The Review Staff Editor: Meredith Davis Production Editor: Meredith Davis Layout Designer: Lisa Andrews Interns: Gabrielle Bauman Tashna George Lauren Kloslnski First Readers: Ashley Hutson Xavier Vega Cover Art by Alexandre Nodopaka
Editorial Welcome to Apeiron Review issue 11. I find, as the editor, I do not have much to say that the works beyond this page do not already communicate. Much of what I want to tell you is being said in the lines and paragraphs, titles and photos that await you. Apeiron is unique for me because it is the only publication that gives me a guarantee â€“ the guarantee that Iâ€™ll feel something on every page. Each page that turns also stirs within me a deep vast opening that can never be filled. It is the space between my ribs where my sternum stops and branches to the left and right. It is there, for me, words are most deeply felt. I collect them and share them with you in the hope that you, too, will feel it wherever your body and mind collide with heart and soul. So, I will stop occupying your reading time and let the authors and artists who deserve it more than me take over. Please enjoy and linger long among the pages. -M
Table of Contents Po etr y (january) Idan Cohen...........................................1
Saga of the Soldered Vas D.S. West................................................28
grey-eyed dreamer john sweet.............................................2
Mogadon Daniel Connelly.....................................36
your careless face john sweet.............................................3
Natural Disasters Laton Carter...........................................37
the kingdom, contained john sweet.............................................4
There Is a Village in My Chest Bethany Armstrong..............................38
Twin Bridges Hunter Peters.......................................7
To an Old Friend in a Falling-Down Town Patrick Faller..........................................43
Itzhak Perlmanâ€™s Broken String Jacqueline Jules....................................9 The Village Not Reached Jacqueline Jules..................................11 Ladies Lunch Jacqueline Jules..................................12 Nuance Elizabeth A. Davidson.....................24 She Doesnâ€™t Say Appalachia the Way They Say Appalachia Elzabeth A.Davidson.......................25
What Happened Patrick Faller..........................................44 Driftwood Marie-Andree Auclair...........................45 Antithesis Mal Hartigan..........................................46 The Kingdom of the Birds Joan Colby..............................................56 Dinner Michael Chin.........................................57
Poe tr y Mentor Michael Chin............................................58
Old Faith Bill Freedman.........................................78
Persephoneâ€™s Handmaidens Sarah Navin..............................................59
Shabbat Tara Ballard............................................80
Elegy for the Unbuckled One Sarah Navin..............................................60
Soil Tara Ballard............................................81
Craniopagus Parasiticus Specimen Sarah Navin..............................................62
Oaxaca Christina Frei.........................................86
Foster Care with My Sisters Eileen Cleary.............................................63 Toaster Eileen Cleary.............................................64 Possessives Cameron Morse.......................................65 You Are Not for Me Kate Michael............................................71 The Three-Dollar Kitten Kristen Sawyer.........................................74 Lunch Beth Boylan..............................................77
F ictio n Marbles Camille Hove...............................................5
Contingency Plans Carolyn Oliver................................................51
Fried Roses for Dinner K.C. Mead-Brewer......................................8
Speak the Mind Joel Best..........................................................72
All the Many Guilts Merran Jones..............................................13
The Squirrel and The Snot Micah Bradley.................................................82
All Roads Lead to Now Scott Hartwich...........................................18
Kenny Steven Ostrowski...........................................88
The Diner Matthew Barrett........................................26 Abundance Cindy Knoebel..........................................31 Recollection Phoebe Phelps...........................................48
P h o to g ra p hy
Mercado Anita Gill...................................................42
North End of Fish House Road, Jersey City Stephen Fretz......................................10
The Velvet Pouch Matthew Vasiliauskas...............................49 Fallen Angels M.B. McLatchey.......................................69
Above the Surface Jennifer Seaman Cook.......................27 Ash Kristina England................................40 Nest Kristina England................................41 Constant 1 Caroline Knickmeier............................55 Tres Dave Petraglia.....................................61 Not Volvanoe Alexandre Nodopaka........................66 Local Map Alexandre Nodopaka........................67 Wild Blueberry Mist, Camden, Maine James Ross..........................................76
(january) Idan Cohen
Now the noon sky summons me to something. Raises me up. Says there’s hope, in case I forgot. Vegetables and weeds both grow brazen in the garden. The lemon tree has fruit already, little balls of life. There’s yet time to pick them. Though there are fences everywhere. between neighbours between towns cities countries and men. One must learn to bear frustration in this world, or learn well the climbing of fences. Even the vegetable patch, here to give, has wire strung around it to keep out the dogs cats, curious porcupines. You can’t trust an animal soul to know patience or the gentle art of horticulture. Walls and fences, and the sky cerulean blue, borderless, after the storm. So we take our long walks, eat our vegan Sabbath lunches, smiling Even fresh made chocolate finds its way to our palate, and we smile, saying at least there’s chocolate (and friends on the path) Then evening comes far too soon. The day is done. We play some cards for little money, plagued by the endless hunger of cannabis. Everyone hates losing. We smile tiredly. Our skin is worn tight. Night beckons, and oblivion. let us talk a little here at the kitchen table, say a thing, or another; yes, the heart is a salon door. Then we shall go out, dressed in black and train ourselves in the climbing of fences.
grey-eyed dreamer John Sweet
and in the frozen sunlight we are burning every bastard god and all of their false prophets and we are hungry out here but not yet crippled we are liars but never alone and it hurts growing old and it matters that you care but it’s inevitable that every truth we find will end up lost again it’s the song on the radio and it’s the stranger’s body found out by the railroad tracks it’s your fate to be crushed by the landslide and then it’s mine to be crucified by the zealots and the air we breathe in this bitter house is bright blue and luminous and as beautiful as any poison the poems i write for you are the ones that pin me to the floor the mercy you show me is something i would never think to offer myself the source of every river of blood is always the heart of the weakest child 2
your careless face John Sweet
blue smoke hills and grey glass skies on the day i was waiting to be buried next to my father, but the fucker wasn’t ready to die yet was the season of dreamlike resonance in the age of silent monsters was a lifetime of burnt and splintered memories until the future was nothing but bone and ash a lot of blood spilled for a lot of gods that never really existed can’t make the punchline any more obvious can’t help but laugh at the illusion we’ve been sold of power resting in the hands of the wise and the just give a man the power to kill and he will only make you his enemy in the end
the kingdom, contained John Sweet
waited for rain at the edge of the desert and when it finally came it was silver and shimmering with poison when the doctor told you you werenâ€™t dying you spit in his face this is not a poem but a memory this is the letter where i tell you i will not waste my life being the child of anyoneâ€™s inbred god and one of us naked and both of us stoned when we decided we were in love a pale blue room in a blood red house a dog gone blind and shot through with cancer waits for some small act of mercy but there is only this story that ends the same way it began
Marbles Camille Hove
“She came into this world an angry woman,” I rolled the marbles around in my mouth, liking the idea that these shiny wet objects reminded me of empathy. I imagined them getting caught behind my molars, lodged in my teeth, sliding down my throat. The quote was from my grandfather’s story last night at dinner, about my grandma Grace. I’d been meaning to ask him more about it. We were close in that kind of thing. Sex, love, life. He never balked at a question. I had to respect him for that. There was a knock on my door, quick like a woodpecker. My grandfather stuck his head in, and I liked it there, awkwardly hanging above the air without his body. Then he slid all the way into my room. “Do you want to choke to death like an incompetent three-year-old? If that’s what you want on your gravestone, go right ahead.” I spit out the marbles. “They reminded me of empathy.” “Of what? That weird feeling you get when you know what someone’s been through and give them half-hearted pats on the back?” “Uhh yeah that one.”
He chuckled. “I had a question for you, Alf.” “Uh huh?” “Who’s the girl you’re sneaking into your room after you think we’re all asleep?” I almost dropped the marbles, but they stayed wet and slick in my hand. “How did you know—” “I hear things in the night. So do you love her or does she just heat your sheets?” He laughed at his own joke. He was now reclining on my bed, feet pointed toward me. I swiveled in my chair. “I’m not sure. We’ve been together for a while now. How did you know you liked grandma?” “Grace and I didn’t like each other at first. I had damn nearly screwed every woman in that hospital where we worked, and it made her uncomfortable.” “How many women?” I just loved to hear him say it. He leaned back on the bed and spread his body out like an eagle before bellowing, “Ninetyyyyy-six! All brunettes.” My stomach shook with laughter. “You’re so proud aren’t you?” He sat back up. “Proud? No. Accomplished? Yes. But I’m proud I settled down and married 5
Grace. I’m proud I worked hard for the family that came after.” He reached forward and took the marbles from my hand. They had dried now, or he didn’t care that they had been previously swimming with leftover scraps stuck in my teeth from dinner. “What do you know about love?” I spun around in my chair, watching the rise and fall of his chest. I watched the ages of his body manifest in his hands; the crags and valleys of the skin. “That the other person makes you happy?” “Wrong. You just have to be able to put up with the other person’s shit.” He looked at me. I squirmed away from his gaze, like a fish put under a light. “What kind of shit did you and grandma have?” He rolled the marbles around in his palms. “She was so angry all the time. It was like dating a firecracker. You’re holding her all nice and calm one minute, like an ice cream cone, and the next she’s bursting into flames.” “And you didn’t mind?” I got up to grab my notebook. It was buried somewhere in my backpack. The zipper stuck when I heard a rasping sound behind me. “Grandpa! Are you okay?” He was clutching his neck. I grabbed him from behind, pulsing my hands into his torso. He coughed and spat out something into his hands. “Thanks…” “What? Marbles?” He smiled sheepishly. “I wanted to see if they tasted like empathy.” “They’ll taste like regret when you’re locked in a coffin. And you definitely won’t be getting Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores on your headstone.” “My favorite book…I swear he wrote it about me.” He massaged his throat. “Well, I hope you figure out what you feel for her, because no one likes to be used as a heating pad.” He stood up and clutched the doorframe. This time his head disappeared first, leaving me the body in transition, “And don’t tell anyone about this.” I laughed, rolling the marbles around in my hand. 6
“I’ll just tell everyone at your funeral.” “Pah!” “What! I’m practicing my love! I’m putting up with your shit!” I could hear his laughter vibrate through the marbles in my palm.
Twin Bridges Hunter Peters
iron gridlock suspended over
a frozen riptide bed beneath an engineering map of starlight driving across one of those filial shores that my grandfather had plotted my mind erects land bridges to course but in truth my life is shattered
oceans where my future should live like Pangaea
there are two worn hardcover Engineering textbooks on my bookshelf that my Grandfather gave to me a slip of carbon paper in one creased between page 4 and page 5 when I was supposed to enter Clarkson on a Computer Engineering scholarship as I was sure I was meant to believing in things like legacy now I cannot even complete the obituary I was supposed to write for him even though he is still alive locked inside of his solitude as Iâ€™m sure I will be some day and those twin bridges fall across me like an iron shadow.
Fried Roses for Dinner K.C. Mead-Brewer
In response to Russell Edson’s poem, “Let Us Consider”
In Grandma’s neighborhood, there’s an old man who believes he’s a butterfly. Sometimes it’s beautiful, because he’s bright and energetic instead of tired and C-shaped like a lot of old people I know. Sometimes it’s gross, like when he rolls out one of his big barrels of pee and drinks glass after yellow glass of it, smacking his lips and sighing with pleasure. But even then it’s not really so bad. Butterflies have a way of making gross things more okay. Every day he offers a glass to the woman who lives next door, and every day she politely turns him down. She’s younger than Grandma, with beautiful, soft hair the color of tree bark and big, pillowy curves that make her look like she’d be fun to run into. Still, pretty as she is, it’s her garden everyone notices, a garden that drips and drips with so much color it’s a wonder her sidewalk stays gray. Every spring, she invites Grandma and me over for dinner and fries up the freshly bloomed roses till her skillet becomes a crackling, breaded Valentine. She always cooks them as early as possible because she knows that if she waits too long then the wandering moo-cows will wander her way and start eating the flowers raw. The moo-cows have haunted Grandma’s neighborhood for years, chewing up people’s yards and lowing wistfully at each full moon. Grandma tried asking them once why they didn’t return to their pasture where they’d surely be more comfortable, but the moo-cows only said, “We can’t find our Pastor, ma’am. He’s ascended to someplace greener, and we’ve been searching for him ever since.” 8
Grandma got her broom and chased them off the lawn. “There’s just no helping fool-headed cows,” she told me. “Don’t even bother trying.” Of course, not everyone is as wise as Grandma. The middle-aged couple across the street is often seen leaning out their windows with megaphones, each of them trying to show the cows a different better way. But their messages always end up jumbling together until the noise reminds me of the ocean, the water forever chewing at the same old rock. The megaphones live next door to a pair of perpetual newlyweds, but no one bothers trying to talk to them anymore, proselytizer or otherwise. The newlyweds were accidentally separated in their house one afternoon and ended up lost amid a sparkling sea of wedding gifts. They tried to find each other again but, if they ever did, it was too late. They’d already forgotten what the other looked like. The young wife is sometimes seen out walking with their coatrack, talking to it as if it were a handsome young man, and sometimes the young husband can be seen sneaking kisses to a lovely little kitchen timer, smiling affectionately whenever it dings against his lips. “I love you,” I once heard him whisper to it. The words pushed me back into the clutch of aspens that stand white and tall at the edge of the street, and I wished and wished that one day the words might come from someone who was offering them to me. That one day someone’s roots might expand out toward mine, and together we’d form a grove entirely our own.
Itzhak Perlmanâ€™s Broken String Jacqueline Jules
Yes, Rabbi, it was a fine story for the funeral. It would be nice to believe . . . I could make music like Perlman with three strings instead of four, be lauded for playing my violin without whining, refusing to let absence diminish my performance. It would be nice to believe . . . my crippled soul could play my crippled instrument, make what is left produce a pure and powerful sound. It would be nice to believe . . . an urban myth never verified
offers the comfort I need.
North End of Fish House Road, Jersey City Stephen Fretz
The Village Not Reached Jacqueline Jules
The rabbi in the folktale blessed everythingâ€” even his dead donkey, before knowing bad luck saved him from robbers with knives. Blessings can hide in spoiled turnips and broken wheels. Who knows if failure will sweeten later success. Yet sometimes we must cry over the village not reached because the donkey died. Put down the book when the candle blows out. Question the rabbi surrendering to sleep on a straw pillow, certain that everything that happens
must be for the best.
Ladies Lunch Jacqueline Jules
In between bites, I compliment the food, the choice of restaurant the color of Susanâ€™s sweater. Lila praises my haircut, Susan nods, and the conversation circles an airport the size of Dulles with news of recipes recently tried, car repairs, and an organic market on K Streetâ€” never once landing on condolences expressed three months ago. They hang in the air like cleaning products, a dirty job finished in a room no longer polite to mention. I take another bite of salad, note its salty taste, excuse myself to vomit, while Lila asks Susan if she thinks my face is thinner since the funeral, too.
All the Many Guilts Merran Jones
At first there was only one. A tiny thing. It sat on the cornice above Malcolm’s bed, like a fleck of dust or a crack in the paint. Odd. Odder still, that he’d noticed it. Malcolm swept the spider away with a duster, then got ready for work. The following day, it’d returned, like a swallow after winter. Malcolm tilted his head. He grabbed the duster and repeated the act. On the third day, he climbed up and squashed it with a tissue. Dead. He wiped his hands. His house did not tolerate bugs. The spider should’ve known better. On the fourth day, another spider sat in its place.
