Review Staff editor Meredith Davis production editor Meredith Davis fiction editor Xavier Vega layout design Katie Falk
front cover photo by Alessandro Ranica back cover photo by Aaron Thomas
Editorial I’d like to tell you about our reading and selection process – stick with me, there’s more to it than just that. Each submission period we get about 600 submissions; this is without advertising. We used to advertise, but it worked too well, and the number of submissions were more than our small rotating staff could handle. Inevitably, some of the 600 submissions get withdrawn by the authors/artists for various reasons. Ultimately, this is a good thing as I do not want to hold up publication for anyone even if that means I don’t get to publish some really good stuff. So, what of the reading process for this and all other issues? We do blind submissions, meaning, all we read is your work. Some of you write lengthy cover letters and beautifully crafted bios that you put as the front page of your submission. I know it’s textbook industry standard to do such a thing, but I skip them – I circle back and read everything if your work gets accepted, but sometimes I even close my eyes to avoid skimming as I scroll past. I’m not publishing cover letters, and I’m not really even publishing you; I am publishing your work. Your work may have little to no reflection of who you are, or it may be a precise representation of who and how you are in the world, but once you give it to readers, it’s ours: your voice, as you’ve written it, or your vision as you’ve photographed it, is now ours to internalize and interpret. So why am I telling you this? I find, and have found it important, ever since I became conscious of “the canon” and of bias, to read as many varying voices as I can, and now, through Apeiron, to lift as many voices as I can. Diversity in literature matters to me personally. I seek it out for myself and recommend others do the same. In this, and all other matters regarding literature, quality matters most to me and there is plenty of high quality, diverse literature in the world. But how can blind submissions fit into all of this? This question was a struggle and led to a decision I had to make. How I can lift diverse voices if I don’t know who you are? It’s true, when I read your work, I don’t know who you are, your credentials, your accolades, previous publications, what you look like, where you’re from, or who you love. What I do know is your voice as you’ve chosen to present it and I trust that. I know the voices of your characters and they make me feel something – there is a depth that is quenching. Good literature matters. I believe experiencing the lives of fictional characters and experiencing voices in poetry is a path to empathizing, understanding, valuing, and sharing those experiences. You learn about the pain, oppression, triumphs, the loves and joys of others because you experience it with them in the imaginative world and identify with them – you see yourself in someone else, and when you do it’s impossible not to know in your bones and in your soul that black lives matter, that trans rights are human rights, that love is love, and diversity, equality, and unity only lift us all up. I’ve learned these Truths throughout my life as a facet of how I was raised, but I really learned and cemented them for myself through literature and through your voices. So, though I don’t know your face or your cover letter, I hear you. I hear your voices and I will do my best to share them. So keep them coming & keep them loud. -M
Table of Contents Fiction
Iron at Mayfair Hotel, New York ....................................14
The Priest in London ..............22
Lottery, 2048 ............................28
Crisis Averted ...........................40
A Road Not Taken ....................48
Charlie Keyheart Mike Wilson
Rust from the Iron Age 3 .........27 Tire Grass....................................39 Meeting of the Minds ...............51
The Trader of Yen ....................52 Kripendra Amatya
The Sweetest Thing on Earth .....................................61 Mary Elizabeth Cartwright
The Fairyâ€™s Needle ...................74 Thomay Worton
Poetry To My Daughter ........................6 Dave Nielsen
The Problem .............................84
A Detour on a Sunday Morning .......................9
Automatic feeder ......................11
Michael Anthony Ian Woollen
Alie Kloefkorn Scott Ferry
Ligaments, death .....................12 Scott Ferry
Favorite Bird .............................15
Near Split Rock Mountain ......60
Paro Chhu .................................67
Black Belt ..................................21
Queen of a Rain Country ........69
Cul de sac, in amber ................25
Scenic Overlook .......................70
Shore Break ..............................26
Scrolling Through Photos Saved on My Phone .................72
Teresa Blackmon Teresa Blackmon Vito Monti
Daisy Bassen Vito Monti
Eliana Swerdlow Eliana Swerdlow Chad Foret
James B. Nicola
Family Tradition .......................35
Puzzling Things ........................36
Julie Phillips Brown
Susquehanna River .................81
Meditation Over Lagunitas IPA ...........................46
The Old Lab ..............................82
Call Them Feathered Gods ....47
Iâ€™m watching my neighbor Keith drive his John Deere mower ...56
The Coldest Season .................91
Jesse Millner Jesse Millner
MIMA .........................................58 Barry Biechner
Starting Over ............................79 Sun-Drunk ................................80
Donna Pucciani James Garber
Hollywood Camouflage ...........99 Chase Dimock
To My Daughter Dave Nielsen I am worried about you. Time goes by without time to talk, it seems— you get up, I get up, I see you in the evening before dinner. Snow falls quietly outside our windows. Meanwhile my jokes aren’t getting any funnier. I believe the spirit inside you is eternal, but hey, that’s no excuse. Love’s heavy barrel is pointed at my chest. I say, Look at the moon behind the clouds, and you do. I drop you off, you walk inside.
A Detour on a Sunday Morning Carly Noble I pass you every Sunday morning Taking my daughter to dance class To watch her twirl in teeny-tiny slippers Sometimes I slow down So that the light will have to turn red, and I can pause for a moment In your vicinity, Without admitting I want to. My daughter will shriek That stopping near a graveyard Is terribly bad luck And that we must hold our breaths Until the light turns green Sometimes I think I have yet to breathe since you died, I can hear the anger wavering in the wind On how I brainwashed her. I still miss you, to the chagrin of my moral compass. She asks about you sometimes I am not sure how to tell her That the person I loved most Did not believe in her existence. I swallow at the thought of parading her around in a two-piece suit for Tia’s wedding “That’s what a handsome boy should dress like.” The light will turn green And we will drive away to watch her dance in teeny-tiny slippers in a teeny-tiny pink leotard, happy. 9
Cigars Alie Kloefkorn
Winter revolves around the crystal ashtray set squarely on the glasstop patio table. We thought November was cold, said so between draws on trembling cigars. Each morning, I note the tray’s state—has snow made of it an effigy? The rain drowned and mucked the butts?—a ritual that becomes as calibrating as the percolating coffee pot or slipping on a watch. A thing against which to measure the mind’s pitches and peaks, to confirm the day and oneself in it. Today, I spot the mound of my own remnants first. I left too much—an inch or two—behind. He had been so kind—Does she smoke cigarettes? Drink wine? What kind? I smoked as much as I thought I could, and threw it all up anyway.
Automatic feeder Scott Ferry Our cat perches next to the white tower at around 4:45, glaring into the empty bowl. The toffee-colored squares will not emerge until 6:15. If we enter the kitchen she will relentlessly spin around the altar, bargaining with us, imploring us to make It give. Years ago, we tried a feeder which released by gravity so all she had to do was eat more and kibbles would cascade out. She bloated, expelled gas when jumping on our laps. She slept next to the chalice like a priest drunk on the Lordâ€™s blood. I come in at 6:09, she is staring through the plastic, into the wall, into flashing dimensions where food again is eternal. I remember when porn entranced me the same way. I gag. It is all too clear. I pity the cat and pull out my phone, search email for some elusive shimmer, Facebook for some hint of praise. The cat does not pray, neither do I. Outside the snow melts, over weeks. Inside it lasts longer.
Ligaments, death Scott Ferry I popped my knee she stated too calmly on the phone. She fell near the top of the run with our daughter feet away and slowly trudged her way up twenty yards with her skis to the patrol station. By the time I flew down the run and rode the chair up she reclined in the patrolman’s sled, wrapped in an orange blanket. She always told me that knee wasn’t right. Her face shone a smile of someone who has felt many impacts, and much unjust weightlessness. The smile said, of course this happened to me. Lani’s eyes sifted inward like sandtraps in oil. I explained, They are going to take her down and take care of her in their office. She asked, Is she going to have surgery there? Is she going to die? Just recently our daughter realized that the Epi-pen that we carried with us was not going to kill her, but open her airway. We thought we had explained it many times. She had twirled herself up in our moon-gray curtains and sang, I am dead I am a ghost. We told her, No, no, do not say that. Last summer when she entered the threshold of Space Mountain for the first time she stated, Well, ok, I’m not afraid to die as if she had wrestled with the moment of actual death all night and had resigned her body freely, wistfully. As if she remembered what it was like to fly through stars. No, no surgery today. She is not going to die. Let’s ski down and meet her. She didn’t cry, but her eyes kept inverting into dark pools, glinting matter on the other side of matter, as if she could see the edges, or the glowing gum the ghosts had stuck under the bones of the world.
Iron at the Mayfair Hotel, New York
Favorite Bird Alie Kloefkorn I do like herons.
There’s something ancient, august, in the way its wings finally unfurl and command the air. A shadow skims the runnelled bedclothes; we lose it somewhere amongst the grasses and the light loped along the wall, our own threaded limbs and the pulsing cores to which they bow.
The light in the bedroom is crystalline, and sure. Shrieks from the adjacent schoolyard infiltrate the room the way sunlight fills a shallow creek bed, becoming the warm, viscous shallows themselves. The great, blue ones, and how I am unable to disassociate them from reeds. We had just seen ‘Lady Bird,’ which is not about a bird, but one can’t deny the word— as sure as it does the sound, the mouth closes around the thing itself, stuffs cheeks with flinch and feather. There’s one now, do you see it?— at the edge of the pond, water quivering around its stick-legs, near where your watch sits slack-banded, catching light and winking, on the windowsill. The tendons in our neck strain our heads up from the mess of sheets, twist vision to the thin, stately creature and its grasp on the lip of an open dresser drawer. 15
Harvey/Harold Emma Patterson Before everything changed, there was a turtle. Something with an “h.” Harvey, I think. I don’t remember how he came into our lives, but one day he was there, lolling and blinking around our cinder-block garage. I also don’t remember who he belonged to, but I do remember my little brother trying to see into Harvey’s shell. It was a dreary color, like cement and sunburned mud, and my brother would close one eye while straining the other to see something in the blackness. Dad returned from the truck each night at around 9:00 even though we all knew his shift ended at 7:00. Mom spent every other hour calling people she once knew with her tail between her legs. During these times, my brother and I would sit in the garage and poke twigs through the cracks in Harvey’s shell, hoping, sometimes desperately, that we were provoking something. My brother would pick him up and hold him against the sun. When he did this the turtle’s little legs would limply swing back and forth, like some sort of demented pendulum. There was something about the limpness, the silence of the creature, that made my skin crawl. I don’t know what happened to Harvey, just that one day he was eating crickets in the garage and then we had more money than we knew what to do with. We moved away from the little blue house, away from the garage, away from Dad’s stinking uniforms, away from that old plastic telephone, and away from Harvey. I called my brother a few weeks ago. I dialed the number and waited for the operator to connect me to the nurse who would connect me to his room. While I waited I started to think about all the money we won and how not one cent would bring back the knowledge of what happened to that turtle.
When I heard my brother’s sullen “hullo” on the other end of the call, I launched into a confused speech about Harvey and his shell with the cracks and his limp, tired legs, and all I heard was this slow, even breathing through the phone’s miserable connection, and when I finished I wanted my brother to laugh and say, “Oh, Harvey was a neat little guy,” or “Oh, he’s buried in a painted shoe box in the old backyard, we sang hymns about everlasting life and buried him with his favorite twigs, don’t you remember?” But after a couple minutes of silence, all I heard was, “I think his name was Harold.” Now all I dream about is Harvey’s lolling eyes and how I’ll never know what became of them.
Barning Tobacco Teresa Blackmon
Tobacco sleds brush sand like a child with a stick on the beach, idly going about his business. At sun-up, the barn crew dreading the sticky gum of night’s dew on leaves. Peggy Alford strings the ‘bakker, whips it in place, races with Brenda Parker to yell “stick off” and wait for the boys to come and send it up to barn tiers. A ritual of mules bringing loads of leaf to women singing “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry.” Gather, reach, loop, stick, poke it up, and then again until the sun reaches 10:00 and Daddy sends Rebecca to the store— no feast no better than R. C. Colas and square nabs. The children at the barn play in dirt, making imaginary horses from tobacco sticks to ride as far as summer heat will take them. Daddy lets them come, if they stay out of the way. Their mamas working tobacco leaves into a frenzy of green. Their daddies off in the field, counting rows and rounds ‘til break or lunch or quit’n time. Jean Norris eats junk so long she gets “knick-knack colic,” Daddy calls it. When the workday ends, the croppers come out of fields like survivors from a meaningless war, the stringers and the handers and the young’uns clear the barn, no singing now, just a straight shot to the back of the pickup. Those that can, sit with feet dangling off the tailgate, reaching for pavement or dirt, as if they could stop the Ford, the “wearies” or the next day’s crop. When Friday comes, the little ones watch as the pay covers their parents’ gummed-stamped hands, just enough for school clothes or groceries, a light bill or charge account at Reuben Barbour’s Grocery. They tag along to town, hoping to see ends meet. 18
Delivery Teresa Blackmon
I could never forget the climb, as tedious as Jack and the Beanstalk’s journey, into the pickup truck where Daddy waited, brimmed hat bent down, blue eyes watching, reaching without arms for me and the morning’s route. We slipped through town, partners with the yellow thief, to rob the dew and set the day afoot. “One quart for the Lamberts,” he’d say, “and two for Old Man Webb.” They slept, unaware that a child had come to bring the milk, warm in its clear glass quart, and a father watched, knowing that the empty bottles left, like sentinels in the night, would come back to him; tiny hands would bring them.
Black Belt Vito Monti
It was the musty gym at Magnolia Middle where you first walked the tattered mats, assistant instructor of the sixth grade summer dojo you turned twenty one, grew your first goatee, hands at your sides your lithe body bent at the waist you bowed like a master, commenced class pressing bare knuckled push ups into the hardwood floor before calling me up to spar-faking with the left hand lead and landing a hard right-like the one that sent me careening across the front seat your Chevy pulling into the woods behind the backstop where you threw it in park, grabbed a six of Schlitz from the backseat, your reserve slipping away with every swig of stale beer you opened your black belt, pulled down your white polyester pants the awful weight between your legs anxious and erect, you finishedwiped clean with a stack of napkins and rolled down the windowsa sudden chill in the fall air hands at the wheel, you turned your wrist to check the time, pulled away in the quiet cover of dusk hoping to have me home before dark 21
The Priest in London Nick Mancuso He was surprised at the informal and confident tone with which the woman, for whom Father Kyle would break his vows, first addressed him. “You’ve got terrible taste,” she said, standing in that pub in Pimlico where Father Kyle had been sitting alone, enjoying his guiltiest of pleasures, a mystery novel and a pint of hard cider. It was like they were just two thirty-somethings in a pub, and it took Father Kyle a minute to realize his thick scarf hid his white clerical collar, and that was exactly what they were. He never had conversations like this. Talking with parishioners always felt tainted with reverence. Not with her, though, probably because she didn’t realize he was a priest just yet. “Why’s that? It’s fine,” he said taking the last sip. He smirked, a departure from the reserved, bland smile he gave everyone. “It’s far too slow,” she said, setting her coat down across from him. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” said with confidence as he closed it. He had opinions on this, as years ago for Christmas his sister gifted him an e-book reader and secretly loaded it with a dozen mysteries, so he could indulge without anyone noticing that he wasn’t exactly reading Letters to the Corinthians. Nobody but God ever noticed. This book, though, was a paperback, a real English mystery, by a real English author, one he’d bought that morning, words spelled colour and grey, perfect for London. “It doesn’t even pick up after the second murder,” she said, smiling. “You’re American, right?” He nodded. “What brings you to London?” 22
‘Sister’s wedding,” he said, omitting that he was officiating, not just attending. “That’s lovely; sorry the weather’s such shit,” she said, and he held in a chuckle. Nobody ever cursed in his presence, and the hard consonant in ‘shit’ made him smile. “Let me get you a pint.” Before he could refuse she was already back with two ciders, thin lines of carbonation trailing up the glass like untethered balloons. “Thanks, you didn’t have to,” he started, confidence vanishing, but she sat down and cut him off. “Oh stop, I’ve never met anyone who actually liked this,” she tapped the closed book on the table. She took a long sip, and he did the same, feeling guilty. Oh well, just a little more for confession. After all, he’d tell her eventually he was a Catholic priest, but for the first time since he entered the seminary it was refreshing to talk to an adult without the power dynamic at play. Conversations feel so stilted when one can absolve the other of wrongdoings. “His depictions of women are so flat and mindless, they’re like sex zombies with huge tits,” she said, nodding at the text. “I should read more closely,” he said with a grimace. She chuckled. He found out her name was Sarah. He introduced himself as Kyle, just Kyle. She was a lawyer, though she said barrister, but loved reading mysteries. They drank and before he could stop her she’d rose from the table again. “Can I get this round?” He asked, patting his thighs. “Nope, I’m the one who talked to you. Let’s push back on chivalry,” She said with a smile and turned to the bar. They drank again, more cider. They discussed what authors worked for them, and which didn’t. Father Kyle was impressed at how well he kept up with this “normal” conversation, despite rarely having them, thankful they clung to that narrow column of knowledge to which he could speak. In the bathroom, a muggy tiled space, facing himself in the mirror, he untied the 23
scarf and revealed his collar. Looking at his young face, he realized he was drunk, and feeling sweaty he pulled the white plastic collar off and unbuttoned the top button of his black shirt, shoving the collar into his pocket. “C’mon we’re going to find something to eat, I’m starved,” she said, pulling her coat on. “Can’t we just eat here?” Kyle said as he re-tied his scarf. “It’s your first time in England, you can’t just eat pub food.” He followed her out into the night which now didn’t feel as cold. She walked briskly and he rushed to keep up. They ate at a sushi restaurant with low lighting, a big fish tank and for a second he stopped to wonder if their dinner was right there, drifting in the aquamarine glow. They ate rolls of maki and thin slivers of sashimi, and she laughed as he struggled with chopsticks. She touched his hand to help arrange the two bamboo sticks, and he felt her fingertips on the meat of his hand, warm. He felt himself shiver. His stomach felt tight, not so much from the fish, but more likely from the unspoken truth. But, then again, maybe it was the sake. Was that what they drank? Outside they walked through the foggy night, past townhouses, the street shiny with rain. When he stopped to take in a real London red telephone booth, she moved in close and scanned his eyes with hers. No, no, he thought, don’t do this. This is a sin, you’re lying about who you are, you’re flirting. He looked down. The lamppost light shined in her eyes and he drew a long breath. What strange confluence that led him here, he thought; his unusual reading of a paperback mystery, the unseasonably cold night that led him to keep his scarf on indoors, even being in London for the wedding. Too many coincidences, too many factors lining up. He could hear his pulse in his ears now. Had God done this? Was this God’s will? Kyle thought no more about it, though, as she stood on her tiptoes in her tall leather boots and kissed him slowly and softly. He felt himself evaporate, becoming one with the fog in the cold night, and leaving his corporeal celibate existence behind. 24
Cul de sac, in amber* Daisey Bessen We are the people of houses and trees, Seventy-year old maples in mown yards. The elms are all gone. We arenâ€™t familiar With the way the light settles across a meadow, Ricochets through a city block, tidal with diesel fumes. Our vistas are modest: the creek sneaking Below a bridge, the reeds strew with old green Glass from bottles, an Italian restaurant reflected Under the swanâ€™s path. No one has lived here Forever like moss loving stone. We know the sound Of cicadas, the off-year stragglers, the waving neighbors Who are not our countrymen. The sky is cut With Blue Angels. We welcome thunderstorms, A door to largeness, a tribe, the sensate crack A broth for memory, for dreams of middle-age.
