Black Fox Literary Magazine Issue #17

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Black Fox Literary Magazine is a print and online literary magazine published biannually.

Copyright Š 2018 by Black Fox Literary Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Written and artistic work included in Black Fox Literary Magazine may not be reprinted or reproduced in any electronic or print medium in whole or in part without the consent of either the writer/artist or founding editors. Issue 17 Cover Art: The Island by Trine Churchill ISBN: 978-1-387-69710-6

Editors’ Note

This issue of Black Fox comes to you late. In fact, we type this letter for our Winter 2018 issue and it is already spring. We owe you a bit of an explanation. Our editors have had quite the life challenges this year, including the death of a loved one and sick relatives. It got us thinking about life in general and how short it really is—too short not to pursue your writing dreams. Being a writer is one of the most difficult professions in the world, but we are here to tell you that you can do anything you set your mind to. You may stumble along the way, and sometimes writing may take a backseat, but it’s important to remember to get back to it. Keep writing, no matter what. Last month we had the privilege of attending our third consecutive AWP! As usual, it was a great conference and we enjoyed meeting so many of our contributors. Last, we also hit a milestone (for us anyway!). We were featured in the February issue of The Writer Magazine, a national magazine all of us have admired and loved for years. We always end our letter by expressing our unwavering gratitude to our contributors, readers, and staff. Whether you’ve been a longtime supporter of us, or you’re just discovering us, we are glad to have you here. -The Editors Racquel, Pam, and Marquita

Meet the BFLM Staff: Founding Editors: Racquel Henry is first and foremost a writer. She is also a part-time English Professor, freelance editor, and owns the writing center, Writer’s Atelier, in Winter Park, FL. Racquel earned an MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University and writes literary, women’s, and YA fiction. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared or is forthcoming in Lotus-Eater Magazine, Ghost Parachute, Moko Caribbean Arts & Letters, Reaching Beyond the Saguaros: A Collaborative Prosimetric Travelogue (Serving House Books, 2017), and We Can’t Help it if We’re From Florida (Burrow Press, 2017), among others. You can follow her writing journey on her blog, ―Racquel Writes.‖ Pamela Harris lives in Greensboro, NC and spent seven years as a middle school counselor. Currently, she is an assistant professor in the Counselor Education Department at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. When she's not molding the minds of future school counselors, she’s writing contemporary YA fiction (and has recently started writing middle grade). Some of her favorite authors are Ellen Hopkins, Courtney Summers, Roxane Gay, and Stephen King. You can also find her at the movie theaters every weekend or pretending to enjoy exercising. She received her MFA in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2012, and her PhD in Counselor Education at the College of William and Mary. Marquita "Quita" Hockaday lives in Williamsburg, VA. She is an adjunct professor who has never been able to shake her love of writing and reading. There is always, always a book near her. Marquita is currently enjoying writing young adult (historical and contemporary)—and most recently wrote her first middle grade novel with co-editor, Pam. Some of her

favorite authors are Laurie Halse Anderson, Blake Nelson, Cormac McCarthy, and Joyce Carol Oates. Marquita graduated with an MFA in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2012, and has completed her PhD at the College of William and Mary. Copy Editor & Reader: Elizabeth Sheets is a writer and an Editorial Assistant for The Journal of Proteome Research. Elizabeth received a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. Some of her favorite writers are Stephen King, Anne Rice, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sarah Waters, Aimee Bender, Dan Chaon, Melissa Pritchard, Tara Ison, and Stacey Richter. Her creative work appears in Mulberry Fork Review, Apeiron Review, Kalliope – A Consortium of New Voices, and in Black Fox Literary Magazine. Interviews Editor: Alicia Cole is a poet and fiction writer. She edits for Rampant Loon Press, and has interviewed for Bitch Magazine and motionpoems. Her creative writing is forthcoming in Vagrants Among Ruins, Torn Pages Anthology, Gadfly Online, The Dawntreader, and Lakeside Circus. She spends much of her time either freelancing or playing with a menagerie of animals. Reader: Donna Compton lives just outside of Washington, D.C. and graduated from the University of Maryland University College with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. She began taking creative writing courses a few years ago, with a focus on short stories. Currently, she's reading and writing a lot of flash fiction. Her other favorite genres include literary fiction, mystery, thriller, science fiction, and fantasy.

Contents: Fiction What You Wanted All Along by Stacy Austin Egan (8) The Old Man in the Park by Richard McPherson (42) Estelle Lane by Caitlin McGillicuddy (67) The Sunshine Wheel by A.J. Huskey (117) Ceramic Playground by Catherine Le Nguyen (146) Beach Party by Bill Pippin (153) On Vanishing by Jessika Bouvier (174) Poetry Childhood by Krystal Powers (31) Visiting Hours by Jonathan Rowe (32) Runner by Dane Hamann (41) 641 Western Avenue by Alina Borger (63) Patchwork Quilt by Krista Rossi (65) Selected Poems by Maureen Fielding (79) what to do when someone you love tells you to go take a hike by Lowell Jaeger (84) Selected Poems Katherine Orr (85) Selected Poems by Christine Arumainayagam (104) I Know Sorrow by P.J. Sheridan (107) Night After Night by Rita Sotolongo (109) Love Letters by Taunja Thomson (111) Selected Poems by Terry Allen (112) Selected Poems by Charles Kell (122) Selected Poems by Charles Musser (141) Obscured by Robbin Farr (152) Cyhyraeth by Holly Day (170)

Selected Poems by Megan Merchant (171)

Nonfiction Sunrise Elegy: To Myself Growing Up by Anthony Bankes (33) Filigree by Lina Chern (91) Weight by Jan Edwards Hemming (127) Cover Art: The Island by Trine Churchill

What You Wanted All Along By Stacy Austin Egan Winner of the 2017 Black Fox Writing Contest

On the escalator down to baggage claim, Kerry searched the crowd for Dan. It was two weeks before Thanksgiving, but the Austin airport already had Christmas decorations up. Outside in the passenger pickup area, Virginia Pines with shiny red ornaments and silver bows felt comical in sixty degrees. Kerry had taken off her knit hat and jacket (the letter inside the hat, the hat inside the jacket) and was still warm under her sweater; it wasn’t even thirty degrees when she’d left New York. She didn’t mind waiting; the heat felt like an escape, an old memory she was visiting. ―Thanks for coming,‖ Dan said, surprising her from behind. She turned, put her arms around his neck, and his hands, out of habit, found the small of her back. She pulled away quicker than she meant to. ―I’m sorry,‖ she said. She meant because of her reaction, but he thought it was her condolence. ―I know,‖ Dan said. ―It still doesn’t seem real.‖ He hadn’t shaved and probably hadn’t slept. His eyes got red when he was tired; his father had been the same way. Kerry bit the inside of her cheek. She still felt every desire that she’d been afraid she would. She thought about 8

being fourteen again and kissing in his garage. Then, it was easier to look at him. ―I’m sorry,‖ she said again. This time, she did mean about his father. A skycap with a cart of luggage maneuvered between them. ―I didn’t check anything,‖ she said. Dan picked up her carry on, even though it had wheels. The gesture made her feel guilty. She offered to get it, but he was already ahead. On the way to the car, she thought of his father’s old pistol: the smooth, cold metal always locked in the safe when they were kids. He’d taught them both to shoot as matter-offactly as he’d taught them to paddle a kayak, tie half-hitch and quick-release knots, and swim the freestyle. Somehow she’d known, as soon as Dan had called to tell her that his father was dead, that Kirk had shot himself. Dan tossed her backpack into the trunk of his father’s old Nissan. In the car, he passed her a cigarette through the dark space between them, and though she hadn’t smoked since they were teenagers, she fumbled in the glove box for a lighter. ―The heater doesn’t work,‖ Dan said apologetically. ―It’s not even cold,‖ Kerry said, rolling down the window. Then, she remembered that he didn’t have the same


comparison. The smoke stung her throat, but she did not cough. Dan shrugged. In the parking garage, the car idled, but they didn’t leave. ―I’m glad you came,‖ he said. ―I hope it’s not weird.‖ ―It’s not weird,‖ she said. She hoped he couldn’t sense her shame. It radiated through her, creating heat and thirst. ―I know he was like a dad to you too,‖ Dan said. She reached for his hand but hesitated and rested it on the gearshift. There was no one else she’d rather be with, but she knew, with certainty now, that she should’ve stayed in Greenpoint. Kerry’s parents had never married. As a compromise, she was given her father’s last name as a first name. A lifetime of correcting the spelling, and he still hadn’t shown much interest. By the time Kerry and Dan became inseparable in high school, she was only seeing her dad for Easters and Christmases at her grandparents’ house in Houston. But Kirk, Mr. Carson back then, helped her search for scholarships and for graduation, gave her a binder with every article she’d written for the school paper, The Shield, laminated for safekeeping. He’d written her a note: don’t be afraid to look for the truth-K.C. She put out her cigarette and rolled up the window. 10

―You were special to him,‖ Dan said. His brown eyes met hers, and in them, was the same look he’d given her the day she left for Hunter College six years ago. The summer before, they’d perpetuated the lies that all high school sweethearts tell themselves: that distance wouldn’t change them, that there’d be no temptation great enough to divide them, that it was only four years. Kerry nodded. She knew Dan had meant it to be comforting, but she was starting to panic. She offered to drive, the required focus a welcome relief. The control of a car was something she missed, especially when late buses and crowded trains filled an hour of every day, at least. ―I’m staying at his house because I’m sort of in between places,‖ Dan said. ―And, it’s been cleaned and everything so—‖ ―It’s okay,‖ she said. While she was away at school, Kerry’s mother had moved to Dallas for a man she’d met on eHarmony; they were married now, so Kerry didn’t have family in Austin anymore. She hadn’t seen their old neighborhood in a few years, but when they arrived, Avenue B looked the same: porch lights illuminated shutters painted in bright colors, the grocery that they’d frequented for lunch had the same picnic tables and rusted tin signs, and the residents


had, as usual, been enthusiastic about Halloween décor without bothering to take it down. ―Does it feel like home?‖ Dan asked when she pulled into the garage. It was much more home than her sublet furnished room where her bed was over her desk to save space and elfa shelving substituted for not having a closet. ―It’s almost overwhelming,‖ Kerry said. Dan took her backpack and suitcase from the trunk and hesitated. ―When I called you, was there someone there?‖ he asked. ―What?‖ she said. She hugged her jacket close to her chest and wished she were the one retrieving the bags, so he couldn’t study her expression. ―I was just wondering if there was someone,‖ he said. ―Oh,‖ she said, ―yeah.‖ She lied because, though her heart was beating faster and she felt a quivering inside of herself, she knew that they should leave each other alone. They had separate lives now, and there were reasons for that which hadn’t escaped her. Whatever she was guilty of, he wasn’t the one that could absolve her from it. Inside, she thought about how hurting sometimes felt the same as wanting: a deep hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach; an


emptiness that you couldn’t fill no matter how many times you revisited it and thought about how wrong its existence was. ―You didn’t mention it,‖ Dan said. He started the kettle on the stove for tea. His father was always making tea, never coffee. She’d acquired the habit too, kept it into her adulthood, one reminder she wouldn’t let go of, even now. ―We haven’t talked in a long time,‖ she said. It came out as an accusation. ―I left you a message on your birthday,‖ Dan said. That was three months ago, and she hadn’t returned it. ―It was my fault,‖ she said. The kettle hissed. ―I should be making tea for you.‖ The cups and saucers were in the cabinet above the sink where they’d always been. Dan sat and she made the tea: chamomile with honey. The three of them used to drink tea on Sunday mornings: she and Dan with his father. Her mother drove all the way out to Riverbend. Church was a weekly battle that Kerry finally won in high school. She much preferred tea, crosswords, and Mr. Carson teaching them about investments; she’d told her mother the answers made more sense, and she preferred the company. After that conversation, her aunt Elsa had called her to inquire if she was aware of a sinner’s fate. Back then, she’d said she didn’t care.


―This is hot,‖ she said. She sat folding her hands around her own mug, a favorite, which featured Edward Gorey’s cartoon of cats riding unicycles. ―I didn’t want it to be like this,‖ Dan said. Kerry moved her index finger over the grooves on the table. When their pencils were sharp, they’d sometimes make indents in the wood while doing homework. If you looked really closely, you could still make out some algebra equations. ―I know,‖ she said tracing her finger over 3X+2=14 (Dan’s handwriting). Dan rested his hand on top of hers. He still had the same callouses from batting, and the familiarity was enough to make her flinch. Underneath her hand was 2X+3Y=20 (her own handwriting). ―I meant because I never said sorry,‖ he said. The fall of their sophomore year, after they’d agreed to take a break that summer, Dan had come to visit New York before Christmas. She’d planned five days of touristy couple’s stuff, and he’d waited until they were ice-skating at Rockefeller Center to tell her he was seeing someone. She remembered making a big deal of her ankle hurting (it didn’t) just so she could sit alone and breathe in the cold air and think


about how to be platonic with the person who understood her so deeply that it felt invasive. ―I’m sorry too,‖ she said. So many times, she’d thought about this moment and about coming back to Austin to be with him, but that was before. She wrote articles for a home décor magazine and thought too much about chandeliers, herb gardens, throw pillows, and a whole host of things that didn’t matter to her. Half the time, her boss called her Chelsea. But he wasn’t why she was here now she reminded herself when she changed in the bathroom and slept on the couch, even though it hurt him, even though he knew exactly who she was (every birth mark, every scar) on the outside. * In the morning, Kerry found herself standing in the doorway of the study, though she couldn’t remember waking up and deciding to walk down the hall. She thought about how Mr. Carson had been when they were kids: his overly dramatic groan when he hung up the phone with an irritating client, the way he would sigh and look up, prayer in jest, if she or Dan got in trouble at school or tracked in mud on the carpet. Back then, when Dan’s parents had been married, the house had looked different: family photos on the walls, lilac wallpaper in the kitchen, sweet smelling soaps in the bathroom, and there 15

had been Dan’s mother, coming home in her nurse’s scrubs and attempting to scare caution into them with horror stories about trampolines and petting strange dogs. It was so beige now. Someone had painted over the stains. And though she didn’t want to stay, she could see him: strong arms, dark eyes, sitting there at the desk, punching numbers into his calculator, smoking with the window open, and she wanted to watch this illusion and could not turn away. ―Kerry?‖ ―God,‖ she said. She backed away from the room and into Dan. ―I don’t know why I came in here.‖ She knew that was a lie and that, had it not been for his presence in the house, she would’ve searched the file cabinet for what she hoped was there. ―It’s okay,‖ he said. Their eyes met and focused on each other. ―I keep coming in here too.‖ She looked away from him. She thought about a time in high school, after Dan’s parents were divorced and his mother had remarried. Dan’s father had found them in the garage. They had ridden their bikes home from school, and then, it seemed to have happened so fast that Dan’s hands, warm and sweaty, had been up her shirt, touching her breasts, and her thighs were straddling his dirt smeared baseball pants. His father made a face that was 16

half-sheepish grin, half grimace, but he had said ―Sorry,‖ made an awkward half-wave, and actually shut the door again. He never brought it up after that, at least not that Dan ever mentioned, and Kerry had thought that proved that he understood what it felt like, that frantic longing to be touched, to feel someone against you, even against your better judgment. He knew how awfully overwhelming it felt to want, and he had let them alone. After he shut the door, they had almost stopped but found themselves unable to. Rubbing the seam of her jeans up against Dan, she had come for the first time. She remembered breathing into his neck and looking over her shoulder at his dusty cleats; the shoelaces were untied, and she was wet and dizzy and too embarrassed to say anything. ―Do you remember when your dad walked in on us?‖ she asked. ―How could I forget? We had to have a talk about it later,‖ Dan said. ―I think he was worried we were having sex.‖ Though she already regretted mentioning it, she laughed. It had been a couple of years until they had done that, when they were sixteen. Dan’s father had been on a business trip, and they had rented Boogie Nights from Blockbuster and made fun of Mark Wahlberg filming a cheesy porno with Julianne Moore who told him he had a giant cock. They were 17

laughing, and then suddenly the mood had become serious and they were naked together for the first time. She remembered Dan on top of her, the movie still playing unnoticed on the television. In their shuffle to redress (though no one was coming home), they’d spilled Dr. Pepper on the carpet. Kerry had tried to clean it up while Dan fell asleep. Sex always made him lethargic. Eventually, she’d given up. The cola colored stain was the only thing they got in trouble for. ―He wrote me a letter,‖ Kerry said, sitting at the desk. ―It was about that Jane’s Addiction concert he took us to when we were freshman. He said that someone tried to sell him coke after he dropped us off, so he panicked and paid a scalper for a ticket and watched us the whole time to make sure we were okay.‖ ―Funny,‖ Dan said. ―So he just lied about seeing Good Will Hunting?‖ ―He mailed me his ticket,‖ she said. Dan’s father kept everything that reminded him of something happy: business cards, restaurant receipts, brochures, maps. He’d say all the time that he’d never threw a good memory away because you never knew when you would need it. Dan always gave him a hard time about it, but Kerry secretly had a similar collection of her own in a shoebox on her desk. 18

―He would,‖ Dan said. ―God, he had enough of them.‖ She didn’t tell Dan about the last line of the letter: When I was well, my instincts were always to do what was best for you and Dan. I regret that I was not always well when you knew me. I hope you will remember that I loved you very much. I hope, too, that you will remember me with forgiveness-K.C. ―Obviously not enough,‖ Kerry said. She felt surprised afterwards, as if it was something someone else had said. ―You know that’s not the reason.‖ Dan said. She felt the hairs of her arms stand up. It scared her. She pressed against her better judgment. ―What is the reason?‖ she said. He had opened the desk drawer to rummage for Kirk’s pillbox, but now he stopped. ―The short sell‖ he said. ―The investigation. You know.‖ ―He made short sells all the time,‖ Kerry said. ―That’s what he did when he felt pessimistic.‖ ―Yeah, and usually he didn’t make a lot of money from them,‖ Dan said, offering her a Xanax. ―Because usually his short sells didn’t precede 9/11 by a few days.‖ ―But the investigation cleared him.‖ She held the pill in her warm hand.


―After three years. After he lost a lot. You know all this.‖ Kerry swallowed the pill without water and could feel it in her throat. She left the room, locked the bathroom door, and peeled away the layers of her clothes: t-shirt, pajama pants, underwear. She stood under the water, letting it burn her skin, the heat a segue to drowsy relief. She thought about Dan’s father and his trip to the city her senior year, the week before 9/11 sent everything into smoked chaos and panic. She had met up with him for dinner at the Alex Hotel near Central Park. It had been nice to see a familiar face, and that was all it was supposed to have been. They had talked about Dan’s string of girlfriends. She had felt jealous and, at the same time, disconnected from Dan and her childhood on Avenue B; bicycles and baseball seemed to be a part of a past life. Even after several years, the city seemed new but still lonely, and she felt only half grown-up, constantly surrounded by bright lights, loud noises, and trains that left whether or not you made it on. New York was indifferent to her, but she wouldn’t admit, even to herself, that it bothered her. Outside of the restaurant, Kirk had kissed her on the cheek, but she had turned her head so that her lips met his. The smell of his cologne was so familiar, and his face felt rough 20

against her skin. He had looked at her sadly after, as if she had failed some kind of test, and he was disappointed. It had made her feel childish and embarrassed. ―Please?‖ she had whispered in his ear; a single word in the same searching tone. She could forever hear it, even now, please, please, please. She had looked right at him. She had known what she wanted then. * At the service at Hyde Park Baptist, neither of them could remember the words to the prayers. People that Kirk had worked with paced outside on cell phones. People whose names Kerry couldn’t remember asked her how her parents were doing. There was no casket, just an urn. Just ashes. Dan’s mother hugged her close. Her skin was soft and hung loose at her chin. Ten years ago, she’d been the most beautiful woman that Kerry knew. She thought about how Dan’s parents used to fight. How his dad would say her name, Carol, and he could make it sound so many different ways. She felt sleepy and heavy, like waking up from a dream but not being able to get out of bed. Beside them, Carol stopped one of Dan’s half-brothers from driving Hot Wheels over the pew. There was a lunch that she didn’t remember eating. A middle-aged man approached their table to offer Dan 21

condolences. ―Haven’t I met you before?‖ he asked her. She had met him: that night at the hotel, they’d been introduced briefly at the bar. She couldn’t swallow her food. ―I don’t think so,‖ she said. She pushed peas into her mashed potatoes. Dan pulled her away from the table. ―I can’t stay here,‖ he whispered. She held Dan’s hand protectively and fielded his questions for him as they moved towards the exit. He was going back to school. He was still playing on a recreational team. He’d love a casserole. Tuesday was great. Outside, she realized her face was flushed, and she was still holding her fork. In the car, in the parking lot behind the church, her whole chest shook, and she felt her bra too tight around her ribcage, the edges of the wires pushing into her sides with each sharp inhale. Her head hurt, and her ears felt hot. Dan was crying too: his elbows on the steering wheel, his head in his hands, which covered his eyes but not the heaving of his chest, up and down. Kerry thought about Kirk. Before, she’d decided that on that morning in New York, the light from the 12th floor window shining in on their bodies (his rough and hers smooth) covered only by soft, white sheets, that he had been happy. As 22

he held her, pulling her body into his, an arm wrapped over her chest, in a kind of peaceful half sleep, he seemed unguarded, as if he trusted her alone to exist in such close proximity to him. She didn’t know how he’d really felt, and now she never would. The loneliness in that finality that pulled at her. She didn’t know if she was asking ―Are you okay?‖ or saying ―You are okay,‖ but she said something like that over and over. She felt that if Dan knew, he wouldn’t hate her, which made it worse. They decided it was better to walk home. Her heels rubbed into the back of her ankle, so she took off her shoes. She stepped on pebbles and twigs and ripped her tights, but her eyelids were still heavy, and it didn’t hurt. Back at the house, Kerry leaned against the bathroom sink while Dan unzipped her dress. ―I guess it’s lonely,‖ she said. The air on her back made her shiver. ―Who knows,‖ Dan said. ―How it really is for anyone else.‖ She took off his tie and pulled off her tights. The back of one ankle was bleeding. She sat on the counter and leaned back against the mirror: the cold zipper, undone, pressed into her back. Dan kissed her neck. 23

