Staff Fiction Editors Jordan D. Sousa Lacey McKee Amy Worob
John Cartwright Kristen Ritterbrush Colin McNerny
Poetry Editors James D. Ardis Max Gutierrez Whitney Ginn
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Messages from the Chief Editors James D. “Jimmy” Ardis Chief Editor of Poetry Last semester, I got a poem published in a magazine I’ d been sending submissions to for over a year. I was elated, of course and did everything short of throwing a parade in my own honor to make sure everyone knew. I posted a link to the online copy on Facebook, and the same supportive group of friends that always comments on those types of posts commented on this. The next day, somebody told me their friend didn’t understand my poem. She wanted me to explain it to them. I asked her why she didn’t explain it to them herself, at which point she broke down and admitted that she didn’t have the slightest clue what the poem was about. After years of reading and writing I had finally created something that, sadly, blends in quite well with the current institution-based state of modern poetry. I’d begun writing inside jokes for the couple hundred people who have read the five different books necessary to understand it. We young poets are all imitating someone. Some of us our young Eliots or Pounds and compare the figure of a woman to the intricate first letter of an illuminated manuscript. Some of us our young Dadaists and feel the urge to grab a reader’s attention through shock phrases. While it’s absolutely vital to understand other poets before developing our own poetic voice, sometimes I feel that we, in particular young, burgeoning poets, use overly obscure allusions or shock words in order to mask the fact that our poem has no meaning. The voice of a magazine is never fully developed in its first issue. However, I feel that this first group of poets is a prime example of where I want this magazine to go. The following is good advice if you plan on submitting to this magazine, or really, if you write poetry with the intent of having it seen by other people. In poetry, don’t talk above me. Don’t talk below me. Talk to me. Break my heart.
John W. “Jesus” Cartwright Chief Editor of Prose There’s this great band I listen to called Counting Crows. You might know them for their smash hit “Mr. Jones” or for their pop abomination called “Accidentally in Love”. I’ve spent the last few months scouring the world for rare and unsold Counting Crows songs. I’ve got to say it’s the best music I’ve ever heard and the world has never heard. Adam Duritz, the frontman and lyricist, is nothing short of a lyric god. Years from now, poets and writers and songwriters are going to be invoking him as a Muse instead of that stuffy Greek chick. He writes from the inside and doesn’t really care what the music world wants him to write (except for the songs he writes for soundtracks, most of which are still great). I think you people should take that attitude. Reader and writer, you should write about what you care about. Don’t follow every bit of advice to the letter. Absorb them and metabolize them and then use them how you wish. There’s a lot of advice from writing teachers that can be destructive. “Show, don’t tell” is overhashed and misused. Psychosexual character dramas (those oh-so-pervasive short stories that you find spewed upon the faces of every creative writing class ever) can be good, but they can also be very, very bad. Plot is important but your characters can get lost in them. So take all the advice you get in moderation, like candy. Eat too much and you’ll get sick and puke it all out into a jumbled mess, but eat just enough and you’ll get a brain rush that’ll give you the energy to write more. And if you want to, check out Counting Crows for some inspiration. Hearing that silver syrup flow from your speakers can only do you good. Congratulations to everyone who got published in our magazine - I hope to see you in here someday too.
Authorial Gibbering Adam Clay is the author of The Wash. His second book, A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions. He co-edits Typo Magazine, curates the Poets in Print Reading Series at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, and teaches at Western Michigan University.
I was able to rent out a copy of your MFA thesis from the library and I know that your debut book of poetry “The Wash” was based mostly on the poems included in your thesis. How do you feel you've grown as a writer since this first collection of poems?
I think my work has changed in a lot of ways, but one of the major shifts I’ve noticed is that my work has become much more narrative. I grew up in Mississippi and wrote narrative poems, mostly. After moving to Arkansas, I wanted to shift a bit away from this approach—my poems used other voices (John Clare and Roethke, to name a few), but when I moved to Michigan, I decided to return back to my own voice and write about what I saw on a daily basis. I really feel that changing approaches is key—it helps me stay interested in what I’m writing. Right now I’m working on a book-length poem, something I thought I’d never do. Is there anything in your first book of poetry ?the Wash? that you would want to go back and change? And if so what would it be? Absolutely. But I think that’s entirely normal. When I read from the book now I change words or cut out lines.
I don’t ever see the poems as being done, per se. I think they’re constantly changing, depending on where I’m at when I’m reading the poems and how I feel about lines or images.
I noticed in your thesis you became interested in breaking the standard form of a stanza and employing an almost Marianne Moore-esque system of breaking the lines up to match the flow of the poem. Is this a technique you still use and if so, how do you decide when to employ it and when not to? I use it some, but again I really prefer to vary my approaches up. My forthcoming collection has a very long, almost prose-like, sense of line. For The Wash I really wanted a more lyrical approach and that particular style of line seemed to work best in terms of communicating that lyrical sense. I firmly believe content and form should be inseparable, something I learned when I studied Philip Larkin with Jim Whitehead.
In the poem “Tautology of trash”, you use lines so long that the poem as a whole blurs the line between stanza of poetry and paragraph of fiction reminiscent of fellow Arkansan poet C D Wright's work of poetry/ prose “Cooling Time”. Are you of the school of thought that poetry is at its core cut off lines of prose? Absolutely not. I’ve tinkered with prose poems some here or there, but I’m never very pleased with them in the end. I liked having them in The Wash to have a bit of relief from the other poems, but I don’t know if I’ll ever have any prose poems in a collection again. It’s not that I don’t think the form is legitimate; I just feel that the line break—and the line itself—is one of the most important poetic tools. James Tate talks about how a prose poem is a nice way of fooling the reader into reading a poem. Somehow a paragraph doesn’t feel as threatening. I am really interested, though, in how the content of a prose poem can often be wildly varied from lineated poems. They seem to lend themselves to a certain type of experimentation that suits the form.
You leave the majority of your poems without a specific title and instead use the first line of the poem as the
header. How do you decide which poems to title and which ones not to title? The first two poems without titles are in the voice of John James Audbon, using lines from his journals. I didn’t see them so much as needing titles; I preferred that they stand on their own as brief journal entries. Something I’ve always thought a lot about is how a poem is really another line of a poem—I try to use the title in a way that does something new or provides an additional insight into the work. I can’t say I always succeed, but I think more and more about the role of titles in poems and how a title can really impact a reader’s experience of what follows.
You begin your MFA thesis with a quote from the Bible and use God as a constant motif in poems such as ? Prayer for Winter Solstice? and ?His Ashes Converge?. Do you believe spirituality is important to your poetry? And if so, in what way? I did consider spirituality important in “The Wash”. I grew up in the South and spent a lot of time in the church. A lot of the poems really felt like opportunities for meditation or prayer. My new work has moved away from this, but the notion of poems as prayers was something I thought a lot about.