* First published in Crack the Spine, Feb. 2020.
Shore Break Vito Monti you know better but can’t help yourself
her arms open like a span of wings rising above the water line
the sets are coming in throwing tubes in the sand
but it’s the force of her flipturn, her lithe body somersaulting
so you grab 8 feet of foam the beginner board bought at Costco
and pushing off the wall the distance she covers underwater
hoping your daughter might turn to the sea, learn to love what you love
that holds your breath and leaves you without words
but she won’t leave the pool and you charge the choppy water
standing outside the gated pool waiting for her to surface
under overcast skies only to paddle back in and eat shit in the shore break you feel your shoulder pop, the headlong blunder brought to an end you stagger from the surf and struggle up the bluff your trunk pockets weighed with bags of sand and your ankle trailing blood you reach the condo in time to find your daughter refining her 50 fly
Rust from the Iron Age 3
Lottery, 2048 Charlie Keyheart On a stunning late June afternoon, when the world was a riot of green, the Metzgers trooped into The Viability Center, mother, father, twins. IDs checked at reception, bodies scanned at security, they were led by a nurse in floral scrubs to a private room where a half-dozen ergo chairs, made from landfill plastics, were arranged by a screen. The twins were already spinning in theirs when their parents sat.
“That’s hardly viable. But I guess, you know, if they’re busy enough…” For a while they just sat, being with the room. The humming faintly trembled in their armrests. Smacking his thighs, finally, the father stood to get coffee, but something held him back. “Honey, do you want—” “No.” The mother shook, which was expected. Completely normal—all the books said so. A neighbor hadn’t eaten for a week, and then it was only thin rice gruel. In a month, she’d lost twenty pounds. Ironic, when you thought about it.
“The doctor is on the way,” said the nurse, a powerfully-built woman. Her tone was that of someone who worked where there was no laughter. Bomb threats, yes—but never laughter. Sensing this, the twins stopped spinning. But she smiled. “It’s okay. They’re there for your comfort. Coffee and pastries to your left. Recycling bins right. All the best.” She left, legs swishing.
Looking at his wife, the father hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but now, in solidarity, he abstained. It didn’t mean he couldn’t investigate. On the faux-wood table—”I knew it,” he knocked—was a baker’s box of pastries, candy cane string still uncut. “Fresh berries,” he said, peeking in. Next, a tray of brownies, topped with Class-3 nuts, permitted twice a year through proper channels. But the real treat was stacked in a tipsy tower listing at the table’s center: gourmet coffee pods of every flavor. The father lifted one.
The door closed on the carpeted room, which seemed to expand in the silence. “Mommy, can we—” “Go ahead. Spin.” The boys, true to form, made a full-contact sport of it, throwing shoulders and elbows as they vied for chair supremacy. Their parents, meanwhile, studied the screen. It was not a typical smart board, being much larger than usual. A noise issued from it, faintly humming. Whether soothing or maddening, they couldn’t say.
“Sinfully Sumatra? Jeez. I haven’t had real, actual coffee since there were bees. Hey, do you remember—” but turning around, he stopped there. He returned to his seat. The unlit screen hummed softly.
“They let that run all day?” the father asked.
“Mom, I’m hungry.” 28
“She’s been with us a year now, and she’s really coming along. In fact, I know she’s ready. The big question: are you?”
“Can we have hamburgers today? With cheese?” Typically, the doctor was late. The twins’ spinning game evolved to jockeying around the room, chair wheels snagging in the carpet. After several near falls and one painful collision, the father was ready to intervene. Instead, he turned to the mother. Denial wasn’t working. “Hard to believe it’s been a year.”
The Metzgers turned to each other. There was a quick hand-squeeze of encouragement, and the mother cleared her throat. But the doctor interrupted her. “Remember, we can put this off. Six-month reprieve, no questions asked. In fact, if you’re still not sure, I would insist.”
The mother thanked her with a sour smile. Fingering a thin gold necklace she wore, bright on her pallid skin, she shook her head. “We’ve always wanted the best for Lila.”
“At first, I thought, get it over with, you know? But I think the time really helped. There’s a reason they make you wait. I think I’m ready. Hey—are you?”
The doctor nodded.
For the first time the mother turned to face him, her lips unsticking for speech. But the door swung open and the doctor rushed in, brushing blonde hair from her eyes.
“To have the best—sometimes, you can’t. But being your best is different. I’ve told her. You can always try.”
“Good afternoon, sorry I’m late. Thanks for waiting. So,” she wheeled a chair until their knees touched. “You’re Lila’s parents.”
The father agreed. “There are so many ways to make a difference today. You just need to find the way for you. And now, for Lila…”
They nodded. “I’m Doctor Kipper. Thanks again for coming. Let me start off by telling you, Lila’s doing great.”
Doctor Kipper wince-nodded. “Well, it’s all narrowed down, isn’t it? There’s just once choice left.”
The parents exchanged glances. 29
“The most loving choice of all,” Doctor Kipper said, rubbing the mother’s arm. For a time, they sat in the hum. Finally, the doctor said, “Are you ready to see her?”
some type of label, numbers and abbreviations.
“Is that—” she started.
In minutes an orderly wheeled through the door with a recycled polymer cart. Atop the cart sat a metal box, the size of a microwave oven. Waving for them to follow, the doctor stood.
“Kilojoules,” the doctor said, as casually as she could manage. “It’s an energy rating—to make it easier on the other end. Logistics and all.”
As the parents stroked the box, the mother’s hand stopped there.
The mother nearly choked on a cough. A visible shudder ran the length of her body—but soon passed. Pressing her hands on the box for support, she took a deep, jagged breath. “Boys, come see your sister,” she barked. Her volume took them all by surprise.
“Here she is: Lila Metzger, age 14 plus one. Isn’t she beautiful?” Her name was engraved in the box’s gleaming metal in airy, filigreed script, along with date of birth, sex, and country of origin. A barcode captured the cause of death, while a small digital readout showed the internal temperature—a frosty five degrees. Stickered on the side, finally, was
“Mom, I’m hungry.” “Where’s Lila?”
“She’s inside, sweetie.”
into video squares, in rows seven long by seven wide. Each square showed a real-time image of some distant place on the globe. There were misty mountains and expansive deserts, oceans and river valleys. They saw cities packed with development, space needles thrusting to the sky, and remote island wildernesses, where inhabitants stalked silently through forest. Construction crews hammered beside maternity wards, schools let out next to factories. It was the whole rollicking mass of humanity on the planet, twelve billion people—newly virus and cancerfree—in surround sound and high-def color. It was shocking.
The twins stared at their reflections, sweaty, redfaced, gaping. “In there?” The mother nodded. “Can we open it?” The parents, to whom this hadn’t occurred, looked somewhat less than hopeful. But the doctor, kneeling to the boys’ level, shook her head. “Lila’s at a controlled temperature, honey. We can’t let her get warm. But you can touch the box if you like.”
“Here,” Doctor Kipper held the remote. “Just push that big green button. It will start the lottery sequence, which I assure you, is completely random. And, god forbid you don’t like the result, you can always appeal. It happens.” She shrugged matter-of-factly, then joined the orderly at the door. Lights dimmed and the pictures glowed. A cacophony of sounds shook their chairs.
The boys, exchanging glances, palmed their faces in the metal, which fogged from the heat of their hands. Just as quickly, they were gone and racing again. The adults couldn’t help smiling. “Life goes on,” the father said. “Isn’t that what it’s all about?” the doctor said. “And one day everyone will see. They can’t now, but the time is coming. You’re one of the pioneers. Really, you should be proud. So.” The doctor was rubbing them again. “Would you like time alone? We have you down for an hour. Within that window, take all the time you need.”
“So this is how god sees it,” the father said. But catching his wife’s expression, he turned in his seat. “Boys, do you want to come push—” “No,” the mother said. “I’ll do it.” The twins came anyway. “Can we have some of those?” one pointed to the brownies. “I want hamburgers,” the other said. “Is it our month for hamburgers?”
But the parents were ready. “We’ll be sending her off now,” the mother said, “if you’ll just show us how.” “Please, have a seat.”
“Hold on.” The father, in one bearish motion, hauled them giggling and squirming onto his lap. He looked to the mother. “Ready?”
Doctor Kipper produced a small remote and the screen flashed on like a jewel. It was sectioned 31
“Wait,” she said. “Forgot something.” Standing, she removed her wisp of necklace, which held a small gold cross. She went to her daughter and, kissing the box, lovingly placed it on top, folding it neatly between the Lila and Metzger. Then she sat and raised the remote. “Thank you, Lila.”
protein and essential fats. Do you know a quarter of all vitamin supplements come from some form of fish? And now you’ll be a part of that—if that works for you.” Lights on, waterfall crashing, the Metzgers studied the pamphlet. They didn’t open it. “Is that where Lila’s going?” one of the twins, exasperated, asked. The mother hugged them both in her arms. “Yes, that’s where she’s going.”
She pressed the button. One by one, the squares popped out in bright, sequential 3-D, as if a card dealer were flipping through the rows, highlighting each scene by his touch. A breaching whale flashed to a street in Calcutta, homeless sprawled in the shade. Congested highways and massive senior centers soaring sixty stories high blinked on and off in a blur that lasted all of ten seconds. When the flipping began to slow, the parents’ hearts skipped a beat. The last images stood out clearest: a school cafeteria, a prison, a barracks, rolling hills with fat, grazing cattle, munching the greenest grass they’d ever seen. It was almost unnatural how everything popped so bright and vivid—and flashed off again.
“Finally.” “Where is it, mommy?” The mother kissed their rosy foreheads. “Home.” “So, can we have hamburgers now?” “Let’s go you little carnivores.” The father stood, a child under each arm, the mother following close behind. No one looked again at the filigreed box, the cross, or the waterfall. In the hall they passed the muscular nurse, leading another family to Viability. This one a couple, surprisingly young, with no children in tow. The woman looked depleted, worn, as if she’d recently lost a great deal of weight and was physically still recovering. As they passed, the young couple looked hopefully to the Metzgers. The twins’ mother put out a hand.
The flipping had stopped. The jumble of sounds resolved, and one picture filled the screen: a waterfall, thrashing over sheer, green cliffs, framed by an arching stone bridge, the kind they stopped making long ago. The parents looked to the doctor.
“For what you’re doing,” she stopped them, “thank you. You don’t know how much it means.”
“Oh, that’s beautiful. Columbia River: a salmon hatchery. Here.” She handed them a pamphlet from the cart. “We’ve increased fish production by 20% in just the last decade. Salmon farming, mercury-free, is the third largest industry in the Northwest. It’s thriving, literally feeding the world high quality
And it was true, she thought as they emerged in the sun, searing through its late June arc. Meaning came later, after the fact. Meaning was a label on a box. The protestors who packed the police barricades, singing hymns and burning effigies of 32
the Cryo-Pap™ developer, missed this simple fact: they had their box, too. It just happened to stand upright, two limbs crossed at a joint. What was the energy rating on that? But today the sidewalks were empty, barriers turned on their sides. For a second the mother wondered why. Of course: it was dinner-time—it always was somewhere. Protestors had kids to feed, too. Her own, twin boys, a double miracle now scaling their three-row SUV, were worth any sacrifice. Even Lila’s. One day, she knew, they’d have to test that claim. Hopefully, they’d avoid the “host-allergy” that often plagued host families. Salmon was good, healthy food. The world was a better place for it. You didn’t need a doctor to tell you that. With disease largely eradicated, you didn’t need doctors for much, anymore. Coming in and going out, they said. That going out was the tricky part. The mother looked at her husband—six years older and heavier than ever, the excess bunching over his belt, sagging from his chest, which jiggled now, those rare times he propped on arms over her, the slack flesh jouncing in her face—and wondered just how big a box… But that was jumping ahead. Today was today, and they’d done the right thing. Now was a time to celebrate. The boys couldn’t wait. Thank god they wanted burgers.
Family Tradition Natalie Gasper I stopped by his grave the other day and left those purple flowers with the orange centers that he said smelled like rotting cabbage. He told me not to bring them, and I told him not to leave me, so I guess that makes us even. When I came home I went to his room and opened his armoire. Itâ€™s a mahogany leviathan that was once my refuge during hide and seek. Pine and sage wafts towards my nose as I study all the coats he owned. When I was little, the only one I ever noticed was a white and silver fur coat. The fur is silky moonlight, not from an October moon but a January one. Every night I watched him put it on and disappear into the night. When I asked him why he said he liked to run. Didnâ€™t he get hot? He smiled, winked, and told me one day I would wear the fur coat and see what it is like to run so fast the oak trees become blurs against the kaleidoscope sky. A familiar gleam from the window shone on the wood, so going on a whim, I threw on the coat and ran outside. Icy air flooded my lungs as I reveled in the pounding of my paws against the ground. As the moon began to fade, I returned home to find my daughter waiting on the lopsided front porch.
Puzzling Things* Candice Kelsey No hatreds are so keen as those of love. – Propertius They called me Fats. Older brothers have a knack for affectionate nicknames. Where was my mother? The puzzle – build one large pyramid with six smaller pyramids three larger pyramids with square bases five slanted wedges and a large base unit. She was 5’1” blonde Salem Lights front passenger seat woody station wagon. Disapproval half-turn Heads will roll sip of her iced tea. My brothers’ McDonald’s straws antennae from her French-twist L’Oréal-bleached bun
Take three of the six small triangular pieces place them so each triangle has an edge flush with a middle wall of the base and their points meet in the center. Laughs watching her toward the gas station bathroom some alien like an oversized insect extrasensory powers. No one could probe me like she could. No one more foreign than she was is. Tenth birthday Kermit the Frog cake oldest brother accidentally sat a crushed skull Why isn’t it easy being green? My Kermit hanged in effigy from the kitchen ceiling light or Kermit flung out the RV’s bathroom window onto the Jersey Turnpike in a blizzard.
Place one of the larger pyramids point down toward the middle of the base in between two of the smaller triangles. It’s not easy being chubby. My favorite bathing suit white one-piece leaf-bejeweled red tulips red green white eleven-year-old body. Sunlite Water Park Cincinnati summer – my mother told me stand by the edge of the pool for a picture There, now you can see how huge your stomach looks in a swim suit. Where is that picture now? The square base of that piece tilts up and towards the corners of the base. Do the same with the other large pyramid pieces.
Food the only thing I was to think about. My job write up grocery lists aware of pantry inventory my way of being important, of mattering. The irony in it age of nine my mother’s idea of bonding dieting contests. Who could go the longest without eating? Who could lose the most? Competitions scales portion control dizziness – keeping a ledger of my weight every week. Place one of the wedge pieces into each corner of the base leaning against the larger pieces. Now a ledger of hate. Writing erasing inching toward forgiveness turn the page to see a tulip swimsuit. Is this how we learn to hate?
Then place the remaining smaller pieces on top of the flat triangles of the wedges. My brothers Weight Gain Powder. Serious Mass High Calorie Mix most devious weapon powder magical elixir for the football field bumped up numbers for weigh-ins. Threat maniacal everything I ingested could be tainted with this powder. This broke me. This – and the bumper sticker they slapped onto our family car that read No Fat Chicks. Slide one wedge piece pointed down into the open space and then the other wedge piece inverted on top of it.
Today civil with each other photos of our kids lamenting our aging parents hard to reconcile terror lived then with boredom now. No longer fear them no longer revere them: flawed beautiful humans all of us. Is this what it means to grow up? This move forms the pyramid and completes the puzzle. I write to understand why most of my weekends I do puzzles obsessively pursuing solutions – I write to make peace with never enjoying a single bite of food since I was nine. Take the puzzle apart to try it again They called me Fats. Older brothers have a knack for affectionate nicknames. Where was my mother?