Still blurry with sleep, Malcolm opened his eyes and stared. Very Odd. He squashed that one too. Being a Saturday, Malcolm didn’t have to work. He left that to the relieving pharmacists. He made his coffee and toast. One boiled egg. One Weekend Advertiser. One chair at the table. One phone-call from his sister, Alison: “Are you coming over tonight?” Malcolm glanced around his immaculate house. “I’m not sure. I’ve got a lot of stuff to do here.” “Huh. Well, dinner’s at seven if you decide to join us. I presume you know our new address?” Malcolm winced. He’d lied to avoid helping Al13
ison move—I’d love to, but it’s my back. I mustn’t strain myself. I could probably lift a couple light things, but …. “Did it all go smoothly?” he asked. “Again, I’m sorry I couldn’t help. My back—” “It went fine. Marcus’s family is full of willing volunteers. They’re all so helpful.” Willing. Helpful. The words clung to Malcolm’s throat, nagging and bilious. He spent the evening eating figs and playing online chess. On Sunday, Malcolm attacked the spider with bug spray. Perhaps that’d do the trick. Perhaps not. By the next morning, a new spider had appeared. In exactly the same spot. Very very odd. Malcolm edged into the kitchen and readied himself for work. The spider could stay there today. Foul weather matched the general mood of a Monday. Rain thrashed against the storefront, hustling people out of its way. “Winter’s coming early,” a customer moaned. Malcolm nodded, handing over their prescription of Zoloft. On the way home, Malcolm passed his elderly neighbour, Irene. She stood at the side of the road, huddled in her coat, struggling with groceries and a broken umbrella. The rain slashed down. Cars sprayed her with inglorious muddy fountains. Malcolm gripped the steering wheel. He drove past. He watched in his rearview mirror. Watched as the bread fell out of her bag. Watched as she disap14
peared into the drizzly distance. He should’ve stopped. He should’ve helped. He should’ve gathered her up and taken her home, as though gallantry wasn’t quite dead. He should’ve, but didn’t. He should’ve at least avoided the large puddle in front of her. At home, Malcolm dripped off his jacket. He placed his keys on the bench and paused. On the cornice above the fridge, sat another spider. Malcolm clenched his teeth. He rolled up his sleeves. But despite several attempts, it too, refused to disappear, much like a wart or a student loan. So there it remained, just like the first—two little guests with a big presence. Winter settled over the town like a bruise. The days shortened. Frost turned the leaves crisp and hessian underfoot. People drove as if using their elbows. And the cold ... the cold clawed its way through the bricks, under the carpet, into all the rooms of Malcolm’s house, lessening their mushroomy air by degrees. The spiders did not mind the weather. Did not seem to notice, in fact. Malcolm forged on with his life—working, buying groceries, sharing tidbit politics with co-workers, climbing in and out of his mid-size Honda— bundling himself against the thrust of cold. In the evenings, he stirred his Campbell’s soup, eyeing the spider above the fridge. He thought of Irene in the rain. He should’ve helped her.
Changing into his pyjamas, he eyed the spider above the bed. He shouldn’t have lied to Alison about his back. He should’ve helped her too. He called the spiders Big Brother One and Big Brother Two. They tracked his every movement with anthropomorphic eyes. “Is everything okay, Malcolm? You’ve seemed a bit off lately,” Alison said on the phone. “I’ve two spiders in my house I can’t get rid of.” “Oh, I had that problem with my car’s wing mirror. The webs kept coming back. Try lemon spray. That should do the trick.” “Ta.” Alison sighed. “Please come for dinner tonight. I know things have been hard since Karen left, but we are here for you.” “I’ll see,” Malcolm said. And he did. He saw himself stay home. He saw himself eat a plain jacket potato and beat trump_ lord65 in three rounds of online chess. Malcolm tried lemon spray. Naturally, it did nothing. The spiders smirked at him. The days wore on. Winter bullied its way around the town; muscled and loud, unlike its fresh-faced antonym, summer, which coaxed people outside with promises of picnics. Malcolm’s conscience began to nag on a more consistent basis, listing all his failings. It followed him down the cereal aisles—like a child dribbling questions or a cardiganed spouse—reminding him of all he had and hadn’t done: The time he’d walked past a World Vision volunteer and didn’t donate.
The time he’d borrowed The Hobbit from a friend and never returned it. The time(s) he’d sent his mother an e-card instead of calling on her birthday. The (many) times he’d lied to Karen about the size of her butt in her skirt/jeans/birthday suit. Even the times he’d killed those poor defenseless spiders …. His conscience hunted through memories, pulling crimes from the inmost cells of Malcolm’s brain, whispering them into his dreams, night after night. After night. And for each act brought to mind, another spider appeared along the cornices. They didn’t move. They didn’t spin webs. They simply sat at 30 centimetres intervals. The gaps filled up. As more spiders emerged, they positioned themselves 15 centimetres apart, then 7.5, then 3.75, then 1.875 centimetres; halving the white space again and again. Malcolm measured with a ruler and shook his head. Statistical little things. His habit of checking grew proportional to the number of spiders. Initially, he measured every couple of days. Then daily. Then hourly whenever he was home. And when out, he thought about checking. He thought about checking until each surrounding object could be measured with his eye. The keyboard sat 6.5 centimetres from the monitor. The prescription baskets sat 3.34 centimetres apart. The homeless man down the street sat 203 centimetres from the trash can. “I’ve got a nonfat latte for Malcolm,” the barista at Starbucks called. “The sugar packets and stirrers are 5.7 centimetres apart.” Malcolm pointed. 15
The barista ensured their fingers didn’t touch as he handed Malcolm his coffee. Poor Malcolm. The spiders represented his sins. That much had become clear. Malcolm clamped down onto the concept, bit into it with his teeth. He stared at the dark-bordered rooms, unnerved by all his misdeeds. He’d no idea he was so wretched. Malcolm grew quieter at work. He took his lunch breaks alone, sipping coffee from a mug that read, ‘Jenny. Queen of Everything’. And when on the floor, he lingered in the corners. Any interaction might cause another slip-up. But then, not doing his work was also a sin … “Malcolm? This customer’s asking about Endep while they’re on Tegretol.” Malcolm flinched. He served the woman as quickly as possible. “Is everything alright?“ the manager asked, after weeks of watching Malcolm stare at the ceiling. “There are no spiders here,” Malcolm said. “Why are they only at home?” The manager frowned. “I think we need to talk about some stress leave.” His schadenfreude at a colleague’s redundancy— that’s why Malcolm was asked to go, he decided. Schadenfreude. Schadenfreude. Schadenfreude. He repeated the word all the way home. Unsure what to do, Malcolm lay on the couch at night, eating tins of tuna and watching old TV shows that made him slightly ill. The spiders watched with him. They did not feel ill. 16
During the day, Malcolm sat beneath the weeping elm, hugging his chattering knees. How well the branches caged him. How well they encircled like spider’s legs—imprisoning Malcolm for his moral erosion; his many many faults. Having filled every cornice, the spiders began to spread down the walls. How can someone’s transgressions fill a whole house? Malcolm sat on the bedroom floor, bouncing a tennis ball against the closet. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. This wasn’t right. Where was the nostalgia of age; the tangle of good and old? The spiders tossed him a look that almost resembled sympathy. Checking the calendar one day, Malcolm realised it’d been six months since Karen left. And that Christmas had occurred weeks ago. How had he missed the clamor of tinsel and overpriced turkeys? How had he avoided going to Alison’s? Had he even spoken to her? “I can’t remember,” he told the spiders. Winter worsened. It flung down great fistfuls of rain. Malcolm sat by the window and watched the wet slap of the world. Millions of eyes watched with him. The oak trees concerned him. Gathered in the wind’s grip, they nodded their heads and muttered about what to do with that Malcolm chap. He hadn’t brushed his teeth for long enough that night. He’d skimped on the molars. The trees must’ve known. Poor Malcolm. One night, he glimpsed a shape out in the garden. It had an inarticulate face, curtailed by the dark. Malcolm blinked and the threat became a bag
of garbage. He went out to clear up the mess. How silly. He sealed the bin tight and moved it out of the wind. How childish. The oaks nodded in agreement. One murmured something, but the storm whipped the words away. How paranoid. Malcolm locked himself back inside. A hundred hours after the garbage adventure, Malcolm decided to have a bath. Perhaps he could wash himself clean. Unlikely, the spiders scoffed. Malcolm lay back in the water. The tap dripped. He closed his eyes. Karen had left a scented candle. He inhaled its lavender fumes. It did nothing to calm his nerves. How ludicrous it all was—the spiders, the trees, the garbage …. “How ludicrous you all are!” he tried. His words echoed against the tile. The tap continued to drip. The candlelight, enlarged every drop, adding shadow and bulk. Malcolm recalled his last fight with Karen. He shouldn’t have called her a whore. He shouldn’t have smashed her favourite vase. He shouldn’t have slapped her. He definitely shouldn’t have broken the wipers and a headlight so she’d struggle to drive off in the rain. She’d made it to her mother’s house (just), but the guilt burned between Malcolm’s temples. What if ? What if she’d been injured? What if she’d died? (Was that manslaughter or murder?) The guilt. How he’d longed for Karen to expose him. For the raw truth and the comeuppance he deserved.
Instead, she cut him from her life, leaving Malcolm alone with his damned guilt—guilty and damned. The guilt. The guilt. The guilt the guilt the guilt. The tap continued to drip. Perhaps it dripped, not water, but sulphuric acid? Malcolm jumped out. With a shrinking hand, he pulled the plug. Lucky escape. Lucky lucky escape. The spiders watched him. “You’re not getting me that easily!” He laughed. “You won’t win.” But they did. At first, there was only one. In the end, there were billions. They crept under his skin; into his bloodless veins, his silenced heart. They covered Malcolm’s body until it was no more than a black mound on the kitchen floor. Alison found him. “Did you know he was depressed?” the coroner asked. “No,” Alison whispered. “You wouldn’t tell if he was. He’s always been quiet. I suppose he never recovered from his divorce. I just … never imagined he’d take his own life.” An empty bottle of insecticide lay beside him. Tins of tuna dotted the couch. One chair at the window. And nothing else out of place. Poor Malcolm. Poor poor Malcolm, whispered the oaks outside.
All Roads Lead to Now Scott Hartwich
It’s nondescript, this house: single story, white clapboard with baby blue trim, tiny porch. Asphalt roof long past its useful life, every intersection of shingles lined with moss. And the landscaping, don’t get me started. Someone’s had other things on their mind for a long time, and I’m here for a quick fix so they can get the place on the market. I get a lot of calls from frantic homeowners who think a lawn job, a bit of pruning, and weed-dug beds might hide years of neglect. I don’t tell them it’s like putting makeup on a dead person, because a job’s a job. And
anyway, who am I to judge? I live in a single-wide mobile home on a two thousand square foot lot. Well kept, but still. I ring the doorbell then knock then pound, and eventually the door opens the width of a chain and a kid looks at me through the crack. “Dad home?” He shakes his head. “We had an appointment to discuss landscaping issues.” The door shuts and the chain comes off. Then the door opens wide.
I peer inside. “Any adults around?” “My father’s at work. He said to give you this.” Hands me a sheet of paper. “won’t you come in?” And I kid you not, he gestures with his arm. I consider for a few seconds. “You shouldn’t invite strangers inside your home.” “You’re not a stranger. You’re the lawn guy.” “Still,” I say, perusing the task list, and the offer — on the low end for the amount of work. “When’s he want this done by?” “He said to ask you nicely to do it today and he would write you a check when he gets home at five o’clock.” I sighed. “Listen, Sport, usually I negotiate a price and then try to fit the job into my busy schedule. This goes against the grain.” The kid looks at me and I wonder if he knows I’m lying, that business sucks and I need this. badly. “My father said I could offer fifty more dollars if you got greedy. And my name isn’t Sport, it’s Brandon James Whitfield.” Then he gets a panicky look in his eyes. “He’ll be very disappointed if he comes home and nothing’s done.” I purse my lips and pretend to think for a few seconds, until the kid actually begins tapping his foot. Raises his eyebrows right at me. He’s wearing a blue button-down with worn khakis and white sneakers about ten sizes too big. “It’s still not enough money,” I say. “That’s the way the cookie crumbles,” he says. I unload the truck, wondering how often he got the shit kicked out of him at school. Three hours later the crappy yard looks less crappy and my bad knee’s aching like a son of a bitch; I’ve mowed the dying grass, edged, shaped the rhodie and the azaleas, dug up and outlined three flower beds, and spread beauty bark liberally. Which is to say I’ve made the rest of the house look like a run-down hovel in comparison. All that’s left on the list are the stepping stones leading along the right side of house to a gate hanging by a single hinge. They’re overgrown, these stones, covered with dirt and grass roots and cracked so badly I don’t see the
point, but a job’s a job and after a five minute water break I’m on my hands and knees with a trowel, an old kitchen knife, and a steel brush. Three stones in, my knee singing in protest, the boy materializes behind me. “Would you care for some lemonade?” I jumped and nearly jabbed the trowel near through my heavy glove. “Jesus, kid!” But it’s hot outside so I wheel around and accept the tall glass, cold and condensed. Take a long drink. Pucker my lips. “We ran out of sugar so it might not be sweet enough.” I raised the glass. “Here’s to a thought that counts.” “Will you have everything done by five?” I gesture down the line of seventeen still-buried stepping stones and pull back my glove to check the time. “Doubtful.” “He really wants it done by five.” I noticed he’s taken on the stance of a foreman, legs spread, arms crossed. Complete with a bad buzz cut. “How about you pitch in then, Little Man?” “You need a haircut,” he says. “You need to respect your elders.” “Respect must be earned.” Brandon James Whitfield retreats. Two minutes later he shows up through the bro19
ken back gate and plops down next to the last stone. Takes up a big chef ’s knife and wields it like a sword. I crackle to my feet and move his way. “I got an extra trowel. How’s about you loosen things up and I make the cut?” He doesn’t look up. “No thank you.” He frees grass with a spackler and deftly trims around the stone with the knife. Thirty seconds later he’s brushed off the stone and moved to the next. “You cut yourself I’ll deny all involvement.” “I won’t,” he says. “I watched you do it.” In this way we pass the next forty-five minutes. Scrape, cut, brush. Scrape, cut, brush. halfway in, I can feel his stare. “Do you have any children?” “Long, long time ago.” “How old are they?” I stop and look at him but he’s focused on the work. Just making conversation, it seems. Memories bubble up and I shove them off. “Focus, Little Man.” At 4:57, I finish the last stone and stand up to fetch the rake. Brandon looks at his watch. “I have to get cleaned up.” And he’s off, tools in hand. At 5:12, a beat-up Volvo wagon pulls up and a tiny hairless figure emerges, surveying my work from behind the car. He’s wearing a cheap navy suit with a
