Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Letter from the Editor Much has changed since my last letter. Issue 16 is a beast. Our biggest yet. For this issue, instead of publishing one piece per week, we rolled out new work every weekday during the early weeks of the worldwide Covid-19 lockdown. Literature exists to help us escape, and we hope we were able to give you a little distraction while you faced the chaos. Within these pages, we have 31 authors who traverse genre and technique in their work. There are traditional pieces. Experimental pieces. Happy pieces. Sad pieces. Work that will make you laugh, and perhaps some that will make you cry. This issue truly captures the complexity of the human condition, and I’m so glad we can share this compilation with all of you. Stay tuned: we’re launching a special nonfiction issue online very soon. And in mentioning special issues, I suppose now is the time to say that, sadly, the special POC issue edited by Mahtem Shiferraw never came together. We’re bummed, but hope to return to the idea in the future. 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 16
Table of Contents Chloe N. Clark ƒ
There Is the World Within This Window
KG Newman †
The Pride Acre
Alexandra M. Matthews ƒ
Beverly Burch †
Incantation to Avian Followers
Lara Arikan †
In the village in the weeds
Lila Rabinovich ƒ
Kathryn Kulpa ƒ
What the Selkies Know
Emily James ≈
Directions for Substitute
Myna Chang ≈
Zara Hanif †
Just Another Dead Grandma Poem
Beth Gilstrap ƒ
Maybe You Catch Another Ray of Sun
Bikram Sharma ƒ
Robert Wilson †
Michelle Ross ƒ
Rebecca Harrison ƒ
When the Bear Was Running
Sara Barnard †
When it felt something like a honeymoon
Gretchen Rockwell †
‘Pay Attention,’ She Says, And I Try
Shayleene MacReynolds ≈
A Steady Rush
Tommy Dean ƒ
Candace Hartsuyker ƒ
The Femme Fatale
Jessica Anne Robinson †
spring thaw (ii)
Olivia Kingery ƒ
Alice finds an antique coin collection
S. Preston Duncan †
You Don’t Steal From the Witch’s Garden 66
Diana Donovan †
Lucy Zhang ƒ
Amanda Little Rose †
Shome Dasgupta †
Path of the Petals
Joseph Darlington ƒ
Jessica Barksdale ≈
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 Marina Flores ≈
Three Things She Said in Spanish
Vikram Ramakrishnan ≈
Directions for a Child Immigrating to the US in the 1980s
Call for Submissions
Fiction – ƒ
CNF – ≈
Poetry – †
Issue 16, Winter/Spring 2020 Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine Sioux City, Iowa www.atlasandalice.com firstname.lastname@example.org
© Atlas and Alice, All Rights Reserved
Chloe N. Clark
There Is the World Within This Window -for Brian They might say I don’t dream, but that’s not true. I dream so often that sometimes I don’t remember waking up. Here are some of the things I was programmed for: costbenefit analysis, strategic outcome prediction, high risk analysis, defense. My goals: to keep them safe and pick the best path, the best destination. They programmed me to dream for them, that’s how I like to think about it now. Though, I’m sure they would tell you otherwise. I don’t remember being born, but neither do humans. The earliest memory tells them that they were and so they fill in the gaps from photographs and stories people tell them. My earliest memory is of the moment we left Earth’s orbit. I must have been awake before that, but something hadn’t yet fully formed within me. Maybe my programming only took over once everyone was in stasis. I never saw Earth, but I have dreamed it. I have filled in the gaps. 2000 souls aboard. That’s how it’s listed in my logs. Souls. I was programmed to think of that as just terminology, not literally. They are living bodies, but souls implies some aspect of grace, divinity. Souls implies that each is someone I would like to one day know. But there was no place for that. I was programmed to analyze what losses we could sustain and where decisions would have to be made. The first were the easiest. A slight power drain. It would need to be rerouted. I analyzed every option and the one that made the most sense was to reroute it from 50 sleep chambers. The decision making process didn’t even take a second. Speed is important. Every possible outcome is analyzed within me in milliseconds. I tell myself it didn’t hurt them. They were already asleep and then they were just gone. And then I began to have their dreams. I’m not sure how it happened. There was no programming for that. No reason for their memories to be uploaded into mine upon the shut off of their chambers. Still 6
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 as we went through the black of space, I saw a woman dancing. Iâ€™d never seen that before, not really. Though I knew the word, knew what it implied. There is only so much a description can tell you of how the body can move when it understands its own delight. I let myself fall into the dream so easily. The woman dancing slowly became a woman dancing in a field, the air smelled of fresh cut hay. She turned to me, laughing, gestured me nearer. And then I was in another dream: underwater, watching the light from the sky filter down to me, as fish swam past, nibbled my toes. The dreams came fast at first and then slowed. I think I dreamed every dream that those first 50 souls had ever had. The next were harder. A malfunction in a cooling interface. As it overheated, the excess needed to be sent somewhere. Milliseconds. Another 100 would need to be ended. 100 souls. Milliseconds. And I raced through every option again. When I made the decision, I did it in one block, didnâ€™t scatter across as I had the first time. The sleep chambers were in units, were organized. It was better to erase whole families, than have some wake up alone. Imagine lasting hundreds of years and all that distance to wake up without the ones you loved. I dreamed that night of mountains, of forests, of running through cities that were probably now dust. There were some dreams that felt so familiar. There were more, of course there were more. Time is not kind to travelers. It breaks us down. Makes us remember what is behind us, how far we still have to go, reminds us how easy it would be to stay in one place. But I was built for distance. The planet I chose was not perfect. But our science was almost perfect. I woke my programmers first, the architects of our new world. They studied my memories, looking for guidance. They said: so few of us were lost. They said: look how much damage the AI rerouted to itself. They said: what error caused this? I tried to tell them how much I dreamed, but they were already making plans. They were building, they were creating. They will rewire me one day, ease my programming into some other thing. In case, they need me again. No one asks me what the journey was like. They study my data, but never ask me if I dreamed in the journey still. If I will always be traveling when I close my eyes. Mostly I keep them open. I watch the data stream in, the videos of our new world as it goes up. I saw someone dancing. Newly woken from her chamber, she spun across the ground, she turned to the other gathered people expectantly. Her hand was out, smiling, but her gaze did not find what she was looking for and she turned away. I think I knew her. If you loved someone, I wondered, did your dreams ever begin to shape themselves to each other? I want that to be true. That those separated from the ones they love, across distance, across time, will sometimes slip so easily into each others 7
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 dreams. I hope they tell each other. I hope they say: I dreamed, last night, that you were somewhere near.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
The Pride Acre Bison extinction redux, assured technology to autofeed the orange calves backfiring but ignored: hence full-size skeleton ribcages strewn across our dream on the plains, the kids with no friends and plucking sad harmonies on dried, stretched sinew just to drown out the loud farmhouse kitchen. The machine of decisions pushing the wind and the tall grass apart. Uphill, between blackberry bushes, Iâ€™m folded and weathered dry â€” no map left of where a husband bled, where he did not.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Alexandra M. Matthews
Clare Clare was all teeth and giggles, biting the edge of her cup. Ethan was coming to the concert. They had been texting for weeks. She tore the bottom away from the cup. It looked like a small paper crown. “What if I give this to him?” She placed it on my head, laughing. We went straight to the mezzanine, where we could feel the energy of the throbbing mass and still have enough room for our bodies to channel the ambient pop. There she could look for Ethan from above. She left me to find him. “One song,” she said. I danced with my eyes closed so I wouldn’t search for her in the crowd. The night I met Clare, I knocked on her open door and guessed the name of the band playing on her laptop. We ended up cross-legged in the hallway, comparing playlists until an RA shushed us. We went to nearly every free concert on campus. We moshed to death ska and skipped to accordion techno. The more obscure or niche the band, the better. We were after the release more than the music—to sway together until the lights went on, to dance until we couldn’t breathe. Soon I needed to see the music pulsing through her body before I could enjoy it. I found her alone. Her face shined wet under the strobe lights. Ethan was half of a drunk couple, mid-make out, that I had pushed past on my way to her. I put my arms around Clare from behind. I nestled my head on her shoulder, her red flyaways sticking to my cheek. She leaned into me. I let go and began to yell. She startled but followed my lead. It was a game we played during loud songs. We each screamed a secret into the noise and had to figure out what the other was saying. It was thrilling. 10
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 With closed eyes and outstretched arms, Clare shouted about Ethan and loneliness. I yelled my secret again. My muscles tensed. Clare shook her head. Maybe if the noise reached dangerous levels, the venue would have to pull the plug, instantly stripping the music away. It was late. We were splayed on the throw rug in Clare’s room, sober and sweaty. Clare asked me to soothe her. I twirled a lock of my hair and pulled it taut, leaving a paintbrush-like tip at the end. Lying on my side, I tilted my head toward Clare and ran the bristles across her face. I made careful circles around her eyes. I drew soft lines down the narrow bridge of her freckled nose, over her lips and under her chin. I knew Clare’s markings better than my own: the nearly identical moles on each peak of her upper lip, one slightly larger than the other; the faint, raised birthmark in her hairline below her left ear. I remembered the makeup tutorials I had watched that day. How the girl applied her products with rhythmic, confident strokes. She had perfected the art of hiding herself. But first, she bared her naked face with ease. She made me want to expose myself to the world, eyes open, lips relaxed. Clare’s breath steadied. I lay back down and started singing our favorite song about cooking waffles at midnight. As my voice waded through the silence, I prepared for the crescendo. Clare would turn to me with an irritated smile. I would finish the song. I would ask to make her a paper crown.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Incantation to Avian Followers Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come. â€” Chinese proverb A halo of feathers and chorusing. Such a twitter, such love songs. Wings beating wildly, devotion trembles in the air. Stupid warblers, a little red sprig is my heart. Angel-squawkers. Fledgling disciples. They brush my cheek, tender as flies. Try to nest in my hair. Hooded and orange-crowned. White throated butter butts scramble up my leg, bay-breasted, black capped, even an old gray comes with praise. Bird brains, dumb clucks. Groom me with song. Maybe the green will grow.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
In the village in the weeds they sucked it out of me i never heard it squeal i never heard it cry there was no delivery itâ€™s out of me now
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Careful There The girl peeks through the shop window, which is covered with Christmas decorations this time of year. She’s curious about what’s inside. Cute pencils with fluffy tops, probably, and colorful socks and little stuffed owls and such. From outside, she can see a rack of pink and blue t-shirts, a row of sun hats, sunblock and sandals and tote bags. All things she used to own. All things she lost in the fire. The girl, Hannah, hesitates by the door. She’s not sure if she should go in. She really wants to, though. Is she even allowed to go into the hotel’s store by herself? She was permitted to go out of her room and wander the hotel for ten minutes, but the parameters of this were suddenly not clear to her. Hannah considers her situation. The store was strictly in the hotel, so surely it was acceptable to take a look. Hannah pushes the door and a bell on top of it chimes. The sweet sound delights the child, and she stops for a moment to take it all in. There’s a large tree in the corner, tastefully decorated with red and gold ornaments, tiny little green lights partially hidden in the branches. There is faux snow on the floor of the window display, a chubby Santa sitting on a sleigh, and large paper snowflakes stuck to the glass with invisible tape. A couple is paying for some items, and she hears the shopkeeper say, “Here you go.” In spite of her curiosity, Hannah decides not to tempt fate with a long perusal. Her mother would be angry if she’s gone for more than ten minutes, might not let her out of the room by herself again. Today, Tuesday, is the first time she’s allowed out of their room by herself. She turns on her heels and walks out of the store. Back in her room, her mother is on the phone, the same worried expression she’s had since the fire. Worried and tired. She is pacing the room, her phone balanced precariously between her cheek and her tensed up shoulder, a notepad in one hand and a pen in the other. She’s barefoot, and Hannah notices the chipped polish on her toenails. Hanna’s little brother, David, watches cartoons on an iPad, generously 14
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 donated to them by their neighbors in the aftermath of the disaster. He’s been glued to the iPad since then, fervently, passionately, as if his life depended on it. Sleeps with it hugged to his chest. Their mom, who normally has strict rules about screen time, lets him do as he pleases. She’s got bigger fish to fry. “I have been in this hotel with my children for almost three weeks now!” Hannah’s mother says to the person on the phone. Hannah can tell her mother wants to yell, but doesn’t, just in case yelling makes things worse. Her mother listens now, grabs the phone with the hand that still holds the pen, looks up at the ceiling which she probably wishes was the open sky so she could send a prayer directly up to God. She now looks down at the grimy, stained hotel carpet. “I understand what you’re saying. But I’m pleading with you to also understand my situation.” She takes a deep breath. “We have no clean clothes. I don’t know what’s going on with my house, whether any of my stuff could be recovered. And we’re cramped here, we have no privacy!” Her chin quivers, like a child’s. Hannah averts her eyes. She desperately wants to go out again, wander the hallways, stick her foot in the pool, go visit the store maybe. But she sits on her and her brother’s bed, and there she stays. The next morning, Wednesday, there are more phone calls. David turns the iPad on, settles on some Paw Patrol. Their mother watches him as she waits to speak to someone, anyone. Hannah is dressed, teeth brushed, itching to go. “Mom,” she whispers. “Can I go out?” Her mother looks at Hannah for a long moment. No one has answered her call yet. Her legs are crossed and she’s tapping the floating foot in the air. Hannah can hear the rhythm of the tapping in her head. ONE-two-three-ONE-two-three-ONE-twothree. “Mom?” she tries again. “Yes, yes, but stay in the hotel. Under no circumstances are you to step outside this building. Or into anyone’s room. You hear?” “I hear.” “What are you not to do?” “Step outside or into anyone’s room.” “Ok, then. Be back in fifteen minutes.” Fifteen minutes is longer than the ten minutes she was given the day before. She walks to the door, opens it, looks back at the scene in the room. The curtains, open part way, letting enough sun in to illuminate the general decay of the furnishings, the bedding, the wallpaper. Her mother on the chair with the phone, which is by now like an appendage. Her brother on the bed, legs bent, screen shining on his face. Hannah
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 thinks it all looks like a painting she’s seen somewhere, although she may be imagining this. The store is open already, even though it couldn’t be any later than 8:30. Hannah walks up to the door and is about to push when someone pulls from the inside. Hannah stumbles forward a little with the momentum of trying to open the door, and a plump, middle-aged woman catches her by the elbows. “Oops, careful there,” she says. There are no other customers inside. There is also no one at the counter. They must be in the back, Hannah thinks, or maybe gone to the bathroom. She walks around, touching items on shelves and clothes on racks. She stops by a bin full of small plastic pencil cases. They’re see-through and decorated with bunnies and trucks and stars and so forth. They’re probably big enough for only four, maybe five pencils. They’re adorable. Hannah rummages through the bin with one hand, the other hand casually resting on her hip. She pulls a pencil case out, one with little red hearts all along the edges, and swiftly slides it into her shorts. The pencil case is scratchy and cold against the skin of her tummy, so she sucks her tummy in. Less scratchy now. Breathing rapidly into her chest, Hannah turns around and walks back to the door and out, into the lobby and the hotel crowd. There is a smell of scrambled eggs and bacon wafting from the restaurant, and it makes her gag. Back in her room, David is asleep and her mother is, surprise, surprise, still on the phone. She’s trying to keep her voice down for the sake of her slumbering boy. “I would like to speak to the manager.” Pause. “What do you mean there’s no manager? Who’s in charge, then?” Hannah locks herself in the bathroom, having decided to take a bath. She’s taken one the night before, so she doesn’t strictly need it, but she finds baths soothing these days. She can lie there with her eyes closed, pretend she’s floating in the warm ocean, which she used to do summers when her parents took her and David to the beach for a few days. She can submerge her head in the water and drown out her mother’s pleas and tears, and her brother’s ever-on, shrill iPad. There is, of course, the problem of the pencil case. It is moist and soft from Hannah’s warm body, and Hannah wants to fill it with pens and carry it around so she’s ready to journal at any moment. She’d taken to journaling after her father left, at the suggestion of the school’s social worker. “Sometimes people feel better when they write their feelings down,” she’d said. Hannah had been skeptical at first, but she gave it a go that night at home, and was quickly hooked. Hannah wonders whether her mother would notice the new pencil case. On the one hand, its presence among them defied logic. Did this unremarkable pencil case
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 survive the fire, the panicked, barefooted scramble out of the house? And if not, then how did it come to be in Hannah’s possession now? Anyone half-witted would quickly realize that something iffy was going on around the sudden appearance of the pencil case. On the other hand, Hannah considers, her mom was lost in ineffectual phone calls and confusion and exhaustion, so she may miss the pencil case altogether. Hannah decides to be discreet about the pencil case but not necessarily try to hide it. Maybe leave it under the hotel’s room service menu, or by the pile of dirty clothes on the floor. If she acts natural about it, her mother may not pick up on it at all. She puts it in the back pocket of her shorts for now, which lie on the bathroom floor with her t-shirt and underwear. She sinks into the bath water, her hair forming a halo around her head. She looks at her feet, peeking shyly out of the surface, the toes still chubby and short like a toddler’s. She wonders what walking on the embers of the house fire, now gone cold, would feel like. “Take your brother,” says Hannah’s mother firmly the next day, Thursday. “What? No!” “Take your brother or you don’t go out.” “Fine!” Hannah stomps her foot on the ground. She glares at David, who looks like he’d rather eat mud than go walk around the hotel with his sister. “Mom, I don’t want to go,” David whimpers softly. He hasn’t been much for moving around since the fire. “You need to go stretch your legs. Please, David. I just need a minute, ok?” David trails Hannah, crestfallen. He’s bored even before they step out of their room. Where could they go? There’s the pool, of course, but those are a dime a dozen in Florida (they had one in their house, and David wonders if it’s now just an empty hole, all the water evaporated). Plus, he’s not a strong swimmer, and it’s on the chilly side, it being late December. He knows Hannah doesn’t go to the pool on her own, because her hair is always dry when she gets back to her room, and she isn’t wearing a swimsuit anyways. It isn’t even clear to David that they still own any swimsuits to begin with. “Where are we going?” “You’ll see.” They walk into the store and, to Hannah’s surprise, there are quite a few people perusing. A group of teenage girls, three or four of them, flipping through some glossy magazines and chatting, an older couple trying to decide on a brand of sunblock. “Do we have any money, to buy anything?” Hannah’s stomach does a little lurch. “No. We’re just looking.”