* Prose version of “Puzzling Things” originally published in Atlas and Alice, Summer/Fall 2019
Tire Grass Edward Lee
Crisis Averted Mike Wilson She set the timer on the treadmill for twenty minutes and dialed up a speed of 2.5 miles per hour, a comfortable walk. Her only goal was to have shown up at the gym and done gym things to demonstrate that she was the kind of person who took care of herself because she mattered, regardless of whether she could wear Lululemon leggings without calling attention to those extra pounds that wouldn’t go away no matter how many salads she ate.
eyelashes and a shock of black hair so thick he must shampoo it with Miracle-Gro. She had black hair, too, but fine, not coarse like his. What would their children have? Her hair or his? The boy should have his, the girl should have hers. It would be a thing people would remark upon. She imagined this Dave coming over and introducing himself on some lame pretext, like Hi, I’m Dave. Did we go to the same high school? She would call him David and from that moment forward she would never call him anything else. She would become the only person in world who could call him David, except perhaps his mother, a way of marking him with her scent, delineating his relationship with her as different from all other relationships he’d ever had. On another level, she’d be exercising control over him so that, beneath appearances in which she allowed him to strut the way a man wants to, David would subconsciously understand that this relationship was co-equal from the get-go. She would praise David’s fitness, contrasting it with her own need to lose a few pounds, and he, without thinking, would blurt I like women who look like real women! Then he would blush, embarrassed to have shown his cards so quickly. She would hold David’s eyes for a moment, the hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, letting him know she knew, letting him know it was okay, but he would continue to apologize as if it were about him objectifying her. Fine. She would pretend along with him. Buy me lunch and we’re even, she’d say. David would grin at his unexpected luck. They would agree on a time to meet at the
As she paced, her eyes wandered to the free weights, where only the ambitious ventured, and then to a particular man who was cute but not unattainably handsome. After watching him for a bit, she decided to name him Dave, because he was working out in a Dave Matthews Band shirt. He was striking enough to deserve a name, the way a shell on a beach is striking enough to pick up. You look at it, see if a relationship develops, and then feel that tingle in your breadbasket that signals conversion of some formerly indeterminate piece of the environment into mine. Dave’s biceps looked like softballs as he curled the heavy dumbbells. He wasn’t bodice-ripper ripped, but ripped enough that you would mention it if you were describing him to your BFF. She saw Dave squat, dropping the dumbbells to the floor with a clang, and then sit on a padded bench to recover. His eyes were focused down, as if there were a bug crossing the floor in front of him. She felt like a voyeur, hiding in his closet, waiting for him to undress. He had a manly face with a dash of feminine vulnerability in the 40
little Mediterranean restaurant near the gym. Years later, it would become the story of how they came to have their first date. In recounting it to their friends, the story would never be the same. David’s versions would have him increasingly smitten in each retelling. In her versions, she would alternate between remembering herself a little smitten with him and coy about it or miffed at his impertinence but pleased after he accepted her challenge and it worked out so well.
Her gaze followed Dave as he went to a different weight bench, one with uprights for doing bench presses, and placed a barbell in the upright supports. She watched him systematically load stupendously large plates on each end of the barbell. Then he reclined, wiggling between the uprights, and reached up to grasp the barbell. He lifted it, groaning just a little, and slowly lowered it to his chest, then pushed it back up, his face becoming red. He did it again, settling into a rhythm of up and down. She imagined David having that kind of rhythmic strength in their marriage, as life added weight plates of responsibility to the family barbell – a home and a mortgage, the first child, then the second. David would work long hours to advance his career and make a name for himself so he could realize his inner potential and so they could afford private schools (Catholic or secular? They would go round and round on this), music lessons, braces, and a mortgage on a bigger home. Yet he still would find time to coach their son’s soccer team and drive their daughter to piano lessons. But on their anniversary, David would insist that they deposit the kids with the grandparents and slip away somewhere for a few days, maybe a cabin near Asheville or a beach in Bermuda, and work be damned!
She watched as Dave rose from the bench and carried the dumbbells to the rack, thoughtfully returning them to the correct slots. She bet that Dave was the sort of guy who never missed a day of work, probably some sort of mid-level manager with a bright future. She imagined having a flat tire, phoning David, then apologizing for disturbing him at the office. No, don’t call a tow truck, David would insist. He would dash to wherever she was, and she would sit in the car, smiling as she watched David change her tire in the pouring rain, ruining his pants and dress shirt. But then, when she gave him a new suit for his birthday, they would share wine in front of a roaring fire, unable to finish the bottle because they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. David would pick her up, carry her to the bedroom, and she would be light as a feather in his muscular arms, whether or not she’d managed to lose those extra pounds. His brown eyes would be merry as he whispered in her ear this is really what all that training in the gym was for!
She watched as Dave struggled on his last rep to press the barbell high enough to return it to the supports at the top of the upright, but he managed. He lay on the bench, breathing slowly, his eyes closed, his shirt wet with perspiration and hiked up above his waist, exposing his navel 41
– he was an outie – and a hint of definition in his abs. His legs were spread so that there was a little opening between his workout shorts and his inner thigh, nothing improperly visible, just mysteriously inviting. She imagined the basement in their second home, part of it converted by David into a workout room, and she would be descending the steps with glass of lemonade for him and find David sprawled out, just like that. She would assess the situation, decide what he needed. Lemonade and more working out? Someone to tell him he’d done enough? Her hand sliding up his thigh, the first bar in a song of surprise sex? Her decision always would be the right one, because she would know David better than he knew himself.
She would fix brownies for his poker night group and make sure a case of beer was chilled for them to drink while they smoked their smelly cigars. She would buy David that rod and reel he’d circled in Field & Stream. She would enroll him in that fantasy tennis camp with retired pros in Florida. On their tenth anniversary, she would insist that they fly to Wimbledon, where David could watch a stupid ball batted back and forth, enthralled, while she watched David, her body thrumming with contentment, Mother Teresa doing a good deed. The overweight guy left, and now Dave was eyeing the kettlebells. But no, that wasn’t what he was eyeing at all. It was the girl, over by the kettlebells, bending over, her ass up in the air like McDonald’s golden arches. She could see that sort of thing happening to David after the marriage, too. Given that the basement would have a ping-pong table and a couch and TV for the kids, there would only be room for a weight bench and maybe an elliptical machine, so David would keep up the gym membership. He would be at the gym one day – no, one night when she was out of town on a trip with the kids to visit her mother – and he would be lonely, exercising to take his mind off missing her, his anchor, when a hussy would bend over the kettlebells and wave it in his face, planting the idea in his mind, then bending over again the other way to show off her cleavage, as if the skanky top wasn’t enough already.
She watched Dave wiggle out from under the weights and sit up. He stood and began unloading the barbell, carefully returning each weight plate to its proper place in the storage rack for the benefit of others who would bench press after him. David would be that way, careful, always thinking ahead, starting a 529 plan for the kids’ college education while they still were in kindergarten, buying enough life insurance, making sure there was gasoline in the gas can for the lawnmower. Some random guy, far more overweight than she was, joined Dave at the weight bench. Dave’s face lit up. She couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but Dave’s face softened. Socializing agreed with him. Men were too linear and purpose-driven. They needed time to relax now and then, especially someone who worked as hard as David would. She would make it her selfimposed duty to guide David to his me time, giving him the permissions that he wouldn’t give himself.
Would David resist an opportunity like that? She would have tried to keep herself up, but with diapers to change, and a house to take care of, and a full-time job to boot, she would barely keep her head above water. Even David, with his feminine vulnerability, was a man, and to men, sex and love were different things. Men didn’t go to strip clubs 42
because they loved the woman in a G-string – they loved the boob job she was shaking at them. David would tell himself it wasn’t infidelity because it was just sex, just this once, a fling that wouldn’t mean anything. But once the hussy got her talons in David, she wouldn’t let go. There would be a second time, then a third, and it would become routine. David would start slipping around, downplaying the moral significance of what he was doing to something not much different than sneaking a cigarette, more than offset by his contributions as a provider.
shower, she still in bed, reading the Sunday paper, sipping coffee, content, secure, having a blessed day. His phone would be on the bedside table, and when she heard it buzz, she would pick it up, mistakenly thinking it was her phone because their phones were identical because they’d bought one of those packages where the whole family got new phones plus a deal on the monthly charge for the first year. And there it would be. At first, she wouldn’t understand. Maybe it was spam, some phishing ploy, like the Nigerian Prince always giving away $7 million dollars in broken English to random email addresses. But then it would sink in. She would feel pain knife through her midsection, the knotting of her stomach muscles. When she heard the shower turn off, she would return his phone back to its place on the nightstand, and when David came out of the bathroom, naked as a jaybird and with a face as guiltless as a newborn, she would summon a smile, something any woman can do in an emergency if she has to, a necessary survival skill in a patriarchal world.
She would notice a change in David’s behavior. He would pass it off as pressure from work, inventing some stressful situation in the office he knew she would be unable to verify. His lovemaking would change, too, becoming more urgent. Initially, she would welcome it as a re-quickening of desire for her. Then she would notice that it didn’t feel right. It would be as if he had something to prove. She would never dream that it was because he had something to hide. And finally, on the fated day, at the appointed hour, the lurking abomination curtained in shadows would leap into the broad daylight of her innocence and stare her in the eye.
For days she wouldn’t mention what she’d discovered. Each time he left the house on another purported errand – he’d be going to the hardware store a lot for reasons he never could quite articulate – she would smile, holding back the tears, thinking of the children. She couldn’t tell her girlfriends, because they would say cut off his balls and call an attorney. Finally, when the kids did an overnight with one of the grandmothers, she would confront him. David wouldn’t deny it. He would cry, as if he were the victim, and beg her to forgive him. He would promise that it would never happen again.
It wouldn’t be because she’d spied on him. She could never spy on David. What was marriage but the ultimate gift of trust? And it wouldn’t be that one of her friends had spotted them together at a restaurant, because they would have been careful. Careful David, so careful about the life insurance, so careful about gas for the lawnmower, and so very careful about betraying his wife. The hussy would be the one who slipped. It would be a text or, God forbid, a sext, sent when David was separated from his phone, taking his morning 43
She would insist that they go to counseling. The counselor would be an attractive and intelligent woman, earnest, caring, who would try to appear neutral but secretly would be on her side. Counseling wouldn’t work, though, because trust, once broken, can’t be restored. After putting it off and putting it off, finally she would make the call to the attorney and her life would become a cliché, a trope, a line in a twangy country song. She would be just another single mom waiting at the mailbox for a pittance of child support. David would remarry. The children’s new stepmother would be the very hussy who’d destroyed Daddy’s marriage and broken Mommy’s heart. The treadmill slowed, signaling that her twenty minutes had expired. She stepped off, leaned on the handlebars for support, and looked at Dave. He was swinging the kettlebells up in the air, then down between his legs, not a care in the world. She shook her head. You think you know someone. She turned, not looking back, and walked out of the exercise area. As she pushed open the door to the women’s locker room, she thanked her lucky stars that she’d dodged a bullet. There was no hurry to lose those extra pounds.
Gift Julie Phillips Brown These stones are an elegy for the rest of us, they belong to a scale of time that is earthly but not human. They startle, noticing us, our hands hungry to hold them. They say, we are not for you, let go, go.
Meditation Over Lagunitas IPA Jesse Millner
A friend asked me during lunch how I write poems. We were having coal-oven style pizza, which was pretty good except the peperoni was tiny and too perfectly round, which kind of bothered me because I like those big, greasy blobs of meat that float on the mozzarella like little lifeboats. I showed my friend Robert Hass’ “Meditation at Lagunitas” on my iPhone and said, I try to do the same stuff. Say something kind of philosophical, then mix in a few goldfish, a handful of blackberries--and you have a poem. I cautioned him, however, that you have to sound really smart, not only in terms of the intellectual but also in that pithy sense one has when they truly understand the human condition. Unfortunately, I told my friend, I’m not smart or pithy, so each time I try to write a poem, it’s a struggle between my angels and devils, between love and annihilation, between being alive and the realization that one day, I won’t be. My friend was drinking a Lagunitas IPA, which was the reason I thought of Hass’ poem in the first place. I was sipping iced tea because I’m a recovering alcoholic who used to get drunk at places just like this with friends who kept disappearing until I found myself drinking alone in pubs and taverns in Chicago, mining the exquisite darkness where I could drink myself silly, and forget the way my life was spinning out of control. I don’t tell my friend any of this. I tell him when I think of Hass’ poem, I consider the mix of the sacred and the profane, the lyrical and the quotidian, the abstract and the tangible, but most of all, I understand how love influences everything, how beauty and mystery and loss add up to the kind of sorrow which makes a poem hurt in a good way, which I suppose is why we read and write in the first place. My friend tells me the poem still doesn’t make much sense but he’s pleased when I take the smaller slice of pizza and leave him the last, bigger piece.
Call Them Feathered Gods Jesse Millner Crows are often comforted by the familiar dances of people navigating grocery store parking lots, or walking on leaf-covered suburban streets where fall whispers softly through a cool wind that is the voice of ancient gods who have communed with the crows throughout history. This is a conspiracy of bird, spirit, and wisdom. This is a hard-earned theology of those who look down on Earth. Call them dark angels. Call them feathered gods. Call them dinosaurs. Call them back from the precipice of geologic time. Ask them the answers to every puzzle about human life and loss. Maybe this is when the rain will come and their black feathers will glisten and darken. Maybe this is when you will remember that bird bones are hollow, which allows for an easy flight into mornings your grandmother washed your hair on that farm in the long-ago days when the ancestors of these crows cawed from oak trees at the edge of that brightness where your dreaming began.
A Road Not Taken J.G.P. MacAdam “Yes, Miss Daisy, headin’ on down the road… What you thinkin’ about? Huh? Ah…you don’t think nothin’—do ya? You just like stickin’ your head out the window—don’t ch’ya, girl? Don’t ch’ya? Yeah you do…” The man turned down the lane into town, passing by a petite square of a cemetery; overgrown and enfolded within the keeping of an old willow whose tendrils only half-hid the weather-worn faces of the graves.
hair all a mess—wasn’t it, Miss Daisy? And the way she was walkin’—just slidin’ her furry booties across the ground. Face in her phone. What’d her shirt say? Pink? She didn’t look too pink or hip to me…not happy a’tall…just pitiful.” Daisy made no comment, only whining and stepping her paws as they neared Jeb’s Pet Shop. “Oh yeah, you know that place, don’t ch’ya, Daisy? Don’t ch’ya? Yes, you do. I wonder if Izzy’s in there workin’…” The man slowed to try and peer in the window, but caught no sight of who manned the counter. Daisy restless in her seat, whining again, shaking her bushy tail. “Ah, don’t ch’you bother now, Miss Daisy.” The man drove on. “We won’t go in there t’day. No need. No, now calm on down, girl. That’s it. Calm down…Yes, you can get a treat when we get home…”
“Someone oughta cut that grass,” mentioned the man. Not looking towards the graves, though he knew the shape of each one. Interrupting his own thoughts before they spoiled his mood: “Yes, we’re gonna have ta take this ol’ truck to Petey’s on Wednesday—ain’t we, girl? Ain’t we? Yeah, listen to that clutch. We’re gonna hafta get ol’ Petey ta take a look at her…” The man drove into town. Turning down one street, up another. He liked driving around town about this time of day, when most of the townsfolk were out taking their evening strolls, or going to the gas station to grab a gallon of milk, or stopping to gaze in a merchant’s window. He liked looking at the people.
The man idled at the stoplight, even as it turned green, watching the people stroll by. “Look at that there motorcycle guy, Daisy. You see him?” Daisy popped her head out the window again. “He looks right roughhewn, don’t he? That scraggly beard a’ his…that scuffed leather jacket… those boots…that glare in his eyes…that smoke risin’ out passed his lips…Wonder where he’s been? What sights he’s seen on that dirty ol’ bike a’ his…Though I wouldn’t wanna get caught down the end of some dark road with the likes of him, that’s for sure…” The man felt a little sad as he circled around
“Well, look at her, Miss Daisy…” Daisy tucked her head in and bobbled her eyes at him, then out the windshield. “You see her? Look at that lady walkin’ there. There she goes…what d’you think of her? Huh? She looked pretty downtrodden didn’t she? Her 48
the last block of town, eager to meet people’s gazes where he could, letting them turn out in front of him even when he had the right of way. Waving when he could. Town seeming smaller and smaller these past years. The people he knew fewer and fewer…
lolling, panting. A light in her eyes. “Yes! Such a good puppy! Yes, you are. Yeah. You show them cows? Huh? Yeah…You showed ‘em—didn’t ya? You showed ‘em… “Oh, if she could’ve met ch’you, Daisy…she’da said you were a good puppy too. But she’s gone, ain’t she? Yes, she is. Gone three years now…”
“Oh! Lookee there, Daisy! There’s Hank. Hey, Hank!” Daisy barked a hello. The man returned Hank’s wave as the truck passed him by. “D’you see what Hank was wearin’, Daisy? Huh? Looks like he just got back from fishin’—don’t he, girl? Don’t he? Yes, he does. Must be nice to go off somewheres and go fishin’. Wonder where he went…You know Hank and me go way back. To the old tire plant. Yes, we do. He’s been fishin’ all the years I’ve known him. Been all over. Other countries, even. Never once asked me to go, though. Never once…”
There was silence between them for a few miles; countryside shifting by; road rolling underneath; sun setting, tinting the sides of hills and crowns of trees with its fuchsia and gold, just a little while longer. “Yes’m. Whole family’s gone and grown up and moved away. Kids are all moved away, Miss Daisy, yes they are…ain’t nothin’ left but that big ol’ house now. That big ol’ empty house with the lawn. You know…I don’t much like cuttin’ the lawn anymore, Daisy—no, I don’t. But the borough’ll fine me if I don’t cut it. They warned me once, when I let it grow tall. Though I liked lettin’ it grow—seemed like I was kinda lettin’ it go free. If you know what I mean. But the borough won’t let it. It’s my property, I said, isn’t it? It’s my property…I can let the grass just grow if I want…let it grow tall so it can feel the wind and wave and roll in it…let them seed tops come up and ripen—why, probably brush my fingers across ‘em without even havin’ to bend they’d be so tall…let the wildflowers and bees and butterflies and snakes all roam through, wild and free…a great sweep of a meadow right in my front yard…
The man drove on, leaving town, back out passed the old willow. Making sure to not so much as glance towards the graves. “Yes, Miss Daisy, out for a drive tonight. Aren’t we, girl? Yes, we are. You’re such a good puppy. Aren’t ch’ya? Aren’t ch’ya?” He scratched her behind. He had never met a dog who didn’t like their butt scratched. “Here we go, Miss Daisy. You ready to see the cows again? Huh? See them cows munchin’ their dinner? There you go, girl! You bark at them cows! You bark at them cows!” The man laughed. The cows perked up their ears, watched the man and his yapping dog drive by. Daisy pulled her head back in the cab, tongue 49
“Oh, yes Miss Daisy, we know what the borough says then, don’t we, girl? Don’t we? They say, yes, Mister McGonnell, it’s your property but everyone’s community…” The man glanced out his window at Jim Johnson’s house up top the next hill. Ol’ Jim Johnson who retired and moved away and now someone else lived in his house. “Yes, Miss Daisy, sometimes I just get sick a’ the neighbors...
to a stop. Arriving at a familiar intersection for the man and Daisy. “Well, here we are. We could…” The man swallowed. “Go right this time, you know? We could go right…” His eyes tearing from his windshield to peer right, out over Daisy’s shoulder, down that way. “You know where that road’ll take us? Huh?” He licked his lips. “Just on, Daisy. That road’ll just take us on…on towards the highway…left’ll take us home, but right’ll take us… God knows where—anywhere. We could just go, Daisy. We could just go…”
“Yes,” he sighed. “I’m gonna hafta get that mower looked at by Petey too. Get him ta fix ‘er up for me, cuz I gotta mow the lawn. Gotta keep up appearances…”
The man coughed back a shudder from his jaw. Instantly wiping a tear before it could slide down his cheek. Gulping down a rising ache in his throat…
Daisy just looked at him—a hint of apprehension in her eyes?—then out the window again.