maroon necktie, and once he approaches I can see he’s the kind of man who polishes his shoes. “Mr. Whitfield?” I stick my hand out but he’s already moving toward the Azaleas. Examining. He picks up a piece of Beauty Bark and rolls it over in his hand. “I didn’t ask for this,” he says, keeping his eyes on the bark. “I’m not paying for it.” “You don’t like it?” He finally looks up at me. “Did I say that?” “No sir,” I said. “Keep in mind all I had was the note your son gave me. Not real specific.” “Was Beauty Bark specified in the note? Specifically pertaining to the flower beds under the windows?” I smiled. “Rest of the job to your liking?” Mr. Whitfield walks his yard, left to right. Checks the edging. Goes down the stepping stones, hopping on a few. Then he comes back over. “I’ll give you the hundred fifty now, or you can come back tomorrow and remove the moss from the roof for another hundred.” We look up at the curling shingles. “How about instead I throw some moss killer up there for fifty? Let nature take it’s course.” “That’s not the offer.” I pretend to consider. “Well then. I’ll be here bright and early tomorrow.” Mr. Whitfield nods and heads toward his front door. “Great little boy you got there,” I say to his back. “Very helpful. You might want to brush him up on Stranger Danger though. I mean, I’m perfectly harmless...” Mr. Whitfield pauses but doesn’t look back. Then he goes inside. I get the mower and the edger loaded into the trailer, and remember the hoe leaning against the side of the house. When I go to retrieve it, I hear yelling through an open window, then three loud slaps and a few muted thuds like Rocky punching a side a beef. What I don’t hear is any crying afterward. * * *
Bright and early I’m back at it, unloading my telescoping ladder, strapping on the tool belt. I don’t know the first thing about moss removal, but this roof ’s not steep and it’s a small footprint. Piece-apie, my old man would have said. Little Man opens the door before I get a chance to knock. Peers at me under the chain. “Morning,” I say. “I’ll be up on the roof a few hours.” “Will you be done by five?” “By noon, if you’re lucky.” He nods and begins to shut the door. “Hang on, Sport.” The door opens again and I get a better look at the black eye and fat lip. “Dad got pissed off ?” Shrug. “I ruined the good knife.” “That was the good knife? Because I cook a little, and that wasn’t a good knife.” “I have to learn consequences,” says Brandon. “Well I don’t—” “No unnecessary fraternization,” he says, and slams the door in my face so I start minding my own business. Three hours later I’m covered in sweat and swearing up a storm. Moss doesn’t sweep off a roof, as it turns out; doesn’t come off with a garden hose either. What it does is gets under the asphalt shingles and hangs on for dear life. I’m a quarter done and looking at another full day, all for a hundred bucks. And the thing is, I know better; twenty years of handy-manning and still I haven’t learned my lesson. At two o’clock, I hear a clattering on the ladder and Little Man’s head appears above the gutter. “Will you be done by five?” “Not a snowball’s chance in hell,” I say. “And you’re not helping this time. Roof is slick as snot.” “My father will be highly annoyed.” My turn to shrug. “So be it.” “You have to finish by five.” His voice had changed, had developed an undertone I didn’t like. “Or what? I’m no miracle worker. Job’ll get done when it gets done.” Brandon’s look is full of reproach. He disappears
back down the ladder, and I go back to work. His dad was an abusive SOB, of that much I was certain; but this time no knives destroyed, no major rules broken, so far as I knew. Beatdowns happen in life, and sometimes they build character. But sometimes they’re just beat-downs, and you move on. At 4:50, Brandon clatters up the ladder again. “Not gonna happen,” I say. “I’ll finish tomorrow.” His face goes blank and he flees down the ladder and I hear a misstep and a small scream and then glass shattering. I slip and slide to the edge of the roof and look down at the boy hanging from a rung between ladder and house, the picture window behind him turned to shards. “How the hell did you manage this?” “Can you get me down, please?” He doesn’t take much rescuing because he’s only five or six feet off the ground, and no sign of blood. As soon as I set him down he’s off like a shot, back inside the house. A minute later he’s sweeping up glass in his living room. Just then Mr. Whitfield pulls up. He does a double take as he approaches the house. “I presume you can explain all this?” he says calmly, but his ears are going fiery red. Path A, path B. I gear up and try to look sheepish. “All me. Foot slipped and shot through the rungs right into the window. I can have someone out here first thing Monday morning to replace it.” And then he does something that throws me off: stands with his foot tapping, stroking his chin. Stares at me, then the ladder, then the window. Finally, nods his head. “You’re lying, Mr. Conklin.” “All due respect, Mr. Whitfield, you weren’t here when it happened.” “Covering for my son won’t help him grow up.” I give up all pretense. “You should be thankful he didn’t break his neck.” Damned if it doesn’t feel like this little bastard is looming over my six-four frame. Tap, tap, tap. I cross my arms. “I think maybe you don’t 21
need to take any drastic action here.” “You mean like not paying you? Because I don’t reward people who lie, Mr. Conklin. Take your ladder and your tools and clear off my property.” And with that he heads inside. As I’m calculating the cost of my big mouth, I look through the window frame and see Brandon James Whitfield stand his ground as his father approaches, then turn tail at the last second and flee out of sight. Mr. Whitfield follows, taking his time. Path C, path D. I load the ladder and my tools and get set to drive off, but then an inspiration hits. Thirty seconds later beauty bark coats Mr. Whitfield’s carefully manicured lawn: a small thing, but satisfying. Then I hear a high-pitched shriek from inside, and a car alarm somewhere in the neighborhood. I swear If I’d heard one without the other, I’d be on my way, but both— before I know it I’m inside the house, calling out. “Mr. Whitfield? Brandon, you okay?” No response so I move through the living room, taking stock of the cheap but well-organized furniture, the fireplace mantle with precisely placed photographs. A well-cared-for ficus tree takes up one corner, next to a worn Barcalounger. A few seconds later I hear footsteps coming up stairs and I steel myself, but it’s Brandon who emerges from a door down the hallway. His lips are bleeding and he’s holding his side with one hand and a crowbar with the other, and instantly I know what happened and see his future flash in front of me: ugly and dark, like the passageways in a dungeon. “Is he still breathing?” I ask. “I think I knocked him out and he’s bleeding a little bit.” Brandon James Whitfield trembles. “I should call 911.” “Self-defense, Little Man. This time he went too far and you put up a fight. People will understand.” “He’s helping me grow up.” “Utter and complete bullshit,” I say. “He tells me he loves me when he’s doing it. And sometimes he cries.” I can tell he’s searching for explanations that must be there. Maybe just around the bend. Somewhere close. Just then Mr. Whitfield roars Brandon’s name 22
from the basement. Brandon stares at me and I stare back and we come to an understanding. A few seconds later we’re driving away. *
Brandon James Whitfield looks at the line of cars stopped in front of us, the red and blue lights in the distance. Then he turns. His face is purple, a mass of freshly bruised tissue, one eye nearly swollen shut. His lower lip is fat like Santa. “He found us,” he says. I clench the wheel. “Not necessarily. Maybe it’s just an accident.” “It’s not.” “Don’t be so damn negative. Christ.” We pull forward a car length every thirty seconds or so. Concrete barriers divide the two-lane, shoulderless highway. No turning back. This is commitment in the worst possible sense. We pull forward. “What happened happened,” I say. “Can’t change the past.” Brandon shrugs, resigned to his fate. He hears the squawk squawk squawk of the Amber Alert and turns up the radio. We’re famous. “What’s it like in Juvie?” says Brandon. “You’re not going to Juvie. And how the hell should I know? Do I look like someone who spent time in Juvie?” “Kind of.” We pull forward. I can see the car at the front of the line now, a gray Ford pick-up with a white canopy. Two troopers in Smokey hats look in the cab and then move to the bed. They wave the driver on, gesture to the Chevy Cruze eight cars in front of us. “Tell me about your kids,” says Brandon. “Now you wanna know?” Shrug. A master of shrugs. “Not much to tell. My son died when he was a little baby.” “Did he have a name?” “Jacob.” Brandon looks straight at me. Right into my
eyes, the way kids never do. “Did you kill him?” I almost say yes, the answer I’d given myself for twenty years. “SIDS.” We pull forward. Six cars away. “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome,” says Brandon. “When an infant doesn’t wake up because the mattress is too soft.” “Pretty much.” Brandon looks down at his hands. “I only looked it up because my father told me I might die from it if I didn’t improve my behavior.” Four cars. “Your father’s an asshole.” “So you didn’t kill your son.” “That depends on who you ask.” I consider making a run for it, hopping the barriers and scrabbling down to the river paralleling the highway, but then I see a trooper with a Shepherd. The last few cars move quickly past the barricade, and we’re up. My heart’s a jackhammer and it comes to me, one of my old man’s favorite expressions: All road leads to now. I turn to Brandon one more time, all hell about to break loose, but he’s looking forward — watching the Smokeys sidle up, hands resting casually on their sidearms. “Listen,” I say. “You remember what we talked about on the way here. You got your whole life ahead, so put your foot down.” I’m thinking about Jacob for the first time in a long time: the way he crapped, the way he barfed, the way he blew bubbles. The expression on my exwife when he bit her nipple. I allow his face to float right there, right in front of me. The Smokeys lean down for a closer look and something lets loose inside.
Nuance Elizabeth A. Davidson
Everything is bathed in a faint glow of pinprick light, a ceiling turned art installation, dangling, intertwining. Everything screams of fragility in the soft hum, all of the graininess of the world erased. A Warblerâ€™s song, Sweet sweet sweet, very very sweet, a Nocturne in C minor, a rise and fall of an ocean wave a boisterous crash on the shore â€“ stagnant water seeping into satiny sand craving the soft bell of a passing train.
She Doesn’t Say Appalachia the Way They Say Appalachia Elizabeth A. Davidson She heard someone say, you can see the mountain as a mother. A voice as smooth as river rock that burns like a fine Tennessee whisky too far from home. She turns her violin into a fiddle, flattens the bridge and closes her eyes, drags the bow across the strings – November bees hiccupping bric-a-brac notions, a sea of green and things that fall to their knees, something delicate that seeps into the skin, shutter clicks and bird songs and water cascading down window panes – an abrasive twang ripping the air in two. Look at those mountains bursting at the seams.
The Diner Matthew Barrett
Finally, my father set his coffee down and looked me in the eyes. “I’ve had enough,” he said. “Of what?” “Everything. I’m just gonna tell her.” He pushed his plate aside, and our waitress came back with a fresh pot of coffee. “Refills, gentlemen?” I nodded. My father watched her pour it, then asked if he could tell her something. “Anything.” “I love you, Suzanne.” The waitress smiled. “I love you too, Walter.” “No, Suzanne, I mean it.” “So do I.” She winked and after refilling my cup, turned to someone else. My father sat in the booth, shaking his head. “See what I mean? I’ve had enough.” He grabbed his coat and pushed his way toward the exit. Outside it was quiet. For a moment he looked at the parking lot and removed a pack of toothpicks. “I really do love her, Johnny.” “I know.” “Always have, always will.” He offered me a toothpick and I took it. “Always, always, always—” He glanced back at the diner. “Maybe next time I’ll bring her flowers.” “You should.” “She’s always liked flowers.” “Do you know what kind?” “Of course,” he said. “Zinnias.” 26
At the same time, a van pulled into the parking lot and a man stepped out to greet us. He smiled our way. “Are you ready to go home, Walter?” My father said he wasn’t sure. “Sure you are,” said the man. “Here.” He took my father’s hand and guided him onto a seat. The door closed. Then the man came toward me. “Good breakfast?” “He called her Suzanne again,” I said. “That’s normal.” “You sure?” The man nodded. “We’ll see you next week,” he said, and from inside the van, my father mouthed “zinnias” again and again, “zinnias, zinnias, zinnias,” like this time he’d win her back.
ABOVE THE SURFACE Jennifer Seaman Cook
Saga of the Soldered Vas D.S. West
I. The Procedure The nurse praised the good doctor’s two-tier method, drawing thin black lines on my scrotum. After severing the vas deferens, she explained, the doctor would solder, quelling any hope of rebellion. Collapse the cavern, drive the rebels underground. Local anasthetic softened the tip of the pen, but not the cold touch of the surgical wipe. I refused the Valium, fearing the pain, but wanting to be there. Through the bramble of local anasthetia, the good doctor reached inside the magic hat, touching parts so private they’d never felt light, much less a woman’s touch. I can’t help but love her. First blowjob, first multi-orgasmic romp can’t hold a candle to she who pulled me inside out. Beside my breakfast and bladder, I felt her tug the cord toward the TV. Yes, it’s the right one — these butterflies carry knives, and fly blind as bats. The smell is like charred hotdog, a celebratory cookout as the potential to create life is cut, burnt and sewn shut and yum, I left the office smiling, ecstatic, sore and in love with an appetite. II. Agenbite of Inwit Some things can only be explained anecdotally, bearing implications you’d stutter to explain, that you probably didn’t comprehend yourself at the time. 28
Like if you found a diseased mama-dog on the side of the road, dragging along six hungry cadavers, still thirsting for mama’s toxic milk. How would you tell that story? It isn’t how. It isn’t why. One night, years before the surgery, I stopped by the doublewide where my mother and stepfather lived, to pick some things up. I was with college friends. We were in the area, and I needed to pick up a few shirts. I hesitated at the car door, uneasy in the gravel driveway. I heard the TV, saw light through the blinds. But the Pomeranian wasn’t barking. Shortly thereafter, my mother asked, “I ever tell you about the night you were born?” She’d just explained to me they’d had to put Toby down, with a bullet to the head, after a stroke left him paralyzed. The last time I’d seen him, his back had been a mess of scabs. Bald, matted in dried blood. He’d done little more than roll around on his back, crying. Flea medicine cost more than name-brand cigarettes. To cheer me up, my mother told me and my friends about the night I was born: “Me and your daddy were going at it, partying hard on Jack Daniels, and my dern water went and broke.” I didn’t have to ask if she was smoking. I’d asked before. “We didn’t know it was bad for you back then,” she’d said. I already knew the rest. I had come into the world premature, sickly and underweight. From his mother’s womb, untimely ripped — never technically born, but excised, via a cesarean. I turned from her, toward my old room, tears forming. She followed me through the trailer, grinning — giddy, having broken through my defenses. “Your dern stepdaddy didn’t have the nerve,” she said. He grunted from the broken recliner, cutting his steak.
I imagined them eating ice cream in the living room, like they did every night, while Toby lay in the floor, licking his lips in a puddle of his urine. I pretended to root through the closet, for shirts, to get my back to her. She followed me into the closet, a shameless, braless vampire in a torn nightgown. But when I turned around, I’d secured the breach. I had garlic around my neck, a crucifix behind my eyes. Acknowledging I had nothing for her to eat, she left. I grabbed my shirts, my friends, and so did I. III. Eyes of a Black Dog I allowed myself to cry in the backseat. My friends were silent. I was pulling myself together when my father called, the first I’d heard from him in two years. Strange luck. I don’t know why, shock perhaps — but I told him what I’d just been told. Not about the dog. I told him the story, laughing, remembering a line by Katherine Mansfield, “I must laugh or die,” itching for bourbon, plotting an avalanche— waiting for a bar back home to black out in. I told Daddy the story and Daddy laughed too. The stench of nicotine had followed us out — My father gloated, “I felt like a real man when I broke her water like that.” We laughed. Made smalltalk. I hung up, hahahahaha to a friend’s apartment, where I bummed a cigarette and sat facing the open front door, watching heavy rainfall, a mangy stray shaking its thick coat futilely in the rain. Sizzle, please pop, I thought; I want to murder everything.