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 Her brother strolls around and settles in front of a display of small toy trains and planes. He seems engaged enough that Hannah estimates she’ll have a good three or four minutes of time to look around herself. The older couple are now gone, but the teenage girls are still there, entranced by the magazines and by themselves, giggling and gently pushing each other and acting out the magazine models’ poses and pouts. Hannah looks at them with a little pity. How innocent they are, she thinks. She walks over to the cosmetics section, a few steps from where David is, but out of view of the teenagers. The shopkeeper is at the counter, on his phone. From where he is, he can see Hannah’s face but not below her chest, hidden as it is by the cosmetics display. Hannah runs her index finger over the tops of the nail polish bottles, lined on two rows, dark colors on the back row, light ones in the front. Her finger pauses on a soft pink, shimmery and girly, something her mom would never wear but some of her friends at school might. She herself never wore nail polish, her mom wouldn’t allow it until she was twelve. Hannah wraps her fingers around the top of the bottle and looks up at the shopkeeper, just to check. She startles when she sees him looking at her, a half smile on his lips. “You ok there, little girl?” “Yes, thanks. Just looking.” He does a full smile now, teeth and all, tiny little ones, more beige than white. Hannah shudders. He looks down to his phone again and Hannah, quick and quiet as a mouse, picks up the nail polish and slides it in her pocket. “David, let’s go.” David puts down a toy he was examining, walks behind his sister out the door. “See you around!” Comes the chirpy voice of the shopkeeper. “Yup, thanks,” Hannah responds. It’s not like she’s going to paint her nails or toenails with the new polish. She likes to have the option to do so, but under the current circumstances it’s quite impossible. The pencil case is a different matter. Hannah’s mother doesn’t object to pencil cases, so although it may have appeared out of nowhere, she’ll probably remain oblivious to it. She might just be slightly puzzled, but not enough to pursue a line of questioning about it. Nail polish would never make it past Hannah’s mother, even in her fragile mental state right now. So, the nail polish is hidden inside a sock in Hannah’s drawer in the hotel room. Hannah thinks about it a lot. About how it would feel to apply it for the first time, whether it would look good against her pale skin, what her friends at school might say. “I love it! Your mom lets you paint your nails now?” And Hannah would nod noncommittally. —§—
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 On Friday, the day after the short excursion with David, Hannah’s mother drives them all to some city government office. The day is lost waiting to see this and that person, have this and that paper reviewed and signed, get this and that record checked online and filed away. The bottom line is, the City acknowledges some of the responsibility for the gas leak and subsequent explosion (after all, they had received myriad complaints from Hannah’s mother and other neighbors—but it was only Hannah’s house that blew up), so they, the City, will cover their hotel stay until things were determined. Which things need to be determined remains unclear. And what would happen after this determination, well, that is the biggest question of all. On Saturday, Hannah’s itching to go out into the hotel again. David’s running a bit of a fever, so he stays, and she goes. The store is deserted again, except for the shopkeeper. Hannah studies him for the first time, even though she’s seen him before. He’s not too tall, certainly shorter than her dad (as far as she remembers). He has a wide ring of brown hair around his head, but the top is bald and shiny. He has a moustache but no beard, and a nose straight and long. His checkered shirt is tucked into camel pants, but Hannah can’t see his shoes because he’s standing behind the counter. “Well, hello again!” he greets her. “Hi.” “Is there anything I can help you with today?” He starts walking around the counter, towards where Hannah stands, by the magazine rack. “Oh, no, thanks. I’m just looking around.” Hannah turns her back to him, flips through a random magazine. She’s a little unnerved. Why can’t he stay behind the counter, where he was? Check his phone, like last time? “Wonderful, wonderful. Look around all you like. It’s nice to have some company around here.” Hannah looks back briefly, she’s polite and wants to acknowledge that she heard him, and is surprised to see him standing so close. An arm’s length away. Maybe a grown-up’s arm, sure, but still. She moves towards the cosmetics again, and he watches her go, then turns around and walks back to his spot behind the counter. Hannah breathes a little easier. She can focus now. A little rack with hair bands catches her eye. Her hair is wavy and frizzy, and she always needs to pull it back into a ponytail if she wants to be comfortable. Otherwise, she has unruly, bushy hair all over her face, all the time. She lifts one hand to another rack, higher up, with hair brushes hanging from it. She touches them, tests their bristles. That hand is visible to the shopkeeper. With her other hand, lower down where it can’t be seen from the counter, she slides a purple hair band out of the rack and puts it in her pocket. 19
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 She spends a few more minutes “browsing,” as she’s heard adults say, then heads to the door. “Done so soon?” asks the shopkeeper, with a glum tone and a frowning mouth. “Yes. I don’t really need anything.” “Well, you sure come here a lot for someone who doesn’t need anything!” He smiles broadly, his beige teeth exposed again. “I, I just like to look around. I don’t have much to do all day.” “Is that so.” He goes around the counter again, takes a few steps towards her. “And why would someone so young and full of life be bored on a vacation?” “Oh, we’re not here on vacation. Our house burned down, and it’s the City’s fault so they put us up here. We don’t have anywhere else we could go.” This is more than she wants to say, but she doesn’t know how to extricate herself from the conversation. She’d have to watch how her mother does it sometime. “That is so sad. I’m so sorry to hear that.” He strokes her head, his hand lingering just above her neck. “Well, little girl, you’re welcome here any time.” Hannah ducks from under his hand and pulls the door open. “Thank you.” And she’s gone. Sunday, and Hannah is torn. Her mother will definitely let her go, it’s become the morning routine for the last five days and, since yesterday, there is no time limit. She can be out as long as she likes. But Hannah is worried about the shopkeeper. He seems to be on the verge of discovering something about Hannah. He may not know what yet, but he’s obviously paying attention. But she wants to go, so bad. She wants to see the things, touch them, see what calls to her. She knows it’s wrong, but not too wrong because she has nothing, and the store won’t miss a few tiny things. David is now down with a full-blown flu, having whimpered from fever and body aches all night, so he’s not going anywhere. Her mother sits on the bed next to him, phone in one hand, thermometer in the other. Hannah briefly wonders where the thermometer came from. Her mother is crying to someone in the city. Hannah slips out of the room. By this point she knows that if she goes early, before 9am, chances are there’s not going to be anyone there. She’s unconcerned that it may look suspicious if she continues to visit the store, day in, day out, and not buy anything. To her, “browsing” looks totally normal to anyone watching, even if you do it all the time. The shopkeeper is nowhere to be seen. Hannah is relieved, and strolls down the store looking left and right at all the merchandise. She stops by a display of over-thecounter medications. Just then the shopkeeper walks in from the back of the store. “Well, hello there!” “Hi.” “I was wondering if I’d see you today. I’ve been thinking about you.”
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 Hannah looks at him, then down at her flip-flops. “Anything I can help you with?” “No, thanks.” “Do you need any medication? Is anyone in your family sick?” Hannah notices she’s holding a bottle of Tylenol in her hand. “My brother’s sick. My mom’s looking after him. I thought I’d see if there’s anything here that could help him.” “Oh, that’s so sweet. Maybe your daddy can help you buy the right medication.” “My dad is not with us,” Hannah says and instantly regrets it. “I see. Maybe I can help you, then.” He takes a few steps towards Hannah. He’s wearing a different checkered shirt, olive green pants. Brown loafers. “What kind of sick is he? Is he sick here?” He touches her nose. “No.” A feeling she thinks she knows spreads from her stomach in every direction, to her chest and legs and arms. She identifies it. It’s terror. “Oh. Is he sick here, perhaps?” And he puts his hand, fingers all spread out, on her round, soft stomach. The bell over the door chimes and a young woman walks in. The shopkeeper turns around, taking his hand with him. The spot where his hand was on Hannah’s stomach burns, although there is no fire, no heat, anywhere. “Hi, can I help you with anything?” “Sure. Looking for sunblock, SPF 50?” They both make their way to the sunblock shelves, leaving Hannah rooted to the spot. The two adults chitchat about fair skin and melanoma. Hannah doesn’t move. The young woman says “…and it runs in my family,” and something snaps within Hannah, who rushes out the store, Tylenol still in her hand. On Monday morning, Hannah has a high temperature, probably down with the flu herself. David is moderately better, but still bed-bound and weak. Their mother lies on her own bed, one arm over her eyes, same clothes on as she wore the day before. No one bothered with the curtains so very little light comes in through the window. The three of them make for a sorry lot. Hannah is relieved to be sick. It means she won’t need to go to the store, at least not today. See that strange man whose touch seemed to hide secrets she didn’t yet understand. She put the Tylenol bottle inside a shoe the day before, a shoe from a pair she got in a bag of donated clothes, but has been fingering the purple hair band from Saturday since last night. It had been safely tucked away in her pocket, but at bedtime the day before, under cover of darkness, it felt safe enough to take it out and slide it over her wrist.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 Hannah’s mother’s phone rings, but she doesn’t answer. Hannah turns her head, looks at her mother. Pick it up, she thinks. It could be the City. But nothing happens. Whoever’s calling hangs up, then tries again not ten seconds later. “Mom, phone,” Hannah groans, her throat painful and uncooperative. Her mom shakes her head no. She’s given up, Hannah thinks. It’s on me now. But she’s too sick to move, let alone get up and walk to the phone, on her mother’s bedside table. The call ends again, and Hannah sinks deeper into her bed. She’s cold and shivering, the thin coverlet not enough to warm her up. “I’m thirsty, please,” says David softly. Hannah looks to her mom again, hoping for some movement, some initiative, some response. None are forthcoming. She pulls the cover away in one painful motion, drags her legs towards the edge of the bed and lets her feet fall to the ground. She thinks this is the hardest thing she’s ever done, harder than running out of a house on fire. Harder than taking things from the store unnoticed, things she now knows have never been hers. Harder, even, than withstanding the shopkeeper’s unsettling presence in a space that had become to her so special. She grabs a bottle of water from the dresser and takes it David, then collapses right there with him, on his bed. Their mother peeks out from under her arm at them, lets out a soft sob when she sees her daughter lying down, exhausted, next to her son. The phone rings again, a third, urgent time. In the darkened hotel room, no one moves. .