The man sighed, clicked his blinker, and turned left.
The truck topped a rise in the road and rode the curve down the other side. “Here it comes, Daisy…” spoke the man, hardly a whisper. The truck slowing. Clutch grinding. Brake squeaking
Meeting of the Minds
The Trader of Yen Kripendra Amatya A young boy around fourteen sold religious materials in Khasti Mahachaitya, he has a running nose which he wiped from an oversized coat. A Tibetan trader stopped and asked- “who are you kid”, the boy replied, “My name is Bhajuman Tuladhar.” “Why are you selling goods? And whose coat are you wearing?”- the trader asked. Bhajuman replied back- “My father was a trader in Tibet but he never returned; we are poor so I wear my father’s coat, and I sell these stuffs for me and my mother’s livelihood.” The trader remained quiet for a while and said- “You look strong, would you like to join me to go to Lhasa?” Bhajuman was puzzled and didn’t reply back. The trader then started to roll his prayer wheel and went across Khasti to pay homage to Lord Buddha. Bhajuman’s mind deviated as he could not determine whether it was a good idea to go to Lhasa, but as the man had passed, he decided that it was better to stay with his old mother.
as Tsering Guru; you may not be able to find me otherwise.”
The trader completed his prayer, he came back and asked, “So, what have you decided, boy?” Bhajuman, with a blank mind, uttered, “Yes.” Bhajuman himself wasn’t certain why he agreed. “Very well!” the Tibetan Trader replied. He continued, “The following five days I have some chores, I need to deliver some woolen blankets to some shops in Kathmandu and will buy Indian spices and a cotton garment; after five days, which means Tuesday evening, we will meet over here. You will stay with me that night and in the morning we will go to Lhasa. I live in Sainbu, my tent is just above Nakhu; people know me
“Mother,” Bhajuman mustered his courage, “if I stay here, we will remain poor, hungry and weak and hunger will slowly eat us to death. If I go to Lhasa, I could earn wealth and keep you in prosperity. I was born to do great things…” but before he could continue, he broke down in tears. Mother felt that her son had made up his mind and there was no point in stopping him and asked, “but how will you go to Tibet on your own?”
It was an unexpected decision made by Bhajuman which confused him deeply and now he needed to explain it to his mother. “What am I to say to her?!” Bhajuman thought and a tear started to roll down over his cheeks. It was nearly night when he reached home and he put aside his doko and Nanglo which he had carried all the way from Khasti. It was a bit isolated near the forest. Mother was cooking in the kitchen. She saw her son coming and said, “It seems there were fewer sales today; you don’t need to cry, my child.” “Mother,” Bhajuman uttered and fell silent. “Is there any problem my child?” his mother said, worried. “I am going to Lhasa.” Bhajuman tried to be strong. She couldn’t utter a word and started to cry. Mother gathered her strength and said, “The monster that ate your father will eat you as well.”
“I met a Tibetan trader, he was willing to take me to Tibet.”
“Very, well. Let me pack your stuff.” She felt quiet. Dinner was served, filled with both love and grief. In the following days Mother helped Bhajuman to pack his clothes and she prepared some food. She put all of those in a dhoko and after the five days had passed Mother came along Bhajuman to meet Tsering Guru in Khasti. She had nothing much to ask about the background of Tsering, she just wanted to look at the person with whom her son was about to leave for many years. Tsering Guru was upset to see Bhajuman carrying so much stuff and asked the mother to take it away. In Tsering Guru’s the main reason for taking Bhajuman was revealed, he wanted the young boy to serve as his porter. In the tent, Bhajuman demanded money but Tsering Guru refused, he said that he would let him live in his house with food and clothes for two months and he could find work in that period of time. Bhajuman was not willing to go back to his mother and so he agreed.
trade and worked for the trader for four years, he stayed with other staff of the merchant and helped in trade, but his reason for coming to Lhasa remained unfulfilled. He was still poor in a foreign country. One day he was moving across a monastery when he heard a tender voice saying, “Hey!” He looked around but couldn’t find anyone and decided to move on. The voice again came, “Look down.” There was a little Tibetan doll, and it took a moment for him to realize the voice was coming from a doll. If Bhajuman was in his right mind, he would have fled without picking up the doll. But here he was, standing in darkness, carrying a magical doll. “What are you?” Bhajuman asked. “Your friend,” the doll responded back. He was probably a bit drunk, he thought, and kept the doll in his pouch. He returned back to the room and slept. In the morning, he woke up and suddenly realized that he still had the talking doll. He pulled the doll out of the pouch. “Hey, you!” Bhajuman yelled, but the doll was silent as if it never spoke. There were other roommates who saw Bhajuman was trying to talk with the doll. His roommates joked, “Bhaju, have you gone crazy, why are you talking with a doll?” “No, no, he is acting like a little girl, who talks with dolls.” They were making fun of him, and in his hand was a lifeless doll. His roommates left and he still carried the doll in his hand. He was about to put it aside, but the doll suddenly spoke out, “Bhaju, is this your name?” Bhajuman
In the early morning, Bhajuman and Tsering Guru went to the north and used Rasuwa to enter Tibet. It took them more than a week to reach the capital, the magnificent city of Lhasa, by foot. Bhajuman lived with Tsering Guru for a week when Tsering Guru got a job for him with a horse trader and got rid of him. Bhajuman worked with the horse trader for a few days but was thrown out of that job. He felt cheated from one point of life to another and slept in the road nearby a fire with the little clothes that covered his body. A Newar merchant took pity upon him and let him stay in his shop. It was there he learned the 53
was shocked; he wanted to throw the doll out of the window, but he controlled his fear and replied back, “My name is Bhajuman Tuladhar.” “What a sweet name,” the doll continued, “be my friend and I will make you rich, prosperous and powerful.” Bhajuman was tempted; he was in the spell of the doll.
The doll suggested going to Nepal to buy goods and sell in Tibet and vice versa. It worked. Slowly, he was able to make a profit. He grew brighter as the sun and stronger as a lion. Even in his sleep, the doll had started to take over, he could feel the energy being passed to him. He was able to build a magnificent house in Yen the key city of Nepal Valley.
gave them the directions to meet the Lama and after he completed the ceremony he left. The next day mother and Bhajuman went to Sibu to meet the Great Lama. The mother told the Lama the problem they faced while the son remained quiet. He started to recite mantras with the help of Boddhichitta and after 108 beads were completed, he stopped and looked at Bhajuman and said, “Don’t you know what happened to her?” which shocked his mother. Bhajuman then lowered his head and replied, “I don’t.”
The aging mother of Bhajuman had only one wish left, she wanted to see her son get married. The problem was that her son would agree at first but later, in a confused tone, reject the marriage proposal which made his mother very depressed. One day the mother decided to question Bhajuman, “Do you have a wife in Tibet?” “No, Mother,” Bhajuman replied. “Then why don’t you marry, why do you say yes at first only to reject it later?” The mother started to cry. “I want to see my grandchildren. I will die if you reject this proposal.” Finally, Bhajuman was under too much pressure, and he agreed to marry. He was sad, but without a choice. He married a young beautiful bride. The next morning after the marriage the bride felt ill. A vaidhya (traditional doctor) came, but no treatment was to be found. Weeks passed and they looked for one vaidhya after another.
“Well, I see there is something possessing her, and there is something you possess that doesn’t belong to you. A female spirit which is attached to you. Bind this red thread upon that material, and offer that thing to the river. This thread will bind it and the river will take that shadow away from your family.” Bhajuman was speechless. He quietly took the thread and went back to the home inside a dark room where he had hidden the doll. The doll was lifeless. He tied the red thread to the doll, went to the river, and threw the doll away from his life. When he returned home he was in tears, the voice of the doll kept ringing in his head, but everything was over.
Not even the best vaidhya of Nepal Valley could cure her. The family of the bride quarreled with Bhajuman and with his mother as they believed Bhajumna’s family was responsible for the condition of their daughter. Bhajuman’s mother accused the bride saying she was diseased from the beginning but this fact was kept hidden from them at the time of the marriage. It was getting clear that the days of the bride were numbered. The mother called Gavaju (tantric priest) for a ritual purification to clean demonic power from the house. Gavaju after looking at the house said, “I see a shadow in this house, something powerful.” I would ask you to consult the Great Lama in Sibu; he is wise and powerful. He may show you a way.” The Gavaju 55
I’m watching my neighbor Keith drive his John Deere mower Jesse Millner 1 in long, looping circles around his yard. He has good technique, starting close to his house and finishing near the street, so he never has to backtrack! I admire him because of his efficiency, which reminds me of my own lawn mowing days and the mental work that went in to planning the most effective routes. Some people are not like my neighbor Keith. A friend of mine’s dad, who is a Freudian analyst, only cuts the parts of his lawn that are in the shade. His big suburban yard looks like it has crop circles and other geometric shapes that might be signaling spaceships like the ones Ron Hubbard believed originally started life on earth. My friend’s dad had trouble with Scientologists because he helped a patient leave them and begin a new life that wasn’t so regimented and stupid. I wonder how Tom Cruise cuts his lawn? You’re laughing at me now because you’re thinking, He has gardeners and lawn care specialists; why would he even care? Maybe there’s a Scientology rule about grass cutting? Keith is almost done now, by the way. He’s roaring around that final curve, aiming for that last strip that has yet to be cut. Now it’s gone and Keith is parking his lawn mower in his driveway and drinking a cold bottle of water. He knows that in addition to not-backtracking, good hydration is key to effective lawn work.
2 I’m lazy so we hired a landscape company. For $100 a month they cut the grass, trim bushes, spray poison on weeds, and pick up fallen areca fronds. This morning I saw an eagle fly over the house. The eagle has landed in this poem because I’ve been working on it for over a year and I just can’t find closure. Weren’t “the eagle has landed,” Neil Armstrong’s first words on the moon? Christ, even the first moon landing isn’t enough to make this poem interesting. What if I threw in some alfalfa for your horse and gave you directions to a more interesting place? Imagine a time before lawn mowers when cows and horses grazed in uncut pastures. Imagine a time when words came to the poem like a creek rushing through a forest where Robert Frost’s ghost is bemoaning the lack of appreciation for a particular bird that knows the mind of God?
MIMA Barry Biechner He fell in love with her as she told him about her three month journey across the Sahara with the Berbers. At night after making love he would hold her in his arms and ask her about the desert and she would tell him incredible things about sand and light and the wind. They did this every night until they didnâ€™t. Years later when he was asked about the French girl he replied that her father was Tunisian and her mother was French and she had moved back to France. Years later when she was asked about the American she replied that he had the most beautiful hands she had ever seen but he had never seen the desert. She fell in love and moved to the country and had a daughter. He fell in love with another woman who had traveled across the Sahara. One night after making love he held her in his arms and asked her about the desert and she said that it was hot and there was sand there. Some things are not meant to last.
Near Split Rock Mountain Emily Patterson At first we stole only fallen fruits, chewing around the bruises, Honeycrisps and Jersey Macs cradled in dew from Lake Champlain, to hoard beside the narrow creek domed by train tracks; taut skins stretched over bone white flesh, soft shoulder pillowing sunburned neck. Come mid-October, we chanced a climb for Spencers, raw palms clutching bright globes waxen & beaded with rain, running over your boyish wrists almost pale as blue, and it was then I knew: You would never peel away a cardinal damp prairie dress to find me beneath this canopy sealed by rain veils over moss-grown brick, hard and soft as marrow.
The Sweetest Thing On Earth Mary Elizabeth Cartwright Reed Spear knew that he had struck gold when he inherited his father’s apple orchard, Eden’s Core of Versailles, Kentucky, at the young age of twenty-three. He had always wanted it, even as a child he followed his father’s long legs down rows and rows of honeycrisp, golden delicious, and gala. His father taught him how to know when the harvest was here, when to feed the soil, when to leave it alone. His father would tell him that harvests only happened when happiness was in the soil and that it was the men that live upon the land that make the soil good.
parents moved down the rows to pick apples with the orchard hands. For years it was bliss. Heaven on earth. ***
One mild autumn day, Reed lifted Goldie to pick an apple, her first one. He placed her on the top of his shoulders as she reached and reached until she plucked the fruit with an audible snap. Cricket, just a few rows down from her family, took it and her daughter to the house, washed the skin of the fruit, and sliced it into smaller cookable chunks. Goldie stole a wedge from the counter and threw it in her mouth before her mother could laugh or stop her.
It was Reed’s favorite place to be. It was where he married his wife, Cricket, on a mild autumn day beneath trees that he planted two decades before, with folded chairs placed in rows. The heavy, sweet scent of ripening fruit overpowering all the fragrant flowers. The orchard had changed since that day. The trees seemed fuller, even in the winter with their bare branches. The trunks looked rounder. More solid. They looked like how Reed felt.
Goldie spit it out not but a second later. “My Goldie doesn’t like apples?” Cricket asked. Goldie was too busy wiping her tongue and spitting to respond.
It was the following year that Cricket and Reed bore a baby.
Reed stood in the doorway of the kitchen clutching the frame with white knuckles. He turned the way he entered, marching into the orchard to pick one of every apple. He refused to believe that his treasure, his heir, couldn’t stand the taste of what she would inherit.
They named her after her hair—the roots so blonde that in the light the thin strands were yellow green—like the skins of a golden delicious. From the moment she was born, Reed was determined to make Goldie fall in love with the orchard, just like he had. He hung tire and wood swings on almost every tree. Goldie would fly from tree to tree like a bird in the sky as her
Cricket boiled slices and dusted them with sugar, covering them so well in a bath of cinnamon and butter that surely they’d be appealing to Goldie. Cricket made preserves, a batch of turnovers, 61
muffins, jams, a tart, and even a homemade handchurned ice cream with cinnamon and caramel swirled on top. She let Goldie try them all. Yet Goldie, with her parents hovering over her plate, spat everything out.
“I want a tree like Momma’s.”
“Can I have peas instead?” Goldie asked.
Reed picked an apple closest to his head and then grabbed his daughter’s hand. They went further in the orchard, Reed chomping away at the golden delicious, Goldie sucking juice from the snakeskin flesh of her sweet slice. When they reached the end of the row, Reed’s teeth hit the apple’s core. He crouched down. Sticking his finger in the earth, he dug a small hole next to Goldie’s feet. Placing his mouth on the core of the apple he breathed in air until he felt a seed hit the bed of his tongue, then stuck his tongue out. Goldie laughed. He blew the seed into the hole he made and went to pile the dirt back in the earth.
“I can plant you a tree,” Reed’s heart beat solid in his chest, perhaps this is what Goldie needed. A tree of her own to love the orchard.
“Of course, dear.” Cricket laughed. Reed cringed. “We need to try something else,” Reed said that night as they tucked Goldie into her twin sized bed. “What else can we make.” “Is it really that important that she like apples?” Cricket kissed Goldie’s plump cheek, pushing unruly blonde curls off of her face. “She could still love the orchard in her own way.”
“Wait,” Goldie said. “My turn.”
Reed was at a loss. How could he gift someone something that they hate?
Goldie grabbed two pale tan seeds from her plastic bowl and stuck them in her mouth. She spit them both out. One landed close to the hole, the other stuck to her chin. She grabbed both and placed them on top of the black speck. She slapped the dirt on top then smiled up at her father.
“She’ll grow out of it,” Cricket said. “Give her time.” *** Goldie still liked to pick during harvest that season. She trailed behind her father and listened to him explain how it all worked. She’d walk with a plastic container of sliced oranges, slurping the sticky juice as they went, sticking football shaped slices over the front of her teeth, then smile an orange grin at Reed. The pair made their way down to the newer trees, stopping to pick a few apple’s from Cricket’s favorite.
In that moment, Reed prayed that his daughter would be like the seeds, embedded in their land, roots solid, branches growing upwards, but never needing to leave. *** A year later a sapling broke its way out of the dirt. Goldie watched the trunk, small and thin, grow 62
like hers, strong, sturdy. The branches grew like her legs, long, as years passed.
one side with the tip of his tongue, sweeter. He cut the half down the middle, a small enough sliver that he could place the whole slice in his mouth, skin and all. He chewed, a flavor not quite like anything he had tasted before was a wave cascading over his tongue. When it began to recede he ate the other slice. It was the sweetest thing on earth. He wanted to eat it all, but then Cricket and Goldie burst into his mind. He wrapped the remaining half in a plastic bag and placed it in the fridge. He tiptoed his way down the wooden floors of his den and bedroom. The silhouette of Cricket was the same as how he left her. He slithered beneath the sheets and hugged her to his chest. She burrowed closer. Reed kissed the top of her head.
On her tenth birthday it bore fruit. Three round baseballs the color of the setting sun. Reed plucked one from its sky. It was softer than he expected. He rolled it in his hands, firm. On the bottom it sloped inward, like it had a center, a core. A thicker stem stuck out from the top. He ran his fingers across it. A dimple or two marked the waxy surface. He placed the it on the top of his barrel and headed back to the house. He hid the fruit, if that was what it was, in the bread box. He didn’t know what it was, but he wasn’t ready for anyone to discover it. At midnight he snuck down the hall in his sock covered feet and into the kitchen to slice the sun in half. He found a soft flesh leaking juice the color of cantaloupes. He sniffed, sweet. He licked
“You smell good,” she mumbled before drifting back to sleep.
“Can we sell them?” Cricket asked.
“I don’t see why not.”
