflies- and rumbling tractors and campfires- and tattered boots and dying branches- and lost dogs and city lights away from the coffin of knee deep. i said you can’t be safer than over there
under the dirt, where itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s shallow and where thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no danger in sight and no wide open, gaping tomorrow i hear they say I swam away splashing fiercely, moving deliberately so desperately away from the coward they painted for me
Trying to Imagine Try to imagine a sailboat, its sides battered and abraded, scudding along the silver strip where the ocean meets the sky, a fiery autumn sun dangling above. For the ship’s capable but worn-out captain, a man aged beyond his years by heartbreak and loss, keeping the ancient sloop afloat requires all the resolve he can muster. He holds the rudder straight, no end to the journey in view. The watercraft lacks any charted destination, other than a hazy, wistful notion of home, a port of call somewhere on the banks of a half-submerged memory. Home, a fishbowl of an apartment shared with a woman he adored more than anything, the man had that once, years ago. He can’t help but picture the two of them together, re-watch the old scenes—them mulling politics over red wine and Marlboros ... them hiking, hand in hand, along the lush river basin ... them shopping for cobbled-together dinners, at the quaint farmer’s market in the square ... them cruising around town in her dusty Beetle, top down, wind rushing through their hair ... them lying in bed on gray, drizzly mornings, their naked bodies all tangled up in the sheets ... them making love, ravenous, breathless. But the accident, as always, cuts in on the montage. An SUV runs a red, kills her, and his world explodes. Fade to black. Afterward, nothing mattered to him. His life floated on without purpose, a buoy set adrift. The man eyes the jib and the mainsail, checks the telltales, then trims the sheets, stuck in a Sisyphean loop. Survival, he knows, depends on these things. For a moment, though, a header grabs the boat, forcing his attention elsewhere, toward the beach. A woman stands on the pebbled shoreline, her long dark hair and floral dress fluttering, signal flags in the breeze. Something about her, something at once nostalgic and fresh, beckons him. He longs to go with the gust, let the boat veer to starboard, until dread blindsides him like a rogue wave. The jagged rocks lurking beneath the surface, begging to shred the hull to splinters—they could sink him for good, he fears. His hands tighten on the helm. Steady, he thinks, steady as she goes. ***
Try to imagine a near-empty beachhead, dead quiet, except for the plaintive cries of some wayward gulls and the low rumble of the breakers crashing against the shore. The lone human inhabitant, a pretty wisp of a girl trapped in forty-year-old body, wanders barefoot over the cold, rough sand. She makes her way toward the sea, for reasons unknown even to her, halting just beyond its undulating edge. The icy surf tickling her toes, she gazes out past the whitecaps and spies two black triangles piercing the gum-colored horizon. A sailboat, she understands, after a beat or two. The sight reels her mind back to childhood summers, weekends spent at her grandfather’s ramshackle cabin near the coast. She remembers the afternoons bobbing on the bay in a weatherworn bowrider, playing pirate with her cousin while her dad and uncle tried to hook the big one, the nights lolling around the campfire, listening to Gramps spin scary yarns and roasting marshmallows until they burst into flames. In those days, she didn’t worry twenty-four seven, never needed antidepressants with a Xanax chaser. But that was before—before bombing out of med school, before losing the baby, before catching her husband in flagrante with her best friend from college, before slogging through a divorce, before getting downsized, before attempting a career change at her age, in a shit economy ... before losing herself. For a long while, the woman tracks the tiny vessel in the distance, the pre-teen inside her itching to come out and romp again. She envisions herself diving headlong into the turbid green water and swimming as hard as she can—arms and legs churning, heart and lungs pounding in her ears—not stopping until warm hands clutch hers, pull her aboard. Desire floods her, excites her at the idea. In the end, though, she remains anchored to the land, too uncertain, too afraid to take the plunge. She could drown, or freeze to death, or get torn apart by sharks, she tells herself, weary. *** Across a crowded café, the man and the woman let go of each other’s gaze, their collective daydream ebbing away, its wake punctuated by sad, wan smiles. They each take a sip of now-tepid Arabica, more mindful about the bitter tinge of the drink, of everything, before receding back into the sterile comfort of their laptops. Once there, they cease trying to imagine, their faint, dying Maydays left unanswered and unanswerable, drowned out by an unrelenting torrent of mindless e-mails and Internet chatter.
