End of 83: volume 2

Page 1

End of 83 Volume Two

Editing Team

Alina Grigorovitch

David N. Tablada William Pearce Ian Levine

Editor–In–Chief /Cover Design / Art Fiction / Layout Design Non–Fiction Poetry

Table of Contents Function Crash () {


How to Watch Your City Burn


Angel of the Butcher Shop


The French Confection




Under the Leonids






She Touched His hair and his face


Rubber Magic at Mickey D’s


No One Gets Fat on Labor Day


Endlessly Adrift


“I Began in Water”


The Contestant


Myrtle Beach, South Carolina


In Memoriam, Summer


A Tale Of Four Cities






HCC Make


The Hard Truth


The General’s Lament


Grandpa and the Gangster


by Kurt Crisman

by Whitney G. Schultz by Mike Murhpy

by Myrina Cardella-Marenghi by Jessie Schaller by Matt Hohner

by Heath Brougher

by David N. Tablada

by Richard Baldwin Cook by Richard Baldwin Cook By Mike Murphy

by Heath Brougher

by Chelsea Gleason by Tom Mullin

by Matt Hohner

by Whitney G. Schultz by Margo Christie

by Kristin McWharter by Kristin McWharter by Kristin McWharter by Mike Murphy by Mike Murphy

by Myrina Cardella-Marenghi

Function Crash () { by Kurt Crisman

narrator i; character wife; character son; setting i.automobileAccident; i = “Waning day, flat and dark blue through the glass.”; wife = “At the last model home, ’This could work. We could put up a bookshelf, the new bookshelf, right there.’ She points at a space between two bare windows in the living room.”; wife + wife = “The garage is quite large. I know you’ll like that.”; son = “I don’t like houses. I want to play a game.”; i + i = “No more, please. At least, if it were to be blue, not that dark blue, but the blue of a cloudy white sky seen through the glare of morning’s sunrise. Sharp as a January Sunday.”; i + i = “A game for the kid to play at the last house. Football players, composed of points of light, to slide across pixel fields. White lines of offensive schemes and formations to wield.”; i + i = “The collision threw my body through the windshield, from the car. My brain crackled with zap, zap, zap, as I somersaulted through blue, through blue, through blue. Unbelievable, almost, that this is happening to me.”; i + i = “A feeling, sinking into frozen earth, suddenly soft as newly turned soil. Mind, heart, and lips inseparable from the earth—becoming earth.”; memory = new string [11]; memory(0) = “A bird hops up to my wife. She trills, ‘Hello birdy’”; memory(1) = “I touch her pregnant belly, round and naked.”; memory(2) = “How did she rack up fuckin’ $500 on the charge card?”; memory(3) = “The new bookshelf would look good in that spot.”; memory(4) = “A photograph of a child in summer, swinging on a tire, in flight. Turning and turning in circles. The child leaning back, look-


ing up, his face spinning like speedy Mercury in an elliptical orbit.”; i +i = “Still, smelling the pungent odor that steeps the earth.”; i + i = “Unable to bear the earth in my nose, in my mouth, on my tongue.”; memory(5) = “An interesting documentary the other day—watching the sky for large falling objects. Grainy pictures of star clusters, rings of rock and ice, planets traveling from satellite to satellite to NASA lab to servers to wires across the earth.”; memory(6) = “My son reads a story to me. It’s Dr. Seuss.”; memory(7) = “I can’t believe he drew all over his friend’s head”; memory(8) = “When he hugged, he held with loving tenacity”; memory(9) = “My son laughs as the car spins across the median”; i + i = “There must be a way to shut down, restart, and put a broken mind back together from so many shattered shards, blood on the ground. Like the sting of a needle—biting and barbed—great black drops of rain, passing moments of clarity—sinking, rooting firm and deep—quickly evaporating .”; i.final.memory(10) = “Lashing out in anger when my son won’t wear socks”; i + i = “Pigeons landing, cooing between ribs and pecking at falling skin, weeping flesh.”; i + i = “The strong heavy rain, which would wash face, limb, bones away with the mud, approaching.”; i = “”; }


How to Watch Your City Burn by Whitney G. Schultz

Gawk. Go ahead. Stretch your eyes to take it all in. See the smoke rise. Inhale. That’s the spirit. Take it all in. Let your jaw hang slack, the loose shape of an oh— my God, what are they doing? Steady your hand. Hold still. Capture it on film. #nofilter Upload. Bask in the afterglow of Retweet after Retweet. Move closer. Breathe deeper now. You can almost taste the ash of the 7-11 hotdogs and soft pretzels. Marvel at the colors. Who knew a cop car could burn so blue? Watch the crowds swell, one collective sigh, an exhale. Hope our breath doesn’t put the fire out.


Angel of the Butcher Shop by Mike Murhpy

I see her there behind the deli counter ramed between shiny cleavers and bow saws hung on the white tiled wall she smiles at me with her bucket of sunshine and I can’t see the cold shanks the severed ribs lying on a steel table in back the blood-smeared apron hanging from a hook on the swinging door she calls my name and I can’t hear the mangled cries of beasts shorn from alfalfa fields the sharpening of knife edge that glimmers with purpose all I can see is her as she hands me my lunch wrapped like a precious jewel the brown paper gently creased into angel’s wings that lift us both somewhere else far beyond the slaughter


The French Confection by Myrina Cardella-Marenghi

In my lingerie drawer, one day when my daughter Michelle was a little girl playing grownup, she came upon a sturdy white cardboard box. Inside she found, carefully wrapped in lavender-scented tissue paper, a silk, lace-trimmed full slip. Michelle and her older brother, Bernard, will soon be college-age. Every few weeks their hair is a different shade of Day-Glo neon color. This month his is bright burgundy, hers flaming tangerine. Though she is no longer a little girl, Michelle still loves to look at the elegant garment she found so long ago—to touch it, to smell it. And she still loves to hear the story of that extravagantly expensive silk slip. When, more than twenty years ago I flew frequently for business, I often saw chic women who used a folded mink coat as a pillow. Or, during a nap, they draped the luxurious fur outer garments over their knees as a lap rug. I had never owned a fur coat. Women in my family wore sensible, Republican, cloth coats. Having walked home from my office one frigid winter day, I gazed longingly at the dark brown fur in the window of the street level store of my Manhattan apartment building. A recent bonus had been a windfall and, a few days later—-alterations made—I wore the warm coat and matching pillbox hat out of the furrier’s shop. Thus began my brief lapse into a life of luxury. On the way home from work the day after I picked up the coat, I passed a lingerie shop on Fifth Avenue. Whenever I walked by this store, a small sign back in the far corner of one window intrigued me. Bold white letters on a black background read, Custom Made Lingerie. All but hidden by an array of delicate pastel silk and satin garments, the sign’s odd placement seemed to suggest, “We don’t need or want your business.” That day, emboldened certainly by my new mink coat, I entered the small emporium. As a young girl, I had frequently accompanied my overly endowed Aunt Endora to a corsetiere’s store. But in this Fifth Avenue shop, the abundance of glamorous, lace-trimmed items bore no resemblance to the sensible-Republican, flesh-colored, broadcloth instruments of



torture my aunt had purchased back then. I thought: perhaps the sign in this window refers to custom-made bras. Mine were standard-issue, white-cotton Maidenform. Inside the shop, a sparrow of a French woman, the proprietor, greeted me. Put delicately, she was past childbearing age. Nevertheless, she had magnificent porcelain skin and elegant fine features. Even an abundance of pale face powder and the severe black topknot on her head did not diminish the authority of her appearance. The sign, she explained in answer to my question, advertises a, “centuries-old factory in France that manufactures silk, Belgian-lace-trimmed full slips. “Much of the work is finished in a fine French hand,” Madame explained through her thick accent. “Each garment is made to the measurements of my select clientele, you see.” Her haughty manner informed me immediately that, dressed in mink coats or not, select customers did not wander in off the street. They were seen by appointment—and her seamstress went to their homes to take measurements. No matter. I now envisioned myself in the same league as blonde, tousle-haired Hollywood starlets whose photographs appeared on movie magazine pages. Printed captions beneath their pictures hinted that in the middle of the night, these glamour princesses—wearing nothing but custom-made, lace-trimmed, silk full slips beneath mink coats—drove off to meet their lovers. Except, I had no lover. Young, sad, prematurely widowed several years before, I was too busy for love. I travelled the country to manage the scientific software installations of my own select clients. Not until that moment did the thought of a new romance occur to me. But, I now realized, I too had long blonde hair I could free from its chignon at the nape of my neck. I owned a car and, of late, a mink coat. The slip would complete the requisite alluring outfit, making my inventory three down, one to go. Bases loaded, so to speak—the lover being the home run. In a fabric sample catalog, small, pinked-edge silk squares were pasted onto pages constructed of glossy, thick white oak tag. The book, about the size of a bible, and trimmed with mauve and lavender silk braid, had matching tassels to bookmark the choice of colors I would choose for my garment. Before the fitting could be undertaken in the luxuriously curtained dressing room, the seamstress brought me a cup of ginger tea. She was

a clone of the proprietor, bone thin, chic in all black—a soft cashmere turtleneck sweater and a wool skirt with a razor sharp hem. The differences between the two women were that a few stray hairs had escaped the seamstress’ topknot and, around her neck, a functional pincushion hung from a thin red silk rope. A yard-long, yellow tape measure draped loosely over that. She handed me a citrus-scented brew, hot from the faucet of a silver samovar that was tarnished just enough to confirm its sterling status. We sat on dainty white Chippendale chairs beside a matching tea cart. The small table was set with translucent bone china cups trimmed in pink and red hedge roses, similar to the fitting room wallpaper, curtain fabric, and chintz-covered seat pads. In the background, New York’s classical music radio station played softly. Two weeks later, I received a note by mail. On rose-scented, mauve stationary, in Madame’s delicate, plum-colored script, it announced: Your custom-made garment, hand-finished in France, awaits your pleasure. Clients without a store account were advised that cash was the acceptable form of payment. Her message was clear. Mink coat notwithstanding, surely Madame considered me an upstart. A monkey in a tuxedo! But she did not appear overly unkind. On the contrary, she seemed to project that it was her duty to remind me of my place. Surely, in her day, she had seen social climbers come to a bad end and wished to protect me from such a fate. I returned to claim my purchase, this time—as Madame’s note requested—by appointment. When I saw the caramel-colored silk slip trimmed with brown and beige Belgian lace, her attitude toward me was inconsequential. I owned the most beautiful lingerie I’d ever seen. Mine, and made for me! Two large darker brown lace initials, MC, were embroidered just where a low neckline would demurely hint at their existence. Again, after the civilized prerequisite rite of tea, I was allowed to try on the slip. Gazing back out at me was Alice, who had stepped through the magic glass of a freestanding gilt-edged floor mirror with delicate Queen Anne legs. The fine silk fabric was a delightful, decadent sensation of heretofore-unknown softness caressing my body. Madame entered the small dressing room to carefully check the fit. “Perfect!” she finally announced. I realized apprehensively, I had


half feared she might say my figure was not select enough after all, and void the transaction. Relieved to have passed muster, I thanked her. Then I did something she could not have imagined. On impulse, I hugged her. Her reed thin body stiffened. With a look of dismay, brushing herself off as if a family of fleas had descended upon her, she stepped back. Her expression said it all! My naïveté about class distinction and my place in the world would lead to heartbreak, she was certain. Surely, one did not lunge at strangers to embrace them. Never again have I made such impulsive, extravagant purchases. The coat has been repaired several times. It remains serviceable on cold winter days. For sentimental reasons, the threadbare silk slip my daughter Michelle came upon remains wrapped in my lingerie draw. I no longer dare wear or wash it for fear it will evaporate. Truth to tell, it might not fit— as perhaps I have gained a pound or two.


