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Issue #17, August 2010

Landscape Woodcut by Peter L. Scacco

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In This Issue... Letter from the Editors

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Poems

Woodcut by Peter L. Scacco

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Rajiv Mohabir

break, ⼈

7

a desert hospitality

8

Megan Duffy

Peonies Again

9

Tree Riesener

patron saint of the waterboarded

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Laura Drell

Promise

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Josh Pearce

after only so much

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Derek Richards

Contact Visit

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Heather Gustine

The Raven’s Mother

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Wesley Rothman

Fathers

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Grady Chambers

Fourth of July

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Matthew Klitsch

elegy for dorothy and gizmo

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Biting the Tube

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Kelci M. Kelci

melvin street, pa

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Clarissa Olivarez

Letters to V.

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The Gray Area

Woodcut by Peter L. Scacco

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Stephen M. Outten

Paris is Burning

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Fiction

Woodcut by Peter L. Scacco

28

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Trevor J. Houser

Underwater

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Cherri Randall

Greater than Y

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Contributor Bios

44

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Welcome, readers, to another issue of Blood Lotus! In #17, our writers explored the motif of family, birth and chosen—and often, the dark places we go to upon losing or failing to protect our loved ones. As always, we are happily astonished at the cohesion of pieces that rise to the top each reading period, and at the quality of nearly all submissions we receive. It should never go without saying that you readers and would-be contributors keep us alive! The issue and its three sections are set off by four woodcuts by Peter L. Scacco, beautiful, colorful pieces with simple yet evocative titles and a visual appeal marked by labyrinthine lines. We consistently hear positive responses to the art we use in our issues; yet we‘ve never featured woodcuts before, so thanks to Peter for allowing us to promote unique art once again. This issue‘s poetry section opens with a stunning lyric piece about nesting by Rajiv Mohabir called ―break, ⼈,‖ followed by a second piece called ―a desert hospitality,‖ in which a son travels ―to make money for his thirsting mother‖; and by the end of the poem, ―mother and child / wither into the sonora‘s nameless bones.‖ Megan Duffy‘s ―Peonies Again‖ follows with another mother-child relationship, this time from the point of view of the mother, who memorably sees in the flowers a filleted tuna, then the ―beginning place[s]‖ of both herself and her daughter. Another mother and another child open Tree Riesener‘s ―patron saint of the waterboarded,‖ a litany of the domestic agonies of war which reminds us ―of shock and awe / we never knew we had to pray for.‖ On a similar current events note, Laura Drell‘s concise ―Promise‖ takes in a gruesome newspaper photo and imagines a child‘s anguished plea for help. By the time we get to Josh Pearce‘s ―after only so much,‖ neither we nor Pearce‘s speaker can take any more bad news from the outside world; we may feel like applauding the destruction and silencing of that ―mirror- / faced television.‖ From the assumed crime of watching too much television (read a book/issue of your favorite online lit journal instead!) to the very real crime perpetrated by the speaker in Derek Richards‘ ―Contact Visit,‖ we return to the mother-child concept from inside a jail cell, as an adult son looks back on his hard time and hard living, only to soften at the end when he thinks of his upcoming visit with his mother—a tenderness that makes us reflect on the chivalric, vigilante nature of his crime. We hear from another mother in Heather Gustine‘s haunting poem ―The Raven‘s Mother,‖ who says what is often perceived to be unsayable by mothers: ―I hated how you needed me.‖ Perhaps if it wasn‘t so taboo to express such a sentiment, the Susan Smith outcome of the poem would be avoided in real life…but keep it in the poem for the chill factor which creates a suspenseful rhythm. Finally, in Wesley Rothman‘s well-crafted ghazal, we come to patriarchs. The poem may be called ―Fathers,‖ but the refrain obsesses over a mother coming undone under the male influences in her life. Another father in Grady Chambers‘ ―Fourth of July‖ neglects his son, who begins to learn a lesson we want to stop in its tracks: ―how the men…need /to move away from / the women and us / and themselves, too.‖ Next are two poems by Matthew Klitsch, the first of which is ―elegy for dorothy and gizmo,‖ a catalog of things unsaid after a death. The

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second Klitsch poem, ―Biting the Tube,‖ deviates from the parent-child theme of the preceding poems and introduces a sibling relationship: a man conflating saving the life of a rabbit and saving the life of his brother. In Kelci M. Kelci‘s ―melvin street, pa,‖ it‘s too late; a housemate‘s suicide leads to the stark understanding that ―pittsburgh weather didn‘t kill this body.‖ Lastly, Clarissa Olivarez examines the relationship between literary figures Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, now widely believed to have been an intense lesbian affair. The segue from Kelci‘s poem to ―Letters to V.‖ is suicide, as Woolf drowned herself in 1941. Olivarez writes lovely and poignant lines envisioning the empathetic sentiment passed back and forth between Virginia and Vita in their epistolary tradition. It‘s a touching lyrical tribute to the V‘s and to the idea of family of choice: in this case, the literary family, the lesbian affair, and more general but no less profound, the powerful love of female friendship. While the poetry section of #17 focuses on friendship and the nuclear family, the prose of this issue moves into the realm of family as centered on a romantic relationship. The Gray Area features a flash fiction piece by Stephen M. Outten called ―Paris is Burning,‖ the title of which comes from a young woman‘s possible premonitory dream while spending the night with a new lover. In the fiction section, please enjoy two fantastic and complementary stories, the first of which is called ―Underwater,‖ by Trevor J. Houser. In this story, the main character is estranged from his wife and decides to build a house underwater as a distraction from having to deal with his impending divorce. The excessive drinking of Tom Collins‘ and periodic visits from the President add a surrealist quality to this strange, funny, well-written piece. The second story is called ―Greater than Y‖ and is written by Cherri Randall, who explores the complexities of need between another couple in the throes of divorce. Randall contends with the psychology of her main character, Dena, with admirable control and sense of detail and pacing: when Dena becomes annoyed with her ex-husband and contemplates telling him she never enjoyed their sex, she stops, ―Thinks about her pact with God to be honest in all things, thinks about hurting the father of her children this way. Thinks about being 18 and stupid and amenable waiting for things to automatically get better and being in love, then reading Cosmopolitan and knowing there was no way she could ask her husband to do things differently, that he would inevitably take it as a criticism and it would destroy them and by now, there are children.‖ Could the fact that she instead asks him to take her to Wal-Mart and he agrees be an indication of a pending reconciliation? Randall‘s realism has us thinking about these characters long after the story ends. But the story must end, as must this issue. Even though it explores some of the darker aspects of family and relationships, we hope you made a connection while reading #17. Best, The Editors

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#17 Poems

Sanctuary Woodcut by Peter L. Scacco

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Rajiv Mohabir BREAK,

cactus wren amasses fur, paper, cotton into a needle crowned nest— her eggs this hole deadens suguaro from chest down, a deadened pair of legs functionless dangle below a hollowed heart chunk drying in mojave air —or sometimes her song is her only sighting, or the memory of spring wrens love each other lifelong: brown stripes and awkward fire-songs, or into pentacostal tongues breathing fire, or— sometimes its yellow flowers bloom in times of plenty saving what its body remembers of plenty, her body spends round calcium, a reason for home— —or sun or desert winds scorch broken eggs and home into ash or broken cacti suguaro stands as tall as it can feel for as long as the nest endures eggs or other shoots of other suguaroes you burrowed into my chest, deep. we loved each other once into pentacostal tongues and blood or the diverging line in mandarin for human heartedness pronounced /ren/. wren shows herself hardly; nests in any convenient home. you feathered me into dummy home, the day you left i burned standing.

