Editors’ Note As some of you may have noticed, we have been under the radar lately. The truth is that we had to re-evaluate our vision for the magazine. Fear not, loyal readers, we aren’t going anywhere. We’ve simply decided to make some changes to Black Fox. So many changes have taken form in our lives outside of the magazine. We believe that in order to keep the magazine on a successful path that we must move from a quarterly publication to a biannual one. We have also decided that it’s time to let the magazine grow (as indicated by our recent call for staff). This is a bit of a special issue. It marks two years since we’ve been publishing quality writing. We’re thrilled to see how far the magazine has come. It seems like just yesterday that we were starting up and trying to get the word out. In a way, this issue is unofficially The Thriller Issue. As you read on, you’ll see that it’s jam packed with bonechilling stories that are sure to resonate. No doubt, the creep factor is alive and well in Issue #8. We invite you to grab a cold drink and sit by the pool with our summer issue. It won’t disappoint. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and as always, thank you for your undying support.
The Editors, Racquel, Pam and Marquita
Meet the Editors Racquel Henry is first and foremost a writer. In order to pay the bills, she is also a part-time administrative assistant at a law firm in Tampa, FL., where she currently resides. Racquel writes literary and women’s fiction in hopes of having a novel published sometime in the near future. She also enjoys reading a variety of genres, and is currently obsessed with flash fiction. Some of her favorite authors include Lorrie Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Sophie Kinsella, and Toni Morrison. She earned an MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. At the moment, she is searching for a new school to call home, and to pursue a PhD degree. Her stories have appeared in The Scarlet Sound, Blink-Ink, The Rusty Nail, and Freight Train Magazine. You can follow her writing journey on her very own blog titled, “Racquel Writes.” Racquel continues to look forward to the growth of Black Fox Literary Magazine.
Pam Harris lives in Hampton, VA and spent seven years as a middle school counselor. When she isn't wiping tears and helping kids study for tests, she's writing contemporary YA fiction (and has also recently started writing middle grade). Some of her favorite authors are Ellen Hopkins, Courtney Summers, Jodi Picoult, 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 will now receive her PhD in Counselor Education at the College of William and Mary.
Marquita "Quita" Hockaday also lives in Hampton, Virginia. She is a history instructional specialist 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)â€”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 also graduated with an MFA in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2012, and she can't wait to use that knowledge to teach writing and co-edit this magazine.
Contents: Fiction Jazz and Solo by Elizabeth Whittington (6) Incarnadine by Chelsea Reeser (12) Resolutions by Stephen Williams (16) After by Danielle Bordelon (21) Medication Time by Juliet Niehaus (42) Remember The Time You Walked in on Me Having Sex With Your Best Friend and You Were Really Drunk So You Broke All Our Plates and After We All Calmed Down We Laughed Because We Couldnâ€™t Eat Dinner Off of Anything? by Michael Badger (52) Side of the Road by Jack Coey (56) Parallel by Kara Harte (62) A. Laughlin, Killer by Arthur Davis (67) I Do Not by Donna Compton (91) Looking for Ricki by Pat Tyrer (92) Bloody Sunday by Francis Fiordalisi (96)
The Fire Within by Gordon Bourgon (98) Rising Up by Christen Gresham (114) The Other Wife by Elizabeth Sheets (139)
Poetry Ossian by Andrés Vaamonde (10) the toppled tower by Marjorie Brody (15) White by Andrea Danowski (20) The New Girl by Sandra Kolankiewicz (41) Selected Poems by R J Davey (49) Selected Poems by Shavawn Berry (60) Stop Motion by Susan Simonds (113) Selected Poems by Roy Guzmán (133)
Art Sleep Like There’s No Tomorrow by Robin Kim (66)
Author Interview A Conversation with Nina Foxx: Author, Playwright and Filmmaker
Jazz and Solo By Elizabeth Whittington
Do not believe what you have heard about the womanâ€™s disappearance and the manâ€™s death. I had a fruit market near the Pacific. They rented a room upstairs. Here is what I know.
Solo, the man, stood six feet and was strong. Jazz, the woman, was almost as tall, and she was lush. She wore silky black skirts flocked with red birds. In bars, he drank dark Bohemia, she, tequila from the Jalisco highlands. At the casinos, Solo threw craps, a controlled spin. Jazz tracked the dice on the table, and eyed the stickman. Solo whispered to her through the red hair that covered her ears. She laughed.
Solo carried a fighting knife in a sheath on his belt. Jazz kept a pistol in her purse. I saw the gun when she bought fruit on mornings at my market.
Some say Solo had a wife in El Paso and went to her when she sent word across the Rio Grande by boatman. Others say he had no wife, only lust for American beer and the swish of more than one skirt.
Jazz locked the door and cursed him through an open window each time he returned, made him beg while I watched. Upstairs, they fought. Through the window I saw her slap him. He slapped her back. She stuck an elbow into his ribs. Later, at the Bar of Candles, he fed her shrimp with salsa. A mystic sat with them, reading Tarot cards. Jazz laughed at prophecy. Solo eyed the reader.
It was hot, the air dusty, when Solo returned from Texas to find Jazz gone. He went from house to house, pushed his way through the back rooms of bars. He didnâ€™t find her.
For weeks he sat at the Bar of Candles and drank shots. One night I sat nearby drinking wine and watching 9
dancers from Guadalajaro. Solo sat with a mystic. I saw her shake her head and stand. “This is the way of betrayal,” she said to all of us. “The future is twisted.”
Next morning a local boy, Laredo, who peddled dark coffee and newspapers door-to-door, found Solo’s room open. Solo was dead on the floor, a bullet in his head. In his palm was a pistol.
Jazz returned a week to the day. She came to me for the room key, her eyes dark and angry. I heard her above, scrubbing Solo’s blood from the floorboards. After that, I heard only the sound of her bare feet pacing. I saw her evenings, through the window. She sat beside a lamp and drank dark liquid from a bottle. One night, I saw her at the Bar of Candles with a local man, a shot glass in her hand. Her hair was thrown back and tangled. I turned away.
Next day, Jazz came to my market alone, bags in hand, and gave me the room key. She asked for a cut 10
mango on a stick, sprinkled with chili salt. When she opened her purse to pay, I saw hair clips, a ten peso bill. I did not see a gun.
Ossian By AndrĂŠs Vaamonde It was some while before he found her, weeping gently by the deep shady pool at the foot of the falls... -the legend of Tir Na Nog Here I am ageless Wrapping myself In the wrought palms of your hands Hiding inside the lines Jigging between the joints. Following me to the doorway is you Beckoning with a finger stretched prosaic Cross the concaves of my chest, Sprinkling clovers to my skin -Watch me I am slowly oxidizing here by the elevator. Tell me there is solace for lost flesh. But fairy tale tree roots are fed in blood, not gold. Yet, I maintain a captive imagination. Of this you are analogous for. You are fleshy like a rumor, concrete like plans for dinner sometime Somewhere my mythologies are textbooked, so, Sudden street-bound we found ourselves 12
Eyes glued glazed with silky frames Tracing the contours of our faces. My Stumbles were de-cloaking. I, naked but for my boxcar sublet skin. You, Standing in the nude of your t-shirt; a sardonic ‘S’ stapled upside down and backwards As the natural light changed from reckless irreverence To a mid-morning aura; I cried for us, for our nakedness, for our waywardness, for The stores finally foiled our dreams of Midnight murder to our waistlines I turned to you, eyes starving, and unstarving Veins opening, and unopening save me, Niamh, for I have sinned My confessions went lost onto the pavement With the rest of the Triple Sec. An electronic cigarette butt glowed Gatsby green. The sidewalks gave Under our cacophonous footprints, Them exclaiming the old youthful braying to the earth – We are here here, here, here,
Incarnadine By Chelsea Reeser
A drop of blood like a teardrop ran down her cheek and fell on her hands in her lap and turned them red, red with all the other drops, red with her own blood. The guard had hit her and given her these tears. She couldnâ€™t remember why. She couldnâ€™t cry without them, without her red tears turning her hands red. Where did her white tears go? She had lost them. She was innocent. She stood up suddenly and lost her balance and put her hand on the cold wall and sat down hard on her hard bed. Then she saw her hands, her red hand making a red hand on the cold wall and her red hand in her lap collecting red tears. She was innocent. She had to tell them that. She got off her hard bed and onto the cold floor and made a path of red hands to the strong bars and put her red hands on the strong bars and called to the guards, the guards who had hit her and she wouldnâ€™t remember why,
the guards who could help her if she told them she was innocent, if she told them the truth that she was innocent. The guards came, one of them. The one who had hit her? She couldnâ€™t remember. She was innocent. She told him. She was innocent. But all he could see was her red hands on the strong bars and the red hands on the cold floor and he left. The guard who had hit her left. He left her, innocent. But she was innocent. She didnâ€™t want to crawl back across the cold floor to her hard bed and make more red hands on the cold floor and the cold wall. But she did. Even the hard bed was better than the cold floor and the strong bars and the guard who had hit her. Why had he hit her? She had lost her white tears. She was going to die tomorrow. But she was innocent. She was innocent and they were going to kill her. She should sleep, get away from the red hands on the cold floor and the red hands on the cold wall and the red hands on the strong bars and dream, one more red
dream. But she couldnâ€™t. She had lost her white dreams. So she got up and made more red hands on the cold wall and more red hands on the cold floor. She was innocent, innocent, innocent.
The next day, a woman was hanged. She left behind one word written in her own blood on the walls of her cell:
the toppled tower By Marjorie Brody
tinkertoys and buckets sprawled on bubble-gummed carpets victims of yesterday along with tractors and trains and erector sets. hurricane hit by rageful hands. all these, and more, lay in the room as the wind fluffs the curtains from the sill silently. as all else. there are no more shouts vibrating the walls no more small limbs crashing against glass panes. the sirenâ€™s call has come and gone and with it the vacant eyes and muted whimper of a battered child.
Resolutions By Stephen Williams
January Roll over, head under the pillows: this is how you deal with a hangover. Run every day. Swim three times a week. Remember that gelato and Pilates are NOT the same thing. If you’re sleeping it off you aren’t eating. Everyone gets a slow start on this sort of thing. It’s only January, there’s still time. April No time to get on the treadmill when there’s cleaning to do. If you dust faster, it’ll burn more fat. Incorporate squats when you duck down to see what the kids have hidden under their beds. Eat rice cakes on a snack break. Decide they’re too bland and smear leftover lasagna on top. This is how you make them go down more smoothly. If you keep working like this you’re going to need the energy anyway.
July It would be un-American to not eat at least four hot dogs. Luckily the weather is scorching; you’ll sweat out the calories. This is how you trick yourself into thinking this is a good idea. Think of the meat flowing out of your pores and immediately make a connection to gravy. Decide you’ve put off working out for too long. Hopping in a sauna should do the trick. It’s a double whammy what with it being a hundred and twenty degrees outside. Think of the steam in the sauna and immediately make a connection to clam bakes. October You huff and you puff, but you can’t suck in enough to fit into your costume from last year. You decide to go to the party as a ghost instead. Depression sinks in when the king size sheet doesn’t exactly drape over your midsection. But you’ve already punched eyeholes in the fabric so it’s too late to change plans. Suckers don’t have
fat do they? What about peanut butter cups? Things don’t improve when someone at the party asks if you’re the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. This is how you cry yourself to sleep at night. November Do the math. How many stomach crunches equal a slice of pumpkin pie? An extra helping of potatoes? Pumpkins and potatoes are both vegetables aren’t they? If you don’t eat, then the pilgrims’ sacrifice will have been in vain. Slam your fist down on the table hard enough to capsize the gravy boat. Declare you aren’t playing around anymore. If you stop eating now that’s a pound a day, and general moving around should be enough to knock off another. Cautious optimism seeps in like gravy soaking the tablecloth. This is how you learn to live with yourself. December How many calories are in a rum and coke? Does it even matter anymore? Take advantage of after Christmas
sales to pick up some bigger pants. This is how you cut the waistband out of your jeans and sew in elastic. Go to a New Yearâ€™s party to cheer yourself up. Drunken friends can give the most uplifting advice. This is how you take what they say to heart. This is how you convince yourself next year will be different.
White By Andrea Danowski
Arms outstretched like wings, she spins. In the desert, snow falls. Flushed to the earth today: her daughter, her baby, her baby doll put to rest. The rest of us flush with the earth, her baby above us and below. Snow falls silent and she spins, eyes closed, looks up for answers, her bond buried miles away. We cannot understand her empty, the birth of her loss. She has lost it, and maybe I am offensive. We all shiver the same.
After By Danielle Bordelon
The images are few, but vivid, like stills from one of those old messed-up VCR tapes, the sound static and the screen a blur of color. A green leaf against a patch of white snow. A stretch of unpaved road ending in a small white house with blue shutters. The shy smile of a boy with freckles across his nose and a light in his eyes. A wagon with two broken wheels lying in a bed of red begonias. To anyone else, these images would be inconsequential. Silly, even. But not to me. These are the before. When they don’t think I’m listening, they say it couldn’t have been an accident. They say nothing was wrong with the car. They say the brakes were fine. They
say the road wasn’t slick or icy or rough. They don’t say the word, but I hear it all the same. It doesn’t bother me. I want them to say it; I want to shout it to the heavens for all to hear. SUICIDE! I want to scream. I attempted suicide! It’s absolute. No conjecture, no theories, no memories involved. The road wasn’t slick or icy or rough. The brakes were fine. Nothing was wrong with the car. All facts. Solid facts that lead to one conclusion. Sometimes I lie in bed and try to picture it, to live it. The rush of the wind in my hair as I press the accelerator down hard. The sweat on my palms as I grip the steering wheel. The jolt as I smash through the metal railing. The thrill of the free fall. I’m free! I imagine thinking. Finally free! From what, I never guess. Guessing is for before. And then the shock as I hit the cold icy water, which fills the car quickly through the open window.