When our large family grew to include the two teen-agers, the four stair-step little boys, a fat orange tabby, and an elegant gray angora cat, my mother-in-law bought the children a big black French poodle to complete this mélange. The dog is almost as large as a pony. Thank goodness, our rambling old house off the main street of a small New England university town easily accommodates such a brood. That day, twenty years ago, as Madame wrapped my purchase, a man entered the shop. How dashing he was, snowflakes melting into his dark wool beret and tan trench coat. Surely, I thought, a French movie idol, come to choose a gift for his current mistress. As Madame completed our transaction, the handsome stranger and I exchanged some small chitchat about the snow that had started to fall. He held the door open for me to leave. I thanked him. As my husband now tells the story, it was love at first sight. That, and a noble impulse based on a statement made by his mother, has morphed into this life of ours. Occasionally, looking at her son, his freewheeling wife, their two neon-haired offspring, the four boisterous young boys, and—a late-breaking surprise—the beautiful infant girl on Maman’s lap—as well as our menagerie of spoiled pets, my proper French mother-inlaw who spends most of her time with us here now, also ponders how

this all came about. What was his noble impulse? What was her concern? That long-ago afternoon at a café near her shop, Madame expressed her worry for my future to her lunch companion, “A lovely woman, but neither fish nor foul. One should keep to their place. I see heartbreak ahead for her.” Those words sealed the deal. Someone must rescue Maman’s customer from a sad fate, thought the son Madame had raised alone. He had seen his mother learn some hard-won lessons of her own. He says now that he sensed my heart had already been broken once. A lovely woman indeed, he thought. I will do it—I will rescue her from Maman’s sad vision! Well, you know the French will bend any rule for affairs of the heart—all’s fair in love and war. Some detective work through Maman’s shop records, a little of his ooh la la, a whirlwind romance— and here we are. Madame, of course, agreed to arrange the small, tasteful wedding because one must put the best face on even the worst situation. Every so often through the years though, she exclaims—not without a certain amount of affection, “Mon Dieu, what a salad Nicoise we are here!” And I respond, also not without affection, “C’est la vie!”




by Jessie Schaller Maria was driving north to see her brother in Maryland and she was terribly thirsty. She had an hour until she reached her destination and did not want to impede her progress by stopping. She rolled her tongue around her teeth, and chewed desperately on a piece of gum that had kept her company through Virginia. Her phone rang. “How far away are you?” Her brother asked. “I’ll be there right before dinner.” Maria said. “Should I pick anything up along the way?” “No, no, just get here when you can. Molly is excited to see you.” She missed an exit while talking to him. “Damn,” she said when he hung up the phone. She scanned the road for another exit to take. Her throat tingled. It said, “Feed Me” in the style of alien-like Venus flytrap. She swallowed. Recently Maria had accidentally fallen in love with a man named Harry. He fixed old cars in Macon. She had a flat tire and he patched it on the side of 85 while she sat on a curb when the sun was highest in the sky. Beads of sweat fell down her nose and on to the asphalt as he cranked and screwed. He asked her to dinner and picked her up wearing a white undershirt and khaki pants that had been well ironed. He took her to a local Mexican restaurant and they sat outdoors and drank cheap beer and he made her laugh. The small of her back sparkled with dew-like perspiration as he told her a story about how he almost drowned in a river when he was a small child. He flailed his arms in the air to demonstrate his lack of swimming skills. When the check came Harry apologized for talking so much and asked her if she wanted to get a beer at a bar somewhere else. She politely declined, and he drove her home and didn’t try to kiss her. The next day Harry called her on her landline. “How did you get my home-phone?” Maria asked. “The phonebook,” he said.


“I didn’t know that they still made those,” said Maria. He asked her if she wanted to go for a walk and she said “O.K”. They spent the day looking into store windows and sitting next to the lake. He bought her lunch and she told him that he had a handsome face. He leaned in to kiss her twice, once when she wasn’t looking. He was successful 50% of the time. She thought about this day when she was driving and smiled. Her lips cracked from lack of moisture. She could see the Baltimore skyline in the distance. She hadn’t seen her brother since her father’s funeral. She was looking forward to seeing how much his daughter had grown. Their father was an accountant and slightly bald. He spent half of his days rearranging numbers and the other half staring listlessly into the space that filled his office. He completed most of his mathematical calculations in his head and could recite all of “Fra Lippo Lippi” by heart. He was a gentle man without much to say. Some nights on their drive home, Maria’s father would turn the headlights of their Volvo off and drive slowly, allowing the light of the big moon to illuminate their path. Maria’s heart would race as she sat up straighter than before, giggling at the idea of danger. On weekends he would buy her ice cream, and they would frequent the local community-college gymnasium. Maria watched the young adults flip into foam pits and fly from high bar to high bar. Her heart would beat as drops of vanilla fell onto her lap. So Maria ran away to the circus, as they say. She took lessons in acrobatics and received her GED when she was 16. She became proficient in the art of the Trapeze. On Sunday nights she flipped and flopped from rope to bar with her partner, Jamie. They wore red suits with gold trim and the children would applaud when they would fall into the protective netting at the end of their performance. Maria would stand and bow and watch as the crowd shoveled sugar into their mouths and pointed at the lions. She began to drift into the right lane and a Ford Explorer honked. She swallowed again, and scanned the front seat of the car for another piece of gum or even a toothpick to chew on. She moved her tongue across her teeth in attempts to locate moisture. Harry attended one of Maria’s acts in secret. He watched as her body sailed upwards like a paper airplane. Her torso billowed and folded. Her legs contorted into positions that made his dick hard and


her arms swayed in ways that made his heart ache. He wanted to hold her in his arms and feel the beat of her chest cavity against his stomach. He felt a pain of guilt for attending her show, as if he had peered into her diary without permission. His heart beat quickly. He sneezed. Harry was one of seven; a product of Catholic parents who were much better at making children than raising them. He graduated from trade school and began working as a mechanic in his uncle’s shop when he was seventeen. Sometimes he thought that he might want to go to college. Sometimes he thought that he should be a vegetarian. He realized that he had never truly wanted anything the day that he met Maria, and he was determined to make the feeling last. He lay in his bed and thought of the idea of her driving further away from him. He pictured her with her hair pulled back behind her ears and her skirt riding up as she changed gears, barely revealing her red underwear. He could feel her physically escaping him, and his heart began to beat the way it did when he drove a 69 Mach 1. He wanted to call her. He wanted to know if she was hungry. At that point she was 20 minutes away from her brother’s house in Baltimore. Her radio retreated into white noise as she made her way through the Harbor Tunnel. She turned it down. She thought of a note she had seen on Harry’s fridge the night before: “I love you, baby. Let’s do this again soon” was all it read. She wondered who could have written it, and when. A live version of “Word Goes Round” whispered through her radio once she emerged from the tunnel and she turned it up. John Prine was explaining how a fan mistook his lyric “half of inch of water” for “happy enchilada” and proceeded to preform the song with the mistaken words. Maria smiled but did not laugh. She pulled into a gas station about five minutes away from her brother’s home, attracted to the vulgar flock of vending machines that bordered the pumps. She emptied dimes and lint-covered nickels into the machine and listened as it whirred in archaic exhaustion. She stood against her car in the empty lot and closed her eyes as she swallowed the cool, fizzy liquid. She smacked her wet lips and wiped Coke from face that had drizzled eagerly down her chin. Her eyes watered from the carbonation. She watched a beetle crawl across the hood of her car. Its black skin shone with the reflection of the vending machines. It moved slowly, lifting its small legs into the air to feel for


spaces that did not exist. Maria sipped from her plastic bottle as she bent closer towards the insect and it flew away, ascending into the infinity of its own knowledge and disappearing into the night sky.


Under the Leonids by Matt Hohner

Two a.m., twenty-five degrees. Shivering on a roadside between open fields on top of a hill, I gaze east and up at November’s mute fires, magnesium streaks quick-etched across the night, their glowing trails hanging like tiny hosannas of light before dissolving back to heaven. Farther from earth, satellites zip from horizon to horizon in silent orbit. On the cold wind, a soft whiff of nitrates and damp soil swirls with woodfire smoke from nearby farm houses. The distant low roar of a passenger jet rises and falls. Somewhere a dog barks at deer shuffling through the corn stubble. Minute under the vast and endless river of stars, I watch with gratitude as sparks shoot from the Lion’s mane, heavenly travelers hurtling through the darkness of time to crash hot to earth, brief glories scratching the hours like static, fading swift as dreams the moment we wake. Their ions, like knowledge, linger to tease, then are gone.



by Heath Brougher

I heard you coming through the room, passing by, semi-drowned of your fabled pride, and felt good knowing you bled among the branches. You saw me through the brush, along the walls, sinking to the mud-water that bloomed ripples, ebbing and splashing after your steps. The moment of Hazel Melody had descended upon us through the tepid vapor of the Cloud Sun. Things seemed only half, maybe backwards. I, the prey, now stalking you around colorless landscapes, and you, with that ruddy laceration seeming to breathe as every footfall gnashed over leaves gone from their heightened thresholds. You were a broken-winged bird, a clotting monarch in recovery, leaving your platelet-scent on all the moist fibers of a monochromatic dull. Everything was blurred yet I still knew of your presence from how the woodland was stained by your arm, those rubicund drops led me straight to you, the wounded vessel, the Blood River.



by David N. Tablada It was an 8.5 x 11 folded paper with a staple that reflected the track lighting. I lied to myself about what it was when I saw it. It lay folded down to the size of a card. I looked at it for a moment before I picked it up off the ground. I knew what it was, but I hoped it was anything else. I amplified the lie, telling myself it was scrap or maybe even a shipping order. I bent down and picked it up. Pinching the corners, I exposed its innards to myself, from left to right, then from top to bottom. When it was fully open the information poured out. The paper was clean and white with type ink splattered across the page. At the top left of the page was a receipt that was stapled to the 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper. On it was a billed amount: $220. Too much, I thought. I put the paper on my counter-top and turned away. The apron I put on was dirty white, and stained by blood and food, the kitchen filled with smells: steak and mushrooms and peppers mixed in goat cheese. Together the food engulfed the kitchen and filled the inside of my nose. But it was not yet ready to serve, so I turned the stove’s dial up in an attempt to finish the food sooner. Sweat rolled down my face. Then I waited. I looked behind me at the paper. Its naked truth became overwhelming. I gagged. Perhaps it was the smells along with the combination of memories. I was overcome with nausea. Later, I would come to believe that this was my animal instincts awakening from the fear. I wanted to run. My hands gripped the heated metal, ready to throw it into the sink. I didn’t want to, but I looked at the paper. Southwind Animal Hospital, the invoice said. That text was written at the top left of the page from a week earlier. Attached inside was a pocket-sized, reminder card for vaccinating my youngest cat, Catsby. * “It’s that time of year,” the postcard read. The image on the front was of a tri-color cat: an orange face and a black body with white


paws. The text on the card said, “Catsby needs her booster shots - rabies and distemper.” I couldn’t put off going back to that hospital. After pulling out her cage, I called her over, “Piss-piss-piss.” Catsby, all black except for a patch of white on her chest, pranced toward me with long hair waving. When she saw the cage, she scurried off. Bent down, I picked her off the ground then she dug into my hand with her front paws, pushing off with her rear-claws. A little blood rose to the surface from where her claws dug in. I let go. She fell to the floor and hid beneath the couch. She looked back at me with her reflective eyes and smiled. Following a warm, soapy rinse I returned. “Piss-piss-piss,” I said, as I shook treats. As the sound spread, green eyes fixed on me from under the couch. Mewing, cautiously she approached the sound. A treat fell to the ground where she claimed it and returned to the safety of the couch. I looked into the closet and then I shook the treats again. Shake – Shake - Shake. Her eyes peered out. I dropped the treat and then grabbed her once she got close enough. She hissed and growled, yet she went into the cage. At the clinic, Catsby wailed while we waited. I looked down the row of doors where the door on the far end was ajar. It was dark and empty. A week earlier I had been in that room with her. * The smell and steam brought me back to the nauseous present. Over my shoulder, that sheet of paper called to me. I pulled myself back to the stove. I grabbed a cover from beneath the stove and put it over the stewing food. The invoice demanded that I read its words. I read it while the timer continued its march toward zero. “Euthanasia – Feline,” it said. Unswallowed, I chewed on those words until I could parse them into something digestable. My eyes scrolled down to the next numbered item, a quantity, “.12 Telazol Injection (100mg/ml) w/Anesth.” (Telazol – an NMDA receptor antagonist.) As I read those items, Catsby rubbed-up against my leg, standing up to push her head into my leg. She wasn’t purring, instead she was trying to lead. I followed her as she walked into the empty office. She walked up the room’s center. She walked over Cassandra’s spot. * For those final months, this was Cassandra’s room.



I intended the room to be an office and guest room; instead it went unused by me. In the room’s center there was a cat bed used by my elderly calico. By that September, Cassandra had been with me for over 19 years, from her birth underneath a dryer to my return from combat in Iraq to now. I couldn’t imagine her being apart from me. When I saw her in the sleeping in the office, I would grab a book and lay beside her. As I read, she purred. Yet something was wrong. The most obvious sign was her lethargy. But I didn’t want to believe it. She masked the pain. Maybe because she couldn’t explain it. She couldn’t hide it entirely. During her final months, Cassandra’s back leg began to drag, the leg with the black fur and the pink scar. Soon after she started dragging her leg, she stopped leaving the room. One of her most endearing habits was that she would come and greet visitors. At that point, Cassandra would stand up, stretch her legs and walk over to her guests. She loved being around people. But that was it. The sign that made me realize her pain. The sign that made me see her unremarkable end. She stopped getting up. She stopped moving, greeting. A lump grew in my throat as I passed by the office. There she’d lay, eyes shut and not purring. Walking in, I’d pick up a book from the shelf, lay beside her, and read to her. “The world is perfect / and that’s the problem.” * Catsby watched the parking-lot as I walked into the living room. Over on the bookshelf sat a small oak box on the middle shelf. Picking up the box, I turned it over with trembling hands. My thumb’s tip inched into the grove, sliding off the bottom panel, where it revealed a blue, velour pouch that contained her ash. Time ceased. I rubbed the soft pouch with my thumb as I once did with her orange and black face. These past 19 years I had pet her, brushed her fur, and scratched her boney back. As a kitten, I placed her in hard to reach windows. As grimalkin, I lifted her to windows unreachable because of her arthritis. Now, I held the blue velour bag as I sat on the couch. I saw the past 19 years. From the first night in our home, feeding her noodles, her green eyes looked up at me while she licked her chops. 18 years later, I fell onto my bed stoned drunk; she crawled in between my arms and stayed there until I woke up. Flash-forward to

the eve of her passing, she purred to me while I read, “This last time / will be the first.” * I slid the lid back onto Cassandra’s box, and then I placed her on top of the shelf, where she would stay until I carried her to the next apartment. Back in the kitchen, I picked up that folded 8.5 x 11 white paper, with the stapled receipt. $220 was the price I paid to end her pain. To end her life; to kill my friend. As I folded the paper the alarm went off. BEEP – BEEP – BEEP. I held the paper. I stopped the alarm, removed the pan from the burner, killed the gas, and then removed the pan’s cover. Opposite to the stove, I leaned against the sink holding the paper to my chest. The steam escaped out the vent like a ghost from the grave. As I leaned there, I thought of Lazarus who was called from the grave by his dear friend. I stood there hoping for her return as well.