Abundance Cindy Knoebel
She’d had five children, counting the one who never made it to term and the other who’d committed suicide when he was twenty-three, but she won’t be seeing them today except in the photos that are arranged like holy icons on the shelves of her room. Margaret is alone on this bright November morning, sitting in a reclining chair whose cushions have long molded themselves to her particular curves, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television. The balloons and floats bob down Fifth Avenue, testing their tethers in the light breeze like restless animals. Was it last year – or the year before, she can’t remember, her memory isn’t what it used to be – that a float escaped its harness, attacked a woman and fractured her skull, the woman in a coma for months? And there was
also an incident involving a clown, a heart attack, a death… Clowns are not supposed to die in front of children at Thanksgiving Day parades, she thinks. For years, in every kind of weather, she and Daniel had bundled up the kids and trundled them through Central Park to watch the parade. She wonders if Anna and Greg are there today, the twins carefully wrapped against the chill breeze and nesting in their double stroller. She leans forward in her chair, squinting at the screen as though expecting to see them, Anna in one of her brightly-colored berets, Greg with one hand resting on her shoulder and the other holding onto the stroller in a protective grip, alert to the possible danger from rogue floats. She wonders if Megan has flown East to join them, if Dan Jr. has 31
driven up from Baltimore with his wife, Gretchen, and their two children. Margaret closes her eyes, trying to compose a family portrait in her mind, but it’s been years now since she’s seen them, and the images are jumbled, some pulled from memory and others from photographs, and so they keep shifting, like a puzzle with mismatched pieces. Shaking her head, she opens her eyes and brings her attention back to the television. Margaret notices that the parade hosts – a man and a woman, both asexually pretty, both in their early thirties – are wearing identical red earmuffs. They flash matching white smiles, capped teeth gleaming, and speak animatedly to each other and to their invisible audience. She has no idea what they are saying, the sound on the old Magnavox turned off. She watches TV this way most of the time now, the figures flickering on the screen while she composes dialogue in her head. FEMALE HOST: Did you know that I left my husband when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer? MALE HOST: You did the right thing. You had yourself to think about. You’re not a strong person, you know. (They seem to find this exchange hilarious, their heads tipping back, their mouths opening wide with silent laughter.) FEMALE HOST (facing the camera): And I’ve never even visited his grave. Margaret clicks off the television. These madefor-TV mannequins, with their shiny hair and shiny teeth, what did they know of life, of the countless ways it could and would betray you? Of a mother’s howls of grief as she stands by the side of an empty crib with its undisturbed pink and white coverlet, her useless, milk-filled breasts cradled in arms that ached instead for the sweet warmth of a living child? Of the falling-from-earth feeling at having to identify the body of a son, laid out like a freshly butchered carcass on a coroner’s metal examining table, his skull neatly cleaved by a single bullet, the question regarding the existence of God finally put to rest once and for all? Closing her eyes again, she counts slowly to five 32
and is finally able to summon Edward’s face as he’d looked on the day he graduated from high school: the gap-toothed grin so like Daniel’s, the hank of dark hair flopping over his forehead, the blue, blue eyes that even then, five years before the day he took his father’s shotgun and headed off into the woods, seemed to flicker with uncertainty and trepidation. Margaret’s eyes flutter open and she shifts in her chair, trying to find a comfortable spot. Glancing down, she catches sight of her hands gripping the armrests of her chair, startled, as she often is these days, by their likeness to the misshapen claws of some predatory bird, the papery skin spotted, the grayish veins like knotty earthworms. Aware of a faint rumbling in her stomach, Margaret checks her watch. She stands up – steady now, old girl – and shuffles to the door. From a small basket on a side table, she fishes out a pink lipstick. Not bothering with a mirror, she smears it onto her lips. Straightening her shoulders, she unlocks her door and heads into a long hallway punctuated at regular intervals by doors identical to hers. As she tucks her key into the pocket of her good gray skirt, she hears a slam and the skitter of running feet. A little girl – six, she guesses – dressed in a pink sequined fairy skirt and Bambi pajama top, sprints from around the corner and past her toward the elevator. Cheerios spill from an open baggie clutched in her hand and bounce on the hallway’s green plaid carpet. From around the same corner a group of three emerges, moving slowly. Margaret recognizes her neighbor Bridget – eighty-four, bent nearly double with scoliosis, her hair teased into a pale orange nebula – accompanied by whom she guesses are her daughter and son-in-law. “Wendy, slow down and wait for us,” the younger woman calls to the little girl, who is now standing by the elevator, looking back expectantly, one finger poised to hit the down button. Introductions are made; the daughter is Jane or Joan or Joanne, the name of the son-in-law forgotten the moment he is introduced. (Yes, it’s a lovely
afternoon; balmy, though they are talking rain later; have you been out yet today?) Margaret attempts a smile and murmurs politely (what a lovely family you have, all the way from Minneapolis, you say? And this darling little girl must be your granddaughter, yes?). They enter the elevator, and it’s always here, in the elevator with its spotless linoleum floor, fluorescent lights and space designed to hold not only the residents of The Bristol Continuing Care Home, but gurneys and oxygen tanks and IV units and, sometimes, emergency medical personnel with their distracted faces and quick, efficient movements and terse conversation, that Margaret is reminded of where she lives. Or rather, where she doesn’t live: the modest brick Tudor with the rose trellis outside the kitchen window and the basketball hoop on the far side of a driveway kept cool and shaded by a fragrant mix of blue spruces and firs. The house where she and Daniel had raised their children, located at the end of a cul-de-sac littered with tricycles and skateboards and dog-drooled tennis balls. The house she left eight years ago, a sticky summer dawn just breaking, her two suitcases tossed easily into the trunk of a taxi by a rumpled driver who smelled of cigarettes and a long night behind the wheel. The little girl, Wendy, is humming and as the elevator commences its creaking descent, Bridget clears her throat and begins to speak. “So there’s a resident here – Eleanor her name is, lived until yesterday two doors up from me. Quiet as a mouse she was, kept to herself, always scribbling something. Bits of paper would trail from her pockets … oh, we’d find them everywhere, in the dining room, the library, even on the grounds outside. Well, so, her daughter – a good girl, visited her mother every week – took it upon herself to gather up all the bits, and more, too, because there were simply stacks of notebooks in Eleanor’s room. And she – the daughter, mind you – got it all in order, all typed up as nicely as you please. At any rate, she got it into the hands of a publisher, and what do you know?” Bridget pauses and peers around expectantly with bright eyes the color of rubbed denim. “It
got published! Eleanor’s whole life story, right there in a book for all to see!” She continues, “I read a bit of it, I did. And do you know, that Eleanor, so absent-minded– she once showed up to dinner wearing just her nightgown and a hat with purple feathers, if you can imagine that. Well.” Bridget takes a breath, starts again. “So it comes out, in the book that is, that she worked as a nurse during the London Blitz. Spent three years taking care of poor English lads hauled from the trenches. Saw it all, just pieces of them left in some cases, arms and legs and…” “And you say she lives on your floor, mom?” interrupts Bridget’s son-in-law. He takes his wife’s arm as the elevator arrives on the first floor with a slight thud. “Ah, now that’s the sad part, isn’t it? She was just moved to the hospice unit yesterday. Poor thing, in a bad way and I hear the family’s been called.” The family quartet steps out into the bright lobby, the little girl tugging eagerly at her mother’s hand. Margaret pauses, then steps forward after them just as the elevator doors begin to close. She hadn’t known Eleanor all that well; truth be told, she hasn’t made many friends at all since she moved here, and it occurs to her that Bridget might say the same thing of her when the time came: quiet, she was, kept to herself… but of course there will be no stories of wartime heroics or published books or anything else, because who will remember the nondescript woman from 11B who clipped roses and raised four children and cared for her husband until the day she didn’t? Poor Eleanor. Several times she’d knocked softly on Margaret’s door in the evenings on her way to the dining room. “Care to have a bit of supper with me?” she’d ask, always the same words, the invitation offered up in a lilting English accent that made Margaret think of baked beans on toast and trifle. And Margaret had, on occasion, joined her where they sat together companionably enough, neither saying much. Usually at some point during the meal Eleanor’s fingers would wander up into the nest of gray hair piled on top of her head and, poking about, fish 33
out a pencil, while her other hand searched various pockets for a piece of paper. Margaret never questioned her, never asked what she was writing, just assumed it was the random jottings of a doddering, ninety-something woman who had her secrets and mysteries, same as anyone. And perhaps it was because of this – the sense that Eleanor wasn’t really all there, wasn’t really paying attention to anything except her scribbling and her notes and her scraps of paper – that made Margaret bring up one evening, almost casually, Daniel and the circumstances of their separation, and his death seven and a half years ago in a hospice not fifty miles from where she now lives. She had talked in a low voice, the words feeling awkward and unfamiliar in her mouth, talked of Edward and of tiny, unfinished Amelia, talked until it was done and she had laid her fork down beside her barely touched dinner plate. And Eleanor – who had, without Margaret ever noticing, put down her own fork and her pencil – had simply looked up and said, “There is abundance in death as well as in life, my dear. And one day we shall know it ourselves.” From her position by the elevators, Margaret surveys the crowd milling about the Bristol’s atrium lobby. Some are drinking cider or wine from flimsy plastic cups, others are beginning to line up at the entrance to the dining room, which is blocked by a gold rope hung between two stanchions. There is noise, the pleading whine of hungry children and the quavery shouts of the hearing-impaired, the cacophony specific to holidays in assisted living facilities. And there are smells, too, of turkey and stuffing, perfume and shaving cream, over which drift the stale odor of the elderly and the tang of ammonia. The memories flood back again: the rush of hot, fragrant steam onto her face as she cracks the oven door to check on the turkey, the mischievous look on Daniel’s face as he recounts for the umpteenth time that terrible joke about the two bartenders, the biscuits tossed across the table between laughing siblings. Then Daniel’s face again, on a different day, shattered, drained of all color as if the life within has already departed, when Margaret tells him she’s leaving. And there’s something else there, too, on the 34
face of the man with whom she has lived and loved and suffered for nearly three decades, a glimmer of understanding coupled with pity for the woman who sat across from him sobbing and trying to explain that she couldn’t do it, couldn’t endure it; that she could no more stand by the grave of another beloved – her most beloved – than she could rewind the skein of their shared past and make their broken family whole again. Eleanor will not die alone, Margaret thinks as she slips into the crowd. Family members will take turns at her bedside, their voices low and comforting. She will have the chance for goodbyes, to smell the aftershave of a son and the freshly washed hair of a granddaughter as she drifts, dreamlike, between the echoes of her past and the increasingly insistent tug of— Margaret halts. Then: hurry, I must hurry. Ahead of her, the rope to the dining room has been pulled aside and the rush to the tables has begun. She funnels herself into the crowd and is just past the stanchions when she spies a baker’s rack heaped with plates of pie. Edging herself out of the flow, she slips over and plucks one – pumpkin, topped by a dollop of whipped cream – and heads back toward the lobby, the plate held protectively against her chest, and she’s swimming now, against the tide of residents and their families and friends, like a salmon fighting its way upstream. Once back in the lobby, she pauses and considers the plate in her hand, which she notices is trembling slightly. And who, she wonders, who will bring me pie when it’s my time? Just then, one of the aides, Aida, a broad-breasted Jamaican with a booming laugh and intricately braided hair, comes around the corner and nearly collides with her. “Why if it isn’t Miss Margaret! And where might you be headed with that fine-looking piece of pie?” “I was thinking…” and here Margaret’s voice falters slightly, “I was thinking I would go pay Eleanor a visit. I just heard she moved into hospice, and, so …” She gestures vaguely with the hand holding the plate, the pumpkin quivering slightly in its browned
crust. “I thought she might like a piece of pie,” she finishes lamely. Aida looks at her thoughtfully, lays a calloused hand on Margaret’s arm. “I’m so sorry, Miss Margaret, but Miss Eleanor – well, she passed early this morning. Her family is with her now.” She looks closely into Margaret’s face. “She’s with the Lord now, didn’t suffer at all, the way I heard it.” “Passed,” repeats Margaret. “And just this morning.” She looks down at the pie, which just a few minutes ago had looked so inviting, but which now appears tired and dirty, the tiny flecks of spices like grit, the soft knob of cream a pustule. Aida is still talking, making soothing sounds as she gently steers Margaret back toward the dining room, but Margaret isn’t paying attention to Aida, isn’t thinking about her own dinner; instead, she’s feeling as though she’s there, in that cool, clean, white hospice room, standing by the bed which is covered by a cool, clean, white coverlet that is lying on the cool, clean, white form beneath it. Not Eleanor, no, but Daniel, as she imagines him at the end, his faced cleansed of pain and worry and grief. Abundance in death, she thinks. Then – there is time, I am not finished, not yet. Margaret slips a hand into her pocket, fingers her cellphone. They might call or they might not; she suspects she is not much considered by her children these days, days she knows are brimming with first steps and first teeth, skinned knees and play dates and carpools. Oh, there’s the occasional phone call, usually on her birthday, for her children are nothing if not dutiful, and if her flight from their father and, by default, from them too has relegated her to life in a facility that caters to those inching toward the limits of their own mortality, she has only herself to blame. And so… what if she did, right now, call each of them in turn, just a quick check, a few cheery words, asking no favors and wanting nothing more than— what? “Abundance,” Margaret says aloud to herself. “I want the abundance of my children, of my grandchildren, my family.”
She walks slowly into the dining room, slips the plate of pie back onto the baker’s rack. She feels suddenly exhausted. Perhaps not today, she thinks. Today is not the day. But soon. Spying an unoccupied table in a corner, Margaret begins to shuffle toward it. As she passes Bridget’s table, she feels a warm hand on her arm. “Come,” they say, and a chair is pulled from another table over to theirs. “Sit with us. Please.” Margaret hesitates. She slips a hand once more into her pocket, caresses her cellphone. Something shifts inside her, a loosening, an expansion. She gives a tiny smile and sits down. “Joanne and Mark, have I got that right? And Wendy, yes?”
Mogadon Daniel Connelly
Your name was Don. You taught me irony when the pills you took enough of to kill yourself were called Mogadon. You swallowed 50, ample, but you were far too hard to die so soft a death, Father, man of my neonate dreams, you could have been Roman, virtus et al; Don. Mum found the empty bottle on her side of the bed, another 999 and shouting at me to go to my room, the ambulance wailing, curtains hot with whispers the length of the street. They pumped you straight back to your miserable life, MogaDon, back to your bed, medicines out of reach, another notable failure to tick off the list and no one to talk to till I got home from school.
Natural Disasters Laton Carter
1. The recent trend of young urban men — smearing their bodies with Sta-Erect delay cream, not in preparation for marathon intercourse, but to achieve the floating numbness of balloons — caused an unpredicted impertinence of hand-held devices. The relevance of touch temporarily receded. Marshmallow suit the jargon went, before the first fatality and taboo. 2. Truth was not sent underground, but rather in front of all of us, in the morning, in the shower stall — coded in the morphemes of shampoo ingredients. In the eleven syllables of methylchloroisothiazolinone
Linear continuum constructivists resigned. Children, under the weight of a dogpile, chuffed and cried. 3. Now the rain returns. Cadmium, chromium, arsenic — the ingredients listed last on the bag of fertilizer, descend into the soil. Just above the telephone wire, jays carry on as always, noise-making from here to there. A step down to the branches of the apple, a house sparrow puzzles over its own beak. The hammock continues to wait. To pose a question while already knowing the answer is the business of evangelists and scholars. Please no more cleverness. No more turn of phrase. I have poisoned the earth.
at least five could be unraveled to spell time is an onion. 37
There Is a Village in my Chest Bethany Armstrong
I sauté broccoli. My son hugs my thigh with shrill giggling anticipation of his older sister’s torture. Here she comes with a baby blanket and menacing smile. I steady myself – wait till this frothing wave washes down the hall. I want to listen at a distance to the flannel ghost making and coffee table pirates. So I shoo them out. They run down the hall in a rolling chorus--bare feet beating floors – laughter that bangs and rattles. They are the harmony and cacophony. I miss you. I have always wondered what we would have sounded like running away from an angry cow till our legs wobbled like thin sheet metal, lungs burning with incredulous laughter. The second I was conceived, I knew the lack of you. I sat curled up for nine months with the silence you had left. Years after, when we were still not allowed to pronounce your name, for the shame of how they let you die as they obeyed the faith as they laid hands upon you as the meningitis ate your brain I wondered in and out of abandoned barns looking for you, Graham. If you had lived would you be sitting on my kitchen stool now, work boots muddy from November rains?
Thereâ€™s a village in my chest. Villagers stand there waiting for me to come home to welcome me back to myself. I have felt alone in my own village since I can remember. I moved away in silence in anger away from so many, as our kin fell to pieces day in and day out even before you died even before I was born. (You must remember how it was) I do not reckon home all that well. And yet. You sit here now, on my kitchen stool, I just know you do. For there is a village in my chest, you live there, and all the wild memories we never had. Sometimes your feet stamp so loud, sometimes you call so loud for me to come back home to you that my heart beats like bare feet running on old floors.
