the STYLUS of
STYLUS Spring 2010
STYLUS Volume 123, Number 2, Spring 2010. Founded in 1882. Undergraduate members of the University are invited to submit original works of poetry, prose, and art. Direct correspondence to: Stylus, Room 129, McElroy Commons, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467 or email@example.com. Works under review remain anonymous. Copyright 2010 Stylus Editorial Board, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.
For Senior Stylite Dan Thornbury, whose dedicated contributions have made this and many previous issues possible.
STYLUS Volume CXXIV Bostonese
Number 2 Staff
Verse Shaharim Jumpers Miss Mitchell: The Nantucket Athenaeum, 1831 When I awoke the world was made of gilded glass Falling Through Imaginary Man and now the smallest things are so importantWhat Women Want Malaria Dreams of Trash Dumps and Likes it As in a Mirror Genesis Black Ice The Color of Grief Thereâ€™s a Light off in My Attic The Ballad of Dennis the Manatee Discarded Cigarette I Have Found this Excess to be Tiresome Daughters of a Boardinghouse Keeper Breech Birth Impressions of a Tahitian Landscape
10 24 26
Andrew Keener Alex Gilman Skye Shirley
30 33 34
Samuel Lovett Katrin Tschirgi Suznnah Lutz
Sara Martin Samuel Lovett
58 59 64 74 76
Amy Keresztes Katrin Tschirgi Mara Batzli Christopher Criswell Dan Thornbury
Corin Porter Samuel Lovett
Alex Gilman Elizabeth Olson
Denaissance Nursing School Observation Contrite, Upon Waking in February Blight Epigraph for Stylus
107 108 121 122 125 126
Andrew Keener Mara Batzli Richard Horan madeline Rose McSherry Skye Shirley Stephen Thomas
Prose 12 27
Keith Noonan Rich Hoyt
36 43 61 65 79
Anne Kilfoyle Caitlin Moran Sara Martin Keith Noonan Richard Horan
86 104 110
Myles Gerraty Jennifer Yoo Keith Noonan
Man on the Moon Ladies and Gentlemen, Chilren of all Ages Finnegan Repeating Lacock Abbey Taco Night Suckers I Breathe the Air, Metal Taste Aside Dovetail Thinking Loud A Delicate Monster “Consumed” Series, Pepsi Blue Room Petra Untitled Jerusalem Mad World Untitled Fifteen Vortex Untitled Kerns in the Bath Full of Grace
Art Cover 9 11 14 19 22 25 28 32 35 39 42
Dan Thornbury Patrick Waring Ruth O’Herron Jean-Paul Pluta Ruth O’Herron Caroline Sullivan Jean-Paul Pluta Yongbok Hwang Patrick Waring Joshua Idaszak Gabriela Martinez Kelly McConnaughey
Untitled “Consumed” Series, Coke Self-Portrait School’s Out Untitled Summer, Or What Was Left Untitled “Consumed” Series, Becks Untitled Trees, Trees, Trees Whiite Hands on Red Squares Uriah The Holy Land The End of a Perfect Day Dorie Untitled “Consumed” Series, Busch Sumi Rifles A History in Rust Skulls Untitled Untitled David Windowframe Girl Franny & Survival of the Fittest Holy Grail Laura Untitled
45 48 52 55 57 60 63 66 69 72 75
Joshua Idaszak Daniel thornbury Christy Titus Sarafina Spink Brian Park Madeline Rose McSherry Andrea Kisiel Dan Thornbury Jean-Paul Pluta Daniel Radin Yongbok Hwang
78 80 83
Kelly McConnaughey Ruth O’Herron Caroline Sullivan
85 88 91 94 96 99 102 106 109 112 115 118 120 123 124
Madeline Hines Nicole Pasquale Dan Thornbury Yongbok Hwang Daniel Radin Patrick Waring Andrea Kisiel Joshua Idaszak Kelly McConnaughey Michael Bell Jill Forgash Caroline Sullivan Dan Thornbury Madeleine Hines Andrea Kisiel
Bostonese STYLUS DOES ITS PART
going anywhere near the ‘Disturber.” Domo Arigato, Mr. Janitor.
Stylus’ super-sleek new issue, made with Adobe InDesign on our brand-new Dell is 100% BIODEGRADEABLE! Probably...
FORGING A BRIDGE INTO THE RECENT PAST
“OPENING DOORS” FOR BC STUDENTS
Recent polling of the Boston College janitorial staff has proven beyond contention that Stylus is in fact the most effective improvised doorstop currently in use, being both more absorbent, and significantly more durable than any other competing undergraduate publication (especially its primary, reactionary competitor, the Observer.) One janitor, preferring to remain anonymous, comments, “You know, those Stylus’ are just fantastic, first things I reach for when I need to keep a door open.” When asked if he would ever consider using another publication he replied “Listen, Stylus is the only doorstop for me. I know a quality product when I see one, I’m not
Stylus is proud to announce that it has emerged from nescient slumbering and is exploring terrific technological opportunities that will lead to a new era of massmedia manipulation. Stylus has created a new website, founded Facebook and Wikipedia pages, gotten a Twitter and crafted a Firefox persona. Further, it is currently investing in technology that will allow information to be beamed directly into the minds of beloved Stylites everywere. “What’s a Twitter?” asks graduating Stylus Editor, Richard Horan, when pressed to elucidate.
WHAT? ME, WORRY?
Recent proposals to move the Stylus online have been met with concerns by the BC administration that censorship may be required.Website editor Stephen Lovely responds, “Well, fuck.”
Shaharim The sun rises – He’s still swimming in the sand, Spurred onward to the camel’s canto; Drinking in the mirage before him – Oasis dream. Wraps his head in confusion, His heart a broken compass, Innards spinning, all to the dance Of the Islam star. The last drop of the canteen Evaporates on his tongue, But he feels the beat, the drum pulse Beneath the folded dunes – Music, lyrics indistinguishable, The open sky’s song. Andrew Keener
Man on the Moon Keith Noonan
Rey looked up at the Earth. Darkness enveloped the bottom half of the planet. The visible area radiated swirling clouds and a calm blue. He used to believe that he could see signs of life on the brown splotches. He was just a child then and had since realized that such a notion was absurd. The planet’s profile was a promise of some other life; a waxing and waning talisman that had beckoned him since birth. “Stargazer, are you coming in or what?” Deon made an effort to splash water on his friend, but Rey stood just out of reach. He dug his feet into the loose pebbles that lined the beach of the terrarium. The nickname didn’t bother him anymore, even if it was inaccurate. He didn’t desire the stars. “Stargazer, are you coming in, or am I going to have to drag you? You said you wanted to swim.” Deon was the larger of the two boys and could have made good on his threat. “Just a second.” Rey placed his bag next to a pale-skinned elderly couple and walked to the edge of the beach. The water was cool. He wondered if the liquid felt different in an Earth pool. “It’s not even cold. Let’s go.” The trees along the beach cast dancing shadows on Rey as he slipped into the pool. He could see the ridges and porous indentations on the rocks. The water was crystal-clear, and the terrarium lights made the rock floor sparkle. Rey surfaced for a breath and then waded towards Deon. “You’re right. It’s not bad once you get in.” “Of course I’m right; we’ve been here a thousand times. How long do you want to stay?” “Not that long. Let’s swim to the other shore.” The island in the middle of the pool was Rey’s favorite place on the colony. It was covered with lush vegetation and real Earth stones. He used to sit under the trees there for hours. “Fine. Let’s race.” Deon splashed off towards the island. Rey swam leisurely; there was no sense in competing with Deon. The spot reminded him of forest pictures that an instructor had shown. When the water became shallow enough to stand, he dug his feet into the perfectly round pebbles and stumbled towards land. Deon sat on the bank and disparaged Rey’s poor sportsmanship before rising to offer a real greeting. They walked to the far side of the small island, where people on the main shore could not be seen. 12
“What is it with you and this spot, Rey?’ “It’s peaceful. It’s just us, the trees, and the Earth.” Rey ran his hand down the rough bark of an oak tree, stared at the blue planet for a moment, and then turned to face Deon. They were standing at his favorite viewing point. The air smelled fresh, and the sound of conversations on the main shore had quieted to a murmur. Deon sent pebbles soaring into the air with a kick; their landings pattered like water from the planthouse sprinklers. “That’s all well and good, but maybe you should spend a little more time talking to people instead of mulling around this pretty plant nursery, might help your social life, kiddo.” “I’m talking to you right now.” “Funny. What I’m saying is that you should make some friends before careers are assigned. My friend says it’s harder to meet people when you have a job and duties to juggle, and if that’s true you’re looking at meeting a woman, say…sometime around never.” Rey had long since abandoned the hope that he’d find romantic connection on the colony. He had yet to find a female with whom he would even consider the genetic meld. Besides, there was something about the Nursery that made him uneasy. On the occasions that his class had visited, the girls would coo and swoon over the rows of unborn children suspended in green liquid. He didn’t care that the process would almost certainly ensure a perfect birth and the absence of physical abnormality. It was unnatural. Of course, Rey never talked of the way the Nursery made him feel. The birthing of children was treated as sacrosanct, and critical comments would be met with stern reprimand. An expression of his sentiments would have fallen on deaf ears even if he could have been certain that no one would report such blasphemy. He still remembered the cries of disgust that accompanied a screening of the old birthing tradition. “See children, look how far we’ve come,” said the nurse presenting the film. The video was shocking. Rey understood that, but there was something oddly comforting about that newborn entering the world in a fit of screams rather than stoic silence. Rey’s attention returned to his friend’s impatient stare. “Deon, be sure to remind me of my inadequacies when you don’t understand something in Astrophysics.” 13
“Come on, Gazer. I’m looking out for you. And if you keep looking out for me, I’ll find you a nice, scrawny girl to go with.” He gave Rey a playful shove, and the smaller boy once again turned to face the Earth. “Let’s go. I want to get a drink.” Deon gestured for Rey to follow and started walking back the way they had come. Rey thought of Elise and the letter he had stashed in his bag. He wondered what she looked like. She had described herself in their last correspondence: short, black hair, green eyes. But these words formed only a swirling mirage in his mind. She was hundreds of thousands of miles from where he stood, but he felt her presence always. The ambiguity surrounding her appearance and personality left him to fill in the gaps. She was the most beautiful girl in the universe. She was caring and kind to a fault. If he could only get to where she was, everything would be all right. The young men swam back and climbed onto the main shore, beads of water dripping from their bronze skin. Deon sprinted towards the shady spot where Rey’s bag lay. Rey sprinted to catch up. “I forgot to bring a towel. Do you have an extra one in here?” asked Deon. He began to pull at the strings at the top of the bag. Rey reached him and grabbed the satchel forcefully, pulling his friend off balance. “No. You can use mine.” He reached into the bag and offered the towel to his friend, the envelope undetected and unharmed. Deon looked at the towel, the bag, and then Rey. “You’re a strange one.” “Do you want it or not?” Deon laughed and took the towel. “If you get any weirder, they’re actually going to send you to Earth. That’s where they ship all the crazies and bad seeds off to. You know that, right?” Rey scoffed. “That’s a rumor your friends started. I bet you’ve never even seen somebody with a mental deformity.” “That’s because they weed them out. You’re next. I’ve seen the list.” Deon widened his eyes in mock terror and gave Rey a playful push. “Here, dry off and let’s go to the commissary.” He returned the towel to Rey, and the two walked towards the transport lift. The elevator hatch opened as they stepped on to the metallic platform. “Commissary B-4.” 15
“Commissary B-4.” The automated operator repeated Deon’s command and the lift began to move. Rey felt a brief, added heaviness before the hatch opened to the incomprehensible melding of lunchtime conversations. Rey walked towards a small table underneath a maple tree. The stars were less visible from the commissary. There were too many lights lining the glass that separated the edge of the colony from the cold of space. Rey sat and looked out along grey landscape and shadowed craters. “Are you hungry? I think I’m just going to get an ice blend and pick up real food later,” Deon stated loudly. “Sounds good.” The roar of cafeteria conversation overpowered Rey’s voice, but Deon deciphered the response through body language. They got their beverages and returned to the table. Rey placed his bag on the floor and, once again, allowed his attention to drift upward. He stared out the glass dome that encapsulated the hall. Deon pounded his fist on the table, demanding the attention of his friend. “What are you doing later?” “I’ll probably watch some movies and then paint,” Rey lied. He had a meeting to attend at the docks. “Earth movies?” “Yes.” “You’ve seen every one of them, and you’re still wasting your days in those rundown viewing rooms. The stories are all outdated, and the image quality is crap. I don’t get it.” Deon was right. Rey had watched each of the hundred and thirty-seven Earth films dozens of times. He had memorized every scenic detail and line of dialogue. “They’re beautiful. Movies aren’t like that anymore. The way that sunbeams scatter through a natural forest? The rushing of a halcyon stream? You can’t beat that, Deon.” “I don’t get it. You have everything a man could want right here in front of you, yet you spend your time in terrariums and watching boring movies about degenerates. Look around you, Rey.” The commissary was alight with glowing faces. Rey was momentarily relieved to see a man several tables over wearing a blank expression. Then, the man’s face twisted into a smile as a young woman took a seat beside him. “Remember when we were studying the history of humanity?” 16