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Rajiv Mohabir A DESERT HOSPITALITY

swollen tongue in a pasty mouth, maya to spanish, guatemala to US: sonora to tuscon, to make money for his thirsting mother, packed in cargo trucks four men deep, sardined between men and nafta earning, he walked, xuxep to lorenzo to loren to senate bill 1070. coyote spat him out, mangled searching the wall for permeability. puncture wounds to contort names, squeeze limbs and tongues through, tear tears: his sister, in a shadow‘s anomaly, the child dried out in her womb, sat reclining swollen tongue in a pasty mouth, mother and child wither into the sonora‘s nameless bones.

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Megan Duffy PEONIES AGAIN The many-fisted bliss of the peony rows about to birth, their heads crowned with waves of fuchsia, reminds you of the exposed interior of the Big-eyed tuna you once saw, flayed before you. The ripple of purple meat descending like stalagmites; the thickly laid stucco of the inside, what lay hidden for however long that Big-eyed reigned underwater—the curtains of sliced fat, expanding beneath cobalt scales. You are brought back to the peonies by the pull of your child's hand. You stand there, holding her up to the almost blooms, the every second emerging globes of blush. Your palm against the skin of her torso, the feel of her ribcage like a small wicker basket lined with leaves. You are reminded of her beginning place and yours: those concealed rooms of flesh, now bloodless.

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Tree Riesener PATRON SAINT OF THE WATERBOARDED

because the chinese mother of a plastinated boy begs for just one bone to bury because the gravedigger of baghdad says all you need is a box of his clothes because she of the succession weeps for her flesh because a man has his dead soldier son‘s name painted on an iraq-bound bomb then learns it was all a lie because a reversible doll has jesus‘ arms outstretched to hug on one side starkly crucified on the other because wounded angels fallen on the highway are proclaimed road kill and tied to the hoods of government limousines the patron saint of the waterboarded warns us of shock and awe we never knew we had to pray for avalanche tsunami whirlwind flame

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Laura Drell PROMISE Page 12 of this week‘s Time A row of legs only some white others peach under tan skin attracting flies. Speak to the bones. A path of white stones mattress lined where children sleep. Tell me. Can dry stones walk? A girl found alive under a pile of burned bricks her hands and feet cut, her mouth dry but she calls for help: Don’t let me die. Prophesy, son of man. Prophesy, breath.

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Josh Pearce AFTER ONLY SO MUCH

after only so much screaming desperation did I take my mirrorfaced television out to sit in the paperwhite thistledown &narcissus to be among his own only then, un plugged, was he at a loss for words

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Derek Richards CONTACT VISIT I wasn't supposed to be a cold-blooded murderer. Athens Man Receives 20 For Manslaughter. struggling in school, dating Kimberly Tebow, shooting pellets at budweiser cans, and then Davie-Boy said his girl, Anne-Marie, we called her "Runway Legs", was found beaten up outside the bus depot in Kayettesville. now I never liked Anne-Marie, but Davie-Boy? I'd tell a bullet flying for my head to go fuck off before ever ditching that kid. after a quick hit of ice, a few shots of whiskey, started off for Swamp Eye Pub. thinking nothing more than a crow bar and an exit scene. revenge for a friend, you know? dumb boy from Oldgon Creek, big hick named R.J., had had a fancy for Anne-Marie. she said no and he started punching. after a few more shots and a quick hit in a filthy stall, I saw R.J., swaying greasy stupid. he beat her bad, real fucking bad, she's gonna die, you know? maybe not right now, but how's Anne-Marie ever gonna live with her face all busted up? Abe told me once that Islam started 'cause of one illiterate man struggling in Mecca. God would send him his archangels, man, give him visions and everybody thinking that boy crazy. know what he did? wrote a book, the truth. called the Koran. just one crazy kid. that night at the bar I heard a voice. about a big old dumb-ass being the devil himself. Athens Youth Convicted for Beating Local Man To Death I've had lots of time to think about the devil. lot of time to argue with Ray about the Bible, talk with Abe about the Truth.

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Derek Richards lot of time to stare at yellow-flaked paint while praying to the God of my immediate release. but it ain't happening. according to this file, Marcus, you got 15 days before your first contact visit. wanna see your mama, right? 15 days, don't go messin' it up. been four years, thirteen days since I've seen her. ain't been nobody else but killers, rapists, thieves, and, of course, the other inmates. one crazy kid who couldn't read, got so many visions he went and wrote himself a book people killing and dying for to this day. and all I'm asking is for those arms around my neck. those words inside my ear. so good to see you, son, I've missed you so much. when I do I'm gonna cry like a damn baby, not caring whether I'm facing East, West, God or the Holy Devil. I just want to squeeze her hands, tell her, hey mama, you're crazy kid be doing all right

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Heather Gustine THE RAVEN‘S MOTHER I realized I hated you the week you came down with a cold. For nights on end you cried so hard I could feel it in the back of my throat. I hated how you needed me, shrieked at your pink face held inches from my own until we both started to shake. Then one day, your skin glossed over black, your nose and mouth pinched into a beak, and your eyes rolled back, shrank into blue marbles. I didn‘t know what I was looking at anymore. Your taloned fists shredded bloody ribbons into my chest and arms. I almost dropped you, but you stretched into wings and flew around the room. I got the broom and tried to knock you into a pillowcase. You cried and cried as you circled above me. The ravens outside the window started crying as well, beckoning you between the open shutters, and out you went. There were no eyewitnesses, no body, to prove that I had done anything wrong. I can‘t explain to my husband the power I hold. He looks at me differently, tenses at my touch, always in my peripheral vision when I am with the children. Daily, I set out to follow you, my blue-eyed raven, as you glide in and out of trees. You look right at me, I‘m sure of it, before diving into the forest

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Heather Gustine where darker things dwell. I set traps for you, littering the ground with table scraps, but somehow you know better than to come near. People nod at me with sad smiles when I tell them my story. I can feel them watching as I turn my back. I feel that watching some days when I‘m in the nursery and look up to see your dark and terrible face at the window.

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Wesley Rothman FATHERS My grandfather made certain to ingrain a bit of hate in my mother. I‘ve heard too often of the black man that cat-called my mother. A wasted father shouts out at his daughters before hitting the hay. He keeps yelling in sleep before a lull, sighs mother. My mother prays: Southern roots wrap their fingers around my daddy’s body and stretch for my heels as I head west. Why mother? Papa passed on a few months after I turned twelve (he died many years earlier). At the funeral I stood nearby mother. Four years old, she sat on the lap of a man with no sons. He slurred and she followed. The memories slowly untying mother.

