Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Letter from the Editor We’re very close to the end of 2019 as I type these words. I had hoped to get this digital issue out sooner, but life and holidays got in the way. Nevertheless, we finish the year with another gigantic issue of A+A for you to enjoy (almost 70 pages of material!). We only published two official issues in 2019, but we ended up featuring roughly the same number of authors for the year (thus the oversized digital magazine). In these pages, you’ll find what you’ve come to expect from A+A: essays that dig deep into the self; fiction that skews reality (or toys with the environment) to speak truth; and poetry that observes the human condition. As always, our amazing editors have chosen exceptional work for you to read. I wish you a healthy and happy 2020. XO, BW
Editorial Board Founder: Brendan Todt • Editor in Chief: Benjamin Woodard Poetry Editors: Liz Ann Young & Summar West Fiction Editors: Whitney Bryant & Cathy Ulrich Creative Nonfiction Editor: Kristen M. Ploetz Assistant Editor: Mike Nagel
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Table of Contents Rachel Laverdiere ≈
Aslan Demir ≈
Nathan Willis ƒ
Wholesale Ghost Hearts
Cheryl Pappas ƒ
Cathy Mellett ƒ
The Green Bridge
Judith Roney †
Jennifer Fliss ≈
My Body Is an Aquarium
Benjamin Niespodziany ƒ
Guadalajara Funeral Parlor
Sutton Strother ƒ
When I Say You’re Welcome What I Mean Is My Pleasure
DiAnne Malone ≈
Ace Boggess †
I Watch a Drug Deal Happen
Christine Offutt ƒ
A Hand on My Shoulder
Candice Kelsey †
Jackie Kenny ƒ
Anna Hundert ≈
Mialise Carney ƒ
When Lagoons Turn Lavender
Sophia Roumeliotis ≈
WHAT I ATE WHY
Daryl Sznyter †
Call for Submissions
Fiction – ƒ
CNF – ≈
Poetry – †
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Issue 15, Summer/Fall 2019 Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine Sioux City, Iowa www.atlasandalice.com firstname.lastname@example.org
ÂŠ Atlas and Alice, All Rights Reserved
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Loss Uğruna ne canlar yitirdim ey körolası özgürlük Ne çok dışlandım, katledildim, oysa kaderimdi Kürtlük Lives I have lost for your sake, you bloody freedom I have been ostracized, slaughtered Yet it was only my destiny to be Kurdish It was the beginning of spring, still the doldrums of the year as the mountains and hills were still shrouded in white. Nature was yet virgin, quiet and shameful. But the wind already had begun to warm, prophesizing spring. The trees that were naked and brittle would grow over the span of a few moonless nights. The sunrays piercing the heart of mountains and hills would hit limbs pointing the red bud of the new life stirring at the tips of the crackly brown bark. Soon, the snowdrops would make their appearance, not letting white disappear on the skirts as snow jilted. Though the high mountains of Kurdistan dominantly stay shrouded in white, like a damsel’s scarf, year round, as the sunrays pierce their chests, they melt envying the hectic life on the skirts and provide water to the inhabitants. Soon, the hills behind Texchan would blossom, and within a few sunsets, Texchan village would be the prettiest place on earth. The newborn lambs and goats would jump joyfully around their mothers, appreciating life, while shepherds mounting hills after them worked off their wintery rust. Like the plants and animals, the children of Texchan sensed the coming of the sun and would greet it wholeheartedly by joining the joy of spring. Soon, the snow
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 melt was going to unblock the roads to the city, and peddlers would bring the balls, toys, popsicles, and ice cream children have been so looking forward to. And children would run after the ice cream man, showing their appreciation for showing up. Mothers would cook fresh vegetables after having dried stocks throughout winter, and fathers would buy fruits if they could. People were going to breathe in the smell of soil and touch it, and cultivate it, and feel it, appreciating its fertility. After all, they all knew it’s what they came from, and it’s what they were going to return to. Yet that fertile virgin soil was not just foretelling spring, but so much more to come that would change our lives forever. Everything was in harmony; everything, until they showed up. On a chilly morning, they came. They rammed our doors and stormed into our houses. They searched the houses with dogs barking and breaking our things. They gathered men of age in the center of the village and handcuffed them backward. They bent them on their knees. Some of those resisted and got hit with the butt of their rifles, like my uncle. And they took them away. They took my father away. Texchan village was no longer the prettiest place on earth. For two months, we anxiously waited in fear, but my father didn’t come. Snow melted, and the village was stuck. Mud flowed from the hills and mountains around us. Early blossomed nature got hit with frost, and the red buds of new life shrunk in their brown cradles. Some of the trees remained naked, and with wind blowing, they looked like deserted dogs barking at heaven. It rained a lot, as if nature was trying to purify the earth of sins. Thus, I didn’t go out much. There was nothing out there that I cared to see. I didn’t see children running after the ice cream man. Maybe he didn’t come at all. The peddler did come, but he didn’t stop in our neighborhood. Who cared? His toys were already stupid cheap stuff. My father’s hand-carved dolls, cradles, and toys were always my favorite ones. On the first day of my school life, before sending me to school, he gave me a wooden pen. It was elegantly handcrafted from wood with the words Jin Jiyan Azadi (Women, Life, Freedom) written on it. I knew he made it for me with his own hands. I still have it and write my stories with that pen. Being accused of helping enemies of the state, two months later, my father and his friends, one of them limping, appeared at the court in bruises. They were found innocent and released. Later, on their way home, someone in a white Toros cut them off on the road, claiming to be working for the state, and arrested my father again, at least according to his friends. The white Toros cars were known to be used by JITEM at that time. Their appearance was regarded as a bad omen. People rarely returned back to their families once taken by them, and those who did come back were never the same. Even though JİTEM’s existence was denied for years by its Headquarters and Main General Staff, in Kurdish regions every man and woman was familiar with their loathsomeness, 9
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 assassins, and drug dealings. People of Kurdish regions were used to seeing them dominantly dressed like guerillas, or sometimes casually like civilians. They could dress like anyone and do anything they wanted. No laws were applied to them. They were the law. That year, in autumn, they also took my uncle, S.H., who was the elected mayor of the town from the Kurdish political party HADEP. They disappeared with him for a long time, and when he returned, he was not the same. He could barely walk, eat, or sleep for a long time. He was tortured so much, which later became the cause of his partial body paralysis. Sometimes one would almost be better dead than being taken by JITEM. After my father was taken, things were never the same at home. My mother stopped weaving rugs, and she cried whenever she was alone. I tried to not leave her alone as much as I could. During the day, relatives and neighbors would visit us, after we kids were sent out so not to hear their scary assumptions, as if there was anything scarier than being an orphan. They talked about how worried they were, and showed empathy, again leaving my mum in tears. During the night, thinking we were asleep, she would cry again while watching the roads like dust on the window until dawn was in the scary woods on the hills beyond. Days flowed like the waters of Dicle River, but even water hurts if it flows through a wound. The passing days stole our hope since no good news was to be seen on the horizon. The hopelessness consumed my mother. She became so thin that her finger couldn’t hold her wedding ring. She was listening to a lot, but was not hearing much. Her heart was not ready to digest what people were telling her. She didn’t have that strength. None of us did. She was barely eating. Her grief was affecting my baby brother, too, and he cried all the time, for she could not breastfeed him enough. If she ever fell asleep, exhausted from tears, she would wake up screaming. In my father’s absence, life was like death, but nobody had died yet. For two months we waited, but no news came. Meanwhile, my mother visited police stations over and over again carrying us with her. But there was no such record of my father being taken again. They said they released him among others, and they could not be held responsible for what had happened to him afterward. Initially, they pretended to be concerned by making phone calls and said we were welcome to check everywhere we could. But we knew that wouldn’t change anything. They asked if we had enemies or honor killings. Later on, as our visits yielded no benefit, they made it obvious that they were being disturbed by our visits. They started making fun of my mother. But my mother was not a spiritless woman. She insulted them back, and in the end, they threw us out. Finally, they said they were going to put us in jail if we ever came back and disturbed them again. She was not afraid of them for herself, but for us. If she was put in jail, what would become of us children? She taught me how to get back to the village with my baby brother and younger sister if ever such a thing
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 happened. Mom tried to reach people who had power, but it was useless; they all got stuck at some points and said something beyond their control was going on. Every door we knocked for help, was shut back on our face. Every time we returned back, empty-handedly, the face of Texchan village changed for us. I prayed to God to send a storm to knock the walls of wherever my father was being kept (as neighbors speculated). I prayed constantly for the corrupt system to decay fast, but, deep down in my heart, I knew it was my mother who was declining faster. Watching the endless empty roads through windows became part of my mother’s life. She wanted to believe he would return to us someday. And, like a quivering flame of a candle she wanted to light his way back to us like a lighthouse. But father was not lost to the sea or anything natural of that kind. Rather, to a kind of Gog and Magog. Life, fertility, peace, compassion, mercy and so many similar virtues are attributed to mothers. That’s why we have mother earth, mother language, motherland, mother soil and so many more attributions in other languages. But, after we lost my father, my mother lost her life and her peace. She became like a desert as our neighbors gossiped. They blamed her for not taking care of us well. But we knew it was not true. They didn’t leave us in peace. So, one day, mother came home and said she had rented a place in the city, and we had to move. There was not much for us in the village anymore. Besides, coming to the city every week two or three times looking for father was not easy for mom, because we dragged her down. We didn’t take all we had because she said soon we were going to move back once father returned. We loaded father’s van with essentials, and left Texchan village with the sunrise. That summer morning would remain in my memories for the rest of my life. The village was still and silent, like a grave. I could hear the water hitting the stones in Axur creek. Leaves battled with the wind among the branches of trees lining the creek. Fresh dewy grass bowed allegiance towards whichever side the wild wind was attacking. I could feel the wind on my face and moist eyes. The roads were still empty when sunrise broke the day. Mom started the engine and left our narrow street, getting on the main road towards the city. As we left the neighborhood, a barking dog chased us. Mother killed the barking with the accelerator and the village disappeared in the dusty roads behind us. By going to police stations we came to learn there were thousands of others lost like my father. We heard people whisper such stories in fear, but we didn’t know someone personally who had lost a family member. I was old enough to know that Kurdish names were forbidden. That’s why most of us had two names: one for our lives and one for the state. Listening to Kurdish music was also forbidden; that’s why our music cassettes were always kept hidden. Patients were thrown out of hospitals for not 11
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 being able to speak in Turkish. Students, some of them my friends, were constantly slapped or somehow punished by teachers at schools for not being able to speak Turkish. They were not trying to annoy the teachers, but the only Turkish they knew, theyâ€™d learned from their teachers or TV. Family members were going missing, and people who went after them faced the same fate. Whenever someone tried to rise against the injustice and oppression by becoming a voice for the innocent and oppressed, he or she disappeared or was somehow silenced. And there was not a single competent or judicial authority willing to change the misfortune of these people. It was then that I promised myself to grow up and lead a life for this cause. Standing against injustice with the oppressed, regardless of their dissimilarities. It was then, after I lost my father, that I promised to be their voice. After we moved to the city, mom left me at home to take care of my siblings. She went to meet with others to look for father. Every day, she left home after I came from school, and came back with the dark. A few months later, mother went back to the village and brought her weaving loom. She started knitting again. But this time, she started embroidering dark figures, wild animals, owls, and shrubs, all looking formidable. Circles into circles, windows into windows and doors into doors all were getting smaller and smaller, until your hypnotized eyes were led into a puzzled dark nothingness. When we needed the money, she also started accepting orders and knitted rugs for people. I helped her, and we started making enough money to pay for lawyers and others who were helping us. She did have a huge collection of special rugs. But she refused to sell them, even when we couldnâ€™t pay the bills. I knew they were important to her. They were her memories. Her memories with my father that she wove into the rugs knot by knot. Darkness wove over the sun. Snow wove over the earth. The earth wove its way around the sun. Days over days, seasons over seasons, and lives over lives were woven lustfully, cheerfully, artfully, but nothing different over our lives. Mom stopped going to police stations and started to meet with other people who had also lost their family members. Not a day went by without a new missing case of a father or a son whispered in fear in the dark corners. Years passed, but nothing changed. They started working with associations that stood for human rights. A group of mothers started gathering and became known as Saturday Mothers. Years passed. I am not sure whether it was time or its inflicted pain that hit my mother harder, but eventually her eyes repented to the colors and went dark. We gave up on finding father alive. We just wanted his dead body to be delivered. Now, at the age of 41, every time I see a father and a daughter walking hand in hand, I feel that pain branded under my left rib. We never found him to lose. We never had his body to bury, to have a proper funeral, to say prayers, to read the Quran beside him, to cry and mourn after him, to know where he lay, to visit his grave on Holy Eids.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 That’s why my mother’s tears and elegies never stopped until she passed away. Day and night don’t make any difference; being an orphan always has the same dull color. There is no such thing as forgetting the pain, I just got used to it, and learned to live with it. It’s like death, but I’m still breathing.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Wholesale Ghost Hearts The ghost hearts fill my body like Styrofoam nuggets. I can only take them out one at a time and only at certain places. So far, those places include the roof of the high school that Karen went to, the house grandma lived in before the home, the church where we had all the funerals and any cemetery in the world as long as it’s not the one where my dad is buried. The surgery itself is easy. The whole thing only takes ten minutes. I lay on my back and close my eyes. I don’t listen to music and I don’t need to remove my clothing. I hold my hands over my chest. They rise and fall without rhythm. My fingers pluck and squeeze until my rib cage splits open. Then I feel around inside until I find a ghost heart. When I get home, I put it in a jar and mark the lid with my initials. I don’t know if that’s necessary, but it seems like if it was inside of me, it should go in something else. And the jars are working. None of the hearts have stopped. There are only fourteen so far, but Mom says we need to come up with a plan. If we don’t do something soon, the house will fill up and there won’t be room for us.