She* Touched His hair and his face by Richard Baldwin Cook

Ted Teddy Theodore TR, so small All big head big eyes fat fingers curled Around her smallest and she hoped he’d call To her from whatever far flag he furled


* Martha “Mittie” Bulloch Roosevelt, with child, c. Oct 27, 1858

Rubber Magic at Mickey D’s by Richard Baldwin Cook

Attendant uniformed: cap, blazer, blouse, broom, MickD prescribed. Not her dying shoes. Glides to full trash bins. Push that garbage down! Swipes katchup-spackled table tops & booths. Cleans up with pristine rubber gloves all day. Plates smeared with food we order, leave behind. Her round concludes: top off the napkin bins. With, yep, those rubber gloves MickD consigned.


No One Gets Fat on Labor Day (or All Aboard El Tren de la Muerte) By Mike Murphy

Gustavo has three kids back in Guatemala. He’ll see them in two years, if he’s lucky. I had a dream my cats were frequenting the drive-thru, super-sizing everything, flashing gang signs. The Rotarians have returned like swallows to Roland Park, so summer must be over. The Feds shuttered the house out in the Hamptonsand hung a For Sale sign in the window. Please turn off the sprinkler when the grass turns brown and blows like tumbleweeds. Fire up the grill ‘til it’s hot and smoky we’re cooking tamales this year. Hop onboard that northbound train so the one-armed conductor can punch your ticket, grinning like Uncle Sam.


Endlessly Adrift by Heath Brougher

There is never quiet among these screaming ravines that run alongside the burdened life; dark birds nest in these filthy crevices and hatch their eggs of loud shame; seasons drip cold and what dirty river’s offshoot has brought us here?— the heaviness of this dense vapor coats anything above the eyes as hands search along the walls, finding only grunge, grime; breathing dust, the eyes strain fruitlessly for a break of blue or purple, or even a black starless night; above is the treetop’s haven of sharp nerve-cutting discordance; is this river made of blood?—is the current made to flow by the force of lies?—are all these things made of decay?— miles and miles and still murk reigns among the fog swirling about and the only palpable essence is that horrid shrieking of those diseased birds above giving birth to unknown mutations and this current that flows at its own wicked will, drifting for endless hours; any hope once afire now severely dimming, almost extinguished.


“I Began in Water” by Chelsea Gleason


Freshman year was the year I met Lee. While the other girls were busy painting their nails and watching rom coms on Friday nights, Lee was either making strange art with found objects in the dorm or in some outer borough, far from campus insularities with older, hip, not-college people. “We’re in the same Math class, right?” Lee said to me in our dorm hall one day. “Yeah,” I flinched. I’d taken note of Lee from afar, attracted by Lee’s short, curly hair, and rough-edged outfits. How little of a fuck Lee seemed to give. “Cool. Want to study sometime? I hate Math, but I have to get my grade up.” “Yeah!” I squeaked, not yet skilled at hiding my earnestness. Lee laughed. “Nice shoes. Maybe we can go shopping too. I know some good thrift stores.” I looked down at my Mom’s ugly clogs, the ones I never wore out of the dorm. “How do I dress like a girl?” Lee used to ask me when we were in the dorm trying on the clothes we’d grabbed in bulk from our classmates who carelessly left them in huge piles in the dorm lobbies at the end of each semester. “Flowers, lots of flowers!” “Easy for you!” Lee pointed, “You’re feminine no matter what you wear.” I shrugged, though I always felt hurt in some quiet, secret way when Lee said that. “You keep erasing me like this.” Lee wrote to me over email. Lee was stuck in a bout of post-grad unemployment and I’d been sending Lee job postings, including an LGBTQ non-profit which called specifically for queer applicants. I’d written: “Not sure if this is the best fit, but you should totally apply anyway,” in that email. All four years of college, both of our college boyfriends behind us, and Lee had never told me they were queer.

“I’m using they, them, and their pronouns now Iris,” Lee wrote to me soon after our email exchange, right after I’d quit my job and had already begun packing to move to Baltimore. “You were right. I never told you outright. I guess I thought I didn’t have to.” * The humidity was thick and persistent that first summer I moved from New York to Baltimore. In my memory summer had always been blue. As a child I lived near a lake and swam every day, my small body sleek and smooth just below the water’s surface. But in Baltimore summer was grey on all sides: from the pavement beneath my thick bike tires to the looming, cloudy skies, to the empty buildings with broken windows jagged and fang-like. Rows and rows of empty buildings spread across the city like nothing I’d seen before. Baltimore was built on a massive slope. The slope led downhill to the harbor. But the harbor was not water as I had experienced it. Not lake water, clear and unencumbered, nor beach water, spoiled by the waste of tourists. It was purely commercial water; almost entirely enclosed by industry. For as long as I could remember I’d been uplifted by the sight of daylight meeting the edge of the earth, pinkly kissing it, then falling off into darkness. But there was no sweet, flat horizon in Baltimore. You couldn’t look out into nothing, as beach-goers did. Baltimore’s harbor was a mirror: to look outwards was merely but to look back inwards. That first summer moved slowly. Families sat in white plastic chairs on the porches of their row-homes and smoked cigarettes or drank sweet iced tea. I didn’t have the money for a car, so I biked everywhere. Sometimes men would yell at me from their rolled-down car windows. Baby girl. Can I get a ride? “Fuck you,” I once yelled back to a navy blue convertible, feeling indestructible. But the car had already sped off, my shout trailing its hazy black fumes. * My fraternal twin sister Kendall and I were test tube babies: the result of the nearly ten-year fertility-treatment journey embarked on by our parents. When we were young my mother dressed us in matching outfits, typically pink and full of frills. For a time we shared a crib and


a language which we spoke only to each other before traversing into English. We even teethed on one another, leaving bite marks on the other’s arms and legs. When people learned of my twin sister they assumed we were close, had always been so, and would always be so. It disappointed them when I reported that she and I were not close. That we couldn’t read each other’s minds. That we as adults had next to nothing in common apart from our birthday. There were many theories I’d developed over time to succinctly explain our distance. One theory was that our divergence began when Kendall was placed in a special-ed class in 4th grade and kids started asking me why she was stupid and I was smart. Another: by age fourteen my body had grown much larger and curvier than Kendall’s and she had her first boyfriend—a scruffy boy named Jared who played lacrosse and spent too long pressed next to Kendall on the couch in our family room watching MTV reality shows—around the same time I cried when my childhood pediatrician asked me to step onto a scale. But then again there was data from much later, when Kendall convinced my parents that it would only be fair for them to buy her a brand new BMW since my top-rate liberal arts education was so expensive. Kendall came from the New York suburb where she still lived with my parents to Baltimore for the day. I didn’t know she’d been in Baltimore until my mother mentioned it on the phone a week later. “She was passing through with Mark. They went to a car show. You know how they both love cars. Next time maybe you two can get lunch,” my mother tried to sound hopeful. “Did she say anything about Baltimore?” I asked. “She said they drove through some bad neighborhoods,” she paused. “But that the harbor is very nice.” * In New York, Lee and I spent weekends speed-walking down crowded city streets, almost shouting at one another over the commotion, stopping only briefly to siphon ourselves into subway tunnels or to buy cheap donuts at corner stores. Both Lee and I were addicted to sugar, though them to the more refined and pure sort and me to only the most processed.


One weekend Lee was recounting a dinner they had been to the night prior. Their coupled life was full of these sorts of high-brow dinners, thrown by Robert’s pretentious law-school friends. Often, Lee had some story about how offensive they all were, how Lee always felt like a fish out of water. Still, Lee was always so eager to tell me all the details. Lee turned to me and said, “It occurred to me that these men believe there is something universal that exists and can be called truth. This is something I believed in when I was younger but am opposed to now.” “It’s a very male thing to believe in,” I said. Behind Lee I watched a woman lean over to pick up her dog’s tiny shit with her hand covered, of course, with the blue plastic bag her Sunday New York Times had been delivered in. “That’s what I thought. But it’s also dangerous, the fact that there’s nothing we can call true.” “I think you’ve been hanging out with Robert’s friends too much.” “I know. Don’t I know,” they rolled their eyes and smirked, but their voice never changed cadence. Listening to Lee speak I wished I could rid my voice of its feminine inflections. But I found it hard to justify changing myself, especially when around Lee. Lee would say their voice was a curse; that it signaled a lack of estrogen, that it meant dirty looks, crude comments, tense job interviews, and a lifetime of not fitting. All of which was true. As true as experience goes. * Before locking my bike up to a post became second nature it was routine torture. The clunky lock cut into my backbone through the mesh of my backpack. Jammed against a pole with my unwieldy thigh, my hands slipped on the lock’s metal as I tried and tried to position the bike frame such that it could securely lock. Eventually, the frame would snap into position. But not until I had endured the lingering stares of passerby’s, at times sarcastically offering to help, which I always refused. On my bike I became supremely corporal. In New York I had sat still on the subway and cried every morning for a month after my ex and I had broken up. But here in Baltimore I entered pain through my body, and while I cried, I also peddled, and huffed, and moaned, and



sweated, giving in to perpetual motion. Everything I did once off the bike stood in stark contrast to the self that had weathered the elements. Off of my bike, I became a babysitter coddling a spoiled toddler or a food server wrapping hundreds of crepes drenched in Nutella or the new girl in town, for whom why did you move here?—never became a dull question. Why did I move here? I often asked myself when biking through East Baltimore, watching men double over in slow-motion like paper crumpling under the pressure of a fist, moving in miniscule increments towards the ground. This, I quickly learned, was a sign of either heroin or the state-mandated methadone that was supposed to cure addiction to the former. The men didn’t notice me, panting on my bike, rivulets of sweat running down my back and chest, and if they had, I don’t know what I would have said for myself. Sadness is relative? Pain is too? When neither matters in the end. * Lee refused to visit me until at least six months had passed. They said it took six months to adjust to a new city, perhaps longer for me since I was stubborn when it came to transitions. We were standing on the platform at 125th street, waiting to go downtown to meet friends. We lived in Harlem back then, them just a few blocks from me. “Sometimes I think about Kendall,” Lee said as they stared out across 125th street towards the East River, the view partially obstructed by rows of brick public housing buildings. “My sister, Kendall?” The last time I’d visited home Kendall had left me at the train station in a downpour. She’d claimed to have forgotten that I was arriving. She told our parents that she was “stranded” at her boyfriend’s house. They forgave her: they always did. “Yeah, your sister. I’ve told you before that you’re co-dependent. So am I in relationships, but for different reasons. Primarily financial,” Lee said. I laughed sarcastically as I always did when Robert was implied. “But life is solitary, Iris. I don’t think you understand. You flinch when I talk about how inevitable it is that Robert and I will break-up. I tell you so one day you don’t have to cry on the subway; so one day you’ll be better prepared. You said the other day you wanted advice,

even though you know I hate giving advice. I have no advice about being happy. But I know life is solitary. Wherever you are and whoever you’re with.” “What does this have to do with Kendall?” My left eye was already twitching. “In some cultures twins are viewed as satanic. Remember in Things Fall Apart when the villagers kill the twins? I only want to warn you, Iris, how beginnings dictate ends.” The sun was setting and the downtown train pulling up on the overground track, creaking like an arthritic joint. I thought about Kendall and me in my mother’s womb. According to family myth, Kendall was upside down beside me. Mom, panicked, was breathing fast and heavy when a mysterious nurse came in and held her hand. “Slow down,” the nurse said, showing her how to breath in rhythm. The nurse left, and my parents never found her again. Kendall turned back into birthing position, miraculously. And I… The story ends there if only because I’m no longer a part of it. Not on my own at least. * My first weekend in Baltimore a man I had just met invited me to go swimming. We met during my apartment search. I turned down the room (a filthy den) he had for rent, and he texted me a week later, asking how my move had been. He picked me up in front of the warehouse I had just moved into, the windows rolled down on his red pickup truck, cartoon like in shape and color. He wore a ribbed tank top from which his chest hair curled up from the top like rings of smoke. The dam was far out in the county. We drove for what felt like a long time, but was only twenty or thirty minutes. Twenty minutes in New York gets one not far at all. Cars scared me, they always had. I told the man about my fear of dying on a highway. I analyzed the fear—something I had often done with Lee—as connected to my father’s disregard for my mother’s and my fears and emotions (she and I would yell at him to slow down from passenger and back seats to no avail). The man smiled and nodded as I spoke. The contrived way he dressed and the low-fi 90’s music he played told me that he thought of himself as a different kind of man. Especially in my presence. Out here in the county, but even more-so above Baltimore city, cops



