Apeiron Review Issue 3
Issue 3 : May 2013
Apeiron Review Editors: Meredith Davis and Lisa Andrews Art Editor and Advisor: Chris Butler Production Editor: Lisa Andrews A special thank you to Stephen Pohl for the use of his photo, Blue Steel Railroad, as this issues cover art. Cover art by Stephen Pohl: Blue Steel Railroad. Photograph. Additional photographs are features on pages 17 and 64. Apeiron Review is published every January, May, and August. Unsolicited submissions are welcome. Manuscripts must be pasted into the body of an email and sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. For submission guidelines, schedules, news, and archived issues, please visit our website at apeironreview.com ÂŠApeiron Review. All rights revert to the author upon publication.
Issue 3 : May 2013
Contents Fiction Forbidden Welcome Joseph Patrick Pascale 41 Autopsy Report Vincent JS Wood 43 Nearly Stolen Natalie Sypolt 48 Like a Mother, Like a Father Duncan B. Barlow 50 The Birthmark Joe E. Kraus 57 Always Them Amanda Hart Miller 59 Arrangements Hannah Thurman 65 You’d Be Someone You Wouldn’t Recognize Brooke Wonders 73
NonFiction Conversions Stephanie Barbé Hammer 18 The Comic Book Store Marisha Hicks 47 Vincie
Donna Girouard 52
Twisted Wires Sue Granzella 60 Cycling Home Catherine Jagoe 69
Photography Chinese Christmas Julian Joseph Jackson 11 Blue Steel Highway Stephen Pohl 17 A Solitary Moment in Time Pete Madzelan 25 Abandoned Train Tunnel Colleen Purcell 56 American Gothic
Stephen Pohl 64
Flowers Julian Jackson 68
Poetry I Am Jenny Taylor Moodie 8 Days as a Nonexistent Sarah Delap U 9 After The Bread Is Gone Shenan Prestwich 10 Jeremy
Jamez Chang & Isaac Kirkman 12
Holy Katherine MacCue 13 birch trees Jennifer MacBain-Stephens 14
Poetry Continued Nameless Anina Robb 15 The Sunday Comics Grow Up Don Kunz 16 Instructions to My On and Off Lover
Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas 23
Desert-Bound Diana Woodcock 24 Mia Amanda Schroth 26 My Scientist Barry Spacks 27 The Death of God Barry Spacks 28 two-way girlâ€™s mirror Arndt Britschgi 29 white ice floes in clear blue water Arndt Britschgi 30 Equilibrium Gina Marie Bernard 31 Quicksand Emails Al Ortolani 32 a love poem, of sorts Melissa Hamilton 34 Scaling the Flame J.S. MacLean 36 Old Banyan Tree Lake J.S. MacLean 37 Thoughts at the End of February Melissa Hamilton 38
Poetry Continued The Message M.J. Iuppa 39 Translating Silence Steve Wheat 40
I Am Jenny Taylor Moodie
I am not that girl I was not dipped in smooth cold plaster filling all my cracks and hiding every insolent flaw Her nose is straight and small, and a little mean when she sees memy hair curling in the heat, my freckles unfettered, her gaze and smoky disdain push me down, down, down. She is the scent of sharp nights in high heels and flippant ease and amber liquid in glasses easily broken I smell like my children their sweet clutching hands their innocent skin and the pink lotion I use to bring my mother back to meroses and her soft voice talking me to sleep These things I carry like a swaddled newborn close to my chest steady, steady away from the haze.
Days as a Nonexistent Sarah Delap U
the vinyl spins round as expected verging on the right amount of frenzy. we’d gather around on most nights freezing and trying to figure out what to spend the electricity money on there were days of cold clear sun that we’d bottle up long after the apartment door had closed rare and lasting, everything has a momentary value stricken from rotations and mediations on the truth of the matter. nights of bourbon and jazz equal alpine winds of the heart. and the music -- listened to as an expression of insanity made sensible — a wind that comes up from nowhere a spark that has no base of oxygen, hydrogen carbon is the only constant after years of wondering what time the bitter train will arrive where the avenues will end when the waters will reach us.
After The Bread Is Gone Shenan Prestwich
“The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love is like being enlivened with champagne.” -Samuel Johnson Love is like being enlivened with champagne, yes, everything rises, everything is light and furious, bright and deadly and devil-may-care, everything is spices you’ve never tasted and colors you’d never pluck from roots growing in your backyard, when it’s new at least, when it settles it’s more like stout, richer, slower, more opaque, like a chair pulled up to a well-worn bar with names etched so deep they can’t be shaved down without shaving straight through the wood, or up to a fire, a pleasant, sleepy fever, though one that can be alarming at the touch of a draft from a suddenly open door, waking you, an ale whose body and milky head can be deceivingly light, leaving you wondering at old, oakey barley wines and saisons with the funk and tease of springtime tongues rolling. But stout is nourishing after the bread is gone. Resentment is like eating too many red onions that climb acrid up your throat hours later. Sadness is choking on whatever you eat. I am a tomato and you’re a sharp knife, and you’re a pat of butter and I’m a pan, or a pool of olive oil with cheese scattered like confetti on its surface and you’re a glass of wine that cuts through the fat and calms the burn of a balsamic floating through me. 10
Mostly we’re the crumbs in each others’ pockets, and meeting you? Like muzzling my hand lunging always towards the bread basket after swallowing my first pumpernickel roll, still hungering for dishes that hadn’t made their way yet to my table, drifting constantly to tear off one more bite of crust. But stout is nourishing after the bread is gone.
Chinese Christmas Julian Joseph Jackson
“Jeremy!” Jamez Chang & Isaac Kirkman
He waited for his chance to play. In front of a sold-out crowd, from the nosebleed section, they saw the figure on Madison paint, and anyone could see that his stare was past hungry. He had traveled many miles in Ducky-green jerseys to watch x’s and o’s on white squeaky boards get erased within minutes. Harvard long-forgotten, for this morning, Jeremy woke up stiff-necked, under-studied, sleeping off buddy Landry’s couch, and still J-Lin waited. In the front row last chair on Madison Square basketball gardens flower in front of him, without him He watched. Until the moment Coach whistled him over, both jobs on the ropes, the older one thinking: Oh, what the hell… Mash it, mix it, strudel up a point guard, person-off waiver and play-maker claimed. 12
Coach whistled then shouted a name: “Jeremy!”
Between bedsheets twisted like folds of paper birds perched atop our peaks the word arises, a blanket white bulb of light. We say we do not know what it really means, half-squinting at the sunlightâ€™s stream. We busy ourselves by digging holes, dismantling faucets, opening bank accounts, building houses, brick by brick while the word saunters past us on the dog tag of your neighborâ€™s old Huskie, such bright blue eyes, the word has; numbing. At times you are reminded of the last time you bathed your own dog, before the lethal injection, how weak, too weak, to stand on his own so you put your hands beneath his rib-cage and scrubbed the thin wire of his spine. You scrubbed hard, determined to send him off clean, even getting the hollowed, in-between parts he used to nip at you for grazing but in his illness acquiesced, yes, yielded to your soft touch. You licked him like a mother bear, drying him until the word sprung up into twisted white coils of fur: holy, these moments. . You dug his grave. You sanctified it with the wet of your eyes. You packed the earth back in like a warm kiss, then went inside and turned off all the lamps, flicked the switches, as if in suffering we are not uncertain, not pushing away the word, pushing away the light, but tunneling through the dark crawl spaces of the earth, looking for a more enduring one.
you and me.
X marked our spot. Bits
of paper trash sandwiched
and shiny foil between sturdy trunk bottoms
enough to mark a path. We could see the road stuck
but couldn’t budge, in our muddy
I guess So buy a dog.
we won’t die together. Then you can say
now we’re out of the woods.
Nameless Anina Robb
This morning I saw the way fall moves in— in rainstorms, coaxing the already yellowed leaves to the pavement, as if having them underfoot were so different. When was the last time I looked at green and said it was lovely? On the subway I look for green and find it in a cigarette add, in the print of a woman’s pleated skirt. Underground, I can’t smell the sweet sap like when I noticed for the first time the trees were leaking— putting my fingers to the bark, I thought, this is a tree’s inside. I catch myself rubbing my fingers together and wonder if syrup still drips from those maples: the trees of home seem far away like summer and crisp grass. Now people thrust their hands deep into pockets as if they were holding themselves together or holding something off... Sitting on a park bench, I can’t even feel the wood pressing against the small of my back. The man who lives next door walks by, and I am suddenly ashamed: I don’t even know his name, how important it is to say this is the first day of fall, this bench is green. 15
The Sunday Comics Grow Up Don Kunz
When the Sunday Comics grow up, Justice will at last be served. Lucy will try to fool Charlie Brown With the same trick for the last time. When she pulls the football away, He will kick her in the teeth. Garfield will stop being such a pussy. He will no longer walk upright, And talk in thought balloons, But get his claws and testicles back. Beetle Bailey will become a swinging dick, Frag his snaggle-toothed sergeant, Kidnap the General’s secretary, Go AWOL to Vegas, and become a pimp. In the Family Circus Dad and mom, Will tie their annoying toddlers in highchairs, Duct tape their tiny astonished mouths, And get drunk on cheap cooking wine. In Doonesbury Zonker will graduate At age forty-five and start a dot com. Walden College football team will Win the BCS National Title game. Dagwood will have an accident At work with a pencil sharpener Rendering him blind and impotent. Blondie won’t notice the difference. In Zits, Jeremy will date a vacuum cleaner, Pierce will be torn apart in an MRI, And all the women characters will Grow smaller lips and bigger breasts. Mr. Wilson will take Dennis the Menace To church where he will become an Altar boy fondled regularly by a priest, Whom he will drive slowly insane. 16
The wholesome Canadian Dentist’s Children in For Better or For Worse Will hatch a terrorist plot in Vancouver Involving waterpics and laughing gas.
Blue Steel Highway Stephen Pohl
Stephanie Barbé Hammer
convert = 1a: to bring over from one belief, view, or party to another b: to bring about a religious conversion in 2a: to alter the physical or chemical nature or properties of especially in manufacturing b(1): to change from one form or function to another (2): to alter for more effective utilization (3): to appropriate without right c: to exchange for an equivalent <convert foreign currency into dollars> <convert a bond> #1: Michael, row the boat ashore The girl is eight. She is white. She is Christian. She lives in Manhattan. East Side. It is 1962. Her babysitter – a white lady from the South someplace – is in love with Israel. She is an ostensible Christian too, but she loves her Jewish Doctor. She will go to Israel with the doctor someday she says. Israel is the real Promised Land. The two sit in Chock Full O’ Nuts which has swivel stools and neatly cut brownies and paper cups, and it’s not fancy but it’s clean. Israel is where the Bible happens. It’s the Jesus place.
Promised Land = brownies = stories = secrets about doctors = love = happiness.
During this same time, the girl learns swimming in an indoor swimming pool. She rows a boat in Central Park. During this same time, the girl goes to Sunday school at a Presbyterian church in a fancy but uncomfortable party dress with a petticoat that pricks her skin. Why does Jesus die? “The Lord is my shepherd” is a poem. The stories don’t make sense but the poems do. “If I forget you oh Jerusalem.” And then that scary ending. During this same time, something happens. One night the girl wakes up in the middle of the night and hears angels. The girl tells the babysitter. “Of course you heard them,” says the babysitter. The girl tells her mother. The mother’s face gets hard and immobile. The mother does not like God-talk. So the girl does her tell to the babysitter instead at Chock full o’ Nuts, and at the playground, and on the bus around town about God and angels, and the Jews, and Israel, and how they—the speaker and the babysitter (and the handsome Jewish doctor)—are all going to go there, and they will have happy adventures on camels, harvest crops on farms, and see angels maybe or not. And the brownies will rain down like manna from Heaven. The girl imagines and speaks these stories, and the babysitter says her own tales back to her.
Gospel = Old English gōdspel = good + tale. A positive narrative incantation.
This is the beginning of wanting to write. The girl writes a poem and shows it to the babysitter. She likes it.
#2: The Jews The babysitter is fired. The mother gets the father to fire her because the babysitter says the girl’s life is too regimented. Too structured around achievements: grades and musical instruments and the display of various talents. How dare a servant assert a point of view. Good-Bye. The girl forgets about Israel. But she knows a lot of Jewish people. Most of the girls at her private school are Jewish. Both the parents have Jewish bosses. She sees a production of The Diary of Anne Frank at her school. Older girls she knows play these grown up characters in a play that is scary and sad. A siren goes off. Everyone dies, except the father. She comes home in her uncomfortable blue uniform (a dress—pants are forbidden at her school) and asks her mother, “Did that story really happen?” “Yes,” says the mother. The girl stands in the yellow kitchen. She feels numb except for her feet, wiggling in uncomfortable regulation blue shoes.
#3: Confirming It’s 1967 and the girl is thirteen. She prepares for confirmation in the Episcopalian Church on Madison Avenue. She doesn’t have any friends there. The girl’s father has moved churches a year earlier because her other Sunday school bussed the white kids up to Harlem. She doesn’t remember this part clearly. But the father insisted they change and they do. The confirmation class teacher at the Episcopalian Church is young and enthusiastic. He asks questions, he wants to know what the students actually think. He is the girl’s first intellectual. He asks a surprising question: “Does Jesus matter to you?” No one wants to answer. There are old wooden desks and the chairs creak. The girl raises her hand. “No,” she says. “God matters to me, but Jesus doesn’t.” The teacher nods. He leaves the fancy church less than one year later. Interim – religious questions cease to matter. The father has a mistress. The girl knows. The mother knows. The father loses his job. The mother moves from part time to full time work. It’s a matter of survival at home. And getting out. The Exodus. #4: a book Senior year of college (1976) a Greek classmate gives the girl a copy of Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ. The girl reads it and realizes: Jesus = Jew. Like the girl’s plethora of boyfriends, guy-buddies, and lovers. The exotic last names: Lazar, Minsker, Epstein, Klinkowitz, Rosenberg. And finally, Cohen. The girl understands that the paintings of Jesus are all probably wrong. Jesus has black curly hair, brown eyes, an elegant, large nose, and is decidedly Middle-Eastern-looking. #5: She who Observes It is 1983. The girl’s Jewish fiancé buys a co-op apartment in the East Village with the money he makes as a lawyer. The apartment is far from the parents, who do not like the subway. The apartment is a loft with green walls and structural pillars inside the closets. The girl is quasi-unemployed. She wants to become a professor but there are few jobs. So she teaches two courses at SUNY Stony Brook. Writes scholarship on the literature of the 18th Century for publication; writes poetry in secret. Writing is hard. There are so few chances to get anywhere with anything. There is a sense of hopelessness about her personal future. Then, the fiancé’s youngest sister comes to visit from Israel. The girl likes the fiancé’s youngest sister, although the fiancée and the rest of his family say she’s difficult and even weird. The sister is spiritual, loves to read, is into organic food, and is kind of a hippie. The girl gets tickets to concerts and shows for this visit. She feels excited. But the fiancé is quiet. “My sister is changed,” he says. “She has become orthodox.” Orthodox = from Greek orthos (“right”, “true”, “straight”) + doxa (“opinion” or “belief ”, related to dokein, “to think”
“They call it ‘frum,’” he explains. “Like German!” the girl says.
Frum = from the German fromm, meaning “devout” or “pious,” is a Yiddish word meaning committed to be observant of the 613 Mitzvot, or Jewish commandments, specifically of Orthodox Judaism. The frum sister arrives in the East Village apartment. She no longer wears pants. And although it is a humid, sticky New York summer, she wears a shirt with long sleeves. “Modesty,” she explains. The girl thinks of the Pilgrims and the Quakers. The sister goes to the theater events unwillingly. Sits at Mostly Mozart, with her fingers to her forehead. “I’m not supposed to go out,” she says. “But I want to honor my brother.” She mentions the “days of awe.” The girl does not understand. “For God’s sake,” she says to the almost husband. We have tickets to Wendy Wasserstein, and what can be more Jewish than that?” “Maybe she’ll get over it,” the girl’s mother suggests. 19
She doesn’t. “At least she’s not a Scientologist or a Jew for Jesus,” the husband says.
#6: what is in a name The girl gets a job at a university and she and the husband move to Southern California. The girl’s mother-in-law starts studying Bible in Los Angeles, or as she calls it, Torah. The girl goes with her to an orthodox shul (like German for school) to study with an orthodox rabbi. The girl and the mother in law have to wear dresses (just like the old days). The class is all women and they all sit quietly, while the rabbi, who wears all black, declaims about people who sound vaguely familiar to the girl. This all looks like the private school – only Jewish. “Yaakov steals the blessing from Esav,” the rabbi says. The girl thinks, “I know this story. But the names…are…strange.” The rabbi continues talking while the women sit. That’s when the girl gets it: The biblical names have been translated. Anglicized. The girl will always remember that names have a history and a language. But no one talks in class. Except for the mother-in-law. “Just a second, Rabbi,” interrupts the mother-in-law. “I mean—this Yaakov—he’s TERRIBLE. What the heck is he doing stealing his brother’s blessing?” The rabbi stutters. He does not have an answer. #7: choosing first person The girl converts to Judaism because: there is always a lot of great food to eat in the mother-in-law’s house; the girl wants to resolidify her commitment to her husband; the girl’s seven-year-old daughter fights with another girl at her school who says that the daughter isn’t Jewish because the mother isn’t; the girl feels bad about the Holocaust; you can and are actually supposed to wear comfortable clothes on Passover (pants); the girl feels admiration for the mother-in-law, and the girl feels the need, the wish, to write like Gertrude Stein, and Marge Piercy, and Gertrud Kolmar, and Rahel Varnhagen, and Dorothea Schlegel (nee Mendelsohn), and Helene Cixous, and Anne Frank, and Aimee Bender, and—yes—Wendy Wasserstein. Jewish Women Writers = the closest truth. The girl who wrote the poem converts in order to give birth to the “I.” This “I” writes, acts, and speaks in solidarity with tough broads stretching back from Barbara Boxer to Emma Goldman all the way to Devorah—the only named female tribal chief of the Ancient Hebrews. The girl walks over to the rabbi, but when he hands her the Torah, it is I who reaches over to take it. I write and publish a poem called “Torah Bones” that describes this moment: embracing the scroll in no way resembles holding the codex; the huge bundle of biblical writing feels like a baby, not like a book. I choose Devorah (Deborah) as my Hebrew name. Said to have been a precursor to Joan of Arc, Devorah may have ridden—according to certain sources—into battle wearing a breastplate and carrying a sword. The name is also connected to the Hebrew “Dabar”—which means “speech or word.” #7: So now what?
My orthodox sister-in-law is present at this ceremony of conversion. We—my husband, my daughter, my mother-in-law, father-in-law, and my sister-in-law—go out for lunch afterwards in Los Angeles. Kosher restaurant. Run by Steven Spielberg’s mother.
#8 I love her, but… I love my sister-in-law. Despite. Orthodoxy. But. She can’t show her hair in public. She can’t eat a cheeseburger or eat in most restaurants. She can’t go up on the bima (temple stage). She can’t sing in front of men. And the girls can’t be rabbis. And can’t form a minyan—the core group of ten needed to conduct a religious service. And don’t often apply to the good colleges they have every right to get into and attend. And can’t even think about 20
being gay. Or having kids that are. The can nots = hard for me. They remind me of my parents, and of the school I went to and of the East Side, and of everything I’ve sought to escape from. #9: A Failure
The memory that breaches the love affair with Jewishness = this. It is now either 1997 or 1998, and we are driving on the Jericho Bypass. Jericho, State of Israel (although it’s actually in Palestine), not Jericho, State of California. The road leads to the Galilee. Which is where my sister-in-law is taking my husband, our daughter, and me. Driving in a rented car with Israeli plates. The sister-in-law sits in the front seat next to the husband who is driving. She says, “Be careful of the turns, because if we end up in the wrong section—well, if the Arabs see the Israeli plates, they get angry and they stone you.” “Why?” says the daughter. She is nine or ten. We take a wrong turn. Into a town called Nablus. There’s not much there. We see two lines of girls in blue headscarves and pants. Walking on the side of the road. “DRIVE,” yells the sister-in-law. Do I say the following or does the daughter? “But these girls look like us?”
“Us” = “you” = the orthodox sister-in-law = orthodox religious girls who cover their hair, arms, and legs.
“THEY’RE WEARING PANTS” is the sister-in-law’s answer. Oh yes. Orthodox Jewish women are forbidden to wear pants. Why does it always come down to pants? “Oh,” says my daughter. “Are they …?”
“Muslim” = “Palestinian” = words we are afraid to speak.
We bear down onto the streets of the now identified but unnamed enemy. The husband says, “Where do I turn?” “HURRY” is the answer. Absolutely nothing happens to us.
#9: Multiply I come home from Israel. My mother-in-law dies. My sister-in-law marries a widower with seven children. My husband’s baby brother becomes orthodox too; he marries a girl who is a dancer. She becomes orthodox to please him. He and sister-in-law #2 produce many children, and suddenly— There are more members of my husband’s family who are orthodox than who aren’t. #10: Knock A few years ago I sit in our family room in Los Angeles. I watch a movie called Paradise Now that a former student told me about. I recognize Nablus. In the movie the highway we drove on is blocked and the protagonists look at a Jerusalem that they cannot physically enter, although they can see it right across the road. The Palestinian blows himself up in a bus. I turn the TV off. I find my husband, who is sitting in the dining room. He says he won’t watch a movie about suicide bombers. I say, “Judaism is a ruin—a mass of contradictions where we have become the thing we hate.” And he says, “This realization makes you truly Jewish.” The doorbell rings and then someone knocks hard on the door. 21
Schnorrers = Beggar or Sponger in Yiddish. Also occurs in German to describe a person who frequently asks for little things, like cigarettes or little sums of money, without offering a return, and has thus come to mean freeloader. These particular schnorrers are a group of Orthodox Jewish men in black suits and black hats . They come almost every night in our neighborhood. The husband opens the door but tells them no.
“I need to spend time with my family,” he says. “WE are your family,” one man shouts, pounding on the doorframe. I walk to the front of the house, where my husband is standing, arguing with the black hats. I look in the eyes of the angry beggars. They resemble my husband. They all resemble Jesus. I get my purse and open it. I extend a five-dollar bill towards the leader. With that cash I want to exchange currencies = transform hostility into trust. Bevakasha, I say.
Bevakasha = “Please” or “You’re Welcome” in Hebrew
Can one word bring opposing energies into an actual, living connection? We linger at the open door. We listen.
Instructions to My On and Off Lover Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas
Sing to me your quixotic song— the kind caged birds will understand like the dark-green voice of the olive tree signaling wind when every leaf hangs exhausted from last night’s storm. Ignore all wounds inside my wrists; tattooed souvenirs from the first time my spirit gave-way to weakness in a lifetime too long to endure without you. Never do anything sudden. The relief of predictably, no matter how disastrous is something I’ve grown accustomed to. An unexpected good ending would surely be the death of me. Even now, the thought of happiness is almost unbearable; like the smallest wing barely opening to gusts of air from yesterday’s flurry. And when I feel unbeautiful, adore me anyway with impossible devotion, made more precious by your constant threat of leaving. When it’s over, tell me you need a cigarette, pause by the door with a half smile, ask that I bring your jacket over. After you’ve gone, place your hand in the right pocket, where you’ll find your tobacco rolled with a small handwritten note; my litany of reasons why you’ve left. And when you light the tip, draw in the smoke as words burn like tinder on your tongue; just enough to keep you from turning back while I listen for your footsteps through the tangle of bare branches again and again and again.