I agree to try the flea market. It’s not regulated and we can set our own terms. Our spot is between a couple of kids selling baseball cards and a pear-shaped man in overalls selling VHS tapes of movies he recorded from basic cable. Mom says I shouldn’t feel bad. This was going to happen no matter what. It doesn’t change anything. What I do is still special. We put the jars out on the table and hang our sign. It reads Wholesale Ghost Hearts.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 No one asks about the price. They want to know how many are in each jar. Are they fresh? Were the ghosts good ghosts or bad ghosts? They look me in the eye and want to know if a ghost can live without its heart. I tell them I’m honestly not sure. The market begins to wind down. I haven’t made a single sale but this isn’t about money. It’s about moving stock. It’s about making room for more. I pick someone out of the crowd who looks like me and call him over. He’s reluctant to take a heart until I tell him he’ll be able to see it once he’s felt as much as the ghost did. I have no idea if this is true but saying it, I felt like I was finally doing something right. After that, I gave the hearts away one right after another until they were gone. We packed up to leave and when we got to the parking lot we saw broken glass all over the asphalt. The lids were there, too. There were fourteen and they were all mine. Mom tried to come up with an explanation on the spot about why people are hurtful and thoughtless. She’s still working on it, making revisions and updating me whenever she finds better words. She thinks that if she can explain human tragedy, it will protect me forever. Or at least from now on.
Dad’s headstone is all the way in the back corner of the cemetery. Mom never told me it had our names on it. I lay on the ground and close my eyes. Everything is quiet. My hands do the slow joyless dance over my chest. I’m patient. I make adjustments. I go fast, then slow. I take a break after an hour and try again. I try all night long.
The next weekend, I go to the flea market by myself. I am between a shirtless man with a cage of newborn puppies and a woman selling three pieces of matching jewelry. She’ll sell them separately or as a set at a discount. A woman with two kids walks by. She doesn’t look like she’s taking good care of them or herself. She looks like my mom if things had gone differently. I point at my chest and tell her I pull hearts out of here all the time. Does she want to see if she can get one? She tells the kids to play with the dogs. I show her how to move her hands. She doesn’t listen. She flails her fingers like she’s playing a stone piano. She is having fun. I want to give up but she keeps going. I pretend to feel something and then she pretends to pull something out. She holds it in her hands and acts like it is pumping so hard she has to juggle to keep from dropping it. She says she’s going to treasure it forever and she means it. Someone else comes up and asks if they can try. Behind them, a line begins to form. 15
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Hunger Roger has 22 apples. He gives 5 to his baby sister, Rory. Rory says No Fair and hits him with a stick. How many apples does Roger have now? The new movie theater in town, with plush velvet seats, charges $28 a ticket. Dave and Michelle have $14.38 in their account, because Dave lost his job. If they didnâ€™t pay more than the minimum balance of $37 for five years, how much would they have to pay their credit card, including interest, to take little Ricky and Mike to see the new Disney film? Sherry is an only child born in a small town in New Hampshire (there were farms, meadows, and an uncle who touched her). She has lived in 12 cities since high school. How many new cities will she unpack boxes in before she arrives at home in herself? Bonus if you can figure out how many rehab clinics. Donald Trump is president. Suzy brings 20 balloons to the birthday party of her former lover. Her former lover kisses her in the corner of the closed-off bedroom and pops 1 balloon in between their bodies.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 How many times does the scene play out in her head for the next two months while she is doing dishes, folding the laundry, checking her messages? There are 567 daffodils in the field. 1 bulldozer is parked on a new dirt road nearby. How many daffodils are left after two weeks?
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
The Green Bridge My mother Marnie was visiting us again. She said she left her husband for good this time. It was always for good, and she always went back to him. But for now, she was living with my grandmother and me. The first day Marnie was home, she phoned a friend of hers. I heard her say, “Sometimes I just wish there were nothing in the world to hold me back.” She wanted to be away from Grandmother and me for good, too. My grandmother always told me, “You need to get to know your mother better.” For this visit, Grandmother engineered a shopping trip. She said that if I was good and didn’t aggravate my mother—because she was nervous—I’d also get a trip to the church carnival that weekend. So we were off. Marnie gripped my hand so hard it hurt. She had a task to do— take her daughter shopping—and she was going to do it if it killed her. When we were standing in front of our house, I let go of Marnie’s hand just long enough to pet our neighbor’s dog, a little Pekinese with a face almost as flat as a plate. Marnie took my hand between both of her beautiful hands, sandwiched it like a little hamburger. The neighbor lady was saying how nice it was to see Marnie, she hadn’t seen her in so long, and how sweet it was for Marnie to be taking her little niece shopping for the afternoon. I was used to being the little niece. Grandmother had warned me that if people knew Marnie wasn’t married when she had me, they wouldn’t like Marnie. And they wouldn’t like me either. The neighbor and her dog went into their house, and Marnie and I started walking to downtown. In a few blocks, we came to the bridge with the tall wrought
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 iron railings. The section we were standing in was green with fresh paint. Marnie told me, “Don’t get near the railing. Don’t look over.” I had no intention of looking over the railing. I passed over that river to go to downtown every Thursday in the summer. Except I was always with my grandmother who knew what to talk about on a shopping trip: what she was going to buy me and where we were going to have lunch. She’d given Marnie three tasks: to buy a new dress for me, something nice for herself, and a wedding present for Cousin Dennis and his new wife. Grandmother had given Marnie her department store charge card. She didn’t trust her with real money. With real money, she might go to a drugstore and buy too much medicine for her nerves. She already had enough medicine. If she took too much, she’d either get really aggravated or fall asleep. I was excited about the new dress. I liked the way new material felt against my stomach and how the saleswomen would tell me I look pretty. I couldn’t wait. When my mother warned me about the painted railing one more time, she stepped toward it herself with a look that was both playful and inviting. The kind of look my best friend Martha gave me when she dared me to do something we shouldn’t be doing, something new and a lot of fun. There was nothing new over that railing. The colors in the river were just swirling and muddy like my paints when I mixed too many colors. There were no boats or ducks or rocks to look at. But now there was green paint on my pink-and-white checkered dress, my favorite. And although Marnie was very angry (“severely aggravated,” she said in her fiercest whisper), she smiled as she pointed at what I had done. In the same tone of voice she used when she said, “Don’t look over,” she now said, “I told you so, I told you.” As we passed the workmen at the other end of the bridge, Marnie talked loudly about a little girl who was a bad girl, a very naughty girl, a little girl who got paint on her dress on purpose. Marnie’s voice sounded like the kind of voice Martha and I used when we were play-acting, high pitched and sing-songy. I thought those men would probably figure out that Marnie was talking about me. This all meant that I was a word Grandmother used when she talked about Marnie. I was incorrigible. At the store, Marnie ignored me at first, which was awful because what if she got really mad and left me there? It meant something else bad, too. It meant we probably wouldn’t be going to the carnival that weekend. The clerks knew my grandmother and me by name, and when the lady with white hair saw me, she said, “Here she is! Here’s my girl! Lydia. I saved something for you, dear.” She went behind the counter, brought out a cutout cardboard zoo with brown mountains for the background and lots of light blue sky and green grass, and gave it to me. I already knew I would never forget that zoo. The ground had narrow slots, and the animals had tabs under their feet so they could be stuck into different 19
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 poses all over the zoo. I wanted to go home right away and play with it. I told this to the saleswoman, and she laughed and patted my head. Because I wasn’t paying attention to her, Marnie picked up my hand, squeezed it hard, and whispered, “Lydia, you’re aggravating me.” This scared me. I not only forgot what I was doing but what I was thinking as well. Each time we went to a new department, I would offer my hand and Marnie would ignore me or dig through her purse for the charge card. Once, when I tried to take her hand, Marnie said, “Oh, come on, now. You’re too big for that,” even though I always held hands with Grandmother. Marnie kept rushing ahead as if she was somebody else’s mother. We passed the toy department, and I got happy, because the fact that we were there at all seemed to be a sign that I was forgiven. But Marnie turned to me and looked at the green paint spot on my dress. “I was going to get you something, but no,” she said. “Nothing for you. Not today. Not after what you did to your dress. And if you don’t behave, you can forget about the carnival, too. I’ll tell Mother what you did.” Now, she clutched my hand and took a shortcut through Toys to the Housewares department, where a woman wearing a bright pink smock waited on us. The woman had a shiny steel pot that she brought with her, as if she were doomed to carry it around wherever she went. She looked like a grandmother, and now the two of us—the saleswoman and I—followed Marnie around as if we were in a little parade. “I’m looking for a wedding gift,” Marnie explained, “although I can’t imagine anyone wanting to get married these days, can you?” The woman laughed and patted my head. “This little one will get married some day, won’t you, dear? Most people end up in a married state.” I quickly focused on a bowl of plastic eggs in front of me so I could pretend I didn’t hear. This was no time to take sides. When the saleswoman thought I wasn’t paying attention, she whispered to Marnie, “Marriage is certainly better than the alternative, if you know what I mean.” Marnie’s face got red. “What I mean is, with the state of the world these days, we’re probably all going to get blown up, don’t you think? So, why bother?” “Well, we should always bother, dear. Otherwise, what’s the point?” She spoke slowly as if considering the matter and fingered the rim of the pot over and over. “My grandson is opposed to this war we’re going to be in. He marched in Washington and got the whole family to sign petitions to remove the President. He’s the one who’s putting us in harm’s way. My grandson says if there’s ever a nuclear war, the cockroaches are the only things that will survive.” Marnie picked up an enameled frying pan with flowers around the rim and set it down as quickly as if it burned her.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 The saleswoman continued. “He’s interested in other things, too. Whales, I think. Or dolphins.” She laughed. “I always get them mixed up. But the point is, dear, we have to care about something.” Marnie pointed to a set of baking pans as if she didn’t want to touch them. “I’ll take those. They’ll be perfect.” She searched in her purse for the address Grandmother had written down. “I’ll send them . . . it’s just that there are so many terrible things happening in the world. And so much crime.” “Oh, I know,” the saleswoman said, putting her pot down to ring up the purchase. “But that’s no reason to stop getting married, to stop having children, to stop, well, living. Why, I had six children, and they’re the delight of my life.” Now Marnie would have to talk to me. She would have to say something—that people don’t breed like rabbits or dogs and that no one in her right mind would have six children. She’d said it all before. And Grandmother agreed. “Common,” Marnie whispered to me as we waited for the elevator. I nodded. I would never confess that I planned to have at least five children. That way, I would always have someone to play with. I knew that because I wanted so many children, Marnie would think I was common, too. Marnie whispered, “That saleswoman said ‘cockroaches.’ We don’t use that word. We say ‘waterbugs.’ It’s much more polite.” I didn’t make sense to call one thing by another name, but I agreed anyway. We stopped in the Women’s Dress Department. Plush beige carpeting stretched from one wall to the next. I dragged my foot hard on the carpet to make a mark when Marnie’s back was turned. My body felt like it was boiling under my skin, and doing this helped. Marnie was talking again about commonness and was relating it to me for asking how much a dress cost, right in front of the clerk. “If you keep it up, you won’t be going to the carnival,” Marnie said. Her blue eyes were so bright they were hard to look at. Like a pair of ugly blue marbles my friend and I found in the park one day and buried near the base of an old oak tree. Marnie glanced at the carpet where I had made the marks with my shoe. I knew she would not punish me right then but I wondered when it would happen and how. I knew there would be no new dress for me. It was best to not even bring it up. On the way home in the cab, she got happy and hugged me and whispered, “I don’t want to be mean, Lydia. I don’t want to. Something just comes over me. I can’t help it. I don’t feel well. You know I love you, don’t you? I love you, Lydia.” And I whispered back, like I was telling a secret, “I know, Marnie. I love you, too.” I did love her. She was my mother. I loved her best when she plaited my hair and played bingo with me or hide and seek or Old Maid. I loved her when she was herself. But sometimes she was, as my grandmother said, “unpredictable.” So unpredictable that she did crazy things that made it hard to love her every day. 21
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 “Don’t tell Grandmother about what happened, okay?” Marnie said. “I won’t,” I said, and I meant it. I wasn’t good at keeping secrets, but there really wasn’t much to tell. Shopping with Marnie was always the same. She got happy, and then she got sad, and then she felt sick, and then we went home by cab so we could get there fast and she could go right to bed. Our outings usually ended with Grandmother giving her some pills and tucking her in.