Complicity Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m in traffic on a looping ribbon of highway elevated to shoulder-height for Columbus, OH. A hem of smog hovers over us. It lowers -- a hat over our metal roofs. The heat has started to fog and glaze us. Window open, arm out, I imagine a lake in winter. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a bowl of ice with the scratches of dark brown tree branches clawing the flat gray sky around it. I add them together. a = heat, cars, and combustion.
b = lattices of frozen water and wood in the cold air. Then
a + b = a gasoline fire plume, all sooty and orange in the middle of the frost and ice.
I roll forward and remember how much trouble the boy had breathing when he was a baby.
The Waves I wanted something good so I fell in love with a married man. He covered my feet with lake sand and bought me an orange soda so I could save the bottle. (I had to have something.) The snakes are in the pudding! My motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dementia spins truths now. Before this, Miller Lite would advise me to find someone with money and to keep my eyes down. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s good against the wall, his fingers around my neck. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s good to smooth his shirt, to straighten his collar, to reassure him that I know what this is. I know what this is, I say. I push my mother up and down the beach in her wheelchair and she pokes a dead baby doll in its soft stomach with a stick. The hurricane shoved all sorts of things up the mouth of the river. The waves hacked it up on the shore: cellophane, a lawn chair, fast food containers and melted bags, bits of toys, a couch cushion, the red plastic cups that they have at fun parties with those girls and their hair, buttons, regional chain grocery bags, broken flip-flops, a hammer, a dead raccoon with tiny pink hands, a plastic tea-cup
The waves pull and suck at the sand. You can’t even imagine. There’s stuff everywhere.
Conjuring Ghosts In a grey clench, I remember I saw a ghost once—at least that’s what I told them, them being the other girls at the sleepover, our hair knotted to our scalps with sparkling plastic bauble ties—the ghost was a child (of course it was), a little boy with an ashen face and purple U’s beneath his eyes, and probably a teddy bear hanging from his slack arm, one if its arms—the teddy bear’s—beginning to rip from its seam, hemorrhaging white stuffing; I told the girls I saw the little boy by a swing set in the park, on a moon-bright night, the metallic squeal of rusty chains swayed in the ghost-air, as he stood there looking at me—we’d already taken turns, the girls and I, closed doors, dark bathroom, spinning Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, and later, after each final ghostless spin, with wide-clear eyes, I told them what I’d seen on another night: there were real ghosts to impress them with, or at least try—I remember the girls’ pallid faces, barbeque potato chip crumbs hanging off their slack lips as I told them of my ghost boy, but also, tonight, I remember seeing that ghost once, the ghost of a little boy by a swing set, and as I stand here at a different park on this different night, as a woman and not as a girl, but as the same person, and beneath the same white eye of the moon but in a different skinny stage, I can still see him there, and see myself seeing him, and see myself telling the girls at the sleepover yes, ghosts exist, I was proof, but I look now at this empty swing set and the still chains and the yellow sunbleached slide that gives no static to no thighs tonight, and I wonder how I can remember what I can remember, and this memory with its memories may have breathed through its telling, breathed a moment, conjured a ghost still haunting; I wonder if I stitched this boy to my mind, like a third arm of a tattered teddy bear.
Getting On And one morning you awake, your head mislaid somewhere without its sensible shoes, and find that someoneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been sleeping in your bed, and spitting in your porridge, and living your life while you looked the other way. And the calendar has lied. Your face is peering backwards at you from an unfamiliar mirror, all processed with barcodes and tiny brown footprints left in the melting snow, going home across an alien landscape of cheeks, chin, overhanging brows. In your eyes you see only dust, gathered by the inch, its astonishing depth impossible to believe. Fingers splash in the overflowing basin below, coming up bone dry.