Desert-Bound Diana Woodcock
In the desert, one accepts whatever comes as gift, no weed unwelcome, every dhub, spiny-tailed agama, Hoopoe lark, Desert eagle owl, Grey francolin greeted as a holy emissary— small nondescript pallid swift as treasured as the Eurasian hoopoe. Desert-bound, one learns to recognize her capacity for compassion. Granted bliss in the midst of barrenness, one’s burning desire becomes this: to be regarded as friend, every sense sharpened to the karmic tapestry. Along the desert’s edge—its coastal ridge— among village ruins, crab plovers and crested larks, whimbrels and Black-headed gulls, one leaves behind the impulse to probe deeper—tunes in to the sunset hues as the day’s best news. Though they may well be ether vibrations, one turns away from science, machine, formula, instrument to flourish once again in what is seen and heard, lets someone else take up the interferometer, chooses a more shadowy reality— sensation, even (let the materialists mock) immeasurable, unpredictable beauty. When the Land Cruiser swerves over the dunes where hours ago a Sundevall’s jird was observed, and one witnesses how the reckless callously carouse, her capacity for compassion for both species is aroused. In the desert, compassion-filled, one lets nothing 24
go unnoticed—vision sharpened to probe shadows and shallows, entrances to burrows, the shade of desert scrub and sidra tree. One becomes a master stalker, but of course with no ill-intention, blessed by attentiveness and cessation of a restlessness to nail down everything. And though one’s increased compassion doesn’t visibly lessen the world’s misery, something is released into the wind— significant as a grain of sand. And who knows what foreign land it may drift into—over seas and oceans of green and blue— what or who may be caressed, disturbed, awakened—hope renewed?
A Solitary Moment in Time Pete Madzelan
Mia Amanda Schroth
you were beautiful then smiling while your fingers gripped the cool metal chains of the swing your white sneakers kicking gravity to propel down-and-up down-and-up now you only repeat the motion with breakfast-lunch-and-dinner Mia youâ€™re ugly now down to the wrapping paper skin so ugly I cannot open my eyes anymore to watch you walk out into that world i cannot open them Mia in fear of waking up once more alive to face your beauty.
My Scientist Barry Spacks
Each poet was teamed with a scientist, mine the newly married Sadie Ryan Simonovich who works mainly in “human-wildlife disease interface with special concern for the way primates infect one another.” She speaks Elephant, Chimp, Cape Buffalo, not to mention Afrikaans and such. Mostly Sadie likes to count, to fill spreadsheets, to sample populations, invent software, oh scientists do like to count, while we slovenly poets need wild elixir for our work, want something whacky, unacountable to mix in there, something not quite sane (this in order to court, best we can, the mysterious). Along these lines, Einstein once wrote “the most beautiful and deepest experience” underlying the principle of religion, was “serious endeavor in art and science,” endeavor in “the mysterious,” so poets get to act whacky, grow even childlike, thus causing many of the scientists to smile or chide. For their part, the scientists natter on in a language drained at times so very dry and numerical that poets rush in with flagons of wine — Here, drink, drink, dance in the streets, dear Scientists. “Not now,” says Sadie the Scientist. “I must count, but perhaps later, after work, when you talk about me in a poem? as I dearly hope you will, you so smitten, so smug in your careless carefreeness.” The Poet pauses with a wry smile at this. He sighs: “Oh, my Scientist!” 27
The Death of God Barry Spacks
So when everybody died God figured She’d better get organized because that was a whole buncha people, so She turned hell into a disco with limited access, fire regulations, plus Purgatory moved on as slow as the San Diego Freeway, leaving heaven under-populated, the whole 7 billion could fit in up there, no trouble, except She wasn’t that kind of a God but rather old school, namely some get “A’s,” others not. Questionnaires on life-events or individual confrontations would take forever to sift all out so She declared: “you who are famous, thus REAL, please form a line to the right. And those who aren’t celebrated but wish to be real and celebrated, please, line up on the left,” which left four individuals out of it, Ms. Fishbein, who can’t understand the directions and Barry, too busy writing this poem, and Eleanora Kulchicki, Barry’s elegant girl friend from college days (because he’d told her he’d put her in a poem someday) -- and then time stopped, which means that God Herself had died. Gridlock! Oh, and I forgot to mention the fourth who missed the deal, Ernest Macuchnik, Sears delivery man his truck filled with new appliances... what to do, they’re all of them dead, even God.
two-way girl’s mirror Arndt Britschgi
girl, curls in her hair, who picks a flower (dandelion, clusters of them growing in the roadside ditch) in spring to save and dry-press secretly and give a friend (she’s on her way back home from school, and since they’ll stain her fingers gray she knows she’s not allowed to touch them) her teeth too big her teeth too crooked in the smallness of her mouth – she’ll go out angling from the rocks with earthworm bait which she has dug up on the plot behind the house and threads herself, pricking her finger, on the hook; fishing for perch (flatting her face against the cracked boards of the pier between their gaps she can see shoals of perch fish swimming) which she will fry and maybe quick-freeze if she can half-secretly to give a friend for when he comes home from his journey potato-nosed (she herself claims), she loves to read when it gets dark and cold in fall when summer’s ending [for those alone who know how cold it sometimes gets to be in winter, the first snows and the sea frozen – they alone know what it’s worth sometimes when someone thinks of you] girl, her chopped and curled, unruly hair which she won’t comb, who sees the year peel off the layers of its seasons one by one teasing time’s mirror girlishly, all while she grows (she can observe it, in the shower in the bathroom many times, some parts of her starting to catch up with the largeness of her teeth), while the world watches and her eyes dwell on the lines, weighing each line 29
white ice floes in clear blue water Arndt Britschgi
the sea would freeze during the coldest winter months until, in spring, ice floes of white would fill the clear-blue/lead-gray waters of the bay// and in the autumn, in the harbor, house-high waves that hurled their rage across the red-brick, handrailed breakwater where Father used to love to take you walking (my big brother and myself ), among the loads of dirt and debris swept ashore, carried away across the edge/ into the seething wet-dock basin’s oil-spilt broth// and late in May the light that’s flooding through the curtains in your room deep in the night while you lie thinking in your bed, your fingers clasped behind your neck, your eyes peeled open willfully; until you’re woken by the starlings’ crazy twittering from the street, not even conscious that you’d gone to sleep before –of having slept till then at all: no, hey, I didn’t sleep, I swear– that’s where I’ll be, that’s where you’ll have to drag your lazy self to find me// long drinking sprees through summers’ nights (the sun at night throwing its shadows where in daytime it would glow), strenuous cold scathing bare cheeks and endless deluges in fall and then the greenness of the birch trees come exploding into life, so strong its brightness cuts a wound into your sight;// and wind-ripped clouds (black hanging shrouds) dragging their weight within hand’s reach,/ and frozen plains of silent expanses of sea and/ merchant ships lying in roads, locked in the frozen-over passage/ broken up by fleets of tugs who grant them access to the quays/ and work-yard whistles, fog-horn outposts blowing warnings days and nights/ and bad diseases which were spread from foreign sailors’ festered cocks/ by would-be prostitutes girl-aged eager to give themselves away, just for the fun (for the experience) or a pack of gum or fags;// and in it all, all in its midst, the hope that springs into our hearts when we come down and see white ice floes as they break in clear blue seas, packing the inlets – when it’s time– filling the whole stretch of the bay
Equilibrium Gina Marie Bernard
I recently saw my father through a ghost of glass. Unable to fight the urge, I crept past his home, scarlet leaves pasting my tires like crushed and silent tongues unable to betray my trespass. He stood—an enormous tableau of all that I fail to understand. A shock of hair, surprised perhaps at his ability to carry such burden for so many years, angled from his head in hoary geometry. What if I had come around again and knocked at his door? (Refuse as refuse?) (Reject as reject?) Long since discarded, I instead sifted through the rubble of memory. He used to drink Buckhorn Beer in full-throated drags until he learned Olympia Brewing was run by a queer. He once punched my head Through drywall not because I fought my younger brother; rather, because I’d lost. When I came out as trans his phone line crackled— bad connection—his silence forking lightning. My final birthday card encased his closing sentence:
“You’ll never be anything more than a faggot in a dress.” Stepping on the gas, I returned home. Perhaps he recognized his second born and, chastened, raised his hand— but I’ll never know: I too had finally turned away.
Quicksand Emails Al Ortolani
Dear Padre Andrew,
So I’m watching this black and white on the Western Channel and I get to thinking: Quicksand sucks the boots right off your feet. It drags you down to meet your Maker but not before you’ve begged for confession. Then an old friend shows up, one with whom you’ve had a falling out, you find you need to ask her forgiveness before
she throws you a rope, before she wraps her end around the saddle horn, and slaps the horse’s ass. You hurry to find the right words, since this whole time you’ve been sinking, dog paddling gravity, you’ve stalled your Maker. And clearly, as God She’s been pissed for years. Love…Randy Click Send Dear Brother Poet, Chili Cook, Country Star, A quicksand blessing is time for reflection lol You should be so lucky. Right? O and that “She” pronoun 32
Click Send Dear A— A blessing you say, that’s hard to swallow, holy man… and there are no clichés’ in country music…just tremendous repetition… ask my dog my drunk dog my runaway wife my old truck Love Randall L Click Send Dearest R— And that “pissed for years” bit… God-anger is warranted. Left alone as we are in the Dark Night of the Soul. Religion 101…St. John of the Cross & take the bottle away from the dog —A. Click Send
Dear Father Cactus …
Give me a break cowboy monk
Dog refuses AA L
Randy at Stella’s
…I mean WTF, Bro, no happy face. L You need shriven. The Maker shoulda coulda had a better plan Luv Randy Click Send Dear Brother, JJJ There ya go…a trinity of happy faces. Always… Andy in the Desert Click Send
a love poem, of sorts Melissa Hamilton
“Beauty is beauty, even if it is irritating” – Gertrude Stein i. Like a rose, you rise from bed, sleepily shaking off the night before when we sang like chirping birds at the crack of a new morning. I am flying over your body, soaring when the sound of a bell breaks me from you. I can not remember my dream, but you were in it assuring me that art, no matter how radical, must be enjoyed. You think that I am too serious for my own good, or yours, and that I tend to get caught up in my feelings over facts. In actuality though, they only pull me in closer toward your skin, even after you exit our bed. Your beauty burns through close eyelids, creeps over sleeping senses - your braids are interwoven in my dreams. The cat, whom we’ve labeled ‘Squeaker-Pants McGee’ for her inability to fully meow, climbs into your indentation and sprawls herself open. She works hard, but not in a traditional sense. She observes, takes it all in, and then recounts her days before us, as a stray kitten, searching through dumpsters and sleeping beneath parked cars. Even as I am writing this, she is watching the fluidity of letters appear, pawing at their arrival. If language begins with listening, then she not only opens her tiny ears, but speaks as well. ii. My family does not listen, only forces ears open. There is no mutuality, no sense of satisfaction. A call in the form of memory vibrates my jean pocket. You, my godmother, begin with an assumption, insisting why I choose to make things harder for myself. Two weeks ago, we visited my Grandmother. She is eighty-four years old and is the one person, besides my lover, who loves me most. While we were there, my grandmother showed my lover pictures of herself as a small child in potato sack dresses and thin-soled shoes. She was glad to have company; loneliness can be a terrible thing. Somewhere in the yellow-folds of my Grandmother’s Bible, though, is a comfort like no other. An acceptance that occurs over A&W root beer and muted episodes of Jeopardy. In these almost-translucent pages, more than just the relics of my Grandmother’s life are safely stored. iii. You have forgotten (my Godmother, my Mother’s Sister, my Grandmother’s Daughter) what it feels like to genuinely love. You are an executor of wills, an object claiming the few highly-priced antiques in my Grandmother’s shabby apartment. You have forgotten me: the nature walks, the horseback rides, the songs before bed on holidays. You had such a strong and gentle voice. You have forgotten the childlike pictures I drew, for you, in technicolor crayon beneath your kitchen table, while our family played, what seemed to me at the time, a never-ending game of trivial pursuit. You were searching for different colored pieces when you noticed my silence. Looking under, you realized that I had nearly ruined three-fourths of your brand-new linoleum floor. My mother scrubbed for hours, undoing my dirty deed; I was never one to stay within the limits of coloring book pages. iv. In seven days, my Mother will have been dead for five years. v. There I was, loving phantoms before you, picking up past shards and forcing them into someone new. You were there though, suddenly, but waiting. Your body as landscape to be, at first, admired, then explored, and finally appreciated. This is what the other side of lonely feels like. You are a cool gust of wind across my hot face; a cartwheel over my thighs. Swimming down into you, I know that I will stay until the end; no one understands this though. I am either traitor or wanna-be. I suppose these things happen though when black and white women love one another. You see, our flesh can exist, separately, but when we collide - when we really collide - it is kisses that bind our hands and feet, that string us up to that familiar tree. I am sorry, but I can not jam my love into spaces where it will not fit. I will not deny this. As you undress, I see your black in the midnight blue and can barely speak. No, this does not matter to them. I do not choose to make things harder. I choose love, strong and unabridged. On the inside though, my family is the most strategic and delicate mania I have ever experienced. Usually, I wear chaos well but these are the people who are supposed to love me. It is not my smile or laughter which my family remembers. No, no one remembers my face without sour in their mouths.
vi. One hundred miles and one state away, my lover and I are lost and bickering on our way to a book reading. When I do eventually shut my big mouth and drive, we finally discover our destination and semi-comfort in tiny, wooden seats provided for listeners in the auditorium. Soon, two aging, Jewish women appear: one holding a large–lined notepad, the other talking loudly into her cell-phone. They make their way down the aisle and climb over seats to achieve their centered spot which is, of course, next to us. The notepad woman is wearing a large black hat that reminds me of the costume I wore in my neighborhood’s production of Anything Goes; the other is less abrasive, physically, but has a voice that could tear through miles of cinderblock. Not only is my bottom shoved into a space that proves much too small for it, but now, I am being bombarded by a slew of questions that I, frankly, don’t desire to answer. Are you two lovers? When’s the commitment ceremony? Are you attracted to the author as well? Despite the interrogation, it is here where I begin to make sense of the way that I’ve been feeling for years. It is here where I realize that familial dysfunction is, in all actuality, quite common and not always detrimental. No, normalcy doesn’t make it hurt any less, but what does is the mere fact that the bricolage of women surrounding me are going through the same thing. There is strength in numbers and as cliché as that may be, I swear by it. I want to take these women in, hear all of their stories, and cradle them. For now though, I will assume that they are painfully fingering similar memories and, hopefully, finding solace in their current company. vii. At the somewhat forced gathering celebrating my graduation from college, my eight year old Godchild (the Granddaughter of my own Godmother) walks into my apartment bedroom and picks up the mosaic tile frame resting on my nightstand. The picture is a close-up of my lover and I at the park. You know, the ones you take yourself by holding your arm out in front of you, as far as you can. In it, I am leaning over and kissing her smiling, sun-drenched cheek. As my Godchild fingers the rough edges of the frame, she asks, “Are you best friends?” I laugh and answer, “Yes,” to which she replies, “I have a best friend, too!”
Scaling the Flame J.S. MacLean
Colossal colonies of hard secretion with raceways webbing cropland and current like scent of ant or polar brain of tern, burn and burn and burn. At midnight when rain drops sear, naked apes debate umbrella trees, but forget at noon in waves of want. Relax and live on as poles soften, oceans surge, and deserts creep like restoration of the savage birth. Damp the fire with trash and ashes and make the fatwood last so dusks require no petition. Or, have the village drunk on plunder punch, heap all the tinder soused with all the gas, spree it up round the climax of humans until we collapse as pools of tallow that will coat some wick, yet unwoven.
Old Banyan Tree Lake J.S. MacLean
An old banyan tree glowing green at night props its shading branches up for there are tales they yearn to sough to roots.
Thoughts at the End of February Melissa Hamilton
A piece of crumbled paper thrown from the passenger side of an oncoming car has more value than me. On the drive home, silence stretches itself out like a lazy cat on a warm radiator. You are the clinking coins in my pocket; the tea I bring up to my lips; the eyes that face forward even at red lights. Eventually, I speak of escape â€“ my voice, timid and low, crawling over Kerouac lyrics set to country melodies. You are listening, as always: Eyes averted, yet mind open. I babble indiscreetly, foolishly rambling through thoughts of a locale where fatigue is cured. This place does not exist though. You cannot forget the things you once loved. There is enough sorrow in me to fill all these winter potholes. As the chipped away asphalt rises to meet my mouth, sweetness settles in, for just a moment, in the form of a great oak tree and then leaves. Soon, is the click of the seatbelt undone â€“ your hands fidgeting with bags (have I trapped you in here?). I reach out to touch your fingers, only to find lukewarm memories, untouched and unfulfilled. But you, you are the parts I want to remember. A body retreating, a black pea coat with toggles a pair of casual grey slacks. You: simple and complex. Wind full of ashes, powder cinders of desire, soot in my mouth. You: A tree of Christmas lights that flames all year long. Small parts die, yet the rest, beautiful and daunting, remain. 38
The Message M.J. Iuppa
Morning beach, empty and still– hard-packed sand full of bird tracks tracing an unconscious stream of details before sunlight, before water ripples a shiver of waves over its perfect script. Few see the message etched by so many barbed feet– patterns of flight soaring high and low on an ancient map that melts in the sudden sweep of water’s reach, taking whatever needs to be found with it.
Translating Silence Steve Wheat
When you spend your life bowing, you find solace in the dirt. In time Cherry Blossoms become clouds. The way the petals fall, like rivulets, coloring in the concrete, is more beautiful than the unbroken balls of pink and white that grow for two weeks, along the street. A man named Kobi has spent his life sweeping debris from a gas station tarmac. His art lies in removing color from the canvas. When his brush can not dislodge a petal, he bends down, and picks it up with his hands. He has been sweeping the love from his life for forty years, smiling at passersby, with his cigarette stained teeth. When the area of his watch, is lulled back into black slumber by the bristles, he sits on a stool and waits for a passing truck, or a meandering breeze. Satisfied at the lowest levels, heâ€™s become a voyeur, his mind an attic, where memories of youth hide themselves in blankets of dust. He learns about music, from the open windows of cars at his red light, he learns fashion from the catwalk of concrete, paved near the high school. He drinks life from a leaking cup, which he refills while waiting for the rain.
Forbidden Welcome Joseph Patrick Pascale
The sky was the blue of an ancient painting as Johannes stood at the cliff’s edge, observing the wall that surrounded the city below. He wore a long maroon coat that blew in the mountainous wind and grasped a turtle-shell lyre. His shaggy hair swirled about an angular face lined with experience, but he surveyed his former home with the questioning eyes of a child. “They hadn’t called it Kallipolis back when I lived there,” he muttered to the aether. On the city wall, etched in stone he was listed among the banished:
*** The decree of the Consulate stated that the new age of humanity would be only be possible by entwining the species with technology. A massive robot was to be built. The engineers were working tirelessly to build it to the Consuls’ specifications. They were rarely able to leave the massive workshop of steaming copper pipes, tangles of wired circuitry, and welded abominations. Under other circumstances, the engineers might have considered the Consuls slavedrivers, but not now. The engineers believed in the world they were creating. *** A young philosopher suffered and wept. She was cursed to discover the conclusion to her metaphysical investigations too early. Johannes had pleaded with her to escape the city before it was too late. “The Consulate will not distinguish between a poet and a philosopher. You’ll be locked up with my kin just the same!” However, trapped by her great dread, the philosopher had barely listened to Johannes, refusing to move from beneath a sycamore tree. *** Regina sat on the floor of a basement cell, chewing on the feather end of a quill. Among her were the other poets who - due to reasons ranging from stubbornness to ignorance - remained in the city, waiting and wondering what would happen. Some of them sat contented to write, but others were suspicious that their captors would leave them with pen and paper, wondering if it was a trap to build evidence against them. Regina kept her faith that the Consulate would live up to the words carved on the wall: “good” and “just.” *** The young philosopher stood up from beneath the sycamore tree. “This can’t be!” she exclaimed. “Great thinkers spend their entire lives attempting to work these things out and only manage to achieve the most threadbare hints of conclusions. I must have done something wrong. I will start again from scratch and this time I will double my efforts.” *** “Are these plans right?” one engineer asked another. “The incinerator is to be built in its head?” But of course the plans were correct. He was foolish to question them. *** So it was that the philosopher’s observations, interviews and sessions of deep thought were doubled, but in a few years’ time, she found, much to her dismay, that she had reached the same conclusion that she had originally. For months afterward, scarcely anything but wine touched her tongue as she attempted to turn off her brain, but it would not stay quiet: she knew. *** Johannes strummed a few chords on his lyre while he recited the stanza that had come to him earlier. He sang it a second time, changing a few words. His eyes didn’t move from the city walls. “If I used a poem to break out, I can use a poem to sneak in.” *** Regina thought the guard would hit her, such was his anger that she’d not written a word. They demanded the prisoners pour their souls onto paper. It was difficult for her to imagine the vast world outside from the damp, cold floor of the cell, but she forced herself to dip the pen in ink. *** Screaming and cursing, the philosopher smashed her wine glass on the ground and stormed out of the tavern. Out in the light of the sun, she vowed to redouble her redoubled efforts. As soon as she set out on this quest again, the depression left her. She smiled as she scribbled copious notes; laughed as her investigations grew more intricate. The philosopher was convinced that she would discover her original mistake. *** Life wasn’t so bad - for a slave. Regina spent her days writing poetry, turning her anguish into words that read like lovely music. It would have been the perfect life had Johannes been with her. Yet, what would she have written about if Johannes had been at her side? *** “The robot is malfunctioning and one of you is to blame!” the guard shouted. He ripped Regina’s poem out of her hands, but he moved on to the next prisoner after reading it. “You!” he shouted at a frail man. “This is drivel! A cliché rhyme scheme! Write better or there will be consequences!” 41
*** The linked chains of logical thoughts showed the philosopher that her original conclusion was the only rational truth. She read her notes over and over again, but finally she dropped the papers to the ground and had to accept it. The philosopher cried and became drunk. In her carelessness, it was only a matter of time until officers found her notes. When they came for her, she didn’t bother to resist as they hauled her off to the poets’ prison. *** The head engineer had followed the decree that the robot function from literary brainslush. Each night, the officers would harvest food for the robot, and each morning, the head engineer’s most important job was to make sure that the robot was fed. *** At midnight, a darkened alley on the outskirts of the city abruptly flooded with light, obliterating the shadows. The Nomarch smiled at Johannes’ shocked expression as the officers placed him in shackles. “Our city needs such a talented poet as yourself. One with eyes that see the infinite.” “But poets are forbidden!” Johannes spat. “Forbidden to be citizens, yes. But our robot needs a soul.”
