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B ERKELEY F ICTION R EVIEW

33

Issue Published by University of California, Berkeley


Cover art by Andrew Abbott Copyright 2013 by Berkeley Fiction Review The Berkeley Fiction review is not an official publication of the Associated Students of the University of California or the University of California, Berkeley English department. These stories are works of fiction and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ASUC or the University of California, Berkeley. The Berkeley Fiction Review is an ASUC-sponsored, undergraduate run, non-profit publication. http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~bfr/ Inquires, correspondence, and submissions should be sent to: bfictionreview@yahoo.com Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York Printed by ZeeZee Copy


Berkeley Fiction Review Managing Editors

Tessa Gregory

Eva Nierenberg

Associate Editors

Kelsey Bagelmann Lisa Martine Jenkins Christian Bustos Renee Rivera

Assistant Editors

Chelsea Ann Duhaime Lauren Cooper Jen Kern

Kelsey Nolan Megan Scott

Lucas Anderson Stephanie Arroyo Martha Avtandilian Krystle Barholomew James Bell Tyler Beauford Max Blumen Meredith Bradfield Karlie Braufman Clay Carrigan Jenifer Carter Andrew Caughey Eric Chan Samantha Chee-A-Tow Jennifer Cheyne Sarah Covington Madison Crystal Hannah Ewing Anne Ferguson

Margaret Gilbreath Belinda Gu Jose Hernandez Marika Hirsch Tara Hurley Jenna Kern Caryl Kientz Brian Kim Regina Kim Miranda King Xinrong Liu Elizabeth Marrone Steven McKinney Jose Mendez Jaqueline Millar Kathleen Miller Aaron Montgomery John Nomis Imogen Papworth

Staff

Christian White Rocio Salas Paige Vehlewald Jonathan Tam Dean Taylor Jiahe Xu

Amanda Phillips Khrystan Policarpio Mykelle Raven Lauren Roger Jasmine Sankaran Joshua Santillan Maansi Shah Haile Simpson Mariam Sleiman Kathryn Small Wendy Steiner Stephanie Thornton Wendy Torres Kristy Tsai Katerina Valtcheva Abigail Warner Laura Yepez Alison Young Arty Zhang


Dearest readers,

Foreword

Welcome to Issue 33 of Berkeley Fiction Review! As our cover art reflects, this year’s collection of stories has taken on the world. One of our pieces goes back to a time when the modern world was just beginning to expand. “Smudges” features a young German immigrant in America who struggles assimilating and literally ends up setting the world on fire. The burns of the past reveal themselves in “The Crazy Ones,” and “Some Unchartered Territory,” where we see emotional and physical wounds of wartime influence the characters in the present. We then travel to the present day as “iWarriors” transports us to Syria, where a young man adapts to the innovation of technological warfare in the Syrian revolution. And while some stories are set around the globe, home is always within their orbit. In continuance of recent tradition, this issue also features “Help (Un)Wanted” and “But A Moment,” stories written by those in our very own BFR family. Stories like “Minor Tragedies” and “Small Sad Souls,” remind us of the ultimate value of family in that even the most ordinary things, such as an armoire or the death of a bird, can bring family together. It is thanks to our own family of inspiring staff and dedicated editors that we can invite you into our world of stories. We hope that you enjoy delving into it as much as we’ve enjoyed creating it. Sincerely,

Tessa Gregory

Eva Nierenberg

Christian White


Contents Freddie Got Bit By a Tiger Andrew Abbott

Cover

iWarriors Frank Scozzari

7

Minor Tragedies Shelby Goddard

23

Poem about Beer Andrew Abbott

34-35

The Diagnosis Sierra Senzaki Sudden Fiction First Place

36

Small Sad Souls Elizabeth Tarver

39

Smudges Ian Denning

52

Back of a Poem About Beer Andrew Abbott

68

The Barstool Spinner Ethan Joella

69

Shades Deborah Coffin Sudden Fiction Second Place

74


Flawless Consulting Andrew Abbott

77

The Crazy Ones Olivia Kate Cerrone

78

A Good Seat Jason Howell

89

La Playa Andrew Abbott

97

Help (Un)Wanted Megan Scott

98

Some Uncharted Territory Halley Fehner

112

Forest Andrew Ek

123

Grownup for a Day Madison Crystal Sudden Fiction 3rd Place

124

But A Moment Megan Scott

127

Conditioning a Wolf Dusty Cooper

130

Small House Michael Taylor Jackson

13


iWarriors Frank Scozzari The image shook as Amar tried to hold his hands steady. Shifting left and then right, he finally centered the image in the small digital screen. There was the figure of a man, gravely injured or dead, lying face down in the street. From a concrete building across the way, a long piece of rebar reached out and tried to pull the wounded man to safety. The rebar came from an open doorway, from which the shadow of a man laid across the tile floor. Amar took a deep breath and clicked ‘video.’ He watched through the screen as the piece of rebar finally hooked the wounded man’s upper arm and began to drag him toward the shelter of the building, but the wounded man rolled, and the piece of rebar had to come back to find another place to hook. The end of the rebar was conveniently bent like a horseshoe, and reaching across the body, it found a grasp beneath the wounded man’s arm, and again the rebar began to drag the wounded man toward the shelter of the doorway on the far side of the street. All the while Amar focused on keeping the image centered in the small digital screen and on keeping his hands steady. He stood in a building foyer out of the sight of the sniper with both feet planted shoulder width apart and his arms straight out before Scozzari 7


him. He could hear someone yelling down the street, but he could not make out the words. A distant gunshot caused him to flinch, but he quickly re-centered the image and resumed his stance. Slowly, the rebar worked, pulling, tugging, slipping, reaching back for another grasp, and finally heaving the injured man to the safety of the building. Amar looked at the face of his smartphone, touched the ‘save’ option, watched for the confirmation, and then tucked the phone in his blue jeans. He disappeared into the doorway behind him, hurried through an empty corridor, and came out on the opposite street a block away. He looked in both directions, and when he saw that all was clear, he sprinted down the sidewalk in the opposite direction from which he had come. After three blocks he slowed to a brisk walk, turned a corner, and stopped mid-block beneath an open window. Amar made a whistling sound. A head popped out from the window, looked in both directions down the street, and then down at Amar. Amar tossed the smartphone up, and the man in the window caught it using both hands. The man disappeared into the window, the window closed, and Amar walked inconspicuously down the street towards his apartment. Inside the building, the smartphone was hurried down a hallway to a secluded room. Inside was a makeshift office designed to receive and transmit video dispatches to the media world outside. Two men sat at two tables with a laptop computer in front of each of them. The smartphone was promptly handed over to the nearest computer operator, who connected it to a USB cord, and with a stroke of the keyboard, the video was uploaded onto the laptop computer. A webpage was opened, a message link was clicked, and the man began typing in English. The other two men watched over his shoulder as the message formed on the screen: “Freedom fighters try to rescue fallen protester shot by Assad’s henchmen in Hama, Syria. 4th August, 2011.” The man attached the video to the email, clicked the send button, and the message was sent out via satellite internet. The recipient’s email 8 Scozzari


address - Al Jazeera News - flashed back on the screen, confirming the message had been successfully sent. The three men looked at one another and exchanged congratulatory smiles. ********** Amar entered his apartment to find his roommate, twenty-sixyear-old Murhaf Rahman, in the kitchen fixing lunch: a sandwich of pita bread, humus, and meat. Leaning against the counter was an AK-47, recently smuggled in across the Turkish border compliments of Turkey’s Military High Command. “I told you I don’t want guns in here,” Amar said. Murhaf took the rifle, opened the kitchen closet, and tucked the gun away inside. He then resumed fixing his sandwich. “We having a good day, brother?” Murhaf asked. “Yes, it has been a good day, brother,” Amar replied. Brothers they were, but not in blood. It was the five-month-old rebellion that bonded them, though they had differing views on exactly how the rebellion should be conducted. Murhaf, a member of the Free Syrian Army, was committed to taking up arms while Amar, one among a self-proclaimed group of internet warriors, relied on technology and internet connectivity in their fight against Damascus. Here, in a country where foreign media was banned and local coverage was severely restricted, the only way the outside world could see what was really happening in Syria was through the efforts of Amar and his comrades. Until now, the best they could do was upload grisly homemade videos onto YouTube: videos of victims mangled by gunfire and other unsubstantiated events via makeshift satellite transmitters or flash cards smuggled across the border into Turkey. Despite their different ways, Amar and Murhaf were both freedom fighters who were known to the World’s media as the Opposition - Syria’s anti-regime protesters. Scozzari 9


But Amar knew it was not really an opposition, it was the whole of Syrian society. “We will be meeting this evening,” he said in English. “I would like you to come.” Murhaf was surprised at the invitation since the two had frequently exchanged their opposing views on the rebellion. “I want you to see what we do. I want you to meet Hazem,” Amar continued. “I think it would be a waste of time,” Murhaf said. “He is a wise man. I think if you hear his words…” “Why? Because he speaks English well, like you?” “No, because he speaks words that make better sense than any man I know.” “I’m sorry. I do not understand this kind of warfare,” Murhaf said. “How do you know unless you come and listen?” “It is time wasted.” Amar stared at Murhaf in a pleading effort. “Perhaps you will find it in yourself to join us, brother?” Murhaf said nothing. “We will be meeting at the safe house on Friday,” Amar said. And he said nothing more. On Friday the meeting took place as scheduled. Hazem Saleh, the leader of this rogue band of cellphone journalists, stood at the front of an improvised meeting room. He was a distinguished looking man, middle-aged with graying hair and a graying beard, and was dressed in a business suit which had obviously not been pressed for some time. He had worked as a media supervisor for the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression before it had been completely abolished by Damascus, and had been a senior foreign correspondent for BBC World News before foreign news had been outlawed. He had since utilized his skills to organize and orchestrate media coverage to the outside world, trying to bring some sense of professionalism to a band of gypsies. There were several men seated in metal folding chairs, among 10 Scozzari


them Amar. Near an open window was a portable, twenty-inch satellite dish pointed skyward. It had been skillfully mounted on a camera tripod and positioned far enough from the window so that it could not be seen from the street below. A wire ran from it to a box of wires on a nearby table. Hazem addressed the men in Arabic. “It is a good day, my friends, my brothers. The sun is out. We are alive. And the fate of Syria is securely in our hands. The longer the revolution lasts, the better chance we have for freedom.” A noise came from the rear of the room and all eyes turned back to see Murhaf standing in the doorway. “Welcome brother,” Hazem said. Amar greeted Murhaf with a smile and offered him a seat, but Murhaf found a place against the back wall where he leaned on his shoulder and remained silent. Hazem took the laptop, opened it, turned it on, and set it on the table. As the screen lit up he turned it so that all in the room could see. He then clicked on a desktop icon. On the screen appeared Al-Jazeera English showing grainy images from a mobile phone of detainees being beaten by Syrian soldiers. The reception, which was poor to begin with, went hazy and then vanished. A young man sitting next to Hazem near the front of the room got up and played with the satellite dish until the feed came back and the images came in clearly. Hazem clicked on another icon and a second video began to play. Amar quickly recognized it to be the video stream he had captured on his smartphone -- that of the long piece of rebar reaching out for the wounded man. Along the bottom of the screen within a blue stripe were the words BBC Worldwide News. The announcer, a very British-looking, well-dressed woman with blonde hair, spoke in King’s English: “President Bashar Assad’s bloody crackdown on protesters has taken an ominous turn over the weekend. In the city of Hama, an armored attack on thousands of protesters killed at least 150 civilians on Sunday. There Scozzari 11


were also reports of attacks by the army in at least four other cities with dozens more killed. The increasing violence has raised eyebrows in the West. The number of people killed in the bloody repression of an uprising against the government in Syria has now risen to at least thirty-five thousand, awakening leaders of the international community…” “It is exactly what we need!” Hazem said. “To open the eyes of the West, to find support of the international community. It is our path, our way to freedom, and we are the window to the world, God’s spies on earth.” Hazem’s eyes searched and found Amar. “And thanks be to brother Amar, whose courage and steady hand has brought us this recognition.” Hazem turned back to the computer screen and watched for a moment as the announcer continued. “Once-friendly nations have now criticized President Bashar al-Assad…” the announcer’s voice spoke. “And French President Nicolas Sarkozy has demanded his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad to step down for overseeing massacres of his own people.” Hazem gazed across the room, his eyes smiling. They had secured an audience in the Arabic world already with many news reels airing on Al Arabiya. Now, they had found an English audience as well. Hazem turned the screen off. “It is success, my friends,” he said. “It is a new milestone. Now it’s only a matter of time and Assad will fall.” His eyes glanced down at the table-top. “And today, we have been afforded a new tool to advance our crusade.” On the table were two small boxes. Hazem took one of the boxes, turned it over and held it so that all could see the image on the cover. It was an iPhone 4. He turned the box to its side and showed the printed words, “Apple - iPhone 4S.” He flipped it, began to open it, and half way through the process he tossed the second box into Amar’s lap. Amar looked up and smiled, and promptly followed suit, opening the second box as well. “It has enhanced camera and video,” Hazem spoke, now holding 12 Scozzari


the iPhone in his hand. He waited for it to light up. “Much higher resolution, thirty frames per second, longer battery life, and enhanced HD quality. With this, we can take media-quality video.” He turned the iPhone so that all could now see the lit touchscreen. “CNN… Anderson Cooper… here we come!” The room erupted with applause. In the back of the room, Murhaf stood restlessly. He saw no reason to celebrate. It was not the path, he thought. A new phone, sure it was nice, but it was no match to the weaponry of Assad’s regime. “No rebellion was ever won without violence,” he spoke loudly. All eyes turned back at him. “It is silliness to believe you can win a war with a phone.” The men exchanged glances and then turned their eyes up to Hazem. They all knew Murhaf and knew of his resistance to their media-focused rebellion. After all, Murhaf was a member of the emerging Free Syrian Army, whose doctrine was dedicated to the use of force and not to diplomatic change. It was his kind that brought great worries to men like Hazem, not that anyone questioned the FSA’s dedication to the revolution. It was sectarian war that troubled him; he feared that Murhaf and his comrades, in their quest for liberty, would push the country into a civil war, a war that once started could not be stopped and would result in the destruction of Syria. “Then our rebellion will be the first,” Hazem said boldly, finally breaking the silence. “Assad will not fall to an image on a smartphone,” Murhaf replied fearlessly. “Ask the people of Libya.” “Maybe it was true in Libya. But this is Syria. We are Syrians, and if we can find justice through diplomatic and peaceful means without Syrians spilling the blood of Syrians, shouldn’t we choose peace?” Murhaf looked with cold suspicion at all of them. He was a believer in self-reliance, in the one truth that all things that must change must be changed by one’s will to resist. Defiance was the path, he thought. Waiting for a diplomatic resolution, requesting help, especially from the Scozzari 13


Western World, was not only hypocritical, but just short of cowardice. “A brother falls and you photograph it?” Murhaf asked. He paused, glanced over all of them, and then repeated his words, “A brother falls and you photograph it? You photograph the blood of your mothers and fathers, the blood of your brothers and sisters, and your children?” Again pausing, looking over the silent group. “When will you fight back? If not today, if not tomorrow, then when?” “We fight back every day,” Hazem refuted calmly. “With a picture that paints a thousand words and a pen that is mightier than the sword. With the will of the people, and the will of the Creator, we will succeed.” They were elegant words, Murhaf thought, but overused in the course of human history and not worthy of a response. He remained silent. “Through international pressure and intervention,” Hazem continued. “With the might of the West and the support of the Arabic states, Assad will crumble.” He looked at Murhaf. “Are you for the revolution?” “Of course.” “Then take this weapon,” Hazem said. To the surprise of the other men in the room, Hazem held out the second iPhone, offering it to Murhaf. Murhaf stared at it. Hazem’s arm extended. “Here. Take it. This is our implement of war.” For a moment Murhaf ’s eyes remained locked on the iPhone. The other men watched, waiting to see what he would do. It is such a small and simple device, Murhaf thought. Not a device for overcoming oppression or stopping tanks from rolling over defenseless protestors. He shook his head. “I don’t believe in the power of the pen,” he said. “I believe in the power of the sword. Give the phone to someone who believes in it.” Hazem slowly withdrew his arm. The meeting ended uneventfully and Hazem took Murhaf ’s advice, presenting the second iPhone to young Rami Ibrahim who had demonstrated bravery and cleverness in capturing aerial-like shots of 14 Scozzari


protest-busting soldiers from rooftops. There was the normal handing out of assignments, and because there was to be a great demonstration in Assi Square in three days, Hazem took special care to coordinate full coverage of the event. He had a large map of the square, had sectioned it off into quadrants, and assigned the men to strategic spots within the plaza. After everyone had left, Amar and Murhaf walked back to their apartment silently. “Why come to the meeting at all if you are going to cause problems?” Amar finally spoke. “A man educated in the West?” Murhaf mumbled to himself. He had a little half-smile he used to show disdain, and he wore it now. “It is only because he was educated in the West that you trust him.” “Why do you say that?” “Since when do Syrians follow Western ways and Western words?” Murhaf said and then stopped. “Crusade? Who’s crusade?” “It is because his way is the just way, under the eyes of God,” said Amar. “Some Syrians resist violence. Why have a problem with that?” “You have forgotten your American history,” Murhaf huffed. “Democracy never comes from peace. It comes from war. It is a fact of history. All great nations have risen from blood. If Lenin waited for a peaceful demonstration, Russia would still be ruled by Czars. If Libyans relied on iPhone images, Gaddafi would still be laughing. And if you turn the other cheek now, Assad will roll over you with his tanks.” “Murhaf, I pray that you do not destroy us.” “No war was ever won by peaceful protest. The free people of Syria and its mujahideen will overthrow Assad, but we will not do so with an iPhone.” ********** Three days had passed and Murhaf ’s prophetic words had rung true. The safe house had been raided by government soldiers and their Scozzari 15


esteemed leader, Hazem Saleh, had been dragged off and killed. Much of their equipment had been seized or destroyed. The laptops, which contained email lists of outside contacts on their hard-drives, were taken away by the regime’s intelligence service for deciphering. Any man who had used his name in any email in any way was now a hunted fugitive. Hazem could not be replaced, but as they had done in the past, the rebel effort regrouped and refortified. As safe houses were raided and destroyed, new ones popped up. As equipment was seized or destroyed, new equipment was donated or smuggled in from Lebanon or Turkey along the many smuggling paths which linked one safe house to another. And as leadership was lost, new leadership was found. The massive demonstration in Assi Square had begun in the morning hours as scheduled, but had turned deadly by early afternoon. The number of demonstrators had swelled into the thousands, too many for the government to stand by and tolerate, so tanks and armored vehicles rolled in and seized the square. Some of the activists tried to stop the advancing armored columns with makeshift barricades, but they were no match for the military might. Amar had watched and had filmed as the demonstrators scattered and fell back. Some of them, the fighters like Murhaf, had stayed in the square, throwing stones at armor. But the regime released their snipers and their mafia-like gunmen, known as shabiha, who operated as hired guns for the regime and they began to systematically cut down any pocket of resistance. Amar stood back from it all in a small building alcove. He held his iPhone out steady before him and filmed what unfolded. From behind the barricade, he saw a man stand up and raise his fist at the armored vehicles. “Freedom forever, despite you Assad!” yelled the man. The man was promptly shot in the head, fell to the ground, and his blood ran in the street and glistened in the sunlight. Another man who sprang to his aid was also shot, and he fell diagonally, cross-bodied over the first. “Now Assad,” Amar said to himself disdainfully. “How will you 16 Scozzari


explain this?” Another demonstrator threw a rock that bounced off the windshield of one of the armored vehicles. The rock was answered by a volley of machinegun fire, but the man had wisely ducked down quickly and escaped injury for the moment. Then the barricade was overrun by the shabiha, who came from all directions with clubs and guns and riot gear and began beating, indiscriminately, any activist who failed to flee. Those who had fallen to the ground were kicked and dragged back to the armored vehicles. Amar watched and filmed as another demonstrator fell to his knees with men over him flailing with their clubs, striking him against his arms, which he held up to protect himself until his arms could no longer take the beating and fell to his side. Then his head was bare and unprotected and the clubs came against his head until finally he dropped, lifeless, and was dragged off with the others. “And this? It is Islamic extremists? The world will now see Assad! The world will now see how you really are… and all your lies!” It is brutality, Amar thought, and in that moment he reflected back on Murhaf ’s words. It is true... It is I standing by as my brother falls. It is I watching the spilling of Syrian blood and doing nothing about it. Is it reprehensible? No! It is necessity. We film, not because we like it, but because it is the path to freedom. It is the only way to defeat this monster. Then, through the small digital screen, Amar saw one of the government thugs turn and look his way. Some of the other militia turned as well, and before Amar knew it, one of them had his rifle raised and pointed at him. Amar quickly ducked back into the alcove, breathing heavily. When he poked his head back around the corner, he saw the remaining demonstrators fleeing in all directions, and the shabiha coming his way. Amar turned and ran as hard and fast as he could. In the minutes that followed, Amar could not remember much, only running fast and breathing hard until he was beyond earshot of the carnage. He found himself in a protective alcove trying to catch his breath. He was sweating heavily. His mouth was stiff and dry from fear Scozzari 17


and all the running. He looked down and realized his leg was shaking and he held his hand against it until it stopped. He stood there and watched as the people ran past until there were no more. He snuck a glance around the corner and down the street. The street was deserted. He knew he needed to build his courage to return to the square. It was there that he would find the journalistic gems that would turn the tide of this rebellion. “You must be brave,” he said to himself. He looked again and saw no one. Then he stepped out into the street and began walking forward, filming images of burned buildings and rubble-strewn streets empty of people, four blocks away from the square. A man emerged from behind a building and yelled as he ran past. “It is not safe, brother! Save yourself for another day.” Amar continued, and another man came running past. “Turn back,” the man yelled. “The entire Syrian Army is coming.” Ahead Amar heard distant screams and gunfire, but could see nothing. He ducked into another building alcove, debating whether or not to continue. “It is time for war, brother,” a voice said behind him. Amar turned and saw Murhaf standing there, leaning against the wall. His AK-47 was in one hand and a can of Red Bull in the other. Murhaf smiled, brought the can of the Red Bull to his lips, and tilted his head back to get the last drop. He then tossed the skinny can to the ground. “Come brother,” he said. “I will help you get your pictures.” Amar was surprised to see his friend, but relieved nonetheless. In the midst of all this chaos, he was not alone. He nodded his head. Murhaf peaked around the wall of the building, down the street. Then he led Amar across to the other side, keeping tight to the walls of the buildings as they proceeded north toward the square. They zigzagged from one side of the street to the other, keeping 18 Scozzari


clear of the sniper fire that rotated from alternating rooftops. Ahead, the street broadened into a boulevard. Murhaf ducked into a building foyer, the architectural design of which offered a protective alcove. “It will be more dangerous to cross further down,” Murhaf said. Amar nodded. Murhaf held his rifle in a defensive position and peered around the corner. The protruding façade of the building allowed for a commanding view in both directions. Now he could see the last barricade, a half-kilometer ahead, and he could see movement behind it. The last of the demonstrators who had pulled back from the square had assembled yet another wall of toppled carts and lobby furniture, beyond which it was difficult to see because the air was filled with teargas and smoke. Murhaf never liked this street. It was too big and wide, he thought. It was the financial district, built to show political might. It reminded him of all those who were in power. It was a street for the government elite, he thought, not for the common man. But he knew they needed to cross this street in order to be on the south side of the square, and this was as good a place as any. Ahead they heard gunfire and saw a demonstrator running to the opposite side of the street. Another gunshot sounded and a bullet ricocheted off the pavement near the man as he made a last leap onto the sidewalk and into a building. Murhaf looked up and saw the dark outline of a head just above the roofline on the opposite side of the street. As soon as he saw it, the head went down. The demonstrator, safely in the building, peaked out of a broken window and then disappeared. Murhaf looked at Amar. “It’s our turn,” he said. Amar nodded. Murhaf looked up at the roofline and saw nothing. “Let’s go.” “Okay.” Without further delay, they bolted across the street, and when they were midway through, something clanged to the pavement. When they Scozzari 19


looked back, they saw the iPhone there in the middle of the street, lying there exposed like a flayed rabbit. Amar reached into his pocket, in disbelief that it had fallen out. His pocket was empty. In his mind, he was thinking of all the images it contained, including the most striking video recordings of Assad’s brutal tactics taken to date. “I must get it,” he said quickly. “Wait.” “I must get it,” Amar said again, and without hesitation, he began to move forward. “Wait!” Murhaf said, holding his hand out against Amar’s chest. Murhaf already knew of the sniper above them. He checked the buildings down the street. Along the roofline of a tall building on the left, another head showed itself. The head stayed up for a second and then went back down. That makes two, he thought. He huddled there for a moment, thinking. “There’s another one up there,” he said, motioning with his head. Amar looked up but saw nothing. They looked at one another speculatively. For the moment, they were safely out of the sights of the snipers; their heads and bodies were behind the wall of the building. Murhaf looked back at the cellphone shining in the sun. There within, he thought, were the pictures to paint a thousand words. Amar looked nervous and was sweating profusely. Further down the street, Murhaf could see the last barricade with only a few remaining demonstrators behind it. There were distant sounds from the square beyond, rattling machinegun fire and distant shouting, and he could tell by the way the demonstrators were crouched down and taking cover that something was coming, something big. In his mind he made the decision to retrieve the phone, not because he preferred it over charging ahead and spilling the blood of the Alawite thugs, but because he knew Amar was determined to get it at any cost and that he, Murhaf, was the better equipped of the two to engage such risk. “Stay here,” Murhaf said. 20 Scozzari


Amar did not challenge. Murhaf took one last glance at the rooftop. He saw nothing. Then he took a deep breath, gripped the AK-47 tightly in his hand, and bolted into the street. A single shot of a sniper’s rifle stopped Murhaf, mid-stride, like he’d been hit by a ghost. He staggered two more steps and dropped to the pavement. “Murhaf!” Amar cried. For a second, Murhaf tried to pull himself up. But he fell back down and he laid there flat on his back, facing up, his rifle an arm’s length away from his extended hand. And now Amar could see blood coming from beneath him and pooling in the street. “Murhaf!” Amar impulsively leapt into the street. He fell to one knee beside his fallen friend and looked down at Murhaf ’s lifeless face. “Murhaf,” he cried. My good friend, lost now too to this uprising? The pointlessness of it struck him suddenly. The fatigue of hopelessness showed on Amar’s face. He felt himself shaking; he felt the emptiness that came from it all. The rebellion is crumbling, he thought. The rattling of gunfire caused Amar’s hands to impulsively grab at Murhaf ’s rifle. In an instant, he found himself standing alone in the street clenching an AK-47 in his hands. A shot rang out and a bullet ricocheted off the pavement near him and when Amar looked up he saw the head again above the rooftop. Amar pulled the rifle up to his shoulder, leveled it, and fired. The rifle recoiled violently, spattered out several rounds, and the head quickly dropped back down below the roofline. Once heard, the droning sound of oncoming tanks is not soon forgotten, and now Amar heard this sound, in columns, ten-fold. It is the sound of doom, Amar thought. It is the sound of military might. He felt the vibration of the earth; he could hear the slow, steady, creaking noise, Scozzari 21


the mechanized hum of powerful engines, the clacking of tracks against pavement. Through the smoke and haze of gunfire and teargas, he saw the tanks emerging, rumbling down the street directly toward him. The last of the brave demonstrators were now scattering from the barricade in all directions. He looked down at Murhaf, his beloved friend, brother in the rebellion no more, the blood still fresh on his lips. Beside him lay the iPhone 4 which contained images that could change the course of the rebellion. He felt his hands tighten on the wooden stock of the AK-47. He felt the blood welling up in his head and the adrenaline pushing through his veins, he heard the sounds of rattling gunfire, and then he charged, into the haze, towards the advancing tanks.