Mercado Anita Gill
The Mercado Municipal de Maravillas resides on the east side of Calle de Bravo Murillo in Madrid, past posters for Plácido Domingo and Mahou beer. The stands in the store end with –ía: carnicería, pollería, pescadería, panadería, frutería. On display, the lined up hunks of meat red to pink with white lines of fat are in front of scales in kilos while the photos of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her blue and white robe with adorned stars look down from white tiled walls. The boxes of frutas are brimming with voluptuous oranges. The cherries are plump and ripe; they make me salivate to try one. Though I never liked the sour and tart taste that haunts me from cough syrup, from the cherries’ glossy crimson hue, I’m ready to convert. Under glass, glowing from fluorescent lights, the hum of the machine chills the large fish as they lie out sunbathing, their eyes large, mouths gaping open. I want to be the old lady in the brown loafers and pink dress who picks up the large fish wrapped in paper, going home to slice it up and prepare a meal that would make me curse my family for not being of Spanish heritage. I want to request in her language, where my rs don’t roll and my vowels choke in my throat, if I can become her apprentice for tonight. But she has put her prized papered fish into her tartan-rolling cart and disappeared among customers. I can only compare this experience with my banal outings of my childhood. Every Sunday
after mass in my Maryland town my mother took my younger sister and me to the Marlboro plaza Safeway right off route 301 south. On white linoleum floors, I’d run through aisles plucking the colorful packaged sweets, bringing them to my mother, and receiving her refusal. Shopping was a tedious chore of looking at cellophane-wrapped orange-pink meats in open display cases spraying cold air. Interaction was only with the cashier and occasionally with someone stocking cans to find the exact aisle for chicken stock. The only glorious memory, the checkout where she’d let us get one candy bar and split a Coke for the 15-minute car ride home. Mercado de Maravaillas, food coming from vendors who drove in all night from Galicia, Alicante, Bilbao set up shop in the capitol, talk with consumers, and bag requested items. This is what it means to love food—by taking the time to find a good cut, to converse with the vendors, to have the lady at the stand for verduras explain the entire head of garlic is called the cabeza but the clove is the diente, the tooth. It is necessary to see the snails, shrimps, lobster still alive squirming and slapping the surface of the water as the mustached man picks it up to weigh. This is where I find my reverence, where grocery shopping must happen at a slower steady pace granting the wonder to seep through the quotidian.
To an Old Friend in a Falling-Down Town Patrick Faller
I can offer the image of a lonely barn on a farm road along the canal; I can render the canals’ waters stagnant but not foul-smelling, the algae a veil through which our firecrackers bloomed. I might persuade you to reassess your father’s quiet life growing hibiscus in the back of a van. The time he picked us up, he’d asked us, would we’d more likely believe him to be living as a conscientious objector or out-of-work actor? I know we both know the truth: the barn was dilapidated, the farm road hadn’t been travelled by anything farm-oriented in twenty years, and rather than acting and hibiscus-growing, your old man lived in that van and had recently broken into what was once his house after valuables and money. You know which things of yours he took and which he left untouched, and that it wasn’t pollen irritating his red-rimmed eyes. But what if we left those memories alone, and gave preference to that night you pointed to a spot in the water and had me hold a lit M-80 in my hand until the very last second? What if, in place of everything else, we reveled in the sound of that water-muffled explosion and the sight of the beige bulb of light that grew around and kept that sound like a promise?
What Happened Patrick Faller
This girl I knew was caught uprooting her hair a strand at a time. After she left, it was whispered she’d been going crazy, and neither the boy she’d loved nor anyone seemed to have cared a lick. My mother once explained that a plant’s roots suck the soil dry, not some thief with a straw, not thin air. She told me that plants shed their leaves prior to difficult weather because it would cost the plant its life to hold onto them. I have to remind myself continually that there’s air winding through the branches of the trees I see half a mile away, through the window of this apartment I’ll have for just another month. Air, the trees: I have to believe the two can share a space. I have to believe she has made some kind of a life for herself. Because we’re all living some kind of a life. whether it actually is the roots, and not a thief or thin air— most mornings there’s only the residue of apology.
Driftwood Marie-Andree Auclair
shored the once ship now wonâ€™t make a raft glass bottle on rogue currents beached, stranded delivers stale air exhale of the thrower coastline accumulates debris and shells boneyard under my foot sterile, and vast enough to build castles and light a warning fire.
Antithesis Mal Hartigan
For Kynslie Otte I remember silhouettes of scripture when I gazed into her eyes an earthy olivine and hymns and psalms all coalesced in my skull like nuclear fusion this was the first time id felt love like this my cells were alight her eyes she was god and olivine sank into, branded my galloping chest all thousands years of every religious sect their texts their rituals their sacrifices their wars their martyrs their sins their grief creeds prayers hopes deceit & vengeance burials betrayals floods famine faith exploded in my brain spoken soft in tongues
and I realized she was why people worship praying to feel love like this
id finally found it
it was raining the October she left me knees collapsed onto the wet asphalt of the parking lot i violently wept instead of worship i prayed my love would make a difference, that she would love me back too and I sank into her like a puddle back into its earth
Recollection Phoebe Phelps
I remember holding you at dusk, perching you on my hipbone and letting your bottom rest in the crook of my elbow. Your thigh fit in my whole hand. You called the sunset backwards fireworks, and we would watch the brash tendrils of orange and yellow fade behind the trees until the whole sky was a deep blue. Everything was blue and everything was silent and it was only the two of us and I’d think: These are the moments to remember. And I’d wax poetic like every parent, that they’ve created. The most common miracle. Sometimes the sky was just right so we could see clouds forming in the distance, dumping rain or just hovering above a neighboring town, the col-
lege town. I’d point and you’d point, following my outstretched finger. That’s where Momma is, all the way under those clouds. Night class has given you all to me tonight. My arm would fall asleep after a while. We’d gaze out into the darkening woods and I’d whisper shhh, waiting for the rapid fluttering close to our ears—so close to your ears!—that made you to squeal and turn your head into my chest. I’d assure you that they were bats, just bats. No vampires here. You’d giggle, and the pins and needles were worth it. And I mention it years later, and you say that doesn’t make sense—your mom didn’t go back to school until you were at least 10.
The Velvet Pouch Matthew Vasiliauskas
My father said he could still feel his fingers even after they were removed. He’d sense a pain or an itch, and ask us to massage the phantom digits, presenting his scarred stubs where we would gently caress the space above them, our hands fondling the air as he leaned his head back and whispered yes, yes, that feels better. He had lost the fingers years before while slicing planks of wood. He worked in carpentry, and occasionally surprised my sister and me by producing something special like a mask or a miniature carousel. Some evenings as we sat and watched television, he would slowly spin the carousel with his remaining fingers, watching as the tiny horses morphed into blur, and the blur grew larger and larger, even-
tually consuming his hand and causing his figure to ripple like static. In many ways he gave off the sense of disappearing; a piece of static trying to remain whole, but always breaking apart. I wasn’t around when he was sick, or when he died. It was lung cancer, and for months my mother told me of his hair loss, sores and the strange whistle he uttered right before he passed. “Maybe it was his soul? It was sweet, so that wouldn’t surprise me,” she told me as I boarded a plane to Nebraska. When I arrived my sister handed me a velvet pouch containing his ashes. I felt the small string sealing the bag, and for the first time became aware of my father’s place in this reality. 49
What I mean is that I never thought of my father existing before becoming my father; as if like me he had spent his prior existence incubated in some kind of womb, and that we were birthed at the same time in order to fulfill the requirements of each other’s survival. His name was Al, and when he was seven his father died of stomach cancer; a result of chemical exposure while a POW in a Nazi concentration camp. This parasite of war would be passed down, for when my father graduated high school he was almost immediately shipped off to Vietnam. He loved photography and said he would take photos of the dead, gazing at their charred and bloody bodies through the lens, and as the shutter clicked he believed perhaps he could store their souls away; saving them from further destruction. For him, destruction was abridged and edited, his recollections always omitting the details of pain, as if experiencing anguish was like going to sleep, where one moment you were staring at the landscape in front of you and the next you were lying on your back, the force of misery simply a fading dream that evaporated as consciousness was revived. Years later I spoke to a man named Charles who served with my father, and went by the moniker John Wayne. Charles said that there was no coming back from what they had seen over there, and months after my father returned stateside he slept with two guns; one on his chest and one under his pillow. He began to drink, and as John Wayne said, alcohol was the anesthesia, the medicine that made you immune to the pain. My father should have been the ideal of American masculinity. He was a veteran and built furniture and decks, hunted and fished, bowled on Wednesday nights, watched sports, drank beer and mowed the lawn with his shirt off. But this shallow masculinity was only a guise, a shell where inside rested a frail and beaten being, who never had a father to show him the ways of love and manhood, so that when he was faced with the horrors of war and death he retreated to the myths and fallacies promoted by popular culture. He didn’t know how to love us, and we didn’t 50
know how to love him. I thought of this when the pouch containing him was first handed to me, and wondered whether this was where all destinies led to. They say death is our only fact, but does even that come into question? For if my father’s blood continues to flow through my veins does that mean that there is still a trace of him that lives? Now I keep the velvet pouch locked away in my desk. Occasionally I’ll bring it out and hold it in my hands, feeling the fine fabric, and wondering if I too someday will be nothing more than dust in somebody’s drawer?
Contingency Plans Carolyn Oliver
elinda wanted to go to the pool and I wanted to go to the natural history museum, so we went to the pool that Saturday, which my mother said was only fair since the Browns were the ones driving. She didn’t promise to take me to the museum the next weekend, but my dad took me, so that was all right. It was too humid to roll the windows down, she claimed, so I shivered in the A/C during the ten-minute drive over to the Browns’ house, and then dewed with sweat like a glass of iced tea when I opened the car door. Melinda’s house smelled like French toast when I walked in, convinced that I myself smelled like the hairspray my mom had used to set her hair before she got in the car. I wondered how Mrs. Brown felt about my mother calling to be sure that she’d be home during our sleepover. It was a needless precaution, I thought then; our sleepy suburb of Cleveland was safe, so spaced out that we had to drive everywhere. Melinda’s brother Pat was nothing to worry about, either. All of fifteen, gawky and happy, he was tall enough that he played football even though he didn’t have the build for it. Whenever I saw him that summer, which wasn’t often, he was either playing pick-up basketball with Nicole, his
twin sister, or wheedling one of their parents to take him out for driving practice. Nicole never wheedled, just picked up the keys and tossed them from hand to hand until Mrs. Brown remembered an errand she needed to run anyway. Nicole was one of the best students at Beaumont, one of the Catholic girls’ schools, her smiling face appearing now and then in the Sun Press in crowds of honor students or basketball players. When Pat died in a wreck a few years later, you couldn’t watch Nicole at the funeral. She looked like she wanted to step into the grave herself, and she was so irresistible, so magnetic, that you’d offer her your hand. Melinda grinned at me when she came down the stairs, happy to be together out of school for one last weekend. She looked like something out of a Sunday circular: black bike shorts trimmed with lace and a neon yellow shirt that seemed to reflect the light up into her round face with its tiny brown eyes. I felt embarrassed. I was wearing my cousin’s hand-me-downs, five years out of date: acid-wash jean shorts and a plain blue t-shirt with a pocket, oversized like a boy’s. But Melinda didn’t care. Like her, I was chubby and tall, and if her hair was an unflattering bob, mine was worse, the ends of a bad home perm just starting to grow out. We weren’t misfits, exactly, but I was glad there were two 51
of us; two was enough for a buffer against the worst teasing at school, which was directed mostly at Vicky (too pretty), Kristin (too fat), and Jim T. (too short). We were all pretty much lower-middle class together; our itchy polyester plaid skirts and peter-pan collar blouses and the boys’ navy pants and button-downs insulated all of us from the swipes about K-mart chic I got used to in high school. After Melinda’s dad brought the car back from dropping off Pat and Nicole at their friends’ houses, we headed out to the town pool. Melinda’s mother settled into a lounge chair with a paperback, and for the next few hours, Melinda and I chased pool sticks underwater, trying to do handstands and somersaults. When the lifeguards whistled for rest period, we shivered in our suits while the sun turned the fuzz on our legs to gold. At lunchtime, we wolfed down hamburgers and fries so that we could be first back in the water. Between mouthfuls, Melinda whispered to me about the lifeguard closest to us, a boy about fifteen or sixteen, tan and bored. “He’s dating Nicole’s friend Lauren. Nicole says Lauren’s being a loser and never hangs out anymore.” All I could focus on were his nipples, the size of the bronze cabinet pulls I’d helped my mom install that spring. “Why doesn’t he wear a shirt, like all the other guards?” I said, averting my gaze and reaching for my chapstick.
“Why would you want him to?” “Mom says if you’re that tanned you’re already suffering from sun damage and you’ll get cancer someday.” “Whatever. Actually, you’re starting to look kind of pink.” Melinda pressed one finger just under my collarbone. When she pulled away, the print stayed white, flecked with grains of french-fry salt. I brushed them off and handed her the sunscreen, shivering when she poured it straight from the bottle onto my back. She kept swiping the edges of my suit with the lotion, and I knew the stains wouldn’t come out. After dinner that night, we went down to the basement to watch videos on the brown plaid couch and eat popcorn and drink pop, the kind with sugar that my parents never let me have. Years of lectures had me imagining my teeth eroding with every sip, and I felt the stuff coating them with a slick of sweetness that turned sour on my breath after a few minutes. It was fun to feel the popcorn dissolve, though. I could get five pieces to melt away with one sip from the can. At Blockbuster Melinda had picked That Thing You Do! even though we’d seen it twice already (“the drummer is so cute!”) and vetoed Jurassic Park, so we ended up with Clueless as my pick, which, like pop, wasn’t allowed at my house. To make up for nixing dinosaurs, Melinda said we could watch Clueless first. In the beginning I didn’t like it—why were the girls wearing short plaid skirts when they didn’t have to?—but after a while I changed my mind. I wondered if high school would be that way, with the cool kids and the jocks and the easily manipulated teachers. Probably not at Nicole’s school, I figured. They had nuns there, after all. Maybe at the public school, where Pat went and where I’d probably end up. The thought of losing Melinda as my buffer made me forget about my suit and the museum and not getting to pick the movie I wanted. Pat came down the stairs just as Clueless ended, and made both a gagging noise in his throat and
a big show of turning around to run back up. As he loped up the steps, Melinda caught me looking at his calves—the hair on them a field of black crescents, so different from our golden fuzz—a couple seconds too long. “Do you like my brother? Gross!” “No, not like that!” In my mind I watched myself shunned in the school cafeteria, forced to eat alone, or worse, with one of the lunch monitor teachers. Maybe even Mr. Duvail, whose attempts to get us to really love photosynthesis were just too … earnest. He loved plants the way my dad loved cats, but he didn’t know how to be quiet and let people find their own ways to appreciate them. Maybe if Melinda abandoned me I could become like a cat, not caring if people liked me or not. Preferring my own company. “You know, you should really think about a guy your own age,” Melinda said, interrupting my contingency planning. “Like, maybe Richie Johnson? But you should probably practice kissing and stuff with a pillow first. I bet you don’t even know what to do with a guy.” “Like you do? Movies aren’t real life and you’ve never even gone out with anyone.” “I made out with Pete Mancuso after Field Day.” I felt like the girl in Jurassic Park, holding very still while the T-rex watched for any movement, any weakness. I thought it through fast. Pete Mancuso was average looking, made average jokes, got average grades, played average baseball. It was a plausible match for Melinda. Even as I thought it I could hear my mother’s voice in my ear: uncharitable. I felt sick. Had Melinda left me behind so easily? And so long ago? Why had she kept it a secret? I realized she was still waiting for me to react, a little smile betraying her smugness as she picked apart a piece of popcorn like it was a daisy in a field. “So what was it like?” As I asked, the humidifier kicked on, spluttering like my Aunt Eugenia after a pack of Marlboro lights. Suddenly I imagined Aunt Eugenia’s greyish lips meeting Pete Mancuso’s, and I felt a little sicker. Melinda shrugged and took a sip of pop. “It was wet and kind of nice. I guess.”