They say it was fate that two cliff jumpers happened to be there that day, right off the highway. They say it’s an incredible miracle that one happened to be an emergency room doctor. I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe it was a sick, cruel joke. Maybe it was whatever I was running from’s way of saying, You thought you were free, huh? Well just wait. I don’t know. I’ll never know. So if you’re looking for answers, stop right here, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you’re looking for questions, read on. The first after memory is his face over mine. Sharp and angular, it reminded me of a hawk staring down at me. No freckles dusted his nose. No light filled his blue eyes. “She’s awake!” He shouted, his smile dazzlingly white, like in one of those toothpaste commercials. (I know what you’re thinking—aha! She does remember things from before! And yes, I do. Math, bits of French and
history, English of course, things like famous people and places and how to do everyday things like eat with a spoon or stand on one leg. But no, the toothpaste commercial came after). Timidly, a woman came forward. She looked down at me and touched me tenderly, as if afraid I might break, and whispered, “Oh Amelia, we’ve missed you.” I looked around the brightly lit hospital room for Amelia. A man hung back by the door, his face haggard and unshaven. His eyes jumped away when they met mine. Not Amelia, unless his parents were very cruel. Other than that, the room was empty. “Um, hi,” I started awkwardly, wincing at my hoarse voice. Why am I in the hospital? This was the first of my questions. “I’m sorry,” I continued, “but I think you have the wrong girl. My name is…”
I trailed off. What is my name? The second question of many. The woman’s eyes grew round and panicked, the boy’s angry. My heart began to beat faster, sweat dripping off my brow, into my eyes. I wiped it away furiously. What was my name? It must be Amelia, I decided, remembering how the woman looked at me when she said the name—my name. Amelia. A nice name, I suppose. A little oldfashioned, maybe a tad stuffy. Amelia. I let it repeat in my mind, wondering if with it a rush of recognition would follow. It didn’t. “Doctor!” The woman shouted, her brow furrowing. “Doctor!” The boy repeated, his beady, birdlike blue eyes never leaving mine.
A round of questions ensued. What is your name? “Amelia?” What year is it? “I don’t know.” Who is the president? “I don’t know.” What is the last thing you remember? “There was a leaf…a leaf on a patch of snow. And a wagon. Where’d you put the wagon?” Do you know who I am? This one came from the woman—who I would later learn was my mother. “No.” Amelia. Mia, baby. Do you remember me sweetheart?
This one from the hawk—my boyfriend. Apparently Before Me liked being called pet names like baby and sweetheart. Gag. “No. Where’s the guy with the freckles?” No questions came from the man with the guilty eyes. This continued on and on for what seemed like hours, until finally the doctor brought my family in a corner of the room to give them my diagnosis. “She has retrograde amnesia,” he said, not even bothering to whisper. For some reason, once you forget everything, everyone seems to think if they move away five feet you won’t hear them. It’s a memory loss disorder, people, not a hearing disorder. “Will she get better?” The hawk asked, staring down the doctor with his beady eyes. For a moment I felt bad for the balding, exhausted man in the white lab coat but
then recalled the last hour of questioning. “Will she start to remember? He sighed. There was to be a lot of sighing in the weeks that followed. “Impossible to say. She sustained substantial head trauma. But she seems lucid—” Everyone turned to look at me. I stared back, daring them to say otherwise. “—and still retains her intelligence. We’re lucky that she does not have more significant brain damage, lucky that she’s alive actually.” “Lucky?” Guilty Eyes, the man from the corner, who I now guessed to be my father, finally spoke. In my mind, I did a little celebratory dance, for I was just two minutes off in my guessing game about the length of time it would take for him to finally speak. Something was wrong with me. Oh yeah, retrograde amnesia. I giggled.
“Look at her,” he said, his face turning purple with anger, his finger wavering as he pointed at me, “she’s out of her goddamn mind! There has to be something we can do to fix her.” And in the months that followed, they tried their best. We went to doctor after doctor, some just as stuck up as Mr. Baldy, some hippy and spiritual who burned incense to “invoke the deepest recesses of the mind.” Their final diagnoses were all the same: my memories weren’t coming back any time soon. Before Me was gone. And I was fine with that. Too bad no one else was. The hawk (his name is Jeremy but where’s the fun in that?) came with us to every appointment he could, the most adamant and aggressive in the pursuit of my memory. I began wondering if this would be the after: searching, always searching, for a me that I didn’t want to find. Obviously I was fleeing something that day. Something dark and deep inside of me.
Why bring it back? There was a bite in the air—the first I could remember feeling—when he finally asked. I had my window open despite the chill, reveling in the breeze and lightly skimming over the goose bumps on my skin with the tips of my fingers. Before Me had never opened the window; it had taken fifteen minutes of exertion to pry it open the first day I returned to the house two months before. I looked around the messy room, so different from the pristine, cold wasteland I had discovered upon my return. For the first few days I had scoured the room, looking for something—anything to explain. Not a note or a diary. I knew Before Me wouldn’t have stooped to something as base as that the moment I saw the perfect picture on her—my—nightstand the first night. The girl in this picture would never write in a diary or leave a note. No, she would want to disappear elegantly, mysteriously.
She would want people to talk about her death for years to come, to wonder why—if even—she took her own life. The girl in the picture did not want to give up her secrets, not even to herself. It was fairly large, about the size of a piece of paper, and framed. In it, she wore an elegant white gown and her blonde hair flowed past her waist in loose curls. The hawk’s arm was firmly around her. They were laughing. On the bottom of the picture, near their feet, someone had scrawled one word. Forever. Forever. Had she written it? I wondered. If so, had she seen it as a good thing, a happy thing? That didn’t seem to add up. I imagined her looking at her nightstand each night at her perfect picture and feeling trapped inside the cold glass, the harsh finality of that single word. No one
can be perfect forever, she must have thought, as the laughing girl behind the glass mocked her. Forever is a very long time. The knock startled me, causing me to drop the frame I had not realized was in my hands. Nervously, I put it back on the stand, as if caught in the act of snooping. It’s your picture, I reminded myself. She’s not coming back to catch you! His voice was gruff yet soft. “Can I come in?” It was Guilty Eyes, my father. “Sure!” My voice was overly cheery, forced. He eased the door open, glancing quickly around the room. His eyes lingered for a second upon the picture on the nightstand. He wouldn’t meet my eyes. “I was just—just wondering if you wanted to talk about…anything?” This was the first time he had acted as if anything was wrong. We had spoken, of course, but pleasantries, as
if we were strangers. I tried to imagine him holding me as a baby in his arms, singing to me. I couldn’t. This man was my father, but without the memories that tie you together, what really is family? Just blood. Genetics. Scientific crap. Nothing more. “No, I’m great. I’m fine.” My answers sounded forced, even to my own ears, but he seemed to accept it. He nodded, smiling hesitantly. “I always did love that picture of the two of you,” he said, pointing to the nightstand. “I don’t know, something about it, you just look so…” Perfect? Normal? Different? “…happy.” He smiled again. “I’ve missed seeing you happy, kiddo. It’s like that doctor said, we’re the lucky ones. We’ve got a second chance. I knew something was wrong, I just…I’m just glad we have you back, is all.”
He hovered by the door, as if unsure whether to come closer. I stared at him, amazed by this show of emotion. Finally, I gestured to my laptop. “I…um…am supposed to do some brain exercises on the computer for tomorrow. You know, to help with my memory.” He nodded and made to leave the room, but he stopped and turned back, his hand on the door. “I know it must be hard for you, living in a household of…of strangers. But I know you, Mia, and I know that you’re gonna find your way back. Who knows? Maybe you never even left.” With that, he left the room, leaving me to wonder whether maybe family was more than just blood after all. Four months passed before they decided to send me back to school. “The familiar might bring back some of her memories,” the last doctor, a man I had taken to calling Mickey because of his large collection of Mickey Mouse
ties, had said, looking away from me at the hawk, Guilty Eyes, and my mother. They usually acted like I wasn’t in the room. I didn’t ever have a say. I wonder if that was what drove Before Me over the edge—literally. It was quite infuriating, but After Me liked being alive too much to let it go. The hawk walked in with me on my first day, his hand firmly encasing mine in what was meant to be a reassuring gesture. He had tried to kiss me two months back, but I had refused. “I’m not ready,” I had whimpered, forcing fake tears from my eyes. “I don’t even know who I am.” Not true, of course. I knew exactly who I was: After Me. What I didn’t know is why Before Me had dated him. Was he the one that compelled me off the cliff that day? Or was he someone I thought of with love as I fell? In the end, it was that question that made me keep him around.
Curious eyes and whispers followed us as we walked into the school, a prep academy boasted as the best in Southern California. It was nice, I suppose, all gleaming white walls and shiny blue lockers, but I wasn’t proud of it in the way I could see he was. He looked around as if he owned the place, smiling at certain pretty girls, bumping fists with abnormally tall boys, all with me firmly by his side. It wasn’t a place I liked to be. And then I saw him. He was putting books into his locker, struggling to keep it open as the crowd pushed past him. His hair was longer, curling around his ears, but the freckles were as prominent as I remembered. Look up, I willed. Look at me. His eyes flicked upward, a familiar pale green, dancing with light. I stopped in the hallway, out of breath. It was like seeing someone from a dream. No—like seeing someone from another lifetime.
“What are you looking at, babe?” The hawk followed my gaze. His eyes narrowed. “Don’t encourage him, sweetie. He’s been obsessed with you since the ninth grade. He doesn’t need encouragement.” I broke his hold on my hand and made a beeline for the boy. I did not name him, as I had the others. “Hi,” I said, out of breath. “Hi.” He looked startled, but kept my gaze even though he must have felt the hawk’s eyes poring into him. “I’m Amelia. What’s your name?” He did not laugh nervously, as all the others had, and say “I know you, Amelia! We’ve known each other since (insert grade here)” as if all of a sudden, just for them, I would remember. Instead he smiled and stuck out his hand for me to shake. “I’m Andrew.”
There was no blast of memory or sudden epiphany. I still did not know what spurred me to take my own life that sunny summer day in Malibu or what kind of person Before Me was; although I had a feeling I wouldn’t have liked her. All I knew was, with a certainty, that Andrew and I had met before. Had exchanged words, even. And that was more than I could hope for. Three months later, I kiss him on the stairs leading up to our high school. It is our last day of our junior year, although I have to do work all summer to catch up on what I missed. I still haven’t remembered anything more than those four images, ingrained vividly in my mind, but there are times when I feel twinges of familiarity. Hearing my mother’s laughter. Feeling the sand beneath my feet. Dancing in my room with the music loud. Maybe one day, these will turn into memories. But some things you don’t need to remember to never forget.
Andrew smiles at me, but shakes his head as if he just doesn’t understand. “I just—I can’t believe…you didn’t even notice me before, Amelia.” I think about telling him that I did, that his face is the only human memory I have from before. But he’d think that’s why I feel this way. And I don’t know why I feel this way; all I know is that I do. So instead I kiss him again, long and hard. “There is no before.” We stand there, looking up into each other’s eyes. In his, I can see Before Me and it hurts. She’s sad, miserable, and hopeless, even as she laughs. But she doesn’t own me. She’s a friend I drifted apart from long ago and her image fades when I look at his dusting of freckles and eyes filled with light. Hands entwined, we walk into the school just as the bell rings. To anyone else, this is an inconsequential moment. Silly, even. But not to me.
This is the after.
The New Girl By Sandra Kolankiewicz
Usually, I wipe the counters, mop the floors while they sleep, prefer they stay in bed because who wants to cook for them? I want the mother to have to whip up some sauce, some variety of egg, oatmeal, or pancake while she’s on the cellphone to save the empire. Six toilets, four tubs, a shower: marble, linoleum and, in one bathroom, wall to wall carpeting, which I would never do, which clearly hides a flaw dealt with only by laying down a new subflooring, thick foam pad, Orlon that matches the tile around the towel rods and sink. I run the vacuum last of all, quickly, so by the time they’ve stirred and rolled, scratched and sighed, rubbed their eyes, I’m gone.
Medication Time By Juliet Niehaus “I’m ninety-nine!” wheezed old Anna. Decked out in a chartreuse suit and a perfectly coiffed blond wig, my Aunt Thelma’s nursing home roommate perched on her wheelchair awaiting an afternoon outing with her daughter. The black leather boots that sheathed her chicken legs must have cost as much as I made in a week. Anna’s filmy eyes latched onto me ogling her from my seat on the edge of Thelma’s bed. “I’m ninety-nine,” she croaked again, like I should applaud such an astonishing accomplishment. I considered commenting, “And what are you contributing to the planet through such an inordinately long existence?” But I kept my mouth shut because I’m a social worker, and even off-duty social workers don’t say such things. They just think them. Besides, Aunt Thelma had the
monopoly on nasty retorts. She wouldn’t like it one bit if her sweet niece-and-heir stole her thunder. Thelma, who was lounging on her bed in a powder blue robe, stretched out her hand and yanked shut the curtain that divided the room into two cubicles. She rolled her icy blue eyes at me and hissed, “Get me out of this dive,” her favorite line since she’d been admitted to the home for back surgery rehab a month earlier. It was a good thing that Anna was stone deaf, for Thelma continued loudly, “That old bat won’t live to be a hundred. Her daughter will make sure of that.” I frowned at my husband, Mark, his lanky body crammed into the chair beside Thelma’s bed. We’d been hearing this accusation for days, and my aunt had always been oddly perceptive. Mark crossed his legs and dangled his worn beach sandal from a big toe. “Now, Thelma, Anna’s daughter dotes on her.”
“Oh yes, she visits every day—when it’s time for the old girl’s meds.” Thelma pushed herself up and laboriously slid her blue-veined calves over the bedside to face the window. “I see it, Maureen. She takes half of Anna’s heart pills from that paper cup and slips them in her purse.” “Now, Thelma,” I said, trying to rearrange her robe, which had bunched up under her backside. She swatted away my hand, jiggled the skirt free, and turned a critical eye on my stained tee shirt. I bit the inside of my cheek to refrain from snapping that, unlike her, I didn’t have the staff of an exclusive nursing home tending to my every whim. Anna’s daughter thankfully intervened with an ebullient, “Happy Birthday, Momma!” Aunt Thelma twisted around and flung back the curtain between the beds.
A mink coat draped over one arm, Anna’s daughter gaped at us. “Oh, Thelma. You startled me.” “Eh?” rasped Anna. “I’m talking to Thelma,” bellowed the daughter, bending close to Anna’s ear, “Are you ready to go out? We’ll get your hair done, then party!” “I want my hair done,” Anna hollered back. Clearly she hadn’t heard a word. She bent forward in the wheelchair, and her daughter swathed her in the mink and rolled her out the door. “See?” Thelma said to Mark, just like I wasn’t in the room anymore. “I sure see that Anna is no picnic,” I interjected. “No. No. See the coat.” She articulated the words slowly to indicate I must be the densest creature on two legs. “The old woman’s sitting on the family money. That girl won’t see a penny of it until Anna’s gone. And there she is, ninety-nine.”
Thelma emulated Anna’s croaking voice and I had to smile. Of course, Aunt Thelma’s humor wasn’t quite so entertaining when you were the butt of her jokes, as I’d been too often in my life. “Now, Thelma, be nice.” I said. Thelma raised a challenging, gray eyebrow at me. “Amazing that she’s still got any money after all she’s had to spend on this dive. Mine will all be gone, that’s for sure.” I looked at Mark. Here was another of Thelma’s recurrent themes. “Thelma, with the care here, you’ll be able to be independent again.” Mark said, his voice sympathetic but firm. I added, “You’d be back in your own apartment in weeks if you’d just do the therapy every day.”