For many people being published in the U of A literary magazine will be their first publication credit. Where was the first place you were every published and how did it feel? “Caught No Fish Last Night” from The Wash was one of the first poems picked up from the manuscript. Black Warrior Review expressed interest in it. I can remember feeling validated in a lot of ways, though looking back I don’t think it was that important. Sure, having some poems picked up helps towards publication of the manuscript, but having edited TYPO Magazine and working as an editor at Third Coast, I’ve learned that so much of publication is arbitrary. Matt Henriksen and I sometimes find great poems, but occasionally they don’t work with the issue of TYPO we’re piecing together. I haven’t had many of new poems picked up lately, either. It’s all a matter of timing, but it’ s probably more about luck than that.
How do you go about setting up a book of poetry? Do you put the best poems in the front, the back, or do you take the Heffernan approach of putting the best in the middle to give your book a rising action, falling action feel? That’s a great question. I can recall a class at Arkansas with Davis where interviewed writers about their first books. Quan Barry’s approach to organization as what struck me the most. She alphabetized her poems by title. I like the randomness of that. I tried a similar approach by grouping the poems into categories (the first two sections had poems with birds in them and the other didn’t). Then I alphabetized them by the last word of the poems. The random association gave me a great starting off point. I could tell if a poem didn’t work well up against another one or if it didn’t feel like a poem that needed to be in the opening section. I liked being initially detached from the process. Obviously I didn’t keep that order, but it was a nice starting point.
What techniques did your thesis director, Davis McCombs, teach you that you still use today? Something I always liked about Davis’ class was how he would provide specific assignments. I can remember him asking the class to write a verb-less poem. Before that point, I always thought of writing as this type of thing that one had to wait for inspiration to write a poem. Looking back, that seemed really naïve. Starting back in April, I wrote a poem a day through the end of June. And now I’m writing a page a day through July and August of a longer poem. I think we have to give ourselves exercise to force our way out of a rut. That’s something I was always struck by when we went on WITS trips. I was able to get a few new poems out of the exercises we had the students do. There’s something about writing everyday that really does help one set the table for the muse, as Denise Levertov says. That was by far my favorite part of the MFA program: learning to write every day—or at least as often as possible. It’s something I try to encourage my students to do. Heffernan talks about how the best revision of a poem is often the next poem. The more I write, the more true I think it is.
Megan Blankenship We Are Old Children I love the rise and walk of morning when the dove spies the sun, the cow spies the bucket and comes running to be milked. Dew about our ankles, knotty pumpkins hide in the last cut of hay, grasshoppers eat whatâ€™s left. We pilfer brown eggs from the bases of fenceposts, from the asparagus bed grown to a silvery forest. The fox took another goose last night. The pigs loose again, we coax them in with a bucket of potato peels and cornmeal. Up the hill, the cemetery aches with conversation of whose apples are ripe, when the snows will come and how many. The well is deep. Compassion is stone-ground, baked into biscuits.
Samâ€™s Work Hat Stiff with three thousand days of sweat, I know this brow, cut deep by sun and toil. He wears his honor on his head, righteous in rows of red dust and sunburned stalks, staring at the ass-end of a mule. I am worn out from defending so much. Dusk Iâ€™m hung on a rough hickory peg by the screen door, waiting for daybreak while he cleans his rifle, loves his woman, and talks, sometimes, to his god.
Andrew Childress Sequence #1 I. that this romance just seems so flimsy like a skirt made out of transparent plastic like a cheap chinese umbrella on a lake in a storm like pixie sticks in a baby's hands wet and sticky, upside down the colored sand is leaking out
like this ribbon on our shoes, another whimsy another one of those contracts we're gonna have to retract function, biology, the resurrection and death of form my thighs are giving out, watch what they demand some day soon I'm gonna hump this town come into the dark and leave you out
like a cheap chinese umbrella on a lake in a storm another one of those contracts we're gonna have to retract
that this romance just seems so flimsy come into the dark and leave you out like a skirt made out of transparent plastic like this ribbon on our shoes, another whimsy
like pixie sticks in a baby's hands function, biology, the resurrection and death of form wet and sticky, upside down my thighs are giving out, watch what they demand
II. that this romance just seems so flimsy like this ribbon on our shoes, another whimsy like a skirt made out of transparent plastic another one of those contracts we're gonna have to retract like a cheap chinese umbrella on a lake in a storm function, biology, the resurrection and death of form like pixie sticks in a baby's hands my thighs are giving out, watch what they demand wet and sticky, upside down some day soon I'm gonna hump this town the colored sand is leaking out come into the dark and leave you out
the colored sand is leaking out some day soon I'm gonna hump this town IV. that this romance just seems so flimsy like a skirt made out of transparent plastic like this ribbon on our shoes, another whimsy another one of those contracts we're gonna have to retract like a cheap chinese umbrella on a lake in a storm like pixie sticks in a baby's hands function, biology, the resurrection and death of form my thighs are giving out, watch what they demand wet and sticky, upside down the colored sand is leaking out some day soon I'm gonna hump this town come into the dark and leave you out
Kris Mastin The Night Went On The world spins and slows like I give a damn, the rest moves about, forgotten. The sky outlasts everything that dies to live on in want of sparkling eyes, like the rest of us. And the nights just go on, bleeding life into meaningless, unconnected scenes. *** The night went on selling me. I watch her dance and drift from arm to arm as a man passes in under-things... Decide a drink to endless misery is in order: She changes to mist in a soft black light, (oh romantic to romance at left, at right). I slip, further, out toward the moon, as I lose my humanity in the crust of a room. The night went on. I had had the song. I was off in New Zealand shooting WWII: A first rate production, a tragedy: A swirl of ungodly emotion in the wail of a crowd. Now it’s back to wine and moments incessantly ruined with words, blurry screen wipes and dream sequences— —to the true, fiendish state of things. Everything begs to be remembered frozen on a turning screen: She’s immortally a pair of tits, another
washes his hair. But I’m not watching me, small in the stars, I’m looking on apace as they swallow city cars: The hunter Orion there, who’ll trace the Great Bear, no more than white dust in that sky somewhere. The night went on. I saw scores of meaning in absent dialogues. I saw a light drizzle make a scene in the rain, as lovers draw mist through colors and frames. Really it is like poems when they move— through dull crowds or out cold rooms— past bright lights, into the full moon, into an endless night or a spiraling stair, into the fading shapes of a cloud somewhere. The night went on. Now I’m shooting a summer blockbuster with PG tits and lies about romance. The stage stinks of cologne and perfume, but drifts away, poetically, as you wander the roads, through light wind the soft sky throws, following street-stars with wands of golden hair, as they click off in puddles when your feet get there. ***
Is there no more wine? Look, here come more cougars and wolves licking wits! (The night moves on while I get drowned, too heavy in the sauce, if not sentimental). The last time I was here, I woke feeling like a dirty, used whore from Singapore. My thatâ€™s a thought for a swig down me scotch! Everything must go in its traveling clothes, But... There is the world, in sink and lift, though I feel none of it. I see, like a man gone wry, where the sky goes miss, as it circles again and again all this.