22 Scozzari


Minor Tragedies Shelby Goddard In preparation for the robin’s funeral rites, we stand reverent on the backyard lawn wearing the heavy black dresses and suits we purchased when my mother passed six months ago, back in January when wool was appropriate outdoor attire. Beads of sweat roll down my legs. “Let’s have a moment of silence,” Joe says, “while I, uh, dig this hole.” He produces a hand trowel from behind his back and begins digging out minuscule scoopfuls of dirt. Joe has a strong sense of proportion. In another life, he could have been Pythagoras. I cradle the Crisco tub in my arm, trying my best to be a good bird pall-bearer, wondering how long it will take the kids to grow out of the need for animal funerals. It looks like Timothy already has. He’s got his hands in his pockets, a stance he learned to adopt at school where, I know from the frequent notes sent home, he has been asked to keep his hands to himself. He now plunges them into his pockets whenever he wants to be doing something else. “Almost there,” Joe announces, wiping the sweat from his brow. He shapes the hole into the rectangle, stabbing at the rounded corners with the trowel. Timothy dances from one foot to the other like he has to pee. My motherly instincts rear up. I almost ask him if he’s going to have an Goddard 23


accident, but decorum prevails. This is a funeral, and I’m expected to behave accordingly. My daughter Sammy has made it clear that she holds me responsible for the bird’s untimely demise. The whole ride home from the restaurant Sammy wailed, “You killed it, you killed it, you ki-ih-ih-illed him. You killed Bob.” I couldn’t help thinking the show was exaggerated. There were no such tears when my mother died, when the paramedics carried her body down the stairs and the sheet slipped off to reveal her gaping mouth and glazed eyes. There were no such tears even at the open-casket funeral. The children were appropriately somber, but they didn’t seem all that pained. I’m not feeling sorry for myself, I just think a human being—even an extremely difficult one—deserves at least the same level of lamentation as a robin. Sammy has now stopped accusing me of murder to better concentrate on wailing. I plan to suggest that she take up the tuba—her lung capacity is that impressive—but music lessons can wait. This whole production is for her: Sammy, Samantha, the baby. This is one of the many things you do for your babies, things no one mentions when you’re pregnant and terrified your body will be ripped in half by another body tearing through you, worried that you’ll hate the child for what he or she—in my case he, then she—has had to gall to do to you. And children never say thank you, only ‘I didn’t ask to be born, you never let me have any fun, I can’t believe you killed that bird, etc, etc.’ Samantha bawls like she has been beaten, like we are a terrible family of child-beating bird-murderers. I shift the Crisco can from one arm to the other. The wails increase in volume. I fear this may never end, but Joe has finally dug the hole to an acceptable funerary depth, which he’s calculated should be approximately equal to the bird’s height. To him this makes sense because it corresponds to the six-foot rule for people. He explains this theory and then cringes, believing it’s inappropriate to mention anything remotely related to my mother’s death. But she was barely five feet tall, so the rule doesn’t exactly apply. Her death is half the reason I’ve gone back to work; the other half is money. These reasons are not unrelated. Caring for my mother during 24 Goddard


the last year of her life was more than emotionally straining. The truth is, we were all ready for her to go. None of us would ever say it, of course. We aren’t that kind of family. And if we did say it, we’d say it nicely like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Grandma could go visit Uncle Charlie in Florida? She’d like that. The beach -- that would be nice for her.” Nice, nice, nice. Nice is a word one must repeat when caring for one’s sickly mother. Especially when said mother has determined she’s going to die and believes that the best way to deal with that is to be jaw-droppingly, heart-breakingly honest. Her honesty didn’t always make sense, like the time she dug her fingers into Timothy’s arm and told him he had a girl’s name, or when she spit my lasagna back onto her plate and complained that it was “too Italian.” Such confused criticisms are easy to ignore. It’s easy to tell yourself that crazy, senile grandma doesn’t know an award-winning restaurant-style lasagna when she tastes one. Comparing my husband unfavorably to my high school boyfriends and asking if I remembered the abortion I had at seventeen was harder to ignore. She must not have remembered it too well herself because she brought it up repeatedly, narrowing her eyes at my children and shaking her head. “In my day, you would have had to marry that boy, but you didn’t. You didn’t have to marry anybody,” she’d say, sitting in my husband’s favorite chair and poking her cane out to trip him when he walked by. For a year I gritted my teeth through the nastiness, which turned out to be good practice for my re-entrance into the service industry. For women like me—former restaurateurs turned servers in classy establishments with cloth napkins and frozen steaks—niceness is difficult to keep up. In a former life, I had my own restaurant, but now I work in someone else’s. When I went in this morning, the place looked deceptively normal. I was opening, so no customers were there to slow my progress through the dining room with requests for lemon slices in their ice water or “just one more martini” before getting back to the office. Louise, daymanager-of-the-week, hadn’t made it in yet, and Bill was either behind Goddard 25


the locked office door or pretending to be. I once had an office like that, so I know how much work requires a locked door: not that much. But it’s better he stays back there because he’s committed to not helping. Or rather, he thinks he’s helping, but fails. He is a lot like Sammy, who volunteers to aid me in the kitchen and, after dropping whole eggs on the floor and egg shells in the mixing bowl, wonders aloud how much time her help has saved me. The few minutes before opening were the only peace I would get all day. I should have appreciated the time. I should have stopped to smell the roses, or at least the fresh coffee, instead of downing it like a whiskey shot and responsibly taking care of the opening duties. Lately, Bill had been sneaking suggestions into his usual lectures on napkin folding and positive attitudes that he wanted me to take over the day manager duties, but it was a commitment I was unwilling to make. This was a temporary position, a stopover until the kids were older and I could open my own place again. Louise showed up half an hour late wearing the same dress she wore yesterday, her hangover glasses slipping down her nose. “Son of a pickled dick,” she said, collapsing on the counter so her breasts jiggled ominously and her short dress rode up her thick, bare thighs. “I already know this day is going to be a fuck.” Louise has flair. The day went on normally for a good hour and a half. We,set up silverware, served beverages, took orders, and delivered food, all before Louise’s premonition came to pass. In the middle of the lunch rush, a robin flew in through the front door, following a couple hanging onto one another like they were on their honeymoon. They didn’t even notice the bird until it swooped through the woman’s curly hair. The woman shrieked and then erupted into giggles as the bird escaped into the rafters. They took their seats, happy the situation was now resolved, completely uninterested in the fact that the bird remained in the restaurant. For us employees, the episode was far from over. If I were in charge, I would have let the bird explore the rafters in peace. As long as it stayed out of the pasta, it was fine by me. But as soon 26 Goddard


as Louise caught sight of the poor little thing, fluttering into one wall and then another, she shrieked louder and longer than the curly-haired woman, alarming the customers and sending the robin into a frenzy. Two businessmen dropped their forks and covered their gin and tonics with their palms as though convinced the bird would dive-bomb their beverages. Which is just what the robin did. It aimed straight at a margarita fiesta, a fishbowl-sized drink we serve way too many of in the early afternoon. It dove as if it saw its reflection in a crystal pool. Thank God, another bird, I’m not in the wrong place after all but just the wrong side of the room, he must’ve thought. All those drunken businessmen and women must have scared the tail feathers off of it, because one feather fell slowly, in a graceful swoon into a middle-aged man’s beef and barley soup. He plucked up the feather with two fingers, held it out like a dirty diaper, and wrinkled his nose. “We have to do something,” Louise said to me. She stood with her feet wide apart and her knees slightly bent, thumping her fist into her palm like she was looking for a fight. “What do you propose?” I foolishly asked, thinking there would be no solution. I have learned to take things as they come. Motherhood, and its reverse—taking care of one’s mother—changes your outlook on what you can control. “We need a broom,” Louise said, as though brooms were designed specifically to remove birds from restaurant rafters. Oddly enough, we had no broom; once Bill discovered the magic of carpet sweepers, he never looked back. The only long-handled tools we possessed were the sweeper and a permanently soaking-wet rag mop. “It’ll leave eventually,” I suggested. “Just don’t scream again and it’ll be fine.” Louise stared at me dumbly. She thinks I’m a bad mother, letting things go like I do. She pictures my home running rampant with wild animals while I lay, back in a Barcalounger, insisting that the snake will eat the rat and the wild hog will chase out the snake and the laws of natural order will take care of everything. Louise has never had to care for an elderly half-mad mother who told her husband he’d be better off if he Goddard 27


if he died in a car accident, and referred to your children as “holy terrorists.” She doesn’t understand that some things you have to let go. As if in defense of my “let it be” plan, the bird calmed down, awaiting our next move from the corner. Louise, however, stomped behind the counter, grabbed the carpet sweeper, and swung it in circles like a medieval mace. The heavy plastic head flopped back and forth unevenly. The customers held forkfuls of salad or mashed potatoes halfway to their mouths, waiting to see what Louise would do next. She looked ready for battle, like an Amazon. In another life she could have been Xena: Warrior Princess. I kept my eyes on Louise until a lone diner in a brown suit and a polka dot bow-tie poked me in the elbow and said, “Ma’am. Ma’am, can I get some more ice water?” Ice water, at a time like this? I was afraid for the poor bird’s life and this guy wanted a refill of his free beverage? I’m a competent waitress, so I said “Sure,” and went for the pitcher. Of course, it was empty, and I had to crack ice and slice lemons, missing the show. When I got back to the dining room, Louise had the carpet sweeper over her head. She held it up with both hands, barreling chestfirst towards the terrified robin. The customers in her path cowered, their forks over their heads. I poured Bow-tie his ice water, but I wasn’t about to miss Louise’s performance. The bird logically decided to get the hell out of the corner, and swooped across the dining room. One woman thrust her fork up as the robin passed, like she thought a robin-kabob would make a nice second course. “Ma’am,” I finally noticed Bow-tie chanting. “Ma’am!” I looked down to see I’d poured ice water all over the tablecloth. Some of it had spilled over the edge and into the man’s lap, where it spread into a dark circle over his crotch. “Oh shit, shoot. I’m so sorry.” I grabbed the napkins from the extra place settings and dabbed at the edge of the table in an attempt to stop the stream into the man’s lap. I kept one eye on my illustrious manager, now running the other direction across the room and terrifying 28 Goddard


a new section of customers. Bow-tie tore a napkin out of my hand and patted his crotch with it. “Excuse me,” he griped, and turned away from my view. He looked over his shoulder with disgust at my poor attempts to sop up the water, ice cubes slipping out from under the napkins and shooting across the floor. An enormous crash echoed through the dining room. I looked away from Bow-tie to see Louise attached to the ceiling fan. She was on her tiptoes, the carpet sweeper jammed between the blades, hanging on to the long handle, and fighting to free her weapon as the fan struggled to keep turning. The fan emitted a strange whine and the robin tried to match it with an endless high-pitched yodel. Louise turned slowly under the fan, trying desperately to unhinge the carpet sweeper’s wobbly head. With one last violent jerk, she freed the carpet sweeper, but she was top heavy. She chased the sweeper around, trying to balance it, but down, down, down it went onto the floor right next to Bow-tie, and Louise went with it. She fell straight into him, nearly smothering him in her breasts. “Holy mother of shit,” she yelled, and pushed herself off of him. The ceiling fan resumed its normal spin, but the robin did not stop screeching. One fan blade tilted sideways like a broken wing. “Goddammit,” Louise exclaimed, shaking the carpet sweeper. The heavy head wobbled as though it agreed. Bow-tie stuck his fingers in his ears. “I’d like my bill now,” he shouted. “I don’t have my fingers in my ears,” I shouted back, but he didn’t appear to hear me. Several other customers decided Bow-tie had the right idea. Napkins were tossed into plates still brimming with sauce, purses were grabbed and cash was thrown hurriedly onto table tops. When the meeker of our customers had escaped from the building and Louise had rung up their tickets, she turned her attention to me. “Well, what the hell are we going to do now?” she asked, her eyes following the robin. It was still trying to figure out how to get through the painted-shut windows to freedom. It ping-ponged back and forth across one corner of the ceiling. Goddard 29


I said.

“If it would just fly a little lower, it would eventually find the door,”

Louise ignored my optimism. She rolled the carpet sweeper toward me. It picked up a melting ice cube on the way. “You’re going to have to get up on a table to reach the ceiling,” she said, as though we’d already agreed on a plan and on who would carry it out. I raised an eyebrow, a move that usually worked to get Timothy to put down the video game controller and start on his math homework, but Louise was unmoved. It was a standoff. Louise rolled the carpet sweeper back and forth ominously. Finally she spoke. “I’d get up there myself, but I’m not wearing panties.” Checkmate. I was wearing slacks, so I couldn’t even pretend to match that excuse. “Fine.” I took the carpet sweeper and headed for the corner booth. The few customers left, stared at the bird like it was a television with a broken remote; they didn’t want to watch, but that was all that was on. I got up on the bench seat and heaved the carpet sweeper up after me, wondering how Louise managed to hold it over her head for so long. From the bench, I stepped onto the table, conscious of the diners’ eyes and really wanting a margarita of my own. The table was so wobbly that I had to spread my feet wide for balance. I still felt like I was failing a remedial surfing class. Balancing the carpet sweeper over my head while balancing myself on the wobbly table proved to be as difficult as it sounds, and the bird had no sympathy for my plight. It shrieked unmercifully when it saw its old nemesis the carpet sweeper, but it held its ground, flitting back and forth across the corner to avoid my reach. “Here birdie, birdie,” I sang, swinging the weapon. I was sending mixed messages. Come here so I can beat you. I was acting like my mother acted between sickness and death, between caring and giving up. Not long before she died, when I knew I was going to have to go back to work and was trying to figure out how I could balance everything, taking care of her, the kids, Joe, and myself, she called me into her 30 Goddard


room and beckoned for me to lean close. I thought she might impart some secret wisdom, might give me something to hold on to after she was gone. When I bent near, she gripped my blouse with her claw-hand and said that when she was pregnant with me she drank pennyroyal tea by the bucket. “I drank as much as I could stand,” she whispered through her teeth. “You know what that means?” I did know. She didn’t have the option to do what I had done at seventeen. She married the boy that knocked her up. “You could have been something,” she said, and let go of my wrinkled blouse. “Something else.” She stabbed at my chest with a bony finger and then spit up bile in a plastic cup. Joe insisted that she didn’t know what she was saying, but the doctor said there was no evidence of dementia. What does one do with such information? It was because of her that I ended up in this line of work, that I need the money like I do and can’t afford the gamble of the life I used to have. I didn’t ask to be born. In another life, I could have not had a life at all. I was trapped in this restaurant too, I thought, standing on a table wielding a carpet sweeper instead of running a place like I used to. I could do that again when I had more time, when the kids were older, when I had more stomach for risk. Half of all restaurants fail in the first year. That’s a statistic Joe gave me, not trying to be discouraging, but realistic. Reality is still just so discouraging sometimes. “What in God’s name?” Bill. I turned to face him and hit the sweeper head against the wall. This had the unfortunate effect of opening the hatch and dumping dust and grime and crumbs and what looked like a partially chewed piece of dinner roll over both of our heads. Bill had his mouth open, ready to lecture me about something, but I’ll never know what it was because his tongue was coated in carpet sweeper dirt. His face revealed the appropriate horror. The robin sang a happy tune, like “Cheer up, cheery cheery up,” as if in celebration of the carpet sweeper’s evident defeat. Bill stared daggers Goddard 31


at the bird. He seemed to believe the robin was actually laughing at him. “It’s laughing with you,” I explained. Bill pulled a napkin off the table, ignoring the silverware that clattered to the floor, and scrubbed his tongue. He shook the napkin at me like a white flag, but surrender was not on his mind. “What do you think you’re doing here?” he asked, his voice gravelly with grime. Good question. One I’ve asked myself many times. I shrugged. “If you want to make it in this business,” he growled, pointing hard like my mother did, “you’d better start taking control.” Like I was playing up there and not trying to take care of things, like I was not a woman who took care of things—children, dying mothers, restaurants that don’t belong to her. If he thought he was going to scold me into behaving, he didn’t know much about my experience with parental guidance. I’d built up immunity against normal levels of criticism. Bill didn’t want me dead, didn’t wish I’d never existed. He wouldn’t even fire me. Bill saw me for what I am: adequate. I’d about had it. I swung the sweeper more wildly than Louise had, trying anything to force the bird out of the corner and toward the front door, when I heard “Mommy! What are you doing on the table, Mommy?” I spun around, forgetting the table’s wobbliness, and my feet went out from under me. The carpet sweeper slammed into the wall, I slammed into the bench next to the table, and the bird fell to the floor, twitching. The first of Sammy’s screams echoed through the restaurant. I was wedged between the bench and the table, my legs over my head. Thank God for pants. I could see the bird on the floor, neither of us moving. “I didn’t even hit it,” I heard myself shout. “It must have had a heart attack.” Timothy jumped up and down yelling “Dude” and “Wicked,” while Joe tried to hold him still with a palm on the top of his head. Sammy continued to scream and didn’t stop until I wiggled myself free and scooped the bird up. I ran it into the kitchen but the cooks thought that was unsanitary. Bill shooed me out to the front, where 32 Goddard


Sammy promptly resumed screaming when she saw the dead bird in my hand. Louise finally saved the day with an empty Crisco can. “It’s the only container I could find,” she said, shrugging her shoulders and smiling tentatively at my screaming daughter. Once the bird was safely hidden in the Crisco tub and Sammy was silent, however momentarily, I was finally able to ask my family what the hell they were doing there. Joe shrugged and attempted a smile. “We thought we’d come in for lunch and surprise you?” He said it like a question, like it seemed like a good idea at the time but he hadn’t realized I’d be killing small animals at work today. “I’m leaving,” I announced. “Go ahead.” Louise ushered us to the door. “I’ll take care of Bill. We’ve all been through enough today.” I wish that was true, but for me there remained accusations of birdicide, a black wool dress, a tiny hole in the ground, and a funeral speech fit for the king of robins. And here I now stand, overdressed and overheated, ready to lay the robin, and this day, to rest. Joe says all the right things one could say about a dead robin that one only momentarily knew. Sammy sniffles and Timothy shifts his feet, his hands still in his pockets. When Joe finishes expounding the virtues of the dead bird, and Sammy wails, “Goodbye Bob!” with all the sorrow a five-year-old can muster, I open the Crisco can with the ceremonious demeanor the situation requires, and the damn bird flies right out. “It’s a miracle,” Sammy whispers. The robin flies like it’s just learning how. Awkward and crooked, it flops over the fence into the Johnsons’ yard and disappears from our lives. “Yes,” I say, because I can’t say what’s clearly true. I can’t tell Sammy the bird has a broken wing and will never survive on its own. I can’t explain that Bob will never make it out of the Johnsons’ backyard. I can’t tell my only daughter that no one gets a second chance at life. So I tell Goddard 33


her, “It’s a miracle.”

34 Abbott


Abbott 35


Sudden Fiction 1st Prize

The Diagnosis Sierra Senzaki

Reverend Joseph Otani was anxious. Going to the doctor did not normally make him anxious – he believed the only people who should be afraid of doctors were infants and idiots. But his wife Nancy was clutching his hands and the balding man who had driven them there was staring grimly at the wall. When the doctor knocked on the exam room door, Nancy and the man both jumped. As far as Reverend Otani could tell, the doctor’s exam started like any other: recording his height, weight and blood pressure; testing his reflexes; listening to his heart and lungs. Then the questions began. “Mr. Otani, can you tell me today’s date?” He could not understand why the doctor didn’t consult the calendar hanging on the wall. “It’s June.” “Could you give me the exact day, please?” “No, I could not,” Reverend Otani growled. The doctor made a mark on her clipboard. “What year is it, Mr. Otani?” “Not a clue.” Reverend Otani noticed that Nancy was now clutching the balding man’s hands. She looked pale. The doctor proceeded down the checklist on her clipboard. 36 Senzaki


Reverend Otani did not remember his home telephone number. He did not remember that his birth date was October 3, 1931 or that the current president was Barack Obama. The doctor told him to remember the word “apple,” and five minutes later, Reverend Otani did not remember. “How did you get here today, Mr. Otani?” He did remember this. “That man drove us.” Nancy gasped. The balding man started to cry. What Reverend Otani had not remembered was that the balding man’s name was Michael, and that he had been born in Chicago two years after he and Nancy were married. He had not remembered smashing his thumb while building the crib that, over the years, would hold not just Michael, but Susan and Georgie and Alan too. He had not remembered scolding the kids for falling asleep during his Sunday service. He had not remembered leaving his youngest, Alan, at the dorms with two suitcases and a curt handshake, then returning to Nancy and the too-quiet house. Seven years later, he had cradled his first granddaughter and stared into her calm brown eyes. It had been the first time his children saw him truly smile, though Reverend Otani did not remember that. Staring at the horrified look on Nancy’s face, Reverend Otani felt the air in the room grow hotter and thicker. He leant back against a thin makeshift wall, the splintery wood prickling his skin through his Sears and Roebuck shirt. A girl’s scream tore through the sticky Arkansas afternoon. “Stop it, you jerks!” Joe looked up from his book and peered across the dusty square that served as the quad for the relocation camp junior high school. A tall girl in a blue dress and perfectly curled hair was reading a letter to her giggling friends, while a chubby girl in a smudged green skirt tried to snatch it back. Joe knew the girl in green – she sat near him in class and always got top marks. She tried to talk to him sometimes, but Joe never knew what to say back. His hands clenched around his book. The girl’s cries stabbed at him and an anxious knot formed in his chest. He felt he should do something, but he didn’t know what. Then the bell rang and it was too late. Reverend Otani looked at the girl’s tear-streaked face although Senzaki 37


now it was skinnier and wrinkled. “Oh, Nancy,” he said. “I’m so sorry.” Nancy and the balding man tried to smile at him. “It’s okay, Dad,” the balding man said. But Reverend Otani kept speaking. “I’ll get you that letter back if you want, Nancy. Don’t cry. I’ll get it back for you, I promise. I’m sorry.”