―You wouldn’t love me if there were things you knew,‖ she said. ―Then don’t tell me,‖ he said. This straightforwardness was new. She leaned up against him. He smelled clean, like peppermint. ―What do you want?‖ he whispered. ―I know what I want.‖ If she closed her eyes, she could still see Kirk: his graying hair, his back straight, his eyes locked on hers, reaching across their table for the check. ―I don’t want to hate myself,‖ she said. It wasn’t what she’d thought she would say, but there it was. She hated running out of money every two weeks, her commute, writing about drawer pulls and knobs and colors to paint your cabinets instead of writing stories that would change people and what they decided to do. She hated what she’d done: maybe on purpose or maybe just because it was cold out, and she’d felt like being warm and wanted. She hated the way the Xanax made her tired, disconnected, stuck. She thought about kayaking with Dan on Town Lake in the summers. They’d always forgotten to be back at the right time. They forget sunscreen. They ruined the radio by getting it wet (again). And even so, they’d never really had a regret. Not a real one that 24

bound you to a place and a time. Not one that made you go back and back and back and search for when the drive was in you to do that thing. Maybe she had always liked Kirk. And maybe in New York, he’d already planned the short sell. Or maybe the depression, the sell, the investigation, maybe all of it came back to her, like she’d unraveled his life by holding a single thread until the whole thing came apart. ―We could go get a drink and talk about it?‖ Dan said. Kerry agreed. They found a Band-Aid and cleaned the tile. ―You don’t feel good every day,‖ Dan said. That was something Kirk used to say, specifically in response to all their complaints and teenage angst. ―We made him crazy,‖ Kerry said. Dan reached out his hand to help her off the floor. ―We made him happy,‖ he said. * At the bar, they drank pitchers of Fireman’s Four and played a game of pool, which Kerry was awful at. She noticed that Dan was holding back laughter under his smile, but he didn’t laugh, and she liked him more for it. At the end of their second pitcher, they drifted outside. On a picnic table, she said, ―I did something really bad.‖ She paused to watch the other patrons, UT students, playing 25

washers. Everyone had scarves, hats, and gloves on, more for fashion than for practicality. She missed not knowing what it felt like to be really cold, to feel your teeth sticking to the inside of your lips. ―I did something that disappointed him.‖ ―We have that in common,‖ Dan said. ―Right before 9/11, he came to the city.‖ She already felt the nerve to say it leaving. ―We had dinner. I…I upset him.‖ ―You can’t blame yourself for what happened.‖ He finished his glass, refilled it. He touched the bridge of his nose: a protective habit he had back from when he’d worn glasses in middle school. ―If I told you,‖ Kerry said carefully, ―I’d still regret it, and things between us would be different.‖ ―Then don’t tell me,‖ he said. Neither of them said anything for a minute. The girls beat the boys at washers, and there was a lot of screaming. ―If we’d known my dad stayed at that concert, how would we have felt?‖ ―Mortified, probably‖ she said. It was nice that there’d been a time when that’d be their biggest embarrassment. ―But we didn’t know‖ he said. She drank her beer. ―What’d your letter say?‖ she asked.


―That he loved me. That he didn’t always do the right thing for me.‖ Kerry nodded. She thought about how all love was like that: a constant need to make up for every time you could’ve done better, on and on like that. ―You remember when you first drank beer?‖ he said. ―And you threw up outside my house?‖ She did remember. They were fifteen and there’d been a Halloween party; someone’s older brother had bought the beer. Dan had given her an Oakley t-shirt to go home in. She still had it. ―I loved you then,‖ Dan said. ―That’s a gross moment to decide that‖ she said. ―Don’t you remember what you said though? That you’d never drink again because if you were going to feel so bad—‖ ―It should be the result of something you actually enjoyed,‖ she finished. ―It was sweet,‖ he said. He touched her face; she didn’t pull away. ―The point of this was to tell you that I fucked up,‖ she said. ―But I don’t care,‖ he said. He had shaved his beard for the funeral, so there was only dark stubble now. She thought he looked best this way. 27

―But I lied,‖ she said. ―I knew you weren’t really seeing anyone,‖ he said. ―No. I mean, I met that man from lunch today. In New York. I did—‖ ―Kerry,‖ he said. He shook his head as if to say drop it, went inside, and paid the tab. She realized he couldn’t free her from it. Selfishly, she’d wanted him to. When they were kids, she’d depended on him to go first: class presentations, diving into the lake, undressing. But he couldn’t proceed her in this. The twenty-minute walk home felt twice as long on the way back because she knew, with certainty now, what she was going to do. In the house, Dan turned on the TV; Saturday Night Live was on. She’d lost track of what day it was. They were fine until the commercials, and then they were closer together than they’d started, and his hand was on her thigh. ―Since you left, no one has really mattered to me,‖ he said, and it seemed impossible to not kiss him. She remembered how to move with him, even though it had been long enough to forget. It felt better than it had before: fast and intense, their bodies tightly pressed together. She hadn’t felt it like that in a long time. After they had finished, lying on her back on the couch, dizzy and breathing deeply, her cheeks warm, she felt 28

physical relief move through her body. He kissed her on the forehead and fell asleep next to her, his breathing tickling her ear. Maybe it was wrong, but she didn’t think about that now. The sensation of being wanted, in having wanted it too, gave her courage, and she took her chance. Naked in Kirk’s study, she opened one file cabinet and then another until she found it: the Allen Edmund’s shoebox, so full the top wouldn’t stay on. She dumped the contexts on the floor and began to shift through them; so many of the memories she wasn’t a part of, but many she was: San Antonio Zoo tickets, folded up targets from the shooting range, Astros koozies, Dan’s baseball photos, programs from school assemblies with their names highlighted, receipts from birthday meals they’d shared at Threadgill’s, duckbill shaped whistles from Austin Duck Tours, which they’d done for Dan’s fourteenth birthday much to his own mortification. Combing through receipts, she felt hurried to find what she was looking for. When she felt in her hand smooth plastic the shape of a credit card, she held it up to the light. Kirk’s room key from the Alex Hotel. That proof was the only thing that she didn’t put back; she would keep it forever, a reminder that she had been a mistake but not a reason. Dan was still asleep when she returned. She tried to imagine a future that included Austin and him. If she could 29

forget, everything could be how she’d first imagined it that day in his garage when she’d felt stunned that they’d never, in all those years, done this thing that felt so good. But her thoughts betrayed her intentions and circled back to Kirk. She thought about the weight of the cold metal in his hand, thought about how you could know something was wrong, but you could still do it anyway. Maybe there was something like that waiting inside of everyone. At first, it probably felt just right. That’s how you would trick yourself into going through with it. Maybe it was only later that you realized the mess you had made. In the moment though, it probably felt so warm and good and whole. It probably felt exactly like what you had been waiting for. Like what you wanted all along.


Childhood By Krystal Powers One afternoon I used an umbrella Which I still believe was magic To catch the wind and fly. That umbrella lifted all 40 pounds of me up into the air. Made my bones hollow. The birds stared, confused As the flaps of my yellow raincoat spread out Like wings. I lost my breath Caught a break in the wind And fell down onto a carpet of orange leaves.


Visiting Hours By Jonathan Rowe By the leaping dance of lake currents our future suspends in the air. Silence doesn't arise in a vacuum; it is manufactured and embraced. We built this stillness, seated on a tumbledown timber dock overlooking mint-green lily pads, willows bent over in mourning and a bobbing fish torn open from within. I wondered then if you knew that I spent last night with your best friend, as you sat there in a wheelchair, brace and letterman jacket draped around your shoulders. Together we watch clustered lily pads venture their separate ways, water roll back from the shore and the bobbing fish drift into the reeds, but neither of us say a word.


Sunrise Elegy: To Myself Growing Up By Anthony Bankes You’ll feel it first from within, a chill spreading like cracks on the ice. You’ll be driving beneath sunset-soaked sky alone, the restless whir of tires on gravel beneath you. Wait quietly for the weight of your unspoken questions, pressing down on the space in your heart crowded with secrets and obscured from view by the bright glow of shame— Splintered, then shattered. You’ll pull over on Beach Haven Road, the one that leads to your favorite camp. Out here, tucked beneath the secluded grove of Norway pines, you’ll let loose one lone question from behind the shame, cracking on its way out of your throat… ―What if I’m—what if I’m not straight?‖ Spoken. Escaped. Pierced through the air for the first time, now flailing without a home. You’ll feel the sunset spreading fiery rays across your pale skin and wonder why camp suddenly seems so far away.

* * * Stop saying you’ll be okay. You know you won’t be okay. You were supposed to find a good Christian girl, the 33

kind who doesn’t drink or smoke or have sex before marriage or swim in bikinis or talk too loudly about politics. She would guard your fragile, hormone-laced heart, saving both of your virginities like silver rings in a jewelry box. Until marriage, that is, when you could have all of the heterosexual sex needed to produce the perfect children, the kind who grow up in church and always avoid parties and vote for Republicans and pray before bed. What would Mom and Dad say at the prospect of not having any biological grandchildren from their eldest son? You selfish bastard, only thinking about yourself. And you know they’ll blame themselves for all of the times they let you wear dresses as a kid and only hang out with girls. They set you on the straight and narrow, and you’ve stumbled off the straight. Stop saying they’ll be okay. You know they won’t be okay. And take off those damn red pants. They make you look so gay.

* * * You’ll wrestle with God in the fragile stained-glass dark. You’ll bloody your knuckles and bruise your knees and still the sunrise won’t come. You’ll walk down the street with the smoky smell, cursing at the indigo sky and still, the sunrise won’t come. You’ll interrogate God with a thousand whys and 34

hear nothing but the wailing wind and still, the sunrise won’t come. You’ll go back to the Bible and scour its pages and soak it with tears and throw it at the wall and still, still the sunrise won’t come. You’ll feel God’s grace as nothing but a tightrope across hell, your soul dangling over crimson flames, and still the sunrise won’t come. You’ll scream fuck you at God for creating you like this and try your best to mean it and still, the sunrise won’t come.

* * *

Pussy Gay Wimp Homo Queer Girl Pansy Wussie Faggot. They weren’t supposed to be right.

* * * 35

―Katie, there’s…. uhh…. there’s something I have to tell you.‖ You’ll be on the phone in your car after work, midnight enveloping the wintry world outside. The flurries in Duluth, Minnesota will whip across the windows, twisting trails of snow leading into the dark. You’ll turn the heat to full blast, but still tremble on the carpeted seat, fingers tapping a jumbled rhythm on the steering wheel. You’ll start nice and easy—with the one you know will stay, the one settled miles away in the mountains of Tennessee, the one who grows zinnias with her hands and life with her words. ―Katie, you see…. umm…. I’m gay.‖ And you’ll take a gulp of air and hold it all in and squeeze your eyes shut and search for more words only to settle on silence because why the fuck did you think this was okay and the silence means she’s about to hang up and— ―Anthony. I want you to know that I care, because I know this really affects your life, but I also don’t care, because I still love you just as much as before. That’s never going to change, just so you know.‖ You’ll step outside after you hang up, still shivering in your maroon jacket, the one that fits too tight. But you’ll close 36

your eyes and tilt your head up to the stars and feel the snow drift wispy waves across your skin, a clean coat of white.

* * * Just so you know—the fear won’t go away. It will linger, crouched down with tentacles suctioned to the edges of your heart. You’ll feel it the most when things don’t go well— like a bottomless black hole, infinite galaxies of secrets and shame connecting constellations back to the closet. You’ll be sitting across from her downtown, steaming mugs of bitterness between you, and she’ll let out a deep breath to break the silent tension. ―Well, I don’t know everything, but I do know that the two things most destroying America today are abortion and gay marriage. I mean, it’s clear—homosexuality is of the devil, and when he gets inside of you like that, it’s spiritual warfare.‖ Or you’ll be driving side-by-side, words clawing the tip of your tongue, and he’ll suddenly scoff at a song. ―Oew, that’s so gay.‖ And you’ll close your mouth. Or you’ll be clearing tables at work and she’ll effortlessly compare it to cancer and killing. The things of the Fall.


Or you’ll finally tell some of the family only to be assured, ―this isn’t God’s best‖ and ―he’ll change you to straight.‖ Or you’ll craft a heartfelt letter with as much grace and gentleness as you can muster, drop it in the mailbox, and pray for the best. You won’t ever hear a word in response.

* * * Here’s what I wish I could tell you, Brave Heart: keep showing up. Keep speaking up. Because one day sooner than you think, you’ll be driving with the one you thought you’d never tell, the one with evergreen eyes who builds walls around his heart, an architect of self-preservation. The one who wears macho like a mask in public to avoid being perceived as ―too gay‖ or ―too girly.‖ You’ll turn down the music and fumble over words desperate to be released. ―Grant, there’s something I have to tell you. And, I…. uhh…. I’ve been wanting to tell you for a while now….‖ ―Okay.‖ ―Okay. Well, umm…. you see….‖ And you won’t be able to say a word. Outside the windows, green will unfold in the leaves and branches around 38

you, the return of summer following a long winter. After a few moments of silence, he’ll reach out his hand to turn the music back up. ―I’m gay!‖ you’ll blurt before he can reach it. ―But I’m really bad at finding words after this, and I totally understand if you don’t wanna be my friend anymore, and that’s okay because—‖ ―Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down. I’m not a jerk. Of course we’re still friends.‖ He’ll look over with a slight smile, nodding awkwardly to reaffirm his words. ―Thanks for telling me.‖ He’ll turn the music back up and start singing along, loudly and off-key. Just like he always does. You’ll roll down the windows and the air will taste like diesel and rain, and for just a second, you’ll look up at the sky and feel someone there—warm and gentle, like the first cracks of light at dawn. You’ll wonder if God speaks in the quiet like this, wind on the waves that’s been there all along, and if her arms spread out wider than you ever dared imagine. Or you’ll wonder if it’s just yourself and the thoughts in your head, perplexed at the way confidence both grows and ebbs, slipping into cracks and crawling over crevices slowly with time. But you won’t have time to think for too long. Grant will soon urge you to sing along and you’ll reluctantly oblige, 39

if only because the song’s nearly over and you’ve almost reached home.


Runner By Dane Hamann Everything’s turning to tin so soon this morning: the frozen wheat field, the earth of the footpath, the half ghost of my heart. I’m out in the street like a frost-pain dream, bare-faced and stiff, but alive. I’m trotting by the shop first, by the dead oak tree next. I’m turning warm. Birds, by the couple, leap into frosty, big-bellied brooks as if seeing the tail of a bad-tempered dog. My feet shouting back at their call. The hours break like mist on the early morning grass. And though I’m suffering, I feel the world can’t ever end now. I’m happy, flesh hot as a stove, soul coming to a whistle.

based on Alan Sillitoe’s short story ―The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner‖


The Old Man in the Park By Richard McPherson For over a week he tried to dismiss the feeling, ignore the persistent signals, deny a lifetime of faultless survivor’s instinct. But today he had to face the unthinkable. He was being followed. But why now, why after being out of the game for over a decade? After years with almost no agency contact beyond the obligatory retirement check-ins? He tried to convince himself there was an innocent explanation, some kind of coincidence. But he knew from searing experience that surveillance is never innocent. And belief in coincidence is a short-cut to death. His life – his actual life, not some cover – was simple, even spartan, a routine he embraced with almost religious gratitude after years in hellish places doing hellish things. For his country, yes, but still, hellish. He had seen this man, the same man, in front of the 7Eleven, then at the park, and now in the park again. Today the man was sitting on a bench, trying not to stare, but casting occasional glances, betraying an interest. Whoever he is, the old man thought, his training was terrible. #


Michael had first spotted the old man coming out of the convenience store carrying a small plastic bag with two or three items. He was a little frail, almost fragile, stepping deliberately off the curb, cane-first, careful of cars and even pedestrians. His skin was pale, he had thin white-and-gray hair, a slightly hooked nose and a bit of a stoop to his walk. He’s perfect, Michael thought. Exactly the kind of character I need. He could have been anything. A plumber, shoe salesman, bus driver. Yet even from several feet away Michael also noticed his intense, clear eyes. Maybe he’d been something requiring a sharper mind, a rabbi, chemist, concert pianist? Whatever he’d been, it clearly hadn’t made him rich. His cheap blue jacket, faded khaki pants, and well-worn shoes (K-Mart or maybe even a thrift store?) told the story. He was beautifully anonymous, Michael could give him any past he wanted for the script. He badly needed a credible character, someone rooted in a real person. His first surprise television hit was based on just such a glimpsed individual, made rich and fascinating as Michael researched then embellished an identity. His highly anticipated second episode fell flat, doomed by lazily fabricated characters. He needed someone real to shape his scripts, had been watching people for two weeks, at the mall, Starbucks, the grocery store, hoping for a glimpse of someone who would inspire a 43

character. This old man was perfect, just look at him. He was clearly retired, maybe a widower—Michael saw no wedding ring—and walked like a man who always walks alone. He didn’t look defeated by life, just finished, without purpose, all over but the dying. He had followed the old man to the nearby park, an easy but slow two blocks. Maybe he would have his lunch, feed the pigeons, just sit and pass the time or let time pass him. Michael was positive the old man visited the park regularly, maybe even daily. He decided to drive back the next day, arrive early and wait on a bench. # The old man considered the possibilities. The agency? For what possible reason? The Iranians or Russians? Surely not on American soil, even they knew that. And if it was an old enemy, why? He’d always done everything by the rules, everyone’s rules. He’d left clean, off everyone’s radar. He didn’t dare check with the agency. That would spark renewed intertest in him, the last thing he wanted right now, when he was seriously considering a job, a last gift to his country, the first time he’d ever free-lanced. He needed to stay invisible, a fading name in aging files.


He would kill one more time, or at least try to, unknown to anyone, then return to obscure retirement. But at this moment he had to uncover this new player. He discreetly watched the oddly clumsy man, tried to read his body language and face. He would retrace his route from the previous day and see if he spotted the man again. If he did, the rest would be simple. # The next day Michael waited on a bench for over an hour. He was ready to concede he had guessed wrong when the old man entered the park from the direction of the 7Eleven. Michael was casually careful. After all, no one expects to be followed, certainly not an old husk like this, discarded by society, whose life probably revolved around early-bird specials and movie matinee discounts. Once again, he carried a small plastic bag, this time also a paperback book. Glancing around the park, taking it all in, he started down the main path. Then, altering his route, he walked slowly but steadily toward the bench where Michael sat with a cold, stained cup of coffee. ―May I share this bench with you?‖ the old man asked, a slight hoarseness in his voice. ―Yes, of course,‖ Michael replied, hoping his obvious surprise didn’t show. 45

The old man sat, rested his cane on his leg, cast Michael a shy, almost apologetic smile, and surveyed the trees and just-blooming tulips nearby. Then he turned toward Michael and asked in a quiet, surprisingly firm voice, ―Why are you following me?‖ A pause, studying Michael’s shocked face, ―You are, I’m right, aren’t I?‖ # From his very first days at the agency the old man had always hated free-lancers, despised their willingness to take an occasional ―job‖ — assassination, murder, call it what it really is — for a quick million or two. Men, and a few women, able to justify the most unjustifiable act possible. The agency turned a blind eye to the illegality, the Swiss accounts, as long as it didn’t compromise operations. Often the target was widely considered to deserve a sudden end, a Russian oligarch expanding into human trafficking, someone who had stolen secrets from a South Korean tech billionaire. Never, of course, an American. That was the hollow but universal excuse, never one of us. The old man had given almost thirty bloody years to his country, uncovered impossible information, choked out lives and risked his own on almost every continent. He lasted in the agency by keeping his mouth shut, foregoing close relationships, shunning advancement, and focusing on the job 46

in front of him. And no free-lancing, stick to the mission, do his sworn duty. A family was out of the question, so the agency was very tolerant of periodic, inevitable affairs. Falling in love was dicey, but intimacy, even authentic friendship, was necessary for sanity. It was a treacherous line to walk. But he’d done so, driven by a deep post-Soviet era patriotism, a certainty that if America could prevail against tyranny, the world would feel the touch of human hope. Maybe it would spread. At least he had to try. So, no off-shore accounts, no stash of dollars or Swiss francs, just a modest government pension and respectable 401(k), some of it drained to help Elissa, his niece. She was an intelligent, quirky, and innocently kind girl whose mother, his sister, had made poor choices in spouses. The old man was happy to reciprocate genuine love with someone who was almost his only family. Someone who knew nothing of the disgraceful price being paid for her liberty. He first paid for some pricey dental work, then financed her dream trip to see Paris, most recently paid much of her tuition at UCLA. She would be a doctor, a pediatrician, and a fine one no doubt. He found vast, untouchable happiness in the knowledge. But he worried more and more about the world—the country—she would inherit. 47