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Grady Chambers FOURTH OF JULY I‘m throwing rocks at streetlights waiting for the lights to come on, for the big city fireworks show my father had promised, before he shut the bedroom door in the afternoon. Now he says the traffic‘s so bad we couldn‘t get home, and it‘s too hot and crowded anyway, and here‘s a bottle-rocket and a bottle, soda, sandals, a fifth, a Fourth of July in the backyard again. But I see by the way they move ice around in their drinks, crack it between their molars like my father does when I‘m nervous and his belt-buckle gleams, and snub out cigarettes into metal deck chair arm-rests that really it‘s something else, something in how the men seem to quiet and need to move away from the women and us and themselves, too, because my father is showing his friends how an axe head looks when it's heated in fire, and what it does to a lawn-chair‘s legs, and I‘m staring at the power-lines, the shadows they make, the row of pigeons stopped to squint and watch the fireworks in our backyard, the ones I drew

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Grady Chambers with chalk on the fence slats, scratched out with a pen-knife and chalked over and over again to make them shine.

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Matthew Klitsch ELEGY FOR DOROTHY AND GIZMO

I never told you every so often I take out your death card and study it: date and prayer, place and reason—because I can‘t memorize these things. I cannot hold them in my brain like algebra or even meter. Death makes no sense there and sometimes I still visit you. We kiss and sip grown-up tea. But I never tell you I buried you where I did because I was afraid of raccoons. Never tell you I ate the sandwich you made me that fell on the floor. How I held it under the faucet until it was clean. Never tell you that I‘ve been held under water and now that‘s why I can‘t be near the ocean. I don‘t feel any cleaner for it. Never tell you that I make a pilgrimage to your stone still and bottle feed the flowers living in the room the story above you. Never tell you that once when walking I glanced up into the window of an abandoned house and saw you undressing. I lie up at night.

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Matthew Klitsch BITING THE TUBE I‘m sliding this tube down the rabbit‘s hard esophagus. I‘m thinking about my brother lying in a hospital bed. No, there‘s no tube in his throat, though he has something foreign in him. And I know it shouldn‘t be there. So I know why each time I get near this stomach I pull the tube out. ―I can feel something spongy. ―Maybe I‘m in the lungs. Maybe ―I don‘t know—it doesn‘t feel right. ―I was told: if it doesn’t feel right. Pull the tube out. Start again. Something is resisting my best intention to sever one of my own kidneys from myself. Maybe it‘s my brother in a fur gown. I know that this rabbit could start biting the tube. Maybe this tube isn‘t a catheter or an end. But what if it is? What if the tube goes both ways? What if I‘m the one being kept alive by this rabbit?

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Kelci M. Kelci MELVIN STREET,

PA

for Elizabeth Stucki

dash wakes up, blind with no contacts he sees a body hanging from the hallway ceiling and thinks maybe it's a joke but it‘s jay, empty (free), cold (clear), gone (hard), pale (closed): he couldn't pay rent, electricity, or heat but he can hang himself dead. (the note says he's tired of fucking up.) my sleep goes anxious from their neighbor‘s message: she's crying but says don't worry. i think 2005 unrolls into salty month four, a death per month, in green, snow, buds, flurry: pittsburgh weather didn‘t kill this body

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Clarissa Olivarez LETTERS TO V. ―Let me touch the table – so – and thus recover my sense of the moment.‖ - Virginia Woolf, The Waves

I. I begin with today. Twice already I‘ve been awakened. We sit on either side of paper. Swallow your words. One lean towards intimacy and a choke as we remember where we are. II. At ten I begin to dance around my head. I am not like other girls. Women say this, but disruptions would issue out of me. I chiseled away at the edges. Smoothed every line. Inside you shoveled out the panic. III. Outside smoking the cigars you wet. The porch chair damp from rain. I trace the outline of your name with my right middle finger. Switch out my smoke copy after the six dine with Percival. Headaches from the stink. Notes in -

margins like: Repeated moment Nothing is static [*]

I still need you.

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Clarissa Olivarez IV. When we meet I have seen faces. Skin mapped and studied. Coordinates lined with lips. Hair clipped too short to wrap around fingers. ----Tomorrow a breath of clarity when I kneel before you. Blush when you touch me unexpectedly. Moments of being. Committed. Say it. I talk too fast. Vision narrows to a point on your sleeve. V. Vita. Virginia. Is this what forgiveness looks like? Our arms reach across the floor as we crawl towards laughter.

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#17 Gray Area

Cycles Woodcut by Peter L. Scacco

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Stephen M. Outten PARIS IS BURNING ―Paris,‖ she said, pulling the sheet over her chest, ―it was burning, in my dream. Just like I was there again. The room next to mine. So much smoke.‖ ―You‘ve been to Paris?‖ he asked before rubbing the sleep from his eyes. She‘d been to Paris. Another tidbit to store in his head. ―That must have been terrifying for you.‖ ―It was. I‘ll never forget it.‖ ―When was this?‖ ―Last summer. We opened for a French band at this dive bar.‖ She sighed, rolled her shoulders and neck. ―God, they sucked.‖ He glanced at the red numbers on his clock. 4:57. ―Where‘s your restroom?‖ she asked. ―Just out the bedroom and across the hall.‖ She rose from the bed, pulling the sheet to cover her. It put up a fight. She let it drop. Nothing he hadn‘t seen already, apparently. He rolled over. It was cool she‘d been to Europe. He wanted to go. To Paris, especially. New Orleans was like a safe haven for the artistic soul he imagine he harbored. How similar were the two cities? More importantly, would Mandy‘s shadow linger like it did in the French Quarter, hiding behind the looks of mysterious women at Café du Monde? A flush. Brief light in the hallway, a closing door. She came back in the room, her hand before her like a blind woman. ―You have a lot of books,‖ she said. ―Comes with the territory. There shouldn‘t be any in the bathroom, though. Just Entertainment Weekly. Deep shit, I know.‖ ―Shut up. I saw your book cases when I turned on the light. Tell me – will you write about me?‖ She slid back in the bed, her elbow on the pillow, her head in her hand. In the dark, he could just make out the hints of red in her faux-black hair, the blue in her eyes, the fullness of her lips, a singer‘s lips, poised to ask the yet-unasked questions. ―No,‖ he said. ―Liar.‖ ―Maybe.‖ ―It‘s cool. I get it.‖ ―All rivers feed the sea.‖ ―Exactly.‖ ―You understand. That‘s a rare thing.‖ She sat up, Indian-style, sinking into the layers of blankets and sheets. ―So what do you write about again?‖ ―Haven't we gone over this? I was looking through Dave‘s CDs, you interrupted me with a witty comment about my Chucks.‖

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Stephen M. Outten ―Let‘s be honest—the real conversation happens after the drinking stops. Remind me.‖ That was fair. ―Love.‖ ―I do seem to remember you saying something about that. I asked if the creator was anything like his characters.‖ ―See, you remember more than you think.‖ He slid his hand along her thigh to the small of her back, pulling her into him. ―And what did I say to you? ‗You tell me.‘‖ He kissed her, tasted the last remnants of whiskey and cigarettes, explored the softness of her body as she began to beat in rhythm with his own. Very Sexy still lingered along the edge of her throat. ―This is never gonna work, you know,‖ he said between heavy breaths. ―I know.‖ ―We‘re too much alike.‖ ―I know, I know—but there‘s now.‖ As the first bands of daylight inched along his hardwood floor, he found himself thinking of her dream, and of New Orleans, and of the trash bag abandoned at a dumpster, now full of shredded pictures from a previous life. Not that it mattered. That past was a collection of memories, films of phantoms that no longer existed. What mattered was now. This moment. And she was right. Paris was on fire.