38 Senzaki


Small Sad Souls Elizabeth Tarver Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities. Lamentations 5:7 Late Summer, 2003. Uncle Leonard drove the pickup into the yard across Gran’s rose bed and onto the back patio. I stood at the road looking for approaching headlights. There was no moon and it was so quiet that I felt detached from my body. This must be what it’s like to be Gran, I thought. Dead and drifting and watching. A little while later I heard Edward and Uncle Leonard grunting and cursing. “Hold it up. Up straight.” Uncle Leonard’s baritone voice filled the void around me. “Shut up, Dad. You want someone to hear us?” Edward said, his voice straining. I imagined them both, their faces red and their legs unsteady under the weight of Gran’s antique armoire. A neighbor’s dog began to bark. Tarver 39


“Don’t let it drop, damn it.” “Don’t be so goddamn loud.” I heard the armoire make contact with the bed of the truck. The sound of old wood scraping against metal. I remembered the place in Gran’s room where the armoire stood, right across from the bed with the cheap Walmart headboard Uncle Leonard had bought for her birthday. Everything nice he’d already weaseled out of her and sold. Everything except the armoire, which she steadily refused to part with. The armoire was wildly ornate with carvings of birds frolicking among fruit and flowers with long tangles of vines running up the sides. The double mirrors were cloudy and speckled. “Been in the family for a hundred and fifty years,” Gran told me once when I was twelve or thirteen. “We Wellburns used to be rich, see?” “Yes,” I said. I touched a bird with my index finger, tracing its wing and tail. “This is a fine piece, Mother,” Aunt Nancy said. She was Uncle Leonard’s older sister and looked just like him, big boned with large feet. The only difference was she was neat and clean, and Uncle Leonard wasn’t. “Oh, yes,” Gran said. “It’s worth quite a bit of money, you know.” She gazed at me in the mirror and stroked my long hair, which was all the way to my bottom back then. Gran liked to stand beside me and look at us together in the mirror, especially when we were dressed up for church. She used to sew all of my dresses. Aunt Nancy nodded solemnly. Her perfectly coifed, iron gray hair never moved. She was well-educated, unlike the rest of us, and she had a good job at the college and a nice, big house in town. I never liked to visit her. You had to be careful not to break things in her house. Little china figurines were everywhere. Gran said Aunt Nancy was lonely. And infertile. “Barren,” Gran would whisper, as if Nancy had a great patch of desert hidden inside of her that was uninhabitable and dry. Gran died in her sleep right before I turned eighteen. I chose to 40 Tarver


live with Uncle Leonard because I knew Aunt Nancy would be strict. Uncle Leonard didn’t care what I did. It was as if I wasn’t even in that filthy house with Edward and him. One night I heard them talking about Aunt Nancy. “She said Gran had a will and you’re not in it,” Edward said. “I don’t care what no goddamn will says. Mama said I could have the armoire and that’s what I’m going by.” Uncle Leonard broke into a fit of coughing and Edward had to slap his back. “We got to get it before she gets her hands on it. That’s all I know.” “No way in hell is that happening. It’s the only valuable thing left in the house.” ********** Uncle Leonard was to call out like an owl, “Hoo, hoo,” which would mean that the armoire was loaded and secure and I was to come running. I listened hard and I shivered in the warm night because I knew what we were doing was bad. I knew Gran could probably see me just fine in the dark because she had gone to the light and could see everything now. She was looking at me and shaking her head and feeling terrible because she’d raised such a wayward granddaughter. Not to mention that my own mother, Gran’s other daughter, was nothing but a heroin-addicted petty thief who’d overdosed under a bridge in the seediest part of town. I could almost hear Gran’s voice in the black silence. “So disappointed,” she said. “In you, Betsy,” she said a little later. I was relieved when Uncle Leonard let loose his owl call. I ran through the tall grass until I could make out the truck, and I climbed inside next to Edward who was covered in sticky sweat. I tried to keep my distance, but as we drove through Gran’s yard, the truck rocked back and forth and I had to lean into Edward or he had to lean into me. “Get away,” I said. “Shut up, turd,” Edward said. We kept our headlights off until we were out of Gran’s Tarver

41


neighborhood and back on the highway. I held my breath for a long time because I expected to hear sirens or see flashing lights fill the darkness in the truck cab. There was nothing. ********** “Don’t you have any clue who might have done it?” Aunt Nancy asked. She watched me closely, trying to figure out if I was lying. I didn’t like her kind, round face and teary eyes all sad. It was easy to lie to her. “You can’t leave a house empty after someone dies,” Uncle Leonard said. “The vultures will steal from you left and right.” One of Uncle Leonard’s eyes trailed slightly to the side, the way it did when he’d been hitting the Xanax hard. “In a couple of months, there won’t be a thing left on the place – if you leave it unattended, that is,” Edward said, glancing at me. I pretended not to notice. I felt Aunt Nancy’s gaze return to me. “It’s such a shame because she left it to you. It’s worth several thousand dollars.” I hung my head. I would be eighteen in a couple of weeks. I could have moved out of Uncle Leonard’s house with that kind of money. I could have gotten my own place. “I’m so sorry,” Aunt Nancy said, smoothing my hair with her hand. “I always told Mother to insure the thing, but she never did.” I closed my eyes tight. I could see the old man at the junk shop on the highway and the thin stack of twenties he counted into Uncle Leonard’s hand. I could see the two twenty dollar bills Uncle Leonard put in my hand, and I could see myself spending it on the pot and the beer my friends and I consumed in the woods behind the abandoned Blockbuster the night before. I could see myself the next morning, wound up in my pink flowered sheets, my head pounding. I could hear the phone ring and the answering machine come on and Aunt Nancy’s voice saying she was coming over soon to ask me and Edward and Uncle Leonard something. 42 Tarver


Something about the armoire. Late Spring, 1903. Julius regarded dual images of his frail self in the double mirrors of the armoire as his grandfather, Dr. Jackson Van Buren Wellburn, listened to Julius’ heart with an ancient stethoscope, the same one he used in the Civil War. “Strong, strong,” the grandfather said, but his eyes were frowning and Julius knew his heart must be weak. “Now you can feel the bullet, son.” Julius raised his hand. It shook, but he raised it anyway and pressed his fingers against his grandfather’s scalp where the Yankee bullet was lodged. It felt like a pebble, raised and hard. “Got that at Shiloh, young one,” the old man said in the overly reverent tone he used when he talked about battles. “I was caring for a wounded soldier. Boy, not much older than you, really. He was telling me his last words. Talking about his sweetheart. A girl named Letitia. He said, ‘Tell Letitia I died and tell her I was brave.’” “And then what?” Julius asked, his hand dropping onto the bed, as limp as his sister Belle’s rag doll. “I heard the whizzing sound, the sound of the Yankee’s bullet. ’Twas the sound of death, indeed it was.” “And you lived.” “I lived, but I thought I was going to die. I surely did. Blood everywhere. I thought my damn brains had been lost on the battlefield.” Julius watched the old man slowly put the stethoscope away and close his satchel. He saw the worry lines behind his grandfather’s smile. “You’ll be needing to rest now. That’s the best medicine for you. Rest.” The old man closed the door and Julius closed his eyes and listened hard for the voices of his mother and father. If he strained, he could hear them, but sometimes the bird outside his window began to Tarver 43


sing, and he could no longer make out his parents’ voices. It was the bird with the mournful song. The same one he had heard at the graveyard when they buried his aunt who had died in childbirth. The funeral bird, he called it. His mother said it was probably a catbird because they make a sound like a baby’s cry. Julius knew it was not a catbird. There were hideous carved birds on the armoire. Sometimes, Julius thought they came to life when he closed his eyes. That it was one of the carved birds making the solemn call. He hated the way the birds seemed to stare at him, like they were waiting on him to take his last breath. If he ever got well, he told himself, he’d take an axe to that armoire and he’d never have to look at it again. The door opened and it was Belle. She wanted the double mirrors, wanted to dance in front of them and pretend to pour tea into her teacups, all the time watching herself. She smiled and waved and then planted herself in front of the armoire. He wanted to tell her to leave but he was too tired. He watched her spin around and around in circles. He fell asleep to the sound of her singing. ********** Dr. Wellburn discovered the armoire during the last gasp of the War on his way back from the Battle of Mansfield. He’d spent many days without sleep tending the wounds of illiterate country boys, and was nearly blind from exhaustion. He rode a black horse and as it grew dark, he heard the clamor of voices, an argument. Through the thicket, Dr. Wellburn could see a small cabin with all the windows lit up from the fireplace inside. In the open door stood a tall man, hunched over so he could fit inside the doorframe. “Not interested in it,” he said. “Pay me what you owe me,” another voice said. It came from outside the cabin, in the dark. “You said there’d be jewelry. You said there’d be silver. You said that widow woman had fine things and this is all you brought?” 44 Tarver


ask.”

“She must have hid them and, anyway, she was too dead for me to

“She buried them in the yard, more than likely,” the man in the doorway said, speaking kindly now. He held out a jug for the owner of the other voice, a mere boy, ragged and dirty, who stepped forward out of the dark. The man in the doorway raised a pistol with his other hand and the boy fell to the ground. Dr. Wellburn’s horse whinnied as the shot rang out, but the man in the doorway didn’t notice. He drew the jug to his mouth and slammed the door. The boy moaned and called for his mother. Dr. Wellburn’s hand lingered around his own pistol for a moment, but then dropped to his side. He’d seen too many gut wounds in the past weeks. Not one of those men lived. Wasn’t it time he got something for his trouble besides a wad of worthless Confederate dollars? And why should he risk his life for this little pillager? He hitched his horse to the boy’s wagon in which the armoire lay, barely visible in the dim light of the crescent moon. He climbed into the wagon seat and took the reins. The mules plodded silently into the dark. They knew the road. ********** The armoire was elaborately carved with mythical birds and flowers. Mrs. Wellburn liked to believe it came from France, but Dr. Wellburn suspected it probably came from New Orleans because the carvings, though finely detailed, were primitive, as if made by someone woefully uneducated, perhaps a slave. Dr. Wellburn never told Mrs. Wellburn about the armoire’s provenance, and she believed, without him telling her so, that he’d bought it for her as a belated wedding gift. When visitors admired it, Mrs. Wellburn glowed with rosy pride. “Ah,” she’d say, “my husband’s gift to me in commemoration of our wedding day. A bit late because of the War, but all the same, such a grand memento. It’s French, of course.” “Oh Helen,” Dr. Wellburn would mutter and shake his head. Tarver 45


When she died, he gave the armoire to his daughter-in-law so he wouldn’t have to see it anymore. He never could forget the dead boy from whom he stole it. The boy he’d left to bleed to death in the dirt. It alarmed him when he saw his own dying grandson in the armoire’s double mirrors, as if God was finally extracting the price of the piece. A price a poor country doctor could not afford to pay in coin or note. A tremendous price, payable only in flesh. Dr. Wellburn dreaded the day that he would be summoned to the bedside. Then, one afternoon, after a hard spring rain, it happened. Julius lay pale and still on the bed as his mother wept over him, the way a dead boy should be wept over. Someone had taken black cloth and covered the mirrors of the armoire. All was quiet in the heavy, slow, unreal way it is when a loved one’s dead body lies in a room, when the soul has departed and only the strange, familiar shell of muscle and bone remains. “Let me burn this old armoire,” Dr. Wellburn cried out, startling everyone. “Tote it out to the yard for me, someone, so I can send it to hell with an axe and fire.” No one listened. They hushed and cajoled him and gave him whiskey to calm his nerves. The armoire stayed in the room, where every week it was polished with pride. It became a family heirloom, passed down into the dark and fearsome future into which neither Dr. Wellburn nor any other Wellburn could see. The Late 1980s. Patricia Wellburn was nearly seventy when her daughter Laura rang the doorbell and handed her the baby, a skinny pale thing still covered in blood and membrane and wrapped in a fragment of ratty sweatshirt. Patricia was mesmerized by the baby’s reaching hands and scrunched face that looked like her ex-husband’s when he was in a rage. She barely noticed as Laura turned and ran to the idling car waiting at the curb. Well after the car had disappeared, Patricia realized the baby 46 Tarver


was hungry. She had nothing to feed her. She called her son Leonard because he was out of work and would be home. When he didn’t answer, she reluctantly called Nancy, her other daughter. Nancy taught remedial English at the college in town. She was always busy and didn’t like to be disturbed with family drama, which was caused mostly by Laura’s drug addiction. When Nancy received her Ph.D., no one went to her graduation because of Laura. Nancy said it didn’t matter how well she did because Laura’s bad behavior earned her all the attention. Nancy was right. “Sweetie,” Patricia spoke softly into the receiver. “Something’s happened. Someone’s here. I need your help.” “What’s she done now?” Nancy was always direct. “Laura’s had a baby.” Patricia listened but there was silence. “Hello? Are you there?” “Yes,” Nancy said, her voice hard. “I’ll be right over.” “Bring some formula and a bottle. You’ll need to stop at the drugstore.” The baby was starving and cried incessantly while Patricia waited for Nancy. Patricia tried walking her around and talking soothingly to her. She tried rocking her in the porch rocker, but soon the whole neighborhood was alive with barking dogs who could hear the persistent screeching. Finally, she tried sitting in her old Buick. As soon as the engine roared to life, the baby put her fingers in her mouth and sucked them until she dozed off. Patricia sat there until Nancy pulled up behind her in the driveway and tapped on the window. Patricia turned off the engine and the baby immediately resumed her screaming. This time louder. “How could such a scrawny thing be so loud?” Nancy asked as Patricia slipped the baby into her arms. Patricia could tell that Nancy was taken with the baby. It was magical to hold a baby that could grab your heart in an instant. They prepared a warm bottle in the kitchen according to the formula instructions. Nancy sat on the sofa with the baby and Patricia hovered over her holding the bottle. “What are we going to do?” Patricia asked. Tarver 47


“You’ll need to get custody, obviously. Unless you want to put it up for adoption.” “Her.” “What?” “She’s a girl. This baby is my granddaughter. My first granddaughter.” “You want to keep her then?” Patricia thought. The baby might be better off with a family, a normal, intact family. “I suppose I could do it,” Patricia said, even though she doubted she could. But how was it possible to give the child up after she’d held her? She filled a dishpan with water and set about washing the baby. Her fingers were finely made, like a doll’s. Her nose was like Nancy’s. “Look, honey,” Patricia said. “That’s your nose. I think you should take her.” “What would I do with a baby? I’m never home,” Nancy said briskly as if she’d already considered the idea but soundly rejected it. ********** Patricia decided to name the baby Betsy. She’d been pregnant when she and George Wellburn got married. The baby she gave birth to six months later was a stillborn. She’d only been sixteen at the time and she didn’t eat enough for a flea, so it was no wonder the baby came out that way. She’d named that baby Betsy because she’d had a doll named Betsy when she was a little girl. It seemed natural to name this baby Betsy too, for the one she’d lost. Who would have thought that a replacement would come so late in life? George would never have let her keep the baby, even if it was his own grandchild. Patricia dressed Betsy in a pink ruffled dress and bonnet and held her before George’s family heirloom, the armoire. “Old Grandpa George can’t say a thing about it now, can he? Gran’s got you and the armoire too.” 48 Tarver


George was always calling her about the armoire. He never asked about their children. “It’s mine,” he’d say. “My separate property. I inherited it from my father. You know that.” Patricia usually hung up the phone. But sometimes she would say the armoire was the price for his cheating. A girl on every block, it seemed. He’d been a handsome so-and-so once, always leaving her, and then somehow sliding right back into her life. Now he was shriveled and stooped from decades of drinking and smoking. No one wanted him. He was strapped for money. If she gave him the armoire, he’d sell it and buy more Jim Beam. She couldn’t bear to think of him selling a family heirloom, especially something with such faded prestige. What a fine family the Wellburns must have been once. She liked to watch Betsy play dress up in front of the double mirrors, just the way Nancy and Laura used to. She liked to think of other little Wellburn girls doing the same for generations. George used to speak obsessively of his family, especially of an uncle who died as a boy. What was his name? Julian or Julius? Patricia couldn’t remember. George’s father, the dead boy’s younger brother, was a successful surgeon, but he became a heavy drinker. He’d gotten drunk one night and accidentally shot himself in the hand. He never worked again and George’s family became destitute. George took to drinking too, taking a nip from his father’s bourbon stash whenever he had a chance. It was like watching dominoes fall, George used to say. Every Wellburn goes down the same road, he said. A road leading nowhere. A long, sad, meandering highway. Only the little boy who died so many years ago had escaped it, George used to say when he was drunk and rambling. This was only family lore, of course, muddled and distorted by the passing years. Patricia didn’t believe for one minute that every single Wellburn was destined for tragedy, as if it was an inherited condition. Patricia thought about this as Betsy played mama and baby in the mirror with her doll. “You’re going to grow up to be a bad little girl if you don’t hush your mouth and start minding me,” Betsy said, waggling her skinny little finger in the doll’s face. Patricia saw Betsy give herself a Tarver 49


knowing look in the mirror, an arched eyebrow and a smirk. There’s no way to change it. Patricia could hear George’s quavering voice, the way it sounded right before he’d pass out on the couch. We all got something wrong with us. Every one of us. Late Summer, 2011. Uncle Leonard died last year. Something to do with his organs not working anymore because of all the years of substance abuse. The last time I saw him he looked like a swollen grapefruit. It was eight years ago that we stole Gran’s armoire. I moved out of Uncle Leonard’s house not long after. I got tired of Edward bullying me, calling me names, stealing my things, and cooking meth in the kitchen. It got so bad that the whole house smelled like a meth lab. I’d come home and the smell would be so strong that I couldn’t breathe. Edward would dance around me like a big monkey, doing a jig and pretending he was wearing a top hat. He’d bow and want me to clap and tell him he was funny. He’d give me a hard slap on the head when I didn’t laugh. He was volatile and scary like that. There was no ignoring him. Uncle Leonard never tried to stop him. I think he liked watching Edward harass me. He’d just sit in his recliner with that far-away look on his face and chuckle. “Take a joke, kid,” he’d say. “Roll with the punches. That’s life.” It wasn’t easy when I moved out, but I made it somehow. I had to sleep on friends’ sofas and save my money. I worked in every fast food restaurant in town. I’m married now. My husband makes decent money selling cars. I work at a coffee shop. It’s more high class than fast food and I smell like coffee instead of French fries when I go home. Edward comes in the shop sometimes and asks me for money. He looks like an old man and has a bad case of meth mouth. His teeth have melted away into caramel-colored nubs. The mothers with kids in tow vanish when he shows up. I don’t think he knows how to manage without his father. Uncle Leonard was always good at coming up with money-making schemes so they could get by. Edward is too paranoid to come up with 50 Tarver


anything like that. He’s always telling me in the coffee shop that he has the creepy-crawlies. He thinks there are bugs crawling all over him. He tells me I’ve got to help him. I tell him to leave and I don’t give him money. I tell him to stop using that meth and I’ll talk to him. I stay away from Nancy too. She knows I was in on the armoire theft, but she never did anything about it. All she did was stop talking to Leonard. Once I saw her crossing the street on my way home from work. She looked like Gran, with the same white hair, except she was much heavier, like she’d been eating up all her loneliness in Super Size portions so she didn’t have to feel it. She waddled along talking to herself and didn’t even recognize me. I drive a new car on account of my husband. She’d never expect to see me in something so nice. I tell myself the armoire was mine anyway and I have nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes I am, though. And other times I’m glad we took it and sold it. I’m glad it’s not there for me to cling onto like the way Gran did. Like having it meant something grand about who we were, when it really didn’t. It was only wood, pieces of board nailed together, but we are flesh and blood armoires with small sad souls inside like tiny jewels.

Tarver 51


Smudges Ian Denning

January, 1907 In the little stable next to the mill, Martin scraped the ice from Jim’s horses’ heels with a hoofknife. The two grade horses huddled together, shivering, noses steaming in the early-morning freeze. One raised its head and tucked its tail down, threatening to kick him. Martin gave it space and spoke to it in German. “You done in here?” Jim asked. He stood in the stable’s entryway, lighting a lantern. Jim was Martin’s overseer in the mill, a big Irishman with a poof of brown hair that reminded Martin of the balls of cotton lint that scudded across the mill’s floors. “Almost done now,” Martin said. “Come in.” While Martin filled the feedbags, Jim inspected the horses’ hooves and manes and made sure they had enough heavy blankets piled over them. Then he nodded and said, “Yeh.” Except to issue instructions to the doffing boys, Jim rarely spoke. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a quarter, gave it to Martin, and left him with the horses. Martin looked at the coin in his hand. Twenty-five cents for a week’s work. As far as Mother knew, Martin 52 Denning


left for the mill early to make a good impression on the floor bosses, and now his deception had paid off: a quarter that Mother didn’t know about, one that existed magically outside of the budget. He slipped the quarter into his pocket and went to work. The new No. 1 Mill was a massive brick building, one of the two textile mills in the center of Dover, New Hampshire. Five stories tall and longer than the ship that brought Martin and his family to America, it loomed over the river like a mountaintop about to collapse. The carding room, Martin’s workplace, extended the entire length of the third floor. The carding machines themselves, great squat metal things the size of wagons, ran in four long rows from one end of the room to the other. Their leather belts reached from the shaft along the ceiling to each machine’s flywheel, and smaller belts turned their drums and mechanisms. Everything clattered and rumbled and banged. Martin did odd jobs on the carding room floor: he swept up the scraps and lint, doffed empty lap sticks and full cans of sliver—soft, thick ropes of cleaned and processed cotton—and sometimes ran the cans up to the fourth floor, where an army of women spun the sliver into yarn on their ring spinners. They always looked to Martin like the mechanical guts of gigantic typewriters. It was boring, repetitive work, but Martin tried hard to impress Jim and the other overseers while keeping his feet steady on the oily floor and his fingers out of the whirling drums of the machines. The air in the carding room was hot and thick and smelled like oil, and if, on a sunny day, Martin looked up from his work, he could see rays of sunlight shining through the tall windows and lighting up dense clouds of dust and lint. If he ignored the roar and the drudgery of the mill, it could be a beautiful place. Jim had taken a liking to Martin and taught him to clean the wire teeth on the carding drums. Now Martin helped the grinders, using a coarse emery file to maintain the cylinders. Jim also taught him to put out the little fires—smudges, he and the boys called them—that popped up a few times a day when the machinery cast sparks into the oily lint on the floor. Denning 53


“They can burn the whole place down, so you’ve got to catch them quick,” Jim said. “There’s a sprinkler system, but that’s only for big ones— usually the doffers are the first to get to a little smudge. There’s a standpipe and a hose over there.” Jim pointed to the middle of the floor. “Fill a pail or bring a hose if it will reach and get it out, and make sure the fire don’t get in a can. No matter how wet sliver gets, the damn stuff still burns. Don’t worry though, the little smudges are easy to catch once you look for them.” Martin doffed and worked the floor all day, then trudged home through the snow. Always this snow and this cold. Last week, Georgie came home from school excited because he saw a gutter snap open lengthwise and disgorge a long tube of ice that fell onto the snow and shattered. Mother was worried about the cost of the extra firewood. She was hunched over her figures when Martin arrived home. She had made a budget that tracked their expenses down to the penny. One pound of butter, twenty-seven cents. One bushel of potatoes, sixty-one cents. One gallon of milk, ten cents. Cloth from the mill store with a voucher from Martin’s wages. She tracked everything. Martin wouldn’t have been surprised if she kept track of the remaining days until she could pass Georgie off as fourteen and put him to work in the mill too. “We’re going to have to make do with less lamp oil,” she said without looking up. Martin grunted and sat down hard in his chair, his legs stiff and his ears ringing with the clamor of the mill. They lived in the back two rooms of a boarding house south of the mills: one room to cook and eat in, one room to sleep in. Both were cramped and dark. In the kitchen, pots and pans and spoons hung from wires above the stove because there were no drawers, and their family’s meager supplies of flour and lard sat out on the table. “I hope they’ve noticed you coming early to work this last week,” his mother said. Martin had forgotten about his secret quarter, but now it seemed so heavy and shiny in his pocket that he was surprised Mother didn’t 54 Denning


notice it. “I’m sure they’ll notice soon, Mutti,” he said. “Daumen drücken,” she said, and pressed her thumbs into her fists for good luck. “Will you go help Georgie with his English book? He’s in the other room.” Georgie was on the bed that he and Martin shared, staring at his English primer and holding his head in his hands. Georgie was only nine, and did not pick up English like Martin, who read a word and remembered it, and corrected himself after hearing the pronunciation only once. Georgie was much more like their mother. He was struggling in his classroom, falling behind the other children who spoke as little English as he did, and he missed his father. Martin was too busy and tired to think about that. “It’s going badly?” Martin asked. Georgie nodded his head. “Let’s practice. What is this animal called?” Martin pointed to the dog in his little brother’s language primer. “Der Hund,” Georgie said. “I don’t remember the word.” “Try.” “I’m not smart like you,” Georgie complained. Most everything that came out of Georgie’s mouth these days was a complaint. In English, Georgie said, “He say ‘woof.’” “What is it called?” Martin stabbed his finger at the picture of the dog. “Deer?” “No, but you have the first letter right. Try again.” **********