flew helicopters. “The bird,” as people called it, flew often in the summer, the sounds of its wings blasting through the city. With the bird overhead the feeling of being watched was ever-present, but the people jay-walking in front of my bike or the 12 O’clock Boys zooming past me on motorbikes seemed accustomed to noise and surveillance. The man pulled the pick-up into a nearly empty, unmarked lot by a forest. He said we would have to be quiet and careful because the police had caught onto the swimmers, and started to fine trespassers hundreds of dollars. He said he knew the way to the water and to follow him. My leather sandals kept losing their grip and so I slid down the dirt and across the rocks. He stopped and waited for me several times. Once or twice he offered his hand as I struggled to propel myself over fallen tree limbs. I shook my head and smiled. Finally, we reached the water. He walked away from me and turned around. He took off his shirt and pants and I caught a glimpse of his pale exposed ass, a hairy moon peeking out from the woods like a beast, as he changed into swimming trunks. I took off my clothes, prepared with a black bikini underneath. The expanse of water before us was bewitching. The water was quiet, as were we. There were no people, no boats, and no homes: only dark, still water and the shelter of evergreen trees on all sides. I swam first. He stayed on land for a while, watching. When he came in I was far out. I stayed out there in the deep water for a long time, wading and watching my legs kick through the clear water below me, mesmerized by their motion. I wondered if Lee would have done what I had—simply, unblinkingly, following a man—in order to prove that they could move through the world unafraid. To make the point that one could bike through Wall Street and not get hit by a taxi cab full of bankers; that one could befriend men and not be raped by them. It occurred to me that neither one of us believed either point to be true. If I changed my pronoun from she to they would it make a difference? Would I not have found myself by the dam, legs crossed as I sat skipping stones and pretending to have never been a girl? * The ice cream trucks were loud that first summer I moved from New York to Baltimore. Footloose kids congregated on the sidewalk in front of my house, sipping from soda cans and doing wheelies on

bikes too small for their bodies. From my first-floor bedroom I could hear them laughing as I lay flat on my bed, a personal-sized Vornado blowing hot air across my body. If I opened my windows wide enough it was possible to step outside onto the porch. In the mornings I would wake to the gossip of my neighbors out on their porches, the entire block’s row-homes forming a tunnel of talk and heat. On the summer day it happened I was home alone in my room. Devina, my neighbor Ms. Kara’s pre-teen daughter, and the other kids from the block were outside on Ms. Kara’s porch. I heard an unfamiliar sound outside repeat itself. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Must be some kids with a bb-gun, I thought briefly. It was Ms. Kara’s voice which jolted me. “Get inside the house! Now, Devina!” And then—“I knew those boys in that car were up to no good!” I pulled back the curtains and watched children running in a swarm. They felt close and far at once; my window a portal to a world I didn’t understand. I stepped outside to a stinging silence. “What happened?” I asked the man sitting on the porch attached to mine. A friend of another one of my neighbors who I’d seen around but was never sure where he lived. “Someone got shot.” He paused serenely as his dark eyes met mine. Devina crept back out from her row-home and walked towards me. “They shot a little girl,” she said, her face stripped of emotion, before she wandered off towards the other kids, clustered at the end of the block. Adults trickled out of their single-family homes. With them came Jen in her sweatpants and high blonde pony-tail. Often, I could hear her from my room chatting with neighbors as she arranged her flowerbeds or supervised her toddler’s playtime on her gated-in porch. I watched as Jen spoke, her voice taking on the same sing-song quality it did when she coaxed her toddler. “If she were your sister, wouldn’t you want to find the people who did this? You’ve got to tell the police what you saw, Devina,” Jen said. The bird flew overhead and the cop cars pulled up, lining my block in yellow caution tape. Ms. Kara and Jen crossed paths just in front of my stoop.


“Never talk to my daughter behind my back like that again,” Ms. Kara said. Jen’s face flushed pink. She flung her hands up. “I…” Ms. Kara walked past Jen to her porch, Devina trailing behind her. The front door slammed shut. Jen glanced up at me, her grey eyes rolling dramatically as if to say: You understand, don’t you? I turned from her and went inside my row-house. When a cop knocked on my door half-an-hour later I came out and stood on my porch, my neighbors watching me, and said I’d heard five shots. Did you see anything? The cop asked. No, I said politely, and when he asked me for my name I gave him a fake one. Later that day the three-year-old girl who’d been sitting on her porch just half-a-block north of mine died from a stray bullet, caught in the crossfire of what was said to be a drug-related drive-by shooting. I thought of my roommate who once told me that every morning he spoke to his ancestors. Though I’m not a religious person I pressed my head to the carpeted floor of my bedroom, which smelled of dust and cats, and tried to pray. I waited and listened but no voices spoke to me. It struck me that my ancestors—distant and obtuse—would have no advice to give. I felt tired. So tired that I almost fell asleep to the beat of my own breath. * The late-night phone calls began soon after the three-year-old girl died. The screen on my computer turned blue and an ominous circle appeared. An arrow moved within the circle, over and over, round and round. I was just a month away from sending in my graduate school applications to creative writing programs. Graduate school, I reasoned, would bring me to some faraway place where I, an artist, would have purpose. All of my laboriously-written stories were in this small black box that had suddenly, irrevocably, decided to die. The nearest Best Buy was forty-five minutes by bus and too far to bike to. At Best Buy I spoke to a customer service rep named Jed who promised to extricate my writing from the small black box and safely transfer it to a large black box, the cheapest laptop Best Buy offered. Jed, with his spiky hair and thick-rimmed glasses, failed me. Once in my room the big black box opened to a multitude of viruses like a modern Pandora’s box. One visit to Best Buy turned into half a dozen


over two weeks with multiple threats made to talk to the manager. My mother picked up the first phone call. I stared at the first ominous circle of many, sobbing into my cell phone. My father grumbled in the background. “Can’t she find another time to call? Jesus, Pam, it’s 5 o’clock in the morning! It’s just a damn computer!” “Be quiet Paul. You’re being very inconsiderate,” she said almost politely and left him. It was then that I first admitted to the thoughts I’d been having in my head; to the small, persistent voice that had grown and grown. It was like stepping over some marked edge. I had made the step and I no longer cared what danger lay ahead. “I want to die.” I repeated, almost yelling by my third or fourth try. “Don’t say that, please don’t say that,” my mother said breathlessly. My mother, like Lee, is not one to give advice. “I’m sorry,” she said over and over. All night I dreamed of unutterable endings. Of nothingness and relief. I no longer felt safe in myself. Instead I felt that I was someone else; a broken, sad woman, like so many broken and sad women past. I waited for two hours before the doctor my mother had found through my insurance would see me. “Tuesdays are like this,” the receptionist said. Once in the doctor’s office, my eyes already red from crying in the waiting room, I made a case for myself. I am having suicidal thoughts, I said. I’ve been medicated once before for an eating disorder. No that’s no longer. I’m new here. I’m thinking of leaving for L.A., maybe, or New York again. The doctor frowned, her soft pink lipstick incongruous with her stern features. “Do you have a boyfriend?” “No,” I said, wanting more than ever to be not a body, but pieces of a body, disparate and scattered, not yet known to one another. “The lack of relationship is difficult and lonely for you,” the doctor said definitively. I nodded because I saw that she had taken out the prescription pad and begun to write. Only later, riding my bike back to my block, did an anger well up inside of me at the thought of the doctor’s question. So powerful was my rage that for some moments I didn’t obsess over


the parameters of my own existence but rather at the uphill climb, the sweat dripping down my back, and the ravage dryness in my throat. * These days I drive a used car through Baltimore. My bike hangs on a hook in my living room. I forget that it’s there. I forget that it holds my tears. In my car I am a spectator, driving by the same rows of empty buildings. The landscape feels surreal behind the car’s enclosed machinery in which I become an almost stationery body: a face shielded from onlookers. Now that I am medicated frustration displaces tears. The medication has made my ass, stomach, and breasts grow; transforming me into the kind of curvy woman I once despised. Being medicated is like living in a room in which every last structure and object is padded with cushions. It dulls the impact of each movement. I live in the same neighborhood where posters offering cash rewards for leads on the people whose stray bullet killed a three-year-old girl last summer still hang. Baltimore is still not well, though, unlike New York, it has never tried to convince otherwise. I don’t remember how the conversation came about but the last time I visited my family they were discussing the recent outburst of NFL domestic violence cases. There were so many women who had stepped forward and I’d just begun to mention one whose account had been published in the New York Times. Kendall was sitting on the couch with Mark, his hand resting lazily on her knee, when she mumbled: “I don’t feel sorry for her at all.” In the fall Lee finally came to visit me. I drove them around Baltimore in my Toyota 97’. We descended into the bottom of a slave ship at the Blacks in Wax Museum in East Baltimore, dipping our hands into a vase of holy water. We collected paperback fiction and outdated women’s lib books at the free used bookstore. When they first arrived I almost t-boned another car crossing Greenmount. “Iris!” Lee shouted, their face tense. “You almost just got us killed!” I pulled the car over. “I can drive! I drive every damn day now! I just got nervous with


you in the car!” They paused and then they grinned. “Okay,” they said as they placed their hand on my shoulder. “Just remember not to turn into your dad.” I laughed and they followed. Once we started we couldn’t stop. * When the rejections came I no longer wanted to die as I thought I surely would. A great relief fell upon me as I opened and read these letters and emails, so curt, concise, and contrived: “Unfortunately, we received a record number of applicants this year and were unable to offer a great many qualified, talented writers a spot in our program. Best of luck in all your endeavors and in your career as a writer.” It was the dead center of winter and I’d taken to driving for practice on Sundays when I didn’t have to worry about traffic. I’d merge onto the highway, hands sweaty and shaking on the driver’s wheel. I imagined myself driving to some faraway city, Austin, L.A., Chicago, the city’s whose schools had rejected me. No matter how hard I pushed down on the pedal I could never get my old Toyota far past fifty-five. With the distance between Baltimore and my car increasing I felt lonelier and lonelier. Pulling off the highway, turning back down some pot-hole ridden city street, where the red lights lasted so long and people darted in front of cars as if they held no threat to their mortality, I couldn’t help but smile and breathe easy. With all the people I’ve been intimate with since the summer I moved to Baltimore I’ve closed my eyes and pictured myself at the dam I first swam in. The men and women I want to love approach me head-on. They untie the top of my bathing suit and let it sink towards my feet. My bare breasts break free and stare back, floating atop the only kind of water I trust. Even in my imagination I am always still a woman. And, in spite of all the lover’s hands, I am always still alone in this one body of mine; naked, immutable, and constant. I am nowhere else and no one else. Lee said beginnings dictate ends. One thing I know for sure is that I began in water.


The Contestant by Tom Mullin


Shane Riley’s prey was right in front of him. Her platinum blonde hair played in the wind. It took him longer than anticipated to get in this position, but that’s part of the game. Shane waited for the perfect moment to strike. He could not see her face. It didn’t matter. Shane’s mind raced with the possibilities. He was twenty-three years old and envisioned the blonde woman as someone in her twenties, but very few individuals that age could afford the Mercedes SL550 convertible she drove. That’s a $100,000 car. Probably more. Regardless, until he saw otherwise, the blonde woman was a Victoria’s Secret model. Shane’s Mustang kept pace with the German sports car travelling south on Route 1 on a bright summer morning. She initially blew by after the first EZ Pass toll of the two lane highway. The chase was on. Shane knew where she was headed. Her Pennsylvania license plate was a jumble of letters and numbers, but the ‘BB’ circle magnet on her trunk meant ‘Bethany Beach, Delaware’. Convenient. Shane was headed to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. She had to pass through Rehoboth on the way to Bethany. Shane had sixty miles to go to play the game and take her out. It was going to be tough. “Aren’t you a little close to that car?” said Gina Pastore from the passenger seat. The twenty-two year old woman stretched her slim bronzed legs and shifted in the seat. Shane lifted his foot from the gas pedal. The Mercedes pulled away. “Have a nice nap?” he asked. “Whose idea was it to leave so early?” “You said you didn’t want to start your vacation sitting in beach traffic.”

Gina flipped the visor down, but couldn’t block the rising sun to her left. She saw only trees beyond the guide rail. “We pass Dover Downs yet?” asked Gina. “Coming up soon.” Gina retrieved an iPhone from her purse. Her fingers flew across the glass screen. “Let’s see if anyone’s awake yet,” she said. While Gina texted their friends already in Rehoboth, Shane gained on the Mercedes. “Slow down or you’re going to get a speeding ticket,” said Gina without looking up. “That Mercedes is pacing for me,” said Shane. He pointed with his index finger, not removing either hand from the wheel. “They’d pull her over before me, right?” “Her?” Gina spotted the wind-whipped light hair, but went back to the phone. “You got a thing for blondes now?” “Nah. It’s stupid. Forget it.” “Oh I’m sure it’s stupid.” The phone went back in Gina’s purse. “Everybody’s just getting up at the house.” “Whose house is it again?” “Does it matter? It’s two blocks from the boardwalk.” Gina put the passenger window all the way up to cut the noise from the pack of Harley-Davidson motorcycles Shane passed. She could not see the end of the staggered line of bikes. Shane eyed both lanes well ahead of the slower-moving Harleys. The Mercedes eventually cleared the leader and remained in the left lane. Shane gunned it toward the Mercedes, zooming past the motorcycles. The brake lights on the Mercedes lit up. Shane’s eyes shot to the rear-view mirror. To his blind side on the right. Back ahead as he simultaneously ran the Mustang into the right hand lane. No braking. No looking back at the Harley riders cursing him. Gina’s head clunked on the passenger window.