“Huh.” “Want me to show you?” Before I could answer, she leaned over and curled her fingers into my t-shirt. I could feel her wrist bones press against the skin on my upper arms before her lips touched mine, and then her lips, chapped a little but promising softness, were all I could feel. I smelled our whole day on her, chlorine and sunscreen and popcorn and Coke. Summer. I didn’t dare close my eyes, because that’s supposed to mean something, and even though Melinda was a girl, she wasn’t the girl I wanted. Her hair tickled my cheek. When I reached up to brush it back, my hand grazed her skin and she gasped a little, and I fell in love with the ability to make another person feel that way. My lips curved into a smile beneath hers and I closed my eyes, letting her soft weight gently pin me to the armrest. I forgot about Pete Mancuso and Aunt Eugenia and the girl I really liked and Melinda’s parents upstairs. A few minutes later, the dehumidifier cycled off, and in the same instant, we heard the soft tap of the basement door against its frame. Two bowls of melting chocolate ice cream sat on the bottom step. Wiping her mouth on her sleeve, Melinda got up and slipped That Thing You Do! into the VCR. I brought over the ice cream, and we spooned quietly for a little while at opposite ends of the couch, until Melinda said something about the hot drummer and I told her I thought the dopey blonde guy was funny and cute, and then we were friends again. By silent agreement we made up separate beds instead of sleeping head to foot. Melinda took the bare couch frame, and I lined up the cushions over by the TV, keeping an eye on the spider in the corner and wishing I’d brought a book with me, since I always woke up early in other people’s houses. The Browns’ basement TV only worked with the remote, which Melinda was holding when she fell asleep. I decided I didn’t want her to wake and see me standing over her, so I just stewed in my sleeping bag, watching the fuzz on the screen, the spider in its web, and Melinda. Asleep, she looked much younger, like the picture in the upstairs hall of her 53
with her family at the lake, posed barefoot in the sand. Years later I was grateful that my mother didn’t consider family pictures complete unless my grandparents were in them. I always expected ours to get smaller. At breakfast, while I picked at my bacon and eggs, Mr. and Mrs. Brown arranged their grocery shopping and a last-minute run for school supplies while Melinda and Nicole bickered over whose turn it was to vacuum and dust the furniture. Pat was at Confirmation class, a small mercy, given what I guessed he’d seen the night before, but even so I felt overwhelmed by voices. My parents read the newspaper at the table in the mornings, and sometimes at night too. I did the crossword, asking for help every few minutes and eliciting distracted guesses, which were usually right. My mother didn’t like to be kept waiting, so I sat alone on the step with my sleeping bag and my backpack at five to eleven, feeling damp and tired and terrified I’d run into Pat on his way back from class. Melinda was in the shower, her dress laid out for 11:30 Mass; I had consulted on the appropriate jewelry— silver earrings and a hemp choker—and then packed up my things. The front door moaned on its hinges, and Nicole stepped out, her hair done for church, her feet bare, separators between her drying pink toes. I’d dropped my chapstick when I heard the door, and she bent to pick it up gingerly with her wet nails. “Thanks,” I said, reaching for it. But she didn’t give it to me; she rolled the tube between her palms, her fingers splayed out like fern fronds. She stared at the minivan waiting in the driveway to take the Browns to church. I stared at my hands and then at her. “You know, Nicole and I—” She stopped, and held out her hand to me, the chapstick cradled in her palm. I took it and slipped it in with my sleeping bag, looking up to see Pat had turned the corner onto Maywood, jogging alongside my mom’s Buick and laughing about something my grandfather was yelling out the passenger window.
“Just don’t tell anyone,” Lauren said through the screen, as the door tapped against its frame. At home I asked my mother if I could shave my legs before school the next day.
C O N S TA N T 1 Caroline Knickmeier
The Kingdom of the Birds Joan Colby
The feathered god observes how clouds Pass over in a grand parade Of custom. A goldfinch flourishes Its humoresque and now the day breaks Staccato with the songs of birds in spring. Believe in nothing or in this Bluejay deity in a headdress Of animosity and greed. We’re Just like this, grabbing and getting. And then a squawk, a rush of wings. Birds’ claws clench on branch or wire. Our hands are made for grasping. The sky exists for no one’s pleasure Confounded with the adjectives We insist must endure As long as language.
Dinner Michael Chin
When I opened my grandparentsâ€™ refrigerator, I found a lobster crawling. Grandma threw it in a pot of boiling water. Hacked at it with cleaver. Stuffed and embedded it with a mix of ground beef, eggs, and scallions. There were mushrooms with big floppy caps intermingled with spare ribs in Worcestershirebased sauce. Flank steak and big stalks of broccoli. Char siu pork. We were American. Forty-nine weeks of the year I eschewed my half-Chinese identityâ€”my narrow eyes, my black hair, the prosaic ching-chong-Chinaman mockery of kids at school. Three long weekends a year we visited my grandparents. Where dogs barked and the television was always on. Where newspapers and cigar boxes and ornate sculptures amassed to amorphous collections of clutter. Where Grandpa more often than not wandered with suspenders and no shirt. Where Grandma and Dad bickered, intermingling Cantonese with English curse words. Always an argument and yet always we came back. I was quiet. Still carsick from the long drive. My mother was much the same. Straining to be cordial where she could only pick out bits of conversation. The food was our most common language. A click of chopsticks, a smell of soy sauce, flavors cultivated over a lifetime. The certainty that when Grandma opened the refrigerator anything might await us on the other side.
Mentor Michael Chin
I was his mentor. Once a week, two hours at a church. I was supposed to help him with his homework, but made the mistake of taking him up to the gym, and of letting him shoot a basket for every three math problems he answered correctly, until he wanted a shot every two problems, then every one, and then to only play basketball. When I took the ball away, he grappled with me against my protests, against my only defense, a feeble, “I don’t want to hurt you.” I was there. Three years. They told me that was the important thing. Even when he said I was mean and he didn’t want to work with me. I was there. Then I was gone. A new job. A new city. I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t say goodbye because I didn’t want the scene. The begging me to stay. The kicking my shins (not the first time). Or, no response at all. No sign that he cared. And still, I think of him, when I pass basketball courts and small children. When I consider that one day, I might have a son. When I think that I’ll never leave him. When I think I’ll always be there.
Persephone’s Handmaidens Sarah Navin
my friend’s inflatable trampoline floats in her backyard cove. black mesh swallows the sun and bites at our bare skin till we fill our hands with lake water and douse our tethered island in it. we’re playing sirens again. not exactly mermaids – the estranged cousin, maybe, of that sort of nymph. in lieu of seashells, we collect the souls of imaginary sailors. in our swimsuits, candy-colored and fitted for bodies we will never grow into, we sprawl on the canvas and imagine ourselves desirable. undeniable. we twist our shapeless hips to and fro: come hither, come drown for me. my hair is still long. my friend entertains the idea that she may come to like boys as much as she loves algebra. we touch the water with the pale bits at the ends of our outstretched arms. we muddle our reflections.
Elegy for the Unbuckled One Sarah Navin
you are a warning, a down-the-throat shot of the wolf, having swallowed grandmother. you are a belly full of blood and broken bones. in no uncertain terms you are a creature death, a woman twisted all wrong on the asphalt in the wailing aftermath of a collision. you’re a shaky cell phone video on some gore forum online and by the time I see you, you’ll be gone. I’m not even sure how I got here and you probably aren’t either, encased like my insects in resin – made inhuman by the mismatch of torso to dislocated hips. all your systems are go, or maybe stop. but someone keeps you in the frame while you spasm in rhythm, your neck twisting, desperate every few seconds for air. it snaps your head up and you gasp like a captured bass. I wish you’d just scream. I wish you’d scramble the cellular sound with something shrill and still alive, but you’ve left your juddering body behind. when I was small, my father taught me how to hold a fish by its jaw, paralyze it, its zig-zag of teeth unable to break my child-skin. how to make its eyes glaze over, how to show it mercy. but here I am, practically filming, practically hooking my thumb in your mouth, dangling you over the cool and murky dark from which I dragged you thrashing unable to unmake my fist, unable to release you
Craniopagus Parasiticus Specimen Sarah Navin
Somewhere in the Georgia floodlands there is a science museum, a concrete building with not much inside: plexiglass, some taxidermy, and informative diagrams printed poster-size and laminated. It is a quiet labyrinth visited not all that often, but dearly loved by its four curators. Every labyrinth has a beast, and this museum’s minotaur is a two-headed fetus named Luna. Luna floats in formaldehyde in the womb of a wide glass jar in an otherwise sparse exhibit called “Oddities and Malformations.” Luna was someone’s donation, but who in particular played the stork is not important anymore. What matters is the way that Joan, curator one, sprays the jar each morning with cleaner she paid for herself and how Chester, curator two, turns the container every now and then to amend for Luna’s habit of revolving like a planet. He makes sure she always faces outward. Curators three and four, Henny and Hugh, call her Baby Luna and on slow days (which are most of their days) they turn the exhibit lights off, save for the one on her platform. And somewhere deep in the Georgia floodlands, they sit with their chins in their hands and watch Luna spin in her jar, slow as a dream – her puckered eyelids closed, all four of them, each head tilted out of the other’s way. She drifts, illuminated and incubated, but never quite born. Joan and Hugh and Chester and Henny drift too.
Foster Care with My Sisters Eileen Cleary
We followed cloud-breaths to school, fingered our names on arctic panes, ad-libbed girl roles in family scenes. In unpatched Levis and double thin shirts, we hopscotched the outskirts of playgrounds. We prayed to be home again until our knees turned berry-pink and the votives puddled.
Toaster Eileen Cleary
He’s my big-little brother, and we’re playing dolls. He giggles. The baby sitter swoops. “John, when will you get serious?” She jams Johnny’s hand into the toaster and I freeze, bury my own unbuttered fingers into the pockets of my jumper. He screeches like a barn owl, hissing, and flapping his arms ─flying side to side─ in the too small room. Years later, we eat dinner. Johnny passes the potatoes. Giggles. Checks his hands.
Possessives Cameron Morse
After Thursday’s collection the cans, emptied and enlightened topple over into the grass.
I’m ready to be born again to go back and forget.
A neighbor’s wind-chimes jangle across the cul-de-sac. This moment, whatever it is whatever I am in it, belongs no one— the music of hollows a tightened grip letting go.
NOT VOLCANOE Alexandre Nodopaka
Fallen Angels M.B. McLatchey
2 a.m. and reading Robert Louis Stevenson again. I’ve always loved his deep compassion for the fallen angel. Yours, Miss D In a tone that she usually reserves for announcements of no real consequence, Miss D informs us one rainy morning that the BAD BEHAVIOR BOOK is now the BIG IDEAS BOOK. It is a revolutionary move. According to John G. Ashe’s complaint, it is downright tyranny. A massive tome of empty pages that apparently comes with the classrooms at Johnson Elementary School and that occupies the corner of a teacher’s desk, the BAD BEHAVIOR BOOK is where the bad child – the soon-to-be penitent one, the one who needs our prayers and the prayers of all the saints – will scribble his own cursed name as proof of mutiny at Johnson Elementary. It is a lawyer’s evidence for parents of 4th graders on Meet Your Teacher Night: names of the lost souls in our class. It is our Book of the Dead. In changing its name from the BAD BEHAVIOR BOOK to the BIG IDEAS BOOK, Miss D announces to us that these are labels that she does not want recorded in ink. Tucked behind our desks, we watch her as she feverishly crosses out the names of the guilty until, apparently unhappy with their shadowy permanence, she tears the pages from the book. It is our first attendance at an exorcism. For the majority of us – even the bad children – these are labels that we will not give up easily. Handing over these classifications will require our starting again, establishing new identities, imagining new criteria for who will be loved and who will
be disinherited, who will be remembered warmly and who will be condemned. These were identities that we had worked hard to acquire – personal profiles, like overtures that precede us as we move from grade to grade in this public school system. This, John G. Ashe objects, would be meddling at a whole new level. As if unclear about the revolutionary change that Miss D has put into place, or perhaps resistant to her brand of forgiveness and renewal, the bad children continue to fill this massive book with their names. At first, when Miss D calls their names out from the book and asks them to stand and share with us their big ideas, they stand heads hung, shoulders rounded, characteristically ashamed. Chin up, Miss D calls out, We want to hear your big idea! And when the one who has been called upon claims to have forgotten his or her big idea, Miss D calls on the rest of us to put our heads together. We will help. We will come up with a big idea. When John G Ashe complains to Miss D that she is turning everything upside down, she takes more time than usual in answering him. She moves to the middle of the classroom and says in a whisper, Would the bad children please raise their hands? Bailey Arnold starts to lift his arm, but the girl behind him hisses at him and swats it down. Miss D looks all around the classroom, stretching her neck as though trying to imitate the most earnest of searchlights. 69
Would the good children please raise their hands? John G. Ashe raises his hand, then Sabrina Kaslov, and then a few of the pretty girls. The classroom erupts. Mary Wiles objects that John G. Ashe has no business raising his hand, since he took the last ice cream at lunch and he is the most selfish boy that she ever knew. Some of the motherly girls get on their feet: one closing the door to the hallway, others conferring with one another. When Nicholas Kastinopoulos turns the lights on and off – a technique for getting our attention that he learned from our 3rd grade teacher – and tells us that he has an announcement to make, we listen to him because he is bigger than most of us, more man than boy, and because he insists upon our listening. No more good and bad forever. Nicholas K sternly announces, You’re gonna have to earn it. Every day?! John G. objects Every day Nicholas K. bows his head and returns to his seat as if to say meeting adjourned. We wait for Miss D’s intervention, but she is neatly tucked behind her desk and out of range. She has been watching us, her only contribution: folded hands, a smile and a raised eyebrow. Sabrina Kaslov shrugs her shoulders, slips her No. 2 pencil out of its velvet sleeve, and returns to the math problem on her desk. The rest of us follow suit. The cool, clear water of Arithmetic for the time
being. After a while the only sound that we hear is the scratching of pencils and Miss D’s drone humming – and her periodic gasps of wonder – as she pours over our morning compositions. It is only a few weeks before several of us have lined up to inscribe our own names into the BIG IDEAS BOOK. We know that we could be called upon now, and that we must be ready to surprise Miss D and the others with something that they never could have imagined – something shocking, or brilliant, or hilarious, or daring. More often than not, when Miss D does call on us, we stutter an inarticulate but no-less big idea – but we know, somehow, that this is not our real work. We have sensed a shift in paradigm. Although we cannot know its implications, we see that by playing along with Miss D we have participated in something bigger: we have given the bad child a second chance; we have given him back his good name. We have allowed him to save face. To go on living. To consider metamorphosis. At least for the time being, we have changed our label for him from bad child to simply child – and in doing so, we have somehow changed ourselves as well.
You Are Not for Me Kate Michael
I gather words like lilies Plucked from fertile soil To sit in stagnant water. Watch as their stems grow soggy And my heart grows lonely. These words are not for you And yet you carry them, On a folded piece of paper, Tucked gently into your coat. You hold them long enough To savor them like a cup of tea Before you board the train And take her hand. It may not be raining in New York, But here the rain rages And pours out onto the Pacific.
Speak the Mind Joel Best
I love to dance shouts the gray-eyed woman. She is utterly without a clue as to why these words should choose this precise moment to spill from her lips. There she is on the porch, watering a pot of geraniums. There her neighbor is, in his driveway removing grocery bags from the trunk of a late-model sedan. As she speaks the gray-eyed woman experiences a moment of elation immediately followed by a more lasting moment of profound regret. What did she just do? What is the origin of this outburst? The gray-eyed woman wants to snatch the words from the air and rub them away between her palms. But the words have their own will. The words refuse to be erased. That day and that evening she frets about the neighbor and he might be thinking about her. Crazy? Drunk? Whatâ€™s the problem? That night the gray-eyed woman tosses nervously in bed and wanders through the rooms of a dream mansion in search of some ill-defined object. The mansion
evaporates and she finds herself alone in a park. Then lost in a prehistoric forest. Then falling endlessly through boiling red clouds. The next morning she goes outside to fetch the paper, leadlimbed with exhaustion and moving like a golem. The neighbor pops out of his house and spies her and waves and booms There is nothing better in life than a great big slice of chocolate cake! Grinning broadly the neighbor nods with unfettered energy. He is filled to bursting. He is pleased with his words and waits expectantly for a reply. Warily the gray-eyed woman says It looks like rain. The neighbor shrugs and disappears into his house. Better luck next time the gray-eyed woman decides, sitting heavily on the porch as a cool breeze blows all sense out of the hair she just spent an hour trying to brush straight.