They had arrived in America on New Year’s Day. Despite the snow flurries and choppy gray seas, Martin’s mother seemed glad for the holiday. She spent the morning before their arrival packing their bunks, humming old folk songs, and muttering about how she wished she weren’t on a boat so she could perform the Bleigiessen, augury with Denning 55


with melted metal and cool water, a New Year’s tradition in the Fatherland. “It’s not a boat,” Georgie told her. “It’s a ship.” Martin was glad to see an improvement in his mother’s mood. She had been quiet during the crossing, and after Georgie got sick on the second night, her face hardened into a granite frown. Now a bit of her old playfulness returned. She even took a break from stuffing Georgie’s clothes into a knapsack to improvise a few steps of a Schuhplattler. “You will see your father today,” she told them. “Your father, and America, and your new home.” Martin stood on the deck, watching the empty Atlantic give way to the black islands of Boston’s harbor. Seasickness had kept him from reading his disintegrating copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and none of the other teenagers on the ship would speak English with him. They were Poles or brooding Irish boys, and they all ignored him. English came easily to Martin, but he worried that his American high school teachers, and later, the professors at Harvard, would scoff at his fresh-off-the-boat German accent. Martin’s father, who had sailed to Boston a year before and had found work helping to dig a subway tunnel under the city, knew how much time Martin spent on his studies, and had sent him postcards of Cambridge, Massachusetts Hall, and the Harvard campus. “There’s a desk here for you,” he had written in the first postcard, “if you work hard. Give my love to your Mutti.” “Will we get to see the trains that run underground?” Georgie asked their mother. “Soon enough. Look, you can see the city.” After the dismal blackness of the Atlantic, Boston looked warm and brown and alive. Men in pea coats hurried along the piers. At the bottom of the gangplank stood a man in a black overcoat holding a sign bearing their family name, Scholz. Martin led his mother and brother to the man and said in English, “Hello, we are Scholz.” “Pleased to meet you, all of you,” the man said, and shook their 56 Denning


hands. “I’m afraid I have some news. Are you Mrs. Scholz?” Mother looked at the man and Martin raised his hand. “I am the only one who speaks English.” “Ah. Well, I have some news.” The man was a representative of Turner and Lowell Inc., one of the contractors hired to help build subway tunnels under Boston. Martin Scholz Sr. had been killed in a tunneling accident three days before. Hat in his hands, the man from Turner and Lowell expressed his condolences and told Martin that the company would do what it could to help his family. “If you’ll follow me, we have a carriage waiting to take you to the company boardinghouse, where you may recover your departed loved one’s possessions.” Martin felt breathless. He translated what the man from Turner and Lowell had said, and Georgie began to cry. Their mother’s face didn’t change, except for a tightening of one muscle in her neck. “How did it happen?” she asked. Martin asked the man, who replied, “A steam engine exploded next to him and a piece of metal struck him in the side.” “Was it fast? Was he in pain?” Mother asked, and Martin translated. “Massachusetts General is a comfortable hospital. They made sure he wasn’t in too much pain.” The man from Turner and Lowell gave his hat a half turn. “He lingered for a day and a half. Really, this kind of thing almost never happens.” “It was very quick,” Martin told his mother and Georgie. “No pain.” Mother’s cousin Albert had married a woman from Hamburg and changed his last name from Fleischer to Fletcher. The Fletchers tried hard to make themselves American. Mary, Albert’s wife, even took classes to rid herself of her heavy accent. She spent each morning of the three days that Martin’s family stayed with them practicing her pronunciation. “Would you like to meet the very good dog?” she repeated over and over. Every time it came out as, “vud you like to meet der ferry good tog?” Albert’s accent was a little better. Martin’s mother barely spoke or ate. She Denning 57


spent each morning of the three days that Martin’s family stayed with them practicing her pronunciation. “Would you like to meet the very good dog?” she repeated over and over. Every time it came out as, “vud you like to meet der ferry good tog?” Albert’s accent was a little better. Martin’s mother barely spoke or ate. She sat in the sitting room and crocheted while Albert explained American customs and Mary cooked them all sausage and stew. Martin’s father’s trunk sat at the foot of her bed, its paper seal reading “Property released by Turner and Lowell Inc.” unbroken. Albert showed them Dover, a crowded city built along a crook in a river, full of brick buildings and wood houses, bristling with chimneys, and lorded over by two textile mills. Their wide, brick faces and towers dominated downtown like twin castles surrounded by their townships. The Fletchers helped them find rooms and told them which places to avoid. The Greek quarter around First and Second streets was often loud with drunks, and last year a man had been robbed and stabbed outside a coffeehouse, but he lived. The French-Canadians, who Albert hated for their foreign Catholicism, clustered on Franklin and Main, in the cheap housing near the mills, and flooded north with their swarms of children to Saint Charles’ every Sunday. A butcher on Franklin Street—an old German Metzger from Frankfurt—sold sausage prepared like it was in the Fatherland. “What would my sisters say if they knew Albert had abandoned his name?” Mother asked one day while they were walking to the butcher. “It’s just a name,” Georgie said. “It’s our name.” “I think it’s good,” Martin said. “He’s adapting. He’s being clever about fitting in here.” “He’s a German,” Mother said, and wouldn’t hear anything else about it. Albert secured Martin a job with the Cocheco Manufacturing Company in the new No. 1 Mill. Martin begged his mother to let him 58 Denning


attend high school—she made a little money doing the richer German wives’ laundry and sewing, and Georgie was allowed to start the third grade, he argued—but she refused. “You are sixteen, you work. When we have money and Georgie is old enough to work too, maybe then high school.” “That will be years, Mutti!” Martin said. His mother’s half-frown deepened, the corners of her mouth dropping down and into her face. “Then it will be years. Old bread isn’t hard,” she said in the pious voice that she reserved for proverbs. “No bread, that is hard.” Martin couldn’t say anything. The Fletchers also introduced them to Dover’s First Church, which they had chosen as an acceptable replacement for their Lutheran church back home. Martin’s mother had spent an entire Saturday night preparing for her first service in America, ironing Martin and Georgie’s best shirts over and over, sewing a loose button onto her dress, reading passages from her bible. On Sunday morning they arrived and took their seats in the back near the door, watching as the churchgoers filed in, shaking snow from their Sunday shoes. They were American, English, and a few Germans, and they sat in the pews, waiting for the Reverend to appear. When he did, Mother sat up straight and smiled—a tight little smile in the corners of her lips, which for her was practically a beaming grin these days—but when he started speaking in English her face regained its stoniness and she slumped back in her pew. She stared at him with her jaw clenched for the duration of the sermon. Yet she went to church every Saturday and Sunday to listen to the Reverend and sound out the unfamiliar words of the hymns. Listening to his mother’s bright, almost girlish singing voice clash with the mushy consonants of English, Martin wondered if he sounded similar when he spoke. On ‘r’ and ‘e’ sounds her accent grated against the congregation, and sometimes people turned to look. But she sang on anyway, as if each word were a piece of gravel, and she was filling a pit. Denning 59


********** It amazed Martin how the dollar a day he made at the mill meant nothing to him, but that the twenty-five cents he had earned on his own seemed so precious. Sometimes, when Georgie was busy helping Mother finish dinner preparations and the bedroom was empty, Martin flipped through the postcards his father had sent him during his year in Boston. In one of the postcards, his father had used the English phrase “American ingenuity.” Martin looked up “ingenuity” in his ratty little dictionary and found out that it meant “capacity for invention or construction,” and that seemed to fit—Americans were constructing massive cities and subways and all sorts of wonders. Martin thought of his quarter as an example of his own burgeoning “American ingenuity.” He was inventing a life outside of the narrow bounds this place wanted to keep him in. After work, Martin waited outside the mill, watching the doffing boys and spinning girls flood out, cinching their coats and scarves tight. When he spotted the drawing tender he was looking for, he raised a hand to her and called her name: “Gabby!” She looked over to him and smiled. Gabby, short for Gabrielle, was one of the French-Canadians that Albert, and now Martin’s mother, hated so much. A year ago, according to the other doffers, Gabby had stepped too close to a ring spinner and the whirring belt had tangled in her hair, taking her scalp off in three ragged strips. Now she wore a blond wig paid for by the drawing tenders, who loved Gabby, and the spinning girls, who felt guilty because the accident had happened on their floor. She was self-conscious of the wig—it never quite looked right against the color of her skin—and when it would slip to reveal a patch of the knotted scar tissue that covered her scalp, she would jerk it back into place. Unlike the other girls who worked as drawing tenders and became as beefy as men after a few months at the frames, Gabby had a fine, thin face and skinny arms. Martin thought she was beautiful. “Hi Martin,” she said. “You going home?” Martin lived on the other side of town from Gabby, but had told her he lived nearby so that he 60 Denning


could walk with her. “Actually, I was thinking we could drink a beer,” Martin said. “Together.” “Oh. I’d like that.” They walked from No. 1 Mill to the beer parlor, a room off the street crowded with laborers from the warehouses. When they saw Martin and Gabby, two of the warehousemen stood up from their corner table with leers and ironic tips of their hats. Martin didn’t care. He ordered a pint for Gabby and himself and gave the barkeep his quarter. The man handed back three nickels and slid two glass steins across the bar. From twenty-five cents to three nickels and two pints of beer, Martin thought as he placed the steins on their table. It was a small price to sit with Gabby. Money could buy this as well as potatoes and butter and a yard of flannel. They sipped their beers in silence, listening to the roar of the parlor around them. “It’s good,” Gabby said. Martin nodded. Gabby started to tell a story about Rose, one of the spinning girls she was friends with. Martin nodded along until Gabby asked, “Do you know Rose?” Martin shook his head. “Hmm,” she said. They both looked into their beers, two people with nothing to talk about. “I am going to go to Harvard,” Martin said after a while. “In Boston.” “Really? Your family can afford it?” “No. Not yet, but I am going to go one day.” “My mother used to fill in for a woman who washed sheets at Exeter. A lot of those boys went to Harvard. The money in that school.” She made a noise with her lips and raised her eyebrows. “You think I can’t do it?” Martin asked. “No, no. I just don’t know how.” “I find ways to make money on the side. I will be the Great Grifter Denning 61


of Dover.” He pantomimed dealing cards. Gabby snorted, and then realized that Martin had made a joke. She laughed and brushed Martin’s cold-cracked fingers with her own. Martin grinned. He was about to follow up with some other witticism he hadn’t yet thought of, when his mother appeared outside the window. She was with a well-dressed woman—one of the ladies whose socks she darned—and glanced into the beer parlor as she passed. Their eyes locked, her eyebrows arched, and she walked down the street and out of sight. Martin stood up and slid his beer across the table to Gabby. “I have to go,” he said. “But we just got here.” She touched her wig. “I’m sorry. I remembered something I must do. It is my family. Another time?” Martin hurried through snow, which fell faster and thicker every minute. Maybe she hadn’t seen him. Had he only imagined the raised eyebrows? Maybe it was another woman. But no, he knew his mother and he knew her face with its craggy frown. When he arrived home she was wearing that same expression, chopping potatoes while Georgie worked on his language primer in the bedroom. “Who was she?” Mother asked. “A girl from the mill. Her name is Gabby. I think you would like her.” She wiped her knife on her apron and held out her hand. Martin’s three nickels were in his coat pocket, but he didn’t reach for them. “Mutti, I—” “Do you know what I’m making, Martin? Potato bread—not Kartoffelbrot—just plain potato bread, like the Irish. I spent the day knitting quilts out of your father’s old clothes, and you go and spend our money on a beer with a girl?” “I earned that money for myself.” “How?” Mother said. “I’ve been taking care of one of the overseer’s horses before work.” 62 Denning


“You told me you were going early to show them how hard of a worker you are.” “I am showing them how hard of a worker I am,” Martin said. “Jim trusts me. He knows I do a good job. And how can you get mad at me over a beer? You didn’t even give me a choice.” “A choice?” “I don’t want to work in the mill.” Mother snorted. “It’s not a question of ‘want.’ You know the proverb: eat, hunt, or die.” “It doesn’t have to be that bad,” Martin said. “If you’re smart, there are other choices.” “We need to buy coats. Tomorrow you will ask for more money.” “All you care about is money,” Martin said. She put the knife down and slapped him on the side of the head. “All I care about is you and Georgie. What’s the matter with you?” “I know the proverbs too, Mutti,” Martin said, and began reciting one, “the last shirt has no pockets. I could get my hand caught in a carding machine tomorrow. Will money stop that from happening? How much money do you think the steam engine in Vati’s tunnel would have charged not to explode?” Mother stopped chopping and raised her eyes from the cutting board. She looked at Martin for only a second, then went back to her potatoes and said nothing. Martin waited for the next slap, the next proverb, the next piece of wisdom from the Fatherland, but when nothing came, he slammed the door to the bedroom and tried to help Georgie with his English. ********** In the last week of January, the temperature dropped. Mother kept a fire burning all day and night, poking at it while she sewed buttons onto the clothes of other, richer immigrants’ children. Martin and Georgie wrapped themselves in all the clothes and quilts they could find for Denning 63


the walk to the mill and the schoolhouse. Martin was thankful for the oppressive heat of the carding room—the room stayed at ninety degrees Fahrenheit to keep the machines running at their highest efficiency. On the last Saturday of the month, Martin stomped through the snow to work, marching up the dim stairwell and into the carding room just as the horn sounded and the electric lights flared on. He collected his wages from Jim and piled his quilt and extra jackets in a heap along the north wall. He crammed his wages and his three remaining nickels into the toe of his right shoe and stuffed it under the quilt. If he was lucky, he could talk Gabby into having another beer with him. Martin saw boys running down the line of carding machines. “Smudge, Martin! Smudge!” a doffing boy called out, and Martin ran to get a bucket of water. A small fire had started in the fluff scattered next to one of the machines. It should have been fine. Martin would have had it out in a moment if a clumsy boy had not slipped on the slick floor and knocked the burning cotton with his foot, sending sparks flying. Another pile of fluff flared up, and embers fanned into a can full of sliver. Jim swore and ran down the line of machines to grab the hose from the standpipe. “Where are the damn sprinklers?” The can ignited and shot flames into the lint thick air. Martin covered his face to keep from breathing in burning cotton, and two rolls of lap ignited. The spinning cylinders of the carding machines glowed orange with smoldering fibers. Martin and the other boys dashed from the standpipe to the row of machines and back again, dousing everything in frigid water, but it was too late. “Get out, get out!” Jim yelled. The sweeping and doffing boys, the grinders, and the card strippers all fled for the stairwells. Martin went with them, then remembered the cold outside and turned back to get his shoes and the quilt. But he bumped into Jim, who grabbed him and pushed him back toward the exit. In the stairwell, sparks fell through the smoky air like snow, and screams echoed down from the upper floors. Knocking the embers away from his face and slapping out smudges in his hair and clothes, Martin 64 Denning


stumbled down through the darkness, keeping one hand on the railing when he could. He bumped against walls, other bodies, something warm and wet, and finally he pushed his way through the first floor hallway and to the front doors. The snow numbed his feet and he stumbled on legs full of pins and needles. He wished that he had ducked Jim and grabbed his shoes. Up the hill on Water Street, a crowd of people had gathered to point up at the fire, and Martin joined them. Smoke bled from the upper floors of the mill, and in the fourth and fifth floor windows men and women waved clothes and flags of cotton. Outside, Martin had to ignore the voices of the crowd and the shush of wagon wheels through snow to make out the fire snapping on the mill’s timber, and the pinprick screams of the spinning girls from the fourth floor. It sounded so quiet out here. He wondered if Gabby had made it out. A man with a red mustache grabbed Martin’s shoulder and yelled at him in French. When Martin shook his head, the man spat on his bare feet and ran toward the burning mill. The spit frosted to rime and crystal lace on his toes, and Martin noticed his feet were as white as the snow around them. Then he remembered his money, tucked into the toe of his right shoe, which Jim had not allowed him to grab before flames engulfed the carding room. His three nickels. On numb legs, he ran toward the mill, and the sounds of the fire grew louder. Faces in the highest windows screamed prayers. Belts clattered off their machines with grinds and pops and zips. A woman threw a rope of sliver from an upper window and slid down the front of the building, but lost her grip halfway and fell into a snowbank. More ropes of sliver and belts torn from machines snaked down from windows. Martin saw a girl who couldn’t have been older than twelve hike up her skirts and prepare to slide to the snow. Three fire engines drawn by black horses pulled onto the street, but Martin pushed past them and ducked into the smoky doorway. He found his way to the stairs and climbed to the third floor, feeling his way forward with his hands. To avoid the worst of the smoke, he crawled across the carding room floor, scrambling for the north wall and Denning 65


his shoes. He felt something slapping at his back and turned to see one of the grinders. His eyes red and tear-streaked, he waved Martin toward the stairwell with one hand holding a cotton rag to his mouth with the other. Martin ignored him and kept crawling. Patches of the wooden floor where the oil was thickest had burst into flames, but he crawled far enough to reach the base of the first carding machine, which was somehow still running, powered by a belt of racing flame. Martin turned to his right, planning to follow the wall down to his shoes, but after a moment of crawling he bumped into a second carding machine. He turned right again, sure of the direction this time, but found just another machine. Lost. His lungs closed up and he stood to run toward what he thought was the stairwell—a patch of black against the lesser darkness and shifting flames—but the smoke clogged his head. He seemed to float above the ground for a moment, in the haze and flaming lint, and he watched his legs and arms move on their own accord. The grinder appeared, covered Martin’s face with the dirty cotton cloth and pulled him, thrashing, down into the stairwell, then his head boiled over like a pot left on the stove and the mill faded away. ********** He awoke in the cold. His eyes burned, and when he cried out and thrashed his arms, he felt a coldness against his raw eyelids—snow. “Hold him down,” a man’s voice said. “Just one more to go.” Arms pushed him down and something tickled the top of his foot. When Martin opened his eyes he saw he still wasn’t wearing shoes. He had lost them. The knuckles of his toes were marbled pink and black with burns, frostbite, and soot, and the three littlest toes on his right foot ended in fleshy pinches of white skin and blood. A doctor saw him looking and covered the stubs with a bandage. He lay on a cot in an open-sided tent surrounded by sooty, crying ring spinners, and doffing boys. Outside, the new No. 1 Mill burned, flames licking like flaps of cloth toward the black pall of smoke that hung 66 Denning


unmoving in the winter air. Bells rang. Firemen sprayed streams of water that turned to ice before they reached the building. “Martin!” Mother’s face, pink in the cold, hurried toward him between nurses and singed mill workers. “Your feet! Your face! You’re all covered in ash.” “I forgot my shoes,” Martin said. “Shoes are easy, we can get more shoes. Thank God it didn’t get you. Your feet, though, your feet.” “My shoe had my money in it. All gone.” He lay back, dizzy, thinking more of his fifteen cents than his week’s wages, and closed his eyes against the burning mill. That is my livelihood burning, he thought. And then, No, not my livelihood, my chains. He thought, I am full of ingenuity. “Why are you smiling?” he heard his mother ask. “I don’t know,” Martin said. “I think they cut off my toes.” Martin opened his eyes and saw the black cloud of smoke hanging over the mill. Georgie would be able to see it from the schoolhouse— maybe he was even here somewhere, watching the spectacle. The Fletchers would be able to see it too. He wondered if it were tall enough and black enough for the men who worked for Turner and Lowell in Boston to see, or if the wind would carry burning lint and cotton scraps, some trace of ash all the way across the Atlantic, back home.

Denning 67


68 Abbott


The Barstool Spinner Ethan Joella Blue cars aren’t right for funerals. I stepped out from our last-minute limousine and witnessed the procession of Kias, Buicks, minivans, and convertibles. Some looked sleek and spotless for the event, others were left drab like the children who came wearing sweatpants and winter coats, with stains of their breakfast still on their cheeks. I could pick out a hundred things that were wrong that day. But the blue cars pissed me off most. Their owners should have known better. Likewise with the teals and yellows. Gray, white, and black were the three colors that sat well with me. A crowd of people huddled around in a circle as I watched the men, none of them worthy enough, haul the coffin out of the car and lug it over to the hole. They didn’t strain as they swung the box around and lowered it. My brother: always thin, slightly taller than a horse jockey. It sickened me that this hole would be Andy’s home, and if he talked or hummed or teased, no one would be able to hear through the dirt. I pictured how miserable it would be in there when the rain penetrated the ground or the cold frost solidified everything around him. And why did they cover the dirt with that blanket of astro turf? We all knew what was Joella 69


The priest, puffing his breath into his hands, sputtered out some words that meant nothing. Letters to the Corinthians and all that. Why do funerals always have to be so impersonal? Never once did he talk about Andy or what he did or what he meant. Because in all reality, he had no idea about Andy. His speech was like one of those happy birthday records we used to have where your name was just dubbed in with a different voice. It was never made just for you. He could have at least said, “Does anyone have a touching story about Andy that you’d like to share?” Just because he knew squat about my older brother didn’t give him a reason to deny everyone else of Andy’s twenty-eight years of contributions. Afterwards, as we rode the limo to Roger’s Place, where the food would be served, I stared at my two silent parents and realized I was all alone now. No buffers between us. I had to be the textbook son even more now. If I were to do something that wasn’t majestic, people would click their tongues and say, “And with all his poor parents have been through.” My mother looked okay on the surface with a thick layer of peach face makeup and a few gray roots coming through her blonde hair. I remembered her wails a few nights ago, and I knew she would never be right again. My father looked like someone painted a big red clown frown on his face. My mother had smiled when people paid their respects, but my father kept his head low and never released the saggy frown, and I wondered if I would ever see his mouth contorted in any other way. The three of us remained silent while the limo, an outdated stretch that had probably taken hundreds of drunk students to proms, rolled by and gathered stares from most people we passed. It was as if our tongues were taken with Andy to his grave or our thoughts were so heavy and thick that they could not be expressed. I missed Andy. I wanted him to be next to me in the car, telling Mom how ridiculous her chunky shoes looked or imitating Dad’s exaggerated grimace. Andy had a way of dispelling tension. At our Uncle Charlie’s viewing, he sat next to 70 Joella


me and mimicked the priest’s Boston accent until I burst into laughter. Most of the people—except our parents—thought it was an unconcealed sob of despair. As we sat in a long line of traffic, I wished I’d spoken about him. Someone’s funeral should send him off in style, and we just let Andy go the same way you release a bat from your attic window. I should have been thoughtful enough to think of a story that conveyed how great a guy he was. I could have made them smile. I could have made Andy look better than he appeared. If I’d told them about how we used to dance to Van Halen records as kids, would they have understood Andy? If I’d said that he stayed up all night with our dog Leslie before she died, with her head in his lap, would that have done him justice? I could have told them about his plans as a six-year-old to fix the sidewalk in front of our house with paste and pebbles. The problem with Andy is that people misread him. No one ever gave him credit for the talents he possessed because on the surface there didn’t seem to be any. Most people would probably refer to him as a deadbeat, a mosquito. These are the people who think getting a job with health insurance and an IRA is your sole purpose in life and that without these prerequisites, you’re a river rat. I may have fallen prey to these expectations when I finished college and began adding numbers for Rossert and Bonneville, but I always coveted Andy’s free and noncommittal attitude. “Screw ‘em all,” he’d say and burst into a deep chuckle. I was always stuck working, and Andy would be able to roll from job to job, taking a month or so hiatus in between. He would ride his bike for hours at a time or spend a whole day just working on one of his beater cars. Often he would carry his mug of coffee out onto his porch and stare off into the hills, memorizing every possible detail to retrieve later on. One day, he showed me the wall of his bedroom, where he had painted a beautiful ocean scene, including the wild ponies he’d seen in Assateague. His short, sandy hair still paint-stained from his labor, his dark scrawny arms speckled like an artist’s palette. Still people thought of Joella 71


him as the bum who lived in the tiny cabin in the hills. After a while of fighting traffic, the limo dropped us in front of Roger’s Place. My parents looked at each other, took deep breaths, and stepped out slowly. As we walked up to the front door with my mother clinging to my arm, I noticed the potted trees in front of the restaurant had white lights on them. All lit up, even in the afternoon. “Make sure you sit with us,” my father whispered as we made our way inside. “Of course,” I said. Later, I tried to stab a cherry tomato with my fork but sent it rolling across the white tablecloth, leaving tracks of French dressing. I glanced over at the bar, filled with people in cheap suits, and when I noticed the one vacant barstool, I was reminded of a diner. I couldn’t remember the name, but my parents used to take us there when I was maybe five. As soon as we’d go in, we’d pass the stools at the counter and Andy would show me how to put my hand in the center and give the stool a good spinning. We’d do it quickly as the hostess brought us to our table in the back, two small hands flicking the leathery ring into a furious circle of energy. When we were almost to our seat, I’d turn around to see that Andy’s stool was still spinning while mine was already inert. And damn, that took talent. I stood up in my seat, my parents lost in mindless conversation with others and their own grief, and from across the room at other tables, I overheard snatches of anesthetized dialogue: “Maui is the place to have a time share...Florida’s a freakin’ joke...” “Mutual funds and only mutual funds...Safest thing” “The key thing is that he lied...He lied...” I searched the room for a bright face, someone I could tell about Andy. I peered at all the folks I realized I hardly knew. I drifted through the crowd, making my way to the empty bar stool. I crouched and gave it a spin like a contestant on Wheel of Fortune hoping to hit the vacation to Thailand. I stared at the whirling for a few seconds and shook my head, trying to swallow down the lump. The reminder that he wouldn’t be sitting on his porch, never surprised at the sight of me, if I drove to his 72 Joella


house tonight. He always seemed to be waiting. I put on my jacket and headed for the door, longing for cold air and quiet. The afternoon was gray with the sun hiding, and I pushed my hands into my pockets and walked past each anonymous building and looked for birds in trees and newspapers still left on doorsteps. And him. I searched each street to find Andy. Maybe on a porch somewhere, maybe stepping out of a store. Just my brother somewhere waiting. His eyes looking up and noticing me. A smirk on his face like he’d fooled me.