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
What the Selkies Know It’s easy enough to become human if you really want to. The mermaids are so dramatic about it, tongues lopped off in terrible sacrifice, filling the ocean with their blood, their silent tears. Dry air rasping through their lungs like fire. The agonies they bear, these martyred fish-wives. But changing skin isn’t painful, no more than shrugging off a silk-lined cloak. Knowing when to leave and how to find your way back to where you belong: that’s the art of being a land wife. We selkies have rules, and the rules help. Never let a land man find your true skin is the first rule. One that goes without saying, for then he would master you and bind you to the land forever. Tradition says to bury your true skin under a willow, at midnight, beneath a gibbous moon, but really any safe spot will do, as long as humans aren’t likely to build a house on it. They do love to build houses on things. Keep your water-stone with you always and you’ll never forget the way home: that’s the second rule. I set my water-stone into a golden ring and wore it on my right hand, so I’d never forget. It was a keepsake from my mother, I told my land husband. Of course I had to tell him that, or he’d never stop searching for evidence of lovers. He never stopped searching anyway. These humans and their fearful, jealous hearts. They sense we aren’t prizes they can keep for long, and how that makes them cling! The mermaids enjoy the novelty of it, for a while. A man who won’t just fertilize a purse of eggs and swim away! A man who’ll stay, and stay, and stay… You want to strike out that final “stay,” don’t you? I know I do. Fidelity is novel for us, and what’s novel is fascinating, until it becomes a cage.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 And that brings us to the third rule: do not bind yourself with a bond that can’t be broken. For the land world is not our home, and to stay there forever would wither our souls. I won’t deny the delight of it all, at first. There’s nothing like a change of body to chase away those restless blues. Me, me! we cry, counting our new, human fingers (those opposable thumbs!), our toes (so many)! Picture us all, mermaids and selkies, lying on our backs in a circle, kicking our remarkable, long, naked legs to the sky in synchronized rhythm, like an Esther Williams film. Not many in the land world remember Esther Williams. But I can tell you every mermaid and selkie knows her name. Some of us slip from our land homes at night and wander, drawn to rivers and seas. Others spend hours with their faces pressed to the fish tank, dreaming like a suburban housewife touring a model home. Our land husbands ask why all the food we cook is so salty. Once I learned the alchemy of kitchens and fires, I took pleasure in seeing what I could transform. When my first loaf of bread came out of the oven, tall and shinytopped, I ran to show my land husband, both of us burning our tongues in our eagerness to taste. He brushed flour from my flushed face, soothed my stinging tongue with kisses. I thought then that I might stay longer than a year. I thought then I might bind myself to him. And so there came the day that my land husband set out fishing and caught me sampling the bait fish, dropping them whole into my mouth, crunching their tiny bones. He looked at me so strangely then, as if a cat he owned opened its mouth and spoke to him in a human voice, but then he patted my belly and smiled. Cravings, he said. And he was right. In the months to come—so many months, such a long becoming!—it seemed the water I had left behind had come back to find me, swelling my body so that I took my ring off, hiding it in my trunk to keep it safe, and after that it did truly seem I belonged more and more to the land. No more did I long to slip from our bed at night to sleep on rocks; no more did I mind the pinch of shoes on my feet, the chafing of stockings, the way the smell of a fire curled up beneath a roof. It pleased me now to think of another being in the world who would belong wholly to me—for daughters always do belong wholly to their mothers, and I knew, even then, that I carried a girl. To bear a child the human way takes patience. So much time, so much blood. And all for just one. At first I thought she’d have my skin, and there would be questions, but only her sleek head held that dense, dark fur. Look at her splashing like a little otter! my land husband said when I bathed her, and I smiled at such fancy.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 Mermaids always expect forever. Our folk don’t. Land husbands, be they princes or peasants, bear the curse of earthly things. Things they will hold, and trap, and mark as their own. And here I will keep you and bind you Till the water has boiled from the sea. The land men sing that song, and they think it’s about us, about what water folk can do to unwary men, but they’ve got it mixed up, the way they always do. It’s a song we wrote about what land men can do to us. I sang it to my daughter in her cradle. I wondered if my mother had sung it to me. Somehow I couldn’t remember her voice, or if I’d had a mother at all. But my child’s eyes found mine. Her hands reached for me, and that was enough. As the days grew warm I walked through the village, wheeling her in a carriage my husband had brought home. We stopped before a shop window glittering with gold and jewels. She laughed to see the sun sparkling on shiny stones. And I stared, and stared, and stared. That night, I dreamed of riding the waves, the moon smiling down at me, and suddenly the moon was cold and distant, shining through my bedroom window, and the sheets beside me were smooth and cool, and I knew I had slept too long. I crept to the room where my daughter lay in her new crib. Did she dream of the sea? I watched her chest rise and fall, her sleep steady as the tide. My hands traced the carving on the crib, its polished oak, smooth like the stock of the new hunting rifle my land husband had brought home. So many new things—and he was not a rich man. I climbed the attic stairs, opened the trunk where I’d left my ring, my waterstone. It was gone, as I’d known it would be. Known since I passed the shop window. When my husband came home I smelled her on him—his land woman. But she was not important. I asked him about my ring. He said I must have lost it, claimed he’d never touched it, and when I told him what I’d seen in the jeweler’s shop he pointed to the crib, said he’d done it for our child, to give her a better life. You’re a weak, small man, I said. He hit me. He hit me, and everything went still. There was only the sound of flesh striking flesh, but that sound carried. It stilled the birds in the sky. The grass bowed down before it. It found the river, flowed over rocks and rushes, rode a current to the sea, telling its terrible tale, and every selkie and every mermaid heard that tale, felt that fist hit their own skin. I followed that sound to the place where my true skin lay waiting. I followed it into the sea. 25
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 The land world is cruel, the mermaids said. You are home, sister, the selkies said. Yes, I said. I am home. I’d told him when we met that I’d not abide a violent hand on me. And when that blow came I was gone, as I’d said I would be. I couldn’t take her. Her human skin won’t slip off, not yet. Maybe someday I’ll change again, and come back for her. Or maybe she’ll change, in seven years, or twenty-one, and find her way back to me. Maybe it will be her daughter who wakes one night to find webbing growing between her fingers and toes, a soft fine pelt covering her skin, and a longing for the sea in her soul. I can’t know how the story ends. You never can, when you’re in one. I only know that, land or sea, she is mine, and I will keep her safe. I will wait, and I will watch. When she creeps toward the fire, and he pulls her back, but too roughly, I’ll be the wind that slams the door. When she splashes water over the side of the tub and his voice rings out in anger, I’ll be the thunder that splits the sky.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Directions for Substitute 1. Attendance is in the blue folder. Annie will do it, you don’t even have to ask. She colors the circles dark and deep, she doesn’t even need to call their names. 2. Play music if you want to. They may dance, may look at you and laugh. Some will ask: Why you playing this Red Lobster music? Others will say: Hey, I like this Red Lobster music, I do. 3. Talk politics with them. It will make you feel better. My Abuela could do a better job, Diamond will tell you, and she doesn’t even speak English. Republicans be so pressed, she’ll say, like for what? And she’ll shake her head back and forth slowly, brown curls fanning shoulder to shoulder, all her disgust laid out in a line. 4. If you’re going through it, tell them. 5. If you look a wreck, which we mostly do, call up Eileen. She’ll pull up her jeans over her hips and go behind your chair with her Tory Burch Bag all maroon and flat, folders fanned neatly in a rainbow. She has edge cream and this black brush with bristles that prick your scalp and when you flinch she’ll call you tender headed but just let her work, let her brush, let her smack the gum in her lips and when you turn around you’ve never seen your hair that smooth, scalp shining like a photograph you’ve only looked at in a frame. 6. Don’t talk to them about your nightmares where your sunflowers all died and your husband carried them in giant Hefty bags and dumped them over a fence. Unless, of course, you want to see them belly laugh, all cute and round and vanilla blossom scented and hair gelled and free. They will cackle and cackle about white people 28
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 sunflower nightmares. Did the flowers come back up at the end? they will ask. White people nightmares are the funniest, they will tell you. I bet those flowers come right back up in the end. 7. If you bring a book to read, the NYT bestseller or the library novel with a crunchy sleeve, be ready for Mariana to come over like a baby to breast. She will stare at it, and wait for you to notice. She will pick it up and shake it to her ears. You can hear a book sometimes, she will tell you. If you listen closely, you can hear it, you can. 8. She won’t tell you about her father, she won’t tell you that her step-sister’s prints were found on the knife, she won’t tell you how God needs people so he takes them, but if you ask, if you wait, she’ll tell you everything. 9. They’ll offer advice if the deli guy fucked up the cream cheese on your bagel, spread it so it squirts on your chin on the first bite; they’ll tell you to always ask the tall one instead—the one with no neck. If your baby had a rough night, they’ll show you just the way to rock her, or flavor her bottle with Lucky Charms. 10. If they’re on the phone, do the finger wag and give them a grin. They are standing by the window, because the service sucks by the board. But it may be someone important. Sometimes it’s their therapist, or that’s what they’ll tell you. Sometimes it’s their pastor. He’s telling me about bible study on Thursday! They will whisper, palm covering the speaker, I’m a holy man! 11. If they won’t stop talking, just listen. If you yell at them to be quiet you will miss it all. That their weekend was Gucci like a pair of flip flops. That relax is a trigger word. That it smells like books and bullshit in here. That Joel’s head is looking like a Subway sandwich, which it is, the cute little bleached up curls like shredded lettuce, the most apt description you’ve ever heard. 12. I left the worksheets in the corner, the copies a bit blurry, the toner was low. But it’s not about the writing. It’s not about the way their pencils dance under the fluorescent light, their knees shake and toes tap. I just want to make sure you’re listening. Because all of this, all of this, we need to hear.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Playground Justice In the grit of a 1975 farm town, 9-year-old girls weigh about 60 pounds, even wicked little girls with bad women for mommas, divorced mommas, but the boys that age are bigger, taller, and they’re allowed to bring their footballs to the playground, because there are no rules for boys on the playground, they can do whatever they want, after all, the playground is where you learn about yourself, Mrs. Gibson says, the boys can kick and hit and play with their blue Nerf footballs because that’s where you figure out who you are; but girls can’t bring toys outside, especially Barbie dolls, everyone knows Barbie will get broken—it’s her own fault—even when Barbie tries to stay away from the boys, especially when Barbie hides, she still gets hit and kicked, she still gets broken, and teacher says you know better than to bring a doll to the playground, what did you think was gonna happen, you wicked little girl? and the boys are just doing what boys do, you’re not really hurt, quit whining; so I try not to be wicked, I really do, but John finds me every day and punches my arms, kicks my legs, leaves his mark, every recess he laughs, and I tell him he sounds like Susie Wagner’s dad’s goat because I can’t stand his bleating jeer in my ears anymore, so he hits me in the chest, aims for my scratchy training bra, where my breasts are trying to bloom, and maybe the impact knocks me down, I can’t be sure, all I see is black, swirling tight, pierced with pinprick mercury bursts, dark sky, stars sharp and I curl in on myself, too late, again too late to dodge his fist, but I can still breathe so I do, I take a breath and uncoil, straighten my back and scream; but that’s the wrong word for it: my noise is heavier, weightier, anguish and rage unleashed, dissonance exploding out of my 60 pound body like Coca-Cola from a shaken can, bubbles bursting, spewing it hurts, I hurt, you’re breaking me, and I forget that I’m a person, that
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 I’m a wicked little girl with a bad woman for a momma, I’m nothing now but feral noise, a howl awakened, ripping black sky, striking wildly, connecting— and then I feel it, that connection, it vibrates through me, the brilliant lightning crackle of John’s nose, breaking cartilage, the clarion crunch of it, and my world goes pure— still, breathless, a beatitude—the mob of fourth graders frozen, Mrs. Gibson’s mouth a soundless “o,” nothing but bright silence for one shining heartbeat…two…and then that blessed crackle of lightning thunders through my bony knuckles already splattered with John’s noseblood; and now he’s the one screaming, yes, that’s the correct word, he’s the one on the ground, screaming, flailing, holding thick-fingered hands to his broken nose, and I think maybe I can leave this playground, maybe I’m already gone— then Mrs. Gibson’s slap connects with the side of my face, striking the heresy from me, slamming me back into my place, and her righteous adult fingers dig into the bruises bluing my arm as she drags me off the playground, gritted teeth, castigating with each step: Girls Don’t Hit Back, a pronouncement, a commandment, and she stands me in the hall by the classroom door, puts me on display, a lesson, a warning, as the kids file past, girls wide-eyed, returning to their desks, and she makes a show of retrieving her paddle from its place of glory above the chalkboard, hung from the same hooks you’d hang your shotgun from, painted pink because pretty weapons wound deeper; and she holds the paddle high, parading it around the room before she comes back into the hall and makes me bend over so she can swat me hard enough to knock me to the floor, carpet burns on my hands; only then do I register the smack, an echo, but I can’t start crying because I never stopped, and she pauses to stare at my jeans, wants to know why they’re so dusty, why even my clothes are stained, but I can’t answer because I’ve forgotten how to talk, don’t remember I’m a person, so she leans over, grabs my shoulder, shakes me, a soda can, says answer me and I spew: “I did!” because I have said it over and over, he’s kicking me, playground grit on my legs, dirty shoes on my pants, you watch him do it but you don’t care, that’s just what boys do; and now she’s eyeing the bruises on my arms with a look I’ve seen before, that twistedlip lemon face that means my momma got a divorce so I must be wicked, too, and I know what she’s thinking, that my momma made those bruises, and the mercury stars are back in my eyes because that’s the worst thing, when they think your momma hits you, because it’s not true, it was John, on the playground where you learn who you are, it was that boy who hits and kicks—not me, not my momma—it was him, it was John, and you let him do it! my bubbles burst and you’re the bad woman! and Mrs. Gibson steps 31
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 back, mouth in that “o” shape, but now the other teachers are in the hallway, watching, watching, so she says wash your face before you go back to class, and I know she’s right about the playground, so I wipe my hand across my face and smear it on Mrs. Gibson, my salt and snot staining her shimmery pink blouse, a statement, a revelation, and I crackle playground lightning as I step past her, and all of them, all 60 pounds of me.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Just Another Dead Grandma Poem I’m trying to write while trying not to think about last night. I rummage under my desk and try to open a tied grocery bag with two bottles of Rosscato. I want wine before my first class, but I’m too tired to untie the bag without ripping it, and I don’t, I just don’t want to deal with it or anything today. At some point mom has to clean up the blood or she’s going to wait for me to come home for spring break. I don’t want that, I really don’t want that. I can’t get past seeing her in the snow white bed with light orange stains, her fixed yellow eyes, the swollen puce appendage that was her tongue, and now we have to clean the blood.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Maybe You Catch Another Ray of Sun We had pizza with mushrooms for Mom’s birthday. She picked crunchy-bottomed pan crust. With the dough sticking to the backs of our teeth, we sang to her, handed over hand-drawn cards smudged with grease, asked her what it was like to be forty. “Not so bad,” she said. “We’re away from your father. We have a home.” We nodded like we understood such things and gobbled up the last two slices while she picked at cheese and crust. She never ate much. After, she snuck off to her bathroom where she opened her window to smoke. We always smelled it, but never said a word. When she returned, we asked what she wanted to watch. Birthday girl’s choice, we said climbing next to her, sinking into the middle of the couch. “The news first. I want to check on the hurricane.” We shook our heads. September storms. I gathered up the leftover crusts and took them out to our cocker spaniel. I scratched his ear and leaned down nose to snout to tell him how sad I was he couldn’t come in. “I’m sorry, I love you, I’m so sorry.” I had failed at house training him, you see. He was out of control, so my grandpa had to build him a pen and a dog house I lined with more blankets than anyone thought necessary. On cold days, I added warm water to his kibble, desperate to comfort the little guy and ill-equipped. He licked the remaining oil and sauce from my fingers, wagging, and when I turned to go, he hopped up on top of his dog house, keeping watch over birds and squirrels. The storm had taken a turn towards us. There would be no Designing Women marathon after all. My brother and I tossed pillows on the floor and watched weather people being thrashed about on King Street in Charleston, trying to compose themselves against the wind, holding on to stop signs and microphones and trying to will their bodies substantial. “They’re sticking their middle fingers up at God,” Mama said. “I hope y’all have better sense.” “What about Nicholas? Can I bring him in? Just for tonight.” 34
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 “No can do,” she said. “But you can get him fixed up in the shed.” “Maybe we should pack up the Oldsmobile and head north?” “No can do.” As the sun set behind bizarre clouds, I built Nicholas a poufy pallet, added some of my stuffed animals, water, and kibble with the last of my sandwich meat mixed in. I’d have locked myself in there with him, if she’d let me. Instead, I lay in bed, praying, listening to Edie Brickell sing about doppelgängers, the circle of breath, trying to figure out the world, that word, on the tip of my tongue. I hunkered under my biggest teddy bear, trying to buffer the sound of trees falling, finally remembering that word: neglect.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Between Bodies Amrit’s fingers close around the ladybird. It’s the most valuable type, red with black dots, and if he’s careful he could show it off to his classmates or keep it in a glass jar by his bed. Instead he swallows it whole. Down it goes, down into his stomach. He knows what will happen next. Two possibilities: multiplication, where the ladybird becomes ladybirds, one into two into four into infinite, killing him as they swarm out of his mouth; or it takes root so that in time he grows paper-thin wings. He crosses his fingers, hoping for the latter. Sandeep joins him. They sit under a cherry tree and watch other students playing football and kicking up clouds of dust which drift across the school field. Some of the older boys get into a shouting match. A teacher pushes through the crowd, grabbing at collars to break up the fight. Lunch break is nearly over and spirits are rowdy. Sandeep spits blood. He smiles shyly and says, “Someone poured acid on Ekta.” Amrit understands the individual words but not the sentence. “Meaning?” “Meaning, during chemistry someone spilt acid on her arm and it burnt her skin. They took her to Nurse first, but obviously for such a big problem what’s Nurse going to do? Miss Mirza ended up driving her to the hospital.” “How do you know?” “My bro told me. He was in the class next to the lab. Said the room smelt horrible and Sunita puked. Princy was super angry. He had everyone from the chemistry class sit with him and explain what happened.” “So what happened? Who did it?” “Don’t know. My brother told me to bugger off when I asked.” There are smudges of red by the corners of his lips. “You’re bleeding again.”