“They’ll kill me with all that pulling and pushing, Maureen. Family members are the only ones who should put hands on you that way.” She sent me a resentful look. I knew what she wanted. She wanted to come live with Mark and me. She’d sit in the lounger all day with a pricey companion while we were at work. And I could just hear her at night: What kind of dinner do you call this? Did you iron my nightgown? Maybe I’ll leave my money to that no-kill ferret shelter on Roosevelt Island. When I ignored her glare, Thelma grunted and bent forward to pull the blinds shut, closing off her prime view of the Coney Island shoreline. In the now dim room, the smell of antiseptic and urine seemed to seep from the floor. I tweaked the slats to peek out. The late spring sunshine promenaded merrily along the boardwalk. “You don’t want to go out?”
“It’s boiling out there,” she said. Thelma clicked on the TV. In fifteen minutes, when the nurse entered with her afternoon meds, Thelma was snoring, mouth gaping. Mark and I exchanged glances. “I’ll make sure she gets them when she wakes up,” I told the nurse. “Oh, thanks,” she said, laying the little cup of pills on Thelma’s side table. “She’s such a bear when I wake her.” When she’d gone, Mark reached out for the cup. “My turn,” he whispered, deftly slipping half the tablets into his hand. He stood, his eyes on Thelma to make sure her snoring was constant. Then he winked at me. “Be back in a moment, Maureen. Time for a leak.”
Selected Poems by R J Davey
Drinking in the Company of Ghosts You have doubtless been drinking, amongst the company of friends and admirers companions and lovers whilst I, in my curious way, have stayed right here, drinking in the company of ghosts.
As Cigarettes Flared As cigarettes flared and danced like fireflies upon a Summer's breeze and thin blue smoke like distant camp fires curled, evoking sense and memories, we drank and conversed: musing upon the ever-after to bring some meaning to this life, our minds keen, but diluted by the curious effects of our intimacy and the bottle that lay half-drained between us.
You As I lay within the blanket of night, I found my thoughts travel back, to that far-ago time when, it seemed, nothing could harm the balance that existed, harmoniously and eternal That time before, all was destroyed in that one fateful gesture. And then I realised how much I missed you. So I pulled the night around me, and wept.
For Someone I used to know Weak candle, emitting light without energy flaring briefly consumed by the oily dark 52
this was her life all too brief.
Remember The Time You Walked in on Me Having Sex With Your Best Friend and You Were Really Drunk So You Broke All Our Plates and After We All Calmed Down We Laughed Because We Couldn’t Eat Dinner Off of Anything? By Michael Badger
Bang around house, throw potted plants, turn on sink—?—yell at Geoff who has palms vertical and is yelling back. Yell louder than Geoff because HOLY SHIT SHE’S FUCKING A WHITE GUY UPSTAIRS.
Move down hall push Orson away, push/kick door open. Stomp all around house yelling into night. Disguise anguish disgust chaos elation pain anger curiosity amazement loss idiocy with words like: SHIT and NO and GODDAMMIT
and KILL, but really loud.
Find car, kick door, kick door, take keys out of pocket, get in car, put keys in ignition. Rev engine because not in gear—?—put in drive. Hit other car in front of car. Get out. Kick door. Kick door. Because fuck.
She watches him, the Other Man, his faced smashed into a pillow. She says, “Why are you doing that?” There’s the brief sound of vibrating fabric and compressed voice, but nothing comes out clear. She wonders, but she’s pleased. She reaches to the Other Man’s back and feels salty, viscous sweat. She doesn’t think of the Other Man and what might be going through his mind, what might be happening in there considering that his friend, Abe, just walked into the room and saw him, Miles, on top of her, Vita. Abe is her friend, too, actually. The complications that will arise, she thinks, are promising to be splendid.
Not drunk—insatiable. Walk up the street, down the road, over this fence, next to that window, behind this car. Not drunk— imprecise. Move hand, remove branches from face. Run. Really—RUN. Through bushes. Hit fence. Hold head and
fall. Uncontrollably splay arms and get fingernails into the dirt. Enjoy the throbs of everything spinning and lolling, jockeying for eye-sight position. Perception. Not drunk— lost. Because Orson said what?—Don’t go up there. Don’t, Geoff said. Went up: Saw: Remember? Because in this bush, on this dirt, between these trees and underneath those stars is where the memory hits. Wham. Action? Yes. Get up. Not drunk—purposeful. Return the same way: over that car, under this window, around the fence, up the road, down the street. Not drunk—motivated. Kick car door on way past. Not drunk—not drunk? Not drunk—slippery.
She hears what he says, the Other Man, but she’s really not interested. She’s listening to Abe tearing back into the house. He starts throwing shatterable things, which shatter. Orson is yelling, trying to calm the debauchery,
Geoff is climbing the stairs, no doubt he will try and get Vita to come down and help—or at least call the cops. She won’t. She whips the blanket off the Other Man and says please leave because you’re the type that gets all attached after the first fuck. And he does. In nothing but his boxer briefs, holding his clothes. The ruckus in the hall is probably from the Other Man running into Geoff. They bustle. They fall down the steps. Vita is worried but, overall, happy.
Side of the Road By Jack Coey
He pulled the car to the side of the road, and turned off the engine. He was breathing heavily and sweat was on his face. He felt elated. He rolled down the window to get some cool air. Pictures of what he’d done flashed in his mind. He reached for the pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket and lit one. The clock said one eighteen a.m. The smoke from the cigarette swirled in the air before him. His heart was pounding; it was better than sex, it was better than cocaine, it was better than whisky. Nobody would know, not even Bobby, what he had been through. He felt like shit about Bobby, but he didn’t want to think about it. Bobby was the only innocence in his life and he’d destroyed that too. But it wasn’t just him, if she hadn’t been the way she was, this would have never happened. She played with his emotions, and that shit builds up over the years. He remembered the time she told him what the counselor told her about how she wouldn’t trust anyone. She laughed. He felt an unexpected pain when he thought, she ain’t laughing now. He reached for a can of beer in the seat and took a deep gulp. He looked at the stars and thought he could get to Canada. He felt good about what he did except for the Bobby part. He should have known when 58
he bought the knife that he was in trouble, but he loved her, and always believed she would change. He had to take a shit. He reached for some napkins in the glove compartment, and got out of the car. The air was cool and he walked into the woods looking for a seat. He found a fallen tree and pulled down his pants and sat. He thought he heard a siren, but knew it was too early. He realized things had gotten worse more recently; he had hateful thoughts about her that he never used to have. He wiped himself and chuckled when he realized that was all that was left of his life. Maybe he could meet another women; no kids this time though. He would say his first wife died of cancer. He had to get to Canada and start a new life. Maybe he should turn himself in. He buckled his belt and walked back to the car. What he did was justice for the torment over the years, but why didnâ€™t he leave? He felt the thrill of driving the knife into her stomach and the panic in her brown eyes, and the exaltation he felt at that moment was like nothing else he ever felt. It was worth it. Her warm blood was over his hand. He drank more of the beer. Maybe I should start for Canada now, he thought. He decided with a smirk that he was a Gentleman and he wouldnâ€™t start his escape until he heard the sirens. They would come on this road. Bobby would wake up around six for school and it would take
some time to make the discovery. Once the emergency vehicles went by, he would start for Canada. He was an outlaw and it didn’t feel that bad. He heard her pleading and begging as he stuck the knife once, twice, three times into her stomach, and he started to get a hard on. He was aroused and put his hand on himself to come. Once he came, he went into the glove box for a napkin. He drank some beer. He closed his eyes, but couldn’t fall asleep; he wiped his face with a shirttail. He looked up at the stars and thought that every star was the soul of a person. That’s where you go when you die. He looked at the gas gauge and saw it was a quarter full. He would have to stop for gas and what if someone saw the car? He was an outlaw and he had to think differently about his decisions. He imagined being chased; he’d seen it a million times on T.V. He thought a better way to do it was to get to Canada without being noticed. He had a gas can in the trunk and would walk to the gas station instead of bringing the car. I am a gangster, he thought. He felt smugness about his ability to think like a criminal, like he discovered a talent he never knew he had. He was relaxed more than he’d been and dozed off. When he woke, the clock read six twenty-eight, and sun was on the horizon. He got out of the car and peed. He
wanted a cup of coffee, but knew it shouldn’t be long before he heard the sirens. He realized he should have left when it was dark, and overnight would have been less traffic. But he had to calm himself down first so he made the right decision. He thought he should create a character for himself so if someone should talk to him he would make sense. He was a father driving to Montreal to pick up his daughter; he was a salesman going to a conference in Montreal. He thought about Bobby; he would be getting up soon, and he would find the tragedy that was now his life. It was unfair; the boy’s innocence would end, and his suffering begin, when he found his mother’s body. He pictured the bleeding body and blood soaked sheets, and got into the car; started the engine, pulled out onto the road, and turned right, not left.
Selected Poems by Shavawn Berry Owl’s Elegy Willows lean in to hear fallow Fields of mockingbirds and jays Mourning a poisoned barn owl Dead at the side of the road The white bark of her skin, Bruised in the shape of a fist As a raven heralds her death In a voice tinged by creosote and ash
Wolf One The moon’s reflection In a martini glass A willow’s branch Sweeping through a stream Our Lady of the Milky Breasts The white fountain, opaque thigh He etches his name In the glass of her gaze His cuticles bleed as he Chews his hands raw
The line of her neck Curves like a black swan He licks a circle, a nest, A breaking point on her back Her white teeth glisten As she bares her fangs
Parallel By Kara Harte
Celia Zoppi paces back and forth around her room, eyes vacant from shock, breath pushing through her nose in short, rapid pants, arms hugging her middle, nails biting into clammy skin. This can’t really be happening, she thinks, pleas. There’s a wad of terror sitting in her stomach, traveling up into her throat, choking her. If she opens her mouth to release it, she doesn’t know if she’ll scream or be sick. Maybe if I turn around, they won’t be there anymore. I’ll realize this is all a dream and I’ll wake up. She stops pacing, adrenaline buzzing under her skin, prickling like static electricity, and squeezes her eyes shut until it hurts. Please let me wake up. Celia turns toward her dresser; takes a reluctant step forward. Her legs are trembling. One more, and she can’t move anymore. Trying to calm her racing heart, she tells
herself that she could be wrong, anyway. Maybe her fears wonâ€™t come true. She feels the lie in her bones. She looks around her room, at the pyramid of stuffed animals spilling over the edges of the rocking chair her mother used to sing her to sleep in, the posters of her favorite band and TV shows taped to her walls, the cork board smothered with pictures of her and her friends goofing off, of her and Erik at prom staring starry-eyed at each other. Sheâ€™s standing in ruins, examining the relics of a bygone world that was yesterday. Was that beaming, oblivious girl really her? Resentment simmers in her gut, acidic and bubbling, slowly eclipsing her fear. Stupid girl! She wants to shriek at her. Idiot! She was graduating in a week, starting college in the fall. This could destroy everything. Celia glares at the
images of herself until they blur, until those shining eyes and that wide smile splinter, undulating like contorted funhouse mirror reflections. Only then does she feel satisfied. Celia jerks herself to attention and stomps to her dresser, determined to end this. To be different from that soft little girl that used to live here. She would never be that girl again. She stands there, right in front of it, but she can’t look down. She stares fixedly at the corner of her towering vanity mirror, unable to even meet her eyes in her reflection. She feels the stares of phantom eyes shivering down her spine, the force of their condemnation burning her skin. “Not such a good girl after all!” They spit. Celia stands suspended for a few minutes, maybe hours, thoughts ricocheting like a ball in a ping pong match: look, don’t look, look, don’t look! Exhausted, she
grabs the edge of her dresser with both hands, squeezing until her knuckles pulse white. I have to look. Celia looks down. Her heart stops; her world shatters. Four pink and white sticks laying side by side. Eight parallel little blue lines all in a row. Positive. Pregnant.
Sleep Like Thereâ€™s No Tomorrow, Robin Kim
A. Laughlin, Killer By Arthur Davis
Killing came easily to Anthony Laughlin. Seductive in its simplicity. "Effortless," he'd once heard an artist say of the way he crafted his abstract paintings at a gallery opening. Laughlin thought about his gift as a killer in much the same way. There were tools and canvass, and an opportunity to express the spirit of creation, to explore the dimensions of conviction and character. He couldn't remember when he had not been preoccupied with the inspiration of taking another manâ€™s life. He admitted to himself many times privately, though words often escaped out of earshot in public, that one day he might have to take the life of a woman. For now, he was content to exercise what nature had bestowed upon him.
Laughlin did not consider himself brave or a man of action. He understood bravery and knew he would never qualify for such a distinction. He would never jeopardize his life for another as might a police officer or firefighter, or soldiers who took a pledge of loyalty to their country. There were too many moments when he was weak and ineffectual and had no recourse but to abandon what he was doing and closet himself away until the ferment subsided and he was prepared to renew his efforts. Disruptive, self-deprecating bouts were common, so he directed his energies to accomplishing simple deeds that brought immediate gratification and reward. Listening to his music, watching cartoons on television, eating junk food, returning to bed at the slightest hint of inclement weather, working to make enough to sustain himself, and no more. Whatever he did was to exploit and develop his calling. To make himself the best he could be at what he knew he was chosen to do.
Since he left high school in the eleventh grade a dozen years ago, he managed to eke out a living by menial work in a litany of Midwestern cities, rarely spending more than a year in one location. His demands were simple; a small room where he could play his rock-n-roll tapes, two meals a day, and time to wander the streets. This excited him most of all. Laughlin was at his best while he was on the move. Foraging. In a real sense it gave him an anchor for the future. As long as there was someone to kill, there was some justification for his existence. At first, this wasn't clearly understood, but as he perfected himself and his skills, it became more apparent that his value, though not in the mainstream of modern life, was clearly manifest. The most depressing times were when he had to leave a city. Once he left Billings, Montana, not because he had taken a life, but because he recognized that it was the wrong town for him to work in. A painter would no sooner commit to a canvas in a darkened room than Laughlin
would work his magic in a setting that was unsuitable to his needs. He was never quite sure what those needs were, but he respected his instincts enough not to waste time where he sensed, not danger, but disharmony. Moreover, he never rushed or pursued a victim if there was any possibility that he was being watched, or if the victim suspected his presence. He did not want to cause the man undue distress. Too many artists thought they had to accomplish so much by such an age or such a predetermined time. Laughlin was, if anything, reserved and relaxed with his trade and sensed no urgency about his future. He would work, play, and kill as he pleased. Day or night. There were delivery boys, fishermen, hunters, runners, executives scurrying about the busiest buildings, men in bars anxious to whine and complain or blame their wives, bosses, or God's indifference to their pitiable circumstances. It didn't matter if they were taller or bigger.