Autopsy Report Vincent JS Wood
NAME: Michael Hayden Gray SEX: Male
AUTOPSY NO: 07-0223
DATE OF AUTOPSY: August 18, 2012
RACE: White TIME OF AUTOPSY: 10:36 a.m. AGE: 21
PROSECTORS: Carla H Brown, M.D. Associate Medical Examiner and Joshua D. Pepper, M.D. Chief Medical Examiner ---------------------------------------------------------------FINAL PATHOLOGICAL DIAGNOSES: I. DRAINED OF ALL BLOOD AND NO HEART AT THE CENTRE OF CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM RELATIONSHIP
II.DEPRESSION FOLLOWING RECENT BREAKDOWN OF LONG TERM
OPINION: Michael Hayden Gray was a 21`-year-old white male who died of failure [by complete lack of ] cardiovascular system. No blood remained in the body and no conclusion can be drawn as to how it came to be absent. The manner of death is determined to be: UNDETERMINED OFFICIALS PRESENT AT AUTOPSY: Joshua D. Pepper, M.D.,LL.B.,M.Sc., Chief Medical Examiner; Carla H Brown, M.D., Associate Medical Examiner; Stanley Bukowski, M.D., Assistant Medical Examiner; Harold Schuler, Phd., Chief Toxicologist; Andrew J. China, M.D., Deputy Chief Medical Examiner; Joseph Melberg, Forensic Photographer; Jeremy DeLaMonde, Forensic Photographer; Irene Bay, Forensic Technician; David Gaffney, Morgue Supervisor; Spencer P Holden, M.D., Associate Medical Examiner; Detective Pete Burnham of the Hertston Police Office, Crime Scene Unit; Chief Reynolds of the Hertston Police Department and Deputy Jake Michaels of the Hertston Police Department.
CLOTHING: The body is clad in a light blue t-shirt, which is intact, dry and clean. Denim Jean trousers, lightly soiled. A large silver band is on the left hand index finger as well as a smaller but otherwise identical band on the left hand little finger. Small silver ring through a piercing on the top of the left ear. EXTERNAL EXAMINATION: The body is that of a well-developed, well-nourished white male appearing the offered age of 21 years. The body measures 71 inches and weighs 147 pounds. The unembalmed body is well preserved and in uncharacteristically good condition. Rigor mortis is fully developed in the major muscle groups. Liver mortis is fixed and purple posteriourly except over pressure points. However, during initial examination in the emergency room, there was no rigor and lividity was at a minimum and unfixed. The skin is intact and shows no evidence of trauma and it would appear there has been no struggle or damage to the body externally which is particularly remarkable considering the state internally. The scalp hair is blonde and measures up to 5 inches in length in the frontal area as well as in the back and on top of the head. The irises are blue and the pupils are equal, each measuring 0.5 centimeter in diameter. The corneae are clear and the sclerae and conjunctivae are free of petechiae. The nasal bones are intact by palpation. The nares are patent and contain no foreign matter. The natural teeth are in good condition bar some slight yellowing from possible prescription of ventilyn for childhood asthma. The frenula are intact. The oral mucosa and tongue are free of injuries. The external ears have no injuries. There is a piercings through the top of the left ear and a 3-millimeter raised nodule where the cartilage has been broken. There are no earlobe creases. The neck is symmetrical and shows no masses or injuries. The trachea is in the midline. The shoulders are symmetrical and are free of scars. The chest is symmetrical and shows no evidence of injury. There is a tattoo of a female’s name [CENSORED] on the left hand side of the chest. The flat abdomen has no injuries. There is a flat, round scar on the lower aspect of the right hand hip approximately ½ inch in diameter. The genitalia are those of a normally developed adult male. There is no evidence of injury. The anus is unremarkable. The upper extremities are symmetrical and have no injuries. The fingernails are short, recently clipped, and clean. There is a tattoo of a barbed wire pattern on the upper left arm encircling the bicep. Another of a tribal pattern on the surface of the left forearm. A tattoo of a nautical compass is on the inside of the right arm, just above the wrist. The lower extremities are symmetrical. The toenails are short and clean. There is no edema of the legs or ankles. There is no abnormal motion of the neck, the shoulders, the elbows, the wrists, the fingers, the hips and ankles. There is no bony crepitus or cutaneous crepitus present. EVIDENCE OF INJURY: There would appear to be no evidence of injury to the body externally. EVIDENCE OF RECENT MEDICAL TREATMENT: There would appear to be no medical intervention with the body. OTHER IDENTIFYING FEATURES: There are multiple scars and tattoos on the body. SCARS: A ½ inch flat scar is on the upper left hand side of the head just above the eyebrow. There is a flat, round scar on the lower aspect of the right hand hip approximately ½ inch in diameter. There is a cluster of multiple, parallel, linear, well-healed scars on the inside of the left forearm covered by a tattoo. 44
TATTOOS: There is a females name of [CENSORED] on the left hand side of the chest. A nautical compass on the inside of the right forearm just above the wrist. A tribal pattern on the inside of the left forearm. A barbed wire pattern that encircles the left arm at the point of the middle of the bicep. INTERNAL EXAMINATION: The body was opened with the usual Y incision. The breast tissues, when incised, revealed no damage or stress. BODY CAVITIES: The muscles of the chest and abdominal wall are normal in colour and consistency. The lungs are neither hyper inflated nor atelectatic when the pleural cavities are opened. The ribs, sternum and spine exhibit no fractures. No comment can be made on mediastinum or the pericardial sac as they appear to be entirely absent. The diaphragm has no abnormality. The subcutaneous abdominal fat measures 3 centimetres in thickness at the umbilicus. The abdominal cavity is lined with glistening serosa and has no collections of free fluid. The organs are normally situated bar the heart which seems completely absent whatsoever. NECK: The soft tissues and the strap muscles of the neck exhibit no abnormalities. The hyoid bone and the cartilages of the larynx and thyroid are intact and show no evidence of injury. The larynx and trachea are lined by smooth pink-tan mucosa, are patent and contain no foreign matter. The epiglottis and vocal cords are unremarkable. The carotid arteries and jugular veins are unremarkable. CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM: The heart is completely absent which is especially remarkable considering there are no obvious signs of tampering or damage to an otherwise perfectly healthy body. Parts of some of the major arteries and veins remain but are severed rather roughly in parts as though the organ itself had been ‘ripped’ or ‘torn’ out from the chest cavity with some force, however the cavity itself was in sublime condition so such a conclusion could not be drawn. Further investigation will be made. RESPIRATORY SYSTEM: The lungs weigh 550 grams and 500 grams, right and left, respectively. There is a small amount of subpleural anthracotic pigment within all the lobes. The pleural surfaces are free of exudates; right-sided pleural adhesions have been described above. The trachea and bronchi have smooth tan epithelium. The cut surfaces of the lungs are red-pink and have mild edema. The lung parenchyma is of the usual consistency and shows no evidence of neoplasm, consolidation, thromboemboli, fibrosis or calcification. HEPATOBILIARY SYSTEM: The liver weighs 2550 grams. The liver edge is somewhat blunted. The capsule is intact. The cut surfaces are red-brown and of normal consistency. There are no focal lesions. The gallbladder contains 15 milliliters of dark green bile. There are no stones. The mucosa is unremarkable. The large bile ducts are patent and non-dilated. HEMOLYMPHATIC SYSTEM: The thymus is not identified. The spleen weighs 310 grams. The capsule is shiny, smooth and intact. The cut surfaces are firm and moderately congested. The lymphoid tissue in the spleen is within a normal range. The lymph nodes throughout the body are not enlarged.
GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM: The tongue shows is unremarkable. The oesophagus is empty and the mucosa is unremarkable. The stomach contains an estimated 30 milliliters of thick sanguinous fluid. The gastric mucosa shows no evidence or ulceration.There is no major alteration to internal and external inspection and palpation except for a yellowish/white shiny discoloration of the mucosa. The vermiform appendix is identified. The pancreas is tan, lobulated and shows no neoplasia, calcification or hemorrhage. There are no intraluminal masses or pseudomenbrane. UROGENITAL SYSTEM: The kidneys are of similar size and shape and weigh 160 grams and 190 grams, right and left, respectively. The capsules are intact and strip with ease. The cortical surfaces are purplish, congested and mildly granular. The cut surfaces reveal a well-defined corticomedullary junction. There are no structural abnormalities of the medullae, calyces or pelves. The urinary bladder has approximately 0.5 milliliters of cloudy yellow urine. The mucosa is unremarkable. The genatalia is unremarkable and contains no foreign matter. ENDOCRINE SYSTEM: The adrenal glands have a normal configuration with the golden yellow cortices well demarcated from the underlying medullae and there is no evidence of hemorrhage. The thyroid gland is mildly fibrotic and has focally pale gray parenchyma on sectioning. The pituitary gland is within normal limits. MUSCULOSKELETAL SYSTEM: Postmortem radiographs of the body show no acute, healed or healing fractures of the head, the neck, the appendicular skeleton or the axial skeleton. The muscles are normally formed. CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM: The scalp has no hemorrhage or contusions. The calvarium is intact. There is no epidural, subdural or subarachnoid hemorrhage. The brain has a normal convolutional pattern and weighs 1300 grams. The meninges are clear. A separate neuropathology report is attached. SPECIAL PROCEDURES: No special procedures have been undertaken yet but due to the circumstances of the missing heart all options are being considered. It has been confirmed the name [CENSORED] that is tattooed on the chest is that of the deceasedâ€™s former partner whom he had separated from only recently before his death. She is also complaining of heart problems and has been taken into A & E for overnight observation.
The Comic Book Store Marisha Hicks
We ran inside to touch Superman’s curl to see if it felt oily, but it felt smooth and dry, like a cardboard cutout should. Next to Superman stood Clark Kent. I wondered, out loud, why anyone would want a huge cut-out of Superman not as Superman. My stepbrother jumped into a diatribe about the importance of Clark Kent’s character. My stepdad announced that we had twenty minutes. Cardboard Superman, and cardboard man, guarded their cardboard boxes of thousands of comic books sheathed in plastic. My stepbrother began his hunt with the nearest box. I scanned the room for glitter, neon blue (my favorite color in the late 80s), or any section that didn’t resemble my stepbrother’s boring bedroom. I considered my other options in the strip mall, but a nail salon and title office held even less interest for a fourth grade girl. Wide-eyed and practically drooling, my stepbrother flipped through comic after comic. Trailing behind him, I fingered through the boxes he left in his wake. Moments before, he meticulously smooshed McDonald’s french fries, one by one, and shoved them into his mouth. As he pulled comic books up out of the boxes, he left a greasy finger print on the plastic. It became clear that Superman wasn’t the oily one in the comic book store. I pulled out every comic with a female character on the cover. They looked like female versions of their male counterparts, but with huge bulbous breasts, smaller utility belts, and slightly slimmer thighs. Their voluminous hair flowed upward at the roots, as if they were underwater. The outfits and hair styles varied, but the breasts were all the same. I didn’t necessarily want to read a comic book about big breasted women; that’s just how they came. The dollar bin stood in the back of the store, next to a coffee maker that smelled like smoke. I imagined a fire leaping from the card table to the cardboard boxes of comics. Cardboard Superman and cardboard man would not be able to stop a fire. I flicked the off switch, like I’d been trained to do at home when I came across the empty coffee pot. My stepdad, who also smelled of coffee and smoke, announced that we had two more minutes to find something. Flipping through the dollar bin, I found a comic that looked like Archie, but with all girls. They still had massive breasts, but they wore cool clothes, like leopard print mini skirts and studded leather jackets. One even had short, pink hair. Excited, I quickly turned the pages. I saw a classroom scene . . . a party . . . two people kissing in a closet. This was my comic! I ran to the counter. A dark, goat-teed guy in a black tee-shirt rang up a Batman comic and handed it back to my stepbrother. He picked up my comic, looked at it and stopped. I waited for him to tell me that I’d made an excellent and really cool choice. I put my hands in my back pockets and shifted one hip out to get into my cool stance. I waited. He didn’t look at me. He looked at my stepdad. “Sir, is this for her? This is an adult comic.” “That’s okay.” I piped in, not yet knowing that adult is a euphemism for sex. He still didn’t look at me. “It’s uh . . . X-rated,” he said. I glanced at the comic in his hand and noticed the hard, protruding nipples on all three of the female characters. How could I have missed that? My stepdad looked at me and threw out a very wise, “Whoops!” The goat-teed guy quickly held up a real Archie comic. He finally looked at me and asked, “Is this what you were looking for?” “Yes,” I said as fast as I could. During the car ride home, I sat in the backseat and leaned the side of my head on the window. I looked over at my stepbrother’s new comic book. Batman and Catwoman posed on the cover, and Catwoman wore a skin-tight, stitched leather catsuit. I opened my new comic. It seemed to be about sandwiches and shaggy dogs. Somehow, the two girls in the comic still had the same big breasts. My stepdad looked at us through the rear view mirror and asked, “Did you kids get what you wanted?” My stepbrother screamed “YEEES!” and waved his comic above his head. I mumbled “yes,” but it was a lie. I still wanted my first pick-- the one that took me the whole twenty minutes to find. I wanted to read about girls with pink hair and leather jackets who went to school and had boyfriends. After finding out it was about sex, I wanted to read it even more.
Nearly Stolen Natalie Sypolt
Down by the river, out onto the floating dock. You can’t see it moving, but know it is because of the loose feeling in your stomach, your legs. Mother in blue Bermuda shorts and a red tank, white canvas sneakers, white sun visor. Daddy wearing jeans and a button up, half stars/half stripes. He has found a straw hat. You are wearing a patriotic sundress and little white sandals. Your hair is in two side ponytails, tied up with curled ribbons. Today, you ate a grilled hotdog and had some jello salad. Now, you are at the river where a little carnival has been set up. Nothing special. A lemonade stand. The ice cream truck. A make shift stage where the high school band plays songs in a slow, sometimes squeaky way. This Land is Your Land. My Country ‘Tis of Thee. You know the words to some and started to sing until Mother shushed you. So you hum as your feet dangle from the dock, nearly skimming the water, but not quite. It is that time between dusk and dark, where the colors of the sunset are nearly gone, but thick dark hasn’t yet taken over. You can still see your parents, the water, but like through a shadow. When it is full dark, the fireworks will start. There is a baby and he is your brother. He is wearing a sailor’s suit and he is fussing, noisy, his face red and pinched. Yesterday, your father smacked you across the leg because you flicked the baby on the hand. Not too hard. Just a flick when you thought no one was looking. You do not like this baby and are happy that he and your mother stayed up on the grassy bank when you and your father came out onto the dock to look at the ducks. “Rachel,” he says. You are still mad about the swat, but don’t let on because you don’t want to push your luck. “Yes, Daddy,” you say, sweet as sugar. “Do you know why we celebrate the Fourth of July?” You are five this summer and haven’t yet started school, but you have some foggy idea of freedom. This idea mostly involves being allowed to stay up past nine, being able to watch what you want on television, and not having to ever listen to that baby’s ear-piercing cry again. “America,” your daddy is saying, “used to belong to another country—Great Britain—and they weren’t very nice.” As he tells you the story—a long one that you stop listening to around the time he finished describing a tea party—the night grows darker and darker. The crowd is getting bigger, people pushing together. For safety, police are closing the dock and ask you all to make your ways back to the grass. Mother would have taken your hand, but Daddy just pushes you ahead, expecting you to stay right with him. You do stay with him as you leave the dock, as you climb the metal steps back up to dry land. Here the way narrows and there is some shuffling. You’re not with him anymore, and people are shoving, and the deputy is saying, “Now please.” So you go ahead. “Wait at the top,” you hear Daddy say, and he’s not worried. You are a good girl, after all. The band is playing The Star Spangled Banner and people are standing. You throw your hand over your heart and look for a flag, but there is none. People are crowding around you, trying to find a good place to stand. The fireworks are about to begin. People are singing along and so you do too, loud so you can hear your own voice above those around you. You don’t know most of the words, but it doesn’t matter. No one cares. Everyone is close together and singing and no one feels like a stranger. When someone grabs your arm, you think it’s Daddy, but when you look around, you see a woman’s face looking down at you. She’s older than your mother and her hair is a blond color, darker on the top, and frizzy. She smiles, but her nails dig into your arm. You try to pull away, but she holds tight and begins to steer you through the crowed. “Hush,” she’s saying, quiet like only you could hear. “Hush now, Joannie. We’re going home.” “I’m Rachel,” you say, but don’t know if the woman hears. She’s pushing you through the crowd and no one looks down at you. Just more bodies passing through. You think to scream, but can’t make a sound come. The lights are all cut and you hear the boom as the first firework explodes into the sky. You can’t see because the woman is still guiding you away from the river, but you try to look back. You can only see the colored lights reflected in the upturned faces. More fireworks go up, BOOM!, and you can feel it through the ground, up into your body. There is screaming that might be your father, but the fireworks and the noise from the crowd muffle everything, so you can’t be sure if someone is coming after you. Ahead, you see where the crowd breaks and there is an open space before the parking lots. You’d come a long way, then, and you could somehow feel the old you getting further and further away, left on the wobbly deck. The invisible thread connecting you to your mother, father, that baby, gets stretched tighter and tighter, is about to snap. Then, you are falling and the woman is falling, hard, on top of you. Above, there is scuffling. As you fell, a sound escaped from the woman—an “Uh” like the air being knocked out of her. Your face is into the ground, tasting and smelling wet dirt that had been trampled under all those feet heading to the river. With the face of dirt and the woman’s heavy weight on top of you, you can’t breathe. Panic. You begin to struggle. “Shhh, shhh,” the woman says, close to your ear. “Shhh,” and you realize that she’s trying to push you harder into the ground. Finally, you feel her weight lessen as someone is peeling her away, and someone else grabs your hands, drags you up from the mud. It is Daddy and he’s holding you up off the ground, shaking you. You start to cry. After that, things become confusing. You see the woman pulled away, still reaching for you. She is wearing a red tank top with tiny straps that have fallen from her shoulders, showing her bare chest. She is skinny, tired looking, sad. You almost reach for her. No one has ever wanted you so much. You tell the story again and again—being separated, grabbed. No one asks you why you didn’t try harder to get away. Mother hugs you and hugs you. Daddy stares at you and slowly shakes his head, then rubs his hands on his face. 48
Kidnapped. Nearly stolen. Sometimes you think about that woman and how she chose you. You. Not some other girl. Not your baby brother. No one had ever wanted you so much. You grow up, hoping to find someone who will. Someone who will chose you, run with you, give up everything—freedom—for you. No one talks about that Fourth of July and when you ask Mother, years later as you’re putting your own baby into his stroller to take down to the fireworks at the river, she says, “Oh, Rachel. You’re always so dramatic.” “What do you mean? I was kidnapped,” you say, maybe the first time you’ve ever said those exact words to her. “Kidnapped!” Mother laughs and kisses your baby on the head. He is wearing a sailor suit and tiny red canvas sneakers. “That poor woman wouldn’t have gotten out of the parking lot. She was out of her head.” That poor woman? You’d always assumed that your parents hated the woman for what she’d done, but had they actually felt sorry for her, all these years? “What do you mean?” you ask again. “Didn’t you know? She’d lost her daughter just a couple weeks before. A car accident, I think. It’s been so long ago now. Anyway, she thought you were her daughter. She was crazy from the grief. Why are you bringing this up? I haven’t thought about that for years.” “That changed my life,” you say, feeling defeated, blind, confused. Mother makes an exasperated “Oh, please,” sound. “I’m surprised you even remember it,” she says. “You were only six.” “I was five,” you say. She’s fussing with the baby, not listening to you anymore. She is done. “We’ll take the baby to see the fireworks. Why don’t you stay here and rest?” she says. You think of someone stealing him, some desperate woman who looks something like you and something like that skinny, frail thing from years ago. Someone who needs him, pushing him fast through the crowd.