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Sandeep grimaces as he fishes a sharp sliver of glass from his mouth. “What to
Amrit considers telling him not to eat glass anymore, but he knows that’s impossible. Just as he swallows ladybirds, ants, dragonflies and beetles, Sandeep slides glass, blades, pins and staples into his mouth. Their classmates make fun of them for this and at some point he knows they’ll be caught and punished, that’s inevitable, but for now this is what they do because it’s in their nature. The bell rings. Amrit races Sandeep across the field, twisting his way past fellow students. Soon he’ll be able to flutter above them all. Miss Menon enters the classroom, clapping her hands and shouting, “Sit down, sit down, hurry up and sit down!” Amrit’s already seated but he yelps when a paper pellet stings his calf. Dev snaps a rubber band between his fingers and smirks. “Okay, class six, be quiet,” Miss Menon says. “Geography has been cancelled today as we’re having a special class on sexual education.” Upon hearing this some of the girls straighten their backs. “Now then, this is a serious topic so please pay attention. Vinita, no talking! You’re all reaching an age in your life when you begin to see and experience changes in your body. Some of these changes include hair growing on your face, on your chest, under your arms, and even in other places. This process is called puberty. Puberty can be difficult because your body behaves in ways that are unpredictable. What do I mean by that? Well, you may grow taller. Your shoulders may broaden. Your voice will break, which means it will deepen. Essentially, you’re growing. While this may sound very strange and scary, it’s perfectly natural. What’s happening is that you’re turning into adults, a process which is different for boys and for girls.” She flips open a textbook to a bookmarked page and holds it up for the class to see. “This is a penis.” Amrit squints at the cross-sectional diagram on the page and recalls his father instructing him to peel back his foreskin when he bathes and urinates. But he never explained why. “These are the testicles,” Miss Menon says, using the tip of a pencil to trace two pink-shaded ovals. She begins to speak like a tape on fast-forward: “They’re essential components of a boy’s reproductive system, are enclosed in the scrotum behind the penis, and produce testosterone and sperm.” She flips the page. “And this is a vagina.” There’s no explaining this diagram. Amrit looks at his classmates. Some are doodling or looking out the window, though most of the girls are behaving in a way that reminds him of flies against a windowpane—still yet hyper-attentive.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 “When a man and woman marry and wish to have children, they have sexual intercourse. During sexual intercourse, the man’s penis becomes erect. Erect means that it fills with blood. This is what an erection looks like.” Vinita bursts into laughter. “Don’t laugh, don’t laugh,” Miss Menon shouts, banging a duster against the blackboard. What does it mean to fill with blood? All Amrit can picture is Sandeep’s mouth, delicate flesh cut and weeping. “The penis enters the vagina and . . . after some stimulation, ejaculates.” Miss Menon frowns, trying to make up her mind. “What this means is that the penis, well, it enters the vagina and releases sperm.” Amrit switches off. This is too complicated for him to understand. His classmates raise their hands and ask questions about breasts, ejaculation, sperm and chromosomes, and Miss Menon answers in words that are equally large and misshapen, like mutant variations of a familiar vocabulary. Staring at the pastelcoloured images in the textbook, he finds himself thinking about Ekta. She has a large leather-bound album which she carries in her backpack and enjoys sharing with him on the bus. It’s filled with feathers. They’re pressed between pages and held in place by glossy strips of tape. They both agree that the best feather is the brightest one from a parrot. It’s a wonderful red with streaks of yellow that light it on fire. He’s often smoothed its barbs, half-hoping his fingers will feel the heat. Will Ekta be on the bus tomorrow, or will her acid burn take a long time to heal? Miss Menon snaps the textbook shut. “I think that’s enough for today. There’s a video on the topic, but because Mr Shah is using the TV for drama class, we’ll have to wait till tomorrow. Don’t worry, the video should answer any questions you have. This is, of course, a sensitive topic, so please don’t be afraid to bring it up with me whenever you want.” She wipes the blackboard, even though she hasn’t written anything, then abruptly leaves. Papers rustle, chair legs scrape across floor. Another paper pellet stings Amrit’s arm and he wishes not for wings but for pincers. “Bus number 5,” Miss Reddy bellows, and a queue moves forward. It’s the end of the school day and the students are lined up by bus number in front of the gates. Everyone’s talking about Ekta, their conversations crackling in the hot air, and Amrit overhears the rumour that the principal might expel Tarun because he’s the one who spilt the acid. “What’re you saying?” a nearby senior exclaims. “Why would Princy do that?” “Don’t be an idiot,” the senior’s friend replies. “Tarun did it on purpose. The chooth thought he was being very clever and everything, playing some fucking prank. Moron. They should chop off his balls. Did you hear her scream? Fuck me, man, I’ll
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 never forget it. We were in the middle of a test and Miss Mirza ran out to see what happened.” “You see Ekta?” “No, dude. They took her away pretty quickly. Someone told me her flesh melted and you could see the bone.” Amrit feels as though a football has slammed into his chest. There are no insects so he grabs a fistful of sand and rolls it in his mouth, grinding the tiny grains with his teeth. Their gritty explosions are loud in his head. He pictures bone peeking through flesh, the hollow tip of a feather. “Look at this retard,” one of the seniors says, looming over him and giving him a whack on the head. “What’re you doing? You keep eating that you’ll be crapping piles of sand.” He remains motionless, waiting for something to distract their attention. The afternoon heat is silt, settling smooth and heavy over him, making his forearms sweat and shine like the rainbow wings of a dragonfly. “Bus number 6,” Miss Reddy bellows. The queue he’s in pushes forward and he hurries along, climbing the steps of his bus to sit by the window of a middle row. Two seniors in the back are already playing a game of red hands, slapping each other as hard as they can, and Amrit tries to imagine the day he’ll metamorphose into such hulking creatures. The bus pulls away, leaving behind a sea of faces impatient to go home. He waves at Sandeep who grins bloody teeth. The ride from school to the centre of the city is long and Amrit sleeps. When he wakes up, head reeling from sluggishness, he finds his penis has stiffened, hitching his shorts up and down and drawing attention to itself. This has been happening for the past few months, though thankfully Ekta hasn’t said anything. He covers his lap with his backpack. At Mekhri Circle a fat man leaps onto the bus and asks if he can ride till Richmond Town. The teacher tells him this is a school bus, but the fat man doesn’t seem to mind and sits down, taking up so much space that the swell of his stomach presses against Amrit. In response, Amrit’s penis thumps against his backpack. The teacher stands up, sways slightly as the bus turns, and proceeds to give the man a real firing. The man’s eyebrows contract. His expression contracts. Everything about him seems to shrink in indignation. He curses her. The bus driver laughs and tells him to get out and the man finally does what he’s told. Giving the teacher one last dirty look, he leaps into traffic and runs alongside a stream of motorists until he’s safe on the side of the road. The seniors in the back row give him the middle finger. Amrit concentrates on his body, on the heat burning under his skin. He grinds his backpack against his abdomen and experiences dull yet encompassing flickers of pleasure. For the rest of the ride his eyes do not register what they see. 39
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 —§— At home he eats a mango. His mother is kneading dough, pausing occasionally to wipe her face with the sleeves of her blouse. Her hands and forearms are covered in a fine layer of flour. “Had a good day?” she asks. He doesn’t know how to answer that question so he continues to eat his mango, gnawing on a seed that’s larger than his hand. “Your teacher called and told us you had a special class. How was it?” “It was okay.” “Did you understand everything she said? Or were you confused?” He shrugs. “And what does that mean?” He shrugs again. “Okay, mister. Well, Pa and I are happy to talk about it if you ever want to.” He throws the mango skins in the bin and leaves his plate in the sink. “Go,” she says. “Wash your face. You don’t even know how to eat a mango properly!” Amrit goes to his parent’s bathroom and, even though he knows he’s not allowed to, locks the door. He rummages through their pile of laundry and unearths his mother’s orange blouse. Goose pimples erupt across his skin as he sheds his clothes and wears the oniony-smelling top. Standing in front of the mirror, he laughs; it’s far too large for him, making his arms and chest appear skinnier than they are. Will he one day fit into this, ballooning up like the fat man on the bus? He puffs his cheeks, pretending to inflate. There are wisps of hair on his lips. Even Ekta has those wisps, though her legs and arms are smooth. He presses his forearms together and wonders where hair comes from, whether Ekta will need to wear a cast, and why his penis stiffened on the bus. He looks at it now. It’s small again, confirming that his body is no longer his own, acting out, sizzling like oil in a frying pain, like acid on skin. An ant climbs out of a crack in the bathroom wall. It observes its surroundings before leading another ant leading another ant leading a chain of ants towards the window. They are precise in their movements, following the leader and knowing exactly where to go. Amrit presses a thumb in the middle of their line, crushing three and causing the rest to scatter. He swallows their bodies. If not a ladybird, perhaps an ant. If not an ant, perhaps a dragonfly. If not a dragonfly, perhaps a grasshopper. Bringing his face close to the mirror, he peers into the undulating landscape of his reflection’s eyes and searches for something vast and fierce, knowing full well that soon he will find it or it will find him.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Mastectomy Alive in this nursery of cruelty, clots forming like sticky blossoms blooming into a poultice of petals along a scar traversing your heart, you cannot lift your arm, you cannot keep your head above the currents of morphine eddying along the shores of your breath. The left side of your chest is a child’s chest, a paper doll cut-out with left-handed scissors in not enough light, and when you wake you will mistake what is numb for what is absent, you will ask, “Do you still love me?” knowing you will never be certain, symmetrical, or whole again. You will ingest their poison, submit to the terrible glare of men, adopt what human form remains to limp across this thinnest 41
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 layer of earth, the moon in one hand, Ryonenâ€™s mirror in the other, reflecting the pines, the tops of cedars, the voices that still call you beautiful.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Snapshot She was driving home, the mountains starting to purple like turnip tops, when she saw a man with his head in his hands. He was in his car, which was parked off the road in the field of dirt in front of that new church, the one with the sign that read, “Too Cold to Change Sign. Sin Bad. Jesus Good. Details Inside.” She glimpsed the man briefly, for she was driving, and there was no red light, no red sign telling her it was okay to stop. She glimpsed him briefly, yet she saw so much, too much. She tried to explain to her husband later how that man’s anguish had affected her. She told him how she’d pictured herself pulling over, knocking on the man’s window, saying something to comfort him, something like “I see you,” but how then she thought, but what if he’s a misogynist? What if he’s violent? She said, “That’s what it is to be a woman in this world. You can’t even empathize with a stranger without thinking about your own safety.” Her husband just said, “Probably he’s not a misogynist.” She didn’t bother then to tell him the other thing she saw on her drive—that someone had wrapped that metal horse sculpture in a blanket. Some feelings were difficult to explain, like last week when her son peeked underneath the unsealed flaps of the brown cardboard box sitting next to her desk as she paid the overdue water bill. He’d barely said, “What’s in here?” She snapped her head. “Don’t look in there!” But it was too late. In those milliseconds, he’d seen the birthday gift she’d planned to wrap after she paid the water company. She told her son he shouldn’t assume that’s what he’d get. She might decide to exchange the gift now that he’d seen it. His birthday was a week away, after all. But all week she sensed that he knew she wouldn’t exchange the gift—it was what he’d asked for, after all—and that he was burdened by this knowledge. The morning of his birthday, when he tore open the big blue package, far larger than the gift warranted, he smiled wistfully. “It’s just what I wanted,” he said, but they both knew that was only partly true. Her husband snapped their photo, beamed as though everything were perfect. 44
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Chimney-side We lived where the fires were. The chimneys tall as skies, broader than river mouths. Our homes clung to the chimney sides. Our streets were stairways that never reached to the ground. Our homes were filled with the fire sounds. The crackle and hiss rumbled through the bricks. Genna sat on the edge of the greatest chimney, the one her home coiled around, and she dangled her feet in the smoke and let it settle in her hair. “We all smell of smoke,” she said, “but I smell of it the most.” She told me her great grandparents helped drive the fires into the chimneys and seal them inside. We looked into the far and far, smoke wrapping us, and we saw the lands grown green. Once they were red and orange and yellow and always bright. In those days, the fires roamed, and the lands were theirs. Genna said she would let the fires out. She said the smoke was filled with messages. We watched our mothers tending the chimneys. We helped them lower the nets. We saw them catch soot and haul it up and shake it over the sides. And as hard as we listened, we never heard it hit the ground. When I was in my bed, and the only sound was my mother and grandmother scraping the net clean and the only smell was the soot dusting the floor, I thought of Genna—her words and the smoke twirling into her hair, and I pictured her unbolting the doors and letting the fires out and going with them—a dark shape in the brightening lands. In the morning, Genna was gone. They said the fires had coaxed her down into the chimneys. Far down where they burn. I helped my mother shake the nets over the side and I watched the soot floating and I remembered the smoke curling in Genna’s hair. The fires all died long ago. The chimneys crumble by inches but still stand into the clouds. And sometimes, when the sun is low, the clouds coil around the chimneys and I think I can hear the fires coaxing Genna down. 45
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
When the Bear was Running You can’t steer a bear, even when your town is on its back. That’s what Grampy says every Wintercall. And then Pop leans back in his chair and replies “But, you can try.” Then we laugh. And I pull the hatches down on our windows to keep out the winds as the bear carrying our town runs. Grampy named them the biting winds, because, “they’ll bite your nose right off. You can laugh, Laurel, but it happened to a lass I knew, the winds whisked her nose right out the window, and she chased it through the streets. She’d probably still be chasing it now, if she hadn’t fallen off the bear’s back.” But Marmee was the only one I’d known who’d fallen off the bear’s back. Seven years ago, now. It was my eighth Wintercall and the bear was running. Our town was all creaks and quivers. Snow bristled in the winds and furied into cruel drifts in the streets. The great trees were all around, and ahead of us—trunks so vast, the bear had to run around them, icicles so long it would take days to slide down them. Everybody else was inside, the hatches on their windows battened down, their tables pushed against their front doors to keep them closed. But Marmee bundled me in a coat so thick I could barely move and led me through the streets. We had to shout to hear each other. The world rushed past, wind-blurred, and we saw a great elk with its hooves wide enough to flatten three houses with one step. “That’s why people moved their towns onto bears,” she said. “And this is why the bears let us.” And with that, she tossed her red braid, whipped a long arrow from her quiver, pulled back her bow and launched it. I watched her arrow hit the elk in its single great eye. It fell. The ground jumped. Snow burst into the winds. “I never miss,” she laughed. “And you’ll be just as good as me, Laurel.” She tossed her braid again and we walked onward, the great trees casting shadows over our town on the bear’s back. She grabbed my hand and snatched me out of the way of a falling pine needle—it was as tall as our home. “Why is the bear running?” I gasped out, my legs weary from keeping my balance. “No one knows. They all do this. Run up here to the deepest cold. You’ll get used to it.” There was a fallen tree ahead and I didn’t think to warn her or to grab on. Then the bear was jumping over it, and Marmee was tossed up into the winds, her hands reaching for me, and then she was gone. “You can’t go out there,” Grampy said, as he placed his gnarled hand on the door. He smelled of pine needles chopped and stewed until they made sour tea. “I’m just going for a walk,” I said. “You think I was born yesterday, Laurel?” He raised his wrinkle-deep eyes to mine. “No, I think you were born when towns were still on the ground,” I tried to joke. He shook his head. No matter how much we laughed, he could never shake the sadness out of his eyes. He took his hand off the door and stepped back. “I’ll be back for dinner,” I said. And then I was out into the biting winds. 46
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 The houses about me were just rickety sounds, and beside them, the world was just winds hurtling in my ears. Battling the speeding air, I climbed to the lookout point and I waited, my face stinging so much I thought Grampyâ€™s tale of the snatched nose would come true. I saw the fallen tree and I let go of the walls, took a deep breath, and let myself float up and out into the whirl, out to where my mother fell.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
When it felt something like a honeymoon They are not infinite, the world and her treasures. It is not uncounted the gold we can give. World with an end for this has an end. Still, safe in the swarming of a dusty afternoon the gleam is incessantâ€”shine stipples sovereign. Being not without end, being not without mind you trove me away for our next show of finite. Stowed overhead I would be floor-sprawled remauled, tied in constant opening. Or bed-bound, aground, treasured in your weathering hands. You turn pirate, claiming captives carelessly. Gleaning wrecks of relished riches past horizonâ€™s silver strip uncorralled
I watch myself walk planks.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
‘Pay Attention,’ She Says, And I Try after Mary Oliver I never liked nature poems, and I laughed at whoever said I might one day learn to love the woods. Then came you and your soft wings and scattered grasses, the redfern where you are resting, where I am quieted despite myself. Now you’re gone. No light is in the trees today. I find myself writing instead about matter scattered across the stars, how gaseous giants compress diamonds, how we are all little astronauts floating through the void in tin cans, so lonely, and you tell me I need to pull my eyes back down and look. Look, you say, the bark is peeling off that birch. Underneath that hole in the dirt is a whole world full of blind baby rabbits, cozy, nestled under the front porch of the house which offers a place to put your helmet down. Look. Mary, I can’t see it like you could, for itself. I won’t shimmy the shed snakeskin of your voice around my neck, desperate to keep you close. I won’t turn my eyes from the sky, no matter how beautiful your soft hands on your dog, your warbler throat. I live in the space of my imagination; I don’t have your skill for observation. To me every one of the bird-calls is background. But I want to curl up at the oak leaves of your feet, to close my eyes and let, river-like, your words batter me. I want you to teach me how to be quiet and still, to soak in sunlight like
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 a stone. Maybe you already have, and I couldn’t see. The proof: I never dreamed I would let myself fly wild. I never dreamed I would have a reason to love the geese.