He was so confident in his ability he believed he could sneak up on a white tail deer and grab its fluffy white tail before the animal was aware of his presence. Of course, he'd never tried. The thought of terrorizing a poor animal was too disquieting. It did, however, matter if his victims saw him approaching. They did not know this and, though it only happened once in all his years of killing, and then only because a car honked its horn coincidentally alerting his victim, he would never have gone through with it had they seen the expression on his face. He once calculated how many men might succumb to his competence in a lifetime, then got confused about how to count out the balance of his life. There were insurance tables, banking tables, health charts. Once, a doctor at a clinic in Denver told him he'd better eat and exercise and sleep and rest and do so many things in order to live a long life. He was totally confused. How long was long? He knew people died when they were three or four
times his age. Could that time be prolonged by a fulfilling career? There was another issue that he avoided, even in reflective moments within himselfâ€” his inability to recall selective events of his past. He knew where he was born, his hometown, the people who had persecuted him in every grade he attended, as well as the scoutmasters in his Boy Scout troop, his relatives and friends. However, the faces of certain strangers, specifically those he had fixated upon were indistinct, muted not by distance, but by design. He simply did not want to remember. He never looked down after the act was completed and cared only to make sure that his victim was properly dead. Laughlin prided himself on his work. His favorite tool, after his imagination, was a black rubber sap he found at a flea market when he was only thirteen. On the handle, it read Blenchly and Boorum, London, England. A genuine antique, but more, so much more. It fit into his hand as
though it was a born extension. He hefted and flipped it and tossed it and yet the handle set right back into the palm of his hand no matter what he did. When he set it down and left his room, he remembered right where he put it and on which side it was resting. He thought about giving it a name, like a pet, the one his parents would not allow him to have, but decided against the idea when he realized that he might not select the right name and lose the pleasure and assurance it had given him. At first, he had no idea what the sap was. His cousin mentioned it to her boyfriend whose brother was a police officer in Minneapolis. That's how Laughlin, as he preferred to be called, found out about it. He shoved the small, black, floppy sapâ€”that looked like a large turkey's drumstickâ€”into a shoebox filled with baseball cards and hid it on the top shelf of his closet. He had no idea why, but thought it best to keep it away from his family and out of sight until some time had passed. Later in life, he
recognized this ability not to swagger and brag either about possessions or accomplishments, meant the difference between being caught and walking the streets as would any other innocent man. Being an understandingly sensitive man, he was highly superstitious. There were certain days on which you could perform important rites of passage, such as masturbation and prayer, and other days when turning down certain streets could elicit speedy retribution. It also meant that he could only take another life on the same day of the week he found the sap. That made him dedicate every other day of the week to stalking and planning. This left Thursdays as his one day of relief. The sap was deceptively effective. You held the narrow shank in your hand and came down on the back of the skull with the fattened end. But that was not what captivated Laughlin. What drew him to the instrument was the immediacy of the feel, the proximity of contact when it
struck the back of the head. When he thought this through, he realized how wholesome it all sounded, but he was entranced by the feeling of the sap striking and caving in the top of a manâ€™s skull. Like hitting a tennis ball at the heart of the sweet spot or hammering a baseball on the barrel of the bat so perfectly it sailed into the outfield bleachers. How would you describe this kind of allure? The trick to killing was simplicity and surprise and the ability to accept risk. Most of all, you had to believe in yourself. Too many people had the hubris but not the confidence in their actions. You saw them on television late at night. He could identify them almost instantly. He made a practice of tracking their movements and ascertaining their motives as the movie progressed. They inevitably were caught or killed in crossfire. The hero would then walk over to them and, from an upwards camera angle, you would see him empty the spent shells and walk away in disgust. He wasn't going to wind up
sprawled out with two bullets in his chest at the feet of some pretty-boy detective posing for the eleven o'clock news. Moreover, surprise could be planned and thought out in the most intimate detail. This sounded like a contradiction, but really, it wasn't. Most killers were caught because they either were rushed or did not take precautions, but most of all because they did not adequately prepare in order to understand their quarry. Most crimes were committed with historical purpose, so motive or connection to the victim was easier to establish. Laughlin required weeks, months, as long as it took, not to spot one person, but to identify the location where victims might congregate. After that, it was a matter of patience. Once, it took six weeks of waiting in his car until a man left his office late at night and entered a parking lot in the basement of his office building before he approached. Heâ€™d even killed a man in a bathroom of a crowded highway rest stop.
However, he regretted this. It was so unlike him. Spontaneity. Or so he at first thought when he drove himself underground for months afterward. It took him that long to recognize that it wasn't foolhardy, but rather opportunistic of his skill and sensibilities in the face of changing circumstances. Rationale or not, he was still not pleased with himself. And, while there was a certain satisfaction, especially having killed a man in such a dangerous situation, Anthony Laughlin derived so little out of the event that he had to question his own motives. Psychiatrists on television had so many technical and medical words to characterize killers; he couldn't keep up with who he thought he might be. He just didn't fit any description. He didn't hate the men whose lives he took. He didn't know them and had no interest in meeting them. He had no desire to make a social statement or commentary nor was he interested in venting his own anger or discontent by
proving himself through his craft. He wasn't on drugs when he killed and never took money from his victims. When a wallet fell to his feet, he instinctively grabbed it, but threw it in a dumpster blocks away as soon as he realized what he had done. So why kill? All he could think of was that it was the only thing he did really well and, he had to laugh here, it wasn't like he was endangering the species or anything. How could he deny himself the fulfillment of his only talent? Perhaps it was the intimacy of the act. He knew the sap had something to do with it. It was a wand in his hands, an instrument wielded with grace, skill, and dexterity, and with an understanding of how best to cave in the back of a man's head with one swift, well-placed blow. Often, he was offended by the use of the word “killer” or “murderer.” Not as it related to him of course, since he had never actually seen or read a description of any of his performances, but as it would be used to report
other homicides. The word "murderer" had a disturbing effect on him. It was heavy, imposing, and had an allconsuming construct about it. The word was deadening. Sometimes deafening. â€œKillerâ€? seemed so much less invasive, more a personalized description. Not meant to offend or imply. Predators hunted and killed for the survival and safety of their family. They killed simply to live and ensure continuity. Laughlin never changed his preferences once they were set. Another time, in a small bar outside of Tulsa, where the Country and Western music was so loud it rattled the bourbon shot glass and scarred your eardrums, he was reading a newspaper article about a performance artist, a pretty, young woman in Columbus, Ohio, who chanted and sang as she sat over her potter's wheel. She was somewhat of a local celebrity whose ceramics were sold in fancy department stores across the state. Her hands worked as she sang Beautiful Dreamer over and over again, often getting
up from her stool and moving her body about, but never letting go of her work. He understood the young woman and the nature of her talent and was offended by the reporter's attitude, which, by the end of his article, was cleverly smug about the artistâ€™s genuineness. It was one of the rare moments in his career when he actually thought of going out of his way to target a victim. Of course, he decided against taking such punitive measures. He couldn't right the wrongs of the world. Heâ€™d thought before about using a pistol instead of his sap. But that meant there would be the temptation to distance himself from his victim. He was against that. He considered himself an old-fashioned killer. Though young in spirit and temperament, he knew that to take a manâ€™s life, you had to do it up close, even if from behind. He employed the sap for many reasons and had no desire to fire a gun or stab a man to death; never sure, by either standard, how many times you would have to do so to be
effective. As an artist, he had learned what to question and what simply to accept about how he practiced his craft. Then there was the problem of not being splattered by blood. A knife or bullet might cut an artery unleashing a spray of blood that might contaminate him forever. That would have been unbearably upsetting. He wasn't afraid of blood; the sight of it simply unnerved him. Even when he cut himself (purposely, his mother concluded, after being ejected from the Boy Scouts) it had a very disturbing effect on him. Most of all, Anthony Laughlin had wrestled with the finality of the act itself. Did he have the right to take another man's lifeâ€”deprive a family, a sister, a brother, parents, and children of their fated future? These were serious issues that he had not given self-serving attention. He was not that kind of a man. He might not believe in marriage or children for himself, at least not yet, but was he justified in taking the life of another human being? In the
end, there was no clear rational answer. There were too many unanswerable moral issues in the world today. You just had to read the paper. Every institution from family and church to education was dissolving in revolt. So was it so unreasonable to think that this may be another issue that was not yet resolved? What he feared most of all was losing his desire, his total commitment to and passion for what he did best. Kill. It could happen. Rock musicians stopped writing and playing. They became dissolute and wasteful. He knew he was vulnerable to this pestilential fate. The higher an artist's craft, the greater their instability and the longer their fall from grace into obscurity. There was also the possibility that he might be caught someday. But he was never that distressed that it caused him concern. The thought of not having to look forward to the planning and selection and execution (he felt this word was an unfair and inaccurate distinction in his
case), was quite disconcerting to him. Whatever disruption he had in his life, it was nothing compared to the possibility of losing his gift. He had sacrificed much to attain an even greater reward. In fact, he knew he would do anything to hold onto this faculty, this process, in which he was truly a master. He had no girlfriends, instead preferring to go to local bars or strip clubs and pick up girls for a night of quick, un-confining sex. He had no friends for fear they might learn of his slight quirk, and had long ago stopped communicating with his relatives. Those who worked alongside him never stayed at one job long enough to care who they were working with. He was alone. He drifted alone and that was the way he saw his future. There were times when he was overcome with loneliness, and he understood this. He had observed that this gloom possessed his spirit right after he had killed, as if the act was like cleaving his own life in the process. He had selected and
stalked and waited and learned. Then, on a given Thursday, it was over. He had to heal from this loss, as well as the friends and loved ones of the man whose life he had taken. When he went to movies or watched crime thrillers on television, he would view the efforts of the villain with little empathy, not so much because of the act of violence, for he never made that connection to his own predisposition, but rather the fact that the pretentious actors were driven by revenge or from an argument or druginduced rage. Often women were victims of these twisted minds. He was quite uncomfortable as women and young girls were threatened, beaten, raped, then mutilated and killed, thrown from moving cars, or sold into prostitution. He was very upset to see the savage treatment women endured in the cinema. This was indeed a distorted manâ€™s world. Men had pronounced watching a woman's breasts on television indecent, but you could see that same girl carved up with a knife and no one would raise a vote on behalf of
humanity and decency. It was just this kind of reflection that led Anthony Laughlin to believe he was an inherently civilized, moral man caught up in a systemically corrupt world. He wasn't an assassin. By no means. He did not kill for money or political preferences. He did it because, well, simply because he was born to it. Others were raised to the ministry, or to become great lawyers, or life-saving physicians. He was as much delivered into his calling as they were. More so in fact. He had no training. No guidance. No formal education or mentor to show him how or why, or where and when. There was no one to show him how to select a victim. And for that, it seemed he had been training his entire life. Laughlin was eighteen when, with the help of an old man, he killed his first victim. He had moved away from home, but not because he wanted to pursue his skills or gift. He didn't get along with his stepfather and his mother who
was turning more and more to scotch for comfort. His older brother, Nick, had left for the Navy two years earlier. It was time. He was a good, reliable worker and sometimes held as many as three jobs in order to earn a living. But then his needs were Spartanâ€”actually primitive. He thought of himself as being on a lifelong conquest. He could not become encumbered with the accessories of a material society. He had to be prepared to move quickly and leave as little as possible behindâ€”people as well as personal trappings. When he saw the bent old man that night in the mall (he had no idea how old the man was, but he was older than his stepfather was) he just knew. He watched the man take the package to the car and drive away. He waited a full week for a likely victim, and then coincidentally the old man reappeared. This time he was with a woman. They walked close together. It might have been the manâ€™s wife, but Laughlin refused to believe this was the case. He
watched them buy a pair of sneakers for the old man and a baseball cap for the woman. They had a soda and coffee and then separated, going to different ends of the mall. Laughlin followed the man into a bookstore where he bought some birthday cards. The pair met up again and he followed them into the parking lot as they drove away. The lot was poorly lit, but not unoccupied since Thursday was a late night for shopping. Laughlin walked over to a young man with a cigar box under his arm, flipped the sap from his pocket, and brought it down across the back of the boy's head. The box fell to the pavement and split open, spilling baseball cards all over the pavement. It was a sign of confirmation. Sanctification. Approval. He went home, bathed, then showered, and ordered in dinner. He'd never done that. He ate the entire pizza. It was small, but clearly meant for two. He fell fast asleep that night and woke with little recall of the night's events.
He stayed away from the newspapers and nightly news for over a week. Five months later, he killed a man who was walking along a side road near Sioux City, Iowa. It was nearly a year before he struck again. By then he had sorted through the details of what he had done, who he was, and how he had come about this line of work. That was over two decades ago. That was before he saw another man, a tall, heavyset man about forty years old, walk up to a car in a parking garage and club a man to death, then steal the victim's wallet and shoes. That was before he walked over to the dead body and watched blood drain away from the crack in the back of the man's skull and flow haphazardly under his jacket, puddled in a dark, iridescent pocket around his feet. That was before he went home and puked up his dinner and spent the next two days in an incapacitated, quaking fright. That was before he began to have problems sleeping and a terrible debilitating headache
that no amount of medication could alleviate. That was before he lost his job because he didn't show up on time or not at all, and when he did he was distracted and often uncooperative. That was before he lost his apartment and car. Within a year of the incident, he was walking the streets in rags, humming to himself. He was found sitting in a church pew by a social worker who recognized the tune as "Beautiful Dreamer." "Death is my master, I've killed before." The social worker nodded compassionately, the way she was trained, and called the police. But it didn't make any difference. Anthony Laughlin never said anything other than what he said to the social worker that day. Not a word. He repeated this one sentence, this confession and plea, for anyone who would listen, over and over again.
They examined him but could not identify who he was or where he came from. In the end, they merely sent him away where he would not injure himself. And he never changed his tune, except on Thursdays, when he didn't sing at all.
I Do Not By Donna Compton
Today, I didn't wake in dim light when the sun first peaked into the windows and let the scent of cinnamon waft upstairs before coming back to bed with French Toast. I didn't find the pink roses waiting for me on the table. In the evening, I didn't slip into my blue satin, sparkling gown. I didn't smile as you opened the door at Di Marco's. I didn't gaze into your green eyes in the soft candlelight, neglecting my dish of linguine carbonara and squeezing your hand between occasional bites. I didn't miss our anniversary. I do not miss you.