Joella 73


Sudden Fiction 2nd Place

Shades Deborah Coffin My dreams often begin upstairs, in the attics forbidden to us as children, for the most part, and that much more interesting for it. The doors closing off the eaves, doors whose interior sides are covered in some kind of grey-black fur, like the flanks of a mythical housebeast, always appear first in my dreams. I always emerge into the dreams from out of those furry doors and into the attics. Another door, one that opens into the hall connecting the upstairs bedrooms, never stands in my way, though those rooms were equally forbidden to us since they belonged to the others, the older ones, our brother and sister, the untouchables. In my dreams I examine every corner of those rooms, watch my brother flex his muscles in front of a full length mirror and see my sister kick off go-go boots, white ones, into a corner and snap off her fishnet stockings. When we left she was still a tomboy; now the bathroom up there has tile on the floor and sometimes I see my brother raking the glue and pressing the tiles into place. Sometimes no one is there and I just fill the empty rooms completely. The dreams float me down the stairs to the landing, where the phone on the wall that I rarely used hangs. I only need glance at it to 74 Coffin


think with embarrassment about my Confirmation dress. The glasstopped kitchen table sometimes has milk spilled on it, or my brother’s hotdog vomit, or it holds my father’s coiled apple peels in a heap beside his tea bag at the far end, across from the picture window with the night moths my little sister always kisses. The sign welcoming hobos sometimes needs straightening in the bottom right corner. It leans against the glass and helps me see my mother in a dress, slim and better than other people, kinder than my father who might even now be outside on the high porch cranking the handle on the grill. My mother never moves from the corner of the window, but I can follow my father to the basement, to the little room where he keeps his treasured lures. Even in my dreams I never dare go in there without him or I’ll be in real trouble. But I might and often do go into his large closet and marvel at so many of all the same shoes, shirts and suits neatly arranged and identical-looking like a store but smelling even better. I can never see the multicolored mermaid that scares my little brother every night, but I do believe it’s there somewhere in the shadows of the room that once was mine but later became his. Sometimes when I dream about it, the room has my crib in there and the bathinette, sometimes it has the big beds that we jumped on the night they came. But usually we are in the other room, trying to sleep but needing to pee and too scared to tell in case he’d hit us. Sometimes I spend time in the yard and go to look for bags of candy Lolo might have thrown in the trees. I usually sit awhile and look at the picture stuck in among the candy in my bag that shows fingers crossed to tell me how to keep a secret. That reminds me of the guilty angel candle and how many jewels I’ve picked from it while she’s gone. I didn’t keep her family together at all, no matter that she says so, but she isn’t on the phone for me to hear it in my dreams anyway. My older sister screams into a phone sometimes, and not always, but sometimes, my big brother lies on the floor and pounds his fists and cries with a big hard cast on his leg from the terrible thing that happened and made him hate, though sometimes he’s not there at all. Coffin 75


The people who bought the house think they own it but they never will. They bought it from some other people who left because they couldn’t own it either. And once when I was older I drove a car there and asked them to let me in. They knew who I was, they said, because they knew me. They nailed shut the attic doors, they told me, and the upstairs rooms as well. It hadn’t helped them much, but they left those rooms for me. Which I thought kind since I’d always wanted them. They said they’d brought a priest around and had him sprinkle holy water, to no avail. It wasn’t only me, they said, but the three of us, of course. They were nice enough, so I thanked them when I left and assured them that we never saw them once. Never once and never will, because the house isn’t haunted. Not haunted at all. It’s possessed.

76 Coffin


Abbott

77


The Crazy Ones Olivia Kate Cerrone

Lenny carried the Judgment of Default with him to the Veterans Center. He had less than a week before a sheriff escorted him away from his Brookline apartment unless the VA could convince his landlord to drop the claim. Jamaica Plain was just a brief subway ride from home, but he detested the area—the urban grittiness of the broken-down neighborhood, complete with street-corner thugs and frequent shootings, lured him back into near-combat mode. The Seroquel could keep him calm for only so long, though he felt better without the drugs in his system, even if Dr. Milstein had diagnosed him as schizoaffective with PTSD. He took them as needed, when the hallucinations became too intense or when he was forced to leave home. Outside, Big Brother was watching. The government monitored his every move. They’d kept him under surveillance since he left Iraq. He could feel it. The outpatient center was just a short walk from the subway. Soon Lenny found himself before the building’s grand entrance—a multi-story circular complex made of glass and steel pillars that gave an unnatural light to the rest of what resembled an ordinary municipal building. The sign Department of Veterans’ Affairs was aglow in somber blue light. An American flag snapped in the wind. His last visit was a good six months, 78 Cerrone


and then the heavy scaffolding had been up for a good two years. The dramatic contemporary design didn’t sit well with Lenny; it seemed out of place with the rest of the ghetto that it surrounded, and he wondered how long the structure would last without being vandalized. He passed through a number of security clearances before making his way through the lobby, also sleek with new renovations. The marble floors and cherry wood panel walls made Lenny wonder if he was underdressed for the meeting with his social worker. He checked in at the front desk and then took the elevator to the second floor. The waiting room was filled with others like him—clean-cut men in casual dress who appeared to be in their mid to late twenties; men who, by society’s standards, appeared normal and wholesome. Then there were the others who sat apart, the ones who dressed in rags and appeared to have rolled around in their own filth. Their stench overwhelmed the room. Even if they were also veterans, how could these people be allowed into a facility as nice as this? It seemed criminal, Lenny thought. He’d always believed himself to be better than those he saw slumped over on park benches, reeking of piss, or pushing around a shopping cart full of trash bags and empty soda bottles. He’d seen them outside of the VA medical center before, broken men talking to themselves, probably doped up on heroin. He could never imagine them in uniform. “Where did all these loonies come from?” he said to those closest to him. He waited for them to smile and nod, as if to affirm that they weren’t the crazy ones, but everyone ignored him. Lenny settled back into his chair and studied his feet. He felt stupid for not bringing something smart and important to read like the Boston Globe or a Tom Clancy novel. In his pocket lay the Judgment of Default, but he wasn’t about to bring that out to pass the time. The decree weighed on Lenny, as if he’d instead defaulted on the entirety of his life, and not just the rent. A year ago, Elizabeth took Marcus to live with her parents in Plymouth, several hours south of Boston. It’d been months since he last saw his son. Marcus no longer wanted him to visit. “Maybe you’re not my real father,” he’d said. “Maybe I have another Cerrone 79


daddy somewhere.” An old bruise of anger flared up within Lenny. Who were these men to ignore him? Weren’t they still brothers? Or had the meds and civilian life been enough for them to block out what they’d all once known: life moving through an endless desert pit where everything was suspect. Any perceivable human enclave or piece of trash in the road could be rigged, could engulf you in a sudden blast of fire. Then the incredible heat, the ten thousand degree Middle Eastern sun soaking through heavy layers of combat gear. A heat that made breathing hard, the mind slow, but to lose a degree of focus only promised death to you and your brothers. So you pushed through the shit and did what they told you to do, “to kill, kill, kill,” if that’s what it meant to survive. Everyone was suspect. Civilians too. No one told Lenny how to turn it off. He did what he had to do to get out. His second tour ended in ambush, though he made it out with all his limbs intact. But before they could send him on another tour, the nightmares started and bled into his waking life. They sent him home. When his name was called, Lenny made his way through the corridor to the private quarters of Marge, his social worker. Beaded throw pillows and oversized floor plants surrounded the new oak furniture in her office. She gazed at him from behind her iMac desktop in a pair of heavy browline glasses, her steel-colored hair framed close around her bird-like features. Lenny took his Judgment of Default from his pocket and rested it before her. She scrunched her nose as if he’d shared the contents of a soiled tissue. “What’s this?” Marge said. “They’re throwing me out of my apartment. I missed this court date a while back and now they sprung this on me. I need a copy of my medical records for an appeal,” he said. She squinted hard. “An appeal? That’s something you need to discuss with your lawyer, Mr. Ortiz.” “I already did. He told me to come here. He needs my medical records as evidence that I’ve been under Dr. Milstein’s care and all,” he said. 80 Cerrone


“Why is that?” Lenny bit his lower lip, resentful that she was making him have to say it aloud. “To show that I haven’t been in my best mental facilities. I haven’t been able to pay rent, look for work.” Marge typed something onto her keyboard and then made a few clicks with the wireless mouse as she searched through his medical records. “I see here you are still receiving military benefits.” “Yeah, but most of that goes to child support. And then I just fell behind some. Just got bogged down by other stuff.” “Are you still taking all of your medication as directed?” she said. Lenny shook his head, and could not help but get a bit flustered over it. Each month the VA shipped him a box of antipsychotics, despite his repeated requests to cancel the medication. He explained again to his social worker what the cocktail of anti-psychotics and sleeping pills did to his system, how he’d get maybe five or six hours of sleep throughout the week and then crash hard on the weekends. He described again to Marge how the drugs stunted his ability to care, and that he couldn’t function well on them for long, despite their withdrawal. Marge sighed, a tired impatience blossoming over her aged features. She recommended, as she’d done so before, an alternative group therapy treatment offered by some facility in Oregon that wasn’t covered by the VA, but offered the only therapy of its kind specific to PTSD. The right treatment awaited him if he could only get the money together for the airfare, hotel, and treatment services. That much killed his desire to investigate further. He couldn’t afford to be curious. “How do you expect us to help you if you don’t take your medication as directed?” Marge said. “I do take them, but I can’t every day because they make me so sick. I’ve spoken to Dr. Milstein about this, but he won’t lower the dosage,” Lenny said. Marge shook her head, her fingers clicked away at her keyboard. “You aren’t taking the medication as directed.” “I need a lower dosage or a different prescription. What he puts Cerrone 81


on makes me crazy. I was so doped up all the time. I even thought about killing myself.” His social worker gazed at her computer screen, unimpressed. “Did you make an appointment with Dr. Milstein recently?” she said. “He won’t see me for another couple of months. He only sees patients six months at a time,” Lenny said. “Well, I advise you to call his office directly. It’s best to be careful with the management of your illness, Mr. Ortiz. Unless you wish to lose your benefits.” She handed him back his Judgment of Default. “Now you said you needed to see me due to a medical emergency.” “Well this is an emergency,” he said. “This is hardly a medical emergency,” Marge said. “I’m going to be homeless in a few days if I don’t get that paperwork.” Marge curled her lips into a slight grimace. “I will have to put in a special request for your medical records, considering the unfortunate set of circumstances. But don’t expect anything immediate.” “How long will that take?” She sighed, as if he should already know the time frames under which the VA operated. “Up to four to six weeks, depending. We don’t normally discharge patient files. It’s a matter of confidentiality.” “But they’re my records. I’m the patient asking them to be released,” he said. “Mr. Ortiz, do you really think that I make the rules around here?” Lenny signed off on the necessary paperwork and left the VA center feeling the same mixture of shame entangled bewilderment that he always experienced after a visit, as if he’d been misunderstood or unheard in some profound way. How could he describe the way in which the trauma lived on in flashbacks and hallucinations—the small Iraqi boy who’d appeared just some months ago? When they sent him home a few years ago there were no parades celebrating his return, no welcome home party, save for Elizabeth and Marcus waiting for him at the airport. His transition into civilian life consisted of an online questionnaire 82 Cerrone


asking him to rate the degree of any potential trauma he may have suffered during combat duty. He couldn’t remember how he answered those questions at the time. He was too shocked to be at home at last and staring into the bright, expectant faces of his wife and son. It was the tension he could not let go of. As if his nerves could never fully accept that he was really here, back on civilian grounds. The tension gave way to outbursts over the smallest things—a meal overcooked, Marcus’s toys left scattered on the floor. Every conversation with Elizabeth became a shouting match. He never hit her. He never touched either of them, even if his hands reached for other things. That one day on the highway when he was still allowed to drive. They’d been humming along Route One North, headed back from a dinner at her parents’ on the South Shore, when a tire came bouncing toward them from out of nowhere. Why did it trigger him so? He almost drove the car off the side of the road to avoid it. Then Elizabeth was screaming and Marcus crying in the backseat, and Lenny tore out from behind the wheel, away from them because he knew that if he didn’t, something horrible would happen, something he would never forgive himself for. He punched at the hood several times, hard enough to break the bones in his fist. Sounds of explosions echoed between his ears. When he looked up at his family through the windshield, he saw neither of them crying, only dopey-eyed with terror, taking him in like they’d never really seen him before. He knew then that he’d lost them. Lenny returned home and collapsed on the floor mattress of his bedroom. Pins and needles danced along his arms; his hands shook. Already the boy dashed across the edge of his vision in a blur of tan shorts and brown limbs, taunting him with his presence. He was a willful little shit, just as his own son Marcus had been at that age. Three, maybe four or five—Lenny couldn’t tell without really looking at the kid. But instead he turned his face into his pillow, away from the boy’s curly black hair, the mess of his forehead. He squeezed his arms around himself and waited for the hallucination to pass. Cerrone 83


The boy ran barefoot through the apartment, his thin brown legs pumping with ferocious energy. His angry footfalls echoed between the rooms. Lenny tore apart the room’s endless piles of unopened mail and empty take-out containers for his Seroquel. He found an orange vial on his dresser and screwing off its lid, swallowed one of the white, oblong-shaped pills. Then he lay in bed and waited for the drug to take effect. Soon everything slowed inside of him; a sleepy indifference took over, steadying his thoughts. It was enough to calm his nerves, make the boy disappear from the doorway. He slept hard. When Lenny awoke late the next morning, his muscles throbbed from sedation. His situation was the immediate thought. Who could he turn to now? Elizabeth would never accept him back in this condition. His own parents abandoned him on account of his divorce, the loss of their only grandchild. Then there was Brett. Sometimes he could talk to Brett. He was one of the few veterans Lenny met up with on occasion, despite the decades between them; the fact that they’d served in different wars. Brett had done several tours in Vietnam. They’d met at a gathering the VA hosted a year or so back, an event Lenny attended in a desperate attempt to connect to others, after Elizabeth and Marcus left. Most of the men Lenny knew from his unit lived in different parts of the country. He kept track of them on Facebook, where Lenny was reminded that, unlike him, most still had families. He reached for his phone and tried to make his voice sound as normal as possible. In an hour, Lenny was on a train out of South Station to Worcester for the Mohan family barbecue. He wore yesterday’s clothes, with the Judgment of Default still nestled inside his jean pocket. Brett picked him up in a red Chevy Ranger equipped with a montage of Support Our Troops decals adorning its bumper, which Lenny found intimidating, as if his own patriotism would be interrogated. “Kid, you look like hell,” Brett said, his thick Southern accent both harsh and paternal. Lenny smiled. The comfort he felt in the man’s presence was 84 Cerrone


overwhelming, and inspired him to explain why he needed a place to stay for the next few weeks, just until he could get back on his feet, but Brett waved his hands away. He didn’t want to hear it. “We’re going to have a good time today,” he said. The Mohan family occupied Brett’s expansive backyard. Grandchildren of various ages played water volleyball in an in-ground pool while his adult children stood to the side, speaking in a domesticated tongue that Lenny had fallen out of practice of. He’s seemed to have lost his place among family gatherings or regular holiday events that demanded a degree of normalcy to attend. Brett gave him a cold Heineken and introduced him to the family as one of our boys. What did that mean exactly? Our boys? The people drank Lenny in with the kind of reserved New England friendliness that made him feel that much more alien. He stayed close to Brett as the man cooked sausages and hot dogs on his enormous Broil-King Monarch 40 grill. Lenny watched Brett, who still, even in his late sixties, carried a stout physique and administered various barbequing tools that he took an obvious joy in handling. “So you were at the VA the other day? They certainly fancied that place up for good, didn’t they? It’s nice to see where all my tax dollars are going,” Brett said with certain meanness in his grin. Lenny returned the smirk. Brett always made some snide comment over the clinic’s shiny new renovations. He couldn’t help but share his own experiences with Marge, to which his friend shook his head in perverse amusement. “I swear that seventy-five percent of VA expenses go toward denying veterans their benefits,” Brett said. “But hey, you’re certainly better off than some poor bastards. You remember what happened at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center a few years back? That Marine who ended up losing both his balls when they removed the wrong one? Now that’s a tragedy.” “I keep seeing him,” Lenny said. Brett’s smile hardened with disapproval. He placed a sausage into Denning 85


its bun, aligning slivers of fried onions and peppers along the sides of the meat. “You want onions on yours?” he said. “It’s like it doesn’t matter how many meds I take. He doesn’t go away,” Lenny said. “I asked if you wanted onions on your sausage or not,” Brett said. “Sorry, man. I’m just not that hungry.” Brett nodded and his expression became very serious. “It’s not something we can talk about here,” he said, his voice low. One of his granddaughters, a freckle-faced eight-year-old in a green bathing suit raced over from the poolside and demanded a hotdog with ketchup. Her grandfather was quick to oblige, a fresh smile returning to his face. Soon other small children gathered around the grill, and Lenny stepped aside and sipped his beer. Before the last train rolled out of Worcester, they went for another round at an Irish pub nearby. It was an old watering hole of Brett’s, one he often passed through after work. Lenny again expressed his gratitude over having a place to stay, and how he’d get his things in storage the next day, but Brett silenced him with a wave of his hand. “I know you’re game,” he said, smiling. “Excuse me?” Lenny said. “You little bitch, you just wanted to get your benefits so you don’t have to face a real job,” he said. “Is that what you think?” “You’re goddamn right that’s what I think. You think you could pull all this bullshit talk about seeing dead kids over me? You know I was in a real war myself once. Only they drafted in Vietnam. You chose this, soldier. So man up already,” he said. “You really think I had any idea what I was getting myself into? Did you?” Lenny said. Brett squinted hard at him. “How did your sorry ass even make it through training? Christ, you’re lucky I’m the kind of guy I am. I know 86 Cerrone


I know you’ve got a son to support and all. Believe me, I’m doing this more for his sake than for yours.” He broke Mohan’s nose after that. One clean shot across the face. But Brett laced into him hard, soon gaining the upper hand. Lenny was in no condition to sustain much of a fight. The bartender rushed over to split them up and pinned Lenny against the side of the bar. “You want me to call the cops on this guy?” he said to Brett. Brett glowered at Lenny, the skin above his lips wet with blood. “No, this crazy piece of shit isn’t worth it.” Lenny backed away toward the exit, spooked by the sudden awareness of how quiet the bar had become. The few remaining patrons leveled him with their fear, as if he might also strike at them too. The fight cost him his train, so Lenny spent the night in the station. He sat away from the few homeless others, and found it impossible to doze off for an instant, lest they tried to mug or assault him. His hands trembled. A startling loneliness overwhelmed the empty station, and Lenny felt a deep sense of abandonment, as he had on that day when Elizabeth took Marcus away from him. He’d enlisted when they were both so young for the same reason as most others he’d known: he was poor. Service time offered a practical solution to that condition, or so he thought at the time. He returned home only to find his belongings on the curb, already picked through. Lenny approached the entrance, where his landlord stood in the doorway. He was a wiry man in a nylon jumpsuit and running sneakers, who looked as if the eviction had interrupted his morning’s jog. A cop stood beside him. The landlord held up a duplicate copy of the Judgment of Default at Lenny and pointed to some numbers marked in red. “Do you see this date? “Do you know what this date means? It means you’re out of here,” he said. Lenny studied the document, bewildered as to how he’d mixed up the dates. He gazed at his belongings and wondered what could be Cerrone 87


salvaged. He took a step forward and his legs turned to jelly. He slid down to his knees. The boy stood at the edge of the curb, among the boxes; a small Iraqi boy maybe four or five years old. A thin, agile body in tan shorts and a stained white t-shirt. Black caterpillar eyebrows, a wide startled mouth. The top-right portion of his forehead gone. Lenny lowered himself into the grass, married his forehead to the touch of each cool blade, wet with dew. Then, after a moment, a tentative hand griped his shoulder. “Is there someone you can call? Some family?” the policeman said. “Yes,” the administrator said, checking her computer screen once more. “There’s a place for you.” Lenny filled out the necessary paperwork, overcome with tired relief. He’d waited for hours in the lobby of the VA shelter, among a crowd of others, for an available space. The sleeping quarters were as he imagined them to be: one large, congested room packed with twenty-something cots occupied by bodies. Heads turned, eyes sizing him up, and the look of them reminded Lenny of the horror stories he’d heard about the shelters—how they clumped together all veterans, stable or unstable, drug addicts and ex-cons, even sex offenders. You could not make it through a night here without being robbed or assaulted in some way. How, like prison, gangs formed in shelters. There was always someone to answer to. But Lenny was too exhausted to care about such things. He shoved through the crowd of foul-smelling bodies and crept into an empty cot. After stretching himself out against the hard twin mattress for a few moments, he noticed that one of his neighbors was talking to himself. A tall black man, maybe around Lenny’s age, described the same muddled combat scene over and over, as if he was retelling the story to his closest friend instead of the air surrounding him. Lenny couldn’t make out what he was saying, only the fury that compelled his endless stream of words. He sat up slow and met his neighbor’s eyes, breaking his monologue. “Brother, talk to me,” Lenny said. “What is it you’re trying to say?” 88 Cerrone


A Good Seat Jason Howell

The following story won “Notable Short” at the Eastern North Carolina Mid-Summer Weekend Literary Festival. Christina Cooke impressed the judges as a new writer and her tale, although technically a late-entry, startled festival officials and attendees alike. Not only was this autobiographical account composed upon Miss Cooke’s arrival, but it was also created just three hours after the events herein occurred. We wish Miss Cooke a more comfortable trip to our festival next year and were sadden to hear she was dropped by a prospective publisher after she insisted on including this piece in a collection named after this short story’s original title, “A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Writer’s Convention.” We would also like remind Miss Cooke that our event is indeed a festival, not a convention, and that we expect a full and accurate mention, as per contest rules, in any future publication this work should find. Usually, while all the other travelers stow their luggage in the Greyhound’s side compartment and kiss relatives goodbye, I’m arranging my bag to face the aisle and arranging myself in a position that I hope will dissuade any dawdling passengers from sitting down next to me. What works best usually is a good slouch, my knees pinned to the back of the seat in front of me as I glare at a paperback. Howell 89


Today, due to personal circumstances that aren’t really your business, I’m the dawdler. As I climb up the metal steps, I see that two elderly ladies in bright stretch pants and sleeveless shirts with enveloping, post cataract-surgery style sunglasses have boarded ahead of me, along with one balding, middle-aged man sporting a moustache and a very wide tie on a short-sleeve shirt. The man in the tie talks into his cell about dinner and Sandra’s grades while the old ladies fuss in a casual, compact way about nothing in particular. They all sit near the front. Luckily, we make up about a quarter of the total passengers on this trip; my late arrival to the station this afternoon won’t be punished with a bad seat. I take in my choices as I walk down the aisle. I watch out for stains, subtly sniff for any odors, and try to gage which windows will refuse to open. These are important, but not the central qualification—above all else, a good seat is one that you don’t have to share. Weird stains (providing they are dry and you’re wearing pants or a skirt long enough to create a sanitary barrier) or even weird smells can be overlooked if you manage to keep your traveling space your own. Once that seat becomes a shared space, however, it inevitably becomes littered with uninvited conversation and unwanted opinions, life stories, and complaints. And commandeering your attention is only the starting point. Inevitably, these strangers (strangers, I’ll stress) also ask that you forfeit to them whatever you are enjoying, be it food, a magazine or a book, or even minutes on your phone to let Uncle Bob know they are on their way but are killing time with (and killing the time of) a very nice young woman they just met on the bus. These gluttonous borrowers will often present their requests with the same insincere proposition that, I’ve noticed, becomes shorter with each increased level of inconvenience. Do you mind waking me up when we’re off the interstate? Would you mind helping me with this crossword? Mind letting me have that bottle for a spit cup, honey? We can’t smoke tobacco on here but at least we can chew it! There are two reasons I ride the bus despite the headaches: A) money—or, a lack of it, and B) I’m an aspiring writer (see A) who 90 Howell


understands that to write about people realistically you have to observe real people. And, as I’ve found traveling to various workshops, festivals, and conventions, the rides don’t come any cheaper and the people don’t come any realer than on the highway bus system. These considerations aside, I find a clean seat about two thirds of the way back and slide in. This is the tested and trusted sweet spot. Since we have a small band of travelers today, most will sit near the front to be close to the door. The further back I sit, the less likely that I will be imposed upon. However, the last five rows back or so should always be avoided as the people who sit back there always seem to be harboring some dark secret. (Not to brag, but I have a hunch that the most normal sort of person usually sits about two thirds of the way back.) I get into position with my bag and book. A young man and an older man board, whispering self-consciously. They are apparently relatives and neither has ridden a bus before. Sitting near the back, they both hold their small, faded suitcases in their laps. They look around suspiciously, especially at the man in the tie. I wonder if it’s because he’s black. This reminds me of the xenophobic man and boy who take a train ride into the city in a Flannery O’Connor piece. What’s it called? The title of that short story (derived from the obnoxious lawn-jockey that bewilders the pair) becomes startled by my mind’s groping for it and squirms out from under my fingers whenever I get too close, remaining just out of reach like a stubborn pet rabbit that refuses to return to its hutch. This will go on, in the back of my mind, for about 45 minutes. The ambulance and police will arrive by then. A couple of my co-travelers, the wrap-around sunglasses ladies, in fact, will be gasping to a highway patrolman in the shade of the parked bus, when I, sitting on the grass on the shoulder and wiping splattered blood off my blouse with a wad of baby-wipes that I won’t remember being given, will recall and blurt out that awkward title, “That’s it, The Artificial N-----,” to no one and everyone. At that point on our journey, however, no one will notice. Presently, I can’t help glancing back to check the nervous men’s Howell 91


expressions as the next couple board: a young African American man and a slightly older, pinkish woman. He sports a white and navy-blue Puma Better Men’s track suit. Her body looks undernourished, her eyes look bored, and the lines around her pouting mouth and under her puffy eyelids say she is quickly getting used to the situation all around—whatever it is. Disappointingly, my nervous pair merely whispers to each other about how much money they have for lunch. Meanwhile, the black guy and pink gal sit a couple seats ahead of me. Neither speaks until the man leans over, crinkling softly in his polyester, to ask the wide-tie man across the aisle if he minds sharing the time, brother. The sweat in wide-tie’s moustache glints in the afternoon sun (our bus lacks tinted windows) as he grimaces before sighing and reading his watch aloud. Perhaps he considers the difference in appearance and worries that his fellow passengers are making comparisons as opposed to contrasts. Or perhaps he feels the sting of being the first one to be accosted on this trip. Several more people board and find their seats just before the door whistles shut. The brakes snort and we feel the bus begin to roll beneath us. But for now I’ve lost interest in people-watching—an activity that, unlike observing other animals, leads to mild depression unless you take frequent breaks. So I slouch into reading position and raise my faded copy of The ScrewTape Letters, holding it to my nose with one hand like a music stand. Then the bus shudders, halting with a fresh snort from the brakes, and I think, without looking up from my book, that the trip has ended in mechanical failure before it even began. But instead of apologizing on behalf of Greyhound and lying about how soon another bus will become available, I hear the driver curse and manhandle the lever that swings the clear plastic doors open. Then I hear the clop clop of feet on metal steps. Finally looking up, I see an unsteady figure rising above the horizon of seat-backs and heads pivoting on suddenly-stiff necks. More necks, and presumably spines, stiffen as the homeless man starts down the aisle. His hair and beard is damp and slicked down as if he had styled 92 Howell


himself at a sink before boarding, and his sandy eyebrows scrunch together as if he were staring into the sun. He wears a sweat-and dirtstained blue t-shirt with a woman’s green wool sweater tied around his waist. A plastic grocery bag, which appears to hold a wadded-up coat, bangs against his knees as he shuffles penguin-like in a pair of rust-colored Reebok high-top sneakers tied with yellow and red electrical wire. The driver, perhaps as surprised (if only briefly) as his passengers, recovers and barks that no one rides without a ticket. The intruder freezes. Slowly, the late-boarder turns around. From the reflection in the large mirror above the driver’s head, I watch him dig into his bag. The blue-and-white ticket appears, and, placing it over his chest, right over his heart, the bum gives the driver a brief but enthusiastic bow. Then, as if that resolved the matter, the homeless man turns around again and shuffles deeper into our bus. The driver, snorts, rubs his mouth, barks that he will put up with absolutely no disruptions, spinning around and gripping the wheel. Ignoring the pleading eyes that fill his rearview, our driver glances up to watch his newest passenger continue to trek into our midst. Then the driver shoots a glare at the bus station, presumably at the ticket office, as if mentally tallying a grudge, and finally propels the bus out into the street. Meanwhile, our transient (who is no longer transient, in the adjective sense of the word, because he is now very much established on our bus) stops at my seat, exactly two thirds of the way down the aisle. Thin lips poke out the greasy beard as he grunts in contemplation at my small, camouflage computer-case that doubles as my bag. Without further pause, a single yellow-nailed finger daintily hooks the strap and my only luggage finds itself floating up, then down, then under the seat, accompanied, no less, by dump-trunk sound effects: “whrr, whrrr, beep, beep, beep.” The homeless man sits down beside me. If there were a single lecherous look or dirty comment to report, I could raise the alarm and correct this arrangement. But as it is, he doesn’t seem aware that there is anyone beside him. Meanwhile, a faint odor of sweat and mildew assures me of his presence. Howell 93