Darren C. Demaree
Replacing the Monument #58 There is no soft repair.
After the FBI Visits Red Ruth’s Neighbors, Mrs. Kressler Invites Her In For Tea 1953 She tells me that the agents asked her about meetings, and if cars came creeping in the dark. “I told them you work for Community Chest,” she says. She tips the kettle, her forearm lifting the number into my eyes. “I’m sorry they troubled you,” I say. “You trouble yourself,” she says. A mother had shouted at my ten year old that I should be shot. I don’t tell her that. “Your husband says what?” she says. “That we should move. But it would only follow us. There’s been too much in the papers.” She nods, wiping counters with a sponge. When the soldiers found her, bones at the fence, did their helmets fill with rain? Did the Jewish ones understand how Jewish they’d always be? I want to tell her there are no Jewish agents, but that’s because they don’t hire Jews. She hands me a plate of sugar cookies. “They were children, really. Their overcoats too thin for the cold. And polite. So many thank you’s.” I listen to the cookie crunch in my mouth. A brownish stain sleeps on the linoleum. A bar of sunlight clings to the wall. The agents will be back. I don’t tell her that.
Daniel W. Thompson
The Worst Thing That Could Happen He’ll be executed tonight and I don’t know what to think. I say so because I’m tired. It’s Cynthia. She doesn’t sleep. She gets up and checks the door locks every hour. I swear she does. And so I don’t sleep. I told her, it’s the worst thing that could happen, that family getting killed over on Grove Avenue. I told her more times than I can count. But it’s over. It’s not happening again. She doesn’t listen to me, though. She still grabs my arm whenever we pass a black man who isn’t wearing suit or uniform. I say, you got to stop that. There’s nothing wrong with that man. And even if it was, even if he was a thief or a crazy person, he don’t care anything about you. He’s just a man walking down the street. I’d bet my life on it. He’s not Randolph Malone. See, Cynthia came from up the road. She went to the town schools, not the country ones I went to, and then she went off to an all girls college. I stayed home, worked the farms with my cousins. I guess I’m supposed to hold the blame, that because of who she grew up around, she don’t know any better. But I’m telling you, she’s got to quit it. I can’t go on like this. Always checking door knobs or slipping her purse into her jacket or rolling up the car windows. Governor still hasn’t made a decision, she says while we watch the six o’clock news. He killed children, she says for the millionth time. Children, for God’s sake. Now, I don’t think there’s a person in Barton don’t think Randolph Malone should probably die for what he done but at the same time I don’t much favor killing a man for it. Who’s to say they get it right every time? Well, I say to Cynthia. One way or the other, Randolph Malone is never breathing free air again. She starts brushing her hair. When we met her hair was short. I liked it short. Now her hair’s so long she has to lay it between us when we sleep so it don’t tangle. At 12:01 am Randolph Malone is executed. A statement runs across the bottom of our television. Cynthia has been asleep since ten. Since they said the governor wasn’t stopping it. But I’m awake. I’m as awake as I’ve ever been.
I don’t know why but I want to cut Cynthia’s hair off. I look down at it flowing over our white sheets like a black canyon. Killing Randolph Malone isn’t going to change her. She’ll still be scared and that makes me tired in the chest. I get out of bed and walk downstairs. I open wide the front door where a cool, Fall air blows in and I go to turn off the house lights. When I return, a few brown leaves have blown in through the open door but I don’t pick them up. And I don’t close the door. I think, there’s nothing to be afraid of anymore. There never was.
Garrett de Temple
sadlove I heard you as an elevator waltz, bursting like an inseam— I wandered, picking my way past your fleshy debris, my own heart littered with pioneers I imagined your spine— I imagined us all as spines stretched as piano wire over a great basin tangled and scraping— tripwire sounding a bomb— but you were already in my ear, and a mistaken sound is still music.