“Yes, I remember being lectured about the importance of the human spirit, and I remember how stupid and chaotic Earth law seemed, and how the cultures were better off separate. If we’re to ensure the advancement of the species and solve their problems, its important that we don’t have to function in the midst of them” “You’re telling me you don’t ever wonder what it’s like down there?” “Rey, I really don’t care. I’m content. But you, they’re going to grab you, just like they grabbed Sal. Did I ever tell you about Sal?” “I don’t think so. Don’t bother if it’s just another one of your ghost stories.” Deon laughed. “I’m going to tell you anyways. It was one of the first few days of second-level schooling. We were practicing handwriting and I was sitting next to Sal. Everything was going fine until we hit the letter “i”. The rest of the class moved on to “j”, and I looked over at Sal’s page. He kept circling and darkening the dot on his “i” until the page was just a single, black smudge. Then Ms. Shandler saw it and took the page away from him.” “And?” Rey began to fiddle with one of the loose strings on his bag. “And, the next day he was gone. Ms. Shandler said that he got moved back to the first level, but I never saw him again. And it’s not that I didn’t look. They must have sent him to Earth.” “That’s ridiculous, Deon.” “You’re right. Why go through all the trouble of sending him to Earth? They probably just threw him out an airlock.” Deon’s eyes beamed with a jubilant satisfaction. “That’s what’s going to happen to you if you keep obsessing about Earth films and talking to that crone at the docks.” Rey was used to Deon’s badgering. The young man had developed domineering tendencies in conjunction with his first growth spurt and had never really tempered. “Maddy’s nice. You need to lighten up; the doctors say it’s not healthy to be so hateful.” “Ha. That old bag is crazy. I see her rummaging through the trash and she never leaves the docking area. You’re going to wind up just like her: sleeping in a loading shell until some misguided kid is dumb enough to talk to you.” 17
“All right. I’m going to go watch a movie or get some work done.” “Come on. I’m just joking with you,” Deon pleaded. “No, I really have to go.” Rey finished his drink and got up to place the container in a trash box. When he turned around, he saw that Deon had grabbed his bag. He should not have left it under the table. “What is it that you have in here, junior?” He removed the towel and began to rummage through the sack before Rey had a chance to stop him. “Let go of it, Deon.” Rey latched onto the bag and attempted to wrestle it from Deon’s muscled arms. Deon just laughed. “I just want to see what books you have. Stop being such a child. You’re making a scene.” The nearby tables began to quiet as the two continued to tug at the bag. Rey began to sweat as the silence turned to shouts and cheers. The scent of fear and perspiration filled his flaring nostrils as he yanked unsuccessfully at the bag. He had no chance of overpowering Deon. Rey relaxed his body and allowed one of Deon’s forceful jerks to draw his body in. When he was close enough he threw a punch at Deon’s left eye. The larger boy let out a guttural yell, recoiled, and then dropped the bag to catch his balance. The hall fell momentarily silent before once again erupting in shouts. Rey scooped up his belongings and scrambled to the transport lift. Deon was still clutching his eye. Officials moved to apprehend Rey. He could see them closing right before the hatch sealed shut. “Dock B-7.” The automated operator repeated his command and the lift began to move. They wouldn’t bother following him. A summons to the disciplinary council would be waiting when he returned to his room. The hatch opened and Rey stepped into the entrance of the docking area. Large metal crates lined both sides of the brightly lit hallway, the air sour and stagnant. Rey walked quickly towards Maddy’s section of the dock. She was always there, overseeing the stacking and unstacking of cargo. The dock was her home. Rey turned another corner. The onerous lights and uniformity of the hallways would have been confusing if he were not familiar with the area. He spotted her bulky build and silver hair in the distance. She was guiding a man in a loader on to a lowered platform. He must have been 18
new. His bright yellow automaton staggered back and forth as Maddy flailed her arms. Rey waited to approach her, not wanting to interrupt the process. The container crashed to the floor, scattering its shiny contents. Maddy grunted and brought her hand to her brow before turning away from the mess. She noticed Rey standing to the side. “Rey! I’ve been waiting. You normally come by earlier. See what I have to work with? This is why I’m losing my hair.” Her silver strands were wild and numerous. Rey would have never guessed that the woman was suffering from hair loss. She turned to her subordinate. “I want this cleaned up. I’ll return in a few. We’re going to get this right next time.” She waved him off to work and put an arm around Rey. “Come, let’s stroll. We have a lot to talk about.” Her strides were long and lively. She unleashed a warm grin when they reached the dark corner of the docks where she slept. “What’s going on Maddy? Is everything all right?” “Things are very right. I’m happy for you.” “Why’s that?” “I have good news, and I have great news. Which would you like first?” Rey opted to hear the lesser of the two surprises first. “The good news is that a letter from Elise came in on a shipment today. It feels firmer than usual. I’m guessing she got those photographs you’ve been clamoring for.” “Maddy! That’s amazing.” Rey’s eager fingers grabbed the parcel from her outstretched hand. “Same as always, you didn’t get that from me. Though, in all honesty, I’m not worried about anyone seeing you with it.” “Of course, Maddy. I wouldn’t say a word. I’ve got a letter for Elise as well.” Rey slung the bag from his shoulder and began to look for the envelope. “Why don’t you hold onto it? You can deliver it yourself.” “What are you talking about?” “That’s the great news, Rey. There’s a silicon shipment leaving in about an hour. We’re going to be a crate short. I can get you to Earth.” Rey’s eyes widened and scanned her face for signs of insincerity. He struggled to speak after his scrutiny came up short. 20
“But-but-what about when they open the shipment. What will happen to me?” “That’s already taken care of, kiddo. My contacts will make sure you get to the streets unscathed. They’ll get you where you wanna be.” “Maddy, I don’t even know what to say. There’s nothing I can do to repay you for this.” She let out a husky chuckle. “Don’t mention it. And I do mean don’t mention it. Just understand that getting back won’t be easy. Probably not even possible.” “I don’t need to come back. I’ve wanted this more than anything.” His voice trailed off. “That’s what I thought.” Maddy smiled and pointed a finger over Ray’s shoulder. “You’ll have to hide behind the crates to the right of the docking bay. I’ll call the crew off when the ship is loaded. You’ll have a ten second window before the lock closes. Then there’s no going back. There’s going to be a loader where the additional crate would have been. Then you just strap yourself in, put on the respirator, and you’re home free.” “I’m going to miss you, Maddy. I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me.” Rey felt blood rush to his face. His cheeks were warm and his limbs seemed weak. He suddenly felt guilty that he had not spent more time with her. She was the only person on the colony with whom he felt a genuine connection. It was the fear of being relegated to the docks that had kept him away. He was certain she understood this. She understood everything. The pair shared a brief embrace, and Maddy instructed him to get into position. There was not much light behind the stack of crates. Rey shifted and tried to find a comfortable position. He heard a crinkle from his pocket when he finally settled into a more suitable recline. In his excitement, he had forgotten about Elise’s letter. He ripped the envelope and strained his eyes to see its contents. The nook was too dark to read her writing or analyze the two stiff photographs she had included. A siren sounded and the red lights along the side of the dock began to flash. With each red pulse, Rey caught a glimpse of the documents. The photographs that she had sent were not like the ones he had seen. The landscape was an uninviting brown. Buildings were shabby and tattered. The people wore ragged 21
clothes and bleak expressions. His eyes drifted to the bottom of her letter with the advent of another crimson pulse. “I wish I could get to the Moon. Your friend, Elise.” The gate began to close. Rey’s pulse quickened as he watched the doors slide closer and closer together. His carotid artery throbbed. The siren blared. He began to move but stumbled. He caught himself and watched as the entryway inched shut. Later, he explained to the old woman how his clumsiness had cost him his trip to Earth. He handed Maddy his letter to Elise. Someday the girl would open it, and read about how desperately he wanted to visit her world and how he would have done anything to get there.
Jumpers I dove from A street pier into rainbow puddles. Motorboats danced to my wake. Below me slept rusty bicycles, an old refrigerator, loose change. But above: unimaginable blue wrinkled like a silk blouse. Bodies crashed through the overturned bowl and sucked at my ears like a vacuum. I swam the mile back to shore, my head dipped into air like dolphin breath. I sat on the edge, watched other jumpers spread ripples that would never end. Alex Gilman
Jean-Paul Pluta 25
Miss Mitchell: The Nantucket Athenaeum, 1831 Father taught me astronomy on a wooden ladder, I hardly reached the telescopeâ€™s glass eye. My lap now overflows with medals from kings given when I captured comets, predicted the solar eclipse. The sun outlined the moon like the uneven stain of a teacup brimming onto newspaper. I accepted this molten token, the only ring ever offered to me, a marriage of true equals. Skye Shirley
Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages Rich Hoyt
Dad wanted to be ringleader, but he never learned to tame lions. He became a fire-breather instead. Mom wanted to marry a ringleader, and I think Dad knows that. I think he even promised her a long time ago he’d make his lions jump through hoops and be tame. But he couldn’t, so he’s a fire-breather now. Mom wanted to be a trapeze swinger, to fly high above the confusion of the circus floor. She almost did it, but a horse fell during one rehearsal and took away the strength in her left arm. Mom became a sword-swallower. Dad comforted Mom, offering lions for trapeze and fire for swords. Mom became a mom. I’m the clown. Clowns make you laugh and distract you from the danger of the circus. Mom smiles when I swing from the trapeze. Dad breathes loudly and flexes his fingers when I play tricks on the lions. When Dad gets angry, he breathes more fire. He drinks clear, stinging fluid and sprays naked, angry flames. Dad stomps around the ring and flashes like a combustible firefly. The more fire Dad breathes, the more swords Mom swallows. At dinner Dad throws plates. Mom catches and juggles everything he throws. Dad shows me how to somersault. He hurts my neck when he does so. Mom trades swords for pills. Mom swallows. Dad trades his gasoline for a different bottle. Dad laughs. I paint a smile over my sad face. When Mom has a sword in her stomach, she looks over at me. The more danger she is in, the safer I am. If Mom coughs, she will die, but that sword will never cut me. Dad puts down his bottle and picks up his knives. The great knife-thrower and his beautiful wife, the sword-swallower. Everyone gets it before the act has even begun. Mom is a sheath. Dad is exploding. Dad breathes more fire. Mom swallows more swords. I juggle and pratfall. Dad sprays fire at the lions and trapeze swingers. Mom swallows more swords. Dad drinks more gasoline. I am tears and tumbles. More fire-breathing. More sword-swallowing. Isn’t this a fine circus?
When I awoke the world was made of gilded glass and the floor offended my feet with its bitter sensibilities. A knocking pulse in the side of my head counted time like a sadistâ€™s metronome as I peeled and cored apples. Despite the only disturbances: a chop, chop, chop; a splashing sound as peels tumble into a bin and then, there might have been the radiator, hummingâ€“ the silence was fragile. I held my breath so I would not end that aloneness, shatter it like a like a glass dropped on porcelain tile. Would that reduce it? Something in the air told me otherwise, the world would close in again like a heavy blanket to smother my indiscretion. The apartment was still and dark but for cruel patches where the curtains must have pulled themselves aside to taunt me, how vivid those slices were, how sheer the contrast they cut across the bare floor and walls. Everything, though, sent me back to where she still lay in bed with one arm under her face, her hair just mussed as it was when I left her to make pancakes and hot coffee that steamed relentlessly in the chill air. When I touched her shoulder, then, how nervous I felt with my stomach aflutter, afraid of the unintended destruction she might wreak on that beautiful little morning. Richard Horan
Falling Through There is no metaphor for the springâ€™s disgrace -Charles Wright Three of us venture out, armed with a rock, Onto this yearâ€™s lunar landscape Low and frozen beneath the foot of Chestnut Hill. I spin once and heave the stone into night sky Mingling for a moment among snow fall It lands with a deep guttural tumph, Which is good. It means we can continue. This winter had been good to me. Its enduring cold forged a stronger version of myself That broke free to a higher homely place Where I found myself seated by the fire Wondering what had taken me so long. Now I throw the rock ahead and follow. How much farther we will go is unknown, Ocean winds still reeling From having crashed past Hancock And Prudential towers, Meeting us with ardor undiminished (Actually proud for having left the city littered With its salty ocean brine). I bend over to secure the rock, having toed to it gingerly, Feeling its teeth intimate my shoulder once again. Recoiling down, I spring and hurl the shot, Which thobs again into the icy sheath, Solid, but more hollow than before. I turn back toward the other two and grin, Which is good. It means we can continue.