As buildings, traffic-lights, and intersections become a continuous blur of rural green flowing beneath the horizon where the sun appears to be setting early behind the distant hills, my companion raises his left hand to the back of the seat in front of us and begins to walk his fingers along the edge like upside-down scissors. Knotting his eyebrows again, he watches his fingers march—middle finger, forefinger, middle finger— and begins to chew his bottom lip. I am no longer reading my book. The fingers strut across the edge of the seat with confident steps, forward, then backwards, the thumb sometimes scratching at the back of the forefinger as if to goad it on. The man keeps his body as still as possible, except for his lips, which he continues to chew. The chewing makes his nose twitch as his arm, seeming to be apart from his body, propels his hand with the two fingers marching. Through narrowed lids, his eyes follow the fingers. I realize he is holding his breath. When he shoots his right hand forward he grunts with the release of tension and I jump minutely, as if my startle reflex subordinates to the instinct to lie low and quiet. Breathing quickly now, panting in fact, the man maneuvers his fist around the captured fingers as if they might try to break free and run if they feel a single weak-spot in his grip. Carefully, he presses his left hand against his chest with his right and repositions his prey so that the forefinger and middle finger poke out of his right hand, forming a shaking fist. My seatmate continues to pant. I hear the other occupants of the bus breathing loudly as well. Slowly, the man raises his fist with some effort since the left arm dangles, dead weight, below the hostage fingers. That weight nearly pulls the left hand out of his grasp as the man unwinds his right thumb, releasing the middle finger and slipping the fist around the index finger. This causes the man to hiss wetly through clenched teeth. He purses his lips, bows his head, and presses the whole affair to his lap for a moment. With a triumphant, gravelly chuckle he then raises that single finger, now nearly purple, back up to eye-level, and opens his mouth. He takes gnawing bites with his canine teeth along the side of the pointer-finger, sucking the blood up before, presumably, too much leaks 94 Howell


His audience, our fellow commuters, issue low moans and choked gasps. At the moment, they are too engrossed to get down to the business of really screaming in fear or making indignant protest. Instead, absorbed and shocked, we watch. After the canines punch four overlapping gashes into the side of the finger, the front teeth come into play, but not biting down. Instead, they saw up and down the length of the finger while the auto-cannibal’s eyebrows arch and waggle over eyes shut in dreamy satisfaction. I, by now in a state somewhat removed from the situation, consider how much he looks like a cartoon character eating corn on the cob. Licking the bushy parameter of his lips, the homeless man abruptly leaves off sawing at the side of his finger to work on the fingernail. Here his canine teeth, the bottom left canine tooth precisely, again becomes the tool of his gluttony. He works at the nail like someone opening a beer bottle but much more deliberately, until it is unhinged enough to poke back into his cheek and pinch between his rear molars. The nail does not disconnect but hangs on tenaciously to the cuticle, which hangs onto the skin, which becomes a strip running down the top of the finger, pulling taut the wrinkles of the first knuckle. High pitched squeals now begin to fill the bus and I feel the highway turn into an uneven shoulder under the wheels. The driver bellows something I can’t make out. Sensing the ride is near its end, the man sets his self-predation into high gear, bobbing his head up and down on the his prey like a pisto, snapping his jaws down on his finger, then jerking his head back hard enough to punch our seat with a deep thump and the squeak of springs, then flinging his mouth toward the bloody mess again. A front tooth clatters to the floor, his nose crunches against the knuckle of the restraining right hand, and he pokes himself at least one good time in the eye with the winnowed digit. That digit, missing not only the fingernail but now the entire distal phalanx, sits pitiful, still captive. Dribbled blood still new to the outside, oxygenated world is just turning from purple to red as it fills the spaces between the strands of shredded skin, making a miniature curtain that trembles below the bone. That bone, growing out of the whittled stump, Howell 95


, glistens. A past boyfriend who is a nurse once told me the muscles that work the fingers sit above the wrist and that you can feel them by wiggling your fingers while pressing the fingertips of your other hand into your lower forearm. That is, if your other hand has all its fingers. As my boyfriend told me, there are no muscles in the fingers themselves, only tendons. And those tendons, I can now tell you, look like the white, sinuous ends of skinless chicken breast strips. I realize the bus has stopped and there is a loud but brief clamber of footsteps in the aisle. However, even if my exit was not blocked by the suddenly still figure, I could not move. The man and I stare at his hands, now resting in his lap, for what seems a long time. Things become quiet on the bus and the voices outside seem even more distant than they are. Slowly, the man turns. He has indeed poked himself in the eye. The white is no longer white but shot nearly as red as the flecks caught in the hair on his cheeks and chin and on the front of his shirt. The man sniffs and clears his throat, now beginning to catch his breath, and nods at my forgotten and by now severely damp book that is still held in one sweaty hand in my lap. Then it dawns on me that he is staring at my very own index finger, holding my place between the pages of the closed paperback. The beggar wipes his mouth with his dirty sleeve and licks his lips, “Do you mind?�

96


Abbott 97


Help (Un)Wanted Megan Scott

She sat with her back towards the window, the sun beating down on her. Despite the heat, she felt comforted in the oversized sweater that swallowed her, the rim of her face hidden by the hood. Her makeshift fortress was the only barrier between her and the rest of the world. She didn’t want to be looked at and she didn’t want to be spoken to. “Carla, would you like to share something today?” the woman opposite her asked, peering over schoolmarm glasses. She said nothing. “Carla, how about you just give us one word today?” She positioned her hands inside the pouch in front of her stomach and wiggled her arms out of the sleeves into the body of the sweatshirt and hugged herself tighter. She wouldn’t surrender. “Alright, let’s move on then.” Dr. Logan pushed the glasses back up the ridge of her nose as she scribbled something down on the yellow legal notepad resting on her lap. “Gina, how about you? How are we feeling today?” “I keep having the same nightmare. I’m laying on the bed in a room by myself and I can’t move even though I should be able to. And then he comes into the room and I can’t move still even though I try. I 98 Scott


can’t seem to get up and he just comes towards me and I can’t…” Gina trailed off. Although Carla’s focus was on the worn slate blue carpet by her feet, she could see a large figure shaking two seats over. “Okay, that was really good, Gina. Who is he in your dream?” With this question, Gina started sobbing. “I can’t, I can’t go back.” Her body began to involuntarily rock forward and back. “You’re not going back, okay?” “Go back! You’re going back!” another voice shouted suddenly. The random outburst, although not uncommon, startled Carla so much that she jumped in her seat. “Go back! You’re going back!” “Hanna, that’s enough,” the facilitator said. “Go back! Go back! He’s coming to get you!” she taunted. “Hanna! Stop!” Two large men in white uniforms came in and stood by the door. Hanna stopped shouting, but she continued to hop slightly in her seat. With every upward motion, she started to whisper, “One, two, one, two.” “Okay, that’s okay. For this week you are all going to receive a journal just like this.” She held up a small sleek black notebook. “Everyday you’re going to write at least five sentences about how your day went. What was the worst part? What was the best part?” She stood up and handed everyone in the tight circle a notebook. “Everyone should write one thing down right now and then we can go head outside for some garden time.” Carla pressed the notebook against her abdomen as she got up. “Carla, can you stay a minute?” the woman asked. That wasn’t a question. That wasn’t even a request. That was a demand disguised as if she had a choice. Carla stopped but didn’t turn to look at her. She slowly moved to a plush green chair and fell backwards into it, watching the light catch small specks of dust thrust into the air. ********** Carla looked forward, past the meandering stream and beyond the Scott 99


the various bridges, and then brought her focus back to the particles floating in front of her, highlighted by the sunlight streaming through the treetops. “You see these dots in the air? Those are fairies,” her older sister proudly declared. “Fairies are real, sissy?” “Of course fairies are real. God. I need to teach you so much, Carla.” The older of the two rolled her eyes and continued onward, wandering on the structured trail. “Okay, don’t step on the sun because it’s lava. You have to walk on the dark parts only, okay?” Cassie instructed her sister. The two started to diligently hop on each of the tree shadows projected onto the dirt floor. They zigged and zagged along the path, thrusting themselves off the shoddy railing bordering the embankment, their high-pitched laughter permeating the pathway, up into the grassy hills. Cassie halted the game and taunted, “Hey, Carla, I bet I can jump farther than you can!” She readied herself in a runner’s start position on one side of the pathway and jumped forward. “Wow, Cassie! That was far!” “Okay, your turn!” Cassie said. Carla kept her feet together, squatted down with her arms close to her sides, and hopped forward, nowhere near her sister’s ending point. “Can I try again?” “After me.” Cassie got into her starting position again jumped, tripping a bit as she tried to plant her feet. “That was even further! My turn!” Carla tried again. “Okay, Carla, start like this!” Cassie positioned herself. “And really get your legs going. And then just go!” Cassie got a running start this time, jumped, and surpassed her previous accomplishments. She caught herself on the railing and brought herself up with her arms. “Okay, you go now. Do it how I showed you.” Carla turned back to her sister’s starting place, but before she brought her head up to see her sister, she heard a loud crack and Cassie 100 Scott


shout. When Carla looked up, her sister wasn’t standing in front of her anymore. “Cassie? No hide and seek, you know I don’t like it.” She started nearing the edge she last saw her sister, coming to the remnants of the railing. “Don’t scare me, okay?” Carla looked over the embankment to see her sister’s motionless body below her, the trickles of water gently pushing her hair. ********** office.

Carla opened her eyes, looking up at the ceiling of Dr. Logan’s

“Carla, this is court ordered. You need to start trying or you’ll be in here for a lot longer.” Carla closed her eyes again and focused on the couch underneath her supporting her body. “I can’t tell the judge you’re improving when you’re not.” She felt the hard buttons that pushed down into the couch, making the cold leather taut. “You and I both know that if you don’t start talking, the alternative of going upstairs becomes a whole lot more necessary. Don’t let that happen.” Carla opened her eyes, studying the mismatched wood panels above her. “I want to help you, really. But I can’t help you if you won’t let me. You need to want to help yourself.” Carla moved her head to the left and looked into Dr. Logan’s brown eyes behind her glasses. She slowly sat up, maintaining eye contact. “Write your thoughts down. It doesn’t have to make sense or be grammatically correct. Just write. As much as you want,” she gently handed Carla the familiar notebook. Carla took it in her hand and stood up as Dr. Logan opened the Scott 101


door.

“You can show me what you write, if you’d like, but you don’t have to. You just need to write.” Carla paused, looked at her, and then walked out the door and down the hall. She could hear shouting from the rec room as she neared it. The shouting was followed by clinking of presumably hard plastic items and a slap on the floor. As Carla passed the room, she saw a checkers board on the floor, surrounded by scattered black and red game pieces. One of the two suspected players held his robe up like wings, standing up over the other, who was holding his knees to his chest and his head on his knees. Two orderlies rushed passed her and secured the standing man. Carla moved on to her room. She stepped in to see an explosion of clothes on the bed across hers. She heard rustling in the bathroom and she jumped back a little, startled. She dove into her bed and buried herself under her comforter. “Oh, my! You weren’t there before!” a southern drawl spoke too loudly in Carla’s direction. “I’m Heidi, who are you?” Carla didn’t move, so Heidi went on. “I just got here. I heard your last roommate was a real nightmare. Well, I didn’t actually hear that, I just imagine that was the case, seeing as she isn’t here anymore.” She moved to the bed and started folding her clothes. “That big bitch came in here and went through all of my shit, can you believe that? So rude. She took away my toothbrush. How am I supposed to brush my teeth? And she took away my hairdryer! How does she expect me to get my hair like this without my goddamn hairdryer? I don’t fucking know.” Heidi paused for an “Amen” from Carla. “I can’t even shave my legs! They said somebody comes in for that! What does that even mean? I bet you look like Sasquatch under those sweats, don’t you?” Heidi laughed at herself. “Do you know where a girl can get a cig around here?” Finally grasping Carla’s unfaltering silence, Heidi walked out of the room in search of nicotine. 102 Scott


1/14/07 Why did you room me with this bitch? The next morning, Carla took her seat against the window in her oversized sweatshirt. Heidi sat next to her. “How stupid is this shit? Am I right?” Heidi said. “Alright, let’s go around and introduce ourselves, alright?” Dr. Logan said. “Carla, why don’t you start?” Carla glared at Dr. Logan across the circle, the heat emanating from within her sweatshirt. She hadn’t spoken in front of the group since the most recent Family Day, but now she was being forced to. She ignored previous requests from facilitators and orderlies with little penalty, but now that Logan was here, she knew actions would be taken. “Carla,” she said from within her jacket. “Thank you, Carla. And how are you feeling today?” The heat circulated through her veins, up into her head. The anger manifested into tingling throughout her body. Her heart raced, making her feel palpitations in her throat and temples. “Hot.” “Okay. Thank you. This is Carla’s new roommate, Heidi. Heidi, would you like to introduce yourself to the rest of the group?” “Hi, ya’ll. I’m Heidi. I’m from Texas, came out here to pursue a modeling career.” “Okay, thank you. Would you like to tell us why you’re here today?” “I, uh, I’m just…” it was the first time in 14 hours that Carla heard Heidi’s voice break with hesitation. Carla broke her focus from her hands and looked to the left to Heidi’s hands, which were clasped together and resting on her crossed legs. She didn’t hear whimpering, but saw a single tear drop onto the back of one hand. She heard Heidi start up again, explaining how she really should have been sent to a fitness club instead of therapy. As she droned on about being denied gastric bypass surgery and then the significantly less Scott 103


drastic plead for the LapBand, Carla studied the hands that weren’t hers. The back of Heidi’s left hand looked like a shattered window right before it falls to pieces. She wondered how Heidi managed to achieve such an intricate pattern, and if in her attempts to destroy herself, she had in fact insisted on creating art. ********** Carla sat on the floor of her room she had previously shared with Cassie and played with her dolls. “Cassie, it’s your turn to play with this one, I know it’s your favorite.” Carla set down a particularly glamorous doll in front of her. She knew Cassie wasn’t there but she knew she’d be back. She sat for a moment, unmoving, her focus shifting from the small pile of dolls and accessories in front of her to the lace of the black dress she was wearing. Her grandmother made her put on the dress earlier that morning before they attended the funeral. Normally her mother wouldn’t let Carla stay in a particularly fancy dress after an event for she feared that it would soon be ripped. Carla smoothed out the fabric that sat on her leg and grabbed Cassie’s preferred doll again. Before she could start another plotline involving the teddy bear teaching the doll something of particular importance, she heard heavy wails emanating from her parents’ room. Their sudden start made Carla’s body jump involuntarily. She stood up and started to very slowly make her way down the otherwise silent hallway. “My baby!” a voice resembling her mother’s screamed and then continued sobbing. “My baby!” The door was open slightly and Carla peered in. Her mother was sitting straight up on the bed, her fists filled with bunched up sheets. She stared at the wall across from her, her face periodically changing from blank and emotionless to tightly compressed, her features squeezing closely together when she yelled. 104 Scott


Carla felt a hand on her shoulder and she looked up to see her grandmother again. Her old eyes were swelled with tears and her dry lips quivered. As the wailing continued, she led Carla back to her room and sat on the floor. She picked up Cassie’s doll and started making it walk. Carla ran up to her grandmother and frantically grabbed the doll from her hands. “That’s Cassie’s! You’re not allowed to play it!” “I’m sorry, sweetie.” Her grandmother pulled her little body into her own arms. “That’s okay.” Carla pulled the doll into her chest. “Where’s Daddy, Grandma?” “Daddy is sad right now too, but he can’t cry like your Mom. He went away for a little while,” her grandmother gently rocked Carla. “Is he coming back?” Carla met her grandmother’s eyes. “I don’t know, sweetie. He has to deal with some things.” The wailing stopped and a figure appeared in front of Carla’s doorway. Her mother’s face was expressionless. “Can I get you something? Some soup?” Carla’s grandmother asked. Focus came back into her mother’s eyes and she smiled faintly. “No.” She looked at Carla, then turned and walked down the stairs. The front door creaked open and the sound of the traffic on the street filled the room. Carla’s grandmother tried to quickly hoist herself up and ran down the stairs. Carla continued to play with her dolls, until she heard her grandmother shout her mother’s name. There was a loud crash followed by deafening screeching. Then there was silence. ********** Carla rushed back to the room before Heidi, not knowing how long the orientation meeting with Dr. Logan would take. She wanted to return to her stronghold before being talked at anymore. Eventually she heard the clacking of heeled boots against the Denning 105


linoleum floors outside the room. Heidi came in, trying to be quiet. She sniffled as she got undressed in front of her bed. Carla opened her eyes in Heidi’s direction. The tall blonde was very slim and obviously fit. Her profile displayed her strong cheekbones and busty chest. Carla wondered if Heidi’s story had ended with her getting the surgery and this was actually her post-op body, or if she had always been this taut and unfairly well-endowed. Heidi sat on her bed, pulled her jeans off, and pushed them down to the floor. In the dim glow coming from the hallway, Carla could see light but thick scars starting at each of Heidi’s ankles and moving up her legs, to her thighs. There were multiple starts and stops to each line, but they all connected and moved in the same direction. As Heidi pulled off her shirt up and over her head, Carla saw her prominent hip bones and ribs protruding from under her skin. But her gaze shifted to Heidi’s middle, where the scars continued from the tops of her legs, along the surface of her abdomen, up towards her chest and down each of her arms. 1/15/07 She tried really hard. ********** The first time, Carla hadn’t fully committed. Perhaps it was out of a need for attention during her late teenage years. Or perhaps she changed her mind as her body began to go limp, the blood draining out of the veins from her right thigh, down her skin, and onto the cold tile floor of the bathroom. She positioned herself with her back to the door, thinking that she could prevent it from being opened. The cool floor beneath her sent chills up her spine and neck. As her head became increasingly burdensome to hold up, she rested it against the door. The strobe effect produced by her flittering eyelids increased her drifting sensation. Suddenly she heard a familiar voice. “Carla, what are you doing? Get up.” She fought against the heaviness of her eyelids to see where the 106 Scott


voice was coming from. “Carla, I said, get up.” Carla finally forced her eyes open and looked around the bathroom. “Carla, don’t step on the light. You’re going to lose.” “Cassie?” Her mind was playing cruel tricks on her. “Cassie, I’m coming.” She laid her head against the bathroom door again and closed her eyes. “Carla? What are you doing in there?” the voice of her stepmother interrupted her thoughts. Carla didn’t respond. But the bright red blood dripping from her upper leg made its way underneath the bathroom door and out onto the pale tan wooden floors. “Oh my god. Carla! Is that blood? Carla! Open this door! Right now!” She awoke to beeping. The high-pitched sound melded into the cacophony of the commotion on the other side of the curtain. As she became more aware of her surroundings, she attempted to move her arms, but realized she couldn’t. Looking down, she saw brown restraints on both wrists and both ankles. She struggled to free herself, but to no avail. Just then, the curtain was violently pulled open and a nurse holding a clipboard stepped in. “Ah, Ms. Wilcern, you’re awake. Honey, I’m Nurse Pat. You see, you’re restrained right now. You’re on a 72 hour hold so that you don’t hurt yourself again, okay?” ********** Two years later, it was Carla’s grandmother who found her. She hadn’t wanted her grandmother to find her. In fact, she tried to orchestrate it so no family member would be able to see her ever again. She planned it so her mother’s family would be on their annual cruise, thousands of miles away from her cramped apartment in the city, and her father’s semblance of a family would be gallivanting in Europe. She planned it so her greedy little landlord would come around looking for Scott 107


overdue rent four days later. She planned it so no one would find her in the knick of time and no one she remotely cared about would have to deal with it directly. Carla placed her tools on the rim of the tub. She washed down half a bottle of Vicoden with a bottle of Jack and stepped into the warm bath. She then started on her wrists and let an overwhelming sensation of tranquility wash over her. But it just so happened that the cruise had been delayed due to a hurricane in the Bahamas. Carla hadn’t anticipated this. Her grandmother had tried her cell phone for fifteen minutes uninterrupted before acting on her apprehension. By the time she arrived, there was no warmth, only coolness, there was no clear water, only red, and there was no pulse, only quiet. Carla didn’t remember being revived and she didn’t remember her stomach being pumped, but she did faintly remember the third floor. And it was not a place she wanted to revisit. ********** Dr. Logan came in through the door and sat in her seat in the circle across from Cassie. “So, today our topic will be family. You can talk about a good memory, or a bad memory, or anything else you might want to talk about. Heidi, would you like to start?” “Um, well, last summer John took me—” Heidi started, before being interrupted by a thunderous collective sigh. “Come on, girl, I don’t want to hear about John no more,” a voice to the left of Carla said. “I really miss him, though. He was so sweet this one time when he—” Heidi was again interrupted. “No! We know John is no good, you got to get up and move on. He fooled you,” the voice continued. “Fooled you! Fooled you!” Hanna shouted. “He called you damn shitty things, all the time! Telling you how 108 Scott


disgusting you are, naw, get done with him. You know you real pretty, girl,” the voice patted Heidi on her narrow thigh. “I just want to be with him. He’s all I’ve got,” Heidi’s voice cracked and she started sniffling. Dr. Logan stepped in. “You know, Heidi, these feelings are natural. But you need to listen to the positive forces in your life. These are your peers and they care about you. Listen to them. Would you like to add anything else right now?” Heidi took a deep breath. “No, I think I’ll listen today,” she said, defeated. “Okay, Carla? Would you like to share anything with us today?” Carla peered out from under her hood and met Dr. Logan’s eyes and briefly shook her head. “It’s really important that we address these problems. Our families make up a huge stressor, even if that stressor is more positive than negative for some of us. We need to get to the root of the problem by thinking back on key moments. Gina? Would you like to add something?” Gina began to describe her most recent spousal attack while Carla stared at her feet, drifting in and out of the account. She could only concentrate on the rigidity of the plastic chair supporting her. The opening between her pant and her shoe exposed a sliver of skin to the shockingly cold metal leg. The rays coming through the window penetrated her sweatshirt. She was engrossed with the juxtaposition of temperature her body was experiencing. The inch of cold on her leg mixed with the spread of heat on her back and converged at her stomach, leaving her queasy. 1/21/07 It wasn’t my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. You shouldn’t have punished me for what happened. You took me away from the one thing I had. How did you leave after Cassie? How did you leave me after mom? How did you take me away from grandma when you came back? Scott 109


This is your fault. You make me feel angry when you act like an asshole. ********** Dr. Logan arrived in front of the hospital. The streetlamps were still on and it was well before the sun could cast shadows. As she turned into the parking lot, she was momentarily blinded by pulsating bright red lights. She hurried past the humming engines, concerned that they were responding to one of her patients. “Dr. Logan, I tried to—” the receptionist met her in the hall of the first floor. “What happened? Why wasn’t I notified?” Dr. Logan interrupted. “I couldn’t get through on your office line or private number.” “What happened?” Dr. Logan walked briskly toward the group of three men clad in oversized dark yellow pants and slightly open matching jackets. They were huddled in front of the reception desk, speaking over a large clipboard. “I’m the physician on staff in this facility. What happened?” “Ma’am, she was D.O.A. We tried to revive her but we weren’t able to. We presume the cause of death was asphyxiation. Her roommate said she left to smoke a cigarette and when she returned, she found her with a pair of pajama pants secured around her neck, tied to either side of her bed,” one man said. “What patient?” He looked down at his clipboard, and said, “Uh, a Carla Wilcern.” Dr. Logan entered the room Carla and Heidi had shared. She walked along the side of the bed, unmade from the night before. She shook her head and wiped away the tear that had made its way down her cheek. As she brought her right hand to her brow, she gently placed the other on top of the pillow. There was something hard inside the case. Momentarily distracted from her sorrow, Dr. Logan took out the black journal she had given to Carla a week before. 110 Scott


1/17/07 This place still feels like jail. But Heidi’s making it manageable. Out there, we’d have nothing in common, but in here she’s alright. We’re all the same in here, and no one bothers you. No one takes account of your past, your violence, your neglect. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, we’re all the same. We’re a real group. My only family. 1/20/07 I went into the garden today for the first time in a long time. The girls were sitting around in a patch of grass doing each other’s hair. Heidi waved me over to sit in front of her. She undid my ponytail and started brushing it. She must have been brushing my rat’s nest for 45 minutes, but she got it done. All she was doing was getting knots out, but it was really nice. My hair hasn’t been played with since Mom. When she was done, she switched with Gina and Gina started braiding my hair. I guess this is the only time I’ve ever gotten my hair done. It was really nice. 1/22/07 A new woman came in today. She wouldn’t stop crying. She cried as she was shown around, she cried while she sat in front the TV, she cried during group. She stopped crying an hour after light’s out. But ten minutes ago she shrieked from her room. She’s so weak. She reminds me of Mom. 1/22/07 It was my fault. I’m so sorry. 1/23/07 Cassie. Mom. Cassie. Mom. Cassie. I’m coming.