He watched the news with concern, then bitterness. The more news he read, the more he thought about Elissa, and her circle of hopeful, eager young friends. He saw the smug faces of America’s so-called leaders on television, utterly detached from any real concern or even awareness of the damage they were doing to the future. Elissa and her friends saw a world filled with the promise only freedom could bestow. The old man increasingly saw a country where personal religious beliefs were publicly attacked on political grounds, where spoken words risked reprisals from ―the authorities,‖ where even patriotic dissent was subject to the hysterical reply of the mob. Finally, kernels of disgust turned into an igneous determination to strike a blow for the democracy he had given up so much to defend. He didn’t believe in the chaos and manipulation of politics, knew that idiots and wiser people would take turns winning elections. But the courts were different, especially the Supreme Court. It was the one permanent protection for the constitution he had sworn—in a ceremony and in his heart—to defend with his life. The Court, or at least a majority, was becoming an enabler of police-state tactics, complicit in the erosion of the civil and human rights that distinguished America from the miserable, hopeless places the old man had 48

seen. He had worked—killed—in nations where thugs wore robes. Now it was happening here. One member of the Court, Justice Ellison, had served only two years but had already become a leading voice for authoritarian permission. Ellison was given his lifetime appointment at only 56. His radical voice would have years, even decades, to misshape and subvert America’s fragile freedoms, speed its spiral into a slogan-driven sham of a democracy. If Ellison had been part of some anti-American regime in the Middle East or Asia, we would take action without a second thought. Affect change directly, eliminate danger. True, assassination sometimes backfired, could be counterproductive. But used strategically, it often produced the desired result, blocking or at least delaying disaster. The old man knew this from experience. # ―I’m incredibly sorry.‖ The sincerity in Michael’s voice, the utter shock on his face, were authentic. ―I know you will find this hard to believe, but I am a screen writer, mostly television, and I find inspiration in real people. I was,‖ he paused, struggling to find correct but unthreatening words, ―searching for someone who would trigger ideas for a character.‖ 49

The old man was quiet, searching Michael’s face for any sign of fabrication. ―Please, look.‖ Michael took out his phone, Googled his own name and showed the old man links to a television series website, his own picture and bio in the ―behind-thescenes‖ section. ―It was thoughtless, but I truly meant no harm.‖ His palpable nervousness was visible in his eyes, his mouth, even his hands. ―I was taken by your, your,‖ struggling to avoid the word anonymity, ―your dignity. At your age.‖ The old man nodded slowly, considering his options, quiet. His silence felt almost threatening to Michael, who stumbled on. ―I meant no offense, truly. You just, how can I say, interested me. I’ll leave right now, it was an incredibly rude intrusion.‖ He paused, a trace of hope in his voice. ―Unless of course you would accept my apology, and chat with me a little, like an interview. Of course, I would never reveal your name, not use any identifying details, just gather enough of a biography to help me create a character. And perhaps pay a small fee, $100, for your time?‖ He smiled, with an awkward, pseudo-conspiratorial tone, ―You might actually enjoy secretly being a character on television.‖


No cover story could be so utterly lame, delivered in such a pitiful, inarticulate way. He was telling the truth, unlikely as it was. The last thing the old man needed now was a distraction, certainly not a new person in his life. But he did need one thing. Michael, cluelessness Michael, could be the answer. ―Well,‖ he answered slowly, ―I can’t really understand why I would interest anyone, and I don’t know how television or any of that works.‖ He dipped into an identity he could recite in his sleep, under torture. ―I suppose we could talk a little.‖ He worked at the Census Bureau, then the Department of Agriculture, in HR, his wife passed away, no children. Watching Michael closely he invented a detail whenever the writer’s interest seemed to flag—served in the first Gulf War, is a volunteer at the Smithsonian, has a pet turtle. After thirty minutes, the old man feigned fatigue, asked to stop the interview. ―Michael, this is rather pleasant, I don’t have many people to talk to. So, I have an idea. Perhaps I could impose on you for a small favor?‖ He offered the smallest ingratiating smile. ―In return for an interview or two?‖ ―Yes, of course. What is it?‖ ―I’ve been wanting to visit an old friend from the Gulf War. He’s living at Oak Gardens, it’s an assisted living facility 51

in Bethesda. It’s quite far, and I can’t see well enough to drive anymore. And frankly, I’m a little worried about taking the Metro. I fell recently on the escalator. I wonder if you might find time to drive me there, just once, for a short visit? We could do a longer interview in the car, to make the time worthwhile for you. And you can forget the $100, this would mean far more to me.‖ ―Certainly, I’d be glad to. When would you like to go?‖ ―Well, if you’re sure it’s OK, how about Sunday?‖ An AARP Lifestyle profile had reported that Justice Ellison visited his mother at the facility to watch together her favorite British detective on PBS. A glance at the television schedule revealed the program aired every Sunday at 7:00. He had mapped out the plan, researched both the facility and its visiting policies. It had all the security of such a place, which is to say virtually none. A sign-in book, a strolling guard almost as old as the residents, a single security camera above the white columned front portico where cars brought visitors. ―There’s a diner, Sullivan’s, on Connecticut Avenue just a block up from the National Cathedral. I live around the corner and have a little dinner there every night. You could just pick me up there around 6:00 or 6:15, if that’s OK.‖ # 52

The old man selected faded gray pants and a stilldecent blue blazer, which had lost its shape years ago. He knew that Ellison, despite his patriotic posturing, was sensitive to his lack of military service. So, a small military ribbon on the jacket pocket. And an American flag lapel pin. He followed procedure, just as if this were an agency job, mentally going down the checklist of his cover story. Ellison was third-generation Georgian and vocal about his Southern heritage. So, the old man retrieved from his memory a soft Southern accent and rehearsed his introduction in front of the mirror. He smiled. He still had the touch. Now the most important item, what agents liked to call a ―sinking rock.‖ He went to the small glass terrarium against the living room wall, which contained a layer of rocks, a small saucer-sized ―pond,‖ two plastic palm trees and one stoic turtle. Elissa had given the creature to the old man as a gift upon his retirement over ten years ago, to keep him company, she said. A practical expression of love from a 7th grade girl. She named him Freddie, though the old man had taken to calling him Fidel, because it seemed he would live forever. In the corner of Fidel’s glass home was a rock, slightly larger than the others, looking for all the world like a ten-cent decoration for such a tank. In fact, it was a $120,000 bit of agency technology that could only open once to expose a tiny 53

syringe-needle combination. The slightest prick of the needle would deliver the required drop or two of lethal chemistry, after which the rock could be closed and would seal forever. It fit easily in anyone’s palm and was slightly weighted, which guaranteed it would end up at the bottom of, say, the South China Sea or the Moscow River. Or, the old man thought, the Potomac. The rock had never been opened. The old man had saved it during his final job. Venezuela was in chaos, suffering the way only once-rich countries could suffer when the ATMs stop working and grocery stores become battlegrounds. It was awash in violence, in the streets, at the banks, even army barracks and government ministries. He had not needed the sinking rock and its thimble-sized syringe and needle combination to dispatch the general who was his target. The man had actually fallen from the top floor of the Defense Ministry, trying to elude capture via a fire escape, landing in the roaring blaze of a torched police car beneath. The agency told the old man later they thought that was a nice touch, using the poison, then pushing the general out the window. ―Going out with a little style, are we?‖ his supervisor at Langley said with a smile. He brought the rock-syringe-needle device home from Caracas, had popped it in his shaving kit on a pure impulse. 54

No one goes through your luggage during a high-speed Blackhawk extraction in the middle of a civil war. He had surprised himself by taking the item, had no plans for it whatsoever, no intention ever to use it. He often wondered what possessed him even to take it. Until now. He rolled the rock in his hand, feeling the slight weight and pebbled gray-green surface. He hadn’t touched it in years but knew the lethal dose was potent for decades, having prompted many agents to joke about ―not bothering with an expiration date.‖ Agents loved it. Each rock had to be signed out, but there were dozens in the agency Field Resources room—and once taken out, they were expected to be used, not returned. # ―Would you like me to come in with you?‖ ―No, Michael, you’re very kind. Just drop me off at the entrance and feel free to go get a bite to eat. It’s only 6:30 and I plan to be here at least an hour. Let’s make it an hour and a half, so you’re not waiting around. Pick me up back here at 8:00?‖ The old man had double-checked his memory with a Google search, and confirmed that Supreme Court justices receive minimal protection from US Marshals or the Capitol Police, and only upon request, usually only for high-profile 55

public events. A short, personal outing to a low-risk location like the assisted living facility merited no protection. The old man knew Ellison would almost certainly only be accompanied by his driver. # ―Justice Ellison!‖ the old man called out in the fluorescent hallway, antiseptic despite endless faux-cheerful photographs of flowers and nature scenes. He kept his distance. ―What an honor to have you here, God bless you sir. May I shake your hand?‖ It is always best to get the target’s permission for any approach. The old man shuffled toward Ellison, exaggerating his limp. Draw the target to you whenever possible. ―Yes, of course.‖ The justice strode toward the old man, taking in his faded entirety, noticing the military ribbon. He extended his hand. ―Howard Ellison.‖ A brief, limp, utterly unthreatening handshake from the old man. ―Oh yes, sir, I know. What an honor. My name’s Jackson, sir,‖ the old man added with a playful smile, ―like Stonewall. We all know your mother is here, and I pray for her, Mr. Justice. May I ask how she is getting along?‖ ―Thank you, Mr. Jackson. She’s having a pretty good day today, which is all we can ask at this point.‖


―Well, bless her heart, I’m so glad. And bless you too, sir, the nation needs your strength and wisdom on the high court.‖ ―Thank you, Mr. Jackson, that’s very kind.‖ ―Your honor, could you possibly spare just a second to take a picture with me? My family in Savannah won’t believe I actually met you. I have my phone right here.‖ Holding it out with a trembling hand, nodding toward Ellison’s driver-cumbody guard, ―Perhaps your friend could oblige?‖ Taking the phone and handing it to his driver, ―Yes, certainly. Greg, would you mind snapping our picture?‖ The two men leaned together, shoulder to shoulder, Ellison asking, ―Savannah, did you say? A true gem of a city. Has your family been there long?‖ As the driver took two or three pictures, the old man replied, ―Since before World War II, resettled from Atlanta.‖ He added, ―Thank you, your honor, you don’t know how much this means to me. And keep up your important work on the bench.‖ He gave Ellison a kindly pat on the arm, masking the almost imperceptible prick of the tiny needle. ―Not at all, Mr. Jackson, it’s always an honor to meet a veteran—especially one with family in Georgia.‖ Ellison bestowed a practiced, polished smile.


The old man smiled back, slipped the rock from his palm to his pocket, rested on his cane. He watched Ellison and his driver start for the lobby and parking lot. It would only be an hour, the old man thought, two at the most. # They sat in silence as Michael drove back into the city. Finally, he asked, ―I hope you had a good visit?‖ ―Yes, thank you for making this possible Michael. It was deeply satisfying.‖ ―Where shall I take you? I realize I don’t know which building on Connecticut Avenue is yours.‖ The old man lived nowhere near Connecticut Avenue. ―Just take me back to the National Cathedral, it’s only two blocks from my building. I think I’d like to spend a few quiet minutes there before I go home.‖ ―Sure, I understand completely.‖ # The next morning at his kitchen table Michael stared in disbelief, coffee mug suspended in mid-air. The Washington Post headline stopped his motion, and breathing. “Justice Howard Ellison dead at 58. Conservative jurist suffers heart attack.” Near the top of the article was a description of the justice’s visit to his mother at Oak Gardens, the last time he 58

was seen alive. His driver reported that Ellison had seemed perfectly fine, asked to be driven straight to his home in Chevy Chase, then dismissing him for the night. Ellison said he planned to work on his upcoming speech to the Maryland Bar Association. Michael turned on cable news, feeling an uncomfortable urgency to learn more details. This was a stunning coincidence; the old man must have seen the Justice during his visit. But he’d never said a word. # The old man had packed and shipped his modest belongings to Arizona a week earlier, keeping only a small travel bag which he loaded into his car at daybreak. He would drop off the apartment key at the rental agent’s office, leave a note bequeathing Fidel to the building superintendent’s young son, and head west. The previous week, the agency barely acknowledged him when he made the required stop to inform them of his move to Tucson. To be near his sister in Phoenix, leave bitter Washington winters for benevolent desert sunshine, make his pension go further. He would drive most of the day, stop for dinner and spend the night perhaps in Tennessee, he was in no hurry. He would stop some place near a nice river, or lake, a place where one more small rock would never see daylight again. 59

# The two FBI agents left Oak Gardens after interviewing the staff and scanning the security camera footage of the parking lot. Even though Justice Ellison’s death was from natural causes, it was routine to check out the last people who saw him. Everything checked out, except for one car that arrived before Ellison’s visit, left, then returned and left again. The Maryland license was registered to a television writer with no relatives in the facility and who had not visited before. So, they needed to interview this Michael fellow, just to cover all their bases. Probably gave someone a ride, maybe checking the place out for a relative, who knows. They arrived on Michael’s street just as his car was leaving. The agent sitting shotgun said, ―Don’t pull him over in front of his neighbors, scare the hell out of him. Let’s just stay with him and talk to him wherever he stops.‖ Following Michael to the park, they watched him park his car and head quickly to a bench. The agents parked and got out of their car to introduce themselves. Michael, oblivious and agitated, looked around the park and hurried back to his car. The agents look at each other, puzzled, then returned to their car. They followed him to Sullivan’s diner on Connecticut, where Michael parked and dashed inside. # 60

―Hi, sorry to interrupt. The old man who has dinner here every night, around 5:30? I’m looking for him. Slight, kind of frail, uses a cane. Have you seen him? Do you know who he is?‖ ―Pal, I have no idea who you’re talking about. I’m here every day from lunch to 7:00. No idea who you’re talking about, never seen the guy. You want to order anything? Otherwise I got to get ready for the lunch crowd.‖ # The agents sat for a moment, the car still running, then looked at each other. ―What do you think?‖ ―Well, weird for sure. Let’s go in, he probably stopped for lunch. Let’s go in and see what’s what.‖ But before they could get out of their car, Michael hurriedly left Sullivan’s, returned to his car. The agents exchanged frowns and glances, watched Michael pull away from the curb. They resumed what had now become a pursuit as they realized where he was heading. ―Jesus, he’s going back to that park. What the hell?‖ Michael parked, left his car and walked straight to the same bench where he met the old man. He looked around, his distress visible even to an untrained observer. The agents now wore thoroughly professional expressions, having shifted from curiosity to tactical planning as they slowly exited their car. 61

―You go to his car in case he tries to leave again, I’ll talk to him.‖ The lead agent headed toward Michael, unbuttoning his jacket to reveal his gold FBI badge and instinctively checking for the comfort of the smooth leather of his holster. Michael was almost dizzy, no definitely dizzy. The old man had told him his name—a name—and told detailed stories of his earlier life. Michael learned about where he worked, his pastimes, interests, but never his actual address. And the place the old man said he ate every night didn’t know him. Michael gazed around the park, empty except for two men leaving a parked car, dressed in suits. He felt clammy, truly understood the word for the first time, found himself in the paralyzing grip of a deeply unsettling feeling. He was being followed.


641 Western Avenue By Alina Borger

The tree outside my bedroom window Split in half during a lightning storm. I was six and a half, time balanced between birthdays like that trunk between roof and sky, towering over my room, threatening the Golden Dictionary still up there: all my electric words waiting for their doom. Don’t worry, they lived, but men cut down the tree next morning, chainsaws whirring and whizzing, wood chips flying. Dad split logs for the fireplace, checking on me at lemonade intervals and smoke breaks, assuring himself of my survival. I skipped in and out of the play house peeping at felled branches littering the yard. I cried only once, staring at the lonely stump left behind, wishing hard for electrifying without dying, for the brilliant crackle of life and leaf brushing my windowpane in the evenings. Armed with a watering can instead, we planted 63

flowers in the nooks of the old roots, built a deck nearby, and settled in for long life.


Patchwork Quilt By Krista Rossi By the dripping faucet under the window, I try to sew myself together with blue thread & yellow ribbon, convincing myself I’m like a sun shower— streaks of sunshine poking through falling raindrops. But my bleeding stitches only draw crimson, which turn the the sky a bruised purple, and my face a sickly green. With the needle in my hand, and the blood down my chest, sometimes I’ll see a passerby, and my eyes will say look for my holes, look for my leaks, patch them up, please. & sometimes, they will. Like a patchwork quilt, they stop and set to work, tightening tears, sowing up tatters, covering up holes— 65

just like a farmer does over the land. & when they’re done, they lay me out as flat as a blanket, so that I might keep them warm, & they might keep me company.


Estelle Lane By Caitlin McGillicuddy The houses on Estelle Lane were not particularly special. They were average in size and situated on no more than half an acre each. Their yards, while small, were wellkept and featured large looming pines whose branches stretched up and over their property lines to weave a canopy that defended the Lane from the open sky above. On a warm night, like tonight, the still air pulsed and emanated a silence so clean it buzzed in ears like a high-speed train. Only the sporadic croaks of frogs living in the nearby bogs could slice through it to remind one that the world was still breathing. Halfway between numbers 15 and 17, the tan raisedranch and the gray-shingled cape, the Lane curved slightly. The unfortunate placement of a rhododendron bush rendered that curve a blind spot for cars, and had been the cause of many accidents involving visitors who didn’t know to slowly creep past. Still, none of the accidents had been so serious that the people of the Lane ever thought to cut it down. Most of its residents were asleep in their beds, their window AC units blowing a meditative hum, when the girl with the bare feet came around the bend, emerging from the blind spot into the blaring silence of the Lane. 67

A five-day heat wave had broken earlier that day, and while the trees protected the Lane from the sun’s direct rays, the oppressive air had snaked underneath the canopy to warm the tar’s surface to a throbbing 99 degrees. It is for this reason, amongst others, that the Lane was happy to see the girl again, for she had always run cold, even as a child of two or three. Her naked feet provided a momentary relief from the Lane’s simmer. Of course, the girl wasn’t a girl anymore, she was a young woman, perhaps twenty-seven, or twenty-eight. Still, much like an aunt or a grandmother would, the Lane and its residents would still see her as the girl she once was. The one who disappeared while her parents slept. The one who no one looked for because technically she was old enough to leave on her own. The one whose disappearance raised no alarm and was perhaps a relief. The one who was never seen or heard from again. Until now. The girl stared blankly into the darkness with unwavering focus on her destination. Therefore, it is likely she didn’t notice the water spicket at number 17, the one Loretta Chandler used to water her prize-winning azaleas, started to drip as she passed by. A shy trickle that gushed into a full sob, that slid down the house and created a puddle that would leak into the finished basement and cause major damage by 68

morning. The girl had been in that basement once during a neighborhood party. While the adults drank wine coolers and the children played flashlight tag, the girl had wandered. She didn’t enjoy children’s games for all of her joy had been stroked out of her long ago. Loretta Chandler had excused herself from the party to have a white wine spritzer in the kitchen as she preferred to drink in private. When she slid open her basement slider door, Loretta found the girl sitting alone in the dark on the plaid, sleeper-sofa. The girl’s stare fixed on the far wall. A bright blue bird was perched on her forefinger. Loretta had yanked the girl from the sofa and an onlooker, if there had been one, would have seen the hint of a smile cross the girl’s lips as her body slammed hard against the wall. The bird danced around Loretta’s flailing arms, nipping at the tips of her fingers as she yelled for the girl to get out. Then there was the slap of Loretta’s wild palm against the bird’s head, the thud of the bird hitting the floor and the rush of the girl as she escaped through the slider and into the night. For weeks after, Loretta warned anyone who would listen that the girl was off, but the people of the Lane knew 69

that Loretta spent a lot of time in her kitchen with her wine bottles and so they usually paid little mind to her stories. Number 17, however, had listened, for a house always knows what happens inside its walls. The house had seen who sat with the girl just moments before Loretta entered. Who gave the girl that bird and what he did to the girl after he told her that she was very beautiful. It is because of this, that number 17 cried as the girl passed by. Because that sleeper sofa had been tossed out long ago, along with any evidence of what had happened on it. Because that poor bird’s neck had been snapped when it hit the floor and Loretta carelessly tossed it in the trash bin by the back door. Because the girl had crept through the darkness to retrieve the bird and bury it. And because Loretta was vile and the girl could have been so, so good. Number 17’s puddle of tears boiled out of the shallow hole next to the house and sent a single stream snaking down the driveway that kissed the girl’s scabbed feet as she passed by. Her scars betrayed her secrets but she tried her best to hide them. She wore an oversized, gray t-shirt whose sleeves obscured dotted, scarred forearms. Dark, wavy hair cascaded down her back to meet her sharp shoulder blades, which poked unnaturally through the fabric. Her brown, unfocused eyes were naked, her glasses rested on a bedside table back at a 70

small apartment she shared with five girls she’d met at the program. Without her glasses, she probably couldn’t see that number 19, the yellow gambrel with the bonus room addition, had a hairline crack in its garage door window, one that had been born from a rogue pebble shot from Jack Canaby’s rider mower. And with the Lane’s silence buzzing in her ears, she likely didn’t hear the window shatter against her wake, sending shards of glass on to the driveway below. Slivers that would slice open Jen Canaby’s heel and lodge a translucent splinter into the ball of her foot that would nag her for weeks as she worked to save lives at Bournedale Hospital Emergency Room. Jen had lived in number 19 her entire life, as a child playing Monopoly upstairs in her bedroom and now as an adult with her husband Jack, having bought the house from her parents when they retired to Tampa. Jen had known the girl for her entire life, she’d babysat her a few times and as was Jen’s nature, she’d tried to save her. The girl showed up in number 19’s garage one afternoon while Jen listened to old records on her father’s turntable. She didn’t smile and barely spoke. Her eyes skirted the floor to avoid full contact except for one time when they were in the kitchen making friend bologna sandwiches. The 71