What could be more painful than drowning in liquid razors? We laugh as the wind tears our ears and nose tips. I throw the rock ahead and follow. In the middle, we stop and lay down on our backs, Watching the stars lying back at us, City lights holding back the running dog and charioteer. Vibration from beneath clamor around the depths Telling us not to worry, That it is growing stronger on its own. And for this moment we are perfectly lost, In this foreign place where none of us will not return. Which is good. It means we can continue. Sam Lovett
Imaginary Man Alden Poste. His fingers reached toward my skin like ski poles through fresh snowâ€”and just as sharp. He liked film and often quoted Humphrey Bogart. The town knew him fondly as the bass player. John Tannake. I drove the highway with him, watched as he melted tin spoons into mud, and could no longer tell the strings of his guitar from my cold vocals. Only on Sundays was he someone different. Ethan McCoy. I still recall his mouth, a wet bag of raspberry tea, against mine. He left for Russia, repented for our sins and turned Orthodox. Rob Polkivitch. I imagined his boyish figure on the steppes, still trying to feel lonely, eating marzipan for protein. Katrin Tschirgi
and now the smallest things are so importantâ€” the crocheted blankets like oversized skin the thank you notes, the tea stained photographs. Houses cannot keep what she presses to her palm. Where the broken grandfather clock sounds, a passing hip Makes a discovery. The bruises of clutter. Forgetting what she wants to remember, she remembers what she wants to forgetâ€” Swollen lobes. Raw hands. Uneven toes. Suzannah Lutz
Finnegan Repeating Anne Kilfoyle
Finnegan says he can’t take it much longer. Says he’s hallucinating about waves. Sebastian rolls his one remaining eye back into his head and nobody says anything. We’ve all seen this before; arguing is a waste of time. It will happen, and that’s how it goes. It will happen, and afterward all we can do is wait for the replacement to arrive a few days later, sheathed in plastic, twitching. Yes we’ll be upset at first, but give it a while and we’ll forget him, too. The tank is still reeling from the latest incident when Finnegan’s dumb mouth gapes open and here comes the inevitable. Day one, me and Sebastian had him pegged. Sebastian’s been here longer than anyone, back when the Frog was still around, before he started sucking eyeballs out of skulls and was removed to an undisclosed location. (Heard he got the Freezer, and I hope it’s true. It’s what he deserves, the albino bastard.) Sebastian’s taught me about spotting them, those like Finnegan. Something around the gills, he says. Discoloring. But this kid only arrived a few days ago. And already? We don’t need another incident. Professor Charles Esquire and Doug are still holed up in the Castle, keeping vigil and fasting because of Captain Kirk. They felt terrible about it after. He was the most recent: just stopped feeding. What can you do about that kind of thing? You can’t do anything. We waited for the cleanup net to collect him after he passed but it was too late showing up. His little body sagged against the glass in the back corner, growing paler and paler. Then Professor Charles Esquire and Doug, you know, just because the type they are… Couldn’t really help it, I guess. They ate him. They ate Captain Kirk. Felt terrible. Now here’s Finnegan, saying this stuff at the community meeting. We’re all crowded around the entrance to the Castle, talking to Professor Charles Esquire and Doug through the archway. They still won’t come out even though last time we asked why they were demonstrating they couldn’t remember. The Words are above us, blue letters embedded in grey plastic: Castle of Aquatic Enchantment, the Words to live by, and Finnegan says, just like they mean nothing at all, “There isn’t enough room for all of us. Not enough space. It’s getting to me.” And like I said, we just stare… What can you do about that kind of thing? 36
The timing couldn’t be worse. Yesterday a small white pyramid was dropped into the tank. Finnegan dove behind the Castle, horrified as the ivory mass settled on the bottom, one corner leading the way, burrowing slightly into the black gravel. A few hours later Finnegan was still in hiding, his dorsal jumping up and down like he was being shocked repeatedly. The pyramid started to bubble soon after, and earlier today it released our first ration of food. Sebastian and I haven’t seen this kind of thing since December. We don’t know if it will last three days, seven days, ten…but we do know how ugly things can get. Day three the water is slightly cooler. Finnegan asks about electricity, and I make the mistake of answering honestly. “Aerator’s on, so we must have it. Not sure. It’s gotta be an Outside thing.” Finnegan blanches. “My god,” he says. Day five the water starts clouding up. Professor Charles Esquire and Doug move past the whole we-ate-Kirk thing and emerge from the Castle. I find them sucking rocks off the bottom and spitting them out. Doug’s smiling. “Overcast today, innit?” His accent is from Northern England but he’s from PetSmart. I never get it. “It sure is,” I say. Slurp…pthewww. Day six Finnegan is spending too much time in the far corner. Sebastian has noticed. He wants to talk to me in private. We meet by the Current Source, where the water is noticeably clearer. He wears an eyepatch over the empty socket these days. “Finnegan only has a little while left.” Sebastian is straight to business. “How can you be sure?” “Don’t be an idiot. Haven’t you seen him? He’s got no color? Floats sideways? He’s in the Castle all the time.” “He’s still eating, though.” “He’s not Captain Kirk.” Sebastian’s eye stares at me. I don’t know what to say. “Unrelated note, but I think parts of the Val plant are missing,” Sebastian says. “Which one’s the Val plant?” “The stringy one.” “Dunno.”
On the eighth day the feeder releases rations and I tell Finnegan we’re in for at least two more nights. The particulate in the water makes us wheeze and we move sluggishly in the cold. “My bones hurt,” Finnegan says simply. I don’t respond. Finnegan soon goes rigid and sinks to rest against the rocks, covering his face with his tiny yellow fins. Professor Charles Esquire is nearby in the fake coral and comes over when he sees us. “What’s happening here? He alright?” I can tell panic is on its way. This whole place is one slip-up away from seething with it, and it feels like I’m the only one who can tell, let alone do anything. “Not feelin’ well at the moment,” I say. “Terrible conditions recently. Climate change, I say. We haven’t been careful enough.” Professor Charles Esquire shrugs and moves off to perform his afternoon ritual of bumping his face against the glass, a practice that can’t be interrupted, not even by climate change. “Finnegan’ll be fine,” I say, to myself as much as anyone else. Day nine. Sebastian finds me in the early hours. He takes me to the Castle without waking Professor Charles Esquire and Doug. I can guess what has happened by the glum protrusion of his underlip. Inside the structure, we have to climb. Weak light comes through slats in the stone, glimmering off suspended particles as they rotate in flickers and winks. The quiet is exceptional. He’s there, near the top. He was alright, as far as Crazies go, but instead of feeling sad about it like I want all I can think of is getting him out of here, into plain sight where the cleanup net will see him. Before Professor Charles Esquire and Doug… But Sebastian and I are held by a natural silence, as if we’re waiting for something different to happen besides the ugly movement that keeps repeating in front of us. Finnegan’s limp body floats out from the wall, pushed by the moderate current, and drops back again with a gentle bump. He rolls a little to one side, a little to the other. Each swollen, round scale is drained of color. The angle of his neck is extreme where the green Vallisneria Nana girdles it. His eyes are unblinking. And Sebastian just says, “So that’s what happened to the goddamned plant.”
Kerns in the Bath
What Women Want I live with women I am a woman. I used to be a waitress and everyone else was something else. Women and women, men and men, women and men and men and women. I was a square. A Kraft single. A waffle. Women lie a lot. Penises are direct with their information. Know who they are. Emily reported- with eyes wide as watches“Heather and I had sex.” And I, like watching an egg fry askLike watching the microwave glow askI, like watching a baby delivered feet first askBut how? A grilled cheese. A slice of cake. But what if I were women and women? Interested in: Women? Mystery is wasted on the television. For all that I know men don’t have to clip their toenailsWhat a treat!
and if I wanted women and women Iâ€™d be highly selective â€“ run endurance tests or obstacle courses. Because I want one that is crafty, runs fast and does what I say. Sara Martin
Full of Grace
Lacock Abbey Caitlin Moran
Eleanor fell asleep on the train with her face pushed up against the window, and dreamed of sheep. There were thousands of them, gray and white blurs, turning their droopy black eyes toward her as she whizzed by their fields divided by closely-clipped hedgerows. Sheep unnerved her greatly, though she couldn’t say why, and here they seemed to be everywhere. This might have been the lack of sleep, or the lack of a good breakfast. Eleanor’s eyes were rimmed with crust, and she felt bloated, spongy. Colin, crisp and unruffled even after a transatlantic flight, had draped his sweatshirt over her when she appeared to be sleeping. He was reading the local paper. It had been an unseasonably cold winter, and the meadows around Bristol’s airport had sparkled with frost when they landed. Eleanor wasn’t wearing a proper coat. She had read that it was warmer in Bath than in Philadelphia, in March. She woke up as the train pulled into the Bath Spa station, her left cheek numb and spittled with drool. Colin had gone to take care of the bags, or to throw out his newspaper, she wasn’t sure which. Though it wasn’t any warmer out, the sun was strangely bright. Eleanor stumbled down the steps, still wrapped up in the dream. Towards the end the sheep had started to snap at her, to keep her out, away from them. Colin stopped to wait for her, she wasn’t walking fast enough. She followed him across the street, her suitcase thumping heavily on the stones. She suddenly realized she hadn’t brought nearly enough clothes. Their rented flat was a ten minute walk from the city center. It was on the third floor of one of the buildings along the River Avon; the large dining room window overlooked the Rugby Grounds. The walls were painted cream and the carpets were a deep rose, mostly covered by heavy wooden furniture that could have been fashionable, Eleanor decided, if someone with taste had arranged it. The whole place was at a slant, even the door lintels. The first time Eleanor tried to fry an egg, it slid to the side of the pan in a heap, defeated. “Character,” Colin said. “You don’t see this in the States.” On this point, Eleanor agreed. She had grown up in the suburbs outside of Omaha, where the houses were built in straight lines with tiny square yards, a symphony of right angles. It was 43
boring, she knew, but efficient. When she cracked an egg at home, it fell the way it was supposed to. Colin worked for a bank. He had been offered a temporary promotion, working for the bank’s UK branch, and convinced Eleanor to accept the move as a six-month vacation. The weather, he promised, would be lovely by May. Colin flew to Bath at least once every two months, so he knew the city well. Eleanor hadn’t wanted to come. She didn’t like to fly, and starting over, even for only six months, frightened her. She didn’t like that she didn’t know the television channels, that the man in the deli stared at her because of her accent, that she upset the waitresses by not asking for the check. She also wasn’t sure why Colin had wanted to bring her along, really. They didn’t have what anyone would consider a happy marriage. It was boring, but efficient. She imagined there were other women, his women, in England. It was the traveling, she supposed, that had started her on it. Colin was away for sometimes a week at a time, and it was delicious to envision all the wrongs he could have been committing against her. She knew, of course, deep down, that he was faithful, but these daydreams gave her a reason to stay angry at Colin when the legitimate reasons had run out. They provided her with some sort of identity. The scorned wife was much more exciting than the beloved wife, though she wasn’t sure she was either of those. She was more of a gray in-between, she decided, the nothing-wife. The forgotten woman. At night, Eleanor had trouble sleeping. The curtains, which were creamsicle-orange sheer, did nothing to block out the light from the streetlamps, and the sounds from the Greek restaurant in the basement of the building carried in as if the dance floor was in the kitchen. Eleanor wasn’t good at shutting her eyes and willing herself to sleep, so she stared at the wall next to her bed. She invented a game to play with the peeling paint, the cracked plaster, while Colin slept insensibly beside her. The chinks and runs in the wall became rivers and lakes. She charted a course for herself across an imaginary map of an imaginary world. She thought of herself as a warrior or as a horsewoman, though she didn’t know exactly what a horsewoman did besides ride a horse, which she couldn’t do. The image she invented was vaguely Arthurian. She would have a sword and wear a band around her forehead woven with tiny blue and white stones. Her hair hung down below her shoulders, dark and straight, even though now it 44
curled close around her ears. The horse was brown or sometimes black, but never white. White horses were for damsels and fairy princesses. Warriors fought on dark horses. She worked out the intricate details of the landscape, without knowing where she was heading, or if she was ever intending to fight anyone. She never named the place. There were mountains in the distance, swathed in gray clouds, which never grew closer. The land was low and marshy along the rivers, with large clumps of pitch-colored grass, rotting logs covered in mushrooms and white slime, and little red flowers that bloomed in the muck. In the higher land, there were forests—Eleanor decided one night, while an argument broke out between the patrons of the restaurant downstairs, that the open stretch of wall unmarked by cracked plaster would be a forest instead of a plain. During some fantasies, Eleanor was following the forest path. The brown dirt was soft and slightly wet, lined with moss and waxy leaves turning their plum bellies toward the sky of branches, slick as seal skin. The bark of the trees was always damp, as Eleanor rode through, and the sun glinted off the pools of fresh rain-water gathered among the roots. It never actually rained in this forest while Eleanor was there—it rained too much in England already. She often wondered if she should include Colin in these adventures. She didn’t know exactly where to place him. As a lord of a neighboring country? She didn’t want to have to fight him, though, and having him as an ally of hers almost voided the entire exercise. He just didn’t fit. She didn’t want him as an antagonist, and certainly not as a lover. She didn’t feel spiteful towards him, necessarily. He just wasn’t a part of it, at all. ♦ One Saturday in early April, Colin arranged for a car to take Eleanor to Salisbury and Lacock for a tour. Eleanor assumed he must have wanted the flat to himself, to daddle around with some secretary. At least Eleanor hoped it was some secretary. If it was only about sex, she could make do, or at least that’s what she told herself, if it came down to that. She didn’t like to imagine Colin sitting at some woman’s kitchen table, some woman Eleanor’s age, in socks and slippers, and bathrobes, talking over lopsided eggs. If Colin was unfaithful, Eleanor wanted it to be torpid, almost obscene, with a woman much younger than herself. The 46