“What the hell?!?” she said. “No problem,” said Shane. He passed the Mercedes stuck behind a Honda Odyssey minivan in the left lane. “What are you doing?” asked Gina. “I got this.” Shane clenched the steering wheel with both hands. The Mustang rode up on a line of tractor-trailers in the right hand lane. Behind, the Odyssey switched lanes. The Mercedes closed in. “This is some stupid game, isn’t it?” asked Gina. The Mustang went left, but did not pass ahead of the tractor-trailers. “I have to keep that Mercedes behind me,” said Shane. “Great, it’s ‘gamer mode’. I hate ‘gamer mode’.” There was no room on the right for the Mercedes to gain speed and get ahead of Shane’s Mustang. He watched the car in his rear-view mirror as well as the trucks he used to block her way. “Get it out now ‘cause I don’t want you playing video games all night with the other guys.” “I didn’t bring any hardware with me, did I?” “No, but I don’t know what they have at this house already,” said Gina. “And that doesn’t stop that idiot Duncan from bringing his Xbox or something.” “‘Dunk’ is cool.” “Guy creeps me out. Anyway, constant gaming will ruin this whole week.” “How?” “Uh... ‘gamer mode’? You get ultra-competitive. All you guys do. You get in that group and you lose your self control. You can’t help it.” “We’re just having fun.” “We’re supposed to be doing things together. I know you. You’re wrecked the next day.” “Uh huh.”


“That’s why I asked you to not bring any gaming gear. Just limit your gaming for a week. That’s all.” “It’ll be fine,” said Shane. “I’ll exercise some restraint.” He stroked Gina’s thigh. “We’ll see about that.” She squeezed his hand in hers. In between trucks, Gina spotted a rectangular blue road sign with colorful logos on it. “Let’s get off at the Dover Downs exit,” said Gina. “I want to get something to eat.” “Why didn’t you get something back at the apartment?” “There’s nothing in our fridge. I need to eat something soon,” she said. “I feel weak.” Shane eyed the Mercedes behind him. He didn’t check out the driver when he passed her. In the rear-view mirror her tiny face vibrated in shadow. “I don’t want to take time now. We’re flying. It gets worse once the highway gives to stop-and-go past Dover.” “Nobody’s awake down the shore,” said Gina. “It’s only an hour from here.” “I have to pee.” The green sign for ‘Exit 104 North Dover / Scarborough Road / Dover Downs 1 Mile’ crept up. “All right,” said Shane. ‘Arbitrary winning conditions’ went through Shane’s mind. It would have been fun to race the Mercedes all the way to Rehoboth, but one of them had to exit at some point. Amended rules were not out of the question. The game was entirely subjective. Shane thought, “Make the exit before she can pass me.” He evaluated his position as the exit approached with the Mercedes on his tail and an eighteen-wheeler to his right. He slowed to let the truck move up and bump the Mercedes back further. With his best video-game timing, Shane floored the Mustang forward, crossed in front of the tractor-trailer and slid into the exit lane. The truck driver let out an extended horn blast.


“Are you trying to get us killed?” Gina asked. Shane watched the Mercedes pull ahead of the truck as he glided to a reduced speed. He never got a good look at her, so she remained a hot model in his mind. She raised her arm high and acknowledged Shane with an extended middle finger. “What’s that all about?” asked Gina. “I win,” said Shane. “Road rage. Great.” •••• Shane and Gina walked away from his Mustang next to the gas pump. “I’m not eating here,” said Gina. “I need to sit down someplace.” “Supply run,” said Shane. “Use the bathroom. Then I’ll gas up and we’ll go.” The Wawa convenience store had a prime location at the end of the exit lane from Route 1 on the way to Dover International Speedway. It had three banks of gas pumps for a total of twenty-four individual pumping stations. Summer months meant this massive hub was always busy. Three vehicles parked in a row in front of the Wawa had vanity plates. They were: a white Mini Cooper with MY MINI, a red 1978 Corvette with DLNQNT and a black 1987 Buick Regal Grand National with GUNMETL. Inside the store Gina headed left. Shane went for the snack aisle. “GAMER or GAMR has to be taken,” Shane thought. “GAMR MODE? Too long. GAMRDOOD. Still too long. This is hard.” On her way back through the store, Gina hand-signaled Shane to hurry up. She pointed emphatically at the door. “You wanted to stop,” he said, but they were too far apart for her to hear. The two women walking to the cashier were not much older than Shane. They could have been twins: same lithe body type, same straight blonde hair almost to the waist, and dressed similarly. Shane cradled a snack selection in his arms behind them in the lengthy check-out line. He thought about them in the Corvette. “That


would be cool.” One blonde dangled a six pack of bottled water that dripped condensation onto the floor. The other had a bag of ice leaning against her bare leg. Shane said, “What else you got in your cooler?” “We got plenty. Just needed this,” the blonde with the ice replied. “The guys at our house in Rehoboth will stock up on drinks,” said Shane. “I had to get some snacks. Where you headed?” “Just cruising. Looking for trouble.” She smiled at him. “We’ll have plenty to go around,” said Shane. “Stop by if you want.” “Sounds like fun.” The silent blonde finally spoke. “Come on.” A bespeckled teenager in a red Wawa polo shirt waited behind the counter at the newly opened cash register. The blonde with the water walked over. The other woman bent to pick up the ice. “We’re on Laurel Street,” said Shane. “I don’t know the number. Just look for my black Mustang.” He met the blonde’s eyes. “I’m Shane.” He had too many items in his grasp to offer his hand. “Alyssa,” she said. “Enjoy yourself Shane.” As Shane proceeded through the checkout, he kept tabs on the other male patrons watching Alyssa and her friend: the scruffy, bearded pair in sweat-stained t-shirts and jeans; the short Nascar fan with a neck tattoo; the indiscreet overweight black man right behind them. Gina stood beside the Mustang. Shane dropped two bags into the back seat. “Can we get going?” said Gina. •••• Shane’s Mustang swerved from the right hand lane across the solid white lines and the gravel of the space between the roadway onto the exit lane for Route 1 South. The Nissan Altima he cut off laid on the horn for eight seconds. “You said you wanted to get something to eat?” said Shane. “That’s why I was going straight.”



“I changed my mind,” said Gina. “Well it’s damn annoying.” “Let’s just get there,” said Gina. “And I saw you scoping out those two women in there.” “What?” Once merged onto the two lane highway, Shane immediately took the left hand lane. “I was trying to figure out who belongs to those cars with the vanity plates,” said Shane. “No one seemed obvious.” “Mm-hmmm.” “Look there’s another one.” Shane passed a Volkswagen Jetta with the Delaware license plate ART LVR. The woman driving this car did not keep pace with the Mustang. “I want a vanity plate,” said Shane. “You think RACER X is taken?” “Probably.” “How about GAMER X?” “Is there a website to check this?” “I never looked into it. See what you can find.” “Not now.” Gina unfastened her seat belt to dig into the bags of food in the back. “You got all junk food.” “There’s some bananas in there. Perfect portable food.” “These are too green.” “Whatever...” said Shane. “With that pit stop, we won’t beat anybody’s travel time.” “It’s not a competition.” “Everything is a competition. Life is a competition.” “OK. Good luck with that.” The Mustang never slowed below 75 miles per hour as Shane passed every car. “Check this out...” said Shane. “I know this guy won’t be able to help it. See that white Challenger up there?” The Challenger led all cars on a wide curve in the highway ahead

with minimal traffic beyond. Shane said, “I blow by that guy and he’ll try and catch up to me. Want to put money on it?” Gina declined. Shane passed the sleek Challenger. The white car surged forward to chase the Mustang. “See?” smirked Shane. He watched the car in his rear-view mirror. “Other people play along without even knowing.” “That guy had an NRA sticker on his back window,” said Gina. “Definite ‘road rage candidate’ to avoid antagonizing if you ask me.” Shane’s disregard for the speed limit, tactical lane switches and maneuvering other cars kept the Challenger from passing. He was disappointed when the muscle car slowed and exited the highway, but his eye caught movement incongruous with the rest of the flow of traffic in the rear-view mirror. The dark vehicle raced up directly behind him. “Police?” A cold wave of fear ran through Shane. “No...” “Looks like we have another contestant,” he said. Gina mumbled a response, but kept texting her friends in Rehoboth. Shane could not see the driver of the car through the tinted windshield even though the aggressive tailgating kept them close. “It’s that Grand National from the Wawa,” said Shane. “What was the vanity plate?” “I don’t know.” The Grand National roared up beside Gina. The staid styling of the vintage car belied the power under the hood. The vertical lines of the front grille swooped forward like a cow-catcher on a train. The lower body of the car sloped underneath to give it a subtle, powerful appearance. “Doesn’t matter,” said Shane. “I’m gonna keep him behind me the whole way.” Shane pinched off the Grand National’s progress by speeding up but not passing cars in the right hand lane. The Grand National shifted behind the Mustang.


Shane felt pushed forward by the other car even though there was no physical contact. His eyes darted around, watched the cars ahead, tried to keep openings on the right to a minimum, monitored speed, but always landed on the rear-view mirror and that ebony void of a windshield. The pressure was constant. Shane’s concentration lapsed with too much to keep track of. The Grand National took advantage of the tiniest margin on the right. Shane could not block it off once the car got too far ahead. The Pennsylvania license plate on the Grand National read GUNMETL. Shane cursed when a Dodge Charger took the passing lane in front of him as he trailed behind Gunmetl. “He’s got that Darth Vader car and you’re driving a stock Mustang we bought off the dealer’s lot not six months ago,” said Gina. “It’s not even a contest. He wins, right?” Gunmetl pulled away. “Not if I can pass him again and keep him behind me before either of us exits. I can still win. I’m taking this guy down.” Shane did his best to catch up to Gunmetl, but the chaos of beach traffic and numerous slower drivers impeded his progress. Gunmetl was gone... ...until Shane saw the bright flashing police lights in the distance. “Yeah. Come on...” The state police had someone pulled over on the right. Gunmetl. Shane slowed the Mustang, but was still above the posted speed limit. He took the right hand lane and made another ‘arbitrary rule change’ to let all the other cars pass with impunity. They meant nothing to him. Shane wanted to compete against Gunmetl. Shane let off the gas as he approached, but the State Trooper blocked his view inside Gunmetl’s car. The driver’s window was down. Shane craned his neck to see. The screech of rubber on the road grew louder. Shane looked. The Ford F-150 behind was too close. Gina looked. Horns blared. A grey


Cadillac ran off the road to avoid the truck as it swerved into the left lane around Shane’s Mustang. The State Trooper dove against Gunmetl’s car. No contact was made. Vehicles approaching the scene braked in time. The Cadillac got back on the roadway. The F-150 crawled along in the right hand lane. Shane continued on, disappointed he didn’t get a look at Gunmetl. The guy in the F-150 yelled nasty words and gave some quality hand gestures when Shane passed him. “You better cut it out Shane,” said Gina. Shane won. He could enjoy the leisurely drive the rest of the way to Rehoboth. The road was clear. The sun was out. A beautiful day to start a vacation. Shane’s relaxed pace only made it easy for Gunmetl to catch up. On a straightaway, Shane picked out Gunmetl in the rear-view mirror when the car was just a black speck moving through traffic. “Here we go,” thought Shane. The Mustang weaved ahead intent to stay there. “I didn’t call it earlier. Just passed right by. Get to the frst light in Lewes. That’s a ‘win’.” Shane misjudged Gunmetl’s speed and dexterity behind the wheel. The Grand National closed and pinned him in the right lane. Concrete barriers constricted and shifted the lanes for repaving and median repair. Both cars rumbled on the torn up roadway. An Audi TT Roadster convertible pulled into the right hand lane from a makeshift on-ramp. Shane closed in fast. A defensive driver would have braked. “I can make it.” Shane sped up to move in front of Gunmetl. The Grand National kept pace with the Mustang. Shane could not get left. The rear of the Audi got closer. Shane pressed on. Both cars remained even. Shane gunned it. The Mustang swerved around the Audi to the


right. Off the road. His tires skidded on the gravel. Shane steered the Mustang back onto the roadway after a near miss with the Audi, but the rear of his car fish-tailed into the last concrete barrier. Inside, the dull thud threw Shane and Gina hard against their seat belts. Shane squeezed the steering wheel, but had minimal control over his car. The Mustang careened between Gunmetl and the Audi, across the grassy median and the north bound lanes. The skidding impact into the oak tree destroyed the front end and activated the airbags. The interior filled with white powder. The Grand National pulled over a distance down the road. Gunmetl exited the car in haste while talking on an iPhone. “Send an ambulance,” said Gunmetl. Two other vehicles pulled over as Gunmetl ran to the wreckage. “I don’t know where we are. It’s south on 1 after the construction, but before Lewes.” Gunmetl listened to the 911 Operator. “I can hear two people cursing at each other from here,” said Gunmetl. “You getting that?” Gina let out a stream of high-pitched, livid expletives. She climbed out the window cavity. Shane pressed one hand against his split lip. He brushed the voluminous airbag dust off his shirt and shorts, but sliced his hand open on the shards of windshield and sunroof glass that covered everything. “Dammit Shane!” said Gina. “I just wanted to spend some time at the boardwalk with my friends.” Shane spun away from his totaled Mustang and Gina on the other side. He looked Gunmetl in the eye. “I win this one Shane,” said Gunmetl.