I was good the rest of the week, so on Saturday we went to the carnival. Marnie and I played all the games, and I rode ponies. Dusty, Sugar, and Blossom. I’d never been on a horse before, but I had always wanted to try it. Grandmother would have probably said no, it was too dangerous, I might fall, but Marnie said it was okay. I loved the way the ponies knew just where they were going and how beautifully their hair was braided and how, if you held up your hand, they licked it with whiskers that tickled. And as I rode around the ring, the wind whipped my hair around my face, and the look on faces of the kids whose parents wouldn’t let them ride told me something I already knew: that I was lucky. It had been a wonderful day, one of the best we’d had together. We’d been at the carnival since lunchtime, and Marnie hadn’t gotten sick once. We saved the Ferris wheel for last because it was Marnie’s favorite. We got on, and the ride went up in one quick lurch with Marnie and me inside one of the cages, like a huge pumpkin made of chicken wire. We were the first in line and hung suspended for a long time while the other people got on. The city bobbed around us. I could see the bridge. At least, I thought it was the bridge near our house. It looked so far away. Marnie had bought several tickets so we could stay on and ride a second time or even a third if we wanted. When we were at the very top, she reached for my hand. “Oh, Lydia,” she said. Her face reminded me of my Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Williams, when she talked about The Rapture. “I was just thinking . . .” “About another pony ride?” “No. I was just thinking. If we could die together. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Wouldn’t that be . . . I mean,” she said, looking at me, “it would be a way to rid ourselves of all the sickness and destruction in the world. What do you think, sweetheart? I could open the door and we could just jump. The two of us. Together.” Now her blue eyes reminded me of a doll I had whose eyes always stuck open when you tried to put her to sleep. I wanted to throw that doll away, but Grandmother said I should keep her because she was a gift from my mother. So I hid the doll behind the bushes in the garden. I looked for her once because I felt bad about throwing her away, but I couldn’t find her.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 I turned from Marnie and looked through the bars of the cage to the hills and the valleys of the city. Beautiful green grass bobbed all around us. I felt the smoothness of my cheek up and down, up and down, with the back of my hand. Marnie looked so happy. Her fingers clutched the sides of the swaying cage. What she said is a secret, I thought. A secret to keep until I can throw the words away forever. I pretended the secret was a stone I threw off the green bridge, plunk, into the water below. Just then, Marnie said, “Listen to me, Lydia. You know I love you, don’t you? You know I don’t want to be mean.” With her creamy white skin, long black hair, and big blue eyes, everyone said Marnie was beautiful. But right now, her face reminded me of our neighbor’s dog with its big pop-eyes and that crazy, gummy grin stretched wide across is face. That’s what she looked like. A dog. I couldn’t possibly take her seriously. “You go first,” I said. She looked confused. “I’m going to live to be a hundred,” I told her. “And I’m going to have five children and all my children are going to love me. And I’m going to sleep in a great big bed with all my dogs!” I drew my hands up like paws, barked, and licked Marnie’s horrified face. She wiped my spit away with the back of her hand and looked at me, disgusted. I felt great that I upset her. It made me feel giddy and solid and warm. It was new and wonderful and delicious. She kept gazing at me, wide eyed and shocked. I told her once again to jump. But she didn’t.
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Confirmation Number The Verizon associate who had a thick accent took my credit card number, the expiration date and the three numbers on the back of the card that seem to carry so much weight you canâ€™t buy food without them. The monthly bill for two phones and an Apple watch was $299.85. I asked Tatiana if she remembered when all phones had cords that plugged into a wall, but she was too young for reminiscing. After she placed me on hold she came back on the line
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to tell me my confirmation number: 854937158952209875 I wrote it down on a piece of paper that Iâ€™ll never staple to the bill but I donâ€™t know why I wrote it down since another associate once told me those long numbers they give us like lifelines or proof we existed on a certain day and time donâ€™t really mean a thing. .
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My Body Is an Aquarium Up to 60% of a woman’s body is made of water.
There was a time I was so sick I ate nothing. My illness lasted for three months and doctors could not figure out what was causing me such pain. I worked at an aquarium at the time. It was a good place to start, being young and new to town. It was a civic centerpiece of a marine city. I made friends. I walked to the office. I liked the work. I watched harbor seals frolic in the bay when I needed inspiration. It was wonderful until it wasn’t. I had no idea about the lionfish.
I moved from my home, New York, to Seattle. In my twenties still, I was young and thin and healthy. Seattle was really different.
I wonder why scientific names are always italicized. It’s like an exclusive way for the marine biologists and scientists to step in when you say “clownfish” or “seahorse.” This is how the conversation must go: You: “So, yeah, I was just Aquarium Staff: “Sea star.” Marine Biologist: “Asteroidea.”
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Like many aquariums, this one had touch tanks, which were a major attraction for those under four feet tall. The tanks were meant to mimic the natural habitat of the creatures within: flowing water and rock formations with little caves, presumably for the animals to seek shelter. Violet sea stars, red coral, anemones—in that soft seafoam green that so many 70s brides wanted for their bridesmaids—steeled themselves for children’s grabby hands. TV screens mounted above showed the names and the corresponding images of the animals. Volunteers hovered near to ensure proper handling. One finger only! Sea stars, urchins, shrimp, and sea cucumbers—like marine jewels—were subjected to a near constant molestation. Education! I think often of the smooth velveteen purple of a sea cucumber (Parastichopus californicus); if the creatures feel threatened, they can spill their internal organs.
Different feeling, but just as memorable were the cool gray floor tiles of the office bathroom. That is where I went when the pain became too terrible. The chill of the tiles an urgent and necessary soothing; I did not think about how I was face down on a bathroom floor, one that I was usually loathe to even place my bag. Co-workers came in and out and occasionally asked if I was ok. My husband picked me up in his 1990 teal Acura. I was not ok. They didn’t seem to care.
The aquarium had two kinds of otters: river otters (Lontra canadensis)—the kind that mess up people’s boats here in the Pacific Northwest, so they were tucked away at the end—and sea otters (Enhydra lutris). The sea otters are the cute ones. They snuggle and hold hands and scrub at their faces and crack mussels and other shellfish cutely. They are, to many people, the raison d’être of visiting the aquarium. They are the cutest! Also, they have little red penises and one time, early in the morning before the aquarium opened, when no one else was around, with only the lapping of the water of the bay as company, I came around the corner to find one of the otters masturbating. It wasn’t cute. It wasn’t awful either, but I could never see them the same again.
When the pain came on, I would lie in bed on my side, half fetal, but not completely— that would coil my insides too tight—my husband spooned me from behind and placed his big man hand on the bare skin of my stomach. The warmth was the only thing I found that eased the pain, even if just a little. About two hours after eating, the pain began as a rumble. Like a small bout of indigestion. Then like a couple rocks were in my gut, they began rubbing against each other, dancing around each other, and then 27
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 the asteroids moved to crescendo into planetary banging. It would last for hours. I moaned until I fell asleep.
People always say stress lives in the body.
I was no longer in New York. The pace was different. The ethnic makeup of this new city was different. Everything felt different. This took some adjustment. Boss: …and then they Jewed them out of money. Me: You can’t say that. Boss: What? Me: Jewed. Just today you were agonizing over which was more PC, Hispanic or Latino. You can’t say “jewed.” Boss: I’ll try. My family says it all the time. Ha ha ha. Me: Ha.
I was hurried into a CT scan. It showed intestinal outpouching and tethering. I immediately thought of tether ball in summer camp. Not the same thing, it turns out. There followed an innumerable amount of scans, and –scopies: colonoscopy, capsule endoscopy. In the latter, you swallow a pill that contains a camera. It bumps through your GI tract filming the whole thing like that 1987 movie, Innerspace. I pictured Dennis Quaid cruising through me: “I’m right here. Inside you. Inside your body.” The problem with this, the doctor said, was that it didn’t really film everything, as the camera only faces one way. What the camera catches, it relays to a little box you wear on your hip. I got outfitted with my technologically forward set up and left for work. On the freeway, the hospital called. They gave me the wrong hip-box. So I turned around and they supposedly set it straight. The camera found nothing anyway.
The correct word is “octopuses” (because it is Greek and not Latin it’s not octopi) and they get out often. More than once, the night cleaning staff found the resident Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) on the floor outside its tank. These remarkable cephalopods have three hearts and can open jars. They are excellent at escaping and hiding. Cells called chromatophores allow them to change color to blend into their surroundings.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 In the employee handbook, along with information on sick days and vacation days and the dress code, was a section on the lionfish. How to handle it if there was an emergency and it became free of its tank. I imagined a great earthquake—you know the one, the one that’s coming to take down the entire West Coast—and finding the brown and cream striped creature on its back beside its shattered glass tank, gasping for air, and pleading help me help me, only none of us had read the handbook and so could not help and we allowed it to die.
Toxic people, like toxic fish, can cause great damage. The Marketing Director was a lionfish. But she didn’t live in a tank or a box and could easily strike any of us. And she did. Her lashings were common. She was the protective surrogate mother to my boss. So when I went to HR to ask for assistance in helping my boss and me communicate, the HR director told the lionfish, who in turn struck me. There was nothing in the handbook about her.
The only criticism I had in the first three years of my aquarium employment: “Be less direct and use more smiley faces in your emails.” This was a directive from my boss. A different boss than the one with the anti-Semitic words. Things were different here.
The doctors’ list of procedures and diagnostics was long. While I sat naked under a paper robe, the doctors issued these orders and when I untangled my tongue I asked a few questions. Their answers were either vague or remarkably detailed, filled with jargon. I nodded. Yes, yes, I understand, thanks. (I did not.) I can’t even remember all the varied tests I was subjected to. There were inks injected into me. Circular tubes to be inserted. Drinks the consistency of oatmeal or oranges gone too soft. Chalky. They were all chalky. For the nuclear scan radioactive material was injected and I had never felt such glacial cold within my body. To prep for this, there were more vile beverages. After the scan, after being told not to move at all—at all—technicians and nurses asked are you okay? Yes, yes, I am, I said and barely made it to a nearby bathroom, my shoes shrieking a warning call on the linoleum, for volumes of liquid to spill from my body. I could barely stand for the toll and the dehydration and the exhaustion. No one told me what I could eat when I got home, how I could survive. And then I paid the parking attendant and drove myself home.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 The aquarium had no sharks—well, technically they did. In the big glass dome (modern from 1977!) there were dogfish (Squalus acanthius). You walked under the dome and watched dogfish, catfish, sturgeon, and others. The mini sharks often had bloody noses because they’d ram up against the glass. But there were no “real sharks” and every day I heard the cries of another disappointed child.
Here is an exhaustive list of the things I ate while in the throes of it: • Jell-O • chicken broth from a cube or an envelope • milkshakes • water
Laparoscopic surgery. Exploratory. I checked into the hospital, walked myself into the operating room and hopped up on the board. In go the drugs. I was out and woke with my teeth chattering. Frigid. The room was gray and dull, but not totally dark. Beeps and blips surrounded me. A nurse saw rather immediately that I had woken. After not too long, I attempted the bathroom on my own. Beige tiles cold under my feet. Soaps and antibacterials, urine sample cups, and the smell of sterile plastics. The room was small and yet felt like a yawning open space. In can’t-miss-it-red: PULL IN CASE OF EMERGENCY. I’d always wondered what kind of thing would make someone pull that cord. I understood now and I pulled.
Related to the dogfish is the much larger sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus). Along the wall of the aquarium, in the shadow of the octopus tank and jellyfish ring, is a cutout shape of this large predator. Stand next to it and compare your size. You are considerably smaller, no matter how tall a human you are. The sharks can grow to fifteen feet in length. Though the aquarium didn’t have the species within the confines of the building, the animals lived in the waters beneath the pier on which the aquarium sits. Deep and solitary lives, elusive and mysterious. Their relatives have been around for 200 million years, which is a really long tenure on this earth, but some scientists now worry about their potential extinction.
“You people and the media . . .” said to me over lunch one day by the young man who ran the aquarium events.
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Things I know it was: Nepotism. Egoism. Provincialism. Narcissism. Anti-Semitism.
Things they decided it was not: Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Disease, Diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, Whipple’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease, ulcers. It was not my gallbladder, my pancreas, or my liver. It was not polyps, pyloric stenosis, mesenteric ischaemia. It was not cancer.
I was warned: never go to HR. That seemed absurd to me. Wasn’t it their job to diplomatically and professionally handle things and issues? I should have listened. Later, after I left the aquarium, over lunch with a former co-worker, it was relayed to me the things I said at my exit interview, but skewed. I wasn’t surprised.