affair would be brief and spectacular, but would leave Colin disgusted with himself, and—though Eleanor had yet to work out the detail of this—more appreciative of her. Colin had found her a chipper, twinkly-eyed guide named Andrew to show her around. He was much older than her, almost sixty, with thin gray hair tucked under a sensible, British-looking cap. Or perhaps, Eleanor thought, it was Scottish-looking—she hadn’t been abroad long enough to tell the difference. She wanted to pretend that he was her uncle for the day, that he was showing her around on a visit for fun instead of because he was being paid to entertain her while her husband entertained some—there were times when being the scorned wife ceased to be exquisitely painful, and became dull, embarrassing, and then Eleanor was compelled to stop. She realized that Andrew was speaking to her. “What?” “Have you ever been to Salisbury, miss?” he repeated. “Oh no, never,” Eleanor answered. “I’ve never been to Europe before.” After a pause, she added, “What is there to see there?” “The cathedral, mostly,” Andrew said. “Built in the 1300s. It’s a nice town, lots of good bits of history. The gate that was around the old medieval city still closes at eleven at night.” They went through a roundabout a bit more quickly than Eleanor was used to; it felt like the car was standing on two wheels. British driving gave her the jitters—she still wasn’t used to cars passing by on the opposite side of the road. It reminded her of a nightmare she had had when she very first got her driver’s license, that she was always driving in the wrong direction in the wrong lane without a steering wheel. Andrew noticed her discomfort. “There’s something you don’t have back in the States, there, roundabouts?” he said in satisfaction as he pulled down a thin dirt path called Frog Lane. Eleanor had been through roundabouts several times before back home, but she liked Andrew and didn’t want to disappoint him, so she agreed. It took them a little over an hour to get to Salisbury. In that time it had begun to drizzle, but no more, Eleanor thought, than what she had been expecting. Andrew parked the car by a public toilet and they walked along a canal teeming with swans. Eleanor stopped to watch them. Next to them, a group of tourists, Americans, stood taking pictures and laughing loudly. Even Eleanor found them obnoxious. 47
“Consumed” Series, Coke
“Nasty buggers, swans,” Andrew said. He pointed to a woman on the other side of the canal, throwing pieces of bread into the water. Two large swans—Eleanor didn’t know how to tell if they were male or female—dove and hacked at each other, their long necks arching and recoiling violently, like cobras. The Americans loved it. They walked along further, through a medieval market square where some duke, Eleanor couldn’t quite catch which, was hanged, and weaved through a mall to get to the cathedral. Andrew hadn’t lied, it was magnificent. Eleanor felt surprised when she saw it, even though she had been expecting it. It was gray, pointy, frowning, somber. Eleanor’s first thought was “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” but then she remembered that was supposed to be the Gates of Hell. Andrew explained that this was the only English cathedral built in one concept, instead of higgledy-piggledy from a pile of Norman ruins or ransacked by the Reformation. It had once stood in an open field, towering over everything in its shadow. Turner, he said, had come to paint it in different lights; Eleanor vaguely remembered some of these paintings from high school art history. They examined the west front, chock-a-block with saints and bishops and some rather gruesome stone faces, mouths open in terror as gargoyles ripped at their cheeks. Eleanor stood staring, wondering why the medievals had chosen these images of terror as decorations for their house of God. She remembered seeing a manuscript, in a college history class, with depictions of bestiality drawn around the outside of a Bible verse. The monks who had drawn it had very distinct notions about what lay around the margins of society, but they had the sense to know how close those margins were. If you could get into the cathedral, that’s great—but if not, you were locked outside to have your face devoured. Eleanor remembered her dream about the sheep. They ate lunch at The Refectory, a crafty little cafeteria tucked between the courtyard wall and the cathedral, so it was invisible from the lawn. The ceiling, made completely of glass, allowed the luncher to gaze up at the cathedral spire from any seat in the room. Eleanor bought a leek and onion tart, a cheese scone, a cup of potato soup and sautéed cabbage, and wolfed it down. Something about the open English air made her ravenous, and she hadn’t eaten breakfast. Andrew had a pre-made turkey sandwich from the cooler and a glass of lemonade. 49
“Do you know anything about Lacock, miss?” he asked, after Eleanor had calmed a bit in her eating. Eleanor vaguely remembered reading about it in the guidebook on the plane, when she couldn’t sleep after dinner. She thought maybe some of the Harry Potter movies were filmed there. “It’s a strange little village,” said Andrew. “The National Trust owns the whole lot, so you can’t make changes or improvements to your property without approval. My aunt lives there, in a little cottage. No television aerials, no yellow paint on the roads. It never had a railway, either. But it is a lovely authentic medieval village. The abbey is especially nice, but we can’t get in during the winter. Do you remember the tomb of William Longespee, in the cathedral?” Eleanor didn’t but she said she did. “Well his wife was Ela, the Countess of Salisbury. Apparently an incredible beauty.” It seemed to Eleanor that any woman who did anything of importance before the 19th century was described as an incredible beauty. They couldn’t have all been that beautiful, she thought. “So old Willy Longespee goes to France for the King, and was reported drowned,” Andrew continued. “Another man, Longespee’s political rival, wanted to marry Ela, though it wasn’t confirmed that Longespee was actually dead. She refused him, and held out long enough for her husband to show up, alive, in Britain.” “Lucky,” Eleanor said. “But this rival was persistent—he wanted Ela whether or not she had a husband. So he invited Longespee to dinner one evening, to celebrate his return. The next day, Longespee was dead.” “Shit,” Eleanor blurted. She had sloshed potato soup all over the saucer; she hadn’t even realized that she was listening “He poisoned him?” Andrew nodded. “That’s what we believe happened. Archaeologists opened his tomb hundreds of years later and found a rat in his skull, dead from arsenic.” Eleanor briefly imagined coming home to find Colin poisoned by a man determined to marry her. Or perhaps not poisoned—shot would be better, and dumped in the bathtub. She would lean over the edge of the tub, sobbing, Colin’s cold, dead hand clutched in hers. Her hair, long once more, would fall in front of her face like a curtain, shielding her from an outsider’s view, like some kind of mourning veil. There would be tears, and anger, and hopelessness, and then finally, resolution, purpose. A 50
vow to avenge the death of the man she loved, or at least relatively loved. A vow to be true to herself, whatever that meant. And then, morbidly, excitement. Andrew had already moved on to describe Ela’s resistance. She invoked a clause of the newly-written Magna Carta, which prevented widows from being forced to remarry, and fled on horseback to Lacock to found a convent, where she stayed until her death. She even served as the sheriff of Wiltshire, a feat that wasn’t repeated by a woman until the 1900s. The image of her horse warrior flashed before Eleanor’s eyes. She asked to see William Longespee’s grave once more before they left. Lacock Abbey was indeed closed down for the winter. They stood at the gate and peered through the bars at the abbey, which stood stoutly at the end of an expanse of gray lawn. There was a horseshoe staircase in the front, flanked by two rectangular windows, but Eleanor couldn’t really see more than that. It was raining a bit harder now, and Andrew had popped open a smart black umbrella and handed it to her. He seemed quite content to stand in the weather, hands in his pockets, talking about the trials of the abbey after Ela’s death. It came from being a local, Eleanor decided. Since they couldn’t get any closer to the abbey than the fence allowed, Andrew showed her other sites instead, the medieval tithe barn, the George Inn, the lock-up where the town’s deputies would shut in the drunks too wobbly or belligerent to make it home in the evening. This was all interesting to Eleanor, but what she really wanted was to see the inside of the abbey. She wanted to stand inside the cloisters, barefoot on the stones, and imagine herself as Ela, finally safe, feeling a sense of strength radiating through her and into the cold floor. It occurred to her that by the time the abbey was built, Ela would have been long since dead, but she ignored that. Andrew, who had wandered off to look at an exposed medieval beam, came up behind her and put his hand on her arm. “Don’t be sad, miss,” he said. “Ring me in May, we can come look at the abbey then. It will all look much prettier anyway. The flowers will be out.” Eleanor wanted to hug him for noticing, for caring, but she didn’t think it would be appropriate, so she just nodded instead. 51
Christy Titus 52
Colin was sitting in the living room, portfolios spread out all around him, when Eleanor arrived home. He had his glasses on and his shirtsleeves rolled up, and for a moment Eleanor felt a fond, tender feeling towards him, something almost like affection. She wanted to tousle his hair, or cook him something. There was a time when she would have leapt gingerly over his piles of work and tackled him in the middle of everything, just for the comfort of his warm body, or even the smell of his clean clothes. He would have held her waist and kissed her, and she would have never even thought to imagine him dead. But perhaps she had dreamed this all up, too. “Did you have a good tour?” Colin asked. He put his notepad aside and took off his glasses. “You look a little gray, Elly. Are you feeling well?” “I liked the guide,” she said. She went into the kitchen to scramble an egg, but there weren’t any eggs. She had toast and a glass of milk instead. “He was very friendly, and knew a lot.” Colin followed her into the kitchen. “So you had a good time?” He seemed almost anxious to discover if she had actually enjoyed herself. “I thought maybe if you got a chance to explore the history of the area you would like it better here.” He paused. “I noticed you were reading some books of medieval legends from the library. The tour company said that Salisbury and Lacock were the best places to go for that kind of thing in this area.” Eleanor suddenly felt mortified. She wanted to hit Colin for being so kind, so good. She couldn’t understand why he kept trying. If he had moved to touch her then, she would have screamed. “It was a terrible time of year to go,” she said finally, putting her dishes in the sink. “The weather was awful. I couldn’t even see the abbey because it was closed. I think I’ve caught a cold, so I’m going to go to bed now. I’m exhausted.” Colin looked miserable. “Eleanor—” But she shut the bathroom door on him. She took the sleeping pills the doctor had given her before they left Philadelphia and crawled into bed with her clothes still on. She could hear Colin cleaning up in the kitchen, trying not to make noise. Her ears still ached from the wind; she hadn’t been lying to Colin, she did feel like she had a cold. She couldn’t 53
breathe from her nose. Eventually the sound from the kitchen died away, and she felt calmer, lighter. That night, her fantasy changed slightly. The landscape was still the same imposing marshland painted in blues and greens and blacks, but there was an addition, a crumbling ruin at the edge of the forest: an abbey. This was Eleanor’s destination, and had been all along. Around the abbey stood an iron gate, twelve feet high. When a man tried to open it, he died on the spot, his throat collapsed in on itself like crumbled rock. Eleanor touched the gate and it swung open. She passed through unharmed. The cloisters were grown over with vines, and in many places the little red flowers of the marsh had sprung up. Eleanor left her horse in the courtyard and picked her way through the rubble to the chapel. The door stood open. At the end of the ruin, where the altar should have been, stood Ela, or what Eleanor imagined Ela would look like. She was wearing a green robe with a sword belted around the middle, and her long blonde hair was wound into a bun at the base of her neck. She held out a hand to Eleanor, who walked carefully over the crumbled stone, holding up her own robe, similar to Ela’s but blue, so she didn’t trip. When she reached the remains of the altar, she knew to kneel down, to expose the back of her neck to Ela. She heard Colin’s voice calling her name, from outside the impenetrable gate, but she closed her eyes, ignored him. Eventually the sound died away. Ela took out her sword and laid the blade against Eleanor’s neck, and that felt so sweet, so right, that Eleanor fell asleep with a smile.
Malaria Dreams of Trash Dumps and Likes It a trip that never ends until all the sugar cane is eaten, all the leaves smoked, all the oxidants absorbed into the bloodstream. neon lights the city in phagocytic purple of bioengineered eggplant, insidious and bloated having sucked the city pale. walking slower, somehow finding treasure to be abundant, tripped over bars of bullion littering the roadside, passed out on a silk chaise lounge behind enigmaâ€™s club, went toe to toe with ali baba, who, having kicked my ass, slipped gold coins into every unconscious pocket. everything is taken out and put back somewhere else by movers and shakers working overtime under cover, ten ton buddah now sitting pensively in my living room didnâ€™t walk here all the way from moma, but is glad to be here so he can stay. outside the pharmacy is the soft eared beggar, supplicating change or sloughable prescription. he asks so many questions every day he must be so confused. Sam Lovett
As in a Mirror Pull me down into the wrecked and slumbering hull, whose empty insides fill me with visions of she who first housed us within her own bones. Hold me while we rock each other sleepful, to render mute the world outside. Here, waves slap against the aged planks and all smells of secret worry, but they will not find us â€“ I loved you. In the dark recesses of my surprised mind, I loved you Amy Keresztes
Genesis The first time I meet Father Theodore it is in the garden of a Swiss monastery. He is my father’s great uncle, who disappeared and left his family to mold blue like Gorgonzola. He is a mendicant now only to God’s forgiveness. We are engulfed by the four cardinal directions in a pithy square to the north of the Holy Roman Empire. The old Carthusian monk treads through cellulose and crumpled stone, the torn threads of his brown habit mulching the sprouts. He gives us a tour of butternut squash, three pound baby carrots, and cabbages that bloom the size of cartographers’ globes. He names them Germanic words and organizes them in a decapitated heap. His frail arms, aged seven score, become an expanding equatorial plane around a head of lettuce. He thumbs West Africa, the land of our forefathers, and hopes that man’s love can grow out of the ground like vitamins and chlorophyll. We listen for the shifting of palms and the cracking of vegetable spines. Father Theodore is reborn in our eyes, an heirloom seed sprung forth into catharsis. Katrin Tschirgi
Summer, Or What Was Left
Madeline Rose McSherry
Taco Night Sara Martin
“But it’s Taco Night!” Louise screeched. “I eat everything that goes inside, see?” I scooped up a forkful of black beans. “Your beef is naked, your cheese has no foundation-“ “You know how I feel about shells.” “You can’t seriously still be like this.” “They’re almost as dangerous as paper.” “Tongues are too wet!” “Stop talking about it!” I slammed my hands over my ears. “You’re a freaking doppelganger, you know that?” Louise crunched. “What?” “It means retard,” she drowned her food in milk, “or clown. Duh.” “Mom!” Our mother ignored us and moved herself in front of the television. “Eat it,” she hissed shoving the shell in my face. “Bite me.” “Eat it!” she screamed. “Shut up, the both of you!” our mother yelled from her talk show perch. “How about a deal,” Louise began, lowering the shell and leaning back in her chair finger tips aligned, “I prove it’s impossible to get a paper cut on your tongue and you cut the crap.” “No, Louise come on. Please don’t, just don’t. Don’t.” She picked up my worksheet from the table where I had filled in names of the seven continents on a blank map and shaded them in colored pencils. “People think you’re a freak. You know that right? One-“ “Come on-not on my homework,” I whined, bracing myself. “Two-“ she revealed her rough little surfboard tongue and lined my homework up against it. “Thre-“ I sprung out of my chair knocking it over and lunged at the paper in between Louise’s hands. It spliced the tip of her tongue as I tore it away and her eyes went blank as pancakes. Her tongue hung out like a cartoon cadaver’s. She raised her hand to 61
touch the skinny slit full of blood. Louise dripped silently from the snows of Antarctica to the cafes in Europe. She was alive. I was about to open my mouth when she shoved the entirety of her remaining taco into her and chewed with the gums of a horse demonstrating the shell, beef and cheese mixing with her blood. She savored the salt in her slit.