Like a Mother, Like a Father Duncan B. Barlow
His hand had become shaky like his father’s and his mind frail like his mother’s. He often times found himself bedridden with migraines, his forehead damp, hands rattling beneath the sheets. Even if he could hold a knife between his fingers, he’d be unable to harness his pain for creative inspiration. He’d carve, but never the way he’d done it before. Never with precision. No, he’d sit erect, shaking just as he was now, destroying everything he attempted. Sitting upright made his head spin, the room grow unbearably loud, its walls creaking, its floorboards expanding and contracting. He thought of his mother, locked away in her bedroom on those hot summer days. He at the door begging to go to the pool. She, too weak to reply, crying at the slightest racket or tree branch that happened to scrape against the house. When he was old enough, she made him hack the trees away. Reduce them to ugly stumps that punctuated the side-yard like creek rocks. But not quite. Not so lovely. Creek rocks shone beneath the current like precious stones, but the tree stumps looked only like scars, like something terrible had happened to the world. A bee found its way into the screen. It beat against the window trying desperately to free itself from that space. Evan visualized the wings. He heard every flap of those translucent appendages. Their sound ran atop his mind like an old phonograph needle. Deep and tearing. He pulled a damp cloth to his head. Renegade drops fell onto the sheet as his hand trembled. They stung at him and he knew the soft flesh of his underbelly would find them again when he shifted. When he was fifteen, he came down with influenza. The symptoms came upon him suddenly. He was walking home and a drop of water fell from an air-conditioner, striking him on the bridge of his nose. His body, filled with fever, jerked against the cold, sending him to the ground in a strange fit. By the time he made it home, he was slick with perspiration, his shirt damp with vomit. To spend the fever, his father stripped him of his clothes and rubbed his flesh with isopropyl alcohol. The migraines never came with fever, yet there was something soothing about placing a damp cloth over his forehead and eyes. A small bead of sweat ran down from his armpit and tickled his back. Evan shifted against the mattress to relieve the itch. Somewhere in the distance a car backfired. The pop smashed inside his skull. Evan gathered his pillows around his head as if this would stop the tremor of sound from reverberating inside him. He felt the muscles in his hands quiver and he released his grip. He was twenty when his father told him that his shaking hands were hereditary. He stared at the old man for a moment. Tracing the hard crease that ran along his cheek. I’m a woodworker, Evan remarked. Yes, his father replied. You’ve thought to tell me this now? His father smiled and answered, I didn’t want to discourage you from a hobby that brought you so much joy. The reply cut sideways. Hacking away at a stubborn knot inside his heart. Evan stared at his hands that day and for many days after, wondering when they’d begin to shake. But he forgot about it, until one day, while accenting the delicate curve of a cherub’s eye, his hand shook and gave the angel a strange summit above its pupil. He should’ve destroyed the piece, but sold it anyway. Sometimes the cherub appeared in his dreams. It taunted him. Always when he needed it least. When he needed confidence. Eventually his hands grew tired and he released the pillow. A high frequency whine haunted him. He imagined John Cage sitting in a sound proof room in Harvard listening to his nervous system. But Evan’s system didn’t inspire him; it tormented him. Rang along his spine, between his ears, the center of his teeth. It made him vomit when the migraine was at its peak. He dreamt of digging inside himself and pulling the tangled sensory cables from his spine. Holding them high in the air as they dripped gore upon the ground. It surprised him, when he imagined this, that he was always shirtless and wearing a feathered headdress. It was his health that prevented him from labor of any variety. With his woodworking shop closed, he bounced between part-time jobs, all of which praised his work ethic, until he fell ill again. At first, they were lenient, saying such things happen, but as the seasons changed and the migraines became more frequent, his employers grew impatient and released him. Since there was no proper diagnosis for his illness, outside aid was limited and as a result, Evan moved from home to home. He learned not to unpack, so he lay among a sea of boxes, tools, and prescription bottles, sweating and twisting in his sheets. He thought of his first job as a ditch digger. The long summer hours with the sun crushing the crown of his skull. The very memory of it hurt, sent a painful rattle along the length of him. Suddenly, the familiar weightlessness overtook him, his mouth tingled with saliva, and he found himself once again, against the John, body a knot with vomiting. Still, through it all, the years of riding the bed for weeks on end, he managed to find love. Maria, an early admirer of his woodwork, an aspiring student at an arts college in Oregon, had pursed him with relentless devotion. When he gave up carving, she encouraged him to move on. When he awoke speaking of angry cherubs, she soothed him back to sleep. Yet, even she found it difficult to bear the weight of his illness. At first she would tiptoe around the home, trying not to make a sound. She tried to eat soft foods as even the slight crunch of potato crisps caused Evan to moan. By the second year, she no longer tried. It was as she’d completely forgotten about it. He’d lie in bed, stripped to his shorts, and she’d bang pots while cleaning, hold long phone calls in the living room, sing in the shower. In his well hours, he didn’t blame her. But in the grip of the thing, he grew to hate her. Pray that the hand of God would crush her throat mid song. Yet, even with his personality changes, they stuck together. Fighting and apologizing until she’d finally grew weary and threatened to leave. Somewhere in the building, a tenant took a shower. The water flowing through the pipes cut into him as if scroll blades tearing through his veins, which revealed themselves in purple serpentine ropes as they throbbed on his temples. He sat up, palms pressed against his skull, and waited for the room to quit spinning. He stepped to his toolbox and knelt beside it. His knees claggy against the wood floor. Evan pulled his old roughout from the tray. It was the first knife he’d ever bought. The small blade was cool against his forehead. He palmed it and crawled back into bed, where he sat curled against a pillow, the knife like a cooling stone in his hands. 50
Maria came home and shuffled around the living room. She called his name a couple times. Four syllables ricocheted in his head, two sharp, two dull, both tearing a path through the tender matter of his brain. Evan moaned; at least he thought he moaned, but was never too sure as even forming a complete thought was painful. When his father left his mother, she sat against the frame of their marriage bed, resting her brow against the cool brass. She had a bottle of vodka tucked between her knees, the condensation from the freezer still frosting the glass. She didn’t speak a word, just closed her eyes and mouthed, please. Evan, who had been rifling through his father’s suit pockets for change, watched his mother cry from the closet, a wand of summer light barely making it through the suits to highlight his eye. He mouthed please to himself as Maria banged things in the other room. She called for him a third time, and when he couldn’t muster the strength to reply, she said they needed to talk and that she’d return. The thick wooden door crashed against the frame and she was gone. The clap of it a palm shell blossoming in the darkness behind his eyelids. As they grew dim, he felt as if his eyes were bleeding. Although he knew better, he checked them only to find tears. He looked at the moisture on his fingertips. Thought of his father crying alone in his apartment. After he left. After his mother’s accident. Seeing him cry was strange. Fifteen years and that was the first time Evan had seen it. At the time it had seemed as if his father was speaking a secret language. A tongue that he used only in private. Evan wanted to walk inside and hug his father, but that seemed even stranger than watching him cry. He didn’t cry at the funeral and Evan did his best to do the same. It was, after all, what men in his family did. Not cry. The tears vanished from the pads of his fingers. And suddenly, it was as if it had never occurred. Evan rolled to his right, the roughout pricking him slightly between the ribs. Maria would be home soon. They’d talk. She’d leave. He didn’t have to guess. It was in her voice and he knew that once she’d made up her mind, there was no going back. She’d decided she’d have him, and despite his best intentions, she wouldn’t stop. For months he dreamt of her, afraid of what he might bring upon her. She surprised him with lunch when he was working in his studio. Dinner when he’d fallen asleep, drunk on his porch. When he finally tendered his resignation at the school, she appeared at his door, doused with rain, saying he had no choice then but to be with her. And so he was. Evan would return to microwave dinners, whisky for breakfast, a slice of pizza for lunch. He’d moan away his days beneath the burden of his head and drink away his nights until he was sick enough that he’d pass out. It was the life he’d had before they met, only more. More of everything. He knew himself well enough to expect this. He sat up in bed, again, the world spinning around him. The floor vanishing beneath. He was bad with goodbyes. How long had it been since he’d visited his mother’s grave? Twenty years, perhaps more? He’d never looked down as they lowered her into the dirt. Could not bring himself to peer into the coffin during the visitation. His father encouraged him to say goodbye to her. He knew it’d do no good. Her ears were beyond reception. Filled with the shadows of death. He could, however, see the peach Clover Whimsey they’d fastened atop her head, the diamond lace hanging over her forehead. He always found it strange that she’d be buried in a hat. Some nights, when he wasn’t visited by the cherubs, he was visited by his mother, always in a peach hat. He now remembered it more than her face. Evan tugged at the shades. The sunlight came upon him like a mouth, chewing his head into pieces. His hands shook wildly. He steadied the roughout as best he could. Pressed it against his wrist. The skin beside the tendon puckered. At first he felt nothing, then a faint prick. He pulled it away and opened his eyes. They watered and he closed them again. How long had he been in bed this time? Two weeks, three? It was impossible to tell anymore. With Maria staying at her mother’s now, he had no way to decipher for one day’s end and another’s beginning. Perhaps the world had ended and he was the only one left. No, he thought, Maria was just here. Pressing the blade against his wrist again, he thought of his father. Hollowed out by age. Dying with a machine hooked to him. The beeping too loud for Evan to take. Did his father know that Evan wasn’t there when he passed? What did it matter anyway? Evan wouldn’t have said goodbye, even if he could. A small dot of blood surfaced beneath the blade. Evan pulled the silver away and smeared the crimson circle down toward his elbow until there was no trace of it. Moments later another began to surface. He pulled the blade to his mouth and tasted it, but could not tell if the metallic flavor was steel or blood. In any event, the sharp bite of it made his stomach turn. Tempted to lie back down, Evan rested an elbow against the rickety mattress. A spring dug hard into his flesh so he righted himself and pressed his forehead against the glass, which was surprisingly cool. What was left? An unfinished room filled with boxes of a life he no longer lived. A mattress he’d lugged with him for twenty years. A framed photograph of crow resting atop a mailbox. With Maria gone, the room was just that, a room. Evan leaned back and pressed the blade once more into his flesh. He felt it pierce and then tear as he began to push it away from his palm. Behind him he heard Maria’s voice. She’d managed to come home without a sound, or maybe she had made a sound but he was too lost in his thoughts to have heard. She called his name. Evan didn’t turn to face her. He pushed again. He was carving and something about it felt right. Maria put her hand on his shoulder. Evan closed his eyes. There was a strange silence in the room and then Maria began to cry.
The late day sun beat down on my head as I played in the side yard with Pepper, my new Fox Terrier puppy. Or maybe I colored in one of my many coloring books, curled up on the cool cement of the back stoop. Perhaps my mother had carried out my spring horse for me to ride. My play options seemed endless the summer I turned five. I remember how still the summer air could be, and other than the constant droning of the bees in the privets, silent, so that when a noise occurred it echoed off the houses. I could hear the footsteps along the sidewalk even before he came into view from around the corner of my house, but I waited to make sure. As soon as he appeared, wearing the matching dark green shirt and pants from his shift at the Rubber Shop, I left the dog, the coloring book, the spring horse and ran to him. He smiled as I approached. “Hi, Donna.” “Hi, Vincie.” I slipped my tiny hand into his worn, calloused hand, clean but slightly stained from trimming the excess off the black rubber heels on the assembly line at the factory. As I talked about whatever came into my head, we leisurely walked up the sidewalk, past the driveway and the back yard, to the far edge of the privets. When older, I walked with Vincie all the way up the street to the Fat Tree, but at five years old, not yet in school, my boundary was at the end of our yard. When I was younger than five, I could walk with him only to the far edge of the driveway, where the privets began, but I don’t remember that, just as I don’t remember the day I first met Vincie. Vincie Kizzle grew up in a middle-class two-parent household, the youngest of five children. When he was old enough, he got a job as a cutter for H. H. Browne, a shoe manufacturer located within walking distance of his home, and became a valued employee: dependable, quiet, and skilled at his job. After his siblings moved out and his parents died, Vincie remained in the family home on Willow Street. A respected and well-liked member of the community, young Vincie slicked back his curly hair and donned a dark suit and tie to attend the seven o’clock Mass at St. Joseph’s Church every Sunday morning. Often he could be seen tending his fruit trees or doing yard work on a typical Saturday afternoon. He lived simply, by choice rather than economic necessity, owning no car, telephone or fancy clothes. Despite being pleasant and good-natured, Vincie rarely socialized and never dated. When H. H. Browne moved its factory to Worcester, a city forty five miles away, Vincie did not follow as many other employees did. Comfortable and satisfied with his simple, predictable life, he instead appeared at Quaboug Rubber Company, a rubber sole and heel manufacturer and the only other major industry in town and applied for a job. His reputation in the small town of North Brookfield as a conscientious employee got him hired on the spot to trim heels. Each day after his shift, no matter what the weather, Vincie left the Rubber Shop, walked east up School Street, turned north at the railroad depot onto Forest Street, then headed east onto Willow toward his tiny yellow clapboard Cape with the sagging front porch. The walk was a short one that led him past three of North Brookfield’s public drinking establishments. About half way up Forest Street, The Knights of Columbus Hall sprawled across its double lot, a haven for the drinker who liked to play cards – except on Sunday nights when it converted to a Bingo Hall and an occasional Saturday when, for a fee, it served as a reception hall. On the other side of the street, only a few yards north next to an overgrown empty lot, squatted The American Legion Hall, a favorite with the older crowd and out-of-towners as the closest thing North had to a pool hall. Its former storefront window may have been boarded up, but its door was always open, literally in the summertime, being its only source of ventilation. One block before the end of Forest Street, wedged between two tenements and nestled farther back from the road, hid Hart’s Café, the almost exclusively male local hangout whose clientele consisted primarily of married, middle-aged factory workers and married retired factory workers. Harte’s had been around since the days when Bob Kelley drove Mr. Bush’s taxi-team of horses from the depot, up Forest Street and all the way out of town to deliver tourists and vacationers to the Barre Hotel. Of the three drinking establishments, Hart’s was the favorite stopping off place for the Rubber Shop crowd immediately after the first shift, probably because it was the only one that served food. Vincie, who was passing right by anyway, soon fell into the habit of shooting the breeze over a few beers with the guys each weekday afternoon. According to my mother, I was not quite four – too young to be playing outside unsupervised – when Vincie first caught my attention as he passed by our house on his way home from work and Harte’s. My mother always spoke: “Hi, Vincie” – nothing more. He would then answer in his gentle voice, “Hi, Polly” and continue on his way. Evidently, after solemnly observing this interaction a few times, I began to imitate my mother’s greeting, separately though, so that I would receive my own response. Ordinarily, I could be counted on to hide behind her when she spoke to strangers, and even to some of the neighbors. However, one day, after Vincie appeared and greetings were exchanged, I surprised my mother by suddenly turning to her and asking for permission to walk with Vincie on the sidewalk to the edge of the privet hedge that bordered the backyard. Permission granted, I trotted to catch up with Vincie and slipped my hand into his. He smiled indulgently at my non-stop prattle as the two of us walked to the far end of the backyard, my amazed mother watching from the porch. I have no idea what it was about Vincie that drew me to him because I don’t remember a time before our almost daily walks. I do know that once he and I connected, only the stormiest weather kept me inside before supper on weekdays. As the sun began its descent and the mouth-watering aroma of stews and roasts pervaded the air of Little Canada, I would resume my post at the edge of the side yard closest to the street so that, by peeking around my house, I could spot Vincie almost from the moment he emerged from Hart’s. I then waited, silent though practically dancing with impatience, pig tails bobbing, until he crossed the intersection and stepped onto the curb, whereupon I took his hand, and we proceeded along the sidewalk while I yakked about whatever events had transpired in my life since our last meeting. Occasionally I waited to no avail; supper would be ready and my mother calling before Vincie had passed. 52
One Friday afternoon, supper was late, and as I watched from my post, Vincie suddenly appeared from Harte’s, not with his familiar relaxed gait, but with a jerky, irregular shuffle, his head lowered. For every few steps forward, he faltered, swayed unsteadily, staggered backwards a step or two, then lurched forward again. As he neared the spot where I stood watching, Vincie, without once raising his eyes, crossed over to the other side of the street to continue his precarious trek homeward. Disappointed and confused, I remember glancing over my shoulder at my mother who had just emerged from the house, then turning back. No greetings were exchanged, no questions asked, no explanations offered. Once Vincie passed out of sight, I followed my mother into the house. Vincie’s strange behavior continued to bother me over the weekend. I knew what having too much to drink looked like because just recently I had witnessed an evening when my parents had been talked into “a couple of high balls” at the Balchunas’ house across the street and had returned home slightly drunk and very sick, my father in the downstairs bathroom, my mother in the one upstairs. I also knew what Harte’s was and why people went there. What I couldn’t understand was why Vincie had crossed to the other side of the street and not spoken or even looked at me. My mother’s explanation, when I finally asked, was that Vincie probably felt too sick and perhaps a little embarrassed for me to see him that way. She said he had acted like a gentleman and that my feelings should not be hurt. Monday afternoon I returned to my post. As the weeks went by, I grew accustomed to gauging Vincie’s gait as soon as he came into sight in order to determine whether or not he would feel up to my company on any particular day. If he staggered, his eyes on the road, I knew that he would cross the street before he reached me and that our visit would be postponed until tomorrow or the next day. If he walked normally, his head up, I would be ready to greet him and accompany him up the street. As a child, I accepted our new non-verbal arrangement matter-of-factly and non-judgmentally. I never mentioned his “bad” days, and neither did he. When Christmas approached that year, I took stock of the growing number of presents under the silver tree set up in our living room. In addition to the multicolor ribboned and bowed packages for family members and close friends, a separate pile of small identically wrapped “token gifts” waited to be distributed to acquaintances and providers of specific services to the household such as the mailman, paperboy, babysitter and parish priest. Dismayed at not finding anything there for Vincie, I complained to my mother that he should get a gift too. A box of men’s white handkerchiefs (socks and gloves would alternate with hankies over the years to follow) was hastily purchased, wrapped and tagged for me to present to Vincie during one of our walks, much to the consternation of my father who wondered aloud on more than one social occasion why, among all of the people in North Brookfield, his daughter had chosen the “town drunk” to befriend. Vincie was an alcoholic. Of course, no one called him that; in those days, people who habitually staggered down small town streets in a half stupor, wearing slept-in clothes and reeking of booze, were simply referred to as “drunks.” “Alcoholics” were the proper, well-to-do ladies or gentlemen who nipped a bit too often at the imported wine or brandy in their drawing rooms or at “the club.” If there were any of those living in The Brookfields during the 1960s, they belonged to an exclusive minority. Miriam K-, wife of multimillionaire financier and future convicted tax evader Edward K-, was rumored to be one. The reclusive Mrs. K- languished inside their walled-off 500 acre country estate on the Brookfield Road, or at their beach house in Hyannis, rarely visible to the locals and their scrutiny, yet her reputation (as reported by live-in servants) somehow set the standard for a whole class of people. Alcoholics did not carry their vice home barely concealed in brown paper; it was delivered. They did not pass out in public places, vomit on street corners, or prompt concerned calls to the local police to be bodily removed. Alcoholics lived complicated, troubled lives and periodically required “retreats” to fancy private spas to relax and recuperate from the stresses caused by their charity appearances, philandering spouses or demanding social calendars; whereas drunks, burned out from factory or other blue-collar jobs like those in the Rubber Shop, dried out in jail cells or alone in their rented rooms or rundown homes. Alcoholics did not frequent local bars like Harte’s because they did not associate with their inferiors. Drunks had no inferiors. When I reached school age and earned the privileges that went with it, I played outside without supervision, and my boundary extended all the way to the Fat Tree that marked the north end of Forest Street where it intersected with Willow, though crossing the road by myself remained forbidden. I no longer waited for Vincie at the edge of the side yard; instead I kept an eye peeled for his passing as I played on the swing or in the back yard. On those days when he staggered by on the opposite side of the road, I continued with whatever it was I happened to be doing, watching his unsteady progress while trying hard to look as if I wasn’t. When he stayed on my side of the street, I would run over to join him, leaving toys and even friends behind without a moment’s hesitation. Occasionally, one of my deserted playmates would question me upon my return, puzzled as to why I seemed so eager just to accompany this odd man to the end of the street. “It’s Vincie,” I responded with a shrug, as if that in itself were sufficient reason. Vincie showed genuine interest in everything I said and listened like no other adult I knew, remembering the names of all my friends, pets and teachers and faithfully keeping track of all the self-important details of a child’s life that so obviously bore most adults. He said little beyond the friendly questions that would start me off and running at the mouth, like “Have you taught Pepper any new tricks?” or “Which dolls did you play with today?” He never revealed any personal information, and I was too focused on bringing him up to date on my life during our limited time together to ask any probing questions. I realized, years later, that our conversations were woefully one-sided, though he never seemed to mind, and that, despite our friendship, I didn’t know him nearly as well as he knew me. One Christmas when I was perhaps eight, as I was examining the displayed presents under the silver tree and reading their tags by the light of our color wheel, I discovered a tag that read “ To: Donna From: Vincie.” Well aware of my fondness for dolls, he had impulsively decided to add to my collection. Because of his lack of transportation, Vincie had discreetly approached my father with a ten dollar bill and instructions regarding the kind of gift to be purchased for me. The doll my father subsequently chose was called “Little Miss No Name.” Barefoot and clothed in patched burlap, her long, limp blond hair hanging raggedly around her pathetic face, she came with a plastic “tear” attached to the inside corner of one of her enormous brown eyes. The gimmick (explained on the side of the box) was that the doll “cried” because she was homeless and unloved. Supposedly, as soon as she felt happy and secure, the tear would drop off. I refuse to speculate on the point my father was trying to make by selecting this particular doll, or even if there was a point; I wasn’t even aware of the subterfuge until years later. All I knew when I opened the gift was that Vincie had wanted to please me. Even though the weeks stretched into months and still the tear stubbornly refused to yield to my “accidental” poking and nudging until, in sheer frustration, I pried it off with a butter knife, I treasured the doll and still have it. 53
After I finished elementary school and started junior high, my interests and obligations broadened, and I found myself out in the yard less often. Those activities that brought me there usually involved a lawn mower or grass clippers, so I no longer automatically dropped everything to join Vincie for a stroll to the Fat Tree, although I still greeted him when it was feasible. When I did accompany him, he never referred to my lapses, just as I’d never referred to his; our mutual acceptance remained unconditional. As I matured and become less self-absorbed, I realized that Vincie’s bouts of drinking were becoming more frequent and more debilitating. He had begun stumbling past my house at odd hours of the day, during the evening, and on weekends. There were rumors that he missed work for days at a time. While on a binge, he wouldn’t shave, and his clothes looked slept in. Often, it was said, he’d be so intoxicated that he would trip himself, then lie helpless until someone came to assist him. On more than one occasion, that someone was my father who would half carry-half drag Vincie into our car and drive him home. Fortunately for me, I never saw it. Occasionally, as I roamed past Vincie’s house with my best friend, Andrea, who lived at the top of Willow Street, I would gaze at the peeling paint, the broken windows, and the weedy overgrown yard. I had never entered his home nor he mine. Clearly, Vincie was a man in decline but, right or wrong, our friendship went only as far as the fat tree, and I didn’t know how to change it now. One of Vincie’s falls during a binge resulted in a broken nose. The swelling and blackened eyes that lasted for weeks sickened and horrified me so that I could no longer watch when he staggered up the road. I felt shame for him and averted my eyes. Neither he nor I ever referred to the incident during our brief exchanges afterward, but it was the talk of the town for weeks. A subtle shift in attitude toward Vincie Kizzle was taking place among his former friends and neighbors. He had truly become, as I’d once heard my father say, “the town drunk.” Actually, Vincie was not the only man to stagger drunk through the streets of North Brookfield, but he was, by far, the favorite target. The other one, Bobby Polansky, was amiable enough when sober, but a few too many transformed him into a bitter, argumentative sort to be avoided. “Poky” holed up inside the American Legion Hall for hours on end, despairing over the suspicious car accident that had taken his teenage son, the pneumonia that had more recently claimed his wife, and the factory accident that had left a gnarled stump where his right hand used to be. Simply put, Poky was no fun. He was also not “safe” to pick on because of his temper and because he still had family at home who cared about his welfare. In contrast, the mild tempered, well mannered Vincie lived alone in his shack, maintaining only limited contact with a local elderly sister and rarely seeing his other siblings who lived a few miles away. Also, by showing his obvious dependency on alcohol, Vincie had unwittingly committed the one unpardonable sin that, over the years, had gradually turned North Brookfield against him: weakness. He had allowed the liquor to control him, to reduce him to something less than a man. Because he would not (or could not) hide his problem drinking, he no longer lived up to the town’s expectations of him. He ceased to be a person deserving of respect and affection, instead becoming a thing of scorn and ridicule, the town joke that provoked barely stifled laughter as it lurched by and an easy if not willing target for any abuse directed its way. One Sunday, my brother showed up all snickers over an incident that had occurred earlier that day in Hart’s involving “Wimpy.” Before Jay could even begin to relate his tale, I needed clarification as to who this person was. “Oh, you know….Vincie,” Jay explained. This in itself was news. I’d had no idea that Vincie had lately acquired a nickname. Anyway, apparently Vincie had been back and forth to Hart’s several times over the course of the morning (his appearance at the 7:00 Mass was a rarity by this time), so liquored up he could barely stand, when he realized he’d run out of money. Although Mr. Hart, the bar’s owner, steadfastly refused to extend him credit for additional drinks, Vincie stubbornly persisted in his appeal, attracting the attention of the other customers, most of whom had just stopped by for a beer or two while their wives were preparing dinner. Having gotten nowhere with Hart, Vincie finally turned to them, his friends, for the money to satisfy his desperate craving and was met with jeers and laughter. A couple of guys who had stopped by after an early morning fishing trip had an inspiration: would Vincie eat worms in exchange for a beer? I listened, appalled, as Jay described how the dead and dying worms were lined up on the table and bets laid down as to how many Vincie could be goaded to eat until he either vomited or passed out from the beer. Jay had arrived at Hart’s after the show, while Vincie was “sleeping it off” in the bar’s storeroom, but had been treated to an animated account of “Wimpy’s” performance. Over the days that followed, the story spread through the town. What disgusted me most was not that a few half-drunk morons had exploited Vincie’s addiction for their amusement but that no one but me seemed the least bit upset by it. Not once did I hear the word “alcoholic” or catch a note of sympathy in the retelling. The attitude expressed was that he had brought it on himself. He had become, finally, after years of blatant public drunkeness, fair game. The implication repulsed but did not surprise me. What were a few worms? Just harmless fun, after all. I can only imagine what hell public life must have been for Vincie after that. I’m familiar enough with North Brookfield to know its people never forget. I rarely saw Vincie to speak to during my high school years and when I did, it was only in passing. By then, he staggered around town almost constantly. One gray winter afternoon during a deep freeze, it occurred to me that several days had elapsed since I’d seen him pass our house. As in my childhood days, I stood watch, but from inside where it was warm and dry. As the heavy sky darkened, and Vincie still did not appear, my brother agreed to check Hart’s to see how recently he had been there. A beer later, Jay returned with no news. Meanwhile, my father had come home from work. At my insistence, the two agreed to put their uneaten dinners aside and venture back out into the sub-zero weather to head for the dilapidated once-yellow Cape the inside of which no one but Vincie had probably seen for years. Dinner was late that night. Dad phoned from the home of one of Vincie’s neighbors. When he and Jay reached the shack, Jay wrenching his foot as one of the rickety porch steps gave way under his weight, they found the sagging front door not only unlocked but ajar. The house was in darkness, and yelling for Vincie brought no response. Dad got a flashlight from the car, and the men went in. The light’s beam reflected off a thick sheet of ice that stretched over the bare wooden floor from the front door, through the living room, to the kitchen. Rats skittered out of its glare. The furniture consisted mostly of crates and boxes. Vincie lay curled up in a corner, barely conscious, “dead soldiers” littering the floor around him. Now Jay was trying to get hot coffee down Vincie’s throat as Dad called for an ambulance and updated my mother and me. The hospital diagnosis was pneumonia and severe malnutrition. Apparently, Vincie’s gas and electricity had been shut off due to non-payment, and the water pipes had burst. A brother was contacted and the house restored to its former barely livable condition during Vincie’s absence. Vincie returned home but, from what I heard, never fully recovered. Having received no treatment for alcoholism, he fell into old habits almost immediately. Before long, his brother received another call from the hospital. This time, Vincie did not come out alive. I heard nothing regarding calling hours, and the funeral was a private affair that was over before many people were even aware 54
of his death. Away at college, I was informed after the fact…long distance. The next time I came home, I retraced the route I had walked with Vincie so many years before, continued up Willow Street, and stopped in front of the Cape that listed slightly to one side as it sat neglected in its weedy lot. A porch step, the one my brother had nearly fallen through, was missing. Holes gaped through the intricate lattice work, and roof shingles, disturbed by the harsh New England winds, were scattered around the barely visible walkway. Someone had nailed boards across all the windows and posted a “No Trespassing” sign by the front door. I knew the house would probably come down. I can’t help thinking that North Brookfield failed Vincie Kizzle because, even though it didn’t cause his drinking problem, it certainly used and encouraged it for its own amusement. Perhaps if Vincie had followed H.H Browne to Worcester, he would have lived a different, more fulfilled life. Perhaps not. I know only that Forest Street seems a little emptier now that he’s gone.