S H O R T F I C T I O N
Jacob Mosier A Short Walk Down a City Street He twisted the key in the lock and pulled the door handle until he heard the click of the bolt sliding in to place. Slowly, he turned toward the street, and looked out from under the faded red awning into the pouring rain. It wasnâ€™t a hard rain, but it was steady, a leaky faucet, constantly dripping but never flowing, just enough to wet the cityâ€™s streets but never enough to make them clean. Already he was running late, but he hesitated a moment longer, reluctant to go and meet the woman he loved. She was waiting for him, in the cafĂŠ where they always met down the street, eager and no doubt near to bursting with questions about his day and stories about hers, her blue-green eyes so full of life and love. He could not bring himself to face such loving adoration. A faded chip of black paint fell softly and settled into the mud and moss as he brushed his hand across the top of the rail bordering the concrete steps. Setting his foot onto the first step with a deliberate reluctance, he realized he would need to paint that rail again before too long. He stepped into the falling rain and pulled the low brim of his hat over his eyes, the droplets of water spilling off and running down
his coat until they fell to the ground below, adding to the puddles already covering the sidewalk. What would she say if she really knew him, knew what he was on the inside, knew his true character as well as he himself did. If she saw the weak, faltering man unable to resist even the slightest temptations. With a final sigh, he turned his bent head and, feet dragging through muddy flyers and sodden wrappers, began the short walk down the city street. A passing car splashed brown water and greasy magazine pages as he trudged along, head down, eyes distant. During the summer months the street was clogged with the odors of a living city, the smells of vendors and garbage drifting strenuously through the air in those few moments when the wind was blowing, settling down and seeping into every doorstep and alleyway when the still air was heavy with summer heat. But during the winter, when the cold rains fell and soaked the stains of summer, the street smelled of nothing but rain and mud. Up above, the warm light of a kitchen window illuminated the silhouette of a wife greeting her husband, highlighting their gentle kiss as she asked him about his day. Down on the street where he walked, he passed the corner where women of less luck and looser morals stood every night and waited for desperate men ready to sell their souls for a bastard love.
At the next street he turned, passing by the women’s clothing store without a second look. He had learned to never let his eyes wander, to keep them always on a more pure path. Anything less would be nothing short of treachery. He didn’t even spare a glance for the pictures in the window, the tapestries bearing lithe models dressed in the latest laces and gowns, their beautifully smooth airbrushed skin softly retouched to perfection. Years of patient self discipline and love had made him accustomed to ignoring their longing eyes and beckoningly Hellenic figures Ahead, he saw the café where she waited, her wavy brown hair swooping down and crossing her brow, half covering her eye, the way he always remembered it doing. Maybe she was stirring her coffee, or maybe she had decided to wait for him to order, fending off the eager waitress, promising “Oh, he’ll be here soon enough. He’s never late.” But he was always late. He stepped off the curb and into the street, putting on his best smile so she wouldn’t see the pouring rain behind his eyes. She never did. In him she never saw anything but sun and warmth and love and strength. He was the light that gave her life, her Apollo and her Venus, her protector and her lover. But he knew it was a sham, knew he was no more worthy of her love than were any of the other lowlifes and bums in this city. True, he had never been with another woman, never acted on those passions which
had brought other men to their knees. But it was the thought that counted. Even with a lifetime of diligence, no man ever escaped that hubris fully; no man ever completely freed himself of that killing weakness. His boots sloshed through a dirty puddle as he stepped from the street to the sidewalk in front of the little café where she sat, waiting for him. Inside he could see the elderly couple at their booth by the window, sitting as they had for years, watching the time go by in blissful togetherness. He wondered what secret self doubts they shared, what hidden misgivings and worries they felt but never spoke. At the counter was the weeknight crowd of steelworkers and accountants, truck drivers and attorneys, some stopping for a quick cup of coffee before going home to a warm dinner and loving wife. The less fortunate stopping here, as they did every evening, to waste away the time in a clean and well lighted place before going home to empty beds and broken dreams. The bell rang with a homely sound as he opened the door and slipped through, trapping the cold and rain outside. Inside, the cafe was warm and filled with loving smells of home and comfort. From Their Table near the corner window, he saw the flash of her smile, its radiance making him forget the cold and wetness clinging to him and soaking to his soul, shedding his burdens and his pain in an instant. Without even taking off his coat, he hurried to her.
Jacob Mosier “I was worried something had happened, this
weather is just so awful.” “Sorry dear, I was just a little slow on the walk over.” “Here, take your coat off, it’s drenched. I can’t have you freezing to death on me! Oh waitress, we’re ready now.”