In the morning, Reed and Cricket sat around the kitchen table with two warm bowls of oatmeal while Goldie sat on the piano stool practicing her notes, with a plate of cooked peas atop the instrument for breakfast, her favorite. She listened to her parents as she divided them into rows like planting her own orchard on the white china plucking a note here and there. Reed pulled out the half sun from the fridge, sliced it in two, and gave a half to both pieces of his heart.
“No,” Goldie said looking at her father. “Don’t sell mine. I love them.” “We can plant more, Goldie. We can fill this orchard with trees just like yours. I won’t take from your tree.” He stared at his daughter with relief. He had finally found something that planted her here.
Cricket cocked an eyebrow.
Goldie continued sorting her peas.
The tree bore seven Goldie Suns including the one that the family already devoured. Reed plucked them all. He and Goldie shared another looking for seeds to plant more, but when reaching the core, they found none. Cricket sliced one for dessert and there too nothing lived in the core that could be put back in the earth.
“What’s this?” “Produce from Goldie’s tree,” Reed said. Goldie looked up from her plate. “Mine?”
They bit into the slice of oddity. Cricket moaned. Goldie shrieked and stuffed the remaining bit into her overfull mouth. She jumped up from her seat, hopping from one leg to the other as if she was walking on burning coal.
Reed went to the store to buy oranges. Goldie ate a bundle while Reed filled his belly with a heavy layer of apples. They collected the seeds, then planted them in the earth. One from his pile, two from hers settled in together and then covered in a hole towards the back of the orchard, then marked them with red, plastic flags. Seventeen flags waved in the breeze.
Reed looked at his daughter.
“It’s my orange and Momma’s apple,” Goldie said, holding her hand to her mouth, not daring to lose a drop.
“One day this orchard will be yours.”
“Would it be okay if I didn’t grow apples? What if it was all my fruit?”
understand, he thought. She must know that he was doing it all for her.
“If it meant you were happy here, I’d never eat an apple again.”
*** Reed called in a specialist to check his soil. He changed the fertilizer. He missed Goldie’s first date. Cricket yelled. He changed the water sprinklers with copper because he had read that copper was good for dirt. He missed a dance, her prom. Cricket cried. He ordered a compost to be delivered to his home and soon added the wastes of their kitchen to be added to the dirt. He drove a nail into all of the Goldie Sun tree to make them heal, trying to jolt the tree into blooming, forcing them to realize that they were sick and not doing their job. He missed Goldie’s acceptance letters. Cricket didn’t even tell him the one that Goldie chose.
*** It took six years for the planted trees to sprout for harvest. All the while, Eden’s Core enjoyed the seven Goldie Suns that the tree produced. It was never more than seven. They would pluck the fruit and freeze them. Cricket would bake them into various treats, pies, cobblers, cakes, but never revealed the secret ingredient. They’d keep three in the freezer until the last day of harvest to enjoy them. The new trees’ fruit weren’t as bright, not as round. When cut, they almost seemed dry. Some produced one bloom, others bore twenty hard baseballs that tasted like nothing but bitterness with their hard flesh and rubbery skins. Reed didn’t understand, but does anyone ever understand God’s land.
*** “We’re leaving,” Cricket said. She was adorned in a flower print dress and her hair curled away from her face. “Come on, Reed.”
Reed planted more trees. One apple seed, two orange seeds. Thirty trees in total. Saplings sprang up, but still nothing edible grew from any but Goldie’s. Reed tried fertilizing with different methods. He watered his soil daily. He checked his trees every day of winter, walking his fields until his feet throbbed, pulsed with their own heart beats. In spring he watered and even bought bees to help pollinate the blooming buds, spending all afternoon following the insects thinking if he couldn’t get the new trees to grow then he could get Goldie’s tree to grow more. That day he missed Goldie’s piano recital. She’d
“What?” he asked. He noticed Goldie beside her mother, a white dress peeking through the black silk of her graduation robe. She held her cap in her hands. “It was today?” Reed asked. “Why didn’t I know?” “We told you,” Cricket said. “Can’t tell you how many times.” “I’m working. I can’t leave. I can’t let the soil get dry, the fertilizer won’t work if it dries.”
“You’re alway working, Reed. When are you going to realize that even Adam and Eve had to leave the garden. This is a sickness, this obsession. Let it go. You will not miss today. You will not do that to her.” “I’m doing this for her.” He said. Turning and waving his hand as if presenting the orchard to his family like an offering. He looked out at the fields, as if for the first time this season, and cringed. Cricket’s tree as well as the oldest of the orchard were full of leaves. Deadened leaves the color of jaundiced skin despite the fact that the sun poured its rays upon them. The leaves clung on, not in a symbol of life but rather of life gone, with nothing left to do but fall. “I have to stay,” he said. He turned his back towards his family. They would come back. He knew they would. They would come back and this time the trees would bloom and all would be well. Goldie would have her orchard for her children. They would fall in love with it just as he had. They would love his Eden. Cricket and Goldie left, but Reed did not hear them. He was already walking back towards Goldie’s trees. Reed walked row after row spreading fertilizer, little green beads of hope with each step he made. Perhaps this time it would seep into the dirt and stay.
Paro Chhu* Eliana Swerdlow In Bhutan, I find faces in the rocky side of the mountain just across the river.
I am distracted by the young monks in pink rain boots crossing the road.
A Himalayan black bear, you sit on the ledge I imagine to be my uncle’s eyebrows.
I wonder where in the Himalayas I would find you if I were to return. I want to know who in my family you’ve met, as you’ve walked over their faces
We study what’s in the valley between us. Loose cows, skinny horses, and a couple under a willow tree.
in these mountains that, I regret, for a moment felt like mine.
I don’t see you move—
* 2nd place winner in the Whitman Bicentennial Poetry Contest through Brooklyn Poets
Elephant Eliana Swerdlow Next to my bed is a poster of an elephant walking over a map. Her march is frozen just under the pink India. I can only see her left side. Some mornings, I look at her, hoping if I stare long enough she will feel threatened. She will turn ninety degrees — she will march out of the poster, bringing down her left foot on my chest. My sternum will shatter, and all of the blackness inside me will finally come up and out of my mouth. What doesn’t come, she will scoop with her trunk from down inside my throat. Bones and organs and death. She does not know me, but everything else, she will clean from my face like a child before she runs out of my room. I will count her stomps down the stairs and pray no poachers will poach her on her way to the courtyard of tulips and daffodils. I will not turn my head to see her outside my window, but I will imagine her ears spreading free like a woman’s legs. There will be no more words, no more feelings to come out of me. I will listen noiselessly as she trumpets for a reason I do not know but brings me a loud, loud peace.
Queen Of A Rain Country Chad Foret 1
Surrounded with the recipes, my mother whispered spells
A melittosphex burmensis spread across the stomach,
into the Cajun trinity, bellpeppers, celery, & onions.
wing quieting the network. Oneida staggered through
She wasn’t a shapeshifter, but maybe, when I wasn’t
the bayou, skin the color of a crew boat, cracking
looking, she was sister to a certain shadow woman
oysters with a windpipe. I know she wasn’t a witch,
with shellfish in her hair. Oneida was disintegrating
only woman, all cauldron, the blossoming a spell un-
when they cut my mother open because I was inside.
finished. Roxanne, I watch your arm vanish into egg whites, silken & changed into a tower of meringue.
Scenic Overlook James B. Nicola There were signs besides the signs, that day. For one, the trembling of the trees that lined the slope below so beautifully, in sympathetic terror of the moment. There was no breeze in the car, though. Nothing shook nearby. It seemed the whirl was only in the drain, not in the rim of the valley, where we were. Still, Sally and Jimmy were old enough to read, and Keep Back From the Edge, Danger, Unsafe Wall, Loose Rock—were words they could at least have mouthed. By the time I finished my latté and got out, Alice and the kids were already gamboling along the stones. The wind had risen so that even the warnings shook, like jackets in madcap March. When I shouted, “Honey, did you notice this sign? Kids, look out, you probably shouldn’t be standing up on that—” it was too late. Curse cardboard takeout cups with efficient plastic snap-on lids that keep the coffee warm so long you sip instead of swig. Curse gorgeous autumn views. Curse parking slots facing them so you can enjoy the scenery from the car’s front seat. Unless you’re under twelve— too young for coffee, or for sitting still— or the doting mother of such intrepid spirits. I still see Alice losing their hands, one each, as they fell and took her with them.
Go somewhere? A country drive? With you? Where can I go that I won’t see my loves, who loved such drives? At least here I know they are memories only. That’s why I keep their chairs around the kitchen table: These are living memories, in every room, while out there. Out there.
You see through the picture window, the trees are trembling? That’s a sign. And I have learned to read the signs. But look, it’s fall again. How plush the trees, how ripe, with oranges, golds, ambers. Reds. Ah. Thank you for bringing the milk, the bread, the eggs.
Scrolling Through Photos Saved on My Phone Suzzanna Matthews There’s an image of you standing alone at the end of the Santa Monica pier, waving There is wind in your hair–You’re looking out ahead at the ocean not directly at me And the light is all golden as it can only be there–in that moment All clear-gold, a sky unfurled like a banner Though you are standing still–it moves There are other images of you Posturing at vista points–valleys or mountains behind you You smiling over plates of food framed like artwork Images too dark, too blurred–remain dutifully saved I think of grandmother’s photo albums brought down from the shelves, all those rainy afternoons Love in the careful organization of all that living year after year When we were young, she knew who took which picture of whom Could recall the mood, if not of not each person, of each event We rarely see each other *IRL
Sometimes you FaceTime, other times it’s Google hangouts, corporate sponsored connections, that is our joke because our true connection is so tenuous Our mother’s absence, grandmother’s death, tears a rift far greater than our physical distance, our day-to-day existence, in different time zones There are other phones, in a kitchen drawer graveyard other photos of you, of us, of her–entombed Within them also lie their words saved in recordings and video I do not need to listen It is their voices that I hear echoes of when I speak, when you speak And I wonder, if you hesitate like me, just for a second to hit accept when you see who is calling Scrolling through I see a picture you sent me of just us two, as children In our old backyard, beneath the pomelo tree The over-ripe fruit has fallen and lies gut-burst beneath our feet And there is that gold light again–that home light It’s sunset, and above, all is a shade gold-red, almost raw A sky striated with sinewy pink You’re looking at me, with my arms reached overhead to pick one of the orb-like citrus, And I wonder who it was that was able to capture us
The Fairy’s Needle Thomay Worton “We are descended from fairies.” That’s how my grandmother, Mallory, used to begin our family tree story.
incredibly similar, his gaze had isolated only one from the brood. Perhaps not the most beautiful one but certainly the most fragile looking. Her white eyebrows, almost non-existent, gave her a strange and innocent look. Her hooded eyes, almond-shaped and unusually far apart, were unnaturally black and stood out on her white face like coal on snow. He was fascinated by how daintily her nose glided upwards in support of her fine features and enchanted by the childish gap between her front teeth.
“My father Gregory grew up in a southern European village. He was schooled for two years. After that his unlettered father thought he was qualified enough to enter the labor market. By the age of twelve, Gregory had mastered the art of making wicker baskets. He was a kind boy and very much admired by grownups for his excellent business manners. That of course made him unpopular with his peers. So, he spent his rest days alone, fishing by the village’s river. He was often seen strolling in the early hours with his hand net resting on his shoulder. One dawn in his late teens, Gregory went whistling down the path to the river. The meagre light wasn’t much of a guide, but he could feel that he was getting closer to the river as the smell of humidity filled the air and an old injury started to ache. The calls of collared doves, his only thought companions, were suddenly disturbed by girlish giggles.
“Gregory felt pressure down his pelvis, a phenomenon he was always accustomed to wake up with every morning. The girls’ nakedness drew him nearer. With slow and silent steps, he moved to the edge of the river, so he could get a better look at them. The nymphs in their circular dance held each other not by the hand, but with a white handkerchief. He was already carelessly close to them, close enough to touch, so it wasn’t long before the girl leading the dance noticed his presence. She immediately let out a cry and pointed at him. At the same time, they all turned to look at him like panicked deer and broke their circle. In a fraction of a second, they twirled their handkerchiefs in the air, and Gregory watched them hover briefly, then wing away into thin air. As the nymphs flew away, air rose, and one remaining handkerchief tumbled towards my father’s feet.”
“Following the sound, Gregory saw seven girls, dancing in a circle, naked. They were no more than fourteen years old and so delicately structured that they were not taller than the reeds, behind which Gregory was hiding. Their hair, let loose, fell into golden waves that broke on their waists. He didn’t know them, they weren’t from the village. Girls in his village were curly brunettes with flushed cheeks and chubby calves.
And that was the end of my grandmother’s narration. Then, she would go back to sitting silently by the front porch waiting for something to happen, for a car to go by, or a neighbor to say
“Although the nymphs dancing before him looked 74
hi. The rest of the story, she kept to herself. Of course, I knew that my grandmother had lost her parents young and assumed that her childhood traumas had found a resort to fairytales. Once, I overheard her wishing that her mother had a grave to visit. That was one of the many reasons why I said goodbye to her with a heavy heart when she passed away. Another one was that she had trusted me in her will and left me her treasured jewelry box. To my surprise I found no jewels inside, just white thread and needle, along with three pages that read:
leave and follow her kin. He urged her to stay, but she appealed to his sense and sensibility. He insisted that their encounter wasn’t a mere coincidence and that there was a reason why she should stay. She dropped to her knees and lifted her braided fingers up to him as if she was going to make a vow to a saint. Gregory eyed her from above and felt a strong shudder down his spine. The thought of someone obeying him had never crossed his mind. The girl was crying in front of him, her torso jerking from the violent sobs. Gregory caressed her cold shoulders and squeezed her soft skin. For the first time in his life, the friendless boy felt like a man of some standing.
“Gregory picked up the handkerchief and began to examine it. It was seamless, the whitest and plainest he had ever seen; no extra stitches, no decorations. Suddenly, one of the girls reappeared, walking towards him. The girl Gregory had singled out. He stood mesmerized for a moment, then smiled, held the handkerchief out for her. She cautiously came closer and tried to take hold of her belonging with a swift movement. She almost snatched it away and, caught up in the worst of himself, Gregory switched the handkerchief to his other hand. Then he switched it back and forth between hands, observing her as she moved from side to side. He raised his arm with minimum effort and she jumped to reach for the cloth. She grabbed his upper arm and almost swung from it to weigh it down. Her naked body brushed against him. Gregory watched her with lusty eyes.
“‘What’s your name?’ he asked, and the girl lowered her head. ‘Do you have a name?’ Gregory insisted, but the girl shook her head no. ‘You don’t want this, then,’ Gregory folded the handkerchief, tucked it into his shirt, turned his back on the girl and began his way back to the village. The greater their distance grew, the heavier his legs felt, as if earth’s gravitation had suddenly become more forceful. Without warning, the girl attacked his back with punches. Gregory turned, and the girl spat on his face with a curse. Angered, Gregory took a good grasp of the girl’s waist, lifted her like a sack of rice and began carrying her to his village. She kicked her legs in the air, shouted and slashed her hands on the tree trunks as she tried to stop his way through the woods, till she quieted. Her head drooped, resigned, her hair sweeping the muddy soil.
“She spoke, addressing him kindly at first, pleading for her handkerchief, as she wished to 75
“‘Maera,’ she finally muttered, and Gregory’s steps halted for clarity. ‘Maera,’ she repeated, and Gregory let the girl’s feet rest back on the ground.
these questions went unanswered. The only thing they would later come to know was that this mute could scream.
“‘You’re free to go, Maera,’ he said, then kept on marching back to his village, certain that the girl was following him.
“Over the years, Gregory surpassed all wry expectations and successfully traded cotton. But the girl didn’t know what a day’s work meant. During Gregory’s grand business celebrations at the village square, she wasn’t allowed to cross the yard perimeter. Gregory had become so inexplicably rich he could buy new clothes without repairing old ones. He could drink every night in the tavern and still have enough to spare. People warned each other to take caution in their interactions with Gregory, confirming that ‘still waters run deep.’ In Gregory’s heyday, Maera just made sure the house was kept relatively clean and spent the rest of her time looking out the living room window, staring at the open gates, impatiently waiting for something to happen. Most days that something was Gregory’s return.”
“At the edge of the path and in sight of the first cottage houses, the girl finally caught up with him. Gregory took off his jacket and wrapped it around her. Then, he took off his shoes and placed them in front of her. At first, the girl shook off the jacket angrily and stared at him immovable and unblinking, her breath steaming in the cold air. “‘Maera, put on the jacket,’ Gregory instructed her. For a while she stared at him fixedly, washing him with a fear that made his stomach turn, then put on his shoes and jacket, murmuring something incomprehensible in a strange language. Gregory would later wish that he had known what it meant as it was last time she ever spoke.
“Each night, when Gregory came home, they would play the same game. She would assault him to gain back her possession, and he would pin her to the ground, aroused by her elf- like features. Afterwards he held her in a silent embrace, like she was a wounded animal. She laid still, her heart pounding streams of blood so hard her whole body rocked back and forth with every beat. Gregory couldn’t tell if she was shaking with excitement or fear, but her face seemed serene, so he just squeezed her tighter. In those moments, she seemed very real to Gregory, very worldly. He sometimes wondered if the memory of their first encounter was real or if he had romanticized it in his mind. When asked, he liked to tell people he had met her in a waking dream. Then he would come home and see an every-woman sweat over a
“Despite his family’s hysterical objections, Gregory married the alien girl. The villagers were wildly intrigued by this newcomer. She had no known name, but they noticed Gregory whistling at her whenever he needed to publicly address her. They followed his example, believing that they were dealing with a mentally disturbed person. Kids howled like dogs at her just to see if they could get a reaction. The blank stare through her hooded eyes would scare them and give a good reason not to test her twice. As soon as they found out that the girl was unable to utter a single word, people became curious about all sorts of things: could she cough or laugh; did her sneeze make a sound; and what sin had cost her vocal cords? All 76
boiling pot. In any case, he was always careful to keep the handkerchief hidden and out of reach.”
all the days and the years she had been silent. Finally, Gregory gestured a stop by raising his hand up and Maera quieted. He threw the thread and needle out the window into a haystack and ordered Mallory to follow him to work the next day.”