Black Ice Wet snow plummeted thick, too heavy to swirl, graceless and gray against the flat white sky. The wipers and their swish-scraping had slowed, bent, dragged rubber failing to pierce through ice that steadily layered the windshield, extending crystalline fingers that dripped through a crack, meandered down, left to right like the Minnesota River carved across that map in the backseat. She rubbed her forehead absently, gazed confused at oaken sinews spilling onto folded silver paint and her hand slipped, smearing circles on a face that was wet, dripping, like the snow. Mara Batzli
Keith Noonan I turn onto the dirt road and guide the pickup along the bumpy path that leads to the orchard. It’s early yet, there’s still dripping trails of morning condensation at the bottom of the windshield. I look out across the seemingly unending rows of saplings that line the hills of Site B. The sun shines gold on a sea of green leaves, covered by the morning haze. It won’t be so pleasant come noon, when the air’s protective moisture has burned off and left us baking, so I seize a little sentimentality while I can. Fifteen years. I’ll have been at the orchard for fifteen years at the end of this week, and I still find these mornings beautiful. The pickup jerks as it climbs a large incline. I’ve been telling Tom it needs a tune-up for months. The transmission is shot, the pumps leak coolant, and the break pads must be worn to a thread. For all the talking he does about the importance of site safety, I’d think that the man would take an interest in ensuring that the equipment runs properly. And if that’s not gonna happen, hell, I’d settle for a seatbelt. The truck jerks back into second gear and pulls itself to the top of the hill. I spot the crew sitting in the shade. Victor and Steve are throwing undeveloped pears at each other, horsing around like usual, Naomi and Megan are probably talking about boys and college, Laura looks to be sleeping, and Johnny H is leaning up against an oak tree with the brim of his cowboy hat pulled over his eyes. I can see the disappointment in their faces when the truck sputters over the hill. I forgot to hoist the water container onto the truck this morning, so when 9:30 break rolled around, there was nothing to drink. The only person this really bothered was me. I was the one to go back down to the barn and get it. Everybody else gets a longer break. Damn thing weighed a ton too. Back in ’94 I could have lifted the fifteen-gallon container, no sweat. Naomi is almost always the first to the water, and a bit of a princess. I don’t know what I’ll do if my daughters turn out like her. She’s Tom Sacks’ kid and that means that she doesn’t have to work like the rest of the crew. Tom says that he’s trying to teach her the value of hard labor. He gives me a condescending speech take about how I need to take it easy on her if I try to get 65
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her to work like the rest of ‘em. A foreman under the thumb of a seasonal worker – that gets to me. Politics. With the exception of Johnny, the rest of the crew is seasonal help. I work with these kids for a summer, and then they’re gone. Most of ‘em are decent enough. They get their water, and we sit around for five or so minutes. Then, I tell them that it’s back to work. Each of us returns to the tree we left off at. Removing suckers from the Asian pear trees is my least favorite part of this job. We’ll be crouched for hours, breaking off pinsharp growths from the bottoms of the tiny saplings. We don’t use gloves, at least ones thick enough to offer real protection. They kill the hand’s dexterity. We carry a pair of small clippers for the suckers that haven’t grown out enough to be broken by hand. We only use ‘em for these small growths, otherwise the job would take too long. I remember the first time I suckered one of the thorny trees. It was my first day at the orchard, and I swore it would be my last. Every time I grabbed a sapling, I felt the agonizing prick of an organic spear puncturing my skin. I asked the foreman if there was any way around this annoyance. The stocky man just laughed and said, “Get out while you can.” By the end of the day my hands were warm and swollen, covered in cuts and speckled red. The sun had transformed my skin into a peeling husk, and I felt as if I had just been introduced to exhaustion for the first time. But, there was something satisfying about the heat and added heft I felt when I made a fist. By the end of my first week, I started to enjoy the pain of the job and the perfect state of relaxation that washed over my body at day’s end. My blood is in that soil. The old foreman was shocked when I told him I was postponing my education to return for the following season. “I thought I told you to get out while ya can,” he said. He was always saying that. He was a large man, with calves the size of my head, but I could see that the work was wearing on him. A year or so later he told me that a friend had set him up with a job as a night manager in a family restaurant. He was getting out. I bend a waist high tree towards me and hear my knees creak as I reach to break off a sucker. Then another. The leaves are starting to get that glossy shine that means Fall isn’t far off. Then I get clumsy and one of the little bastards gets me. My hands are giant calluses; the thorny appendages don’t penetrate 67
like they used to. I curse them all the same. Johnny overhears, and smiles over from his row. “When is Tom stopping by?” he asks. “He said he’d be coming around lunch time.” Tom told me that he’s stopping by to discuss the Agnews’ plan for restructuring the orchard’s business model. The place has been hemorrhaging money since the first seeds were planted, and Tom is in charge of turning it around and making a profit for the family. “Well that’s just dandy. Seeing a well-groomed weasel in khakis and a dress shirt always makes my day.” Johnny cracks a smile and spits through a hole where one of his front teeth used to be. “I’m going to corner him about that raise. You see the look on his face when I mentioned it in the last meeting?” On Fridays, Tom holds “team meetings” where he references tenacity and the Agnew work ethic that built a small empire. Then he’ll detail market research on the target demographics of the gourmet fruit market. “Wealthy old people and homosexuals.” Tom’s eyes light up with promise whenever he repeats those words. The orchard is more of a pet project than a real business for the Agnews, but there’s still a lot of money sunk into it. “Yeah, I saw it. Good luck chasing that raise. The only thing we’re likely to get from a “Tom visit” is a longer break.” “You’re probably right. You know how Tom loves to hear himself talk.” Johnny spits again. “But, back me up. You been here a while, you got some clout.” I laugh. “Clout my ass. Tom don’t hear a word I say unless it benefits him personally. Heck, some of the kids blow me off.” Johnny shoots me a disappointed look. “All right. You bring it up, I’m behind it.” I move along my row and continue to remove the suckers from the trees. The sun is almost at its highpoint and there’s sweat dripping down my neck and eyebrows. I savor a drop that’s trickled to my lips. It’s almost quitting time. I reach the end of my row and turn to survey the rest of the crew. Johnny is a few trees behind me, Victor, Steve, and Laura are 20 yards behind him, and Megan and Naomi are somewhere off in the distance. Megan is usually a good worker, but, if Naomi is feeling lazy and chatty, she’ll stick with her friend. I walk down to Naomi’s row and ask why she isn’t further 68
along. She stands, places her hands on her hips, and pouts. She tells me that she’s going as fast as she can with an inflection that’s designed to make me feel like an abusive tyrant. I know she can work. I’ve seen her pick up the slack when her father is on site. A brief glance over the trees she’s hit reveals numerous suckers that haven’t been touched. “Naomi, come over here and have a look at this.” I gesture her over to the tree where I’ve crouched. “Look here, here, here, and here, and tell me what you see.” “Suckers.” “And why are they still there?” “Because I missed them.” She moved her hands to her waist and rolled her eyes. The brat makes my blood boil in a way the heat never could. “Listen, sweetheart, you’re not always going to have other people around to do your work when you start slacking. I want to see you pick up the pace or I’m going to talk to your father again.” My threat is empty so I clap my hands together to add power to the statement. Maybe she will always have that luxury; maybe that’s what pisses me off most about her. I shouldn’t have called her “sweetheart”. “Go ahead.” There’s a tense silence as we stare at each other. She’s positioned defiantly, anger in her eyes. “Look, I’m not trying to start an argument with you. I just want you to do your work.” “Fine then.” She turns away and begins to remove a sucker and I head to the end of her row and start working backwards. The others finish their work and double back to help Megan and Naomi. With the whole crew working, the two rows are finished in no time. I check my watch; it’s a little after 12, so I call the group to lunch break. I’m eating a soggy turkey club. Naomi and Megan are whispering and giggling. Everyone else is off in their own world. I can hear a vehicle coming up the hill, it’s probably Tom. It is Tom. He pulls his shiny F-150 next to where I parked and steps out. Naomi runs to greet him and the two disappear behind the truck for a couple minutes. Tom emerges and stands in front of the passenger door. “Hello everyone. How are you all doing?” Everybody says “good”, one way or another. “That’s great. I’m glad to hear it.” Tom is his usual cheery self, smiling and upbeat. Then he puts 70
on his serious face. Business-mode. “All right, well let’s begin the meeting. As some of you already know, the orchard has been having problems with profitability for a while now. This, in conjunction with the recent economic downturn has created the need for a reassessment of our business model. Quite frankly, the gourmet produce market is bottoming out and the Agnew’s have requested that I seek out, uh…how should I say… more fruitful endeavors. I’ve found a developer who’s interested in the land, and at the end of this season we’re going to be closing most of the sites.” I see where this is going. My blood runs cold. What am I going to tell Marlene? We aren’t raising two kids on an elementary teacher’s salary. We’re barely scraping enough to pay the mortgage as is. “This means that we’re going to be getting rid of most of our permanent work force, and I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for all your hard work. Are there any questions or comments?” My muscles tense up and I can feel the quickening throb of my pulse. I clench my hands into fists, release, then clench again. I want to rip the concerned look Tom is wearing right off his face. My ears are ringing. Every nerve in my body screams “BREAK SOMETHING.” Johnny jolts up from where he’s sitting and puts his left hand on the back window of the truck, right next to Tom’s head. He leans in, takes off his hat, and throws it to the ground. I can see the terror in Tom’s eyes. “I got a comment, Tom. This is fucking bullshit. You’re going to keep us on for the summer, have us do all the hard work, and then, come harvest we’re gone and the Mexis come in and pick the fruit? Fuck that. And don’t tell me you just heard about this, you known about it for months.” “John, I understand that you’re upset…” Tom cowers as Johnny’s sunburned arm and broad shoulders box him in. “Full-timers better be getting severance pay, Tom.” “Yes, yes, of course. I talked to the Agnews and they assured me you would get a sufficient package.” Johnny gets within a nose of Tom. I put a hand on his shoulder and pull him away. I know exactly where he’s coming from. He glares at me, picks up his hat, and walks back into the rows. “Well, thank you for your time everybody. Oh, by the way, there will not be a team meeting this Friday. It was nice seeing 71
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you all.” Tom smiles, offers a wave, and then walks towards his truck like nothing ever happened. I catch up to him before he opens the door. I ask him if there’s an opening for a position with the Agnews’ lighting company. He says there’s nothing available at the moment, but he’ll do his best to find something. He grins and pats me on the shoulder. He tells me not to worry about a thing. He’s so full of shit. I approach Naomi a little before lunch break is supposed to end. She stares up at me and flashes a victory grin. I try not to shake but my knees feel too worn to stand and my stomach is running revolutions. “Naomi, I want to say sorry for yelling at you earlier. That wasn’t right of me and I hope that you’ll forgive me.” I rub the hairs on the back of my neck. She beams up at me. Her eyes sparkle in the sun. “Oh, no. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I hope that my dad can find a job for you. I really do.” She just keeps smiling.