Zachary Henderson Rabbit Trails The snowfall the night before was heavy. In the woods beside the red river floodway just outside of the city, you could measure all sorts of things about the snow, so long as you knew how. On days like today, the skeletal white poplar trees seemed almost to have retreated partway into the ground. You could tell just how deep the snow was by comparing the closeness of birds’ nests to the shimmering white beneath their barkstripped precipice platforms. Today was a day for snowshoes. The boy loved walking in them – loved the feel of the snow as it grudgingly accepted his weight, dispersed across a web of bowed wood and treated sinew. His mother had bought them for his father a few years ago during a school fieldtrip to a tourist-centric Indian reservation; they were about ten years too big for him then, and at eight years old, he still had to walk like a cowboy, knees bent and legs spread wide so as to keep his steps from overlapping and sending him face-first into the snow. He carried a walking stick that his father had helped him carve and stain. The snow shoes kept him from using it to any effect, and so it rested easily in his hands like a hunting rifle while he walked. He tried to remember where the first one was; it was always the most difficult for him to find. He knew that as soon as he found it, he
would know automatically which direction to go in order to find all of the others. At the beginning of November, once the first permanent snowfall had guaranteed the winter’s colors for the next seven months, his father had taken him out to show him how to set rabbit snares. “The freshest tracks are always best, son – that means the rabbits are still using that trail.” The boy marveled at the idea that just like people, rabbits choose to take the same paths to get from place to place. He would imagine small families of rabbits following one another through the woods on a well-beaten trail, or rubbing their ears with their paws in a silent greeting as they passed one another on their way through the forest. His father bent down, pointing out the everstrange indentation of a rabbit’s gait in the powdery snow. “You can tell this is a fresh trail, because even though it snowed so much night, the tracks are still deep.” The boy wasn’t so much listening to what his father was saying as he was listening to his voice. His father’s voice was deep and calm. When he spoke outside in the quietness and crispness of the morning, you could almost feel his vocal chords rubbing together, as though an ancient king bee was buzzing in his throat. “The first thing you want to do is find a place where the trail passes by a tree; that’s where you’ll tie your snare.” His father reached into one of his front coat pockets and withdrew a spool of thin, gold
wire. He unraveled a length of it, and then twisted it in a particular way so that it broke cleanly. His father fashioned a loop, and showed him the proper way to tie the slipknot with the wire so that it would slide freely but remain tight; he watched as his son secured the wire to the tree. Afterward, his father told him to go find four small forked sticks. The boy found them quickly, and brought them to his father, who hadn’t moved from the place where he stood beside the rabbit trail. The big man took the sticks and bent over at the waist, leaning them against one another over the trail so that any passing rabbit would have to walk underneath them. They reminded the boy of croquet loops; he thought that it would be fun to play croquet with sticks like this instead of wires, and how challenging it would be to hit the balls through them without knocking them over. He watched as his father carefully set the wire to rest on top of the sticks, with the loop hanging perfectly in the archway. The boy finally found the “X” his father had scratched into the tree with his knife that day in November to indicate the location of the first snare. It was empty; so far, they had been empty each day. Every morning he would wake up early and eat a bowl of cereal as fast as he could. By the time he saw the first hints of the sun over the tree line behind the house, he would already have his snowsuit on, the hand-knit tuke his mother had made for him over the summer pulled down just below his ears. As he went out the back door each morning to check his snares before the school bus came
out to their country home, he would think about how amazing it would be to actually catch a rabbit. He thought about how proud his mother would be when he brought dinner home – how delicious his catch would be in a stew with carrots and potatoes and onions. He thought about how his father had promised to teach him how to tan the hide; he had told him to think about what he wanted to try to make when he had enough rabbit pelts. The boy had decided on a pair of mittens. The second trap was also empty, as was the third. His heart raced as he came upon each snare; he remembers this feeling from beneath his bed sheets on past Christmas eves. The fourth snare was near the edge of the woods close to his house on the opposite side of the forest from the first. The sun was fully above the trees now, and made the fresh snow glisten like diamonds in the branches above him and on the forest floor all around him. As he came across the last trap, he was thinking about warm mittens; after thirty minutes outdoors, his fingers always started to tingle inside his Made in China gloves. He looked down at the wooden croquet arch over the rabbit trail to make certain the loop was still in place; it wasn’t. The sticks were strewn about, and in the middle of the rabbit trail was a swirl in the snow, as if some small animal had made a snow angel, and then in embarrassment had smeared it away. The boy’s heart raced. His eyes tracked toward the tree where the snare line was secured. Years later, he would wonder what he
actually expected. Anything, he supposed, but the lifeless form of the rabbit hanging as from a gallows, its body contorted from multiple spasms, its neck broken from the struggle. It must have moved around and around the tree in its death dance, winding the wire about the trunk so that when its life finally fled, the golden snare held it up against the tree. Its neck glinted red where the line had cut into its skin; pink icicles clung to its fur like ruby raindrops. The boy fell backwards, more tripping than sitting because of the long wooden backs of his snow shoes. He stared at the rabbit for a long time. He tried to imagine the rabbit’s last thoughts as it struggled; all he could come up with was fear and pain. He wondered if it was a he or a she; he knew how to check, but he was afraid to find out – afraid to worry about bunnies starving and freezing a hundred feet away in a burrow he had no chance of finding. His fingers were warm once again inside his gloves; he could feel his heartbeat in his fingertips as the adrenaline began to disappear. After a while the boy stood up, still shaking. He looked upward at the sun; he had missed the bus, but he couldn’t care today. He took out his pocketknife-pliers combination that his father had given to him; it was old and rusty, but the pliers still worked and the main blade was still sharp. He worked the pliers on the wire attached to the tree until it twanged and separated. He tried to use the wire cutter part of the pliers to release the slipknot from the rabbit’s neck, but there was no slack to work with;
the wire collar was now as much a part of the rabbit as its fur. The boy leaned his walking stick against the tree marked with the “X” that he had carved as his father had shown him; he cradled the rabbit in his arms, and walked slowly home. As he approached, he could see his mother in the kitchen window. He wasn’t prepared for her to find out about the bus just yet; he would welcome her punishment soon – be grateful for it even – but for now he had more important business to take care of. Carefully, he set the body down on the stack of wood next to the tool shed and bent over to clear the new snowfall from the front of the doorway so that he could work it open enough to slip inside. He found the shovel that was small enough for him to use leaning against the right wall. He closed the door, hoping that no discovery of his snowshoe tracks would interfere with the work he had to do. Gingerly, he lifted the body from the wood pile and with shovel over shoulder, once again walked in the direction of the first snare. He disarmed the trap and wound the wire into a ball which he shoved into his coat; he had taken his tuke off of his head and placed the body inside of it, letting the rabbit rest on the soft snow while he worked. His ears were freezing, but it had seemed the proper thing to do. He did the same with the second and third traps, and then went to a clearing nearby that he and his father had camped in the summer before. The shovel cleared the snow away easily, but the frozen ground beneath it