Lionfish. Pterois volitans. Oh, the lionfish. Their red-brown and white striped bodies can grow to up to nineteen inches. Venomous spines stick out of its body. This specific type of lionfish can be found in the Pacific, but in the Southeast and Caribbean, they are considered invasive. They’re not native to that area. It is believed they were released from pet aquariums over the past few decades and the fish bred quickly and easily. There are no known predators, so the lionfish is free to do whatever it pleases with little consequence. The Florida Museum of Natural History says that “Despite the high number of ‘stings’ reported every year, this species is a very popular fish in the aquarium trade.”
There were so many cords and tubes and wires. So many needles pushed into my body. So many jabs and stabs and they still weren’t sure what was wrong with me. My husband and I were the ones who realized solid foods were the problem. We figured out a diet that kept me alive, if exhausted and malnourished. Eventually, the doctors stopped calling after the myriad tests. After a slow ramp up to regular food—a plan devised by my non-medical expert husband and me—I called the gastroenterologist’s assistant to report I was doing better. The doctor will want to see you. I said no, I will not be coming in. We have insurance. Good insurance and still we paid thousands. Mysterious line items on endless pink and blue hospital bills.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 “We have to watch our shekels,” said by yet another staff member at the aquarium.
My illness has flared up many times since. Each flare, I resort to my liquid diet for a week, then slowly introduce solids. Smoothies. Rice. Shredded chicken. This plan seems to keep the illness at bay. For now.
I eventually saw another doctor. A woman. She said she agreed with the initial findings the first doctor wrote in my file. This was not shared with me. What? What was wrong with me? Why did no one tell me? Your intestines are moving around and sometimes are getting jammed into itself, she explained. I envisioned an earthworm with its rings and how it pushes back into itself to move forward. It could result in a complete blockage, the doctor told me. That’s the worry. Then there’d be emergency surgery.
During my tenure at the aquarium, I heard about how local sea stars were succumbing to some sea star disease. It’s decimating the population in the Pacific at numbers greater than they’d ever seen before. What happens, in general, is this: first the stars appear diminished, then lesions appear, decay ensues, and then it dies. This whole process happens usually within a few days. It is called Sea Star Wasting Disease.
That doctor, the one who saw me and told me what she thought was wrong with me and listened to me and acknowledged me as a human, left her practice. One month after I went to see her for my initial, healthy, consultation, I received a letter that she was leaving. Right now, I have no plan for when it happens again.
A woman’s body is more buoyant than you’d think.
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Guadalajara Funeral Parlor I am in an apartment in Guadalajara across from a 24 hour funeral parlor that never stops partying. In this dream, children grip pistols that shoot black flags. Pristine limousines breathe tattered tassels. The bereaved own the district. They stuff trumpets in each hearse and blurt dirges through the speakers. I understand Spanish but not the songs they sing. Tiny women lift grief on their backs in black knapsacks. Their husbands and sons dig graves behind the funeral home and watch as the women bury all they carry. Police ride past with lights flashing like discoteca taxis dancing through the night. The grieving group of black suits and white shirts slur curse words and kick dirt at the officers. Drunk piano keys mumble, grab their hats, wake their wives, stumble on home, one less member in the group to kiss one cheek, two cheeks, goodbye, goodbye.
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When I Say You’re Welcome What I Mean is My Pleasure Over the wine coolers we’ve smuggled into her dorm room, Jenni confesses she’s never touched herself. I thought it was dirty she murmurs like she’s still not certain it isn’t, and suddenly I wish I was someone better than the girl who dared her to deepthroat a breadstick in the campus cafeteria and laughed when she didn’t know what rimming was. I’m an asshole, but her roommate’s gone for the weekend and tonight I’m the asshole she reached for, so this asshole says things like I’ve done that twice just today and But of course you never did, you poor stunted sheltered baby and What chance did you have, with a mother afraid of her own shadow and a heart on fire for no man but Jesus? She swigs from her bottle, face pink as the strawberry sludge inside. I think of what I’d like to say next: I’m so sorry, lie back and let me undress you, let me guide you through it, let me kiss your bare knees while you unlearn shame. What comes out instead is You really ought to buy a toy, it would make things easier and Jenni says Okay, or rather the wine coolers say it, because Jenni never would. I know at least three good sex shops in town but can’t abide the thought of her ogling so many cock-shaped offerings let alone taking one home. I’d be more jealous of a dildo than I’ve ever been of her boyfriend’s real cock; his at least is two hours east of here and anyway he won’t put it to any use his pastor wouldn’t condone. Instead we end up at the Spencer’s Gifts in the mall sorting through the pocket rockets in the store’s blacklit back corner. Wonder stretches Jenni’s lips into a slack O as she browses the shelves. Her perfect white teeth shine violet under the blacklight, tongue gliding guilelessly over their surface, and I imagine crawling inside her mouth, just climbing in and living in there like some hermitic pervert, too pitiful to be reviled.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 She traces a manicured nail along the edge of one box and notes that the vibrator inside comes with five interchangeable heads. One of them is covered in a cluster of plastic spikes. The idea of this thing touching her makes me itch. If you’re into that sort of thing I say then sneer to clarify exactly where I stand on the matter. Her finger withdraws and her hand hovers in the air like she’s about to cast a spell before it settles over a different box. The sleek pink egg it contains is waterproof and whisperquiet. Her fingers close around it, claiming it, but her eyes are anywhere else. They examine the crusty carpet. They tally up every shopper standing between us and the cashier. They land on me. They stay on me. Before she can second guess, I slide the box from her hand and walk it up to the register to pay for it myself. Thank you she whispers later, back in my car. She folds the Spencer’s bag around the box inside, creasing the plastic with a care my hands have never managed or even bothered with. I never thought she begins, stops, tries again. I never would’ve. In the quiet what I hear is Make me brave. I tell her about the black satin bag of toys under my bed and the items inside, what each one does and how it feels. I tell her about sleeping with the frat boy from our Cultural Anthropology class, about wanting to sleep with the soft-eyed horse girl who lives on the floor below us. I tell her I don’t know either of their names. Horse Girl is Marissa Jenni offers, and I tell her I preferred the not-knowing. I tell her about the first time I touched myself, thinking about The Rock in his wrestling tights, and the last time, reading fanfiction in a library study carrel this afternoon. I tell her about the first boy I kissed, the first girl I saw naked, the first porn I watched, the strap-on I found in a friend’s parents’ closet, the hand job I gave under a blanket in a crowded living room, the blow job I gave in a church baptistry. I tell her about everything I like and don’t like and the things I’d like to try and the things I’ll never do and the things I can’t do without. I give her these pieces, not knowing what they are, what she’ll make of them, but then when we’re parked on the curb outside the dorm, I look at her and see how she’s weaved them into chainmail, so that when she leaves me, she leaves armored. I get myself off that night using only my hand. I think about Horse Girl and her soft eyes, Frat Boy’s shoulders and pouty mouth. Both of them crowded into this tiny bed with me. Eager. Easy. Nameless. I don’t think of her. I don’t. I don’t. And when it’s finished, another fantasy: I rise from the bed and pad quietly to the end of the hall. When I raise my hand to her door, it begins to vibrate under my touch, so I press harder, until I start the whole room trembling and glowing pink, and her with it. I coax her onward. I say Yes. I say Perfect. Do what you like. Whatever you like. You’re doing just fine. You’re doing so well. Only when the hum of the room is loud enough to drown me out do I say words I’ve never spoken in a voice I’ve never used before. 35
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Home Training “She didn’t say come in,” my sister whispers. She places her fingertips on my forearm as if that would stop me from opening the door, but my hand is already twisting the knob; my foot hangs, mid-step over the front door threshold at the house where my ancestors worked as slaves. I roll my eyes up at her, looking over my glasses, annoyed. I know not to enter another person’s home unannounced, without knocking, without waiting for an invitation. I have home training. But this time, it is different. “You just can’t walk into the woman’s house.” “You damn right I can,” I hiss back. “We built this shit.” My sister, Hope, drops her head, as she giggles; her shoulders bounce up and down. She doesn’t move her fingers from my arm. She knows me. She knows that I will stride through the double doors, afro and all like I own the place. She knows I will not seek permission and I do not want to wait. It is odd to be asked to wait in this situation. There is something inside the home waiting for me; hanging in the air, like a heady musk, the spirit of my ancestors beckons for me, bidding me rebel, to come on in without knocking. My sister, however, did not allow me to do their bidding. She halted the connection. Contact was made, but intimacy was postponed until I was given permission to walk the floors that a young male slave, Robbert Lenoir, had hewn from large dogwood trees felled to build one of the most beautiful plantation homes in the state of Mississippi.
Elizabeth, whom I call Liz without asking, directs my attention to the long planks of hardwood stretching from one end of the entryway to the other. “These,” she says, “are
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 the original floors from 1847.” Liz is proud of the floors as if she is the person who laid them; as if they are her original handiwork. They are not. She just bought the place. She bought the house and outfitted it with authentic décor from the 1850s. The fruit of her labor is staggering. The home is beautiful, every room save one is meticulously adorned with ornate period pieces, deep red walls, delicate trinkets, heavy drapes tailor-made for the floor to ceiling windows. It is an uncomfortable stumbling back in time, and I am upended by it. In the background, Liz is speaking as if she is a tour guide, her words lead me around a place that my folks knew like the backs of their hands. Liz is the kind of woman whose hair does not move. Blond with a pin-curl shellacked over her right eye, she makes a flourish with her tiny hand toward the glistening wood. She is short and smiley. Though I want to be, it is very hard to be mad at her. It is also very hard to pay attention to her. You know, given the circumstances. I block her from my mind. I need a moment to kneel and run my fingertips across the patterns in the planks. I close my eyes. It is 1847. I am Robbert, a slave boy of 13, maybe 14 years old, laying down the floors, measuring, buffing, sanding, and repeating. I am him, gliding my hand along each slat, my fingernails black and grimy, my knees scraped with shards of wood and stabbed with tiny rocks trailed in from outside, little rips in my palm snag on the small jagged splinters in the grain.
Robbert, at 12 years old, was relocated to Mississippi to build a pretty house and tote a shit-ton of bales. He was sold off from one of the largest plantations in Sumter County, South Carolina owned by Isak Lenoir. Robbert and a few other slaves from Isak Lenoir’s passel were bought at a cut-rate by Ike’s kin, William Absalom and William’s stepfather, Hope Hull Lenoir. Hope and Will got wind of a way to make good money in the deep south. Cotton. They’d also heard of a speculator in Mississippi who had weaseled a group of Cherokees out of 3000 acres of land. With Robbert and three other slaves in tow, the Lenoirs made the 520-mile trek west to Prairie, Mississippi, headed for acreage they’d bought but never seen. I think Robbert’s closest known kin was his momma; “female slave,” is the name she shared with sixteen other women of African lineage on the Sumter County plantation. I found her in the special collections at Mississippi State, on a fading list headed “inventory” amongst the hogs, cows, and horses. The dates match up…well, almost. I can’t be sure. Robbert never laid eyes on his momma again after leaving South Carolina. He got a new master who bought him to make new money; to work new land; to build a new house. The 1880 census implies that by the time Robbert
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 turned 47, he’d forgotten where his momma was from, where he was from. He is listed as Robbert with two b’s. He is my third great grandfather. The time it took for me and my sister to find Robbert was ten years. The drive to the plantation in Prairie is two hours away from my home in Memphis, Tennessee. It took six months and two emails to decide we would visit the plantation. The initial phone call to Liz lasted about thirteen minutes. It took four hours to tour the sprawling plantation that held the history of 87 slaves, give or take. The first video we made of our findings is two minutes and nineteen seconds. Only 330 people have watched it. There is a five-page spread in The Monroe County Magazine written about the seven generations of Lenoirs who peopled the plantation home. Within that article, Robbert and the other slaves are never mentioned. There are eight boxes of documents in the Mississippi State archives left by the Lenoir family who owned my family as slaves. It took eight hours to comb through the receipts, pictures, letters, almanacs, and blueprints, piecing together the lives of an oppressed group as narrated by the oppressor. Some of the details of the Lenoirs and their slaves were kept out of the collection, leaving gaping holes and about a thousand questions. Other narratives have been washed away over time, storied away with hyperbole or watered down in understatement. For the Lenoir slaves, there are no full stories—only crumbs. Like the one about the slave girl who died, her body found splayed, arms akimbo at the foot of the home’s beautiful Romeo and Juliet staircase. It was a dark and stormy night. A degenerating star-crossed tale is told about the fileting of a white man in the same home, at the top of the same stairs, a few nights after. The rumor is that the slave girl was 16? 12? Yes, 12. That she was Cherokee? Mulatto? African? But definitely pregnant. Out of the dozen times I’ve heard and followed this murder mystery, the pregnancy remains constant. The dead mother and subsequent dead baby are consistent in all accounts. This is one of two stories about which white Lenoirs have decided not to talk. No matter. I can make do, because that’s what black folks who worked as slaves had to do—make do. I am of their issue. I can make decisions, too. I’ve decided a 12-year-old slave girl was raped. I’ve decided she was impregnated by a grown-ass white man in that house. I’ve decided she was in the house, in the wee hours of the morning, in that white man’s bedroom, because he wanted her to be there. I’ve decided if it were left up to her, she wouldn’t have been there. I’ve decided there was a kerfuffle, a push, and two murders. Someone decided the white man got to live, even though the slave girl and her unborn baby died. The men-folk in the quarters decided he would live, but only for a little while.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 Vengeance. Where tired black men are worn out by fieldwork, weathered by grief. Men who could have been the girl’s father or grandfather, uncle or brother. Men who were fed up with watching their daughters be split open between two lives, two families. Men who knew their daughters were not their daughters. Men who had their women—when they were allowed to be their women—grease door jambs of the plantation home with pig lard, so when their men came through the big house, dragging their grief behind them, the shishing of their suffering would not be heard. The men from the quarters would balance the scales with the white man in the big house, the one who killed the slave girl and her baby. Two for one. This is all conjecture, but you were warned. For the Lenoir family, my family, this is a necessary fable that has mutated itself into the story of all black people who had to move from one place in the south to another location in the United States. If you are black, you’ve heard these stories. Your grandmother has told you the reason you ended up in Kokomo or Chicago or Tampa or St. Louis or Oakland is because your great-granddaddy killed a white man, and he had to be spirited out of town—most times by other white men. I’m here to tell you, it is highly likely that most of those stories are not true. Find out who got pushed down the stairs and what was done about it. Get to the bottom of that shit; the bottom may surprise you. Here is another surprise—my ancestors were slaves and rebellious as hell. Not subservient or agreeable, not happy and content, not passive and afraid. The slaves did things in the background—behind the words in the letters I read, things of which I should not be proud; really, I should be embarrassed. Truth: I am proud.