Garrett de Temple
blown as chaff from the grinders eyes, slowly rattling like a cough along the interstate— too many stars this greendark night, too many fill the bright air of our western gallop, progress always up they never startle, snarled as pins through the wandering retina of the engine’s chucking whine— hearts like us dread constellations, patterns in the dark— enormous as all the blank windows of the afterglow cities, shining like bad teeth hollow, burst-rotten with blue light above my dull comet snarled to this shineblack creek, coaled— bone-snared fateless as a bleb of sleekglow from the speedometer— a counterfeit coin plunked down a well
Independence Day Party Dear Joanie After reading the note, she tears it up until there is nothing but thin strips of paper strewn inside her cupped hands. “Damn you!” Warm tears trickle from her glassy eyes, which she then squeezes shut. She damns him again, and then damns the sun, first for bursting through the bedroom window and then for being there in the first place. After all, no one deserves to go outside and play Frisbee at the park or enjoy the salty air at the beach today. It’s a day for wearing black and letting tears leave tiny trails in made-up faces. It’s a day for kneeling in front of dead bodies, pretending to pray for their acceptance into heaven, and then letting your friends and family fill themselves up with beer and wine and expensive steak dinners afterward. So there shouldn’t be sun. There should be blankets of gray clouds across the sky, pelting the mourners with a heavy rain. I just wanted to say I’m sorry After the argument, he stormed out of the kitchen. She just sat at the kitchen table, staring at the liquid incandescence mottling the half-eaten plate of Chinese take-out. At first, she heard nothing but winter rain tapping against the window, but then he stomped up the wooden stairs leading to the bedrooms. Once he reached the top, his footsteps disappeared. She pushed the plate of sweet and sour chicken and pork fried rice away because the smell was starting to make her sick, and she wiped the sweat from her palm with a thin paper napkin, which she balled up and placed against her lips. Then the clamor began. A slamming door rattled her body. The scrape of moving furniture traveled up her spine. “Such a man-child,” she thought. “So tired of his crap. He better get over it soon.” For all the pain I caused you But he never got over it. He remained in this room – the same one the sun is flooding now – for a couple of years, surrounded by his country music CDs, cop-show DVDs, and stacks of sports magazines. She imagined him sprawled against the bed, stained wife-beater clinging against his everexpanding beer belly, reading Sports Illustrated as it rested on his chest, getting up only when his wife left food outside his door. Even though he was
capable of getting his own, he rarely stepped outside of the guest room during that time. She cursed him but couldn’t tell anyone – not even her parents – what was going on. When friends came over, she would say he was sick or out with friends. She hated him for making her lie to everyone. Yet she couldn’t let him starve, so her ghost brought him lunch and dinner. I wish things between us were different When he was done, he would leave his dirty dishes and utensils outside, but most times, he also left a bag of laundry, too. Several times, she thought about burning his clothes. A nice bonfire in the backyard. On the Fourth of July, she and her friends sat on plastic chairs and drained bottles of wine while they took turns dousing the clothes in lighter fluid and watched the flames stretch its tongue into the midnight sky. But she never had her party. She wrote about it – her shrink told her if she couldn’t talk to him to write down her feelings – but she never celebrated Independence Day because she never had independence. You deserved so much more It echoed through the walls of the corridor and down the stairs. Her fingers splayed open, and the can of spray plunked against the side of the table before landing on the floor. She ran into the howling, nearly slipping on one of the steps. Holding the banister, she kept yelling his name, not so much to respond to his call but to convince herself that he needed her after all. He called her back. She nearly burst into tears when she heard her name. Then the crying stopped. His body lay on the floor, his nose crushing into the carpet fibers. After he was taken to the hospital, the doctor gave him the diagnosis. That was followed by many appointments, some with giant equipment that flaunted how small and insignificant they really were, and some with specialists, who spat out medical facts as if they were printed on confetti. And while she was organizing these facts, because he was in no condition to remember them, the antiseptic smell of the hospital corridors lingered on inside the office and the empty waiting room with worn-out chairs and a flat-screen TV that was always on. Than I was able to give you Between her caretaking, she would sit at her desk, gazing at the Independence Day fantasy that had occupied several sheets of pink notepaper. Now that she had drained the reverie from her pen, the warmth and glow of the fire and the joy of the excitement of the imaginary party had
faded away. Left with a series of blue curves and loops on the paper, she grabbed another sheet of paper and her pen and began a new work, something she created for herself. “Dear Joanie, I just wanted to say I’m sorry for all the pain I caused you. I wish things between us were different. You deserved so much more than I was able to give you. Love, Richard.”