girl handed Jen a knife to slice the sandwiches in half and for the first and only time raised her face to meet Jen’s gaze for just a moment. Jen’s breath caught and the girl turned, leaving Jen with gooseflesh, a sick stomach, and two uneaten fried bologna sandwiches. When Jen told her parents of the eerie feeling she felt inside when the girl was around, they dismissed her, saying she had a wild imagination and that she should just mind her own business. But Jen couldn’t ignore the feeling of dread that trailed the girl so she poked and prodded at the girl whenever she could, hoping to unearth a secret that would answer all her questions. What Jen couldn’t possibly understand was that the girl knew when other people knew. As such she’d developed the power to become invisible and help those people forget. And so, Jen did, turning her attention to homecoming and term papers. But, the girl did not forget. She appreciated kindness even though she did not know how to accept it. Perhaps things would have gone differently if the girl knew that Jen still lived there. Perhaps. The girl walked past number 19 and Jen sleeping soundly inside, with singular focus, her mouth moving silently to form words that matched a voice inside her head. A voice that had always been there since she left the Lane ten years 72

ago. A voice that chanted a promise on a loop in the back of her mind. Over the years, the girl tried many things to silence the voice, to drown it out. This fight left her with scars between her toes and in the crook of her arms, on the enamel of her teeth and the tattered flesh of her most private areas. It was an unrelenting battle and tonight the voice won, sending the girl into the night without a moment of preparation. It’s possible the girl didn’t hear the trees droop above her as she passed beneath them, that the voice in her head was so loud it drowned the rustling of their branches as the trees reached toward her. Some to stop her progress. Some to push her faster down the Lane toward her destination. The Lane appreciated the knowing way the girl anticipated its curves and grades. The slight incline that began in front of number 21 and then leveled just past number 23. Her step over the unattended frost heave born from an endless winter that had kept her a prisoner many years ago when she was just eleven. Was it divine intervention that sent a garbage truck speeding over the small gash of road across from number 25’s driveway earlier that day, cutting it into a new, wide pothole? The girl hadn’t known to anticipate it and the hole caught her foot causing her to stumble, creating the possibility for her to 73

shake free. The Lane froze to see what would happen next, the ACs cycled to power-saver, the televisions flickered, the refrigerators held their breath. But the girl recovered and continued toward her childhood home, number 32, which stood alone at the end of the road. Cornered. Surrounded on all sides by a thick cluster of trees, as Estelle Lane was a dead end and number 32 was where the Lane turned back in on itself. The girl didn’t pause when she crushed a caterpillar into the tar with her feet. And the Lane wasn’t surprised that she didn’t stop to wiggle her toes in the grass and wipe away the carnage of the kill, because the Lane knew the girl was carnage. She didn’t feel the wetness between her toes because the girl was already saturated. Soon she stood in front of number 32, looking up at the blue clapboard house which promised a storybook life to anyone who didn’t look closely at the details. The canopy of trees wrestled against each other. Some struggling to lift, to let in the moonlight and reveal her, to stop her before it was too late. While others pushed down to protect and cover her, to conceal her secrets until the moment was right. Her tallest conspirator stood at the center of the yard with a rotted treehouse hanging from its branches. Its trunk bore a deep scar in the shape of girl’s initials encircled in a 74

heart. Its branches still kept the girl’s secrets and its leaves cannot forget the salty sting of the girl’s tears. The tree, once grand, had begun to rot for it knew it had failed her. But tonight, it lifted and pushed against those who sought to stall her. To protect her one final time as she unraveled its feet. The trees’ battle swept up an unnatural wind that caught the storm door, which hung crooked with a broken latch above number 32’s welcome mat. It banged wildly against the house, attempting in vain to sound an alarm. Because of all the houses that stood on Estelle Lane, number 32 knew the most and was the least surprised to find the girl standing before it. The girl continued her journey, undeterred by the wind that pushed against her, unconcerned by the repeated slamming of the door, for presumably she knew that the people sleeping soundly inside would never expect her to return. Most likely, they thought she was dead by now. Her mouth still shaped the words of her promise in silent commitment as she walked the familiar path through the crunchy, yellow grass, which pricked her toes and arches. Yet their jabs failed to halt her progress toward the gardening shed where she’d played, and lost, the grown-up games. The memories of those games are what she had tried to wash away with bad habits and poor choices. 75

Though it had been a decade since she slipped free, she managed the cranky, old shed door with ease, pressing her knee just below the handle while pulling the latch up and to the left. She pushed aside bins of Christmas decorations and extension cords, relocated the rakes and snow shovels, and wrapped her hands around the red, plastic jug that rested beside the lawn mower. The girl walked the perimeter of the house at a slow and steady pace, wetting the ground and her feet, slowly emptying the jug and leaving a caustic trail behind her. She climbed the front steps of number 32 and righted the storm door on its hinge before gently forcing it shut. The door squeaked a final plea as she poured the remains of the jug onto the welcome mat, saturating it until a small puddle formed around the edges of her pinky toes. Her lips paused their soundless dance and opened wide, allowing her to reach into her mouth with two fingers and pull out a lighter that had been lodged in the wet warmth of her cheek. The girl crossed the crunchy grass and lay down on her side to watch the house burn. As the flames crept slowly from the bottom of number 32 to the top, the Lane cradled her as it had always tried to do. The fire licked the sky and the trees halted their fight. 76

Together they stretched away from the flames for safety. All except one, her silent protector, whose scarred base shifted its branches down to catch a spark. It had born the burden of failing to protect the girl for many years and craved to burn up, just as she had in the war against herself since she’d left this place. The flames frightened numbers 31 and 33. Their windows crackled against the heat and their pipes banged to draw the attention of those resting inside—which they did. The people poured from their homes, yelling to wives and husbands to call for help. The feverish footsteps revealed to the Lane that they saw the girl where she lay tracing her fingers against its surface. They were coming to her. Their steps grew in number and fervor and reverberated waves that undulated toward her. Yet she remained unfazed. As a hand slid under the girl and lifted her body from the Lane’s embrace, her breath shifted and forced her voice through her lips just loud enough for the Lane to hear her confession, confirming what they all already knew. Knowing that the residents could bring help and sabotage the girl’s goal, the tall pine threw itself into the flames, collapsing through the roof, pulling the house down on top of itself and ensuring no one inside could escape.


Grateful for this sacrifice, the girl’s mouth finally slowed its dance, as she knew nothing could ever be undone, not even this. Her cracked lips curled into a smile and she closed her eyes as Estelle Lane watched its most shameful secret burn to the ground.


Selected Poems by Maureen Fielding Stone Man Beside the road leaving Rutland, a stone man mounts mausoleum stairs, a pure red rose in his hand, Beseeching his beloved's bones to rise and love again. And I am leaving you my own stone man who carries no rose and has less voice than this fixed figure who ever entreats. For you can never ask, can never offer so much as this statue I passed on the road as I went away from you today. Shooting Star I always knew That you would leave me From that first moment When I looked into your luminous liquid eyes Pools of serious black They looked out at the world In wonder, quietly questioning The stranger’s purpose. 79

They told you I was coming On a plane from somewhere, Prepared the going party Where we sat cross-legged on a mat, The walls of the room covered with Other children gone up into the sky. Nannies and children ringed the room, Laughing, eating, pleased with our gifts While we waited for ours. You sat across from me, In your first mother’s lap, Secure unsure. She placed you in my lap where You perched politely, Lightly as a fledgling Before flitting back to her, Your tiny body leaving Like tearing a scab off An almost healed wound. Your gaze took me in. Your lips pressed together Intently. Her eyes shone with hope for you And heartbreak for herself. And then commotion in the courtyard. Shouts from the nannies. She held you out to me, Commanded me to take you. You sent up a wild wail As I reached for you. I fled to the taxi, 80

Like a kidnapper, A bewildered thief, Dazzled by the value of his haul, Pursued by her eyes. I cooed and caressed And comforted us, Until our tears stopped. My heart overflowed and swelled With the leonine fierceness of motherhood With love erupting Shocking me Piercing me Even as guilt Gnawed my gut, Even as I knew You were a shooting star, Even as I saw your broad square back As you were leaving. Infarction This is where I stood And this is where you stood. You walked across the street From the cafĂŠ with me. We stood here by the car, And embraced That embrace that is Neither platonic nor passion, The embrace of the faithless wife, The last embrace With the boomerang lover. Not really the last though Because I knew even then 81

That next year or Maybe next decade I'd run into you In an airport, In an email, In my dreams. It was always that way. We could never make it work, Never find an enduring daily rhythm. But we never could forget The way our bodies fit together. Puzzle pieces Surely made for each other If only this edge were a bit straighter Or that corner a bit rounder. This is where we stood, Saying au revoir, auf wiedersehen, Never goodbye. My feet feel the asphalt As if they can find Still warm footprints, Footprints that would radiate your fire Into my cold body. Standing here I remember The last embrace, Holding on, not wanting to let go, Your body so familiar, Needing to let go, Not knowing There would be no next time, No email No airport Only dreams.


That’s where you sat Waiting for your train. Were you thinking of me As your heart, Starved of blood, Slowly died? I was thinking of you, And your well-loved body, At that very moment. Those thoughts haunt me now, As I long for memory’s infarction. Keats said, ―Touch has a memory.‖ My skin remembers, My muscles remember, My ligaments remember, The way our bodies fit together. This is where we stood Fitting them together for the last time.


what to do when someone you love tells you to go take a hike By Lowell Jaeger

drive dusty twisted miles as the moon fades watch the twilight sky turn gray then blue at the trailhead let rays of early sunlight scrub the chill from your spine sip the last half thermos-cup of bitter brew lock the car strap on your gear and go by noon you want shade lean back against your pack on a flat-top boulder along the lakeshore close your eyes the lake is perfectly tranquil now and again fish rise soon the ripples disappear your life is a lake and troubles you’ve left back home now and again rise ripple an inner flow the ripples come the ripples go


Selected Poems by Katherine Orr Menopause 1. Two men meander up the narrow drive of my 4 a.m. dream, and the winter woods begin to soften at last. I close my book, run out without a coat, take comfort in his body, his voice, the man I’ve been writing to all these years, the letters having flown, like time. The other man looks on with half a smile. I’m happy to make breakfast! Why don’t I just make some breakfast. We could all have breakfast, is what I say. 2. He wants it all, this maestro-savant, man-child, long-winter playmate of the forest, rosy-cheeked and mittened, he wants what my daughters and his sons, what all children need to go on living, what we ourselves cannot do without: when he sits down at my piano, he doesn’t get up again until the long arc of the moral universe accomplishes the bow and bend necessary, the brave spin 85

toward simplicity, humility, presence, he dwells, unclenched, in that valley of delight, his muscles, at ease, while all of it comes to him. He knows how to take. I’m bleeding heavily, I will notice within the hour of his arrival. You are bleeding heavily, he plays back like the hermit-thrush, glass flute over tides of trees, memory of the owl’s asking from deep within a darkness that breathes and sighs behind this house: Who? and again, Who. 3. Blood pools in the closed basin of my body. The seasons turn. The men sit at the table on the sun-warm deck while I work in the kitchen, windows wide open. Leaning toward the screen, I can hear them occasionally say my name. As I set the plates before them, he rests his hand at the hook of my hip. 4. No blood on the bed-sheet, it pools in the basin on the table back here in these snow-laden woods.


4:05 a.m., the men have arrived with their hunger for cream. Afternoons, an electric smell like burnt hair. Vein, artery, nerve— dry sockets of desire. The brain, heart, I lean, faint, against my hallway walls, whisper little word-like things. I’ve tied on the apron— see the sash? the cheerful bow at the small of my back? Here are the biscuits. Here is the jam. 5. After he eats, he’ll go home to his wife, his family. The other man looks on with half a smile. I cannot deny wanting him to go, riot of blossom, catastrophe of sleep— But—who would not stop at such a cottage, sun filtering through the canopy of song. But again—how could hope hold up against closing the book that way— breakfast, and then that heavy feeling, sticky dishes to clear, crumpled napkins and the men, outside in the sunny morning, smoking— 87

6. How many times can it end this way, the kids, waiting to be seen— (how much homework can one girl do?)— and the woman drifting off so— Is there no safe place where she herself can bleed? 4:25 a.m. Cold. I’ll go back to sleep now— what difference can _____ make. In the morning, things will be better. I’ll begin again, eat healthy food, do some yoga, breathe— 7. We come to the end the way a music box unwinds, little by little, forgetting and forgotten— The voice fades and disappears when no one is listening—no one here but me— 8. At the rising of light, leaves half unfurled, blaze of forsythia settling to a staying green, I say my prayers— please God, let me be better, let me be good. The snow, gone,


sun streams into the upstairs bathroom of my mother’s house, white Cape Cods, starched and ruffled, white tile floor, porcelain sink, the sparkling toilet, the bath— glossy white paint edging window-glass, the daughter’s blessed gasp of blood, vivid against white cotton, the bright, longed-for promise. Hover of honeybees, apple cider vinegar— 9. Now, the night sings its lullaby of leaves, and most mornings, my book open on the table, I look after sorrow, hurry to find loneliness untaken and intact.

My Mother and the Owl If a daughter, at bedtime, escapes through window-screens into the sky above childhood, who stays to tell the story? Who-Who, says the owl, syntactic double of night, love letters, suicide notes, brown mouse carried 89

in her talons to her wide-eyed owlets— My mother finds a feather in the grass in the morning, brings it to her kitchen and carefully sets it with the others on the windowsill above the sink.


Filigree By Lina Chern I brought Leo’s heart to the hospital with me, wedged in my pocket under some spare change and a tube of hand sanitizer. Now I was tracing its rough silver face and looking out the window at the planter median in front of the hospital entrance—a circle of dark green bushes ringed by a wall of tulips. Leo was in bed, wearing a hospital gown covered with Scottie puppies and red rubber balls. He was small for a fiveyear-old, and the helmet of gauze keeping the EEG leads in place made his face look even tinier. He was still groggy from the sedation of his MRI earlier that morning. The MRI had already come back clear. I caught myself feeling disappointed when the nurse told us. It seems a lot easier to fix something that shows up in a photograph. ―There,‖ my husband Brian said from the bedside. ―Did you see that?‖ I walked over to the bed. ―See what?‖ ―His eyes. He did that fluttery thing.‖ He waggled his fingers in front of his eyes. We bent over him, waiting to catch him in the act. ―I think he’s just sleepy.‖


―Yeah, maybe,‖ he said. ―But we should let them know just in case.‖ He reached for the clicker dangling at the side of the bed. It was supposed to place a digital marker on the EEG readout anytime Leo did anything seizure-like. A few months before, a sharp-eyed speech therapist told us that Leo was having ―staring spells,‖ and gave us the number of her daughter’s neurologist. We had never heard of staring spells, or noticed them in Leo. Sometimes it was tough to distinguish the nuances of Leo’s unresponsiveness. I sat down in a scratchy chair and reached into my pocket for the heart again. I had come across it last night in my bedside drawer, resting on a white pillow in a tiny cardboard box—broken but too precious to throw away. I didn’t even remember putting it there. I can always just go to Michael’s and get a new chain for it, I had probably thought at the time. Knowing I never would. *** The heart was once part of a necklace. I found it years before at a glitzy teen clothing store where I stopped for no reason before work one day. I had just had a miscarriage, and was distracting myself with tiny errands to keep from tugging at the knot of relief and disappointment sitting in my gut. I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids. Kids would change things, would change me. That was bad, wasn’t it? Getting pregnant 92

and having a miscarriage only threw a pinch of superstitious doom into the mix. And so the house filled up with nonsensical purchases—bulk packages of hair scrunchies, duplicate lipsticks, bags of cherry-flavored cough drops, just in case. I was thumbing through a display of identical tank tops in every color when something flashed at me from the jewelry rack. I looked closer to see a giant distressed silver heart on a thick chain. Silver Filigree Heart, the tag read. $8.99. I picked it up and hefted it. It was heavy and a little warm, the dark face a maze of whorls and orbs. An aggressively romantic, steampunk sort of heart. I didn’t need a necklace. I only bought jewelry for specific occasions. The heart looked like the kind of piece that would take over my whole wardrobe and demand that my clothes match it instead of the other way around. It seemed sentimental where I was rational; expressive where I was restrained; silly where I was serious. It wasn’t me. I held the heart for a few more seconds before I realized I was about to be late for work. When I got to the parking lot of my office I sat in the driver’s seat with the car idling, staring at the gray concrete building. I looked up and a ray of sunlight flashed off the glass facade of the car dealership across the street, blinding me. 93

I put the car in reverse, drove back to the clothing store and bought the heart necklace. It rode next to me on the passenger seat in a plastic bag reading THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. A few months later, I was pregnant with Leo. *** A framed picture of Brian, Leo, and me hangs in our bedroom. Leo is about eight months old, a fat, serious baby with a spray of blond hair above his round face. Brian and I are smiling. I’m wearing the heart necklace in the center of a wide square neckline. It’s a terrific photo; years later, I still crop my face out of it for profile shots and contributors’ photos. ―Wow, parenthood really agrees with you,‖ said a long-distance friend who only sees me in pictures. ―You don’t just look good, you look happy.” I wore the necklace everywhere then, with every outfit, to invariable compliments. Leo played with it when I held him, and I started thinking of it as ―his‖ necklace. He was a quiet baby, easygoing, a little distant. He’d play with you for a while, then lose interest. ―Just like his Mom,‖ I liked to say, poking fun at my years as an unsmiling young adult. All of that was behind me now. The older Leo got, the more obvious it became he wasn’t like other kids his age. He hit all his milestones on 94

time, but when we got together with friends, the differences between Leo and their kids were glaring. Their kids played for longer than a few seconds at a time. They preferred this thing to that thing, and reacted accordingly, instead of watching everything with the same placid detachment. They engaged their parents in conversations that consisted mostly of gestures and squeals, but were still recognizable as back-and-forth exchanges. Leo didn’t do any of that. Eventually, we stopped bragging about what an easy baby he was. By the time Leo was diagnosed with autism at two years old, the heart necklace was broken. First, he pulled the chain off at one end and the necklace became a pendulum that he clutched when he ran his ―laps‖—back and forth across any room he was in, over and over, squealing and hooting. ―I wish I had your energy, kiddo!‖ visitors would say, not knowing what else to make of him. Then the other end of the chain got pulled off too, and then the chain disappeared, and then there was just the heart. I tossed it into the ―miscellaneous‖ cubby on the toy shelf. Eventually Leo wasn’t playing with toys at all, and the toy shelf got moved upstairs and out of the way. The heart went into my bedside drawer along with other bits of abandoned luxury: a crystal box of rings I never wore; a set of Chinese exercise balls in a silk case; a pair of handmade 95

cocktail coasters that Leo had chewed at the edges. Bits of a pretty, carefree life that was not gone, I kept saying to myself, but only on hold, around the corner, just waiting to reappear when we could catch our breath. *** Three hours into the 23-hour EEG, Collette, the RN in charge of Leo’s case, walked into our hospital room. She leaned over the bed to look at Leo, who watched her with listless eyes. She gave him a comical pout and straightened his pillow. ―What a little trooper.‖ Brian and I made polite noises of agreement. Leo’s medical adventures had already included countless evaluations by neurologists, developmental psychiatrists, and behavioral therapists, as well as one open-heart surgery to fix a cardiac birth defect. I don’t know if he didn’t experience alarm like other kids, or if he was just so used to constant invasions of his physical person that he didn’t bother reacting anymore. We heard little trooper a lot, along with the well-intentioned but baffling you guys are so brave. ―We’re already seeing seizure activity,‖ Collette said. ―You are?‖ I said. Brian and I stood up at the same time. ―He is? Already?‖ ―I’m surprised too,‖ Collette said, crossing the room to the readout monitor. She didn’t look like the other nurses, with 96

her red shark-bite top, impractical heels, and frosted Bardot bun. She reported directly to Dr. Smith, the neurologist, and knew things the other nurses either didn’t know or weren’t authorized to tell us. ―There.‖ She pointed to the conveyor belt of digital lines rolling across the screen. ―And there. He’s got something happening every few minutes.‖ Brian and I squinted at the monitor like we were trying to see the face of a saint in a piece of toast. The lines moved along jerkily, spiking every once in a while. ―That’s a seizure?‖ Brian said, pointing to one of the spikes. ―It’s not a full-blown clinical seizure, but it’s definitely abnormal electrical activity.‖ Collette straightened up and looked at Leo. ―Basically, he’s losing consciousness every few minutes.‖ ―Every few minutes,‖ I echoed. No wonder he couldn’t learn anything, couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t walk across the room without getting distracted. All he could do was stagger from one blank in his world to the next. ―Is that why he’s…‖ I chose my words carefully. ―Does this have anything to do with his autism?‖ She gave an apologetic shrug. ―It’s hard to say. A lot of the kids we treat for seizures also have an autism diagnosis, 97

but there isn’t necessarily a cause and effect relationship. Does he go to school?‖ We said that he did go to school and also had of a full weekly load of developmental, speech, and occupational therapy. None of which is doing anything for him, I added silently. ―With the right medication,‖ Collette said, ―you could see some changes in his ability to learn.‖ She got the look that nice people get on their faces when they give you bad news. ―It’s not necessarily going to solve everything, but it should help.‖ I wasn’t listening anymore. I had already forgotten the part where she said it wouldn’t solve everything. We spent the rest of the afternoon circling the room, taking turns straightening Leo’s bed and the tangle of wires coming out of his helmet, restless with the guilty joy of fishing an identifiable condition out of a murky sea of symptoms. Yay, he has epilepsy! That evening, I took a walk around the hospital grounds to stretch my legs. When I came out to the front entrance, the sun was sinking and cars were pulling around the circular drive in a steady line, picking up family members to go home. I watched them roll away, knowing we still had the whole night to go. Lights were coming on overheard, 98

bleaching the tulips in the cluster of greenery I had watched from the window earlier. I crossed the drive and stepped out into the island of bushes, balancing on the curb so I could turn and face the hospital. Almost all the windows were lit. I imagined people pacing in their rooms, taking turns running out for snacks and coffee, or stopping by the window to glance outside. Tomorrow we would go home and the next day Leo would go back to school. ―He’s having seizures,‖ I said out loud, practicing what I would say to his teachers and therapists. ―Little ones, but a lot of them!‖ Then I would nod when they said what a relief it must be to finally know something. ―I know,‖ I said. ―Things are going to change for him.‖ I turned to go inside but then stopped and walked farther into the bushes. My fingers found the heart in my pocket again. I looked around to see if anyone was watching, then I knelt down, cleared a space between two bushes and buried the heart in a pile of leaves. I got up and went inside. Maybe whoever found the heart would get a new chain and wear it as a necklace again. Or maybe they would just get rid of it. It didn’t matter. I could get another one now, something different and new and whole.