Myrtle Beach, South Carolina by Matt Hohner

Flat swath of old rice fields. A few trees in the distance. One hundred seventy-five square miles cleared of timber, stumps and all, by African slaves two centuries ago. Same amount of work as Egyptian slaves did on the pyramids. More rice produced in The South in those days than in Asia. No taxes on the Corporate Masters meant lots of cash for guns to keep alligators at bay and the “field workers” safe to harvest more rice for more cash for more guns, etc. ’til the Feds came through and enforced emancipation and the newly-declared humans scattered into history. Rice production dropped and plantations went to hell in a sweetgrass hand basket. We marvel from the pontoon boat at the damage. Baby gators sun themselves along their ancestors’ murderous banks.


In Memoriam, Summer by Whitney G. Schultz

afternoons stretching long shadows in the driveway the way a shoulder cuts through pool water all ripple and glow something breaks open light bursts through—washes over, washes away heat lightning and patios icy bottles of beer and thunder how Popsicles taste at the end—all sugar and splinter sticky lips and red tongues watermelons and sex hot and freckled, a fractured sun shimmering on waves—a hot breath on my skin elbows draped around necks I miss summer love all baseball and hyperbole endless this, endless that bursts of applause after a crack what is summer love without baseball an exercise in patience—the long game


A Tale Of Four Cities, Several Musicians, And Finding Common Ground by Margo Christie

My husband and I met in Denver, home to neither of us. He’s from Chicago, home of Muddy Waters and the blues. I’m from Baltimore, home of John Waters and steamed crabs. To escape the Latino street gangs of his south side youth, John migrated west at age 17 to live with his grandmother. I landed in Denver almost accidentally, at 39. I’d been driving an 18-wheeler across the country when I met someone there, a guy I was no more in love with than I was with his city. Growing up in Baltimore, there were large bodies of water and the accompanying three H’s: Hazy, hot and humid. There were crabs, piping hot and piled high on backyard picnic tables. Denver is home to the National Western Stock Show, the largest of its kind in the nation. Its steaks are par excellence; its seafood, even in the fanciest restaurants, arrives frozen. On most days its largest river, the South Platte, is so shallow you can roll up your pants and walk across it. As for John, he found Denver’s teenage girls to be friendlier than their Chicago counterparts, but aside from that, he didn’t take to it either. He met a nice girl, though, and became a husband at 18. He and his ex-wife raised two sons and became grandparents in their thirties before drifting irreparably apart. She was president of her union and deeply involved with her family. He wasn’t involved in much of anything besides work. I’m as human as anyone; soft-hearted; a hopeless romantic. When I met John, I ignored what he said was his ex’s chief complaint, that he wanted to do little more than sit on his butt, listening to music. We were in love, and neither of us with Denver. We found common ground in missing home and listening to music. In time, we attached our fun to a neighborhood dance studio, learning to cha-cha, rumba and swing. To my frustration, I sometimes have to pull him, gripping his chair, to the dance floor – More on that later. One of my fondest memories of our early years is of introducing



John to the blues. Of course he’d heard of it, but he didn’t know of its integral connection to his beloved Chicago until we watched “Can’t Be Satisfied” on DVD. “I grew up in Chicago, but I never knew about this music, this blues,” he said, pronouncing the word as though even his tongue found it strange. As for me, the tale of Muddy Waters’ indomitable spirit and notorious philandering only served to prove what I already knew. I’d listened to Muddy, Willie and Elmore at home in Baltimore. In the 80s, I’d ventured west on a Greyhound bus, landing in Chicago for a few nights to pay tribute to its heritage in the infamous north side bar, Kingston Mines. But that’s barely scratching the surface of America’s roots music compared with what I learned later, in my early Denver years, pre-John, when I embarked upon a doomed relationship with a likable, irresponsible musician named Chris, who I met playing guitar on the street for tips. Through Chris I learned of the more obscure blues men, like harmonica great Junior Wells, whose growling vocals still slay me; and Elmore’s cousin, Homesick James, longtime Denver resident and slide guitar master in his own right. Through Chris I learned that Sonny Boy Williamson was, in fact, two distinct blues men who’d assumed the same alias; and that “canned heat,” which supposedly killed the legendary Robert Johnson, was Stern-o – High in alcohol, it was used to heat food and provide a gut-burning, legal high during Prohibition. With Chris I danced, free-wheeling and solo, every Saturday night in a downtown bar, where he and his band of locals held a longstanding, low-paying gig. Ah, that stage of a relationship where all is the moment and there aren’t any unpaid bills! With John, the bills got paid – on time. Life was predictable. Saturdays were taken up with yard work and shopping; home-grilled steaks and bottles of wine. The radio tuned to KUVO, Denver’s 24/7 jazz and blues station, we listened to obscure blues and even more obscure “Jump Blues” – early R&B. We learned that many Motown songs had a cha-cha beat, and honed the moves we’d learned in the dance studio on the hardwood floor of my northwest Denver home. With John, there were vacations in California and Florida, and regular trips back home. In Baltimore, we ate soft crabs and fried oysters, both of which he’d

never tried, Chicago being as much a beef town as Denver. On one trip, he cheerfully repaired the crooked back steps of my mother’s row house. She couldn’t say enough about how sweet he was; how perfectly matched we were. Later, when she was trying to drive a wedge between us, she’d say she couldn’t understand what we possibly had in common; me an aspiring writer, him a mere bus driver; me a tireless adventurer, him a, well… “Stick-in-the-mud,” she said, smiling in that way of hers that turns an insult endearing. I wriggled in my chair, uncomfortably reminded of John’s ex. Meeting me for the first time in her south Chicago flat, John’s mom, Celia, kissed my cheek, her dark eyes sparkling as she whispered how pleased she was that her son had finally divorced “that… monster.” At the International Market, a Mexican butcher shop/taco stand in the heart of the “new” Latino south side – some thirty blocks south and west of the neighborhood of John’s youth – we stuffed our faces with Carne Asada piled high on grill-softened corn tortillas. Finished with my first taco, I summoned the Mexican cook. “Senor?” Without turning away from the skirt steak he was pounding, he called “Diga” – Speak. Colloquial Spanish sometimes baffles me, different as it can be from what I learned in college. But this was simple. Bolstered, I replied, “Uno mas, de Asada.” Celia turned to John: “She speaks Spanish!” He sighed, “Better than me,” and then pulled me close. “I’m proud of her.” Back at her flat, Celia introduced me to a Mexican neighbor woman as her nuera. Confused, I cocked my head. “Daughter-in-law,” she clarified. John and I weren’t yet married. Still, I beamed. My ‘mother-in-law’ accepted me; my ‘husband’ adored me; and here I was on another great adventure, traipsing around a part of Chicago I’d never have found without him at my side. Could life get any better? Then, as John and I gazed across the street, at a soccer game that



was forming in a vacant lot, I heard her whisper in Spanish that I was one of those lazy white women who ate in expensive restaurants and never cooked at home. Had she forgotten I understood? Or, like my own mom, did she know that her forked tongue ensured her upper hand? John and I are both second children of tricky mothers. (In their defense, they too are children of tricky mothers.) We both suffer the aftershocks of growing up uncertain. John’s uncertainty is due, in part, to being one of six children raised by a single mom; mine, in being one of only two, raised in a two-parent home in which only Mom worked. When I was six, Dad became disabled. A heavy drinker, he pined for something irretrievable from his past. John does this, too – thankfully, without the booze. In his heart, the freedom he lost when he moved to Denver and became a teenaged family man lives at 18th and Halsted, the Latino south side of his youth. On one of our Chicago trips, he took me there; introduced me to some old friends, second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans who shamelessly boasted the current value of the single-family homes they’d bought decades ago. There’s only a handful of their kind left in John’s old ‘hood. Like most areas close to downtown, the near south side has gentrified – The five- and six-story, overcrowded tenements of John’s youth have been refashioned into lofts, homes to urbanized suburban whites, like me. Driving along 18th Street, John pointed to the building he grew up in; told me his family occupied the entire second floor. Then, somewhat shamefully, he admitted that their bathroom was in the corridor, shared by other tenants. Continuing north, we entered a revamped area of brand new townhomes, just south of the University of Chicago. In John’s day this was Jew Town, block after block of bustling, dusty mercantile. John talked about a shoe store in which, at 14, he climbed ladders to retrieve boxes of shoes from ceiling-high stacks. Passing a vacant lot, I remarked on its resemblance to a spot in “Can’t Be Satisfied,” a spot where once stood a bar in which Muddy, then a fresh migrant from the fields of Mississippi, cut his guitar-playing chops. “Blacks lived here then,” John chimed. Later, we ventured out to Buddy Guy’s blues club on 7th and

Wabash. Lucky us! Inside the sloping brick walls, it was Koko Taylor’s birthday! Delighted, I leaned into John to tell of other times I’ve found myself so lucky: There was the time in Austin, when Kim Wilson of the Thunderbirds dropped into Antone’s to jam with the house band; and the time in New York, when I saw Art Blakey and the Messengers, including a yet-unknown Wynton Marsalis, at Sweet Basil. Guy’s club was packed; so we traveled the periphery, laying claim to two surprisingly vacant chairs. Itching to throw myself into the throng, I nudged John; tossing my chin at the dance floor. He shook his head and plopped down. A product of a tough ‘hood, my hubby needs to get his bearings in unfamiliar places, I know. But on this particular night, I couldn’t take but a minute of being sidelined. At a table front and center sat Queen Koko, surrounded by luminaries including no less than the man himself, Buddy Guy! I sprang to my feet; grabbed his wrists and tugged. He shook his head once and firmly, gripping the seat of his chair. I tugged harder, dragging him and the chair a good two feet across the floor before he succumbed, kicking it out from under him. Then, just as we were shaking the creaks out of our knees, his phone vibrated in his jacket pocket. It was Celia; and John’s as Latino as any 18th and Halsted kid – Mother cannot be ignored. Flipping his phone, he trailed off. Celia called no less than four times that night, to enquire into our safety and warn us of the danger lurking in the all-black part of the south side. Little did she know the club was packed with white tourists; that, aside from Koko, Buddy, their entourages and the staff, her son may well have been the only native Chicagoan there! In Baltimore, we visited Fell’s Point where, in my college years, I drank until closing time in old sailors’ bars. Pointing to the narrow, two-story brick row houses, I informed John they date to the 18th century and once housed working-class folk of seafaring stock, like my merchant seaman grandfather. In both hometowns, we walked the waterfronts, talking about how humidity didn’t bother us and dreaming of the day we’d escape high, dry Denver. That day came into view on one of our Florida trips, when we purchased a condo in the old Channel District of Tampa, where port-centered warehouses on weed-filled lots were ceding to mid- and high-rise apartment buildings and restaurants stocked with fresh


Florida seafood. For five years at home in Denver, we talked about where we’d stop when, at last, we made our cross-country move. New Orleans, as always, topped my list – I’d been there five times – as did Kansas City, home of Charlie Parker and the Museum of American Jazz. John listened to my far-flung plans and nodded along – He’s been a husband most of his life and knows what it takes to simply keep peace. But the closer we came to our day of departure, the more I could see that visiting predominantly-black New Orleans, in the wake of Katrina and all its negative press, didn’t set any better with him than a visit to a black-owned blues club had set with Celia. “But we can’t drive across the country and not see anything,” I protested. “Why can’t we? It’s what most people would do.” But even as a trucker, I wasn’t like most. While my counterparts hunkered down at truck stops, awaiting the next load and bitching that they didn’t get paid when the wheels weren’t spinning, I was off and running to the nearest beach or quaint little town as soon as I could drop my trailer. I wasn’t about to fly past Kansas City and New Orleans without stopping. At long last, in March of this year, we set off across the eastern Colorado plain, our two cars burdened with indispensable treasures. To ensure my safety, John followed. Stop one: Hays Kansas, about 400 miles into a 650-mile jaunt to KC. Near the Kansas line, nature called. I rang John’s cell. “I’m going to take the next exit.” “For what?” he groaned. “Do I really need to answer that? Look, you can go on ahead if you want.” “I can’t leave you alone,” he replied, his tone a mixture of panic and patronization. “For God’s sake, honey, of course you can. I was a trucker, you know.” Unappeased, he followed me into the lot of a grimy roadside convenience store, paced around in the parched dirt while I peed and bought water, and then followed me back onto the interstate. Then,


about an hour outside Hays, just as I’d gotten used to seeing his Accord in the rearview, he flew past my driver’s side window. Cursing under my breath, I told myself I wasn’t about to chase him down the highway to a destination that wasn’t really a destination, a po-dunk town with tumbleweeds and a college I’d never heard of. I waved him on, and arrived in Hays a mere five minutes behind him. Brow shaded against the setting sun, he lingered near the entrance to the lot of our pre-booked motel, waiting and worried. In KC and New Orleans, our hotels were so centrally-located that, once parked, our cars weren’t moved. In KC, we rode the bus from Country Club Plaza to the Riverfront to 18th and Vine, the heart of the black jazz scene “in the day.” We toured the Jazz and Negro Leagues Baseball Museums and soaked up the misty moisture of being, once-again, near sea level. At my insistence, we ate BBQ two nights in a row. John’s not over-fond of BBQ, but he didn’t object. Now that Denver and the strictures of the life he’d built there were behind us, he seemed to relax a little more each day. In New Orleans, we rode the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, alighting at Canal to walk to the Café Maspero; a place Google informed serves muffalettas. I’d told John about these Italian hoagie-fashioned local sandwiches and he’d agreed to try one. They’re huge, so we shared one along with a bowl of jambalaya and another of beans and rice. Then we set off toward Jackson Square, me tugging him along, him convinced there’s nothing worth seeing in a few more wrought-iron trimmed, tourist-jammed blocks. “You’re being a stick in the mud,” I said, giving his shoulder a nudge. He halted. Tourists poured around him as he stood, mouth-gaped, appraising me like I’d slapped him. Retreating back, I reached for his hand. “That’s just one of mom’s expressions.” He positively adored my mother. At Jackson Square, I raced up the levee steps to take in the immaculate St. Louis Cathedral on one side; the languorous Mississippi on the other. I snapped photos in both directions and then started back down, thinking John would be anxious to move along. He just stood there, seemingly moored, a slow smile spreading across his chiseled cheeks. “This is nice,” he said. “Really nice.”