Zachary Henderson seemed harder than the spade head. The twelve-inch-deep hole had taken him hours; he couldn’t feel his ears, but the rest of his body was hot with sweat and effort. He placed the body in the cotton hat in the center of the grave. He sat down, and tried to recall a prayer; he couldn’t think, but he remembered his father’s strong baritone, and could almost feel his vocal chords rubbing together in his mind. The boy cleared his unsteady yet unbroken voice, and tried to remember the words his father would speak tonight over dinner as he did every evening: “Give us grateful hearts, O Father, for all thy mercies, and make us mindful of the needs of others; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Bently J. Fisher As the Crow Flies Every night before Benji lays down, he records the difference in good things and bad things he has done for the day and logs the number in the journal kept underneath his mattress. Things like cursing, hurtful words, burglary, and violence earn negative points. Things like honesty, caring, and kindness earn positive points. A mental note of pluses and minuses is made throughout the day. If the disparity of total bad things is greater than five, then the next morning, he runs a mile for each point over the allowed five point spread. The runs are good occupational exercise and they help to calm him. Benji makes his living by stealing. The work suits him. He makes his own hours, he is his own boss, and he determines his own salary. Though he is a criminal, his crimes are done with conscience. Truthfully, he is only partly fraudulenthe has a code. His parents taught him to find redemption through the church, but there he only found Sunday morning professions and deathbed confessions. He now finds absolution through strained calves and a tight chest. On this morning, he is scheduled to run three miles. “Get away from my window you stupid fucking bird!” was how Benji’s morning began. Minus. In fact, as of late, most all of his mornings began like that. He’d set his alarm for 8am, but he would be awakened at
sunrise because of the crow. Not only did the crow interfere with his sleep, he stole things as well. Benji was missing a red pair of boxers and a black pair of briefs that he had hung outside on the line to dry. The crow had also taken a white headband, a nearly new roll of duct tape, an old gold-plated necklace, and at least a few dollar bills. If he were to leave something on the hood of his car or porch, or drop something on the way inside his rickety house, the crow would swoop down and swipe it up. That crow was an excellent thief. Perhaps it was this common trait that made them hate each other. After the crow woke him that morning, Benji decided he would kill the crow. Minus. The bird presented a challenge to his otherwise uneventful day, so he set out to follow the crow. The crow had flown off for a while after he yelled at him, but the bird returned as Benji made himself a breakfast high in fiber to get his day moving. He looked out the bedroom window and noticed the crow jumping around on his car, pecking and pulling off chips of paint. Benji put on a pair of mesh shorts and a t-shirt, slipped on his old running shoes, and snuck out the front door. The driveway sat on the south side of the rental and his front door faced east, so, he had a long wall to hide behind as he crept closer to the crow. He carefully planned each of his steps and avoided any small pebbles or shards of
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glass that may make a noise. At the corner of the building he knelt down low and slowly turned his head past the corner bricks to see the damned bird just staring straight at him. Benji stood up—the crow didn’t move. He took a few steps forward and the crow fluttered his wings a bit, threatening flight, so Benji paused and looked at him. The crow stared at him with his black eyes and hopped. Benji stared back until the bird’s eyes melted into his ugly, black face. If they had been cowboys, they would have been ready to draw. Benji could almost see the crow hiding a six shooter beneath his right wing. He envisioned himself pulling first on the bird, blasting him square in his black chest, watching dark feathers explode into the air. But they weren’t cowboys, and just as Benji got ready to make his move, the crow drew and squawked, “faggot!” and flew away. Benji chased him down 3rd Street and across Magnolia and Orchard Rd. He lost the bird behind an old plastic plant and decided to turn back. The early morning sun crept over the rolling hills and the cool breeze brought a chill to his perspiring skin. He had three miles to run today and he figured he might as well get it over with. The run felt good, really good, so Benji continued on to the square. As he came to the corner of the donut shop he crashed into a lady in a wheelchair. Because of the unexpected impact, his body was thrown into the air and he wasn’t able to brace himself for contact with the salty pavement. His elbows and knees made a sort of absent thud, followed by the scratching sound of his skin
erasing itself in layers. Before he could get up from the ground, the middle aged, handicapped woman yelled, “Watch it!” Benji jumped up and shouted, “Why don’t you watch where you’re walk” but he stopped when he noticed that she was bound to a chair. This revelation led to Benji’s own momentary paralysis as he looked at one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen, at least in the face, stuck in a motorized chair. He was mesmerized by her large green eyes, silky brown hair, and luscious red lips. She looked just like one of those pinup pulp cartoon broads from the forties. The woman began to laugh. “What’s so funny?” Benji asked. “The look on your face. Nothing,” the woman tried unsuccessfully to suppress her giggling, “it doesn’t matter.” Benji stared blankly at her. She finally stopped laughing, sighed, and wiped her brow. He was glad that she wasn’t angry at him but he couldn‘t understand her reaction. “I’m really sorry,” he said as he continued staring at her. “You act like you’ve never seen someone in a wheelchair before.” “I didn’t see you.” “Not many people do; at least they pretend not to. Why are you out punishing yourself this early in the morning anyhow?” Benji looked out into the empty street, pinching his lip and shrugging as he replied, “It’s what I do.” He smiled and looked back at the woman, “I was out chasing something.” “You alright? You’re skinned up pretty bad.”
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“I’m okay. Are you?” “Boy, I’m a tough old broad.” The woman paused and looked down at his bleeding knees and up at his bleeding arms. “Why don’t you walk with me back to my house?” Benji waited for her to begin laughing again, but she didn’t. “I’ll get you some bandages. I’m Andrea.” Something about the old woman put him at ease. “I’m Benji.” On the way to her home, Andrea rolled along the sidewalk while Benji walked beside her in the grass. He had an urge to grab the handles of her chair and push her, but he took her for a fiercely independent woman, and he wanted to stay on her good side. “What is it that you do Benji?” “I’m in acquisitions.” Minus. “Oh. I used to be a nurse. I retired early though and moved here.” “To be closer to family?” “To die.” She started laughing and then said that she actually moved to be farther away from family, and then she laughed some more. As the two neared Andrea’s home, a little boy came down the sidewalk in front of them. Instead of wearing his backpack on his shoulders, he was dragging it along the pavement. Benji saw him and smiled. “Hey honey, you headed to school?” Andrea asked. The boy shook his head up and down in reply. He never looked at Andrea, just kept his head cocked over his right shoulder and stared at the ground. “You sure are cute in your little
cap,” she said. Andrea lurched forward in her chair and reached out to brush the boy’s cheek. He jerked his head away and continued walking to school. “He’s my neighbor’s kid.” “Seems a little strange.” “It’s sad. He’s slow. I think he has Down’s.” Benji didn’t recognize it at first, but the boy did have a really round face and unusually small chin. “Well, this is me,” Andrea said as she wheeled up the porch ramp of her house. “Listen, I need some help moving the rest of my things around in the house. I’ll pay you if you’re interested. It could be at night, so it doesn’t interfere with your work.” He was interested in her so he accepted. “I’m actually on vacation this week. I can help.” “Alright, on two conditions: you show up when you’re supposed to and you never ask how I ended up in this chair.” Benji nodded his head and waved at her. “Be here tomorrow around nine. Have a good day and enjoy your run,” she said. “You too,” he said. Minus. When Benji returned home, he found paper stuck in the frame of his front door. It was a past due rent notice. He had been trying not to work too much lately, and he would have went to work that night if he didn’t have the money for helping Andrea to count on. He crumbled up the paper and threw it out into the side yard. As soon as the paper landed in the grass, the crow swooped down and picked it up. The bird landed on the neighbor’s roof and pecked and chewed the notice into shreds.
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The next morning began more naturally. The crow did not wake Benji. Benji had a good time helping Andrea that day. He thought it was strange that she didn’t want any pictures hung in her home. She only allowed one picture, a photo of her with legs that worked, to be set out. There was a box marked “photos,” but she told Benji not to look inside it and to put it upstairs, out of her reach. He felt sorry for her and did what she said. Plus. One of the boxes he carried upstairs was incredibly heavy, and he looked inside it. The box housed an old coin collection. One coin in particular interested him. It was a newer quarter, but it had been double strucktwo George Washington’s on top of each other, like being “kinged” in Checkers. Benji thought about putting it into his pocket in case he needed some quick cash, but he didn’t. He put all the coins back in the box and put the box in the corner of the upstairs room. Plus. While having drinks together the next afternoon, Benji became transfixed by the lone photo of Andrea in the living room. It didn’t appear to be a very old picture. She was outside an old building, smiling, holding her pony tail in both hands, standinga captured memory, a glimpse into her pastalone, but happy. She looked very sensual. He wondered if he were to make love to her, where he would need to start and what he would need to leave out. “I jumped.” He turned to see Andrea at the edge of the room, also looking at the photo. “Why?” he asked.