*** This year, the tulips in front of the hospital are yellow, not red. Every time I bring Leo back for his checkups, I have to fight the urge to check the bushes for the silver filigree heart, even though I know it’s long gone. Leo has turned into a handsome, lanky nine-year-old with dark blond hair and bright blue eyes. People try to talk to him when we go out, and he will return a greeting with a wave, but it’s been so long since he’s said anything that I don’t remember what his voice sounds like. Needless to say, Leo was not miraculously cured of seizures or autism when he started taking epilepsy medication. It took a few months to even find a combination of meds that didn’t make him break out in hives or turn up the volume on his seizures until they made him pass out and fall down. Eventually we hit on the right cocktail, even though our only indications of this are slight improvements in his now-annual EEG. ―This looks terrific!‖ the nurses always say, peering at the readouts. ―Much better than last year.‖ ―That’s great,‖ I answer, flashing the same tight smile I give his army of therapists when they give me similar news. Seven years after his autism diagnosis—years full of developmental, speech, occupational, physical, and biomedical 100

therapies—Leo has grown into an affectionate, easygoing kid, showing the kind of slow progress you would expect from age, school, and the efforts of a determined family. Still, the fact remains that at nine years old, he tests out at the developmental age of three. It would be unfair to write off everything we do for him as worthless, but none of it has so far brought about the semi-mythical Great Leap Forward that every autism family I know has chased at one point or another. The same Great Leap Forward I thought had arrived when I buried Leo’s heart in the bushes years ago. Leo negotiates the revolving doors to the medical building with interest, and does his usual double-take in the elevator when it lurches upward. He bursts into Dr. Smith’s waiting room and runs directly to the water cooler, bringing me one of the paper cups to fill for him. After we’re shown into the inner office, Dr. Smith sweeps in, holding a folder full of paperwork. ―Hey, Leo,‖ he says, and offers Leo a high-five. Leo obliges and goes back to flapping the curly cord of a wall-mounted otoscope back and forth in front of his eyes. ―How’s he doing?‖ Dr. Smith says. I never know how to answer this question. ―Fine, I guess. I mean, still the same.‖ I grab Leo as he tries to climb onto a rolling stool in search of a thicker and shinier cord on a high shelf. 101

Dr. Smith corrals Leo long enough to smack his knee with a rubber mallet and touch him with something that looks like a tuning fork. He offers Leo the shiny metal instrument to touch. Leo considers it, then goes back to his cord. At this point, the visit is pretty much over. ―How is everything else?‖ Dr. Smith asks, probably more out of politeness than clinical curiosity. I fill him in on our latest batch of interventions, including the ones I leave out when I’m not in the mood for a lecture starting with there’s no research to support … Dr. Smith is more open-minded than usual when it comes to approaching autism as a whole-body disorder rather than a strictly neurological one. At the very least, he knows he doesn’t know everything. When I finish talking, he nods. ―The thing about autism,‖ he says, ―is that there is no single type of autism.‖ He tells me this me at every visit, but I don’t stop him. ―We don’t know if Leo has Autism #32, or Autism #87, or #139.‖ He puts out his arm to keep Leo from careening into a tray of instruments. ―Right, Leo?‖ Leo nods. He recognizes his name and the conversational lift of a question. I agree with Dr. Smith, but I’d take his conclusion even further: every kid with autism has his own autism. The symptoms may pop up in kid after kid (though in different 102

forms, combinations, and intensities) but the more closely you look at their causes and trajectories, the more they curve and split and intertwine, until you face an opaque scrollwork of patterns—inscrutable, unique, and resistant to all interventions but love. On our way to the car we pass the planter again and Leo reaches out to run his hands through the tulips. Sometimes I wish I still had the silver filigree heart. Sure, it was broken, but it was beautiful and it was mine.


Selected Poems by Christine Arumainayagam Confessions of a Stray Human But this place is nothing like home, darling. Home is a creaking staircase and moth-eaten, faux-velvet curtains. Home is a baby’s cry stifled after a mere two months of existence. Home is a father that passes through like a breeze, in and out of the back door that always shuts with a bang. Home is where the good-night kisses stopped all of a sudden, to be replaced with nightmares shortly afterwards. Home is where I attempted to choke the life out of my mother’s beer bottle by squeezing the neck until the glass burst. And all it ever left me with was a bloody palm, still scarred to this day. Home is where you found me, trapped in a toxic state that exists at the intersection of not-quite-dead and not-quite-alive. But most important of all, home is behind me.


Untitled He was rage the color of a howling sunset and she was pebble skipping cold lake blue. He bled her out, she drowned him.

Favorite Couples With my head propped up on my arm I count the raindrops on the car window, each one reflecting a mosaic of red foggy traffic lights and blurry neon raincoats in its glassy center. I watch them chase each other to the bottom, watch some of them glob together, slide in love, hands clasped as they share their inevitable doom.

Untitled Van Gogh’s starry night has motion, you once told me. Each star casts ripples on the canvas like the circles the water makes when you skip a stone. They overlap with each other and this is what makes them so exquisite. I tried that on my own once. I thought maybe if I saw the same sky 105

I’d produce the same artwork. But it just looked like cat vomit.

Untitled The artist lives on a street unnamed, in a house unnumbered. Inside, there are wine stains on the carpet, ant trails leading to a box of overturned crackers, and a piano that’s missing Middle C. The artist grows a scraggly beard, forgets how to shave, forgets how to take a shower after a long day. He forgets how to eat, even. And the sculptures forming themselves under his fingertips are acquiring a mind of their own: they think, he isn’t so special. He isn’t God. So when the artist is passed out on the couch, they hustle their little clay bodies out the open window and cannonball into the night.


I Know Sorrow By P.J. Sheridan

This particular species nestles deep in my bones, taking root in the fertile soil of youth where hope and fear abound in equal measure.

Below the surface, it thrives, watered by uncertainty, fed by disappointment, warmed by shame of the truth I cannot hide.

Will he smile or will he raise his hand against me? She never stops him, doesn’t save me. They all pretend not to see.

So sorrow grows, tendrils curling, roots digging, into cells and soul 107

until it is me.


Night After Night By Rita Sotolongo

Night after night after night alone after hours of staring at a blank white screen willing a response to an unanswered text and I don’t know where you are. Night after night after night of panic wondering if your car is shattered in a ditch your blood painting the pavement, windshield glass sticking out of your head. Night after night after sleep is stolen the phone pressed to my ear hot tears and chilled cheeks my body balled and small in bed chanting to a friend, He’s okay. Night after night after your sneaking in when dawn is hiding behind the darkest hour you creep, careful so you don’t wake the woman or child you often forget. 109

Night after night after night of this is the night of a resolve thickened by a voice that has detonated but again it’s the morning after night after belligerent begging: This is the last time.

Night after night after each dissembling and the last time turns to one more time and resolutions retreat voices vanquish detonations douse too many times for one more last time to transpire again. Night after night after lie after lie after fight after fight after year after year after every bit of any dignity is his captive, a voice in the night whispers No more.


Love Letters By Taunja Thomson

There is a Madonna in red who looks through windows another Lady of Shallott shadow-hating. Three windows: In one, afternoon rain falls in a valley. In another, a magician attempts to summon gold using seahorse bones. In the last, women dance around a bonfire at night. Her head is full of roses and planets. Where there is a church she sees only a butterfly bathed in blue the tips of its wings reaching to blend with new moon. Around her fish flicker like stars in her eyes flash like metal wriggle like sunbeams on a windy day. Each scale on each fish is a word touching other words unifying glistening into a meaning only she can grasp. In the end their tails droop like love letters torn and tossed out a window— they flop and gasp in rain.


Selected Poems by Terry Allen

Taking Photographs in Area 1 The force of the shot ripped off his necktie when Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis in the early evening of April 4, 1968 by a .30-06 caliber rifle bullet that struck his right jaw, traveled through his neck, severed his spinal cord and stopped in his shoulder blade. The shooter was a small-time crook who held up a Kroger grocery store in St. Louis and had been on the run for a year after escaping in a bread truck on a quiet Sunday morning from the Missouri State Penitentiary, a hell-hole in 1967 that Time Magazine called ―The 47 Bloodiest Acres in America,‖ due to its oh-so frequent assaults, murders, and riots. Today visitors tour the prison, huddle together in total darkness in the dungeon cells, go on special ghost and paranormal tours and hear the stories of famous inmates like James Earl Ray who hid in a large bread box and slipped away on a truck in the spring of '67. By the way, two front page stories in the local newspaper 112

that morning told readers about US Warplanes pounding North Vietnam and about Mrs. Gertrude Volk who had been named ―Missouri Mother of the Year.‖ As for me, I was enrolled in college 90 miles from ―The 47 Bloodiest Acres in America,‖ when a year after his escape, James Earl stood in a bathtub in a Tennessee rooming house near the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was staying, balancing a Remington Gamemaster 760 hunting rifle on a window ledge. And at the moment he pulled the trigger it was as if a ripple was created in spacetime that changed so many things large and small and very small indeed on the outer edges of the universe reaching even to the small Missouri college town where I was wrapping up my senior year and where a friend and I were publishing an underground newspaper, which is when reports of the assassination prompted looting, arson, and riots, in more than 100 American cities. We were quite removed from those riots, but that didn’t stop the college president from taking the precaution of locking himself away in his campus home and surrounding it with barricades 113

and campus police in prowl cars and on foot, hiding in trees and bushes as if he believed that he must be number 2 on a list of targets that began with Reverend King or that rioters were already loading up in buses in Kansas City and St. Louis to drive over to his home, armed with fiery torches and pitchforks, yelling ―Kill the Monster.‖ And, of course, my friend and I, as world class investigative reporters, knew we had to cover that story for our readers who had a right to know, and so we parked a few blocks away and walked to the president’s home, armed, not with torches and pitchforks, but with pen, paper and a camera, where upon we were arrested, hustled into a prowler, driven away to a secluded basement location, had our mug shots taken, were interrogated and charged with ―Taking photographs in Area 1.‖ A few days after the shooting, the funeral for Dr. Martin Luther King was held at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and his remains were buried in the South-View Cemetery where his headstone is inscribed with the words: ―Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank God Almighty I’m Free at Last.‖ James Earl Ray was cremated in 1998 and his ashes were flown to Ireland and scattered in the wind. 114

As for me, I image I’ll someday be part of a ghost tour when visitors are escorted at night to a sight and told that this is where the ghostly apparition can sometimes be seen of the man who was arrested on this very spot for ―Taking Photographs in Area I.‖ Them They say that evil can only thrive in darkness, at least that’s what the wealthy politician said in a speech at the Holocaust Memorial Museum National Day of Remembrance, but then again, he didn’t know much about history and really only read the speech written by someone else, each word fashioned from dry brittle leaves, crumbling as he spoke. But perhaps the idea of evil thriving in darkness may have been what your doctor had in mind when he asked you if you only saw them at night and you said yes, it was after midnight when the man in the western plaid snap shirt appeared in the shadows, reflected in the bedroom mirror, and you told the doctor how you yelled at the man to get out but he just stood still staring at you and it was then you turned on the light and ran to get a hammer to protect yourself and ended up searching the house, because you couldn’t find him and then remembered to check the doors to see how he got in, but you found they were locked and that’s when the doctor told you they don’t like the light and advised you to use nightlights, which you did until several months later when you thought they were gone and you unplugged the nightlights and that’s when you rolled over in bed and saw the old woman with vacant sunken eyes peering at you from beneath the sheets. After that you not only used the nightlights again, you told the doctor, but you also kept a flashlight close by at all times. That’s good, the doctor said. That should keep them away. You thought so, too, you told the doctor. You really did, until you read a sad story about how a 115

young woman preparing to become a nun was raped and murdered in broad daylight four decades ago in West Virginia and no one was ever caught and punished for her death and then later you watched a program on the History Channel about Vlad the Impaler who sadistically killed as many as 100,000 people, most of them in the cold light of day and the next afternoon you were in your sun room and looked up to see two women with no feet floating toward you, who kept repeating that it was time for you to go and tried to put a handkerchief over your face. Oh my, the doctor said and you replied that was when you remembered it was mid-morning when the politician spoke at the Holocaust Museum and now you can’t sleep at all.


The Sunshine Wheel By A.J. Huskey On a queen-sized bed intended for two, in apartment 712, a teddy bear loses gravity. Like an untethered balloon, it floats from the pillow, bounces off the ceiling fan once, twice. The fixture’s copper chain clinks against its molded glass flowers, the noise a metallic whisper, scant and jingly and hardly discernible over the accusations from the living room. ―You’re being ridiculous!‖ ―Am I?‖ Weightless, the bear skates facedown along the fan’s upward slope and comes to rest in a handstand against the ceiling, near the edge of a varnished fan blade. Black button eyes, set into synthetic fur, stare vacantly at the closed bedroom door, now muffling the anger on the other side. The bear was a gift Vanessa had given to Mattie on their first Valentine’s Day together. It held a rose in one paw back then, a heart-shaped box of chocolates in the other. Mattie had giggled then and said, ―You shouldn’t have,‖ though she didn’t mean it. They kissed and told each other, ―I love you.‖ That was years ago, when they still did those sorts of things. Framed photographs hang clustered near the bedroom window—black-and-white pictures of crumbling buildings, overgrown parks, and other icons of urban decay. A portrait 117

hangs in the center, concentration captured in oil on canvas. In it, Vanessa lounges on a green sofa, her brow creased. Books lie scattered around her. A pen holds her black hair in a twist on top of her head. She didn’t consciously pose for the picture. Mattie had simply painted it over time, taking advantage of Vanessa’s study habits during her final year of law school. A Study in Studies, she called it, and they both laughed. It wavers now on its thin metal wire. The canvas’s bottom edge drifts outward from the wall like a pennant lifted by a soft breeze. It flips up, pushes against a photo of a Ferris wheel, dislodges it from its hook. The pictures creep up the wall, sliding together inch by inch as if dragged by invisible strings until they settle themselves against the room’s whitepainted trim. The bedroom door swings open and slams into the wall behind it. Mattie storms in—sneering, seething—with Vanessa following wide-eyed behind her. ―Mattie, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—‖ ―Yeah, you did, Van.‖ A silver necklace shoots to the bathroom ceiling, unnoticed, from a ceramic soap dish, and thirty miles away, behind padlocked and corroded gates, a rusted Ferris wheel turns at the old Sunshine Amusement Park. Its weary gears scream against their metal housing, slow and long, in a 118

melancholy ode. Since Sunshine’s lights shut off that final time, the wind has been the wheel’s sole operator, and emptiness has ridden free in its dangling rotten seats. Mattie yanks a suitcase down from the closet and flings it onto the bed. Vanessa had taken Mattie to Sunshine for their first date to show her that Ferris wheel. She never found amusement parks particularly amusing, but she thought Mattie would like it. ―My grandmother would take me here during the summer when I was a kid,‖ Vanessa had said. ―You have your camera, right?‖ They climbed over the vine-covered walls, dropped into the weeds below. Mattie stumbled in a hole hidden by thick brush, and Vanessa caught her. ―You OK?‖ she asked, her hands lingering too long around Mattie’s waist. Mattie blushed and swiped away a curl that had fallen from her floral headscarf, then she checked her camera. They hiked past peeling turnstiles and ticket booths and walked the winding paths of faded whimsy through crumbling concession stands, all the while hearing the Ferris wheel’s incessant wail. Once they reached its ruined platform, Mattie watched the barren wheel revolve against the sun. She didn’t smile, didn’t utter a sound, and her green eyes lacked even the faintest glimmer of excitement. I shouldn’t have 119

touched her like that, Vanessa thought, she doesn’t like this place at all. But she asked Mattie, after a time, ―What do you think?‖ afraid of what she would say. ―It’s incredible,‖ she breathed, and she lifted her camera. Now, she lifts her clothes from where they hang in the closet and tosses them into her suitcase. Bolts in the Ferris wheel’s gear housing loosen and fly skyward. Mattie smashes the suitcase closed, zips it, grabs it, pushes past Vanessa. ―You’re incredible, you know that?‖ Vanessa reaches out. Her hand closes around air. The giant metal wheel, still spinning, rises from its skeletal cradle. Mattie grips the doorknob of apartment 712. She pauses, ready to leave, wondering if she’s making a mistake, wondering how they got to this point. Togetherness had become a video chat, over time, a talking head without a body, a tilted lens for a flattering angle because there can be no imperfections when everything is for show. Hotel rooms as backgrounds, promises to be home soon, then brief interludes of contact, like needed trips to the service station, and for a while they can pretend they still know each other and care. No, she tells herself, this is how it needs to be. 120

The constant ferrous scream turns silent. Mattie looks back to Vanessa, the stranger with her lover’s face. ―Goodbye,‖ she says and steps through the apartment door. Unfettered now, the Ferris wheel frees itself from the world and hurtles through the blue expanse. The city, the streets, the amusement park—everything shrinks further and further away from it, below it, until the wheel plunges into the clouds whipping by, through, around, and churns through the celestial froth, bursting through the other side and sailing through the outermost sky, up and out into the unfathomable, eternal openness of endless possibility.


Selected Poems by Charles Kell

Gray Ashtray You can never forget the clumped smell of her burning hair. Cut & twisted in a thick ball then lit slow with a white lighter. Shadows on the red wall, silent flicker that long ago November night. She was over. Loop-sick. Had to be carried & tucked in the broken frame of your childhood bed. I smelled the sweat on her neck. Saw the stillburning ember half-red in the gray smudged bottom of the ashtray. Everyone left. Twelve sticks of gum in aluminum foil spilled from her pocket. There is a scene under smoke I can replay at will. How she cut my bulging arm with a sharp black knife & brushed her upper lip with my blood. The metal taste of her mouth. Her hair in a ball on the floor. The orange flame in the mirror. 122

Hiding my face, not my body.

Night Light Broke furnace blows puffback onto off lamps, clothes, plants on the windowsill. It covers the novels— wet from rain—left open to dry on the edge of the table. Frost grows on panes. I chip glass strips of cold with the corner of a butter knife, burn my hangnail in the candle’s low flame. I see the water but hear nothing. Sleep, ember, inside this taught body. Skin pulses alert to each electric shock. How to orchestrate an aperture. Ghost letter, blue pencil, black dust on my fingertips. I have one hundred books inside screaming to be set free.


Childhood The four of us ran through the new development, breaking lights, high from huffing gas. Kyle got scared, tiptoed across the golfgreen cemetery back home. We stayed close to one another, huddled under a leafless tree, not shivering though it was winter. I could talk about the blood on a sleeping bag. Hiding a boy—who was later accused of murder—in Mike’s shed. We drank warm Canei, Craig held on to the dirt bike’s gas cap. My feet were wet from walking by the edge of a lake. It was black night yet I still knew where to go.


Living Room White cloth against the glass makes small circles, not clear. A web lit from the sun hangs corner to couch, moving in stillness. He died three nights ago, and in the July heat the house still smells of medicine, piss, wet skin turned rigid and cold. A little dog walks back to the door and stares in his room. On the nightstand rests an ashtray, empty and clean except for the ring of gray silt around the edges.