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#17 Fiction

Habitat Woodcut by Peter L. Scacco

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Trevor J. Houser UNDERWATER

After my wife and kid leave me I move to a big, lazy river, right near the deepest part. Every morning I make myself a Tom Collins and watch my part of the river ripple in the breeze. I wonder about the wife and the kid while swimming in the afternoon followed by meditation. Sometimes I look for arrowheads, or fix another Tom Collins. In the evening I have chili. I have cold beer from the river. I sleep under the stars and listen for bullfrogs. When my wife drives up periodically, probably to have me sign something, I hide behind one of the obelisks, or I lie down in the woods like dead leaves. ―I am a dead leaf,‖ I say to the dead leaves. In the river I see my first fish. It is a lazy brown trout roughly the size of my forearm. My instincts briefly consider killing it with a rock. My instincts startle me. Occasionally I think about my wife‘s breasts back when she used to let me touch them unconditionally. I go into the woods and masturbate with abandon. I don‘t know what to make of life after marriage. Plausible, but also absurd. I walk from one end of my part of the river to the other. I make a mental inventory of every reed and rock. Do not count the squirrels, I think. The squirrels are not yours. One morning I find over fifty deer milling around. They are sniffing at the air and eating my wildflowers. I think about introducing myself, but instead I just watch. One of the deer eats a half finished can of chili, which makes me smile. Maybe I‘m not in love with my wife anymore, I think. Maybe she is like a rare and precious metal that I have great admiration for and need to study further.  For a week I see no one. Then one afternoon three hikers, a family of four, and my wife come by. The hikers ask if they can have their picture taken next to the mobile wet bar. ―Get a load of this set up,‖ Hiker One says. ―What a riot,‖ Hiker Two says. Hiker three hamming it up pretends to be drinking from my handle of Smirnoff. ―Smile,‖ I tell them, wishing I had pretended to be leaves, or an obelisk, or that I had walked out of the lake naked carrying a giant machete, laughing maniacally. After the three hikers disappear over the ridge I decide it isn‘t enough to live by a river in the middle of nowhere. I should come up with something more drastic like build a tree house, or mine the woods.

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Trevor J. Houser  My wife and I once walked down to another river in another part of the world in another time and swam out until we were up to our necks. My wife straddled me. We did it as slowly as possible so her parents on the back lawn wouldn‘t see. Afterwards my wife and I went back to our respective chaise lounges. We fell asleep in the sun dreaming of things that would never happen.  One day the President of the United States comes to see how I am doing. The sky is blue and hot. The President, who is walking beside me asks me if I am into politics. I shrug. We don‘t speak for awhile after that. Instead we pretend to look at the scenery, which hasn‘t changed for centuries. ―My wife and kid left me,‖ I say to the President. ―Something in my life has doomed me, too,‖ says the President, who is watching the green shallows for trout. ―I‘m from the Pacific Northwest,‖ I say. ―I‘m from the Rust Belt,‖ says the President. For a long time I skip rocks across the river. Later that night I drink nine Tom Collins and grind dance with a jack pine. Mostly, though I go exploring. Sometimes I sit for hours on the obelisks. I watch the humming birds fly around. While the humming birds fly around the heat drains all the toxins out of me like a giant sauna. ―I am a Viking who lives in different times,‖ I say to the heat.  When I return home from one of my nature walks the President is there. He is looking at my mobile wet bar. ―What‘s bothering you?‖ asks the President. ―What do you mean?‖ ―You know,‖ says the President. I want to tell him I‘m against something big like capitalism, or oil companies, but I don‘t feel that way. Those things don‘t feel real to me. They feel far away and made up like unicorns, or flammable monks.  When I was a little kid I saw the President speak somewhere. He was talking about nuclear war and people cheered. I imagined all the missiles and satellites crammed above us in outer space. They felt heavy up there. They were weighing down the atmosphere with the promise of Armageddon melting everyone‘s face off. But for some reason it didn‘t seem that bad. Back then the President had a good sense of humor despite all the weight of MIRV and SALT II pressing down on his senior citizen pompadour. The President is moodier nowadays. He is different than the President in the newspapers. A little taller. Less defined. Fuzzy around the edges.

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Trevor J. Houser A part of me wants to be friends with him.  My part of the river has robins, blue jays, and humming birds. Sometimes I count them, but other times I close my eyes and listen to them. When I am not counting or listening to the various birds the President will often discuss at length the various species of nearby trees. ―You can see, easily enough, where the foxtail pine gets its name,‖ says the President, pointing off to the middle-distance. ―But, unlike the lodge-pole pine, it wears its brush at the end of its tail—that is to say at the extremities of the branchlets.‖ Deep down I realize that regularly seeing and discussing wildlife with the President of the United States is not good for me. It is probably a sign of bad things to come, but I am a world-class escapist. I am an astronaut of the absurd with one toe dipped in the abyss of potentially flammable monks. ―I have no good reason for living anymore,‖ I say, thinking of all the failure and loss I have accumulated so far. I drink a thermos of lukewarm Tom Collins, waiting for ideas to come. Then I have an idea. My idea is to live underwater.  The next morning I walk into town. I go to the masonry and buy a load of bricks. I go to the library and take out books on house building and one on submarine design. I order scuba gear via the Internet. I buy a magnum of Champagne to christen my new underwater lake house when it‘s finished. ―What are you celebrating?‖ the cashier asks. ―I don‘t want to live on land anymore,‖ I say. Back at the lake I fix myself a drink. I look over the book on submarine design. I figure I will need to build a small one if I am going to bring down supplies and get to and from the house. Occasionally I want to come on land for certain holidays, graduations, or to freshen the bar. While I am drafting the first sketches of the mini submarine the President returns from his walk. He makes himself a drink. He sits down on the grass. As always he is wearing a dark blue suit with a red tie. He has a miniature American flag pinned to his lapel. ―I actually don‘t like them,‖ admits the President, tapping the flag pin. ―Wreaks havoc on a good suit.‖ I crumple up another sketch and toss it into the meadow behind me. The entire day goes like this. Sometimes I give the sub designing a rest. I draft other things like skylights for the house that bubble outwards so as to alleviate water pressure. I draft an extra-long chimney that sticks out of the water like a periscope so I can have fires in the winter. ―I am an underwater architect,‖ I say. Eventually I go back to tinkering with the mini sub design. I plan to make it a two-seater so that my kid, or the President can come visit.