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Some Uncharted Territory Halley Fehner The first time Cole had gone to Tonopah, he had left town in his 1989 sea-blue convertible with a woman who was not his wife. They had driven west, toward San Francisco, her head on his shoulder, her legs extended over the car door so that her boots blocked the side mirror. Sometimes, her hair flapped against his face, and he laughed, glancing between her and the road. They drove until the landscape began to change, the desert rising up into mountains, and Mahala had sat up and looked around. “What are we doing?” she said. “Why are we doing this?” Then she told him to take her back to Tonopah, and he begged in a thin voice, for her to reconsider. “No, Cole, this isn’t right,” she said. “You have to take me back.” So he drove her back to Tonopah—dusty, forgotten Tonopah—that boom-to-bust town in the godforsaken Nevadan desert. He dropped her off at the old man’s house, then headed south to Los Angeles and to Fern, who would not ask—who would never ask, even when he told her he was going back. She would only say “Sure, Cole, go” in the good-wife voice she used whenever he went away for long periods of time and she pretended to be fine. Cole collected stories for a living. He drove along sandy, ugly 112 Fehner


roads to small towns that no one thought about to talk to people no one had heard of. He interviewed them, asked about their lives and secrets, then wrote articles—“human-interest stories,” his editor called it—that were published twice a month in the Los Angeles Times. When he told his subjects what he did, they sometimes smiled, sometimes asked questions, and occasionally they stopped talking altogether. When he had told the old man, the old man had nodded. “You’re like Ernie Pyle,” he said, a man old enough to remember the 1930s, when the famous reporter and his bohemian wife had crisscrossed the country interviewing victims of the Depression. Cole nodded, agreeing about everything but the bohemian wife. Fern, who worked as a copy-editor and never wanted to go small-town hunting with him, was anything but bohemian. Tonopah, where he had found the old man, was a dried-up former mining town that had run out of ore in the mid-1920s. The mines were still there, dug deep into the hills and surrounded by shacks with roofs that sank in the middle like hammocks. The mining equipment was there, too—headframes, carts, rusty pieces of metal—everything left as it was, as if the miners had taken off their hardhats, scratched their heads, and said, “Well, boys, there’s no more silver here,” before dropping their picks, pans, and hammers in the dirt. The old man told Cole about when he had been a boy in the 1920s. He told him how he and the other miners’ sons would roll boulders down the hills and tip over outhouses because, he said, that’s what boys did. He told him about how, at the age of six, he collected medicine bottles he found at the mining site, put them in a wheelbarrow, and sold them to the prostitutes who used them to bottle moonshine. He told Cole about the annual “slow car races” held on Tonopah’s main street, where the few in town who owned cars would run down their clutches trying to drive as slowly as possible. When the old man spoke, his hands moved in lingering orbits around nothing. His name was Joel North. He was the oldest man in town, which was why Cole had tracked him down, and he lived in the same house that he had been born in. He and Cole sat at the kitchen Fehner 113


table while the old man’s daughter, Mahala, made pottery in the other room. She was the youngest of his four children, the only child from his second marriage to a much-younger Shoshone woman. Cole noticed that Mahala, with her pale skin, did not look Shoshone, but she did not look much like the old man, either. The old man had no explanation for this. “He trusts you,” Mahala told Cole on his second day at their house. She had taken Cole outside to their covered patio where she stored finished pots. They were odd, bulbous shapes, colorful and smooth. She pushed a few of them into his hands, and he ran his fingers over the cool surfaces. “My father doesn’t usually tell people the things he’s telling you,” she said. “I’m surprised.” “People will talk when someone’s there to listen,” Cole said, words he had said many times. “Especially if they know that the story will be written down and will last.” Mahala nodded. “You should ask him about the war,” she said. The next morning Cole came to the old man’s house early, before the old man was awake. Mahala let him in and gave him coffee and eggs. “You must think I’m awfully domestic,” she said, laughing. She wore a long skirt and high-heeled cowboy boots—sex boots, thought Cole—and her hair was tied back into a high ponytail that swung back and forth as she walked. She sat down across from him. “I didn’t used to be this way,” she said, her chin in her hand. He was about to ask her what she meant when the old man came limping into the room. The old man had a bad foot—from the war, Mahala had told Cole. He sat down at the table with slow motions, as if all his bones had rusted together. Mahala set a plate down in front of him, and he took her hand and kissed it. He said something to her in Shoshone, and she smiled and said “Oh, Pa,” in a way so soft and sad that Cole shivered. Then she said she’d be in the other room if anyone needed her. Cole asked the old man about the war, and the old man talked, his face like a wrinkled piece of fruit. He told Cole about the Japanese—“the damn Japs,” he called them—who cut off Americans’ dicks after they 116 Fehner


were dead and shoved them into their mouths. He told him how a kamikaze had hit his ship in 1943, and how he would have died, there and then, if he hadn’t been eating a sandwich in the mess hall on the other end of the ship (“sandwich saved my life,” he said). He told him in low tones about a woman on Okinawa who had killed her two children because she was afraid the Americans would take them. And he told him about jungle rot, the fungal infection that made feet disintegrate. “Is that what happened to your foot?” Cole said, laying his pen down on his notebook. The old man’s face unwrinkled for a moment, then he frowned. “No, that’s not what happened,” he said. That evening, Cole went with Mahala up to the mining park. He had asked her if she would go with him, saying that he needed a better sense of Tonopah to write his article. She walked in front of him, still wearing her boots (he would discover later she almost always wore those boots), and kicked up clouds of dirt that clung to his jeans. When they reached the mine shafts, they sat down on a wooden plank. “It doesn’t look so bad from up here,” Cole said, gazing out over Tonopah. Mahala laughed. “It’ll be beautiful after the sun sets,” she said, smoothing her skirt out with her hands. “They say Tonopah has the best stars in the country.” “How did you used to be?” he said. “What do you mean?” “You said you didn’t used to be this way. This morning, you said that.” She rubbed her lips with her fingers. “Well, this wasn’t the life I expected. Everyone who’s raised in Tonopah has only one goal: to get out.” She glanced at him, and he leaned forward. “But I’ve stayed to take care of my father. Who else could? My brothers and my sister, they’re much older than me. They can’t come back here. They have families. And jobs.” She pierced her lips, then shrugged. “It shouldn’t be all your responsibility. They should help.” “They do. They send money sometimes.” “Still.” He leaned back. “So you’ve never left Tonopah?” Fehner 115


“Oh no, I did for college. And after that I was in Santa Fe for a few years working in an art gallery. Selling pottery on the side. I know that sounds just like Santa Fe, but it’s what I really did.” She laughed again. “But my father wasn’t doing well, all by himself. I thought about bringing him to New Mexico, but you’ve seen how he is. He doesn’t move very well with his foot, and he doesn’t like too many people around. It would have been too much for him. So I came home.” She gave him a weak smile. “But yes, Santa Fe. It was the only time when I felt like a real artist.” “You are a real artist.” “Please,” she said, and laughed. She held out her hands, palms up. “You can’t be an artist here.” Years later, when Mahala was nothing but scribbled phrases in a notebook—after he had lost track of what was her and what was the goddess he had created—that would be the one moment he would remember with clarity, that moment before he kissed her, when she held her hands out to the desert, as if she were giving up. He would remember the hot breeze coming up from the town, the sun low on the horizon, and her pierced lips, her extended neck. He would remember grabbing her hand and kissing it. Her tragic, lovely face. And her small “What are you doing?” before she turned and let him kiss her on the mouth. Fern had once told Cole that she fell in love with him because he had the blankest face she had ever seen. “It’s like the moon, or some uncharted territory. It must be why people talk to you,” she had said, sitting in his lap. “It makes a person want to tell you something shocking, just to put some expression there.” In general, Cole was shocked by Fern, shocked to have dated her, shocked to have married her. The girls he had dated in college were quiet and fragile, and he had always felt in control. Fern destabilized him. He had seen her around the office for a year, but didn’t talk to her until the Times’ Christmas party, where he had spent too much time at the bar, watching her from across the room. She had blonde hair that she had 116 Fehner


put up into a French twist, and he liked how she absently tucked loose strands back into place as she talked. Near the end of the evening, she had come over to him. “I’ve seen you watching me,” she said, twirling her wine glass between her fingers. “Just now, and at the office. I think you should either stop or take me on a date.” Early in their relationship, she turned making him laugh into a game of sorts. She left silly, dirty notes for him in magnetic poetry on his file cabinets at work (“you smell wanton and luscious manfriend”), and he had continuing dilemmas of whether to scramble them up or not (would those words even look better apart?). On one of her first nights at his house, she spent an hour examining his extensive bookshelves, and he had beamed with self-satisfaction until he opened the books and realized she had filled them with Post-It summaries in Haiku form (his favorite being Moby Dick’s “If I had to guess/ You’ve never actually read/ This whale of a tale.”). After she moved in, she bought a new camera and cajoled him into taking ridiculous photographs, like the one of him holding up a lobster that she had dubbed Gwendolen, before they cooked it. She left that photo up on the fridge for years. He had felt the need to match her, to make her laugh, too. He started ordering take-out under pseudonyms—telling the uninterested teenagers who picked up the phones, “Greene, with an ‘e’” in an English accent or “Buttersworth, like the syrup” in a low, serious tone—so that Fern would fall against the kitchen counter with her arms around her stomach, bending over from laughter. For their two-year anniversary, he wrote her a poem in which he rhymed her name with burn, turn, learn, adjourn (a stretch), and yearn, capping it off with “I’ll love you until you’re in an urn” (which she didn’t find as funny as he thought she would). He imagined that these would be the sorts of things that she would tell their future children, these “do-you-know-what-your-fatherused-to-do” stories, except that children were something he had never thought about with any seriousness and he had just expected to happen at a certain point. He had mentioned this to Fern once, and she had laughed. “That’s not something that should just ‘happen,’ Cole,” she said. Fehner 117


“You have to get a real job before we can have kids.” He snorted, a half-laugh, half-grunt. “Fern, I have a real job.” “I mean a job where you stay in one place,” she said, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear. “A job where you’ll be around to raise them. Sometimes you’re gone six days out of seven. You can’t raise kids like that.” “Are you saying you want me to quit my job?” “Well, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow. But at some point, yes.” She crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. “You can get a job reporting around here.” “But that’s not what I want to do. You know I wouldn’t want to do that.” She shook her head. “I’ve been good,” she said. “I’ve been good about this, Cole. But things will have to change sometime.” She didn’t bring it up again, but with each trip, her words weighed on him a little more. He started staying up watching late night television and waiting until she had left in the morning to get out of bed. He couldn’t figure out if it bothered him more that she wanted him to change or if it was the way she had asked him to, so matter-of-factly, like she knew he would give in and could wait as long as was needed. The first time he went on a road trip without telling her, she said, “Oh, you’re here now,” when he came back. The second time, she frowned and said nothing, and he found himself wishing she would cry or even scream at him, so at least he would know that she cared. Mahala spent the night in his motel room, naked in his bed, her legs intertwining with his. He rubbed the bottoms of his feet along her thighs and his hands across her stomach. Then he held her against him and thought that he could love her, that he could take her out of Tonopah and they would travel together to the small towns, or to the big cities, or anywhere, as long as she was next to him in his car. They would keep her pots in the backseat and sell them across the country. He would never go back to Los Angeles, or Fern, who he thought he had loved but now 118 Fehner


believed, in bed with Mahala, that he did not. And then he told Mahala, not about Fern (that would have to come later), but about where they could go together, the drives and the pots in the backseat. She kissed his forehead and fell asleep nestled into him. Cole spent two more days in Tonopah talking to the old man and scribbling down phrases in his notebook. He wrote down the old man’s stories—the Tonopah stories, the war stories, and other stories about how he had met his two wives and what his children did in their far-off cities. He wrote down what Mahala told him, too, but then there were other details—how her hair smelled and what her skin felt like and how her body moved—things he was afraid he might forget if he did not record them. On the third day, he convinced Mahala for good, and they loaded the car with bags and pots and drove west until they reached the mountains and Mahala changed her mind. “I can’t do this,” she said. “Cole, I can’t do this.” “Mahala, please don’t say that.” “I can’t just leave my father like this. I don’t know why I thought I could, why I thought I could be like—” She shook her head, then sat up straight, her arms across her chest. “This is insane. I have to go back. You have to take me back.” “Please, please don’t say that.” His foot went down on the accelerator, and the car shot forward. He glanced at her, but she was staring at the road ahead, her face blank. “Mahala, we talked about this.” “No, Cole, this isn’t right. You have to take me back.” So he drove back to Tonopah, back to the old man’s house. Parked in front, he stared at the house, an ugly, dust-covered building. “Promise me you won’t stay here forever,” he said. She smiled, a sad smile, and shook her head. Then she got out of the seat and lifted her bags out with her. “You can keep the pots,” she said. He nodded, and she walked back into the house. He sat in front of the house for another few minutes, then drove south, to Los Angeles and to Fern. Fehner 119


Cole didn’t write the article. For days, he flipped through his notebook, stared at the ink-stained pages, wrote a sentence or two on his laptop, only to delete it. It was in this way, through his careless writer’s block, that Fern found out about Mahala. He had left the notebook open on his desk to go get a beer and had ended up watching the football game for two hours. When he came back to the desk, he found the notebook closed and the highlighter he had been using lying perpendicular to the notebook’s spine (like most copy-editors, Fern was obsessive). Putting down the beer, he flipped through the notebook, and the incriminating lines jumped out at him: Mahala, naked, smells of creosote and lilac and Her name is Shoshone, she tells me, and means ‘woman,’ although in Hebrew it means ‘tenderness,’ and in Arabic, ‘marrow.’ It is all these things, and like music, and, worst of all, Mahala does not feel like Fern. The dust and dirt have made her skin different, not rougher but more real. But Fern remained silent, and Cole began to study her movements, trying to decide whether she had read the notebook or closed it out of instinctual housekeeping. He watched her pick one of his shirts off the floor (one that he had worn only once since its last wash and had been planning to wear again) and hold it away from her body before she threw it in the hamper. He examined her as she flipped through recipe books, standing against the kitchen counter on one foot, her chin in her hand, before shoving the books back into the cabinet and ordering Chinese food from the place down the street. Three days after the notebook incident, she challenged him to a game of Scrabble, her new obsession, which she saw as an epic battle between writers and editors. They sat on the living room floor and played in near silence, he sitting cross-legged on one side of the board, and Fern on the other, leaning against the sofa, her bare legs stretched out, her letters stationed in her lap. She beat him with the word CHASTELY, a bingo which she had built off the Y from PURELY, and Cole thought back to an old writing professor who had once said that the road to hell was paved with adverbs. He told his editor to run an old piece. When his editor asked what 120 Fehner


was wrong, he said he was coming down with something—the flu maybe, or mono, or malaria—and his editor had laughed and told him not to let it happen twice. Cole agreed, then shoved the notebook into his desk drawer. In the three months that followed, Cole went to nearby towns with long, Spanish-sounding names. He interviewed Hispanic bricklayers, a housewife with a plastic-surgery addiction, a surfer, and a cat lady. He was afraid to venture outside of the L.A. orbit, as if he would somehow end up in the Nevadan desert again. But then the old man called, asked him to come back to Tonopah. “Why?” Cole said, and the old man coughed. “There’s something I left out,” he said. Cole asked what it was, but the old man was stubborn. He said could not say it over the phone. So Cole told Fern he was going back, got her neutral blessing, and set out again for the desert. He found the old man at the kitchen table, drinking coffee. Mahala was not home, but Cole did not ask about her, afraid to say her name or to hear it in the old man’s mouth, all those a’s rolling off like a song. Instead, he asked the old man for his story, and the old man rubbed his brow. “You can’t write about this,” he said, glancing at Cole’s notebook. Cole closed it, and the old man put his hands flat on the table. “The thing I didn’t tell you about was my foot. How I hurt it.” The old man’s face grew tight. “The truth is, it was a self-inflicted wound.” Cole frowned. “You—” “Shot myself. Yes. You have to understand the war. What it was like, what I told you. Either the Japs were going to kill me or I was going to kill myself. It is possible for a man to self-destruct, you know. So, I did—I did what I did. I figured they couldn’t make me fight if I couldn’t walk.” The old man shut his eyes, his face tilted upward. “They fixed me up, put me in this hospital. And they put S.I.W. for self-inflicted wound, on the end of my bed, and no one talked to me. Not a single soul, and I was there for two weeks. And I tell you, I deserved it. Oh, I deserved it.” He opened his eyes and looked at Cole. “I never told anyone. Not my Fehner 121


kids. No one. So you can’t write this.” “I won’t,” Cole said, out of instinct, but knowing that it was true. He thought about the old man, carrying such a secret. He thought about Mahala, if she suspected her father, and the other children, the absent ones, what they knew and suspected. Then he thought of Fern, who knew about Mahala, but at the same time, didn’t know. The old man stood up slowly. Cole looked up at him, then looked around the room. “Where’s Mahala?” he said, the only thing he wanted to know. “She’s in Santa Fe. Just for the week.” He rubbed his hands together. “So you see,” he said, his voice low, “that’s why I had you come now.” Later, much later, he would tell Fern about the old man, his story, his self-inflicted secret. He would tell her about Tonopah, with its empty mines, about everything but the most important thing. Then he would ask her why, why the old man had told him the story, and to him of all people. “Oh, but it’s obvious,” she would say, tossing her head back. “You of all people should know, Cole. Sometimes stories are too hard to keep secret, too hard to hang on to.” Then she would pull her legs to her chest and put her chin on her knees, a vulnerable, small position that he had never seen in her before.

122 Fehner


Ek 123


Sudden Fiction 3rd Place

Grownup for a Day Madison Crystal The sun stung the back of the boy’s neck as he pulled out his fourth match from the box his parents had been saving in the small drawer under the sink labeled “Emergency Supplies”. He liked to hold the match between his fingers while the flame bloomed with life and then simmered down to a mutinous mutter that consumed the wooden handle. He dropped it dead in the sand between his feet and watched it turn black. Out here he wasn’t a child anymore; he was a man who didn’t need anything else, especially parents and their endless rules. Everything was perfect except— “Come on, Robert,” his little sister’s worried voice broke in as she stepped up behind him, blocking the sun with her shadow. “Can’t we go home yet? I’m tired,” she added, flopping her arms down by her sides. “Serves you right!” Robert snapped back, swiveling around to glare at her. “I didn’t ask you to follow me out here, Lea, so you just go on home if you like, but I’m staying.” He turned his back on her once more and lit a fifth match with indifference. Lea crossed her arms and put on her best “I’m upset with you” scowl but Robert was too busy staring at the dying match to notice. “I’ll tell on you!” she threatened, but Robert still refused to look up so she 126 Crystal


brought her foot down into the dry earth, launching little shards of dirt into her brother’s face like shrapnel. Robert recoiled, covering his face with one sleeve, hoping that Lea wouldn’t see any tears inside his eyes and think that he had actually cried. When the dust cloud settled, he threw his hands down and shouted, “Why don’t you just mind your own business and go home?” Lea didn’t seem to have answer for this. She still had her arms crossed tightly over her chest but she began shuffling one foot in the dirt, drawing a little arc in front of her with her toe. “You can’t be following me around like this anymore,” Robert told her, raising himself up to his full height, a mere two inches taller than his sister. “I’m trying to become a man.” “Well I want to be a man too, then!” Lea declared, her eyes widening. “I just wanna help,” she added, more quietly now, worrying the hem of her dress. “Besides, it’s lonely back at the house with mom and dad away.” Robert smashed one of the wizened, spent matchsticks at his feet and crushed it deeper into the ground, but he couldn’t bring himself to look at his sister. “But you’re a child. You’re so little… and you can’t do anything,” he spat out, with more anger than he felt. Lea’s lower lip began to tremble and Robert looked on with horror as the first tear started to trickle down her face. Frantically, he stooped down to pick up the box of matches just as her sniffling started. “Wait! Here, Lea,” he said, thrusting a match towards her. “Want to try it? We can do it together!” His sister turned herwet face towards him with mistrust. She took the match from his outstretched hand without a smile or even a response. Robert brought the box closer to her and took her match hand in his, showing her how to strike it on the box and light it. Lea failed twice, but on the third strike she had a glowing ball of fire between the tips of her fingers. Her excitement quickly turned to terror as the flame got too close. She threw it away from her with a sharp “ow!” She stared at it for a moment as it sputtered out of life, limp and Crystal 127


and smoking in the dirt. “Give me another,” she commanded, turning back to her brother and holding out her hand expectantly. Robert grinned and immediately handed one over. He took one for himself and they lit their matches together. When the flames burned down close to their fingers, they flung them away, making a game out of whose match went the farthest. Lea shrieked and clapped her hands with excitement whenever her match won. She became more daring, watching the searing orange light inch toward her hand. The flame got close enough to blacken her fingertips. She even burned herself once, but instead of crying out, she laughed. When the entire box of matches was spent, Robert felt himself feeling somehow fuller. He sat down in the dirt, hardly noticing the uncomfortable creases in his dress pants. Lea teetered theatrically for a moment before she too plunked down next to him. Her sudden weight raised another cloud of dust that settled over the stiffly ironed hem of her black dress. She pulled the matching ribbon out of her hair and threw it to the dirt. Robert untucked the tails of his own black shirt and sighed contentedly. ********** A limo appeared on the horizon, growing larger as the road wound around the vacant lot where Robert and Lea were reclining. It ground to a sudden halt just before passing them and the black door swung open. “What are you two doing?” Robert’s aunt scolded them, the taut lines on her face loosening with relief. Her eyes were a sore, red color and her blouse hung off her like ragged feathers. She scooped them up with her crows’ wings and dragged them toward the somber vehicle without another word. “But I want mom,” Lea began to protest, “and dad”. Their aunt froze in midstep, opened her mouth to say something, but no sound came out. Lea’s eyes wandered from her brother to her aunt, who could only shake her head without looking the little girl in the eyes. But Robert clenched his own trembling jaw and wordlessly finished guiding Lea to the car, fastening her seatbelt and giving it an extra tug-- just to be sure. 128 Crystal


But A Moment Megan Scott She should have been more aware of her surroundings. She was an L.A. girl for god’s sake. You don’t jaywalk in L.A. But this was New York. And in New York they laugh at you for waiting at the crosswalk. She saw that the red flashing hand had just stopped flashing and she saw the accompanying light go from green to yellow to red but she didn’t really take any note of it. She stepped off the curb onto the blotchy and fading thick white line that marked the start of the crosswalk and felt a sporty little car throw her body before she even heard it approach. The millisecond that it took for her entire body to be thrust into the air seemed like a drawn out moment in a scene of Clockstoppers. But the memory that was played out in her mind before her body hit the asphalt was not what she would have expected. The memory that so vividly filled every crevice of her active brain was not so much a flash of her entire existence in a brief moment. It wasn’t even remotely related to anything significant in her life. As morbid as she realized this was, she had indeed considered what she thought she would think of at the moment before the moment of her death. She imagined it would involve the sister that she had fought with every day of her childhood, the same sister with whom she grew Scott 129


inseparable, the same sister for whom she would do absolutely anything. She’d think of the time she had convinced her sister to eat all the bubbles in a shared bath. She’d think of the time she and her sister brawled in a bar and took down two blonde bimbos of comparatively Amazonian heights. She’d think of all the times she and her sister had done absolutely nothing but found the purest kind of joy and hilarity in one another’s company. Or perhaps she’d think of her mother, her mother who drove her legitimately crazy on a regular basis, her mother who had somehow birthed a child so fundamentally different from herself, her mother who had shaped her into the strong and, generally speaking, fearless individual she was. She’d think of the time her mother pulled her out of school for a “doctor’s appointment,” which was actually code for “the best day ever at Disneyland.” She’d think of the time her mother forced her to sit in the car as she drove past one of her ex-lover’s houses. She’d think of all the times her mother came to her rescue, guns blazing, and made her problems vanish into thin air. Despite her best efforts to prophesy the thoughts that would likely run rampant during the last breaths she would take, she was wrong. Completely wrong. Instead of being overwhelmed by pleasant memories involving the people she considered closest and most important, her mind was inundated by an argument with the boyfriend she had just broken up with. It was an argument that had taken place that very morning. It was the argument that was primarily responsible for her preoccupation and unawareness of the impending doom that rapidly approached her. “We live in New York City! You don’t need a goddamn car, Nick! We need the money for the apartment! And for fucking food!” “It’s my goddamn car! I’m going to do what I want with it! And I’m going to keep it!” “Nick. This is the city. You have a BMW. You cannot drive fast in the city. The only reason you got the BMW was to drive fast. And that was when we lived in Boston. It makes absolutely no sense now. Get rid 130 Scott


of it. We have had this conversation too many times. Get rid of it.” “I go outside the city all the time, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Oh, really? Really? When is that? Because as far as I can tell, you leave this apartment, you go to work on the subway, and then you come home on the subway. When do you drive your car outside the city all the time?” “I’m not getting rid of my car.” “Nick, we need the money. You don’t drive it. It’s not practical anymore! It never was practical! Get rid of it!” “No! Stop trying to control me!” “Ooh, okay. So you got that sporty little cherry red Z4 to pick up all the ladies, huh? So you could get out of my ‘controlling’ grip, huh?” “Shut the fuck up.” “Nick, it’s that car or us…” “Done. The car!” “Fuck you, we’re done!” “Yeah, walk out that door, way to be melodramatic yet again!” But this time, instead of storming out and angrily stomping through the streets of New York and subsequently being struck by a sporty little red BMW, she stayed and nuzzled herself in the nook of Nick. She knew he would give up the car when they weren’t mid-fight. She knew he would give up the car when she actually told him that “us” meant “me and this baby.” And a feeling of total relaxation flowed through her entire being, starting from her solar plexus and extending outward, to her toes, to her fingertips, and finally to her face. As the warm sensation of release--similar to the moment immediately following a good back crack--crept into her head and reached the features of her face, her lips curved upward slightly in the form of a delicate smile.