The Shallows There was a dangerous game we played as children— such a long time ago—with an empty can and twine. The serrated edges would always end up cutting our baby soft wrists so blood would trickle down onto the dry mounds, feeding the ants. It hadn’t rained for weeks. The pond back in the clearing of the wood was just a muddy swamp, we thought, throwing rocks in to hit bottom. We waded in when the blazing sun started to burn our white bodies 125

red. Forming a human chain the four of us stretched our arms until the last one could barely touch. At that second someone let go—a hand slipped, and the smallest drifted off into the murky water. Nothing happened. His kicking body was brought back by his oldest sister. Mud and slime wiped from his nose. A leech wrenched free from his neck. Later that summer, in the darkness, staring sideways at him, I noticed something different. A deeper quiet had taken hold, a kind of theft where the voice he once used to speak had been replaced with a halting, stilted cadence. His head moved different. He looked at you sideways when trying to talk. One night it started to rain and continued the whole night through. We all slept together in front of the whirring metal fan. I reached out to grab his sister’s hand, like I’ve done often before, feeling its sweaty heat press and squeeze against me. Instead, I felt a cold disc, or sticks held fast with ice. Opening my eyes in the dark I saw the boy, with white eyes wide open looking directly into me


Weight By Jan Edwards Hemming

Quod me nutrit, me destruit. I grew up with a mother to whom physical appearance was paramount. Perhaps it’s because we’re Southern, and Southerners do tend to preen and fuss. I cannot recall a time she took us to school without getting dressed, without fixing her face and hair for the day. (It seems important to note that she was a stay-at-home mom; she almost always returned to our house directly after she dropped us off.) Any time I ate too many beignets or went back for a second bowl of popcorn on family movie night—both of which I was highly inclined to do—my mother, her face the picture of knowing wisdom, chanted her favorite mantra in my direction: ―A minute on the lips, forever on the hips.‖ When I started driving and tried to run a quick errand to a friend’s without a bra on, or in pajama pants, she did not hesitate to express her disapproval: lips pursed, eyebrows raised, hand placed to her chest as though she were Scarlett O’Hara. ―What if you get pulled over? You cannot step out of a vehicle like that in front of an officer of the law.‖ When I traveled, she advised I wear makeup and press my clothes. ―You could meet your husband. What kind of a man wants to 127

see you pale and tired and all wrinkled?‖ (Thankfully, she stopped that last bit a few years ago when I finally came out. I suppose she realized that ship had sailed.) It’s possible that my mother’s vocal preoccupation with the way I—and she—looked simply comes from where we come from; that my mother is the product of geographic gentility and its ideas of womanhood that refuse to fade with time. It’s just as probable that my mother has deep-seated issues with food, which could stem either from the history surrounding femininity or mental instability or a combination therein. Whatever the reason, though, I was trained from an early age to focus on the body. * The first time I remember noticing my weight was the year I started second grade. I attended Catholic school, and each year in early August we’d head up to the school’s cafeteria to be fitted for new uniforms. I hated it; it was hot in there, and the material was scratchy. I liked the hand-me-down shorts that came from my mother’s friends who had older kids. They were soft and worn in. Alas, I was growing, and the uniform lady, as I called her, awaited. That particular summer, I sulked into the makeshift fitting area and tugged on the next size up from the shorts I’d had. I pulled the curtain open, walked out, and frowned up at 128

the adults where they stood in front of a box fan. ―They’re too tight.‖ I spoke loudly over the blades whirring on high. The uniform lady stooped to my level. She hooked a finger in the waist of the shorts. ―Oh dear.‖ She yanked, a little too hard, as if to prove a point. ―I think you need the husky.‖ I didn’t know what the word ―husky‖ meant, but I knew from her face and her tone that it couldn’t be a good thing. I pouted while she went to her navy mountain and retrieved the dreaded huskies, which, of course, fit. I burst into tears. ―It’s just room to grow,‖ my mother said, patting my back with one hand, while with the other she held up two fingers in the direction of the uniform lady. I remember the belt we bought: it was cloth and fastened with a magnet, and it was both elastic and adjustable, presumably in preparation for the worst. I played with it over and over, snapping the metal in and out of its groove, as my mother paid. Husky. Husky. Husky. To this day I do not use the word, even to refer to the dog breed. ―Huskpuppies,‖ I took to calling them, to avoid the feel of the word in my mouth, and the way I wrinkle my nose along with it, as if by reflex. * Recently I read an article that discussed rape culture through the lens of how to prevent its perpetuation among 129

youth. The advice that struck me most was one about not commenting on women’s bodies, because a focus on physical appearance reinforces the idea that that’s all women are. There are many reasons I’m terrified to have children, but now I had a new chief concern. I spent my childhood with a mother who criticized and scrutinized, and I grew into a young person obsessed with eating disorders. There was one I especially loved: Perfect Body; it featured the Pink Power Ranger (a.k.a. Amy Jo Johnson). Later, I did a research project on anorexia, trolling Pro-Ana websites for thinspiration (this is a real thing). I knew there was something unhealthy about both the women and my attraction to their illness, but, still, I looked. How could I be a mother who doesn’t comment on other’s physical appearance? I can’t even keep myself from calling my cats fat. * In sixth grade, a treasure hunt through my mother’s hope chest led me to the realization that her senior prom dress did not fit me. ―Well, I’ve always been petite,‖ she said as I cried. She was not alarmed when my best friend was diagnosed with anorexia in seventh grade. ―I don’t see anything wrong with watching what you eat. You start to get hips and then—‖ She trailed off, as though perhaps sudden 130

death followed the body changes brought on by puberty. When we visited LSU’s campus one weekend, we drove past her freshman dorm. ―I used to sit right there,‖ she said wistfully, pointing up from the passenger window to a high floor, ―and eat half a tuna sandwich every day for lunch while I studied.‖ In eighth grade, I stopped receiving a whole sandwich in my own lunch, and at my birthday sleepover that year, my mom joked, ―Girl, if you don’t stop eating, I’m gonna have to push you around in a wheelbarrow!‖ She laughed, as did my friends; my face burned. When I was seventeen and developed an eating disorder, my mother told me every day how good I looked. How proud she was of me for exercising. Disciplined, she called it. Taking care of your body. Care had nothing to do with it. What it did have something to do with was a boy. He obviously wasn’t the only reason. I was an unhinged teen, at best; I was a cutter, overcome with untreated depression and anxiety and, due to those reasons and others, had body image issues. So, of course, I dated a guy I on some level must have known would exacerbate it all. The boy had a lot of issues with his body, too. He told me on more than one occasion that he knew dudes who weighed less than I did; he advised that I keep a food diary. 131

Then we compared said food diaries, and he eventually in notso-many-words copped to being bulimic, and I was jealous. I’d been studying for years ways to hurt myself. I could learn something from him. After he threatened to kill himself if I broke up with him, I broke up with him. Two months later, a friend of mine saw him at our local fair. He told her, ―I saw Jan the other day—she’s gained a lot of weight, huh?‖ He laughed. He knew she’d tell me (out of indignation, not out of spite), and he knew it would bother me. That’s who he was. And even though I tried to ignore it, I kept wondering where he could’ve seen me. I heard his words deep in every bone and every cell, in every piece of me that felt wrong and bad and horrible. The funny thing is that I’d actually lost five pounds (yes, I was counting—I was always counting) since we’d broken up. But his words trumped reality, and I was suddenly full of the most impossible resolve. I can still hear that laugh. * I often wonder about my mother’s life before she had children. She has a Master’s degree in Education. She stopped teaching when she had me, but there were clues about her former life around our house. In a rarely used hall closet hung a ski suit she’d bought for a girls’ trip to Colorado; she’s the 132

only person in my family who’s ever been skiing. In her jewelry box, there was a turquoise bracelet she bought in New Mexico; in the attic, there were books from her classroom, all marked with ―Miss May‖ in her perfect scrawl. There were shells from a visit to Miami, and, when I got older, a story about getting high and driving her friend Lisa’s car through the quad at LSU. I marveled at these puzzle pieces: what was so wrong with my mother’s life that she left it behind completely to channel herself into her children? Now, I think perhaps it wasn’t what was wrong with her life, but what she felt was wrong with her. * As myriad beauty companies have begun launching ―real women, real bodies‖ campaigns, I find myself staring in disdain at glossy spreads in fashion magazines. What the hell is this? I mutter, sometimes silently, sometimes aloud. I learned in my college Mass Communication course that movies and TV shows depict people as having more than the average population because the masses need something to which they can aspire. At some point I must have decided the same applies to women in magazines. If I want to look at a ―real‖ woman, I’ll look in the damn mirror. In magazines and on the big screen, I want to see what I’m supposed to look like. 133

Any time I’ve brought this view up with my friends, they’ve chastised me. ―Body positivity is so important! Women come in all sizes!‖ they exclaim tritely. But I see the way they pick at their plates and pinch at their stomachs in the bathrooms of restaurants. ―Ugh, I’ve gained so much weight,‖ they cluck in turn. ―No, oh no, you haven’t, you look amazing,‖ we all assure. I have a theory that no woman in the history of time has ever said such a thing with a genuine desire to make another female feel better. Buried deep in our subconscious are gloss-lipped foxes. If a woman tells her heaviest friend she looks fine, absolutely fine, and then continues to watch her own weight, she will always look better next to the fat one in photos. * I want to make something clear: I have never been fat. When I dated the terrible boy, I was 5’5‖, weighed 133 pounds, had a twenty-seven-inch waist and a normal BMI. I played sports and was active and had solid muscle tone. I had never really been one for extraneous exercise or dieting, but that August I made myself a strict regimen. I went for a morning run, forty minutes. One quarter cup oatmeal for breakfast, plain. Side salad for lunch; sometimes grapes. Two hours at gym after school. Minimal portions of what Mom 134

fixed for dinner so as not to arouse suspicion. I searched my mother’s old Jane Fonda books, and then the internet, for calorie counts. I ate no more than 700 calories per day, max (my typical goal was 600), and I was sure to burn at least the equivalent. I did leg lifts while brushing my teeth. I started napping between school and the gym or the gym and dinner; I didn’t have the energy to stay awake. I lost thirteen pounds and dropped two or three clothes sizes, depending on the brand. My waist was 23.5 inches. My two best friends threatened to tell my mom. ―Do it,‖ I said. ―She won’t care.‖ She didn’t. In May I got a new boyfriend. He asked me not to cut myself, and encouraged me to eat. I didn’t listen, but I tried. One afternoon we went to the movies, and I brought a special treat: a graham cracker. When it was gone, my breath caught in my throat. The word I know for it now: anxiety. Utter panic. I tapped my foot. I shook my leg. That would burn a few calories. After the movie, I declined to spend the rest of the day with him. ―I need to go home,‖ I said. ―Family stuff.‖ In my room, I did jumping jacks till’ my legs wouldn’t move, and 500 crunches. I hoped it was enough. * I practiced self-harm well into my twenties. It’s sad to say it that way—―practiced‖—as though hurting oneself is 135

akin to doing yoga, but it’s true. It was something I did for myself. Something that calmed me when I felt out of control. The world was disappointing, and so was my own brain. I needed reminders of who I was, where I was; I had to take care of that myself. In trying to understand the difference between what I did to my body with sharp objects versus what I did to it with food, I suppose nobody glamorizes white picket scars stretched over a woman’s hips—but they do complement the slim waist that rises just above. I wasn’t good enough at being skinny to starve myself completely, but I had a net caloric intake of zero for almost a year, and I had a six-pack. I couldn’t for the life of me make myself throw up, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I know in my adult mind, or rational one, or both, that I unequivocally had an eating disorder. But even now, I’m still justifying it. Onetwenty still doesn’t seem like an eating disorder weight, even though I hadn’t weighed less than that since I was a child— more specifically, since sixth grade, before I found the prom dress and started my period and got hips. If I’m honest with myself, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t better at it. That I couldn’t make it last—or at least keep it up long enough to get a diagnosis. * 136

I got married last year and did not obsess over losing weight for the occasion, and for the past seven-ish years, I’ve been roughly the same size, give or take five pounds. I was doing fine. I even gave away the sundress that had only ever fit me for the year I was seventeen; it was gray and white striped, from FCUK. I’d gotten it on a trip to London and held onto it like a sick totem for twelve years past the time it fit me. But there it went, into the Goodwill bag. I finally had a good relationship with food. Health. Body care. Call it what you will. And yet, sometimes I find myself rooting around in my closet, desperate to try on the dress, to see how I measure up. * I am thirty-one and weigh 140 pounds. A recent gallbladder surgery left me six pounds lighter, but my oncelovely belly button now has this odd, brown ring around its edge (I’m hoping it will fade, both with time and my overapplication of Mederma cream). Still, within my body’s normal weight range as I’ve come to understand it, something is different. The old disdain is back. How fitting to think that a cosmetic change in my belly button, one physical feature I’d really loved—the point of connection between a mother and the child she nourishes as it wreaks havoc on her; the indelible proof that care is innate to a 137

body—led to the opening of old wounds. Weight. The size and shape of me. But maybe it’s less poetic than that. Maybe it’s simply the fact that I just saw my mother for the first time in three years, and she still does the thing where she gives herself far less food than she dishes to others (I bet foxes have an adage about the benefits of serving without partaking). Or maybe it’s the fact that our President and the whole political climate reminds me of the fact that I don’t really have any control over anything at all; or it’s just that I’m getting older, my joints sorer, my hair grayer, and I’m clinging to something from my youth. Or maybe it’s just that eating disorders never really quite go away. Whatever the reason, I have begun again to poke and pinch and smooth my hands over skin, seeking out the shape of bones. I yearn for the days of The Breakup Diet 2k13, where a twelve-pound weight loss, albeit unintentional, left me slimmer than I’d been in years. When I record my calories in MyFitnessPal, I feel angry at needing the energy food provides. I’m angry with myself for not having quite the same drive I used to have. I tell myself it’s probably my meds (fucking meds). I hold the trusty cloth tape measure that used to be my mother’s at twenty-four inches; I squeeze it to the same mark around my stomach. Skin spills from the sides; 138

twenty-nine and twenty-four are miles apart. Nostalgia, a cunning fox, turns sour. I feel heavy and dirty. A minute on the lips, forever on the hips. If you don’t stop eating, I’m gonna have to push you around in a wheelbarrow! Jan’s gained a lot of weight, huh? Jokes. Lies. Tiny cruelties. They are what they are. They are the frustration I feel when the number on the scale doesn’t drop. The way I’ve been thinking of having my mother send me my box of photos that’s at my house, because I know there is one of me at my lowest weight that I want to see the way Gollum wants the Ring. In the photo, I’m wearing a pink tank top, and we’re at Six Flags. I’m standing between my two youngest brothers, my arms stretched out around their waists. The vein in my forehead is strained by my smile, and everything else, too, is defined: my clavicle, the top of my ribcage, my narrow biceps. My khaki shorts are loose and my legs are thin and brown. I remember how I smiled when the film was developed; how I took the photo to college and hung it on my bulletin board under the guise of having a picture of my family in my dorm room. *


When my wife and I talk about children, I find myself wondering what kind of mother I’d be. I was a full-time nanny for years and work now as a teacher, so it’s not my ability to potty-train, feed, schedule, discipline, or even instill values that I doubt. It’s just terrifying, imagining how to teach a child to love its body. It would always, I think, feel like a lie.


Selected Poems by Charles Musser

Rest Stop Hello, stranger. Can you spare a moment? I caught Salina when she fell through the skies above Santa Domingo; a bouquet of feathers, Torch Ginger, and quills, loosened and discarded by the shake of a palomino's mane. Sante Fe and Salina's smile are twenty miles, the chorizo heat is a shiv in my gut, and lightning only flickers now from the ember of my thumbnail when I measure the moon. For two years she thundered in my head until I found her tasting young blossoms and climbed down the slant ladder from my solitude where the sundogs lay beneath the quilt of a blackening sky. If you're searching for a strange future take the hundred grand in the trunk, promise you'll help buy her ticket to Puerto Rico and raise her Golden Retrievers beside the sea. You'll find her on the road to Los Alamos in a jessamine house perched like a Longspur on a slope that leads 141

through cacti and wild chilies. Say nothing about how you found me at a rest stop: a bullet in my gut, a Sheriff’s posse twenty miles behind and a noose of sweat around my neck.

Bag of Gold The sky is filled with a weep of icterene anthers. The poplar's branch hangs my straw hat, the river-fog unfurls like a quilt's promise of dreams and over the bristle-grass the moon, a bell in black-bled stillness, rings ripe with crazy promise like a cowboy's bag of gold. We lie in the earth's first morning, ruffed like arrow-feathers, your dark hair turned to me, and become Hyacinth blossoms. Beyond us, the fox flames. The owl on its wing hunts the meadow vole, the thickets fade as rain, and a stallion, all hoof and rib, stands like iron in the young sun, pinned by your eyes. 142

The Dowser A rosefinch of memory alights, watches him pass. In the garden he takes a rusty hoe, plants it as the witch hazel nods. His brown skin sparkles of sweat. He struggles in weeds, curses. Here is where you left him alone in the gentle ecstasy of earth. He kneels, beckons to shadows. The bone-ache twists down, the leaves tremble to stillness as he casts his threadbare words. Hidden among irises and lilies you’ve ebbed away, sieved by stone. It may be that you hear him and appear, called forth by a man who loves you.


Letter Found in a Deer Blind Thirty Miles North-Northwest of Carson City Correctional Facility My name is Joe Sommerfield and I found a wedding ring yesterday on the tip of my shovel just before the asphalt went down. I held it up to the sun and watched it become a dark-eyed junco perched on periwinkle, a turtle dove's coo, a moon that dangles from a briar leaf, the ―O‖ of a B&O boxcar shagging through the russet Michigan dogwoods. All the world’s a ring now, and I can roll round the rails to Detroit and off the curve to Rita Mae’s door. Behind me, an overgrown trail of clay laid crosswise to the river, northern pike and crawdads, the prison bulls on horseback, and the strangled, borate-wrapped 144

body of an unlucky cop. In front, my swagger on the crooked road all air and meadow-saffron. O Rita Mae, there must be worse places to die than Montcalm County but I don’t know where.


Ceramic Playground By Catherine Le Nguyen The little girl was hiding. She had folded herself up to fit inside the dark quiet space within the hedges lining the far side of the schoolyard and the world had reduced until there were only the glossy leaves and the tiny yellow flowers that blossomed here and there amongst the verdure like bursts of stars punctuating the boundless dusk. But hidden things only stay secret for so long and so it was when one of the nameless preschool counselors found her there that day. ―You can’t play here,‖ said the counselor, towering above the little girl with her head blocking the sun like a faceless Titan stretching high above and poised in the act of meting out judgment upon the minuscule Myrmidons long since abandoned by their demigod. ―Go play somewhere else." The little girl got up and ran away. It was the Wild West out on the playground. Preschoolers ran upon the black tar landscape like herds of wild horses screaming and unbridled beneath the hot afternoon sun. The sky above was the blue of a propane flame that stretched beyond what could be seen and the sun the perfect circular meridian of a golden parenthetical. On the field nearby a murder of crows scrutinized the children with cocked detachment, silent watchers to all manner of atrocities 146

appearing on the horizon. The little girl hovered at the edge of the chaos until she spotted a gang of girls she sometimes found herself in the company of. Today there was a bigger girl and a tiny girl and a few others that did not merit much attention. The big girl was older and mean-looking and she was a behemoth next to the others and she wielded this fact of circumstance with an authority that refused any questioning. Next to her stood a girl even tinier and more fearful than the little girl, who was known around the preschool as Squeaky. Squeaky wore an oversized white t-shirt over pink leggings and sneakers and the hair that hung down lank over her face was the color of drying clay. The little girl herself wore a t-shirt and leggings and sneakers like most of the preschoolers did but her hair was long and straight like a proclamation and it was the same glossy black as the crow preening itself in the sunlight. Her bangs were straight-cut across her forehead and these she would alternate between hiding behind and seeing through. Clutched and cradled to her breast Squeaky held a ceramic dog the length of two hands, a replica of a Wiener dog, long-bodied, short-legged and intricately painted in lifelike colors. It was a curious choice of a plaything on a treacherous playground, merely man-made and from fragile 147

pottery material at that. The little girl couldn’t help but question Squeaky about it. "Đó là con chó con của tôi,” Squeaky whispered, holding it tighter to her frame. ―Tôi yêu con chó con của tôi. Tôi cần nó… nó bảo vệ tôi.” The little girl understood and spoke of it no more. They ran around playing the game. ―What game is this?‖ ―The only game,‖ the big girl said. ―The game we’ve been playing since the beginning of time. The game that mankind was built upon and entire empires crumble around. The game we’ve always played and always will. You are a piece in it and you play this game, little girl, even when you don’t know that you are.‖ ―What are the rules?‖ But the big girl didn’t answer. A bad feeling lingered and it permeated the air and made them uneasy as the shadows swayed in the heat of the afternoon. The big girl soon grew bored and a sharpness entered her close-set and beady eyes which roamed now over them to pick out the weakest of the herd. The little girl knew what was to come and she steeled herself as a man would, and braced herself resigned for whatever torment was to follow. But the big girl’s gaze slid past her to land instead on Squeaky. 148

―Let me see that stupid thing,‖ said the big girl, and without ceremony, she grabbed the ceramic dog from Squeaky’s feeble grasp disregarding all propriety and she held it high above her head well out of their reach. The big girl’s smile was filled with cruelty. ―It’s mine now.‖ Squeaky burst into tears and seeing this a tide of anger welled up from deep within the little girl. She hadn't yet learned that expecting decency from others would often be cause for disappointment, and the injustice that the big girl inflicted upon Squeaky caused her own insides to careen and pitch with hot righteous anger. ―Give it back,‖ she said as Squeaky sniffled miserably and wiped at the twin tracks soiling her face. The little girl was scared but Squeaky’s tears compelled the words from her. The big girl only laughed. The little girl tried again, a little louder. ―That’s not yours, give it back to Squeaky… give it back!‖ This time the big girl sneered, her mouth twisted into sharp relief, and she lowered her arm. She looked at the little girl as if she was seeing her for the first time and was casting the agency of her fate through sunlight and stone and water and when she spoke her voice rumbled from deep inside the hollow cavity of her chest. ―What will you do about it?‖


And so the little girl grabbed the other end of that cursed ceramic dog and pulled with all of her might, but she was only a small girl and the big girl was so much bigger than them all and stronger too, and the big girl pulled it away from the little girl easily. The big girl had a mighty swing. At the very apex of its arc, the ceramic dog appeared as if it was calmly perched upon the flat blue shelf of sky and the moment was caught and held fast, a small eternity suspended. Then the pendulous nature of time reimposed itself to restore momentum and the ceramic dog smashed down hard across the temple of the little girl. The little girl reeled back and clutched her face in pain, too dazed and shocked to cry out, but the big girl moved with her and swung her meaty fist like a boulder again and again and the little girl fell and sent small pebbles scattering. The little girl thrashed and kicked but the big girl crushed her into asphalt swelled bloated and sticky from heat, and now blood that splashed forth in brindling veronicas. The little girl flailed at the big girl’s face and pushed her thumbs at the big girl’s eyeballs but the big girl pulled her up by her shirt front and slammed her down again and then she smashed savagely into the softest part of the little girl’s stomach and with that the little girl groaned, the fight leeched from her, and she stopped moving altogether. Bloody rosettes were welling up and 150

trailing down from her nose and mouth and forehead and she had scrapes and cuts all over, everywhere, and the bouncing pebbles had skipped to a stop and sat reflecting the harsh glare of the sun. Her fun had and spent, the big girl stood again and indulgently handed the ceramic dog back to Squeaky, who smiled with grateful eyes and thanked the big girl in her querulous high voice and never once looked in the little girl’s direction. The crows flew up careening into the wide expanse of sky to become a perfect black ring wheeling around the pinprick of sun and that was as it should be because that was as it had always been.