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Trevor J. Houser ―What do you think?‖ I ask the President. The President looks over his shoulder. ―Where are you putting the oxygen tanks?‘ ―Where the fuck do you think?‖ I tell the President. ―I‘m afraid I don‘t know,‖ the President says, taking a sip from a brand new drink. ―My father was a Navy man, of course, I, on the other hand, was in the Air Force.‖ The President looks hurt when he says this. He goes for a short walk, shaking his head, muttering to himself. After awhile I stop working on the sub. I decide to go for a swim to clear my mind. I go out to the middle of the river. I imagine my future chimney. In my imagination my future chimney is breaking the whitecaps in a winter storm. Back on land I can see the President squinting over the sketches. His head is tilted critically to one side. The President fixes himself another drink. He sits back down in the grass, scrutinizing a sunflower.  One afternoon we walk over the ridge. We walk around a small butte covered in sugar pines, which according to the President bears the biggest cones of all. In the distance we can see the sun reflecting off my part of the river. ―How‘s the submarine coming?‖ asks the President, scrutinizing one of the giant fallen cones. I tell the President I‘ve decided I won‘t need a submarine after all. ―It‘s tough building things,‖ says the President. ―Of course, that‘s why we always hire out contractors. Ha! Could you imagine if the government ever actually built things?‖  Sometimes after dinner I throw rocks at the moon, or lay in the wildflowers pretending I am not a divorced person who moves to obscure rivers to build underwater houses. Sometimes I feel empty inside. ―Building underwater and personal growth are not one in the same,‖ I say to the emptiness.  I am underwater in my brand new scuba suit. I am hammering brightly colored stakes into the muddy bottom. The stakes signify where the house will go. It is very dark at the bottom of the river, but I know it will be alright because I will have big convex skylights to let in the sun so I don‘t get depressed. Other things I will have to combat depression: expensive brandy, six-foot marble fireplace. I am swimming in what will be, for all intents and purposes, my garden. It is lush with rocks, algae, and trout spawn. In the

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Trevor J. Houser winter when the river is frozen over and everything around it is frozen over including my wife‘s tomato garden, my underwater garden will still be blossoming with rocks, algae, and trout spawn. There will be enough brandy to last through till spring. I will read by the fireplace and when I get hungry I will open my kitchen window and catch a trout for dinner. I swim back to shore. I take off my flippers and fix myself a Gin Rickey. I am tired of Tom Collins. I go over to a wall of bricks to see how the mortar is drying. My plan is to build the house in stages on land then lowering each piece into place using a portable crane. My lifelong dream has changed from marrying my wife and growing old together on the Cape to living underwater and drinking expensive brandy and catching brown trout out the window.  When I was a boy I would pretend I was a blue jay by sitting in trees acting like a blue jay and hoping the other blue jays would notice my flawless interpretation of being a blue jay. When I wanted to fly I jumped down to the ground and ran around with my arms out saying ―CAW! CAW! CAW! CAW!‖  It is the Fourth of July. I lower another piece of the foundation with the crane. Afterwards I drink beer and watch fireworks. The President is watching from a nearby obelisk. His red tie is fluttering in the breeze. He has his sleeves rolled up as if surveying some natural disaster, gravely nodding and tightening his jaw muscles on cue. The fireworks begin. I look up at them. Somewhere my wife is drinking wine and looking at fireworks. I drink down the rest of my beer. I wonder how many trout are in my part of the river. I wonder if trout relationships are less complicated because they‘ve been here longer, or because of water pressure. Then I wonder about nothing. Then I wonder what expensive brandy will taste like with trout. After that I wonder about nothing again. ―Of course, the difficulty will be in obtaining said trout without letting any water in,‖ I say, under an exploding sky of Class B peonies and chrysanthemums. ―I will help you catch them,‖ says the President, holding one hand over his heart. ―My technique is second to none.‖  August. I‘ve finished mortaring most of the foundation. Some people think I am crazy. Once or twice a week hikers furrow their brows at me. Sometimes they whisper and laugh. Sometimes I think the squirrels are whispering and laughing at me. I am on everyone‘s short list for craziest man in North America.

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Trevor J. Houser ―I feel unmoored,‖ I tell the President one day over esoteric cocktails, the sun melting into the ridge like some obscure World War II battle where sixty thousand frightened grandpas drowned, or were badly burned, thinking about their mothers who are now fertilizer, bluebell thickets, tadpoles. ―That‘s normal,‖ says the President. ―Who doesn‘t feel unmoored? But if you ask me what we should really be discussing is the global warming.‖ ―What about it?‖ ―I don‘t know, but it doesn‘t look good.‖ ―What are you talking about?‖ ―Ghetto mudslides have increased over the last ten years.‖ ―Sometimes I wish you would shut up.‖ ―I think you forget how important I am to you.‖ ―Important for what?‖ ―To tell you who your enemies are.‖ ―Who are my enemies?‖ ―I think you should probably watch out for that wife of yours.‖ ―What about her?‖ ―She needs to be taken care of.‖ ―Taken care of how?‖ ―Silenced.‖ ―What? Like killing her?‖ ―We don‘t say kill. We say silenced. It‘s a DIA thing.‖ ―What‘s DIA?‖ ―Defense Intelligence Agency.‖ ―Forget it.‖ ―I know just the people for this sort of thing, believe you me.‖ ―I don‘t want to hear it.‖ ―Hear what?‖ ―Any of it.‖ ―I have much experience and hardship to draw on.‖ ―—.‖ ―Invaluable insights on human relationships and the natural world.‖ ―I‘m beginning to question my reality.‖ ―I‘m real alright.‖ The President laughs, clinking home some ice into a fresh tumbler. ―I‘m as real as those obelisks, or this bottle of gin.‖ ―I feel empty inside.‖ ―This is good gin.‖ ―Why does everyone think I‘m crazy?‖ ―Define crazy.‖  One morning my wife drops by.

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Trevor J. Houser ―It‘s not right,‖ she says, finding me in hiding behind an obelisk. ―I mean, ok, I understand you‘re sad right now about some things, some really fucked up things even, but this isn‘t the way to go about your life.‖ ―Not all of us adjust as well as you,‖ I say. ―Ok, I know I played a role in the way, well, the way things are with you, but that doesn‘t explain this does it? I mean just look at yourself. What the hell are you going to do down there anyway?‖ ―In the river?‖ ―Yes, in the goddamn river!‖ ―I don‘t know. Maybe light a fire and read with some brandy. When I‘m hungry I‘ll just catch fish out the window.‖ ―Listen, that‘s not normal. Reading by fireside underwater, or whatever, and catching fish out your window is not a normal fucking way to live.‖ ―You swear a lot more than you used to.‖ ―About crazy shit like this you‘re goddamn right I do.‖ I put on my swim fins and oxygen tank. ―Where are you going?‖ asks my wife. ―Eighteen fathoms.‖ ―My God, honey, you need help.‖ ―Don‘t worry about me, I‘ve done it a hundred times.‖ ―No, I mean a doctor. A professional. You need to talk to someone.‖ ―Nice seeing you.‖ ―Listen, baby …‖ ―I‘m going underwater now.‖  I find the President leaning up against a tree. ―This morning, who was that?‖ the President asks. ―Was that your wife?‖ I nod. ―She‘s prettier than I thought,‖ the President says. ―Nice chest.‖ ―Where have you been?‖ ―I had business to attend to.‖ ―What business?‖ ―I run the country remember?‖ ―Whatever.‖ ―Come with me.‖ ―Where?‖ ―This way.‖ I follow the President further into the woods. He points to a stump. ―You know what this is?‖ he asks me. ―A stump.‖ ―It‘s a missile silo disguised as a stump.‖ ―No it isn‘t.‖

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Trevor J. Houser ―You‘re right, but it‘s a good spot for one don‘t you think? I‘m going to bring it up at the next cabinet meeting.‖ ―You do that.‖ I turn to leave. ―Wait,‖ says the President. ―Why don‘t you believe me?‖ ―Because you just said you lied.‖ ―I did that for your own safety. There is a missile under there. It‘s an MX.‖ ―I don‘t care.‖ The President begins to light a cigar. His face is relaxed in a Presidential way. ―Why are you here?‖ I ask. The President shrugs his shoulders. He throws his match into the woods behind him. ―I guess I‘ve sort of lost my way like you.‖ ―This is crazy,‖ I say. ―I probably just need to invade someplace like Bolivia to clear my head,‖ says the President. ―That always seems to do the trick.‖ I leave him there and walk back to the river. I sit down. After awhile I turn around, but the President is gone. I fix myself a Gin Rickey. After that I go into town to cancel my order for convex skylights.