“Pretty soon Maera gave birth to a girl named Mallory. Little Mallory seemed to adore her mother, and over time became her faithful helper, assisting with household chores and ordering food supplies. The two of them learned to communicate through their own secret sign language, something that made Gregory feel more and more pushed aside.”
“After that, Mallory became her father’s docile field hand. The hard-working child proved tough as nails and, over the years, Gregory grew very fond of his daughter. Mallory picked up her father’s pallet of tricks quickly and made a wide stride toward manipulating people. There were times when even Gregory found himself backing down from his arguments and giving way to Mallory’s wishes. Mallory, who had her mother’s looks and her father’s ways, could easily convince others of flaws in their logic. On her fifteenth birthday, Mallory asked Gregory to take the family to the fair in a nearby village. Gregory firstly glanced at Maera, and then caved to his daughter’s persistent pleas. He could find no reason to oppose. The house doors had been unlocked for years and Maera was free to leave, if she ever dared to.”
“One day, Gregory came home early to find Mallory on a ladder, searching for something in the top cupboards. When he asked his daughter what she was searching for, Mallory replied that she was looking for her mother’s handkerchief. He slapped Mallory’s face so hard her skin was marked with his fingerprints for a week.” “Months later, Mallory saw her mother make a sewing motion. Mallory nodded and headed to the market. An hour later, she returned with white thread and a needle. On his way home, after a drunken evening at the tavern, a village gossip told Gregory of his daughter’s activities. In a fit of rage, he came home and gutted all the drawers, knocked out empty every shelf, and tore up the floor in pursuit of the little sewing set. Eventually, he found a half-finished handkerchief under a floorboard.”
“The night was hot, the atmosphere sticky, but the wine was free, and everyone’s spirits were high. People had gathered in the village square to watch the great dance. The family stood behind them. It was then and there that Gregory realized that Mallory had grown taller than her mother. His elfin wife kept raising her heels off the ground in her struggle to catch a glimpse of the spectacle, as she was the only one missing out on it, so he lifted her on his shoulders. It was a folk dance. In a circle the dancers held each other by a handkerchief.”
“‘Do you want her to leave?’ Gregory asked frightened out of his wits, shaking Mallory hard.” “A haunting shrill penetrated the house’s stone walls and spread through the woods, raging into the river. Gregory nervously took his hands off Mallory. Maera screamed and screamed for 77
“Gregory drank and drank. He laughed with his daughter and swung his wife around.” “‘Let mother lead the dance!’ Mallory suddenly burst forth with the idea.” “Lightheaded from too much wine, Gregory paused to squint at Maera, as if he was trying to weigh her volition. But what he saw was Maera’s face, lit up for the first time. Mallory patted her father’s shoulder and nodded an intense ‘do it’. Gregory obeyed, reached into his shirt and took out his bride’s handkerchief.” “‘Come on. Lead on,’ he challenged Maera, still clenching the handkerchief tightly.” “Maera tried to reach for the cloth, but he kept it easily away by holding his arm high. She jumped for it and Gregory let out a hearty laugh. He dodged through the crowd, and Maera chased after him. Gregory raced to the chain of dancers, grabbed the leader’s hand, and extended it with himself and his wife. They lifted the handkerchief up high. She looked exactly like she did the first time he saw her. Maera held the handkerchief tighter. Taking the first turn, she flew away.”
Starting Over Isaac Rankin I’m trying like so many to put words to paper in a coffee shop: distracted by the steam-engine espresso, Pavlov’s bell on the door, and the oven I probably turned off— an oven so cold I could stick my head in ‘til I get bored. If not, the glow seen from the highway will tell the tale: the house my great-grandfather built with his hands now a white-pine-family-tree-raging-two-floor effigy. But what then? What exactly is starting over? It never seems to happen without flames or some unchosen undeserved derailing like a layoff or a lay-on-someone-not-your-spouse or a tornado zigzagging through a town. Some nights the sky is so bright above the path to the barn behind my great-grandfather’s house that I fear something nearby is on fire: the soft crackling crescendo of a barrel burn or another small, replaceable object’s immolation— I hope. My pace quickens against the leaves. A crescent moon hovers above a skeleton oak as the glow and the heat pull me closer. I have come to realize that smoke is a memory we can taste and that most warmth comes from destruction: we can’t help but be warmed no matter what burns. And there in the clearing I always find the ashes: night’s slow cremation, the thin gray coat of daybreak blanketing every living thing. So still that we hear our organs churning in unison to push us forward, if only for a moment, with irrepressible promise.
Sun-Drunk Jessica Weible Crawling out of this Winter, Eyes blurry, breath stale, I emerge from this hovel, This wreckage, my home, To ascend the stone platform, Still cold to its core, Rough sandstone, my hands grip, my eyes lift, The brightness, I bask in, The feeling is warming, Skin to soul and soon, I submit to the sun. In the sunlight I’m different, These cracked hands, my face, In lightness have newness, Cheeks blush to its touch, I absorb the fulfillment, Of starlight to earth, Time passes, my arms stretch, breeze rushing, I’m standing, clouds passing, The feeling is endless, To feast on this moment, I’m dizzy with light.
Susquehanna River Peter Shaver Three months spent frozenâ€Ś Then the distance of the sun, earth tilt, rain, and snowmelt â€“ the surge of the Susquehanna River that bass breathe and release, slamming bodies out into sun and back beneath. Lips lift to kiss its skin. What sinks and rises shapes mountains. Something stirs within muddy water, in its black and patterned movements.
The Old Lab Craig McGready The old lab crawled up under the house and died. I imagine that’s what he did after he’d disappeared, gone from his usual spot on the patch of smooth stones in the sun, near the remains of a rusted chain lying draped in coils and pale fur gathering in the gaps so it looked instead like desert tussock. We hadn’t known him for long, he was simply a part of the house and didn’t appear overly interested in making new friends so kept to himself. We would say hello in passing as we headed to the shallow ponds of trapped rainwater that had formed in the field running along the back fence. They had started to fill up with long legged tadpoles that danced and fled and made us laugh as we probed with grubby hands.
The Problem Robert Sachs Morris Kessler bumped into Gloria Greenspan back in ninety-seven, four years after she had ended the relationship. They were in the American terminal at JFK, both on their way to Chicago. She lived in Manhattan by then, a set designer for SNL. It sounded exciting and romantic to Kessler, who had been in New York for an insurance conference. “So you get to meet all the stars?” he asked.
“That’s sweet of you, Morris.” On the drive in, they talked about the old times, the neighborhood characters. Dobbins, who lived in Italy. Lyle, who ran a Pizza Hut in Skokie. Mike, Jerry, Milt and Leigh, all of whom became doctors. Janis, who died of breast cancer. Sandra, who was a registered nurse. “And you?” she asked. “Married and selling insurance. Same old, same old.”
She laughed. “Everyone asks that. Yeah, I meet them all, but most of all I’m working my ass off trying to get the sets ready on time. Not so glamorous. Still in Albany Park?”
“Thought you wanted to be a lawyer.” “Wanting to be and being are two different things,” he said. “But life is good.” She invited him up for a drink.
“Afraid so. Still above the grocery store, but at least now I own the building.” “Nice,” she said, but it sounded to Kessler like “quaint.”
“Thanks, but Martha’s expecting me.” As soon as he said it, he wished he had chosen a better name. Something more exotic. Milada, perhaps. Felice. In truth, there was no wife. Nobody. But he was not going to give Gloria the satisfaction of a quick fuck that would mean nothing to her and would open old wounds for him to fester and ooze puss long after she was back in New York moving sets around. “You don’t know her.”
“Mom’s in a home,” she went on. “She’s not able to live on her own any longer. I try to get out every few months to see her.” Gloria paused and took several sips of water. “She doesn’t always recognize me.” “It’s rough,” Kessler allowed. “How long are you staying?”
She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Great seeing you,” she said. “Keep in touch.”
“Just ‘til Thursday.” She was at the Hyatt in Lincolnwood.
Kessler left her, wondering why at fifty he hadn’t yet found the right woman. He’d led a decent life, made an acceptable living, was not deformed. “Are my standards too high?” he asked his friend, Lyle.
“My car’s at O’Hare. I can drop you. It’s practically on the way.” 84
“Am I abhorrent? What?”
What did you ever see in her? And this irked him.
Lyle, who had been married and divorced three times, laughed. “Me you’re asking? You’re fine, Mo. Besides, marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You’re better off just dating. Whatever happened to what’s her name? Gloria.”
“Funny you should ask,” Kessler said now. “I bumped into her a year ago. Lives in New York. I drove her in from the airport. She was visiting her mother. Nothing since. Think I should call her?” “If it was me, I wouldn’t put myself out on that limb.”
There it was, Kessler thought, the problem. Mention his love life and his friends would all come up with the same name. True enough, he thought often of Gloria. Gigi, he called her. It could be when he passed the coffee shop where they would sit across from one another, silently sipping black tea. Or when he saw a woman on the L resting her head on the shoulder of the man next to her. Gloria Greenspan. Gigi. They went steady. They were a couple. And then it was over. To be sure, there had been other girls, women. But his dates tended to be one and done, as they would say now. There was no high school sweetheart. His few romances seemed seasonal: A relationship begun in the fall, didn’t survive the winter. Gloria was the exception. That was a romance that lasted in fits and starts over several seasons during his college days. But Kessler sensed Gigi saw him as more of a friend than a lover. And she ended it abruptly with the thinnest of explanations. She wanted to taste life, she had said, as if dating Kessler was some kind of bland death.
Kessler nodded. She had been a skinny young woman, an inch taller than Kessler, with a broad mouth and when she laughed, which was often, she exposed more gum than the norm. Her hazel eyes were bright, always with a look of joyous expectation. Kessler rarely got to New York and he didn’t see the point of calling Gigi from Chicago. He knew she was visiting her mother every few months, and if she really wanted to see him, he reasoned, she would call. Some months later, he complained again to Lyle about his inability to meet the right woman. Lyle suggested JDate, and Kessler signed up. One of the women he met for tea turned out to be a man. It was a pleasant evening; they had much in common. And except for the transsexualheterosexual divide, he wouldn’t have minded seeing him again. The two others were decent, attractive ladies for whom Kessler felt nothing. “It’s not working,” he said.
“Plain as a paper bag,” Lyle had said at the time as a way of saying, You’re well rid of her, of giving Kessler some comfort. But Kessler heard it as,
“Give it more time; you’ll find the right one,” Lyle 85
were just as prominent, but he saw it as cute. He wondered what she saw in him. A link to the past? Lost innocence?
Six months after that, after the turn of the Millennium, another insurance conference took him to New York and he called Gigi. She said she was glad to hear from him and they arranged to have dinner together.
In the morning she made breakfast for him—eggs and bacon. When it was time for him to leave, she accompanied him to the sidewalk. “I care for you, Morris, but I’m not in love with you,” she said before he stepped into the cab headed for the airport. “It’s a notice required by Mayor Giuliani’s Truth in Screwing Law.” Her broad smile made him laugh.
“You’re the only one in the world who calls me Gigi,” she said over the salad. “Just a habit. Would you rather I didn’t?” “No,” she said, “I like it. Reminds me of the old days back in Albany Park.”
Holding the cab door, he said, “I know. I’ll call you.” In truth, Kessler had no idea whether or not he was in love with Gloria. But he knew he liked being with her. She was witty and charming. While Kessler was rarely at ease talking with women, he found talking with Gloria as comfortable as talking with Lyle.
Kessler wondered why she was interested in the old days. She had dropped him cold, refused to answer his calls. And then she left town. Was she rethinking those decisions? “Don’t tell me the sophisticated Manhattanite misses the old neighborhood.”
Two months after his New York trip, she called him. Her mother had died and she was flying in. Could he pick her up from O’Hare?
She just smiled and changed the subject. Later, during dessert, he confessed to her there was no Martha, that he wasn’t married. “I made it up because at the time, I didn’t think getting together with you for one night was a good thing.”
She kissed him on the cheek getting into his car. “It’s a nightmare. The funeral will be at Piser’s on Thursday. I need to pick out a casket, get all of her stuff out of the nursing home, find out where her bank accounts are. I don’t even know if she had insurance.”
She laughed. “Maybe you’re not as bright as I thought you were.” It was his turn to smile and change the subject. After dinner and a stroll down Fifth Avenue, they slept together in his hotel room. It wasn’t exactly like old times, because this was their first time. The second time was the following night in her apartment. Kessler enjoyed being with Gigi. She laughed as much as she always did and her gums
“Buckle up,” Kessler said. “We’ll muddle through the process together.” Gloria started to cry. She squeezed Kessler’s arm. “You’re a doll.” Together they gathered up all that needed 86
gathering, searched for all that needed to be found and picked out a casket. At the funeral, Kessler sat next to Gloria, like a member of the family. Only a handful of people showed up. A mini-van from the nursing home brought five elderly women, and there were a few friends from the neighborhood. Lyle.
“Nice,” Kessler said, keeping his voice steady even though he felt he had taken a body blow. “What’s his name? Is this serious?” “Carl. Serious? At our age I don’t really know what that means. He’s a nice guy and we have fun together. Next time you’re in New York, I’ll introduce you.”
Gloria stayed with Kessler. On the day after the funeral, he got up early and made breakfast for her—eggs and bacon. And that afternoon he drove her to the airport.
There were few excuses for Kessler to get to New York, and since the funeral, Gloria hadn’t been to Chicago. On the following January 5th, she called him. “Morris, I’ve got cancer. What am I going to do?” She was crying.
“I couldn’t have gotten through it without you, Morris.” When they said goodbye she kissed him on the mouth and added, “Don’t be a stranger.” “I saw how she was looking at you,” Lyle said later. “She’s got the hots for you.”
“I’m coming up,” he said. “Is Carl with you?” “Long gone, I’m afraid. Scared him off like I probably scare off everyone.”
“No, I don’t know how to explain it. We’re close, but I’m not sure it’s love.”
“I’ll call you when I land.” “That little thing on your nose?”
“You’re screwing, right?” “That’s none of your business,” Kessler said.
“It’s cancer, Morris.” There was a bandage across the bridge of her nose.
“I’ll take that as a yes. It’s the kind of thing where you’re going to wake up one morning and realize you’ve loved her all along.” “No. Trust me.”
“They sliced it off. It’s gone,” he said. “Hopefully, hopefully. Do you ever think about dying?”
But deep down, Kessler wasn’t all that sure. Calls to and from Gloria became common. One evening she mentioned she was dating a guy, a sound engineer also on SNL. Divorced with three kids. “He loves to dance, Morris. First man I’ve ever met who loves to dance.”
“I have enough trouble thinking about living. Why would I want to worry about dying?” “Funny, Morris. But we’re getting older. I’m not even fifty and I’ve had cancer.” “Unless there’s a time warp between here and 88
Chicago, you and I are both fifty-two.” “Crap. I don’t look it though, do I?” Kessler assured her she looked like a teenager. On the flight back, he wondered if he really did love Gigi. What is love, anyway? And how do you know? He wasn’t looking for a Hallmark answer, but he wanted a sign. Unpacking his suitcase, he discovered a red lace thong with a Post-It note attached: “Lonely in the Big Apple, wish you were here.” He smiled. Another thing not to mention to Lyle. Gigi was making it difficult.
We Donna Pucciani live within our means. Here, one of us can read in silence, the other play piano a wall away. We remember the smell of old books, the character of little failures and ancient love caught in our entrances and exits. We know nothing of this yearâ€™s style, only breath, words, waking, sleep.
The Coldest Season James Garber The clock ticks, hangs upside down in the old cottage. The pale, round-shouldered woman shuffles to her refrigerator, opens a container of yogurt and peers through the window at ducks and geese paddling on the pond and rowboats tied to the dock but not used since her sons stopped visiting. Octoberâ€™s gray sky dulls the colors of maple and sycamore leaves in her yard. Her garden, now barren and one third of what it had been, is enough for her meager diet. She hums a tune, closes her eyes, tries to recall the name of it or why she knows it, then realizes it is a lullaby she sang to her children when they were small.
XO -B Michael Anthony Henri Chennault didn’t intend to frighten people. But, the four-inch scar that ran from the corner of his mouth clear to his jaw below his right ear made those intentions irrelevant. Store clerks, supermarket cashiers, barmaids, and especially children were either fascinated and unable to turn away; or so repulsed they dare not look.
appearance, his clothes, and his small cabin on Shades of Death Road. Why it was called that no one really knew. Technically, Henri did not live alone. There was Honey, his five-year-old Golden Retriever. That gentle companion was at Henri’s side in front of the wood stove, beside him as he wrapped chains around fallen trees, and even at night atop the blankets that covered Henri in bed.
Those who did sneak a glimpse while Henri sat at the counter in Julie Quibles Luncheonette or while comparing prices of canned vegetables in the aisle of the Valley Fair market could readily see it was not the work of some skilled plastic surgeon. Instead, it resembled laces on a football. Oversized and obvious.
Many of Tompkinsville’s residents wondered why Henri never married. Sure, there were rumors, most woven of whole cloth, about something horrible that happened years earlier and that scar was his eternal mark. Some whispered it involved a woman and a meat cleaver. Others said it was a knock-down drag-out fight with his former logging partner, Charlie Dupont, who left town several years back. Each new gossip added their own layer of speculation about Henri’s scar. Only a select few knew that, actually, Henri had been married and for the most part it was a good marriage. No children, but happy as a decent marriage could be. Though Henri never spoke about Beryl, either good or bad, folks assumed it ended terribly, leaving Henri angry and alone. Truth was, Beryl wanted to be a deputy for the county sheriff. That meant she would need to relocate to Chadron for academy training and then would likely be assigned to the barracks just north of Hyannis, some hundred twenty miles across Cherry County. Clearly not a reasonable commute.