Grey Matter My mind is a watermark left where two clenched fists pressed against a pane of cold glass sealed like a lid with latex, silence, and sterility against the mad sweat of me, boiling constantly in a dark room. It pours out through my eyes like a naked criminal through wild bars toward varicose legs and smalls of backs and cracks of assess peeking from beneath yellow-spotted hospital gowns tied tight as nooses at the neck; this is the ward. I am patient with this darkness pouring dense and massive through pools of pupils dilated a mile wide, over my stricken teeth, mouth painted into permanent pleas in the night for crayons and paper, for microwave burritos grey like the neocortical wrapping paper coloring the walls and the gravity toilet and the small dank shower smelling of bleach and piss as the beds do, as they used to do in childhood, when the worst threat was diapers and the world had yet to be simple as a ten by twenty foot corridor paced with restless bodies, as the hand heavy on your lips which tells you not to scream, as the sound of a far vehicle approaching which at last climbs up the drive, signals nothing, rattles all the windows in the middle of the night.
9/11…24/7 When you’re leaving the house, you grab your keys, wallet, and phone. Two assassins, slim, undersized, swarthy men, lurk in a doorway. You just walked by them and you didn’t even know you had walked by them. Pretty damn sad. Today they would kill me, if they could. And I’m not exaggerating. They want to kill because they have knives. A little blood satisfies a lot of anger. * It’s a place that has never gotten over its ferocious past. I was there for three months, and it’s the doorway to hell. The dog is a he, but the table is a she. They have no logic. You feel it inside your heart. Nobody told us why. It was like an Apple store when a new product comes out. Every man for himself. * Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space. It’s black, odd, and lacking. That’s why we’ve been warning for a while that what has happened could happen. You have a deadly mixture of things that will kill you eventually. So when you see a big thing in the sky, run. * Who are these people? I could hear them on the bullhorn but I couldn't really make out what they were saying. One has to be realistic. At any time somebody out there can snatch you away from everything for no reason. I just keep waiting on it. I want everything to end, all the ills we are suffering. The wind knows that I’m coming back home. It pulls that cold trigger again and again and again and again, and these beautiful little birds burn.
The Woman in the Elevator I had just visited with my sister, Elaine, and my stomach was making noises like an alien in a sci-fi picture shouting, “Feed me!” Fortunately, there was no one else in the elevator to eavesdrop. Suddenly, the sight and sound of a ding and the doors opening distracted me from the gastrointestinal concert going on below. In walked a fairly good imitation of Sherilyn Fenn in her “Rude Awakening” days. She managed an artificial smile and slid over to the opposite side of the elevator, almost as though she were trying to merge with the metal conveyance. She threw a few quick glances at me as we continued our descent toward the lobby. I managed a smile and then looked up at the roof as you do, but not before noticing she was wearing “hospital blues.” Her long, black hair was curly and shoulder length, brushed behind her tiny ears which sported little pierced earrings shaped like unicorns. Her eyes were cobalt blue in stark contrast to her porcelain skin. I became uneasy, aware of her staring at me now, at the lower portion of me, to be precise. “Do you work here?” she asked, innocently enough. “Me? No; I was just visiting a relative.” She nodded, looked up at the floor numbers in front of us and said, “I saw the key fob on your belt and just assumed.” “No, I was just visiting. I'm on my way to the lobby.” She looked directly at me now and her eyes seemed to drill right through me. “I'm going all the way down, to the basement.” She trained her eyes on my hip again. “Uh huh,” I stammered. My mouth was getting dry. Just as the last few floor numbers passed consecutively, she suddenly turned toward me. “Would you mind going down with me, to the basement?” Nothing came to mind by way of a rejoinder. This was beginning to feel like a “Lifetime” movie. As though reading my mind, she continued, “It's just that I was robbed a few months ago and I'm still a bit skittish about going to the parking garage alone. Would you mind terribly?”