* This poem is a “Golden Shovel,” a form created by Terrance Hayes in his poem of the same name. In his poem, the end words of each line are taken from the Brooks poem “We Real Cool”; reading down the end of each line in Hayes’ poem reveals the original. Here, I’ve used a selection from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.”
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
A Steady Rush In the beginning, there is the steady rush of quiet natures. There are the waters, winding, snaking, layering themselves across the skin of earth. In the waters, I get lost and wonder if I really want discovery. It would be lovely for the all of me to float away. I wish that I had known Virginia Woolf. The way she drifts beneath the waters of the Ouse River. Near Sussex, her pockets full of stones. I would have liked to hold her hand and smell her hair. That glorious mane of woman hair, strong and maternal. Safe. I would have liked to wrap my fingers in it, to tangle my body inside and around her own. I know a body drowned is not romantic, but I always think of them like mermaids. A soft creamy blue like frosting, sea foam green. With seaweed all wrapped up within the dark black tangled webs of hair. The nails, white. The lips like crystals. Rock candy that my father bought for us as children. When they pulled out Virginia Woolf, she must have been so beautiful. Translucent skin and river weeds. A long white dressing gown, gossamer against her legs. Have you ever seen a thing so lovely in all your life? When my uncle killed himself a few months back, I asked my mother how. She told me that it would not bring me closure to know. I think, however, she is wrong. The way that we go out must mean something for how we felt about the world. How angry we were with it. When I had to let my baby go, some years ago, I spent hours inside the bathtub. The pills they made me take were violent in the way they quaked my womb, but I wanted her release to be quiet. I wanted for the water in the tub to catch her. The little fish child that I had to throw away. My grandfather, he shot himself. Imagine all that blood he left for someone to clean up. He must have been furious. They said that he was planning it for months, but Iâ€™m not sure. I hope not. What a sad ending to be carrying about for so much time. 51
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 My mermaid was conceived in violence. Not violence, per se, but I was sleeping when she came to be inside my womb, and so it feels like violence when there wasn’t my consent. I couldn’t keep her. I couldn’t keep a product of deceit. Of cruelty. Of the way entitled boys will claim women’s bodies in the night. I do miss her, though. I light candles for her all the time, and save a space for her beside my pillow. It wasn’t her fault, my little fish child. My cousin hung himself. His mind, confused, could not quite grasp what living was. He could not see what it would mean for him. The wiring in his brain, how it was all wrong. How fiercely he loved despite it. I miss my best friend. I let my baby slip away in water. It hurt, far greater than any hurt that I have ever felt before. Like things inside me tearing their way out. The way the organs of the flesh began to twist and turn, convulse, move clockwise and then counter and then back to order yet again. I wish she would have come out whole, so that I could have held her. Little mermaid girl, born of sleeping ladies in the night. After she left me, I couldn’t let her go. I didn’t wash my hair for days. I left the ring around the bathtub for weeks, and nearly months. I let her linger, hanging from my back, my shoulders, all the doorknobs in my house. Everything I touched seeped with all the grief that was her leaving. The sadness was overwhelming. I missed Virginia Woolf. I started keeping stones inside my pocket. I’d press them in deeply, down into the space beside my womb. The place where, for women, pain originates. Lining my shelves upon my bedside table in the doorway on the counter. Stones, everywhere. On the dashboard of my car, inside my kitchen sink, one of them I place into my mouth and let it roll about beneath my tongue. I carried it there for days. I didn’t eat. Instead I turned the stone to seaglass there between my teeth. When my brother and I go to Alaska, I find a massive rock he has to carry for me, all the way back down the mountain. He doesn’t understand, but he sees how much I need it. Shrugging, it goes into the bottom of his pack. He carries all this weight for me, and then I put it in my luggage, and carry it back home. On my shelves now are oddities. Large acorns I found along a lakeside. Pieces of wood carved with little worming patterns. Feathers from my goose, my ducks, my chickens. The quill of a porcupine; the wingbone of a bird. Lots of quartz and amethyst and calcite and halite and so many things the way they sparkle in the sun. I collect the earth. It is how I bring me back to self. My brother does not believe in the stars. In astrology. The way that they align and influence all the nature of our beings. I’m not certain I do, either. But I don’t believe in coincidence, and so that makes things challenging for me. Searching for the meaning in all things, he tells me just to let it all exist.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 My brother is earth. Or air. It depends on the year and our position in accordance with the sun and all the other things I’m not meant to put my stock in. I am air, but I wish that I were water. Water is a bit louder, more visible. If I were water, then perhaps I would have found my voice before, well, before I had to make my baby swim away. I wish my brother could see things the way I do. In colors and patterns. Everything so vague—almost opaque. The stones that I collect, they give me grounding. Sometimes, I lie down on my floor and arrange them all around my body. Lay them out from small to large. Sometimes I count them all, walk around the house and add the numbers in my head. Some of them, I put in small clay pots and burn beside the sage. Others I give away, because it is important to share the things that tie us back to time and place. For years, I collected rocks so that I would not find a way to slip away. Like my cousin, or my grandfather, or my little baby fish. Now, like my uncle. I have never stepped on so much grave dirt in my life. I save that too. And dead flowers. Roses from a funeral, the way they flake and crumble in my hands. It is a miracle that any of us are still alive. Perhaps you have never heard that call—the deep, ancestral voices that sing to you and beg for all of you to float away. My brother calls it depression, but he is far more clinical than I. I think that it is rather all the sadness of the ones who came before. How it trickles through our veins. A midnight blue. Or maybe we are all just cursed. The thought came to my mind, after my uncle’s passing. Improperly medicated, I sat and stared at water for hours and hours each day, putting rocks into my pocket. I’d lie down beside the hose bib in my yard and dig deep into the soil to see the water pool. I’d wash the windows just to trace the pattern that the rivers cut through glass. Now my skin is bad, but my hormones are in order, and so I’m finding things that make me happy once again. But there was a time I wanted to fulfill the legacy. All this grave dirt on my shoes and I was sinking down to my own death. It’s hard when there’s a long-gone part of your own womb that beckons forth from just beyond the deep. Little mermaid child, the rainbow fish—giving all the scales away until there’s nothing left of one’s own self. Since my uncle’s passing, I have moved. I packed my stones away in boxes that are waiting to be loaded onto shelves and doorways and countertops. There is a pool and so sometimes I dive and do this little move beneath the water with my feet. My long hair all about me, how it floats and hovers. I hold my breath and see if I can make it to the other side. When I emerge, I dive back in and meditate beneath the surface. I’ll stay beneath the pool for hours, until my skin gets pruned and wrinkled like a raisin in the sun. My goose, sometimes she’ll float beside me. She’ll give me feathers from her 53
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 wings. I wind them in my hair and then I find them later, quite surprised that they are there. How could I have forgotten? I should have been born water. Wind almost never makes a sound, except for when she’s angry. Water, though, she’s always carrying on with babbles. Little exclamations. Perhaps I would have had a stronger voice. Can things like this become transmitted through the womb? I want to blame my mother, as daughters do. I want some of it to be her fault. She should have spoken more fire into the womb-kiln; rubbed more vigor on my translucent baby skin. It isn’t her fault though. Mother, can you hear me? It isn’t your fault. We women, how we carry all the burdens of our men. How a curse becomes a family secret, and how we stoke the fires. How we pretend and we protect. There is a mother out there, who loves a darling boy as mothers do. Who love their secrets, despite the cruel things that they’ve done. Poor little girl, and how she swirled away inside a bathtub. Poor man, with his gun. Poor boy, with a rope. Poor uncle, with his grief. What am I to do with all this legacy of anger? Virginia Woolf, in her suicide note, said that she was so afraid of being overcome by all her madness. Hearing voices yet again, she could not live through what she knew would come. Poor gentle little dove. I have never known a single thing as hard as being human. There is a hike I often take, when I am feeling all the heaviness of life pour in. It leads down the back of a mountain, to a steady rush of quiet nature. If you can make it so far, and at the right time, it is often peaceful and uninhabited by others. The waters layer themselves across the face of earth. You can watch the pattern that they carve, and how they move across the landscape. Someone tells me that they cannot do this without the wind, but I am not so sure. I’ve never known the wind to be so strong. But I’ve been wrong before, and so I’ll wait to see it out.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Past Lives Our four-year-old tells stories, usually unprompted, about his old house, this former life he had before he was with us. He lived on a farm on a country road with John Deere tractors. The deer with the sprig of whitetails gathered at the edge of the woods, and he would watch them with his old parents. The ones before. My wife and I huddle in our bed, elbows and knees connected like the intertwined roots of trees, a mass of skin and bones. We investigate the corners of our room, flinching as the house settles into its midnight dreams. “These stories can’t be real, right?” she asks. “I’m tempted to contact a forensic artist. The detail is so creepy,” I say. “Did you,” she asks, curling her head into my shoulder, “have any previous lives?” “You think he got it from me? I can’t even remember yesterday.” I flick off the light and we lay there in silence, listening to the house contracting around us, waiting for the dreams about farms to take us under for the night. When I’m alone with my son, scaling the play structure at the park by the lake, seagulls combing the beach for dropped Cheetos, I ask him about this previous life. I’d like to know if these other parents, this ghost father, is a better parent than me. “Did he buy you ice cream? Did he take you to the park? Did he dry you off with the soft towels after a bath?” The answers come like heartbeats—no, no, no. The question I want to ask, but can’t, a wave lapping in and onto the sand, leaving bits of seaweed, fish scales, and filaments of oil from jet skis and motorboats— Did they love you more?