Abandoned Train Tunnel Colleen Purcell
The Birthmark Joe E. Kraus
I. The Parent I suppose he was in junior high school, just starting to play football, wrestle, and lift weights, when I started to worry about it. He’d had all sorts of marks when he was a baby – I remember a set of moles along his calf that reminded me of a constellation – and he always had red splotches on his chest. I figured it would fade like the others as he got older. Instead, it turned that peculiar blue and got more and more prominent on the underside of his left forearm. I scrubbed at it for weeks, imagining he’d rubbed a broken magic marker on the spot and hoping I could clean it if I kept trying. We finally got worried enough to ask his doctor about it privately. I was terrified it was cancer, and my husband thought he might be on the steroids. “Keep an eye on it, but don’t worry;” the doctor said. He’d never seen anything like it, but he promised us, “It’s just a discoloration, certainly benign.” If it got bigger, he’d refer us to a specialist. That was reassuring, so we didn’t think much about it for the next few years. He was growing so fast, getting so strong, that his body changed all the time, and, besides, he was a teenager. We knew it was good he claimed his privacy, and we’ve always felt we could trust him. He says he didn’t do anything, and I believe him. It just grew. One day when he was a sophomore in high school, I caught a glimpse of color, and I made him let me look at it. I remembered the mark as a cloudy blue blob, but you could already see distinct lines forming against the background of his skin. That was the first time I thought it might be some kind of a tattoo, but tattoos don’t keep changing once you get them. They’re fixed in place, and this kept darkening and defining itself. We did take him to the specialist then, a dermatologist who took a lot of notes and said something about maybe wanting to write about it for one of the medical journals – “not for the risk, only for the curiosity.” You get worried about a thing like that, and then you let it go. It gave me an ominous sense when I sat down to look at it, but we had other things to think about. We spent hours deliberating about his college and football; we talked about the things we could control and let the rest go. In retrospect, I don’t know how we didn’t make the connection sooner. There are pictures of them in so many books and movies; now I notice them everywhere. But it was, of all things, Harold and Maude. He brought it home on DVD and didn’t tell us what he wanted us to look at. He just went to the scene where we see the scrawled tattoo on Maude’s arm. And then he froze the picture. I looked back and forth from his forearm to hers, trying to find the differences. The digits weren’t the same, of course, but there wasn’t any denying what suddenly seemed obvious: the lines of his mark had resolved themselves into a series of seemingly hand-scrawled letters and numbers. He did have a tattoo, but it didn’t come from any needle. I couldn’t help crying once we’d made the connection. I know it’s stupid – I know it isn’t true – but I wondered whether I might have erased it if only I’d scrubbed it longer, scrubbed it harder, when he was a boy. He says he won’t get rid of it, and maybe he’s right, but I can’t look at it. I know he didn’t suffer like that – I know it’s just something he happened to be born with – but it reminds me of things I can’t imagine my son enduring. I wish his arm were a blank page. I want to imagine him as someone who gets to write his own story. II. The Classmate So he shows up in this class, “The Holocaust in the Literary Imagination,” and he doesn’t belong. He looks like a meathead jock – blonde and tall – and the rest of us are all Jews. (Well, there were two Asians, but one turned out to be Jewish anyway – adopted.) And I figure he’s probably there to pick up chicks, like those assholes who register for Women’s Studies because they figure the odds are just too much in their favor. Then, after class one day, Rachel tells me, “That’s the guy with the tattoo, or the birthmark, whatever,” and I remember hearing about him freshman year. After that I start trying to get a look at it. He’s careful, though; he usually wears a long-sleeve shirt, and he’s such a muscle-head that he’s always holding his arms close to his sides. I’m determined to see it, and I even start sitting next to him so I can maybe catch a glimpse. What I don’t count on is that the professor assigns us into presentation pairs by how we’re sitting. I’m not happy about being his partner, but what am I supposed to say, “I’m not working with this guy because he isn’t Jewish…because he looks like an Aryan asshole…because he walks around with a tattoo like he’s some kind of survivor?” I don’t want to blow up my grade or come across like some asshole myself, so I just suck it up. Still, I promise myself, muscles or no, I’ll punch his lights out if he doesn’t show the right kind of respect. We wind up working on how the cartoon figures of Maus turn around the convention of the comic strip, and I’ll give him credit. He’s prepared when we get together in the library; he’s read the whole thing twice, and he’s even got a good idea: “The cartoons make you think you’re looking at some Disney crap so you drop your guard. The point is to talk to you as if you’re a kid about things only adults can handle.” We go with that – it’s better than what I’ve got – and we end up with an A- for the project. (Our PowerPoint slides were “cluttered.”) A few weeks later, I run into him at a Sigma Chi party, and he’s cool. I’m still edgy around him, but he grabs me around the shoulder and makes sure I’ve got a beer. He asks me what I know about Paula from the class, and I tell him not much. Then, I take a swig, and I finally say what I’ve been trying to get out since early in the semester, “Dude, what’s the deal with that thing on your forearm?” He gets this look like he’s suddenly sober, but he doesn’t get mad. My throat goes dry ’cause I figure I’m about to get my ass kicked, but he leads me over to a corner that isn’t so noisy, and he pulls up his sleeve. “Just so you know,” he says. “I was born with this. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t know what kind of witness it makes me, maybe even what kind of joke, but this is it.” It looks like all the 57
pictures: like an almost casual note you write on something so you won’t misplace it later, like a mark that means you’re more a thing than a person. I stare at it awhile, and my own arm starts to feel naked. My grandmother’s best friend from grammar school was gassed at Treblinka, and three of my father’s second cousins died of dysentery at Bergen-Belsen. I’m the one who lost relatives, lost a whole culture to the insanity. I’m the one who ought to have some mark to show for that. I can’t think of anything to say, so I stick out my hand and he shakes it. My fingers brush against the mark and, even though I expect to feel some kind of shock, I don’t. It’s just flesh like any other flesh, skin doing what skin does. III. Himself They took me to meet a survivor. I was a senior in high school and the mark was pretty much as clear then as it is now. It was in a nursing home in one of the suburbs. He was in a wheel chair slumped to one side. They said he was 86, but he looked even older. The minister from my mom’s church was there and so was a rabbi I didn’t know. He tried to explain to the old man who I was – “This is a boy who has a mysterious birthmark,” he said, “we thought he should meet you” – but it was clear he couldn’t make sense of it. I got down on one knee and rolled up my sleeve for him, putting my forearm alongside the arm of his chair. He looked down at what I was showing him, and his head fell forward as if it suddenly got heavier. He looked back up at my face through his big-eyed glasses, and then he looked down again. “Mein brudder,” he said, but it wasn’t clear whether he thought I was somehow his brother or whether he was remembering a brother of his who’d died in the camps. Mom and dad and the minister and the rabbi and the history teacher from school who’d arranged the visit, they all started sobbing. I could feel it even though I didn’t look at any of them, just the old man. He and I, we didn’t cry, though. He sighed, sighed like it was a word in another language I could mostly understand. That’s when I leaned in and hugged him. We held each other for a moment – it felt longer – and when I straightened back up I could imagine what he looked like when he was younger. They say “never forget” and, obviously, I can’t. I once grabbed a skin-colored Band-Aid from the trainer’s room and put it on top of the mark, pretending I was normal for an hour. When I couldn’t see it, I felt it all the more acutely, and I have a feeling it would be the same way with real plastic surgery. Once you’ve carried something like it, you can’t just put it down. Mom sent me a note last semester with a newspaper clipping reporting the old man had died. I read it, put it in my pocket, and spent the afternoon walking through parts of the city I didn’t know. A couple of times I thought I recognized people from campus driving past, but I never waved. I just concentrated on the small space of sidewalk in front of my feet, and I was never more lonely in my life.
Always Them Amanda Hart Miller
Little girls can be stolen, especially a little girl with sad, heavy-lidded eyes and a too-small jacket, a girl who carries a stuffed unicorn in the crook of her arm and rubs it against her lips again and again. She waits all alone at a bus stop by a patch of winter-gray woods and only a few small run-down houses with torn-up roofs, cardboard taped to the windows, and junk on the porches. To put a bus stop here, Johnny feels, someone must have been asleep at the wheel. Johnny has been watching her now for 41 school days. He marks off the days in his notebook, which he then tucks away. Johnny’s head doesn’t work as well as it used to, so he can’t remember these things unless he writes them down. He writes other things about her, too: Girlie has ribbons in her hair today but they fall out she keep putting them back in. Girlies hair don’t cover that bruze. Girlie got candy bar today. Girlie stares and stares at the moon this morning I want to be there too Girlie. On his most daring of days, he trills a bird call and she turns around to see nothing because he’s behind the trunk of a big tree. He rests his cheek against the bark and listens to his heart scurrying back down his throat. He wears trash bags and rides his bike along the main drag in what is a small town. People say it’s because his wife got burned up in a house fire and he went crazy. He’s written this down. He doesn’t remember that happening, but he does remember lying with Bea after love, her skin silky and scented like almonds and sex, don’t ever leave me but he doesn’t know where she is now. And sometimes he remembers the men under the overpass tying him up and lighting him on fire Ooh-wee… he’s lit up like a Christmas tree but usually this stays deeper inside him in someplace that can’t be remembered but eats him up just the same. Girlie sometimes tries to trick him, he thinks. She brings chalk and draws pictures on the sidewalk, and she works on them so hard that she has to press her lips together tight so she can think, but suddenly she’ll look up quickly, at his tree. The mornings are getting darker, though. It will soon be the longest night of the year. After the bus comes and takes Girlie away, he copies her chalk drawings into his notebook. She mostly draws hearts and flowers, and he likes to pretend she draws them for him. When he copies them into his notebook, they are for her. On January 20th, the sky is much more gray than white. This is when the gray van pulls up. When the man inside puts down the window and says something to Girlie, she stands up from her drawing and cocks her head. She takes three steps back from the van, and Johnny feels like he’s one of the tiny hairs on her skin—just as bristled and scared. She takes another step back and then looks toward Johnny. He forgets to hide because he falls into her eyes for years before she looks back to The BadMan, who is opening the van door until he, too, sees Johnny. The man shakes his head and mutters something angry that Johnny can’t hear. The van purrs as it rolls away. Girlie is smiling at Johnny, thin lips closed and dimples showing. Now there’s this thing linking them, hurtling him through a rabbit hole of jittery nerves so he comes out the other end pumped and fretting at the same time. The bus comes then and Girlie gets on. He can see her through the window, through her clothes to her skin and even deeper, to her heart sending all that blood around, and even deeper than that, to what it all means. The world has always been just the three of them: Girlie and The BadMan and this block of flesh that is Johnny’s to place between them. With trembling hands, he pulls out his notebook.
Twisted Wires Sue Granzella
I grew up on a county road speckled with orchards and pastures, across the lane from the piece of land where my dad grew up. When I was twenty-four, my parents sold my childhood home, leaving those fields on the edge of unincorporated Napa, California, for a house they’d had built on the other end of town, in a hilly green neighborhood my mom had always loved. My parents were frugal people. We never threw out used aluminum foil, and when the old day-bed that served as our family room’s first couch finally became too threadbare, Mom stitched a sensible red corduroy slipcover for it. She was the barber for the four of us kids until we were near voting age, and she made the clothes for our Barbie dolls from fabric scraps of the dresses and pants that she sewed for all of us. Dad fixed his own cars, grew most of our family’s fruit and vegetables, and wore the same clothes year after year until they were embarrassingly see-through. My parents were cut from the same cloth, and it must have been on sale. Yet before they moved into their new home in the hilly neighborhood, my Depression-era parents, in a move I couldn’t fathom, sought the consult of an interior decorator. This woman educated my parents on “style,” pointing out that the new living room needed two couches, a large mirror, and glass-topped end tables. Mom and Dad obeyed unquestioningly. Large framed paintings that I’d never seen in the old house appeared on the walls in the hill-house, carefully hinting at the same rose and tan shades of the brand-new swivel chairs and porcelain knick-knacks the decorator had suggested to my mom and dad. Though the beautifully-matched living room in the new house looked very pretty, it didn’t feel like my parents. It was too perfect. But apparently, Mom and Dad hired her for only the one room, because the contents of the other rooms reflected the parents I’d always known – worn in places, comfortably mismatched, and economical. Their thirteen-year-old black vinyl sofa-bed was transplanted into the hill-house’s family room, as were the small plain framed prints, scenes of the France they’d never visited. The old wooden TV trays were pressed into service as end tables, along with some top-heavy small brown nesting tables. But to me, the stars of the family room furniture --- indeed, of the whole house – were the only other new pieces, my parents’ his-and-hers beige corduroy recliners from Montgomery Wards. When the chairs were purchased just before moving day, they were identical twins. But after several years, it was clear that Dad’s hadn’t aged as well as Mom’s. For one thing, Dad ate his dinner in the recliner, and whenever he spilled or dribbled – which was often – he tended to use the armrests as oversized napkins. And each time he sat down, he would drop himself onto the seat with the full force of his generous weight. After several years of this, the metal framework of the stained chair began crying out in loud and jerky protest whenever Dad rocked back or tried to raise the footrest. So Dad eventually bought a new chair – another beige, corduroy recliner that, while not an identical twin to Mom’s, was clearly a member of the same immediate family. And so things remained the same; whenever I went to Napa to visit Mom and Dad, I spent most of the time on the black couch, chatting with them as they sat alongside me, perched in their respective beige recliners. * ** When Mom’s chair (the surviving twin, age sixteen) started creaking and squawking about six years ago, Dad was terribly impatient to get rid of it. He couldn’t stand the noise, which was ironic because Dad was not a quiet person. His damaged hearing made him watch TV with the volume set to “shriek,” and his snoring sounded like a rototiller. He talked loudly, argued passionately, laughed frequently, and swore energetically. But the sound of Mom’s short legs carefully pushing down her recliner’s footrest and causing the metal supports to scrape together was just too much for Dad. I was visiting them in Napa one July morning, sorting through a huge pile of their mail. The three of us were sitting where the kitchen, family room, and dining area all blended into one open space. Mom was in her recliner with a word search puzzle, and I was at the country-style oak dining table, sandwiched between the room’s big windows and Dad’s chair. Dad, in sweat pants and a tissue-thin old white undershirt, lay back with bare feet up, reading the Wall Street Journal while the TV, neglected, blared in the background. Mom stood up from her recliner to make her lunchtime tuna sandwich. I hadn’t noticed any unusual creaks when she’d gotten up from her chair, but Dad’s recliner was just a couple of feet from Mom’s. Apparently, he’d listened to the metal joints grating against each other one time too many. “God DAMN it! We’ve got to get a new chair for Mom!” As it burst from his mouth, Dad shook his head back and forth with his lips pressed together, his trademark expression of disgust. While Dad cursed at the furniture, it hit me that I should take my parents chair-shopping. I liked it when there was a concrete way to help them, because there was much about their aging process that was frustratingly beyond my control. Mom was small and eighty – perky and healthy, despite being a two-time cancer survivor. Her weakness, though, was her mind; dementia had been a quiet thief over the years. Mom used to host huge holiday dinners, preserve the bounty from our orchard and garden, work as a bookkeeper, and volunteer with the Legion of Mary, bringing Holy Communion to the sick. Now, she forgot how to mop up spills on the carpet, and couldn’t find groceries after she’d put them away. In place of the “old” Mom was an eternally-cheerful mother who could follow daily routines, but not problem-solve. Dad was the opposite. He was round and eighty-three, and his mind was the vibrant, powerful force it had been for his entire life, able to retain details and analyze situations to a degree that was often intimidating. Propped up in his recliner, he’d turn the TV on by 6:30 a.m. for the opening of the stock market, and his eyes would lock onto the continuous stream of letters and numbers along the bottom of the screen, reading minute-by-minute reports on his individual investments in the New York Stock Exchange and the S&P 500. Several times an hour, when he wanted up-to-the-second values on his various accounts, he’d snatch the phone from the wooden tray beside him and punch in long strings of phone and account numbers, all from memory. He’d listen silently to the quotes from the automated voice on the other end, his eyes not leaving the streaming ribbon on the TV screen. “Dad, how can you remember all of those numbers?” I’d ask, shaking my head in wonder. “I don’t know,” he’d answer, with a shrug and a look that said that if I was impressed by that, I was somewhat less than razor-sharp myself. 60
In addition to his keen interest in finances and business, Dad devoured newspapers and kept up on current events. A few years prior, I’d accompanied him to an appointment with his cardiologist, a man I’d always known to be supremely calm, quiet, and respectful. On that day, as the doctor breezed into the room carrying Dad’s thick medical file, Dad whipped out a scrap of paper from his shirt pocket. Reading the scribbled notes he’d taken about a news story that had broken that morning, he jumped right in with: “Say, Doctor, I see there’s been a recall on one kind of combination pacemaker-defibrillator. Is that the one I have?” It was the only time I ever saw this even-keel doctor display anything other than unflappable professionalism. Dr. Mitchell threw his head back, gave a shout of laughter, slapped Dad’s folder down on the table, and cried out, “I KNEW you were going to ask me about that!” His whole face lit up in triumph at having been right. I wondered if he’d placed an office bet before Dad’s arrival. As Dad grinned with both surprise and pleasure, I nearly choked, I was laughing so hard. But I was also proud. It was clear that Dad’s family and friends weren’t the only ones who knew how alive his mind was, and how compelled he was to read and stay well informed. No matter how powerful Dad’s mind was, though, it wasn’t strong enough to stop the downhill slide of his aging body. Downhill is great if you’re skiing or biking, but the path of Dad’s health had not been a fun ride. Going through the major events felt like when I’d had braces in fifth grade. At each orthodontist appointment, the wires would get tightened, and afterward, my teeth would ache for days. Then the sharp hurt would fade away, and just when I’d forgotten what sore teeth felt like, it was time for the next appointment. He’d twist those wires tighter again, and the cycle of pain would start anew. Dad’s major health crises – bypass surgery, lung cancer, stroke, pacemaker malfunctions – had been spaced far enough apart that just as I was starting to relax after the last one, another would hit. Then I’d feel the sickening drop in my stomach again, and the return of that feeling of constantly being twisted tight inside. It put me on edge and made me apprehensive, like lining up for the 100-yard dash, locked into the “get set” position – ever on the alert, waiting for the starter’s gun. The nervousness was always with me – a fear that this crisis would be the one that would lead to the end. With time the anxiety would fade into background, but it would never disappear. The most recent manifestation of Dad’s failing health was the very round belly he now carried. Nine months earlier, in October, I’d added a new fact to the list of things I’d never wanted to learn: a weakened heart can’t pump fluid away from vital organs. That fluid build-up made my dad look pregnant; the visible evidence made it harder than ever for me to relax inside. I knew that Dad never forgot it; I grew to cringe at the number “fifteen,” having heard him repeat it to friends, over and over. It was the percentage of one of the heart’s pumping functions that he had left. Though I couldn’t increase that number, it helped me to do any physical tasks for my parents that I could think of – gas up the car, change light bulbs, or pick up crusty French bread and nectarines at the market. So if Dad wanted to get a new recliner for Mom – even if I thought it wasn’t necessary – then I would take them shopping. “Okay, Dad, so you want to go? Where shall we head? There’s an Ashley Furniture in Cordelia.” I knew that Montgomery Wards had closed years earlier. “Nah, it’s going to cost too much there. There are some furniture places on the old highway into Vallejo.” So around one o’clock that July day, the three of us got into their silver 1997 Nissan. I drove us south on Highway 29 for twenty minutes until we pulled up at our destination, a huge furniture warehouse with signs outside proclaiming: “Big Discounts!” I hopped out, ran around to Dad’s door, and helped steady him as he tottered toward the entrance, using my left arm for support. Mom followed a step behind, tightly gripping the purse she carried everywhere. As our eyes adjusted to the dim light inside after the bright summer sunshine, we could see rows and rows of upholstered furniture, kitchen tables, and bedroom sets. I had Mom sit on a plush couch in the main aisle, while Dad and I set out for the recliners. We found them right away, a couple of long rows of them, all obediently facing forward in the very front of the store. He wanted one that was a bit small, a better fit for my petite mother. I spied a dark brown one in the second row that looked like the right size, and pointed to it, asking, “Hey, do you like that one? Why don’t you sit in it, and see if you think it’d work for Mom. I’ll go get her.” Dad began moving slowly toward the recliner. He’d forgotten his cane in the car, and so was holding on to the backs of the chairs in the front row for support. Just as he dropped into the brown chair, I saw his face change. He looked suddenly extra-alert, and his brown eyes opened a little wider. “Uh-oh – I think I have to go to the bathroom.” He was already struggling back to his feet, but I wasn’t sure where he thought he’d head. The building was massive, and we had no idea where the bathroom was. “Dad, hold on a second – I’ll go find out where the bathroom is. Just wait, okay?” I was alarmed by that focused intense look; I sensed I didn’t have much time. I dashed over to a slim young man who was striding confidently toward the bedroom furniture. Praying that he worked there, I blurted out, “Do you know where the bathroom is?” He nodded and gestured toward the very back corner of the warehouse, and I sprinted back toward where I’d left Dad. When I passed Mom, still on the couch, I tossed her the keys and asked her to wait in the car. I needed to rush, and knew it would slow me down if I had to deal with her worried questions and fussing. I found Dad a little ways away, heading down the main aisle; he had set off on his own, in search of the bathroom. I was glad that at least he was going in the right direction. Looking even more stressed now, he said when he saw me, “I don’t know if I’m going to make it.” I grabbed his arm and pulled on his darkly freckled hand with its puffy fluid-filled fingers, tucking it into the crook of my arm. “Hang on, Dad – just a little further.” I continued lying, telling him that we were almost there, knowing that it usually didn’t work to try to fool Dad. I urged him along as quickly as I dared. About three-quarters of the way there, he slowed down for a moment, and then sighed, “Aw, shit.” Oh, no. As the awful smell made its way to me, it was clear that there was no need to ask a clarifying question, or to continue to rush him. Now what the heck would I do? I was split in half. One part of me was completely in problem-solving mode, spinning solutions at warp speed, with swirling wonderings about privacy and clothes and cleaning. The other part of me was just cringing horribly for my dad – my powerful, multi-talented father, my brilliant father who had just crapped his pants. Once in the employees-only area, I hustled Dad into the dingy bathroom and started pawing around for anything to help me deal with the mess that I hadn’t yet seen. There were no paper towels, and just a few squares of toilet paper remaining. Obviously, I’d need more supplies. 61