Truth be told, the reclusive logger, Henri had tried to stitch it himself before relenting and going to Doc Fleming’s. When Doc saw what Henri had done, he bluntly told him he wasn’t sure he could make it look any better. On top of that, Doc said likely Henri would not regain use of the muscles that made that half of his face move. No smiles. No frowns. Just a sagging mouth, frozen forever. Drinking was only one of the skills Henri had to relearn. So was the pipe smoking he enjoyed when splitting logs or dragging felled trees from the forest with his decades-old John Deere tractor. No longer a fixture on the right side, the pipe dangled precariously from the left. With the sensitivity of a seismograph needle that pipe recorded every quiver of his jaw. Drooling was another vexation for Henri, who, despite living alone, had always been fastidious about his 92
Henri told Beryl she should go for it. If she made it, hopefully she would be stationed closer. Although he didn’t say it, Henri sensed Beryl hadn’t really adjusted to the solitary lifestyle that suited him, but not her. They parted in silence. Oh, there were several nights of tears and melancholy sex, but not a single cross word when she packed her belongings into that long bed pickup. No screams. No fights. Only, an embrace that both knew had to end, but neither wanted to be the first to break.
face than that of Ulysses S. Grant on the fifty he would hand over before getting undressed. Winter still battled spring. Howling gales out of Saskatchewan brought bitter wind chills and sometimes snow squalls that made seeing anything beyond the hood of one’s car impossible. Henri didn’t mind the cold. But, more than any other time of the year, he enjoyed the first few months after winter finally surrendered. Anxious, and in need of Gloria’s services, hopefully with the young woman who went by the name Maddie, Henri headed south. Though the other side of thirty, Maddie didn’t have that hard edge or vacant stare so many of her associates did. She could carry on a conversation without the “ums” or “likes,” that infused the language of today’s youth. Well read, she and Henri talked about the sorry state of public education, the changing environment, and why folks are so complacent with corrupt politicians who they know are making their lives harder while the crooks get richer. Of course, these discussions usually followed the consummation of what had drawn Henri there in the first place. Sometimes, like this day, Henri would slip Gloria an extra fifty for more time with Maddie. He would also tuck a twenty in the paperback book that often lay on the table next to the bed.
Finally, Henri kissed Beryl on both cheeks; stepped back; and, tapped the fender of her pickup, his signal for her to hit the road to Chadron and the law enforcement training at the community college there. There were a few calls and a handful of letters between them after Beryl left. But eventually, all that stopped. Like branches of a tree, they simply went their separate ways. One reaching west, the other east. Yet, always connected at the base. Henri was now long past seeking a wife. So, when the desire for carnal companionship arose, he would drive down Highway 83 to Valentine where he found Gloria Keegan’s doublewide in a trailer park just off East C Street. Gloria owned the Rest-Em Easy B&B. Though it posed as a bed and breakfast, all its customers, and even local law enforcement knew the B&B stood for Beer and Babes. At any one time there might be three or four women offering intimate entertainment. The women were less interested in Henri’s disfigured
Gloria welcomed Henri with her customary, “Hey, Sugar,” and a polite peck on the cheek. She confirmed Maddie was working and would be with him soon. Gloria offered Henri a beer, “on the 93
house,” which he gladly accepted. When Maddie stepped through the narrow doorway that led to the multiple bedrooms, she saw Henri and smiled. They disappeared into her room.
As the truck warmed, Henri sat watching the condensation that had glazed the inside of the windshield clear. First near the dashboard vents, then inch by inch until it reached the visor. Henri smiled that not once had Maddie said anything about his scar. She never winced or pulled back or so much as gave it a second glance. Considering how close they had been, he knew it was something that went unnoticed. Maddie’s compassion, even if artificial, made him feel good.
Maddie closed the door and began undressing when Henri asked her to stop, saying he wanted something different today. Thinking it was about to get kinky, Maddie’s eyes widened. “Mind reading me one of them books, out loud?” Henri asked while pointing to the table. Recognizing a welcome break from the usual grind, Maddie enthusiastically agreed. At the end of the hour, Henri thanked her. This being the ninth time they had transacted business, he finally asked her the question that had been nagging him since his previous visit. Her answer was sweet, but not what Henri had hoped for. He shrugged and said then he would just eat alone that evening. He understood this was her job and that, as she said, she had a private life, which she intentionally did not mix with her professional one.
Henri turned onto North Main Street, past the hardware store, city hall, and block after block of square storefronts, many empty, and others soon to be. He wondered if that boy in the picture was Maddie’s son and the reason she didn’t mix personal and professional. Wouldn’t be the first single parent to take a job that paid well, but exacted a high price. By the time Henri saw the big rig turning onto 4th Street it was too late. Bumpers crashed. Headlights shattered. Sickly green antifreeze pooled around tires. The truck driver stomped towards Henri’s pickup, but faltered momentarily when he saw the scar. Without any explanation, he didn’t know if it was a war injury, the result of a barroom fight, a lingering reminder of the dumb things kids do, or a lover’s quarrel.
While Maddie used the bathroom, Henri slipped that twenty between the pages of the paperback. As he did, he noticed one of those two-inch square school photos tucked inside the back cover. The kid looked like most every other six or seven-yearold. A nice smile with a few spaces where teeth should be, a tight buzz cut likely done just for the picture, and a plaid shirt befitting a Manitoba lumberjack. Henri closed the book.
Some minutes after both vehicles pulled over to let traffic pass while the drivers exchanged registrations, insurance cards, and licenses, the echo of distant sirens caught Henri’s attention. Two cars approached. One from the south, the other from the east. The first to arrive belonged to the Valentine Police Department. The second was the unmistakable slate gray of a Nebraska State Trooper. Both officers stepped from their cars and spoke briefly before the Valentine
Promising to return soon, Henri bid Maddie farewell with his usual pat on the backside. In turn, she hugged Henri and whispered in his ear, “Until next time, babe.”
patrolman strode across the street to Henri and the truck driver. He asked the usual questions. “What happened? Any injuries? Anyone need assistance?”
“Beryl?” She smiled. Henri only half so. As Beryl walked across the road, Henri waited for the instant when her face would say she saw his scar. That moment never came because as a trooper, she had likely seen things far more grotesque.
Shaking his head, Henri glanced across the wide intersection at the trooper in sunglasses leaning against the patrol car. Seeing it was only a fender bender, the trooper started to slip back into the driver’s seat. As the trooper removed the campaign hat, Henri noticed a tight bun of brunette hair. The officer looked over one final time before starting the car.
“Didn’t recognize you with…out the beard,” Beryl said. “Been gone a while now,” Henri shrugged. Having finished the accident report, the Valentine officer tipped his hat; said goodbye to Beryl; and drove away. So did the tractor-trailer driver. Unfortunately, all that antifreeze had come from the punctured radiator of Henri’s pickup. There was no way he could make it home.
Henri and the trooper came to the exact same conclusion at the exact same instant. “Henri?” the trooper called through the open window while removing those sunglasses.
Beryl asked if Henri was living in Valentine now and could she give him a ride? When he told her he was still up Route 83 in Tompkinsville, she said she could give him a lift to a repair shop nearby.
She in turn asked what was new in Henri’s life. Married? Kids?
Henri couldn’t help but stare at how buff and tough Beryl looked in that uniform. It suited her perfectly he thought. Yet, she still had those hazel eyes that reminded him of a stream in autumn when the gold and green and yellow of the leaves reflected off the surface. That was exactly what her eyes did in the sunlight and they were doing it now.
She said the same when he asked her.
He answered no to both.
Henri was curious why she hadn’t said anything about the scar, which wasn’t there when they were together. He guessed she was either being a good cop or a good friend. With his second cup of coffee empty, Henri told Beryl he needed to find a place for the night since his truck wouldn’t be ready until morning. Beryl said she would drive him to the side of town where there were a few motels. She did and stayed the night.
“Listen, I’m off shift in a few minutes. You want to grab a coffee or something?” Beryl suggested. “Sure,” Henri answered quickly.
It was like all those years had never passed. They put a serious dent in the bottle of bourbon they picked up at Patsy’s Liquors; laughed about the crazy stuff they did as a young couple; and, fell into bed tired, but not enough to keep them from having sex. In the morning, Henri awoke before Beryl. He sat on the edge of the bed staring at her sleeping face and thinking what a fool he had been to let her go, as if anyone could have stopped her anyway.
“Great. There’s a nice little place down 20 near the fairgrounds. How about you lock this puppy up; I take you to a guy over on Walker who does good work; and, then we get that coffee?” “Deal.” Henri had never ridden in a trooper car, at least not this side of the cage anyway. After dropping off the keys, Beryl and Henri pulled into Dora’s Prairie Diner parking lot. They grabbed a corner booth and started a slow rolling conversation about what each had been up to since they had gone their separate ways. Henri was surprised that Beryl was with the Staties now. She explained that while in the academy, a recruiter from the State Police in Omaha singled her out, suggesting she had a better future with that organization. Henri agreed.
Beryl squirmed and opened her eyes to see Henri holding a cup of coffee he made for her with that little pot on the counter near the bathroom. She thanked him for still being considerate and blew across the cup to cool the coffee. “Thank you,” Henri repeated in a nearly inaudible voice. “For what?” Beryl asked.
“Not mentioning this,” Henri said while pointing to the scar.
their intimate goodbyes in the motel room, it was just a handshake and a smile outside the garage. Though they exchanged telephone numbers; Henri was sure no call would ever come.
Beryl arched her eyebrows and smiled. Henri silently wished he still could. Then, he told her how it happened.
Henri watched Beryl drive off to the west – yet again. Standing in the open bay door behind his pickup, Henri accepted he was about to return to his solitary, some might say hopeless, life. His phone buzzed. The screen lit up saying, “Had a great time. XO -B.”
“After you left…I mean after we split up, I tried to move on. But, it was tougher than I thought. Started drinking, probably too much. One night when things were really bad, I polished off a pint and was in that leather chair picking shreds of stew meat out of my teeth with my bone handled knife…” “The big one?” Beryl interrupted. “I know. Stupid,” Henri sighed. “Anyways, something outside spooked my dog and when she jumped up she hit my elbow. Next thing you know I’m spurting blood everywhere. The place looked like a murder scene.” Henri paused. “Not that I’ve ever been in one. But, you know.” Beryl locked onto Henri’s eyes as if to say she didn’t care about that damned scar. She took another sip and told Henri she had to get over to Merriman to investigate some cattle thefts, if he could believe that. He said he could, then asked, “They still got that sign with all them cattle brands next to the bank on Mills Street?” Beryl nodded, saying she had to hit the shower, but wouldn’t mind if he joined her. He did and they did. Beryl drove Henri over to Butler’s Garage where his truck had been towed. Since they had said 97
Hollywood Camouflage Chase Dimock At the Burbank Lockheed factory my great-grandfather built P-38s hidden beneath a fake farm. The Total War era meant battlefields without bounds and combattants on assembly lines.
He tried to tell them, he was a repairman from Guymon, shop belly up in the Depression. He could teach them soldering and repair, but they knew how to keep a pneumatic from recoiling, confident in their Rosie the Riveter muscles pumping with the pistons on the line.
Hollywood set designers draped netting over the buildings, painted runways and parking lots green, rigged trees with wire and feathers, brush strokes of fake decay a pastoral matte board to fool any pilots searching above for the war engine.
He came to realize, the acting was their hope. Warner Brothers and Universal Studios were just down the road, but worlds away during war when youâ€™re rationing sugar and nylons. He showed them a photo of his daughters, their hair in two long braids like Judy Garland, so they too could skip from sepia into technicolor.
The plant managers directed their labor choreographed small shifts in and out hid smoke breaks in an empty silo. Workers pinned their familyâ€™s laundry on the clothesline between hours of welding. Great-Grandfather was a Dust Bowl Okie and all the young women asked him for tips. How would a farm girl swing her hips as she walked? Would her drawl drip slowly from her lips? Is this frilly apron believable?
Travelogue Ian Woollen Brenda, the garrulous church administrator at Elm Heights Christian, must have been a travel agent in a former life. “You need to get away, dear, you need a weekend in Louisville.” She likes to tell people where to go. On trips, that is. Well, and otherwise too. The pastor and the staff rib her about it. Nobody touches the thermostat in the sanctuary or rearranges the chairs in fellowship hall without consulting helmet-haired Brenda.
“Why did you think I would like that place?” Jerry asked. “Because it’s different,” Brenda said, “and you need to see some things different. You and me both, Jerry. We’re probably going to be out of a job soon. Pastor Morgan, he’ll get reassigned. You and I are going to be on the street.”
“Should I put new candles on the altar this week?” asked Jerry, the custodian. He’s worked at the church even longer than her. Still, he salutes every time they speak. “Of course I want new candles up there, but the question is can we afford new candles? And the answer is no. Let them go another week,” Brenda said. Jerry raised his frayed Cubs cap to scratch his forehead. “I drove over to visit those Indian mounds in Evansville, like you told me,” he said. “And…?”
Elm Heights Christian was a neighborhood church and the neighborhood was changing. The average age in the congregation was approaching seventy. The brake factory was gone. The grade school was closing. No more young families, no more working couples. Fewer and fewer owner occupied houses. More and more student rentals. The college students had better things to do on Sunday morning. The local congregants seethed about it and wanted Pastor Morgan to preach against the elitist onslaught, but he wouldn’t. Love thy neighbor, whoever they are. It was a strike against him and led to more defections.
“Two newcomers yesterday,” Jerry said, hopefully. “Did you see them?”
“Kind of spooky,” Jerry said. “Yes, so very mysterious. I went there on a field trip in grade school, thirty years ago,” Brenda said. She took off her bifocals to clean them with the linen handkerchief that lived permanently inside her left sleeve.
“Sure, everybody did. And maybe they’ll come a few more times, but when they realize we’re a dwindling bunch of graybeards desperate for fresh blood, they’ll disappear like they always do.” “I think you’re being a little pessimistic, especially about us ending up on the street.”
“Be honest. We’re both paycheck to paycheck. How are you going to cover the mortgage?” Brenda asked.
Jerry teased, “Lord knows how much you need to know everything.” “It’s a fair question.”
Jerry had to think about that for a while. He and Brenda went about their day, trading dour glances and shrugs. Jerry raked the leaves on the front lawn, and swept the empty parking lot. He changed the oil in the blue church bus that ferried kids to Vacation Bible School at the lake. Back when there was a children’s education program. He replaced the plastic letters in the wayside pulpit. Each week Brenda came up with a catchy phrase to try to attract notice from the passing motorists on Walnut Street. This week’s summons: “Been Missing Ya.’”
“Spent a little time in jail,” Jerry said. “What should I know about you that I don’t?” “Bad sense of direction. I get lost easy,” Brenda said, “For all my big talk about travel, I can get lost on the way to the grocery store.” “Tell me again why it matters so much to you to see places like Chicago and New York?” Jerry asked.
As they had for twenty years, Jerry and Brenda ate a sack lunch in the small kitchen off the fellowship hall. Brenda ate tuna salad. Jerry ate ham and Swiss. And they did crossword puzzles. Nothing got in the way of their puzzles. “What’s a four letter word for ‘ectoplasm’?” “Spit,” Jerry said. “How did you get to be such a wise guy?” “Working in a church for so long.” “What did you do before you came here?” Brenda asked, breaking their normal conversational pattern. “I should know that, but I don’t.”
“Could be my mother. She was always complaining about the places she would never see. ‘I’ll never see Paris. I’ll never see London.’ And at some point as a child, I vowed that I wasn’t going to be like that,” Brenda said, “Not that I’ve actually crossed the state line too often. My last trip, I took the Greyhound to St. Louis, to see the arch.” At the Bible Study group on Wednesday evening, Cleotis Henderson, the head usher, suffered a serious heart attack. At first it looked like some kind of possession, like he was speaking in tongues. Everyone rallied to his aid and called an ambulance and got him to the hospital in time, but the event cast a pall. Starkly emblematic of the congregation’s life-support condition, it scared people off. The next Sunday saw only twenty bodies in the pews. And barely fifty bucks in the collection plate.
“I’ve been mulling over something,” Jerry said to Brenda in her office, “Something you said.”
on Tuesday was the line: ‘strange bedfellows.’ To economize, Jerry started bringing in two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and offering one to Brenda, in case she wanted to save her tuna salad for supper.
“What specifically? I say a lot of stuff,” Brenda replied. “Seeing things differently.”
“There’s going to be trouble at the next staff meeting,” Brenda whispered.
“What? Cleotis Henderson has run off with his nurse?” Jerry said.
“On trips, I mean, or afterwards. I was married once, you know.”
“Can you keep it under your hat?”
“No, I didn’t.”
Jerry ceremoniously took off his Cubs hat and peered inside. “Plenty of room in here,” he said.
“We had a couple kids, or rather, she had a couple toddlers from a previous relationship. And we’d travel down to a lake in Kentucky and it seemed like every time we got back, both kids had made some kind of leap, vocabulary-wise or something, like the trip had made them smarter.”
“Pastor Morgan is leaving the ministry.” “Oh, I shouldn’t be surprised.” “He’s going back to selling real estate.”
“That’s entirely possible, yes,” Brenda said and smiled. Hers was one of those upside-down smiles. “Maybe we should take a trip together,” Jerry suggested, “to make us smarter, to help us figure out what’s next. If we split the costs, hotel and gas and such, we could afford a weekend up in Indianapolis. I’d like to see the Speedway.” Brenda had to think about that for a while. Did he intend to share a room with her? Would it shock him to hear her snore? The idea hung between them all week. It seemed that the wide universe or God or their own fears were maneuvering them into a shared position of mutual survival. And, wouldn’t you know it, one of the crossword clues
After Pastor Morgan’s big announcement at the staff meeting on Friday, the church board called an emergency session and spent three hours acrimoniously debating whether to call an interim or just throw in the towel. Finally, the diocese headquarters stepped in with a recommendation to close Elm Heights Christian. The board voted to go along accordingly and devised a plan to gradually shutter the property and sell everything at auction in six months. In the fellowship hall on Monday evening, Jerry lit a cigarette. “There’s no smoking on the premises,” Brenda said. “Does it matter now?” Jerry said, “Maybe I should
burn the place down.”
out and Jerry’s truck wouldn’t start. Or rather, it did, but he only got as far as the church parking lot. Brenda was waiting in her office. She’d walked over from her house, carrying a small overnight bag. Jerry tried everything to start the truck. He checked and rechecked the connections and cleaned the terminal heads of the battery with sandpaper. No luck.
“I know you’re angry. I’m angry too. But we have to maintain our standards. We can’t act like rats fleeing a sinking ship. We have to keep our wits about us,” Brenda said. “You talk like we’re a team or something,” Jerry said.
“I guess we’re not meant to do this,” Brenda sighed.