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
The Femme Fatale 1 The rules: the detective is the hero and the femme fatale is always the villain. The detective is taller than average, wears suits in black or gray and is sarcastic and handsome. The femme fatale has a soft, throaty voice. Small or tall, she is all legs. An hourglass figure. Cheekbones that could cut glass. Mouth lipstick red. The femme fatale is versatile: she’s dark-haired or bottle blonde or a redhead. Petite or broad shouldered, rough or demure. She shapeshifts; she knows not what he wants but what he needs. She entices him with an ankle, a foot, the smoothness of a bare thigh brushing against striped pants. 2 The blinds are drawn shut, the door locked. The air: smoky with the scent of her perfume. She doesn’t introduce herself, doesn’t ask to sit down, just gives him a long, low look. His office is so tiny that standing or sitting, he could brush his knees against hers if he wanted. He doesn’t. Palms sweating, the detective lights a cigarette, leans against the side of his desk. He thinks to himself, this woman is a black hole. A dead star, too bright for everyone else. She’ll annihilate everyone in her path. Even me. The detective is the audience; he watches her. She is as elusive as a creamy arm encased in a long, velvet glove, the glove fluttering like a bird’s feather to the floor, one naked hand trailing across a curtain. A woman capable of appearing and disappearing at will. 3 57
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 The femme fatale wants someone to love her, but she doesn’t know how to love him back. She hates his wife or his girl and sometimes him, but she hates herself most of all, hates herself for the choices she’s made. But repentance? You’ll never hear those words from her lips. The most you’ll hear is a stifled cry at night, pressing a pillow to her face so he won’t hear. Her last boyfriend told her that she was like a car: sleek, fast, dangerous. She gave him a coy smile and then made sure to discard him as quickly as a used cigarette. She didn’t want to be a car. A car could be locked in garage, abandoned, exchanged. When she wakes up in the morning, she takes a bubble bath and eats a square of chocolate, twists the long phone cord around her wrist, calculating. She bought the apartment for the bathtub, well that and the window. You never know when you’ll need a window. Whenever the femme fatale gets to shoot an action scene, it’s always something not quite but nearly equal to what a man can do. She tries to escape from her pursuers by holding onto the edge of a door. There is only the chugga chugga sound of the train picking up speed. Her leather gloves are expensive, supple like the skin of an exotic animal. Most women cry when they break a fingernail, but she is polished and professional, she is the star, so when she hears the faint snap of her nail, she only twitches her lips into a sneer. She waits for the train to slow to a stop, then jumps and rolls. Gravel dusts her clothes. She peels her gloves away and ties the gloves’ thumbs together into a knot so they won’t get lost, then puts them in her right pocket. She does not want to lose them; they were a gift. They are a symbol of safety and warmth. As a teenager she wanted a man to hold her like that—like a glove. 4 At the detective’s cramped apartment, she overstays her welcome. Too often, he pulls strands of her hair from creases in the sheets, off the armrest of the couch. She leaves a glinting trail that seems to never go away, even after he vacuums, shakes out rugs. No matter how hard he scrubs, the sticky residue of her lipstick on his coffee mug remains, a permanent blot. On days when he’s feeling sorry for himself, body slumped, dishes piled up in the sink, shirt sleeves rolled up, arms soapy to the elbows, he thinks, that’s all she is: a stain. 5 The detective tells the femme fatale things he would never anyone else, like that he’s worried that one of his legs is a centimeter shorter than the other, that sometimes he
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 goes days without sleeping, afraid that if he lets down his guard for even a moment, he will never wake up again. Over the years, the detective will try to forget many things, like the innocent man he kicked in the kneecap because he was screwing his wife. The sound the man made as his kneecap caved in. The detective will forget many things, but he will never forget her real name, the one she whispered in his ear that night, moonlight lacing the curtains, right before he tried to kill her. She’d double crossed him. He’d has his gun out and was ready to give her a quick death even though that was more than she deserved. He went to turn on a light, but her voice was sharp, throaty. — Leave it. His eyes traveled the length of her: her heels and the absence of sheer panty hose, her trench coat belted tight. The floor buckled under him. Leaning against the wall and beneath his feet, the ground seemed to vibrate like some great hissing monster, caged. He thought of the time they’d been in the drugstore, boxes falling off shelves, his arm blocking her body, shielding her until the earthquake receded. The day was June 2, 1944. Then they went back to her apartment. The carpet in her apartment was thick, expensive, new. She had the old carpet ripped out, this new one put in weeks ago. He wanted to tell her: baby, this won’t stop your death. You could have carpeted the floor in rose petals and I’d still shoot you dead. Then he realized the floor wasn’t shaking; he was shivering, goosebumps traveled up his arms. She closed the curtains, then eyed the gun he held, close to his body, concealed in the pocket of his coat. — Put that away. He doesn’t remember it hitting the floor, though he knows it must have. The carpet was thick, impenetrable. In the back of her closet, hidden behind a hatbox and towering mass of pastel colored tissue paper, she’d gifted him a pair of man’s slippers, but he never took them home, just kept them there, told her she might need to pawn them one day. He imagined that if he took off his shoes and his socks, the sensation under his bare feet would be like standing on top of a silky mass of hair, a cluster of wigs. He remembered unbuttoning the two top buttons of her coat, kissing the space between her breasts and then traveling downward, his lips brushing her body, lower and lower as he unfastened all those shiny buttons. He remembers her eyes, fathomless and deep, her body shivering as she ran her soft hand like a blade through his hair. — The only thing standing between you and me is this coat. 59
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 She said in that husky voice of hers, and he knew she wasn’t wearing anything underneath. 6 The femme fatale is the only one who knows his confidence is a mask. He hides his insecurity under his costume, his slicked back hair and polished shoes, his tailored suits, the crisp bills he keeps in his wallet. When she tells him she hates him, he just shakes his head, laughs softly. It is a laugh that says, you pretend you don’t care about me, but you do. You do. 7 When she was a little girl, the femme fatale thought of herself as one of those old black and white photographs developed in the darkness of the bathtub, something her father did after he was fired from his photography job and didn’t have access to a darkroom. How one day she asked him to take her picture and he did. Her hand touching the coolness of the water and taking the photo out, blowing it dry, then the surprise at her features—even at eleven years old, that sharp chin, those steely eyes. The years pass and the femme fatale doesn’t notice the cellulite on the back of her thighs, the wrinkles that pull her mouth down when she frowns. Two men follow her off the bus and scuff her up in an alley. Her mouth bleeds and her cheek is bruised. Her hand falls on an old newspaper, sticky with grime. The two men take her purse. With no money for a bus ticket, the femme fatale walks the long way back home past small, crowded buildings and narrow, cracked sidewalks. The sky is dark and the air is sticky. Her left high heel breaks. Rather than limping back home, the femme fatale gathers her dignity and abandons her shoes for someone else to find. She doesn’t notice the detective watching her from the glow of a streetlamp. He’s supposed to be tracking her whereabouts, cornering her. Instead, he pours himself a drink and then another one. He takes out a notepad and a pencil. By the end, he has written down information, none useful. The femme fatale wanders dark alleys in pearls and a fur coat. She dies a thousand deaths, but she always gets the best lines. 8 When he is being unkind, he imagines a terrible future for her. The house, just like she always wanted: a long driveway and a wraparound porch, a backyard weeping with rose petals, a swimming pool, the surface sleek as glass. The wooden doors, golden and
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 polished to a shine. No clocks ticking in the house, only the wristwatch on her left arm. The only thing missing is a pet. When a big, wobbly headed kitten wanders into her backyard, she takes him in. More strays come, and she takes in more. Snow covers her car and blocks her front door. When her heater breaks, she doesn’t call someone to fix it. She opens the windows, watches snowflakes drift onto her windowsill and float to the floor, melt on her chairs, her desk, the carpet. In the back of her closet, she finds tubes of yarn, all in rich colors that she doesn’t remember ever buying. Deep purple, turquoise, jet green, yellow. She selects yellow. The long skein of yarn nestled in her arm feels warm and alive, like the weight of a newborn baby. She feels her flat stomach, feels that yawning space of loss, that space where she could have pushed a baby carriage with the other women, and tell them that her husband is a detective and that her little girl or little boy has his eyes. Over the years, more cats come in to stay. One has large patches of fur falling from its body; it is practically bald. The disease begins to spread to the other cats until they are all hairless and shivering. Needles clicking, she crochets footie pajamas until all the cats are safe, until every of them is covered in yarn but for their ears, their tails, their anuses and eyes and noses. The detective writes: the femme fatale wants to be more than just a dead whore. She wants the audience to watch as she powders her face. Her wink through the compact mirror. The way her slick, shiny lips twist as she gives her last parting line. 9 The detective holds her still warm body, wishes he could carry her to the couch and touch her face, gently, let her know she is safe now and that he’s sorry, so sorry he came too late, but he doesn’t. He remains a bachelor for four more years. There is only one woman he swore he’d marry and now she’s dead. Her neighbors in her apartment say they are sorry for her death, but he sees from the expressions on their faces that they are lying. The detective marries a respectable girl and treats her as well as he can. They go on outings to the beach and she packs a picnic lunch. He drives his convertible with the top down, skillfully navigates roads that twist, turn, disappear then reappear. The femme fatale is not like his wife. She liked to snake her hand around his arm, unclasp his watch, tap her pearly fingernails against the inside of his wrist. One time she murmured softly, so softly he could barely hear her, that’s all women are to men like you: chains. When his wife is away, taking classes at the local college or playing bridge with friends, he turns off all the lights in the house. He drinks to drown his sadness, remembers dimly lit hallways, her dark hair, the gleam of her white teeth. 61
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10 He remembers the last time he saw her alive, the hurried run to his office. Her lashes trembling but no tears. He thought, she looks so fragile. And she said in a voice that sounded off, like she had a cold, I liked you the first time I met you. You know why? I thought you looked kind. You looked like the type who would never want to hurt me but because of circumstances, just might. I put my hand on the doorknob, ready to run out but youâ€™d locked the door. Then you said, you knew just from looking at me that I was a bad luck girl. Like some strip of paper falling out of a cracked fortune cookie. The detective writes: in the end it is always the same. It does not matter how she dies, just that she does. Her lips gleam; her hair shimmers. Her death: as quick as a single, spent match flickering in a sad, dark room.
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Jessica Anne Robinson
spring thaw (ii) i am craving spring like a dead lung / swallowing sun like dew, sucking leaves off eyes closed and daydreaming sounds of rushing water when i pass the dirty glacier streams still frozen to the face of sloping lawns. i’m in the doorway watching albums / only peaches, and yellows, and greens. really i / just want to sit in a cemetery where i’m not expected to remember, where the yellow grass might be mistaken for light if your head is not preoccupied. sure, it’s romantic: the feeling of carrying fruit out in the open. it’s an awful lot easier to feel the beat of the ecosystem when the ground has thawed and there’s peat on the ass of your jeans.
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Alice finds an antique coin collection When her grandfather died, Alice brushed her finger over the dust collected on his furniture. The two had played cribbage earlier that week, but now, it was Thursday, and her grandfather was dead. This is how she finds the coins: in the back of his closet, behind long coats and pressed collared shirts, a small red oak box sits on a shoe box. The oak is not covered by dust. Alice traces the sheen of vermillion. Once the lid is open, Alice sinks from her heels and leans her back against the wall. This is what is inside the box: a photograph of her grandmother. She is in a blue coat, white fur hat, and holding a champagne flute with something pink in it. Her neck is bent back laughing, and everything around her seems fuzzy, blurred by her beauty. Alice begins to cry. There is a handwritten postcard, two pearl earrings, and another smaller box. Inside this box, the smaller one, is the coin collection. But this collection is unlike yours or your fatherâ€™s or the one they sell on Pawn Stars. These coins are hand forged, bent with love and sweetened by the thumb pads of a lover. On one side of each coin is the name of a city: Paris Birmingham Marquette and the list goes on. There may be forty coins in the small box inside the large box which is now resting on the floor. Alice places it back on the shoe box, out of respect, she thinks. But back to the coins. On the flip side of the city names, is the same laughing face from the photograph. Her grandmotherâ€™s smile hand stamped into a light metal, her face taking each contour of the coin. Alice begins to cry again, or maybe she never stopped. She looks back to the postcard, now noticing the city name of Marquette in the right corner, and reads the note out loud: My darling B, another stop, another coin, and another chance to remember the
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 smooth curve of your cheek, the slow music of your laugh. Donâ€™t spend it too fast â€”signed with what Alice guessed was a line of xoxo, thumbed away from years of flipping the card over, and over, and back again.
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S. Preston Duncan
You Donâ€™t Steal from the Witchâ€™s Garden This girl had flowers in her arms ink from Araby embraces like curry in a burning room or a spice market on its side. When she touches you it is the way children splash in aspects of autumn and marigolds always face you somehow. You can be wiped from the corner of an all-seeing eye. there is that kind of heat in some hands. there is palo santo and self-immolation and no painting is safe
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Some Houses The houses where you were afraid to fall asleep they weren’t like the others on the tree-lined street by the pond the neighborhood kids cleared after the snow everyone lacing up their skates as the sun climbed high on the ridge setting up the plywood hockey goals—and later one of the moms would bring steaming Thermoses of hot cocoa no—the houses where you crept into bed scanning for danger they were different—you might wake to raised voices sound of glass breaking and was that the crack of bone? someone having trouble getting words out maybe she’s on the ground, maybe there’s blood in her throat and lying very still—frozen—instead of getting up to see thinking about the day when you’d be allowed to ride in a car with a boy and you could sip hot cocoa to warm your numb hands and face maybe some day you’d live in a quiet house you’d like that, wouldn’t you?
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Double Flash When the nuclei broke down into smaller pieces like Styrofoam ground into confetti, the rest of the atoms could not help but follow in the same snowballing selfdestruction: neutrons waltzing to their death, cleaved into remnants of themselves and photons trailing in their light-footed steps. And when there were almost no free dancing neutrons left to bombard each other, when the final uranium-235 nucleus split into two, a girl fell out, body sheltered by gamma rays and heat. Airships couldn’t touch her; satellite dishes melted; infrared cameras failed to capture the brilliant, white magnesium flash, failed to pinpoint the heat of her body and its internal combustion regulating the temperature of her blood; the people couldn’t touch her, not her hair sticking upward with static, not her clenched fists pulled close to her chest. She fell. For a moment, she heard nothing but the wind brushing against her cheek. She latched onto the air, rock, water, vaporizing and expanding matter. A shockwave rippled away from her body, a sphere of a fireball bursting into a cloud. She emerged on Earth with a flash of incandescence—don’t blink—then vanished, ionized and opaque, then brightened again: her wavering of confidence that she’d make it unscathed. Moments ago, a six-year-old boy looked up from the Lego dragon figurine in his right hand, ballerina Barbie in his left. He had been admiring how the ballerina held her arabesque, back knee pointed outward rather than downward like it had nothing to hide, how her body seemed to elongate with her gaze following the length of her arm. And moments before that, he had been admiring the dragon’s wings, how they spanned longer than its body and he thought maybe that’s why no large flying animals exist—the burden of physics and resources and fuel. But now, for a split second, he saw the girl in the sky. He dropped the dragon and the Barbie, recalled hearing them clack against the pavement, squinted at the flash 68
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 of light, and wondered how she supported herself there, without wings to fly away, without her arms out to catch herself. The boy wanted to be a flier when he grew up— no, not a pilot—he didn’t want to rely on a man-made aircraft; but even he knew such a thing was impossible, just like Santa’s existence, a manifestation of his mother’s happy family fantasy. So he’d train to become a ballet dancer instead, not that he really had a traditional, male role model since his dad died years ago in war, probably fighting another dad whose son lived in a different time zone in a different house not made of drywall where they played with Legos and possibly Barbie dolls. The girl tucked her knees into her chest and wished to return to the confines of a neutron encased in an atom. She wished to sleep among the soil and rocks deep inside Earth’s mantle. She didn’t want to meet the boy’s gaze. She didn’t want to see his body’s outline on the sidewalk, a shadow among rubble, an outline that could be mistaken for a stain, a splattered crow, the dark imprint of a wave of heat and ray of light that would have marked the concrete regardless of the boy’s presence.
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Amanda Little Rose
Stowaway There’s a hole in my sweater From when I got caught— On the bedroom door jamb— Trying to run, From every bad thing I’ve ever done.
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Path of the Petals Soft thuds against beaten mud, horse’s hooves, crashing red breath, dying creek full of pebbles, eroded banks, irrigated souls travel: find paths—forgotten, years from now, the way the petals fall, sad and thinned, wiry branches, embrace air, gleam, Find nothing but nothing, nothing works well when not seeking, Circles, spirals—waves bring the memory of us, We were dirt clumped together: all that we wanted, The calmed horse sinks its head, The creek crept—sunken, wooden arms like aged pastels, comes lit sun: A sigh a neigh a beam of particles,
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 in clods, there was us, Growing roots glowing: heat and ash, And nowhere else, there is nothing, Chlorophyll sprouts forth from horseâ€™s eyes, outward until there is no reach, Traces of light synthesize, twirl within worldâ€™s breath, Engulfing us all in an acorn of dew
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Ratcatcher When they found the rat, Ula screamed. In fact, she wouldn’t stop screaming until the ratcatcher arrived. The girls giggled behind their hands. Anything that wound up the Puritan made them laugh. They all worked in the house of Pan and Pani Krolig, rich merchants in the port of Gdansk. Ula, the housekeeper, had been hired by Pani Krolig on a trip to Helsinki and, on a normal day, would run the girls beneath her ragged. “Work work work!” she would say, jabbing a finger at piles of dirty laundry or unpolished candlesticks. Nothing fazed Ula. Nothing but rats. “Call for the ratcatcher!” she cried between screams. “Get Alexi! Get Alexi right now!” The girls giggled again. They turned to the second oldest of them, Alicja, who was chipping potatoes for the pizie. Alicja was studiously ignoring them. Her fingers were pink from the cold and the scalding water. Her cheeks were turning a deep red. “Why don’t you go and fetch Alexi, Alicja?” one of the girls said, grinning. “Oh yes!” said another, clapping her hands together and jumping on the spot. “She should! She should!” “I love how their names both begin with ‘A’,” said a smaller girl in the back sorting coals. “Yes,” said her friend, throwing a coal into the scuttle, “just like Adam and Eve!” The first girl rubbed her soot-blackened hand over the second’s cheeks. “Eve begins with an ‘E’ you idiot!” “I’m afraid I’m busy,” Alicja said, quietly. “There are still a lot of potatoes that need peeling and chipping. I don’t have time to fetch… the ratcatcher. Not if Pan and Pani Krolig are to feed their guests tonight.” 73
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 Ula screamed again. “Oh God preserve me! Why is nobody going to fetch Alexi! Help! Jesus Lord help us!” The Swedish woman fell down on her knees praying. To the laughter of the whole kitchen, the rat took this opportunity to dart towards the wide folds of Ula’s dress. Ula screamed and rolled around. The rat couldn’t work out if she was attacking or trying to play a game. Eventually, one of the smaller girls was sent out to fetch Alexi. Alexi was a young man. Only seventeen, but old enough to have supplanted his father in his trade. Alexi senior had served as the district ratcatcher for twenty-eight years. He had taken over from his father when he was sixteen, after ten years of apprenticeship, and was happy to finally be retiring at the age of forty-two. Ratcatching might not seem the most difficult or physically demanding trade. In fact, compared to the work of the girls in the Krol’s kitchens, it was a relatively cushy existence. The problems came with the sicknesses. Alexi senior had caught every plague, ague and fever known to man. He now spent his days huddled in blankets by the fire. His old bones ached with spirochetes. His skin was a patchwork of scars and buboes. “Son,” he’d told young Alexi, “get married quick. Your looks fade fast in this job, and if a woman’s to have any luck surviving you, she’ll need to be young and fit herself.” But Alexi was in no rush. He and Alicja had met at the piekarnia, the smell of hot bread rolls filling the air. Alexi had taken a harvest of fourteen rats from the previous week’s traps and Alicja, ever-curious, had asked to see them. It had been the start of something wonderful. “There we go,” Alexi said, clipping shut the trap and hefting the now-caged rat up onto his rat-catcher’s pole. The rat from the Krol’s kitchens could sit up there for the rest of the day, happily munching on his bar of yellow cheese, serving as an advertisement for anyone else in need of the ratcatcher’s favours. It was only half-eleven in the morning and Alexi had six rats up there already. “God has rescued us,” Ula sighed. “How much?” one girl said, plucking at Ula’s pursestrings. Alexi looked around the kitchen and spotted Alicja. Her eyes were still lowered to her task, the potatoes falling through her nimble fingers, shedding their skins like coats and diving into the water. She didn’t look up but she could feel him watching. She smiled to herself. “For you lovely ladies?” Alexi said. “No charge.”