Obscured By Robin Farr At the wake for his eighty-year-old wife, my father clasped and unclasped his hands unsure of the day’s purpose, confused by the tears of those surrounding him and watching this, I wonder how ties once bound together are released from the day’s every moment— think of my own connections and how we let go. Perhaps through suffering and time’s mercy memories wane, become thin slivers of moon in the blackness of winter sky, gravity pulling at the core. Instead— what if not unlike the way the moon passes behind the earth into its umbra, our memories eclipse, slip into full shadow where there is no pain and we are left wringing our hands in the dark?


Beach Party By Bill Pippin

You wake up in a strange bed. Bursting bladder, aching head, scummy teeth, yucky tongue. You’re naked. Your stomach roils. Your thighs ache. Your nipples sting. Your pussy burns. That last draws your full attention. Think back. Beach, bonfire, hotdogs, beer keg, boombox, dirty dancing. Tequila, bourbon, Jagermeister. You shouldn’t, but you do. Bottoms up. Some girl rips off her top. Everyone cheers. They all point at you, clapping rhythmically. ―Show us your tits, Roberta! C’mon, babe, show us those knockers!‖ You shouldn’t, but you do. They hoot and whistle like you slammed a walk-off homer. Some guy kicks off his swim trunks. Others follow suit. For no apparent reason you drop your bikini bottom. Well, for one apparent reason—let Barry see what he’s missed. Someone turns off the boombox and hands you a guitar. You go into your Janis Joplin routine, belting out ―Me and Bobby McGee.‖ The crowd loves it. You love the crowd. You love being the center of attention. You give it everything 153

you’ve got. At some point the bonfire flares like the end of the world. The beach starts to sway. Starts to spin. Starts to open up like a monstrous sinkhole and suck you down its black throat. Then what? Your white shorts and pink T-shirt lie crumpled on the bedroom floor. Your bikini, gritty with sand. Your sandals rest on top of your duffel bag. Your bra and panties. You slip on the shorts and T-shirt, fish clean panties and toothbrush out of the bag, step into the long empty hallway, locate the bathroom a few doors down. You need to shower. Bad. First you sit on the toilet and examine the red scratches on your breasts and inner thighs. You check yourself for semen. You’re relieved to find nothing, though you know it proves nothing. Someone left a glass on the sink. You drink two glasses of water and drop to your knees, head in the commode, puking. You wash out your mouth and brush your teeth. You spend too long in the shower trying to scrub away whatever you’ve done. Whatever’s been done to you. You go downstairs. The blinds are drawn in the wrecked living room. 154

Bodies sprawl in various states of exposure, draped across two ratty sofas, in chairs, crumpled on the carpet. Someone snores. Someone groans. The stench reminds you of an overheated gym. You tiptoe around the bodies and slip out the sliding screen door onto the covered front porch. You weave through the clutter of chairs, chaises, and hammocks to a wicker rocker. The air is warm and humid, the grumble and whap of the surf soothing, the sun blinding. You should’ve grabbed your sunglasses. You’ve been here before. The rambling old beach house is weathered gray, perched on a rocky bluff, comfortably shabby inside and out. A whiff of feathery cloud floats across a brilliant blue sky. The Atlantic is vast and silvery. A small dark ship rests motionless on the distant horizon. Wooden steps at one end of the porch lead to a steep trail zig-zagging down to the beach. Smoke still rises from the charred remains of the bonfire. How did you climb that trail last night? Backtrack. When you arrived yesterday afternoon Connie met you at the front door. The beach party was in full swing and she offered you a toke. A tall, leggy blonde whose family has owned the house overlooking the ocean for a couple of generations. 155

―You can change in one of the bathrooms,‖ she said. ―Leave your bag there, we’ll sort it out later. You don’t have to sing for your supper, but I brought a guitar just in case.‖ You accept the joint, draw and inhale. ―You may not know everybody, but I know you’ve met my cousin Barry.‖ Barry. Hearing his name catapulted your heart into your throat. ―When are the fireworks?‖ you asked, because you could think of nothing else to say. ―Tomorrow night.‖ Connie winked. ―Tonight, girlfriend, you can make your own fireworks.‖ Connie’s parents are on a European river cruise. She’s invited about two dozen chosen ones for a long-weekend celebration of the Fourth. College friends. All except you, who’s no longer one of them, having flunked out. But you and Connie have known each other since middle school. And then there’s Connie’s cousin… Barry Judge. You’re still in love with Barry. You always will be. Once upon a time in high school you were warned about senior boys who asked junior girls to the prom. It’s because they consider us easy. Totally true in your case. You 156

honestly believed letting Barry pop your cherry in the backseat of his dad’s Lincoln would lead to something lasting. Then came summer vacation. Barry skipped off to college prep school. In the fall he started college, bent on becoming an engineer, shunning high school girls. By the time you became a freshman he’d forgotten you. Until yesterday. The way he watched you come down to the beach in your black bikini, the way he hustled over with a foaming red cup, the way he kissed you on the lips, the way his eyes scorched yours. Something had changed. It was you. You no longer looked like a college girl, no longer acted like one. You were a woman. A celebrity. Big guppy in a small bowl. Lead singer in Space Goop, a rock band playing to packed crowds locally. ―Connie told me you might make an appearance,‖ Barry said. ―I kept my fingers crossed some last-minute gig wouldn’t beat us out.‖ ―Our drummer’s appendix ruptured,‖ you said. ―He’s irreplaceable.‖ ―My good fortune.‖ He flashed that toothy smile that made you want to suck his tongue. You decided right then the night would belong to you and Barry. How delicious it would be. You’d learned a thing or two since that awkward tangle of limbs in the Lincoln. This 157

time you’d have Barry salivating like a hound dog. This time he’d come panting back for more. Now you sit gently rocking, gazing down at the beach, less than pleased with yourself. Will you ever grow up? Your stomach gurgles as you try to recall walking up the trail, climbing the stairs, getting into bed. Did Barry help? Then did you fuck? Was he the one? Since you wanted him, would it be rape? Even if you didn’t know it was happening? Would it? The screen door slides open and Connie eases out, steaming cup in each hand. She wears an oversized faded blue man’s shirt that hangs to mid-thigh. Her blonde hair looks greasy. A Marlboro Light dangles from her lips. Smoke curls into one eye. ―Jesus,‖ she says, keeping her voice low. ―Wasn’t that the wildest fucking party ever?‖ She thrusts a cup at you. ―How you feelin’, kiddo? Can you keep this down?‖ You raise the cup to your mouth. The black coffee scalds your tongue. Your stomach curdles and you set the cup on an end table. ―Guess I made a royal ass of myself, huh?‖ ―What?‖ Connie streams smoke from her nose. ―No, no, no. You were the hit of the party. You put on one helluva show even without your band. Jesus, you were awesome.‖ ―Was I the only girl to strip?‖ 158

Connie thinks about this. ―Cindy Marlowe…Dolly Pagano. Maybe more.‖ ―Thought I’d learned to hold my liquor.‖ ―Know how a French woman holds hers?‖ You blink and shake your head. ―By the ears.‖ She laughs hilariously. ―If I had a bod like yours I’d damned sure show it off. Scared me, though, when you got sick, when you passed out. I’ve heard of drunks choking on their own vomit.‖ You seize on this. ―How’d I make it up the path?‖ ―Couple of guys carried you. Like a rolled carpet.‖ ―Couple of guys?‖ ―Three guys. I showed them where to put you.‖ You reach for the cup, blow on it, slurp coffee. ―I don’t remember regaining consciousness.‖ Connie laughs. ―You were out cold. I checked your pulse to make sure you were alive.‖ ―I’d like to thank them.‖ You make it sound casual. ―The three guys.‖ Connie shrugs to show that isn’t necessary. ―Who were they?‖ She clicks her tongue. Does she sense you’re fishing? ―Jeez, Roberta, I was so goddamn wasted.‖ ―But you showed them the way…‖ 159

She takes a long drag and stabs the cigarette out in an ashtray on the end table. ―Well, Barry. The other two…don’t know them very well. Football players. Friends of Barry’s. Can’t remember their names. We put your stuff in your bedroom.‖ ―Did you, uh, all leave the room together?‖ ―Yeah. Sure.‖ Frowning, she scratches her eyebrow with her thumb. ―Why?‖ You smile to show it’s no big deal, but you can see she’s wondering. Try not to alarm her. Maybe nothing happened. No—something happened. You’re just not sure who it happened with. Until you have more facts, tread light. Don’t go off half-cocked, don’t be a party-pooper. Just find out who came to that bedroom after Connie left. ―I feel like a walk on the beach. Care to join me?‖ Connie shakes her head. ―Gotta shower. If you want breakfast, there’s cereal and stuff—‖ ―I’m not hungry. When Barry wakes up, will you tell him I’d like to talk to him?‖ You try to sound nonchalant, but Connie squints, giving you that look again. ―Sure,‖ she says, ―I’ll tell him.‖ You stroll for a mile or more down the beach. The surf swirls around your ankles, oozing sand sucking at your toes. 160

Occasionally you look back at the beach house. You scoop up a seashell to examine and toss it aside. You rack your brain trying to recollect anything that happened after you passed out. Like trying to remember a movie you slept through. When you turn and start back you spot Barry making his way down the zig-zag trail. He wears white sneakers and cut-off jeans. No shirt. His brown hair is tousled, his lithe, muscular body gleams coppery in the sun. You lose sight of him momentarily behind a sand dune. Then he crests the dune and turns in your direction. He wears a shy smile. When you raise your arms for a hug, the tightness around his mouth softens. The wariness in his blue eyes dissolves. ―How’s it goin’, Bert?‖ He nuzzles your cheek and pats your back. His overnight beard is scratchy. He hasn’t showered. His body gives off an earthy scent. ―Better,‖ you say. ―Coming back to life. Guess I went a little crazy last night.‖ He laughs. ―You were in good company.‖ ―You must’ve been the only sober person there.‖ ―Well…I’m on the wrestling team. My body’s a temple according to Coach.‖ He flashes a wry grin. ―Thanks for rescuing me.‖ ―No problem.‖ 161

You hesitate, then blurt, ―I-I wasn’t any problem…was I?‖ His eyes turn questioning. ―Problem? Not sure what you mean, Bert.‖ He’s the only person who’s ever called you that. ―No.‖ You offer him a flirty smile and instantly feel cheap. You can make up for this deception later. ―I’m not either. I just…‖ His return smile wavers. ―I can’t remember much…that’s all I’m saying.‖ He nods now, a little too eagerly. ―What do you remember? Anything?‖ ―Sure,‖ you lie, watching his face carefully. ―Of course. I remember you…you touching me.‖ He glances out at a big wave rolling in, then back, his gaze wavering. ―Nothing else?‖ You laugh. ―C’mon, don’t make me spell it out.‖ He keeps nodding, his smile growing more distinct. ―I’d like that actually.‖ You breathe easier. This is what you hoped for. Time to cut to the chase, let him know it’s okay. ―Was it better this time?‖ ―Better?‖ ―Compared to the night of the prom?‖ 162

―Oh, baby, big time. I’m just glad…‖ He lets the sentence trail off. ―Glad? Glad of what, Barry?‖ ―That you aren’t…that it is what you wanted. Right?‖ You cock your head. ―I told you, didn’t I? Told you what I wanted?‖ He shoves both hands deep into the pockets of his shorts, shoulders hunched. ―Uh…not in so many words.‖ ―Surely you asked…?‖ He shrugs. ―Kinda. You didn’t have much to say.‖ You chuckle to disguise your disappointment, to conceal a hot flush. ―Damn. If I was that far gone it couldn’t’ve been very exciting…‖ His smile is replaced by a knowing leer. ―That’s where you’re wrong.‖ ―Oh?‖ ―It was exciting. Different…y’know? Kinky. A total turn on.‖ You force another chuckle. ―Well, I really wish I could remember.‖ Now he laughs. ―But then it wouldn’t be the same, babe, would it?‖ Now you laugh. ―Not for you, maybe. But I can’t enjoy what I don’t know is happening.‖ 163

―No. No, of course not.‖ He pulls his hands free, cups your chin, gives you a quick kiss on the mouth. ―Well…we can sure fix that.‖ Yeah. This is what you needed to hear. All is forgiven, and you smile expectantly. ―Tonight?‖ he asks. ―Why not.‖ ―Repeat performance?‖ ―You bet.‖ ―They’ll like that.‖ And your heart stops beating. ―They?‖ He nods toward the house. ―Harold, Woody…all three of us again…right?‖ You stare at him for the longest time, struggling to get your breath. When your heart decides to thump again, it labors like an overloaded bus. You reach out and grab his arms, sinking your nails into his flesh. His eyes widen in alarm. ―My God, Barry!‖ ―What?‖ ―Say you’re joking! Please!‖ ―What-what-what?‖ ―You don’t know? You honestly don’t know?‖ His eyes flutter. ―I-I thought…‖ 164

―I thought it was you.‖ ―It was me, sweetheart!‖ ―Only you.‖ He jerks free of your grasp and takes a step backward. ―Whoa now. Whoa. That’s not—what’re you trying to pull here?‖ ―Barry—‖ His cheeks turn crimson, his grimace accusing. ―You let me believe you remembered. That it was okay. You fucking set me up!‖ True enough. And now you hate him. ―And you—you raped me. You and two other guys!‖ ―What!‖ He takes another step back. ―Hey, hey, hey— wait a sec now. Wait just a goddamn second. That’s not a word to use lightly, Bert.‖ ―Can’t you see what you’ve done?‖ ―Don’t give me that shit. Wow! Not after what you did.‖ ―Was it your idea?‖ ―My—no. Woody. They did it first. They used condoms. Don’t worry, you’re safe.‖ ―Then you took sloppy thirds?‖ He holds up both hands, pushing back. ―Bert, for God’s sake, you wanted it.‖ 165

―I was unconscious!‖ ―Before that. Prancing around naked, offering it to anyone.‖ You close your eyes for a moment. When you open them again nothing has changed. ―I can’t believe this.‖ ―It’s true. They could’ve all lined up and screwed you right there on the beach. Every swinging dick. You would’ve welcomed it.‖ ―Oh, Jesus, Barry. Oh, sweet Jesus.‖ ―Let’s just forget about it. Okay, Bert? No more wild accusations. No more bullshit. Please, I’m begging you.‖ You can’t stand to look at him anymore, breathe his smell. You shove past him and walk away. Your stomach feels like you swallowed a rancid piece of meat. You climb the zig-zag path without looking back. When you reach the porch you stop to shade your eyes with one hand and peer down at him. He stands where you left him, his back turned, staring out to sea. His shoulders slump, his arms dangle at his sides— a forlorn pose meant to elicit sympathy. And for an instant your heart does go out to him. You can almost hear him pleading: Try to see it our way, Bert. There you were—naked, spread-eagled, helpless. What else could three hot-blooded studs do? Now be a good sport and don’t cause a ruckus. 166

And then a coldness creeps into your body like a wild animal released from a cage. You step inside the house. The crowd at the breakfast table stops eating to cheer. Why, you’re not sure. You study their faces one by one as it grows quiet. You call out two names in a loud, clear voice: ―Harold? Woody?‖ They say nothing. They don’t have to. Everyone else at the table turns their way. And now you see them too. Cold-eyed, fidgety, they stare back at you, looking nothing like you imagined. Oh, they’re as big and muscular as you expected, but not dumb looking. Not stupid or slimy. One appears almost professorial behind his mustache and horn-rimmed glasses; the other is freckled and pug-nosed and boyishly innocent. You almost feel sorry for them, just as you did Barry. Until they smile. They look at each other and actually smile. You turn and go upstairs to the bedroom where it happened. You stand in the middle of the room and take in the tangled bed sheets with sickening self-loathing. Knowing what they look like, you can picture it now. All too clearly. You begin to pack. It isn’t long before Connie appears in the doorway, just as you anticipated. She leans against the doorframe, arms crossed, watching you with hollowed eyes. 167

At last, she sucks in a long, deep breath. ―Let it go, Roberta.‖ You look up at her. ―Excuse me?‖ ―Don’t do this to Barry. To me.‖ ―To you?‖ ―You know what I mean.‖ ―Did you try to stop them?‖ ―I was drunk, Roberta. I’m not your caretaker. You brought it on yourself.‖ You consider her words carefully before zipping the duffel bag shut. ―Say you’ll forget about it. Please? Those poor guys are sweating blood out there.‖ You gaze out the window, seeing nothing but parked cars. You turn back and slowly shake your head. ―Those poor guys raped me, Connie. Barry, too.‖ ―No one will buy that,‖ she says quietly. ―You’ll regret it. Everybody will hate you. You can’t win. Think of the lives you’ll mess up—yours included. And for what? What does it truly matter? No real harm was done.‖ At this you’re forced to laugh. You grab your bag and walk past her, out the front door to your car. You don’t look at her again. You don’t even say goodbye. 168

You drive back to town feeling more alone than you’ve ever felt in your life. Your eyes sting, but you fend off tears. Connie’s probably right—you can’t win. The fatigue of defeat is already settling into your bones. But you shake it off. Because it’s not about winning, is it? It’s about fighting back. You grit your teeth and tighten your gut and scan the oncoming traffic. You spot a black and white approaching and flash your lights. But it’s not a police car. Where the hell are they when you need one? At last you settle down, sit back, force yourself to relax and not tailgate the car in front of you. Patience. Be calm. Focus. Resign yourself to the long haul. You turn on the radio to some oldies but goodies, unclench your teeth, let your hands ease their grip on the wheel as you prepare for what lies ahead.


Cyhyraeth By Holly Day The next time I see my mother, it will be because I’m dying close to death, she will stand at the side of my bed put her cool hands on my burning forehead bring me soup. She will look just like she did when I drew that last picture of her when I was a child how I tried to draw her with my imperfect hands: too beautiful and too young to be so sick.


Selected Poems by Megan Merchant Come Winter, I pile what’s left of the leaves under my mother’s pillow, hay beneath the bed, press nightshade between the curtain and glass, warm a cup of cinnamon tea with a sparrow’s fallen feather for stirring. I give her a single cube of sugar to suck and sweeten the gauze where memory lulls. She thanks me for running the bath warm, for soothing her throat, for not shouting when the horses broke the gate. They are running wild now, 171

as she wanted, filling her broken thoughts with the sound of snapping branches.

Guilt for Trying to Hold Her ―Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole?‖ -Sylvia Plath

I could erase this paper, let her go clean, cut dolls out of the white, cut almond shapes in the batter of their hearts that flame. Whomever softened the term dis-ease implied there was a comfort thinning there. This is not how I lose her. Every day, a little bit more. I take a deep breath and a gnat swats into my mouth, sticks in my teeth.


If I pick it out, spread it into my palm to show you, tell me how it’s not smeared into something else entirely.


On Vanishing By Jessika Bouvier You meet him freshman year, in the orchestra room, which won’t hold meaning to you for months, years to come, but you notice him later. Two years later, in the summer. His skin is bronze and loose on his muscles, which are not supple, not swelling, but boyish blossoms. His shoulders are daunting and broad, his nose harshly hooked and flanked by massive, untamed brows. But his eyes are dark. Concentrated. And they seem kind when he laughs, though the sound is reluctant. Anger folds natural creases into his face. They are deep, sharp. His smile struggles against gravity, against a somberness that slams the corners of his lips downwards. You wonder why he yells so loudly but speaks in whispers. Soft, rasping shame from a sour mouth. He looks through you, over you, but never inside, never at. You know you command attention in most light, with sun inside your skin, but he lives, seemingly, in the dark. Nocturnal and brooding. It’s his fury that draws you to him, the twisted lines of his face as he screams at your peers to shut up, stay in line, to listen. The unwavering animosity, pure and black. It intrigues you. You watch him for a time. You memorize how contempt contorts his lips, pulses under the


skin of his neck, reddens his cheeks. But it is his shy smile that you stay for. He notices your attention eventually. It is difficult to ignore. You are persistent, and always surrounded by people who laugh when you speak. With you, not at you; this is a difference he has always longed for. When he stares, he lingers, soaking you in. His eyes are watery and blank and fervent with endless somethings. He seems, to you, worldly. You trail after him at the end of rehearsal, mosquitoes nipping at your knees, night air hot on your neck. You ask for a ride home, smile at his quiet agreement. The car fills with your laughter, with his, and you think it’s beautiful, short, dark chuckles that are heavy and untamed. The A/C is sweet, makes you feel nostalgic but somehow dangerous. Thrilled. You touch his shoulder when you thank him, then leave. Your teeth glitter under the porch lights while you watch his Honda roll back up the hill. The routine begins, rides home after every practice, and soon, in the dark, you can see the want sparkling in his eyes. You have him. The parents are easy wins. You are charming, and sometimes pretty, when your hair curls away from your cheeks, and they find you endearing, honest. They think you are kind. They think that you will save them from his rage.