Looking for Ricki By Pat Tyrer
The blood had already soaked through the carpet to the floor boards. It was going to be a problem. She’d cleaned up the puddles on the coffee table, thrown away the throw pillows from the sofa, but still, the darkening brown spots on the carpet screamed, “somebody’s been murdered in this apartment!” Holly woke up and thought about running to the gas station at the corner of Bell and Harbor to get her morning Diet Coke. It was useless to tell her it was a shitty way to start the day because she had long ago convinced herself that the only way she could do her job was to keep to her routine, and a morning Diet Coke was the beginning of her routine. First came a hot shower, a very hot shower, followed by a final burst of cold water to finish her wakeup. Within minutes of stepping out of the shower, she had dressed, checked her messages, emptied the garbage, and
opened the door to leave. Right before the door shut behind her, Holly remembered the key. She jogged to the main bathroom, pulled the shower curtain aside, and stared at the body in the tub. Luckily, his keys were in his front pocket. She wouldn’t even have to roll him over to get them. She took the keys, wondered if he had any cash in his wallet and for a minute, thought about trying to heft him up high enough to search his back pockets. The dead weight was more than she’d anticipated and she quickly let him drop back into the tub. As she headed to the gas station, she remembered what a cute guy he’d been when he’d picked her out of a number of women sitting alone at the bar. She’d never had any trouble meeting men and was amazed at how trusting they were when the only thing they were thinking about was getting laid. She’d planned to have sex with this one on the living room floor, but even before he got his pants off, she’d changed her mind, drew the long slim blade from her
purse while sitting on top of him fully clothed, and stuck it in his heart. Even with the knife sticking out of his chest, he was able to throw her off. He got to his knees, but no further, the blood draining down the front of his shirt. She’d even told him not to pull the knife out so he wouldn’t bleed out so fast, but he didn’t listen. They never do. Once he was drained, she dragged him into the bathroom on the throw rug, kind of like it was a sled, like she used to do in the winters during the big snow storms when she and her brother would use an old rug to slide down the hills. There was never enough money for real sleds, but they made do. Her brother, Ricki, was her best friend until he got interested in her in other ways. At sixteen she’d left home, mainly to get away from Ricki and his nightly visits. Funny how the only one she really ever missed now was Ricki. The Diet Coke in the gas station had just been put in the cooler and was still warm. When she complained to the
attendant, he offered her a free fountain drink instead, which she gratefully accepted. She glanced at the attendant. “What’s your name?” she asked. “Dan,” he answered. “You married or anything, Dan?” “No, sweet thing. I’m my own man.” “Wow,” she said. “I like that. Think I’ll come by later. You doin’ anything?” “Nope. Be right here.” “You know, honey,” Holly continued. “You remind me of my big brother, Ricki.”
Bloody Sunday By Francis Fiordalisi
Sunday. She will be there. Always is. He has to be close, feel her presence. Has to hurry. He’s late, and he wants to sit next to her. It’s important—he has something to say. The wood steps of the old church creak under his weight. A metallic taste fills his mouth. He sees her locked by throngs of worshipers in the center of a pew. There’s no room for him. There’s never room enough for him. He pushes through people until he sits behind her. He can smell her scent. Her lilac cologne. The starch in her white blouse. The congregation stands as the pastor reads from the Bible. “Do unto others…” He doesn’t hear the rest. He pulls her hair, bends her head back, peels the razor blade from the roof of his mouth and slits her throat.
He runs, wiping his bloody hands on his white shirt. Runs home to wait. He knows they will come for him. He doesnâ€™t care. No one can treat him the way she did.
The Fire Within By Gordon Bourgon
Milton tells me the fire is a ravenous monster. It has already consumed two hundred acres of bush, three cottages, two houses, and is well on its way to engulfing all our homes in Trout Lake. It, the fire, asks no quarter, Milton says. I admire its indiscretions. Milton is my jailer. Officer Milton Norman, old school buddy of mine, has the dubious distinction of watching me, of remaining in town in Trout Lake’s diminutive police ‘headquarters’ with its two cell lockup that has seen nothing more interesting than town drunks and young punks with destruction in their hearts. Officer Norman stays behind while everyone else in our police force—two members, actually: Peter Winthrow and Jesse Parks—bravely combat the ravenous monster threatening the lives of our good town folk. Milton is miserable and is taking this slight against him out on me.
He seems to have forgotten all the times I saved him from humiliation at the hands of our school bullies. He has forgotten his innocence, his dependence on the stronger willed. I am in jail because I am accused of sexually assaulting and killing Darcy McClintock. I know Darcy; know her family—nice people. Darcy is—was—a wild one, and, in not so many words, people here prophesied her wild ways would one day land her in a heap of trouble. They never thought she’d be a victim under these kinds of circumstances. Then again, I never thought I’d be arrested for the suspicion of raping and killing one of Trout Lake’s incorrigible, wayward youths. Trout Lake is a small community ninety minutes northeast of Sudbury, a quarry town with a history of lumber mills, and a more recent history of tourism. People from the cities come here to get away from their
various, crowded entrapments, not realizing they come here every summer in hordes, replacing one congestion for another. I am a teacher at Trout Lake Elementary. English. Ten years from retirement. I imagine it is appalling to people that one of their childrenâ€™s teachers is capable of such a horrific crime. I am guilty by suspicion; thatâ€™s the end to that. I can understand their decisiveness in the matter, the fear behind it. If I were in their shoes I would probably want to castrate the suspected rapist/killer then ask questions later. Kneejerk responses are what people in small communities do. It gives them an instant feeling of self-righteousness. Needless to say, what has happened to young Darcy has shocked everyone here. Nothing like this has ever happened in Trout Lake. Weâ€™ve had accidental drownings, accidental hand and feet amputations, and accidental accidents. There has never been anything
more premeditated than husbands or wives leaving their spouses. Take me, for example. My wife of fifteen years, Angela, left me, left Trout Lake, for a younger man, another teacher, a temp. She’s in Toronto now, I believe, and since we had no children together, I suspect she’s living a happy life of sin and debauchery. Not that I care. I believe sin is a devised word for acting upon dark urges, an unleashing of our suppressed desires. It is unfortunate we have to betray others or ourselves to sin. I am the one who found Darcy’s nude body washed up on the south shore of Trout Lake like a piece of driftwood or some bizarre, inflatable water device that’s lost all its air. It was morning, three days ago. I was out for my usual morning walk/jog along the shoreline, thirty minutes there and back to my rented cabin on Pierson’s Point, my home. A murder of crows—four of them—cackled and gawked from the
tops of nearby pines. From a distance I thought I saw a coyote prowling the shoreline. When I reached her, I felt a previously unknown heat course through me. It was sudden, and intense, like the charges quarry men set off to dislodge mantles of rock from a pitâ€™s sheer wall. My skin hurt; everything under it was scalding. I looked at her for a while. Something about this seemed familiar. I think I was waiting for her to wake up, breathe, move, come alive. Later, I ran back to my cabin, passing the Sloans on the way, but not saying a word to them, and called the police. I talked to Jesse Parks who in turn put me through to Peter Winthrow. Both officers had difficulty comprehending what I was telling them; I may as well have said aliens landed on Trout Lake and were gathering en masse to take over our town.
How it was determined I might possibly have had something to do with Darcyâ€™s demise still eludes me. I know people think I have a roving eye for the young girls since my wife left me, and that a single man living alone can only have licentious thoughts and intentions. Once the spark of suspicion was lit, the confirmation of guilt in their minds ignited and spread like wild fire. The OPP have been called, but their arrival has been delayed due to the wildfires cutting off roads. Deep in my gut I feel better knowing they are not here; they would be tenacious like the fires, in their pursuit to extract the truth out of meâ€”whether or not I spoke the truth. Around these parts their presence is seldom and intimidating. Milton has finally finished a half hour telephone conversation with who I believe is Peter Winthrow. He looks even more pissed than before, uneasy in the
understated humiliation put upon him. He thinks he’s the big man. He wants to be the big man. In grade school the bullies gravitated towards him because he did not know how to put a leash on his yet untried ego. He strikes me now as that same cowardly boy all swagger and mouth. He notices me watching him. “You’re thinking because we went to school together I’m going to be nice to you,” he says. “Is that a question?” I ask. “Because if it is let me say that I do not expect anything more or less than professionalism from you. You have a job to do, Milton.” “Don’t call me that.” Ah yes, I have forgotten he always hated the long version of his name, preferring Milt. How can anyone be self-conscious about their name and carry on with life? Our name, like our face, is a gift at birth.
Though, of course, both can be changed, altered, for the right price. “Anyway,” Milton—Milt—says, “when the OPP get here you’re out of my hands. You’ll be up shit creek then, buddy.” He thinks I’m guilty. That son-of-a-bitch! I’m sure he’s not alone in that accusation. There must be others who agree with him, the Sloans, for example, otherwise I would not be sitting in this cell. Milt paces and picks his teeth with a thumbnail. He is avoiding falling into conversation with me. I guess I can’t blame him, if he truly believes I’m guilty. If his eyes meet mine, he’d be forced to try to look for a glimmer that would explain my actions. He would compare the look in my eyes to his own, or what he perceives his look to be. At that point he’d have to reflect on who and what he is, his life’s accomplishments to date, his worth. Chances are, he
would not like what he’d come up with. The selfabsorbed rarely have the kind of fortification which allows them to see the truth about themselves. “Damn fires,” he mutters. “What’s that?” “They can’t stop ‘em. All of ‘em. They’re out of control. They’re headin’ this way.” “I’m sure something can be done,” I say, the last person to be optimistic. “No. There isn’t. Peter, Officer Winthrow says they may have to start evacuation procedures. The whole town.” “That’s crazy.” I’m not entirely convinced that it is: crazy. It is all too logical. At least I can get out of this cell for a spell. Now, Milt looks at me, with an angry eye. “I shouldn’t have to be responsible for you,” he says. “I should be out there fighting fires.”
This is where you belong, I think. Keep you far enough away from real men stuff. “They must think your skills are more apt for this duty,” I say, trying to hide the sarcasm. Milt moves closer. “Is that a wise crack?” he asks. “You’re in no position to give me the gears.” He’s right, but I feel I can give it to him good nevertheless. My tongue feels on fire; I want to articulate rage, I want to cut Milton Norman down to size. An easy enough task, I’ll wager. I bite my tongue. Closer, Milton comes. “You know, I always thought there was something odd about you, something not right.” “Is that so?” “Damn straight. You were always off alone, playing by yourself. You’d make up your own games and pretend you were every player.”
How did he know that? How did I forget that? Typical Trout Lake mentality, however: any loner was considered odd. “You used to tease me,” Milton says. “Why did you do that? Did you think you were better than me?” What is he talking about? I saved his sorry ass more times than I can count. Perhaps I did some sort of injustice to him I am not aware of. Some form of deceit, betrayal, intimidation. “Look who’s better now,” Milton says. “You’re nothing but a low-life piece of shit. What you did to that poor girl.” “I’m innocent,” I mutter. We’re all innocent, to a degree, no matter what sins we have committed. “Save it. Don’t wanna’ hear it. In my book you’re as guilty as sin.” A connection is often made between guilt and sin. Why is that?
“You’re gonna’ burn in hell.” Milton goes to a window and looks out. “What the . . .” he says. His phone rings. “Yeah.” He’s forgotten his professionalism already. I’m disappointed. “Right now? Everyone? Right, right. Yeah. Handcuff him, got it. How long do I have? Half hour? Got it. So, south end of town. Barricade. Right, right. You want me to set up a what, a refugee camp? What’re you talking about? We’re all Canadians here. Oh, right, right, evacuees. Got it. I’ll take care of him.” Milton hangs up the phone but stays a good eight feet away, back turned to me. “They want me to take you along. We’re evacuating.” “Great,” I say, smiling. “I didn’t say I would take you. You’re not listening to me.” “You intend on leaving me here? Are you kidding me?”
In cold silence Milton gathers up some supplies: rifle, ammunition, bottles of water, walkie-talkies, a coil of rope, flares, and a brown lunch bag from a small refrigerator. The smaller items he places in a cardboard box. He looks out a window. “Smoke is moving in fast,” he says. “Wind must’ve changed direction, picked up speed. I’d say fifteen minutes, tops; this whole town’ll be ablaze.” He’s got his hand on the door, ready to leave. “You can’t just leave me here, Milton.” I say. “Sorry, Milt.” “Save it.” He grins. He turns to leave, but stops and faces me. “Did you know she was planning on leaving town in a day or two?” “Who?” I ask.
“The girl. Darcy. Autopsy’s gonna’ show she’s pregnant, too. I told her she had options. Not in Trout Lake, she says. Not in this town.” I understand. I understand now I should not have saved Milton Norman from those school bullies. He could have had the evil beat out of him. “You think you’re doing the right thing, don’t you?” Milton shrugs. “Hey. It’s a win-win for me. See you in the afterlife.” He’s gone. “Why do you keep protecting him?” six foot Adam Richards asked me one day during recess. “Everyone knows Milton Norman is a little prick.” “I feel sorry for him, I guess,” I had said. Richards, towering over me, still gripped my shirt collar with his big hand. He was preparing to punch me in the face.
“I’m gonna’ hit you,” Adam Richards said, “just so you’ll know never to feel sorry for anyone else but yourself.” He hit me. Everything went black. I hear the drone of helicopters. My eyes, throat and lungs are scorched from the hot smoke. The fire within me is fading. I lay down on the floor. Tears run freely from my scratchy eyes. I see Darcy. She is crying. I remember she wanted to keep the baby, start a life with me. I couldn’t have that. It just didn’t seem like a right thing to do.
Stop Motion By Susan Simonds
This moment is like a photograph you find curled up with the smile of time. A movement that we stretch out and twist to embrace us as it is happening. The salt of your limbs on my lips, your open mouth grabbing air through my hair. How each dot on your skin connects with mine and expands to envelope me. There is a fast world in this moment, a satisfaction in this fraction of a heartbeat, and if it canâ€™t be slowed I beg it to repeat. Trail the drop of sweat from your forehead to my thighs. I hunt the spots of you that erupt the lines around your eyes. Somehow I still smell you hours later. My birds nest hair hums at the song of your eyes craving only mine.
Rising Up By Christen Gresham
My Bubbe told me that dead people were like soup. When they were gone you could still find their essence and drink up until you felt them again. I don’t think I fully understood what she meant, but when Mikhail died, I ate split pea soup every day for three months waiting for Mikhail to return because Bubbe was convinced that his essence was split pea. It was convenient since that was the only soup on discount at the Super Saver. I ate a lot of soup in the beginning, but not once did I feel Mikhail’s presence. I mostly felt alone. Two years ago, my brother Mikhail died on the street in front our apartment building. He was flung into moving traffic in a fistfight with a neighborhood boy over a Baptist girl named Cherry Lee Ford; she lived on the third floor. I was there, and I can tell you that the world didn’t stop, not like they say it does.
It took a while for the motorists to realize what had happened, but then brakes screeched and metal crunched. I was already in the middle of the street, crouching over Mikhail’s crumpled form when car doors opened and someone said, “God in heaven.” And another said, “Call an ambulance.” But of course they weren’t close enough to tell that, first of all there was no God, and also Mikhail didn’t need an ambulance. When there is death, a vacuum sucks away all the air and furniture inside you until you are an empty room with a stray paper blowing along the floor. It flies about in that directionless way light paper does, lands on no set target, then becomes all at once silent and still. That is how death is. But make no mistake, nothing outside stops. Everyone goes to lunch, they carry their groceries up the stairs, they make plans for tomorrow, and they walk to school.