The Color of Grief I watch the tear stains drain the lifelessness From your face, brushing it with ballerina pink And a fiery crimson, crushing out the pallor, And making its blood spill out onto your skin. I hear your lagging, quiet voice lift up, Growing richer with a peculiar intonation On every vowel, a short pop jumping in and out Of the seductive hushers and rippling plosives. Pain makes us who we are. It paints over our black and white portraits; It colors out our silhouettes. I stroke your hair as it lightens up to a gold That seeps out between my fingers. I watch your chapped lips bleed over, Thinning with a taste of licorice as they blossom Over with red. It stings my tongue With a sense of life Iâ€™ve never known. Pain makes us who we are, When black and white dry up into color, When age falls into becoming young. Christopher Criswell
White Hands on Red Squares
There’s a Light Off in My Attic There’s a light off in my attic, And it’s pretty dim in there. It’s vacant now my wayward mind Has wandered off somewhere. I’m slower now than half a snail, Or so the doctors say. Even I can’t catch my drift— It too swiftly drifts away. An artist couldn’t draw more blanks With white-out in his pen, But I needn’t run from zombies Till I find my brain again. The engine on my train of thought Derailed just south of Denver— It collided with my other train of Trying to remember. And now I watch my marbles as They spiral down the drain, Feeling strangely like the scarecrow Who wished he had a brain. So many things escape me as I gracelessly devolve That you just might mistake me for A dumb Neanderthal. You could build a bridge between my ears, And charge the wind a toll, Or stick sharp pencils up my nose, And they would come out dull. You could pop my empty thought balloons If you were so inclined, But I pray you’ll show some pity for A man who’s lost his mind. 76
Just help me please collect my thoughts, My scattered bits of brain, And stuff them back inside the box Before I go insane. Dan Thornbury
I breathe the air, metal taste aside Richard Horan
Certain things are beautiful when viewed from afar, but up close they lose their splendor. Some examples: the moon, asteroids, certain nebuli, my ex-wife Cynthia. On that matter, my ex wife Caroline as well. It’s not that they aren’t worth seeing, it’s just there’s always a let-down. You can get by dealing with what you’re given for a while, but sooner or later your skin gets to itching. When boys start to scratch and itch, get pale and real jumpy, that’s what we call the star-side shuffle. Vitamin D deficiency, I think. Another thing that looks just fine, but ain’t: freeze-dried food. When it’s done up real nice, sometimes I just look at it and think, “Man, that looks damn good.” I wait and smell and watch to prolong my naive delusion, and it’s just like I’m really enjoying a dinner until I dig in and realize my life is a piece of shit. The body odor sucks too, builds up all day in the suits, so when you’re changing or on the can it just floats around waiting to be sucked into an air vent. “Six, where the hell are you, are you alright?” Who’s there to miss, really? It’s not loneliness that bites at me, not ever anymore. I’m too old to get so horny I can’t wait a few weeks for a real woman. “He won’t talk, he’s just silent.” The crackle of static, “Call him by his real name.” “Harry, Harry! You there, Harry?” The one thing I hate, and the shrink told me it’s shit, and I’m wrong, is the taste of the air. I’m no germaphobe, in fact, I love the germs. There’s nothing in the air out here, no mold, or bacteria, no little bits of hair and skin, no garbage left out in the sun to rot so when some poor bastard kicks it the bags split and he gets himself covered in flies and smell until he vomits. No puppies or flowers or cinnamon either I guess. I miss all those things. I miss stench in the air that isn’t mine or some other fuckin’ knuckledragger’s. Then again, I think I’d rather have that smell than the metal. I hate the taste of metal. Air smells just like metal after it goes through the filters, tastes like metal, especially when you’re near the bottom of a tank. The ship-docs can tell me its crap ‘til their faces turn blue, but I swear to God that air tastes different. 79
The Holy Land
“Harry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry man. Where the fuck are you, man?” I wack off about twice a day anyway though. I mean, what the hell else is there to do? I play cards, I read a book, I sleep, I jerk off. Sometimes I play music but the tin-can echo depresses me. The Asteroid Blues, fuckin’ Miles Davis. “I’m so sorry,” he’s sobbing, sobbing, “I’m so sorry, man, I didn’t mean to, it just, oh God, I’m sorry Harry.” No one ever thinks a grown man sobbing like a fucking little girl is beautiful. Not unless they’re goddamn tweaked so bad they can’t tell shit from stardust. A crackle of static cus they never align the dish right, cus Jim’s a lazy son-of-a-bitch, “Come back in, Eight, you’re not much good out there.” “But Jim, Harry…” Fuckin’ Jim with freedom isn’t free tattooed on his fucking arm. I read a book last week, World War Z, about zombies. An old book, shitty fiction, just the kind of stuff I fill my endless hours with. That’s what a body with no air looks like, though, a zombie. It shrivels up at the same time it explodes, fucking disgusting. I can see myself all shriveled up, like that, a walking corpse all green, puss covered, rotten and torn. “Harry, we need to know something. Harry, I know you’re there, talk to us for Christ’s sake.” I have a daughter, though I’ve never met her. I send checks to her mother, and they’re probably both better off for not having to deal directly with a fuck-up like me. I send birthday cards to the kid once a year. Last year I sent one with purple unicorns, said “Thinking of you, Sunshine.” I don’t think about her often, don’t know what she looks like anyways. I can’t remember if I mentioned her in my company mandated will. That was years ago. “Harry, we need to know if you want us to retrieve your body. You’re flying through a lot of debris, I don’t know if we can risk getting you, but the company demands we ask to leave you out there, even if, well, even if you don’t have a chance. I have your status on my screen.” My voice is raspy, I sound like shit, I sound like I’m dying, like I really am dead, and he really is talking to me beyond the grave. “The air tastes like metal, Harry, I fucking swear.” Why did I say that? “Oh, fuck, Harry, shit, I’m…” “I told you, right, I told you Jim.” I did, I told the son of a 81
bitch. I told him how the air tasted when you reached the bottom of the tank. “Harry.” “Don’t worry about it, Jim, just don’t worry about it, I’m fuckin’ fine.” There’s static, I wait for something else, but there’s nothing. A buzzing builds behind my ears. There are flecks in my vision, it’s strange, like I’m a computer being shut off and my screen is flickering in digital patterns. I can see moisture and parts spinning around me in a helix. I imagine what I look like, one side of my suit busted, hot suit-juice streamed into spirals of shattered ice. They float around me like I’m my own little solar system. I have a little cocoon, matching my momentum perfectly. I imagine in years and years, someone will see me, just drifting through empty space. They’ll see the ice and glittering shards of metal around me, think I’m beautiful. Maybe they’ll come close hoping to find a treasure, and then they’ll realize. They’ll look into my visor. They’ll see me, dead and bloated like a split, rotten tomato.
End of a Perfect Day
The Ballad of Dennis the Manatee Iâ€™m offering a simple toast To one who went the distance, Who wandered up the eastern coast With admirable persistence. The story broke upon the Cape, It sounded like insanity Until the people saw the shape Of Dennis, the manatee. Isolated and confined, Without a way to travel, He lay upon the beach, resigned To flounder on the gravel. The rescue team came straight away And strapped him to a board, Providing him without delay The best they could afford. They soon devised a simple plan For Dennisâ€™s revival. The highway journey thus began, In hopes of his survival. And so the driver hit the gas. They got to the Aquarium, The famous one in Boston, Mass, And filed out to carry him. But opening the hatchback door Revealed a grim surprise; For Dennis lay upon the floor, No twinkle in his eyes. So once again, I raise my glass, A sign of our humanity; No seaside story will surpass This one, of Dennis, the Manatee. Andrew Keener 84
Myles Gerraty My sister Olivia could not stop talking about the bird. She scrunched her sleeves up to her elbows and paced the kitchen. I had just moved back to New Jersey and it was quickly becoming colder than anything I’d known in St. Louis. Evening set down behind the heavy hills of West Orange. I sat with Paul, Olivia’s husband and my brother-in-law, at the table. We were drinking. Two miles north of the Thomas Edison factory, we talked graciously amongst the artificial light that flickered the same way every half-hour due to the surge of a nearby train. My father had grown up in East Orange, which had recently become as seedy as Newark has been since the ’67 race riots. Olivia and I had come to believe that relocating to a nearby town (moreover, one that shared that same, most resonating name— Orange) would somehow reconnect us to our father, the man we had lost before we could grow to know him. Olivia had arrived upon this realization first. She moved into this small house with Paul three months ago. It was mid-June. Just two weeks ago, I had come to the same conclusion with her help after a meltdown in Missouri. I left on a Greyhound with a broken heart, a pink slip, and the beginnings of what my ex-girlfriend referred to as “a drinking problem.” Thank God we didn’t have a kid or a dog. The plan was to stay with my sister in her new place until I could get back on my feet, preferably somewhere in the vicinity of the Oranges. Anywhere in Essex County would do, I thought. I was in a bad way, Olivia and Paul knew it too, and New Jersey seemed to hold some sort of remembered innocence for the three of us. We had all grown up together, actually, and Paul had had eyes for Olivia ever since I could remember. Now, in the bright kitchen, Olivia was upset. She said that this bird was really something before it hit the net. Really, it was something we all would have liked to see— patient to find even the smallest worm, deliberate in every step, and graceful, too. All of the qualities she looked for in a bird. Then Olivia bit her lip and said she had watched it struggle frantically to untangle itself. 86
She had no other choice. The scuffle only choked the bird in the end. She looked across the table at me for commiseration, her face like a crumpled tabloid I hadn’t read in years. “I hadn’t seen something so sad since grade school when Billy Pelting dismembered my Cabbage Patch doll in front of the entire class. It was just after I beat him in the spelling bee. I cried for hours,” she said and laughed. She began to tear. “But, oh, it was terrible.” Then she was saying that the bird was dangling in what looked like mid-air, just a couple hundred feet from the window of her study. Paul told Olivia he thought she was being too dramatic. She usually does this sort of brooding while she works, worrying about the captured birds and all, but she never brought any of that home with her, Paul reminded her. Paul looked at me as if to say that I should reach under the table, find my balls, and agree. We were close friends until high school, where I ran track and he got into recreational drugs and fast cars. Paul is now a carpenter and is as good of a man as I’d always thought him to be. He could care less about the birds. We all know that. But he does love my sister. He tells me when he has been drinking, so I know he isn’t lying. He was digging into Olivia and we both knew it. “How am I being dramatic? Paul, hun. An animal is dying out there,” she said. “It’s my fault, and all you can do is rest your elbows on that table?” She raised her eyebrows in search of an answer. Paul took a sip from his glass. I thought that Olivia might have the right to worry. After all, she works from home. Her office is a window, always a few steps away. She researches the birds of our backyard forest with binoculars, high-speed cameras, and these mist nets that she catches certain species in. She became an ornithologist after she graduated from Seton Hall. In college Olivia had dated guys with sarcastic facial hair and thin leather boots because they were out87
of-the-way like that; a bit abstract— Guys who surely feigned interest enough in the common sparrow to get into her pants. “About this Billy Pelting character,” Paul said. “Was he a very big kid? Maybe I could look him up. Pay him a little visit, you know?” He smiled. “Never mind that, Paul,” she said. “This isn’t some silly joke to me.” “You see,” she said. She was looking at the both of us now. “That’s why this hasn’t been working lately…” She was waving the back of her hand toward him and then her palm to her chest. Then Olivia held her next words and got quiet. Paul’s face was stern and distant. He walked over and kissed her on the cheek, wrapping his arms around her waist. He was still wearing his tool belt on his. “I’m sorry, hon. I didn’t mean to make wisecracks.” “Alright, Paulie,” my sister said. Then her eyelids shut like a light going out, like something far away had eclipsed itself, and only because she had let it. Paul sighed and took a heavy wrench from its pouch and laid it on the kitchen counter. It was his meager white flag. Something had hit him too. He looked at me, nodding his chin to his sternum and walked into the living room. My kid sister stood at the sink and looked through the window, into the darkening yard. She kind of twisted her neck to look at the ceiling for something that was not there, something that hadn’t been there since we were kids. I didn’t take my eyes off her. “What was it, Livy, a cucumber?” I asked. “What was that?” she said. “You wanted to be a cucumber until your ninth birthday, I remember it. Every year you’d tell ma and I.” “Carrot.” She kind of giggled. “It was a carrot, Ethan.” “Ah. That’s right…” I didn’t know where I was going with this. “Well, how’s that working out for you?” 89
She sighed. “I have my days when…Well, when I’m not far from it.” “Tell me about it,” I said and I wrenched the pitch of my voice into a falsetto as I spoke. It was a half-question. “You really want to know, Ethan?” I nodded and then she looked down at the soapdish. “Sometimes I go lie in the garden. I swear it,” Olivia said. She said when things really got to her she would remember our mother and she would go outside in the dirt, wishing that she could sink in and that she could grab onto something and root herself down. Then she told me about all of her anxiety and the pills, told me about the stress of watching a bird wrestle itself to death every day of the week, about Paul’s remoteness and his missing work and the drinking, and all the rest of it. She must have talked nonstop for twenty minutes. She grabbed a flashlight from the hall closet and walked outside. She wouldn’t let me follow. I stepped into the living room to talk with my old pal Paul. The Yankees were losing to the Orioles by two, bottom of the sixth, two outs. “I can never win with her,” he said to me. Then he told me he really did love her. I said that of course I knew. He said it was a different sort of love, maybe, than the one she had for him. “It’s there, though. Believe me on this one. I go to work at the construction site. I’m on my hands and knees, drenched in sweat. I’m sawing all day, trimming baseboard, laying hardwood.” Paul showed me his calloused hands. As he cupped them, they looked like leather pools balls. “Doesn’t she see what I do for us?” She does, I assured him. “Maybe all she wants is something abstract from you,” I said. “Because everything you have is in this room. It’s here. I can grab it, you know. Now, I’m not saying that you’re shallow, Paul. Hear me out, now.” I grasped his wrist and then let it drop into the room’s space. It fell so quietly that I hardly noticed it was gone. I remembered having listened to a news story on NPR on my way to the bus terminal in St. Louis. A middle-aged Italian man showed up at a police station and requested to spend the evening 90
“Consumed” Series, Busch
of Fourth of July in jail. He couldn’t bear to be around his wife and family a second longer, he said. When the police turned him away because he had not committed a crime, the man calmly walked across the street to a convenience store where he threatened to stab the shopkeeper with a razorblade. He stole some candy and a pack of gum in the process. Then he sat down on the curb outside and waited to be rightfully arrested for armed robbery. I had been thinking about that man as I sat with Paul, and, aside from the frank reality that the guy must have had a set of brass balls, all I could gather was this: Some things are never so strange until we reveal them. In St. Louis, I used to fill a water bottle with vodka. I’d go for a ride in my girlfriend’s car, staring at it along the way. My last couple of weeks there, I started taking little sips, then larger ones. The rides got longer. I told Paul all about this. He probably thought I was crazy, but there is a normalcy we find in our own secrets. It was silent for the next half hour. The Yankees lost. Finally, Olivia walked in and stood like she had been rehearsing a speech she was going to present. She stood like that and she said to Paul, “The first time I told you I loved you, you said, ‘I’ve gotta pee.’ Its almost like, you do some things and you have no idea why, Paulie. You don’t know what it means to live for one day outside of yourself. You’ve never found one thing in your life besides a job and me, you see. You’ve never asked, are we really in this room right now? Am I only imagining West Orange? Is Ethan still in St. Louis? Do you know what we will be in ten years? How about tomorrow?” Paul’s face was still. He had listened to every word and waited for my sister to finish. “Hon, the Yanks just lost to Baltimore, and you know I can’t stand the Orioles,” he said. “You are all over the place. Please, and I’ll only ask you this one time, don’t leave what’s happening here and now, hon. You know, you may just miss something if you do.” 92
Before another word, Paul got up, put his drink on the end table, and walked out the front door. I heard his engine rev in the driveway and the tires squeal off. Olivia walked into the kitchen and started to cry. She grabbed Paul’s wrench from the counter and threw it across the room. She fell, scooting her back against the cabinet, resting her elbows on her knees, cupping her hands to her face. She asked me for a drink in between sobs. I felt no better than a soapdish. The night was no longer an oncoming thought and had hushed the entire state by now. Somewhere east, the tides rolled in. A new bead of water splashed into a dock piling and a fisherman, at the end of his workday, may have taken note. He mumbled to himself and took the longer route home. He didn’t tell his wife when he walked in the door. I thought about running out to find the dead bird; or, if it were somehow still alive, to see if I could save it for my younger sister. But I didn’t move. Instead I knelt down to inspect Paul’s glinting wrench. It was all that I could do not to grab the thing, cradle it in both of my arms, and live that little death.