“Because I didn’t know what else to do.” She smiled at him and lit a cigarette. Benji saw clearly, for the first time, how much difference there was in what she said and how she said it. He continued looking at the photo thinking she would say more. When she didn’t, he said, “Bet you never do that again.” Minus. Benji’s face reddened. Andrea laughed hysterically. “Are you okay now?” he asked. “I’m fine honey.” Andrea smiled again, but Benji wasn’t convinced. “It just wasn’t my time I guess.” Benji regretted what he said and he wanted to make her feel better. He ran upstairs to grab the box of photos that she was too embarrassed to show him before. He wanted to look through the albums with her and assure her that she is still the same beautiful lady. As he searched through the upstairs room, Andrea began yelling and coughing and shouting for him to come back down and to stay out of there. Benji found the box and opened it. He saw the pictures and felt like someone had swung a sledgehammer into his stomach. His body grew light but his feet wouldn’t move from the floor. In place of the old photos of a younger, more beautiful, magnetic Andrea were photos of young boys, sad looking, and naked. He closed the flaps of the box and went downstairs. “I was going to find the box of old photos of you, but I couldn’t,” he said. “Well good. They’re not good pictures anyway.” Andrea smiled at him and offered him another drink. He didn’t want another drink. He didn’t want to see those pictures.
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He didn’t want to know anything more about her. He told her that he needed to go and he left. On the way home, Benji saw the little Down’s boy slowly walking down the sidewalk with an old Labrador. The boy’s hi-top shoe laces were untied and clicking along the pavement as he walked. His jeans were too big and stuffed into the tongue of his shoes and he wore an old wool cap that was pulled down too far on his head, making his ears fold forward like two tiny satellites. The old dog drooped along beside the boy. His nails scratched the concrete every time he lifted his tired back legs. The dog stopped and lifted his big almond eyes up to meet Benji’s. “Hi,” said the boy. “Hi yourself.” “Wanna pet him?” “Sure.” Benji moved over to the dog and the dog stepped back, stuck his chest out, pointed his tail up, and appeared to be chomping at the air, his teeth clacking each time his jaws closed. “I don’t think he likes me,” Benji said. “He’s not trying to bite you, he’s barking.” “Why isn’t any noise coming out?” “He’s never barked, he can’t. Well, he barks, just no noise comes out.” “Isn’t that strange?” Benji tried again to pet him, but the dog sidestepped and hid behind the boy. “He’s a one owner dog. What’s his name?” “Bodie.” “Wonder why Bodie can’t talk?”
“I don’t know.” Benji liked the kid and wanted to excite his imagination. “Maybe someone told him a secret and he can’t talk so he can’t say it.” “Maybe. I tell him all sorts of stuff,” the boy said. “See, he’ll never tell on you.” Benji paused for thought and then said, “Maybe God told him a secret.” “Like what?” “The secret of the universe or the meaning of life or something.” “Prolly, he knows a lot.” Benji laughed and the little boy smiled back at him while he and his dog wandered away. Plus. When Benji returned home he found a second notice on his door. It was new notice stating that he would be evicted within two weeks if he did not pay his past due rent in addition to his next month’s rent payments. While he reread the notice, he heard a rustling in the trees east of him. He couldn’t see any movement in the leaves, but as he looked, a black shape began to form midway up the tree. It was a dark presence and it made Benji uneasy. After the noise settled, Benji saw light reflect off of two black, beady eyes and he heard a squawk, “qu-een.” Benji grabbed a palm-sized rock and reached back and chucked the rock as hard as he could at the crow. The rock was deflected by a branch below the crow’s stoop, and the crow flew off across the street. Minus. Benji went inside. He thought about what he saw upstairs at Andrea’s house. He thought about how she
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talked to the little boy. He wondered about those boys in the photos. Benji didn’t understand her. She couldn’t run enough miles to make up for what she must have done to them. Splattering herself on an asphalt street wouldn’t change what she did. He decided that he would go back to her house one last time and then never see her again. A couple of nights later, after ignoring Andrea’s calls and busying himself fighting with the crow, Benji sat a little ways down from her house. After the streets had cleared, Benji walked over to the side gate of her house, quietly unhinged the latch, and walked into the backyard. The backyard was overgrown and bare of any semblance of a garden, or landscaping, or outdoor entertaining. There was a poorly built deck that extended to the corner of the house. Benji climbed onto the railing, deftly balancing on the rotting wood, and lunged half of his body up onto the roof. He had to claw and maneuver quite a lot before he was able to lurch his right leg onto the sticky roof but he finally made it up, with more noise than he’d have liked. He stepped lightly along the overhang of the roof toward the second story window. As he neared the window, the crow landed on the roof. The bird squawked a little, but Benji ignored him. Benji lifted on the window. It slid up a little before becoming stuck. He pushed on it and quietly beat on it to loosen it up. He started to sweat. The window finally loosened and he crawled inside the room. As he turned to push the window back down, the crow
flapped his wings and squawked, “bitch.” “Ssh,” Benji commanded. He went to the corner of the room and opened the box of coins. He put the double stamped coin in his pocket and quietly walked to the edge of the stairs and looked down. Minus. In the living room hallway, Andrea’s wheelchair lay turned over on the floor. Benji leaned down to look through the banister, but he couldn’t see anything more. He slowly walked down the stairs and saw that the front door was slightly ajar. He picked up her chair and sat it upright. A couple of empty pill bottles rolled from underneath the chair. He looked around the room and took a deep breath. Benji walked out the front door and sat down on the porch ramp. He saw the crow fly down and land on the mailbox post. He waited for the bird to squawk at him, but the crow was silent. The crow looked at him, looked almost sad, and then flew away. Soon after, Benji saw the boy walking down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. “Hey,” Benji said as he ran across the road to meet the boy. “Are you waiting for the lady?” the boy asked. “Yeah, have you seen her?” “She’s gone. The red truck took her,” the boy said. Benji wasn’t surprised, but it hurt him to know. He pulled the coin from his pocket. “I need you to give this to her when she comes back.” “I can’t. Mom told me to stay away from the lady. She’s not nice to kids.”
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Benji nodded his head. He knew Andrea wouldn’t be back. Benji knelt down beside the old, mute Labrador, cupped his hands around the dog’s ear, and whispered a secret. The old dog turned to him and slurped his big, wet tongue on Benji’s cheek. The boy smiled widely and Benji started towards home. When he came to a gutter in the street, he stopped and reached into his pocket. He rubbed the old coin between his fingers and tossed it into the black drain. Plus. Benji began to run, but he slowed himself and walked the rest of the way home.