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Cherri Randall GREATER THAN Y Dena stands in front of the door of her ex-husband‘s apartment at eleven fortyfive on Monday morning. She wipes her eyes so he won‘t know she‘s been crying. For him it is Saturday morning, because he works twelve-hour shifts in a chrome-plating plant Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and he is probably hung over from drinking beer last night with his work buddies, but she has waited as long as she can stand to wait. He mutters as he opens the door, standing behind it in his underwear so no one driving by can catch a glimpse of him. He is wearing plain white Hanes and they are drooping because he has lost weight since the divorce, but he won‘t buy new ones. Dena knows he is waiting for her to do it for him, the same way she still pays his insurance and sends his mother cards on appropriate holidays. She doesn‘t want to see him like this, but she has bigger things on her mind right now. ―To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?‖ he asks, rubbing his eyes. The apartment smells stale. There are beer bottles on the end table, flattened cans, and the remote is wedged between two floral couch cushions. Dena smiles about that, how she found the couch for him at the Salvation Army thrift store, pink and green and blue along with a pink Lazy-Boy recliner in nearly perfect condition for $70. She had told him he would just have to deal with the color, but he had never whispered a word of complaint. The couch is so pretty Dena would almost trade it for the $833.00 brown tweed oversized Riverside sofa in her living, but it would never fit in his tiny apartment. ―I need you to come over and unplug the toilet.― ―You can‘t call your maintenance man or something?― ―Not on the weekend for a non-emergency. Unless I want to get charged.― ―I would hate for you to have to spend my money on that,‖ he says, sighing. ―You hate for me to spend your money period,― she answers. She sits on the couch, listening to him pulling on clothes in the bedroom. The space between them houses a tiny stove and ten inches of counter next to a sink their daughter Kinley calls ―Daddy‘s Barbie bathtub‖ because it is so small. The strainer/stopper is ¾‖ in diameter. Kinley hates the sink and the rest of the apartment. He walks in, sits in the pink recliner and pulls on socks. ―It wouldn‘t wait another hour so I could sleep in?‖ ―It‘s already been all weekend.‖ ―That‘s why I don‘t see why another hour would matter.‖ ―It‘s starting to smell so bad.‖ ―You got the other one. Just close the door.‖

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Cherri Randall ―But this is the main bathroom,‖ she says. Her throat tries to close over a rising lump of lava. ―We have to shower in there, and it‘s the middle of the apartment, so the smell … permeates.‖ ―I got to drop everything and live on your schedule?‖ He frowns when she starts crying. ―Jesus Christ, it doesn‘t smell bad enough to cry over.‖ ―That‘s not why I‘m crying.‖ He sighs. She never cries much, only at stupid stuff like movies or books. Or when she says she is happy, like when she had Kinley and later when she had their son Patrick. But once in a while she cries and she isn‘t watching anything sad and she isn‘t happy, and still he can never figure out why. For once he would just like to know if there is a reason. ―Then why are you crying?‖ She stops, wiping her nose on a paper towel that is folded in fourths for a beer bottle coaster. ―I‘m crying because you keep telling me you want us to get back together. You want us to be a family and you buy me stupid stuff like flowers we can‘t afford that die in five days and chocolate I can‘t resist and then you say I‘m fat. I‘m crying because you say you want to take care of me and the first time I ask you for something, the first time I actually say this is something I need, you act like it‘s not worth your time.‖ He pulls his sneaker laces, makes tight bows, stands up. ―I didn‘t know it was an emergency. Let‘s go.‖ Bob pumps air into the sewer line so the toilet will flush. Dena watches carefully from the doorway so she can do it next time without him. It makes a satisfying swoosh when he is done. The whole process takes less than 90 seconds. Bob stands up, taps the plunger against the rim of the toilet, then turns on the tub faucet to rinse it off. ―Eww,‖ she says. ―Guess I‘m scrubbing the tub later.‖ Bob shrugs. ―Can‘t be helped.‖ He looks at her in the doorway, notices the wall. ―What happened to that little shelf up there, that had the row of vanilla candles on it?‖ ―It broke again. No one was here to fix it this time so I got mad and threw it away.‖ ―Yeah, I know,‖ Bob answers. ―I was never there.‖ She opens her mouth for a sharp retort, but no words are there. She thinks about telling him that it wasn‘t all his fault, that without him life is not right either, that she is part of the problem and while she made him move out, she can‘t move out on herself. His clothes are loose, and hers are tight. She didn‘t leave him to find someone else, only to take care of herself. But her wayward heart noticed someone new without her permission, and she had started hoping. He was tall and bald, but Dena likes that. Nothing punches her buttons more efficiently

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Cherri Randall than a good looking bald guy with sunglasses perched on his head in summer, and that is how Kyle wears his. It isn‘t just how he looks, but what he says, the way he thinks. She likes who he is inside his skin. She thinks about men, wonders if they rhyme the way words do, if they all have a penis and their pride, and the rest is just a consonant blend that changes depending on personality, or if it is more than that, if men rhyme the same way love and shove rhyme, or hug and bug. They can leave the same echo in your ear but still mean totally different things. Or if it depends on the woman hearing the word, if some women are afraid of bugs and some are entomologists for those kinds of men. But it is all theoretical this morning, because yesterday she found out that Kyle has been dating a girl from Huntsville. Of course he is, she thought when her friend Rachel, Kyle‘s sister, casually mentioned it last night. They were looking at rings already, and Dena wonders how she could have misinterpreted Kyle‘s casual comments as interest, his conversations with Patrick as a way to get to her rather than just on Patrick‘s behalf. How was she to compete in this market anyhow? The Huntsville girl‘s name is Gioia, and after Dena looked the name up on www.babynames.com she wanted to ask Gioia if her parents knew that was a boy‘s name. It means happiness, or as Rachel had said earlier, exactly what it sounds like: JOY a. Rachel had gone on and on about how the entire family was thrilled with Gioia and Kyle‘s upcoming nuptials, how, at 32, they had despaired Kyle would ever find ―the one.‖ Gioia is 24, has thick black hair that hangs in ringlets and flawless olive skin. Dena had stood in front of the mirror next to the shelf-free wall surveying her thick thighs and a belly that had been filled twice with a baby, her blonde hair with wispy bangs that framed 37-year-old crow‘s feet, and she knew that the Slim-fast should be called Slim-slow but even if it ever worked, she was never going to be in the virgin market again. Now, she fights the impulse to hate Kyle, the desire to presume that Gioia has poodle hair and likes Kyle not because of, but despite his bald head. She watches her ex-husband washing his hands in her sink, a regular sized sink, hears him remark on such unaccustomed luxury, and wonders if, being with him is not right and being alone is not right, why is everyone she meets also not right. ―You want to go to Taiwan?‖ he asks her, putting the towel down in a heap instead of neatly folded. He means the restaurant, not the country. She opens her mouth to say no automatically. Then she thinks about it. All those calories for lunch mean another Slim-fast for dinner, but Chinese food is her favorite, and he‘s offering. ―Sure,‖ she says. ―You can even drive.‖ The place used to be a barbecue pit. Before that, Dena doesn‘t remember. It has wood plank seating and a red tarp fashioned into a fauxcovered-wagon canopy over the buffet. There is a Budweiser light with a frog,