Off to the side, a wrinkled, caramel-colored dude played saxophone to a Karaoke track syncing from a boom box at his feet. John drifted toward the water, glancing up then downriver before gazing into the murky deep. Looking for fish, I knew. The movements of fish and birds always fascinate him. “They go wherever they want,” he once wistfully said. Always one to give street musicians their due, I drifted toward the saxophonist. I was newly unemployed, but knew from my years with Chris that, in a busy spot like this one, this guy’s making a killing. Tossing a buck into his sax case, I lingered. John returned to my side and the man lowered his sax; asking where we’re from. As always, we replied Denver by way of Chicago and Baltimore. Introducing himself as Phil, from New Orleans, he looked me straight in the eye; then appraised John with the squint-eyed look of a clairvoyant. Then he offered what he labeled “a song dedicated to John’s wandering eye.” Now, I’m a bit superstitious. More to the point, there’s something seriously Voodoo-spooky about New Orleans. Glancing from Phil to John and back to Phil, I recalled an episode of two days before, in Austin’s Whole Foods, in which John couldn’t divert his eyes from the glowing, much younger woman in the adjacent check-out line. This spooky NOLA native has his tuners on tight, I thought. Phil fumbled with his boom box; then laid down his sax and started to sing. “Do you know what it means/to miss New Orleans?” Wait a minute, I thought. This is hardly the wandering-eye, dandyman-hustling-his-way-into-the-hearts-of-compromised-women tune you prepped me for! For the love of Pops, this is a song about missing a city! The only meager nod to cheating in this buck-a-pop tune was in injecting John’s name. “John misses the one he cares for,” Phil crooned. Resigned and smiling, I sang along. It’s a familiar tune, and the experience alone, of unabashedly singing on a bank of the Mississippi with a wrinkled old jazz man is worth ten times the dollar I tossed. “Much as John misses …”we both sang. Then suddenly, Phil stopped. I prepared to cover for him, thinking, this phony’s forgotten the words! “… His red-haired sweetie/strolling up and down/Colfax Av-e-nu-

u-uue.” Mouth agape, I turned to John: “He knows Denver!” “Used to play music on Colfax,” said Phil, drawing closer. “In burlesque joints.” Feeling the need to be front-and-center, talking of what I knew, I mentioned burlesque queen Blaze Starr, whose connection to New Orleans via Governor Earl Long is the stuff of legend, here in New Orleans and in Blaze’s adopted hometown of Baltimore. With a single shake of his head, Phil segued into what he knew, having played behind none other than Tempest Storm at a Colfax Avenue joint called Sid King’s, which I’d heard of and John had actually once been in. “Her husband wasn’t allowed nowhere near the place, he was so jealous. And,” Phil said, appraising my hair. “No other redhead could share the bill with her. She was jealous in her own way, see?” Ah, the goodies that lurk when one’s mouth is closed! I could’ve listened to Phil’s tales all day, but John drifted back to the river. Hustler that he is, Phil seized the opportunity to corner me, the easy catch, and sell me on one of his homemade CDs. “All burlesque tunes, all good,” he says, showing it to me. Its cover image is pixelated, like the CD covers Chris used to print on standard stock paper. I remembered Chris’s band mates’ snobbish dismissal of his homemade CDs, how it infuriated me, and how I later understood their reluctance to be associated with poor sound quality. “How much?” I asked, figuring he’d say five, maybe eight. “Fifteen.” I swallowed a chuckle. “Can’t do fifteen.” “How ‘bout ten? You do ten? This got the attention of John. Street-smart Southside Chicagoan that he is, he whisked back and hooked his arm through mine. “Let’s go.” Still, I am a soft heart. Phil’s Tempest Storm story was easily worth three. “You break a five?” I asked, making a move toward his sax case, where five crumpled ones were scattered among his CDs. Then I backed away – I’ll let the man touch his own money.


And so he did. Extracting a thick wad of neatly-arranged bills from his front pants pocket, he flipped off five ones and traded them for my five. I dropped three in his case then caught up with John, happy to walk away with a Tempest Storm story and without a CD I’ll never listen to. As for John, he was happy, too; to be finally moving along.






HCC Make

by Kristin McWharter (Page 61, 62, and Above.)


The Hard Truth by Mike Murphy

The Hard Truth walks in like he owns the place, like I owe him money or something. Wearing a loud shirt, Bermuda shorts, throwing his weight around. He will not be ignored. Not one for polite company he’s the guest that never leaves… even after the good china has been put away. He pours himself a drink and stands alone in the middle of the room, starts swaying to the music, waving his arms above his head like some insane flamenco dancer trying to be noticed. We avert our eyes, huddle in the corners and ask, who invited him? It doesn’t matter…he always shows up. The life of the party. The guests all leave, one by one, throwing air kisses and vowing we must do this again soon, dah-ling! until only three of us are left. He’s making out on the sofa with Little White Lie, her hair all mussed, lipstick smeared, his hand running up her thigh. I shut out the lights and go to bed. I know how this ends.


The General’s Lament by Mike Murphy

I have spent too many years constructing my own Maginot line only to see it fail after six weeks or six minutes or six years hardened bunkers abandoned at the first probe fortifications breached avoided outflanked as the klieg lights expose my folly and the shiny young men in their tanks race by headed for their Paris.


Grandpa and the Gangster by Myrina Cardella-Marenghi


Like Tevye, my grandfather Natan had five grown daughters. Somewhere in the middle there was a son, Jacob–Jackie. This should have assured that the Schiller business and name would carry on, but the boy was a constant worry to his father. The first daughter to marry had been Bella, twenty and the eldest. Then, tragically, she was widowed and left expecting a child. Two years after her marriage, her husband’s appendix burst during surgery. She didn’t remain a widow long however. Because when my grandmother Molly’s distant cousin Louis made a Shiva call, he was so struck by the very pregnant Bella’s beauty, he could barely wait a decent amount of time to propose. Bella accepted after a respectable mourning period and off they went on a glamorous yearlong honeymoon to California. The second eldest daughter, Anna, would become my mother. The only Schiller daughter who could be considered plain, she worked in Natan’s dress factory as a bookkeeper. She was also the practical one. Her four sisters, all beauties, did not need serious jobs or an occupation because it was understood each would soon capture the heart of a man to provide a nice life. So in 1928, when Bella and Louis went off on their fairy-tale honeymoon, reliable Anna, left Schiller Styles to move into Bella’s home and care for Bella’s daughter, her niece Shelda. Rose, the middle Schiller daughter, an angelic looking blond, blue-eyed beauty, also stayed in Bella’s home. Anna and my father were engaged to be married and it was unacceptable for only a toddler to chaperone when Anna’s fiancé came to call. Then there was the other reason Rose moved into Bella’s house; she was hiding out from the well-known gangster, Legs Diamond. Rose had met Mr. Diamond on a visit to the Castle Hill Dance Hall and Beer Garden. Often, she and her sisters went there with friends on Saturday nights. It was acceptable for unescorted young women to attend dance halls if they went in groups. Rose’s ethereal appearance enchanted Legs, apparently named for his dancing acumen and flashy style. And at first she found Jack Diamond easy on the eyes as well and was taken in by his casual, anything-goes behavior. The third time

they were together he proposed. Rose explained she couldn’t say yes without her parents’ blessing. Jack explained the problems this posed. One: his real name, patently Irish-Catholic, Jack Moran, and two: his nickname, patently notorious—Legs Diamond. Although it wasn’t part of her religion’s belief, Molly liked to think some power in the universe recorded a book of good deeds. She strived to assure a page would be reserved there with her name on it. It worried her that, due to Natan’s lack of piety, his good deeds would not be recorded. Even though each morning, skullcap in place beneath a high crowned black felt hat, Natan faced east, donned a silk-fringed prayer shawl, strapped leather prophylacteries containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with bible verses onto his arms, and enacted the ritual of daily prayer. Because his orthodoxy left much to be desired, Molly knew Natan prayed reluctantly, only to please her. Her life’s ambition was to shepherd his name to the page following hers in the book of good deeds. She never lost faith she might yet succeed in this task because her husband was basically a decent man. She knew his weaknesses, yet considered him more pious than some others—hypocrites who boasted of their adherence to a religion that sometimes made life difficult. Thankfully, in that regard, life was a little easier here in America. For instance, the blue laws. Natan never opened the shop on Saturday. He often completed rush jobs with a factory full of Sunday, double-time sewing machine operators. That meant higher labor costs, payoffs, all kinds of problems. Molly knew he didn’t observe the Sabbath to please her; he did from his own religious conviction. And because he had made it clear between them early on, that although he would tolerate her dominion over every aspect of his life, when it came to the business, he made the decisions. And also where Jackie was concerned, Natan had to take a firm stand. Almost daily, Molly assured her husband that their girl-crazy son, the apple of her eye, would eventually straighten out. Only Molly addressed her husband as Natan. In what was a departure for their time and place, no one called Molly and Natan Schiller Mama and Papa or Grandma and Grandpa. When spoken about, they were Molly and Natan. When spoken to, it was Molly and, for a reason never explained, her husband was addressed as Abie. Natan’s thick, dark beard was closely, carefully cropped and, in-


doors or out, in accordance with tradition, he wore a skull cap under his black fedora. He was a large man with large appetites. An honorable husband, he kept most demons at bay. Models in his Seventh Avenue showroom did not consider him to be made from the same cloth as some other dress factory owners; lechers with whom one must avoid close contact. On the other hand, Natan did not equate a lack of honor with dietary transgressions. These frequently won out over what did not even amount to good intentions. When Natan invited business associates in the garment industry to lunch, he did take them to Siegel’s kosher restaurant. However, when he was invited to an eatery like the Romanian steak house where, the food was kosher-style but not kosher, he ate there with gusto as well. Why be stiff necked, he rationalized; he was doing his part toward peace and religious tolerance. Except that his lunch companions were always of his own faith. So stiff necked by whose standards? In fact, the only men of dissimilar backgrounds he came into contact with on a regular basis were Fredo, his Italian piece goods cutter, and Johnson, the colored handyman. During morning prayers, Natan confessed his every failure in observing the laws of kashrut to the One Above. To keep them from Molly however, he would have moved heaven and earth. The One Above was less judgmental and more forgiving, Natan felt, than that one here on earth. Murder, armed robbery and extortion, which turned out to be Legs Diamond’s stock in trade, were nowhere on Natan’s radar screen. When Natan got wind of his daughter’s budding romance, he wasn’t so unhappy. Diamond was a good Jewish surname and Natan supposed Leg’s reputation stemmed from breaking a few prohibition laws, maybe taking some protection money. On occasion hadn’t Natan himself paid bribes to open the shop on Sunday? Such a son-in-law might not be a bad thing. But to Rose, Jack’s livelihood was the off-putting factor. As the initial exciting attraction wore off, she began to fear him. When Anna moved into her sister’s house to watch her niece during Bella’s yearlong honeymoon, Rose left home to lived there also. And she stopped attending the Castle Hill Ballroom. Natan, still with three daughters to marry off, thought she might yet come around. But when he learned Legs’ real name was Jack Moran, not Jack Diamond, he hoped not. A