They think that you will save him from himself. Despite yourself, you try. Things are sharp, volatile, steep and bright and dangerous, new. Early on, with your back pressed to the seat of the couch and his mouth on your mouth, he tells you he loves you. Heavy breath, desperate, fogging your glasses. He is a hulking mass, swallowing you as he hovers above, but his words seep through your skin and glow in your heart. You whisper it back. He smiles and kisses you. Things are simple and full of light, and you wonder where his anger has gone. You imagine that you can cure him, that you can make him better. You imagine that you are showing him his destiny. You feel that you have found a new purpose, a righteous purpose. You decide to love him. You follow him everywhere, knowing that he longs for your presence, but is too embarrassed to ask you to stay. Your relationship becomes solid, like a stone; people speak of it as if it is unbreakable. But curious, still. Odd in their minds. They say you fit with him only by circumstance. They say you fit with him only because you are determined to try. You ignore them. They see you differently now, see you as beneath him. You try to be strong, to be strong with him, beside him, but he does not help you along. He is so sweet to you in the dark. But


under the wash of the sun, he is blinded, squinting in the light, and suddenly you are invisible. People whisper. They think you have given up your power, your humor and your warmth and your magnetism for the sake of feeding his soul, and that now, attached to him, you are vacant. You do not believe them. You insist that nothing has changed, that you are equals. But when you turn to hear an echo of support, he is silent by your side. He turns his head away. Ignoring. Unsympathetic. You are silent and patient in front of their stares but when the curtains are drawn, when he moves to push you into his bed and kiss your slanted mouth, you hesitate, question. He scoffs and rolls off of you. I don’t give a fuck what they think, he says. I’m not putting on a show for them. You reach for his hand in the dark and he shoves you away. Inside, something is sinking. You begin to dislike yourself. You smother your sense of weakness by surrounding yourself with him. You spend your time doting on him, meeting his wants before they evolve into needs. You pretend that his gruff ignorance is endearing. The anger returns every now and then, a shifting of tides, but you block it out. You scream when he screams. You cry when he cries. You mimic his feelings for the sake of his company. He feels your touches, you know, your fondness, but his gaze remains 177

forward. He stops smiling. Stops listening. Only when you crack does he react. The whispers of your friends grow too loud and you feel your worries bleeding out from your ears, seeping into your mouth, rust and hate. When you show yourself, your hurt, he turns. Frowns. He waits until you dry your face and quiet down. Nuzzle back into your submission, into the crook of his arm. But sometimes you bite back. He towers over you, daring, egging you on, yelling so loudly that the whispers simmer into a quiet harmony. You stand and meet his stare and feel the screams seep into your marrow. But eventually you crumble. You always crumble. He turns forward again. Sometimes, when your veins throb on your neck, bursting, when you can’t imagine your voice going any louder, his walls break, the canyon filled by the thrashing river. A needle, swift, into a pressure point. He detonates. His hot tears shake you into shocked normalcy. He flees from you, hides under the covers, smothering himself. Ashamed. Broken. A Lost Boy, if there ever was one, and you sit, precarious, on the edge of the bed, your anger suddenly vacated. You hover over his trembling body and the room fills with your warm whispers, a mother calming a tyrannical. Before him you had dreams, you had thoughts, but now he is everything. He Is. You reach beneath the covers and touch his clenched hands. 178

You listen to his moans and his cries and assure yourself that this is right in all its wrongs. You want nothing more than to be his light. The whispers swell and swell until they echo about the room, circling around in your head, his sobs a song with you–cloying, pathetic, weak You–acting as accompaniment. You begin mending him. You begin killing yourself. The first year is rough terrain. You are left scarred. But you trudge on into the scorched summer, spend the time you aren’t attached to him lying in the sunshine, trying to reabsorb the light, wondering when you misplaced your identity, a book forgotten in a dusty room. But the leaves turn, and you are separated: college has slid a cuff around his wrist. You pretend not to feel left behind. You promise to remain by his side always, to call. Love him unconditionally. You watch his expression as the words leave you. He turns to you, but says nothing. Only nods. Turns back to the television screen. You press closer to him, curling into the couch, but he doesn’t move. His hand is limp in yours. His mother cries as you pull out of his dorm parking lot, the car empty of boxes and of his gruffness. You are angry with him. After finishing the move, he refused to indulge in some romantic last words before you returned to the car. I’ll


see you soon, he said as you stared in expectation. His kiss was quick and unchaste. Thanks for the help. And then you’re on the other side of the door, staring down at your sandals, listening to your own breathing. You dwell on dark thoughts, cursing to yourself in the hallway. You whisper that you hate him as you glare at the ground, but you feel your heart breaking. Something bitter plants itself inside of you, wiggling, but moments later it falls away. Apathy settles around you like a shawl. You try to remember when you became a shell. Walking out, your eyes never leave the ground. His parents turn up the radio, focus on mending their own wounds, soaking in their own relief. You watch his mother’s reflection in the rear-view the entire ride home, your vision fuzzing on her cheeks, tears cutting through her pale powder. You wonder how she still loves him, in all his fury and his destruction, in his grotesque inconsideration for others. You wonder how she cries for a monster. Your eyes refocus after a while. In the rear-view, you see yourself. Months pass. You are climbing steadily downward. Bare feet on muddy stairs, descending. You are shrouded in paranoia. He barely speaks to you, it seems, and your phone calls are sparing in quantity, aimless in subject. There is no light left. Friends begin to notice, to comment, but you feign complacency. It’s a rough patch, you say, picking the crust 180

from your sandwich. A scoff comes from across the lunch table: Isn’t it always a rough patch? Everyone laughs cautiously. You try to drag humor from yourself, digging, but there is only a sparkling imitation. And he smells it when you visit, when you call. The desperation. The fear. The need. And he can’t stand it. The calls are painful, slow, filled with nothings and excuses and mindlessness. He doesn’t ask what is wrong. Doesn’t ask why you sit and listen to his breathing, silent. He feels, for the first time, driven to find a new source. Led to another well, filled with water, clean, sparkling. New warmth fills him. The world is sweeter again, honey-lights and smiles and laughter, and the Lost Boy feels, once again, that he may have been found. He fucked someone else. She threatens that if he hides this from you, she’ll tell you herself. He struggles for control. He is afraid, something he has forgotten how to feel. Sweats and contemplates and brews in his anger, his hatred, for whom he doesn’t know. He tells you there is something important that must be discussed. You–the ghost of you–waits with dull eyes, dull senses. A fog of paranoia sheaths you, clogs your senses and blinds you. But you simply shrug. Breathe and wait. You stopped watching yourself fall apart months ago.


When he tells you over the phone, you are magma. The fire, once extinguished, ruptures inside of you. You rip at your hair and writhe on the ground. Your voice is warping metal, embers tracing steel, flying sparks and red, red, red. You demand answers. Explanations. You feel the wrath of two years awakened inside of you. He stammers and begs and cries and cries, trying to escape the flames. She’s blonde, thinner than you’ll ever be, a singer. Beloved to her peers. A scholar. And worst of all: she wants him. Gunning to pick a fight for him, for this no-good, unloyal, unloving, egregious, colossal sack of shit cheater. He begs to meet. He begs to see you in person, to drive from his hideout at college, his escape, to explain. He pleads and cries and your screams mix with his screams, folding on each other, blooming flower petals overlapping. Your body is all elements: fire in your heart, in your mouth, the ocean in your eyes, the earth in your skin, under your nails as you sink to the ground, clutching at the grass and the mud, trying to find gravity and hold onto it. Squeeze. Breathe. Pace. Repeat. You can’t stop thinking about slapping him. Yelling at him. Your limbs writhe and twitch on their own accord, so much you’re afraid you’ve finally lost control of everything. Your mind has finally gone numb. But you drag yourself to the park nearby—the meetup point. It’s night. He’s already 182

there, tapping his hands against the steering wheel of his Honda, face withdrawn. The wash of the neon lights from the dashboard warps his harsh features into something cartoonish. Childish. He steps out to greet you, but you can’t move. You slink into your seat and stare from behind the car window. He taps lightly, playfully, on the glass when he reaches your car. Tries to smile. He mouths that he is sorry. You push open the door gingerly, but it startles him and he backs away. Before you can even stand alone he is all over you, hands on upper arms, in your hair, tracing your jaw, possessing you. Trapping you. The fire inside you begins to cool. The world dulls and grows more familiar. His apologies come in onslaughts as he caresses you, handles you. Touches this body that feels less and less like your own. Seeking to comfort, or capture, you don’t know, but the numbness returns as he presses a kiss to your forehead. I’m so sorry. I fucked up, I’m so sorry, and it was nothing. She meant nothing. Please don’t leave me. She doesn’t know me like you, and I’m sorry, and I promise that we’ll get through this. I promise. We’re perfect together. We’re meant for each other. He shakes you lightly, forcing your eye contact. Clear tears tremble and spill over his gruff cheeks. His face is caught in a half-laugh, as if he’s just crossed some finish line. Just won. We’re perfect for each other, he says. 183

How long? You ask. Your voice is gravel and soot and dust. Only once. Last week. A week and a half ago. Nothing else. I couldn’t do it to you again. You open your mouth and begin to cry. Or your body does. You feel apart from this. Watching it happen from far, far away, in the stars, or the tops of the trees, which shiver on the hills, leaves shifting in the wind. Like a bird, or a speck, or anything but this. Anything but this woman, this girl, standing in this parking lot and letting the world spit and shit and fuck all over her. Tears soak the collar of your shirt. You raise a feeble hand to your neck and push away his hand. Stop it. Stop what? He says. I missed you. I’m sorry. I couldn’t take the loneliness. I made a mistake and I just want to fix it. Stop, please. You’re so perfect. I fucked up. I fucked up really bad. I didn’t mean to do it and it won’t ever happen again. It’s just you and me. No. It’s just you and me. Forever. You reel back and punch him. You were aiming for the head, but you’ll settle for his neck. He screams and jumps


back. Your chest heaves, heavy but unburdened, and your vision seems to clear. The moon seems brighter. What the fuck was that? He says, moving towards his car. You’re a liar. You’re a liar and you ruined me. His face is so contorted in pain that you have to close your eyes. All the time you spent unwinding his scowls, gently drawing out his smile and his laugh, and the progress is gone. The love is gone. You feel the weight of two years passed clawing at your skin. The weight of wasted time. You stare down at your palms and then at him. He’s retreated back into his car, clutching at his neck and glaring from his rolled down window. You said you loved me, you say. You’re a liar. I did love you, he snarls. But now look at you. Look at yourself. You’re nothing like you used to be. You’re so fucking empty. He pauses for a beat, then spits in your direction. You charge the car, but he yells and shifts gears and like that he’s driving off. You stumble, unable to catch yourself, and hit the ground knees first, skin splitting on contact. In his retreat, his headlights poking holes in the dark hills, his voice carries through the calm night air: What the fuck is wrong with you? 185

Falling backwards, you hold up your palms and glance at your knees. Both are black and glossy with blood, catching the reflection of the moonlight as it trickles slowly down. You can feel bits of gravel shifting in the wounds as you move your fingers experimentally, flex your leg. A wave of sobs rushes up from your chest, and despite the pain, you drop your face into your hands. The blood is warm as it mingles with your tears, stinging. The night is still around you. What the fuck is wrong with you? What the fuck is wrong with you.


Contributors: Cover Artist: Trine Churchill (b. 1969) is an abstract-realistic painter of dream and memory. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, she moved to the States in 1989, and now lives and works in Los Angeles. Churchill received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, and also studied at the école nationale superieure des beaux-arts in Paris. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, including solo exhibitions with Nancy Margolis in New York, Hübner + Hübner in Frankfurt, and George Billis in Los Angeles. In 2015, Trine Churchill created The Weekly Journal, a watercolor/color pencil drawing she shares with her email followers on a weekly basis, along with writings about the image. Upcoming exhibition of her new paintings, titled the Woodstock Landscape, is scheduled for May 2018 at the Castelli Art Space in Los Angeles. Find her on Instagram: trinechurchillart and FB: Trine Churchill studio. Terry Allen is an Emeritus Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he taught acting, directing and playwriting. He directed well over a hundred plays during his thirty-eight years of teaching. A few favorites include: Candide, Macbeth, Death of a Salesman, and The Threepenny Opera. He now plays pickleball, writes poetry and has been published in I-70 Review, Freshwater Poetry Journal, Skylark Review, Chariton Review, Third Wednesday, Star 82 Review, The Avalon Literary Review, Common Ground Review, Modern Poetry Quarterly Review, Main Street Rag and others. 187

Christine Arumainayagam is currently a sophomore at Wellesley College majoring in English and Spanish. She has won Wellesley's Academy of American Poets prize, as well as a Scholastic award in writing, but this is her first time being published in a literary magazine. She loves books, writing short fiction and poetry (usually in secret), coffee, and dogs. Her favorite writers are J.K. Rowling and Virginia Woolf. Anthony Bankes is a writer, a dreamer, a searcher, and a doubter who often finds himself with more questions than answers. He is a recent graduate from Bethel University in Reconciliation and Theological Studies, with minors in Creative Writing and Gender Studies. He previously took a year and a half off school to finish writing his young adult novel, Yellowtree. Some of his favorite writers include Laurie Halse Anderson, James Baldwin, Joy Harjo, Rachel Held Evans, and Essex Hemphill. His own creative work has appeared in Mutuality, Time of Singing, and Coeval. He loves traveling, coffee, coconut, and poetry. Alina Borger writes and teaches high school English in Iowa City, IA. She is the author of Tuesday’s Children (Hermeneutic Chaos Press), and her work has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, The Cider Press Review, Stirring, and The Pittsburgh Poetry Review, among others. She is currently an MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Visit her at or on Twitter @AliBG. Jessika Bouvier is a third-year student at Emory University in Atlanta, where she studies Creative Writing, Political Science. She is also the co-editor and co-creator of MR. MA'AM, a queer art, voice, and lit magazine founded last year by a group of Emory undergrads. She is currently abroad in Seoul, South Korea and really misses burritos.


Lina Chern’s work has been published in magazines such as The Marlboro Review, The Bellingham Review, Free Lunch, Rhino and The Collagist. Most recently, she won the 2017 Writer’s Block Prize in Creative Nonfiction for her essay ―Get Over Yourself,‖ published in The Louisville Review. Holly Day has taught writing classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, since 2000. Her poetry has recently appeared in Big Muddy, The Cape Rock, New Ohio Review, and Gargoyle, and her published books include Walking Twin Cities, Music Theory for Dummies, Ugly Girl, and The Yellow Dot of a Daisy. She has been a featured presenter at Write On, Door County (WI), North Coast Redwoods Writers' Conference (CA), and the Spirit Lake Poetry Series (MN). Her newest poetry collections, A Perfect Day for Semaphore (Finishing Line Press) and I'm in a Place Where Reason Went Missing (Main Street Rag Publishing Co.) will be out late 2018. Stacy Austin Egan’s fiction chapbook You Could Stop It Here is available from PANK. Her fiction has appeared in Driftwood Press, WomenArts Quarterly Journal, The New Plains Review, and The MacGuffin. She holds an MFA from McNeese State University. A native of Austin, Texas, she currently resides in the west Texas desert where she teaches writing and literature at Midland College. She and her husband are expecting a daughter this spring. Robbin Farr, writer, poet, and photographer of blighted buildings, lives in Doylestown, PA where she is actively involved in a community of poets. She holds an MFA from the University of Queens in Charlotte and currently teaches writing at Rider University. Robbin is a founder and co-editor of River Heron Review, an online poetry journal launching its debut issue in the summer of 2018. Her work has appeared in Wild River Review, Philadelphia Stories, Snapdragon: A 189

Journal of Art and Healing, Parentheses Journal, Sanskrit and others. She occasionally tweets, but often reads at Twitter: @robbinfarr. Maureen Fielding is currently an associate professor of English and Women’s Studies at Penn State Brandywine where she teaches courses on creative writing, post-colonial literature, and women’s studies. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Broken Plate, Willow Review, Westview, and other journals. She is currently working on a novel inspired by her experiences in the U.S. Army as a Russian intercept operator in West Berlin during the Cold War. Dane Hamann works as an editor for a textbook publisher in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University, where he currently serves as the poetry editor of TriQuarterly. His work has recently been published by Calamus Journal, Half Mystic, Wildness, and Rinky Dink Press, among other places. Jan Edwards Hemming holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU and a BA in English from LSU. Her poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books Blog, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Mackinac, The Rio Grande Review, The Raven Chronicles, and The Exquisite Corpse. She lives with her wife and two cats in New Orleans, where she teaches 7th and 8th grade English. A.J. Huskey is a speculative fiction writer whose work has most recently appeared in The Sirens Call. She lives in Amarillo, TX, with her husband and their two cats. Lowell Jaeger is the current (2017-2019) Poet Laureate of Montana. As founding editor of Many Voices Press, Jaeger compiled New Poets of the American West, an anthology of 190

poets from 11 Western states. He is the author of eight books of poems, most recent of which are Driving the Back Road Home (Shabda Press 2015), Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone (Shabda Press 2016), and Earth-blood & Starshine (Shabda Press 2018). Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his promotion of civil civic dialogue. Charles Kell is a PhD student at The University of Rhode Island and editor of The Ocean State Review. His poetry and fiction have appeared in The New Orleans Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, Kestrel, The Pinch, and elsewhere. He teaches in Rhode Island and Connecticut. Caitlin R. McGillicuddy is an emerging writer. She is also the executive director of a children’s museum outside of Boston, the wife of a patient man and the mother of two creative, powerful girls. She regularly exercises workingmother-witchcraft while trying to finish her first novel and put all the laundry away. She is a founding member of the l’atelier writers community in France. This is her first publication. Richard McPherson helps PBS, NPR and major charities develop effective grassroots communications. His 2007 nonfiction book, Digital Giving: How Technology is Changing Charity, anticipated the impact of the Internet on social causes. His first work of fiction received a top award from an international short story competition in 2017. He credits the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and mentoring from the Gotham Writers' Workshop in NY, for his emergence as a fiction writer. Richard lives on the central coast of California. Megan Merchant lives in the tall pines of Prescott, AZ. She is the author of two full-length poetry collections: Gravel Ghosts (Glass Lyre Press, 2016), The Dark’s Humming (2015 Lyrebird Award Winner, Glass Lyre Press, 2017), four 191

chapbooks, and a children’s book, These Words I Shaped for You (Philomel Books). She was awarded the 2016-2017 COG Literary Award, judged by Juan Felipe Herrera. She is an Editor at The Comstock Review and you can find her work at Charles Musser lives in Lansing, Michigan and works for the American Red Cross. His poetry has been published in numerous venues, both digital and print. He is currently at work on his first novel. He enjoys long walks in the wilderness with his golden retrievers, Sunny St. Patrick and Shenandoah, who whisper poems, short stories and screenplays in his ear for ghost writing. Catherine Le Nguyen obtained a B.A. in English and Creative Writing at the University of California, Irvine, and is currently an M.F.A. Creative Writing Fellow at Chapman University. Her fiction was previously published in 805 Literary + Arts Journal. She writes fiction in the form of novels, short stories, and screenplays. You can find her on Twitter @catlenguyen. Katherine Orr’s poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The New York Quarterly, The Midwest Quarterly: A Journal of Contemporary Thought, Arsenic Lobster, The Cleveland Review, and many other journals and anthologies. One of her chapbooks won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Award, and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She teaches at Kent State University. Bill Pippin’s short story ―Century‖ won first prize in the allwriter-voted Summer 2014 edition of Sixfold. His stories and essays have also appeared in the anthologies, To Unsnare Time’s Warp and Tattoos, as well as Black Fox, The MacGuffin, Sixfold, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Newsweek, Field & Stream, 192

Writer’s Digest, Philadelphia Magazine, Delaware Today, New Mexico Magazine, and many other publications. He lives in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico with his wife, Zona. Krystal Powers teaches English at a high school outside of Boston, MA. Her work can be found in Hippocampus Magazine, Spry Literary Journal, and Bustle. You can also find her @KrystalSkwar. Krista Rossi is a recent graduate of Saint Joseph’s University. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in psychology and Spanish. She currently resides in Philadelphia, PA, where she works as a freelance proofreader. Her poetry has appeared in The Ibis Head Review. Jonathan Rowe currently lives in Boston, Massachusetts where he is an undergraduate student and writing peer tutor at Emmanuel College. His work is published in Emmanuel's Saintly Review and forthcoming in Cecile’s Writers’ Magazine and Kweli Journal. Jonathan's work can also be found at A native Texan, P.J. Sheridan now lives in the happiest place on earth, rubbing elbows with the tourists. She’s had nonfiction work published in business trade journals and received an honorable mention in the personal essay/memoir category of a national competition. Her current focus is middle grade fiction, which has been selected twice for the annual Pitch Wars showcase. She is delighted that her debut creative writing publication is in her first love: poetry. P.J. tweets @pursuingthemuse and blogs infrequently at Rita Sotolongo is a community manager by day for Orlando magazine and a poet by night with publications in 193

Petite Hound Press and Parentheses Journal. She lives in Orlando, FL and loves everything about her city that has nothing to do with Disney. Her truest passion in life, though, is her role as mom and step-mom to three of Central Florida’s most stunning young men. You can also read about her journey to find peace in parenting on her blog, Taunja Thomson's chapbook, Strum and Lull placed in Golden Walkman's 2017 chapbook competition. She has coauthored a book of ekphrastic poetry titled, Frame and Mount the Sky (2017), and her chapbook, The Profusion is due out in January of 2018. She has a writer's page at


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