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Cherri Randall and another one with a cowboy hat and George Strait‘s name in cursive curving tubes of neon. There are flashing Christmas tree lights strung on the walls even in May and long red tassels of silk fringe with Asian-style letters for ornaments. In two opposite corners are 19‖ TV monitors. Dena has moon chicken, crab Rangoon, and Mongolian beef on her plate. Bob sits down with sweet and sour chicken, egg rolls, rice, and stir fried vegetables. He starts picking out the baby corn and putting it on the rim of her plate. She likes baby corn, but she wishes he would not pick it out and put it on her plate without asking first. For a few minutes they eat in silence. He is watching TV in the corner over her head. It‘s a tennis match. Andre Agassi is on and Dena turns around to see the sun striking his beautiful head on the screen. ―Did I ever tell you the most horrible thing I ever heard about him?‖ she asks. ―About who?‖ Bob grunts over a big bite of spring roll. ―About Agassi.‖ ―No. What was it?‖ ―After their divorce, Brooke Shields said she was so relieved she would never have to go to another tennis match.‖ ―Brooke Shields was married to Agassi?‖ ―Yes. You didn‘t know?‖ ―The tall girl with the Marx eyebrows?‖ ―Yes.‖ ―Man, I didn‘t know that. What was so bad about not wanting to go to another tennis match?‖ Dena sighs. ―It meant she didn‘t like tennis. She was only pretending to like it for his sake.‖ ―I wish you‘d have pretended to like bowling.‖ ―Look,‖ Dena says, ―I pretended to like sex. Don‘t push your luck.‖ ―You pretended to like sex?” he says, hissing the last word and glancing around so no one overhears. Dena looks at his face turning red, the vein in his temple throbbing. Thinks about her pact with God to be honest in all things, thinks about hurting the father of her children this way. Thinks about being 18 and stupid and amenable waiting for things to automatically get better and being in love, then reading Cosmopolitan and knowing there was no way she could ask her husband to do things differently, that he would inevitably take it as a criticism and it would destroy them and by now, there are children. ―Sometimes. Everybody pretends sometimes.‖ ―Men don‘t,‖ he says, his chin set. ―Men can‘t. Otherwise, they probably would.‖ ―What‘s not to like?‖ he argues, trying to keep the corners of his mouth serious. She wants to believe her pact with God is paying off, that she is gaining self-control and discipline as evidenced by her being able to rein her temper

40


Cherri Randall and guard her tongue. Instead, she knows that this is a symptom of being jetlagged over Kyle. She could tell her ex-husband what there is not to like, from beer-breath kisses after the game to the groping midnight wanderings in between breast feeding a baby to the frustrated occasions when it was over for him before she got started. And he would just add frigid bitch and cold fish to the names he already has for her when he is not guarding his tongue. She shrugs, changes the subject, a tactic that served her well in eleven years of marriage. ―What‘s so great about bowling?‖ He settles in, warming to his subject. Dena gets a Chinese snow flake, some fresh pineapple, and tapioca pudding since Kyle is never going to notice her thighs anyway. When they leave, Dena asks him to take her to Wal-Mart since they are already on that end of town. He pulls up, dropping her off at the door. Getting out she tells him over her shoulder to pop the trunk open. By the time he parks the car and comes inside, she has already gotten a refund on what she carried in: a set of flannel king-sized sheets. They were cream colored with fishing lures printed on them. Dena would never in a million years have chosen the sheets for her taste, but Kyle goes once or twice a year to the Rocky Mountains—to Montana or Canada or Wyoming—to fish for salmon. She had bought the sheets in a weak moment for $39.96 plus tax. She already has three sets. A satiny maroon, a bluebonnet print, and some green plaid linen sheets. Kyle is never going to see her bed and she doesn‘t even like the sheets. She wonders if she likes anything, and if so what, and who she is if she is willing to surrender her preferences after just a few conversations with some bald guy who looks sexy in sunglasses. Bob finds her in health and beauty aids where she gets Aquafresh for Patrick and Pantene shampoo with the green label for Kinley. She passes through house wares and selects an 8 x 10 print. ―Where are you going to put that?‖ Bob asks. ―In the bathroom. Where the shelf was.‖ ―Why don‘t you get another shelf?‖ ―For what? To just fall down and get broken over and over again? You told me the wall there won‘t support that much weight.‖ ―I could anchor it.‖ ―Too late,‖ she tells him. ―You already have this picture though.‖ They are standing in line now. She looks down at the print, Van Gogh Roses. She has a 24 x 36 of it in her dining nook. It is her favorite piece of art in the world. ―I never get tired of looking at it,‖ she says. Bob rubs his hand over his eyes, across his temple. His hairline is receding, and Dena thinks sometimes she left him too soon. But she has trained herself to resist any sentimental urges to get back together, to instead

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Cherri Randall remember the last fight, the slurred words, the shivering fear when he yanked her keyboard out from under her hands and slammed it down over and over on her shoulders, her back, even her head. Keys flew all over the bedroom. He moved out that day, either that or go to jail the officer said after Kinley dialed 911. She moved out with the kids two months later, something cheaper, and packing she still found keys in the weirdest places. In one of the globes on the ceiling fan light fixture, the greater-than key. Between the mattress and box springs, the Y. Patrick had asked her, at seven, if it was the capital Y or the little Y, and she had said there was only one Y; to change it required the shift key. ―Then tell me," Bob interrupts her musings, "if you love roses so much that you want this picture twice, when I buy roses it means nothing to you except a reason to complain that we can‘t afford them?‖ She almost drops the print in her surprise, looking at him like she has never seen him before in her life. It has never occurred to her that he put any thought at all into trying to please her with his frequent cards and bouquets. She assumed he was just doing what Hallmark and FTD told him to do. ―I don‘t know if you can understand,‖ she says in a small voice. ―Try me.‖ ―I don‘t like the flowers,‖ she explains. ―I am the flowers.‖ ―Well, I guess you‘re happy.‖ ―Why?‖ ―Because you were right. I don‘t understand.‖ She looks at the print, looks into the print. ―Look, the roses are in a vase, right?‖ ―Duh. What else do you put roses in?‖ ―Well, they grow in gardens you know. But here, like this, they‘re cut off from everything they need to survive.‖ He takes a deep breath, sharply. ―You did not have it that bad. You might not have had luxury stuff, but you had more than enough to survive when you were with me.‖ She stares at him for a long moment. ―That‘s not all. Look where the vase is on the table.‖ ―On the edge,‖ he allows. ―Yes. That‘s where they‘ve been since Van Gogh painted this over a hundred years ago. I understand being on the edge without falling off.‖ ―Do you have enough money?‖ he asks, and she thinks she is not the only one who can change a subject. ―Yes. Of course.‖ ―I‘m going to go get the car and pick you up by the door.‖ On the way back to her apartment, she tells him to stop at the Wonder Thrift store so she can buy bread. He tells her they also have good buys on the back wall sometimes, and she laughs because he thinks he can tell her