Elizabeth-called-Liz couldn’t say the word slaves during our first visit, back in October 2018. At least six times she faltered when the sentence she spoke required it of her. Even when we asked her about the staircase murder, she labeled the young slave a young servant. On occasion, she used the word “help.” She didn’t call them what they were treated as: chattel, whores, animals, slaves. Most certainly, she did not call them murderers. When Liz falters on the word slaves, my sister and I fill in the blanks. “Slaves,” we say, much too loud for the occasion and number of people in the room, for there were only three. We say it in unison as if we are answering questions asked by a Kindergarten teacher. We are on the fill-in-the-blank part. We want the teacher to hear us, to know that we know we have the right answer. Liz toggles between the words workers, servants, help, and people. And, because she cannot face her people’s past as easily as we have faced ours, Liz saying people is okay with me.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 I can say this with ease: the people in my family were slaves. The slaves were not treated well, so the letters we read in the special collection that say, …and as for the negroes, they are all fine, those are lies. A set of white people owned my people and treated them poorly, and my people still got up every day and worked, put in their twenty hours and started over again. Fo’ day in the morning. They still managed to cook the food they could not eat for folks who did not live in their shacks and shanties. They managed to erect a mansion in 1847 that still stands today—a mansion in which they could never lay their heads to rest, an estate that witnessed the death of at least one their own, one of mine. After the slave girl and her baby died, the house slaves started with the strychnine. I told you, I should be ashamed. Liz is proud to say that “almost everything is original to the home.” I believe her. There is original anguish there; I feel it. There are hints of quiet killings covered up by antique furniture and original portraits of people neither I nor Liz know. The bitter taste of 240-year-old strychnine slips past my throat; I smell it as it eases down. I exhale and it is gone. It’s true, almost everything is original except the DNA of the people who built and served within its walls. Crossing this threshold transports me beyond my tears. I did not cry then, and I have not cried since. The legacy is in me; the tears are not. The score is settling, but many things are up in the air and scattered in places I cannot see or touch, as hard to grab as specks of sawdust, rising and falling when disturbed. I make do with the dust, and I know this: I am from the lineage of a builder, a floor-ist, a groundwork-layer. I am a member of the clan of Robbert-with-2-b’s. I have home training. I am remodeling and renovating, rebuilding the narrative, reupholstering lives and tumbled-down histories. I am not knocking. I’m walking right on in.
On a breezy day in June, seven women from the tribe of Robbert-with-2-b’s got a chance to line those stairs where the slave girl died, splayed out with her never-waking baby in womb, arms akimbo. We dressed in redeeming white garb, angels on earth, like seven candles lighting up the dark, one woman per step, not pushed, not fallen, but standing on the smooth wood Robbert laid with his own two hands.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
I Watch a Drug Deal Happen by the dumpster. Don’t mind me. I’ve been where you are, holding twenties cupped in my crooked palm, pleading hurry. That orange bottle looks familiar, filled with tickets to the show you’ve seen before. But why the Chihuahua? The long red leash? I don’t remember needing props to make the handshake easier. Watch how she sniffs the milkweeds glazed with dandelion gold, how she pretends not to notice you squeezing the cap as if fighting the lid on a jar of pickles. How weak you seem, pleading for your feast. Desire expands like hunger, need, until you’re less a master than the beast.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
A Hand on My Shoulder I am the girl with a hand on my shoulder. I don’t mean like a leg on a foot, which is just another way of saying “a foot at the end of a leg”. I don’t mean the hand of comfort, or an ally, I mean a hand, literally, a solid piece of bone wrapped in pink skin. It is a flesh and bloodless hand stapled to the top of my shoulder. There are still fragments of scab clinging to the puncture holes. The strands are lying there, like Juliet on her Romeo in death. I believe the nerves are dead now, which prohibits me from turning it or pointing with it, but the nails continue to grow, which I understand happens to the dead. The hand on my shoulder seems bound for the sky. Like the hand of God from my childhood book of saints, the fingers are slightly bent and beckoning. I think they look like the fingers of a ballerina who uses her hands with grace, or, in this case, just her left hand. I was put in the hospital for a while, first because I was bleeding so much, then later I was moved to a psychiatric hospital. The doctors assumed I had removed the limb because I wanted to kill myself, but I had simply meant to transplant it elsewhere; I wasn’t trying to get rid of it. I did not want to commit suicide. They say I would’ve died of blood loss if Josh hadn’t found me. He remembered about tourniquets from his childhood Boy Scout days, but my apartment isn’t scattered with perfectly ripped ribbons of white gauze, like the ones shown in the Boy Scout manual. First, he tried to rip up his shirt. He took it off and I looked at the tangle of blonde fuzz on his chest that rose meagerly to his neck only to get cut off at the throat. He was shaking with fear and had goose-bumps from the adrenaline I’ve always sent running madly through his veins.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 When he saw me staring at him, I think for a moment he thought my eyes were stony in death, so he put his shirt back on, hiding his nipples and pillow belly. But when he noticed I was not dead he grabbed the wide rubber bands that I save from the morning papers and began putting them around the stump by lifting the end of my arm delicately, holding it with only his thumb and forefinger. He avoided getting blood on himself by stretching the elastic band considerably wider than necessary, then letting it snap around the bone before he dropped my wrist. The bleeding stopped right away, but I was feeling faint and Josh thought he should call someone. One night last year, before Josh told me he needed some space, we were sitting on the floor eating pretzels and watching NOVA. We saw a show on TV about the reattaching of fingers and toes, and in one case, an ear. He must have remembered it because he put my hand in a plastic bag (the hand lying on the floor, not the one attached to my arm). He didn’t touch the dissected hand with his bare fingers. He used the plastic bag reversed around his palm, then pulled the baggie around the dismembered limb, the same way I do when I’m picking up the dog’s shit. I have heard of phantom pain, the pain that amputees feel in a leg or arm that no longer exists, but I didn’t feel pain at all. I knew I could still control the hand with my mind, that when he lifted the bag close to his face, I could make my detached appendage reach out and touch him. As he concentrated on not vomiting, I could see my separated hand struggling against the walls of the bag. I only wanted to run its fingers across his lips, where a few pieces of loose white skin flaked. They looked swollen, like he had been hit in the mouth, or was kissing someone too much and for too long. Josh tried to call 911, but I had cut the telephone wire after I called him. Not because I thought I wouldn’t be able to dial with only one hand, (there are push button phones for people who do not have two hands) but because the phone hadn’t rung for 3 months and I saw no need for it anymore. As he stood up to run next door for help I watched his legs move inside his pants, the muscles of his thighs releasing the tension of kneeling by my side. Surely he would not be wearing underwear. I know when he got my call, he would have leapt from bed and pulled on whatever garment loitered on the floor. He was not wearing socks with his shoes, and I could see fine gold hair wrapping itself around his sturdy ankles. Just like my hand would be if it had no body dragging behind it, perhaps if my fingers could circle his ankle bone and hang on, he would ignorantly be carrying a piece of me around with him. Josh hadn’t noticed the staple gun placed strategically on the floor next to the meat cleaver. Even if he had guessed its purpose, he would not have picked it up. I could tell he didn’t want to touch anything. Perhaps he was afraid I would try to
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 convince the police that HE was guilty of cutting off my hand, and for that reason he avoided leaving fingerprints anywhere. After he left I used my teeth and my other hand (thank god I’m right-handed and had been thinking logically enough to cut off the left one) to open the baggie. Those commercials about zip-lock seals are true, they can seal in any food, odors, or limbs and not leak. As I struggled to unseal it the stump of my left arm kept getting in the way as it automatically reached up to assist the right hand. I snapped it with one of the rubber bands to make it behave. I removed the hand, laid it on the floor, and positioned myself on my back next to it, with my shoulder close to the severed wrist. Then I manipulated the half-dead fingers into the shape I wanted, curved and beckoning like Jesus calling. But I left the digits slightly fixated upwards, so they would point to heaven when I stood up. I wanted them always to be gesturing to the sky and the clouds. Now that I’m healed, if Josh saw me with the hand perched like an exotic bird on my shoulder, he would remember how he always insisted on making love with me on top. I used to look down upon his swollen lips and grip his tufted chest, while he explained that he liked it that way because, “I can look up and see your face and the blue sky and the clouds framing you. You look like an angel and it feels like I’m in paradise.” And then he would remember how when the moment of pleasure arrived he would try not to close his eyes.