Andrew Hincapie A Most Interesting Fact about Cups and Seashells Air bubbles rush upward toward the top of the cooler and the lower tray quickly fills with fresh water of alternating temperatures as she presses each release lever one at a time – red first because it matches her sun-baked curls much closer than the blue cold-water switch. A puddle builds at her feet while impatient glares from all directions let her know that no one else in the waiting room thinks she’s very cute anymore. But then a familiar bearded smile rises steadily from a group of seats just to the side of the water cooler and he confidently stretches his arm toward a small tube at its side. He locates a Styrofoam cup tucked safely inside and he pulls down slowly to reduce any possible cracking, because after all, it’s supposed to be a gift and everything has to be just perfect. She stretches an innocently wide grin and fearfully studies his movements, confused to find no punishment for having gone ahead with her plans to build a neighborhood swimming pool on the linoleum floor. “Quite a mess you’ve got going there, huh?” He holds back a laugh while pretending not to notice the row of angry faces behind her. “How could anyone stay mad at that smile?” He relents softly while pushing his
pinky finger in the gap between her unevenly spaced molars and her newly developing incisors. “No, not that again!” She giggles excitedly, still not quite adjusted to the small white bump pushing up through her gums. “I’m sorry! I just can’t help myself.”At a loss for excuses, he admits his fascination. She has no patience for that sort of business. “Are you going to do that every time I lose one?” New experiences can be a mixed blessing to someone so eager for a challenge. “Sorry - last time, I promise!” He agrees for now, but they both know that particular game still has a few more years left. He grabs a stack of paper towels from the counter beside the water cooler and attempts to soak up any evidence of her creative disaster. She quickly notices the cup in his hand and groans at the suggestion that she might not be old enough to know the proper way to pour a drink. “I don’t need it.” She asserts her independence at an early age. “I’m not thirsty. Sorry I made everyone mad. I didn’t mean to, honest. I can be quiet, I promise.” Guilt sets in slowly as she rocks gently back on her heels and immediately forward again on her toes. She leans her back against the wall and her eye lashes blink innocence back into her nervous smile. “What – you mean that puddle over
there?” He looks over his shoulder at the sparkling wet patch of linoleum just waiting to initiate a customer lawsuit and they head toward two empty chairs in the far corner away from the cooler. “It’ll be fine, sit down. Hardly anyone noticed. Besides, it’s so hot outside I bet they were all wishing they could jump in with you.” “But it’s so boring here.” She reluctantly sits in her own chair, having already moved on from the possible threat of punishment. “When will it be ready? I want to go home.” “I told you – all four tires have to be changed.” He looks out the small window in the waiting room and locates a familiar greasy blue shirt rolling several large black rings toward the far corner of the garage. “You just have to be patient.” “But I’m tired of being patient.” Her attention span falters from a few years of training mostly with commercial breaks during early morning cartoons. “Why do they have to get changed? Why can’t we just keep the old ones and go home?” “It’s like when you wear out your old shoes and we have to buy you knew ones.” He taps his fingers against her small feet and smiles proudly. “The old ones are no good. Everything needs changing sometime.” “Well I don’t care.” She crosses her arms in defiance and sits restlessly in her chair with her legs tucked up underneath her. “This is boring and I want to go home.” “Well here – listen.” He advocates a second attempt for the success of Styrofoam. “Listen to what?” Confused but inter-
ested, she takes the small cup from his outstretched hand and tries to decipher what could be so fascinating. “Here – like this.” With an encouraging nod, he takes the cup from her tiny hand and places it comfortably around her equally tiny ear. “What do you hear?” He watches patiently, hiding his smile to keep her curiosity. She holds the cup evenly around her ear and waits attentively, hoping for a hidden music box or even a special radio inside. “I can’t hear anything!” Frustrated, she surrenders the cup to its former owner. “Sure you can.” He devotedly convinces her of her natural ability and offers the necessary moral support. “Let me try. Maybe it’s not working right.” He places it confidently over his own ear and fumbles with several imaginary frequency knobs with his index finger on the bottom of the cup. “There, see!” He smiles and hands the cup back to her while she watches intently in deep admiration of his newfound technical skills. “It works just fine.” “Wait, what? It’s not doing anything!” She grows increasingly frustrated and looks at the bottom to determine if the invisible switches and knobs need any further adjusting. He takes a moment to relate to her curiosity. “Do you remember last year when we visited the family and you got to see the beach? He recalls his sister’s black dress and stuffing a ball of tissues in his pocket
while his mother huddles quietly with several nameless mourners on a bench just outside a tall stained glass door. His eyes follow the black station wagon with the oversized back hatch door as it leads a group of slow moving vehicles around the front driveway and out of sight. He pictures the bridge splitting in half and raising up so the boats can pass through on their way back to the harbor while he finds a much needed retreat and a quick opportunity to share the Atlantic Ocean. He can smell the cool eastern breeze blowing gently over the crashing waves while a noisy seagull plants its feet firmly in the sand next to his daughter’s bucket and shovel – her first experience of real loss and she didn’t even know to react, but then life is always easier with your feet in the sand. “I remember!” She yells proudly so that everyone in the waiting room looks up from their distractions. “We went to Grandma’s house and I got to play in the sand and we chased all those birds and then I ran out into the water but it was too cold to go in and the waves chased me back and I ran back to you so they wouldn’t catch me and “Yes, exactly.” He laughs affectionately, relieved that she hadn’t saved a memory of all the watery eyes of the relatives she had only met once telling her how closely she resembles her Grandfather, even if he wasn’t there to prove it to her. “Well, do you remember what all those waves sounded like?” “Oh yes, I remember, I do.” She imitates the explosions of a wave crashing in on itself and pretends to scout a safe route back to the top of the shore line like she
had done so many times before. “Perfect.” He grabs her waist before she can run out after a third invisible wave and race the incoming tide of the muffled waiting room. “That’s exactly right.” Guilt flushes his skin red to match her flailing curls as he recognizes that they still haven’t been back since last winter. He knows he should have made the trip down much sooner and no amount of dedication can make up for lost time, but an hour in the cold sand was the first moment he realized that she really would be just fine, and maybe she wouldn’t need him as much as he knows he needs her. “Told you I remembered!” She yells out excitedly, having all but forgotten about the Styrofoam cup in her father’s lap. “Now, listen,” He tries to calm her, brushing a bright red curl away from her eyes. He raises the cup gently back to her waiting ear. “Try it again. What do you hear this time?” She takes the cup in her hand and holds it firmly over her ear, confident in her father’s instructions. She waits and impatiently swings her feet under the chair, but then a smile slowly stretches from the tip of the cup all the way across her face and up to her other ear. “I hear it this time! I can hear it!” She swings her legs back hard and kicks off from the chair with the cup still pressed firmly against the side of her head. Her left foot pounds on the untied shoelace of her right foot and sends her tumbling down toward the still-wet linoleum floor where her collapsing knee crushes the source of her ex-