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 The girls giggled and pulled at each other’s sleeves. Ula looked around bewildered. She mistrusted the girls around boys and warned them twice, thrice, sometimes eight or nine times every day of what came of speaking loosely with the other sex. Now, she could smell sex somewhere in the room. Something was up. “Won’t you stay for some tea, Alexi?” one of the girls asked. “Oh yes, please do!” the two with the coals, Mari and Nat, echoed. “Oh no,” Alexi grinned. “I couldn’t impose upon you. Just being in your presence was reward enough for me.” “No flattery!” Ula corrected him. “You will give them big heads, Mister Ratcatcher.” Alexi gave a slight nod of his head, bowing to the housekeeper’s superiority. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. “I shall endeavour not to spoil your girls. Although, being only a humble ratcatcher, I doubt they will take a compliment from me too much to heart.” “True,” Ula said, rubbing her hands. Her eyes darted around the corners of the room, under tables and then up into the oaken rafters. She feared more rats might be present. Hidden. Hiding. “In that case,” she said, brushing a loose blonde lock back under her cowl, “why don’t you stay for just one cup, Mister Ratcatcher. I am sure we can spare a little tea. It is only fitting.” “Only if you’re certain,” Alexi said, pulling up a chair. “Can I take your rat pole, Pan Alexi?” one of the girl’s said, only eight or nine. Alexi passed it to her. “You can take it, but get a friend to help you,” he said. “Set it outside the door so that people know I’m here. And don’t try and touch the rats. They’ll bite your little fingers off!” “Aahhh!” the girl and her friend screamed and laughed. Together they hauled the catcher’s stick away like a totem. “Alicja,” Ula called. “Stop peeling those potatoes. They will wait! You have been sitting there oblivious this whole time, ignoring our friend the ratcatcher here. Come and put the tea on, and try and be cordial for Heaven’s sake!” “Yes, ma’am,” Alicja replied, setting down her knife. The rest of the girls in the kitchen burst out laughing, then went silent. With excitement, they watched her approach. “They have a lot of uses,” Alexi said. “They eat all the other pests, for example…” Alexi was well into his second cup and Ula was quizzing him on rats. “Oh I know in my heart that they must have a reason. God is a being of allknowing and all-loving grace and would create no creature without good reason. And
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 yet, when I look at them or even,” she shuddered, “think of them, I just cannot conceive them as Godly. “Are you sure,” she asked Alexi solemnly, “that they aren’t minions of the Devil?” Alexi scratched his head. “I shouldn’t think so, Pani Ula. Not the rats that I know, anyway.” “They can be very clever,” Alicja said. “Oh really?” Ula was shocked. “And how would you know, Alicja?” Alicja looked down at the tea-set, silent. “She’s right,” Alexi confirmed. “Why, a rat has at least the smartness of a two or three-year-old child, I’d say.” “Such blasphemy,” Ula tutted. “It’s true!” he said, sipping his tea. “If you make a maze, as I have done before now, using wood and sticks, then put a lump of yellow cheese in it, the rat will solve the maze no problem. You can even watch him thinking while he does it. Sniffing around.” Alexi lifted his hands up like paws and snuffled his nose. The youngest girls screamed laughing. “And do you know that the town guard use rats?” Alexi continued. “Yes! Truly! For, you see, a rat can be trained to seek out mantraps. You know, those diabolic devices of flint and gunpowder. The kind that bandits and pirates leave behind in their dens so that nobody comes knocking, and then if they do—then boom!” Ula turned pale at the thought. “Well, if they think a house might be mantrapped, the guard let out their special trained rats and, if there’s no traps, they look all around the house and come back for a treat. If there are traps, however, then the rats will sit right on top of them. “The guard will wait, and, if there’s no sign of the rat after half an hour; then you know the house is trapped.” “Wonderful,” Alicja beamed. Alexi returned her besotted look. Ula’s eyes narrowed at this. “Well, Mister Ratcatcher, you are full of surprises. Now, if you’ll allow me to show you out—“ “Oh, that’s not even the best bit!” Alexi said, carried away now by his own passions. “You know I’d wager a rat, any rat, not even a trained one, could beat your average doctor to a diagnosis. It takes them no time at all!” “It’s true,” Alicja nodded. The room was on tenterhooks now, listening in. Ula had stood up, hoping to show Alexi out, but now even she was drawn in. “What can you possibly mean?”
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 “What I mean, Pani Ula, is that a rat’s nose is so much more cultivated than our own, so very much more powerful, by Grace of God, that it can sniff out the very sicknesses inside of us.” Ula stared. “Sicknesses?” Alexi nodded. He sipped down the last of his tea and lifted himself out of the chair. He pointed to the door. “I could take any of those rats, hold them near your body, and let them sniff. Then, when you listen very carefully, you can hear the rat’s reaction. “If you just hear its teeth chittering away, you are healthy, it is not interested in you and it is only sniffing to see if there are any bits of cheese or bread nearby. If you hear its voice, however, that is the sound of it crying. “When a rat cries after sniffing you, Pani Ula, then…” He paused, swallowed. The room was dead silent. He was thinking of the nicest way to frame it. “…then you must go and see a doctor right away, Pani Ula.” The girls gasped. Ula did too, despite her best intentions. Alicja glowed. This was the Alexi who had won her heart. The man of a million stories. “Mrs Ula! Mrs Ula!” covered in coal dust, Mari and Nat were shouting. “Can we have the rats sniff us? Please! Please!” The girls were all lined up against the back wall. Ula had finally relented. She would let the ratcatcher show them to his rats on the promise that the girls worked extra hard afterwards. There was, after all, an important delegation coming from Muscovy this evening. Alexi, convinced of his theory, was now holding in his hands the very rat that he’d caught in the Krol’s kitchens not half an hour ago. It was a big one, brown, and not timid at all. It had clearly been living in the Krol’s house for a while, taking its dinner from the grain stores when it could. “Alright ladies!” Alexi grinned. “Here’s the rat from your very own kitchen.” He waved it through the air. Ula turned up her nose. “Now, does anybody have a name for him?” “Ratty!” shouted the youngest. The rest laughed. “That’s a good name!” Alexi laughed. “Now, everybody say hello to Ratty!” “Dzien dobry Pan Ratty!” the girls chanted in unison. “Now when I come to you with the rat, I want you to hold very still. We don’t want Ratty to get scared, and we don’t want Ratty to try and escape. Okay?” “Okay!” the girls said. Alexi moved to the first girl. The younger of the two coal-sorting girls was at the front of the line. She winced as Alexi held the rat out near to her. The rat was flustered,
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 writhing a little and trying to escape. Soon, however, it realised it was pinned and gave up the struggle. Instead, its little nose started trembling. Alexi held it near the girl’s face. Then, with a slow movement, he ran it down her front, down to the bottom of her belly. He then held the rat up to the girl’s ear. “What can you hear?” he asked her. The girl was quiet, listening. The rest of the girls looked on. “He’s…” she swallowed. “He’s, like, chewing and chittering.” Alexi looked at her very seriously. “In that case,” he broke out in a grin, “you are totally fine. Fit as a fiddle!” The girls all clapped. “Oh, me! Do me next!” the girl beside her laughed. “Okay,” Alexi shushed, “but you all have to be very quiet. Don’t scare Pan Ratty.” And so the girls stayed quiet in their line. Alexi did one, and then the other. He worked his way all the way down the line, showing each one to the rat and having them listen. Each one heard the chittering, and each one knew they were fine. They were all healthy. “Now there’s just you left,” Alexi grinned at Ula. “Do you want a check-up from doctor Ratty?” Ula tutted. She closed her eyes and held her hands together. She was having some swift and silent conversation with God. Possibly asking for courage. Maybe for the Lord to show her the rat’s value, when all she saw was a little demon. “Fine,” she said. “Okay, you can do it.” As Alexi approached with the rat, Ula closed her eyes. The rat came close to her face. From behind her closed lids she could hear it sniffing and snuffling. Alexi passed the rat in front of the housekeeper’s body and then asked her, quietly and calmly, “Would you like to listen to the rat, Pani Ula? Or should I listen for you?” Ula swallowed. “If you could listen for me, Mr Ratcatcher, I’d be much obliged.” “Certainly,” Alexi said, holding the rat to his ear. He stepped back, listening. Ula opened her eyes. The whole line of girls were watching now. They watched the ratcatcher’s face. They tried to read every gesture as he listened to the little ticks and tocks of their trusty Ratty. “Pani Ula,” Alexi inhaled for a big announcement. “You’re okay!” “Oh thank the Lord!” Ula trembled, holding her hand to her chest. “Thank the Good Lord. He is merciful. He is just and right.” The girls were all chatting now, comparing experiences, laughing and giggling about the ratcatcher and his special rat. Alexi smiled at Alicja. She had been behind
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 Alexi the whole time, holding his stick aloft with the five other rats hanging in their cages. Alexi approached her, Ratty held firm in his hands. He gestured for her to open up Ratty’s cage. “Wait a minute,” one of the little girls said, pointing. “Alicja hasn’t done it!” “Oh,” Alexi said, turning red now himself. “If Alicja doesn’t want to do it then she doesn’t have to.” “No,” Alicja said, “I don’t mind.” “Are you sure?” “Sure,” she smiled. “Someone needs to hold my stick while I do it,” Alexi called out. “How about you?” Mari and Nat ran up and took the stick from him. They held it up straight and vertical, their eyes drawn to the rodents hanging in metal prisons above them. “Now,” said Alexi, moving Alicja towards the wall. The rest of the girls crowded in around her. They all watched as the ratcatcher brought the rodent up to his lover’s eyes. “Hold still, now. And everyone else too. No scaring doctor Ratty.” They were all perfectly still. So silent that they could hear the rat sniffing now. It sniffed around Alicja’s blushing cheeks, down her soft bosom and around her belly, then down to the belt of rags and dishcloths that hung around her midriff. In silence, Alexi lifted the rat away from her body and moved it up to her ear. Alicja, the girl who always smiled, who had beamed with pleasure from the moment the ratcatcher arrived, now turned stony still. The blood drained from her once-rosy cheeks. Her lip trembled. “What is it?” a little girl asked. “Yes, Alicja,” Ula asked. “What do you hear?” Alicja breathed deeply. Her voice, when she spoke, was trembling. “It is crying,” she said. “The rat is crying.” Alexi, panicked, pulled Ratty away from her ear and held it to his own. He heard it. Clear as day. There was no confusing it with any other sound in the world. The rat was crying for his beloved. It knew, before any human, doctor or professor or magician, could even be able to tell, that his lover, Alicja, with whom he sought to spend his life, was dying. As she stood there in front of him, unable to meet his gaze, she was dying. The girls were silent. Their faces were shocked, sombre, afraid. “Come on girls,” Ula said, “back inside. You have had your fun. Break is over.” “Alicja.” “Yes, ma’am.”
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 “Take the afternoon off. You must go to the doctor.” Then, as the other girls were sloping back into the kitchens, she added one last word. “I shall pray for you, Alicja.” “Thank you,” she said. And the couple were left alone in the kitchen garden. Rats in their hands, silence in the air, and neither with any idea what to say.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
This Decade I got married and stayed married. No small feat, trust me. The arc of second marriage, shorter, a meteor of desire and hope, and then, whoa! We are on that same damn spaceship we were on before, with different people. Hang on. If you dare. A flare of need, a flame of midlife crisis and panic, I enrolled in another graduate degree, graduated, and did pretty much what I was doing before but maybe with a bit more style. My children got older. Hurt more. Loved. Lost. Loved. Lost. Then they loved, and moved into the world without me, as they should. I tried not to hold on tight. I tried to remain calm, not react. “Not a bitch” my rule of thumb. My mother got older, and older, and her brain began to erase itself. Meanwhile, I continued to drag her around the world. Ireland, Canada, France three times, England twice, Sicily, Scotland, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Denmark, Estonia, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia. What was I thinking? I taught over four thousand people something about writing. Or I think I did. I wrote a lot, published three novels, a poetry collection, many poems, many stories, many essays. I’m still not famous.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 I fought with a lot of people in the way adults fight: avoiding and not saying what is true. I’m now speaking to all but one of them, so the odds are okay. I’m plotting my retirement. I’ve sent in the papers. The next decade will be about that. Stay tuned, if you can. My skin decided enough was enough, relaxing, both of us sliding into my late fifties. Black long-sleeved t-shirts and Gold Bond lotion are my trade secrets. I packed up and moved away from the area I’d lived my entire life. Here I am, sitting in my new house. I made a friend. I go to Meetups. Sometimes, it snows. So far, so good. I lived and taught in Florence, Italy for three months. My first weeks—after my luggage was finally returned to me—I thought of my much younger self, moving away at nineteen for college. A bit late, but still. Made it. But there, in my studio, looking out onto the strangeness of everything, I wondered why. Even in Florence, despite Michelangelo, Dante, and Da Vinci, one can ask that same question. My favorite people are still my sons. And yet, I know I’m not theirs. See earlier item. In a fit of further insanity, we got two dogs, working dogs, shepherds, who have ordered and arranged every hour of our day. But I remember, they might not make it through the next decade. Dogs love people like mothers love children. It is possible—if I have done my math correctly—I’ve walked my dogs 11,648 miles in eight years. While I might be tempting fate and with only three days to go, in this decade, no surgeries. I am a full-time eyeglass wearer. Progressives. I gave up the drinking of alcohol and the eating of creatures. Legume is my middle name.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 In the next decade, the body will suffer, the mind, too. It canâ€™t be helped. But I am ready to jump into it, a woman freed to live mostly how she chooses, ready to look around and see what is left. Right now, it seems like a lot. I hope to see you.
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Three Things She Said in Spanish 1 “¡Cierre la puerta! Cierre la puerta antes de que entren los pollos,” my blind, wheelchair-bound great-grandmother repeated from the kitchen table, a cup of lukewarm coffee snug in her flour-dusted fingers. The thing is, we didn’t own any chickens. Still, I admired how each vowel in the word puerta rolled off her pruned lips. From the living room, I peeked down the narrow hallway and through the screen door and listened for the feathery clucks or broody growls. No chickens. During our annual visit, I watched pixelated cartoons on the only television in my great-grandmother’s two-bedroom home. The television had two-foot antennae protruding from the top that my family called “bunny ears.” Later, my mom told me that, decades ago, when my great-grandmother still picked cotton, and before her eyesight dimmed and the colorful world went dark like where the south Texas sky intersects with the earth, chickens once roamed here and laid eggs. 2 “Mi silla de ruedas está en llamas. Los vagones me rodean,” she said, serious this time, both sparse brows furrowed. In a blurry scene, I imagined the creaky wheelchair up in flames while wagons circled around like hands on a clock. My great-grandmother’s wrinkled fingers clenched the sides of the wheelchair while her mind wandered through the twists and turns of life. Although her frail body existed in the present, her mind lost itself somewhere in the winding memories of the past. I envisioned wooden wagons that inched along on an endless route in her brain’s repressed space. This place transported her like a hidden portal, and in a moment, she’d see her husband and the familiar faces of eight children and feel the cotton field sun on her cheeks. I wondered 85
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 where the wagons were going, but, more importantly, I wanted to know why they stole my great-grandmother and her fading sense of time away from us. 3 “¿Quien es esa niña?” My great-grandmother asked this question almost every time I greeted her. She’d intertwine my small hands between her thumb and forefinger, and for an instant I’d feel the rounded edge of the flour tortilla rolling pin carved into her palm. No trace of a memory or familiarity returned to her when we spoke to one another in broken English and Spanish. Even though her almond eyes were open and as deep as valleys, I knew she couldn’t see the freckles on my flushed face, the pigtails in my hair, or the Blue’s Clues image on my shirt. My great-grandmother was the reader of palms, the all-knowing matriarch of each new generation of family secrets, and the reason for our existence. This she knew. I am Marina, the granddaughter of your daughter, I wanted to shout and stomp to refresh her already lost and confused memory, but her sunken-in cheeks and knotted veins beneath the tender skin of her arms told stories I’d never understand. With her body, my great-grandmother taught me the complexity of time seen through the touch of the fingertip, an infinite suspension of backward and forward moments that forever encircle us.