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Reading Camp at Santa Monica College Iâ€™m sorry we made you go no one teaching you and your friends camp songs no chipped red picnic table half in the shade half in giggles the only woodland creatures balloon-like illustrations in oversized books no counselor weaving lanyards only Teacher Chris â€” whose listening game called for Squirrels! expecting quiet and cupped hands atop your heads like fat little tree-dwellers in search of nuts because good campers know when to listen when to pay attention as did I one morning 45
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 before hiking up the stairs to our phonetic campsite: bird-like I looked through the window of Teacher Chrisâ€™ Honda ash tray cornucopia of cascading cigarette butts an urban acorn trail left behind from his rushed sunrise bugle call I knew then you were not the only one who hated Reading Camp.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Salt My girlfriend has built her house on the salt flats. The salt flats lie bone white and glittering in the mountains, thousands of feet above the cold roaring sea. She told me that a hundred years ago, the flats were a clear blue lake, salty enough that small stones would float on the surface. People came on pilgrimages from miles away to collect the water in glass vials, plastic bottles, tightly sealed Tupperware. On their return home, they dabbed the water on the cracked lips and warm foreheads of their loved ones. The water was said to cure any illness; in some cases, it was said to grant immortality. When the rains stopped and the blue lake dried into crystalline white plains, the people no longer came. My girlfriend has lived alone on the salt flats for years. She built her house out of stones so that the salt cannot eat it away. I know I still love her because Iâ€™m afraid of heights and I still climb the winding trail through the mountains every month, past iron sharp rocks, crusted dead trees, grey and white leopards slinking around cliffs. I knock sticks together to keep the leopards back as I climb. I come to bring her the things she misses, but it has been a long time since she has needed food or water to survive. Every trip is like the others. She meets me outside, and I can see her from a distance, standing with the sky and clouds behind her. The white plains are bare except for her and the stone house. â€œWhat did you bring this time?â€? she asks and takes me by the hand. Her hair is a long rusty orange streaked with white, the white sections as thick as wiry cords. In the kitchen, I sit at the table as she reaches into my backpack and pulls out
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 pumpernickel bread, a carton of eggs, purple grapes. Behind her, jars of salt glimmer on the windowsills. It was never about the water for my girlfriend; she is convinced all the healing power of the old lake exists within the salt. She began by putting salt into her food and sprinkling salt in the cracks in the floor, the couch cushions, the potted cactus, and her pillowcases. With every passing year, the salt she ate and lived with embedded itself deeper into her skin; it didn’t leave her. Now, her body has been glazed into a shimmery white thing, hard and statuesque. Salt crinkles in the folds of her sweater and digs under the rim of her nails. It dusts her bare shoulders and hardens in her hair. Her hands are gritty, like little rocks. Every time I visit, I see her body growing farther and farther away from me. She tastes like the ocean must have tasted a long time ago. My girlfriend knows I will be hungry from the climb. She cracks eggs into a black frying pan coated in salt. I can see her thoughts tumbling behind her dark eyes as she takes a jar down from the windowsill and tips salt into the scrambled eggs: I will live forever, she might stay with me forever. She watches me as I lift the spoon to my lips. With each bite, I want to vomit. The salt burns. “Do you like it?” she asks, her voice worried. “Is it any good, any good at all?” I choke down the last spoonful and my eyes sting. I know she wants me to be like her. I place my hand on her rough cheek. “Of course,” I say. Afterwards, she goes upstairs, and I pour a full glass of unsalted water down my throat. I pluck fresh grapes from their stems in the clay bowl to feel them burst in small sweet bubbles of violet throughout the dark corners of my mouth. I cough and think of when my girlfriend will come back down to me. I think of my house that lies away from the mountain and how it is surrounded by warm green trees and soft vines, home to crawling black ants, butterflies with tiny yellow wings, and bluebirds. I think of the time when the drying salt flats were still covered by a thin layer of clear water and the water reflected the sky and clouds, so that the whole world was doubled and infinite. At night, she and I watch the grey and white leopards prowl. They stalk their own shadows on the flats, leaving faint trails of paw prints in the salt beneath the moon. I kiss the back of my girlfriend’s gritty hand. Like always, before we go to sleep, she places her mouth to my ear. Grains of salt fall from her lips. “Will you stay?” she whispers. “Will you stay with me?” I move closer to her. “I can’t,” I whisper. I feel her body stiffen, but she doesn’t turn away. Maybe one day, I will love her enough to answer differently. In the back of my mouth, I can still taste the sweetness of the grapes.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Lace Lessons lace (noun): cotton or silk, knitted or twisted, or clinging to skin, or lying on the table waiting to be touched (as in lace doilies) / lace (noun): they come in pairs, looping around each other in knots; they keep her shoes on her feet when she runs (away) / lace (verb): to fasten the laces of your shoes, or of someone else’s shoes (perhaps kneeling at her feet) Lace makes an insincere effort in the task of covering. The appeal is in that dissonance of nakedness and modesty, the way the lace represents a barrier that isn’t there, a type of clothing that welcomes hands, allows for the contact of skin on skin. Or: clothing that is made to be removed. You see, loops can be either quaint or sinister. The word lace derives from the Latin noun laqueus, meaning noose. Or: the thing that makes your body feel inescapably heavy. Which is not to say that my lace underwear might be compared to a thousand tiny nooses. I am sometimes afraid to write a question mark after asking something like how did lace come to be so exclusively feminine, what other fabric can claim this gendered air. Is it in the perceived fragility, or in the way we value it for thinness and lightness, or whiteness. Something in the way it seems to invite you to try to tear it apart. To press yourself into its empty spaces. Which is to say that the appeal is in the uncovered parts, the patterning of a self with a hidden self. Which is to say that maybe we’re sexier when we’re not entirely present. Or: the appeal is in the material itself. Have you ever looked closely at the pattern on the cups of a lace bra. The truth is that it was never really about skin. Lingerie looks sexy on its own, lying crumpled on the floor or folded neatly in the drawer below your socks. A thousand tiny nooses linked together. 49
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 lace (verb): to entwine or entangle; the fingers of your right hand mingling with the fingers of your left hand (or her left hand) / lace (verb): to enrich or fortify, to add an extra ingredient (for example, “laced with ecstasy”) I used to think that lace would be uncomfortable. I imagined that my body would bulge out of the loops in tiny circles of fatness, or that the fabric would leave coarse pink railroad tracks around my hips. Which is to say that a story should weave around itself like lace. Reveal just enough flesh to be titillating. Should make your body feel unescapably heavy, or inescapably light. Should cling close to the skin, or hang in front of windows. A story should be forever touching itself, splitting apart and then meeting itself again. When a female orgasm is especially strong, it is said to be violent. You break into shuddering ecstasy within the same idiom that lets dawn break each morning-after. You see, I do not like to describe sex with the language of advances and surrenders, those words of war, and I do not like my own tendency to associate pleasure with surrender. A student of Classics will always remember the Latin class where she learned that the word vagina means sheath or scabbard, the place to put your sword, and she will always remember the ninth-grade boys who laughed. Or: broke into laughter. The pattern of lace rises and falls like a story. It has no climax, not in the traditional sense, not a linear build and release. But this is not a story of lack. My body cycles in loops, but it is not like a noose. I am not like a noose. I am not like a sheath. It’s never a good idea to think too hard about etymology. You’ll press yourself into too many empty spaces, get caught up in the loops.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
When Lagoons Turn Lavender Lagoon wanted to be a geologist, the weird kind, but I guess all good geologists are. She’d been stuck on Canfield Oceans since I’d known her, and I couldn’t really imagine her without them. All she ever talked about was the process of decay, The Great Dying, the next extinction period. Canfield Oceans were when everything got too hot, stopped and rotted—little hungry bugs turning the waters toxic purple. That’s how most of the last great extinctions happened, even the one with the meteor that got the dinosaurs. It’s how we’re supposed to go too, when global warming really gets going. Lagoon thought there was something pretty about it, but all I could think about was how we were next. I started to notice Lagoon becoming a Canfield Ocean right about when she got boring. It was the first day of summer break and we were at the pool behind her apartment building. She turned to me and said, “You know, Stevie, I just don’t think I was made for swimming.” She flopped into the pool, cold droplets splashing up onto my legs. After the first wave, the sunscreen film settled—her whirling had stopped. I yelled at her to come up, but she didn’t until I jumped in on top of her and pulled her up to the surface by the straps of her hot pink swimsuit. Her light hair stuck in clumps on her face, the blond pieces turned muddy. She gasped and then stared at me and I let go, giggling because I thought maybe it was a game. She didn’t seem to think so though, because she just got out of the pool, knees slipping on the concrete ledge so she nearly fell back in. I waited for her to come back, to dive in and continue the new game, but she just curled up onto a lawn chair with her towel, white white knees poking out, dark eyes glaring out over the water. 51
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 Lagoon hadn’t been my friend for that long, but I pretended like we’d know each other forever. I’d never had a friend quite like Lagoon before she moved here last September, dragged by her mom from the dust and rock of Arizona to the dark winters in Maine, swamps and glaciers. She was the first person I’d ever met who always wanted to be in the dirt, who acted like she didn’t mind everything being messy. Lagoon and I became friends when we met at her apartment tennis courts. I wasn’t supposed to be there because I didn’t live there, but they didn’t really have any way of checking, so I always went and played tennis by myself, hitting the ball over and over again into the net. It got real boring, but it was the least boring thing I could think of before I met Lagoon. Lagoon walked up and started telling me about Canfield Oceans, watching me hit the ball and then go and get it. She said she could show me one if I wanted. I’d misheard her and thought she said “canned” oceans, so on the walk to her apartment I kept imagining she had a can full of seawater and somehow it was purple and full of dead things. Her apartment was almost empty, beaded curtains hanging in front of thin, dark oak windows. They’d only just moved so it hadn’t gotten musty, but the afternoon light still didn’t seem to want to touch anything, not even the sagging velvet couch. “You ever seen a Canfield Ocean?” she asked. I wondered if it was one of those souvenirs from Myrtle Beach or Cape Cod, and I wasn’t all too surprised that someone was selling saltwater in a can. “No,” I said, running my fingers over the crumpled velvet arm of the couch. I liked the feeling of her house, all boarded up and old and touchable, like I could spill a soda on it and nobody would notice or care. It looked like the opposite of my house, where Mama always yelled at me if I touched the clean, white couch without washing my hands first. Lagoon knelt in front of the TV, the super old kind with tin foil bunny ears that my grandma had. She pressed the round buttons, sifting through the channels. “Get the curtains,” she said. I wanted to see the canned ocean in all of its glory, so I pulled them as wide as I could. “Closed, closed,” she said. I rushed to close them. She shuffled back, moving around the coffee table, ashy with off-brand candles and cigarette butts. The TV crinkled, and a hazy image of a man in a boat appeared. “Are you just gonna stand there?” she asked, almost-white eyebrows raising. I let go of the beaded string and dropped to the floor. We sat on our knees side by side while the man explained all about oceans: how without circulation the bottom gets toxic, how in a lake somewhere the top layer is normal but when he sends a tube down, he pulls up colored water, all full of angry
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 bacteria. I spent most of the time looking at Lagoon, her eyes wide like there would never be anything as good as an ocean full of mean things. After the video clicked off, she got up and I followed her. She pulled out a shoebox of rocks and plants and cups of water and told me she wanted to make her own Canfield Oceans, and how that’s how we’re gonna die so she wanted to start figuring it out now before it could get us. I’d never seen anyone like that before, all excited even about something sad, and messy, and awful. And I wanted to feel that too. So I said, “Can we be best friends?” And she said, “Alright.”
While Lagoon liked geology, the love of rocks and dirt, I liked paint. Not painting, exactly, just paint. I loved the way it smelled, the gloopiness between my fingers, the way it clumped up on paper, making it crumpled and imperfect and soggy. Most times after school Lagoon and I would sit on her brick apartment steps, and I would smear paint in pretty ways. Lagoon used a stick she found underneath a cedar in the front yard to pull up grass blobs and rocks. The cedar tree sticks were all prickly and snappy, so when her archeological tools failed, she ended up using her hands. Then we’d go play tennis, and I’d watch the dirt wiggle underneath her fingernails like little halfmoon worms when she swung. Lagoon didn’t stay on anything very long besides Canfield Oceans. That’s why I liked her—before Lagoon, I always had to do everything by myself, for hours, like playing tennis or drawing. Or sitting quietly in my room, not making any noise so I wouldn’t wake Mama up when she had to sleep all day after her night shifts at the hospital. But Lagoon didn’t like doing one thing for a long time, she switched faster than I could keep up. As soon as we got to the little pond behind the school to look for peepers, she decided she didn’t want to anymore, that all along she had wanted to go roller skating. By the time we were thump-thumping around the graveled Walmart parking lot, she decided we were going to see a movie, and it started in five minutes so we’d have to run. Her head churned so fast I wondered if she was trying to be somewhere else. The week after Lagoon decided she didn’t want to swim anymore, I called her on the phone, slurping my Lucky Charms. It was about then that Lagoon got real boring, when she started to act like she didn’t think she could breathe anymore. “You wanna do something?” I said into the milk, my top teeth clinking painfully on the metal spoon. The milk bubbled and dripped out the side of my mouth and I wiped it with my back of my hand. “Maybe later,” she said, “I’m busy.” “Well alright,” I said, using my spoon to sort the colors. “What’re you doing?” 53
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 She didn’t give me a real good answer, just a bit of an “oh I don’t know,” and so I told her to call me back when she figured it out. I waited three hours, flipping through Mama’s nice copies of Vogue and People that she wouldn’t let me touch when she was home, but she was at the hospital so I did it anyway. When I got bored of the shiny, perfect faces I got up and went over to Lagoon’s apartment. I rang the doorbell three times, holding it down so it would be really annoying. It was hot and humid and I was sweating into my flipflops. I slid my foot out of the foam to press into the brick, but I could only stand it for a little before it burned. When no one answered, I went around the side and stood outside Lagoon’s bedroom window. I figured we’d been friends long enough I could just knock on her window and maybe she wouldn’t mind that I was checking, because I just wanted to see all the fun she was having without me. I knocked on the window four times with my fingernail, just barely able to reach the glass. “Lagoon,” I said loudly, drawing out the “oo” part so she knew I wasn’t a murderer or a robin looking for food. I tried to lift myself up to see through the window, but my fingers were too small and I couldn’t bear my own weight without slipping. Just as I was going to leave, I heard a soft, “I’m over here.” I turned around the corner of the building, stepping over dried bushes crushed up against the brick. Lagoon was lying on the brown grass, staring straight at the sky. I stopped and looked up to see what she was looking at, but all I saw was the sun. Bright, glaring, and angry. “What’re you doing?” I asked, walking to stand over her. My head blocked out the sun, my shadow like a soft blob of a cloud over her face. She blinked and said, “Nothing.” I looked back up towards the sun. “You know, that’s how Ray Charles went blind. ‘Cause when he was little he thought the sun was real pretty and used to stare at it all the time.” I paused and watched a carpenter ant half crawl half tumble towards her spread out hair. “Well, at least that’s what my granddad says.” She turned her head a little. “You think something that pretty could kill us all one day?” Green and orange dots floated around my eyes from when I’d looked, so I didn’t turn around again to check if she was right, if it really was that pretty. “I thought it was gonna be that canned ocean.” “Why’d you gotta ruin everything, Stevie?” she asked, sitting up a little. Grass stuck to the sweaty backs of her arms like it’d just been mowed. “What?” I said. I stepped back and squinted at her face. I wasn’t the one ruining everything, she was the one lying in the grass when we could’ve been skating.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 She flopped back down, and I almost felt the pain of my own spine flopping heavily against rock solid ground. She didn’t seem bothered though. She just closed her eyes. “You’re gonna burn,” I said, nudging her arm with my toe. But she didn’t open her eyes again. “Lagoon, I’m bored. You’re no fun,” I said. She rolled onto her stomach and planted her face in the grass. She looked like she was sinking into the earth. Maybe she was hoping to.