Yongbok Hwang 94
Discarded Cigarette It’s something I cannot fathom, No matter how hard I’ve tried. She is like a cigarette to these guys, some even Go so far as to lend her to a friend, or someone Walking down the street who stops and asks “Got a spare?” She stays with him until he puts her out, Grinding her down until hot embers die. I watch, pained, every time her newest guy Uses her, crushes her, turns his back and leaves. Clockwork, she’ll find her another guy, Who will treat her just the same as every other One before him. Take her out, light her up, A couple quick pulls before throwing her down Or flicking her aside, not bothering to aim. Why does she do this to herself, time after time? Is a cigarette addicted to itself? I suppose that being Lit up and satisfying someone must be better than A useless life, cold and dark inside a box, with Nothing but its own smell to remember that it’s still there. Corin Porter
A History in Rust
Daniel Radin 96
I Have Found This Excess to be Tiresome Came back to consciousness distractedly, an unknown buzzing From a further room Circles a mosquito on a string. Lost cell phone purring softly in the motes beneath the heater Someone calling from beyond my reach, Troubled in this not yet not yet light. Unknown foot fall running fingers along the wall, In and out of rooms empty and endless Somewhat swiftly somewhat slow, (I have been through this already and I know how it will go). I have pondered my renaissance being born again, The vulgus flower falling open to reveal a delicate proserpina Impractical hunger for beauty and form. Medicis making love in the open air, a painter on his back Immortalizing heaven by the light of a thousand dancing votives, This cannot be the cathedral of the holy spirit, I have found this excess to be tiresome And yet I must go on, The ocean and crêpes with lemon Receding in the gentle steaming of eggs benedict and a brown bear Poised to swat the spawning salmon from the air. Sleeping in the coach from Fairbanks to Anchorage, Locked in an embrace, long underwear at our feet We roll over taking turns against the window’s warmth Weaving through the sun’s rising stares, the glare Of all the places we have been. Monet and his mother Among long grain wheat and wildflowers, blue streaks of wind Covering their faces, running through dry cherry orchids, ‘I would not give you up for anything,’ Stuck out in the country when dark clouds arrive, We dive into the washing river, which is love or drowning, But may be love. Buoy bells lit with red or green show the way to open sea.
The storming yellow furnace, beside the summerâ€™s falling wall We dine in sweaters on the terrace And you confess an odd fear of rain, The golden rod in disbelief takes back its passionate kiss. I guess we are fine the way we are, Taking balsamic and mozzarella into parted lips. We keep aloof, asleep to the sound of humming birds Tumbling slowly down the roof. Came back to consciousness fluttering blindly In the dark to outstretched arms, Ingesting the nearby nighthawk and its coo. Disengaged from sleep by the roar of a wild beast And the presence of heat which makes cold. Headlights lurch and a vast mountain appears, Standing in a line of endless mountains, Soggy from having been carried many miles for many days. I rise and search for bottles and metal shards, sometimes food, Found by the cows and dogs which have a better nose than I. Roving unsteady slopes I pull out plastic bags To tie around my feet when the rain begins. The sound of tiny rivulets form underneath, Running rank with bodily sludge and gasoline starshine, Pulling down and mixed together In a toxic soup of seasoned human waste, Making me exhausted and incapable of sleep, Not washed away as the water exits and the mountains sink, I remain, somewhat idle somewhat on, For no one can find me here, And I know of no other place to go, the day not setting Soon enough to take me down into some fetal pose Where I can disappear into someone elseâ€™s dream. Came back to consciousness again, this time already running out the back door.
Daughters of a Boardinghouse Keeper My twin Tillie and I run like fugitives upriver, loosen our tangled hair, lift our skirts against the Merrimack’s pull. Far past the cotton mills and waterwheel roar we clench onto the limbs of birches, kind strangers on our pilgrimage. The first Sunday of each month we crouch here among mosses, watch the new converts bathe in the river’s sweat. I saw the baptism of an old sagamore, chased the red cardinal feather he lost in the current. Tillie holds her white ankles into a wave, our skin transparent like water, I can see clear to blue veins. We weave our curls with grasses as the chief cuts his long braids. I shushed her crying when he called out to god, I clung to the banks like rock-loving columbine— Skye Shirley
Breech Birth Nine out of ten babies are born head first, tumbling through membrane tunnels toward light, irises still blue from a starless womb. Our skulls forced into cones, brains squeezed where they should not fit like Eve who begged to feel absence from Eden without knowing the double pain of crowning. Genesis tells of expulsion and birthâ€” perhaps we choose to fall headfirst into separation, eager to pray rather than be. But those rare breech births: do they know what awaits, delay opening eyes upon nakedness? Alex Gilman
Impressions of a Tahitian Landscape This, the fullest length of a man Gauguin ever painted: A miniature back, dress-form for the Native Costume. Collapsed angles of limbs dissolve into the pink road nowhere, yellow nothing landscape-distill, colors like bleached flesh and blood. The painter moves distracted skyward, mountain purple articulates itself against formless blue, summons the features of a preferred geography-The bruised hills of breast, the mouth cave, salt-tangles of hair. His dissected night women bare the Musee de lâ€™Homme, neighboring the labeled labia of an African Venus suspended brackish in a glass jar so ordinary. Like pickles, peaches, stolen for a winter that bears no such fruit. Elizabeth Olson
Thinking Loud Jennifer Yoo
Polished deep brown skin-- the dark, dark kind. He is probably the same naked, but maybe different. I wouldn’t mind the difference because he is beautiful. Everything about him is symmetrical, and people say symmetry is beauty, and I agree. He looked at me for only a second, but I could see everything about him. With some people, it’s like that. His long strides stopped beside me – his work-booted feet suddenly too heavy to move. Enormous blue jeans made his legs look like pillars in Atlantis. I imagined schools of yellow fish swimming around his knees, mermaids with long green hair gathering at the bottoms of his boots. He wore a black sweatshirt with orange letters, hood down. I stopped writing for a second to look at him. I only stopped for a second, but that’s all it ever takes. He walked away. He must have heard me thinking. (People always hear people thinking, but they think they don’t.) He definitely heard me. Because I was thinking in the loudest way: writing makes anyone think loud as sunshine. He walked away, and I missed him like snow-cones. Remember snow cones? From the ice-cream truck at the beach? Snow cones to slurp all the way down to the dark purple syrup at the bottom of the paper. Purple to pour into the sand and say, “Goodbye forever.” He walked away, and I missed him like a fly in an elevator misses the sky. Like a little buzzing thing that gets stuck alone when nobody presses the UP button. Wings get heavier and visions of blue and clouds are replaced by angry white light. I missed him, but you called me a few minutes after I had thought of the elevator fly, so I packed up my notebook and got on a subway until I forgot about him. You said we generally melt into each other. This is true because we mostly catch each other’s common colds and foot fungus. I wear your t-shirts, shed my hair on your bed, and cuddle under your comforter even while you’re still sitting at your desk. You borrow my toothbrush, toss about my stuffed Curious George, and poke my sides to make me laugh while I’m reading. One day, you had a fever, and we both sniffed because we were both congested. The Little Mermaid flicked on the TV screen and with a blink, I remembered him. I remembered him, 104
his Atlantis legs, the mermaids, the fish schools. So, I told you all about him, how he could hear me thinking, how he knew when my pen stopped moving. And you closed your eyes, and I could hear you, even though you weren’t thinking loudly. I could hear you thinking like a whisper, a gentle little “I don’t want to be with anyone else but you.” And I could hear you breathing, and I smiled and thanked God that I was in bed with you, even as you leaned over to blow your nose like elephant noises. Even as I remembered him, with his dark polished skin and amber-hieroglyphed sweatshirt. I imagined what it would like to be in bed with him. Probably different but maybe the same. And I wouldn’t mind the difference because you are beautiful and he is beautiful, and we are all symmetrical in the same way that people find it attractive. You kissed me goodnight and turned off the light and it rhymed. I woke up in the dark purple midnight and you were still sleeping, so I snuggled closer to you and kissed your heavy fingertips. The sun came up in the morning, and poured out the purple. The sticky part of the purple night has to get poured out to make room for a new day, the same part that you never think about again because you’ve seen it melt away so many times. He melts into someone else, even as I think about him. I melt into you, even as he hears me think. Dark melts into morning. Light melts into sleep. And it is all symmetrical, and beautiful.
Denaissance He looks up, over his glasses. Sunbeams set the hour hand in motion, barely. Somewhere, a bell echoes and ripples its way Under bridges, over rooftops To the calm lagoon. He strides, a gentleman’s pace, Hands clasped behind his smoking jacket, Breathing in that century-old smell; clarity. The heels of those leather shoes clack on the stone. They’re setting up in the piazza, Dawn workers shuffling apart the aluminum chairs, Delicately laying down trays, Wrenching open the post office gates. High tide at noon. He joins the crowds, the birds, Absorbs the swell, the bell’s seven tones. Each stroll is a blessing, and a wish For another; he lights a cigar, coughs, Prays for ten more years, Or at least one. Andrew Keener
Nursing School She breathed through her mouth, ignoring the slow bulge of the turtleâ€™s leathery limbs. Its skin hung off, geriatric, like a tarp, and its yellow accusing eyes did not meet her gray ones. Metal met fused bone and the painted shellâ€™s mottled red orange and green all ground to the same white powder as Jane turned the crank of the hand drill. It spiraled, penetrated, skewered a neat hole and her hands shook, sweated. She paled as tail thrashed, wrinkly head bobbed and she cracked through. There it was, more burgundy-black than red, thin white fibers vibrating, and it shivered in the cold draft of the classroom. Life rushed in, squeezed out in desperation and her pulse slowed, mesmerized, while the muscle deflated. Mara Batzli
A Delicate Monster Keith Noonan
Streams of light pour through the window. The dust is dancing again. I’m a version of myself, standing on the floor. My hair is black and I’m wearing clothes I never owned. My miniature hand, the size of a quarter, rests against the legs of my table; I catch the snowflakes on my tongue. No, that’s flesh. My flesh. I’m back in my bed again, full-sized. The shiny flakes speed their spiral as I stir. And there they are. The wall spots are back, I’m sure of it. It’s as if they regenerate more quickly each time I cover them. At least I caught them early; time for a cleaning and a fresh coat of paint. The brush and pan are by the window. I look over at Christina’s apartment when I grab them. She’s not home yet, won’t be for another five hours. Six o’clock. The place looks so lonely when she’s not there. I set about sweeping, starting at the corner closest to the window, working from the wall to the center of the room, then back. I have the blinds shut now. The filth in the air is too much, otherwise. By the time I’ve made my way around the room three times, there are seven silver hairs and a mound of dust in my tray. Its contents are emptied into a clear, zippable bag, which I place in the cabinet next to my table (above the paint, but beneath my clothing and dry goods). I count the remaining cans of Crown Gallery White paint. There are nine. I grab two and begin to re-sanitize the walls of my room. My muscles relax as new washes over old, and tighten again as I observe the areas yet to be covered. There. It’s finished and I’m alive again. The walls are perfect and sanitary, and there isn’t a damned yellow spot to be seen. I think this might be the best job I’ve ever done; my lines are smooth and even. It’ll be like this forever. No, I don’t know that. But it looks so lovely I can’t imagine it otherwise. I take deep breaths, savoring the smell of success and admiring the shiny wetness. I used nearly every drop in the can. The attention to detail shows. I put five of the dirt filled bags, and the contents of the bathroom trash, into the paint can and get ready to place them in the wastebasket at the end of the hall. There’s no sense making unnecessary trips outside. The air is even more delicious when I return. Those short, stifling moments in the hallway provide just enough distance 110
from my work to experience it anew. Glowing digits on the microwave clock let me know Christina will be home in an hour and two minutes. A scab on my stomach begins to itch. I open the door to the bathroom, turn on the light, and remove my shirt. There’s what looks to be the beginnings of a black mound right where arm meets shoulder. As soon as I have the tweezers in hand, I can’t help dig. The scars tell me not to. I’ve learned to leave those alone, but only because they’ve tricked me before. I want to dig at them too. I don’t. Not any more. The mounds are different; they deserve to be purged. The breath that I let out as I remove the latest intruder makes it all okay. I’m closer. I set about correcting myself ‘til I’ve done more damage than good. Then I know I’ve done enough. In my bed, I stare at the microwave and wait. When it’s close to six, I move to the window and peer through the blinds. Christina is home. She opens the door to her building and then disappears. I still feel anxious in these moments of transition. I know that the light to her apartment will come on soon, and she’ll come stumbling in and throw her bags on the floor, but I can’t help but feel a certain uneasiness ‘til she does. There. It’s fine. I knew it would be. She’s as beautiful as ever. The smoothness of her creamy skin evident as ever, even from the distance. Her brown curls dangle slightly above her shoulders as she makes herself dinner. So perfectly alone. I think she’s making chicken. Yes, that’s it. Tonight we’ll have chicken. I grab a packaged meal from the refrigerator and place it in my microwave. Ninety seconds on high. Dinner’s ready. I sit down across from her and we eat in peace. I tell her how good it tastes and she thanks me. She even offers to do all the cleanup, but I wouldn’t dream of it. We’ll both clean what is ours; that’s the right way. Then, we’ll sit together and enjoy the evening. Christina takes her plate from the table, disappears, and reemerges without it. I knew I could trust her when she said she’d clean. Now we’re reading. Or she’s reading and I’m keeping her company. I never was much for books, but she loves them so, and I love to see her happy. Sometimes, I can slip into the world she’s imagining just by looking at her. I don’t ask her to read to me anymore. She’d rather not. It strains her throat after a couple words. I really only asked to please her, anyway. Sometimes we try to do too much for each other. I don’t mind the silence. Neither does she. 111