Firmly instructing Dad to lock the door behind me and then stay exactly where he was standing, I stepped back into the dark hallway and shut the door. Then I began peeking and darting into rooms and cabinets, hunting for anything helpful that I could swipe. “Thou Shalt Not Steal” was engraved very deeply on my Catholic-school-educated soul, but so was “Honor Thy Father and Mother,” and that’s the only commandment I cared to follow just then. A garbage bag and a few containers of Wet Wipes would have been ideal, but there was nothing like that around. Finally, I spotted a large, opened package of napkins in the employee break room. I took the whole thing, along with a nearly-empty bottle of dish soap. I ran back to the bathroom door and smacked the flat of my hand against it for my hard-of-hearing father. He opened the door for me, and I saw that he’d followed my directions. He hadn’t budged; his tennis shoes were still planted in the same spot. He didn’t ask where I’d come up with the soap and napkins. Dad wasn’t prone to embarrassment, but I still wanted to act like this situation was no big deal. Trying to make my voice sound chipper, I said, “Okay, Dad, it’s going to take a little while to clean you up, so you have to tell me if you get tired of standing. Don’t just start walking around. Okay?” The bathroom floor wasn’t real clean to start with, and its state was certainly not going to improve with what I was about to do. He nodded, uncharacteristically quiet. I began with the pants. Dad had started wearing sweat pants since his belly had begun bulging out in October, and today, that was a blessing. I pulled them off right over his tennis shoes, and tossed them into the sink. There was no question of cleaning his underwear; they had to go. I had Dad place his hands on the sink to steady him while I stooped over and pulled his legs, one at a time, up and out of the disastrous underpants. Placing a napkin in the palm of each hand, I stuffed the bundle into the trash can, sending a mental apology to the poor soul who would find the unpleasant surprise. Now it was time to start in on Dad himself, as he stood there, naked except for his tennis shoes and yellow polyester pull-over shirt. I set to work with the flimsy napkins and precious green dish soap, stepping countless times from sink to father to garbage, sink to father to garbage. Once his body was in an acceptable condition, my attention turned to his clothes. Thankfully, the sweat pants weren’t bad. I drenched them with cold water, dribbled soap over them, and scrubbed them into a passable state. Next were his shoes, which had escaped the initial assault, but which hadn’t fared as well when I’d removed his underwear. When I was ready to help my silent father back into his now-wet clothes, I finally took a good look at his face. His expression was confusing to me; he didn’t look especially perturbed. He may have said, “Thank you,” but I’m not positive. Then we emerged from that dungeon, the tiny, windowless room that had changed us both. My cleaned-up father and I, his shell-shocked daughter, made our way back out into the sunshine. Mom was waiting for us in the back seat of the Nissan, sitting sideways with the door open. Once I got Dad in the car, I told them to wait while I dashed back into the store. I told the young man seated at the desk that my dad had had a bathroom emergency, and that he’d been sitting in a brown recliner just before he’d had to go. Even though I thought he’d vacated it in time, I scribbled down my phone number and told the manager to call me if he saw or smelled anything around the chair we hadn’t had time to buy. Behind the wheel again, I pointed us north back up Highway 29. My mom, serene in her cloud of mid-stage Alzheimer’s, was oblivious to the drama just played out. As she made cheerful conversation on the way back, I had time to think. I was pretty shaken up. I decided that it wasn’t because I’d had to go through cleaning my father up and throwing away some of his clothing. And it wasn’t because I felt worried that there might be repeat performances in his future. It wasn’t even that I was disturbed at the flip-flop in the parent-child relationship that had played out so graphically. In different ways, that had already been happening with both parents, and I knew that it would continue No, what had me reeling was the fact that my fiery, passionate, powerful father had been nearly catatonic during the entire episode. He’d said barely a word. He hadn’t looked frustrated, angry, or embarrassed; in fact, he’d been eerily passive, silent, and compliant. I suddenly thought of the way my high-strung dog had acted on the loudest Fourth of July I could remember. When he’d finally stopped barking, it wasn’t because the booms and crashes no longer bothered him. I could see it in his eyes. He’d gone beyond frenzy, and was in a deeper level of fear. It had him paralyzed. The silent, still Dad who hadn’t gotten rattled at all upset me far more than the shouting and arguing Dad ever had. This was a totally different slope in the downhill slide. Dad didn’t stay quiet for long. We went to the doctor a few days later, asking if anything could be done about his internal bowling ball of built-up fluid that had led to the furniture-store incident. After a number of tests, the physician reported that Dad might be helped by learning some exercises to counteract the pressure, and he prescribed physical therapy. Following the first therapy appointment a few days later, I asked him hopefully, “So how did it go, Dad?” “Aw, she just had me do some squeezing things in my butt.” Not surprisingly, he didn’t sound very enthused. “So when do you go again? How long will the therapy last?” The voice he’d been lacking in that dank, grubby furniture-warehouse bathroom this time came out loud and clear, now that he was back in his recliner at home. “Aw, HELL! I’m not going back! I’m NOT going to do physical therapy for my BUTT!” I had to laugh. I’d argued with him before about other aspects of his health regimen that he’d been reluctant to follow, but I just didn’t have it in me to push this one. Would I have chosen any differently for myself? Besides, it was a relief to hear the fire in his voice again. Dad and I never mentioned the scene in the furniture store bathroom. I merely placed a brown bag with a clean set of clothes in the back seat of their car, and tried to keep reminding them that if anything surprising happened when they were out, the clothes were ready. Neither did we return to that furniture store to buy the brown recliner for Mom. I did pop in a few days later, and was relieved to hear from the manager that nothing amiss had been noticed around the chair. It somehow felt too painful, though, to buy Mom’s new recliner from that showroom. So I stopped at a different Highway 29 warehouse the next week when I was heading to Napa to go see them. I picked out a small, beige, corduroy recliner in less than five minutes. It was delivered to their house the next day, and the last of the original twins was hauled away, out of their family room. 62
Mom loved her new chair, and Dad loved how quiet it was, no interruption to him at all as he made his daily stock phone calls. Author And I visited more and more frequently that summer, sitting on the black vinyl couch as they perched in their newer-model beige recliners. The wires on the braces were now twisted tighter than ever, and I felt the awful ache deep inside. I was locked in at “get set,” and knew I couldn’t allow myself to relax. Not even for a minute. Thoughtful prose
American Gothic Stephen Pohl
Arrangements Hannah Thurman
I went to school once but not a lot of people remember that. I asked my daughter Susan a few years ago if she knew where her mother and I had met. A bar? she asked, but Fanny didn’t like bars. Maybe the grocery store, Susan said. We met in college, I told her and she seemed surprised for a second then acted like she’d known all along. She gets that from her mother, can’t ever admit she doesn’t know something. Anyway, I didn’t last long, in school. After about three days of choosing my classes and choosing what to write essays about and choosing mostly not to listen to the smartass teachers, I quit. I had been in the army and the day I left school they gave me a job in the recruiting office down the road from the college, probably thinking I’d help the cause if a kid came along who hated school as much as I did. It was a good gig, even during Vietnam when a lot of people didn’t think the army was so hot. The worst thing that ever happened was some kids from the college tried to throw a brick through our window. But they must not’ve looked at the sign really carefully because the brick went into the pawn shop next door, and set off the break-in alarm system. The cops heard the buzzer and caught them in the act which is why we knew they were gunning for us and not Larry’s Buy-Em Bin. Just goes to show that getting yourself educated doesn’t necessarily make you smarter. Fanny would disagree, she loved school. I’d seen her walking to an English class on my second day on campus. She was wearing a soft blue skirt and holding books under her arm, and I couldn’t stop looking at her tiny waist. She was halfway through with her degree when she got pregnant with Susan and dropped out. Later on, when we’d fight, she would bring that up. It always made me feel a little sick to my stomach, because getting her in the family was of course my doing, and sometimes it seemed like she loved school more than she loved me. But then I’d ask her what she’d rather have more, Susan or a Bachelor’s degree? I’d feel better when she said Susan, which is how she’d answered until the day she left. That happened eight years ago, and that day, before I could even finish my question, she cut me off. “I shouldn’t have to choose,” she said, and that’s when I knew she was gone for good. *** When I wake up on the couch on my porch, it’s hot and the mosquitoes are buzzing. Sun shimmers through the leaves of the tulip poplar overhead and a few tired birds chirp in the branches. I close my eyes and watch the shadows flicker behind my lids. I am not yet bored with my retirement. Old friends from work or the neighborhood, and increasingly from the senior citizen’s center, try to get me to join their clubs. They’re always called clubs, which makes me think of Groucho Marx—I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that will accept people like me as a member. Sure, I’ll play some canasta or practice my swing but I don’t need them to fill my days. In the morning I’m busy watching my shows and at night I’ll drive down to Fender’s for a drink. In between those activities is the perfect space of time for sleeping on the porch couch, although I worry that the damn thing is going to give out soon. It is almost as old as I am, which is 67. I know I have some years left in me, but I haven’t been sat on my whole life. When I push myself up and walk into the kitchen, dirt sticks to my bare toes. Reggie, Reggie, I tell myself. Let’s get this place clean sometime. What would Fanny think? But it’s getting harder to imagine what she’d think. Fanny left eight years ago and she’s been dead for six months. Diabetes, but, as she always liked to remind me, Type 1. I unstick the refrigerator and pull out a jar of pickles, then turn the radio on for some company. It buzzes waspishly with the sound of Phil Hornbeam’s voice. “Aaand we’re back, with Phil’s Thursday Request Night. Your tunes your way. It’s what you want.” “Not what I want,” I say out loud, fishing around in the brine. I’ve always thought one of life’s great ironies is that as soon as you grab a pickle in your fist, your hand’s too big to pull it out of the jar. “Hey, Phil,” I say, “can you lend me a hand?” I crack myself up sometimes. Phil ignores me to take a call. “Howdy,” he says. He has a real fake way of talking, I know for a fact he’s not from around here. “Congratulations, you’re on air.” “Thank you, that’s great.” The caller’s voice sounds familiar but that isn’t surprising. I live in a small town and even without joining any clubs, I’ve met just about everyone. I try to place the voice, which belongs to a young man. “What’s your name, buddy?” Phil asks. Eric,” he answers and suddenly I remember. Eric Sutterfield, my daughter Susan’s boyfriend. Although it’s stupid to call him that: he and Susan are both in their thirties. But Susan never really grew up. She lived with us until she was twenty-five and now she’s going back to school to get her Master’s, which seems silly. Fanny was all for it, of course, brought up her own half-finished degree anytime I’d say anything. But I don’t think Susan’s that into school, I think she just doesn’t know what she wants to do and I have more experience with that feeling than Fanny ever did. Phil cackles. “I hope that isn’t the only present you got her!” he says. “You know how women are always saying it’s the thought that counts? Well…” Phil can’t seem to remember what he should say. “Well, it sure ain’t!” The last word seems to stick in the air. “Happy birthday, Susan!” Eric is saying something but you can’t hear it over the opening riff of “Message in a Bottle.” I’m not listening anyway; all I can think of is dammit dammit goddammit. It must be August 3rd. Yes, the water bill came yesterday. It is definitely the third. And it is too hot to be anything but August. Fanny was pregnant that whole long, hot summer. In later years, there’d been birthday parties at the local pool. I can still smell the chlorine. Susan is thirty-seven today and this is the first year 65
Fanny hasn’t been around to remind me, so of course I have forgotten. These last six months have been a series of unpleasant discoveries of all the things Fanny did for me or reminded me to do. I forgot to turn in my taxes. I did not get the tires rotated. And now I have missed my daughter’s birthday. I have to go see her, that is obvious. Each year, even after we separated, Fanny and I would take Susan out to dinner together. Those were some of the best times the three of us had, Fanny and I on our best behavior for the space of a dinner. Last year, even though Fanny was starting to fade, she still called me up and the three of us went out for Chinese. I walk quickly into my bedroom to change, trying to think of the last time I saw Susan. Fanny’s funeral was in February. Susan came over several times in March to sign some papers. But I can’t recall seeing her after that. She is busy, after all, running Fanny’s flower shop and going to college. I too have had things to do: I read the newspaper all the way through each day and most weeks finish a mystery book. I cook and take walks to see what’s happening in the neighborhood and to keep up my health, which my doctor says is very important to do. When I get into the car, a rusted Subaru the color of the inside of a banana, I turn the radio back to Phil’s station. I don’t believe in God, not much anyway, but I once slept with this waitress who told me about reincarnation. What if Fanny has come back as Phil Hornbeam? That cracks me up, Fanny hated Phil. The only show she’d tolerate was the one where the guys who sounded like mobsters talked about cars. The sky is dark almost suddenly, but no stars are out yet. Phil’s laughter dies away as Johnny Cash jumps into “Ring of Fire.” Good driving music, good driving weather. Reincarnated or not, Phil is my good luck charm. I pull out of the driveway and onto the road, confident that for once and in spite of Fanny’s predictions, I am moving with the world and not against it. *** The interior of Fanny’s Floral Designs has a familiar green, cold smell: The scent of preservatives mixed with baby’s breath. There is no one in the store when I walk in, and the bells bouncing against the door seem loud. I haven’t been in here since Fanny died, but before that I came often. After she left me it was the easiest place to find her, and she couldn’t keep me out: I’d helped build the place. To my right is a potted arrangement of ferns and one waxy red tulip. It looks fake until I pluck off a petal and discover the stalk inside is yellow and dusty. I stash the petal in my pocket and look around to see if anyone’s noticed. Instead, I see Susan. Her frizzy hair is pulled back from her face and she is wearing a faded pink t-shirt that almost matches her pale skin. Her eyes, dark like Fanny’s, look tired. “Hi honey.” I hold out an arm. She pats me once on the back before stepping away quickly. “Hi, dad.” I frown a little. “Aren’t you happy? It’s your birthday.” She puts her hands in her pockets. “Thanks,” she says. “I’m fine, just a little tired.” “Bet you thought I’d forgotten.” She shrugs. “Did you?” “I’m here, aren’t I?” I lean against a cool glass case filled with roses. She tells me not to touch anything, which annoys me because I am her father and I have come here to celebrate her birthday. I want her to be proud of me for remembering, but for that to happen, she’d have to know I almost forgot. “I’d like to take you out to dinner. Do you think you can close early tonight?” Susan shakes her head. “Really?” I ask. “Who’s going to come in this late?” I check my watch. It’s almost eight-thirty. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I can’t afford to miss any customers. Business is tight.” “Just an hour. We’ll get burgers.” “I said no.” In the silence that follows she wrings her hands. “Sorry, dad. I just can’t tonight. It’s not you.” “Then what is it? You’re afraid someone’s going to have a daffodil emergency?” I reach into my pocket for my wallet. “You think you’re going to miss out if you can’t sell someone a fern? I’ve got forty dollars here, take it. That’s more than you’d make tonight, guaranteed.” I smile to let her know I’m on her side. She doesn’t take the money. She doesn’t smile. Fine, Susan, throw a tantrum. Break your father’s heart. “Sorry,” she says again. “I just can’t.” “Yeah, you said that.” She looks up. “It’s not just the money,” she says. “I just think, anytime I shut the place down one of mom’s old customers might come in.” She swallows. “They don’t like me like they liked her. I’m afraid—” She shrugs. “I dunno. I want this place to do well.” “It’s not?” I look around. I don’t know if I believe her. Paint is peeling off the shelves but the flowers are as bright as ever. Susan has a habit of exaggerating. “Look,” she says, “It may not be completely going to shit but I don’t want to be the one who kills mom’s store.” Her voice sounds high and stretched, like it could break. “Susan,” I say, taking her hand. “I think you’re doing a fine job.” She smiles and I wonder if I can still coax her to close up for the night, but then her gaze lands on the tulip behind me. “Hey, did you break the petal off this flower?” She lets go of my hand. “No,” I say. “No, I don’t think so.” Susan sighs and picks up the planter with both hands. She starts walking towards the back room and I follow her. When she opens the door, I see it looks just the same as I remember. I haven’t been back here in about eight years: after Fanny and I split, she stopped letting me come past the last display case. That seemed unfair: I had hung the yellow wallpaper in the back room myself while Susan bounced in a chair hung from the doorway. 66
Susan sets the plant down on a muddy countertop. “Why did you do this?” I turn the tulip in its bowl so the bad side is hidden by a spray of fern. “It’s fixed,” I say. “See?” Susan rolls her eyes. “You always think you can just fix things.” I examine the tulip from both sides. “It looks fine.” “No, it doesn’t.” I take another deep breath. “Okay,” I say. “I’ll go out and get us both some takeout. You can stay here and man the fort.” She doesn’t say anything. But how can you argue with that? I cross my arms. “I’m going out, and when I come back we’ll have a nice birthday meal, okay?” I get up. When I reach the door to the backroom, she says, “Don’t.” I wheel around, furious. “Why?” I ask. “Why, goddammit?” “I don’t want to do this.” “We always do this.” “I know,” she says. “That’s why I don’t want to do it this time.” Her face is turning pinker. “Maybe next year,” she says. “Maybe some night that isn’t my birthday. But tonight I just want to run mom’s flower shop. Alone.” She clenches her fists. “I’m sorry,” she says. “It is really nice of you to offer to take me to dinner. But I just can’t.” I run my hand over the doorframe. Paint chips off in little white flakes. “She wouldn’t have wanted you to be alone.” “How would you know?” Susan says, voice trembling. “We loved each other,” I say automatically. “Then why did she leave you?” “That’s not something you would understand.” “I’m not a child.” “Yes, you are!” Susan’s making me angry, talking about things she doesn’t know anything about. She wasn’t even born the first time Fanny and I fought, over the flowers at the wedding. Sure, I loved her but I hated her too. I never hit her but I thought sometimes about setting the whole goddamn shop on fire, watching the wallpaper peel and burn, all the roses going up in flames. There were times she hated me too. I wish there were another war and you’d die, she said once. That line kept playing through my head at her funeral and I could hear it so clearly that even though there was that coffin at the front of the church it seemed like she wasn’t gone. Eric came up to shake my hand and I was surprised to see tears in his eyes. I was surprised because I kept hearing her say the thing about the war in my head and it made me mad to hear her say it, and how could she be gone if she was still making me so angry? “You don’t even miss her.” Susan is crying. I swipe the tulip off the counter. The platter shatters on the floor. “Of course I miss her.” Susan’s eyes narrow. She looks down at the dirt that has spilled across the white tile. “Get out of here,” she says, “Now.” I stomp out so hard my knees hurt. It takes a lot of willpower not to smash every bough, stem, and petal in the place. How dare she say that? Of course I miss Fanny. I just sometimes forget she’s gone. And when I do remember, on nights like this, I miss her more than anyone else ever could. I slam the door open, the bells jangle. When I get outside it is hot and sticky. The night is quiet. I sit in the car because I am still angry. I don’t want to cause a wreck. How would Susan feel if I crashed my car and died? Would she still hate me? Or would she realize that I loved her mother, that I had never wanted Fanny dead even though she’d wished that on me? When she gets older she will see that not everything is black and white. I turn the keys and the radio shouts out Phil’s call-in number. Four-three-five, nine-two-one-one, four-three-five, nine-two-one-one, and I think for a moment about giving him a ring. I reach for my phone in my pocket but pull out the tulip petal instead. It is duller and uglier than it was when I was inside, and I crumple it without thinking. Phil howls and howls. His breathing is wheezy. He is laughing with a girl named Meaghan. I press the off button. Phil is not Fanny. He is no longer lucky. I smooth out the crinkled petal and place it on the dashboard, watching it out of the corner of my eye as I shift into gear and pull out again onto the road. Although it is creased and faded, it glows a little in the lights from the street, and I believe that by the time I get home, it will look okay again.