That summer I kept trying but Lagoon seemed to have turned stagnant, unmoving, unwanting, or maybe I just couldn’t figure out what it was that she wanted. When I went to her apartment or called her on the phone, she had nothing to say and she didn’t fidget like she had before. Her brown eyes used to zoom around the room like she’d miss something if they didn’t, but when I talked, she just stared straight ahead like there was nothing good about talking to me. Even the Canfield Oceans couldn’t seem to cheer her up. I thought maybe if I could prove we weren’t all going to die by acid rain and mean bacteria then maybe she’d be fun again. I never really liked Canfield Oceans, but I went to the library and checked out all the geology books they had. Most of them didn’t even reference Canfield Oceans, but I learned a lot of things Lagoon had already told me but I’d forgotten to remember, like about CO2 or the Precambrian period. I still found it pretty boring, but Lagoon thought they were going to kill her, so it was worth doing all that homework on my summer vacation to help unscare her. After all my research, I called her on a morning in late July. Slurping my Cheerios, I said, “You know, I read that if we start carpooling and turn off the lights when we’re not in the room, then we won’t have as much CO2.” “Okay,” she said. I held the phone close to my bowl and let my spoon drop heavily into it so she could hear the clink, like I was so annoyed I’d just dropped it naturally. “Less CO2, then no Canfield,” I explained slowly, because she obviously wasn’t getting that I was just trying to help. “I gotta go,” she said. “Why?” I said, but she had already hung up. I slammed the phone against the cold tile table. No matter what I did, Lagoon didn’t care anymore, and I didn’t know how to make her. —§—
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 Mr. Wilder never really talked about geology much, mostly because his main subject was biology. But after nearly a year of Lagoon asking questions about acid rain or whirlpools, or begging to do her science fair project on anoxic oceans instead of her assigned parts of the frog, Mr. Wilder decided to make May 21st Canfield Ocean Day. He did just about half of the lesson on the process of decay. After Mr. Wilder talked about sediments and dead things, Lagoon and I sat on the prickly grass beside the ant-filled gray picnic bench in front of the school. She stood eating a tuna sandwich while I nibbled the edge of a Lorna Doone cookie. Lagoon twirled, bare feet sliding on the grass and curling around her long toes, bits of tuna spewing while she repeated all the things Mr. Wilder had said, like I hadn’t been there. I watched her but didn’t butt in. I hated that I couldn’t have it. I hated that I couldn’t have some of the fun that she had. I felt like a leech, the kind that got stuck to my ankles when I fell into the pond out the back of my granddad’s house last summer. Like I wasn’t really having any fun, I was just watching Lagoon have it all. I didn’t think it was fair that she got to have all of it; I wanted to stamp it out. “Why’d you like those canned oceans?” I asked. She stared at me, her dark eyes crumpling in at the eyebrows, hand hesitating over another piece of Wonder Bread. “They’re purple oceans,” she said, her voice like warm, soft gravel beneath my foot. “Yeah, but they’re gonna kill us all in an ugly way,” I said. “I think they’re really stupid.” Lagoon sat down, pressing her fingers deep into the grass and pulling out a fistful. She sprinkled the pieces across her legs, a soft breeze carrying dry dirt across and into my tapioca pudding cup. She fell onto her back, staring up at the tree above us, and she breathed out real deep until her stomach caved in like a sink hole. I waited for her to keep going, to start at the beginning and tell me all about the things I didn’t understand. But she didn’t, she just lay there like a dead fish, eyes bubbling up like she’d just seen the end of the world that had been there all along, but she just hadn’t noticed, or maybe she didn’t want to.
Toward the end of August, right before school started again, I sat on the steps of Lagoon’s apartment building while she sat in the dirt. I had a new tube of dark purple that I was about to squeeze out on to my yellow legal pad when Lagoon said, “Wait.” I looked up. “Yeah?” She got up from the dirt and sat on the ground two steps below me, turning her back. “Dye my hair,” she said.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 I looked at the bottle of craft store acrylic. I didn’t know much about hair, but I knew acrylic was washable, so it was probably alright. “Really?” I said. “Yeah.” I squeezed out all the dark plum worms on her head. I combed through the knots with my fingers like it was shampoo, pulling too hard so her head snapped back, and I said sorry at least seven times. It didn’t feel smooth or soft, which I didn’t mind. It felt matted and heavy and dead. After she looked in the mirror in her bathroom and I wiped my hands on the grass, we decided to go to the pool. Lagoon walked before me, pushing the short creaking metal gate open. It wasn’t very sunny out; it was a brisk kind of August that reminded me of pumpkins and November rains. A soft gray cloud cover melted over, and the pool looked cool and still, like a thin sheet of ice I wanted to break. I was itching to say that I missed her and I didn’t want her to be sad anymore, but I didn’t know how to without sounding like a baby so I said, “You know your canned ocean won’t actually happen while we’re alive. We’ll be really dead before. I asked Mr. Wilder ‘cause I saw him working at the 99-cent store last week, and he said it wouldn’t be until we’re all dead.” “I know,” she said. I leaned forward, dipping my toes in because I wanted to break the stillness. I swooshed it a little, breaking the pool with a couple of throwing-stone-worthy kind of ripples. The ripple puddled out gently with a light plop noise. “Don’t do that,” she said, her left arm sticking out to stop me from going in. “Why not,” I said. “You’re ruining it.” A cool rain prickled down, soft, in clumps on my arms. Drops that I couldn’t see yet but could feel. The hair on my arms stood up like little umbrellas to hold up the cold. “Ruining what?” I said. Her jaw was slack and all the acrylic she had in her hair was still wet, heavy in clumps, an almost black kind of purple, but I could still see some blond sticking through. “My Canfield Ocean,” she said bluntly. I looked back across it, the water gray from the clouds. I thought maybe the part I’d been missing all along was that she wanted a Canfield Ocean, it was me that didn’t. I got mad. Mad because Lagoon was always blaming me for ruining everything. Like before she met me, those Canfield Oceans had been her everything and I’d tainted them. Like I was the one that made her boring, that I stole the thing that made her special, and she knew it.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 So I pushed Lagoon. I took a step back to get a good aim, pressing my palms into her tense shoulders. She yelped, a quiet noise that rung against the rusting chain link fence. She went in without grace, a soft belly flop, knees bending, limbs twisting trying to right herself before impact. Maybe I imagined it, the color in her hair bleeding out around her where she hit, turning the water a soft purple. It splashed up onto my bare legs and I flinched like it burned. I stepped forward, toes curling around the ledge, peering to see if she’d sink. I wanted to make her angry, I wanted to make her swim to the surface and pull me in too. And she did sink for a little. The rain pattered against my head, echoing and I watched her white t-shirt suck her down. A stray flip flop popped up to the surface, green like a lily pad. The pool went still, waves splashing heavily against the grimy side tiles. Then the water started to churn, and she was kicking. She came up, hair dripping lavender streaks all down her face, sputtering, and angry, and alive. “What was that for?” Lagoon yelled, treading water in the deep end. I didn’t know how to tell her I was bored and lonely without her, that I needed her and her Canfield Ocean, that she couldn’t have it all to herself. But I didn’t know how to. So instead, I jumped into the pool, a heavy cannonball so that all of the purple water splashed up and out of the pool, soaking everything it touched.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
WHAT I ATE WHY i gained the freshman fifteen during my freshman year of college. i ate so much and all the time. i had so many friends and i was so happy. i needed to buy new pants after winter break because they were all too tight. i ate on my way to class, in class, in the caf, in the library, everywhere. i was so happy. i lost those fifteen pounds during sophomore year. sophomore year i was going to the gym every week for cardio. this will make me healthy, i told myself. i spent an hour every friday on the elliptical. it just made me feel more tired than usual. after i realized i lost so much weight, i promised myself i’d spend the next year gaining muscle mass by weightlifting. i’ve never gone to the weights in the gym once this year. this year, i go to the gym to buy smoothies and guacamole—they are fatty foods and fatty foods make you fat. this year, i found out i lost ten more pounds. my parents say i need to put more fat on my bones and i cry and say it’s not my fault and there’s nothing i could do about it. this year, i seclude myself from my friends and foods. i don’t have the energy to talk or eat. i don’t like to sleep so i just lie in bed all the time in a state of no emotion. the black hole that lives inside me controls my thoughts and emotions.
i usually lay in bed and wait until the void swallows me whole. i don’t know what the void is, but i know it will take me away someday. my mind is already in a state of void—most days i don’t feel anything. the void makes it so i open my textbooks and laptop up and it looks like i’m occupying myself when in actuality i’m actually just dozing off in a state of nothingness. it’s nice—knowing you have so much to do, so much time to do it, yet that swamp goblin that lives inside you doesn’t let you do anything! so then you spend the whole night wide awake, thinking why didn’t i do anything, i had all day! the swamp goblin also pushes my buttons and decides what i 59
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 feel and when. the swamp goblin thinks it’s funny to control my emotions and actions. so if i’m out with my friends and i get an urge to LEAVE RIGHT NOW, don’t take it personally—it’s not you. it’s the swamp goblin who lives with me. during this time of my life, i’ve accepted the swamp goblin as part of my personality. i used to think it was a hindrance towards my abilities to appropriately feel certain emotions, causing me not to know how i should react when. don’t get me wrong, it still does that, but rather than seeing the swamp goblin as a negative part of myself that i’m trying to fight, i’ve learned to accept it as someone who lives with me in these trying times—like a constant friend. a constant friend who keeps nagging at you and pushes your buttons, when you tell them to STOP because you just wanna LIVE but they don’t listen ever so you just end up ignoring them because you know they never listen and will do what they want whenever the heck they want. it’s a nice friend, or it’s nice to live with this friend because you know it’s constant and will probably be with you forever.
i know something is wrong with me, but i don’t ask for help. i’m too stubborn to do that. i can solve my problems on my own; i don’t need other people to know i feel things. now it’s all rushing back to me and it’s feeling like i have no time. it’s a feeling like i’m trapped in an hourglass. it’s a feeling like if i don’t get help NOW i will literally and figuratively explode. what makes me angry is i’m not sure what’s wrong with me or WHY. what’s the cause of your bad moods, my therapist says. i don’t know i say. how do you feel now, my therapist says. i don’t know i say. there’s something wrong with me but what is it? how would i know? it’s not like they’re my own thoughts or emotions anyway, they belong to the swamp goblin.
i went to mcdonald’s five times this week. usually i get a big mac meal (no cheese, please), but sometimes i get chicken nuggets. the last time i got a big mac meal the lady put cheese on the bottom. i said no cheese. she said you don’t want this? i said no i would die if i ate that. she said oh so do you still want it? she made me a new big mac. it was so good. it fills the void within me. it fills my voided stomach, but not my voided emotions. one thing i know for sure is how much i love mcdonald’s when i eat there. the month of october was my favorite because mcdonald’s put those stickies onto their large food items—fries, burgers, sodas—and you could win free food. that encouraged me to eat so much, i won so much free food! the food at mcdonald’s tastes heavy; it tastes like a slap in the face that says you know you should not be eating this, it is very unhealthy and you will get fat! but it also tastes like a tight hug that says you
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 deserve to eat fatty foods here because your life is already at an all time low, what do you have to lose? i waste so much money there but at least i’m eating.
coffee is a meal. i skip lunch and drink coffee instead. it’ll get me through the day. instead, i sip my coffee and instantly feel the thuds ingrained in my head and eyes. that’s normal. i shake more than i usually do when i drink coffee. that’s normal. coffee makes me feel like the world is spinning one hundred miles an hour and i’m just sitting in the middle of this whirlpool, my mind begging for some tranquility amid the chaos. then i drink another coffee a few hours later because i like the taste.
sometimes i sleep for dinner. sometimes i eat cake-in-a-mug. i didn’t know such a thing existed until this year. i’d put soy milk in the mixture and never mix the cake batter enough. the cake is done in less than one minute. it tastes like burnt. it tastes like salt. it tastes like bathroom sink water, even though i know i added three tablespoons of soymilk instead. somehow, i convince myself eating cake-in-a-mug will be enough nutrients for the whole day. somehow, i only eat one cake-in-a-mug a day and hope i don’t die from malnutrition.