Shortly after we moved into Bubbe’s apartment, Mikhail had fallen in with Cherry Lee Ford, the born-again Baptist who lived in the apartment above us. Cherry Lee Ford was seventeen, like Mikhail. Sometimes I’d be on the way to the library, and I’d see them sitting cross legged on the fire escape, passing a lit cigarette back and forth between them. Cherry Lee was impossibly tall and thin, everything about her was angular—her haircut, even her nose. From the ground, Cherry Lee looked like an origami girl sitting on the fire escape in her floral shift dress. It’s a wonder Mikhail’s cigarettes didn’t set her on fire. I don’t really know what they talked about on the stairs, if they were just friends, or if Mikhail loved her more than that. But it didn’t matter, because Bubbe didn’t approve. It didn’t matter because Mikhail was a Jewish boy, and Cherry Lee Ford was as Protestant as they come.
“The chutzpah,” Bubbe would mutter, looking out the window at Cherry Lee and Mikhail as she dried a plate with a red checked towel, or “Feh,’ she’d sputter at Mikhail when he came inside smelling strongly of cigarettes. But the truth was, Mikhail never even talked about girls and he only mentioned Cherry Lee Ford once. In the summer, when Mikhail and I didn’t have homework, we’d walk two blocks to the all-night Indian restaurant on the corner. We’d wait until Bubbe was asleep, because it probably wasn’t Kosher and because Bubbe’s idea of dinner was Campbell’s Chicken Broth and cut up celery. We’d missed our mothers cooking and missing our mother’s cooking together with full stomachs in the light of the orange open sign was better than missing it alone and hungry in the darkness of our separate bedrooms.
“Everyone at school thinks she’s a homosexual," Mikhail said distantly one night as we walked there, “Because she won’t go out with any boy at school.” The restaurant was cramped, fluorescent, and smelled like jasmine and spiced meat. There were two melamine booths. One was usually open at 12:30. “Is she?” I asked. Mikhail pushed open the door and we slid into our booth, “Maybe she doesn’t love anyone. Except God,” he replied. When the paramedics came, they had to pry my fingers from his plaid jacket. As my grip loosened, I watched the fabric fall back on his body, sinking like a phantom breath. A week later, Cherry Lee stood on our doormat. Her face was drawn. Her freckles were lead pencil marks in the dim concrete hallway; her body looked folded inward, tired from an excessive weight—like a piece 120
of paper accidentally gone through the wash and laid out to dry in the sunlight. “Here,” she said, forcing a damp box into my hands. I blinked, looking down at the box of cigarettes. “They’re Mikhail’s. They were on the fire escape, under the flowerpot,” she clarified when I said nothing. She was already turning to leave, “I wanted you to have them before the Super found them.” I shoved them deep in my pocket and turned back inside. I didn’t tell Bubbe. Mikhail died at the beginning of the summer. When I returned to school in the fall, I’m sure people noticed I didn’t walk with Mikhail in the halls. But there was never an announcement made, although people talked, so of course everyone had heard that he had died in a fist fight with Lincoln Fisk over Cherry Lee Ford. It seemed like everyone would have avoided Lincoln, but the whole thing had only served to solidify his tough guy status and
accelerate his popularity. Both Lincoln Fisk and Cherry Lee Ford avoided me like I had a disease. When I ran into Lincoln at the water fountain, he walked briskly away. Cherry Lee Ford exited a bathroom stall and when she saw me at the sinks, she sneaked out without washing her hands. She thought I didn’t see her, but I saw her in the mirror. Actually, most people avoided me. This made my insides feel like a collapsed paper bag. While everyone ate their egg salad sandwiches at lunch that day, I went out behind the school and smoked for the first time in my life. I pulled out one of Mikhail’s cigarettes, then another, and another. I didn’t feel Mikhail at all. Still, I smoked some more. I smoked till I thought I might throw up. I did throw up. In the corner of my eye I could see the “Black Jesus’” in the courtyard. Everyone at school called this group the Black Jesus’ because they were a group of very Baptist, black, male students who wore Jesus sandals and didn’t shave their facial hair. During
lunch it was common for the Black Jesus’ to play hymns on their banjos and bongo drums and sing. On this particular day, they were swaying and sing-chanting something about the “blood of Jesus.” It sounded gruesome. I wiped my mouth and lifted the last cigarette to my lips. At this point I was punishing myself. That’s when I noticed the kid with the banjo. What struck me about this kid, aside from being unmistakably white and singing with the Black Jesus’, was that he was barefoot. He handed the banjo off to one of the other Black Jesus’ when saw me. He saw me see him. He saw the cigarette. I cringed as he strode towards me. “Got an extra?” he asked, raising an eyebrow; he saw the vomit too. In response, I just flipped open the empty box. I couldn’t speak. I think maybe I’d just taken a short cut to throat cancer.
He gestured to the cigarette in my mouth. Taking the cigarette from my lips, he took a long drag then suddenly put it out. “Hey!” Saying nothing, banjo kid fished something out of his pocket and forced into my hand—a Starbrite peppermint. I looked at the ground where paper and ash was collecting around my jelly sandals. When I looked up, the Principal was saying, “Dean Travis? Smoking? Looks like you just earned yourself Saturday Detention. You should be ashamed. Jesus didn’t smoke.” She strode away without a second glance at me. Other than a swift, but violent and smoke filled coughing fit following the Principal’s departure, Dean Travis seemed unfazed at his unjust punishment, “Ruthie Kalish,” he said, “ You live in my building, right?” I didn’t keep up with Dean, even after that. I didn’t keep up with anyone in those first few months. Sometimes
I’d see Dean Travis out on the front lawn playing the banjo while other Black Jesus’ stood around him with their eyes closed and hands raised to the sky like they were trying to ask God a question. What I wanted to know was: why did Mikhail have to die? Why did he have to die for a girl who would sneak out of the bathroom without washing her hands just to avoid his little sister? I wasn’t getting any answers head bowed, eyes closed. But maybe God answered them. It was true that Dean lived in my building. Dean’s family lived upstairs in one of the efficiency flats. Dean wore bowling shirts, rolled his jeans up to his ankles and didn’t seem to believe in shoes. I’d never seen him wear them once. But that and his association with the Black Jesus’ was as much as I knew of Dean. We were neighbors, the type you nod to on the stairs, smile at in the lunch line, but of course, know nothing about. Like the cover of a
book you regularly pass in the library, but you’ve never read before. When you lose someone really special like Mikhail, new grief can hit you unexpectedly. I was drying dishes at the kitchen sink with Bubbe one afternoon when I noticed Cherry Lee Ford smoking a cigarette on the street below us. Then tears came like someone had spilled a glass of milk. It was too late to stop them, they poured over the edge of the table and pooled on the linoleum under our feet. Bubbe looked at me, her eyes suddenly sharp. “Mikhail was a stupid, stupid boy.” She snapped, wiping another plate. Someone had to dry the milk up fast, it would spoil. The kitchen would start stinking. Perhaps it already did. Mikhail’s departure had a souring effect on that kitchen. Even though he had been gone a few months, the air had never really cleared. Bubbe picked up a teacup and slowly wiped it out. I swore I saw tears in her eyes.
All at once I needed to breathe, and I knew I couldn’t in that kitchen, so I bolted down the back stairs, leaving Bubbe alone. Sometimes in the afternoons, in the months following the accident, I’d set up camp in the rusted playground across the street from our building. There was a yellow see-saw with peeling yellow paint where I liked to sit. That’s where I ended up after I ran down the stairs. Across the street from the park, everything was slick with mirage water and I looked up every so often where Dean Travis was helping an Indian family move into the corner apartment on the third floor. I watched as he made multiple trips to the moving van. Every now and then, before hoisting new piece of mahogany furniture onto his shoulders, he’d shade his eyes and glance in my direction, wipe the sweat from his forehead. When the sun began to set I was still bolted to my resting place. As the
Indian father clapped his hand on Dean’s back with gratitude, Dean glanced in my direction again. Dean took a seat on the see-saw beside me and I tried to summon a smile, but found I could no longer summon one. Then Dean said, “Why don’t you smile anymore? I shrugged. Dean must have heard about Mikhail, everyone in the building knew. Everyone at school did too. If he knew, he never mentioned it. “Can I ask you something?” Dean nodded. “Why do you never wear shoes?” “You know Moses in the bible?” I nodded and Dean continued, “When God tells him to take off his sandals because he’s on holy ground? Well the way I see it, we’re always on holy ground because God is always present.”
My stomach twisted, “Doesn’t feel like he is,” I said. It felt wrong to say, like I was a bad Jew. But that was how I felt. “Nah. I guess it doesn’t. That’s why I never wear the shoes. To remind me.” I half chuckled. We sat there for a long moment, silently balancing the see-saw. “Hey, Ruthie, you want go to baptism at the beach tonight?” He asked out of the blue. Baptism? I felt stupid now. Of course I knew the Travis’ were Baptist. I knew that, I saw them in their Sunday bests on Sunday mornings. Sometimes a big white dented van with the words “First African Baptist Church” stenciled on the side would stop in front of the building and carry them away, presumably to the First African Baptist church. But still his invitation startled me. I knew that Baptists believed in Jesus and “getting saved” because that’s what Bubbe said. But I didn’t know what a baptism 129
was other than the fact that it had something to do with being Baptist. I was embarrassed to ask. No but thank you was already in my mouth until I considered spending another evening cooped up with Bubbe in the kitchen and a fan pulsing sour air though the rooms. I thought about cool air in my face, and the openness of the beach and I heard myself saying— “Yes.” Dean smiled and told me he’d meet me down stairs in twenty. When I got back into the apartment, I crept past Bubbe’s room and snatched the thesaurus off the hallway shelf before slipping into my own bedroom. I looked up baptism. It means initiation or beginning—then I met Dean downstairs. Dean suddenly looked shy. He had his hands in his pockets, and only barely looked me in the eye, “So it’s the pastor’s daughter, Eula Belle is the one getting baptized.”
I nodded as we stepped off the curb and onto the street. Dean led the way as we zigzagged from one side of the street to the other, following the tree cover for shade. The beach had always been about two miles away, but it had always seemed further. In fact, I barely remembered a time that Bubbe, Mikhail, or I had ever made point of going. “For a long time I didn’t see the point of baptizing, you know that, Ruthie?” I shook my head. I didn’t know at all. “All that dunking and rising up out of the water. I thought it was sort of stupid. But then Pastor Jones explained that it was kind of a symbol. You go under the water, like you’re being buried, and when you get raised up, it’s like you’re rising from the dead.” “Do you know a lot about death?” I asked. Dean shrugged, “What do you want to know?”
“My grandmother says that Mikhail…that dead people are like soup. What do you think that means?” Dean chuckled a little as we cut through the Dairy Queen parking lot, “This way is faster,” Dean explained, pointing to a pathway tread from many a short-cutter. “I don’t know. Maybe just that they aren’t as solid as they once were. Like how potatoes turn to mush in soup, but they’re still potatoes or something and everything’s cooked together so that even when the potatoes are all gone, you still kind of taste them in the broth. So maybe she means the dead don’t stop existing just because you can’t see them,” Dean paused, shaking his head, “That doesn’t make any sense!” But it did, it made a lot of sense to me. As we climbed the dunes leading to the shore, I thought about how Cherry Lee Ford saying nothing when Mikhail died felt like the wrong thing, and Dean saying nothing felt like the right thing. It was confusing.
We got to the shore just as Eula was about to be dunked under the water. The pastor and Eula Belle was waist deep in the water. A whole group of Baptists were standing in the circle around them. Since we were late, Dean and I decided to stand in the tide a few yards away, so as to not interrupt the service. From where we stood, I could faintly hear the pastor say, “Buried with him in baptism and rise up with him to new life,” before plunging Eula Belle backwards into the ocean, her white dress ballooning out beneath her. When the pastor raised her up out of the water, her hair was pasted to her neck and she was gasping for air. I got scared because Eula was coughing violently at first, water spewing out of her mouth and I thought for a moment she might not be alright. Eula finally caught her breath and uttered an “Amen.” Then everyone in the circle started clapping. It was silent for a moment, then they all started to clap
rhythmically, all the while they were singing another song about Jesus, only this time it wasn’t about being washed in his blood. The whole time I thought about Jesus a little bit, but mostly I thought about Mikhail. I thought maybe I understood something about baptism. Mikhail couldn’t rise up out of the water, like Eula Belle had because he was dead. But I could. When the service ended, Dean, like most times, didn’t say anything and we stayed their standing in the water letting the tide pull everything out from under our toes. I thought about how for a long time it had seemed like everything had ended when Mikhail died, but it felt right then on the beach, standing next to Dean Travis, like something could begin. The breeze on the beach was the perfect kind of breeze—the kind that lifts your hair lightly off your shoulders, leaves goose bumps on your arms—just cool enough to remind you that you are alive.
Selected Poems by Roy G. Guzmán
Bottles of Water Now that I’ve taken to exercise I run through bottles of water Maybe six or seven times a day Like an entire day filmed and presented At the fastest speed imaginable From sunrise to sundown. Mostly, I wonder if I did, in fact, finish one Before I can, without compunction, Pull out another from the cupboard When I can’t locate the empty bottle. There are memories I wish I could dispose of similarly: to find them In the trash, not knowing who chugged Every last drop of them, not knowing If I sweat them on the treadmill.
Glue It took several tries to get the bridge right but when it was finally erect we put it on display beside the other experiments. It won't fall, our teacher said. I've seen so many bridges fall in my lifetime—but the ones I’d seen in the classroom were raised with Popsicle sticks, testing out for the first time laws that have governed them but under a different façade. Each experiment was tested when the day came. And it rained during the day, so those made for the outside 135
had to wait longer. And the children ran, the auditorium yawned, anything to test the mechanics where the bridge stood, how it was made and glued, the way it was meant to be designed but, instead, tried something new. First place was given to what flew. After a few rotations, second place dragged all afternoon. Everything else was a disaster of proportions, built too soon, the program contesting the programmer, the bridge noticeably sinking in suburbia. The birds flying through anything they could. A tragic summer. The glue wanting for once to loosen itselfâ€”and succeeding.