man could change his occupation, but not the circumstances of his birth. Late one morning, not completely unexpected by Rose’s father, who should appear in his cramped office on the eighth floor of the West Thirty-Seventh Street building that housed many clothing factories, but Legs Diamond. A dark pinstriped suit, black shirt, white silk tie and a broad-brimmed, white felt hat served as his business card. Natan recognized the man, having seen him previously. On several occasions, he had spied him, a cigarette dangling between his lips, lounging against the wall of the apartment building across the street from the one where the Schiller family resided. Twice, Legs had phoned at home and been told by Molly that Rose no longer lived there. “And we don’t know where she is so please don’t call again,” Molly scolded. Her commanding lent incongruity to the word please. “Mr. Schiller,” Legs Diamond now announced, “I’m taking you to lunch at Sullivan’s Steak house. We have something to discuss.” Jack Moran understood a man does not score points with his beloved for roughing up her father and Natan sensed this immediatedly, so did not feel intimidated. He knew also that interpretations of the Torah allowed dietary laws to be broken in extreme or dangerous situations. And, months had passed since he had eaten a steak that hadn’t soaked in salt water until all flavor also went down the drain. Like a miracle, the One Up There had considered his situation extreme enough. The two men ordered lunch and Legs didn’t bother to beat around the bush. Against the backdrop of clinking silverware from nearby tables, Jack Moran told Natan Schiller he was madly in love with Rose and intended to make her his wife. “Mr. Schiller, Rosie will have the best of everything money can buy.” Natan placed his knife and fork down on the plate that contained a fine Porterhouse steak. He touched his napkin to his beard and gathered his thoughts before, as politely as possible, he explained why the marriage was impossible. None of his girls, and especially his son Jackie, could marry outside of their faith. On two or three more occasions at Sullivan’s Steak House, Legs wined and dined Rose’s father who said little. Then regretfully, after


several excellent lunches, Natan finally brought out the heavy artillery. “Mr. Diamond, man to man I’m going to tell you something I’ve never spoken a word of to another soul. When I am done, you will no longer want to marry Rose. I am also certain one day you will look back and thank me.” “I grew up in London,” Natan began, in what he hoped was an avuncular style. Drawing on his British accent, which normally he stifled, he continued. “As a young man I sometimes accompanied my father to Vienna on business. His former partner there was Molly’s father. She was blonde and beautiful just like a doll—very much like Rose, and I, too, fell in love the moment I saw her. “In those days, parents arranged marriages. A dowry, a bride’s price—these had to be agreed upon. Molly’s father demanded quite a sum for such a beauty. I pleaded with my father to pay what was actually a small fortune. With my happiness at stake, the poor man finally agreed. So, we were married in Vienna and almost immediately my family, Molly and I set off on our return to London.” “In accordance with tradition, the marriage was consummated on our wedding night. But what with travel and one thing and another, I wasn’t truly alone with my wife in a leisurely way for weeks. During that time though, I began to suspect my bride was not the great beauty as advertised. Women’s dresses were worn to the floor then, and when I finally saw Molly’s legs, let me tell you Mr. Moran, she was so bowlegged as to be considered deformed. And it did have an effect on me, I will also tell you.” Unabashed, Legs answered that given Molly’s eleven pregnancies and six living children, the effect couldn’t have been all that negative. “Well, she was a good, pure girl. What could I do? Send her back alone to Austria to a future of shame and scandal?” Wistful, Natan remembered, “And, if you can believe it, back then Molly had a certain sweet way about her. “But even after all these years, I still feel I was cheated, and pray to the One Above to wash away these feelings. If He so chooses, that will happen. But here on earth, a man is a man and those thoughts are still with me.”


Legs now felt comfortable enough to introduce a note of intimacy. Leaning across the table toward his lunch companion, he asked, “Abie, why are you telling me this? What has it got to do with me and Rosie? No disrespect intended, but from what I’ve seen of her legs they look great to me.” “It’s not her legs,” Natan answered, a hint of exasperation creeping into his speech. He looked around the crowded dining room, then tapped his chest discreetly. “It’s up here. She’s flat as a board.” Legs started to respond, but Natan raised a hand from the table to stop him and pressed on, “I don’t care what you’ve seen—or think you’ve seen–or maybe dancing she feels so nice and soft. When a young girl decides it’s time to feather a nest, what a man considers such alluring modesty is often nothing more than plain deceit! “It’s the shoulder pads Molly makes me bring home from the factory that Rose stuffs in there. Because of her, I buy more shoulder pads than any other dressmaker on Seventh Avenue. I’m their largest account. Believe me, she’s flat as a board,” he repeated. “And don’t think you won’t care. Take my word for it Jack, you will care your whole life!” Legs called for the check. Outside Sullivan’s Steak House, the men shook hands and parted. For years, I thought that was where that oft-told story ended. But even when I was very young, it was difficult to reconcile that my dour grandmother Molly had become pregnant and given birth to a little girl about the time Rose moved into Bella’s house. My mother redirected my questions to Genesis. “Sarah was ninety years old when Isaac was born. In comparison, Molly was still a young woman when her last baby came along.” Well, how could I argue with that? When Bella returned from California she too was pregnant. Her second daughter was born a month before Molly’s little girl. Just at that time Rose became very ill and it wasn’t a sure bet she would survive. Doing the math, I have figured out this was not during the devastating influenza epidemic, but afterward. Natan had accepted with stoicism the five children he and Molly lost, none of them much past infancy. But the prospect of losing his Rose drove him mad with grief and rage.



When their last daughter was born, he actually threatened to divorce his wife if she dared sprout religion to him at this time. Although children were not named after the living, no matter how tenuous their hold on life, Natan insisted this baby would also be called Rose. “I’ll show them,” he bellowed. Who he was going to show, no one knew, “I won’t lose a Rose, I’ll gain a Rose!” He prevailed about the child’s name. For once, Molly acquiesced. Then, miraculously, the first Rose pulled through. So it came about that they now had two daughters with the same name, born twenty-some years apart. Natan called the baby Rose; Molly called her Pearl. My cousins and I never thought it strange that Louis and Bella raised the three girls as sisters. We always knew our grandparents were Rose Pearl’s mother and father, so our cousin was really our aunt. Genesis aside, Molly seemed kind of old to raise a child and Rose Pearl was a sweet little girl, happy with Bella and Louis’ family. My parents, my aunts and uncles all spent so much time together in those days, I too hardly knew which of our unruly gang were my cousins as opposed to siblings. In Europe Louis had been an attorney. Here in America he manufactured bedding. Bella worked with him in the store beneath their apartment. It wasn’t unusual that when a homemaker came in to purchase only a small pillowslip for her baby’s crib, after she and Bella sipped fresh ginger tea poured from a pot kept on the store hotplate, the woman placed an order to dress every bed in her home in pastel satin finery. The tea was always served in water glasses, with lump sugar and lemon slices. Also always on hand in the store, Bella kept her homemade, airy sponge cake. Louis bragged to other men about his wife, “When Bella puts out the charm and the sponge cake, get ready to buy the Brooklyn Bridge. My Bellala,” he sang this pet name for his wife like an aria title, “could remove your underwear without touching your pants.” While Bella worked her magic downstairs, the first Rose—who still lived with them—cared for the three little girls upstairs. Until she married a shirt manufacturer from New Bedford. But Rose had grown so attached to Rose Pearl and Bella’s children, she couldn’t leave New York. So her husband continued his manufacturing operation in

Massachusetts, and Natan and his new son-in-law opened a shared showroom for men’s shirts and ladies dresses in the garment center in Manhattan. Whether the shoulder pads were a fictional invention of Natan’s or not, I don’t know, but like Bella’s husband, Louis, Rose’s husband also appeared besotted with his wife. In the twenties, there was a long running play on Broadway called Abie’s Irish Rose. The plot centered on a mixed faith romance. Rose Pearl did not look like other Schiller women. She had porcelain white skin, clear blue eyes and straight blue-black silken hair instead of our golden curls. My father and Natan’s other sons-in-law, perhaps with a wink and a nod, joked about Rose Pearl being Abie’s Irish Rose. After a while, Bella, Rose and their husbands purchased a two family home in the affluent nearby Five Towns suburb. By then the elder Rose had three sons. The two sisters lived in that house almost the rest of their lives. Rose Pearl grew up and married a man who had fought in Europe during WWII and returned home a hero. Later, she and her war hero also lived in the Five Towns area near Rose and Bella. For some reason they never had children but the marriage appeared happy. Unlike her airier sisters, my mother, Anna, was a one-foot-infront-of-the-other kind of woman; reliable, no nonsense about her. In that regard she took after Molly more than the other four fun-loving Schiller daughters. That is except around her son Alec, the philandering lady-killer. With him, she sometimes acted coquettish. Alec, it seems, inherited his aunts’ charm and my father’s electric-blue eyes. Very early in our lives, my brother Alden and I understood that any attempt to to sweet-talk my mother stood a greater chance of succeeding when Alec acted as spokesperson. One day Alec spotted an old picture of the infamous Legs Diamond and couldn’t ignore a striking resemblance to Rose Pearl. We had all heard, many times, the story of Rose’s romance with a gangster. Of course, my mother admitted nothing, but because it was Alec, she didn’t vehemently deny it either, as she would have done with anyone else. “So,” Alec asked her, pushing the envelope, “did Rose’s husband ever find out the truth?” “Find out? What truth? Who said there was any truth to find out!”


That was how my mother informed her son the conversation had gone as far as it would, even with him. Another of Alec’s lovable virtues is his loose lips. And that was how I learned the rest of the story about our family’s Abie’s Irish Rose.



Kurt Crisman: NoVa Suburbia. College, Kid. Marriage. Michigan. Another kid. Chaos. Divorce. Twitter fiction festival. Baltimore. Rugby. Finally published. Whitney G. Schultz earned her MFA in poetry at UNC-Greensboro. She currently teaches creative writing and literature at a private school in Baltimore County. Her poems and short stories have appeared (or are forthcoming) in One for One Thousand, The Light Ekphrastic, deLuge, and Contemporary American Voices, among others. Mike Murphy lives and writes in Baltimore with his wife Stacie, two cats named Daisy and Zelda, and a slew of old manual typewriters. He attended West Virginia University and The University of Virginia and currently studies poetry and writing in The Odyssey Program at Johns Hopkins University. His work has appeared previously, or is upcoming, in Cobalt Review, Seltzer, Urbanite magazine, Backbone Mountain Review, and Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore, among others. Myrina Cardella-Marenghi was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in a seaside resort town in Rhode Island but makes frequent visits to Maryland. She has compiled a 20132014 Anthology for the Neighborhood Guild Creative Writer’s Group and completed a novel, Family Values, under the pseudonym Saratoga Sutter.


Matt Hohner holds an M.F.A. in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. His work has been a finalist for the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize, and taken both third and first prizes in the Maryland Writers Association Poetry Prize. Hohner once won a poetry slam held in a bar on Whidbey Island, Washington, over the phone from Baltimore, Maryland. Recently, his work has appeared in The Moth, The Irish Times, Free State Review, Oberon Poetry Review, and The Sow’s Ear. Hohner has work forthcoming in Whale Road Review and Cobalt Review. Hohner lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Jessie Schaller currently lives in Baltimore with her fish, Rose. David Tablada can be found making awkward small talk and petting cats in the Baltimore area. Richard Baldwin Cook is the author of two volumes of poetry, DAD WAS TAKEN TO WATCH A LYNCHING (Nativa LLC, 2014) available at Lulu.com, etc.) and SPLENDID LIVES AND OTHERWISE: Sonnets of Remembrance, (Nativa LLC, 2011), available at lulu.com; and the following books, available at amazon.com and elsewhere: THAT’s WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT – Collected Essays, literary criticism (Nativa LLC, 2006) – ALL OF THE ABOVE I and ALL OF THE ABOVE II – genealogy and family history (Nativa LLC, 2007, 2009)


Heath Brougher lives in York. PA and attended Temple University. When not writing he helps with the charity Paws Soup Kitchen which gives out free dog/cat food to low income families with pets.. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Diverse Voices Quarterly, Third Wednesday. Möbius, Main Street Rag, Gold Dust Magazine. Foliate Oak, BlazeVOX, Of/with, Yellow Chair Review, elsewhere.

Chelsea Gleason is a feminist writer living and working in Baltimore. She’s a worker-owner at Red Emma’s bookstore where she makes mega nachos, orders feminist fiction, and organizes a a creative writing group begun at the Baltimore Free School. She can be contacted at chelsea.gleason@gmail.com for inquires about her work. Kristin McWharter is an artist in the Baltimore area. Margo Christie is an author, artist and educator on a mission to blur the lines between high- and low-brow art. Her work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Voice of Baltimore and elsewhere. Her debut novel, “These Days, A Tale of Nostalgia on a Burlesque Strip” is a prize-winning romp down memory lane on an historic burlesque strip, the Block in Baltimore. It won a second prize in Amazon’s 2012 Breakthrough Novel Award and was labeled “as original as it is addictive” by Publisher’s Weekly. A native of Baltimore, she currently resides in Tampa Florida. www.margochristienovelist.com Tom Mullin is a writer and freelance graphic designer who spends most of his time coloring comic books for Marvel and DC Comics out of his home in Chester County, Pennsylvania.


End of 83 is the literary journal of the Baltimore Writing Hour. For more information visit baltimorewritinghour.com. For information on how to order additional copies of the magazine, visit endof83.com.

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