That’s not to say I don’t like her music. Really, I do. I ask for that because I want to hear it, and because I know it does not strain her. She’s been gone for - let me check the microwave - seventeen minutes. It’s fine. I’m used to it. You can’t always rely on other people, I’ve learned that, but I’m sure she’ll be back. We’ve barely spent time together tonight. The light shifts slightly in her bedroom. A door was opened. I don’t know why she keeps it so dark, but she’s back now. Back from the bathroom, I think. Then she ducks out of sight. She’s doing this to tease me. I know she’ll be back, and she knows what her absence does to me. It’s part of the game. I can take it. There. My reward. Christina’s brought her violin and I didn’t even have to ask. She comes to the window, so that I might more readily observe her, and cradles the mahogany maple under her chin as though it were a child. Her tenderness still amazes me, even after all these months. The bow is lifted to the strings. She takes a deep breath, her body rigid against the air, then relaxes herself, ready to perform. The sound of her passion dampens everything. Her sustained strokes tell the stories I’ve longed so desperately to hear. Her pizzicatos tease my ear and leave me hungering for the next swell. I sit, stiff against my seat. Every song is our song, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. She sets down her instrument, and the music ceases shortly thereafter. I can’t imagine a more perfect performance. I am refreshed, renewed again through her artistry, and she is so thrilled at her ability to please me. She comes to her window and looks from it. We’re together. She turns, walks, and leaves the room lightless in her wake. It’s been a most beautiful day. I’m so happy to wake up in a clean room. The blinds are still drawn, there’s not a piece of dust to be seen, and I can still enjoy the scent of paint. The world is fresh and radiant, and I am not afraid. Today will be the day to run errands. It’ll be fine. Even if I should encounter encumbrance, I know that I’ll always have Christina. How bad can life be when that is true? After last night’s moving display of interpersonal expression, I feel as if I have the strength of eleven men. I’ll conquer what needs conquering, and return to her. If anything goes wrong, she would comfort me. But it won’t. I’ll be triumphant, and she’ll look upon me with an intensity exceeding the bounds of adoration. I’ll start by opening the mailbox. My check should be there. I will take it to the bank. They’ll cash it for me. I’m sure 113
of it. To think that they call it a disability when it affords me so much freedom. I could never go back to that job. I’ll never have to. After I have my money, I’ll go to the small store. It’s right next to the bank, which is right next to my home. There, I’ll buy food, water, and the other essentials. I do not think I need paint. This is good; I hate the big store. I’m so happy to see the absence of wall spots this morning. I can’t adequately put the feeling of satisfaction into words. The wall is so perfectly white. If ever there were a time for hope, that time is now. It’s not that I expected the spots a day after a painting, but this coat shines with such brilliant defiance that I believe it can last. Being outside was fine. I did it. It was easier than anticipated. I’m back now. The room is still perfect as it welcomes me. I can’t wait to see Christina; I know she’ll be impressed with everything I’ve done. I don’t know how she’ll manage to top last night, but I’m so certain she can. She understands me, every part of me, and I understand her. I place the dinners into the fridge. Actually, I suppose I place them in the freezer but there’s only a thin platform of white bars separating the two regions. Perhaps the distinction is unnecessary. The jug of water is what I place in the fridge. The dry goods go to the cabinet. They would be beneath the bags of dust, but there are none currently. The goods are still beneath the paint. Seven cans. My hip is sore from the day’s travels. It’s worth it, I tell myself. She’ll be home in three hours, and proud. Yes. I won’t feel any pain then. But I feel hunger now. Such a strange feeling. It’s an odd time to want a meal. I really should wait, so that we can eat together, but all this activity has left me famished. She won’t mind if I eat now. She’ll understand that she’s to blame for my appetite. The combination of last night’s connection, and the recent rejuvenation of my abode makes me greedy. But I am not ashamed. I deserve this. I place the dinner in the microwave. I’d call it a lunch, but it’s not lunch time, and dinner is what I like to eat. The soft, steamy food satisfies; its warmth relaxes my throat. I am at ease. If only Christina were here to play her music. I know, I know. I am selfish. I have to question the spirit that presently courses through me, but I cannot shake this feeling. Joy. The walls are wondrous. The air’s odor sings saccharine songs of rebirth. The room has never been so cozy. She’ll come home, we will eat again, and then she will play. I can wait. I am so very good at waiting. 114
She’s not home. Something is wrong. Christina is an hour past her due. This hasn’t happened in months. It was my fault then, I admit it, but she punished me with only a half hour of tardiness. The meal. Is that what this is about? How can the very thing that drives me to hunger reprimand me for my impulse? I suppose I’ve learned a lesson from this. It will please her greatly to know that I have. But perhaps this is only another game. Christina does so love to torment me. Let her act as if I am invisible, I know she will return and, in doing so, pronounce her devotion. Indeed, such sweetness from her violin is too much to bestow on me in succession, and now she strives to leave me in want. It’s fair. And want I do, but not for more food, only for her and the comfort she brings. She’s still not home. In the mirror, I examine myself, searching for clandestine causation. There are no new mounds. Yesterday’s is covered in a sleek, sanguine casing. Did I manage to extract it in its entirety? The heaviness of the tweezers brings power to my hand. Perhaps if I… No. I should leave it alone. But there’s a scar on my neck that needs tending to. It is protruding and imperfect. Now it is red, and still it is imperfect. I wish so intently that it will heal in a neat fashion. I tremble. I can’t imagine that it will, not with things the way they are. I return to the window; her room is as dark as when I left it. I’ll sleep. I need strength if she plans to deprive me. I can last. I’m awake. The taste of bitter lingers in my mouth. I swish my tongue around, in hopes I might dispel it, instead finding a sore spot between gum and a molar. Relax. I can manage. Wait, there’s something else in my mouth, one of my hairs, thin and silver. They look so much better on my head. Shouldn’t they want to stay there? Haven’t I earned that much? Composure. The world is not ending. I can be certain that Christina will return. We will have dinner tonight, and I’ll make her understand. I’ll make her understand the extent of what she does to me. Of course she knows this already, and my confession will bring about exactly what she desires, but I accept this. I’m not afraid. Impossible. Is that a wall spot to the left of the window? Six inches over? I scramble from my bed, not bothering to reset the coverings. My eye is on top of the area where I spotted the offender, one inch from the wall. I can barely smell the paint. Once. Twice. Three times over. I’m relieved to see that there’s nothing there. I must be careful not to overreact. I separate two 116
of the hanging plastic shutters and peer across the street, into Christina’s room. Empty, but that’s expected. In three hours, she’ll be home. I believe this. She’s late, and still I abstain from eating my meal. I won’t make the same mistake again. I’m not frenzied. I trust her; really, I do. I pinch a patch of scar tissue between my thumb and index finger. It’s just begging to be dug at, but I need to stay vigilant at my post. I have to be there when she returns. That way, she’ll know what we’ve shared is real. There. There she is, carrying two bags and more beautiful than ever before. I knew it, I knew she’d be back. Soon she’ll climb the steps to her room and we’ll be together. I can forgive; I am not a monster. Christina understands this, and I understand her. She’s walking into her room, making her apology. Of course I accept. She places the bags on the table and removes their contents. She holds up a mirror and begins applying blush to her cheeks. If I said before that she was perfect, then I regret that I have used the word so liberally. I do not believe that her physical beauty could be, in any way, elevated, however the notion that she would seek to make herself more desirable to myself increases my adoration three fold. She applies lipstick, then removes her shirt and pants, exposing herself to me. This spectacle is worth the waiting she subjected me too. She grabs a black dress from the bag, removes several stickers, and pulls it over her body. Another game? She walks from the room. The lighting changes. A minute later she walks out the front door. The wall spots are back. Leering, yellow cankers. I grab three cans of paint and begin the only solution of which I know. She did not come home last night and now I ask myself whether or not I can trust her. For what purpose would she put on such a sadistic show? To remind me of my transgression? I have not eaten since. Is that not enough? All right. At least we are moving in the right direction. Going from no contact one day to little contact the next is an improvement, after all. The walls are clean and the air is right. I should examine myself. I will look my best when she returns. She’ll come to need the sight of me, just as I need her. The tweezers are exceptionally shiny today. I remove the scab from what was once the black mound. It looks as though I removed the whole of it during the first treatment. I can take comfort in that. It will heal. Christina will understand. I’m getting closer to perfection. 117
Survival of the Fittest
She’ll be home in one hour. I’m glued to the window, waiting. If last night was a sign of what to expect, I don’t want to miss a second. Something about the pain of anticipation is so oddly enjoyable. She knows this. I look to the microwave. She’ll be here any moment. Then, we’ll feast so fully that we’ll both be contented for days. At last. Christina is here. But what is this? There’s a demon in her midst. The ravenous man, tall in stature, follows her into the building. Can she know the danger that tails her? If ever I had a chance to prove my love, to prove my worth, this is it. Rage courses through my veins with each beat of the heart. With tweezers in hand, I move to remove him. I clench them so tightly they dig into my flesh. The door to her building is unlocked. I scale an endless stream of stairs. I have to hurry. For her. The acrid scent of sweat clings to me as I race upwards. Ever upwards. At last I reach her door. Inside, the beast of a man strangles her, depriving her of the air she loves so much. He does not see me. I creep behind him, doing all that I can to resist the urge to cry out in response to her muffled protests. I crouch and then spring, burying my instrument deep into his neck. I’m in my room again, still at the windowsill. Christina takes him into her arms; She gives herself to him. They are locked at the mouth, gnawing at each other with animal intensity. I shut the blinds. I will not open them again. Four cans left. Time for a fresh coat.
Observation At my desk I can see my cross-street neighbors. Their window open to a sweltering night shows a blue-lit room, on a couch they gaze into the television. I cannot see it. But when the light flickers it turns to a momentary burgundy red, baptizing them in a violent instantaneous contrast. I can imagine the screen, a rose a circus tent, a fresh kill. Richard Horan
Contrite, Upon Waking in February These sorrows would sound in your ears like musical notes, offbeat, behindhand. Time ago, you carried me with the strength of Titans through overgrown brush, searching for the seminary labyrinth. Soon fire-eyed, doleful, I gave it up for lost, fearing the course of no egress, or maybe guilty my weight wearied your shoulders. Iâ€™m still indebted to your frenzied smile that afternoon, when your sun-brimmed eyes glared greener than trees and you asked me for a million more days like these. (I never gave you more than a few.) I would remember that request when we rested on stone steps, fallen, before I left, our spirits round and resounding in the stairwell, like voices in wine cellars or catacombs. Iâ€™m still not sorry I loved you once, before, though thankless and wild. Madeline Rose McSherry
Blight “I had an early run in the woods before the dew was off the grass… I sang for joy, my heart was so bright and the world was so beautiful” -Diary of Louisa May Alcott, age 12 He was only a boy, the child soldier I cradled at the Union Hospital in Virginia’s steam. The war took us both, I caught his typhoid and drank prescribed calomel, mercury filled my veins. The child said, I cannot remember my name and I told him of the trees in my Concord woods, the fingers of light streamed through pine canopy, so that you looked up as if from a pond’s floor, the sun scattered through layers of water. I named firs and hemlocks as each outgrew me: Patience, Faith, Liberty and Hope, I marveled at how the bark swallowed nails and lichen spread onto their faces like maps uncurled. I return to my forest shattered, each arm broken from the ice storm’s strength. The split-rail fence runs from chapel to schoolhouse. I couldn’t remember which trees were named. Skye Shirley
Epigraph for Stylus Presented here for your amusement is the writing of your fellow-students: lots of poetry, some prose and essays (not a lot of those). Our staff has printed up them all as we do every Spring and Fall as soon as we have weeded out all the emo poems about your dirty cheating ex-girlfriend and assorted other things we’ve banned: all the puns on birds and bees, all the Tolkien wanna-bes, all the ones with lowercase i’s, all the deus ex machina suicides. We analyze, we criticize, we read too quickly and surmise that all your work is bosh and bluster; it’s too contrived, it won’t pass muster. The complex ones are just too tough the funny ones aren’t “deep” enough. your short stories are much too long you use “their” “they’re” and “there” all wrong. And so kitsch after kitsch we fell a massacre of doggerel ‘til what’s left rises to the top – the cream of the undergraduate crop, which we then slide neatly in-between the covers of our magazine and trade literary high-fives and go on with our mundane lives, knowing we’ve had the final say – but it’s only us reading it, anyway. Stephen Thomas