My boy scout training rushed to my rescue. “Uh, no, not at all; it's only one extra floor.” Her breath escaped her lovely red lips with a mild “whoosh!” She turned away and smiled at the floor numbers as they continued to light up. Presently, the car came to a stop at the basement level. She was looking at me as the doors slowly opened. I motioned for her to take the lead and she hesitantly followed my suggestion. “I'm right over here,” she said as she made her way, a little more confidently now, toward a green Mini-cooper Countryman with a white top. “Nice ride” I said to her back. “Mmm, I like the way it handles, especially in the snow,” she mumbled as she dug around in her purse. Suddenly, the beep of the opener was joined by the sound of footsteps traveling quickly in our direction. I spun toward the uninvited sound just in time to intercept a tire iron aimed directly at my head. She screamed as I grabbed the assailant's right wrist, circled it down and dug the knife edge of my left hand deep into his tricep, forcing him down, face-first, to the cement garage floor. “Are you all right?” she shouted at me. She was standing a safe distance from her car. Stupidly, I looked up at her just long enough for the man to drag his arm from beneath my grasp. I've never seen anyone run so fast. He was across the garage and up the stairs before I even stood erect. Now, I simply stood there, my hands on my hips, an embarrassed excuse for an ex-police detective turned private investigator. “Are you all right?” I asked as she rushed toward me, pressing her head against my chest, the rest of her body following suit against mine. Slowly, she looked up, a tear tumbling over one lid. “I don't have words; I just don't.” I looked down into those unusual blue eyes that seemed to have incalculable depths. “I'm just happy I was here to help.” “The universe must have sent you,” she replied with a timid smile. “Must have done,” I said. # It was a couple of days later that a phone call from Paulsen at the ninth precinct roused me from a deep sleep. “Howie?” “I reckon, although I don't suggest you place any bets on it.”
“Look, I'll make this quick. I just thought this one might interest you.” The fog was clearing now and I sat up against the headboard. “Shoot.” “We just caught one: a suspicious hospital death. When I heard the name, I thought it just might somehow connect with you.” “And,” I said, beginning to feel slightly panicky. “Elaine, wife of steel magnate, Jonathan Watkins. Her maiden name was...” “Millar,” I interrupted. A shock of adrenaline shot through my system. “My sister,” I said. “I'm so sorry. But here's the thing. She bought herself a million dollar insurance policy naming him as beneficiary of course.” “So?” I mumbled. “She changed that a few months ago to someone else.” “Another man?” “Uh, uh; another woman, name of Kilpatrick. The dicey thing is, the last person to see Elaine was a nurse that no one on her floor or anyone in the hospital seems to have ever seen before. Dark hair, blue eyes: a real looker according to them. Whataya think? Wanna have a look-see?” “I'll have to get back to you,” I said as I broke the connection. I sat there in the morning darkness, wondering who the woman's “partner” was, and if he minded being roughed up by me, instead of canceling my ticket. My guess was that a few minor bumps and bruises were a bargain at a half a million bucks.
About After the Pause is an online literary journal based in Indianapolis, IN, featuring poetry, flash fiction, and artwork, published quarterly. We also publish a yearly print anthology whose proceeds go to charity. We look to feature the best creative arts from new, emerging, and veteran creators. We also run a small, nonprofit press called a…p press, which publishes titles of experimental poetry and fiction. Find us here: afterthepause.com or @afterthepause The managing/founding editor of After the Pause and its entire doings is Michael Prihoda.
Purpose We believe art is a product of life experiences, from the joyful to the heartbreaking to the absolutely mundane. Life throws pauses at us. Art follows the pause. We want to share the best art we can find and bring hope through those artworks.
Cover Art “A Kiss Drifting in Silk” by Bill Wolak
Departure Until next time.
Copyright 2017 All rights of the material within belong to the authors.