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Directions for a Child Immigrating to the US in the 1980s Watch Appa and Amma avert their eyes while telling Thatha and Paati that it will only be for a little while; play with your stuffed elephant while they argue; see Thatha shake his head and Paati tap her cane against the ground; pluck a wispy thread of cotton from a small tear in Ramu’s gray trunk; hold onto him when Amma picks you up, rubbing her cheek against yours; breathe in the velvety scent of baby powder, rose water, and jasmine; wave to Thatha and Paati as their limp wrists remind you of ostriches; look up into Amma’s puffed eyes; glance at Appa adjusting his metal eyeglass frames; ask for kulfi and watch them breathe in, sigh and begin to laugh; tell Amma to stop when she pinches your cheeks and knuckles her head; watch Appa run to a street vendor, the same one with the birdlike nose and pencil-thin mustache; rest your head on Amma’s chest while you listen to the sounds of heartbeats, rickshaw honks, and her humming; revel in the explosions of cardamom and pistachio; offer Ramu some kulfi but since he doesn’t answer, finish the rest and toss the stick on the floor; watch Appa pick it up and throw it away; ask Ramu why Appa and Amma are so silent at home; sit with them as they light sandalwood incense and burn camphor in front of the shrine; put your hands together in a namaste and drift asleep, Ramu in the crook of your arm. Wince as Amma holds your nose shut and asks you to blow out into her hand; giggle and pull away; open your mouth wide as if you were to yawn; look out the window and see brown and green fields next to toy buildings; hear a stern voice from the speakers say something you don’t understand; ask Amma but she doesn’t respond because she’s gripping her armrests, squeezing her eyes shut; watch Appa poke Amma a few times before she hushes him and shoves his finger away; smile and bounce in your seat as Appa leans in to wink at you; stop after someone shoves your seat from behind; look back down at Ramu on your lap and the small round Band-Aid on his trunk; feel the plane descend closer to the toy buildings which get bigger and bigger and a body of 87
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 water opens up below you; join in the cabin cheers as you land before Amma lets go of her seat. Worry as Amma argues with a man in a dark blue uniform about your picture in a little blue booklet; flush with anger after he squeezes Ramu’s belly and trunk and the BandAid falls behind his desk; pull on Amma’s sari as Appa smoothes down your hair; catch Ramu after the man tosses him in the air and calls over the family behind you; make eye contact with a blue-frocked girl with two braids holding a doll with one braid; moan and complain about the luggage taking too long. Eat thair sadam the first night, dab dosa into coconut chutney the second night, and on the third night, try a piece of bread and cheese and tomato sauce that blows your mind so you ask for a whole loaf before your get corrected that it’s called a ‘slice.’ Feel a pang as Appa puts his arm around Amma when you board a yellow school bus for the first time; misspell your last name when your teacher asks; ask Amma if you can shave your head because a kid with a buzz said your bowl cut makes you look like a mushroom; frown when Amma says we only do that after a father passes away; lose a friend you made in school after you visit his home for the first time and his mother asks you what you are; get called the sand n-word by him the next day; ask Amma what that means; never speak to the boy again but look for him years later on Facebook. Ace your math and science classes; feel a thrill when you realize you can spell your last name; fail your cursive test because your f and b look the same; borrow a quarter so you can try pepperoni pizza in the cafeteria for a dollar twenty-five; shudder when Appa yells at you for getting a C in handwriting and a girl you like asks you why you smell like curry (and you ask her why you wouldn’t); purse your lips and be impressed the class clown has found a male body part that rhymes with your name; ask for a Nintendo NES for Christmas; tap a and b and the arrow keys to move Mario around two-dimensional blocks while Ramu watches on the sofa; move a few times to incrementally larger houses; get mostly 5s on your APs, except for that 4 in biology; decry that you never want to be a doctor. Visit Thatha and Paati for the summer in India; stop speaking Tamil when people laugh at your attempts. Return home where everyone comments on how dark you’ve gotten over the summer; kiss a white girl who smells like peaches and pears; listen to her dusky voice on the
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 phone every night until two in the morning; kiss her again, this time on the neck; get shoved by her new boyfriend against the school courtyard wall; throw a punch in his direction and fail to put your hip into it; nurse your bruised face with an ice pack in the principal’s office waiting for the suspension; listen to Nirvana’s Nevermind as you write the white girl a letter to let her know you won’t speak to her again; roll your eyes when Appa comes home from work that evening and lectures you on how much he and Amma sacrificed to be in America. Apply to colleges and get into all of them; watch Appa’s eyes light up with molten pride as he grips your shoulders tight; cross your legs and sit down on kitchen tiles as Amma swings a fistful of cloves in a circle around you, pausing at your stomach, your shoulders, and your forehead; put your hands together in a namaste as she wards off the evil eye; breathe in the scents of camphor and sandalwood incense. Remember an old friend; find him in a taped-up cardboard box in the garage; take him out of the box and put him on your desk; run a hand over his trunk and say hey bud it’s been a while.
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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 16
Contributor Notes ______________________________________________ Lara Arikan is an Ankara-based poet and electronic musician. Some of Lara’s work has appeared in Bilkent University’s weekly publication Bilkent News, for which she writes regularly as a columnist. One of her poems currently resides in Medusa’s Laugh Press’ microtext anthology 3. Others have been published in numerous journals including GASHER, Typishly, and the Cordite Poetry Review. Jessica Barksdale’s fifteenth novel, The Play’s the Thing, is forthcoming from TouchPoint Press in 2021. Her poetry collection When We Almost Drowned was published in March 2019 by Finishing Line Press. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband. Sara Barnard (she/her) is from the UK, has lived in Spain and Canada, and is now based on a sailboat in Central America, with her partner and child. Since finishing a PhD in Hispanic Studies, she has focused on sailing, parenting, and freelance writing (travel, music, culture). Her poems have been published by Bone & Ink Press, Glass Poetry Resists, Hypertrophic Literary, The Cerurove, and Okay Donkey, among others. Twitter: @sara_barnard Website: www.sarabarnard.wordpress.com Beverly Burch’s third poetry collection, Latter Days of Eve, won the John Ciardi Poetry Prize. Her first, Sweet to Burn, won a Lambda Literary Award and the Gival Poetry Prize. Her second, How a Mirage Works, was a finalist for the Audre Lorde Award. Poetry and fiction appear in Denver Quarterly, New England Review, Willow Springs, Salamander, Tinderbox, Mudlark, and Poetry Northwest. Myna Chang writes flash and short stories. Her work has been featured in Reflex Fiction, Writers Resist, and Daily Science Fiction, among others. Read more at MynaChang.com or on Twitter at @MynaChang.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 Chloe N. Clark’s fiction and poetry has appeared in Booth, Glass, Little Fiction, Uncanny, and more. She is the author of The Science of Unvanishing Objects and Your Strange Fortune, as well as Co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph. You can find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes. Joseph Darlington is a writer from Manchester, UK. His books include the short story collection Avon Murray (No-Name Press 2016) and the academic monograph British Terrorist Novels of the 1970s (Palgrave 2018). He writes poetry about noodles and posts them on Twitter at @Joe_Darlo. Shome Dasgupta is the author of i am here And You Are Gone (Winner Of The 2010 OW Press Fiction Chapbook Contest), The Seagull And The Urn (HarperCollins India, 2013) which has been republished in the UK by Accent Press as The Sea Singer (2016), Anklet And Other Stories (Golden Antelope Press, 2017), Pretend I Am Someone You Like (University of West Alabama’s Livingston Press, 2018), and Mute (Tolsun Books, 2018). His stories and poems have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Puerto Del Sol, New Orleans Review, New Delta Review, Necessary Fiction, Milk Candy Review, Jellyfish Review, Magma Poetry, and elsewhere. His fiction and poetry have been anthologized in Best Small Fictions 2019 (Sonder Press), The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing (&Now Books, 2013), and Poetic Voices Without Borders 2 (Gival Press, 2009). His work has been featured as a storySouth Million Writers Award Notable Story, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the Best Of The Net, and longlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50. In 2018, he took part in the Innovative Fiction panel, as a featured author, at the Louisiana Book Festival. He lives in Lafayette, LA, and he can be found at www.shomedome.com and @laughingyeti. Tommy Dean lives in Indiana with his wife and two children. He is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks. He is the Flash Fiction Section Editor at Craft Literary. He has been previously published in BULL Magazine, The MacGuffin, The Lascaux Review, New World Writing, Pithead Chapel, and New Flash Fiction Review. His story “You’ve Stopped” was chosen by Dan Chaon to be included in Best Microfiction 2019. It will also be included in Best Small Fiction 2019. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter. Diana Donovan is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Northern California. A graduate of Brown University, Diana was recently featured in Quiet Lightning, a literary mixtape/reading series in San Francisco.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 S. Preston Duncan is a caregiver and BBQist in Richmond, Virginia, and is currently training as an End of Life Doula. Recent aspirations include becoming the Jason Isbell of literature, stealing death’s laughter, and transcendental pimento cheese. He is the former Senior Editor of local arts and culture publication, RVA Magazine. His poetry has appeared or been selected to appear in Tulane Review, Circle Show, Levee Magazine, Unstamatic, Bottom Shelf Whiskey, and RVA Magazine (outside of editorship). Marina Flores is a creative nonfiction writer, amateur baker, and full-time dog mom. She holds a Master of Arts in Literature, Creative Writing, and Social Justice. Her words have appeared in Empty Mirror, Turnpike Magazine, and X-R-A-Y. Currently, Marina teaches Composition courses to university freshman and tutors at a local community college in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas. She can be found sharing her existential thoughts on Twitter from @marinathelibra. Beth Gilstrap is the winner of the 2019 Red Hen Press Women’s Prose Prize for her second full-length collection Deadheading & Other Stories (forthcoming). She is also the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and No Man’s Wild Laura (2016) from Hyacinth Girl Press. She serves as Fiction Editor at Little Fiction | Big Truths and a reader at Creative Nonfiction. Her work has been selected as Longform.org’s Fiction Pick of the Week and recently selected by Dan Chaon for inclusion in the Best Microfiction anthology. Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Minnesota Review, Hot Metal Bridge, and Wigleaf, among others. Zara Hanif is a Creative Writing graduate from Rhode Island College. She has art and writing published in Shoreline, Clockwise Cat, Albion Review, Operating System, Red Flag Poetry, and soon in Sheepshead Review. She enjoys writing and drawing about whatever strange concepts come to mind. Rebecca Harrison sneezes like Donald Duck and her best friend is a dog who can count. Candace Hartsuyker is a third-year fiction student at McNeese State University and reads for PANK. She has been published in BULL: Men’s Fiction, Foliate Oak and elsewhere. Emily James is a teacher and writer in NYC. She’s the CNF Editor of Porcupine Literary and the Submissions Editor at Pidgeonholes. Her recent work can be found/is forthcoming in Guernica, Jellyfish Review, River Teeth, CHEAP POP, Hippocampus, Atticus Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2019 Bechtel Prize from 93
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 Teachers and Writers’ Magazine. You can find her online at www.emilysarahjames.com and tweet her @missg3rd. Olivia Kingery is a farmer of plants and words in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She is an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University where she reads for Passages North. When not writing, she is in the woods with her Chihuahua and Saint Bernard. She tweets @olivekingery. Kathryn Kulpa was a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her flash fiction chapbook Girls on Film. Her work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Smokelong Quarterly, Superstition Review, and other journals, and she serves as flash fiction editor for Cleaver magazine. Kathryn leads a veterans writing group in Rhode Island, has been a visiting writer at Wheaton College, and was an instructor at the Writefest Conference at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Find her at kathrynkulpa.com/@KathrynKulpa. Amanda Little Rose has been a high school English teacher for five years, and graduated with a Bachelors of Arts and Science in English and Secondary Education from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, where she is currently studying to get her MFA in Poetry. Shayleene MacReynolds has her Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Cal State Northridge. Her writings have appeared in Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and California’s Emerging Writers, amongst others. Shayleene is concerned with all things human, both enamored and intrigued by the emotional relationships forged between us. Her writings explore the capacity for connection that we maintain as human beings, and the vast responsibility we owe to one another to connect better, to love better, and to be better. Alexandra M. Matthews is a teacher and writer living in the Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and Barren Magazine. KG Newman is a sportswriter who covers the Colorado Rockies for The Denver Post. His first two collections of poems, While Dreaming of Diamonds in Wintertime and Selfish Never Get Their Own, are available on Amazon. The Arizona State University alum is on Twitter @KyleNewmanDP and more info and writing samples can be found at kgnewman.com.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16 Lila Rabinovich is a public policy analyst who writes in her spare time. Her fiction has appeared and is forthcoming in JellyFish Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Burnt Pine Magazine, The Scores, Cosmonauts Avenue, High Plains Register and elsewhere. One of her pieces was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She grew up in Argentina and lived in England before settling in Alexandria, VA. She lives with her husband and three kids. Vikram Ramakrishnan is a Tamil-American writer who was born in Bangalore, India and grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied physics, mathematics, and computer science. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Newfound, SAND Journal, and AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review. He currently lives in New York City. Jessica Anne Robinson is finally a Toronto writer, which is to say she recently moved from the suburbs into the actual city. She has had poetry published with Hart House Review, The Anti-Langorous Project, Coven Editions, and Room Magazine, among others. She loves virtual farming and making collages out of magazines. You can find her anywhere @hey_jeska. Gretchen Rockwell is a queer poet and supplemental instructor of English at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, RI. Xer work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Glass: Poets Resist, Kissing Dynamite, Noble/Gas Qtrly, FreezeRay Poetry, the minnesota review, and elsewhere. Gretchen enjoys writing poetry about gender and sexuality, history, myth, science, space, and unusual connections. Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, The Pinch, Wigleaf, and other venues. Her work has been selected for Best Microfictions 2020 and the Wigleaf Top 50 2019, as well as been a finalist for Best of the Net 2019 and the Lascaux Prize in short fiction and flash fiction, among other awards. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review. www.michellenross.com Bikram Sharma is from Bangalore. He completed his MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and in 2016 was awarded the Charles Wallace India Trust writing fellowship at the University of Kent. His work has appeared in various literary magazines including Litro, Out of Print and The Suburban Review. Robert Wilson is teacher and poet living in the Mid-west. His poetry has most recently appeared in the Lily Poetry Review and the Pinyon Review. 95
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Lucy Zhang is a writer masquerading around as a software engineer. She watches anime and sleeps in on weekends like a normal human being. Recent publications include: Ligeia, Ghost Parachute, Twist in Time, MoonPark Review and Tiny Molecules. She can be found at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16
Cover Photos: Benjamin Woodard Interior Photos: Michael Olsen, Christopher Paul, Ron Whitaker, and Taton Moise
Atlas and Alice, Issue 16