Scott 131


Conditioning a Wolf Dusty Cooper First Published By Fogged Clarity Art Review

Shotgun shells rolled on the floorboard of Tarot’s pick-up, clanking across the bare metal as he navigated sharp curves. The trip up the mountain hadn’t been so bad. The trip down threatened to pull the axle apart. He’d bought the old truck from a man outside of Tempe, Arizona. The seller’s ad was forthright with the facts: ’92 Ford flare-side F-150, 195k/m, rough exterior, worn interior, radio, rowdy engine, $450 obo. It had a big silver toolbox stretched under the back window. The carpet was gone, and the sun-chipped paint job had begun to rust, but it came with a gun rack. After his last bit of bad luck, he felt better having his shotgun close at hand. He was thirty years older than the truck and in just as bad shape. They fit, the truck and him. Tarot was finally off the mountain, heading back to Phoenix, where his car had been stolen, but the ocean waited on the other side, 132 Cooper


hidden by desert and rock. He missed water. Growing up surrounded by swamp and marsh affects a man. Solid ground feels false, like a lie people tell themselves about stability. His momma had told him that when he was a boy. “Nothin’s fer sure,” she’d said, “not the ground ‘er the sky." Weaving his fingers up through his grey beard, spotted brown and red, Tarot scratched his chin. It started itching that morning, and he’d been trying to ignore his mother’s words, “Stranger’s comin’." It wasn’t a sign like his momma would have insisted. Reaching into the inside pocket of his jacket, he pulled out a bottle of Tabasco. Eyes still on the road, he stuck out his tongue and swallowed a few shakes from the bottle. The itch on his chin persisted. Tarot let out a long, guttural sigh, and saw a curve approaching. Rusty-orange hills blocked whatever was around the bend. Yellow dashes became solid lines as the truck lurched around the curve, shotgun shells rolled and clanked. His tires straightened out and a figure appeared down the road. Despite a dark blond ponytail, Tarot could tell it was a him. The stride was strong and wide. The hitcher wore a bulky black coat, the leather worn slick. He had a guitar case hanging diagonally across his back. Mud caked the calves of his jeans. Tarot passed, the hitcher’s thumb never soliciting for a ride. His face appeared in the passenger side mirror. He was young. The kid smiled, nodded, and hefted a duffle bag up his shoulder. His eyes set on the image in the mirror, Tarot said, “He might be right.” He stopped. The hitcher, if he could be called such, jogged to the truck. Tarot motioned for him to open the door. With some resistance from the latch, he complied but didn’t get in. Leaning into the cab with one hand on the jamb, he smiled. The sun caught his blue eyes and bright teeth. The duffle bag looked new, but his clothes were worn, the silkscreen mummy on his red t-shirt faded and cracked. They were both silent. The boy’s eyes circled from the gun rack, to the mixed trash and shells on the floor, then back to the gun. Tarot could see him working things over, hesitation, not fear, in the kid’s stance. Cooper 133


me.”

“Where ya headed?” Tarot said. “The coast,” he said, looking at Tarot. “Or as far as you can take

Tarot nodded down the road. “I’m making my way there, too. Passing through Phoenix on to L.A.” He turned back to the kid, softening his eyes and smiling as best he could. The kid’s eyes were moving over the floorboard again. “You can ride along if you care to” “Yeah, I’ll ride as far as you’ll go.” He hung his head and settled his gaze on the seat. “Something a matter?” “It’s just,” the kid said and paused. He raised his eyebrows and looked up, as though pleading. “I don’t have any money.” “I see,” Tarot said, his belly burned, and he had to look away from the kid’s Beach Boy eyes. “Look here. I didn’t stop to pick you up ‘cause I’m a taxi service. Put yer shit in the back and climb in.” Tarot kept his eyes on the road and let the kid throw what was weighing him down in the bed of the truck. Back at the open door, the kid sat on the edge of the seat and kicked his boots against the step. “Hell,” Tarot said, almost cheery, “don’t worry ‘bout that.” The hitcher climbed in, the creaking door pulling him as much as he pulled it. “I’ll clean it up next stop for gas. Don’t worry about it, kid,” Tarot said, and patted the side of the guy’s knee. “No problem, old man,” the kid said, shifting his leg. “Fair enough. My name’s Tarot,” he said, pulling the bottle from his jacket, “like the gypsy card.” He took a drink of Tabasco. The kid watched and waited for Tarot to stop smacking his lips. “I’m Kyle,” he said and extended his right hand. “Kyle Dalton.” “Nice to meet you, Kyle,” Tarot said, shaking the kid’s hand. It was smooth, but bigger than Tarot’s. “You mind wearing your seatbelt?” Kyle looked about him. “I would, but I can’t find it.” “Probably tucked into the seat.” Tarot’s hand disappeared between the cushions. With his eyes 134 Cooper


still on the road, his fingers searched from side to side. As he pulled the buckle out, the back of his hand brushed Kyle’s ass. The pliant, rough texture of the denim crept up his knuckles, stimulating the hair on his arm. “Scuse me,” Tarot said, pursing his lips. Kyle waited for Tarot to let go of the buckle before stretching the belt across his chest to fasten it. He sat up straight, arms stiff, and gripped his knees. Tarot looked over, and Kyle watched him from the corner of his eye. “Where ya from?” “My parents are waiting for me in San Diego.” “That’s not too far from where I'm going,” Tarot said. “You’ll be there tomorrow, now I picked you up.” “Yeah,” Kyle said, and leaned against the door. "I'm from Louisiana. I travel, playing at casinos. Played Mazatzal Casino in Payson last night. Got a one-man band. Call myself Up Around The Bend," Tarot said and waited. "Know why?" He could hardly see Kyle's head shaking. "I cover Credence," Tarot said, smiling. He sang, “Bring a song and a smile for the banjo / Better get while the gettin's good / Hitch a ride to the end of the highway / Where the neons turn to wood.” He finished and pumped the gas pedal. The engine croaked and jerked Kyle’s head. He placed his hand on the seat close to his leg and pushed away from Tarot. "Song's kinda fittin', huh?" Tarot said. "Why?" "Didn't you hear the lyrics? Hitch a ride?" "Right," Kyle said, "I got it." He was rigid. Even the leather of his jacket seemed tense. They rode on in silence. The sun was just above the mountains, shining the day’s last light through the windshield. Tarot's thumbs twitched. It was a long trip to California. He didn't want to lose his company, but he knew he'd lost ground with the boy. They were on the 101, going around Phoenix. Tarot tried again. Cooper 135


"I saw yer guitar. You play?" "Kinda," Kyle said, and looked out the window. He was muttering to himself. “Now, listen,” Tarot said, as though he was scolding a child. Weary of making eye contact, he kept his face forward. “I wasn’t trying to touch you. It was an accident.” He could feel Kyle’s blue eyes burning white heat into his chest. “If you’re uncomfortable I’ll letcha out. Don’t want no silent passenger.” Kyle let out a breath. “Sorry, I’ve had a couple bad pick-ups." Twisting to look at the back window, he said, “Had to put some guys in their place.” “Yeah,” Tarot said, nodding, but the heat persisted. “I know what ya mean." The folds of Kyle’s jacket softened as he relaxed his arms and slouched his shoulders. “Drivers expect something for the ride, ya know?" he said. "You can’t trust some people.” “I know what ya mean. That’s what the shells are for. Some kid robbed me. Stole my last truck while I was paying for gas.” “That’s shitty,” Kyle said, shaking his head as he spoke. “Why would someone want this?” “Well, it wasn’t this truck,” he said. “I didn’t pay much for this heap. Four hundred bucks and it came with the gun rack.” “The engine’s loud. But I guess it has some character. A lot of stories are in a truck like this.” “How’s that?” Tarot said. “I just mean,” Kyle said and put his hand on the dash. “I bet it’s seen some things.” Tarot’s eyes followed Kyle’s fingers stroking the rough plastic. “Don’t go running off with it, now.” “I’m no thief,” Kyle said. 136 Cooper


“Nah, I had a good feeling about you. Them shells and the gun are just for show. Call it intimidation.” Kyle looked between his feet. “It worked. I almost didn’t get in when I got a good look at you.” Tarot’s heat extinguished and his lips set like cement. They’d been driving an hour and the atmosphere finally loosened. It was getting near dark. Tarot figured they’d have to share a motel room for the night. There were a few things he wanted to get first. “Mind if we stop?” “Sure,” Kyle said and looked out the back window again. On the west side of Phoenix they found a quick stop grocery. “You mind coming in?” Tarot said. “Yeah, I could use something to drink.” He bent forward, and Tarot thought he was tying his shoes. Inside, Tarot got hair conditioner, deodorant, and some baby oil. Before checking out he grabbed a bag of jerky and a bottle of Boone’s. At the counter he began to think better about buying the oil. Next in line, he thought about dropping the bottle on the candy shelf in front of him. Arms dangling at his sides, he sidled up close to the shelf and tried to maneuver the bottle between the racks. Over his shoulder he saw an old lady scowling at him and Kyle standing right behind her. His heart growled like his truck’s engine. He turned and pulled his shoulders back. “Problem?” he said to the old lady. She took a step away, her scowl softening. Tarot glanced at Kyle and narrowed his brow. The clerk called for next in line. His eyes back on the old lady, Tarot moseyed to the register. He threw the bag of jerky on the counter and slammed the bottles down. “Yeah I need this, and give me a fucking titty magazine.” He nodded at Kyle, a half smirk on his face. The old man frowned, his white beard clean and shaped. “No need for the language, sir.” Cooper 137


“Just get me a damn porn mag so I can git back on the road.” "Which one would you like?" "That Leather Bitch’ll do," Tarot said, scratching his scraggly beard. The man grabbed a magazine with all but the title hidden behind black cellophane. "This one?" the man said. Without looking, Tarot said, “Yep.” As the man rang the items, Tarot glanced at the old lady then at Kyle. He was looking away into the store. His arms were crossed; one hand with a bottle of water tucked under one arm and the other wrapped around his bicep, fingers drumming a quick rhythm on his jacket sleeve. Tarot paid for his things and grabbed the bags from the man. Before leaving the counter Tarot smiled at the clerk then the old lady. Outside he took a drink from his Tabasco and popped the lid of the truck’s toolbox. He put the conditioner and baby oil in his travel bag, but kept the jerky, Boone's and magazine for the ride. As he closed the lid and locked it, he studied Kyle’s belongings in the back. Moving the duffel bag to face him, Tarot saw the initials DVL monogrammed in red across the front. “Kyle Dalton?” he said, and scratched his beard. He heard the doors of the store slide open and Kyle walked into the fading daylight. His passenger was taller than he first estimated and had Tarot by at least forty pounds of muscle. Kyle stopped, his eyes skipping over Tarot into the bed of the truck. “Ready to git back on the road?” Kyle moved slowly to the other side of the truck. Tarot saw him peer into the back before getting in. Tarot leaned into the truck and set the jerky and magazine on the middle of the bench seat. His forehead burned and he fought the urge to look at Kyle's bags again. Kyle watched through the cab, his eyes resting on the shotgun, and then climbed in. “Got some Strawberry Hill and some jerky if you want. And tits to look at if you get bored,” Tarot said, starting the truck. Kyle grunted thanks and found the buckle to his belt without Tarot’s help. Back on the road, Tarot let the growling engine speak for his state. 138 Cooper


The sun behind the mountains and a half moon shining right above them illuminated the cab with uncanny light. Tarot’s brain cranked with the last thing Kyle had said before they stopped at the store. It ate at him. “You said you had trouble before. Said you had your doubts. Why’d you ride along?” “You were the first to stop.” Tarot chewed on Kyle’s answer like a tofu steak, shaped the right way, but unsatisfying. He was quiet a few miles, then said, “Well, I stopped because of superstition.” “Is that why your name’s Tarot? You believe in that kind of thing?” “Sometimes I believe. But that’s not why my name’s Tarot. Momma had a book she found by a man named Thoreau. She liked the way the name looked and sounded. When they asked her what name she wanted on my birth certificate, she pronounced it ‘Tarot.’ And that’s what they wrote.” “That true?” “Yep, afraid so,” Tarot said. The sun was gone, and the moon glossed the desert in an eerie brownish blue. He pulled a knob and lit up the road. “The back of my head was itching,” Kyle said. “What?” “That’s why I got in. The back of my head was itching before you drove by,” Kyle said and pointed to the spot near the beginning of his ponytail. Tarot looked and, for the first time, noticed a horned figure tattooed on Kyle’s neck. He couldn’t quite make it out in the half-dark of the cab. Kyle turned and the figure slipped beneath his collar. Tarot’s head floated, lost in scenarios too complicated for him to pursue. “That sounds like a Louisiana superstition,” Tarot said. He looked at his passenger. His face was lit by moonlight and the dull glow of the instrument panel. Tiny craters and crevices marked his face. He looked older than Tarot originally guessed. “Your family from Long Beach?” Cooper 139


Kyle looked away and muttered to himself. “San Diego!” he said. “I told you they were waiting in San Diego.” Tarot thought about calling him David, or Daniel to see if he answered. He didn’t think he was scared of the kid, but knew he was lying. “So where’d you get your name?” “What’s it matter?” “What’s that old saying? Got to know where you’re from to know where you’re going.” Kyle grunted. “What’s that old saying? Talk of the devil and he’s bound to appear.” Tarot took the words like a punch. Kyle had turned away again. The very tip of his tattoo peeked above the collar of his jacket. Tarot stiffened from his shoulders to his jeans. He considered stopping. He’d tell the kid to get out if he wanted to be so defensive, but the thought of the kid out here in the dark would keep him awake. He guessed there were some things people just didn’t want to share. Talking about yourself lost you control. And the kid wasn’t about to give up any of that. Tarot’s foot felt weighty on the pedal, and the engine was in a continuous snarl. He opened one of the bags of jerky, chose a big piece to chew on as he drove, and offered the bag to Kyle. “Like a piece?” “I’m not hungry.” “There’s porn in there if you’re bored.” “Yeah, you said,” Kyle said. Tarot heard the shopping bag rustle. He clicked on the overhead light. Kyle ripped the plastic covering off the magazine. He was quiet. Tarot thought he made the right decision getting the magazine, but Kyle held it out towards him and said, “What the hell’s this?’ “Too freaky for ya?” Tarot said and smiled as he turned his head. With a title like Leather Bitch he expected it to be a bit raunchy, maybe a little too much for the kid’s taste, but there were two men on the cover wearing black leather straps across their chests. One was bent over in front of the other, his expression a mixture of pleasure and pain. 140 Cooper


“Th-that’s not what I wanted,” Tarot said, his head jerking back and forth from the road to the magazine to Kyle’s narrowed eyes. “You heard me ask for a fucking titty magazine, didn’t you?” Kyle didn’t move, just held the magazine like a shield. Tarot rolled down his window, snatched the gay porn from Kyle’s hands, and threw it onto the road. “Fucking old man,” Kyle said. Their silence became an uneasy quiet. Even the gurgling engine had lost its gusto. Tarot felt trapped in his own truck. The darkness pressed in on him. That magazine was supposed to get the boy on his side. Ease him. Maybe get him a little excited. The image of the two men on the cover came to life in Tarot’s thoughts. Kyle’s face appeared on the one bent over. Shaking his head, he cursed the old man at the store again and took another swig from his bottle. Kyle crossed his arms and leaned with his back against the door. “What’s with the hot sauce?” Blood running fast, his palms slipped on the steering wheel. Tarot thought about giving him a “Go fuck yourself ” kind of answer. “Out in the woods we didn’t have much use for soap. When momma wanted to correct us for cussin’ she coated our tongues with Tabasco. Us kids just got the taste for it. Keeps me awake when I’m drivin’.” Tarot waited, but Kyle kept quiet. It was as though he hadn’t even heard the story. Tarot’s chest was growing tight and his veins burned as his heart pumped. He tried not to be angry, but he wanted more from the kid. “Well?” Tarot said. “Well what?” Kyle said, his breath fogging the window. “What ya think, kid?” “What do I think about what? Your Pavlovian hot sauce addiction?” “What’s that mean, kid?” “Kid?” Kyle said the word like a growl. “How old do you think I am?” “Well you’re actin’ like a stubborn teenager. But if I had to guess, Cooper 141


twenty-two, twenty-five, tops.” “I’m not a damned kid. I’m thirty-one.” Hills had given way to open desert. The road, weaving out in front of them, reflected light from the lopsided moon. Tarot could see a cluster of yellow lights in the dark landscape. The gas gauge was under half-full. Tarot thought maybe he could get the kid to pay while he pumped. Then leave him there. “Pavlov was a scientist,” Kyle said, staring at Tarot. “A psychologist. He teaches these dogs to expect their food every time a bell rings.” He paused. Tarot glanced at him. The hitcher’s eyes were shadowed and Tarot thought he saw him snarling. “So these dogs know food is coming when they hear the bell. They get all excited and start drooling. One day Pavlov rings the bell but doesn’t give the dogs any food. He can see they are waiting for it, mouths all sloppy and wet. He keeps doing it, day after day, and the dogs keep drooling for the food that wouldn’t come.” He paused. “Pavlov called it conditioning.” Tarot was quiet, kept looking at the lights down the road. “Did he ever feed the dogs?” “What do you mean?” “Pavlov, did he feed the dogs, or just keep ringin’ the bell ‘til they starved?” “Maybe. Probably not. That’s not the point.” “I got the point! You’re saying my momma conditioned me.” “A trained dog.” “I’m no trained dog. I just like the Tabasco.” “Are you sure you don’t punish yourself? Maybe you said something you shouldn’t. Did you disrespect your momma? Think dirty thoughts about a man?” He seemed to be getting excited, his palms running up and down his jeans. “I ain’t gay,” Tarot said. He felt all the strength drain from his limbs. “I just like the taste.” Kyle wiped his face with both hands, rubbed them down his legs to his knees, and gripped the loose denim. “You know what I would have 142 Cooper


done if I was one of those dogs?” he said. “Dogs?” Tarot said, confused. Then, remembering, he said, “What would you do?” “Would have done. I’m no trained dog, like you.” Kyle laughed. Then, his voice got smooth, like he was warning Tarot. “I would have gotten a hold on old Pavlov and taught him a lesson. I would have shown him I was hungry, and dinnertime came, bell or no bell.” Tarot caught him looking at the back window again. Estuaries of sweat sprouted from his palms and ran down his arms. The lights seemed to be keeping their distance. A pistol would have been a better choice. Without thinking about it, he gripped his bottle by the neck and jerked it out. “Wanna try some?” Kyle laughed. It was a good-natured laugh. Not like when he had mocked Tarot. “No, you can’t tame me,” he said, continuing to laugh. Tarot thought for a second he had worried for nothing. Kyle stopped laughing. “A wolf doesn’t need a dinner bell. Feeding time comes when I have the opportunity. When I say so.” The lights were getting closer and at last Tarot could make out the gas station’s overhang with the pumps underneath. They rode on in silence. Tarot thought his heart might pop out between his ribs. His neck was stiff, his breathing rigid, his eyes intent on the station. “I need some gas,” he said, his foot on the break. Tarot stopped with the passenger side close to the pump. Except for the man behind the counter, they were the only people around. He killed the engine and pushed the headlight knob into the dash. They watched each other. Tarot waited for his passenger to make his move. “Would you mind paying while I pump?” Tarot asked. “I don’t have any money,” Kyle said, tucking his chin, “remember?” Tarot laughed. “Of course,” he said, beginning to stutter again. “I was going to give you the money. I’m going to give you the money.” “It’s the least I can do for the ride.” “Yeah,” Tarot said and nodded. Cooper 141


He turned, his body moving in jerky motions. He listened for Kyle to move. With the handle in his fist, he pulled it and nudged the door. Tarot paused for a beat of his racing heart and heard Kyle getting out. Tarot stepped with unease onto the ground. He hadn’t stood in two hours. His knees threatened to give, but he bucked and stood up straight. As he rounded the back of the truck, he eyed Kyle’s bags. Between the truck and the pump the two men met face to face. Tarot pulled his wallet from his back pocket, opened it, and gave Kyle three twenties. “That should do it,” he said, finally looking up at his passenger. Kyle’s lips scrunched to one side as though thinking over the money. His eyes were dead still on Tarot’s. After a moment he said, “Yeah, that should do it.” “All right,” Tarot said, half nodding, half cowering. “Need anything?” Kyle asked as he walked towards the store. “Nope, I’ll be okay.” Tarot watched Kyle’s long strides up to the glass doors. He turned to the truck and opened the gas tank. A bell rang behind him, and his whole body shook. He turned to the pump. Kyle was at the counter, his back to Tarot. In one motion, Tarot swung around, grabbed the handles of the two bags and put them on the ground at his feet. Kyle still at the register, Tarot darted to the driver’s side. The engine cranked, coughed, and growled. He yanked the stick into first and sped onto the empty highway. The back of his hand tickled with the memory of denim. Kyle’s ass. An hour passed before his breathing evened and his fingers eased off the steering wheel. He glanced at the rearview. It was black. A quarter tank wasn’t going to get him far enough away. Tarot took a drink from his Tabasco. It tasted foul. He rolled down the window and threw it into the dark. The road curved, but Tarot didn’t hear any shotgun shells roll across the floorboard.

142 Cooper


Jackson 143


Notes on Contributors Olivia Kate Cerrone’s fiction has appeared in various journals, including New South, War, Literature & the Arts, North Atlantic Review and JewishFiction.net. She just completed The Hunger Saint, a novel set in Sicily. Contact her at Olivia.Cerrone@ gmail.com Ian Denning’s work has appeared in Corium Magazine, A Cappella Zoo, Mid-American Review, 5x5, Rio Grande Review, and elsewhere. He earned his MFA from the University of New Hampshire and now lives in Seattle, where he volunteers for 826 Seattle and the Richard Hugo House. Halley Fehner is a historian by day and a fiction writer by night, and she equally enjoys sticking to the facts as she does making things up. Her fiction has most recently appeared in scissors and spackle. She lives in Rockville, Maryland. Shelby Goddard is a New Orleans transplant and former editor of New Delta Review, a publication of Louisiana State University, where she earned her MFA. Her work has appeared in 144

Notes


The Adirondack Review, REAL, and Denver Quarterly, among others. When not writing, she spends her free time crocheting fanciful hats for her Etsy shop Strung Out Fiber Arts. Jason Howell graduated from the University of North Carolina, Asheville where he studied mass communication. He is currently a social worker and aspiring writer. He lives in North Carolina with his son, Jaden Howell. Ethan Joella is an English professor who writes poetry and fiction. His work has appeared in Best New Writing 2008, The American, SNReview, The Collagist, and The International Fiction Review. He lives in Pennsylvania and Delaware with his wife and daughters, and his website is www.ethanjoellacommunications.com Megan Scott made a name for herself fighting dragons, and other mythological creatures, for gold, glory, and valuable manuscripts. When not decapatating creatures of the damned with her trusty vorpral blade Frustum, she writes short stories, which happen to be just as exciting and cool as beast slaying. Elizabeth Tarver is a native of Louisiana and now lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her fiction has appeared in Image, South Dakota Review, Beloit Fiction Journal and other literary magazines. A new story is forthcoming in Ellipsis

Notes 145


1

A n d r e w O l i v i a

A b b o t t

K a t e

C e r r o n e

D e b o r a h D u s t y

C o f f i n C p u p e r - V

M a d i s o n I a n

C r y s t a l

D e n n i n g

A n d r e w

E k

H a l l e y F e h n e r S h e l b y

G o d d a r ^ d ^

J a s o n M i c h a e l

*

H o w e l l

T a y l o r

E t h a n

J a c k s o n

J o e l l a

M e g a n

S c o t t

F r a n k

S c o z z a r i

S i e r r a

S e n z a k i

E l i z a b e t h

' •

T a r v e r

Profile for Berkeley Fiction Review

Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 33  

Berkeley Fiction Review is a UC Berkeley undergraduate, student-run publication that looks for innovative short fiction that plays with form...

Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 33  

Berkeley Fiction Review is a UC Berkeley undergraduate, student-run publication that looks for innovative short fiction that plays with form...

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