“Haven’t we always been?” Brenda said, dabbing her eyes with the linen handkerchief. “You’re a strange lady,” Jerry said.
Unfazed, Jerry said, “Let’s take the church bus. I’ve got the key here on my chain.”
“Well, you’re not exactly Dudley Do-Right,” Brenda said. “What were you sent to jail for, by the way?”
Brenda said, “You really think that would be okay?”
“Fighting the I-69 extension. They grabbed most of my grandpa’s farmland. I poured sand in the gas tanks of some construction equipment and spiked a bunch of trees.”
“Sure. Unless you’ve been scrimping and haven’t paid the insurance.” “Believe me, I’ve thought about it,” she said, and pulled at her chin. “You know, my dad used to tell me that it’s not good for a vehicle to just sit.”
“I never would have guessed,” Brenda said. “Are we going to take that trip to Indy or not?” Jerry said.
“Yeah, we’d be doing the church a favor,” Jerry said, “and anyway, I was considering bidding on it in the auction. Let’s consider this a test drive.”
Brenda said, “I hear they’ve got a good zoo.” “We can make it back in time for services on Sunday,” Jerry said.
He pried open the rusty door and they climbed aboard. The diesel engine started up with a husky rumble.
“Do we take your car or mine?”
“Wheee! I feel like I’m playing hooky.”
“I’ve got a full tank.”
“How do you know? Did you ever play hooky?”
On Friday, some unexpected automotive problems got in their way. Brenda’s transmission pooped
“No, but I always imagined this is what it would feel like,” Brenda said.
Jerry drove first and Brenda sat across the aisle, just behind him. She bounced on the seat like a kid. Both of them quickly realized that they were getting into something much bigger than a weekend jaunt. A skin was being shed, a chrysalis broken. Brenda gushed and pointed at everything, identifying the trees by name. “There’s a sycamore. There’s an old sugar maple.”
Anticipating the need for a restroom, without Brenda having to say anything, Jerry stopped for gas outside of Bloomington. It was getting on towards noon. Brenda splurged on a couple candy bars and fountain drinks and announced, “Pal, I’m ready to drive this rig.” A bit of a test, a bit of a challenge. “The clutch is loose.”
“Thanks for the information,” Jerry said. “I brought a bag of popcorn, homemade. You want some?” “Buttered?”
“We’re about to get on I-69, six lanes. You okay with that?” “Sit back and enjoy the ride,’ Brenda said.
“Of course. Olive oil has a place, but not on popcorn.” “Agreed,” Jerry said. They passed the lake north of town and Brenda pointed out the driveway into the church camp property. “What’s going to happen to that place?” Jerry asked, “Is it going to be included in the auction?” “Good question. I imagine so. The buildings are a bit dilapidated, but the land is probably worth a lot now.” “We could fix it up and start a retreat center for burned-out church staffers,” Jerry suggested.
“That’s okay. I’m good with a stick. Anything else?”
She liked the throaty rumble and the shake in the tall stick. Brenda adjusted the visor against the sun from the west. She got up to speed and relaxed back into the seat. Jerry stretched out and put his feet up across the aisle. They enjoyed a period of relative silence, listening to their own thoughts, observing internal puzzles, no need to say anything out loud for now. It all went fine until the southern suburbs of Indy. Traffic picked up. An early rush hour. The factories changed shifts at three p.m. Cool as can be, Brenda signaled and honked and switched lanes with aplomb, but she got stuck in the left lane going north on I-465 and missed the exit for downtown. “Oops!” she giggled.
“That’s one idea, kind of crazy, but I like the way you think,” Brenda said.
Before long they were headed west on I-70 toward St. Louis. “Plan B. How about we go see the arch?” she suggested, “It’s very impressive.”
Jerry slowed for the bird sanctuary in Linton and they spotted a few cranes in the marshes.
“The tour guide seems to be having a good time up there,” Jerry said. 104
“I’m remembering field trips in grade school,” Brenda said, “I’d always sit up front in the bus, so I could watch the driver. And, hey, the school corporation is always advertising for school bus drivers. Maybe that’s what I’ll do next. I’ll get a commercial license and drive a school bus.” “It’s one idea, kind of crazy, but I like the way you think,” Jerry said. “What about you? Are you having any ideas?” Brenda asked. “I’m focusing more short-term,” Jerry said, “Like where are we going to have dinner and where are we going to stop for the night.” “I don’t want to stop.” “Say what?” “Let’s see how far we can get,” Brenda said, “I’ve never driven through the night.”
up the snow globe. Of course, they’d have to come to their senses eventually. Jerry shrugged and decided to indulge in a physical experience that he had not been able to enjoy in many years. Sleeping in a moving vehicle, drifting off into the rattle and shake, like being in a crib. And hoping that when he woke up, he would know what to do. “Okay, I’m going to take a nap,” Jerry said, “When it’s time to switch drivers, wake me up.” “Yessiree,” Brenda said, “A couple more hours, when we stop for gas. You get some shut-eye.” Jerry lay down sideways and curled up his knees into a fetal position. Brenda glanced at him in her mirror a few times. Within five minutes, he was snoring. Brenda smiled her upside-down smile. She felt that Jerry was entrusting her with something. Not sure what, but that was okay. For once, she didn’t have to know.
“Brenda, you realize that, if we don’t stop soon, we’re not going to make it back for the service on Sunday?” “Yes, I realized that about an hour ago,” Brenda said, “and my feeling is, let’s shake up the snow globe.” Jerry felt a pang in his gut. He momentarily regretted his push for this trip and taking the church bus, and briefly pondered whether or not he was being abducted. But that description did not feel fair or accurate. He’d known what he was getting into, or rather, he’d known the possibility existed within both of them for shaking 105
Contributors Fiction Kripendra Amatya is a writer, social activist and an artist. Amatya has written a fiction connecting the historical lives of people living in Kathmandu Valley previously known as Nepal Valley who have a culture of travelling to
Tibet for trade. The story combines element of a super natural event which changes the life of the protagonist. Michael Anthony is a writer and artist living in New Jersey. He has published fiction, poetry, illustrations, and
photographs in literary journals and commercial magazines. Most recently these include the Paterson Literary
Review, Tall Tale TV Podcast, deLuge Journal, and Dime Show Review. His work may be viewed at michaelanthony. myportfolio.com
Mary Elizabeth Cartwright is fiction writer and MFA student at The University of Memphis. She is an editor at The Pinch Journal. Her work has appeared in Burnt Pine Magazine and forthcoming in Adelaide Literary Magazine.
Charlie Keyheart’s latest is out in J Journal, whose editors were kind enough to nominate it for a PEN, his second. Keyheart is also the recipient of the Sparks Prize, a fellowship at Notre Dame, which will give him time to write his first novel.
J.G.P. MacAdam is the first in his immediate family to earn a college degree, a B.S. in Industrial and Systems
Engineering. He is a veteran of two deployments to Afghanistan. Find him wandering the Appalachian woods with his wife and son, or at jgpmacadam.blogspot.com
Nick Mancuso is an author and essayist based in New England. His debut novel, Fever was published by Woodhall Press in 2019, and his essays and short stories have appeared in Gravel Magazine, The Esthetic Apostle, the
Anthropoid Collective and others. For more information, visit nickmancuso.net or follow along on social media @ mancusonr.
Emma Patterson primarily writes fiction and personal essays, though she was able to explore all different writing styles as an English and Creative Writing major at Fredonia State University. She had the privilege of working
as a staff writer, and eventually as an editor, on her school’s newspaper The Leader. In May 2018, she received the Mary Louise White Award for Fiction. One of her short stories was also featured in her university’s literary
magazine. After graduating, she moved back home to Long Island, where she’s currently writing as much as she can in between shifts at Charlotte Russe and as a writer for a burgeoning app company.
Robert Sachs’ work has appeared most recently in The Louisville Review, the Chicago Quarterly Review, and the Delmarva Review. He earned an M.F.A. in Writing from Spalding University in 2009. His story, “Vondelpark,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017. Originally from Chicago, he currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky. He serves on the board of Louisville Literary Arts. Read more at roberthsachs.com.
Mike Wilson’s fiction has appeared in magazines including Appalachian Heritage, Solidago, The Seventh Wave, Fiction Southeast, and Deep South Magazine. He resides in Central Kentucky
Ian Woollen is currently broadcasting from Bloomington, Indiana. Recent short fiction at Moon City Review, Fiction Southeast, The SmokeLong Quarterly.
Thomay Worton is an Athenian electrical engineer by day and an English word engineer by night. Her work has appeared in B O D Y.
Photography Brenda Mann Hammack serves as coordinator for the creative writing concentration at Fayetteville State
University. Her first book, Humbug, was published in 2013. Her poetry, fiction, and photography has appeared or
is forthcoming in Menacing Hedge, Anthropoid, Rhino, Gargoyle, A capella Zoo, The Fabulist, 805, and Papercuts. She is the managing editor of Glint Literary Journal.
Edward Lee’s poetry, short stories, non-fiction and photography have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen, and Smiths Knoll. He is currently
working on two photography collections: Lying Down With The Dead and There Is A Beauty In Broken Things. He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca Collective, Lewis Milne, Orson Carroll, Blinded Architect, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy. His blog/website can be found at edwardmlee.wordpress.com
Keith Moul is a poet of place, a photographer of the distinction light adds to place. Both his poems and photos are published widely. His photos are digital, striving for high contrast and saturation, which makes his vision colorful (or weak, requiring enhancement). poemsphotosmoul.blogspot.com
Rebecca Pyle’s paintings and photographs are included in many journals, including Dream Noir, Tayo Magazine, JuxtaProse, and New England Review. Rebecca Pyle’s also a writer, whose essays, stories, and poetry are in
Muse/A Journal, Cobalt Review and Penn Review, and Belletrist and (forthcoming) LIT. She graduated from the
university the Wizard of Oz adored, The University of Kansas, then spent almost a decade of her life living in New York, east state and west state, and now lives in Utah, between The Great Salt Lake and the old mountain mining town where Sundance, the film festival, takes place in winter. See rebeccapyleartist.com.
Poetry Daisy Bassen is a practicing physician and poet. She graduated from Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program. She completed her medical training at The University of Rochester and Brown. Her work has been
published in Oberon, The Delmarva Review, The Sow’s Ear, and Tuck Magazine as well as multiple other journals. She was a semi-finalist in the 2016 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, a finalist in the 2018 Adelaide Literary Prize, a recent winner of the So to Speak 2019 Poetry Contest and is doubly nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. She lives in Rhode Island with her family.
Barry Biechner is a poet whose work has appeared in CIRQUE. He pays the bills as a river guide in Idaho. Teresa McLamb Blackmon is a retired high school English teacher.
She graduated from NCSU in 1984 with
a MA in English. She graduated in 1995 from NCCU with an MLS. Teresa lives on a farm near Benson with
her dogs, donkeys, and goats. She recently lived in Radford, Virginia. She has had poems published in Toasted
Cheese, Absinthe, The News & Observer, Poet Lore, and Cellar 101 Anthology, Nochua Review, and various local community publications.
Chase Dimock teaches at College of the Canyons and lives in Los Angeles. He serves as the Managing Editor of
As It Ought To Be Magazine. His poetry has been published in Waccamaw, Hot Metal Bridge, Faultline, Saw Palm, New Mexico Review, and Flyway among others. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois and his scholarship in World Literature and LGBT Studies has appeared in College Literature, Western American Literature, The Lambda Literary Review, and several edited anthologies.
Scott Ferry helps our Veterans heal as a RN. His work can be found in Cultural Weekly, Cathexis NW, and Mac
Queen’s Quinterly, among many others. He was a finalist in the Write Bloody Chapbook Contest in 2019. His first collection The Only Thing That Makes Sense Is to Grow was published in early 2020. His second collection is forthcoming in Autumn 2020. More of his work can be found at ferrypoetry.com.
Chad Foret is a PhD student in creative writing, teacher, and editor of Arete at the University of Southern
Mississippi. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New Poets, Tupelo Quarterly, Spoon River Poetry Review, and other journals and anthologies.
Jim Garber finds his poetic voice in the rhythms and tones of everyday speech interspersed with quotidian
absurdities. He won runner-up in the 2017 Elizabeth R. Curry Poetry Contest. He was co-editor of Bring Me a
Lamp: An Anthology of Poems by Modern Iranian Poets. Two of his poems are included in Visions: An Anthology
of Ekphrastic Poetry. He is co-president of the Katonah Poetry Series and serves on the organizing committee for Poets Corner at Tompkins Corner Cultural Center. He reads regularly at poetry events in and around the greater New York City area. His other passions include playing traditional music on fiddle, mandolin and guitar.
Natalie Gasper is an internationally performed poet whose work has appeared in The Write Launch, The Hickory Stump, Sheila-Na-Gig, Noon by Arachne Press, and ellipsis…literature & art, amongst others. She works as an
interviewer for The Nasiona and is a developmental editor for Envie, a Magazine for the Literary Curious. Find her on Twitter @NatalieGasper.
Candice Kelsey’s debut book of poetry Still I am Pushing just released with
Finishing Line Press. Her poetry has appeared in Poets Reading the News, Poet Lore, and others while her
micro-chapbook The Pier House is forthcoming with the Origami Poetry Project. She won the 2019 Two Sisters Writing’s Steve Carr Contest, received Honorable Mention for Common Ground’s 2019 Poetry Contest, and was
nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Currently, she is working with the O, Miami Poetry Festival on an exciting project. An educator in Los Angeles for 21 years, she is devoted to working with young writers.
Alie Kloefkorn works as a proofreader and editor based in Boston. Her poems have appeared in The Penn Review, Into the Void, and GRLSQUASH, among other journals. Her chapbook, Hackberry Down, can be downloaded at akloefkorn.com.
Ms. Matthews currently studies Creative Writing at Trinity College in Ireland. While she considers California
home, she spent a better part of her childhood in New England and Canada and has lived, studied, and traveled abroad in Latin America, Europe, the Caribbean, and Japan. She lives in Dublin, where she is working on a collection of short stories about growing up Native American.
Craig McGeady is from Greymouth, New Zealand and lives with his wife and two daughters in Xuzhou, China. His writing runs the gamut of length and form thanks to a homeroom teacher with a penchant for Michael Moorcock. He has poems published or forthcoming in The Garfield Lake Review, The Wild Word, The Cicada’s Cry, The
Remembered Arts Journal, Underwood, Genre: Urban Arts and Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing and is winner of the 2018 Given Words ‘The Spanish Connection’ Poetry Competition.
Jesse Millner’s poems and prose have appeared most recently in Steam Ticket, The Split Rock Review, The
Comstock Review, The South Florida Poetry Journal, and The West Texas Literary Review. His latest poetry book, Memory’s Blue Sedan, was released by Hysterical Press in April 2020. Jesse teaches writing courses at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida.
Vito Monti teaches English at Walt Whitman High School on Long Island, NY where he served four years as
managing editor for The Alternative, a literary journal featuring the work of at risk students. He is the founder
and co-producer for The Collective, a music and studio recording program which helps students write, record and engineer original music. His poetry has appeared in Common Ground Review and The Nassau Review. He enjoys surfing, drumming and playing guitar.
James B. Nicola’s poems have appeared stateside in the Antioch, Southwest and Atlanta Reviews; Rattle; Tar
River; and Poetry East. A Yale graduate, he won a Dana Literary Award, two Willow Review awards, a People’s
Choice award (from Storyteller), and six Pushcart nominations for which he feels both stunned and grateful. His nonfiction book Playing the Audience won a Choice award. His poetry collections are Manhattan Plaza (2014),
Stage to Page: Poems from the Theater (2016), Wind in the Cave (2017), and Out of Nothing: Poems of Art and Artists (2018).
Dave Nielsen is the author of a collection of poems titled Unfinished Figures. Recent poems have been published or are forthcoming in Ramblr, 45th Parallel, and The Aurorean. He is very excited to be included in Apeiron Review!
Carly Noble is a junior at Summit High School in New Jersey. She had been recognized nationally by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and has forthcoming work in other publications.
Emily Patterson is a writer and editor in Columbus, Ohio. She studied English and Music at Ohio Wesleyan
University, where she was awarded the F.L. Hunt Prize for most promising creative writer and the Marie Drennan Prize for Poetry. Emily’s work has appeared in Spry Literary Journal, catheXis Northwest Press, The Pinkley
Press, Better Than Starbucks, and Harness Magazine (“Issue III: Poetry & Motherhood”), among others. Emily is currently writing her first chapbook of poems and will be completing her MA in Children’s Literature at The Ohio State University this spring.
Julie Phillips Brown is a poet, painter, scholar, and book artist. Her poems and essays have previously appeared or are forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Conjunctions, Crab Orchard Review, Denver Quarterly, Interim, Jacket2, Posit, Plume, Rappahannock Review, Tahoma Literary Review, Talisman, Vinyl, and elsewhere. She
currently lives in Lexington, Virginia, where she teaches creative writing, studio art, and American literature. Donna Pucciani, a Chicago-based writer, has published poetry worldwide in such diverse journals as Shi Chao
Poetry, Gradiva, Poetry Salzburg, Journal of Italian Translation, and The Pedestal. Her most recent book of poems is EDGES.
Isaac Rankin is an educator in his professional life, working at an all-boys boarding school, Christ School, where he have served as a teacher, coach, and administrator for the last eight years. He and his wife, Rebecca, have a
young son, James Isaac. When I’m not immersed in boarding school life, he enjoys paddle boarding, traveling near and far, and reading all kinds of poetry and other writing.
Peter Shaver has had poems selected for publication in Esprit, Catfish Creek, the Bridge, Dime Store Review, and an Arachne Press anthology. Shaver won the University of Scranton’s Berrier Poetry Award and a SCCC Creative Writing Award.
Eliana Swerdlow is an undergraduate at Yale University. She’s a Human Rights scholar studying English. Most recently, she was a student in Louise Glück’s advanced poetry workshop. In New Haven, she’s an editor for the street publication Elm City Echo. Her work has appeared previously in Tinderbox Poetry Journal.
Jessica Weible is a former English teacher and freelance writer who started her own local, nonprofit literary
magazine in Northwestern PA as a way to bolster regional support and publishing opportunities for Northern Appalachian writers.
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