The Three-Dollar Kitten Kristen Sawyer
We named you Luchín. Because of a folk song by Victor Jara, Chilean poet and revolutionary. Luchín was a young boy Who grew up in the dirt, Playing with small animals And becoming friends with the worms. Up until that metal table visit, We hadn’t considered that you could die. She prodded you with a thermometer, Drew blood and stabbed you twice with a needle. She said she’d try to help you live. She gave you antibiotics and pills. and told us to come back on Wednesday. When we found you on Sunday, In the leaky animal corridor of the market, Your cage smelled like wet hay. Excrement, perhaps, clung to your fur. But you purred when I held you in my palm. My index fingers traced your ribs And we knew you were starved. But your eyes were clear and olive green. We cleaned the crusts of neglect From your lashes So you could really see the world. We bought you for three dollars And carried you away From the woman who didn’t feed you, Never cleaned you, And took you from your mother When you were too young to be separated. At home, you liked to sit directly between our feet. Four feet, four paws. When we moved, you seemed confused. We must have seemed such a long way away to you, The top of a mountain. We would scoop you up when you meowed to be noticed And your claws would instantly sink into fabric. You never wanted to be let go.
When I came home from work on Monday night I found you camouflaged in Zach’s striped pajama pants. You leapt from your clothing throne And clung to my pants leg. We walked like this to the bed. I lay down and placed you on my chest And we fell asleep. Zach took a photo. The next morning, Zach woke me before the alarm. You were in his arms. “Do you think he’s ok?” I stared, confused. Your body was limp and you barely talked to us. We wrapped you in a white towel, Hailed down a taxi and rushed to the emergency clinic. We kept thinking your soul had passed on the way But then you would moan, And suck in air. I watched your eyes dilate, And then your pupils shrank. Your bones trembled. The vet said it was too late. You were suffering so much. Està malo, el gato. It’s bad, the cat. We helped you, I suppose, By ending the pain. A clear shot on another metal table. We wrote your name only that one time On the certificate of death. We sat on the stairs afterwards, Outside the emergency clinic. Bodies leaning together With our wet cheeks and runny noses. A boy in a uniform ran up the stairs to school. A man walked past but did not look over. Maybe they didn’t want to acknowledge the sadness. A little girl was the only one who stared at us, Peering around her mother and catching my eye.
WILD BLUEBERRY MIST, CAMDEN, MAINE James Ross
Lunch Beth Boylan
On his birthday, my father eats only half his sandwich, afraid he will choke or lose a tooth; he says no to cake and looks like he could cry. I stare. In literature this would be winter, a gaunt world bereft of its leaves and light, pale, hungry little birds pecking where they are able before twilight blankets them for good. In his eyes he is still a boy jumping into the Hudson, riding up to Lake George, doodling airplanes in his room. He laughs as I recollect the mangy cat we kept back home in the garage; we all could have been kinder, gentler caretakers. I hug him hard, breathe in the warm musk of his breath and sweater, which hangs in the air with the blown-out candle smoke, blue icing stains my fingers.
Old Faith Bill Freedman
There is a bird, the elders say, who, devouring man one wretched morsel at a time, devours his sins. The pain to this bird is excruciating. The poisoned skin and sinew, mashed flesh and marrow, gnaw inside him but he does not stop. He knows there are sins in your ribs and ankles, sins in your tear ducts, cochlea and calloused knees. Sins of courseâ€”even you admit thisâ€” in your teeth and tongue. Sins long ago sequestered in your hair. And you are going bald, they are starting to reveal themselves. People, some you say or thought you loved, are staring. The bird, with his small rasp tongue, licks them off. It is a mercy, but his feathers, because he has done this for you, droop. Each one, the weight of a small piano, tears at him, but will not come loose. He bloats proportionally to the age and magnitude of your sins. He is not a Christian. The confessed are not the smallest or most digestible. Before he has reached your fingers, where the worst are lodged and lie in wait for him, in ambush, he is the size of an apartment building.
The pain of the relentless pressure from within is unbearable, but the walls of his tormented body will not give way. He grows with goodness. Larks and thrushes sing to him. Tribesmen fall before him, worship him. Sacred animals are sacrificed and burnt for him. The smoke wafts toward him, soaks into his tortured feathers, and though he is not relieved by one iota, he feels rewarded, paid. At a time of his choosing, none knows when, he throws your remnants up that they may reassemble, harden in the dirt before him and begin again. He is large of spirit. You are given one more chance. He remembers the anguish you have caused him.
Shabbat Tara Ballard
Nine o’clock and the city streets are already turning like the wing-thin pages of hymnals. Narrow lane to narrow lane, our Fiat trundles past Jaffa Gate and Aprils toward Talpiot, Talpiot to our home place. Café mochas in hand. A bag of freshly baked chocolate croissants warm on my lap layered for times not yet clement. Our windows rattle with every bump and shift. The flower stands you point to as we drive near—their weekly gift of color, bundled bright for this dawn in particular. Whole baskets of purple and yellow iris. Orange gerbera painted between chrysanthemums, such yellow that smiles as if confident this too shall pass. Chartreuse sprigs, ferns of renewal and rest. The gladiolus in its dress of blush and sea, cream-filled petals, warmed by cloudless light. You slow the car. Our heads turn to the kiosk like we turn to God. They say He laughs in flowers, that flowers are forerunners of truce, and like these blossoms, these clusters of chroma and dew, we too wish to believe that this may be a Friday of peace.
Tara Ballard I.
She presses the package of coffee into my palms. It is wrapped in tissue, so others cannot see. Min Suriyah, she tells me. From Syria. Her hand flutters against her chest, two heartbeats.
Her two brothers who remain are yet invisible. They sing their years behind prison walls.
Zakee. Delicious. She brings fingers to lips as if to taste. In a muddle of two languages, I kiss my thanks. She calls me friend. I call her sister. II. Known for beauty, her home is springtime, olives, and cool mornings, hole-pocked structures and beheadings. The river in her city rebels even now, as seventeen norias witness the change in waters, observe as they have for centuries: turning, not turning, in dry air.
The other two see only from photographs, declarations black-tied to foreheads. They kneel upon a stretch of dirt, fingertips pressed tight against themselves. They have her eyes. V. I do not know whether to keep the coffee preserved, two hundred grams of artifact from a country dissolved of its people, or simmer it atop the stove.
III. The package sits on my kitchen counter. For a moment, I linger, pause to take in the gold-wrapped coffee, Damascus-ground.
The Squirrel and The Snot Micah Bradley
Whenever she climbed, she thought of falling. Though Squirrel was holding onto a branch, she wondered if a well-timed gust would topple her the twenty or so feet to the ground. She had always wanted to break a bone, and being swept from the tree had several excellent advantages. First, since it would not be her fault, she would not get in trouble, and she would get a lot of sympathy. Her father would probably stay home from work, and her mother would have to behave. Second, she had always hoped that she would break her left arm, and with a drop from this height she might have enough time to position herself so that her left arm would crack against
the ground, instead of her right. Squirrel looked down, imagining twisting her body in air to avoid the branches that inhibited her view of the ground. Through the crisscrossing tree branches, she could see that her brother was lying on his back. Sensing her gaze, he looked up and waved, setting aside his copy of Aliceâ€™s Adventures in Wonderland. Howie was a chubby boy, with a fat face and a constantly bland expression. He was a bit of a baby, and whenever he cried an almost illogical amount of snot would leak from his nose. The hardest she had ever seen him cry was when he tried to climb a tree with her and got stuck, which lead to his nickname of Snot. He was eight years old, five years younger than
Squirrel, a grudge he couldn’t seem to get over. Though he didn’t seem to realize it, he was a truly ugly child—probably something to do with how far apart his eyes were set. It made Squirrel a touch overprotective of him. Sometimes, she fancied herself a superhero, and her baby brother the innocent child walking along in the street minding his own business. If she did her job right, he would never have to know that a bus or a comet or a super villain almost killed him. “Come back down, Squirrel,” he whined. She sighed, loudly enough that he would be able to hear her. “Not yet. Let’s stay here a little longer.” She looked at her watch, which her mother had given her. She still had almost 45 minutes before she could take him back to the house. “But I’m hungry.” “The food won’t go anywhere. We can go back later.” “But…Ugh. Fine. What are you doing up there anyways?” She ignored his question and turned her attention away, looking at the sky. She tried to stay focused on the clouds in front of her, instead of thinking about her mother and what she was doing right now. Instead, she thought about her father, working at his desk in the church office. He started to sweat whenever he thought too hard, and she pictured him turning a page in his Bible and making notes for his next sermon, moisture beading his brow. One of her favorite sermons of her Dad’s emphasized when Jesus was on the cross, sweating blood. She liked to think her father capable of such a thing. Her mind wandered back to her mother, despite her intentions. Last night, when their mother had been yelling at their father, Snot had come to hide in Squirrel’s room. They lay silently under her covers while their mother shouted that the congregation worshipped her father, not God. Her father responded in a calm, quiet voice, that they could barely hear. He said that she was imagining things, and that he was just good at his job, and to please not blaspheme. Knowing what she did, Squirrel silently sided
with her father. Always. She checked her watch again. She had been lost in her thoughts for a while, trying to unspool her parent’s relationship, and now they only had about thirty minutes left to go. Maybe she should entertain Snot with a game or two. A book could only entertain the boy for so long. “Want to play Cowboys and Outlaws?” She asked the clouds. There was no answer. She looked down. Her brother was gone. Luck was against her. Squirrel made it to the ground safely, her left arm still boring and unbroken. She sprinted through the woods. Squirrel wasn’t sure how long Snot had been gone, or how far he had managed to get. He was a lot slower than her, so she hoped that she could overtake him. She never took him too deep into the woods— he had never even been past the creek—so it didn’t take her long to reach the front door, which he had locked after himself. So safety conscious. Squirrel took the key out from underneath the statue of Jesus that guarded their front porch. Mom had been concerned about hiding a key out there, but her father had just laughed and said that anyone who was willing to steal from Jesus could have anything they wanted from his house. Her mother had pinched her lips together at that, but said nothing. She turned the key and opened the door. A few 83
slices of bread were on the counter, half spread with peanut butter and jam. His book lay next to them. She ran down the hall, leaving the front door ajar. Snot was at the end of the hall, still holding his knife, but she couldn’t reach him in time. There was noise coming from the bedroom, and he pushed open their parents’ door. He dropped the knife, and jam splattered onto the carpet. It was dark, but standing next to Snot in the doorway, Squirrel could still make out two figures in bed, and their faces. “Mary! Howie! What are you doing here?” Squirrel slammed the door closed before their mother even got out the word “doing.” Squirrel dragged Snot back down the hallway, passing all of the family photos that hung on the wall. Most of them were of the two siblings, except one of her parents on their wedding day, in which Squirrel was convinced her mother looked annoyed. She had only noticed the annoyance after the first time she caught her mother with Chuck. As they walked, she wished her mother would run after them and apologize. She could say she was so sorry for putting a look that Squirrel had never seen before on Snot’s face. The crease in his brow and the pucker above his nose indicated that he had finalized realized that there were bad things in this world. They walked out of the house and back into their forest, still not speaking. When they were beyond a few rows of trees and out of sight of the house, he spoke. “You saw that too, right?” “Yeah,” she said. She paused, then added, “I’ve known for awhile.” They walked in silence for a little while longer. “Why haven’t you told Dad?” She shrugged. “Squirrel?” “Yeah?” “I’m not a baby, you know.” She stopped walking and looked at him. He was right, of course. Even she could see how some of the baby fat was starting to slide off the sides of his face. Despite walking in on their mother, he was calm, he wasn’t crying, and there was no snot leaking 84
from his nose. All of those things had happened to her when she first found out. When she was a little older than Snot, Squirrel had seen her mother with the man for the first time. Snot was too young to remember, but their father had been on a church retreat, and the man had snuck in through a window, after she and Snot were supposed to be asleep. Squirrel had caught them together when she got up to get a glass of water. The irony of catching her mother sneaking a boy through the window was not lost on Squirrel, especially now that she was technically a teenager. She had cried so much she hadn’t slept that night, and her mother had only checked on her once, just to make sure she wasn’t planning to tell Dad. She found out later that the man’s name was Chuck, and he had a family two counties over. Sometimes, she imagined that he might have a daughter her age, who also knew about the affair and who also wasn’t allowed to say anything. Once Squirrel knew the secret, her mother bribed her to take Snot out to the woods and play at certain times. They never talked about it, but both mother and daughter knew why. In exchange, Squirrel would get a trip to the mall, or a new watch, or some extra allowance money. Squirrel had never seriously considered telling her father. There were too many reasons not to. Most of her friends at school had divorced parents, and they all seemed pretty miserable. Also, she was fine with letting her mother live with the pain of juggling two relationships. But she absolutely would not consider letting her father feel the pain of not having one. After a short, quiet walk, Snot sat down on a tree trunk. Squirrel sat down in front of him, legs crossed. She calmly explained to him that he couldn’t tell Dad about Mom’s boyfriend. “Why not?” “It’ll just hurt him. We can’t do that.” “But he needs to know.” “Why?” “Because… He just does.” Squirrel shook her head. “He doesn’t need to know.”
“How long has this been going on? Why does Mom have a boyfriend?” Squirrel could already see there would be no end to the questions, and she didn’t want to answer any of them. “Want to climb a tree?” “What?” “Want to climb a tree? It’ll be fun. We won’t go high, and I’ll make sure you don’t fall.” Snot did not look convinced. “Come on. It always makes me feel better.” It was stupid, but she had never actually told anyone that climbing trees made her feel better. She climbed almost any time that she knew her mother was with Chuck, because it made her feel less connected to the ground, above it all. Squirrel almost felt like she had just revealed too much, which she knew was ridiculous because her mother had just accidently revealed everything. She helped Snot to his feet. “Pick one.” He pointed at a sturdy looking tree with low branches. Snot hoisted himself up, Squirrel spotting him. He climbed until he was a few feet in the air, and then she followed him up. “Keep going,” she called. To her surprise, he did. He climbed until he was almost at the top. She joined him, sitting on the opposite side of the trunk. “Wow,” he said. “It’s really nice up here.” “Yeah.” “I can see our house,” he said, then he frowned as he realized what was probably going on behind that white picket fence. For some reason, having Snot in the tree made it easier for her to talk. It was like they were in a different world; one where secrets weren’t vicious and everything said would be taken seriously. They sat in the tree for hours and talked, starting off with simple topics like their mother and their father and their rural life. They watched as a truck drove down their driveway, probably carrying Chuck. Then they started to talk about love, and God, and falling out of trees, and even how Squirrel got her wristwatch. They talked until Squirrel’s soul felt raw, and the feeling of having shared too much welled
back up inside her, but she pushed it down, down. The spell of their conversation was broken when another car pulled down the driveway, this time her Dad’s. It made Squirrel wince, thinking of her mother in bed with Chuck just a few hours earlier. “I’m going to tell him,” Snot said. “What?” “He needs to know.” “No way.” Snot started to climb down the tree. “He needs to know, Squirrel.” “You can’t tell him,” she reached out to him as he took another step down. His foot missed, jarring his head against a branch. He fell. In that moment, Squirrel had time to scream “Howie!” and to think to herself—no, no twist your body, land on the left arm, the left arm. When it was over, Squirrel peeked at the ground. She could see through the crisscrossing tree branches that he was lying on his back, but she couldn’t see his face. Maybe he was just reading.