citement. “Oh, no! Are you alright?” He helps her get back on her unreliable feet and brushes another red curl out of her eyes. A small tear builds in her eye and she reluctantly hands back the destroyed cup while wiping the remaining curls from her wet eyes. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” he comforts her. “But what about those feet of yours?” He sits her back down in her chair and moves a white shoe string in each hand while reciting a story about rabbit ears looping around each other. “But I did hear it this time, honest.” She has more important things to worry about than the safety of shoelaces. “I heard the waves and the ocean just like at Grandma’s. But I broke it!” “Go look in there.” He points back to the white tube attached to the water cooler. “I bet you we can find another one just like it.” “But that one was special.” She holds back a wave of tears and sniffles back to reality. “Now we can’t hear the waves anymore.” He walks deliberately across the dried up riverbank commissioned moments earlier and reaches for the white tube on the side of the water cooler. He locates a single lonely Styrofoam cup tucked safely inside and he pulls down slowly to reduce any possible cracking, because after all, it is the very last one and he must be careful with it. “Ah, here we go.” He adjusts another set of invisible buttons and dials on the bottom of this new cup and signals its effec-
tiveness with a confident smile. “Try this one. I think it’s working.” “That’s just like the last one.” She doesn’t let anything get past her. “It’s just a trick, isn’t it? It’s not real.” “You’re always too smart for me.” He points affectionately at his own forehead and hands her what might now be just another cup from a waiting room water cooler. “Well, I hear it anyway. We can just pretend it’s a seashell and we’re visiting everyone and we’re all playing at the beach.” “I can hear it too, but I still wish we had real seashells.” Her small hands barely cover the Styrofoam surface as the familiar muffled hum of the crowded waiting room flows the welcoming coastline directly into her selective memory. “When can we go there again? It was so much fun and I miss Grandma and everybody.” She swings her legs back and jumps up out of her chair again – both shoes tied safely this time – with both of her hands clasped tightly around her new treasure. Her feet trace out the path of the water moving across the shoreline and she runs back to the safety of the chairs before the rumble of the waves can catch up to her. “Still didn’t get you, just like last time.” He allows a heavy sigh behind his soothing grin and kisses each one of her hands held so tightly around her new discovery. His eyes lower to the now dry linoleum tile in front of the water cooler and he appreciates how lucky she must feel to experience life so honestly with no concern of loss or failure. But then it isn’t so easy as all of that anyway, and there will always be cer-
tain experiences that no amount of preparation will resolve. She will rush head first into every experience worth having, and someone has to teach her how to carry on. But she still has her father’s present, and that’s good enough for now. An older couple near the waiting room entry way finally stands up from their resting place and heads toward the front counter where a voice behind the main desk drones through a series of documents to sign and technical terms to misunderstand. Everyone has their backs to the wall with their eyes pointed downward and their phones tied to their ears. A student wrestles with a book and some papers in the corner. No one else speaks to each other or makes any sudden movements, but like a parent visiting a pediatrician for the first time, she won’t sit still knowing that the car might be sick. “So what’s wrong with those old tires? Is the car broken?” She sits back down in her chair and shows an impressive attention to detail while expecting a better answer than just shoes. “I told you already.” He laughs again and shakes his head. “The old ones are worn out. We need new ones so it will run better, that way we can make it home safe.” “How much longer?” She does her best to keep her one-track mind focused at all times, despite the temporary distraction. “See that man behind the desk in the next room?” He points toward the older couple who still haven’t gotten their keys back yet. “When he calls our name, the car will be all ready to go.” “Good.” She sighs and raises the cup
back to her ear. “Then can we get dinner too?” “Of course we can.” He offers a truce and the distraction resumes. “I want to go somewhere special.” Her insistence impresses him. “Like on my birthday when I had the balloon and they gave us a piece of cake with my name written on it.” “But it’s not your birthday.” He tilts his head slightly to the side and puts his hand on her dropping shoulders. “I know!” She protests the calendar with a quick stomp of her toes. “Well, when’s your birthday? Maybe they’ll let you because we have to fix the car so they’ll give us some extra help.” Her world falls into order and everything makes perfect sense. “And we can show them the ocean cup you made for me so they’ll have to give us a birthday dinner!” “But that’s a present just for you.” He gently taps his finger on the side of the cup and the waves in her ear roar much louder for a brief moment. “I know, and I’ll take good care of it, honest.” She smiles and rocks gently in her chair. “Make sure those shoes are tied so you don’t fall down again.” He points down to the bunny ears on her feet and smiles. “That was the last one so we can’t make anymore.” The older couple at the front counter finally walks out the main door and the booming voice summons another blank face from the waiting room. “Why don’t you go see if it’s almost ready?” He looks back through the window from the waiting room into the garage and
catches the familiar greasy blue shirt rising to his feet and handing a clipboard to someone near the front office. “By myself?” Her bottom lip pushes out just past the top and her eyes droop down just enough to get a reaction. “You’ll be fine, I promise.” He pictures her carelessly playing in the sand and offers himself to whoever in his head is listening so that she will never have to change her shoe size and never cry over anything worse than broken Styrofoam. But then he just smiles and knows that she can handle the challenge, so he pushes her forward as she leans back on her heels. “Don’t worry - you can see me from there. I’ll watch you, honest.” “Can you hold this for me?” She stretches out her arms as far as she can reach with her palms flat up and the seashell cup rested perfectly on the edge of her fingertips. “Don’t keep it, I’ll be right back.” “I don’t mind.” He offers a confused grin. “You can take it with you if you want.” “No, can you hold it for when I get back?” Her eyes spark genuine concern. “I don’t want to lose it. And besides, I broke the last one.” “Good thinking.” He nods in agreement. “Just planning ahead, huh? You sure you still want to go check on the car? I can go with you if you need.” “No, I can do it.” She stretches upward to look as tall as possible. “Just ask the man sitting there if it’s ready yet?” “Think you can handle that?” He raises
an eyebrow and puts his hand on her shoulder. “I’ll be right back.” After a quick look over her shoulder, she darts full speed through the waiting room door and weaves between several stacks of tires and a pricing display board where she jumps forward to a halt just in front of the main counter. She stretches up on her toes and pulls her fingers in along the edge of the counter to raise her eye level just high enough to see the familiar greasy blue shirt signing a clipboard and pushing some buttons on the desktop computer. She looks back toward the waiting room at the friendly bearded smile waiting eagerly to hear the latest news, and they make eye contact just long enough to help her build up the confidence to turn back toward the counter instead of rushing for the door. He nods in approval as she runs out the door toward life and responsibility, and although she may rush head first toward a new challenge, she will always stop to put her seashells aside – if only so her father’s present won’t get crushed in all the excitement.
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