What To Do When You See Her Passed Out On A Couch Remove her shoes because Cinderella would have also wanted that. Treat yourself to something in the kitchen, a glass of milk, some empanadas. You don't have to leave the lights on for this part. Walk ever so slowly and hear what sounds like mice scurrying below the floorboards. Tend to your possible wounds by also having a glass of water. Let the faucet run longer than usual, you deserve that. When you get back to the living room, she's still snoring, a wave of hair over her face. Head to the bathroom. You could use some shaving. Pick up a razor, something your mom would've warned you against, in strangersâ€™ houses. But you don't exactly know the rules of this fairyland. 136
You've hit balls that fly at 100 mph and run into municipal fire hydrants because you weren't busy being a good boy. Let the water from that other faucet run. Emphasis on the word “run.” Anticipation needs to be drained tonight. Dip your head in the water and tell yourself that women must do this often. For now, you may get away with that stereotype. Run your fingers through your hair and ask yourself why you exclusively do that with gel on. This part a girl may not know, but she can identify. She's seen movies, the classics, Kurosawa, Bergman, she's a film studies major whom you ended up meeting at your frat brother's private party, and she said, before she had another drink, You remind me of someone from high school, and that she’s having a great time at the party. Before coming out she didn't know what to wear. Her blue socks rest on the side of the couch, you can see them. They've had enough pressure for one night. Grab a chair and put your head on the table. You don't have to look at her while you do this. Observe how still the room is. Confuse the moon with the light posts outside. That won't ruin your IQ either. She's got one arm dangling, but, for now, you've been a gentleman and so much has already been asked of you. You have a Biology test
to study for tomorrow. You've got physical training before that. You have learned that the heart makes all of that happen. But you can still do more and this is where I ask you to find your car keys, although if it happens, I'm not accountable, I didn't see anything, didn't hear any shuffling. Again, you don't have to carry her to her bed. I'll tell you what she's dreaming about. She's dreaming of flowers. Come up with more stereotypes. Sleepovers. She's fancying directing a movie in which she balances a basket of fruit on her head and she laughs. Chiquita Banana. She may be racist for thinking this but she's taking a course where the professor says at this stage of her life she must be willing to be accessed and inspired by everything. Don't overthink this last part. Turn the knob and let the cheap white of the hall disturb you. It should disturb you. Close the door behind you, even a bit carelessly now, it doesn't matter much, she's buying nail polish, remember? She may be someone you'll marry. She may be your chaperone when you drive over to your AA meetings at the strip mall. More importantly—and you have to give yourself full credit for that, if you’d like—she may have a chance at happiness because you walked away.
friendship like expensive china from a sunken ship from a vessel we think we understand the ocean how its width delineates our antecedents how one should interpret the antonym for empire two friends meet after many years of going around under the alias of BFFs one pours tea inside a tiny cup she's seven months pregnant he fishes for an image of a sinking ship in which their friendship dies sheâ€™s Dominican cabinets with expensive china topple over the sea throws itself against new productions of concrete heâ€™s Honduran the water swallows every imaginable corner of grace he pays the bill and helps her get into her car 139
will be a single mother she will live from paycheck to paycheck and sometimes on welfare out of several variations he prefers the vision in which he passes out with a bottle of cognac barely slipping from his fingers the sea gives us one version of the future the coral is pink and salmon salmon slip into the debris the ship lies in the yellow/burgundy/dark blue friendship salvation a final embrace
The Other Wife By Elizabeth Sheets Getting caught didn’t go down exactly like I’d imagined. We’d spent hours of afternoons in her Tuscan-inspired townhouse and never had a close call. Maybe we’d become too comfortable in our routine. Routine is what it’d become, wasting away a Tuesday afternoon on the den sectional, with my head resting in David’s lap. He smoothed my hair back behind my ear in an absent-minded way while watching a Rolling Stones documentary playing on the big screen in the corner. It was one of David’s first films, and like a father with his child, he never seemed to tire of watching it. The sun filtering in through the blinds warmed my legs, and my eyes slipped shut repeatedly. David shifted beneath me, “Why don’t you go lay down for a little while?” A gentle smile touched his lips.
Rising, I kissed his mouth, “Join me?” “Soon,” he lied. I flashed a knowing smile over my shoulder at him as I headed down the hall, doubting he would pull himself away from Jagger anytime soon. I stopped off in the bathroom to pee and made sure to put the toilet seat back up when I finished, so as not to give Ana any reason to be suspicious, then made my way to the guest room. Cherry wood furniture and antique lace curtains made this room warm and inviting, my favorite room in the house. On the table under the window stood a basket of flyers and playbills, souvenirs from Ana’s shows at the comedy club downtown. I recalled David telling me about her taking classes and wanting to give stand-up a try, “She’s a genius; dry and fearless,” a gleam of pride in his eyes. And beautiful, I thought, scanning the half dozen family collages decorating the walls. I picked up the silver
frame on the dresser containing a black and white copy of one of David and Ana’s wedding pictures, a standard wedding package shot. They looked striking, Ana standing behind David, leaning in with her chin on his right shoulder and her hand draped over his left shoulder, displaying the ring. Their eyes looked clear and bright, happy. So beautiful. I returned the photo to its home and crawled under the big down comforter, as David’s framed family watched me nestle in. I drifted off in spite of their scrutinizing gaze. *
The unexpected rumble of the garage door opening roused me at a quarter to two. I sat up, swung my legs over the side of the bed, and listened. David must’ve abandoned his film because there was only silence until the sound of a car door closing in the garage had me on my feet. Maybe he went out? Not likely, since I didn’t hear him leave. Shit. Ana wasn’t due home from the
bank for hours. Occasionally she came home early, but she has always called to let him know sheâ€™s heading out, giving us a good forty-five minutes to clean up and for me to be on my way. Of course, in times past she knew there was a chance David could be entertaining, but that was no longer the case. She would not be expecting to find me here today. Here we go. I took a deep breath and, with curiosity overruling panic for the moment, stepped out into the hall outside the guestroom. Ana came through the door from the garage, ethereal in a champagne blouse, tapered slacks, and chestnut hair swept up off her neck. I watched as David accepted the canvas grocery store bags from her arms. He made flamboyant efforts to draw her attention into the house, away from the hall. Ana didnâ€™t look fooled when she turned to see what he was working so hard to distract her from. Her eyes, moving down the hall and
settling on me, hardened with recognition. A small rush of adrenaline crept down the back of my neck, eliminating the last of my dreamy stupor. Visions of a hair-pulling schoolyard scene played fleetingly through my mind. Even as I drew myself up in defense, my eyes pleaded with her for understanding. She turned, dismissing me, to address her husband. Placing a hand on his chest, Ana looked up into his face silencing whatever weak explanation he might offer. “You promised,” she moved into the kitchen, pulling vegetables out of bags and putting them on the counter. Speaking soft and rapidly to him, or maybe just out loud to herself, “You promised you wouldn’t see her anymore.” “I know I did, Ana—” “—you said you would end that relationship, David. We agreed to spend some time being exclusive for a while. That was six months ago. When did you start
seeing her again?” She looked up at me, frozen in place, and then slowly turned back to David, her eyes wide, “Did you ever stop?” “Of course I did. I told you I would, but she reached out to me a few weeks ago when her mother died and, well, I just wanted to be there for her,” he moved closer to her then, put his hand on her arm. Ana shook him off and spun on him, “You wanted to be there for her? Jesus Christ, David, get your girlfriend out of my house.” She flashed an icy glare my way, then snatched a bottle of wine from the rack on the counter and stormed off in the direction of their bedroom. David moved off into the den, looking deflated, and I followed, unsure of what to do. Surely I should make my exit, but I looked to him for direction, never really sure of what he wanted. At the very least, I needed to get my things from their bedroom in order to go. My
mother’s earrings were on the dresser. Ana’s dresser. Her finding them wouldn’t help David any, but I couldn’t be sure that my retrieving them would be much better. He stared thoughtfully out the picture window into the yard. During a morning visit the week before, we’d stood there together spying on a Redshouldered Hawk in a nearby eucalyptus. Unaffected by our intrusive gaze, it devoured the small sparrow it had dragged from the park beyond the cinderblock wall. I wondered if David was remembering that morning now. Both the carnage and the conversation surfaced in my mind. “I’m glad I got some pictures, it’s so raw and almost beautiful to watch, you know?” David loved to photograph nature. Nature and scenery. “I like raw and beautiful,” I giggled, bumping my hip into his and turning a little to look up at him. He smiled and bent to kiss my cheek.
“I’m glad you’re here, Lily.” He sounded sincere, and somewhat relieved. I wanted him to want me there, “Me, too. I’d like to be here more often.” “I know, I’m working on it. I actually brought it up to Ana, in sort of a joking way on Friday night, and asked what she thought about having a second wife in the house.” I’d taken a step back from him then, unable to conceal my surprise at this unexpectedly bold step, even in jest, “What did she say?” “She laughed and said she thought that would be splendid as long as the new wife was willing to take on her share of the bills and the house work.” David moved to sit down on the sofa, shaking his head and smirking, “Then at the family poker game Saturday night, after she’d had a couple glasses of wine, she announced that we were in the market for a wife!” He
looked up at me, smiling, obviously delighted by the idea. “God, my family thinks I am such a cad!” “Oh please, David,” I sat next to him and picked up my phone. The little green light was blinking, which meant there might be a message from my editor about the article I’d submitted to run in that night’s edition. “The men in your family are hardly experts in the relationship department. You’re the golden boy, right? Maintaining an open marriage for what? Most of the last 20 years? They’re jealous.” Fuck them, I thought, scanning my messages. The only person whose opinion mattered in that moment was Ana . “So, did you talk to her about this other wife idea after that?” “Not yet.” “Chicken,” I laughed, suspecting this would be the case. Just wrap me in a big red bow and give me to her for Christmas. I’ll give her the best orgasm she’s ever had and our problems will be solved.
David laughed the last time I brought that up, but I think we both knew I was only partly playing around. He’d shared with me early on that Ana didn’t enjoy intercourse all that much (part of the reason they’d agreed he could get a little on the side from time to time), and that she’d actually been dating only women when they first met. That they’d met at a costume party where he’d come in drag, wasn’t lost on me. Based on Ana’s reaction today, it’s safe to assume he still hadn’t pressed her on the subject. I waited for him to turn, address me, and decide on some immediate course of action. When he didn’t, I decided on my own. The door to the master bedroom was only half closed. On approach, I could see my earrings on the dresser. The drapes were pulled open and the room was awash in afternoon light. Ana stood in the furthest corner of the room, behind the ironing board. The bottle of wine sat open on the wide end, immune to the
rhythmic hiss and suck of the iron as Ana drew it across grey slacks draped over the opposite end. She didn’t look up when I came in, just kept on punishing those pants with the weight of her thoughts. She wasn’t crying. I’d always hoped she wouldn’t. Maybe she was beyond crying, her shoulders looked so resigned. They did not waiver when I spoke. “I just need to grab my things…” I tried to sound casual, but confident, like I had a right to be there. Like my things had a right to be in her space. Taking my hoops from the dresser and slipping them into my jeans pocket, and watching for any sudden movement in Ana’s direction, I stepped closer to the queen bed I’d made up only hours before, looking for my shoes. Our quilt, the yellow one David’s grandmother made when he was five, was folded up on the corner of the bed. It smelled like us. Ana’d told him once last year that she could smell me in the house. We’d taken to using the
quilt, and then he’d wash it before she got home. But she came home too early today, and in spite of the starch, the room still smelled like the Dragon’s Blood oil I wore. My shoes were on top of the quilt, with my socks stuck into one and my bra folded into the other, like she’d tidied up. Ana didn’t throw the iron at me, or the bottle of wine. I had her by a good fifty pounds and always reassured myself I could take her if it came to that, but I’d never factored in the possibility of weapons. Words gathered in my throat as I stood silently, watching her wait me out. Hundreds of times I’ve gone over what I’d say if I got the opportunity to talk to her, and here it was, and my vocal cords cemented shut. David could walk in at any moment and seize the wheel if I didn’t act, but my rehearsed sentiments felt weak. The most honest thing I could say, I love him, too, sounded juvenile and small in the face of her stern
silence. Spousal theft is not on my agenda, seemed trite, and I wasn’t sure an attempt at comedy would win her over today. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell her the deeper truth; You draw me to him as much as any other part I’ve grown to know. “It’s not my intention to take him from you, Ana.” She set the iron on its end, and looked up at me with a raised brow, “Do you imagine you could?” Her eyes were a little less hard then, and I hoped that maybe her question to me was more of a realization of her own. “Not really.” I struggled with which direction to try to take this conversation, assuming I could keep her engaged. I decided that bolder would probably be better, under the circumstances. “I’m not going to abandon this relationship though, and it seems clear he doesn’t want to either.” Ana sucked in a breath and reached for the iron. I ducked, trying to make it look natural as I leaned down
to grab my things off the bed. It’s harder to hit a moving target. I moved toward the bedroom door, but couldn’t pass up this opportunity, “Every time you’ve asked him to, he’s stopped seeing me. Sometimes for weeks, sometimes months, but we always find reasons to see each other again. We don’t have to keep playing this game, there are other solutions…” “Get out,” she said, her voice pressed flat like her pants. Nothing flew in my direction, but I backed out of the room quickly just the same, then turned and made my way back to the guestroom. *
The scrutiny of David’s family was no less intense upon my return. I stood almost completely shameless before them, putting my bra back on using a ten-second gym class maneuver, and searched their glossy eyes for a way in. An oval holiday collage held pictures of
David’s entire family. His mother claimed the center space, of course, the matriarch with piercing emerald eyes. The strawberry blonde hair that framed her face and fell across her shoulders made her look soft and agreeable. The top spot in the frame belonged to David and Ana, seated close together on a stone hearth, Ana’s hand resting on his knee. Next came David’s brother, Damien, second oldest, the one with money and an exwife, standing with his arms around his two teenage children. Below Damien was Danny, who was single and worked retail, smiling and raising a glass of scotch to toast the camera. And last was Daryl, the Christian, surrounded by his wife and three small tow-headed children. Sometimes it was harder to imagine myself in their lives than it was to picture them in mine. How on earth would it all play out? I tried to envision Christmas dinner at his mother’s house, with everyone seated around the table, Ana on his right and I
to his left. Perhaps his little brothers would congratulate him, and chalk the whole affair up to the O’Shea prowess. They’re such a competitive lot, by the following holiday no doubt the party would be double the size. I was getting way ahead of myself, and it was altogether too much to consider. I decided it was time to go find David. Emerging from the bedroom, I heard their hushed voices coming from the den. When I reached the adjacent room, that awkward room with the white sofa where no ever sits, their voices were clearer. I sat where I could see them standing side by side in front of the window. “This isn’t what we talked about,” Ana said as they scanned the eucalyptus together. “You told me you could let it go.” “I know what I told you. It was true when I said it, every time I said it. I believed I could let her go. I just—”
“—you just lied.” She shifted her weight to her left leg, creating more space between them. David’s head tipped back slightly, his gaze climbing the tree outside. I imagined he might be searching for his hawk. “Maybe the lie I tell myself is even greater. I don’t know. I like to believe it’s not that simple.” Ana sighed softly, “I don’t know if I can do this, David. What you’re asking…” He turned to face her then, “I’m asking you to believe that I love you, and to accept that the feelings I have for Lily don’t take away from the love I have for you in any way.” David paused for a moment, and I could tell he was undecided on what to say next. We’d talked about this conversation a few times, and there were just so many ways to come at it. I guessed that ultimately he would go with as honest an approach as he could, while still preserving her feelings as much as possible. “Ana, if the situation was reversed, and I’d
met Lily first, we’d still be here at this crossroads, and you’d be the one on the outside. What would you have me do then?” “But David, those aren’t the circumstances,” she started off weakly, almost pleading with him, but then her voice hardened again, “and it’s not fair of you to ask me that question.” “She wants to know you, Ana.” I could hear the caution in his voice, and was grateful not to be participating in the conversation. “Don’t make this about me.” She shook her head and raised a hand as if to stop this line of conversation. “But it’s about both of us. It’s about the three of us.” He insisted, searching her face for a reaction, but her eyes still focused on some unseen place outside and she didn’t respond. He continued, “She is the only woman I’ve ever met who believes the way that we do about love and sex, monogamy and the human
condition. Was it all talk before? Or have your beliefs changed?” “Maybe they have, I don’t know. I still believe people aren’t made for monogamy, but it doesn’t seem to stop me from wanting to be the exception.” “I can understand that. You are an exceptional woman, Ana. I don’t want to lose you, I really don’t. But I have to tell you, I don’t want to lose Lily either. I want to change the rules on you, and I know it’s not fair. I didn’t go looking for it, but this is where we are and there are ways we can make it work. We’ve talked about it and—” “—we’ve talked about it?” Ana, finding her anger, turned on him again, “We haven’t talked about it. Who’s talked about it? You and her? Certainly not you and I. Not with any seriousness.” “No, not you and I, but—”
“—Fine, David.” Her voice broke, the fight gone out of her, and when Ana left the room I found myself wanting him to go after her. As much as my own heart ached in the months David and I’d spent apart from each other, I didn’t see breaking Ana’s heart as a viable alternative. David joined me on the sofa, “Are you all right?” he asked me, taking my hand. “What did she say to you?” “She told me I couldn’t take you even if I wanted to,” I smiled, squeezing his hand. “I’m ok,” I reassured him, “I need to go. Revisions,” I said, pulling my phone out of my pocket and indicating the little green light, “I only have a couple hours before we go to print.” I made my way to the door. He was going to end it. Again. I could feel it coming, and I just didn’t want to be there for it.