Flowers Julian Jackson
Cycling Home Catherine Jagoe
I did not learn to ride a bike until I was sixteen, in Shropshire. My father, who cycled to work, taught me. I did not see my mother on a bike—she did not own one—until many years later. My father was an impatient teacher, and I was doubtless a terrible learner, being at once a perfectionist and a coward. Great unpleasantness ensued as I attempted to trust myself to this contraption and take both feet off the ground at once, wobbling around the flat country lane. Dad’s method of instruction was generally to express amazement that I had reached my current age without knowing how to (skate, wire a plug, play tennis or ride a bike) and annoyance at discovering that it was up to him to rectify the situation, which he did peremptorily, as if on a military expedition. Even after I had, miraculously, got the hang of propelling myself forward while seated, I continued to be extremely cautious and distinctly remember a nasty encounter with a six-foot holly hedge on a hill near our house. I was born in a place and time when few women saw themselves as athletes. I reached adolescence in rural England in 1972, a world in which, as a teenager, I felt immured. Nowadays we are so accustomed to the sight of female cyclists and joggers that we barely notice them, but they did not exist where I grew up. For a girl, engaging in anything more than walking the dog or the Sunday afternoon family hike was viewed as odd. My mother worried that sport made you too muscular—like the East German women who swept up most of the gold medals in swimming in the 1976 Olympics. She thought them ugly and unfeminine. For seven years, I attended an all-girls’ secondary school just across the border in north Wales. We were not allowed to wear trousers. The uniform included P.E. outfits of bloomers and mini-dresses made of thick polyester in the four house colors. Mine were a sickly ocher shade that was billed as “gold.” The two sports we were taught were field hockey (in my memory it was invariably chilly and raining, but we were never allowed to don sweaters over our sleeveless mini-dresses) and netball, a women’s sport similar to basketball except it was played outdoors and you weren’t allowed to dribble the ball while running. Despite being tall, which should have been an advantage, I wasn’t at all athletic. I was bookish and self-conscious, timid, near-sighted and uncoordinated. I dreaded P.E. with its organized sadism, its cold, humiliation, pain and shouting; the danger of getting thwacked on the shins by a hockey stick, covered in gluey mud, or hit by the ball; the agony of taking off one’s clothes in front of others in the locker room with its sharp and intimate smells of stale sweat, sanitary towels and Dettol disinfectant; the alternately numbing or scalding showers. Cycling didn’t become essential to my life until I was nineteen. I left home to study languages at Cambridge University and needed a bike to get around. My college was three miles outside the town center, and the students (who were not permitted to bring cars) used bicycles to go to lectures and socialize. I arrived with a black three-speed, 1930s “sit-up-and-beg” bicycle inherited from Mrs. Brasher, an elderly widowed neighbor. I christened this weighty vehicle “Hercules.” It had a wicker basket on the handlebars and my matriculation year and college painted in neat white letters on the rear fender by the gruff but kindly college groundsman, Mr. Whitehead, whose shed smelled of linseed oil. By the end of my first term I had mostly lost my fear of cycling and could negotiate the busy, cobbled streets of Cambridge as well as anyone else. After finals in my last year, I was given a summer grant to spend six weeks cycling around Brittany visiting prehistoric standing stones and burial sites. With some of the money, I purchased a Peugeot ten-speed bike that I whimsically named “Cassandra,” crossed the Channel by ferry and set off for a blissful summer with my boyfriend, biking around looking for menhirs, making love in our tent, and subsisting on baguettes and cheap Camembert. Spending a whole summer outdoors, where I found myself happiest, and using my body to travel and explore, were key experiences. I learned that I had strength and endurance, and I gained a measure of confidence and self-reliance. I learned how to repair flats, navigate, put up a tent and survive in a foreign country. During graduate school, I won a research fellowship to the University of Wisconsin, and arrived in Madison in August 1986 for what was supposed to be a one-year visit. I naïvely expected it to be like the places I had seen on the TV series “Dallas”—gleaming sky-scrapers and fast cars—but to my surprise and relief, it was green and laid-back, not citified. I moved in to a house next to a small lake that I swam across every morning. Wisconsin in the summer seemed like paradise—the space and warm weather created an intoxicating range of opportunities to swim and bike and sail and canoe and play tennis. The parks were full of people playing Frisbee and softball in the evenings. In the second week I took the bus out to the mall and bought a red Schwinn ten-speed bicycle at Sears. It was a matter of chance and luck that Madison turned out to be one of the best places in the U.S. to ride a bike, both because of the existence of bike lanes within the city and because of Wisconsin’s history as a dairy state. There is a dense network of winding country roads that are not laid out on grids (as they are in neighboring Illinois and elsewhere) and that have to be well maintained for milk to get to market. The terrain nearby comprises rolling hillsides and small farms, wooded areas, and many one- and two-lane roads with low traffic, ideal for cycling. During that year I met my future husband, a keen cyclist. My cycling up until that point had been primarily a means of locomotion and exploration, with no thought of speed or technique. Thanks to Ned, I learned about some of the technical aspects of road biking, like cadence and drafting. I acquired first a helmet (after an accident early on), then padded gloves (as my hands started to get numb from vibrations through the handlebars), then padded bike shorts (to avoid saddle sores) and, eventually, Lycra cycling tops with pockets in the back. By the end of my first summer, we were riding 30 miles every evening after work. Wisconsin roads were a delight after the crowded, dangerous, narrow roads of England. Instead of an engagement ring, Ned got me my first 21-speed bike, a Trek 1100, which I am still riding over 20 years later. “Where do you ride—the bike trails?” People always ask me that. They can’t imagine the country roads. It’s a whole hidden world, the world of cyclists; the places they go, the things they do. The very same countryside that can seem so sterile viewed from within a car on a highway—occupied only by Culvers and Stop’n’Gos and Kwik Trips—is spacious and gorgeous on the rolling back roads. If you’re a cyclist, you avoid any road with a number in its name (highway 69, say) and spend little time on those with letter names, like A or KP. Roads with nouns for names are your best bet, especially if they offer promises like “Enchanted Valley Road” or “Storytown Road.” Cyclists and drivers don’t travel the same roads, or, if we do, we don’t experience them in the same way. I sometimes think of driving as watching a place on TV instead of being in it. You see what it’s like but you don’t experience it with your other senses, and you don’t earn it physically. The cows’ sweet stink. Starlings 69
like a shower. Inland prairie seas of grasses, and then hay-making. You can’t smell the silage or the pine trees or the dead animal on the side of the road or the rain coming, or the fall. You don’t hear the redwings’ chee, chee or get dive-bombed by them or see herons flying with clumsy, languid grace overhead or feel every jolt in the road. You can’t be felled by a hole or a stone the size of a silver dollar. You don’t swoop out of the heat into the delicious cool of the valleys on summer evenings. Once spring returns to Wisconsin and the temperatures reach the low fifties, a ribbon of sound begins to unroll as you ride through the countryside, with chorus frogs shrilling in all the wetlands, and later in the season crickets jingling their tiny, shrill tambourines in the dry grasses. The air is full of birdsong too, from wrens, song sparrows, towhees, swallows, woodpeckers, goldfinches, killdeer, and yellowthroats going about their business in the trees and fields. All of this is what I live for, after the long silence of winter. Biking gives me a feeling of joy and freedom, of spaciousness. Moving through so much air—on a good year I ride some four thousand miles between April and October—my sense of smell becomes more acute. When I pass a bar I am almost overwhelmed by the hot, greasy smell of it. Clover smells so sweet when I pass clumps of it in the verge that I instinctively sense why foraging animals prefer it. The wood on a new bridge smells both sweet and acrid, like tobacco smoke. I pass an orchard on my route out of town, and in May I am regaled with the scent of apple-blossom and then, in August and September, the perfume of apples. At another point I get whiffs of a sewage treatment plant, like the marshes I remember hiking in Suffolk. Once I was puzzled by a strong odor of cut grass, but when a lawn-care company truck passed me shortly afterwards, I felt gleeful as a dog who has tracked something. In fact, I am often reminded, on my road bike, of the vision of a dog riding in the passenger seat of a pick-up truck, with its head out the window, panting and grinning, a sight that never fails to make me smile. There’s something infectious about that deep content and excitement, that intense presence, that primal well-being at just going somewhere. Other people must see something like that in me because they often smile or wave spontaneously when I ride by. Ironically, though, loose dogs were what most frightened me when I began cycling by myself, and the reason I had to overcome a fear of training alone. In our early rides, Ned and I had several terrifying experiences of passing isolated farms and being chased by dogs, sometimes several at a time. Our tactic was for Ned to stay on my back wheel, bellowing ferociously, as we pedaled for dear life. If a dog chases me when I’m alone, I’ve learned to dismount, keeping the bike between us, and flag down the next car that passes. Then I ask the driver to keep the car between me and the dog until I’m out of its range. Over the last twenty-five years, what were once isolated areas with little traffic have become more populous, and people generally keep their dogs indoors or chained, so riding alone has fewer canine hazards. There has also been a noticeable decline in harassment and wolf whistles from male motorists in that time—due, I assume, to my aging, a welcome upside. I do not underestimate the danger cycling represents to life and limb. On almost every ride, although I pick my routes to avoid traffic, some cars pass too close or cut me off, either intentionally—because they don’t think cyclists should be on the roads at all—or from inattentiveness or poor driving. Although an agnostic, I begin every ride with a prayer to St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers, to bring me home safe and whole. One of the dangers cyclists face is dehydration. One time, determined to stay hydrated on an extremely long, hot ride, I drank too much water from my newly-purchased CamelBak and developed hyponatremia, an unpleasant condition in which one’s blood sodium level drops too low because excessive water intake is diluting the blood at the same time as intense sweating is leaching the body of salt. I became disoriented and nauseated, lost my way, hit a pothole and almost came off my bike in the path of an oncoming car. Somehow I made it home and spent the rest of the day resting and recuperating. Lying there in my woozy state, I could hear a continuous low rumble. Convinced there was a machine on somewhere in the house, I went around vainly trying to track down the source of the noise, only to realize it was tinnitus—my addled brain was replicating the way the wind roars in your ears on a bike, at even relatively low speeds. Another hazard that can’t be avoided is insects flying into your face and body—sometimes they collide quite hard. You have to develop a closed-mouth, Mona Lisa pant because they can fly in and sting you. Last fall I got hit by a hornet in the face. It got trapped in the hair at the side of my face and kept stinging me. I pulled over in a panic and ripped my helmet off so it could escape, then downed a dose of the Benadryl I now carry on the bike. Pea gravel is perilous, too. A state joke has it that there are two seasons in Wisconsin: winter and road-construction. For a cyclist with skinny road tires, encountering a stretch of freshly graveled road can be a disaster—especially if it goes on for miles and you encounter it three quarters of the way through a long, hot ride, at a point where you can’t turn back or go another way. Highly skilled cyclists stay on, but my fear of falling is such that I can only ride on gravel for short periods of white-knuckling, interspersed with bouts of walking to steady my nerves and shaking knees. As I was drawn into the world of cycling, it was inevitable that I would attempt a “century.” A century is the cyclist’s equivalent of a marathon—usually (although not always) a “supported” ride with designated rest stops providing food, drink and bathrooms along the way. As a teenager, around the time I learned to ride, I once asked an elderly man on the street, “Have you got the time?” And he, startlingly, replied “No, but I have the record of its passing.” That, to me, is the point of a century: not the time in which it’s completed, but the record, in memory, of its passing. It takes months to train for one, months which tend to fade in the mind, but the day of the event and the accomplishment itself stay with you. However, the event itself can never outshine the process of preparing for it, for the simplest reason: the end is not really the point. The century is just the excuse, the motivation, the incentive for putting in all those glorious miles of training, which are reward in and of themselves. The century just provides a destination, a reason for undertaking the journey itself. The English word “journey,” from the French journée, originally meant the distance that could be covered by a traveler on land during a single day. It is that kind of conscious perception of time, of living, that is felt during a cyclist’s “century.” A hundred miles instead of a hundred years, but all in a day’s work, a day’s travel. Random scenes from the centuries I’ve ridden remain in my head—a rest stop at Hyde’s Mill full of watermelon and peaches and wasps buzzing over the mounds of fruit. Pulling into Barneveld—a high plateau chastised by tornados—with bluegrass music issuing from the park and people and dogs lying in the grass, bikes everywhere. The stench of the Portapotties. The feel of Chammy Butt’r, a cyclist’s cream to prevent saddle sores, squelching in my shorts. The first century I ever did, we stopped for lunch near the Wisconsin River, and I slogged the last twenty miles into the wind at a snail’s pace, feeling as though I were wearing cement boots. The third—and I thought the last—century I rode was while I was pregnant in 2001. In the early years of parenting, I stopped riding altogether except for commuting; long-distance training was just too time-consuming and exhausting to be contemplated. 70
I took it up again in my late forties, hungry to get back in the saddle. Middle age has presented me with some new health issues to contend with—among them, debilitating migraines that
meant I had to change my riding habits. Heat, exercise and bright light are all triggers for me. So I started to ride in the early morning, in the cool of the day. There is a kind of magic to the dawn light, a mist and stillness and shimmer that ordinary daylight lacks. The very landscape changes. I’ve done the same ride at 5 a.m. on a very hot day and then again at 9 a.m. on a temperate day, and the second one lacked all the visual thrill. The experience of training for a century after my return to cycling was deeply spiritual, almost existential, full of unknowns. I was coming back with an older body, and I had to train without Ned since we now exercised separately, splitting childcare responsibilities. I started 15-mile rides in May after the ice melted and the roads were finally cleared of salt and grit, with no particular goal in mind. By late June I was able to ride 40 miles. My joints seemed to be holding out. Oddly, fitness isn’t something you ever possess as a tangible presence. Instead it is an absence, the absence of effort. And there’s something magical about it; for weeks, months, I seemed to be struggling to go between 20 and 30 miles on rides and then I crossed the 40-mile threshold, then 50, and then, gradually a century came to seem possible. There was one advertised for Labor Day weekend, and I rather apprehensively signed up in July, thinking I could always drop out. By late August I had completed a couple of hilly 80-mile rides, so I knew I was capable of it. This time my goal was to complete a century but to enjoy the event as much as I enjoyed the process of training for it: to ride mindfully and joyfully. Cycling teaches steadiness; even though your feet on the pedals are describing endless circles, you learn to make those circles as even as possible, pulling up with your hamstrings as well as pushing down with your quadriceps. When you do this, the stroke seems effortless and your power increases. Your weight has to be poised over your center of gravity. After several weeks of training, you start to really feel the bike. You get used to reaching down for your bottle while pedaling at full speed, drinking and replacing it without lowering your cadence. Changing gears becomes second nature, something you sense in the strain or slack on your legs, in response to subtle changes in the terrain and the wind-speed. You become intensely conscious of the sources of friction—the ones beneath you and the one around you—and of road surfaces, how smooth or rough they are, the kind of noise they make, whether they make your work easier or harder. Equally, if not more, you become conscious of the air. You become attuned to the wind, its veering, the constant force or absence of it. The air is your element; riding feels like sailing on air, especially on warm days when your arms and legs and face are bare. Cyclists are like sailors in their relationship to the wind, but one’s own body is the boat. Maybe because of the hazards and the solitary nature of long-distance cycling, riders have a series of ritualized gestures of acknowledgement and support, like motor coach drivers flashing their lights or giving that regal hand-wave. For cyclists it’s a nod, or, if you’re going very fast, the fingers of one hand just raised off the handlebars. Pointing down at the road with one hand signals to the rider behind you that there is glass or another obstacle on the road. If riding together, the first rider is a scout who shouts things like “Car up!”, “Car back!” and “Car door!” Cyclists will almost always ask if you need help if you have stopped by the side of the road. I have taken a bike mechanics course given for and by women, so I’m now truly able to fix a flat by myself, given enough time. Still, I always appreciate having someone stop to give me moral support or lend a hand. The few people I see on long rides tend to stick in my mind. One time, near the run-down duplexes at the outskirts of town, I came across an emaciated blond man riding slowly along the bike path on an old upright, gesticulating and obviously delusional, wearing a torn T-shirt and black jeans. I was a little nervous to pass him. Forty miles later, on my way back, I encountered him again, still riding steadily westwards and unresponsive to my wave. It was hot and I had gone through several bottles of water in the interim, but he was carrying no water. Did he just keep cycling until he collapsed? Or was he going to a place he knew? And there is another thin, clean but unkempt-looking man I see regularly, walking or sometimes running, but not in running gear. Once, when I waved, he said “hullo” in a startled, rusty sort of voice, with the flat “o” of the northerners. Another time I passed him at 1:30 p.m. instead of my usual time in the early morning, and he pointed at his watch in pantomime. Riding for several hours a day, five or six days a week, grounds me in the body and balances my cerebral, sedentary work as a writer and translator. Cycling is meditative, and I find myself sinking to a deeper level of consciousness. I have fewer thoughts, especially sustained thoughts—just odd flashes of words or images or memories. After long training rides all I want to do is eat, sleep or read. The world is very quiet. I am profoundly, sustainably content—the kind of contentment I felt when nursing my son. Long-distance riding has an undeniably addictive quality: the more I ride, the more I want to ride. My body loves being used, and it happily makes the shift to riding being its work, its occupation. Every ride brings a gift, if I’m paying attention: a fox, a sandhill crane chick, a couple of deer crossing, orange Turk’s cap lilies on the side of the road, an ancient cemetery, a causeway between lakes, a hillside fragrant with purple clover, a green heron. Riding alone means I’m not focused on keeping up with anyone and can ride at my own pace, stop when I want to. But I also ride with the local touring club some Sundays. Once we rode out to a homestead where a woman had baked 48 pumpkin pies and made 2 vats of chili, and we sat in the sun on the deck in our stockinged feet, eating pie with delectation. The morning of my first solo century, a Sunday in early September, I woke at 5:20, too keyed up to sleep in until the alarm, and went out into the still and singing darkness to retrieve the newspapers from among the moonshadows. I set off alone an hour later. The drive through the countryside at dawn was heart-stoppingly beautiful and I was impatient to be out in it instead of looking at it through a windshield. There was a great, white moon on my left, south-west, as the orange disk of the sun rose to the northeast. A peach and lavender sky with a flight of small, black birds across a barn. Huge ups and downs through fields dotted with round rolls of fresh hay, like green butter. Halfway there, I ran into mist, swaths of it scarving the landscape, floating in layers like unraveled bandages and smoking in the bowls of the valleys. Despite my resolve to be mindful, the first three quarters of the century went by in a blur. The last 25 miles were another matter: a double loop on bone-jarring, rough road with a headwind and very long, tough climb at the end. During that climb, it occurred to me that sometimes doing a century is like labor—there’s a point at which you think you are never, ever going to do this again, but you always want to when it’s over. During the last 12 miles I was so dead beat I had to keep talking to myself. Having the mileometer helped, because I kept imagining it as a short ride close to home. When the display showed 100.00 miles I screamed out loud, a little prim scream, even though there was no one in sight. Only 1.3 miles to go. It had taken me 7 hours and 17 minutes of riding—8.5 hours including the breaks at the rest stops to pee, eat and fill up my water bottles.
There are no flags or cheering spectators at the end of a century, no finish line even. Unlike a marathon, it’s not a race; no one is keeping your time except you. You just get off your bike and load 71
it on your car. Ten days later, the lid of the trunk still bore the marks where I leaned on it in exhaustion with my arms, a white inverted V of sunscreen on the green paint. But the standards in parallel universes differ wildly. As I was crawling happily towards the end, I passed people who were starting the second half of a double century, looking as if they’d just been for a spin round the block. On the way home afterwards, whenever I drove up a hill my car lost speed dramatically. At first I wondered if I had engine problems. Suddenly, I realized that I was gauging the hills by gradient and shifting into a smaller gear, just as if I were on a bike. I had become so in tune with the bicycle after so many hours and hills that I had physically and mentally made the switch to a pre-motorized age. This may be akin to the rolling “sea legs” one feels on land when you’ve spent all day on a boat. I like the idea of “bike hands” or “bike legs”; feeling the ground in your own body, being “grounded.” My road bike has been the vehicle that has allowed me, over time, to find a way of being at home in my body, in the world, and in a new country. Cycling has allowed me to practice perseverance, endurance, self-reliance and confidence. It’s allowed me to face fear in its manifold forms—fear of falling, dogs, automobile accidents, solitude, sexual harassment or assault—and grow in the process. I have come to know my own strength, to inhabit my body with a respect and pride I never felt in girlhood. The body where, as a girl, I felt least at home has become a place I can claim as my birthright. As an immigrant from a rural background, cycling has also allowed me to explore and come to know with all my senses the land to which I’ve been transplanted. I’ve come to love Wisconsin’s undulating hills, its back roads, its lakes and barns, its woodland and farmland, and in all my cyclo-powered wanderings to feel a sense of belonging, of being at home.