Oaxaca Christina Frei I met an Italian traveller who was inspired to locate the former home of DH Lawrence, a place the great author had once inhabited to cure his tuberculosis. I’d come here to escape the Canadian winter and console myself over the end of a relationship. The two of us walked all over Oaxaca City, map in hand, searching for 43 Avenida Pino Suarez, the Italian declaiming on the audacity of Lawrence, the unlikely genius behind the fiery passion in Lady Chatterley. Wandering among the sweet smell of rot and fish in the market, shops selling Aztec ceramics, sombreros and t-shirts printed with the ruins of ancient Monte Alban, we trailed that stooped Englishman’s footsteps all the way to Mitla where we ate corn tortillas from a kiosk, past the elegant Zocalo, to Santo Domingo cathedral where a gypsy tried to pickpocket my pink-polo-shirted, white-loafer-sporting Italian friend who took countless pictures of mariachi bands in ponchos, elderly women in sunglasses chatting on benches, stray Chihuahuas running with feral goats through Mixtec ruins. I’d left my camera at home, hoping to discover if it was true I would recall details more clearly when I didn’t see everything through a lens. In the end, we found Lawrence’s house, roof gone, windows boarded up, and through a deep crack in the mortar we could see the inside thickly overgrown with foxtail grass and bladder mallow. My friend complained to police about the neglect shown the great writer’s monument, but I could still envision his desk in a dim upstairs study, 86
the din of the fruit sellers filtering through heavy shutters; I imagined him coughing and catching his breath on a bench in the Zocalo, raking long sensitive fingers over his scraggly red beard, surrounded by shrieking children chasing lizards around nopales, one-armed beggars approaching him hungrily, his brilliant feverish eyes gazing on the distant mountains, occasionally peering downward to scratch a pen across a page in his notebook with the words: “For my part, I prefer my heart to be broken. It is so lovely, dawn kaleidoscopic within the crack.” In the end, it wasn’t strictly true the bits I remembered were the ones worth remembering. Because later the Italian sent snapshots of moments I’d forgotten, such as one of me sitting in the sun with a Corona, squinting at a map upside down, which is how I got lost, and how we first met.
Kenny Steven Ostrowski
Praying to Kenny helped, even though it was stupid and useless. Walking alongside the river at two a.m., drizzle and cold helped a little. Kenny loved snow and snow would help a lot but it wasn’t going to snow. In the sky on the other side of the river, industrial smoke spilling into the soggy sky helped. It helped to have a pack of smokes and a pint of JW Black in your coat pocket, though a quart would help more. A cop car cruising along the terrace didn’t help, but you could stand still and disappear in the gloom until it passed. Looking up at the suspension bridge where the river bent like an elbow helped, especially when a single pair of headlights rode across and turned into taillights. A scrawny, third-world-looking dog helped, until it got so close you could hear the gears churn in its throat. Remembering Kenny’s funky teeth, remembering being kids, walking the rotted trestle, threatening to push each other off—that stuff felt like it should help, but remembering always turned into hurting, and a greedy pull on the cigarette and a gulp of whisky became necessary. It became necessary to listen hard to the gush of the river, to see how many small sounds one huge sound could hold. Picturing Kenny and Jesus kicked back in heaven, drinking something golden and expensive, helped but wouldn’t hold. A rat sniffing a blade of broken glass helped for about one second. Later, back at the apartment, porn would help until it made you feel like a sleazy loser. Deciding to go back home didn’t help but you decided to anyway. Wishing you were walking back with Kenny was flat out stupid. A light in an upstairs window of a dilapidated Victorian helped, and it became necessary to stop walking and try to see
in. If a decent-looking babe, maybe in a low-cut dress, looked out and said want to come up for a drink?—that would help beyond belief. The fact that the person who came to the window was an old man with a caved-in face sucked. The fact that he barked you again pissed you off and it became necessary to tell the old bastard to go to hell. It didn’t help when the dude left the window and some young guy came back and said, yo, what the hell’s your problem? The fact that the question made you ache for Kenny to be there even if you both got the shit kicked out of you maybe helped, maybe didn’t. It didn’t help when the dude said stay there and then came out onto the porch, all muscle and jaws, holding a fat-barreled baseball bat. Help me, Kenny, you could pray, but Kenny couldn’t do squat for you. What a bat to the side of the head would do for you, who the hell knew, but it helped that when you glanced up at the streetlight, the drizzle looked just like snow.
CONTRIBUTORS Poetry For six years now, Tara Ballard and her husband and have been living in the Middle East and West Africa, teaching English in local area schools and traveling often throughout the two regions. Her poems have recently been accepted or published by The Southampton Review, Salamander, Chiron Review, The McNeese Review, Wasafiri, and other literary magazines. Beth Boylan lives by the ocean in New Jersey and in the mountains of northern Georgia. She teaches high school English and is also an adjunct professor at Brookdale Community College. An avid bookworm and hiker, Beth has written poetry since she was a child growing up in New York. She has published poems in journals such as Wilde, Sassafras, and The Dying Dahlia Review. Laton Carter’s previous work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Chicago Review, The Fourth River, Narrative Magazine, Northwest Review, Notre Dame Review, and Ploughshares. Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and writes and teaches in Corvallis, Oregon. He won the 2014 Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction from the University of New Orleans and has previously published work or has work forthcoming in over thirty journals including The Normal School, Bayou Magazine, and Weave Magazine. Find him online at miketchin.com and on Twitter @miketchin. Eileen Cleary is a nurse and poet, currently studying for her MFA at Lesley University. Among other publications, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bird’s Thumb, Westview and Poems2go. She has attended writing workshops with Grub Street Boston and New York Writer’s Studio. Idan Cohen, bi-lingual Israeli, picked up English in a few formative years in San Diego (been back in Israel since). Been writing for years, published here and there throughout the years. Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, etc. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She has published 16 books including Selected Poems” from FutureCycle Press which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and “Ribcage” from Glass
Lyre Press which has been awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize.Colby is also an associate editor of Kentucky Review and FutureCycle Press. Daniel Roy Connelly was the winner of the 2014 Fermoy International Poetry Festival Prize, a finalist in the 2015 Aesthetica Magazine Creative Writing Prize and winner of the 2015 Cuirt New Writing Prize for poetry. His poetry currently appears in The Moth, Acumen, and on ‘Uncle Vanya’ in Critical Survey. He is a theatre director, professor of creative writing, English and theatre at John Cabot University and The American University of Rome. www.danielroyconnelly.com Elizabeth A. Davidson is currently pursuing her MFA at Lindenwood University. She resides in southern Ohio, where she is an ESOL and adult literacy instructor. Her work has most recently been published or is forthcoming in Tamsen, Rusted Fence, and Et Cetera. Since graduating from West Virginia University with an MFA in fiction in 2010, Patrick Faller has taught college writing at Kent State Tuscarawas. His essays and short fiction appear in Prick of the Spindle, in Inwood Indiana’s Salem Cemetery issue, and online at Souvenir and FunnyinFiveHundred.com. Bill Freedman is a retired English literature prof. In addition to books and essays on literary criticism and theory and an oral history of baseball fans, he’s published three books of poems with Ginninderra Press in Australia and poetry in APR, The Antioch Review, The Iowa Review, The Literary Review, Shenandoah, The Quarterly, The International Quarterly, Dalhousie Review, The Nation, The California Quarterly, Cider Press Review, Rattle and elsewhere. Christina Frei grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada and since 2001 has lived in Senegal and currently the Netherlands where she teaches writing workshops. Her poetry has appeared in Red River Review, Turbulence Magazine, Bareback, Apple Valley Review, the Inflectionist Review, Kansas City Voices, Sterling Magazine, Jersey Devil Press, Illya’s Honey, Emerge Literary Journal, The MacGuffin, Scapegoat Review, Clare Literary Journal, Freshwater, Third Wednesday, New Millenium Writings, RE:AL, as well as upcoming issues of Gravel and Hollins Critic. She has been nominated for Best of the Net 2013, two Pushcart prizes, and a Best New Poets award. Mal Hartigan is a lover of language, sociology, and crooked teeth and has recently begun exploring the idea of publishing her work Jacqueline Jules is the author of the poetry chapbooks Field Trip to the Museum from Finishing Line Press and Stronger Than Cleopatra from ELJ publications. Her poetry has ap-
peared in over 100 journals including Inkwell, Soundings Review, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, Gargoyle, Imitation Fruit, Calyx, Connecticut River Review, and Pireneâ€™s Fountain. She is also the author of 30 books for young readers including the Zapato Power series and Never Say a Mean Word Again. Visit me online at www.jacquelinejules.com Kate Michael is a writer, music lover, and student residing in Santa Barbara, CA. Often drawn to alliteration and imagery, Michael strives to paint a vivid portrait of her experiences with love, loss, and death that can be felt in the hearts of others. Cameron Morse taught and studied in China. He is currently an MFA candidate at UMKC and lives with his wife, Lili, in Blue Springs, Missouri. My work has been or will be published in, I-70 Review, TYPO, Sleet, Small Print Magazine, Two Hawks Quarterly and First Class Literary Magazine Sarah Navin is a nineteen year old writer living on the South Carolina coast. Her work has appeared in publications like The Dying Goose, Gone Lawn, and Haunted Waters Press. She writes spooky stuff, usually. A graduate of The Ohio State University and Boston University, Carolyn Oliver lives in Massachusetts with her family. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Slush Pile Magazine, Midway Journal, matchbook, and Constellations, among others. More of her work can be found at carolynoliver.net. Kristen Sawyer is currently living, writing, learning, and loving in Cuenca, Ecuador. She moved here to explore a new culture, and her pen hasnâ€™t seemed to stop moving since she arrived 6 months ago. She likes to document stories of others, as well as her own experiences, that help bridge cultures through shared emotion. john sweet, b. the year of the monkey. writing for 30 years from his fortified bunker in rural upstate new york. a believer in the surrealists, and in post-punk. no politics, no religion. latest collections include THE CENTURY OF DREAMING MONSTERS (2014 Lummox Poetry Prize Winner) and A NATION OF ASSHOLES W/ GUNS (2015 Scars Publications). D.S. West is a pedestrian, poet, help desk attendant and imaginary snake charmer, presently hopelessly lost in Lafayette, CO. His poetry has appeared in Wraparound South, Birds We Piled Loosely, and Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine. A list of his publishing credits is available at https://icexv.wordpress.com/
Fiction In May, Matthew Barrett received his MFA in Fiction from UNC-Greensboro, where he currently works as an English lecturer. His writing has appeared in Word Riot, Wigleaf, and Timber Journal. Joel Best has published in venues such as Atticus, decomP, Autumn Sky and Carcinogenic Poetry. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and son. Micah Bradley is originally from Nashville, Tennessee, but currently living in Winter Park, Florida to attend Rollins College. Bradley has had several pieces published in Rollins College’s literary magazine, Brushing, and was an intern for the college’s literary festival, Winter With the Writers. He also worked in journalism as the Editor in Chief of the college’s weekly newspaper, The Sandspur, and with several internships, including one at WPLN Nashville Public Radio. Scott Hartwich currently resides in Bellingham, Washington, where he roasts coffee to make ends meet. His work has appeared in such venues as Colorado Review, Thrush, and Bateau, among others. He holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Montana, although his current bent is fiction. Camille Hove is a graduate of California State University Long Beach with a BA in Creative Writing. She is currently waiting to hear back from MFA programs. She writes fiction and poetry, and has been published in The Myriad, Riprap Journal, and CandleLit Journal. She loves to travel to meet new people and experience cultures so she can have more to write about. Camille is always off on an adventure. Merran Jones is an Australian physiotherapist and young mum who’s been writing short stories for a couple of years. She’s had numerous publications throughout the US, UK, and Australia; won several monthly competitions; was commended for the KSP Speculative Fiction Award 2014; and won the 2015 Write Well Award. Until recently, Cindy Knoebel was global head of communications for a FORTUNE 500 company. Since retiring she’s participated in juried workshops including Aspen Words with Meg Wolitzer and the 92nd Street Y with Jennifer Gilmore. She also works as a freelance editor and is just finishing up her first novel.
K.C. Mead-Brewer is a writer and editor working in beautiful Baltimore, MD. Mead-Brewer’s writing appears in a variety of publications, including Cold Mountain Review (forthcoming this spring), Literary Orphans (also forthcoming), Menacing Hedge, and SQUAT Birth Journal. Mead-Brewer also serves as an Editor-at-Large with Cleaver Magazine and as a First Reader with Strange Horizons. A graduate of The Ohio State University and Boston University, Carolyn Oliver lives in Massachusetts with her family. Her work has appeared in Midway Journal and Hermeneutic Chaos, and is forthcoming from Valparaiso Fiction Review and HOOT. Her website is http:// carolynoliver.net/. Steven Ostrowski’s stories have been published widely in literary journals, magazines and anthologies. He’s published a chapbook of stories, from ELJ Publications, called A Pile of Crosses. He teaches in the English Department at Central Connecticut State University. Phoebe Phelps is a senior English major at SUNY Geneseo, originally from Walden, NY. She has previously been published in The Wallkill Valley Times and served as a fiction reader for the literary magazine Gandy Dancer.
Nonfiction Anita Gill was given this name when she was born so that her grandparents could pronounce it, but they called her “Annie” instead. She earned her M.A. in Literature from American University. She is currently an M.F.A. student in Creative Nonfiction at Pacific University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hippocampus Magazine, Eastlit, FortyOunceBachelors, and WordTrance. Matthew Vasiliauskas is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago. His work has appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Berlin’s Sand Literary Journal, The University Of Wyoming’s Owen Wister Review, Chicago Literati and The Pennsylvania Review. Matthew currently lives and works in New York City.
Photography Jennifer Seaman Cook is a culture scholar with intermedial arts practices in poetry, creative non-fiction, and documentary film. Her most recently published essay in Heide Hatry’s book “Not A Rose” launched at the Frankfurt Book Fair and MoMA PS1. Jennifer’s
poetry is published in the handbound Cedilla Literary Journal (archived at University of Montana), Signatures Magazine, Avatar Review, and more. Jennifer teaches regularly at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Kristina England resides in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her writing has appeared in several magazines, including Muddy River Poetry Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, and Yellow Mama. She recently branched out into submitting photography to literary magazines. Her first set of photos will appear at Foilate Oak. Stephen Fretz has been doing this sort of work for almost 30 years. Apart from one very intense Saturday night at William Eggeleston’s house, he’s self-taught. Caroline S. Knickmeier is a literary and visual artist. Her work highlights hope amid the difficult and mundane of everyday experience. Education includes the University of Minnesota and the University of Montana (BA in Liberal Studies and Forestry), publications include Yahara Journal, FSTOP, The Voices Project, LED Publishing, and forthcoming Thought Collection Publishing. She has exhibited in galleries such as JMKAC, Edgewood College, Overture Center, and UW Madison Lofts, among others. Alexandre Nodopaka speaks San Franciscan, Parisian, Moscowite, Kievlan & more after drinking Vodka. He claims to have been immaculately conceived in Kiev, Ukraine and accidentally offloaded in Vladivostok, Russia. He studied tongue-in-cheek at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Casablanca, Morocco, then subscribed to eternal studentship. His interests in literature and the visual arts are exhaustively multi-cultural. A Best Small Fictions 2015 Winner, Dave Petraglia’s writing and photography have appeared in Agave, Apeiron Review, Chicago Literati, Cactus Heart Press, Foliate Oak, Gravel, Jersey Devil Press, Necessary Fiction, New Pop Lit, Pithead Chapel, Popular Science, Prairie Schooner, Stoneboat, theNewerYork, Vine Leaves, and elsewhere, and forthcoming in Per Contra and North American Review. He is a Contributing Editor at Arcadia Magazine. His blog is at www.drowningbook.com After retiring just over a year ago, Jim Ross celebrated by diving back into creative writing after a long hiatus. Since then, he’s published 20 pieces of nonfiction, 4 poems, and 48 photographs (including four photo essays) in 20 journals, including Lunch Ticket, Gravel, Sheepshead Review, MAKE Literary Magazine, Pif Magazine, Apeiron Review, 1966, and Friends Journal. He and his wife split their time between Silver Spring, Maryland and Berkeley Springs, West Virginia in the USA. Newest journey: last June, he and his wife became grandparents (finally!) when their daughter gave birth to twins.