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Cherri Randall something she hasn‘t already figured out about living on a budget. She gets whole wheat, bagels, and one box of powdered-sugar-coated ―donettes‖ for the kids. At her house, he insists on hanging the new print for her, then wants to know if there is anything else. She says Kinley‘s closet needs a new light bulb, and he is happy to change that. Then he dusts the ceiling fans since he is taller, and looks for something else to do to make himself useful. Finally, she says it is time to go get Patrick at the elementary school, and he volunteers to do that. At the door, she realizes they haven‘t said any cross words since WalMart, and she is grateful that the house does not smell like backed up toilet anymore. She impulsively leans forward and kisses his cheek. She knows he will probably take it for encouragement but it is too late to take it back. After he leaves, she eats a single tiny white donut and licks the powder off her fingers. They are not as fresh as the ones on the shelf at Wal-Mart, but still they are very good.

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#17 Contributors Grady Chambers is a recent graduate of Vassar College, where he received a degree in Political Science. He lives and works in Chicago, Illinois. Laura Drell lives and works in Austin, Texas where she is a student at Concordia University. Megan Duffy earned her MA in English from Rutgers University where she studied poetry with Rachel Hadas. Her poems have appeared in The Furnace Review, Flowers of Sulfur, fosebook, and forthcoming in smokestack. Megan is editor of The Meadowland Review. Heather Gustine is a recent graduate of Chatham University‘s MFA in creative writing program. Her work has appeared in The North Central Review, The Red Clay Review, Nerve Cowboy, and Permafrost, among other publications. Her chapbook, Rooming with Your Bones, was published by Lounge, Yes Press in April, 2010. She resides in Pittsburgh, PA. Trevor J. Houser was born in Oregon, but since then has lived in other places, like Mexico, where he drove a sort of gas truck. His writing has appeared in Story Quarterly, Zyzzyva, and Pindeldyboyz among others. Two of his stories were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is currently working on a novel about werewolves in colonial times and how that affects the human condition. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and brand new daughter. Kelci M. Kelci is a graduate of the MFA in Writing program at the University of San Francisco and is the managing editor of Switchback, the program's online literary magazine. She is working on a poetry manuscript entitled 52 Sundays and enjoys building unique homes for her poems out of unique materials. Check out her website: www.kelcimkelci.com Matthew Brady Klitsch received his B.A. from Montclair State University in 2008 and is a candidate in Drew University‘s low-residency MFA in Poetry program. His poetry has appeared in The Storyteller, online in Nota Bene, and in The Edison Literary Review. Matt divides his time between work, study, and volunteering at Woodlands Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. He resides in Tewksbury, New Jersey with his cat, Maisey. Rajiv Mohabir teaches English as a Second Language and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Queens College. He is a VONA (Voices of Our Nation‘s Arts Foundation) alumnus. Some of Rajiv‘s poems have appeared in journals such as Poets For Living Waters, Chicago Poetry, Saw Palm, EOAGH, and others. He is also a Pudding House Press ―Poet of Note‖ and

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has a chapbook titled na bad-eye me. He is currently negotiating the publication of his second chapbook na mash me bone with Finishing Line Press. Clarissa Olivarez currently lives in Washington, D.C. Her photography has appeared in inscape and Juked and is forthcoming in joyful! and POESY. Her writing has been published in Haggard & Halloo and Counterexample Poetics. Stephen Outten lives in Nashville and writes fiction in the wee hours of the morning. His work has appeared in Long Story Short, Bat Creek Journal, Beanswitch, and Marr's Field Journal. For more information or to contact him, visit stephenoutten.com. Josh Pearce was a celebrated 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier and politician. He vehemently opposed many of the policies of President Andrew Jackson, most notably the Indian Removal Act and this opposition led to Pearce's defeat in the 1834 elections, prompting his angry departure to Texas shortly thereafter. He then took part in the Texas Revolution and was killed at the Battle of the Alamo. He still chatters constantly at http://twitter.com/ghotijosh Cherri Randall received her MFA in 2004 and PhD in 2008 from the University of Arkansas before joining the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown. She has published in several journals including Sojourn, Paddlefish, The Potomac Review, Permafrost Review, Bewildering Stories, The Mid-America Poetry Review, and Paper Street Press. After failing as a rock star, Derek Richards recently began submitting his work. So far his work has appeared in over 100 publications. He has made $10. His puppy, cat and two ferrets are very proud. He's also addicted to green olives and cheap vodka. Tree Riesener has published poetry and short fiction in numerous literary magazines, including Wigleaf, Flashquake, Flash Fiction Online, The Evergreen Review, Ginosko, Loch Raven Review, Pindeldyboz, Identity Theory, The Belletrist Review, and The Source. Her work has been translated into Russian and Turkish. Achievements include three first prizes for the Short-Short Story and the Literary Short Story at the Philadelphia Writers Conference, Finalist for Black Lawrence Press's Hudson Prize, Finalist in PANK magazine's Fiction Chapbook Contest, Best of Wigleaf 2009 , Semi-Finalist in the Pablo Neruda Competition, three short stories staged in the Writing Aloud productions of InterAct Theatre, Philadelphia, a Hawthornden International Writing Fellowship, two Pushcart nominations, and the William Van Wert Fiction Award. She is the author of three poetry collections, Inscapes, Angel Poison and Liminalog. EK, a full-length collection of ekphrastic poetry, is forthcoming

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in 2012 from Cervena Barva Press. She is a Contributing Editor for The Ghazal Page. Her website is www.treeriesener.com and she blogs at www.treeriesener.blogspot.com. Wesley Rothman received his BA in English from the University of San Diego and is currently pursuing an MFA at Emerson College. He has participated in the Lindsay J. Cropper Creative Writing Workshop, and received numerous awards. Wesley was recognized as First Runner-up as well as Winner of the Cropper Poetry Prize, given the University‘s Literary Achievement Award, granted Departmental Honors, and acknowledged for outstanding service to the writing community. He is creator and editor of the literary journal Writers Review, and screens submissions for Ploughshares. Wesley‘s poems have appeared in The Albion Review, Analecta, Asylum, An Evening with Local Writers: A Chapbook, and Rainy Day. Peter L. Scacco‘s art and poetry have appeared in numerous print and electronic magazines and journals. Mr. Scacco is the illustrator of A Few Good Greek Myths by Michael O‘Brien (2008), and he is the author of Chiaroscuro, an illustrated poetry chapbook. A graduate of Fordham University, Mr. Scacco has lived and worked in New York, Paris, Tokyo and Brussels. Since 1995 he has lived in Austin, Texas, where he pursues his love of art, poetry, books and bonsai.

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BL #17