“Lily, it’ll be all right. I’ll call you in the morning.” He put his hands on my shoulders, trying to get a look in my eyes. “Really, I know, it’s fine. I just need to go.” I can never make it out without a kiss; its own conversation. The truth never more tangled than in the mouths of lovers.
A Conversation with Nina Foxx: Author, Playwright and Filmmaker
BF: You were already a successful author before receiving your MFA degree. What made you decide to go back to school, and what did you learn about your writing through the program?
NF: I wanted to write better, in a more thoughtful way. I also wanted to gain some credibility as I planned to cross genres and publish some work in a more literary style. I learned to read like a writer, for sure and learned to look at the details in a different way.
BF: Who were some of your writing heroes growing up? Who do you admire now?
NF: I used to read my fatherâ€™s books, and he loved Science Fiction. Asimov, Stephen King. I love Stephen King to this
day. My tastes are so eclectic. I read everything. Right now, for instance I am reading Game of Thrones and Americanah. I love to see how true a movie adaptation is to a book.
BF: Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
NF: Iâ€™m a people watcher. I am a psychologist. I watch people for a living! As a writer, I get to write down and interpret what I see.
BF: Not only are you a successful author, but you also have the titles of playwright and filmmaker. Do you feel like you have to wear different hats for these roles? Also, is there one title that you're more proud of than the other?
NF: They are all about watching people and translating them to different ways of telling a story. Bringing my characters to life is a natural progression of writing, and I love dealing with the business side of film.
BF: You recently raised the question, "What is urban fiction?" on your Facebook profile. You also stated that your latest book, Eastern Spice was classified as "urban." How do you define urban literature and do you consider your book to be urban?
NF: I don’t define any of it. Someone else does, and as writers we get lumped in categories. I think “they” seem to be defining urban as “written by Black.” There is nothing urban about where the characters in the Cynnamon Foster books go and live. And what happens in the books is certainly different than what happens in the books they say are traditionally urban. I couldn’t write that authentically.
BF: Describe your typical writing day (for example, where do you prefer to write? How long do you write? Etc.)
NF: I have a lot of things on my plate. I usually try to write about an hour midday, then again a couple of hours at night, more on the weekends, especially if I have a deadline.
BF: What is the most challenging part of writing for you?
NF: Writing fast enough to get the ideas out of my head. Sometimes I have more ideas than motivation!
BF: We had the pleasure of chatting with you when you graduated from FDU. What resonated the most with us
was when you told us to never listen to anyone who didn't think your work was good. You said, "If you believe it's good, then it's good." Do you have any other advice to writers?
NF: Write for practice and pleasure, as opposed to for publication, and don’t ever throw anything away. You might find a home for it eventually or it can evolve into something you didn’t imagine.
BF: What is most important to you—character or plot?
NF: It depends on what I am writing. I have written both types of things.
BF: What's next for you? Any upcoming projects?
Lots. I owe a publisher two Cynnamon Foster books (same series). They take place in more exotic locales that I visited. I also edited a creative non-fiction anthology that will be published by Simon and Schuster next year (as Nina Foxx). I also have several Nina Foxx books in the pipeline including a young adult series. I have one literary novel that was short-listed for a Doctorow Award in Innovative Fiction. On the film front, I had one just released (executive producer), and three other features behind it. Lastly, I am in development on a film I wrote that is based on one of my earlier books.
To find out more about Nina Foxx visit her website: www.ninafoxx.com.
Cover Artist: Robin Kim is a college student aspiring to be a fashion photographer. She completed her freshman year of fine arts and foundations at the University of Delaware and will be transferring to the School of Visual Arts to study Photography. She loves working with various mediums and exploring different ways to convey a certain message through her works. More information about Robin and her endeavors as a young artist can be found on her Twitter account (@iRYKu) and Instagram (@ryk_u). Background info on "The Kimono Girl": Dimensions 3' x 10' "The Kimono Girl" is an oil painting of a blonde Asian woman in a kimono. This piece shows how the standard of beauty for Asian women have changed due to Western influences. As much as Asian communities have started to crack down on women rights issues in an attempt to adopt a "Western mindset," they cannot avoid the stereotypes and discrimination against Asian women that still exists today. So the artist thought it would be ironic to "empower" this Asian figure by giving her Caucasian traits and making her strike a confident pose. In turn, the extravagance of her garment and her exotic traits deceive us from seeing that these things are actually entrapping her. She is losing her identity by falling short to society's definition of beauty, yet she is still a captivating figure.
Michael Badger III is currently an MFA student at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. He's been published in Stockholm University's Two Thirds North 2013, Black Heart Magazine, and others. At this exact moment he is probably traveling through England and the rest of Europe with an oversized backpack loaded with accidentally too many toothbrushes and not enough shirts. He's working on
a series of semi-related philosophical essays exploring his mental health which he hopes isn't too self-indulgent. Shavawn M. Berryâ€™s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rebelle Society, Poet Lore, Vagina â€“ The Zine, The Cancer Poetry Project 2, Kinema Poetics, Kalliope, Westview - A Journal of Western Oklahoma, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Concho River Review, North Atlantic Review, Synapse, Living Buddhism, Blue Mountain Arts/SPS, and Poetry Seattle. Her technique essay on the dramatic monologue/persona poem is featured in a poetry database published in 2013 by Ebsco Publishing. In 1998, she received her MPW in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she specialized in Creative Non-fiction and Memoir.Ms. Berry teaches writing at Arizona State University, where she is currently a 2013 Lincoln Ethics Teaching Fellow. You can follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/shavawnmidoriberry or read more of her work on her blog, http://fallingintowonderland.wordpress.com/. A portfolio featuring a selection of her essays, blog postings, and prose is available at: https://shavawnberry.contently.com/.
Danielle Bordelon is a fiction writer currently focusing on short stories and the editing of her novel. She studies International Studies and Spanish at Southern Methodist University. Danielle lives in an apartment with three friends, hundreds of abused books, and an overactive imagination. Her short stories have been published in Thickjam and Quail Bell Magazine.
Marjorie Brody, a Pushcart Prize nominee, is an awardwinning short story writer and novelist who holds a profound fondness for the poetic. She combines her lyrical prose with a powerful tale of psychological suspense in her current novel, TWISTED. You're invited to visit her at: www.marjoriespages.com.
Jack Coey lives in Keene, New Hampshire.
Donna Compton has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology but recently began studying creative writing and is especially interested in writing short stories and flash fiction. This is the first time any of her work has been published. She can be contacted on Twitter @fic1000.
Andrea Danowski will be attending the University of Oregon's creative writing MFA program this fall. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Nontrue, and Jersey Devil Press, among others.
R J Davey is a writer from Nottingham in the UK, by way of Devon (where he grew up). He is the owner and editorin-chief of Dagda Publishing, and is a published author, having had poetry featured on Dead Beats Literary Blog, Open Mouse Scotland and in the anthology, Such Words as These. He enjoys a good bottle of wine, and his favorite authors are Charles Bukowski, Hunter S Thompson and Neil Gaiman. He also has an extensive plan in place to survive a Zombie apocalypse.
Arthur Davis is a management consultant, has been quoted in The New York Times, Crain?s New York Business, interviewed on New York TV News Channel 1, taught at the New School University, given testimony as an expert on best practices for the U.S. Senate and appeared as an expert witness on best practices before The New York State Commission on Corruption in Boxing. He has written 11 novels and over 130 short stories. Over 30 stories have been published. Frank Fiordalisi attended St. John’s University (NYC), where he received a BS degree. He pursued a career in teaching and pharmacy until he moved to South Florida. Frank joined the Miami-Dade Police Department and served for twenty-nine years until his retirement in 2001. He currently resides in Gainesville, Florida.
Christen Gresham is an office manager by day and moonlights as a volunteer creative writing teacher for middle school students. She will begin fall 2013 as a graduate student in Savannah College of Art and Design’s MFA writing program. Roy Guzmán’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Drunken Boat, BorderSenses, Red Savina Review, Eunoia Review, The Glass Coin, Bong is Bard, and via his own blog: rgman.wordpress.com. Roy works extensively with haikus, the concept of autobiography and hybrid narratives. A native of Honduras and resident of Miami, FL, he also explores citizenship and identity. Follow him on Twitter @dreamingauze.
Kara Harte is a full-time college student in Connecticut, and is an aspiring Young Adult author.
Sandra Kolankiewicz's work has been accepted by, or appears in, Gargoyle, Per Contra, Prick of the Spindle, IthacaLit, Steel Toe, Atticus, and Digital Americana. Her chapbook Turning Inside Out is available from Black Lawrence Press. Blue Eyes Don't Cry won the Hackney Award for the Novel. She teaches Developmental English in West Virginia.
Juliet Niehaus writes mysteries and mysterious short stories that integrate her varied occupational experiences and avocations. She grew up amid the Indiana cornfields, but the first chance she got, she moved to New York City where she acquired a doctorate in anthropology and a Master’s degree in social work. There, she worked in city hospitals, mental health clinics, and colleges—and found lots of stories before moving with her husband to Tucson, Arizona to discover the desert. She now pays the bills through work as a horticultural therapist, a profession that uses gardening as a therapeutic tool to rehabilitate those with disabilities. Ms. Niehaus has published articles in newspapers, professional volumes, and journals, but currently spends most of her time writing fiction.
Chelsea Reeser is a musician, horse-lover, and Tolkienite who enjoys paying homage to the intoxicating power of words. She speaks three languages, can solve a Rubik’s cube in three minutes, and considers the bookstore her second home. She is studying English at the University of South Carolina Honors College.
Elizabeth Sheets is an undergraduate student at Arizona State University, majoring in English, Creative Writing. She’s an editor and aspiring novelist. Elizabeth currently interns as a blogger for Superstition Review, and looks forward to migrating fully into the literary field after graduation. Her work appears in Kalliope – A Consortium of New Voices. She lives in Mesa, Arizona with her husband and children.
Susan G. Simonds is an M.F.A. student at Adelphi University, where she also works as an Operations Manager. Her work has been featured in Blue Ridge Literary Prose and Vine Leaves Literary Journal. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.
Pat Tyrer is a writer and Associate Professor of English at West Texas A&M University where she teaches Creative Writing, Film Studies, and American Literature. She's recently completed a monograph on Evelyn Scott, an American Modernist and is currently working on a second novel about an English teacher in West Texas. Her film reviews appear weekly in the Canyon News and her creative work has appeared in Readers' Digest, Quiet Mountain: New Feminist Essays, The Journal of the D.H. Lawrence Society, Mused, The Southern Literary Journal, Journal of the College Conference of Teachers of English, and Speaking of Love, an anthology of love and marriage. Andrés Vaamonde is a 17-year-old from New York City. His writing can be found in in Teen Ink's print magazine, Eber and Wein's Best Poets of 2013 collection, Young Poets Network, Miracle E-Zine, Nostrovia! Poetry: W.I.S.H, Cuckoo Quarterly, and Fortune Magazine online. 173
He was awarded a Gold Key in the 2013 Scholastic Writing Awards, named a winner of the 2013 Miracle Poetry Competition, and was commended by Foyle Young Poets as a 2012 Young Poet of the Year. When he isn't pounding on his keyboard, Andrés interns for Fortune Magazine, performs slam poetry, and reads too many books. Additionally, he enjoys getting lost -- and doesn't enjoy writing bio's.
Elizabeth Jane Whittington has written and published poetry since her first poem was accepted by her undergraduate literary journal. She was finalist for the Marjorie Wilson Award for Excellence in Poetry and for the Sue Saniel Elkind National Poetry Competition. She was named Poet of the Year by the New England Association of Teachers of English in 2007. Her work has appeared in small journals and was anthologized in Abalone Moon. A few years ago she decided to try writing fiction. Her first story, “Two Beats to this Music,” earned Honorable Mention in the 2011 Glimmer Train Fiction Open. She is co-organizer of the NH Writers’ Project Writers’ Night Out, a monthly gathering during which fifteen writers read their work, generally to a full house. Jazz and Solo is her first published flash fiction story. She is currently working on a novel.
Stephen Williams holds a BA in creative writing from the University of California Riverside, where he won the Chancellor's Performance Award for excellence in fiction. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Menacing Hedge, Underneath the Juniper Tree, Black Heart, and BLACK&WHITE. Currently, he serves as an editor for Rind Literary Magazine. He lives in a small
desert town where the only thing to do for fun is catch rattlesnakes.