i showed my friend how i make my cake-in-a-mug. i brought the vegan molten chocolate cake packet, a spoon, a straw, and a mug, of course, to the bathroom. this cake packet tastes so bad i said. why are you eating it he said. because i don’t have any chocolate here i said. this is how to make the cake. i poured the cake mix into the mug, along with two teaspoons of hot sink water. i tried to stir the mixture with the straw, but it was too long and flimsy to really stir anything. it’s so hard with the straw, i said. my friend said why don’t you just use a spoon. i can’t mix it with a spoon because the goopy cake mix gets stuck inside the curved part of the spoon! my friend said no, use the long part of the spoon. oh i never thought about it like that. i found an old plastic knife. it’s flat enough that i can mix my cake with. i mixed it with the thicker bottom part in the mug and the sharp part into my closed fist. it didn’t hurt because it was just sharp plastic. i put it in the microwave for one minute. the cake comes out still goopy. it tastes like dirt, i said. i kept eating it all. it doesn’t even taste like chocolate. all i want is chocolate.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 if i could just eat chocolate for every meal i would. it’s too bad no one ever knows how to accommodate for a dairy-free person. the school cafeteria never has any ‘vegan’ desserts for me, and the only safe ice cream they have is raspberry sorbet. that’s gross. the school market in the student center does not have any dairy-free desserts—only milk chocolate and milk forward foods. i would need to walk to jewel-osco just to buy a semi-sweet dark chocolate bar that i could eat. i never do that because that takes too much effort that i don’t have. instead of giving in to my sweet tooth, i eat pecans alone in my room and suffer. i eat them because that’s the only snack i have that’s not salty. i eat them lying down because nothing in life really matters when you don’t get what you want. if i close my eyes hard enough i could maybe imagine that i’m eating chocolate chips instead of the sad nut that is a pecan.
i could skip meals—my therapist even approves of it! well, maybe not, but when i told him i eat coffee and cake for dinner, he smiled and laughed. he didn’t laugh in a rude way; the laugh more so said are you serious? but since my therapist neither said i should nor should not skip meals, i figure he gives me the approval. i’d be much more concerned if he stopped taking notes in his little notepad and told me i’m dumb for not eating. but he didn’t do that. he laughed. a laugh means keep going, you’re doing great, sweetie! his laugh means i am silly and i probably shouldn’t do that, but i’ll ignore its implications because i’m too tired to take the effort to eat real foods.
my friends yell at me. they tell me that COFFEE IS NOT A MEAL. they yelled that from all over the table in the library. i felt personally attacked. my friend says coffee is not a meal but coffee cake is a meal. okay then, i will go out of my way just to find some dairy-free coffee cake. okay then, i will only eat that coffee cake in place of meals for normal people. my dorm has a kitchen in its lobby, but i’m too tired to walk down the stairs, turn the oven on, and put my spanakopita in the oven. i’m too tired to wait for the oven to preheat and wait for my food to cook. i can’t wait for food, which is why it’s easier to not eat anything than to wait for food to cook. it’s better that way. my friends say Soph you won’t get nutrients from coffee. yes i will. i have a three-bean latte—coffee beans, soy beans, vanilla beans—there i have a vanilla soy latte.
Soph, what do you want for dinner? my friends ask the hardest questions sometimes! i don’t know what i want; i don’t want anything. i want to sleep and sleep some more. i 62
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 don’t need to eat, i say, i ate half a spanakopita. i ate a few fries during lunch today, my brain says i ate once today so i don’t need to eat another time. Soph, that’s really unhealthy, you should eat something they say. It’s okay, i say i’m never hungry. or, i say, i am hungry but i don’t want to eat. or, i want to eat but my swamp goblin doesn’t let me eat. or—then they say what are you talking about, Soph? then i say i don’t know how to explain so i end up eating in the cafeteria with them just to get some food in me, otherwise they would be upset at me for not eating.
my favorite food is skinny pop. freshman year i’d come to school with 6 bags of familysized skinny pop and eat one in an hour or two. then costco introduced the 14 ounce skinny pop bag and i thought i was in heaven. last year, costco started packing 20 ounce skinny pops—they were literally half the size of me! i fell in love. i’d devour those 20 ounce skinny pops and within the week, i’d beg my mom for a new bag. this year, i came to school with only two family sized bags of skinny pop. costco stopped stocking the 20 ounce skinny pop bags and now they just have organic skinny pop, whatever that means. that makes me angry because i didn’t eat skinny pop to get skinny—i ate it for the addictive salty taste and satisfying crunch. now costco suddenly wants to implement some kind of healthy alternative to my favorite food??? so, i ate the two family sized skinny pops very slowly this year. i lost my appetite and lost my love for skinny pop. i simply don’t want to eat it or am not excited when i pass by the bags of skinny pop in the grocery store anymore. sure the overwhelming salty taste is still satisfying but it’s not nearly as ethereal as it once was for me.
the ‘organic’ skinny pop is just one example of how everything tailored towards a dairyfree person needs to be vegan, gluten free, paleo, etc. i’m not asking for the healthiest meal—i don’t care about my calorie intake or anything like that! i look at the foods in the school cafeteria and drool over the pizzas. i could eat that i would say to my friend. i don’t care if i would die. he would give me a look don’t say that he said. no i don’t mean it in that way but i just want a piece i say. we could make pizza in the dorm kitchen he said. no you don’t understand i said. i don’t want to cook my own food! i’ve done that my whole life! i want to BUY food like normal people do i said. i want to BUY a dairy-free pizza that is not also gluten free and vegan. he says he will make me a home-made pizza. i say no i want to buy normal foods like a normal person. he does not understand.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
beef stew is a white American food—i’ve never eaten it. i am not white American. i wish there were greek foods at the school cafeteria or anywhere else here but they always mess it up somehow. the gyro is always frozen, never fresh. the meat is always beef, never lamb. the olives are always black, not from kalamata! i’ve just learned not to have any expectations when it comes to the school and good food. so my school meals usually consist of half a hamburger or half a chicken sandwich and french fries, just like what the Americans eat! however, Americans eat much MORE food, but i just don’t have the stomach for that sort of thing.
i eat fries every day for all my meals. the first time i ate a baked potato with BACON on it was this year! it was an experience i’ll never forget. baked potatoes used to be my favorite food as a kid. i just loved my full stomach from all those carbs. i love carbs. it’s too bad this school doesn’t have any bread. i requested plain baguettes during one food advisory board meeting and the adults there just nodded their heads. i’m not sure if i’ll be getting my plain baguettes any time soon. i love dipping bread into olive oil and salt and lemon, but not like a real greek because i can’t add feta cheese to that mixture. when i introduced this mixture to my friends last year, they called me a witch. they said you’re making a concoction of witch potions, Soph! i said fear me mwahahaha! my friends do not think i am very scary.
It’s not you, it’s me. i never understood that sentiment until i was cursed with this gift God gave me. sorry for breaking all my ties, i just don’t know how to deal with myself! the swamp goblin controls me, so what’s the point in trying. it doesn’t let me eat or talk or be, so i sit here with my second coffee of the day and shake all over. i’m shaking even before i drink my coffee. i’m deprived; i’m starving, but coffee is a nectar that ‘heals’ me. it gets rid of my headaches and heartaches but gives me new ones an hour later. the headaches and heartaches feel the same because they both make me feel like food doesn’t matter because what’s a full feeling when you don’t have any love left in you. how do you feel full when your head is vacant. eating is hard for me because nothing tastes like anything and my brain does not want to put the effort to pretend like it tastes like something. i’m hungry for validation and perfection. i’m hungry for something more than what i’m doing with my life right now. i’m hungry for a stronger
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 sense of identity or motivation or passion or something. so it’s not you, it’s me! i’m trying to get better. i’m trying to get hungry again but it’ll take some time.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
first date i left my heart in my car my heart was exhaust
my heart was a car my heart was a pipe bomb
my car was exhausted
i wore sweatpants that day because my heart was dirty my heart was cotton my cotton stank of old perfume my heart was past its prime my heart was ugly . but my heart was also hungry so she decided to emerge . but the restaurant was closed . my heart was starving my heart was a third-world country . my third-world country was a starving child . my heart was a starving child you fed my starving child you cooked for my starving child
my heart grew rapidly . . . my heart was scary
& my heart grew greedy my heart grew wide & ready to be split by your tongue your tongue was a scalpel
you split my heart my heart was scared
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 my heart exploded . . .
my explosion emptied the earth of everyone but you
& your heart
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Call for Submissions ______________________________________________ Weâ€™re always looking for writing that spans genres, that demands to be read, that might be considered the black sheep of a family. Art and science thrill us, but so does the simple image of a man standing at a crossroads. Surprise us. Thrill us. Make us laugh and cry and cringe. Tell us your thoughts. We canâ€™t wait to hear from you! For submission guidelines, please visit http://atlasandalice.com/submit/
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15
Contributor Notes ______________________________________________ Ace Boggess is author of four books of poetry, most recently I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So (Unsolicited Press, 2018) and Ultra Deep Field (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2017), and the novel A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016). His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, RATTLE, River Styx, North Dakota Quarterly and many other journals. He received a fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia. Mialise Carney is a Boston-based writer whose work has also appeared in Menacing Hedge, Sagebrush Review, and The Bridge. Aslan Demir is a writer from Turkey, born in Van, an eastern Kurdish city. He completed his bachelors, as a double major, in English Literature and the Urdu Language. Aslan is a former English teacher. He completed his masters, MFA in Creative Writing, at Lindenwood University Saint Charles, USA. His works have been published in several magazines, most of which were on injustice and ordeals his kin the Kurds have been going through. He currently lives in the United States. Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based writer whose writing has appeared in PANK, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and elsewhere, including the 2019 Best Short Fictions anthology. She is the 2018/2019 Pen Parentis Fellow and a 2019 recipient of a Grant for Artist Project award from Artist’s Trust. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com. Anna Hundert is a fiction and nonfiction writer currently based in Madrid. Her work has appeared in the Ploughshares blog, LitHub, Electric Literature, Passages North, and elsewhere both online and in print. She studied Classics and Literary Arts at Brown University. Candice Kelsey‘s work has appeared in such journals as Poet Lore, The Cortland Review, and North Dakota Quarterly. She published a successful trade paperback with Da Capo Press, was a finalist for Poetry Quarterly‘s Rebecca Lard Award, and recently was 69
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 nominated for a Pushcart Prize. An educator of 20 years’ standing with her M.A. in literature from LMU, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children. Jackie Kenny’s work can be found in Allegory Ridge and is forthcoming in a short-story anthology published by Flying Ketchup Press. Inspired by the vast skies of Saskatchewan, Rachel Laverdiere anticipates that calm will erupt into thunderstorms, flocking geese will disappear into the sunset, and northern lights will traipse across the blackened stage. When pastures bloom into bouquets of crocus and sage, she forgets the chaos of a world that spins too quickly and remembers the pleasure of breathing. Published in journals such as The New Quarterly, Filling Station and Blank Spaces, Rachel’s writing often incorporates birds. To learn more about what she’s up to, visit www.rachellaverdiere.com. DiAnne Malone is a professor of English and Associate Dean of Student Affairs in Memphis, TN. Cathy Mellett‘s short stories, flash, and memoir have appeared in Arts & Letters, The Rumpus, The Yale Review, The Literary Review, Greensboro Review, Confrontation, Pif, Hobart, and more. She has received fellowships and residencies from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Yaddo, Ragdale, and Villa Montalvo and has recently completed a memoir. Benjamin Niespodziany has had work published in Fairy Tale Review, Hobart, Paper Darts, and various others. He works in a library in Chicago and runs the multimedia art blog [neonpajamas]. Christine Offutt regrets the fact that she was a human baby. Her childhood dream of being a cat or a bird dissolved in tears when she was saddled with a 1st grade primer and a brown paper sack containing lunch, then sent to the bus stop for her first day of school. But all was not lost, as reading and writing filled the void that flying and pooping in a litter tray would have fulfilled. Christine’s stories have been published in American Chordata and Jitter Press. Cheryl Pappas is a writer from Boston. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, jmww, Triangle House Review, 100 Word Story, Cleaver Magazine, Ploughshares blog, and more. Her website is cherylpappas.net and she can be found on Twitter @fabulistpappas. She is currently at work on a novel.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15 Judith Roney’s fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in numerous publications. “Field Guide for a Human” was a finalist in Gambling the Aisle’s chapbook contest, and “Waiting for Rain” won an honorable mention from Two Sylvias Press Poetry Collection contest. Her poetry collection, According to the Gospel of Haunted Women, received the 2015 Pioneer Prize. She confesses to an obsession with the archaic and misunderstood, dead relatives, and collects vintage religious artifacts and creepy dolls. When not playing with dolls, she teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida, and is assistant poetry editor for The Florida Review. Sophia Roumeliotis is currently a senior at Lake Forest College. She will graduate with her B.A in Creative Writing in the Spring of 2020. She will graduate with her MAT in Elementary Education and a Middle School Endorsement at Lake Forest College in the Spring of 2021. Sophia is the editorial head of her college’s literary magazine. Sutton Strother is a writer and English instructor living in New York. Her work has been featured in SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, Jellyfish Review, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. You can find more of her work at suttonstrother.wordpress.com. She tweets @suttonstrother. Daryl Sznyter is the author of Synonyms for (OTHER) Bodies (NYQ Books). Her poetry has appeared in Diode, Harpur Palate, Poet Lore, The American Journal of Poetry, Best American Poetry Blog, and elsewhere. She received her M.F.A. from The New School. She currently resides in northeastern Pennsylvania. Nathan Willis is a writer from Ohio. His stories have appeared in various literary outlets including Booth, Hobart, Outlook Springs, Little Fiction, and Jellyfish Review. He can be found online at nathan-willis.com and on Twitter at @Nathan1280.
Cover Photo: Benjamin Woodard
Atlas and Alice, Issue 15