You’d Be Someone You Wouldn’t Recognize Brooke Wonders
Robert Ramsey Jr. didn’t have an imaginary friend, but he wanted one so badly he could taste it in the salt-rust tang of blood filling his mouth. All the other kids had one. Hunter’s friend was named Wormhole, or sometimes Blackhole, and once, Deathstar. Wormhole could shape-shift into a supernova, but usually he was a ten-foot-tall astronaut who rode on a dragon that was also an interstellar spaceship. Maylin’s friend was named Narwolf, a giant wolf with a unicorn horn who could fly by magic. Even Quiet Norman had an imaginary friend: Quiet Norbert. Quiet Norman swore Quiet Norbert was the best friend a guy could have—they played videogames together, he said, and had watergun fights on the weekends, and Norbert always let Norman win at chess. Robert had never once seen an imaginary friend in action, though not for want of trying. Every day Hunter, Maylin, and Quiet Norman perched at the top of the jungle gym, heckling all comers, and every day Robert fought to climb to the gym’s apex despite their teasing. “My imaginary friend has a jet pack and he picks you up and flies a million feet up into the air and drops you and you die,” Hunter would shout, but Robert started climbing anyway. Then came Maylin’s sing-song: “This jungle gym’s for people with imaginary friends. You don’t have any friends, so you can’t come up.” But Robert would squint into the sunlight and keep climbing, boot soles squeaking against metal. “What’s wrong, new kid? Don’t you speak English?” Norman’s taunt was cruelest of all. Shy to the point of invisibility, Robert’s throat closed up whenever Mr. Hastings called him out in class. “He can’t talk; he’s too dumb. Kill him, Wormhole!” Then, with Maylin egging them on, Hunter and Norman tag-teamed Robert, plucking his fingers from the rungs one by one. In the scrabble of hands, Robert couldn’t tell if it was just Hunter and Norm, or if there really were two extra, invisible people tugging at his fingers. Then Robert’s hands slipped and he fell through the bars to land hard in the sand, teeth chomping down on his tongue. By the time he’d picked himself up from the dirt, his three antagonists had leapt down from the jungle gym, darted away through the surrounding trees, and disappeared. All the long walk home, Robert spit red around a swollen tongue and plotted how to make friends at this, his third school in as many years. If he could just get in to the imaginary friend club.... Maybe if he made up a friend. No one would ever know. Call him Billybob Jailtime, like a real hardcore criminal with tattoos who hated ice cream and all children but Robert—BB for short, like the gun. He’d be a jewel thief and a fighter-jet pilot who stole diamonds out of bank vaults by exploding their locks with his super-powered laser. That night, Robert ignored his math homework and doodled in his sketchpad instead, drafting a long comic strip of BB in action, complete with pictures of jewels, airplanes, and exploding buildings. Tomorrow for show-n-tell, if he didn’t chicken out, he’d reveal the illustrated Billybob Jailtime. But just in case, Robert hung his brand-new fatigues beside his backpack, matching cap included. His mom had brought home the fatigues for his birthday—desert camo, light brown and tan like coffee stains on linoleum or the Velveteen Rabbit’s fur. The sounds of television emanated from his mom’s bedroom down the hall: gunshots and a woman’s scream, then the murmur of detectives investigating. No point saying goodnight. He knew she’d already be asleep. The next day at school, he didn’t try to climb the jungle gym at recess, just stood at its base, hands on hips, willing himself to speak. “Hey, Hunter. Guess what.” “You have a stupid outfit?” Robert ignored this; he couldn’t wait to tell them all about BB, the words tripping off his tongue. “I have an imaginary friend now. His name’s Billybob and he’s got a fighter jet and a super-powered laser gun and he’s a robber like in cops in robbers, but better.” Conversation whispered from the top of the gym as the three talked it over. Finally Hunter yelled down; “Do you and Billybob wanna play jail tag?” “Heck yeah!” Billybob Jailtime was going to rock at jail tag. “How do you play?” Robert asked. “You’re the jailer, see, and you hang out under the jungle gym until me and Wormhole bring back prisoners.” The other three dispersed, Maylin racing across the playground with Hunter in pursuit, his jersey flickering red as he shot between pine trees. Robert climbed through the rungs and hunkered down in the sand. He scratched out elaborate diagrams in the dirt detailing the lengths he and BB would go to defend the jail once Hunter captured him some captives. He waited, and he waited some more. An hour later, a furious Mr. Hastings pulled a camouflaged Robert out from beneath the bars and escorted him back to class. Befuddled, Robert realized halfway across the empty playground that he must have missed the recess bell. Back in the classroom, Mr. Hastings ushered everyone into show-n-tell circle. “Robert, let’s begin with you.” Robert stood up, stepped into the middle of the circle. His camouflage was too hot, suffocating him, and he pulled off his hat, twisting it between his hands. In a whisper, he managed: “I brought in…I mean I wore, I’m wearing…This is my camouflage.” Some of the kids had the audacity to seem interested despite Hunter and Maylin radiating boredom; Robert was heartened. “This type of camo’s called chocolate chip, like the cookies. Its real name is six-color desert pattern because it has six colors in it.” “Can you count all six colors, kids?” Mr. Hastings said, and Robert wilted as thirty pairs of eyes trained on his fatigues, counting. “These are like my dad’s. He was in the war, the…um. They’re for the Gulf War. This kind of fatigues.” The words stopped up against his teeth. “Your hat is stupid,” said Hunter. “Real camouflage is green. That’s brown.” Maylin chimed in. 73
“It’s for sand,” Robert shot back. “Now, now,” said Mr. Hastings. “So you can hide from camels?” Hunter said, and Maylin snickered behind him. “No, terrorists.” “There aren’t any terrorists in Forest Glen. And there’s no sand, either.” Except on the playground, where you left me, Robert thought but knew better than to say. “That’s enough,” said Mr. Hastings. “Robert, you may sit down. Trina?” A blonde girl clutching a Barbie still in its packaging stepped into the circle. Robert deliberately sat between Hunter and Maylin. They made way for him grudgingly. “Where’d you guys go?” he hissed. “We took a vote and decided you lied to us.” Hunter shrugged. Maylin tossed her black hair disdainfully. “Sillybob isn’t real. You made him up.” “Nuh-uh! He is totally real.” “Oh yeah? Prove it,” she said. “I can’t. He’s imaginary.” The idea came to him out of nowhere: “You prove it first.” “Fine,” said Hunter, elbowing Norman, who sat cross-legged on his other side. “Hey Norm, what’s Wormhole doing now?” Norman stared into space for a minute, then his eyes followed an invisible target across the room. “He just jumped off his dragon, walked over to Mr. Hasting’s desk, and sat in his chair. But he’s ten foot tall, so he has to scrunch all up to fit. Mr. Hastings is gonna freak when he sees a real live supernova at his desk.” Robert was dumbfounded; Maylin giggled, staring at the empty desk chair. As if on command, the chair gently swiveled—a breeze from the open window behind Mr. Hasting’s desk, perhaps, or proof positive that Norman told the truth? “There’s nothing there!” Robert protested. “You’re just not cool enough to see him,” Maylin said. Robert heard a ripping noise and stared down at his hands. He’d torn the brim of his cap clean off. He stood up, throwing down the pieces with the righteous indignation of Billybob. “Oh yeah? Well for show-n-tell, I totally brought in my imaginary friend. His name is Billybob Jailtime, and he’s a soldier who’s also a fighter-jet pilot and a badass. And Billybob told me to tell you that he’s gunning for all your dumb friends. He’s going to find them and kill them, one by one.” He ended up in the principle’s office, but the secretary proved unable to contact his mom and they had to let him go at school’s end, same as always. At home that night, he added another twelve panels to his comic. How Billybob grabbed Wormhole and turned him inside out until Wormhole exploded into a supernova of gore, bits of astronaut all over the page. How Billybob stalked Maylin’s narwolf through the snowy slopes of Antarctica until it took flight off a high cliff, and then Billybob Jailtime took his laser-gun and shot that unicorn-dog right out of the sky, and for good measure cut off its spiral horn besides. How Billybob switched his laser-gun to reverse and with one perfect shot turned Quiet Norbert into Quiet Norm’s shadow, so that Quiet Norbert would always be behind Norman, silent and invisible, unable to ever win a watergun fight or lose to Norman at chess. At recess the next day, the jungle gym stood desolate. Scouting the area, Robert almost stepped in a pool of yellow-streaked vomit. No wonder the gym was unpopular. He wandered around the playground in search of the imaginary friend club, increasingly weirded out. They found him first, cornering him at the slide. Maylin’s lips curled in a sneer, and even the usually impassive Norman looked pissed, but Hunter swayed queasily and his eyes were pinkrimmed. “What’s wrong with you guys?” Robert asked. Hunter scrubbed the back of a hand across his eyelids and under his nose, snotting his sleeve. “Nothing,” he said. Maylin stepped between Robert and Hunter. She came up to Robert’s shoulder, and whether she shook with anger or fear, Robert couldn’t tell. “You’re stupid and your friend is a serial killer, that’s what wrong.” She pushed Robert in the chest. “Narwolf ’s gonna rip your guts out.” Robert stumbled backward, then steadied himself. “I didn’t do anything.” That provoked a high-pitched hiccup from Hunter. “I didn’t! I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Robert said. Maylin howled as she launched herself at him, arms locked around his waist in a flying tackle, but Robert had learned a thing or two about self-defense before his dad died, and he held his own, even three to one—or was it five? And then Mr. Hastings was there, and Robert found himself airborne, still kicking and throwing punches, as Mr. Hastings carried him bodily to the principal’s office. Even after an hour of interrogation, Robert couldn’t explain how the fight had started. He was determined to find out. After school, Robert didn’t head up Woodland Rd. toward his house. Instead, he stalked the imaginary friend club until they split up at Ash Dr. From there, he followed Quiet Norman. As Norman turned off into the neighborhoods, Robert sprinted down the block and caught the smaller kid by the arm. 74
“What did Hunter tell you I did?” Robert panted.
Quiet Norman’s face twisted up in scorn, disgust, and more than a little fear. “He didn’t tell me anything. I saw it.” “Saw what?” “What you did to his friend.” Billybob had planned to turn Wormhole inside out and explode him like a bank vault. “But I didn’t see anything.” “Astronaut meat hanging from the jungle gym bars? Blood everywhere? You made Hunter barf in front of everyone.” Norman stared at him. “You really can’t see anybody’s friend.” He jerked his arm in Robert’s grasp, yelling: “Geroffame! Norbert, help!” Robert felt a sharp pain behind his knee and his leg buckled; Norman pulled free of Robert’s grip and took off running. Robert whipped around, punching at thin air in hopes of making contact with his invisible attacker, but there was no one there, no one besides a rapidly disappearing Norman. Robert didn’t know what to think. It felt like someone’d kicked him, but maybe he’d imagined the whole thing? He knew he’d made up Billybob Jailtime, and yet his friend had come through for him, slaughtered Hunter’s friend just like in the drawings, a real bloodbath. But even with firm proof of Billybob’s existence (or so Robert had to believe…he still hadn’t seen a damn thing), Norman still wouldn’t be his friend. Well, he’d show them--even if Robert couldn’t see his own friend, BB sure could see their friends. Maylin and Quiet Norm had to be wondering when Billybob was coming for them. Narwolf didn’t last the week. The next day at recess, the playground was eerily quiet. Robert ran straight for the jungle gym. A wall of kids K through 3 stood in a circle around Maylin, but no one paid her much attention. They were pointing at something in front of her, something he couldn’t see. “What’re you looking at?” A blonde girl with tear-streaked cheeks recoiled from him. “Maylin’s unicorn-puppy. He’s all dead and stuff.” He remembered his illustration, a giant wolf splayed out in the snow. A jagged golden stub where its horn ought be. Intestines oozing where gunfire had ripped open its stomach. Maylin stood stiffly, flanked by Hunter and Norman. She wouldn’t look at Robert. “You killed her dog,” said Quiet Norman. “There’s nothing there,” he protested. “You’re a bully. Only bullies beat up on girls. Only bullies hurt dogs.” Robert felt tears prick his eyes, and for the first time in his life, he fled a fight. He ended up in the boys’ bathroom huddled in a stall, ripping pages out of his sketchpad and flushing them, rip, tear, flush, over and over. He would not let himself cry over someone else’s dead dog that wasn’t even real. He hadn’t cried since his dad died, and he wasn’t going to cry now. The next morning during art class, Robert began a new comic, peaceful scenes of Billybob and Quiet Norbert playing chess, but he felt distracted. It wasn’t fair that he couldn’t he see his very own friend he’d made up all by himself; it wasn’t fair his only friend had come out evil. Robert’s eyes flicked over to Mr. Hastings’ desk, to the empty swivel chair. Concentrating with all his might, believe he’s real, believe, he stared at the slowly rotating cushions, sketching without looking down at the page beneath his pen, finishing just as the recess bell rang. He’d drawn Billybob Jailtime just as he’d seen him: seated in Mr. Hastings’ chair, a machine gun in each hand, a belt of grenades slung across his chest. Billybob’s eyes were closed, as if he were dead, or dreaming. At recess, Robert raced to the jungle gym, praying he wouldn’t be too late to catch his imaginary enemy and stop him before he killed again. As he approached the metal cage, he saw a familiar figure crouched in the sand. “Norman? Quiet Norman shook his head, eyes staring glassily at the sand. “What do you see? What’d Billybob do?” Norm shrugged. “S’okay.” Robert couldn’t believe it. “What do you mean, it’s okay?” “You really are stupid.” Norm rolled his eyes. “He was never real to begin with.” “You—you said you played videogames with Norbert. And that he sucked at chess. You said he was your best friend.” “He was, then.” Norman shrugged again. “Now he’s not anymore.” Norman got up, brushed dirt off his jeans, and walked away, leaving Robert alone at the base of the jungle gym. Beneath its bars, pressed into the sand, an indentation like the hollow left by a small body, head at an acute angle, limbs stretched out like a victim in one of the crime shows his mom loved so well. Robert set his foot along a rusted rung, toes sliding until his boot scrunched at the join where the points of the triangles met. Hand over hand, no one taunting, no one to stop him, he reached the jungle-gym’s summit in a spider-quick clamber. Surveying the playground, everything seemed smaller. Packs of kids traveled in loose clumps, elbowing each other, chatting, laughing together. In the distance, he could see the driveway leading up to the school and a long line of cars, mothers and fathers come to collect their children. His own mother would not be among them. Carefully, precariously, Robert planted his feet and stood up on the bars, stretching his arms out for balance. He knew how much it hurt to fall.
Contributors Title Author
Born and raised in Finland, Arndt Britschgi spent the best part of my life in Madrid, Spain, and in 2006 completed my Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Zurich, Switzerland - my book on Newcomb’s Paradox/Free Will is available in English from Philosophia Verlag in Germany. Other writings of mine have appeared or are forthcoming in Literary Fragments, Kulttuurivihkot (Finnish), Southern Cross Review, Word Riot, milk magazine, the EOTU Ezine, Slow Trains Literary Journal, The Modern Review, Feathertale, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, Cake (UK), PostPoetry, Barnwood Poetry MagThoughtful Prose azine, and The Montreal Review. Gina Marie Bernard lives in Bemidji, Minnesota. When not teaching English at Bemidji High School, she slips into her tattooed alter-ego, wicked vixen, a blocker for the Babe City Rollers roller derby team. She is the crazy-proud parent of two daughters, Maddie Elizabeth and Parker Diana. Her work has appeared in Red Weather, Minnesota Monthly, Lake Country Journal, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Flashquake, Wisconsin Review, Prism Quarterly, Defenestration, Duke University’s Voices Magazine, The First Line, and Front Street Review. She has work forthcoming in Skin on Skin: Art of the Lesbian, and in Collective Fallout. She won Minnesota Monthly’s 17th-annual Tamarack Award for short fiction in 2002. Her young adult novel, Alpha Summer, is available through Loonfeather Press. Jamez Chang’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Underground Voices, FRiGG, Prime Number, Lines + Stars, Melusine, Poydras Review, and the anthology Yellow Light. After graduating from Bard College, Jamez went on to become the first Korean-American to release a hip-hop album, Z-Bonics (1998), in the United States. Jamez is a regular contributor to Blog Dot Squalorly, working in the video game industry in NYC. Visit: http://about.me/jamez_chang Sarah Delap U is a poet and saxophonist currently living in Brooklyn, N.Y. She is the office manager of an art school by day, and member of superhero rock band The Super Friends by night, where she plays as Hawk Girl. A former Trekkie, she is absolutely terrified of outer space. Duncan B. Barlow published one book of fiction, Super Cell Anemia, which sold very well and received very positive reviews. Although he is primarily a novelist, he has had stories published by Sleeping Fish, The Surgery of Modern Warfare, and various other small journals around the world. I run a small literary press called Astrophil Press, which released several books including Keith Abbott’s Downstream From Trout Fishing: a Memoir About Richard Brautigan and Brian Evenson’s Contagion. Donna Girouard is an Instructor of English at Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC, and faculty adviser of the college’s literary-arts magazine, The Bear’s Tale. Her essays can be found in the current issues of Storm Cellar Quarterly and Embodied Effigies and in the upcoming issue of Writer’s Bloc. She has just completed her first book-length work, The Other Side: A Memoir. Sue Granzella has won awards from the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition and MemoirsInk. One of her essays will appear in Rougarou’s spring issue in 2013. Sue teaches third grade in Hayward, California. She loves baseball, road trips, dogs, quilting, stand-up comedy, hiking, and reading the writing of 8- and 9-year-olds. Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas is a six-time Pushcart nominee and Best of the Net nominee. She is the recent winner of the Red Ochre Press Chapbook contest with her entry Before I Go to Sleep. She has authored several chapbooks and two echaps along with her latest full-length collection of poems: Epistemology of an Odd Girl, newly released from March Street Press. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of online and print magazines including: The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, Able Muse, Poets and Artists, The Foliate Oak and many more. According to family lore she is a direct descendent of Robert Louis Stevenson. www.clgrellaspoetry.com Descended from Norwegian plumbers on one side, and bohemian Russian aristocrats on the other, Stephanie Barbé Hammer has published short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in Mosaic, The Bellevue Literary Review, Pearl, NYCBigCityLit, Rhapsoidia, CRATE, and the Hayden’s Ferry Review among other places. Her prose poem chapbook Sex with Buildings, launched with Dancing Girl Press in May 2012. She is the recent recipient of an MFA from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts and she is currently working on both a novel and a short story collection. Philadelphia native, Melissa Hamilton considers herself to be a literary nerd passionate about comics, creative pedagogy, gardening, queer resistance, and community enhancement. Currently an English professor, she is working towards establishing a co-operatively owned hookah bar with her fabulous lover, Michelle, and their feline-child, Miss Poka Dot Nakamora. Recent publications include Cliterature, Euphemism, and Poets Against War. Marisha Hicks resides in Austin, Texas where she is a student of creative living and writing. She shares a shotgun shack with a tattoo artist named Ray Wallace, a Siamese named June, and a boxer named Frankie. (Frankie is a boxer dog, not a boxer by trade.) 76
M.J.Iuppa lives on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Her most recent poems have appeared in Poetry East, The Chariton Review, Tar River Poetry, Blueline, The Prose Poem Project, and The Centrifugal Eye, among others. Recent chapbook is As the Crows Flies (Foothills Publishing, 2008) and second full length collection, Within Reach, (Cherry Grove Collections, 2010); Forthcoming prose chapbook Between Worlds (Foothills Publishing) She is Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Visual and Performing Arts Minor program at St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY. Julian Joseph Jackson is a professional photographer living in China with his wife. His website is jjjackson.zenfolio.com. Julian and his wife jointly blog at adamsjackson.tumblr.com. Catherine Jagoe is a writer & translator with a PhD in Spanish Literature from Cambridge University. Poems from her collection Casting Off (Parallel Press, 2007) were on The Writer’s Almanac and Poetry Daily, and recent publication credits include North American Review, Atlanta Review, Ninth Letter, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Comstock Review, Rattle, Kalliope, qarrtsiluni, diode, and Red Wheelbarrow. An excerpt from this essay aired on Wisconsin Public Radio in 2011: http://wilife.tumblr.com/post/5193809866/biking-warmer-weather-is-finally-here-so-its Born in Greenville, SC. and currently living in Arizona, Isaac Kirkman is a student at the Tucson branch of the Philip Schultz-founded Writers Studio. He is also a founding member of the Low Writers collective. His work has previously been published in Out of the Gutter, Shotgun Honey, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. His work is forthcoming in Zelmer Pulp Anthology and Hey! That Robot Ate My Baby! (Vol. 1). Visit: http://about.me/isaac.kirkman For what it’s worth, Joe E. Kraus teaches Creative Writing and American Literature at the University of Scranton where he also direct the honors program. His creative work had been published, among other places, in The American Scholar, Oleander Review, Riverteeth, and Birkensake. I also won a 2004 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial poetry prize, the 2008 Moment Magazine/Karma Foundation Prize for short fiction, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010 by Southern Humanities Review. Don Kunz taught literature, creative writing, and film studies at the University of Rhode Island for 36 years and is an Emeritus Professor of English now retired to Bend, Oregon where he continues to write for publication, volunteer, play Native American Flute, and study Spanish. His poems have been published in over sixty literary journals including The Asheville Poetry Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, The Cape Rock, Confrontation Magazine, English Journal, and Midwest Poetry Review. They have won awards from the Arizona Authors’ Association, Midwest Poetry Review, Oregon State Poets Association, and Philomel. Jennifer MacBain-Stephens is an emerging poet who was recently published in Issue #10 of Superstition Review and has poems forthcoming in Emerge Literary Journal and Red Savina Review. Katherine MacCue is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet who currently resides in New York with her family. She graduated from the George Washington University where she studied French and History. She enjoys rainy days at the beach and playing with her dog, Blue. Her poetry has been published in various journals and is forthcoming in Laundry Lines Anthology, Pirene’s Fountain, and decomP MagazinE. You can reach her via email at email@example.com or through her blog thenearlyfamous.blogspot.com. J.S. MacLean is an independent poet who has been published in a variety of journals in Canada, USA, UK, and Australia. Most recent publications are or will be in Ice Flow (University of Alaska) and the Literary Review of Canada. He has a collection, Molasses Smothered Lemon Slices available on amazon.com. In his spare time he works. Pete Madzelan resides in New Mexico with his wife and cat, Manny. Currently has fiction in The Dying Goose. Photography in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, San Pedro River Review, Catcus Heart, convergence: journal of poetry and art, and Vine Leaves Literary Journal; and forthcoming in Bellingham Review, Pachinko, and BRICKrhetoric. Has had fiction and poetry published in literary journals, including Cigale Literary Magazine, Bellowing Ark, Wind; essays in a variety of publications including the Santa Fe Reporter and Minor League News. Amanda Hart Miller is presently pursuing a Master of Arts in Writing at Johns Hopkins University, and she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at a community college in Maryland. Her work has recently appeared in Literary Mama and PANK. Jenny Taylor Moodie has been writing for her whole life-journals, short stories, novels, and poems. She has received recognition from a publisher for a children’s picture book, and had some success in a national contest in which she received an honorable mention.
Al Ortolani is a public school teacher in the Kansas City area. His poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Camroc Press Review, New Letters, The Quarterly, The English Journal, Poetry Bay and the New York Quarterly. He has three books of poetry, The Last Hippie of Camp 50 and Finding the Edge, published by Woodley Press at Washburn University and Wren’s House, published by Coal City Press in Lawrence, Kansas. His newest collection, Cooking Chili on the Day of the Dead, will be published by Aldrich Press in 2013. He is an editor for The Little Balkans Review and works closely with the Kansas City Writer’s Place. Joseph Patrick Pascale’s fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Literary Orphans, Trapeze Magazine, Instigatorzine, 140 Fiction, 7x20, On A Narrow Windowsill: Fiction and Poetry Folded Onto Twitter, and other fine publications. He also helps out as an editorial assistant at the literary journal Drunken Boat Stephen Pohl writes from Baltimore, where he has worked as a Baltimore police officer, insurance claims adjuster and background investigator. He holds a degree in Theater Arts from Towson University His articles, essays, poetry and stories have appeared in regional and national publications and online, including The Chronicle of the Horse, The National Catholic Reporter, The Business Monthly, U. S. Catholic, Urbanite, Crime and Suspense and The Right Eyed Deer. Shenan Prestwich is a Washington, DC-based poet and graduate of the Johns Hopkins University’s MA in Writing program. Her work has appeared in such publications as Slow Trains, PigeonBike, Lines + Stars, Dirtflask, Orion headless, Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Outside In, Seltzer, The Camel Saloon, and The Baltimore Review. Additionally, she edits Magic Lantern Review, a journal of writing and film. Colleen Purcell grew up in a hotel in the Andes. She is currently a freelance photographer living in Santiago. Her photos have appeared in The Meadowland Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Subliminal Interiors, Foliate Oak, Off the Coast, and a few other publications. Anina Robb is a poet living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband and two neat kids. She earned a MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and has published poems in Nebo, The White Pelican Review, Rivendell, The Red River Review, Blast Furnace, and Oatmeal and Poetry. In 2013 her poems will appear in the journals Juked, Emerge, Main Street Rag, The 5-2, and Ascent Aspirations. Amanda Schroth is a professional writing major at Champlain College. She first began experimenting and writing poetry during the spring semester of her freshman year. She plans to continue working with poetry and performing for live audiences. She has been published in Teen Ink Magazine, the Champlain Current, and the first edition of StoFnehenge. Barry Spacks has taught writing and literature for many years at M.I.T. and UCSB. He’s published individual poems widely, plus stories, two novels, eleven poetry collections, and three CDs of selected work. His first novel The Sophomore has just been brought back into print in the Faber & Faber Finds series. His most recent poetry collection (Cherry Grove, 2012) presents a selection from ten years of e-mail exchanges with his friend Lawrence E, Leone. It’s called A Bounty of 84s (the 84 being a stanza limited exactly to 84 characters, echoing the traditional notion that the Buddha left us 84,000 different teachings because humans have so many different needs, are all of them so differently the same). Natalie Sypolt received her MFA degree in Fiction from West Virginia University in 2005. She currently teachs composition and creative writing at WVU. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Kenyon Review Online, Queen City Review, Potomac Review, Oklahoma Review, and Kestrel. She has had book reviews appear in Mid-American Review and Shenandoah. She’s also the 2009 winner of the Betty Gabehart Prize, sponsored by the Kentucky Women’s Writers Conference and was short listed for a Pushcart Prize in 2010. Her story “My Brothers and Me” was named winner of the 2012 Glimmer Train New Writers contest. Hannah Thurman is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. In 2011, she completed studies in creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she received Highest Honors for her thesis, a collection of stories called “Good Enough Secrets.” Her stories have appeared in The Menda City Review, Fiction 365, The Rusty Nail, and others. Steve Wheat has been writing, traveling and teaching English abroad for the last seven years. Most recently he finished a contract in Saudi Arabia. Recently his work has appeared in Chronogram, The Hobble Creek Review, Emerge Literary Magazine, and the Eunoia Review. Brooke Wonders’ fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Electric Velocipede, and Monkeybicycle, among others. She is a graduate of Clarion 2011 and a current PhD candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She blogs at girlwonders.com.
Vincent Wood is a Creative Writing graduate from the University of Greenwich, London. He’s had short stories published by online magazine apeironreview.com & the print publication The Delinquent as well as winning a special commendation from First Writer Magazine’s Eighth International Short Story competition for his short story A Tale of Two Heroin(e)s. He was also shortlisted for Askance publishing’s short story award 2013 which lead to his story Compatibility being published in the anthology Positional Vertigo. Also a prolific blogger, he writes about his time living in London and his experiences and relationship to the city, as well as posting various bits of poetry, stories and whatever else takes his fancy which can be found at city-sights.blogspot.com. Diana Woodcock’s first full-length collection, Swaying on the Elephant’s Shoulders, won the 2010 Vernice Quebodeaux International Poetry Prize for Women and was nominated for a Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her chapbooks include In the Shade of the Sidra Tree, a nominee for the Library of Virginia Poetry Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award (Finishing Line Press), Mandala (Foothills Publishing), and Travels of a Gwai Lo—the title poem of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Toadlily Press.